Last April, Lennys Chop House closed when restaurateur Lenny Kaplan didn't come to an agreement with the new owners of the Harbor Inn Pier 5 hotel, where the restaurant was located. It was big news because the restaurant, with its well-known owner, luxe appointments and pricey menu, had been open only 15 months.
Since then, the hotel has kept the chop house open as its dining room. Much of the staff of Lennys stayed behind, according to general manager Robb Young, who was promoted to the hotel's food and beverage director; and the menu stayed the same except for the addition of a three-course prix-fixe menu with four complementary wines for $49.50.
The Chop House is the same and not the same, as I found on a return trip. The dining room is the same handsome, clubby space (with the brass plaque set in the floor that said "Lennys Chop House" replaced by a rectangle of red carpeting). The service is still right on the mark, and I adored the new maitre d'. But the food -- well, the food could use some tweaking.
In general, our meal was pretty good. The problem is that more entrees are over $20 than under, and everything is a la carte. At these prices you want very good, even great, not pretty good. (By the time you read this, however, the menu should have been reworked to include some less expensive steaks and chops, or so the maitre d' told us.)
The problems were in the details, as is so often the case. Take something as seemingly minor as the looks of the new menu. The whole of the a la carte menu was jammed onto one page in a plastic sleeve, with the wine dinner menu on the other side. I presume that was because the menus were temporary, but it certainly looked odd at a restaurant where you're going to spend $50 a person.
And then there was the bread -- soft, cold, pull-apart rolls. Of course, you could put the red pepper remoulade that came with them on cardboard and it would taste great; but still...
Other details: The excellent black bean soup came in a large white bowl with soup trickling down one side. The gigantic shrimp in the shrimp cocktail had been cooked too long. Calamari with a zingy tomato wasabi sauce wasn't fried quite properly; the tender rings were limp and a little greasy.
A chopped salad with cucumber, peppers, celery, feta and fresh basil would have been great if it hadn't had wintry-pale tomatoes. The promised shallot marmalade never appeared with the filet mignon.
And yet that filet was excellent, large and pink and juicily tender with a giant, crisply fried onion ring on the side.
The fish of the day was a gorgeous creation: colorful layers of spinach, perfectly cooked salmon and red peppers in a tender pastry crust edged with a delicate champagne sauce. With the kitchen capable of such subtle splendor, why did the slices of flavorful duck breast arrive drowned in their red wine sauce -- and with a large scoop of mashed potatoes at their center?
As for the a la carte broccoli, I could easily have made a meal on that alone. It was jewel-green, just tender and served with an astonishingly good hollandaise.
Be sure to order something that involves ice cream for dessert because the Chop House makes its own. I recommend the cinnamon, which saved an otherwise uninspired apple tarte. For chocolate lovers, there's mousse with layers of milk, dark and white chocolate; for non-chocolate lovers there's a creme brulee that's as good as you'll find anywhere.
I, by the way, was the one who ordered the prix-fixe wine dinner, which gives you lots of choice but will save you money only if you order the most expensive items and drink at least a couple of glasses of wine. I thought the wines would be matched to the courses, but instead the customer does the matching. You get a choice of a champagne, fume blanc, pinot noir or a merlot.
CHOP HOUSE AT PIER 5
Food: ** 1/2
Where: Harbor Inn Pier 5, 711 Eastern Ave.
Hours: Open Monday through Saturday for dinner
Prices: Appetizers, $7.50-$16.95; entrees, $15.95-$59.50
Rating system: Outstanding: ****; Good: ***; Fair or uneven: **; Poor: *
Pub Date: 07/04/99