Restaurant Review: Vertigo
French flair with a twist at Vertigo in Nyack.
Vertigo in Nyack is a hot spot
where the food is French and the décor strives to be
By Jorge S. Arango
Judging by the crowds clamoring to fill its 200 seats on a Saturday night, there is little doubt that Vertigo is the hottest new restaurant in Nyack, Rockland County. The name obviously refers to the vertiginous views offered from three tiers of seating that line ornate balustrades encircling the central space. But the dramatic verticality implied by this layout could just as easily refer to the restaurant-nightclub’s upwardly mobile ambitions.
Opened in July of last year by Leslie McGettigan and Caroline Gilsenan, it is meant to evoke (according to its Web site welcome page) “early 20th century Parisian Art Nouveau.” The architects, Dublin-based McNally Design Group, have clearly drawn inspiration from every noted designer of the era, though by no means are all of them Parisian (or even truly Art Nouveau).
And homages, however flattering, can misfire. Yes, the balustrade is reminiscent of Gallé or Guimard (among the style’s most famous proponents), but they would have used gilded bronze or vertigris copper rather than what looks like cast aluminum painted with silvery-gray car enamel. In their day, part of the second tier — which doubles as a stage after 11 p.m. — likely would not have featured large sculptures of nymphs holding enigmatic orbs (more typical of Art Deco). And the staff probably wouldn’t have donned ties bearing reproductions of Austrian Secessionist Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. Even Scotsman Charles Rennie MacIntosh is invoked in leaded glass panels on the top floor.
Vertigo is unencumbered by authenticity, preferring instead a touch of Las Vegas (where, incidentally, the same architects created an Irish pub for the New York-New York hotel, which boasts downsized reproductions of the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge).
This is Parisian Art Nouveau re-imagined for the suburbs, complete with flat-panel televisions for watching sports. The lineup of special events, such as “Social Networking Night” or a “Matchmaker Ball,” would have been unthinkable in Guimard’s day, but modernity is irrevocably upon us, so who can chide the owners for complying with its demands?
Fortunately, all this ersatz opulence does not affect the food of Gary Bell and Donal O’Rourke, the young executive chefs who designed the kitchen over which they preside. Originally from Ireland, they trained in Europe and Australia, eventually working in Michelin-rated restaurants overseas before taking jobs at some of Manhattan’s top eateries.
The menu includes raw bar selections ($2.25 per oyster to $49 for a seafood platter for two), a staple of most French brasseries these days. But we chose to order dishes that required some imagination and skill. The Gorgonzola-stuffed Medjool dates with prosciutto di Parma, baby arugula, balsamic reduction, and chestnut honey ($12) did not disappoint. The complexity of sensations was a feast for the taste buds.
The Ducktrap River smoked salmon with chive blinis ($14) was also terrific. Served with cream cheese, red onion, cucumber, and wasabi cream around a mound of baby arugula, it was a refreshing, imaginative take on a traditional idea. My only complaint: blinis so small their delicate flavor was almost completely lost. Goat cheese fritters ($14) were overpriced and less successful. They came nicely breaded and fried, the cheese seasoned with basil and parsley, but they were too large to be subtle. Smaller balls would have popped nicely in the mouth and provided a better balance for the arugula, roasted beets, pine nuts, and lemon aioli on the plate.
We washed these down with glasses of a clean, grassy Chateau de Sancerre 2003 ($8 each). The wine list is less extravagantly priced than you’d expect. Most bottles run $25 to $60. But if you’re carried away by the glitz of Vertigo, there are reserve selections in the hundreds of dollars. We were not. We settled instead on a Saint-Emillion Grand Cru, Clos La Fleur Figeac 2002 ($52), which was perfectly respectable.
It went very well with the fillet of peppered pork ($22), a dish Bell says regulars requested he keep on the menu even when seasons changed from fall to winter. It’s easy to see why. Served with creamed potatoes and mushrooms à la Forestière (shiitake, oyster, portobello, and button), it came bathed in a veal-stock reduction — spiked with brandy and smoothed out with cream — that was as deep and mysterious as the Seine on a moonless night.
The wine also went well with the duck special ($24), although the dish itself was less than spectacular. It has become customary nowadays to ask diners how they want their duck breast cooked. This one concession to modernity Vertigo does not make. And despite Bell’s insistence that he likes to serve it medium rare, ours was closer to medium. The cranberry sauce accompaniment, cooked with a bouquet garni, was a nice touch, but there was simply too much of it. The best thing on the plate — and it was excellent — was a mélange of roasted carrots, potatoes, beets, and turnips.
We finished off with a delicious Amaretto-stuffed pear that had been poached in white wine and served with mascarpone, crème anglaise, and chestnut honey ($8). By now it was 10:30 p.m. and DJ Phaded had just arrived with sound equipment to rev up the post-dinner crowd. One suspects he wasn’t going to spin much by Ravel, Debussy, or Fauré, Nouveau-era Parisians all. But then, like Vertigo’s trappings, verisimilitude is not really the point.