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Pete Wells Is Into the Neighborhood Feel of Hot Spot Simon and the Whale

Two stars for Gabriel Stulman’s restaurant in the Freehand Hotel

Simon & the Whale
Simon & the Whale
Photo by Alex Staniloff

Restaurateur Gabriel Stulman’s big restaurant Simon and the Whale in the Freehand Hotel feels just as lively and intimate as his tiny West Village projects, says Pete Wells in his Times review this week — but with the added bonus of baker Zoe Kanan and pastry chef Charmaine McFarlane, who are both “very good at their jobs.”

Wells, who has been particularly hard on desserts around town lately, called McFarlane “an answered prayer” for the dessert menu at the Gramercy restaurant:

No mere afterthought, her panna cotta sits on a low base of semolina cake and is decked out with pink grapefruit fillets and grapefruit marmalade spiced with red juniper berries. A cooling evergreen moat of pine ice surrounds an earthy rye pudding that’s enriched with brown butter; pears fried in honey are splayed out on top, and some acerbic cranberries prevent the whole thing from cloying. I defy you to eat it without smiling.

I can’t say I’m as taken with crunchy knotweed-rhubarb compote as a topping for a buckwheat cake as Ms. McFarlane seems to be, but the same dessert offers one of the most astonishing ice creams around. Made with beeswax, it was as deeply aromatic as honey but not as sweet, and its texture was intensely creamy but not at all waxy.

The savory menu from Matt Griffin makes hotel restaurant standards a bit more interesting, including a “very good” spaghetti acqua pazza with clams and cherry tomatoes, Wells writes. And Kanan’s bread “helps lift” a fish sandwich to be “above the ordinary,” he adds. That, plus nooks and crannies and energetic vibes, gets the restaurant two stars.

It’s yet another positive review for the restaurant, which has quickly become a hotspot with visits from people like Bill Clinton. In March, Post critic Steve Cuozzo called it a “downtown restaurant for grown-ups,” commending Griffin’s modern American fare. Stulman’s fashionable upstairs all-day restaurant Studio has also been raking in the likes, particularly for Kanan’s pastries.

Freehand Hotel

23 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10010