You may recall my recent review of Malt House in the West Village. Well, the other day I was invited to the downtown location for another press review. I have to say, as Chef Armando (formerly of STK and Five Napkin Burger) has become more comfortable in his role as Executive Chef, he has really elevated the level of food.
At the time of the West Village review, he was relatively new at Malt House. The food was good, but it had a different feel than the food I tried at the FiDi location. While both restaurants do share a similar menu, Armando brings a bit more of his personal touch to the FiDi menu. Here, Armando is more clearly elevating standard pub food to quality restaurant dining. Take my favorite dish of the evening, for instance: the artichoke and crab dip with crispy fried plantains.
Every pub, Friday’s and Applebee’s offers something like this with tortilla chips. But Armando has removed the grossly oily and heavy texture that is so common with these dips – often laden with insanely salty cheeses and prickly, woody bits from the wrong part of the artichoke – and replaced it with a velvety smooth, light and extremely satisfying indulgence that is topped with succulent, high quality crab meat. The plantains – as opposed to tortilla chips – come with a thicker crisp as well, and they add a higher quality, more complimentary crunch element to balance with the creamy dip.
If my yammering about artichoke dip doesn’t quite convince you that this place is more than just pub food, just take a look at this gorgeous pan roasted chicken dish.
Do you expect to see this at a bar? Of course not. That’s why I’m making a point of saying that this is real restaurant dining. That chicken dish comes with mashed potatoes, sauteed kale, mushrooms and au jus, by the way.
And as you might expect from a burger at a fine dining joint, plain old ground beef simply won’t cut the mustard. This location features wagyu beef in the grind. But that’s not where it ends. It also boasts hickory smoked bacon, a pesto aioli and Bibb lettuce on a brioche bun, with your choice of cheese, of course. But the kicker is something so simple that it’s brilliant: a slice of oven roasted tomato that just melts right into the burger to become a natural ketchup when you bite down on it. Amazing.
Armando is also keeping things a bit more seasonal and market fresh at the FiDi location, swapping out the mahi in the fish tacos with whatever is good at the market each day, like mako or swordfish.
If those types of fish don’t float your boat, maybe the blackened salmon sandwich will. This was good enough to make me think twice about beef for a brief moment.
Cajun salmon with grilled onions, cucumber, avocado and sriracha aioli? Yes please. That was a great tasting sandwich!
However, my favorite thing between two buns, aside from The Cake Dealer’s thong, was the slow braised short rib slider.
After braising, these babies are pan seared and topped with house made spicy and sweet pickles, shallots and rosemary caramelized onions. Oh my God, those onions… And those pickles… So good, and such a complex bite of food. There are lots of well-balanced flavors popping in these. I highly recommend. They’re technically apps, but I guess if you order enough of them you can call it a meal.
Speaking of appetizers, by the way, a pair of other notable mentions were the buttermilk bites and avocado bacon deviled eggs. The eggs come cleverly plated in an egg carton with six pieces per order. Very generous! And these devilish morsels tasted heavenly. The egg is mixed with the avocado to make a very creamy filling, and the sriracha and serrano peppers on top bring that slight bit of heat that you want from deviled eggs.
The buttermilk bites, if sold in bulk, would probably be the cause of my death. I can easily see myself eating these until I pop. There’s nothing too complicated about them; they’re just southern style fried chicken morsels.
But the buttermilk fry batter is spectacular, and the meat is tender and juicy inside. Perfect execution! What really brings these home for me, though, is the cilantro jalapeno aioli. It’s cool and refreshing, while at the same time bringing a kick of spice to your taste buds.
I also got to sample both the sweet potato and regular fries. Both were good, but I actually preferred the sweet potato fries for some reason. They ended up being seasoned better, they held a better crisp, and they actually tasted savory rather than sweet. This was a nice change, because I typically don’t like sweet potato fries.
Malt House actually has a pastry chef now, so dessert is on point. I sampled four items: chocolate mousse, beignets with chocolate sauce, banana and chocolate filled crepes and cheesecake. All were nicely executed, simple and delicious.
Now that I’ve gotten the food out of the way, let me talk a bit about the drinks and decor at this place. Aside from something like 200 whiskies and 40 draft beers, they also offer a nice cocktail menu and an extensive list of bottled and canned beers as well.
In addition, this joint is hugely spacious, with a main bar and dining floor, a nice mezzanine overlooking the main floor, a private party room off the mezzanine and a massive basement called “The Armory,” which features a wrap-around bar and tons of additional seating. I love the proud patriotism on display down there. There are tons of old US flags and such (to be fair, some might be British colonial flags as well – I’m not sure). This place also boasts some other nice historic and architectural touches, like a preserved 125yr old, all-original skylight in the private room and several actual Carnegie Steel Company beams in the main bar and dining room.
The interior pics aren’t mine, by the way. They were provided to me by the restaurant. But you get the sense of how enormous and gorgeous this place is. Go check it out for yourself one of these days. You won’t be disappointed.
9 Maiden Ln
New York, NY 10038