This place has been over-hyped. I like the variety on the menu, and Bill Clinton dined here, so it’s gotta be decent. But if choosing your dinner locale was a game of restaurant roulette, I’d say, go fish.
Call it a whale of a tale, but there’s a new cool-kid place on the block. Restaurant scene veteran Gabriel Stulman’s Simon & the Whale at hip Freehand Hotel is casting a line in Flatiron, and waiting to see which hungry, restaurant-hopping millennials will bite. Named after his young son Simon’s affinity for creatures of the deep, dining here is like diving deep into an eatery-turned-aquarium: dark, romantic lighting, illuminated ocean-blue tiles, steely metals, rich woodwork … Jonah and the Whale would have approved. Inspired by his toddler’s whale-patterned trinkets, this seafood-dominated menu is nothing short of an a-typical neighborhood spot.
If you choose to dine in, you’ll savor a menu attuned to present-day yuppies. Sit at the diner’s bar to gaze out the aquarium-esque windows as Matthew Griffin jazzes up the plates in the kitchen.
I project the hype to die in a few months, unless their marketing team comes up with new gimmicks to hook us.
Money Score: OK
I felt that everything was slightly overpriced, especially considering there is zero notion of where any of the ingredients come from, aside from the wine list. For example, they are charging $30 for guinea hen, $15 for a cauliflower appetizer, $9 for a side of potatoes, and a glass of wine starting at $13. At least the latter is imported?
Consciousness Score: Needs Improvement
Shallow waters ahead! The staff was friendly, and the service was good, but no emphasis on ingredient sourcing or any notion of green-friendly activations.
‘All the Feels’ Score: OK
This place is definitely a date place: modern with shiny new furniture and flattering accent lighting. The dimly-lit dining room was divided into smaller, more intimate spaces. While the setting is certainly cozy for romantic, plus-one plate sharing, they could have tried a little harder with the nautical theme. Here, you feel as if you are in an oldies, black-and-white movie, and a young crooner in a fedora is going to sway over. A Fred-like character from Breakfast at Tiffany’s is taking a pensive smoke in the back corner. It seemed offbeat. This room was energetic, buzzing, and filled with young, attractive, working-professionals. I advise they heighten the playful aspects from our childhood bedtime stories for a bigger catch.
Some of the items on the menu had too much going on; the mix of flavors didn’t sync.
Other combinations were a little too fishy for my taste. Here’s an overview of what I ate:
On the side:
Black Bread taramasalata, which is essentially black barley bread, but more earthy with a strong licorice taste. The menu had a lot of barley this and barley that (enough that I feel like I should mention it). The butter spread, though, was the true crowd-pleaser.
Squid Confit with smoked mussels, black barley, and beech mushrooms: a colorful dish with bold, vibrant greens, and delicious mushrooms. The risotto with the barley was good, as was the squid, but the grains will be far too hard for soft risotto fans.
The Daily Oysters with ginger granite, tobiko: the oysters come pre-topped with horseradish and tobiko, and are a perfect introduction to oysters for first-timers. They also come on a bed of fluffed salt instead of ice. Points for originality!
The Lamb Carpaccio with capra sarda, preserved lemon, and rosemary yogurt was very Mediterranean and full of flavor.
The Cauliflower with gribiche, veal tongue pastrami presentation may have been beautiful, but the cauliflower was too smoky and far too intense.
For the mains:
Sunchoke Casonsei spinach, walnuts, sherry vinegar: I mentioned this one earlier. Unquestionably my favorite.
The Whole Fish for Two with charred carrots, couscous, and almonds featured red snapper, and was bright, colorful, and beautifully presented. Make sure to ask the waiter to debone it for you if you don’t want to do it yourself.
The Wagyu Flank Steak with beets, mushrooms, and bordelaise did at least spotlight U.S. Wagyu. But the wagyu beef could have been just perfect without the add-ons. Lemon, seriously?
And for dessert, we ordered a bit of all, to sample, of course:
Apple Confit with parsnip sponge cake, sunchoke cream, smoked almond, and lemon streusel. Not memorable.
Brioche Doughnuts with saffron custard, raspberry jam, meyer lemon marmalade, caramel. Just OK.
Chocolate Buckwheat Cake with chicory ganache, assam tea ice cream. Definitely, the table’s favorite.
Brown Butter and Rye Pudding with spiced bread, pine ice, cranberry puree, nut crumble, honey fried pears.
To wash it all down, opt for one of their organic teas that are fashioned to look like a mojito with lime, or for the caffeine junkies, a coffee topped with foam art.
A solid option and some may even say a fantastic place to eat, reel in your flying fish. If you don’t have a reservation, this is certainly not worth the two-hour wait.