The words West Chelsea and Beautiful People are enough to strike fear into the hearts of most of us mere mortals—not just those of average self-esteem, but also the pretension averse, the perfume allergic and the food lovers.
These are not places you go to eat. They are for cold marble edges and low black leather banquettes on which to perch while nibbling on tiny empanadas that taste enough of sawdust to discourage second helpings. They are for an overlong champagne list and vodka cocktails. They are for reflective surfaces and spotting Jon Bon Jovi. They are the places for which the term “scene” was coined.
This could be used to describe the Americano (518 W. 27th St., betw. 10th & 11th Aves.), and in fact the place does fit the description—to a point. The break comes when you realize it is a place that is not just beautiful, it is one you actively want to spend time in. In fact, a first visit will likely find you planning your next before the meal’s end.
If it’s raining and you eat indoors, you’ll want to come back to have a drink at the rooftop bar. If you’re at the rooftop bar for drinks, you’ll want to come downstairs for a full meal once you pass the plates on your way out. You can do a full, multicourse dinner or a proliferation of small plates—both are a good idea.
One might be inclined to call the Americano’s multiple personalities an identity crisis, and it would be hard to disagree. That rooftop bar is called La Piscine (and there is, indeed, a tiny pool up there, though it should be foregone for the seats at the other end, which have a view of the High Line and the Hudson River), but the grill up there serves Greek hummus and babaganoush, branzino and kasseri cheese.
The dining room menu proffers “French food with a Latin flair,” which means there is a segregated section for things like carnitas with plantains, while the “Salades” include one of “Pulpo y Calamares” and the entrecôte comes with chimichurri. There is plenty of marble and black leather inside, but the entire rear wall of the dining room is a window looking out on the ivy-covered wall that supports the rear outdoor garden, a beautifully chaotic natural counterpoint to all the shiny edges indoors.
However, this all-things-to-all-people striving is more and more a common pitfall for the kind of hotel that wants to lure in local business while giving overnight guests whatever they might need. And in this regard, the Americano does much better than its counterparts.
Navigating the NoMad Hotel, whose restaurant, the much-anticipated second home of the team from 11 Madison Park, is its over-hyped crown jewel, is a logistical nightmare. Eating there, you pity the poor souls who paid money to wander at blank lobby in search of their room; eating at the Americano, you wonder whether it wouldn’t be a better idea to get a room for the night rather than go home.
Yes, your neighbors might be impossibly tall, vodka-drinking Beautiful People, but chances are you’ll both have just eaten the same tuna tostadas, tiny rounds of hard-fried tortilla topped with rare tuna, chipotle mayonnaise and a shower of slivered hearts of palm, and will want to commiserate about how good they were. If you’re lucky, they might even share a sip of their cocktail, a grapefruit-and-blood-orange concoction so refreshing you’ll kick yourself for overlooking it the first time.
They probably won’t have ordered the lamb saddle, but you should recommend it to them; it’s a delicate, perfectly cooked portion with a bracingly sharp mustard jus and sweetly salted pistachios and the hard-to-find panisse, a French Mediterranean cake of chickpea flour that’s somewhere between polenta and bread but twice as tasty.
And when they rave about the crudités, don’t roll your eyes and dismiss it. An assortment of the world’s most precious spring vegetables come, tops attached, in shallow bowl of “dirt,” olive crumbs over a layer of crème fraiche. It’s amusing and pretty to look at, but there’s more to it than simple appearances and it’s ultimately a deeply satisfying, inarguably enjoyable experience—a perfect synecdoche for the Americano itself.
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