A look into Cole’s expensive menu leaves this reviewer cold, even though the interior is cool.
January 21, 2014

Cole’s, 118 Greenwich Ave (@ Jane St), 212-242-5966,

SHORT ORDER: A confused, uneventful menu outshone by the comforting décor. 
PETER’S PICKS: home-style mashed potatoes; warm apple cobbler 
PETER’S PANS: mushy squid; duck breast that I couldn’t cut through

The evenings that I once spent at Café de Bruxelles were lusty and long—and many years ago. I still miss the fantastic zinc bar and German lace curtains hanging in the windows that looked out upon Greenwich Avenue on a snowy night. After a much-needed dusting off, the spot became Lyon and, as much as I enjoyed the food and drinks there, it closed before there was much time to linger around the bar or eat anything.

Now, under the same ownership, the restaurant has reopened as Cole’s. I have the sense it has something to do with Cole Porter, given the urbane surroundings in the dining room proper that have the feel of a cozy, amber-lit dining car from yesteryear, summoning the lure of train travel to exotic locales. If only the food was as exciting. I’m not really sure what the expensive menu is going for here—steamed mussels are thrown about with chicken liver mousse and then entrées veer toward Italian with spaghetti, but there’s also a homey chicken roast with turnips and Swiss chard.

A few friends and I sidled up to our rich chocolate leather button-tufted banquette and ordered hefty pours of Maker’s Mark and Grey Goose on the rocks. Cole’s also offers signature cocktails, such as the Spring Negroni with gin, Aperol, Carpano Antica and a block of lavender ice; or Cole’s Cocktail with Crop vodka, St. Germain and rosemary. My friend texted somebody, “WTF?” after seeing the After School Special with peanut rum, aged rum and celery bitters. I suppose it was a take on the old classic snack, ants on a log. But where were the raisins?

Pedestrian train-station-style bites included artichoke dip with spinach, which thankfully was not overly laden with mayonnaise. We didn’t even try the spinach and bacon salad with boiled eggs—when was the last time you spied that on a menu? The “quick flashed” squid was apparently not flashed quickly enough and was terribly mushy, surrounded by unflattering shishito peppers and pimentón. Kale’s relationship with the Caesar fell flat and its involvement with lemon was negligible—although we did enjoy the croutons that we had to assume were toasted brioche. Nutty sweet pea ravioli was decent, with tangy Cipollini onions and carrot cream sauce.

Entrées fare better: pale pink firm pork tenderloin with Brussels sprouts; medium rare hanger steak with a fine red wine glaze and fingerling potatoes; duck breast that was nearly impossible to cut through but was nevertheless decent, with delicious pearls of black beluga lentils as well as pointless, clunky mushrooms. Sides of simple charred carrots with honey were full of flavor and home-style mashed potatoes were wonderful, perhaps like what your mother might have made, elegantly underscoring the importance of knowing your ingredients well, choosing them wisely, and never over complicating the matter.

Despite the restaurant’s new look, if you’re considering Cole’s perhaps it’s best to stick with the house burger and finish it up with a warm cinnamon apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream.

Prices: Appetizers: $10–$14; Entrées: $18–$29; Alcohol: wine, beer, full bar, specialty cocktails