-img3- Seymour Burton, 511 E. 5th St, 212-260-1333 Price range: $30-$48
When chef Adam Cohn and architect Adam Kushner took over East Village mainstay Le Tableau, they never expected it to evolve into what it is now, a constant work-in-progress, with a world-savvy, market-friendly New American menu. The room’s focus is a long communal table, whose Japanese-style carpentry is accented by a glowing central strip running its length. Professionally finished, the table, which runs into an open kitchen taking up a corner of the room, contrasts with the messy, impromptu nature of the rest of the room. Walls are dented, architectural supports are visible, and the kitchen isn’t, as they say, camera-ready. The menu is featured on huge chalkboards, a whimsical, proto-diner touch that can be a hassle if you’re sitting right under it.
On the night I was there, more than half of the entrees were sold out by 7 o’clock, including the one I lusted after, a duck gumbo. Instead, I went for the Roast Chicken ($19), a good, general test of a kitchen’s skill. Stuffed with proscuitto and thyme, the chicken was tasty and juicier than the usual brick of chicken, but that was courtesy of the cured ham hidden inside. Distressingly, the chicken was lightly breaded, which helps it from drying out but ultimately ruins the integrity of a roast chicken and robs the diner of the crunchy skin. Likewise, a side of Mac & Cheese ($8) was perfectly tender but so old-fashioned that it hardly tasted of cheese, just bland bechamel — a formulation out of our past that we’ve moved indulgently beyond, I thought.
Appetizers were the stars here. Best was a creamy polenta, decadent long-stirred Tuscan style, with roasted wild mushrooms and grilled lamb kidneys ($15). The polenta, more pleasing than the mac and cheese could hope to be, served as a perfect medium for the juicy, earthy fungi and the meaty kidneys (which had none of the off or metallic flavors of beef kidneys). I could eat that daily. Latkes with smoked salmon and crème fraîche ($15) were less surprising but still delicious. The single, large potato pancake was perfectly cooked, not greasy in the slightest, letting the natural oils of the bounteous salmon, presented like a rose, come to the forefront. Throw a poached egg on top and I’d be here every Sunday morning.
Seymour Burton has much to recommend it: a stellar wine and beer list, a family vibe, unpretentious exploratory fare, a supposedly amazing hamburger… but the design combination of post-modern and derelict, the limited choices, the rushed pacing and occasional missteps don’t, for the moment, justify SB’s “New East Village” prices.