I love most neighborhoods in Manhattan, but Meatpacking is probably not one of my favorites, especially at nighttime. It just feels too clubby and snobbish, with expensive bars, restaurants and clubs that often charge ridiculous prices and screen guests with big bouncers all over the entrance. Maritime Hotel is almost the epicenter of this scene where men in expensive-looking suits and women in short dresses (even in the winter) would hang out at La Bottega before heading over to Tao downstairs or some other swanky club nearby. Once the star chef Mario Batali and restaurateur Joe Bastianich decided to open a new restaurant in place of La Bottega, I was really hoping that they would breathe fresh air into the neighborhood, going beyond a predictable Italian restaurant where people hang out just to hang out, not to eat serious food. While I’ve had mixed experiences at chef Batali’s famed Babbo, there is no denying that it has the distinctive color and swagger that made the restaurant so beloved by New Yorkers over a long period of time, and there was no denying that Del Posto is one of my absolute favorites in the city. How did La Sirena measure up to these restaurants? I’m sad (and upset) to report that it lacks any type of flair that would want to make me come back. I’ve come to this conclusion after visiting this restaurant twice in a single week (which has never happened before by the way).
I was hoping that the kitchen would take more risks, but the food at La Sirena not only lacked imaginativeness but was also wildly inconsistent throughout. All my appetizers that I had tried were pedestrian, from the crispy soft shell crab with crushed potatoes, sweet garlic and chives that didn’t taste so crispy, to quail with charred ramps, rhubarb vinaigreete and red mustard greens that was more or less forgettable. Only the anchovies with fennel had some semblance of flavor, but wasn’t better by much.
The pastas were also boring and not really memorable, either. My favorite was bucatini with spicy octopus that had the spicy kick that I enjoyed and overall nice balance of flavor and texture. On the other hand, tonnarelli neri with lobster, ramps and lemony breadcrumbs turned out a bit dull in flavor, as were pici with sausage an escarole and leek and mascarpone stuffed panzotti. I was really starting to miss the absolutely decadent beef’s cheek ravioli at Babbo.
Even the entrees showed that the kitchen was just playing too safe, and execution was far from perfect. I always enjoy the meaty texture of grilled swordfish, but the one at La Sirena (cooked Sicilian style with olives, tomatoes, currants, capers, pine nuts and marjoram) turned out too soft in texture so I had to really question whether it was swordfish. Braised roll beef short rib with broccoli rabe and spicy bread crumbs was another unimpressive dish that really didn’t have a lot of redeeming qualities.
The desserts were slightly better. I did quite enjoy the classic “grandma style” pine nut tart with olive oil gelato that had the right amount of sweetness without going overboard, and thought the combination of frozen honey mousse and blood orange sorbetto in honey walnut semifreddo worked harmoniously together, even though citrus and Campari-soaked Neapolitan cake with bergamot, grapefruit and basil gelato was, again, boring. Overall, I really wasn’t sure how involved chef Batali was to this new venture. Is the restaurant just borrowing his name? Does he even show up at the kitchen and sample various dishes?
Despite these shortcomings, getting a reservation at La Sirena is still very difficult to come by, which is even more shocking when you see the gigantic dining space. I wasn’t sure whether the restaurant was purposefully withholding reservations. I showed up at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday and was seated at the central bar area immediately without any wait. The Italian-centric wine list on the iPad is large (but pricey), and while the service was professional and attentive, it also felt somewhat distant. As you can imagine, it’s the same Meatpacking crowd (I swear I saw at least half a dozen couples of old, rich-looking gentlemen and their hot and slim mistresses), which has made my dining experience even more uncomfortable. La Sirena is probably the best place to just sit at the bar for drinks while munching on some snacks before a wild night elsewhere. As much as I respect chef Batali and his influence on Italian dining scene in the city, La Sirena doesn’t deserve to be one of his trophy restaurants, at least not just yet.
- Creativity: 6.0/10
- Execution: 6.5/10
- Ingredients: 7.0/10
- Flavor: 6.0/10
- Texture: 6.5/10
Address: 88 9th Avenue, New York, NY 10011
Telephone: (212) 977-6096