Veritas: Refined ‘Ingredient-Driven’ American Without Too Much Snob Factor
Before its recent renovation, Veritas was the aging haute restaurant/wine bar oft forgotten, popular with well-heeled regulars enamored with its intimate exclusivity. However, after getting a major facelift in 2010 by Crème, the design firm responsible for Tribeca’s Marc Forgione, Veritas has re-opened as a modern, warm and approachable fine dining establishment. With the renovation, not only the restaurant’s look and atmosphere have been majorly upgraded; Veritas has also enlisted Chef Sam Hazen, formerly of Tao, to reboot the menu. Don’t you worry though, despite all the changes that have been afoot at Veritas over the past year, owner and founder Paul Smith’s personal and astonishing Rhone-heavy wine collection that made Veritas famous hasn’t changed a bit.
Situated on a restaurant-packed block in Flatiron, across from Gramercy Tavern, Veritas is small. Divided into two rooms, the restaurant features a long wine bar upfront and an intimate dining room with about 20 tables in the back. The design is modern, elegant, and inspired by the very same wine collection that makes Veritas unique. The dining room is book-ended by floor-to-ceiling shelves displaying bottles from the diverse wine collection; polished wooden tables, missing the crisp white tablecloths of the ‘old’ Veritas, line the white painted exposed-brick walls; pendant lights softly illuminate the haute cave-like space.
The bar at the front, populated by oenophiles, is a subdued and sophisticated affair. A man dressed in a three-piece suit, reading his propped-up iPad and drinking a glass of pale white wine, sits in the corner, conversing quietly with the bartender; two fashionable women in their 30s split a bottle of red, tasting the offering like wine tasters do in movies. The suited bartender is polite, efficient, and knowledgeable, and the glass of cabernet ordered is served at the ideal, slightly chilled, temperature.
The contemporary American food served at Veritas is memorable. While each dish is arguably a work of art in terms of the noticeably excellent techniques used to construct it, each dish is also immensely flavorful and comforting. Somehow, Chef Hazen has managed to hit the sweet spot between food that is sufficiently ‘fancy’ to warrant the sky-high prices and food that actually tastes good, food you want to eat.
The starters are excellent. A foie gras special offered recently was astonishing: delicate slices of seared-to-sweetness foie gras over firm whiskey-braised peaches; the dish was high impact yet uncomplicated. The market crudo is a refreshing and a lovely counter to the rich meat-heavy dishes offered as entrees – a combination of thinly-sliced raw salmon belly and tuna atop citrus, radishes and English peas recently, it was playful and light. The unique ‘Beef in Transition’ appetizer is a fun option for carnivores. Featuring three different constructions of beef ranging from tartare to short rib in a pastry, it is rich and inventive; the steak tartare was the best – juicy, flavorful, and high quality, the sliver of peppered sirloin steak was delightful – prepared to a deep pink in the middle, and the short rib wrapped up in flaky pastry got mixed reviews – the meat was tasty but not tender enough and the pastry was just unnecessary.
The entrees ranged from truly marvelous to very good. On the one hand, the prosciutto-wrapped halibut with shallots and asparagus didn’t inspire much and was, in the words of my father, ‘just a halibut.’ On the other, the pan-roasted veal chop, served on the bone, was extraordinary; perfectly seasoned so that you could really taste the tender flavor of the meat, it was served with delicious pillows of rich short rib ravioli that far surpassed the mediocre short rib pastry from the appetizer. In the middle was the classically-prepared filet mignon, served as a bigger cut than expected but perfectly-executed at medium rare, surrounded by addictively sweet red-wine braised cippollini onions, and showered with briny flakes of Roquefort cheese.
Veritas should be considered a bit over-the-top, a relic of a spend-freely age when dropping $300 on a bottle of wine and $40 on a filet was commonplace. However, as a result of the modern renovation that has transformed this late ‘90s den of oenophile exclusivity into a more accessible contemporary establishment, Veritas manages to feel if not fresh than at least appropriately ‘with it.’ Yes, the prices surely cause many average New Yorkers to laugh bitterly and choose another restaurant; however, for those lucky enough to have ‘deep pockets’ or happy enough to have something to celebrate, Veritas is a very much under-the-radar option.