Veterans’ Day was a day off and it was Parm’s birthday. So Bear, Parm and I decided it was time to try THOR. THOR is an acronym for The Hotel On Rivington and it has been getting good buzz around town for most of the three months it has been open. The discussions I have been listening to have intoned the dishes I seem to be appreciating most these days, new and creative things that remember flavor is the most important of the five sensory components of food.
The room is decorated. I mean you can tell someone was paid a lot of money to make this a cool space, and it is. The wallpaper is a series of white, gray, black, and sometimes margarine, colored hexagons that look like they are mimicking lace from up close but snakeskin from across the room. Most of the seating is tan sofas set in squares around black wooden tables, and the back of the place is under a vaulted glass ceiling that must be very cool at night. I would strongly suggest lunch, though, if you can arrange to be there when they are washing the glass ceiling. It makes for quite an interesting show.
The most drastic design aspect is the angular steel cave you walk in and down to get to the restrooms, which was off-putting to Parm. Once you get down there though, the way to differentiate men’s from women’s is whether you open the door by pulling a little white statue of a man or a woman which Bear and I thought that were cool enough to outweigh the resounding loneliness of the journey through echoes of footfalls in an empty, hollow, steel chamber.
The wine list was tough to assess. There is a good sampling of wines from around the world and even a section called “Sommelier’s Picks” which is comprised of lesser known grapes and regions they find interesting. The thing that struck me was that the bottles I was familiar with were the cheaper versions of the better (or able to command higher prices) wines from a region priced as if they were the better ones. The steep $310 dollar bottle of ’99 Cristal also reminds you that you are in a hotel bar, even though you are almost below Canal.
That wine service is not their priority is evidenced by their use of the Riedel O series of glasses. These stem-less glasses, which are perfect for whiskeys and water say: “we care more about design then wine enjoyment.” Aesthetic or not, Riedel or not, these are not the glasses of a serious wine program. That thought was borne out by the fact that our red bottle arrived before our white, and that we were queried individually as to which we would be drinking, rather than offered a second set of glasses so we could try both, regardless of what we were settled on drinking.
I chose an ’03 Rioja Vega Blanco and an ’01 Antonelli Montefalco Rosso. The Rioja was cheap, and cheap Rioja almost always plays all the roles well at lunch. The Montefalco was chosen because Parm doesn’t care, but wanted red and Bear likes big mean reds like Quinterelli Amarone and will choose wines like this whenever asked. I figured a Sagrantino blend would be light enough for a sun-up meal, yet the Sag would be big enough for him. Also, most of what we had ordered was fish so I was afraid to go any bigger.
Lunch started with Kumomoto Oysters with Yellow Fin Tuna and American Sturgeon Caviar $16. The tuna was chopped and stacked on top of the oyster and the caviar was on top of that. There was also a yellow cream that looked like some kind of sabayon between oyster and fish. It was presented on a cool pedestal of chopped ice that had been molded into a circle. It looked very pretty and exciting. However, the adductor muscle was not cut from the shell, which is simply inexcusable. When I was fourteen and illegally working at a beach hut frying frozen food stuffs and opening clams and oysters, I knew to cut the muscle attached to the shell we were serving on, and I see no reason for a pro in a New York restaurant not to understand that.
I then had White Tomato Mousse with a Rainbow of Heirloom Tomatoes and a Tomato Tuile $11. This was the kind of dish I was looking for – the mousse was a stabilized foam on top of the Tuile, both of which sat atop sections of tomato in tomato water and olive oil. I love tomatoes. The more you design your tomato dish to play up the flavor of tomato, the more I am going to love it. The foam and Tuile showed all the tartness of the acids, while the meat and water were washing and unctuous. This is a great dish.
Next up was Baby Romaine Lettuce with One hour Poached egg, with White Anchovies, and Crisp Parmesan $10. The idea here is that, by using a water circulator and letting the egg poach at a temperature like 60 degrees for a long time (like an hour), you produce a far more constant consistency. Maybe, but more then texture this egg brought water to the salad, blowing the richness the egg would have offered. The lettuce was the beautiful hearts of romaine. The egg was nestled in there and a Parmesan crisp that I believe contained Thyme leaves topped the bowl. You broke through the lattice of the crisp to reach the egg and mix it. The Anchovies were four filets and were great but I would have cut them. With the small lettuce and the way the crisp breaks, the filets are outsized to the dish and cutting them your-self with a butter knife is hard work, as anchovies have tough skin.
I chose Artichokes, Mussels and Carrots in Basil Juice $13 from the Warm Plates In The Middle section of the menu as my main course, having had three from the Cold Plates To Start so far. One Artichoke heart is chopped and is lost under a pile of mussels (maybe a better name would be Mussels, Artichoke…). Once I figured out to shell all the mussels and put them in the basil juice, the tomatoes and onions on their meat joined with the carrots and artichoke and bacon in the juice and it came together to be quite a nice dish.
The cool ice disc showed up again at dessert as the column on top of which the Crushed Avocado, Lime Sorbet and Salted Caramel $9 was served. The lime component overpowered the whole. I had ordered the dish because salted Caramel was the twenty-fourth of twenty-four courses at the best meal I ever had and was hoping to show it to the guys. Sadly, it was imperceptible because of the lime foam.
THOR is new, and obviously has things to work through, and there is nothing wrong with that. This is a very cool room in a cool part of town and, at this point I would say the food on the whole shows promise. If you choose to go, I would suggest going late, with a group, and not very hungry, as I suspect the space will be a lot of fun to order a couple of things in and find the one or two gems the menu offers.