Argent | Restaurant review
Can a few star chefs save the restaurant in the Dana Hotel?
Since 2008, the Dana Hotel has been home to some of the most awkward restaurants in the city. This was partially a conceptual problem: The first restaurant in the hotel was called Aja, though the food did not improve. There were execution problems for sure, but Aja (and Ajasteak) also had the cards stacked against it. The restaurant was terribly awkward: It started narrow and bulged out as you walked through it, and it felt as if you were eating in the hotel’s lobby. A stairway in the middle of the room led to a sushi bar, but it was never quite clear whether diners were allowed up there. Or whether they should want to be up there. Because we certainly didn’t want to be down here.and was a mash-up of sushi and rib eyes, neither of which was done well. Later, that restaurant chopped off the steaks: It became just
Argent is an entirely new restaurant with a lot of people to its name, most notably Jackie Shen, executive chef, and Rodelio Aglibot, culinary director (Toni Motamen, a co-owner, is listed as a third chef). But it still grapples with the same anti–dining room that its predecessors did. Thankfully, in this weather, you can eat outside. And that fact might be what saves this restaurant from suffering the same fate as Aja. Because the food is pretty good here, and if people get hooked on it while eating outdoors, they may be willing to come back for it once the awful interior is the only option.
That upstairs sushi bar? It’s still there. Only now, it’s a raw bar with its own menu that increases the dinner offerings by about 40 percent (making a big menu even bigger, and a little unwieldy). From this menu I ordered some unremarkable but solid salmon maki and a superb piece of “special” hamachi sashimi (it was folded into something of a fish flower and presented with sliced jalapeño). The oysters I ordered were just okay, but a little later in my meal I would have oysters again, prepared Rockefeller as the supporting cast to a very tender, very delicious skirt steak that’d been soaked in a sharp-sweet soy concoction. These oysters—cooked, not raw—fared better.
Vaguely nostalgic foodstuffs make up the rest of Argent’s menu. There’s an entire section of the menu dedicated to S.O.S., a term that hearkens to woebegone army days but that nevertheless is a tacky image to conjure on a document that is supposed to make people hungry. (Besides, soldiers should be so lucky as to eat the decadent lobster toast from this section.) There are Waldorf salads, and popovers that taste as if they’ve been baked in the morning and reheated for your antipleasure. There’s a perfect roast chicken, and notably tender scallops that ultimately are overly rich. And there’s a moon pie. Some Southerners have fond feelings for the packaged moon pies, which sandwich marshmallow and cake. I’m no Southerner, and I think the things taste awful. Argent’s version is only slightly better, and I couldn’t help but note an irony when eating it: This restaurant is finally getting away from this space’s unfortunate past. Why not focus on the future?