Jimmy talks The Red Cat

[Robin’s Note: Jim brought home a cute little card from The Red Hat so that I could take photos of it for the post.  Unfortunately, our dog Champ tried to eat it—probably because he didn’t get invited to the restaurant and he was starving.]

The website of The Red Cat, on 23rd and 10th in Manhattan, describes its restaurant as having “a New England Motiff,” and it’s a testament to the skill of the designer (and taste of the owner) that in spite of cute sconces at the tables and oversize lanterns hanging from the ceiling The Red Cat doesn’t feel themed at all, just stylishly homey with a few quirks and pleasant distractions: local artists’ pieces hang illuminated by brass lamps as if on show, the plates don’t match, and here and there bent silverware is drilled into the red and white barnwood panelling. You could overlook the décor entirely, however, and be the none the worse for it, because the food (and service) is excellent: straightforward new-American, big on flavor, light on sauce. I’m not sure it passes the couldn’t-I-just-make-this-at home test, but with most of the entrees priced under thirty dollars it doesn’t have to.

The calves liver was the best dish we had. It was twenty-one dollars, and I would have been happy getting it just about anywhere. The sides were brilliant; I’m not usually a fan of extra-pungent tomato sauces (a “melted tomato,” in this case, actually), but this liver, reeking of glorious smoky bacon, would have stood for no subtle complements. The delicious swiss chard pie was the tamest thing on the plate.

First, though, the appetizers. We had the romaine salad (only loser, not worth mentioning again), steak tartare, and a rabbit loin special. The tartare, served over watercress, cut with horseradish, would have been rave-worthy if only the quail egg hadn’t been broken (or maybe just overcooked); as it was, the yoke didn’t ooze over the meat, and the dish was just tasty. The rabbit was also good-not-amazing. Wrapped in pancetta, served over risotto, it delivered on the implicit expectations promise.

Our other entrees (along with the liver) were the striped bass with shitake mushrooms and grapefruit, and the crispy skate wing; and I don’t think it’s fair for me to judge the former. It’s a light dish, and I was eating the liver (from the one bite I had, the grapefruit did seem to work). The skate, on other hand, I could taste through all wafting bacon. It’s their signature dish and you can see why: served with eggplant and a piquillo pepper puree, it’s a homey dish that nobody eats at home. Which, of course, is exactly what The Red Cat is going for: home in the city, a place where you can snack on (delightful) tempura-fried green beans and really feel like your just snacking. It may not be worth its own trip into the city, but it’s perfect for after a show (easy access to the Lincoln Tunnel), and if you live in the city, the bar scene looked pretty cool.

Now a question for the readership: how do you guys feel about blogs panning restaurants? Part of me feels like it’s not fair because bloggers, as far as I know, rarely go back to a restaurant they didn’t like just to make sure it really sucked (and of course the place just might have had an off night); but part of me also feels that people know bloggers aren’t professional restaurant critics, and, given that, there’s nothing wrong with a blogger telling people about his one-time experience. I imagine food blogging as a whole is a boon to good restaurants.

9 thoughts on “Jimmy talks The Red Cat”

  1. Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I’ve backed off doing too many restaurant “reviews” on my site. I feel that true restaurant reviewers have protocol they follow (ordering many, many items; going back several nights depending on chef’s schedules; etc) that I wouldn’t really be up to doing.

    I also know that about 90% of the “reviewers” on sites like MenuPages.com and NYMag.com say really nasty things about restaurants that I really enjoyed. Of course you can always find *something* to nitpick– the question is, why would you when you are out trying to have a nice dinner? I set out hoping to like the restaurant. Optimist I guess.

  2. Great post! I don’t think it’s completely fair to pan a restaurant after only visiting once… it doesn’t feel entirely right, so i stay away from it myself. i’m more than happy to hear about your one time experience though! thanks for sharing… and i love that little champ took a bite out of your card. too funny!

  3. I wonder why dogs get the rascally bug sometimes even if they’ve stayed rascal-sober for a few years. My dog eats garbage from time to time – and then poops. He’s silly. I hope your dog had a better experience eating paper!

    1. Amanda: When Champ was a puppy, I once thought he ate my housekeys and I walked him 6 miles to the vet to get his stomach X-rayed. Turned out he didn’t eat the keys, but his tummy was full of rocks and sticks! He survived, so I think he shouldn’t have any trouble with paper, hehe!

  4. Steph: Let us know how you like it when you finally get there!

    why would you when you are out trying to have a nice dinner?

    I guess it depends on your temperament, Hilary. I actually enjoy bringing my critical powers to bear on whatever restaurant I’m eating in (or movie I’m watching, or book I’m reading); that way, if things aren’t totally up to snuff, I get to take some satisfaction in identifying why, and if they are — if I’m really won over — it’s all that much more enjoyable.

    Joy: Thanks! I told eighty-pound Champ you called him “little,” and apparently he’s really matured; he didn’t get upset or anything, he just smile appreciatively and went back to sleep.

    My dog eats garbage from time to time – and then poops.

    Since Champ stopped going in the house, we’ve stopped keeping tracking of what makes him poop and what doesn’t. That’s kind of personal, we feel. (I liked “rascal-sober.”)

    1. Jimmy, I really wish I could’ve been at the restaurant with you — but I love the way you described it. And the leftovers were quite tasty. You are amazing. 😉

  5. Hmmm, I dunno…

    I think that foodie bloggers reviewing restaurants is actually a good thing because it seems a bit more on the level to me. I tend to trust the “laymen” palate than the supposedly “trained”.

    Personally, I try to make great food at home so we don’t incur the expense of going out. We do on occasion, but mostly I spend on great ingredients for preparing at home.

  6. Not all opinions we receive are from licensed critics. I’ve heard unlicensed people express their hatred of films based solely on having skimmed the dvd cover blurb — indeed, I may have done it myself. So, yes, we want to know what you really think about restaurants. Besides, it’s good for you to let it all out when you feel you’ve been ripped off.

    What happened to the rocks and sticks that Champ had eaten, did the vet leave them?

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