230 9th Ave., Chelsea
Jim Lahey is so preoccupied with dough that he can’t even bring himself to serve his patrons some bread. Although that would seem like a paradoxical statement given that Lahey is the celebrated baker of the renowned Sullivan Bakery, a visit to Co. would prove that his primary obsession with dough is limited to the kind that fills his pockets and in a manner that could be no more blatant and shameless.
At Co., there’s no such thing as a complimentary bread basket, or butter or even condiment for that matter. Unless you’d had a chance to look at your menu or read this review, you wouldn’t know that the small basket of “communal” bread the overzealous server will misleadingly offer to bring you will cost you $3. And why would you since bread and its accompanying condiments are gratuitous items just about everywhere outside of some countries that constituted the former Communist bloc?
But at Co. you’d better really ponder whether you want butter with that because it will cost you an extra $2. Olive oil, instead? No problem, it will cost you too. And what better way to savor all of these skimpy overpriced rustic treats than to have them at a communal table, where you can make some new friends while being squeezed into a seat so tight, you might as well be sitting on your neighbor’s lap. You’ll be sitting so close that his or her breath will wind up flavoring your glass of water anyway. And what can be more intimate than having acoustics so bad that the adjacent conversations begin to invade your own and distract you from your own thread of exchange…hey what we wanted to talk about was not that important anyway, plus our cell phone providers do this to us all the time… Hey be glad you even got a seat at Co. The queue to get a table here stretches from the host’s desk to outside and waits can be as long as 90 min. You can afford to have a no reservation policy when you enjoy easy name recognition and your establishment is located in a city full of trend-obsessed foodies with dwindling disposable income and a high threshold for being treated badly…
Pizza, which is universally loved, anyway…will fare particularly well in this battered economy since it is considerably less expensive to enjoy than a dinner at a mid-scale steakhouse.
After two failed attempts to eat at Co., my dinner date and I finally managed to score a table on a cold rainy Wednesday night, before the 8:00 dinner rush.
Without being asked about seating preferences, the hostess directed us to a long and narrow communal table. Having been bred on a notion that communal meant public and conducive to sharing, I assumed that the hostess would not have a problem if my dining companion and I would sit adjacent to one another. But I was wrong in assuming that communal in the world of Co. would bear connotations of shared space and relaxed boundaries. No sooner did we pull out the chairs did she tell us that it was not allowed. My dining companion had to move to a chair across from me, and decidedly out of my sonic reach.
We started with a salad course. I ordered the radicchio and my dinner companion the butter lettuce. Both were fresh, thoughtfully dressed and generously sized and a very good value at $7 per salad. The ingredients were of a high quality and both salads were tasty. I would have preferred not to have the shitake mushrooms raw, but I did enjoy the touches of creamy taleggio on my radicchio.
As to the pizzas however. They left much to be desired and that’s not only because they are the featured item at this establishment and that Lahey had received considerable accolades in recent months for his no knead pizza (a recipe which I have tried and elsewhere endorsed) My Pizza Amalfi was mediocre at best. The crust was too airy, with very little body and beyond charmingly charred. While the plum tomatoes were good, the toppings were sparse and some of them tasted as though they’d come from a jar, the green olives in particular.
I felt slightly vindicated when I read Frank Bruni’s comment in his mostly favorable (somewhat disconcerting but not entirely shocking given that the New York Times is largely a genteel institution) review yesterday on the crust sometimes being a “jarring, ashy, sooty territory.”
My dining companion’s Margherita was far worse. It was small with multiple blisters that were burnt. He complained that the mozzarella had no flavor and it was mostly dry–for less than $13 pizze margherite that are far superior in quality can be easily had throughout the borough of Manhattan and can be far more easily digested since the odds of enjoying better service and in a more humanized setting, where patrons are not viewed exclusively as centers of profit are exceedingly high…and that’s not just because the standards set by Co. are so low.
Regretfully though, as long as boycotting such shamelessly exploitative corporate practices in the hospitality business does not become trendy (no breath being held on that trend to take), Co. will continue to draw the throngs of the fashionably mass-hypnotized.