We finally made it to The River Cafe, which was a restaurant we wanted to go for a while. This restaurant sits right next to the East River, right under the Brooklyn Bridge. We made a reservation for a table of 7 at 5 PM on a Friday night. The dinner consists of primarily 3 courses, which has a fixed price of $195.
The River Cafe has 1 Michelin Star and first received it in 2010.
This is the history from the site directly:
The River Café opened under the Brooklyn Bridge in June of 1977 in a forgotten and abandoned neighborhood by the docks – desolate except for trucks waiting to enter the piers. When Michael “Buzzy” O’Keeffe first discovered this spot, it was barren and devoid of life. To him, this neglected piece of waterfront was very special – lacking any civility, but with wonderful possibilities.
It took twelve years of convincing the City before Mr. O’Keeffe obtained approval in 1974 to begin building the restaurant. Some of New York’s most important business executives and government officials advised Mr. O’Keeffe that building on the Brooklyn waterfront was extremely dangerous. In 1974, New York City was itself struggling with financial problems, and the idea of creating a serious restaurant in one of NYC’s forgotten industrial districts was out of control.
From the restaurant’s first days, Mr. O’Keeffe has insisted that The River Café be dedicated to serving only the highest level of cuisine prepared from the freshest and finest ingredients available anywhere. As a result, the restaurant emerged at the forefront for the arrival of Classic American cuisine on the East Coast, searching out the finest and purest ingredients in every aspect.
The River Café has been celebrated with numerous accolades including: a Michelin Star and One of the Most Romantic Restaurants in 2023, The Restaurant Hall of Fame Award, The “Ivy Award of Distinction” from Restaurant and Institutions Magazine, Distinguished Restaurants of North America Award (DiRoNA), The New York Parks Council Award, The Municipal Arts Society Award, The “Wine Spectator Award of Distinction” from Restaurants and Institutions Magazine, The Wine Spectator Award, selected by the French culinary guide, “Gault Millau,” as one of the five best restaurants in New York.
Ambiance & Service
The view is absolutely gorgeous during dusk, and you have a pretty good view of the water from most points of the main dining area of the restaurant. I know many diners prefer right next to the window, but note that the sun hits your face up till 6 PM. It would’ve been nice if they had some smoked blinders, but luckily it didn’t take long for the sun to go down.
The service was very attentive early on. As the night progressed and the room got crowded, it felt the service suffered just a little bit. The dining room is small, though the ratio of servers to diners was actually pretty good.
The room ambiance was very nice early on, being one of few tables inside the room. Once the room got full, the room definitely got a bit louder, and not as comfortable when it comes to conversation. Regardless, the overall ambiance was definitely classy.
Courtesy of the chef, the East Coast Oyster was baked with speck, some type of cheese on top, and was layered with a dop of caviar. This was pretty good.
They gave us an amuse starter.
From left to right:
- Parmesan sabayon, parmesan custard, with potato tuile - this was great and had lots of parmesan flavors.
- Miso shiitake mushroom consomme - this was pretty good minus the mushrooms of course.
- House smoked steel trout eggs with dijon remoulade - this one biter was good as well. The eggs were smokey and salty.
The servers had mentioned we can start on the left/right items, and we can finish with the middle item.
We ordered a bottle of La Chablisienne Chablis from the Chateau Grenouilles, Grand Cru, 2019 ($325 - retails for ~$140). Because this was a special event, I went a little higher, and I was not disappointed. I love Chablis, and this one was extremely well rounded especially for my guests who are not white wine drinkers. It was very crisp, light, with mineral notes, and had the acidity concentrated up front.
For the first course, I ordered the Rabbit, which was a California rabbit loin, and rabbit and fig sausage. It came with crispy squash blossom, roasted cipollini onion, and smoked ricotta filling. The rabbit sausage was quite delicious, especially with the red sauce. You had interesting rabbit meat notes to it. The squash blossom was delicious because the ricotta filling was warm and had a lot of great flavors of it.
