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Back to the Lawrence

Oysters broiled with sriracha butter (all photos by John McNicholas)

Oysters broiled with sriracha butter (all photos by John McNicholas)

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.

Tuna tartare with scallion mayonnaise and a crispy rice cracker

Tuna tartare with scallion mayonnaise and a crispy rice cracker

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

7 comments Add your comment

Baltisraul....

March 6th, 2014
4:53 pm

Just the pictures alone of the oysters and tuna makes your mouth water.

ted

March 7th, 2014
6:53 am

We went early on a couple of times and really enjoyed it but haven’t been back lately. I remember liking it much better than the Blais-gimmickry at The Spence.

Master Antagonist

March 7th, 2014
11:50 am

I normally come here looking for trouble. either impersonating local celebs or challenging overzealous amateur politicos to half-hearted (on my end) debates.
But today I am just here for the food.
Ted is right.
I have been to the Lawrence many times and I have never been disappointed.
It is kinda like micro-dining. Small dining room, small staff, small menu. But everything works.
It is quaint and simple. It is modest in the way a house in Cape Cod might be.
They have the best manhattan in town.
I’m actually looking forward to trying out their new patio as weather permits.
So, in summary, I hate cauliflower, The Spence is dumb, and OTP people should stay OTP.

Robert

March 7th, 2014
2:07 pm

Speaking of asinine DB comments…….

Marsh

March 7th, 2014
2:12 pm

Master Antagonist pretends to be Ford Fry but in actuality is a neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie.

Lady Lulu

March 7th, 2014
2:42 pm

Oh, Marsh, you card, all the girls are using that ridic term “neo-maxi-zoom-dweebie.”
when are we gonna get together for cosmos again anyway??

Marsh

March 10th, 2014
7:18 am

Does somebody pay you to sit around and post comments on the internet all day long? Probaby.