Butter, the chic Lower East Side nighttime destination, has been the setting of various scenes and episodes in the catty TV drama, Gossip Girl. This is fitting.
The focus of Butter, tucked away on Lafayette, just south of Astor Place, is not the food nor the atmosphere, however charming either may be. It’s the people, and more specifically, it’s you showing off to all the other people. Eyes discretely follow every individual entering the restaurant, observing and critiquing who they’re with and what they’re wearing. I was seated next to a group of eight young runway models, each easily seven feet tall in heels.
The food at Butter is enjoyable, presented nicely in white dishes made of clean lines and curves. Buttery biscuits refresh the bread basket with a slight spicy zing, and are served with a soft, lemon-shaped butter pat. The crudite plate features a velvety pate on crunchy toast, but fail to impress overall. The shrimp appetizer features both steamed and fried shrimp, playing nicely together, and the duck entree pairs well with its bed of lentils. The pork entree is a stand-out: delicious, juicy on the inside and crispy on the out, though its bed of nondescript greens is not to its benefit. Side dishes of crispy-yet-soft collard greens and white beans topped with an intriguing mixture of sweet and savory spices are both hits. Dessert’s beignets (glorified jelly donuts) are soft, golden and deliciously messy with creme anglais. The chocolate cake, however, is bitter beyond liking and no longer warm, with icing that stubbornly sticks to itself instead of oozing.
The service is horrifying. Our table was forgotten. Our waitress informed us that the chef was taking a long time because she was very particular and wanted things to be just so. (I find this to be more self-importance than attentiveness to the wants of a customer.) A manager came to our table, not to apologize or to check on us, but to ask our table to be moved out of the way to make room for another guest in a large party to our left. In Applebee’s, this might be acceptable behavior; in Butter, the standard should be set higher (since the prices clearly have been.)
Ultimately, Butter acts just as a Gossip Girl character would: it is beautiful, tempting, fickle and self-important, willing to both give and take at its whim. The food and the atmosphere are dangled as carrots, but if you do not make the cut for any fickle reason, they are suddenly whisked away, and you feel like a spectacle for the beautiful people to laugh at or ignore. Such characteristics are better suited to late-night TV tween series, not to cuisine.