Dining's a Bitch
Pinned to the server's starched white jacket lapel is a long narrow ruby bar trimmed in gold--a ruby sliver really.
Guest: Tell me about your red bar.
Waiter: This is the red "i" in Bice.
Guest: Say it again. Bee-shay?
Guest: Bee-say? Bee-jay? Bee-shay?
Waiter: It's like Beach, and then Aye. Beach-Aye.
I say bitch.
On a Thursday evening, we skirt the dining room and head for the empty patio, mostly to watch the valets park the Maseratis and Porsche Turbos and Bentley-wannabe Chrysler 300s in front while they shuttle the Camrys and Honda Pilots somewhere into the bowels of the Crescent underground. After several minutes, a waiter arrives, a stiff fellow who dispenses neither a smile nor a whiff of pleasantness. He passes out menus. He asks if we would like anything to drink. We ask for a wine list. He shuffles away.
Two pairs of men are seated at two tables next to ours. Another waiter greets them and takes their drink orders. Our server walks out onto the patio, looks both ways and strolls by our table. No wine list. A runner drops off bread and a slotted plate with dips: a tapenade, olive oil and hummus. Some bread slices are damp; another is stale.
As the wine-list wait stretches, the two pairs of men get their drinks. The other server is pleasant in a surfer-dude kind of way.
Our wine list is delivered. We trade short words on the Montepulciano d' Abruzzo. We select a wine. Our server disappears.
As the short conversation takes place at the table nearby on the appropriate way to pronounce "Beach-Aye," surfer dude is taking their dinner order. We sit and watch the two young men at one table gulp their fresh martinis and cosmopolitans. We sit and watch the pair of men concerned with Beach-Aye pronunciation size up the heads as they pour imported beer into their glasses. We just sit. For 15 minutes.
Our server appears, glasses in hand, plops them abruptly onto the table and takes off. The glass in front of me is a mural of smeary streaks, scummy haze and strokes of dust, as if it had been rinsed but never washed. Five more minutes pass. When our waiter returns with the wine, I point out the glass. He picks it up and leaves.
This shabby service shouldn't surprise: We got the same medicinal spoonful when requesting a Beach-Aye reservation:
"No. We cannot accommodate you. Six-thirty or nine."
"You ready to order?" our waiter asks briskly. On one perfunctory stop, our server asks how our food is, stares at my empty wineglass and stomps off without lifting the bottle or getting an answer. This all wouldn't be so bad if the menu was as stellar as the pomposity implied. It isn't.
Sure, the beef carpaccio in drizzles of black truffle Dijon mustard sauce is nearly flawless--gossamer sheets that fray and unravel as the fork slips under and attempts to peel them from the plate. In the mouth, they're reduced to mist, filming the tongue with richness.
The understated chilled tomato soup, in which floats shimmering beads of olive oil and a pair of fried prosciutto flaps cupping a gobbet of goat cheese, is the perfect patio soup--crisp but not aggressively seasoned.
But a salad of shaved Parmesan, pine nuts, arugula and radicchio was marred by browning endive leaves, and a Caesar salad with a flurry of added shrimp was dull, a listless bed of chopped yellow and white romaine leaves in a dressing with discernable classic Caesar elements--lemon, anchovy, garlic.
Yet the steamed striped bass, its tacky skin still attached, with green beans and cuts of potatoes, was a piece of sweet, delicate precision, nicely framed in the subtle pungent sting of pesto sauce, the kind of sting that should have been in the Caesar.
Beach-Aye's risotto interpretation is jarring. The asparagus risotto topped with a trio of sweet sautéed sea scallops is spread over the surface of the plate. The risotto is cool, coagulated and pasty, with a hardening surface and little creaminess underneath. It was as though the dish was prepared and left to sit under a heat lamp and then dropped off at some way station to cool on the way to the table. And judging by the level of service we received, this is highly possible.
After a brief discussion of the Pinot envy and Merlot strife depicted in the film Sideways, surfer dude explains the Beach-Aye story to the beer drinkers nearby. "It started in Milan in 1926," he says. He goes on to tell how Mama Beach-Aye, aka Beatrice Ruggeri, aka Bice, opened a neighborhood trattoria at the urging of friends. It was called il Ristorante Da Gino Bice, and today Bice Restaurant Group has some 24 restaurants scattered across the globe. Its U.S. operations are anchored in Manhattan.
And it has that crisp, urbane feel. Cool. Understated. Sophisticated. Snotty. Walls are muted beige with some element of green slipping through that could have been cast from the urns filled with palm leaves or bamboo poles, or the tint could come from the numerous orchids blooming on banisters or flat surfaces between the banquettes. Chairs are wood, or leather with linen slipcovers at the headrests. Floors are hardwood planks slashing the floor at angles, alternating between stains of bleached blond and walnut. Conical chandeliers are creamy silk fabric. Walls are well-armed with mirrors, perfect for the pose this bitch struts.
Though still puffed in aloofness, a second visit was less redolently smug. Service was efficient and attentive instead of fraught with neglect. Food was consistently good. When we stated we wanted to share the Caprese salad, the plate was split without the need for a request, though they tacked on two bucks for the trouble. Aged balsamic is applied tableside from a bottle in the quantities you deem appropriate, so that you don't get steeped, saturated tomatoes and mozzarella with aggressively blunted natural flavors.
Roasted Atlantic salmon fillet is tall, with a heaping coiled headdress of shredded red cabbage. Near perfect in consistency with a sharp savory crust, the fillet rests on a watery bed of braised endive and shallots.
Roasted lamb rack is three bleached-white bones jutting over a loose crop of roasted potatoes. Crusted in crushed pistachio and Parmesan, the meat almost looks furry. It's covered in a layer of fat, which means the crust accelerates the richness. Yet it's more elegantly creamy than pounding. A finishing tart of fresh berries in Marsala zabaglione provides a bright, invigorating finish.
More than anything, Beach-Aye is impressed with itself; a font of attitude obsessed with its own navel (hence the incessant pronunciation lessons; the "i" bars on lapels), leaving its guests gasping in the wake of its foaming self-importance. The food can be good, but at these prices it should be perfect. It isn't. Beach-Aye take heed: the last NewYork Italian import restaurant that was this impressed with itself is currently in a death spiral. It's pronounced ILL-MULL-EEENO. 100 Crescent Court, 214-922-9055. Open 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sunday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. $$$-$$$$
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