First Impressions: Augustine

augustine-exteriorBack story: After co-founding the Odeon, Keith McNally launched a string of popular restaurants: Balthazar, Lucky Strike, Schiller’s, Pastis, Morandi, Minetta Tavern, Cherche Midi, and so forth. His latest is Augustine, one of two restaurants—the other being Tom Colicchio’s Fowler & Wells—inside the new Beekman hotel.

The atmosphere: Augustine is a more feminine, Art Nouveau version of an upscale McNally bistro. Taken on their own, the painted tile, rampant pastels, and floral sconces might come off as fusty, but with the help of extremely flattering lighting, they add up to a glamorous whole. The front of the restaurant is dominated by the bar and the crowd standing around it; I did not see the dining room in the rear. (Five minutes after our 8:30 p.m. reservation, we were offered the choice of a window booth in the front room or a 20-miniute wait for a table in the dining room.)

augustine-roomThe menu: When I first looked at the menu, I wondered whether McNally ever gets tired of swimming in this particular pond—steak frites, premium burger, cheese soufflé, etc. There are a few outliers, including a Waldorf salad and the (very on-trend) spaghetti with sea urchin, but overall the menu is the equivalent of a cozy blanket.

augustine-dinner-menuGold star: Augustine is a triumph of ambiance: From the street and inside, it looks like the very definition of a sophisticated, lively restaurant. While the roar of noise in the front room makes all conversations sound like arguments, it also adds to the feeling that Augustine is somewhere you should want to be. (The pretty lighting isn’t conducive to amateur photography, alas.)

augustine-bar-colorRoom for improvement: Several readers have expressed delight to me about the food, and my friends thought the foie gras and crab-and-avocado salad were worthwhile, but the salmon, grilled fish of the day, and steak frites were all meh. And the broiled lobster (pictured below), was sent back because it was undercooked, only to have it return in pretty much the same state. As at McNally’s other restaurants, I wished the food was as satisfying as the sense of place.

augustine-lobsterAnything else? Perhaps because our server was struggling, a manager kept an eye on our table, removing the lobster from the check and comping a dessert. It confirmed what I found be the case at recent visits to Balthazar and Cherche Midi: Despite the McNally empire’s reputation for too-coolness, the hospitality feels more gracious, more genuine, than it did a decade ago. One exception: Calling for a reservation at Augustine involved an interminable hold time, and then the connection dropped before anyone answered. And when I needed to cancel, I had to wait on hold for seven minutes, listening to a snippet of looped jazz, interrupted now and again by a ringing that apparently signified nothing. (Would it be so hard to have a “press 2” option to cancel?) Hospitality, to my mind, should extend beyond the restaurant walls, and the experience made me wonder whether McNally ever tries calling his own restaurants to see what the process is like.

augustine-crab-avocado-saladContact: Augustine is inside the Beekman hotel, 5 Beekman (at Nassau); 212-375-0010; augustineny.com. Lunch service starts November 29; brunch follows on December 4; and breakfast will be offered as of January 3.

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3 Comments

  1. Went to Augustine for Thanksgiving and it couldn’t have been more perfect; food, service… and that oh so flattering lighting!

  2. Had a really good meal at Augustine.. The room is beautiful.
    Ordered Roasted Marrow bones, Steak Frites … Compared to the other McNally restaurants I feel the menu / food is most comparable to Cherche Midi.

    The restaurant just opened so I trust that the food will dial in and become more consistently good very shortly… (I remember Morandi too did not impress the first time I had gone to it but now is a steady choice for us…)

  3. Lunch was outrageously scrumptious and server couldn’t have been more on point. Welcoming and cozy atmosphere and festive for the holidays.

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