For the first course, my partner ordered the Octopus, which was a Portuguese octopus a la blancha, black garlic, basil emulsion, zucchini, and crisp potato. The octopus was deliciously cooked, but it was similar to other Spanish octopus legs.
Courtesy of the chef, we received three different intermediate dishes spread around the table before our second course.
Some received the smoked Berkshire Pork Belly which came with a Idaho potato waffle and a sweet chili marmalade. The pork belly was pretty tasty.
Others received the Seared Rhode Island squid, which came with squid ink cavatelli pasta, roasted red tomato, pesto, and oil. The squid was good, and the pasta was cooked perfectly al dente.
And lastly, the Tuna Tartare came with a finger lime salad on top and a white soy lime leaf vinaigrette. The tuna was good and fresh, but it was not something that was out of your world. It was probably the least favorite of these 3 chef courtesy items, although it was good.
For our second course entree, we ordered the Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir 2019 ($250 - retails for ~$100) from Willamette Valley, Oregon. This had dark dried cherries, pink peppercorn, and some leather. It’s a little more acidic, but it was light, smooth, and dry. It finishes rounded, so it complemented perfectly with any red meat dish.
For the second course for another guest, they ordered the Lobster, which came with poached Nova Scotia lobster tail, summer corn, Chanterelle mushroom lasagna, and Ver jus sauce. The mushroom lasagna was described to be very delicate, and the pasta was thick and didn’t fall apart. The lobster tail was very sweet and delicious.
For the second course, my partner ordered the Venison, which came with fallow venison loin, roasted King Trumpet mushrooms, glazed carrots, spinach spaetzle, and lingonberry jus. The venison was absolutely delicious, and I would recommend people order this if they wanted something unique out of this restaurant.
For the second course, I ordered the Beef, which came with char grilled Niman Ranch strip steak, red wine braised prime beef short rib and marrow, and smoked shallot Bearnaise. This was cooked a perfect medium rare, and I thought it tasted great paired with the Bearnaise sauce. The bone marrow had some very concentrated prime beef short rib flavors. It was delicious, though there wasn’t anything that was particularly surprising to me. It was just solid good tasting steak.
For the third and final course, many of us ordered the Chocolate Brooklyn Bridge, which came with dark chocolate Marquise, passion fruit ice cream, banana macadamia ganache, and banana spuma.
For the third and final course, others ordered the Lemon Souffle, which came with warm lemon souffle, candied lemon zest, Maine blueberry sherbet, and blueberry crumble.
The Handmade chocolates and confections came with 4 pieces. It came with mint, coconut crisp, salted caramel, and ginger bread type biscuit with some jam.
The River Cafe was one of those restaurants that I had low expectations for, and I was pleasantly surprised by the outcome. The food was all pretty solid, and we were legitimately full by the end of the meal. The restaurant would be a phenomenal celebratory dinner, especially given that gentlemen have to come with a suit jacket. I know some people loathe that, but it can provide a memorable experience especially with the scenery.
We were all conversating and having a great time during dinner until a server came up to us and told us we were too loud. Never in my life have I experienced a restaurant tell us that we were too loud.
I’ve seen this happen sparingly, and usually it’s because folks are drunk and shouting unreasonably. I’m pretty sure if they were “conversing”, they wouldn’t be asked to quiet down. As I mentioned above, the dining room is pretty small, and it doesn’t dampen the noise well.
The hostesses in the front of the resto were not friendly and made me feel most unwelcome by asking me three times if I was aware of the prix fixe menu cost.
I can see how/why this occurred. When we were about to leave, there were 3 women (dressed down) that were interested in dining, but they had not made reservations nor were they aware of the price. This area has a lot of tourists, so I’m sure in their decade plus of existence, they want to make sure that prospective diners really know what they are getting into.
- Sep 15, 2023 - Initial revision.