April 24, 2017
By Gary Walther | October 1, 2015 | Food & Drink
The Clocktower reinvents the man cave.
At The Clocktower, roasted king salmon with charred potatoes and young leeks, is served with an emulsion of oyster, cucumber, and chive.
A man with a barely tutored eye for interior design, say a few seasons of Mad Men under his belt, will know instantly that the Clocktower dining rooms were once a real man’s man cave. There’s finger-deep mahogany woodwork rising to a cornice line that could lock eyes with Bill de Blasio, and on the upper walls, a gallery of vintage black-and-white photos of movie stars, moguls, and artists. They top off the feel that these three rooms are a den scaled up to suit a captain of industry of yore.
Make that captain of finance: The Clocktower, in the Metropolitan Life Building, was once the office suite of the company’s chairman. Today it’s the lair of three very different chairmen: Stephen Starr, who owns Buddakan and created the restaurant, Ian Schrager, who turned the building into the Edition Hotel, and chef Jason Atherton, whose UK empire includes the one-Michelin-star Pollen Street Social.
While the restaurant fast became a hangout of Credit Suisse bankers, it also has crossover appeal. David Blaine and Alan Cumming have dined here, and late night “an eclectic mix of uptown savvy and downtown chic” infiltrates, says restaurant general manager Robert Kihlstrom.
Bigeye tuna tataki with English cucumber, radish, avocado, and ponzu.
The menu is in many ways a guy’s romp. There are three steak options, each served with “triple-cooked chips and béarnaise sauce”—it’s a man’s SoulCycle—and for a roundtable of knights, there’s the 40-day dry-aged côte de boeuf under “The Social Section.” (Don’t be put off by the French, messieurs; it’s just a bone-in rib steak.) There is a millennial staple, matured mac and cheese with wild mushrooms and slow-cooked ox cheek, and a French classic, duck à l’orange, locavored (from Long Island) and rejuvenated.
“I just love this timeless dish,” says Atherton. “But I wanted to bring it into the modern age, serving it with braised chicory endive, salt-baked baby turnips, and marinated Treviso.” (Guys, relax, that’s only a trademarked version of radicchio.)
There’s also a provocative thread of seafood dishes that runs through the menu such as uni risotto and braised halibut with seaweed, chanterelles, and carrot purée, the top seller, in fact. The roasted king salmon is a culinary Pritzker Prize winner, a salmon slab criss-crossed with charred leeks and set off by marbles of charred potatoes. The emulsion of oyster, cucumber, and chive is a nice arpeggio of brine, green, and savory.
Vintage photographs of stars, moguls, and artists line the walls.
Atherton is big on savory notes, hence the pickled ingredients (cucumbers, artichokes, raisins, and grapes) that recur throughout the menu. “Acid plays a huge part in our cooking and is our key for seasoning,” he says. In the pan-seared scallops, the pickled raisins deliver the just-right contrapuntal note to the raw cauliflower’s crunch.
Dishes with pickled ingredients tell you exactly where to search the extensive and cannily chosen wine list: the German and Austrian pages, as Riesling and Grüner Veltliner are pickle-pairing perfect. (With meat dishes, the challenge is that long catwalk of fine and even great reds. How deep are your pockets?)
Like the menu, the room is easily ascertained. You want your back to the wall, meaning on the banquettes against that mahogany woodwork, or at one of the deuces nicely placed in the corners. That is, unless you’re a pod of bankers, and then you’re center stage. And why not? The 18-foot ceilings and vintage plasterwork lend just the right ducal note to the evening. 5 Madison Ave., 212-413-4300
photography by evan sung