First Impressions: Manhatta

Back story: Fosun International’s ongoing reinvention of One Chase Manhattan Plaza into 28 Liberty includes, on the 60th floor, a huge event space (Bay Room) and a restaurant (Manhatta), both run by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, which you know locally from North End Grill.

The atmosphere: The entrance was a little odd, at least for us, because only when we reached the elevator bank did we encounter a staffer—and if there was any signage inside indicating that we were in the right place, we didn’t see it. (Obviously, this would only be an issue on the initial visit.) The elevator ride is fast, if jittery, and the greeting upstairs was warm. Manhatta is on the south north side of 28 Liberty, so the views are of the north and east—with Midtown in the distance, and at least four bridges. The decor takes a back seat to the view, as it should. While handsome, the room is a tad generic; if curtains were pulled, you could be anywhere. Lucky for us, the curtains are hypothetical, and there’s just something wonderful about dining so high up—not only the spectacular view, but the sheer novelty of the experience. It reminded me of being in Tokyo.

The menu: Manhatta offers a set menu of three courses for $78 (the $39 soft-opening price was still in effect when we went, making for an extraordinary value). Because the gratuity is included, the total for food is $65, which breaks down as $15 for appetizer, $35 for entrée, and $15 for dessert—not at all out of line for contemporary Manhattan, and less expensive than one might expect for such a premium setting. I suspect that USHG chose the set menu because it guarantees $78 in revenue per diner: No one is ordering two appetizers instead of an entrée, splitting a dish, or skipping dessert. The operational benefits are compounded by the small menu: 17 items total, not including a few snacks. That said, the rigidity will not be to everyone’s taste. When the menu first came out, many of us were dismayed by the lack of vegetarian options, which has been addressed, but folks who don’t want dessert, or who are on the pickier side, might balk. (Note: The à la carte bar menu mostly overlaps the dining room menu, with a few additions, such as the inevitable burger.)

Gold star: What a pleasure it was to be in a well-run restaurant! Everything clicked, and in USHG style, went beyond what was necessary. (The server ran over to get us some binoculars after overhearing us pointing out our apartment building, and managers weren’t afraid to bus a table or take a drink order.) At the end of the meal, Adam and I agreed that we almost wished Manhatta didn’t have the view, as amazing as it is. Without the view, Manhatta would be the FiDi restaurant of one’s dreams; with the view, we worry that it’ll be impossible to drop in, and I’d like to eat there often. Chef Jason Pfeifer’s food was excellent. While the sable appetizer was a bit bland, we loved everything else—the peekytoe crab, the turbot with hollandaise and peas, the steak, blackberries with walnut gelato, and a vanilla soufflé. I count myself among those who would prefer not to have dessert, but the portions were manageable, so we didn’t feel overstuffed. This is not the most interesting cooking in the city, but it’s well executed, and sometimes you just want to eat deliciously without being challenged. That it’s a cut above everything else in FiDi goes without saying.

Room for improvement: Manhatta gets credit for adding a vegetable entrée (“Summer vegetables: eggplant, zucchini & okra”), but could it sound less inspired? There’s no indication that it’s there because someone wants it to cook it. Compare that to the rest of the menu, with its frizzled artichokes, crispy socca, curried cashews, romesco, pommes Anna, and creamed spinach…. If anything, vegetables need more effort to make them sing. My only other significant complaint is that the tables are cheap. I’m fine with no tablecloth, but I don’t want to see (or worse, sit at) the hinged side of an expandable four-top, and I think $78 per person should get us something better than veneer.

Anything else? It was great when Manhatta texted me to ask if I’d prefer a table rather than the kitchen counter seats I had reserved. But then, over subsequent days, the restaurant also texted a reminder of my upcoming reservation; an inquiry about any celebrations or dietary restrictions; an alert that the menu is a three-course prix fixe (which is undoubtedly catching some guests by surprise); and a second reminder a half hour before the meal, along with a head’s up that tipping is included. P.S. Wish I’d stolen that paper clip for my sister, Molly, or my friend Michele.

Manhatta is at 28 Liberty (enter on Liberty between Nassau and William); 212-230-5788;

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  1. Is that a typo? If the views are to the north and the east, doesn’t the restaurant have to be on the northeast side of the building, not the south side?

  2. If you’re not there for dinner, do you know if it’s possible to drop in just for drinks and still enjoy and have benefits of the view, etc.?