9:30 pm, Saturday night, Winter 2012 – The Lion, West Village.
Restaurant and bar are packed upon our arrival. After midnight, when we are leaving, newcomers are seen ordering entrees. My conclusion – if you are in the mood for a fancy splurge on (or before) your night out, this may just be the perfect place to get the party started. The Executive Chef of The Lion is John DeLucie who is also the founding chef and partner of The Waverly Inn, another Manhattan hot spot.
I had some initial trepidation about dining at The Lion. The restaurant has many $$$$ signs and doesn’t come with the associated accolades and consistent 5 star reviews. However, having read some mixed reviews – particularly Adam Platt’s review of The Lion for NY Mag – and now having dined here, I think I can build a strong personal case for why The Lion is a worthwhile destination (especially for a low carber). Let me boil it down: I was very impressed by the historic interior, the stunning artwork and photography, and my BURGER with fried pork belly.
The Lion follows a speakeasy format – unmarked entrance, a dungeon-like crowded bar upfront with few tables for walk-ins. The front bar area is connected, by a narrow open kitchen with a side corridor, to the stunning dining room which has a vaulted sky light ceiling and wooden chandeliers.
After recently reading Bob Colacello’s Vanity Fair piece “Here’s to the Ladies who Lunched,” which covers the evolution of Manhattan’s most glamorous venues from the turn of the 20th century to the present (and the rich and famous women who lunched in them), I couldn’t help but make the comparisons between The Lion’s glitzy main dining room and Colacello’s description of Le Cirque from the 1960s. Le Cirque being one of the first restaurants to revamp the format of seating celebrities at the entrance of a restaurant and made it cool to seat them in a wide open back area. In Le Cirque, “There was no status alley leading to a cavernous, half-empty dining room, just one big brightly lit room, the implication being that everyone there was someone” unlike in a place like The Colony – a private club/restaurant for the rich and famous, circa 1938, where The Duke and Duchess of Windsor made “The farthest-back section” seem “least desirable … setting the pattern for all future fancy Manhattan restaurants of seating the most prominent clients closest to the front door, where they could be seen.”
The Lion recreates this opulent, theater-like, people-watching atmosphere made famous by Le Cirque and other fancy 1960s joints. However, it is a particularly interesting space because it is on the premise of the original gay nightclub (also called the Lion) where Barbara Streisand made her singing debut in the 1960s. The new glitzy dinning room used to be a back room with a stage, a piano set-up surrounded by little tables for the audience. I guess eating at a place like The Lion is fun for these historic tidbits. The way I see it, you pay top dollar for the rich atmosphere.
Next up – the food. We shared one appetizer which was mediocre and two entrees, both of which were amazing. Here’s the run down.
The Octopus Salad contained fingerling potatoes, parsley, lemon, onion and sliced octopus on a pesto bed. In my opinion, this appetizer could have used more octopus and less potato, for the price.
My friend ordered the Lamp Porterhouse, mmmmm.
Honestly, an excellent lamb chop. Perfectly medium, soft and velvety meat with delicious olive spread on the side. Real sides have to be ordered separately, so you are not tempted to stuff yourself with unnecessary carbs unless you choose to. My only issue with this dish – for $42 you would think they would give you more than two lamb chops.
And my favorite – for the taste and the price – The Lion Burger special.
Amazing. Prepared medium as I had ordered it and topped with good cheddar, tomatoes and caramelized onions as well as a HUGE slab of crunchy pork belly. As I mentioned earlier, sides need to be ordered separately, fries included. So people complain about the burger’s $30 price tag. Just don’t order fries and save the money. I didn’t eat the bun either. The burger itself with the toppings, side of pickles, and the pork belly is a GREAT ENTREE for $19.
They also have good cocktails. I had a dirty gin martini (Bombay) with three olives. This drink cost $17 – I couldn’t believe it was only two dollars cheaper than the burger.
The Lion is not known for good dessert options but I didn’t care. First of all, I don’t eat dessert normally and secondly, why would I need dessert after this burger?
Finally, the decor – amazing. Black and white photos of a gone by era, large imposing portrait canvases, modern art (Warhols included) and huge photographs by David LaChapelle. The ladies restroom had a famous piece by LaChapelle – a beautiful naked woman splayed out on a bed underneath a bear (I think she is supposed to be a Russian billionaire’s wife). Apparently, restaurant clientele are not allowed to take photos in the restroom – there was a woman guarding the art. Luckily, another blogger, had succeeded in taking this photo, a little over a year ago.