When one restaurant closes and another opens in the same space, it’s difficult to not compare the two. When the departed restaurant is bc, the comparisons are simply unfair. For those unaware, bc (Al Dente reviews: 1|2) flipped the Syracuse dining scene on its ear when it opened in 2004. It was fine dining with a distinct New York City feel where you planned on a multiple hour stay. There was no rush because quality crafted food takes time, so have another glass of wine. In 2011, bc changed hands. The owners left the day-to-day operations in the hands of someone else, and the restaurant — which was already on a downward slope — finally expired. Such is the life cycle of a restaurant.
Danny Vault came in and purchased the remains, retooling it, and opening the doors in April 2015 as The York. While Vault did not use the term in a 2014 interview with Syracuse.com, The York certainly leans to the gastropub concept. Our visit on July 2 came at the beginning of a long holiday weekend for the restaurant, which meant that the kitchen was “lean,” as our waiter described it.
Whereas bc opted for bright colors, Vault’s aesthetic is very much the opposite. Muted, dark hues cover the walls and tables. The copper ceiling remains, but it and the floor share the same black color, which Vault called industrial chic in his interview with Syracuse Guru. The additions of large lounge tables, and couches signal a shift from fine dining to a more casual atmosphere of quality food and drink.
The sightlines are not the only changes. The long bar that occupied the restaurants western wall lost the curve and seating on its north side, giving way for one of the only year-round raw bars in Syracuse, and draft beer lines now earn space at the remaining section of bar. While there is less emphasis on dining, it is certainly not at the expense of the kitchen or its menu. Raw seafood, locally-sourced charcuterie and a New York State cheeseboard lead off the menu, followed by salads, and first and second courses.
The Wife and I started with raw seafood, simply because we could. The raw bar serves jumbo shrimp, ceviche, calamari salad, king crab, and lobster, as well as littleneck clams and four different types of oysters. The Wife and I started with a half-dozen clams and a dozen Malpeque oysters, served on the half shell. Our large steel tray of ice came with our shucked shells, mignonette, a very mild clam sauce, and grated horseradish to punch things up. They didn’t last long. The fish tasted exceptionally fresh, which is a concern that lives in the back of my head as a diner eating from a raw bar that is six hours from the nearest shoreline. The Wife and I stared off in jealousy as an adjacent table received their seafood plateau, featuring a little bit of everything from the raw bar.
Our waiter, Mike, delivered house cured pickle spears as an amuse bouche, and explained that there were no specials that evening as the kitchen was taking a long weekend for the holiday. Leaving us to the first and second courses, The Wife and I went in different directions. She chose something from the entree menu, whereas I ordered two items from the first course. Mike went out of his way to pace dishes coming out of the kitchen and accommodate our requests. The Wife was able to substitute cauliflower and potatoes for the summer squash in her scallop entree as she continues to boycott yellow vegetables.
My bone marrow came out first. Presented in the cavity of a large, halved bone, the marrow was scraped from the bone, roasted, poached to remove impurities, then sauteed with onion jam. It was piped back into the bone, broiled with gorgonzola and bread crumbs, and served with a cranberry-apple chutney and crostini. Marrow typically tastes like beef and salt, but the mixture of onion jam added a sweetness to the salty, savory marrow. The Wife, put off by the gelatinous texture, was happy that I was happy but I could tell was not interested in watching me eat. Nonetheless, the marrow might be the best dish on the menu.
Mussels are served two ways at The York: white and red. White mussels are cooked in white wine, shallot, bacon, gorgonzola and spinach. My red mussels were cooked in tomato broth with chorizo, cream, onion and cream, and presented in a mini steam pot. About 15 mussels, all open, were perfectly cooked and grabbed all the flavor of the spicy sausage. When the crostini was gone, I found myself slurping the broth from the pot.
Three jumbo sea scallops were presented in a chimichurri sauce with The Wife’s choice of roasted cauliflower and carrots instead of summer squash and zucchini. She said the scallops were just done, snapping against the fork and resisting the pressure of the fork. She reported that the chimmichurri had a nice flavor without overwhelming.
We skipped dessert, though not because the menu was not appealing. We were just perfectly full.
It is unfair to compare The York with bc, as they are two starkly different restaurant experiences. Owner Danny Vault is working hard to create an upscale atmosphere that runs away from labels like gastropub or fine dining. He has exceeded bc in terms of service, as Mike was attentive, helpful and knowledgable. The servers, kitchen, and runners were all in sync, a problem that plagued bc towards the end.
We try really hard as consumers to label things based on the style of cooking or the menu’s design, but what we end up doing is missing the details and touches of craftsmanship applied by the kitchen. But, if you want to compare The York with its predecessor, they share one important common thread: they changed/will change the direction of CNY dining.
The York is located at 247 W. Fayette St. in Syracuse’s Armory Square. It is open for dinner and drinks Tuesday through Sunday, though reservations are not accepted. Dinner for two with drinks was $138 with tip.