Truthfully, I can’t swear that Executive Chef Bill Seleno of Albert Hall Tavern in Hell’s Kitchen in New York would know my name if I came in again, but he certainly knew it when I was there the other day for lunch. And I won’t forget HIM any time soon. I have rarely come across such an affable, warm and friendly person in ANY situation, much less as the patron of a restaurant.
I was meeting my long-lost friend, D. Well, that’s not completely accurate – she’s not lost...well, never for long. I see her EVERY summer when she comes home from living overseas. We meet in the city and spend 3 or 4 hours gabbing and…actually, just gabbing. We pretend to go to museums sometimes or galleries in Chelsea, but those are merely backdrops to catching up.
Anyway, we picked Albert Hall Tavern as our meeting spot and I got to Bill’s place quite early. (I had an Open Table reservation, which makes life SO easy). Someone had called out sick and Bill was doing all the seating, serving (and, presumably, cooking) himself.
He had no problem with me picking the best table in the place and installing myself while I waited for D. Because it was barely noon, he had time to chat and introduce himself.
There were a few random folks sitting at the bar already. (One Open Table review, describes Albert Hall Tavern as a bar with food, rather than a restaurant. “Tavern” is a good description, as well as “Gastropub” to describe the mood and menu.) There’s an awesome selection of beers and plenty of wines to choose from. Bill poured me a generous Malbec and Sue’d me (as in using my name) with every interaction. (I love that and I didn’t hesitate to “Bill” him right back.)
He also brought me some bread (from Amy's Bread ) and olive oil. It was SO crusty and SO good AND warm.
D arrived and we had tons of time to look at the menu, while I instructed her on what she wanted to eat.
There is only one problem with writing about this meal. When you’re ensconced in conversation, sometimes the food takes second place to the fabulous confabulation going on. But the one thing that IS very clear in my memory is the cordial and comfortable atmosphere of Albert Hall Tavern.
Anyway, this is what “we” (as in I) chose to order:
Golden Watermelon Salad With Orange Cured Cucumber, Goat Cheese And Basil Oil
The watermelon was perfectly ripe and just sweet enough. The goat cheese made each bite creamy with a bit of tang. I also liked the basil oil, but there was a bit too much watermelon liquid on the plate, although if Bill had given me a soup spoon, I could have worked at it.
Salad With Spanish Anchovy Filets And Parmesan Toast
This was really well made with the right balance of fresh romaine with elements of crunch and tang and salt. I’m not sure why it was a “Thai” Caesar salad. It tasted like a super duper version of a normal Caesar. There were big, meaty, salty anchovies in the salad (if you like anchovies, which I do, that’s a good thing) and gobs of Parmesan over the top. The toasts were nicely crispy too.
We had two panini. D went with a tomato and mozzarella one.
Tomato And Mozzarella Panini With Fresh Basil And Roasted Garlic
I had one with duck prosciutto and fontina. The duck prosciutto reminded me of biltong, which is not a bad thing. The fries were expertly made and served at just the right temperature. Neither panini was overly greasy and the cheese was perfectly melted.
Duck Prosciutto Panini With Fontina And Watercress
We skipped dessert and had two well-made cappuccinos. By this time, by the way, Bill had appeared in (very becoming) chef’s whites and then disappeared into the kitchen when other staff arrived. I did read about slow service at Albert Hall Tavern, but we didn’t really notice. In fact, that would have suited our purposes just fine.
We sat comfortably for…well, it doesn’t really matter how long…believe me when I say that we probably could have taken in an opera (a long one!) in the time that were there. We never felt rushed at all and, just like in any European place, we had to ask for the check. They certainly could have encouraged us to move along if they had wanted to.
There are several other things on the menu – dinner-type things – that I would definitely go back for. I’d love to try the Moules Frites or the Duck Confit to see what Bill is really made of.
I forgot until just now that some write-ups of the restaurant said that the panini come with homemade potato chips, instead of French fries. Darn! Oh well, now I have another reason to go back and see Bill.