Tom Valenti's relaxed brasserie, The West Branch, has been open for just over a month now, and critics like Ruth Reichl and Ed Levine have wasted no time in heralding the place a smashing success. Reviews continue to trickle in daily on the boards and elsewhere, and it's likely going to be on the short list of destinations for fellow Upper West Sider the Brunz, and other heavyweights like Platt and Richman. But for right now, here’s the news as it stands thusfar: good, bad, and everywhere in between.
1) The Good News: First, Reichl with the rave: "This is the epitome of a neighborhood place, and Valenti has done his best to make it look as if it’s been here forever. Up in the front people sit watching the television that hangs over the bar as they sip their drinks. In the cavernous dining room they snuggle into capacious booths, enjoying the extremely likeable menu, which offers a hit parade of American restaurant favorites....the people in front of me were already making plans to return the following night. It’s that kind of place." [Gourmet]
2) Good News: And Easy Ed chimes in with an A-: ...we'd like to be able to roll out of our houses and eat our comfort food in familiar, comforting environs, a place where the burgers are fine, the french fries are fresh, the salads are crisp and fresh, and the food is made with good ingredients, cooked with love and care, at restrained prices that reflect a reasonable price-value ratio....find it, I did, at The West Branch." [SENY]
3) The Bad News: But it's not all good. A Chowhounder was not so impressed: “I was there last night for the first time, and I was disappointed. We both were. Service: Not good...For main course I had the duck confit with the pork sausage and sauerkraut. I was terribly disappointed. The skin was NOT crisp. At all. It was fleshy, and I pushed it off the duck meat. The duck meat was adequate. The pork sausage with the mustard they serve was better....The restaurant is noisy. Not just a good buzz. But noisy. I am not hard of hearing, and I kept having to say 'what" to my partner sitting across from me.” [Chowhound]
4) The Mostly Good News: Another Chowhounder and UWS local counters with this positive report: “This is a great addition to the neighborhood, and this comes from someone who was a skeptic before actually trying it this past Friday. First, the place has taken some dings for service, but the staff and service was great...On to the food...We started with the frisee salad with poached egg and lardons. Nothing great, well executed and very tasty. A little heavy on the dressing, but nothing to complain about. For mains, my wife had one of the pastas, while i had the roast chicken. I didn't try the pasta (it was the one with pancetta), but she polished off the plate. My roast chicken was amazing." [Chowhound]
5) The Bad News: A Yelper shares this mostly negative review: “Tried to eat dinner there last night at 5:00pm (walk-in). In spite of the fact that the restaurant was empty and we told the hostess that we were going to be quick, since we had to be home by 6:15pm, she told us walk-ins were seated at a table in the bar. After we asked to be seated in the dining room, they seated us in the empty dining room at a small table behind a support beam. We decided enough with the attitude and walked across the street to Vai where we had a wonderful dinner.” [Yelp]
6) The Mostly Good News: Finally, another Yelper writes in on his mostly positive experience and bizarre affinity for Valenti's hair: “YO VALENTI. Thanks for opening a more casual restaurant in my hood. You and your free-flowing greying locks rule. I love Ouest. I loved 'Cesca only when you were at the helm. Therefore, I love The West Branch - casual yet elegant, sophisticated yet approachable....The roasted trout was tangy and delicious. The crispy fried quail was a unique take on comforting fried poultry. My only complaint is that the desserts were weak. An apple pie was plain and my mother makes better crust. My pudding-like blanc niege could have used more bite.” [Yelp]