Odeon – restaurant on 145 West Broadway, New York – The Hunger – Column

Hal Rubinstein

145 West Broadway; 212-233-0507

Had Petula Clark actually gone downtown when she was telling everyone else to, she would have found that the only place the lights were bright was at the entrance to the Staten Island Ferry. SoHo hadn’t been named yet; Tribeca didn’t exist. If you went down there because life was making you lonely, you went home the same way. Unless you got mugged.

And then came Odeon. Just as the Upper West Side was seeded by the birth of Ruskay’s, downtown came alive when a languishing deco cafeteria was transformed into a sleekly muted, perfectly lit, Brassai-blessed bastion of nouvelle cuisine. The city had never seen anything like it. We soon wanted to see everywhere like it. Odeon became the foodist’s holy ground, a gastronomic house of Abraham begetting bistros all over Manhattan faster than its sous chef could peel kiwis. And though this chain reaction was set off over a dozen years ago, Odeon’s blueprints are still copied, more often than those of any math-club geek desperate to be liked.

Without Odeon, there’d be no Cafe Tabac, no Coffee Shop, no Le Colonial, no Canastel’s, no Park Avalon. Do I hear regret? That’s not nice, or necessary, since for those of you who abandoned it in favor of grazing greener pastures only to find yourself chewing on Astro Turf, Odeon is in the midst of so revivalist a renaissance that one can’t be mocked for involuntarily walking toward White Street after dinner to check out any signs of life coming from the site of the Mudd Club.

The room looks the same. In other words, it’s perfect. Nothing shines too bright, no color distracts too much, the music’s never too loud, the staff’s never too curt, and the world would be a nicer place if Odeon’s lighting were omnipresent. Unlike many of its legitimate and illegitimate offspring, if you think one table is better than another here, you’d do everyone a favor by sitting two tables away.

Like Barocco up the block, Odeon’s atmosphere is not energized by frenetic table-hopping. That’s kid stuff–the signature trait of those who feign coolness but secretly fear they’d be better off sitting somewhere else. That doesn’t mean that people don’t acknowledge or visit different tables. On the contrary, Odeon is so congenial, nonregulars may be seduced into thinking they spot familiar faces. But this is a room mainly populated by adults. They came with who they came for a reason. There will be other nights to eat with others.

The food is not the same. When Odeon opened, chef Patrick Clark was at the vanguard of nouvellophilia in America. His dishes were innovative, complicated, multilayered, designed for off-the-meter, scene-stealing, conversation-busting, hey-look-at-me-ness. We don’t often contemplate our meals the way we used to. Stephen Lyle may lack Clark’s fireworks and grandstanding, and sometimes his kitchen is erratic (fish doneness can get quixotic), but his menu acknowledges what’s gone before him while bringing normalcy back to center. Fried calamari and oyster fritters are unfussy and exactly what satisfies a craving. Grilled portobellos with arugula are nothing more, but nothing less. Country salad is an undisturbed Odeon classic. Poached shrimp needs a more fiery dipping sauce, the panzanella is no match for Bar Pitti’s, but the ratatouille cools a summer sweat. Grilled lamb shank is lifted by lemon, ricotta agnolotti breezes by on just enough mint, roast salmon needs more chile, steak frites is almost fool-proof, and the tuna is very cool. It is no longer faint praise for a menu to be smart enough to please while not getting in the way. Then again, there is something about sitting in Odeon with just a cappuccino in front of you that is more relaxing than the most authentic comfort food. Here is why you came to New York. It’s why you stay. Perhaps coming down here won’t make you forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, but you’re gonna be all right, at least for now.

COPYRIGHT 1994 Brant Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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