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Betel: Why I Hate Trendy Asian Fusion

Despite wonderful company (hi Katy), nothing could have possibly saved my dreadful experience at West Village newcomer Betel. When the sleek Grove Street Asian fusion spot first opened, I couldn’t wait to try it. I love Thai food; I love good cocktails; I love not having to trek miles for good food – Betel seemed like a potential new neighborhood favorite, a nice alternative to Yerba Buena Perry. However, Betel was ultimately a total disappointment with very few redeeming features.

The Southeast Asian fusion concept restaurant is settled in a rectangular space on Grove Street, just off 7th Avenue. It’s sleek and glossy with a whole lot of awkward seating situations. All seats seem unnecessarily cramped. The bar is long and broad, taking up just too much space in the otherwise modestly-sized restaurant. Through the middle of the room runs a long communal bar height table, which diners are unceremoniously seated at without any warning – if you’re short, a quiet talker, or perhaps just fond of seats with backs, your 50% shot of ending up at the communal bar renders Betel decidedly uncomfortable. My particular neighbors seemed outraged by the fact that my rice was steaming in their face. Yes, these are the type of people that frequent Betel (pronounced, fittingly, Beetle). The rest of the seating is marginally better, at too-close-for-comfort yet (praise the lord) separate tables of lacquered faux wood. The wonderful golden lighting mercifully disguises the room’s unfortunate seating flaws, casting everything in a warm and pleasant glow.

What I think is perhaps most amusing, or rather frustrating, about Betel is its claim of inspiration from Thai ‘hawker stalls.’ This is ridiculous not only because the food is so painfully over-priced that you have to sell your soul to afford a bowl of curry but also because whatever the kitchen delivers is so remote from Thai street food that the comparison seems unbelievably fanciful. The menu is bizarre, to say the least, with frighteningly priced ‘small plates’ ranging from salt & pepper cuttlefish for $15 to pork & scallop dumplings for $15 (dumplings? $15? really?). Entrees only go onwards and upwards with a bland and meatless massaman curry with eggplant and plantain for $22, a tasty stir-fry chicken dish for $24 (otherwise nabbed for $10 in Chinatown), a caramelized braised beef rib for a staggering $38, and a Southern chicken curry for $28. Prices such as these would perhaps be considered reasonable at an oh so haute restaurant with blow-your-mind cuisine, yet incontrovertibly, Betel is NOT that place. Considering the waitress recommends 2 small plates and 2 entrees for 2 people, you’re looking at a fantastically pricey and comparatively unsatisfying meal.

On top of its impossible prices, uncomfortable seating, and bland food, Betel also happens to have a number of irritating quirks, like it’s obtuse website where if you click ANYWHERE, it automatically opens an email to the management or the server’s inability to just take your drink order without pushing one of the $14 too-sweet-for-normal-people house cocktails. I ask myself, how can this place even think of building regulars? Anyone who eats here will either realize their money can be better spent elsewhere or go bankrupt.

Betel is inaccessible, unimpressive, and the type of place where trendy people go to pick at their food. Music bump bumps in the background, and stiletto-clad barbies fall all over their suited boyfriends at the bar. The weirdest part about all of this is that, yes, you are actually in a restaurant; in case you’re looking, the clubs are about 3 avenues over, 10 blocks up.

Perfect For: not much of anything. if you’re looking for a hotspot club thing, why don’t you head to Meatpacking – those type of places fight for business over there.

Betel on Urbanspoon

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