Quintessential old New York looks something like this: Just as you reach for the handle of the giant iron door that will lead you into a restaurant, a man in a crisp suit pre-empts you, smoothly gliding it open as he ushers you in.
The dining room is dim, cool and filled with the hushed murmur of well-dressed guests. The banquette seats are a crimson leather; the chairs are a modern mix of leather and metal. You slide into your seat, basking in the warm, flattering glow of the lamps built into the banquettes, taking a moment to smooth down the starched tablecloth before your waiter — in a Rat-pack white jacket and slender tie, of course — saunters over.
The creators of The Lambs Club have gone to great lengths to transport you to a different time. The decor is art-Deco, the feel is modern “Mad Men.” In the kitchen, Geoffrey Zakarian (Le Cirque, Town) is at the helm.
For its reincarnation, this new restaurant had some good bones to work with. For starters, it is housed in The Chatwal New York, a new luxury hotel located in one of the iconic buildings of Manhattan’s Theatre District. This building — designed by Stanford White, architect of New York’s famous Washington Square arch as well as summer homes for the Vanderbilts and Astors in his time — first opened in 1905 as the base for the Lambs, the first professional theatrical club in the U.S. The Lambs’s membership roster was impressive — Charlie Chaplin, John Barrymore, Cecil B. DeMille, Fred Astaire — and the restaurant’s decor, featuring framed glossies of actors, offers a nod to some of these members.
This being New York fashion week, we’re a little surprised at being able to snag a table at the Lambs Club at the last minute. But it’s been a soft opening, our spiffy waiter tells us. He hands us our menus and off we go …
Before we start, there is the cavernous fireplace that just demands to be admired. This floor to ceiling creation that spans at least 10 feet is original to the building, our waiter says.
We love the look of our glasses on the table, too.
Milk & Honey’s Sasha Petraske has crafted the cocktail list, filling it with $18 drinks that are a nod to the past like “Gold Rush,” which combines bourbon with lemon and honey.
My friend Jane, visiting from Houston, starts with a strawberry gimlet, which is a delicious take on the traditional gin gimlet — this one is just filled with the taste and texture of blended fresh strawberries.
The waiter highly recommends the Lamb’s Cup, a spicy blend of muddled cucumbers, fresh berries, St. Germain, gin and ginger that wins over this lover of ginger in cocktails at first sip.
Jane and Clifford, the editor-in-chief of CultureMap in Houston who is in town to cover the fashion shows, wince a little, however. You’ve really got to be a big fan of ginger to like this drink — the taste can be overpowering.
To start, there is an amuse bouche reminiscent of Blue Hill offerings — fresh seasonal vegetables and dip.
Service is quick — our food doesn’t take long to arrive.
First, there is the heritage pork ravioli with broccoli rabe and fiore sardo, an aged Italian cheese ($15). Each raviolo is an airy pillow filled with intensely flavored shredded pork. This dish disappears all too quickly.
Next, although our waiter tries to steer us toward more ambitious appetizers like the white gazpacho with peekytoe crab and green grapes ($12), the description of the Lambs Club salad ($14) featuring a “crispy egg dressing” is intriguing.
This dressing turns out to be hard boiled eggs chopped up, tossed with breadcrumbs and sprinkled over the salad. I like the mouthfeel of the dish — the crispness of the vegetables combined with the crunchiness of the breadcrumbs.
But the overall flavor is a little lacking.
The mains, however, are impressive — period. Jane’s farm chicken dish ($26) has a nicely cooked thigh that’s incredibly juicy inside and crispy outside paired with charred vegetables.
Both the chicken and the vegetables are filled with flavor.
Clifford, who has the good fortune of having a partner of Greek descent who’s a fantastic home cook and knows his way around a fish, is naturally fussy about his seafood. He can’t get enough of his loup de mer ($26), though, which is plancha roasted and paired with baby artichokes.
The fish has a nicely crunchy skin while having a lovely moist and silky texture beneath it. This, too, disappears quickly.
My heritage pork chop ($29) with endives and apples comes with a small, breaded puck that the waiter tells us is deep-fried pig’s trotter. (Then, apparently worried that I’m not fully cognizant of what it is, he returns to emphasize, “You know it’s pig’s feet, right?” Perhaps they’ve had some unhappy patrons on this front so far.)
I eat anything, however — but after one bite of this I decide that’s about enough. It feels squishy and deep-fried, that’s it. I’m saving my stomach for the massive pork chop — which is just delicious. Again, another perfectly done piece of meat that’s got a nice char to it and is juicy and so, so flavorful.
I start out thinking there’s no way I can finish it but the next thing I know, I look down and it’s gone.
Dessert is discussed, and the deep-dish lemon meringue tart with chamomile broth ($10) is tempting. But it’s starting to get late; we notice that the restaurant has emptied out.
Just as we’re about to leave, we’re perusing the pictures of actors on the wall …
… when our waiter says, “Well, there’s a party for Woody Allen upstairs right now.”
It seems like an invitation — we tell ourselves — so upstairs we go. In a slender, intimate room, a crush of people has packed in to fete Allen’s new movie “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” which opens next week.
Stanley Tucci is perched near the bar, affably chatting; Ethan Hawke, Denise Richards, Patricia Clarkson, Juliette Lewis, Alan Cummings, Stephanie March and Bobby Flay breeze through; Salman Rushdie is holding court with Russian model Irina Pantaeva in a banquette in the back. Kelsey Grammer lights up when we tell him we’re fans — both of “Frasier” but also of “Medium,” the mention of which truly makes him smile.
Josh Brolin, a star of the film, splits his time between chatting with Oliver Stone and
good-naturedly taking photos with just about anyone who asks.
The evening has been a whirlwind, one filled with effervescent chatter about actors, acting, film-making and Woody Allen’s latest, which everyone just saw.
As we slowly take our leave, it’s hard not to think that perhaps the spirit of the old Lambs Club has indeed been resuscitated.
The Lambs Club, 132 W. 44th Street, 212.997.5262, http://www.thelambsclub.com/