West Branch: Tom Valenti’s Upper West Side Restaurant
The sad thing is, Tom Valenti could have done just about anything in that big space in the heart of the Upper West Side, and the crowds would have come. Valenti, you see, is something of a culinary hero in these parts, for bringing bold flavors and expertly prepared “low cuts” of meat to a neighborhood that had long been something of food-lover’s wasteland, in the form of his excellent bistro Oeust. After an equally admired stint at Cesca, for a few years serving some of the area’s best Italian, Valenti took over the former Fish’s Eddie spot on a bustling stretch of Broadway, and in the fall of 2008 opened The West Branch. Unfortunately, Valenti forgot to bring his adventurous palate and sense of fun with him for his Upper West Side restaurant.
Tom Valenti’s West Branch Not The Tom Valenti We Know
On a rainy night a couple of weeks ago we finally got around to trying Tom Valenti’s Upper West Side restaurant, and it proved to be perhaps the most dispiriting dining experience of the year. Not that we had such high expectations, either, given the snoozy menu (Roast Half Chicken… Mesclun Salad… Fish and Chips… Smoked Salmon Blini…zzzzzzzz….), the garage-sale, generic decor (oxidized mirrors…. red leather banquettes… dark wood… zzzzzzz….), and the crowd, which leaned heavily towards over-perfumed seniors and well-heeled, long-married couples busy not talking to each other. But still, even at these moderate prices, the food at Tom Valenti’s West Branch disappointed.
The Caesar Salad from Tom Valenti’s West Branch–standard issue romaine, parmesan, sourdough croutons–was soggy and uninspired, lacking any sort of sea-salty anchovy bite. In an attempt to liven things up a bit we also tried the “West Branch ‘Cuban’ Panini”, figuring that if Valenti’s trying to make this a signature sandwich–and charging $14 for it–there’ll be some attention paid. Not so. This was a dull, dry disaster, with no heat (maybe they ran out of the promised hot peppers?), life, or love in any bite, unhelped by the accompanying fresh-out-of-the-bag supermarket chips. Sure, it’s possible that we caught the kitchen, and the crowd, on an off night, but it’s unlikely that we’ll risk Tom Valenti’s West Branch again… especially with the great party Zak Pelaccio and friends are throwing right next door at Fatty Crab.
The West Branch details
The West Branch is located on the corner of Broadway and 77th Street, and is open for lunch on Monday through Friday (11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.), brunch on the weekend (11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.); and dinner every night starting at 5:00 p.m. For more info and a look at the menu, go to the website.