Saturday evening I met up with my good friend J for dinner at Rachel's, a cozy American restaurant on 9th Avenue in Hell's Kitchen. The place has a large selection of salads and vegetarian options, so I've wanted to come here for a while.
J arrived first and was seated right away at a small table for two, despite a minor glitch with the reservation. By the time I rolled up, there was already bread on the table. After a colorful and enthusiastic recitation of the specials, we placed our order and tucked into the bread. The offering was a large, somewhat dry, glossy-topped and exceptionally flaky roll. The bread itself was not all that noteworthy, but it came with a flavorful sun-dried-tomato spread that tasted vibrantly of garlic. The spread was definitely a nice touch.
The bread took us a while to pack away, giving the kitchen ample time to prepare our dishes. Soon, they arrived at the table with a flourish. J had ordered the mac & cheese (also known, on the menu, as "Mac Cheese and Mac"). It was billed as mac & cheese with aged Vermont cheddar, aged parmesan, and a "macadamia panko crust." In reality, the dish was really just good mac & cheese--piping hot, it must be noted-- but, to be honest, minus the crust. There were a few bread crumbs scattered on top, but I didn't detect any macadamia, and the quantity of bread crumbs was definitely not enough to constitute a "crust." A little disappointing, especially given such prominent billing.
I had ordered a small grilled vegetable plate, easy on the oil. The veggie plate that arrived was indeed small, but I was surprised to see the cook had done it entirely dry (and had thoughtfully provided a small dish of oil on the side). The plate had red peppers, zucchini, squash, eggplant, and two spears of asparagus. Sadly, and this is pretty much my own fault for ordering it light on the oil, these veggies were pretty dry and tasteless. It required a liberal use of the salt shaker for add any flavor at all. I think I should have gone with a salad.
Overall, Rachel's was okay. Seriously, just okay. It was really cheap, which was nice, but the food was pretty average. There are definitely better options in the neighborhood-- Zuni Cafe, just on the next block, is one similar competitor that springs to mind--so I'd pretty much never see a need to return to Rachel's (although their homemade-looking desserts were quite appealing...). If there were half-spatulas, this would definitely be a two-and-a-halfer, but as it is I'm going to have to settle for two Offset Spatulas.
608 9th Ave, between 43rd and 44th Streets