First Impressions: Tribeca Canvas

Masaharu Morimoto’s Tribeca Canvas has been in the works for a long time, but it was never exactly clear what “Morimoto-style comfort food” might mean. Now that the restaurant is open, we have a menu. (Sorry for the poor quality of the photos.)

You can click on those to enlarge, although squinting is part of the Tribeca Canvas experience (more on that in a minute). Kurobuta corn dog. Lotus root chips with wasabi guacamole. Shrimp nachos. Mac and cheese with a poached egg. Something called seafood rice doria (we learned that it involves tomato and Parmesan cheese). Chicken pot pie. Duck duck cous (a pun?). “Should we just leave?” I asked Adam.

“But you wanted to come here!”

“That’s because I need to write about it. But everything about this place, most of all the menu, is triggering my bad-restaurant alarms. Maybe we should give it another week.”

Tribeca Canvas doesn’t have it’s liquor license yet, which is a shame because I associate the types of dishes listed above with what you’d eat after drinking, or on small plates in the Meatpacking District. I could get over that (and did), but the room is somewhat grim, almost entirely because of the dull light. One could argue that big paintings of wintry trees are romantic, or at least dramatic, but there’s no lighting in the dining room below the chandeliers twelve feet off the ground, resulting in a murky, almost hazy effect at table level. It’s never a good sign when your dinner companion, looking straight at you, says, “This light is really unflattering.” Some candles on the tables would work wonders.

While the lighting consultant is at it, perhaps he/she could move the light outside the front door that shines right in your eyes as you reach for the handle. Still sort of blinded, I wasn’t prepared for the awkward welcome. I had arrived first, and I told the host that we didn’t have a reservation. “So you’re a walk-in?” she asked (“Uh, I guess so,” when I saw she was awaiting a reply), then she requested my first and last name. I suppose that could be useful if the place was crowded, but it was empty. The music—house, disco, New Order’s “Age of Consent”—added to the effect that someone thinks Tribeca is more fun than it is.

The room was also oddly drafty—no, it was gusty. Cool air would occasionally blast sideways at us from an indeterminate source. Adam thought the front door was being opened, but no one was coming or going. The air made the chandeliers move, which sent dark ribbon-y shadows swirling around us.

The thing is, the food was really good—and far more exuberant than the room would indicate. I’ve only been to Morimoto once, and all I remember is lots of tuna. But everything Adam and I ordered last night, despite our fears and with the help of the adept, friendly waiter, worked beautifully. Adam took a defensive tack, opting for the arugula salad and the sea bass served over creamy farro. I figured that I should embrace the spirit of the place, ordering what turned out to be a stoner’s fantasy around-the-world trip. The lotus root chips (don’t tell me how many calories are in those things) proved delicious on their own and even better with the guacamole. The ddukbokki rice cakes were satisfying enough to qualify as a meal, and wrapping them in the accompanying nori (as instructed) added crunch and a counterpoint to the soy glaze. The two hamachi tacos—I can’t recall what the shells were made of, but it wasn’t flour or corn—were gone in four bites. And the steamed buns with lamb, pickled daikon, raita, and a lot of dill were tasty enough that I didn’t feel guilty for ordering meat.

Tribeca Canvas is at 313 Church (between Lispenard and Walker), 917-720-2845; It’s currently only open for dinner.

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