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44 and X: New American Comfort Food in New York’s Hot New Neighborhood

10th Avenue is blowin’ up. Not literally, there is no dynamite involved here. Instead, the 10th avenue strip from Chelsea to Clinton is being rejuvenated and gentrified with the High Line, a plethora of brand new luxury condo and rental buildings, and a few culinary pioneers willing to set up shop west of 9th avenue. 44 and X, the sister restaurant to neighboring 44 1/2, is one of those pioneers, serving the growing neighborhood that’s not quite Hell’s Kitchen, not quite Chelsea, not quite what is generally considered Midtown West, and just south of Clinton.

The neighborhood is rather barren, with high-rise residential buildings, all shiny glass and steel, a brand spanking new Hess gas station, and a few divey bars ranging from a grungy-looking beer garden to your classic Irish sports bar offering options like ‘Pumpkin Bombs.’ Yet, on the corner of 44th and 10th, sits 44 and X, the surprisingly elegant and chic dining destination, presumably meant to serve the young professionals inhabiting all those shiny high-rises.

The restaurant’s shtick is ‘Heaven in Hell’ (boldly emblazoned on every server’s shirt), and the look is an all-white wonderland straight out of Pottery Barn’s winter shopping guide. With white walls, pearly white tile work, cream banquettes, modern plasticky white chairs, and soft ethereal white glow, 44 and X looks like a cross between a TV commercial’s visual representation of Heaven, the Nutcracker’s winter wonderland, and a luxury bathhouse in a Miami beach club. Perhaps what is most striking though is that the amount of outside sidewalk seating seems to greatly outweigh that of indoor seating, a rarity in Manhattan and especially in midtown.

44 and X’s food is new American, meaning it’s pretty much a hodge-podge of cuisines all put together into an eclectic menu. Whether it’s because it is one of the only proper dining establishments in the ‘hood or because the chef just has lofty ambitions, the menu at 44 and X is overwhelming and just generally massive for a restaurant in its price range. Appetizers range from a seasonal soup (squash and maple bisque in November) to goat cheese and pistachio souffle to a roast chicken quesadilla with pico de gallo, a spice-crusted ahi tuna, wild mushroom raviolo, a Maine lobster taco and a blue-corn crab fritter. The bisque is thick and heart-warming, yet severely under-salted to the point of being almost inedibly bland and sweet without some help. The crab fritter is just absolutely not a fritter; texturally challenging (and frankly, off-putting), the dish is essentially a large crab cake with absolutely no crunch; the substantial bits of blue crab appear to be stuffed into a pan-fried yet still soggy English muffin. Needless to say, it was a total flop.

The entrees improved upon the appetizers and offered a similarly overwhelming yet more cohesive range of options. The classic American influence shone through with buttermilk fried chicken, casserole of Maine lobster, lemon and sage roasted chicken, a traditional filet mignon, a grilled steak & fries, a hamburger, roasted rack of lamb, and braised short ribs. The filet mignon was the real superstar, cooked perfectly to a deep-pink medium rare at the middle and served with mashed potatoes in a port wine jus. Less successful was the salmon, plated severely under-cooked; even the coconut broth and the mix of seasonal vegetables couldn’t save the almost inedible filet of fish; if sushi were wanted, sushi would have been ordered, let’s leave it at that.

44 and X has a lot of work to do, but there are glimmers of potential. Despite it’s vaguely clubby South Florida vibe that seems misplaced, it is a gorgeous space with soaring ceilings and plenty of room for larger parties. The food has high points and some abysmal low points. The service is quick, friendly and efficient. 44 and X is on the front lines of restaurants moving into the 10th avenue corridor, joined by Chelsea favorites The Red Cat, Tia Pol and Trestle on Tenth as well as the neighboring sky-high Print in the Ink48 hotel; it gives me hopes that new and exciting dining destinations will follow suit and offer better options for the oft-forgotten neighborhood.

Perfect For: cocktails and cake, ladies night out, 10th avenue neighbors, a quiet date night, summer brunch outside, ladies who brunch

44 & X Hell's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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