First Impressions: Bâtard

While dining at Bâtard, I kept coming back to Eater’s anointment of it as the most exciting and anticipated restaurant to open this summer, the one that “all the critics and fine dining enthusiasts of this city will be clamoring to get into.” Certainly, the space has a remarkable history; as restaurateur Drew Nieporent reminded Adam and me—I had reserved under my own name, which was a mistake, but I think we might have gotten the lecture even if we were visiting from Wisconsin—he opened Montrachet back when Tribeca was a wasteland, after the Odeon but before Chanterelle, and of course it was followed by the esteemed Corton with chef Paul Liebrandt. The pedigree of those involved with the current iteration demands attention, too: partner John Winterman, who had been at Daniel, and chef Markus Glocker, most recently of Gordon Ramsay at the London.

I wonder, however, what the novelty-obsessed food world will make of the place, which isn’t so different from its predecessors—a fine-dining setting with European cuisine. Restaurants all over the world are messing with the high-low matrix, but Bâtard puts its chips safely in the high zone. What edge there is comes from the lack of tablecloths and amuse-bouches, the black crockery, the retrograde Jim Beam rye and conventional maraschino cherry in the signature Old Dirty Bâtard cocktail, and the borderline transgressive use of out-of-season fruit in the desserts. When the charming Winterman came over, he said that he didn’t know why he was wearing a suit since he’s now downtown. But the sommelier(s?) wore suits, and the servers were in buttoned vests and neckwear, so he fit right in.

All of which is to say that Bâtard isn’t akin to the cutting-edge Atera, the cuisine-reinventing Torrisi Italian Specialties, or the buzzy Charlie Bird; it’s not exciting like the restaurants that people have gotten excited about in recent years—Brooklyn Fare, or Alder, or ABC Kitchen, or M. Wells Dinette, or La Vara, or Betony, or Mission Chinese…. I’m not sure there’s much new about it at all.

And yet, it succeeds as comfort dining par excellence—the aspects that make it work are ones valued uptown. You’re taken care of marvelously but not stiffly, and the room is the same windowless cocoon it has always been, even if that felt like more of a relief in the 1990s, when these streets could still qualify as mean. (I should note that the photos below don’t do anything justice. The nicer the restaurant, the less disruptive I aim to be, so I took these very quickly.) The decor is the weak link: Adam, bitter about being seated under an unflattering spotlight, had flashbacks to expense-account dinners in the Midwest.

The menu is offered in two, three, or four courses (for $55, $65, or $75), and refreshingly, you may choose two appetizers instead of dessert, something I wish more restaurants would do. Nonetheless, we went the traditional route. I ordered the octopus “pastrami,” Parmesan risotto, and the caramelized milk bread, while Adam opted for the English pea soup, pan-roasted branzino, and Black Forest dessert. The ingredients overall were straightforward—only one, baumkuchen, required an explanation—and there were no obvious signs of molecular-gastronomy techniques. But everything was delicious—less complex and tweezer-y than at Corton, but also less uptight and easier to relax and enjoy. And the milk bread, crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside, was far and away the best dessert we’ve tasted in years.

Maybe a civilized restaurant with smooth service and excellent, satisfying food is pretty exciting after all.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention that the cocktails were just $12—unheard of at this level of restaurant. UPDATE #2: We either got lucky or a deal; see Mitch Weinstein’s comment below. UPDATE #3: Some cocktails are indeed $12, according to Sam (see below).

Bâtard is at 239 W. Broadway (between Walker and White), 212-219-2777;

Batard roomBatard pea soup with sweetbreadsBatard octopus pastramiBatard branzinoBatard risottoBatard black forest dessertBatard milk breadRecent New Kid on the Block/First Impressions articles:
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  1. Sorry, the cocktails were not $12. My wife’s Aviation was $14, and my Plymouth Martini $17.

  2. Sounds wonderful ! It’s now on our list.

  3. I’ve always enjoyed dinners at Drew Nieporent restaurants, I will definitely give this one a try.
    Good luck Drew on your newest venture.

  4. Hi, Erik!–dropped back into the neighborhood to celebrate our anniversary at Bâtard earlier this week.

    The short review is: this might be the restaurant to replace Chanterelle in our hearts (and stomachs). Yes, we thought it was THAT good.

    Other than the lack of tablecloths, which added to the somewhat-too-high noise level (very un-Chanterelle), it was a great experience. (We also sat under spots, but since we’re old, we were happy to be able to see the menus, the food, and each other.) The service was great–we got an recommendation for a bottle of wine that went splendidly with all our food, and the servers were always there when we needed them. There was no problem splitting a course so that we got to try more of the already-greatest hits. And every dish we ordered was a hit: The octopus (another “flavors of” à la Paul Liebrandt) was tender, with great pastrami-style spicing right down to the caraway of the rye bread one might normally expect with it. Lobster (shades of Chanterelle with the stuffed zucchini blossom, although this one is fried) has not just sweet crustacean, but flavor-packed vegetables. The rabbit (which we split) did indeed carry the flavors of bouillabaisse, and the meat was moister than I’ve had rabbit anywhere; the ravioli with it were great, too, with thin but perfectly cooked dough around a very flavorful filling. We opted for the lamb for two, which seemed another nod to Liebrandt (at The Elm) but so much happier an experience. A huge amount of well-flavored meat with delicious vegetables.

    We thought we would end by splitting the cheese, but were gifted with a quenelle of the cherry sorbet, that milk bread, and the Key lime pie (I used to work for Drew, at Zeppole, and Marty was really sweet to remember). Loved both, esp. the herbal ice cream with the pie and yogurt with the bread. So we didn’t have the cheese…this time.

    I found the food very tweezer-y, with many tiny elements on the plates, but it all added up to deliciousness. A reason to return to the old nabe.


    • Thanks, Suzanne, for the heads-up about the noise level. I’m sick of going to restaurants where you have to yell to be heard by your dinner partner(s). Sounds so good otherwise.