In a trip inspired by “morbid curiosity” and a bit of “masochism,” Times critic Pete Wells returned to the Hudson Yards this week, giving the American brasserie with a lukewarm two-star review. The Times critic found that the Tavern by WS — which debuted last November with catwalks, looming wine walls, and an early 2000s aesthetic — was “better than it should be,” a win considering his overall suspicion of Hudson Yards dining.
Eli Kaimeh, who worked with Thomas Keller for over a decade at Per Se, heads the restaurant’s kitchen and “has helped turn the Tavern by WS into a good restaurant, despite its owners’ efforts to make it look like the opposite,” Wells writes. Kaimeh’s Caesar salad, in particular, tested the Times critic’s restraint:
The Caesar salad looks like a cross-section of an iceberg-lettuce head, which it essentially is, except that every leaf inside it has been somehow painted with a gratifyingly sharp Caesar dressing. The top is golden with toasted chips of Parmesan bread crumbs and grated Parmesan; crisscrossed over this are two anchovies, battered and deep-fried, fish-and-chips style. I have tried telling myself I won’t eat the anchovies first, but I always do.
Although Kaimeh spent a decade preparing tasting-menu portions, Wells also took a liking to the chef’s main courses, especially the spatchcock chicken, which he found to be “good and crunchy.”
Not unlike the restaurant’s decor, Wells writes that some of the dishes felt “overly complicated” — like the cucumber “jelly shards” that come with the salmon rillettes, which had a slight “back-of-the-fridge” taste; or the whole honeynut squash, which he surmised had brown butter “pumped into it.”
Tavern by WS is not the work of “Willie Sutton, Will Shortz, or Walter Slezak” as Wells jokes in reference to the restaurant’s initials, but instead comes to Hudson Yards from wine-ranking magazine Wine Spectator. The magazine’s publisher Marvin Shanken owns the restaurant alongside developers Stephen Ross, who is responsible for Hudson Yards, and Kenneth Himmel, who oversaw construction of its mall. Given the Times critic’s previous criticisms of the $20-billion waterfront development, whose restaurants he has largely called “cursed” with few exceptions, the review is a net positive. Two stars.