photo credit: Don Freeman
Every time we take someone to American Bar, an interesting thing happens. About halfway through our meal, the person we brought leans back in their chair, surveys the packed dining room, and asks something along the lines of: Why is this place so popular?
It isn’t a hostile question. If anything, the tone conveys genuine concern, as if a teacher had asked our dining companion to solve a tough equation. Although, in this case, the answer to the equation is obvious. American Bar looks nice; therefore, American Bar is popular. There are plush green banquettes and rattan chairs galore, and you can have a nice time here as long as you have a big budget and aren’t expecting food that’ll make you say, “Hey, you should try this.”
At this West Village spot, you’ll find salads, pastas, burgers, and, of course, hamachi crudo. Prices are high ($20 for chicken fingers), portions are occasionally generous, and the majority of the food is unstimulating. The factory-model burger comes with a nice, thick, underseasoned patty, and the Greek salad is herbaceous, finely chopped, and curiously damp. If you’re looking for a starter, try the tuna tartare that’s livened up with sesame oil, and chase that with the perfectly pleasant spaghetti bolognese. “Perfectly pleasant” might not sound too alluring—but if you take too long staring at the menu, you might fall down a rabbit hole wondering why miso black cod is an option. Pick a dish and move on. The food isn’t why you’re here.
You come to American Bar to sit in a luxurious booth and listen to Toto’s “Africa” as you take part in a live-action diorama stuffed with the sort of people who can name at least one Hampton. The tables are covered with white tablecloths and topped with adorable lamps, and the pale yellow walls are dotted with vintage posters from prohibitively expensive art shows. You’ll see big groups all dressed in crisp white oxfords (as a display of great friendship), and there’ll be plenty of young pairs sporting trends from the recent past and near future. Tilt an oversized martini into your mouth, and try to leech some energy from the Soho-House-meets-country-club scene.
If that isn’t what you’re looking for, save your money. If that is what you want, no judgment. The staff is always friendly, the dining room is lively, and the food is just good enough to be irrelevant to the experience. Just make sure everyone in your group is on the same page. Otherwise, you might have to answer a few questions in the middle of your meal.
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With this burger, you get all of your standard fixings (cheese, lettuce, tomato) in addition to an onion jam. We like the thick patty, but it could use a little more char or seasoning (or both, preferably). If you’re looking for a simple, satisfying entree, this is a solid option—but don’t expect to remember it.
Pigs In A Blanket
Are these pigs in a blanket bad? Not at all. But they do cost $15, and you only get a snack-sized portion. Also, the puff pastry needs to perk up a bit.
Restaurants keep trying to feed us tuna tartare. We don’t understand why, and we usually try to avoid it (because one can only eat so much tuna tartare). But this version is surprisingly worthwhile. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it comes with big chunks of tuna, and we appreciate the addition of sesame oil.
Of course the best entree at American Bar is also the most expensive one. We were fools to expect otherwise. This filet mignon arrives well-seasoned and silky as can be with your choice of au poivre or red wine shallot sauce. Go for the au poivre. That’ll be $55.
A staff member at American Bar once informed us that this bolognese takes eight hours to make. And we really wish they hadn’t. Yes, this is a fine bowl of spaghetti with slightly sweet sauce, but if you’re going to spend a quarter of a day on a dish, it shouldn’t taste like something you’d whip up in 30 minutes at home.
Miso Black Cod
Why is miso black cod on the menu? Great question. You see, in the late 1980s, Nobu Matsuhisa (yes, that Nobu) started serving this dish at his namesake restaurant in Beverly Hills. And, since Beverly Hills and the West Village are first cousins once removed, miso black cod obviously made its way over here. If you’re looking for some vegetables and chewy black rice, order this. The serving size is surprisingly large, and the dish is neither especially flavorful nor especially offensive.