Schiller’s is part of the Keith McNally phenomenon that seems to be one succesful restaurant after another. The ex-pat Brit also owns Balthazar, Pastis, Minetta Tavern, Pulino’s and others. He is an incredibly succesful restaurateur as all the venues that I have visited are endlessly busy.
Balthazar has been a ‘go to’ place for me ever since I first visited NY, serving reliable bistro fare in stylish surroundings. So much so I have often wondered why he has not returned to the country of his birth to recreate some of his magic, (although there are rumours of a Balthazaar outpost in Covent Garden).
All this led me to believe that a Saturday night visit to his Lower East Side (LES) venue could be noting other than a safe bet. As with a lot of places booking is not possible so it’s the first come first served lottery that leads to the long wait times that is common in NY. With my sister in town for the weekend I decided it would be a good idea to hedge our bets, so while we had drinks at Freeman’s and put our name down on their list I also popped down to Schiller’s and got on theirs too. It turned out we had very little chance of getting a table at Freeman’s so after a drink we wandered through the LES to Schiller’s. there is a definite energy about the area and I am sad to admit that it is the first time in 6 yrs I have ventured their on a Saturday night. (No surprise to most)
Once there we were told that our table should be ready any minute so we took in the scene. The place was heaving, with the bar about 4 people deep there were some dodgy looking tables that were engulfed by drinkers. This however did not put us off, it was 10.30pm, we were hungry and the place really did have a great buzz. Once sat we ordered a couple of excellent cocktails and soaked up the classic 80’s soundtrack.
Vodka, lemonade,lime and fresh strawberries
The Delancy, Blackcurrant vodka, lime, mint and grenadine.
The drinks were really good, very strong and tasty, and perfectly accompanied by some seriously cheesy nachos, but this is where the fun ended. The service was pretty average perhaps not a surprise when you take into account how busy the place was, but the food was simply bad. A hamburger was limp, with nothing to make it stand out above a $5 Wendy’s version, the veggie burger was beyond limp, it literally fell to pieces and my steak sandwich was the best of the lot but still far from what I would expect of a McNally venture. We even found ourselves questioning whether the ketchup was Heinz, (it wasnt, although they protested otherwise).
The problem for Schiller’s is that McNally made his name by running very busy operations serving simple but tasty food in a theatrical environment, here the food was bad, and the service sketchy so all you are left with is the atmosphere. In my mind once the other two elements disappear all you are left with is a busy, noisy room.
There really was little point in complaining as I sincerely believed that the food we got was the best they could do in the circumstances, perhaps in a less manic moment the kitchen could get the simple bistro fare right but it strikes me as unlikely. I did speak to the manager and he assured me that it was a one-off and kindly offered us free drinks, however I cannot see myself returning to find out.
Alas at last there is a chink in the McNally armour.
NB. I visited Balthazaar on Monday to remind myself, and while I felt the standards may have slipped a little, it was still a million miles better than Schiller’s.