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Pete Wells Has Mixed Feelings About Lowlife: Good Food, Stifling Self-Importance

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The Times critic initially loved his meals but eventually found the restaurant was trying too hard.

Lowlife Nick Solares

Lower East Side restaurant Lowlife left Pete Wells feeling torn between singing its praises and blocking the entrance to warn people from eating there, he writes in his latest review. Initially, he loved the warm, open space and menu items like the guinea hen sausage, hackleback caviar and fluke, and rib-eye cap, he writes. But the more he returned, the more self-important the restaurant felt.

A rib-eye cap, fresh from the charcoal and running with juices, had so much flavor it didn’t really need the anchovy-and-garlic emulsion or the nettle sauce served alongside it. As I chewed, I watched a succession of even bigger hunks of rib-eye, bone and all, leave the grill for the front of the restaurant. Finally it dawned on me: The men in black hats must have heard that Lowlife serves excellent steak.

What it does best of all is yakitori chicken. Cut up and blackened over charcoal, the bird has deep natural flavor and is brushed with a citrus-tinged glaze that is, by several miles, the best teriyaki sauce I have ever tasted. The squirt of green scallion sauce on the plate has nothing to do there and seems to know it. The crisp and smoky leaves of lightly charred cabbage are vital, though.

As I said, it all started well. But on return visits, I noticed a leaden self-importance that began to feel stifling.

Plus, the prices "can cause squirming," especially when the food comes lukewarm or dishes come out slowly. Lowlife is trying to be cool, Wells says, "but it’s hard to be cool when you’re trying to act important." One star.


178 Stanton St, New York, NY 10002 (212) 257-0509