Restaurant Week Mini Reviews: Abboccato, Grayz, and Riingo

For this year's summer restaurant week, I made about seven reservations, but ended up only being able to go to three (I was sick on week one). I went to Abboccato and Grayz for lunch, and Riingo for dinner.

Abboccato (136 West 55th Street, 212-265-4000), part of the Livanos Restaurant Group, which runs Molyvos and Oceana among other excellent restaurants, is a sleek subterranean Italian cave of a restaurant. Recently renovated as the Web site touts, the space is a beautiful setting, especially romantic for the evening. For lunch, the place was abuzz with a mixed lunch crowd of businesspeople and tourists. Our lunch here was rather good with a few hiccups here and there: we didn’t get napkins until we asked for them, and service was a bit shotty. The appetizer of the chiccetti misti was nice, a selection of three mini appetizers, a bruschetta with a white bean spread; a corn, yogurt, and dill salad; and a mozzarella and red pepper salad. For the main entrée I had the fish of the day on top of a vegetable ragu and my friend had the tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce. My fish, a tilefish, tasted rather fishy and I did not care for the vegetable ragu. My friend’s tagliatelle was great but could have been more al dente. For dessert I thoroughly enjoyed the chocolate bomboloni with hazlenut filling along with whipped cream and gianduja pieces. My friend had a rather good tiramisu. Unfortunately, the bomboloni had a $3 supplement as does many other items on the menu including the insalate di mare appetizer and the veal scaloppini entrée, which has a $6 supplement. I don’t think a restaurant week menu should have supplemental pricing. I think that Abboccato was a nice try and I’d like to go back again to see if I can enjoy a better experience.

Grayz (13-15 West 54th Street, 212-262-4600), Gray Kunz last remaining restaurant in New York after Café Gray closed in late June, is streamline and modern and also an underground restaurant located in an old Rockefeller townhouse on West 54th Street. The entry leads downstairs to an upper dining room and bar, and then further down is a small dining room in a cave-like hallway leading to the atrium main dining room. According to Eater is to be renovated this month and will close August 10 and reopen in September. I made reservations way in advance and I was even then lucky to get a prime lunching time. I was confused thought to receive two phone messages asking for reservation confirmation, because if I didn’t confirm my reservation would be given away. I found this very odd, but did not call the restaurant back. When I showed up there was no trouble getting in, so I don’t understand their precaution. Soon after being seated we ordered off of the restaurant week menu. Unlike Abboccato, which offered three choices per course, Grayz only offered two. So I went with one choice, while my guest went with the other. We ordered the chilled tomato coulis and spicy tuna-kampachi tartare for appetizers, the spare rib croque monsieur and seared cod for entrées, and the mixed berries and the chocolate mousse. We also ordered two glasses of cava to wash everything down. I thoroughly enjoyed everything. The coulis was refreshing; the tartare spicy and satisfying; the croque monsieur was pretty good; the fish was sublimely flavorful served with an artichoke, harissa, fennel-saffron emulsion, and the desserts were refreshingly cool and justly sweet. The mixed berries were infused with port and topped with a watermelon-champagne granité. The chocolate mousse was a rather small portion but was also accompanied by braised cherries and a sauce. I will definitely go back to Grayz again, for the nice service, the elegant atmosphere, and especially because we received two gift certificates for the value of our lunch at $24.07.

Riingo (205 East 45th Street, 212-867-4200), Marcus Samuelsson's Japanese/ American bistro-fare restaurant, was a let down. After having a great time at Merkato 55, I was hoping that I'd find the same joy at Riingo. The restaurant is very small; it is a dark and eery windowless corridor tucked into a slim allotment shared with the Alex Hotel. Images of canles were projected onto the back wall further underlining the eeriness. For appetizers my friend ordered the salmon avacado roll and I ordered the beer-braised short rib. the sushi roll was just like any other. The short rib was unusual in that it was boneless and formed into a cube, and charred in such a way that it resembled a brownie. It was delicious but very dry and under seasoned. For the main course I chose the hanger steak, which I ordered medium rare, but it was cooked toward medium-well. It was also unflavorful, dry and chewy. It came with a strange bitter brown sauce that I did not like at all. My friend's soy-glazed salmon with bulgur wheat was rather good. For dessert I unfortunately chose the doughnuts with green tea ice cream. My friend opted for the never-can-go-wrong-with molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. My dessert was awful: the doughnuts were as heavy as lead, not at all airy or light, and the green tea ice cream was astringent and overly tannic. This was the first dessert at a restaurant that I did not finish—and I always finish dessert. I think that speaks for itself.