Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Restaurant Review: The Central Park Boathouse Is Back, and It’s Perfectly Fine

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After more than a year of closure, the Boathouse restaurant reopened this spring, under Legends Hospitality, a massive operations company that also oversees concessions at the One World Observatory, the Circle Line, and Yankee Stadium—not to mention numerous facilities outside of New York, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the L.A. Coliseum, and Spain’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium, home to Real Madrid. (The company was founded in part by the owners of the Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys and is now, naturally, primarily owned by a venture-capital firm.) I would be inclined to sniff at this new partnership—a jewel of New York City farmed out to some corporate machinery optimized to separate tourists from their dollars—except that this has always, more or less, been the Boathouse’s M.O. In the restaurant’s forty-ish years of operation, it’s been run by various concession holders who knew how to keep the tablecloths white and the iced-tea glasses filled. The most recent before Legends—Dean Poll, the owner of Gallaghers Steakhouse—upgraded the food and updated the sliding glass walls, which close off the dining area in times of inclement weather. But he shut down the restaurant early in the pandemic, reopened it in 2021, and then closed it down again the next year, calling it “a very difficult place to operate,” owing to labor costs and other issues. (Legends Hospitality has hired back a considerable portion of the previously laid-off staff.)

As at all restaurants with spectacular views, the food at the Boathouse is hardly the draw; neither is the service. We come here to slip into a New York fantasy in precisely the way the metal rowboats, docked just to the side of the restaurant’s terrace, glide at a push into the artichoke-green water of the lake. The Boathouse is a beautiful place to eat lunch, especially in fine weather, especially at the easy pace of people with no pressing work to get back to. (Are they rich, or are they tourists?) The meal itself, to be honest, is considerably more satisfying than a pricey tourist-bait canteen has any right to be. The kitchen is now run by the chef Adam Fiscus, with consulting from David Pasternack, a renowned seafood chef who did brilliant things at the late, much-beloved midtown Italian restaurant Esca. They seem to be embracing all the dreamy, Upper West Side-y, tweed-and-loafers Nora Ephron of it all, with a menu evocative of a Reagan-era (but Dukakis-voting) luncheon party. There are stuffed mushrooms with Ritz-cracker crumbs and Gruyère, oysters Rockefeller, chicken-liver pâté served with craggy slices of toast. The spring menu included a shaved-asparagus salad topped with a très “Silver Palate” medallion of warmed goat cheese, and swordfish (my God, remember swordfish?). Russian dressing, zippy and coral-pink, is drizzled on romaine with freshly grated horseradish, and reappears in a ramekin as a dipping sauce for golden fries. Every meal starts with a relish tray, pleasantly retro if rather anemic: a few leaves of endive, a couple of black olives, melba toast, a little puddle of dip.

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