Welcome to Scene Report, a new column in which Eater captures the vibe of a notable New York restaurant at a specific moment in time. Read the first one here.
You have heard of Tatiana by now. Star chef Kwame Onwuachi’s latest restaurant, situated in the heart of Lincoln Center, is not wanting for accolades and attention. Hannah Goldfield called it “electric.” Pete Wells gave it three stars, and said he’s “never seen a restaurant address what’s going on in the culture the way” Tatiana does. Later, he christened it the best restaurant in the city. Resy has an entire guide on how to get perhaps the most coveted New York reservation (on its own platform of course). Onwuachi describes Tatiana as a “love letter to New York,” both his own experience growing up in the Bronx, and all of the cuisines and flavors that meld here.
The vibe: Tatiana takes up the southwest corner of David Geffen Hall, yet somehow feels tucked away, the floor to ceiling windows draped in chain curtains to provide a slight buffer from everyone milling about the plaza. Inside is sleek and cool, with lights that resemble paper clouds floating down from the ceiling (they glow purple after dark), dark marble tables, and gold flatware. Recent and ’90s rap hits hint at the club. (“Still Not a Player” by Big Pun called to mind middle-school dance parties.) The clientele (on a weekday around 7 p.m.) who have all figured out a way to be seen at maybe the most in-demand reservation in the city, is either young and trendy, dressed in backless bodycon dresses and expensive sneakers, or the standard Lincoln Center pre-ballet crowd — one of those real only in-New-York mixes.
What to drink: The drinks menu on a recent visit was everything you want to sip on a hot summer day, with flavors that skew tropical and three frozen options: The “POG Nutcracker,” a riff on the now-ubiquitous illicit beach drink, was a balanced mix of rum and juices, with a pronounced tang of passionfruit; a drink with three different variations of pineapple tasted like pure July. Non-alcoholic options include pre-bottled phony negronis.
On the menu: Nearly six months in, the menu still leans on pricey riffs on familiar New York dishes, like Chinese take-out-inspired mushrooms, crab rangoon with oxtail, and shawarma roasted chicken. Influences from the Caribbean and Nigeria appear in the form of egusi dumplings, flaky curried goat patties, and sticky, no-knife-required oxtail. Those looking to splurge should order the tender short rib pastrami suya. Served with a pull-apart caraway bread, “melted” red cabbage, and a take on Russian dressing, it makes for a great mini-sandwich moment, though the hefty $85 price tag might have you hoping for more than four pieces of bread. (The truffle chopped cheese has been scrapped; the menu has changed in general since early reviews, with items like the short rib pastrami served sliced and boneless as opposed to the bone-in version from winter menus.) The desserts continue the nostalgia tour: There’s a fenugreek-tinged take on a Good Humor strawberry shortcake bar, a “bodega special” featuring a Tatiana-made Cosmic Brownie, and a Harlem Chocolate Factory white chocolate cheesecake.
Go after dark: Daylight shining through the wraparound windows on a summer evening tempers the atmosphere, making it feel closer to a museum or resort restaurant. Suddenly you’re too aware of the entirety of Lincoln Center, and all the ways the restaurant is trying to distract you from that; the chain curtains can only do so much. If you can get a reservation, see if you can make it for after the sun sets, when the vibe has a better chance of landing.
Take note: Tatiana may not be the best choice for those looking for a quiet dinner. Although the music was at a level that allowed for talking and not yelling during a recent visit, this may have been an outlier. Its volume is mentioned in several reviews and even in a warning on Tatiana’s Resy page (“The music volume in the restaurant is loud with a lively vibe”). The large, umbrella-shaded outdoor seating area next to the plaza seems like a more chill way to experience Tatiana — plus, according to Grub Street, it’s also easier to snag a table there.