It would be easy to walk right past The Lion, John Delucie's new American (in the vein of a gastropub) restaurant in New York City's West Village. Delucie's subtle style fits right in here — no fuss on the outside, allure on the inside. The intial décor in the bar keeps to this original theme, with low wooden beams and old Daily News covers. Farther into the dining room, wooden chandeliers, large, old photos on the wall, and leather banquettes reflect a glam-tavern feel.
The crowd itself becomes part of the décor — the crush of patrons waiting to be seated, chatting at the bar and oh-so-casually scoping out the crowd of beautiful people, sets the scene in a much more dramatic way. The attitude that every staff person gives is that you're lucky to be at The Lion — waiting and being pushed around next to the bar is just part of the game. And it's not a bad game to play if you're in the mood for an experience, rather than focused on a delicious meal.
John Delucie first mastered this concept with The Waverly Inn and he's done it again here. While sitting in The Lion you might be cramped, but you'll have a good time people-watching — no matter whether you feel like a part of the in crowd or not. And if you're a tourist it will be a chance to go inside the type of place that is typified in the only-in-the-movies glamorous New York.
Unfortunately, the missing element among all the trendiness is consistent food that keeps up with the prices. While there are some definite highs on the menus, the food was very hit or miss
We started with the plateau royal de mer, a great way to taste a bit of the raw bar, with oysters, mussels, clams, and a delicious and large portion of king crab legs. Also included was the tuna tartare and a hamachi crudo — a true example of how the menu alternately shines and then falls flat. The tuna was made with mint, mâche, and lemon, although it was hard to taste anything other than the tuna and the whole dish lacked seasoning. What could have easily been a highlight became forgettable. Alternately, the crudo was simple perfection. Pickled red onion added a distinct zing along with a lime-horseradish vinaigrette. It was fresh, delicious, and beautifully executed.
Our mains also contained some highs and lows. The least interesting dish was the steamed bouchot mussels with piperade, grilled crostini, and fennel. They personified the motto of "nothing to write home about." They were serviceable and cooked well, but they lacked anything original. The black truffle gnocchi was better — it was a simple dish cooked with butter that allowed the truffles and soft, pillowy gnocchi to sing. But again, it wasn't the best version I'd ever had and its $45 price tag made me think that it should have stood out more.
The true highlight of the evening was the 28-day aged côte de boeuf for two, with roasted garlic and olive oil. It made the whole dining experience worth the trip, and I suppose for $125 it should have. The simplicity in the rub made the meat the star and it was a perfectly cooked, impeccably seasoned piece of beef. My dining companions were competing to clean the meat off the bone.
The Lion is not a place for everyone or every ocassion. It is at its best in the décor and the attitude, if that's something you like. I wouldn't recommend The Lion to an astute food lover nor would I want to come back on a weeknight when I wasn't looking for a big night out. But it's the perfect place for out-of-towners who want to experience the "scene" and take part in a night of New York glitz and glitter. It just might be best on an expense account.