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Rethinking the NYC ‘Hotel Restaurant’

When most of us think of a hotel in New York City, we think of a place that’s big and bustling, with maybe 1,500 to 2,000 rooms. And when we think of a hotel restaurant – or “F&B outlet” outlet in the industry’s parlance – we think of much the same: something large, loud and forgettable. With only 66 room spread over a very narrow 24 stories between Fifth and Madison avenues, the Gotham Hotel  on 46th Street has every reason to rethink how we eat while visiting  New York as well as how we sleep.

With new executive chef Nickolas Kipper in the kitchen, the “hotel restaurant” called Tenpenny is emerging as not only a place worth a couple meals from the folks renting beds upstairs but even from guests of other hotels and from the toughest nut to crack of all – New Yorkers themselves. Dinner last night, which started with an amazing salad of both fresh and dried components, plus some house-cured bacon with grilled rustic bread – left no mystery as to why a crowd with all the choices in the world might well choose to eat here.

Though the name Kipper, as the saying goes, doesn’t end in a vowel, there is considerable mastery of the Italian tradition coming out in dish after dish. Pastas at Tenpenny get treated as entrees for the most part, which of course isn’t traditional; but this chef goes the extra mile to make sure things are interesting enough we can finish a whole big plate. This mushroom risotto, for instance, arrives topped with enough forest mushrooms to cover a large pizza, in addition to a crispy golden crumble made from Parmesan cheese.

Though my heart has been known to belong to mushroom risotto, with only asparagus risotto a close second, I was excited to sample Kipper’s “porchetta ravioli.” A very special edition of roast pork, so-called “porchetta Romana” is served everywhere in Rome, from street stands to fine-dining palaces. That very same seasoned and caramelized pork finds its way inside ravioli at Tenpenny, and boy am I glad it does.

Call it the Sick-of-Chilean-Sea-Bass Vote, but I sure do seem to be seeing (and eating) a lot of halibut in restaurants these days. You might say it’s become my default fish, the way salmon is for everybody except me. Tenpenny has a delicious and interesting rendition of halibut – pan-seared, of course, served over parsnip puree pretending to be mashed potatoes and some lovely sauteed Swiss chard. That “ice cream” on top of the fish, well, isn’t. It’s a tart-sweet mousse made from cranberries.

If you need further proof that we’re not in hotel restaurant Kansas anymore, just check out Tenpenny’s intriguing rendition of ribeye. Far from being the “big steak” that eateries inside hotels had to have for most of the 20th century, this ribeye is closely trimmed of fat, grilled and sliced, then set atop a Spanish-tinged romesco sauce. Vegetables abound, including orange-glazed chanterelles and butter-braised baby leeks. Chefs cook with a lot of hyphens these days.

And if you, like most people in Tenpenny’s dining room last night, are trolling for something sweet, head directly for the folksy-sounding huckleberry pie. There… now Chef Nickolas has me using hyphens too. Though folksy-sounding, the dessert is pretty much a class act, more of a delightfully warm crumble than a pie, with a caramel sauce underneath and vanilla ice cream melting on top. The way mealtimes are going at the Gotham Hotel on 46th Street, I may never “go out” to dinner in New York City again

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About John DeMers

I've been a journalist and author forever. My favorite single word in the English language is "foodandwine." This spirit drives my 45 published books and my weekly radio show heard in Houston, Dallas and Austin.

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