Nyla. That's right, Britney Spears's restaurant

Joined May 26, 2001
It is with some trepidation that I announce to the world that last night, at my instigation, Paul and I ate dinner at Nyla.

It was, as I’m sure you can all imagine, a pretty strange experience. But not necessarily for the reasons you imagine.

First, a bit about us (if you don't yet know): mid-50s; not at all buff; Paul is not the least bit up on popular culture (okay, to be honest, he's a real snob), and I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Ms. Britney “sing.”

We arrived sometime between 7:30 and 8:00pm, with no reservation. The (under-age-looking) hostesses at the desk greeted us nicely enough. Seemed a bit lost as to what to do with us, but decided on a table upstairs, to which we were led. Alas, the table was within a direct blast of the AC system, so I asked if for another. Some consternation on the part of the hostess, but she led us to the opposite end of the balcony. This table was under a speaker, but at least not within reach of the arctic blasts. And it had a clear view of the main floor dining area and the “Georgia O’Keeffe” (oh, really??) projections. The entire place was occupied no more than half. Quite a few tables appeared to be populated by pre-pubescent girls with parents and/or grandparents.

Waited about 5 to 10 minutes until a server showed up. Got menus and drinks/wine list. Looked over the lists. The food actually seemed fairly serious, with a heavy emphasis on southern/New Orleans ingredients and techniques, fused with “trendy” stuff – such as a selection of “sushi rolls” including the “po’ boy” with fried oysters. I had the impression that it was mired in the late 1980s or early ‘90s. Where has the chef been for the last 10 years? Prices: around $8 to $12 for apps; most entrees in the mid-to-high teens, with one or 2 over $20. All cocktails $10; wines in a moderate range. What I could not understand was the “Bottle Service” – in which, say, Chivas was listed at $275 or so. This I do not get.

Anyway, after dropping the menus and asking what water we’d like, the server took another break. He finally came back, answered our questions about menu items with reasonable assurance, and took our order. Oh, yes, somewhere in there he took our drinks order, and those arrived with sufficient expedience. I had a Raspberry Mojito, Paul had a Caipirinha. Both tasted as if the bar had no access to sugar – but actually that was fine, we prefer tart to sweet. Quite enjoyable, in fact; my mojito was not the usual forest of mint, and had about 4-5 fresh raspberries in the glass.

After ordering (including a 1998 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir, $49), we sipped our drinks, looked down on the dining room, and tried to catch the ambience of the place. I haven’t seen so much burnt orange since the mid-1970s. I suppose the swaths of sheer fabric around the columns and across the ceiling are supposed to “soften” the look of the room. Didn’t. The music was mostly unidentifiable by us – generic rock? slushy faux-jazz? – and loud.

What, you must be wondering, was the food like? We wondered that a lot, too. Especially during the 45 minutes we nibbled on the just-okay bread and waited for our apps (Crabmeat Gumbo with Andouille; Lobster Salad with Fried Green Tomato and Tomato Jam). Oh, the waiter looked shocked each time he appeared and saw that we had nothing. And several times promised to “go downstairs himself” if a runner didn’t show up soon. At about the half-hour mark, I said, “Please tell me the truth, what is taking so long?” He explained that the kitchen got slammed around that time – just after 8:00pm, and had to fill all the orders for room service as well, and there were so many tables, and … which might have been understandable if the place had been more than half-full. But, then how long have they been open? Maybe the expo will learn better pacing.

After several more shocked looks, just as I asked yet again where our food might be, he spied the runner coming up the stairs. By now it was close to 9PM. I suggested that he fire our entrees right then, since we really did not plan on staying all night. The gumbo was quite good – lots of very sweet lump crabmeat, hot but not overpowering spice, a very rich-tasting and –feeling broth, and jasmine rice; it seemed a bit oversalted at first, but either I got used to it, or the spice took over. The lobster salad was not as successful: fresh but tasteless lobster; heavy breading on the slice of green tomato (not greasy, though); the squiggles of yellow-tomato oil and green-tomato jam on the plate were the best part.

Similar spottiness with the entrees: the Duck and Wild Mushroom Etoufee had delicious mushrooms and other vegetables, but the duck, however plentiful, had very little flavor. The Roasted Pork Chop itself was excellent: ever so slightly smoky in flavor, lean but juicy, cooked still a bit pink. The sautéed southern greens with it (a mix) were totally unseasoned, but properly cooked and had enough butter on them to make up the flavor. I was sure the menu listed “potato puree” but it turned out to be a potato and parsnip puree. Very sweet, and very cloying after a few mouthfuls. The molasses something-or-other sauce was, fortunately, barely noticeable. Once the wine had enough air, it was all right, neither more nor less.

