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Review: Shorty’s .32

Posted by gambit50 on May 14, 2008

Shorty’s .32, Soho, New York, NY

Finally, I am writing a review of a dining experience from within the last few days. I know, everyone has been waiting with baited breath.

Shorty’s .32(call it Shorty’s) is a new, small(32 seats) venture from Josh Eden who struck out on his own after 12 years cooking under the Jean-George. It has received very good, if not spectacular, reviews. Since Shorty’s aims to be a low key spot with great food and not a most fanciful experience nor a celebrity eatery with hard to get tables, the lack of pure ecstasy in the reviews is not unexpected. Between the general public good reviews, the professional good reviews and one personal recommendation, I put it on the list of new places to try.

Shorty’s takes no reservations, has a limited menu and is not outrageously priced. I went on Saturday with a party of six. Though I knew it would be difficult to be seated with my original party of five, someone invited 2 others but one of the original members dropped out. So six we were, around primetime, 7:30pm, of course, I was there first to try to finagle it all.

They have one table for five, unfortunately, six is a real pain and that is perfectly understandable. However, we decided to split into a four and a two. The four top was seated within 10 minutes of everyone arriving. I was in the two top and waited an additional 10 or 15 minutes. None of this was bothersome since when you show up to a small restaurant with a large group you should not think sitting down within 5 minutes is the only acceptable response from the staff.

The outside of Shorty’s is plain. Unobtrusive maroon awning, stonework(perhaps slate) platform underneath it acting as a possible patio and some nice shrubs in planters on the edges of the platform. Actually, I found this very simple exterior quite pleasant. I think the greenery made it so. It is quite understated which I really dig. There is the potential to put a couple tables on this raised patio section but I am not sure it will be done. Just a thought, Shorty.

Inside, you will find the typical décor in a smaller downtown space that has not wasted a truckload of money on renovations to make itself oh so slick. There is a multitude of hanging light sources. I would be hard pressed to call them chandeliers, more like lanterns. Wood floors, plain, older tables and chairs, a bar with seats for about 10 persons. The tables had heavy metal bases that rose up a bit high. Difficult for me to maneuver my large feet around in the tight space but it was fine. The chairs were not the most comfortable but not poor enough to notice once you were situated properly.

I had heard about the noise level being a bit much and this is very true. When I was waiting inside for a bit (there is barely any room, hope there is nobody else or it is nice outside)I noticed the very bare walls and wondered why nothing was put up to insulate a bit of the sound. Between the music playing too loudly and the social butterflies everywhere speaking over it and each other, I had to ask my tablemate more than once, “What’s that?” I am not into speaking loudly and all that so it was a bit bothersome to me. The music is classic rock. Fine but I am not there to LISTEN to the music. Not loud enough to ruin the meal but definitely should be turned down a couple clicks.

Now for the verdict on the staff. I spoke with the floor manager (I won’t mention his name in case that is improper etiquette) when I first arrived about all the seating. He was honest and cool about it. That is all I expect. Once the whole crew had arrived, he got us seated quite quickly. Check plus for him.

The servers were not quite as efficient. Too large a lag between visits. Bread came after we had our first course arrive. What is that? There seemed to be two waitresses and a busboy. They were not lazy, I think perhaps a bit overwhelmed and/or understaffed. For example, napkins were set in a timely manner when people went to the restroom and water was poured from the table carafe and/or the carafe was refilled often. The timing of the courses(and the bread) was not proper. In fact, the table of four that I came with had even longer waits. We caught up to them barely halfway through the meal even though we sat down 15 minutes later. Considering our leisurely pace, that is noteworthy.

It is a consideration that all of this is the kitchen’s fault except of course for the bread. Another oddity was that while our server was the only one who performed the speaking role with us, the other waitress and the busboy delivered our plates. Do I have their roles pegged wrong? Possibly but I doubt it. Perhaps they just share duties which is a good thing. Do what needs to be done. While not a substitute for proper organization, I can respect an effort. Well, not if it is totally inept but that was not the case.

I must admit that I was actually itching to try Shorty’s .32. A new place with a rep that I actually put some faith in without charging the same prices as somewhere that is established as a great restaurant. I liked the menu and was told that the burger was good. Yes, I just wanted to try the burger to do a comparison between all of the relatively new, mid-level, highly acclaimed restaurants. This list would include Market Table, Little Owl and the like. Sure, I did want to try the other menu offerings if I could fit it in.

The first sentence after a greeting from the waitress was “We are out of burgers.” Before 8pm? That is pretty inexcusable to me. She said they had a run of burgers at lunch. Forty burgers served at lunch and their inventory is not much more than that. Honestly, I was quite devastated. I finally go out to dinner, at a place of my choosing and you are out of the item I had targeted? I refrained from explaining that if the brunch menu offered on weekends during lunchtime didn’t have twenty various egg dishes and a burger and one chicken dish, you might not have this problem. It is honestly, idiotic to see their brunch menu. I hate brunch, the idea, the food (see my post in Commentary about eggs), etc. but forgetting my prejudice, you have to have more than those limited offerings. Apparently, many people agreed with me since they ordered the burger. If you must please or pretend that brunch is so different from the meal at the same time on other days, fine, add a few omelets. Don’t discard everything for the wannabe Bloody Mary crowd.

After 10 or 15 minutes bitching and moaning (justly, I might add) to my mate about the stupidity of the burger shortage I realized I would have to either leave (yes, I thought about it) or choose something else. I saw the roast chicken at the setting of both girls sitting next to us. Nah, just not feeling it. Steak, no, beef short ribs it is. Shouldn’t they be called Shorty ribs? Across from me, the crabsticks and steak were ordered. So I sampled 3 dishes from the menu of 14 apps and entrees offered plus two sides, the French fries and the macaroni and cheese. The former was included with the steak and the latter with my short ribs.

