Restaurant openings seldom come any bigger.
2010 was an exciting year for restaurants in New York, filled with many accolades and exciting trends. However, astute observers can argue that things have been modest. The new contenders for your dining budget seem content with being good and not great, which I believe is too modest for the greatest city in the world. What gets us foodies excited is when a new entrant takes aim at the elite, to really stir it up in the 3~4 star space. (Regardless of whichever star-scale you are using)
Here comes a new challenger. The Lincoln Ristorante with Jonathan Benno.
Widely called the restaurant debut of 2010, the Lincoln Ristorante seems to have it all. The space is right inside the Lincoln Center, and features glass walls on all sides, a humongous open kitchen, and a sloping lawn as the roof that doubles as public space people can walk on. The price tag? $20 million. Welcome to pre-recession level spending.
With the stage set, you need a maestro to perform. So the Patina group went and retained the talent of Mr. Jonathan Benno. Famous for running the kitchen of Per Se as the Chef de Cuisine since 2004, Chef Benno has also worked in the kitchens of French Laundry, Daniel, and Tom Colicchio, just to name a few. This is the first restaurant where Chef Benno gets to headline, and there could not be a more fitting stage for making a big impression.
With glass walls on all sides, and another pane of glass separating kitchen from patron, this restaurant is literally a PR machine on its own, selling itself to the New York elite attending events at the Lincoln Center. As we walked towards the restaurant, I paid close attention to the people walking by. Everyone stared inside.
There are two doors to the restaurant. One is street level on the 65th street, across from Julliard, and the other faces the Paul Milstein Pool, luring theater goers with a kitchen performance.
We were handed a drink that featured a fine selection of Italian wines, and a few specialties that are specially chosen to suit Chef Benno’s creations. The menus are dated, and feature dishes made with the freshest ingredients of the day. We inquired about a tasting menu, which was not printed on the menu. The manager disappeared shortly to consult the chef, and confirmed with us that the tasting menu is a go.
Service is another area where you can tell that the restaurant is aiming for the big leagues. Pay close attention and you’ll notice the level of coordination between members of the wait staff. Hands never cross your field of view, plates hit the table at the exact same time. For a restaurant that’s only been open for a week, this is already very impressive.
The tasting menu started with crudo di tonno, or what I would describe as a tuna sashimi/tartare blended with olives and parsley. The dish is garnished with a tiny slice of lemon. This was a surprisingly refreshing start to the dinner.
Next came a plate of prosciutto from San Daniele with roasted vegetables. The salty and smoky flavors of the prosciutto with the slightly tart vegetables tasted great together.
As we enter the Primi section of the menu, we were served two types of pastas. The first was strozzapreti alla genovese , a delicious pasta covered in a light pesto and squash sauce, topped with baked zucchini. The second was cavatelli con vongole, a very light razor clam sauce over pasta, with just a hint of spiciness.
For the entree, we received the veal chop with gnocchi alla romana. The veal was soft, tender, and the seasoning was fantastic. However the gnocchi filled with romana cheese was a bit too salty and sharp for my taste.
While I was expecting to enter dessert after the veal, the chef surprised us with a burrata with greenmarket tomatoes. The soft creamy cheese and fragrant vegetables really helped clean the palate.
Then came a palate cleansing dish, before the real dessert. To be honest this palate cleanser would have been a great dessert on its own, but who am I to turn down more delicious sweets. The Clementine sorbet was fantastic, and leads nicely into the delicious desserts.
As we finished the meal and strolled towards the exit, we stopped by the lounge area to admire the bustling kitchen. The people in the lounge area seating really have the best seats in the house. Get a reservation if you want a nice quiet dinner, but if you want to see action, the walk in seats are perfect.
Dinner with a show at one of the grandest stage in the world. In my opinion, 3 stars from the tire man is only a matter of time for the Lincoln.
What does this rating mean?
The Lincoln Ristorante (Make a Reservation)
142 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023