For several reasons, we had high hopes for our lunch at White Gold Butchers, which opened last November on Manhattan’s Upper West Side (UWS).
1) We confess. We are true carnivores (even though we tend to ration the meat we consume for health reasons.)
2) We love the idea of eating in a small “restaurant” that sits within the walls of a retail food market. Food service is counter-to-table, usually with a limited menu that changes day-by-day or meal-by-meal. A relaxed informality derives from the setting and you count upon whatever you eat to be fresh.
Places like this have a European flair. We enjoyed eating at Can Ravell in Barcelona, set in a delicatessen of sorts (xarcuteria, in Catalan); and at La Baita Vecchia Malga in Bologna, a cold cut store (salumeria in Italian) that serves regional (Emilia Romagna) meats, cheeses and pastas.
3) On a visit to our son in Manhattan, we were drawn to White Gold Butchers because of the fanfare and positive reviews associated with its opening and ownership—including Pete Wells’ New York Times review praising it as an epicurean mecca on the UWS, an area he noted as largely barren of destination restaurants worth-visiting.
This restaurant in an old-fashioned-style butcher shop is a partnership between Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield, who also own the Michelin-starred Spotted Pig in Greenwich Village. Food and Wine named Bloomfield “Best New Chef” in 2007.
White Gold Butchers occupies the southeast corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 78th Street, a largely residential area on the Upper Westside. Oddly, there’s no signage above the attractive black-and-white-striped awning but this wasn’t a problem because we had noted the address beforehand.
With large glass windows on two sides and a bright gold tin roof, the colorful room is filled with both natural and artificial light during the day. The walls and shelves are lined with kitsch butchery graphics and pig paraphernalia.
One refrigerated case displays fine meats and another, sausages and charcuterie—presumably from less desirable parts of the whole cows and pigs that arrive here.
Admittedly, I couldn’t stop gazing at the hunks of museum-quality marbled steaks (priced that day at $32.00 a pound).
A number of wooden tables (faux butcher block, perhaps?) are placed against the remaining walls with a few more taking center stage closer to the meat cases and kitchen pass-through. Each table has an oversized Coleman mustard can on top with serve-yourself napkins and utensils.
We didn’t expect white-glove service but the loose management/organization of the place was somewhat rattling. One person manned the register, which entailed a bit of a juggling act for any one person. She answered questions, took and placed orders, processed cash or credit card payments, and served drinks. At the completion of the lengthier-than-need-be transaction, she handed each patron a number on a metal holder that was to be placed at the table for waiter delivery of the order.
Only one spotted (dirty) menu was available to be shared among all of us waiting in line to order. When we got to the front of the line (shortly after opening at noontime), we learned that not everything on the short menu was available.
Four dishes (three sandwiches and a pasty) eventually arrived at our table, unfortunately one-by-one, with unexplained 10-minute time lapses between them. There were no apologies even though the food deliverer saw that each of us wound up eating alone because of the timing. Adding insult to injury, the server came to clean up the table and rush us out before the last sandwich was eaten.
What we ate
As a party of three, we ordered several dishes to share for lunch at White Gold Butchers:
Chopped Cheese, a sandwich of chopped meat, onions, pickles and melted cheese on a seeded roll, a staple of many NYC bodegas.
Roast Beef Sandwich, rare thin-sliced roast beef that was tender and served pickled red onion on a poppy seed bun (All the sandwiches are served on the same rolls).
Pulled Pork Sandwich, special of the day. The pulled pork was tender and zesty but overwhelmed by the vinegary pickled onions on top.
Potato and Cheese Pasty, finely mashed potatoes and cheese with onions in a flaky, empanada-style crust.
The Bottom Line
Perhaps, we arrived with over-the-top expectations. Perhaps, the choices would have been more appealing at dinner (Yelp reviewers seem to enjoy dinner at White Gold Butchers, although some mentioned it was pretty expensive).
While the fare we ate was tasty, the meats weren’t remarkable and, unfortunately, the less than satisfactory service overshadowed the meal.
Perhaps, it was just an off day in the butcher shop (no manager was visibly on site) and our lunch at White Gold Butchers was an outlier. Or, perhaps, we should try the Spotted Pig for a better taste of the April Bloomfield mystique.
IF YOU GO
Previously on More Time To Travel: