It's sort of a waste writing up Augustine. Not only do you already know what it's going to be like, but you already know if you'll like it.
The room is like Cherche Midi in that it's a little brighter than the old McNally standard. But I think this one's a little nicer. It's lined with distressed floral tiles that are quite pretty.
The Executive Chefs are Shane McBride and Daniel Parilla, the same guys who took over Balthazar last year (was it?). Probably because it's new and everybody's paying attention, the food is better than Balthazar, while not hitting the heights of Minetta Tavern during its Golden Days. It's good solid bistro fare, and really hits the spot.
Well, as far as I can tell -- since, as you'll see below, I had the burger.
I walked in on a Wednesday around 15 minutes before their 11 PM closing time. I asked tremulously if the kitchen was still open, and the hostess responded as if she couldn't understand why I was worried.
I had planned, of course, to eat at the bar. But the bar was slammed. So, much as I hate to do so, I accepted a table. One of the very few tables available, I hasten to add: late on a Wednesday, this place was hopping (The bar started to empty about five minutes after I got there -- and they were still taking food orders. So the play here may be to walk in at 10:50 PM instead of 10:45.)
It's interesting how things sort themselves out. The average age of the people in the dining room of Fowler & Wells right next door seemed north even of my (new) age (my date -- who was doing her best to bring the average down but couldn't by herself -- asked why the menu was printed in such tiny type if everyone eating there was so old). The average age of the diners at Augustine was a good 30 or 35 years younger. The restaurant nevertheless played a typical Keith McNally playlist, seemingly composed for hipsters in their 60s, the high point Wednesday night being the Tim Rose version of "Hey Joe."
It was late, I'd spent the day writing, and I didn't want anything too big. So I started with the "salt-baked" oysters (only three of them, I whine) with I guess you'd call it a Mignonette but with peppers and stuff in it. Cooked oyster dishes can be risky, but this one was fine.
And then, instead of a substantive main course, the burger. The burger here is topped with Compte and onions sauteed in whiskey. I actually find cooking with whiskey to be another risk, in that the flavor is much more assertive than you think it's going to be. Here, the accent was just right. I didn't like the roll it was on, which was too hard. Why people don't just stick with potato buns is a mystery to me.
Here's a curiosity: in the run-up publicity to the opening of this place, it was explained that originally the burger was going to come with a shot of whiskey to complement the whiskey in the onions, but, we were told, that idea ultimately was nixed as imprudent. Soon after my burger was delivered, which was also soon after Francois the bartender stopped by my table to say hi, a shot of whiskey appeared. When I later thanked Francois for the shot, he said it came with the burger. I wonder what's up.
Dessert was a roasted blood orange that could have had my name on it.
I loved this place. But I would. You know if you would, too.
COMP DISCLOSURE: Maybe the shot. But probably not.