Thursday, August 06, 2009

I'm Just Wild About Waldy

Before Waldy Malouf opened Beacon he cut his teeth and gained acclaim at some of New York's most iconic eateries, including The Four Seasons, La Côte Basque, the Hudson River Club (where he first made his name as a restaurateur) and The Rainbow Room, which he revitalized (albeit not without missteps) in 1997 t0 3-star accolades from the New York Times's Ruth Reichl.  Along the way he also started writing cookbooks.

At Beacon, which Malouf opened in 1999, the M.O. is high-heat, open-fire and wood-fired cooking.  One of the kitchen's specialties, wood-fired, thin-crust pizzas with wild mushrooms, inspired a modest spinoff, Waldy's Wood Fired Pizza and Penne, on Sixth Avenue near 27th, a decidedly unsexy location.  I decided to give Waldy's pizza a try the week before I was scheduled to make my first visit to Beacon (for a Restaurant Week lunch).  And I decided to go with the original pie, the one served at Beacon, called, of all things, "The Beacon," with wild mushrooms, onions, and Waldy's "secret" 4-cheese combination.  The pizzeria is a small, simple affair. You order your pie by the oven and if you're not taking out you can bring it to a communal counter or one of a few tables. Personal-size pizzas are very reasonably priced, most at about $8, with larger pies also available. Compared to most "artisanal" pizzerias, it's a steal.  Malouf isn't trying to recreate a specific regional pizza style.  His pies have cracker-thin crusts, and the cheese combo gives them a more savory flavor than that of the generally fresh mozzarella pies you'll find at most of the newer, upscale pizzerias.  Anchovies are also free for the asking on any of their pies.  A charming feature of the place is the array of fresh herbs in planters with scissors to cut your own, as well as a number of infused olive oils.

I was completely charmed by my Restaurant Week lunch at Beacon.  I've complained in the past about restaurateurs that don't play fair during restaurant week, offering choices from the bowels of their menu (or sometimes special off-menu cheapskate dishes) and in tiny portions. Not so at Beacon. Not only were a number of Waldy's signature dishes offered, they came in full-size servings.  I was thrilled with all three of my choices.  I started with the wood roasted oysters (a full half dozen) with shallots and verjus. The tart, aromatic, buttery, bivalvey broth was a perfect complement to the oysters.

Ten-herb chicken is one of Malouf's signature dishes, and it benefits greatly from the high heat (though a recipe for home ovens can be found here).  The ample portion of perfectly roasted chicken which, despite its many flavors, is pleasingly simple, was accompanied by a delightful wild mushroom panzanella (bread salad).

I'm just not a chocolate lover, and I wanted something more substantial than sorbet, so my dessert choice was the toasted coconut cheesecake, topped with tropical fruit salad.  I rarely indulge in cheesecake, but this was an excellent rendition of a classic cream cheese cake with the addition of coconut to the outside and the bottom crust.

I also tasted my lunch partner's choices.  The chilled yellow tomato soup was excellent, with a slightly Indian-tasting spice accent.  The wood roasted-salmon was good too, but not nearly as distinctive as my chicken.  The chocolate-chocolate chip souffle was impressive and enormous, but I found it cloyingly sweet.

While a few items carried supplements, they were perfectly understandable given the $24.07 prix fixe.  For instance, the oysters, which cost $17 a la carte were $4 extra, and the sirloin steak would have been an extra $8, yet the chocolate souffle, which is $12 on the menu, was included.  I calculated that our $52.14 lunch for two (before tax and tip) would have cost $95 if ordered a la carte from the lunch menu.  Service was just right: friendly and low-key, attentive without being overbearing.

I think the way a restaurateur handles Restaurant Week is a good test of his moral fiber. Waldy Malouf passed with flying colors.

25 W. 56th St. 

Waldy's Wood Fired Pizza and Penne
800 Ave. of the Americas (between 27th & 28th)

Restaurant week has been extended through Labor Day at most participating restaurants, so you have another month to try Beacon at these great prices ($24.07 lunch, $35 dinner).


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