It was serendipitous but entirely appropriate that I dined at Betony, a restaurant in midtown Manhattan, on the day that I did. On that very evening, on the other side of the country, Hubert Keller was conducting his final dinner service at Fleur de Lis. The meal that I had at that San Francisco restaurant is among the most memorable I've had. Now I can add the dinner at Betony to that list.
Betony, which opened in spring of 2013, is a project of several refugees of the estimable Eleven Madison Park, including executive chef Bryce Shuman and Eamon Rockey, Betony's general manager. Shuman, who was Eleven Madison Park's executive sous chef, has created an intriguing menu that is presented in an understated and austere way.
The description of the lobster roll hors d'oeuvre, for example, gives no clue that this is not a Boston harbor kind of roll. Instead it features a cigar-shaped tube with a sort of lobster cream filling. Perfectly cylindrical, no oozing lobster salad, but loads of flavor.
Fois gras bonbons were a bit more what one would expect — little balls of liver with cashew and black pepper — and as rich as it should be. Because my companion and I can't get enough foie gras, we also had the one listed under appetizers (which for some reason is different from hors d'oeuvres). We had ours hot, although there is also a cold variation. The seared lobe was served with a bit of ham hock jus. Heavenly. Spanish mackerel, another appetizer, was as fine textured as sashimi, served with green tomato and scented with chamomile.
Grilled short rib is something of a legendary entree here, even in its short life. That's because the rib is dressed with garlic, thyme and hunks of aged beef fat then placed in a sous vide bath for two days. They're grilled over special white charcoal and then graced with a sauce made from more aged beef fat. The fat globules fairly bubble on the white plate, which also holds the lovage and frisee. You may never have a more tender piece of beef short rib.
Roasted lamb was another standout, served with roasted eggplant. We enjoyed both entrees with a bottle of Erbaluna La Rosina Barbera d'Alba, recommended by the very approachable wine director, Jeff Taylor.
Desserts were a blur after the full meal, but I seem to recall a rather exceptional macaroon and a bit of house-made caramel.
The space is small, with a bar and lounge area up front and duplex dining rooms stacked in the back, both overlooking the bar. There is a lot of warm brick and rather intricately carved wood wall pieces, apparently left over from the previous tenant, Brasserie Pushkin.
All of the staff were friendly and helpful. There are plenty of New York restaurants with lesser food and reputations that seem to feel the need to put on stuffy airs. Betony's staff is part of what makes the meal so pleasant.
Betony is at 41 W. 57th St., New York. The phone number is 212-465-2400.