No Shitshow Week would be complete without an appearance from at least
one Todd English restaurant. And because he opened three places in roughly the last year, the Eater editors decided to do something no human—likely not even Todd English himself—as attempted before: visit all of them—Crossbar, Ember Room, and Ca Va—in one night. (Sadly, there was no time for Olives or the Plaza Food Hall.) What follows is a debriefing (with photos) about a Night on the Trail of the Todd English Trio.
EaterGM: Three Todd English restaurants in one night. Rough.
EaterAK: What are your three favorite things about CrossBar?
EaterGM: In no particular order: 1) White guy blues music, 2) purple mood lighting on plants, in broad daylight, 3) The Prince of Persia-style cabanas.
EaterAK: I'll go with 1) Roaring fireplace in August, 2) The empty second floor PDR with TVs playing Wheel of Fortune, and 3) The unisex bathroom with attendant.
EaterAK: Also, the red velvet curtains everywhere were kind of a nice touch and the wooden spoons hanging over the hearth. And the cross-shaped table.
EaterGM: We sat outside at a gigantic wooden table.
EaterAK: Covered with a cheap, itchy maroon runner covered in beads.
EaterGM: Crowd: Flatiron office workers discussing business, girls having a weird ladies night out, tourists that had no idea where they were.
EaterAK: There was a family of tourists that they sat inside a sexy cabana. And they were all kind of casually leaning and looking at maps and drinking Bud Light and unpacking their shopping bags of Aldo shoes.
EaterGM: They had 27 bags. I wished they went somewhere else, because CrossBar is not representing very well. This is not how we roll in NYC.
EaterAK: Let's talk drinks.
EaterGM: They were small:
[Note the drink size but also that tablecloth]
EaterAK: I like that when we ordered the "Lil Margaritas" (Happy Hour Special) they waitress warned us they were actually "very little," which was either a warning—or a blatant upsell.
EaterGM: I think it was a warning. I think she knew we weren't there to get involved with TE's shenanigans.
EaterAK: Or were we?
EaterAK: But they were perfect fine, and relatively cheap. The "Lil tacos" however, also $5, I found to be almost inedible.
EaterAK: Mushy fried fish, stale tortilla. The buffalo sweetbreads were fine, but nothing I would order again.
EaterGM: They were exactly that: buffalo-style sweetbreads.
[Happy hour snacks, Todd English stamp of approval.]
EaterAK: So what did the waitress say when you asked if Todd English was in the kitchen?
EaterGM: I said, "Is the chef here?" And she said "Yes!" And I said "Todd English?" And she said "No. He's got a lot of projects." Flat-out no. No way. No way is that guy here.
EaterAK: But his stamp of approval is!
EaterGM: Oh yes, the TE stamp was definitely on the menu.
EaterAK: And the napkin.
[HEADS OR TAILS?]
EaterAK: Here's a funny addendum to CrossBar. Todd told NYMag the other night, "We’re going to be starting a special brunch here in the fall ... it’s on Sundays ... it’s called 'Confession.'" How perfect is that?
EaterGM: From there we took a cab to Midtown for Ca Va.
EaterAK: It should be noted that, like CrossBar, Ca Va featured a roaring fire in August.
EaterGM: Another TE signature.
EaterAK: I will also mention that the French definition of the phrase Ca Va is "okay, fine, that's enough." Which is fairly fitting.
EaterGM: What I liked instantly about Ca Va is that it had its own market to-go type thing in the front. I didn't know that. TE to go!
EaterAK: Filled with knick-knacks and bread.
EaterGM: And no people. Like, if YOU MUST have a Todd English experience, but can't sit down for lunch, you can take it back to your desk.
EaterAK: At Ca Va we sat down, ordered some pink drinks, and out of self preservation, got one dish each. I believe you picked the short straw.
EaterGM: My drink tasted like Gushers.
EaterAK: The good thing about the drinks: Todd English stamped coasters.
EaterGM: That's how we knew:
EaterGM: But it should also be noted that the marquee had his name on it five times. One Big TODD ENGLISH and four little ones.
