Sometimes, sticking with old classics pays off more dividends than you can imagine. For the famed restaurateur Keith McNally, he has rarely strayed from his formula of old-school brasserie focusing on French-centric classics that purport to appeal to the broad range of audience, from The Odeon to Balthazar to Minetta Tavern. When you walk into his restaurants, it’s hard to find a ton of significant differences from the décor to the food menu. I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of all the restaurants in his empire, but it’s also been the case I didn’t have particularly bad meals save for one unsatisfying night at Balthazar. When Mr. McNally decided to venture into Financial District neighborhood at the Beekman Hotel nearby my girlfriend’s apartment, I had a pretty idea what I would get out of Augustine. On a recent off-day, my girlfriend and I decided to just show up for early dinner at the restaurant out of the blues.
Augustine has that shiny feel that is not cheesy or cliché but makes you feel like you’re sitting somewhere on a pretty street in Paris. Looking at the menus, there was no magic sauce or ingredient, but I found a lot of dishes with appetizing description, starting with the cheese soufflé with parmesan and horseradish fondue. The soufflé had a great balance of flavor without overpowering seasoning that my girlfriend and I quickly disposed of it in minutes. I was particularly excited to try a couple of meat dishes as some reviews I had read previously had a lot of nice words about them before stepping into Augustine. In particular, the leg of lamb seemed to be one of the dishes that was quickly turning into a crowd favorite. When it comes to meat, my girlfriend and I would like to call ourselves “purists” where texture of the meat is the most important factor and excessive seasoning will be an automatic no-no. While we liked the texture of both the leg of lamb and dry-aged T-bone from Kansas, we also thought a bit more moderate seasoning would’ve made so much more difference in the positive direction. For the lamb, the addition of lamb jus seemed like an overkill and I didn’t understand why the kitchen would even bother adding salt when the meat itself was beautifully cooked medium rare. In any event, I appreciated the texture of both dishes so a KenScale score of 8.0 with an asterisk seemed appropriate, especially after we very much enjoyed the delightful passion fruit and banana vacherin that helped us to shed away our mixed experience with the meat dishes.
Augustine is one of the hottest tables in the city right now and the dining room got quickly packed in the course of our meal. The restaurant currently takes reservations only via phone and it might be a smart idea to just show up when the restaurant opens and try your luck at the bar or other tables that may have been set aside for walk-ins. There is full bar (I enjoyed the Manhattan style martini to start the meal) with French-centric wine selections on the surprisingly affordable side. As noted above, the charm from the dining space is what makes eating at Augustine an experience that you’ll enjoy, although you might have to deal with excessive noise during prime time. I appreciate Mr. McNally’s singular focus on putting together his vision of a classic brasserie that works for everyone; only if the kitchen decides to forgo adding salt into the meat dishes…
- Creativity: 7.5/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 7.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
Address: 5 Beekman Street, New York, NY 10038
Telephone: (212) 375-0010