Borough Food & Drink

Put the salt shaker down and step slowly away from the food with your hands in the air.

These are the words one would like to speak to Zak Pelaccio and co. at Borough Food & Drink, the new restaurant that sources New York favorites from the five boroughs. This homage to all things New York - from Blue Point oysters to kielbasa - to is a nice concept, but the execution is somewhat trickier. How to balance ingredients deemed near-perfect with the ambitions of an up-and-coming chef? If the M&I Market bacon, Calabria Pork Store sausage, and Russ and Daughters herring are already at the top of their game, what can you possibly do to improve them, and should you even try?

There are many, many cooks in the kitchen at Borough - not just Pellacio and Jeffrey Chodorow, the blogging restauranteur, but all of the little guys who worked to make these New York products from all over the world their own. But instead of distilling and focusing this melting pot into one coherent voice, Borough is all over the map.

The only strategy was to dive face first into the smorgasborg, so five of us took to the task. First, a cocktail: the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn, which was excellent. Perfectly balanced, it managed to do what I have been unable to do at home: make rye whiskey light and palatable, in this case with the addition of sweet vermouth, chambord, and a dash of bitters. It went down a little too easily. The crowd at the bar was testament to the fact that we were not the first ones to notice the bartender's prowess with a cocktail shaker.

Our first question to the waitress was met with bafflement: what kind of oysters are on the menu today? After a Twilight-Zone-like exchange in which it was unclear that everyone knew that oysters come in different varieties, it was determined that they were Blue Point. While this wasn't a wildly creative choice for the New York oysters on Pelaccio's part, they were quite good and fresh, with tasty homemade mignonette and hot sauces.

The appetizers started rolling in. The Master Orderer fared well as usual, opting for Streitz Matzo Ball soup that was rich and satisfying, though salty. (This after the Wine Guy quipped, "Who orders matzo ball soup at this time of year?" Goyim, that's who!) The heirloom tomatoes in the gazpacho were pulverized beyond heirloom-ness.

They serve crack-in-a-jar at Borough in the form of a very addictive smoky eggplant dip. But looking at the menu now, I find that this dip is not from Borough at all but from Salute's Restaurant. What the dang? This sourcing, sourcing, sourcing can engender the same feeling of frustration you feel when you click through on search engine results only to be taken to another search engine. The accompanying bread was oversalted, and the herring plate was overly sweet. Where was the Russ & Daughters herring New Yorkers know and love? Borough's version was thoroughly doused in sauces that completely overwhelmed the delicate taste of the fish.

But there was no time to mourn: before these plates were even bussed, the entrees descended. The service at Borough has been raked over the coals on Citysearch. Our waitress was friendly, prompt, and accommodating; most of the problems seemed to originate at the management level. Is anyone in charge of making sure the busboys clear one course before unloading the next one or serve the soups with the rest of the appetizers? Answer unclear.

At least the Sikorski Kielbasa Reuben was a good bet. Unkosher it may be, but a reuben grilled in butter and packed with delicious sauerkraut and sausage instead of corned beef sure tastes good. This was Pelaccio at his finest, combining random things in ways you never would have thought possible. It's an admirable quality, though one that can be jarring, like the raw quail eggs topped with pork rinds at Pelaccio's Fatty Crab.

The Wine Guy ordered the grilled NY sausage plate, which was pretty much just a plate of grilled sausage. He did a nice job with the wine, though, picking out a minerally, floral Long Island 2006 Rkatsiteli by Dr. Konstantin Frank that tasted a lot like gew├╝rztraminer. Even this adaptable wine couldn't compete with a cheeseburger topped with an overpowering amount of blue cheese. Until now, I have never tasted a cheeseburger in which you can't even taste the burger. Until now.

Meanwhile, my friend Canada was about to cry. The sides for the fried chicken, which sounded so delicious on the menu, were disheartening in reality. The macaroni and cheese pancake was strangely bereft of cheese, and the collard greens were chopped in tiny little pieces and not stewed long enough. The fried chicken was - you guessed it - salty. The only entree that wasn't overseasoned was - unbelievably - Heathrow's pork sliders, perhaps the one food that can take as much spice as you throw at it. These tasted of very little at all.

As dinner wound to a close, we nibbled on fried pickles. (Verdict: weird.) The disappointment of the meal was not allayed by Borough's noisy, bare-bones atmosphere, which could best be described as "mess hall." It's an unfortunate design trend brought to the fore by Hill Country. As with that mess hall, I would go back mainly for the bar. And maybe the kielbasa reuben and the crispy, greasy, salty fries. But if I start craving Russ & Daughters herring or the smoky eggplant dip, I may just bypass Borough and go straight for the source.

Borough Food & Drink
12 East 22nd Street, between Park Avenue South and Broadway
New York, New York


Marie Fromage said...

One wonders why they didn't just make this a marketplace with a bar, letting the purveyors set-up a stall and letting you decide what's on the plate, instead of mucking-up stand alone great food items. It would be fun - you get a tray, ala Fette Sau or Hill Country - and walk around picking an choosing, having your meal ticket stamped as you go. There would be a waitress available to get you your booze. I would go to that place. But this one, maybe just for the drinks.

julian said...

Yes, the service is attrocious. But it can be endearing that most of the servers seem to have been chosen strictly for their accents and hair styles.
Yes, the food is often both oversalted and lacking flavor. And the burger is no better than the one at Mayrose.

But the worst part about this three-time looser (it wont last as long even as Rocco's and even less than Caviar and Bananas I bet) is the use of space: a foyer doubling as a market no one in their right mind would use; a large lounge area that inexplicably only seats about six people, uncomfortably at that, with no way to easily get in and out; and a dining room that looks like someone just threw a bunch of shit into a room and left it. No to mention the large "pool room" that no one ever uses. It gives the back area of the restaurant a fudruckers feel to it, leaving you to wonder how many tickets you have to win at skee-ball to get a trucker hat.

Anonymous said...

Possibly the worst food and service in any restaurant I have been to in Manhattan this year.

You would think, given the seemingly cursed venue, they would try a bit harder to seat complete parties in less than 40 minutes after their reservations; they would try to have the ingredients for the dishes on the menu and inform their staff that they do not; they would attempt to deliver a bottle of wine in less than half an hour and they would deliver glasses of tap water before the bill arrives.

Really terrible. Stick this place on Deathwatch now.