Right next to - and attached to - the New Yorker Hotel is Cooper's Tavern, a somewhat upscale Italian steakhouse with an entrance at the corner of 35th St. and 8th Ave. (see map). Cooper's Tavern is a place that caters to tourists who stay at the New Yorker and to the locals after a concert or game over at Madison Square Garden. A couple three of the guys in our set up crew who came in early for the AES Convention went there for dinner and told us it was very good. We decided to go there for dinner one night while we were in New York City.
The executive chef at Cooper's Tavern is Julian Clauss-Ehlers, an English-born, French-trained chef who also co-owned and was the chef at Zitoune, a Moroccan restaurant in New York, as well as the former chef at the famous Monkey Bar on Manhattan's upper east side. Ehlers, as he was known before he was married, also ran the kitchen in a public house in Haddenham, England - The Green Dragon - before moving to the states to become the chef at Acacia, a former restaurant in Manhattan. He has been the chef at Cooper's Tavern since 2008 when the restaurant was reopened after extensive improvements and upgrades were made to the New Yorker.
Cooper's Tavern is sort of L-shaped with a large bar area up front and a longish dining area toward the back. Keeping with the art deco theme that is the architectural signature of the New Yorker, Cooper's Tavern has a number of art deco-style lights, with authentic art deco-style booths and tables. It was like walking back into the 30's and 40's when you went into Cooper's Tavern.
The menu that Clauss-Ehlers has come up with at Cooper's Tavern is an eclectic mix of steaks, pork chops, seafood and pasta dishes that tries to encompass what people who stay at the hotel and those coming in off the street would like to eat. The menu isn't all that extensive, but it also has Italian specialties such as veal piccata, chicken parmigiana, and a lamb shank braised in red wine and pancetta. But the guys in my company all went there for the steak and they said not only were the cuts of meat huge, they were also very good. (My company is known as big beef eaters. And when the factory guys from England and France come over, they almost exclusively eat beef.)
We sat at a large table toward the back of the restaurant and were greeted by our waiter who called himself "Johnny the Greek". Johnny the Greek was an older guy, probably well into his 60's, with a thick accent and a jovial nature. He worked his ass off for us, but at times was a little lax or slow in getting things out to us. Like drinks.
One confusing aspect of Cooper's Tavern is that they don't have a wine or beer list. We had to rely upon Johnny the Greek to try and remember what type of beers they had to offer. I asked him what kind of pale ales and he said they had Sierra Nevada. I took one of those, then found out after he brought my beer to the table that they also had Brooklyn Brewery products on tap. Brooklyn Brewery was one of the first micro-breweries on the east coast, opening in 1987. And they have one of the most eclectic listings of beer of any micro-brewery that I've come across. I've been starting to see Brooklyn beers in parts of the Midwest and I have to say their lager and their pale ale is pretty good. After finishing my Sierra Nevada pale ale, I got one of the Brooklyn lagers on tap.
I had said before I went to New York that I wanted to get an authentic New York style pizza from an authentic New York style pizza place. Not necessarily a place where you walk up and get a slice of pizza for a buck or two, but a nice, sit-down pizza joint. Well, my colleague, Ian, immediately put the kibosh on that idea asking if I were sane. "This is New York with world-class food," he chastised me. "Pizza is dull and you can get it anywhere." Obviously, Ian didn't want pizza when we were in New York.
However, Cooper's Tavern had pizza on their menu. I was overly tempted to get the margharita pizza, then you could get up to three toppings - perfect for my usual sausage, pepperoni and mushroom. I looked around and didn't see anyone else in the restaurant get the pizza, so I couldn't see how good it looked.
Still, my colleagues who had eaten at Cooper's Tavern said the steaks were great. I figured I couldn't go wrong with that. For dinner, I ordered the filet - rare - with a beef carpaccio for my first course. Others ordered similar items, except for my colleague, Todd, who ordered something I thought about ordering before I went with the filet - the Skyscraper burger. More on that in a little bit. And quite surprisingly, Nicholas from Focal Loudspeakers - a Frenchman - ordered Cooper's Tavern's hand-battered North Atlantic cod with their oregano French fries. Well, so much for my point about European's eating steak every chance they can get.
Someone ordered some appetizers for the table. We had shrimp cocktail, calamari, oysters on the half-shell, breaded mussels and littleneck clams. All were very good with the notable exception of the clams which were sort of fishy to me. But the shrimp were large, meaty and very good. But I didn't want to gorge on the seafood appetizers because I knew I had a lot of food coming out later on.
The carpaccio was served with a topping of arugula, shaved parmesan cheese and topped off with a truffle oil. And there was a lot of carpaccio on the plate. The rare beef was tender and very flavorful. It was one of the best carpaccio plates I'd had in quite some time.
Johnny the Greek brought out my steak and it was not small. It was easily 16 ounces and cooked to a perfect rare - red in the middle with a cool temperature. A broiled tomato slice topped with seasoned bread crumbs came with the steak. Someone had ordered a couple three orders of French fries for the table because they said they were very good. The fresh oregano flakes on the fries were a great taste sensation. I'll have to try that on American fries at home.
My steak was tender and juicy with a great beef flavor. I thought about getting lemon butter capers on the top of it, but decided to go au natural and enjoy the steak as it was cooked. It was simply outstanding.
But the star of the meal was Todd's Skyscraper burger - a 12 oz. burger patty made with chopped and ground beef from Pat LaFrieda Meat Purveyors, a wholesale meat cutting house just across the Hudson in New Jersey who also provides the steaks and chops to Cooper's Tavern. LaFrieda meats are found in over 500 restaurants in and around the New York City area. The burger was topped with onion straws, a portabello mushroom, smoked mozzarella and smoked bacon. It had a steak knife through the middle top of the bun because, quite honestly, you had to cut the thing in half just to eat it.
Here's a picture of Todd (above right), trying his best to take a bite of the huge burger. He said the burger was outstanding. He couldn't eat the whole thing, but he made a serious dent in it. I'm going to try the Skyscraper if I ever get back to Cooper's Tavern.
Nicholas from Focal proclaimed his fish and chips to be "very good". The batter they used on the fish was thick and fluffy. It did look very good and I'm not big on battered fish. But Nicholas said, "I've had great fish and chips in London and across southern England. I'd put this up against any of those, any day." We didn't know at the time that the chef at Cooper's Tavern was English.
You really don't know what you're going to get when you eat at a hotel restaurant. But Cooper's Tavern didn't have the feel of a hotel restaurant, if you catch my drift. The steaks were excellent, the appetizers and salads - including my beef carpaccio salad - were very good, and the atmosphere was wonderful. About the only drawback was the spotty service from Johnny the Greek who literally just up and left us after our food was served. Seriously, he came by and said, "That's it! I'm leaving for the night!" And another guy sort of came over later to give us our bill. But Johnny the Greek was a great guy, very personable and outgoing, offering a number of good suggestions when we ordered. So, we gave him a pass on his level of service. Cooper's Tavern was very good - surprisingly good. But if you're a restaurant in the heart of Manhattan, you have to be very good to survive.