First Impressions: North End Grill

Goldman Sachs’s changes to the restaurants in and around its new building are less a reinvention than an upgrade. The newcomers have discernible predecessors: Wei West is a better version—arguably, anyway—than Lili’s; the Conrad will be a finer Embassy Suites; Harry’s Italian will doubtless improve on the pizza place whose name I can’t remember; Shake Shack and Blue Smoke are the classier relatives of Applebee’s. Until we see what else appears on Vesey—it’s bound to be better than Chevy’s—that leaves North End Grill as the lone significantly different restaurant. I suppose François Payard Bakery and Beans & Greens factor in, but work with me here.

“You can’t say this feels like an airport restaurant,” said Adam as we sat down to lunch yesterday, referring to my Blue Smoke post.

“No,” I agreed. “But does it have a sense of place?” The name is generic; the entrance is vague at best. That’s when I realized maybe it does have a sense of place. North End Grill is sparkling new, very friendly, and it doesn’t put on airs—making it rather like Battery Park City. Seeing as how it looks out on the Irish Hunger Memorial, it also has a dramatic dose of irony.

The space is attractive. You walk in to find the coat check directly on your left; in 20-degree weather, that means once you remove your coat, you have to hightail it into the restaurant. (Or at least you should once the restaurant gets the heat working. Yesterday, it was keep-your-coat-on cold. Actually, I found it sit-on-your-hands cold, possibly because our table was in the center of the dining room, far from any of the discreetly placed space heaters. Two different staffers said the poor heating may have been a result of the hotel construction not being finished yet. Either way, one hopes it gets fixed ASAP, and in the meantime, ask to sit at the bar near the open kitchen.) The front room is a bar, with the kitchen along the back wall. Then you pass through the Prep Station Strait, sort of like at Maialino, en route to the main dining room.

The predominant tones are dark (chocolate wood, black ceilings, navy banquettes) with white tablecloths and various patterns (checkerboard floors, stripes in the occasional dropped ceiling, the circular light fixtures that resemble suction cups with stamens) set off against them. It’s all very crisp and masculine, and it feels fresh, except for the black-and-white photos, which give me Westin flashbacks. I did think the large photo of a toilet by the restrooms was brilliant—no need to ask for directions. Oh, and the tables are generously spaced. In fact, I had to strain to eavesdrop on the conversation next to us.

That North End Grill is serving the best food in Battery Park City is obvious. I was worried the food would be generic New American, but I can’t recall a menu so thoroughly appetizing. (The lunch menu is here.) It’s all just different enough. I chose the turnip-and-fennel salad to start, followed by the shrimp burger; Adam went for the escarole salad and the seafood sausage. We didn’t order ambitiously, but it was freezing, and we craved comfort food. (Actually, once the salad came, I craved the soup, simply for the warmth.) Chef Floyd Cardoz seems to be having fun with hints of flavor—this isn’t Tabla, by any means, but surprises and delights abound in the cumin-laced fries, the Sir Kensington ketchup, the shrimp burger, which is “seriously fried,” in Adam’s words, and served on a pretzel bun. It’s too rich but insanely good, and it’s a new favorite thing. That’s it pictured above.

“We’ll be coming back,” said Adam.

“Yeah, I said. “In July.” I was joking. I plan to spend a lot of time at this restaurant.

The service was impeccable and sweet, as one expects from a Danny Meyer establishment. I was dismayed by the tiny dollop of butter that came with the bread—a new Bloomberg health initiative?—and I thought to myself, If this is really a good restaurant, they’ll ask if we’d like more. Which they did. I will say that I always feel a bit left out when manager-level types chat up everyone but me, but luckily, I was able to overhear that the liquor license is expected Wednesday (although perhaps not in time for lunch), that dinner will start January 23, and that brunch will involve a “totally different menu.” Until the liquor license arrives, by the way, you can order various grape juices, which are then served like wine—i.e., you’re first offered a sip to taste. Maybe I was wrong about North End Grill not putting on airs….

North End Grill is at 104 North End Ave. (between Murray and Vesey), 646-747-1600; northendgrillnyc.com.

To comment on North End Grill, please visit the North End Grill page in the Tribeca Citizen restaurant guide.

P.S. Every time I take a food photo, Adam tries to stick a fork in the shot, because he thinks it makes it more appealing. So I let him put a French fry in this one.

P.P.S.: Feel free to comment on this post, but if you’re sharing opinions about North End Grill, it’d be great if you posted them on North End Grill’s page in the Tribeca Citizen Restaurant Guide.

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