SHO Shaun Hergatt
Posted 07 July 2009 - 04:00 PM
SHO has a lot going against it. It's in the Financial District, which has had a good high-end non-steakhouse restaurant, well, never in my nearly 30 years of adult life. It's not on street level, but rather is on the second floor of a stupid pretentious condo redevelopment of an old office building. Given the current economy, both the development and the restaurant have "epic fail" written all over them.
Strictly from a food perspective, the restaurant is named after some young Australian chef, as if we New Yorkers are supposed to know, and care, that Shaun Hergatt is deigning to cook for us. (When did chefs start getting restaurants named for them before they became actually famous? I kind of deplore that practice.) As has been observed with some frequency in recent times, we New Yorkers don't take kindly to these out-of-town chefs being foisted on us as stars whom we are supposed to feel lucky are cooking here.
Chef Hergatt turns out to have had some early experience in a New York kitchen -- under Gabriel Kreuther, no less, at Atelier -- although I believe his most recent posts have seen him running hotel kitchens in the provinces. Just before this place, he ran a similar restaurant in a Miami Beach hotel developed by the same company as this condo.
The dining room is elaborate and expensive-looking . . . and very nice. Now on to the food.
The food is good. It's basically sort of French, but as you'd expect from an Australian chef, with pronounced Asian accents. I don't go over the top loving it, but I certainly liked it.
I think Chef Hergott does best with fish. I say that because the single best dish I had was a carmelized salmon served with several unrecognizable-to-me Japanese flavorings and a Thai basil froth. It may sound like there was too much going on in this dish, but it did not taste anything like as busy as the menu made it sound. Rather, you got the taste of an excellent piece of salmon with some mild but supportive and interesting flavor elements added to it.
Contrast that with the beef dish: "Thai pepper dusted" beef fillet served with a glazed beef cheek and an onion subise (I'm not sick of subise yet, BTW, even if we're all supposed to be) and, happily, a plate of vegetables on the side. (If I'm happy to see a plate of vegetables, you know something's up.) Beef fillet is so bland a food that you need something to give it flavor -- but I thought the "Thai pepper" just tasted out-of-place, an Asian flavor element that seemed grafted onto the dish, as is often the case at Tabla, rather than seeming an organic part of it. The beef cheek plopped on top of the fillet made the dish too rich: it's very rare that something is placed in front of me and I wonder whether I can finish it, but this was one of those times.
The standout appetizer I tried was the "double duck" consomme with a chicken/truffle raviolo. I don't know what "double duck" means, but this was one deep, rich broth, tasting mainly (and powerfully) of duck, but with Asian spices artfully applied this time (as with the salmon as opposed to the beef). The raviolo was not dull.
Their "signature" appetizer (as I was told after I ordered it) of "salt-pressed" trout stacked between pieces of an unfamiliar Asian pear with a dressing made from an unfamiliar Asian fruit was, for all the exotcism of the fruit components, less distinctive. Nothing wrong with it, but, beyond the superb quality of the fish itself, nothing particularly memorable, either.
The wine list has some bullshit at the front about how the stewards of the wine program want diners to perceive wine as "a part of everyday life" or somesuch. Which is probably why the list tilts toward standard French "luxury" wines, with prices hovering around (and over) the $100 mark, with very few more modest selections -- and those not partcularly interesting. The by-the-glass list is insufficiently broad. Cocktails (big surprise) are overdesigned but uninteresting and unbalanced.
I saved the best for last. If you eat in the dining room, a three-course dinner has a very sensible fixed price of $69, which I guess the restaurant felt constrained to do in the current economy but which makes me fear for the restaurant's continuing existence (they certainly don't seem to be scrimping on raw materials). Of course, if you eat at the bar, you have to order a la carte and lose that tremendous advantage.
I admire this restaurant for proceeding with its three-star concept after the economy turned. I wish I loved it more, but I certainly like it.
COMP DISCLOSURE: An FOH staffperson went out with me for drinks afterward.
