Addendum: I beat Frank Bruni to the punch! I agree with his one-star review of West Branch in today’s Times. He liked the “Cuban,” too!
On account of the snowy weather on Saturday, we decided to “eat locally” by staying on the UWS. First we tried Salumeria Rosi – I was surprised to learn that they take reservations and were booked until 11:00. Noted. Next we moved on to West Branch, Tom Valenti’s new addition to the neighborhood.
At 7:00, the restaurant was packed – the playoffs surely added to the draw as there is a large TV in the bar area. West Branch reserves the tables around the bar (approximately eight) for walk-ins. We were told that the wait would be an hour even though we were first on the list (?). I think the host was a little overwhelmed. A table opened within 15 minutes, but it took a while to clean the table and tell us that the table had opened (which we had known for 10 minutes). I think the entire staff was a little overwhelmed.
We were seated at a table in the overcrowded bar area (walk-in diners can’t be choosers). West Branch is clearly the new place to see and be seen on UWS for the late 30-something crowd. The main dining area looked more civilized (quiet and spacious) than the bar. The menu at West Branch is expansive – ranging from sandwiches to pastas to bistro-style entrees such as steak frites and roast chicken. We opted to start with Italian and move on to sandwiches. Here’s what we ate with my thoughts after the jump:
Neither starter passed the “would you order this again” test – particularly the arancini. In a candid discussion with our waiter (the service was attentive and efficient, which was commendable given that there was barely room to walk in the bar area), I mentioned that I found the arancini lacking (mushy, bland). The arancini were later removed from the bill, which was a nice gesture. Perhaps the waiter was extra diligent because I was taking pictures of the food. The $8 credit slightly mollified my husband, who was mortified that I was taking pictures of our dinner. The things that I do for my readers!
The sandwiches were a major improvement over the starters. My husband’s burger was delicious (if aggressively priced at $16) and he commented on the homemade pickles right away. The fries held their own, too. The “Cuban” was grilled to greasy perfection and the pepperoncini added a lovely twist. We popped in to Magnolia earlier in the day for pumpkin cheesecake so we passed on dessert. Frankly, the restaurant was so chaotic (it took 10 minutes to get our coats) that I was relieved to cut the meal short. All in all, West Branch is a solid new addition to the neighborhood and we look forward to returning.