EaterAK: Just so you don't forget whose licensing deal this is.
EaterAK: One nice touch is that they brought a brown paper bag with a warm baguette to the table. It had been microwaved.
EaterGM: So, who was at Ca Va that night?
EaterAK: There was a large party of dudes, all wearing shorts, some athletic, some cotton.
EaterGM: I think there was sort of a fashionable European couple that had like four courses, poor things. One big section of the dining room was totally blocked off.
EaterAK: And the food? Not so great. My haricot verts salad with duck confit and orange-foie gras glaze was way less horrific than I assumed it would be, given the description.
EaterGM: That was like good wedding food.
EaterAK: Yours however...
EaterGM: Oh boy. You can usually tell how bad a place is with the pasta, that's my theory. It's simple, but really easy to fuck up. And this was, oh man. So, sort of a carbonara but the noodles were tough And it tasted like....lard.
EaterAK: Oh and there was truffled mac 'n' cheese, naturally.
EaterGM: That was maybe the worst. I take it back about the carbonara—total truffle oil. But it was only $8. It doesn't taste like truffles in a good way.
EaterAK: The shortribs weren't terrible, and I did love the humor that went into that plating.
EaterGM: It looked like a miniature version of Middle Earth: peaks, valleys, streams, forests.
EaterAK: Lots of streams.
EaterGM: The beef was good though.
EaterAK: One final note regarding Ca Va is when I went to the ladies room, there was a used maxi pad on the floor next to the toilet.
EaterAK: Which kind of was a nice punctuation on the evening.
EaterGM: One more thing about Ca Va: our meal was like 25 minutes long in, out.
EaterAK: That's Ca Va. Not good at all, mildly depressing, but with a fireplace.
EaterAK: Ember Room, around the corner in Hell's Kitchen, is the one place where we did not see the Todd English stamp of approval.
EaterAK: And I think after dining there we figured out why.
EaterGM: And, also, no fireplace. But a "Grade Pending" in the window.
EaterAK: No fireplace, no stamp.
EaterGM: Though, still a super weird looking place.
EaterAK: With a second, empty dining room on the second floor and cow bells all over the ceiling.
EaterGM: There were wrap-around menu chalkboard lamps. Also, a mural of an elephant hugging a little boy.
EaterAK: AND YET, not so bad, this place!
EaterGM: It sort of did serve good food, right?
EaterAK: I mean, better than we expected. I found those chocolate ribs almost inedible, I couldn't have more than one bite.
EaterGM: Those were a fail.
EaterAK: The fried rice was fine. The waiter did a perfect job, the meal was affordable, totally a solid five.
EaterGM: I liked that. Like, I would order that maybe to go, if I lived upstairs.
EaterAK: If I were stranded in Hell's Kitchen and I had to choose between that and Southern Hospitality next door, I would probably have the fried rice again.
EaterGM: So, if you were stranded on that one corner of Hell's Kitchen and couldn't cross the street to Nice Matin or Chipotle, You'd pick Ember Room.
EaterAK: Yes. And the reason for that is probably, and not to be too harsh, but probably because Todd had pretty much zero involvement here.
EaterGM: On the way out, I asked the hostess if he was at the restaurant. Her answer: "No, not now. He's an investor. He's been here a couple of times, though."
EaterAK: A couple of times. Oh, and at Ca Va, what did they say when you asked the same question?
EaterGM: Oh, right. She said: "Yes, he's here!" "Todd English?" I replied. "Oh, no," she corrected. "But our Chef De Cuisine something or other is definitely here."
EaterGM: So, to get down to the final crucial analysis: Are any of them shitshows?
EaterAK: CrossBar is ridiculous enough and has so many unfortunate (yet wonderful) elements that, yes, it's a shitshow. Ca Va is just a bad restaurant and Ember Room is a decent restaurant.
EaterGM: Well, let's never do that again
· All Shitshow Week 2011 Coverage [~ENY~]