Rocco at The Standard Grill

Observations from my first meal 

I went with great anticipation to The Standard Grill restaurant, where I could experience the genius of Rocco Dispirito. For those who were not in New York in the ‘90s and dined at his restaurant Union Pacific, it was a head-shaking decade-and-a-half where the celebrated chef sought fame and stardom through failed reality shows, calorie-focused cookbooks, and pop-py appearances at entertainment events.  I would even ask industry insiders about their thoughts on why someone so talented seemed to value an TV green room over leaning into this obvious talent (which would also then bring more fame and recognition).

After I saw the story of his return to serious cooking, I made a reservation.  I dislike overly belaboring every detail but my thoughts were these:

Atmosphere and design: I think the dining room has gone mostly unchanged but it’s been years. That said, it is arranged to not feel too crowded.  The menus were a nice touch being folded into quarters and stickered to create a feeling of surprise and delight in unsealing the menu of the day.  That said, if you looked at the menu on the website as I had done (many times to see if there were changes), it seemed exactly the same. To that end, it seemed a bit overdone to be printing out a new set of menus daily (and tossing them out daily).  But maybe they print as needed so I should not sweat the wastefulness…

Menu: Lots of sections and hype with names like “game changing toast.” What struck me the most was the emphasis on binchotan, a Japanese charcoal known for removing impurities (so great in water) and making whatever you are grilling crispier and accentuating it’s natural flavor.  The waiter would speak to it; it appears all over the menu.

Dishes: There was no delicacy to all of the dishes we ordered, save the shishito peppers, which were the most simple as they were grilled and salted.  The caviar was served with the ‘game changing toast’ which is a fairly common plant-based nut/seed bread that is sliced into thin crackers and toasted.  This stuff is great with avocado and cheese made from nutritional yeast, but the texture and flavor was much too strong to be serving with caviar! The star ingredient should not be demoted because one is proud of one’s toast! We had to ask for regular bread.

The fregola had way too many flavors in it, Todd English style as I like to say. The acid was too strong; the creaminess was too strong; the textures of the clams and creams seemed to fight each other; and there was enough parsley to make me worry that I would have some stuck between my teeth.

The sea bass with sweet pepper puree seemed almost equal in portions. If I evenly divided each mouthful of bass with the puree, I would have had over a tablespoon which was simply too overpowering.  And again, I felt that the flavor of the puree did not bring out the flavor and texture of the bass.

The braised shiitake mushrooms were soaked in something as they were nice and plump. They were very juicy but it seemed like the essence of shiitake was diminished as a result. Because shiitake is a pretty delicate flavor to being with, it can easily take on other flavors.  Such a preparation would maybe have been better served to be paired with rice, or other grain.

Anyway, at the top level, the meal was completely satisfactory but a true disappointment for this former Union Pacific fan.  The menu reflects the type of cooking Mr. Dispirito journeyed through with the necessary elevation a place like The Standard Grill and the prices would require; but they don’t seem to be in harmony quite yet.

The Standard Grill, 848 Washington St, New York, NY 10014