The dessert we ordered – lemon-ginger pound cake, with whipped crème fraiche and basil honey looked like another throwback to the 1980s: a tower of 5 triangles of cake, held together by globs of … (part of the story), with slices of star fruit artfully dangling off, on a plate squiggled with the green honey and sprinkled with tiny bits of chopped fruit. The cake had an excellent pound cake texture (I like mine a bit heavy), but no discernable lemon or ginger flavor. The globs were clearly NOT whipped crème fraiche, but rather seemed to be the cream cheese frosting promised on the Red Devil cake. The honey was the best thing on the plate, and I am not a fan of honey – but this tasted fully of basil. The decaf coffee was tasty but weak.

When I mentioned to the server that it was NOT whipped crème Fraiche, he whisked away the (unfinished) plate with a promise to deal with it. I saw him talking to a management type. They ended up taking it off our bill. Eventually.

Overall assessment: Whom do they expect to eat here??? The food is way too sophisticated for BS’s prime fans (the little girls, and wet-dreaming boys). Trend-followers can only take a place so far, until the next trendy place opens. Serious eaters will likely be put off by the noise and the pretension of dishes that just miss. And of course, unless the kitchen gets its act together, no one will be happy. At least the prices are not outrageous (except for those bottles…??).

PS. I’m posting this same story on several boards, so if you read it on one, don’t bother to read it on others.
Joined Mar 4, 2000
I enjoy reading your review. I probably wouldn't dine there, with so many other great restaurant choices out there, but now I know, if the opportunity arises, not to bother. Where is it? I assume it's part of a hotel, because there's room service?
Joined May 26, 2001
It's in the Dylan Hotel, on E. 41st St. between Madison and Park, which was originally built as the Chemists' Club. Nyla replaces Virot, Chef Didier Virot's restaurant -- he used to be Jean-Georges Vongerichten's chef de cuisine before he opened his own place.

The "room service" thing seemed strange to me, because when I was (briefly) at An American Place after it relocated to the Benjamin Hotel, r.s. was pretty much a separate operation. And at another restaurant located in a hotel (which shall remain nameless because I will never see the $1200 they owe me in bounced paychecks), r.s. also was no big burden on the kitchen. My guess is just that they are still working out the many, many kinks. I kind of hope they do, because the food WAS promising. Well, we'll see.
Joined Aug 14, 2000
>>with a heavy emphasis on southern/New Orleans ingredients and techniques,<<

I may be stating known info but NyLa is short for New York/Louisianna. Young Brittany grew up down on the bayou :)
Joined May 26, 2001
Gee, Kyle, you'd think in all those words I'd have mentioned that. But you're right, I didn't. Thanks for filling in that blank, because it explains a lot about the food. At least they don't serve roast nutria. But if they serve fresh mudbugs in season, I'm gonna go back and give them another chance!
Joined Nov 29, 2001
...who was more than a little curious having seen mention of the restaurant on some news websites.

I'm not surprised. I'm sure this restaurant has little or nothing to do with Britney Spears, save for her bankbook. She might have done better with a restaurant that serves food she grew up with made by non-shee-shee people. With the cajun accent of some of the dishes (i.e. duck etoufee) I checked on her website and she was born in Louisiana. Wouldn't she have been better off simply offering absolutely killer dead-on New Orleans/Cajun/Louisiana cuisine prepared by a well-respected chef who might sound a lot like Justin Wilson?? What's better? To have your name on a mediocre "shee-shee" attempt at a restaurant with architectural assemblances of so-so food; or a successful, well-attended "down home" place where you leave full, happy and ready to tell your friends?? A big DUH for her business manager...
Joined Jul 15, 2002
You mentioned a Georgia O'Keefe piece, however besides that, on what sort of theme did the restaurant seem to run? Was it trendy and sort of "bubble gum" looking, with Britney aspired motifs?
Joined May 26, 2001
First: Welcome, Flirfette! (I just LOVE saying your name!!)

That's a very good question, and I don't think Bobby Ochs and the others behind the place have an answer. Physically, it's a pre-built place that's been gussied-up. Originally it was the ballroom of The Chemist's Club; then "Virot" and now Nyla. There is a very high ceiling, and stately columns with beautiful caps -- but these are obscured by swooping swaths of sheer metallic fabric. I assume they wanted to "soften" the look of the place; but to my eye, all they did was hide the architectural details.

The trendiness comes at the bar, and the metal meshwork staircase (with DJ station on the landing, half-way up). Bubble-gum? Oh, no -- they seem to want this to be a serious restaurant. The only Britney-inspiration I could determine was that it's "not yet a grownup" place; still in that stage of late adolescence when it doesn't yet know what it wants to be when it grows up, but it wants to be considered grown up NOW. Does that make sense? If not, don't worry; neither does Nyla.

That said, the food still was better than I expected (except the desserts). If they can only decide on their concept -- sans the BS references -- they might make a go of it.
Joined Jul 31, 2000
Accourding to my 12 year old daughter and her girl friend who dined at Nyla's Thursday evening before going to see 42nd street,The best part of the restaurant was the lady in the bathroom who handed them warm towels..enough said,all was not lost..the show was fantastic and Friday lunch at Alices Tea room was a lot of fun for them
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