If a night out in Lincoln Center isn’t at the top of your list for a cool date night, you might want to rethink that stance. Chef Kwame Onwuachi, who you might remember from his run on Top Chef, is single-handedly making this little corner of the Upper West Side cool again. The menu at Tatiana in David Geffen Hall is an Afro-Caribbean love letter to New York City, heavily influenced by the chef’s Bronx upbringing, filled with fun mashups like wagyu chopped cheese and egusi dumplings. Ever since this place opened, tickets to the opera and the ballet keep mysteriously showing up in our inboxes, almost as though we bought them just to have an excuse to eat at Tatiana beforehand.
Even though the Phil is the sleepiest, most grandparent-friendly of the Lincoln Center venues, somehow the entire crowd at Tatiana is under 40 and dressed in outfits that seem ripped straight from the NYFW street style section. The moment you walk in, you’re bathed in soft blue light coming through faux clouds that hang from the ceiling. There are silver curtains made from tiny beads in front of all the windows, creating a portal into another world, one where millennials flock to see new operas and exciting brass performances instead of ordering takeout in their pajamas and falling into an endless doom scroll.
Almost no one is sitting at their table taking photos of their food before they take a bite, despite the obvious scene. Maybe it’s the blue light, which renders all photos immediately terrible, but maybe it’s because the idea of waiting to take a bite of the hamachi escovitch just feels wrong. Or because it’s physically impossible not to tear into the Mom Duke’s shrimp the moment it arrives. When you settle into your table here, talking, eating, and drinking are the only things on your mind. You might actually forget about your phone for a few hours.
The restaurant seems to exist to show that New York has always been a study in contradictions, and that’s not changing any time soon. 90s hip hop classics provide the backing track, and even though you’re literally sitting in a building dedicated to classic music, this feels correct.
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All the aromatic, spicy things you’d usually find in escovitch fish are blended into the bright orange sauce that acts as a bed for mild slices of raw hamachi. The texture melts in your mouth, but the sour, spicy flavor will stay with you.
Creamy, crab-laced egusi stew is packed into little dumplings that remind us of our favorite grab-and-go dumpling spots. A very good bite.
Green Caesar Salad
This makes us want to lobby for more mizuna in Caesar salads. There are spicy, pickly elements to this salad that makes it very different from other Caesars, but we’re into it.
Curried Goat Patties
Tiny two-bite fried patties stuffed with goat curry, served with a green seasoning aioli and a mango chutney that provide a perfect accent to the deep, rich flavors.
Truffle Chopped Cheese
For us, this was the odd miss on the menu, but that’s not because it’s necessarily bad, it’s just a bit of a gimmick. We’d rather have a regular chopped cheese, since the truffles don’t add anything.
Mom Duke’s Shrimp
These head-on shrimp are the size of small lobsters, and they’re drenched in creole butter and served with brioche Texas toast. What’s not to love?
Short Rib Pastrami Suya
If for some reason you’re only getting one thing at Tatiana, it should be this. The Wagyu short rib practically falls apart when you look at it, and it comes with caraway coco bread and a heap of incredibly tender braised red cabbage.
If you grew up eating packaged snacks from bodegas, this one might just make you cry in a good way. It’s a cosmic brownie with powdered donut ice cream, but it got older and started eating at fancy restaurants.
Rainbow Cookie Panna Cotta
If you think you’re not a panna cotta person, you should still try this one. It tastes exactly like a rainbow cookie from your favorite Italian bakery, but has a perfectly light, custardy texture.