Posted 07 July 2009 - 04:20 PM
To some extent, the owners are locked into a concept that was conceived two or more years ago, before the current economic crisis. Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch all still existed; Citi wasn't a penny stock. As Hergatt has noted, the average household income of the rapidly expanding downtown residential population is over $250,000, and they've all gotta eat. So it wasn't at all foolhardy to think that a fine dining restaurant could succeed here.
But there were plenty of times over the last two years when they surely must have at least considered dialing down those parts of the concept that could be, and it's to their credit that they've stuck to their guns. If they fail, it will at least be a noble failure. I agree with Sneakeater that naming the place after an obscure Australian chef is a bit odd, and I also agree that three-digit wine prices are somewhat at variance with the $69 prix fixe. (My normal rule is that if the dinner costs $69, there ought to be an ample selection of wines around that price—and at this restaurant there are not.)
No major critic has reviewed this place yet, but the reports I am reading are mostly positive. This is a place that won't get walk-in traffic, and the names behind it are not well known in New York, so it will need a ton of good reviews to get people to visit a location where they would not normally go.
Editor, New York Journal
Posted 07 July 2009 - 04:23 PM
For their sake, I hope they don't get reviewed until after Bruni leaves.
Posted 07 July 2009 - 04:27 PM
Posted 07 July 2009 - 05:32 PM
ETA: An interview with SH (minus the O) Sounds like he's not necessarily obscure in Oz, and also worked for Ritz-Carlton in DC and Boston, besides opening a Setai in Miami. Why are NYers so provincial?
Edited by Suzanne F, 07 July 2009 - 05:40 PM.
[M]ost of the pastas hover around $25. This ought to be enough to buy bucatini that is cooked on both ends. -- Pete Wells on Caravaggio ( * review)
Tonight, there was a dessert of coconut, rhubarb, and black olive. Obvious in its execution how innovation and experiment, when introduced for their own sake, are annoying. --irnscrabblechf52, May 9, 2013
notorious stickler -- NY Times
deeply annoying and nitpicking -- Molly O'Neill, One Big Table
Posted 07 July 2009 - 05:40 PM
This is certainly true, but the best known fails have been the out-of-town chefs who do not move here permanently—the ones for whom a New York restaurant is merely an outpost of an empire based elsewhere. Chefs who move here for good, as Hergatt has done, have enjoyed somewhat better success.
Editor, New York Journal
Posted 07 July 2009 - 05:54 PM
This of course is the most intriguing part of the review....
Did you know her (?) beforehand? And what happened after the drinks?
Posted 07 July 2009 - 06:02 PM
First question: no.
Second question: no comment.
Posted 07 July 2009 - 06:04 PM
Posted 07 July 2009 - 06:06 PM
obviously, sneak, you are not going back for food
maybe i should go to marea
Everything is always OK in the end. If it's not OK, then it's not the end.
Posted 07 July 2009 - 06:11 PM
As for the food, I want to be clear about something. Just because some of it wasn't particularly to my taste doesn't mean it's "not exciting". Look how excited oakapple got about it. He's at least as reliable as I am (actually, I flatter myself by saying that). My reaction is just a data point, nothing more.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I certainly didn't intend my write-up to dissuade anyone from going to this worthy restaurant. I mean, if you eat in the dining room, for $69, it's almost a steal. Certainly worth trying to see what you think of it.
Posted 07 July 2009 - 06:18 PM
First question: no.
Second question: no comment.
Ah. Dinner and a show.
"None of you get it." - Wilfrid (on the Beatles)
"I don't have time to point out all the ways in which you're wrong" - irnscrabblechf52
Posted 07 July 2009 - 06:39 PM
None of these guys are obscure where they come from.
I recall having heard of someone named Alain Ducasse before he opened a restaurant on Central Park South.
ETA -- Seriously, Tim Love wasn't obscure in Dallas, and you can see all the love that bought him here.