What do you do with the Hot Old Thing (and, no, this is not my entry into the conversation about Kim Novak)? I’m talking about the restaurant that briefly spent time as the hot new thing before getting pushed aside as the hotter, newer thing. If they impress during their debutante season, then they get to reposition as “neighborhood favorite” or even “citywide destination.” If not, then they’ve got some work to do.
I hope the folks behind The Lawrence in Midtown don’t mind my casting them in this light, but it feels just. When the restaurant opened about three years ago, it was the most ambitious project yet from a team that included Darren Carr and chef Shane Devereux from Top Flr and Sound Table, as well as Patrick La Bouff, the impresario behind Dinner Party Atlanta (an early supper club). With star bartender Eric Simpkins in the mix, this restaurant seemed like it would have some serious edge. It felt like it could be the first great Millennial restaurant.
What happened? Lots. The partnership soured. The food wasn’t quite there. The mood never really gelled. Devereux left, as did his successor. La Bouff, the voluble front man, was soon gone. The restaurant fell off the radar — there, but not a name that folks dropped a lot on Twitter.
When I stopped by on a recent night, the Lawrence was maybe a third full. It was easy to walk in, get a nice window table and have a conversation without shouting. Current chef Mark Nanna has kept the snacks/starters/entrees menu format, giving diners the freedom to down cocktails with bar nibbles or settle into a more traditional meal. My friend and I passed and shared some really satisfying oysters, broiled just until they were curled but still wiggly, with sizzling sriracha butter and lime. Tuna tartare with sambal, scallion mayo and a a crispy rice cracker proved one of the better versions of this warhorse appetizer I’ve had in years. Baby back ribs with sriracha glaze and pickled vegetables were a little too processed for me — seemingly cooked, chilled, fried, shellacked, etc., until the meat lost interest. I bet they could be great, though, and would happily give them another chance.
We shared a duck entree, which was a kind of sloppy/delicious mess of buttery farro with butternut squash. I later found out that Nanna was away the night we visited, and he has since lightened the dish, making the farro into more of a grain salad. Bet it’s good.
So what happens to yesterday’s hot new thing that doesn’t hit it big? If it’s worthy, it gets good word of mouth. Consider this report good word of mouth. The Lawrence should be on your radar.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog