Sunday, April 11, 2010


Hotel restaurants are in a category of their own. Before heading out to one and especially once stepping inside one, you are often too aware that you are dining within a hotel. And, I'm not really sure that is always a good thing. I do love hotel bars - treating myself to that overpriced martini or two every once in awhile. It's really a small price to pay to spend an hour or two in a temporary lap of luxury. But the restaurants within can certainly be hit or miss - and usually it's the quality of the food, not the setting, that taints the experience. For this very reason, hotel restaurants come and go. It's not until the culinary expertise equates these grand settings that we actually recognize a keeper. However, I have recently realized that striking a balance between the setting and the kitchen can often be the true challenge.

The young Cooper Square Hotel is no stranger to this very struggle for hotel restaurants. After a quick appearance as Table 8, the restaurant within has been transformed into Faustina. And by transformed, I mean, the kitchen has been taken over by the successful chef Scott Conant of Scarpetta. This was certainly a wise move for our stomachs, but I fear that the warm spirit of the kitchen has not quite made it's way out into the pre-established dining room. They have certainly succeeded in taking over the menu, but the disconnect with the sterile setting is all too apparent. This could be the rare case of the hotel restaurant where it is actually the food outshining the space that leads to yet another change in hands. For the sake of my culinary enjoyment, I really hope this isn't the case.

The front bar room of Faustina is definitely the place to be. If this were the model for the rest of the restaurant, my fears would be completely subsided. This entry room is the best of both worlds where the culinary expertise has blended with a chic, modern hotel atmosphere. And since you can order nearly the entire menu up front, I'd highly encourage that you do so. Faustina's menu ranges from breads and olives, cheese and meats, raw bar, appetizers, pastas, mains, and sides. What more could you ask for out of an Italian powerhouse? With such an extensive menu, I highly recommend going with as many diners as possible (aka trying as many items as a stomach can handle). The grilled ciabatta with poached duck egg and fonduta is a must. Believe it or not, this is actually not as overly rich as I had expected. So, whether you are using your own spoon or sopping up the remains with additional olive oil brushed ciabatta, there shouldn't be anything left in the bottom of this dish. I also loved the combination of flavors in the lardo wrapped prawns served over rosemary lentils. I seriously could have ordered almost every starter from the menu, but to narrow it down, I also highly recommend sharing the short ribs of beef served with spaetzle and horseradish. The meat was prepared perfectly, falling right off the bone.

If sharing a pasta, the kitchen kindly splits the dish into two separate bowls - a gesture that I have grown to appreciate. It is almost as if they anticipate how difficult it is for two diners to truly share such a delicious dish. And this was definitely the case for us. I recommend the strozzapreti with suckling pig ragu. These elongated hand-rolled tube pasta, are al dente and topped with a rich tomato based pork ragu. The duck breast with asparagus, black trumpets and fennel spice is an excellent option to continue the sharing until the end. The use of fennel with the duck was truly striking. To round out this feast or any combination of dishes that you order, I urge you to try the truffled cabbage. Truffled anything is hard to top, but I love the way that cabbage embraces flavors and this is the perfect way to showcase truffles.

So your mouth is probably watering now after reading about all of these delicious dishes. And mine was certainly too as I was deciding my meal at the Cooper Hotel. But, even after such a satisfying meal, I didn't experience that sense of excitement that I usually feel when I am desperate to get to my computer and spread the word. I couldn't help but have my culinary satisfaction overpowered by the dissatisfaction with the atmosphere in the dining room. Part of me had wished we had just stayed up front and eaten at one of the many tables in the bar. And part of me just wished Faustina had taken a moment to breath - a moment to take the concept in the kitchen out to the actual dining room. I'm convinced it's not necessarily too late to do this. But in the meantime, head for the tables in the bar room. Order that fancy cocktail and take advantage of an expert hotel kitchen - as we all know, these are certainly few and far between.

Faustina (at the Cooper Square Hotel)
25 Cooper Square
New York, NY 10003
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):


Anonymous said...

oh how i love spaetzle.

Miss Meat and Potatoes said...

Suckling pig ragu? Sounds like a winner to me!

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