We like Tao. Sorry, that came out wrong. We understand Tao, and appreciate it for what it is: a cavernous party restaurant for people who want to do sake bombs, shout things, eat handfuls of popcorn shrimp, and temporarily drop any pretense that they’re adult human beings. Depending on your mindset, you can have a great time there. And when we went to Cathédrale, the latest spot from the people behind Tao, we anticipated something similar. Unfortunately, this place takes the worst parts of the Tao experience and leaves most of the fun behind.
Cathédrale is a massive spot in the bottom of an East Village hotel specializing in vaguely French food. It’s a pricey, elaborately designed restaurant where Heidi Klum hosted a Halloween party featuring the likes of Ice-T and Dylan Sprouse, and the food here is occasionally pretty good. But, with its soups du jour, stiff service, and dad rock soundtrack, it also feels like a club restaurant undergoing a midlife crisis. Without the ridiculousness the Tao Group has become known for, there isn’t much of a point in coming here.
To get to Cathédrale, find the Moxy Hotel on 11th street, walk down several flights of stairs, and enter a space that looks like a fancy mall bistro inside a dystopian place of worship. It has some big booths, a bar that could seat every person you’ve dated up to the present, and a table covered in apples, breadsticks, and champagne on ice (all of which appear to be purely decorative). And just past this luxurious-looking spread, there’s a dining room with ceilings high enough to inspire awe, rumination, and slight nausea. It’s an impressive-looking spot, but a few minutes after sitting down, the effect wears off, and you wonder what’s next.
Unlike Tao, there aren’t any sake bombs or bachelor parties to keep you entertained - there’s just food. Of course, food isn’t a bad thing for a restaurant (most people expect it), but going to a Tao Group spot purely to eat some gummy steak tartare and a $37 plate of forgettable sea bass is similar to attending jury duty just to hear someone call your name. Sure, they call the sea bass by its French name (loup de mer), and there are few items on the menu that are legitimately worth ordering - like the pristine caviar omelette and baguette with rotisserie drippings - but there’s no element of fun to justify the high prices and mostly mediocre food.
Despite the huge space and constant crowd, Cathédrale is boring. Does that mean you’ll find us at Tao later, drinking $20 vodka sodas while we try to get the DJ to play the 2 Chainz remix of “Bubble Butt”? It’s doubtful. But given the choice between Tao - a place that feels like a dream you’d have after drinking several Four Lokos - and the relative snoozefest known as Cathédrale, we’ll take the former any day.
There’s something we need to address, and it’s the water at Cathédrale. When the server comes to your table, they’ll ask if you want still, sparkling, or iced water. If you opt for the (free) iced water, your server will continue to call it “iced water,” like when your cocktails arrive first and they inform you that your iced water should be right out. And this feels passive-aggressive. Also, there’s never any ice in the water.
This omelette is a thing of beauty. It’s immaculate and buttery with some creme fraiche that tastes like chive cream cheese, and, even though the caviar gets a little lost, we highly suggest you start your meal with this.
You get free bread here, and that free bread is actually pretty good - but you should still order this. It’s a baguette with some rich, salty chicken jus on the side for dunking, and it’s the single most satisfying thing at Cathédrale.
In just about any conceivable universe, fried puffs of pastry-wrapped mashed potatoes should be incredible and worth ending friendships over. But these come out lukewarm with a limp coating that gives each mini potato ball the texture of a month-old apple.
A mushy steak tartare without much flavor at all. It reminds us of something we’d eat at a moderately ambitious airport restaurant that’s about two weeks from giving up entirely, and you can skip it.
Cover fettuccine in butter and black truffles, and - at the very least - you’ll have a decent bowl of pasta. And that’s what this is right here. But is it actually worth $42? Not so much.
You won’t be upset with this - but at $59, we expect something with a little more flavor. The truffle sauce on the bottom does most of the heavy lifting, and this veal gets pretty boring after a couple of bites.