Steven Sondheim once wrote, “you gotta get a gimmick/if you wanna get ahead.” If you didn’t know that he was talking about burlesque dancers of the post-Vaudeville era, the lyric could easily be about restaurants in New York City.
Bad Roman is the latest entry into Manhattan’s oversaturated red sauce scene from Quality Branded (Don Angie, Zou Zou's, Quality Italian). They seem to have taken Sondheim’s advice to heart. Bad Roman, located in the Deutsche Bank Center (formerly the Time Warner Center) is an over-the-top, gimmicky restaurant where the food is hit or miss, but entertainment is guaranteed.
The space feels like the love child of a Rainforest Cafe and an old-school Italian spot, a cacophony of garish colors, bright lights, and statues of animals wearing neon collars. The restroom has a full-on fountain, though sometimes it gushes and other times there’s barely a trickle. This is a good metaphor for the food, which ranges from delightfully chaotic to mediocre catering fare.
In a rare plot twist, the best dishes at Bad Roman are the ones that lean into the “phones eat first” ethos. A platter of crisp, oversized roni cups served with a sidecar of ranch dressing that tastes like it was squeezed out of a plastic bottle is both photogenic and enjoyable. The filet mignon topped with a giant raviolo filled with liquid cacio e pepe was definitely intended to be split open on camera, but also tastes pretty good.
Dessert is the most exciting section of the menu, and we genuinely love everything we’ve tried, from the tiramisu ice cream cake (what’s not to love?) to their cheeky take on cheesecake served inside of hollow chocolate lemons. Their spicy Caesar and antipasto-topped wedge salad are also great. Things start to go wrong when you get into the pastas, seafood dishes, and larger cuts of meat. The kitchen is wildly inconsistent with the cook on these items, and they’re just not especially exciting.
Our perfect meal here would consist entirely of cocktails, roni cups, salad, and as many desserts as we can handle. Is that an unhinged way to order dinner? Maybe, but so is this restaurant. So, when in Rome…
Roni Cups & Ranch
We’re pretty sure this dish is the reason it instantly became impossible to get a reservation at Bad Roman. It’s silly in the best way, and tastes like pizza in the Midwest, minus the pizza.
A metric ton of truffle honey is drizzled tableside over this otherwise unspecial appetizer. Honestly, the truffle honey doesn’t really add much. Skip it.
Spicy Gem Caesar
We’re always on the lookout for a great Caesar salad, and this one probably makes our top ten. It has just the right balance of cheese and heat.
Bad Roman Wedge Salad
This is a fun take on a wedge salad, since it’s topped with chopped antipasto. It tastes like someone poured pepperoncini brine over the whole thing, and we’re very into it.
Lobster with Calabrian Pasta
A whole lobster is split in half and stuffed with what would otherwise be some unremarkable creamy tomato pasta with a touch of spice from calabrian chili. In theory, this is solid though unnecessarily elaborate drunk food. Mainly, it’s very difficult to get the meat out of the lobster shell and the pasta is pretty overcooked.
Chicken Scarpariello Rigatoni
This is not a spicy rigatoni to write home about. It’s fine. If you need to bulk out an order here, you could do worse.
Filetto with Cacio e Pepe Raviolo
The thing about the filetto at Bad Roman is that the meat itself is pretty much unseasoned, though nicely cooked. This is why you should order it with the cacio e pepe raviolo on top. It’s basically a giant cheesy gusher, and the sauce inside is very salty, which is probably why they don’t salt the steak.
Tiramisu Ice Cream Cake
We would brave the crowds for a bar seat just to have the tiramisu ice cream cake. This is a perfect dessert, with layers of light sponge cake, coffee and vanilla ice creams, crunchy chocolate bits, and a heady dusting of cocoa on top.
Deconstructed versions of classic desserts can really swing in either direction, and this one is a home run. Two hollow white chocolate lemons are filled with very airy cheesecake mousse, with some lemon curd in the middle, all on a bed of graham cracker crumbs. It’s fun to look at, and fun to eat.