The crispy crabsticks, as they are called, were not that. The “crispy” was not there. The amount of real crab was impressive and the flavor was great. The basil remoulade was surprisingly weak. Given the substantial and quality flavoring of the crabsticks themselves, why add this dipping sauce if it barely has anything to it? In short(or Shorty, oh, I am on FIRE), this dish was not cooked properly, overcooked and possibly left out sitting for a bit too long. Overall it was still very good.

On to the next course, bread. Yes, that is correct, now we received some bread. I did not sit there thinking about the lack of it so it would have been fine to skip it. After a piece of crabstick, bread is not what I am thinking about. Nonetheless, they were miniature baguettes, good, not great but warm and the butter was not the great butter of the best restaurants in town but was a notch above the bland garbage served at most places.

The short ribs were very good. The reduction was either over salted or reduced too much considering the intense flavor. I liked the consistency of it, quite thick, but it was a bit overpowering in taste. The meat was cooked beautifully, wonderfully tender but not mushy. The serving was a good size compared to most restaurants’ portions and the quality of the meat was nice. Also, the fat on this beef was of a noticeable chunk on each piece. Excellent. The baby leeks added a bit. I assume they are put there for the crunch and a touch of flavor.

As I mentioned, my mate ordered the steak, a N.Y. strip, medium rare. Well, it was served medium and not on the under side of that. This was unfortunate since the meat was good and the flavor of the herb sauce was quite nice and I rarely eat steak with any type of sauce. The accompanying root vegetables were properly cooked and I found them to be a great addition to the dish.

I also sampled two side dishes, macaroni and cheese and French fries. The former was included with my short ribs and the latter with the steak.

The mac was very good, not what I imagine the perfect rendition to be. Then again, I have never had that in reality.

A layer of breadcrumb concoction (I believe) was on top. While I usually dislike this quite a lot and do not care about crunch factor for another texture, I was surprised how good this side was overall. I did not pay too much attention to nor ask what the mix of cheese and/or flavorings was within. Needless to say, if you like mac’n’cheese, this is a very good one. The portion was fair as an accompaniment but if ordered as a separate side, I hope it is larger for $8.

French fries, ah, always an interesting topic. These were a bit above fair. Again, overcooked (I hope by now you see the pattern) which gave them much brown. This did not affect the flavor much and was still good. However, they were not crispy outside and soft inside. I think they sat out awhile, not because they were cold(they were not) but they were a bit droopy and soft. I do not eat fries too often for a couple of reasons but these were good enough to eat but not good enough to crave. I would not go out of my way for them. If prepared in the fryer with attention they might be since I liked the size of the cut of the potatoes, McDonaldsesque, actually, but definitely not as long.

Finally, dessert. We just split one, chocolate bread pudding with bananas and caramel ice cream. There was more than one issue with this dish. First, the top layer of the pudding was a crème brulee equivalent, i.e. the brittle result of burnt sugar. This just had no place in this dish, period. My dining companion and I both wondered why in the world it was there. As for below the singed top, too much bread within the pudding. Actually, it seemed to be about as much bread as could be fit into the space. I did not like the consistency of this. Cutting through almost all softened bread with my spoon just gave me an off feeling.

I just recently heard someone state that they really liked a bread pudding (from somewhere else) because it had a lot of bread as opposed to the more typically found ratios which they complained about being substandard. Also, I have not ever looked too deeply into bread pudding recipes to see which is a more authentic version or to see if a chef I respect has a recipe for it but regardless, it is pudding, not soaked bread. Therefore, I will go with what I say. Give me dairy and sugar as a base and add something, that is the way to go.

Anyway, the flavor of the bread pudding was fine, not great, the caramel ice cream was good not great and the bananas were thinly sliced and probably added the most to this dessert. All in all, I could skip this and wish we went with the other choice in our minds, the warm apple tart with date puree and vanilla ice cream. Frank Bruni from the NY Times stated that his favorite dessert was the toasted pound cake. Well, I would like to believe that but if pound cake is not some fantastic version, I do not see it. Maybe, I will find out one day.

The bill total was $117 all-in for the two of us for the food above and a couple of beers. It struck me as high but it really isn’t for Manhattan. I think my slight disappointment had something to do with this.

The overriding issue with Shorty’s .32 is that the kitchen is not attentive enough to cooking times. This might be during their busiest hours only, I cannot say, but it is not an excuse. It was good enough to warrant another shot since it was good in spite of the kitchen’s lack of attention. Besides, I have to get that burger. I hope this place realizes its full potential with some improvement since it is such a simple fix.

NTG

Summary: Shorty’s .32 is a small, above average restaurant with no reservations taken. The flavors and composition of the savory dishes is great but the execution in the kitchen is lacking due mostly to overcooking. Do not go with a large party of people or if you want to be somewhere quiet, this place is LOUD. I can recommend it anyway. I might be a bit biased since I had high expectations and thus even though not blown away will return, hoping that the extra bit of care is taken in the kitchen to make this place great. While the overall operation could also use more organization, this did not bother me but if perfect service, etc. is your thing, skip it. While it is quite properly friendly and they seem to try, there are problems but this might be the kitchen’s fault as well. Personally, if they make the jump I see that they easily can in the food only, I will become a big supporter. Note, all desserts and sides were a dollar more than on the menus available online, just so you know. Cost: $50pp

Shorty’s .32

199 Prince St., New York, NY 10012
212-375-8275

Ratings:

Food – 82

Vibe – 79

Service –79

Value – 81

Overall – 81

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