New York City: The National Bar & Dining Rooms


Geoffrey Zakarian, born in Worcester, Masachusetts in 1959, is one of the nation’s most widely celebrated chefs, restaurateur and author. He began his culinary career at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. As an apprentice chef, he began his work under Chef Daniel Boulud at Le Cirque. It was also at Le Cirque where his rise to national prominence began, named “Chef de Cuisine” from 1982 to 1987, and developed his technical foundation under the French master Chef Alain Sailhac.
His first turn as Executive Chef was at the legendary 21 Club, and then at 44 at the Royalton in 1990. In 1992, 44 had only received 2 stars from The New York Times columnist Bryan Miller. But in 2001, William Grimes of the New York Times described Zakarian as “… the reason that 44 in the Royalton Hotel was always a lot better than it need to be.” His startling run of success continued, helming international acclaimed kitchens at The Delano in Miami, and Patroon in Manhattan which was awarded 3 stars by New York Times critic Ruth Reichi. In 2000, Zakarian worked with Alain Passard, a renowned French chef, at the three-Michelin star restaurant L’Arpège in Paris.
A year later, Zakarian opened his own restaurant Town, located in the East side of Midtown Manhattan in the Chambers Hotel. It has been rated with 3 stars by The New York Times, but closed in 2009. He opened Country in the Carlton Hotel near Madison Square Park in 2005 and has also been rated with 3 stars by The New York Times. Today, his restaurants in New York include The Lambs Club, where he is the executive chef, and The National & Dining Rooms, a James Beard Award-winning grand café. In Miami, he has the Tudor House. He is also the consultant at the Water Club in Atlantic City.
While not in the kitchen, Chef Zakarian appears regularly on morning shows such as The Today Show, Good Morning America, and The CBS Morning show. He also appears on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, is a judge on Chopped, one of Food Network’s highest-rated shows, and currently has a starring role on the 4th season of The Next Iron Chef: Super Chefs were he competes head-to-head against eight of the nation’s top chefs. (UPDATE: Chef Geoffrey Zakarian has prevailed to become Kitchen’s Stadium newest Iron Chef! :))
In addition, he has authored the award-winning cookbook, Geoffrey Zakarian’s Town/Country: 150 Recipes for Life Around The Table, named Editor’s Choice by The New York Times.
Fiftieth Street and Lexington Avenue may sometimes be known as the heartbeat of no particular neighborhood, where office workers stream through on the way to the subway station at the corner, and yellow cabs escape the traffic at fifth avenue but nevertheless, still horn and bark at one another in French and speed through to get to the other side of the city. But here though, is National Bar & Dining Rooms, the culmination of one of the leading figures in the culinary world Chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s vision to bring true all-occasion dining to New York City’s Midtown. It’s sort of a neighborhood bistro where you might linger over dinner for a while, happily talking with friends and getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Located at the ground floor of Benjamin Hotel (or sometimes known as the restored 1927 Emery Roth Building) the restaurant’s eclectic interior design is supported by this architectural landmark of the Beaux-Arts style. Welcoming yet refined interior design by the Rockwell Group, wide leather boot seats and a beautiful tiled floor manage to evoke grand cafés of Europe and classical American dining rooms – feels nothing like a hotel-lobby. But one thing that catches the eye immediately when you step into this restaurant is the antique delivery bicycle parked near the grand circular stairwell in the middle of the restaurant. It’s peculiar, yet artful – makes the space that much more interesting.
The menu is simple, not terribly expensive – classic bistro dishes with Chef Zakarian’s signature Modern American touch, a style of cooking that earned him critical acclaim at his previous establishments TOWN and Country. His cuisine is fresh and accessible, concentrating on American ingredients prepared with classic French techniques. It definitely matches Chef Zakarian’s new-American aesthetic.

Bread Basket

To start off the meal, a breadbasket, consisting of Multigrain, Olive bread and White bread, was served. Crispy on the outside, and soft and airy in the inside, definitely one of the best breads I’ve eaten.

Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut Squash Soup ($12): Ras al Hanout, Apple, Chive. The Ras al Hanout was definitely evident, but I felt it overpowered the sweetness of the Squash itself, and the apples as well. But it was definitely a earthy, the kind of soup you would love to have on a rainy day. It was also a hearty portion with an interesting presentation.

Crab Cake

My mum has been searching for the best Crab Cakes simply because she’s a huge fan of crab and cakes (I’m serious…). So once she saw Johan Crab Cake Salad ($18): Citrus Vinaigrette, Avocado, Mustard Greens on the menu, she knew she had to order it. She waited with bated breath, like how an enthusiastic child would when he would wait for Santa’s Christmas present. And it came, finally, sitting on a generous blob of guacamole, and next to a classic side of greens. And we stared at it for a minute or two, and finally said, “Wow, it’s huge.” We took our first bite… and it was absolutely divine. It was bursting with fresh, delicate crabmeat, the sweetest we’ve ever tasted in a crab cake; and the batter was neither too thick nor too little, it was just right, and it made a satisfying crispy crust on the outside. The guacamole on the bottom was decadent – creamy, sweet from the little bits of mango, and the lemon added the necessary acidity for all the crab-y goodness. It was the perfect pairing with the heavenly crab cake. The salad on the side was totally unnecessary. Before this, it was the crab cakes at Luke’s Oyster Bar & Chop House in Singapore. But now, nothing beats the crab cakes at The National Bar & Dining Rooms in NYC.

The Ugly Burger

Then we had the Ugly” Burger ($18): Pickled Jalapeño, NTL Sauce, House Pickles, Lettuce. Served on a fluffy, buttered brioche bun, topped with a ripe slice of tomato, a cube of melting blue cheese, pickled onions and jalapenos, with caramelized onions hidden under the perfectly juicy, medium rare patty, this burger was essentially perfect. And it was huge! Who cares if it’s an ugly-looking affair, it has so much flavor to spare anyway! And bringing it to another level, the accompanying fries had massive crunch and good potato flavor below their dustings of smoky paprika. So good … but the Crab Cakes are still the best 🙂

Atlantic Cod

I went for the Atlantic Cod ($27): Watermelon Radish, Turnip, Horseradish Broth. It was perfectly cooked – smooth, silky, moist, juicy, flavorful, and buttery. Though the watermelon radish were a little too sour for my liking, the horseradish broth added a pleasant warmness, earthiness and depth to the entire dish. There was a sense of umaminess, which helped highlight the great textures and flavor of the cod. It was beautiful.

Chocolate Malted

After a pleasant lunch/dinner/brunch at this sincere and bustling restaurant, your best bet to end off the meal is with the Chocolate Malted ($12): Cocoa Nibs, Malt Gelato, Devils Food Cake. Even if you don’t love chocolate, this is for you – thick creamy chocolate mousse above a thick chocolaty devils food cake, and covered with milk chocolate. The Malt Gelato was silky and creamy and definitely had a hint of Malt flavor. If you don’t find this unique, then what is unique?
The simplicity of this restaurant is really what makes it stands out from any other restaurant at a Hotel. And with Chef Zakarian consistently utilizing his background of classic French cooking techniques and his innate sense of design to enhance the dining hospitality experiences, The National Bar & Dining Rooms is definitely a gem you would want to visit either for Brunch/Lunch/Dinner or just a drink at the bar and hang out with a few friends. Fresh, inspired plates and very friendly service, who knew that what could so easily be a soulless Midtown hotel dining hall presents as a genuine and lively restaurant.
For more on Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, visit his website, follow him on twitter, or on Facebook.
The National Bar & Dining Rooms
557 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10022-7512
Tel: 212 715 2400
This entry was posted in American/New American, Breakfast/Brunch, Cafe, Dessert, Dinner, French, Lunch, New York City, Quick/Easy, Travel to eat! :), Vegetarian and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to New York City: The National Bar & Dining Rooms

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