My nephew wanted to eat at The National, the restaurant of acclaimed celebrity Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, located in The Benjamin Hotel. You do not need to long to convince me to go to a place to eat, and here we are, in this American bistro inspired by European restaurants as well as American dining rooms.
You definitely get the feel of a bistro, with a nice atmosphere that is not stuffy, and space between tables that make the whole experience enjoyable, unless you really like hearing your neighboring table's conversation. However, the noise level is still high, especially because of the music they are playing. We were four people and they sat us at a round table for six, giving us lots of space for sure, but making the seating arrangement awkward as we wanted to make sure we could hear each other...
They have a nice wine list as well as cocktails and I decided to try their Midtown Manhattan, made with Old Forester Bourbon, Carpano Antica formula, Angostura orange and cherries. Quite good and perfectly made.
Food wise, their menu is not gigantic, but has a nice selection of meat and fish, and if you do not eat either, they have couple of small dishes (like the trumpet pasta) or salads for you. Here are some of the dishes I tried:
Lamb Osso buco, made with eggplant, raisins, piquillo peppers and pea shoots. This was delicious, although small: the lamb shank was perfectly cooked and the meat was literally falling off the bone.
Black Sea Bass, served with zucchini, squash, lime and garlic. A nice seasonal dish for sure. The fish was fantastic: well cooked, it was moist and flakey.
Zakarian Burger, a lamb burger made with grilled haloumi cheese, cucumber slaw and yogurt dressing.
I admit that I had high expectations for few reasons: first, it has the name of the Chef. Then, proposing such unique combination made me think that they were on something delicious, giving a Mediterranean spin to an American classic. Unfortunately, it was not that great: I asked it to be medium rare and it seem to be cooked medium (it was a bit dark in the restaurant...). The patty was also dry. At least the hand cut fries that came with it were delicious...
Last was dessert, also a bit disappointing: the plate of cookies had nothing special (you want good cookies? Go to Untitled, City Bakery or Levain Bakery!) and the strawberry shortcake subpar, the shortcake being a bit dry and there was not enough cream.
That's unfortunate: I watched Chef Zakarian so many times on food shows that I was expecting to be wowed by The National. I just found it ok and not the kind of place I would absolutely recommend. But still, I had a nice evening with my family.
Enjoy (I did)!
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The National - 557 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10022