316 Bowery, New York NY 10012 (at Bleecker St.; map); (212) 254-0350; doublecrown-nyc.com
Cuisine: Colonial-inspired Southeast Asian
Veggie Options: Four salads / sides, two main courses
Cost: around $30 for one main dish and one appetizer
We all know the Bowery isn't really gritty any more: sometime between the appearance of Whole Foods and the sprouting of luxury apartment buildings, CBGB became a designer clothing boutique. In a neighborhood where the check for a burger and a beer can top thirty dollars, you can't be surprised that a meal at Double Crown is not the best value in the city.
Value isn't really what you're here for, though. Though vast, the AvroKO-designed space is textured and inviting, with dark beams and hanging lanterns, carved wood and candlelight. It's just a bit exotic, without forcing anyone to be too adventurous. The well-heeled bar crowd drinks cocktails spiked with chocolate bitters and kaffir lime, lemongrass and chili.
Executive chef Brad Farmerie (who you may have spotted on The Next Iron Chef) is talented, and the food at Double Crown is tasty, if not cheap. The vegetarian options are flavorful and carefully prepared, and we appreciate the variety of choices for those not ordering five-spice foie gras.
If you like green beans, the avocado and seaweed salad ($6) is a great way to start your meal. Don't expect a Japanese-style tangle of green sea vegetables—this plate is mostly a tower of crisp-cooked haricots verts tossed with ripe avocado, black sesame seeds, roasted red peppers, and a few threads of hijiki. If you can get a mix of everything in one bite, it's a winner: salty, sweet, savory, and fresh.
The sweet and spicy apple, lotus root, and lily bulb salad ($10) had a nice kick from a dressing made with white miso and Korean chili sauce. The lacy fried lotus slices added a welcome crispy bite. This dish reminded us a little of David Chang's fuji apple kimchi served a few blocks away at Ssam Bar—Double Crown's version isn't quite as revelatory, but it's also not tossed with smoked pig jowl.
The sweet and sour eggplant ($16) was cooked until silky and soaked in a rich sesame-oil broth. Black fungus and shiitake mushrooms added chewy texture, while pickled bean sprouts added just enough tang to balance the sweetness. The only weakness was the salt-and-pepper tofu stacked on top: though it added some substance to the dish, we found it just a bit too salty for our taste. Be warned: the portion of this dish is small—you'll need to order an appetizer in addition in order to be satisfied.
Crowned with a pile of bean spouts and fried herbs, the butternut squash curry ($17) was rich without being heavy. While some might find the vegetables undercooked, we appreciated how each retained its own fresh flavor and contrasted the lightly spicy yellow curry. Our only quibble was that we could have used more sauce: it was tasty stuff, and gone too soon.
If you want to eat authentic Southeast Asian food, you could certainly do it for cheaper elsewhere. But if you're looking for an sidewalk table with a great view of the Bowery's fashionista parade, or a gorgeous setting for first-date cocktails and a handful of tasty vegetarian options, Double Crown is worth considering.