Note: A colleague treated me to dinner at The National, located in the The Benjamin hotel in Manhattan, NYC. I’m writing this review as a courtesy.
The National, located at 50th and Lex (east side of the street), right by Grand Central, is just one restaurant in the American Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian collection. Which is to say…I’m only a fan of the original Japanese show, though I’d be GLAD to try food prepared on both.
The restaurant offers breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, and on Sunday evenings, a variety of live music.
Upon first glance, I was surprised to see a diverse list of meals (and in some respects, ingredients) flooding the menu. I should have questioned why the same menu offers both Thai-inspired mussels with coconut milk and olive salsa, but the hunger pangs figuratively uttered “let it be.”
To start, I tried the octopus with fingerling potatoes, pea greens, Kalamata olives, and olive oil*. If grilled octopus is on the menu, I’m already sold. Everything else on the plate is but a distraction, and that includes the plate itself. But I’d totally order this pulpa – octopus – again, even though I incorrectly read the menu…
There’s an asterisk next to “olive oil” because I erred. In fact, it was a bacon-lemongrass broth. Fool me once. Regardless, I asked for some bread to sop it up; the walnut loaf was particularly swell.
For the main, I tried the “Ugly” Burger, served with pickled jalapeños, house-made pickles, fries and ketchup, NTL – I couldn’t figure it out at first (it’s the abbreviation of the restaurant), so I thought it was nougat, tomato and lettuce – and at my request, Fresno chilies. Though neither the fries nor the burger were that warm, I was really into the fries. Also, the pickles were too sweet for me, but the rest of the burger was still inviting.
Not pictured is the seasonal butternut squash risotto, which my colleague ordered. I didn’t order it due to its hearty nature, but it was certainly a highlight of the meal.
For dessert, we split a lemon tart with Chantilly cream and pomegranate. The tea was green tea with a hint of cherry blossom. If the crust had been better, it would’ve been another clean plate. The other desserts didn’t stand out as much, but we chose this one for the lemon-pomegranate combo, and because I didn’t know what Chantilly cream was.
When we sat down at around 8:30pm, the place was bustling. Even an hour later, for a Monday night, it was hopping. It wasn’t as loud as I had anticipated, though if you live in New York City, you may have already forgotten that something “quiet” was ever a thing.
Would I go back?: Sure. I’d check out their lunch menu, perhaps during different seasons too. Prices reflect The National’s Manhattan location, so lunch would be kinder on the wallet, without a bait-and-switch in the back of the house.