I’m from Boston. I bleed New England. My mother’s family is from Cape Cod, and I grew up surrounded by quality seafood (even though I didn’t actually eat it until I entered adulthood). In short, lobster rolls and chowdah are their own food group and considered sacred where I’m from. And as a result, I have some pretty high expectations for all such things. Ed’s Chowder House, the brainchild of chef Ed Brown and restauranteur Jeffrey Chodorow, certainly takes its liberties with classic New England fare, ‘New York-ifying it,’ and the result is not half bad!
Up above street level and discreetly a part of Lincoln Square’s The Empire Hotel, Ed’s Chowder House is a visually appealing restaurant. The theme is nautical, and the sensation of being near the ocean is successfully achieved without over-doing it and while maintaining a certain Manhattan sheen. First, the restaurant is big. In fact, its so big that it just never seems full, for better or for worse. Up front is the bar area, followed by connecting dining rooms, and at the back, a private dining area. Second, the look is elegant beachy – more Hamptons than Cape Cod, more uptown luxury than sandy oceanfront casual. Expect: rich dark wood paneling, soaring windows, luxurious white leather banquettes, simple photographs of harbors and beachscapes, white chairs with little handles on the back reminiscent of those seen on swanky sailing yachts, touches of seersucker and pale nautical stripes, and plenty of bright white light. All of this is really quite lovely, more refined and restrained than some of Chodorow’s other creations (hello crazy Japanese pop art at Tanuki Tavern).
Perhaps the most surprising element of Ed’s Chowder House is how good the food is. It’s not classic New England fare, it’s not transcendent seafood, and it’s not even the best spot for good food in the neighborhood (I’m looking at you Time Warner Center). However, it’s satisfying, fresh-tasting, and the stuff you want to eat. The menu is extensive, featuring everything from a raw bar to a chowder ‘menu’ to sandwiches, ‘composed’ mains (read: fancy food) and ‘simple’ mains (read: straight-up uncomplicated food). And the kitchen executes everything from fluke crudo to seasoned crispy french fries, crispy clam rolls, fish n’ chips, risotto, and sea scallops well. Perhaps the best thing on the menu though is the lobster roll. While it’s not as wonderful as that served at Luke’s Lobster, it is pretty damn delicious for New York. The roll is buttery and soft; the lobster does have bits of celery and some mayo, but it’s so little that even a lobster roll fanatic like me wasn’t bothered; the roll is stuffed full with thick pieces of flavorful lobster. It’s just a good, rich, and hearty rendition of a New England favorite.
Frankly, I expected Ed’s Chowder House to be terrible – an over-wrought and poor interpretation of my beloved New England ‘cuisine.’ However, it pleasantly surprised with an accessible elegance and food good enough that you’d want to eat it again and again and then again. It’s not the best meal you’ll have in Manhattan, but it’s the type of food you could eat regularly (if you can afford it). With a please-all menu and a certain swankiness, Ed’s Chowder House is a bang-up option for business lunches and treating your out-of-town parents to a modern yet uncomplicated New York-y meal.
Perfect For: pre-Lincoln Center eats, lobster roll lunches, treating business clients