food 09.5.03

The Biltmore Room

Ever since he proved himself a master of thrillingly-spiced multi-culti dishes at long-gone Aja, chef Gary Robins has been restaurant hopping for years now in and out of the city. Bubbalah, New York loves you. Settle down and find yourself a good kitchen.

Mr. Robins is the consulting chef at The Biltmore Room, 290 8th [24th/25th] 212.807.0111, which opened a few days ago and has already drawn foodies to see what Mr. Robins is up to now (Ruth Reichl was there last night). He's the consulting chef here but you can see his hand in coalition dishes like rice-crisped American red snapper with Russian banana potatoes, arugula, tomatoes, and black olives with a mirin-yuzu vinaigrette.

The Biltmore bar and dining room are gorgeous: marbled up the ying-yang, seductively lit, with carefully chosen details. We didn't spot Mr. Robins while we there, which may be why there's more promise at the moment than fulfillment from the kitchen. It's early days; this has the potential to become the best restaurant in Chelsea.

Marjoram-scented quail is an exemplary starter but for the overdose of salt in the corn risotto. On the other hand, a squash blossom containing Maryland crab over a pool of mango-chili sauce could use a trip to the spice rack — an anomaly for Mr. Robins' style. While we wish that restaurants would lay off the Chilean sea bass until the supply is replenished, it must be said that it's delicious here: marinated in miso and surrounded by a Japanese coterie of eggplant, pickled lotus, and somen noodles. Kitchens always want to send out duck rare, as they do here, but duck is one of the few things that needs a little extra fire to bring out the flavor. The lavender honey glaze is fair enough, but the dish could use one of Mr. Robins' bombshells to make it memorable.

Desserts have been given some attention: there's a good plum tart and even better passion fruit soufflé. Thought, too, has been given to the wine list — an interesting selection with wines as low as $25. The breads, though, are terrible.

With entrees averaging $25, the Biltmore places itself in the serious dining category. If they can strap Mr. Robins into the kitchen, all hell might break loose — which, really, is all the Biltmore needs.
Only a couple of corrections for Mr. Grimes' review of 325 Spring Street. Classic albufera sauce does not contain demi-glace sweetened with port. And Comté can not be called "France's great answer to Gruyère" because it is a Gruyère.


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