As I sat in this charming Upper East Side Italian restaurant, sipping on my drink and watching the incredible energy from the kitchen, it’s almost impossible to imagine that all of this might have never happened, or rather I should say ended prematurely…
Let me explain.
For those who follow New York’s culinary frenzy online, every few months we’re treated to a dramatic episode with chef Ryan Skeen. The story often goes like this: Chef Skeen would be connected to a new project, the restaurant would receive decent fanfare at opening, then a few months down the road a clash between the chef and ownership on the culinary direction would result in a temporary closure, and a stint on the Eater Deathwatch. The restaurants do recover from their Skeen experience, but the mainstream critics and popular opinion might not give them a second chance.
I’ve dined at a restaurant post Skeen (Fishtag), and during a disgruntled Skeen (Pera Soho). Following these episodes, I swore off visiting Skeen restaurants in its first 6 months of existence. When news of restaurant 83 1/2 started appearing in food press, I watched with amazement as the identical plot lines play out once again.
Truth is, I’ve completed forgotten about the drama surrounding 83 1/2 when an email arrived in my inbox about the restaurant. The revamped restaurant now feature an Italian menu by Will Foden, an up and coming chef from Boston. The wine list continues to be curated by Jean-Luc Le Du, the former somelier at Daniel.
We started the meal with Fricco, simple grilled crisps of Parmigiano cheese. On its own, it would have been an exciting way to start. Add the aioli with chili honey, and you get a whole new dimension of flavors.
For drinks, I ordered the Local G&T, drawn by my favorite tonic brand Tomr’s. Unfortunately the complex taste of Tomr’s tonic was completely drowned out by cucumbers. More Tomr’s Tonic is needed, perhaps?
The new Sicilian Italian menu stresses clean, fresh, and simple flavors. This was evident in the Insalata Misto, a simple yet refreshing vegetable salad with Pecorino vinaigrette. The crisp acidity continued in the Squid alla Plancha, which was cooked nice and tender, then flavored with peperoncino and lemon yogurt. I love capers with seafood, and was pleased to see some seriously plump capers lend acidity and savory elements to the dish.
The rather similar flavor profile extended into the Cavatelli with braised octopus. Capers, once again, makes an appearance. The pasta, “proudly made in house” in the menu footer, definitely elevates the dish. A very solid primi to set you up for the main entree.
Wild Striped Bass was exquisitely seared on one side, and yet still moist and tender in the center. The only way to cook fish fillets, in my opinion. Paired with cockles, the natural juices and flavors from the clams really add to the completeness of the dish.
Chicken alla Griglia, or simply grilled chicken, arrive bone in with a very nice char on the outside. Lemon and honey lends to a bit of sweetness, which may or may not be your liking. Overall a very solid entree option.
What does this rating mean?
Notes: The meal was compliments of the restaurant, although this did not impact my opinion, nor was I required to write a review of the experience. I’m guessing the name 83 1/2 comes from the fact it’s on 83rd Street between 1st and 2nd Ave? Because geographically speaking, it’s more like 83.1 where it’s located on the southern tip of the block…..