An evening at Augustine feels like an escape to Paris, Pete Wells recalls in his latest review. This is not unique to the FiDi restaurant, but rather a hallmark of any Keith McNally opening, the Times critic quips. Wells likens McNally’s formula to Patricia Cornwell’s novels, where the template is always the same, just with a few “fresh elements.” When Ryan Sutton reviewed the McNally newcomer just after the New Year, he dubbed the restaurant a “instant Keith McNally classic.”
Here is Wells on that quintessential McNally flare:
By unanimous consent, atmosphere is Mr. McNally’s great, almost unrivaled strength. Just as the James Bond movies move from one location to another, all of which feel exactly like Bond movie locations, Mr. McNally’s dining rooms are all different and yet somehow the same. He excels at building rooms that evoke vintage Paris — not exactly the real Paris, but the city the way you remember it a year after taking a vacation there.
Wells notes that the principle also applies to the food at Augustine, overseen by McNally veterans Shane McBride and Daniel Parilla (the duo also runs the kitchen at Cherche Midi). Wells on some of his favorites:
Beef, which can be hit or miss in France, is one of the most reliable choices on a McNally menu. At Augustine, there is a lot of it. Grilled steaks get their own menu heading — grillades. One of them is a filet mignon au poivre, but even my T-bone was sheathed in cracked peppercorns. The meat had the density and force imparted by dry aging, and was tender without being floppy.
The obligatory steak frites has been exiled to the entree section. It is agreeably muscular and chewy, and served with amber-gold fries that are a perfect illustration of what may be the McNally Doctrine: Restaurants don’t need to do new things if they do the old things right.
Still, the food can sometimes be “spotty,” and go-to dishes like steak tartare and mille-feuille fall flat. But imperfections like these are par for the course with any restaurant, a reminder that “It’s just dinner,” Wells notes.
Two months after it opened, Eater critic Ryan Sutton awarded the restaurant two stars. A few months later Wells gives it one star.