There’s been a rash of TV chefs returning to the kitchen and opening New York City restaurants in an attempt to turn fame on the flatscreen into restaurant success in the country’s most competitive market. Guy Fieri tried it at Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar, Carla Hall at the temporarily closed Carla’s Southern Kitchen and Cat Cora is about to do so at Fatbird, while the spikey-haired Anne Burrell (some say Guy Fieri stole her platinum hair style) just debuted Phil & Anne’s Good Time Lounge. It’s all about buttressing and fortifying the brand.
Yes, the name is goofy: It sounds like a restaurant with brass rails and portraits of clowns in a shopping mall. Yet the interior is deep, dark, and brooding, with little in the way of embellishment except many square yards of gray tile and black marble along with some rock-themed red metallic wallpaper. At the back of the restaurant up a few steps is an additional windowless room accented with chandeliers, where the Phantom of the Opera might make a surprise appearance. The banquettes are dimpled and high-topped, making you feel like a small child sitting with your parents.
The restaurant occupies the former Char 4 space, in a neighborhood that’s been on the culinary downswing since its heyday a decade ago. Burrell — currently co-host of Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America — has made an unusual choice of co-owner, too: Phil Casaceli, who owns Daddy-O, a West Village dive bar best known for its reproduction of Rochester, New York’s famed garbage plate. The explanation may be that Daddy-O is a stone’s throw from Centro Vinoteca, Burrell’s last attempt at a New York City restaurant.
The food has been described as “Mediterranean cuisine with Italian influences,” on a menu equally divided into the categories Light, Medium, and Heavy. How then to explain the grilled Korean style short ribs (Medium, $19), served with a heap of miniature pickled veggies and a schmear of gochujang? The meat was a little tougher than it should have been. Or the wonderful hogs in hoodies (Light, $10), made with biscuit dough and thick, smoky sausages? Let’s just say the menu skews eclectic.
On an early visit, two friends and I thought the so-called roasted cauliflower steak (Light, $17), topped with a jiggly egg that burst when you cut into it, was delicious, though it was more of a stir-fry than a steak. On the other hand, one of the few actual Italian elements, bucatini Amatriciana (Medium, $18), was nicely cooked but too sweet by a country mile. “Big fat chicken soup” (Medium, $14), was rich but without much poultry, while seared cod with clams and shrimp (Heavy, $28) constituted an Italo-American take on bouillabaisse, with a fennel-laced tomato broth and some very well-prepared seafood.
We saved the kale Caesar, meatballs with ricotta and dill pickles, and double patty cheeseburger served with tater tots for another visit. There’s a roster of invented cocktails ($14), a selection of beers, and a wine list that seems purposefully short, with bottles around $40 and not much selection.
As we dined, Burrell was expediting with her four cooks in the open kitchen, stepping out occasionally to be photographed with diners, including a children’s birthday party seated next to us. They seemed to really like the tater tots. Indeed, the menu at Phil and Anne’s Good Time Lounge has something for everyone, but it leaves you wondering if a central concept of some sort — a reason for existence apart from a celebrity chef — hasn’t gone missing.