Betel, a new Thai restaurant from Australian restaurateurs, opened in the old Wild Ginger space on 51 Grove last week. Designed by the man behind the Upper East Side's sleek Le Caprice, the space itself is a looker, and people in the neighborhood seem happy with what he's done with the landmarked space. As for the food, it's almost suspicious how much the folks online like it. However, with the exception of one comment, the shill detectors have not been set off. Perhaps it's as good as they say. Here, now, the early word.
The Mostly Great News: An early positive review from the tipline: "went to Betel on opening night last weekend...overall a very good experience...food was excellent, entree portions are surprisingly large for under $30 in this city, though the menu is a little strange...6-8 apps, 15 or so entrees, and only 1 dessert, which is just ice cream/sorbet...signature cocktails are all Asian-inspired and most are very interesting...small, intimate space that got very crowded very quickly...communal table is barely a table, more like a 2 ft.-wide counter with stools on either side...loud...TONS of beautiful girls..." [Eater Tipline]
The Bad News: Most of the Yelpers (experienced Yelpers at that) file raves. This one is not a fan: "The drinks are some of the worst in the city and the dishes rely far too heavily on 'exotic' elements to offer anything in the way of substance--or sustenance, for that matter. Also, the service is deplorable, though the waitstaff is friendly enough. There are so many good restaurants in this area; this one will be gone in two months." [Yelp]
The Good News: Also from the tipline: "Stopped into Betel opening week. Sat at the bar for a bite with my friend. Space looks great, small but sexy, great lighting. Drank delicious Beijing Bellinis. Started with the signature "betel" on the recommendation of the bartender, which is like a little taco wrapped in a betel leaf, which tastes exactly like shiso. We had the sea trout betel with salmon roe, they were fantastic. We shared a pomelo, asparagus, cashew salad - fine but forgettable, and though it was huge, it was also $16. I'd prefer a smaller size for less money. I know it's meant to share, but my friend and I couldn't finish it between the two of us. Duck and whole fish main courses were nicely flavored and well cooked." [Eater Tipline]
The Rave Review: The author of the DowdPhotoBlog goes on opening night and becomes an early fan: "My advice? Get a table. (I’m thinking this could prove difficult.) Enjoy the Salt & Pepper Cuttlefish with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce. Cleans your pallate with the surprising collection of flavors in the Pomellow Asparagus & Cashew Salad with Thai Basil & Chili Jam & Coconut Dressing. Next, prepare yourself for the Vietnamese Braised Wagyu Brisket with Long Leaf Cilantro Vietnamese Mint & Chile Lime Dressing. Drench a generous helping of the sticky rice with the brisket’s au jus, and don’t look back. Then, go home and eat it in your dreams as well." [DPB]
The Good But Pricey News: Another Yelper weighs in: "I tend to find it hard for Thai restaurants to do anything interesting--you order your papaya salad, pad thai, drunken noodles, red or green curry, and you pretty much know what you're getting. The menu here is more interesting (if also much more expensive)...The atmosphere is lovely, and the small-ish restaurant was really crowded...but not oppressively so, and we only had to wait a few more minutes than what the hostess had told us. Dimly lit, with some separate tables, a long communal table with stools (I don't like these, even at Hundred Acres; I like my chair to have a back) and a big square communal table which is more comfortable. There's a back room that I didn't yet explore. That's where we sat. We tried the salt and pepper calamari appetizer, then I had the southern curry chicken and my friend had the brisket. Everything tasted really good. And the portion sizes were huge...4 stars for atmosphere and quality, and for getting creative with Thai cooking. Not the most mind-blowing dining experience I've had in recent memory, but it was an enjoyable dinner." [Yelp]