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.