Celebrity toque and Top Chef King of Snark Tom Colicchio quietly opened RIVERPARK, a restaurant situated on an underused stretch of the East River in Murray Hill, this past autumn. And over the course of these recent cool-into-cold months of Manhattan's fall and winter seasons, Riverpark has gained a foothold in the city's dining scene.
Admittedly, I've always found office buildings and corporate structures to be strange settings for restaurants (which probably accounts for my propensity to head downtown to eat). The Alexandria Center is no different, except its sterile, shiny newness is in stark contrast to the surrounding old buildings and to the warmth of Riverpark once you...get past the security guards at the Center's front desk, walk down the corridor, and step inside the actual restaurant. It's decorated in handsome tones of copper, limestone, and dark blue, and its position overlooking the East River makes the interior feel modern nautical, and not necessarily very New York-y: the day these photos were shot was a damp, gray afternoon that reminded me of eating on the Thames rather than dining in Manhattan.
Regardless, the bar is a nice place to have elegant drinks and nibbles or raw bar selections (or a full dinner) after work -- something the nabe has long been lacking. And as for the dining room itself (divided into 2 areas: one cozy interior, and one by the floor-to-ceiling glass windows), these are lovely spots for lunch or dinner, where one can enjoy a reliably good meal, professionally executed, with little fanfare and warm service. Put succinctly: Riverpark is the perfect place to come with someone you like, someone with whom you'd like to enjoy a conversation. Nothing about the place overwhelms or takes the focus off of your company, and you don't have to worry about the food disappointing. Many a spot has become an institution in this town for accomplishing less.
Now, to the food: not overly pricey (particularly for a Colicchio joint), not terribly exciting, but reliably delicious. Chef de Cuisine Sisha Ortuzar exhibits his skill honed in Colicchio's kitchens, along with his facility with market-fresh ingredients and Euro-American food with influence from The Americas (Ortuzar is Chilean). So, we can kick off our meal with a decadent starter of duck liver pate' with grilled toast and a cherry compote, or go the lighter route with a salad of field greens and lightly pickled vegetables -- or find the middle ground with a beef carpaccio with arugula and shaved parmigiano.
For seconds, try the Arctic char (replaced by branzino in the photo) with fingerling potatoes, pickled red onion, capers, and a salsa verde. The pork scaloppine with farro and wilted spinach was also delicious -- though no longer on the menu -- and the lunch item of the fried chicken sandwich with homemade potato chips (available as a bar snack) was a tasty plate of food. The pastas, like the squid ink chitarra, are well-balanced, and other meatier second dishes are accomplished as well.
Desserts tend towards updated classics-with-a-twist, as in the cinnamon panna cotta with rosemary ice cream and caramelized pumpkin seeds. The molten chocolate cake is there (with espresso gelato and burnt sesame brittle), and so is the apple crumb with cool cream to pour onto it. Classics, yes -- but with good reason.
Here's the thing: the experimentation, research, and reinvention of the wheel may be happening in this building, but in the pharmaceutical and venture capitalist offices and biotech labs upstairs -- not in the kitchen. On the ground floor at Riverpark, highly-skilled, professional execution of American and European flavors, using top-quality primary ingredients is the name of the game. That it's happening in a fairly underdeveloped slice of Manhattan overlooking a lovely spot on the East River (this should be a great locale come late spring and into summer) is all the more incentive to check out this neighborhood anomaly.
Diner: please pack your wallet and go.
450 E 29th St. New York, NY 10016