The Red Cat
 
 

Everybody’s favorite in far west Chelsea

By James Oliver Cury

Many successful New York restaurants start off with a bang, only to fizzle out in a few years—or less. The story of The Red Cat follows quite the opposite path. After opening in 1999 to slight acclaim, it steadily gained a loyal local following, and today it’s a crowd-pleasing, sure-thing kind of spot. Having survived and thrived through the rise of Chelsea, it has found its identity by straddling two worlds. Polished but not fancy. Fresh-ingredient-forward but never trend-driven.

The décor echoes this dichotomy: worn wood plank floors, scuffed wood chairs, and wainscoting evoke taverns of yore, though the art on the walls screams modern. The front of house, with full bar at right, feels casual, while the back area with banquettes comes off as more formal.

Executive chef Michael Cooperman—who honed his chops at Lever House, Le Bernardin, and The Modern—layers multiple flavors in a menu of simple-sounding Mediterranean-ish dishes. Of the 14 appetizers, the healthy-but-delicious hit is the quick sauté of zucchini with toasted almonds and Pecorino, which is so popular that the servers will gladly give you a recipe card if you like.

Scottish salmon crudo deftly balances what might otherwise be overpowering ingredients, like trout caviar, sea beans, wild rice, and mustard seed vinaigrette. Diners with meatier appetizer appetites should try the steak tartare or chicken liver and foie gras terrine.
The pan-seared calves’ liver gets plenty of press as the iconic main course, but Cooperman’s chicken—with thrillingly crisp skin, potato puree, arugula, salsa verde, and grilled lemon—is the real scene stealer. He also takes a conventionally unspectacular fish—skate—and transforms it into an incredibly moist, flakey delicacy, perfectly paired with a brown-butter sauce atop a bed of snow peas, carrots, and chard.

The drinks menu takes its cues from the food: wide selection, European accents, adventurous pairings. Bottles come mostly from France and Italy, with a little California, and they also offer almost a dozen half-bottles for those not ready to commit to the full 750ml. Small but meaningful touches elevate the cocktails—even the non-alcoholic ones. Gin fans will enjoy how the Red King pairs the spirit with grapefruit, lemon, cocchi bianco (aperitif wine), and a radish slice.

As a final seal of approval for the “local spot makes good,” the prices are still quite reasonable for the neighborhood, and the portions generous. If that still doesn’t say enough about the mutual love affair with the locals, consider this: Management tried to remove a dessert from the menu—the pistachio semifreddo with fudge brownie and chocolate sauce—but when the neighbors made a scene, they brought it right back, for good.

hours

dinner: Mon–Sat 5 PM–11 PM; Sun 5 PM–10 PM
lunch: Mon–Fri noon–2:30 PM
brunch: Sat–Sun 11:30 PM–2:45 PM

price range

$24 (summer risotto) to $39 (grilled skirt steak)
x