As a defense mechanism against the cloying, billion dollar blockbuster drug known as the Starbucks PSL, an acronym you can google yourself if your insulin levels are primed, you've likely trained yourself to avoid anything containing that dreaded autumnal ingredient known as "pumpkin spice." So it would be understandable to skip a soup described as such at White Street, a Tribeca hotspot backed by media mogul restaurateurs Dan Abrams and Dave Zinczenko. But that would be an epic mistake, because the resident chef is Floyd Cardoz, a daddy-o who knows how to build a world of flavor.
For Cardoz, the oversized gourd isn't so much a conduit for saccharine toppings as it is an elegant substitute for butter or cream. So take a sip. The texture is pure silk. Then a flicker of heat appears. And seconds later your insides start to glow. That's because Cardoz spikes with soup with clove, green cardamom, cinnamon and Aleppo pepper - nearly all the warming flavors of a traditional garam masala, plus a few nuggets of candied ginger (why not?). Now take another sip and mix in that dollop of ricotta, which softens the spices and prevents the entire affair from being a exercise in veganism.
Slip $100 worth of black truffles in there (not an option, though perhaps it should be), and the soup would've been majestic enough to serve at the erstwhile Lespinasse, the internationally-minded Gallic eatery of choice in the pre-Jean-Georges, pre-Dirty French era, and where Cardoz himself worked in the 1990s. Later that decade, the chef broke out on his own at Danny Meyer's now-closed Tabla, a fantastic Indian spot with seasonal American sensibilities, and then at Meyer's North End Grill, a high-end brasserie with gentler South Asian inclinations. Both restaurants were awesome, and that's what distinguishes them from White Street, which is not awesome.
This becomes clear when the kitchen sends out lamb ribs that taste as if salt never touched them. You take a bite and put them back down on your plate, because the fat, of which there's too much, isn't quite rendered enough to be fully edible or enjoyable. The bartender then pours you something called the Ellington, a blend of kumquat rye, lemon, and star anise syrup that evokes one of the horrid creations from your last frat party.
Want some flatbread pizza? It comes topped with such a dense scattering of lamb sweetbreads and belly that you'd think White Street was trying to match the protein capacity of a Pizza Hut Meat Lover's pie. The musk of the lamb, incidentally, is so intense one might describe the flavor as uric. No good.
The Indian-accented American fare, while mostly thoughtful in conception, doesn't quite boast the level of execution one would expect.
That's not to say you can't live well at White Street, whose impossibly high ceilings, cushy banquettes, turqoise shades, and golden chandeliers evoke Russia's tsarist-era Winter Palace. But the Indian-accented American fare, while mostly thoughtful in conception, doesn't quite boast the level of execution one would expect from a two-month old restaurant charging $62 for its ribeye-for-one. Yeah, that's an expensive steak.
The level of service at White Street is reasonably impressive, perhaps because Christine Cole, late of BondSt. is a partner here. But that doesn't mean the sommelier will pour your $25 Taittinger tableside (she doesn't) or give you a pre-purchase taste (sorry) or even show you the bottle (LOL). But for the most part, hosts bend over backwards to accommodate diners running late, bartenders don't charge you if you don't drink one of the so-so house-made cocktails (they're better at classics like daiquiris and martinis), and the wait staff knows to split dishes (like that pumpkin soup) without asking.
Too bad servers don't steer you away from the seared shiitake mushrooms; the funghi are one-note watery sponges for tamarind dashi. Ditto for the octopus, a tableau of under-crisped mollusk and chickpeas fried to the texture of rocks. It is profoundly awful. Fluke ceviche, served to Barack Obama during a fundraising dinner at White Street, sits in a stunning tamari broth; too bad the raw fish is mushy (albeit still tasty). Oily hamachi with hearts of palm is the more expert crudo preparation here.
Linguine with lobster is great if you like delicious shellfish paired with wantonly undercooked pasta. And vinegared beets with spiced lentils would be even better if the dish didn't taste like it was sitting in the refrigerator until two minutes before you placed your order.
Like at North End Grill, Cardoz exercises his Indian-spice utility belt with restraint. That means striped bass sits in a "sun-dried" ginger broth as delicate and refined as anything at Le Bernardin. Rice-crusted sea bream sports just a whisper of oil, which is perhaps why it needs just a hint of tamarind sauce to keep that richness in check. And bouillabaisse spiked with lemongrass is tasty enough if you can get past the over-salted, over-sweetened broth.
The ribeye lacks any of the profound complexity or dry-aged tang of the city's better steaks at this price level
And then there's the $62 ribeye. The beef, sourced from Clawhammer farms in upstate New York, comes from a grass-fed cow whose flesh exhibits an impressive sweetness. But it lacks any of the profound complexity or dry-aged tang of the city's better steaks at this price level. Even a $29 hanger cut would pack more steak-y flavor. And the black pepper jus it sits above adds little to the dish's overall average-ness.
The smarter choice is the lamb loin and belly, both tender and sufficiently gamy, or the $54 whole chicken, which could sate the city's most discerning fowl-o-philes; it's brined and roasted with flesh so tender I half wonder whether Cardoz has a rotisserie hidden in the kitchen. Avoid the grape and raisin chutney that comes with the bird, which adds nothing to the preparation.
Desserts are strong, from a spiced bread Napoleon to a subdued bay leaf pudding. Finish off with an apricot-infused negroni, and let's all hope that Cardoz, who knows how to blend French, American, and Indian fare like perhaps no one else in the world, can set his sail straight in the post-Meyer era.
Cost: Starters, $14-$21; mains: $25-$62
Sample dishes: Pea tendril salad, hamachi tartare, crabmeat cocktail, chicken for two, ribeye.
What to drink: Classic cocktails. Expect a good selection of aromatic whites to pair with the spiced foods.
Bonus tip: Good place for a business dinner; White Street is rarely loud.