Three-Martini Lunch: The New Yorker looks to revive the art of the cocktail. 

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Go big or go home! That’s a phrase I’ve heard mostly on the ski slopes, although now it’s used in conjunction with other extreme endeavors like skateboarding, BMX, snowboarding, monster trucks and … dining.

I went large last week at The New Yorker. One extreme lunch led to a follow-up dinner, which was also gnarly. And it’s all Will Pliler’s fault, although his New Yorker teammates Joy Bradford and sous chef Andrew Roll are also implicated, not to mention the restaurant’s fine bartenders and servers, like Caleb and Paul, who know their way around a cocktail. Thanks to a fine new selection of cocktails, the restaurant is single-handedly resurrecting the three-martini lunch.

As I said, you can blame Pliler. He’s The New Yorker’s longtime executive chef and, since the departure of Wendy Carron to start a family, has also pretty much taken over the wine and drink lists as well. The New Yorker these days offers a plentiful selection of wines by the glass, mostly hand-picked by Pliler to pair nicely with the New Yorker’s menu items. But it’s cocktails he’s especially excited about.

In June, Pliler found himself ensconced in a cocktail seminar at the Aspen Food & Wine Festival, lead by master mixologist Tony Abou-Ganim. “I never really ordered cocktails much,” says Will, who “mostly drank beer before getting into wine.” Well, he came back from Aspen preaching the cocktail gospel, and has retrained the New Yorker bar staff to create classic cocktails from scratch using only freshly made mixes and juices, top-shelf spirits and liqueurs, and time-tested techniques. For example, when making The New Yorker’s perfect Manhattan ($9), Pliler uses Knob Creek Bourbon, French vermouth and Angostura bitters. You first put the ingredients into a mixing glass and fill a cocktail shaker full of ice. Then, shake the cocktail in the shaker for exactly three shakes and serve in a chilled martini glass. Pliler stresses the importance of using the correct glassware for each cocktail, whether it is the primo Margarita ($12), negroni ($10), Ramos fizz ($7), old fashioned ($10) or his bodacious Bellini ($15.25) made with Piper Sonoma sparkling wine, white peach puree and Peach Schnapps.

I’m not sure how The New Yorker makes any profit on their Express Lunch Specials. For example, on Wednesdays, the special is thin and tender boneless slices of Coleman’s Natural Beef London Roast Sirloin, packed with flavor (actually, it’s a culotte cut—top sirloin cap steak—but most American’s don’t know what that is), served with a mushroom au jus and perfect shoestring spuds made with Kennebec potatoes. The price: $12.99. That’s a steal. Plus, they’ve spiffed up The New Yorker Café with crisp, white table linens and premium stemware.

On a Thursday, I ordered the Riesling-braised chicken express lunch, which came with al-dente baby carrots and a big mound of marvelous whole-grain mustard mashed potatoes. The falling-off-the-bone chicken was divine, so I decided to sip my first ever cable car cocktail ($9) alongside. Wow! I’d just discovered my favorite cocktail. Turn to Grapevine for a classic cable car recipe.

“I’m not trying to copy Franck’s,” Pliler says, referring to the Southern-style fried chicken that now appears on The New Yorker’s dinner and lunch menus. Franck Peissel’s (Franck’s Restaurant) fried chicken is great; Pliler’s is better. Fact is, chefs all over the country in upscale restaurants are doing comfort food like fried chicken, meatloaf and mac & cheese. Pliler’s chicken is free-range, all-natural, cooked in peanut oil and served with whipped Kennebec potatoes and country gravy. I suggest delving into that crispy chick with a mint julep ($7.50) in tandem.

I’m already a big fan of the New Yorker’s braised Sonoma rabbit ($27), bathed in Pliler’s sensational sauce of caperberries, olives and Meyer lemon. So I decided to try something new for dinner after a plate of iced oysters on the half shell: his veal scallopini ($28). Basically, this is a kicked-up version of veal piccata, with tender medallions of milk-fed veal in a lemon-butter sauce. Pliler elevates that basic dish with the addition of tomato, artichoke hearts and plump, airy sautéed prawns. You could stop right there and this dish would be superb. But The New Yorker’s entrees are particularly generous, and my veal came with sides of braised Brussels sprouts, spaghetti squash, baby carrots and outrageously delicious smoked Gouda potatoes au gratin, molded into a cylinder shape. Try as I might, I couldn’t entirely clean my plate.

We tried the bouillabaisse ($29) too. It’s less brothy than the bouillabaisse I remember from France—more of a ciopinno, I suppose, but still very good: an oversized bowl of thick seafood stew with shrimp, scallops, salmon, halibut, mussels and half a lobster tail with hints of fennel and saffron. Toast slices smeared with Provençal rouille border the bouillabaisse bowl. And let us not forget the certified Angus beef (CAB) steaks served at the New Yorker. The CAB natural New York sirloin ($38) is the perfect purist entrée for a three-martini lunch or dinner, although I’m just as fond of The New Yorker’s pepper steak ($35), served with hand-cut French fries. And, by the way, the fries at The New Yorker, which come in three different varieties, are now undoubtedly the best around.

The only disappointment during my New Yorker dinner was with the wine list, which seems to have shrunk considerably from what I recall from past years. While the wine by the glass list has been beefed up (yay!), I was disappointed to only have three so-so white Burgundies to choose from by the bottle (and none by the glass). Perhaps the focus on cocktails has resulted in a somewhat neglected wine list. Though, to be fair, the choice of reds is much better than the whites.

So, here’s a toast to the “new” New Yorker and the return of the three-martini lunch. Go big or go home … in a taxi.

THE NEW YORKER 60 W. Market Street, 363-0166, Lunch: Monday-Friday, Dinner: Monday-Saturday

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