As hotel restaurants go, the shop at Andaz Fifth Avenue tries pretty hard.
Determined to cast itself as a New York restaurant, it likes to broadcast just how local it is. Its Web site rattles off a litany of New York purveyors — eggs hail from Feather Ridge Farm in the Hudson Valley; lox comes from Russ & Daughters on Manhattan's Lower East Side, which has been providing New Yorkers with smoked fish since 1914. And there's even a self-conscious little area that sells snacks made by small, lesser-known brands in New York.
This is all in line with the in-the-know feel that the hotel, part of Hyatt Hotels & Resorts' chain of boutique properties, tries to give off. It's a pretentiousness you can already sense from the fact that it is the shop — spelled all lowercase, the hotel insists — and not, well, The Shop. (You'll have to check out my review of the hotel in the New York Times Travel section for more on this Andaz.)
How would the food stack up against all this posing? We decided to find out …
For starters, the dining room, which is just off the lobby, is a lovely setting — high-ceilinged, airy and bright.
Right out of the gate, though, its service was irksome. On the evening we had dinner there, even though the room was half empty, the hostess refused to seat us until the couple we were dining with had arrived. This is a policy I understand in some instances — but certainly not when a restaurant is half empty and the available tables are not being held for diners with reservations.
I'd like to say the food made us forget the annoying beginning, but while this hotel's sister property in downtown Manhattan has won praise for its restaurant, Wall On Water (Sam Sifton at the New York Times called its food "first-rate."), the shop is by far the blander wallflower of a sibling.
Bolognese (with parmigiano reggiano and parsley bits), fish and even the waitress-recommended Berkshire pork chop were OK — better than the typical rubbery fare you'll find at far too many hotel restaurants but nothing noteworthy here.
The roasted tomato and mint soup ($8) was good — although, so thick that it would have seamlessly stepped up as a hearty gravy if spaghetti had been dumped into the bowl and swirled around.
The chicken schnitzel Milanese ($17) caught our eye from the start — it's not often that you see it on a New York menu. (And seeing it always makes me misty-eyed thinking of the Schnitzel at the now-shuttered New York institution Cafe des Artistes.)
Topped with Hudson Valley greens in a very light dressing, this Schnitzel was a little bland but overall simple and satisfying.
And the baked apple tart offered a nice finish — served warm in a cast-iron pan, the tart, topped with a generous scoop of vanilla ice-cream, disappeared quickly.
The dish that made us sit up in our seats, however, was the veal meatballs with English peas and tomatoes. Tender, juicy and filled with umami, these meatballs inspired us to summon our waitress to ask her how exactly they were made. Within minutes, chef Roberto Alicea was at our table, walking us through how he mixes anchovies, capers, breadcrumbs, tarragon and thyme into the veal.
Another secret: "These are day-old meatballs," he explained, noting that he lets his meatballs sit for a day so the flavors can mingle more because, "everything tastes better the next day."
As tasty as the meatballs were, dinner hadn't been the most thrilling of experiences. We decided to give the shop one more shot the next morning.
The breakfast setup here is impressive — there's a large grab and go pastry section.
As well as a section of New York snacks …
… and New York-related books.
Breakfast was off to a promising start — the regular coffee ($3), served in small fat cups, was lovely and thick with a nice layer of crema on top.
While we're discussing beverages, it was interesting to note that its bloody mary and mimosa, both $15, cost more than most items on the brunch menu, which hover between $12 and $14.
And the French brioche toast topped with roasted strawberries and sprinkled with mint leaves ($13) was truly delicious. (You can also get orange marmalade, cinnamon apple raison compote or mint and whipped cream toppings instead.)
The side of mini bratwurst ($5) from Schaller & Weber in, you guessed it, New York came nice and hot, and were very tasty, too — a nice foil for the sweetness of the French toast.
Just when we thought our breakfast couldn't get any better, we started on the basil and parmesan scrambled eggs with bone-in virginia ham and griddle bread ($12). The eggs, topped with roasted tomatoes, were very rich — each bite was packed with the lovely salty taste (and slight elasticity) of melted parmesan — and the ham, which had a nice char, was incredibly flavorful.The griddle bread wasn't anything special but it did come nicely toasted.
Now, when it comes to brunch, I almost never leave anything on the plate. With this dish, however, try as I might, I could not finish it. It's just so intensely rich — and the portion is rather generous.
I'm not sure if we'll be back for dinner — the meatballs, the schnitzel, it's just not enough to summon us back. For brunch, however, those roasted strawberries, those cheesy eggs, those perfect little bratwursts … they're certainly worth revisiting.
the shop at Andaz Fifth Avenue, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York; 212.601.1234; http://www.newyork.5thavenue.andaz.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/entertainment/restaurants/index.jsp