Less trendy and less inspired than some of the city’s other hotel restaurants, The Fourth is nonetheless an easy bet for simple, high quality, clean American cuisine around Union Square.
Much like people we all know, there are some restaurants that succeed moderately in their lives by doing a good job at the minimum required of them to get by. These restaurants have worked out a model of purposeful efficiency that seems to check off all the necessary elements of success without really looking for that ineffable quality of visionary inspiration that make them leaders in their field.
These are the types of restaurants that can be counted on to easily provide a successful, enjoyable meal, but have a hard time courting regulars who aren’t sure what makes the restaurant special.
The Fourth is that type of restaurant. Dishes are executed uniformly well, particularly the Yellowfin Tuna Tartare whose radish, cucumber, and ginger vinaigrette cleanly highlights the subtle, supple flavor of the fish. It might be one of the better versions of the dish crafted in a while, but it feels lost in a menu that rambles on without any creative guiding principles. It leaves the diner with the impression that although this was a good plate of food, it could probably be found anywhere else.
One also has to wonder why the pink salt brick roasted Amish Country chicken is the restaurant’s signature dish, for despite being tender and well seasoned with watercress and a chili-lime vinaigrette, there is nothing exceptional about the plate. It seems to be an ordinary achievement, less special than the demands we make of other signature chicken entrees around the city.
The Grilled NY Strip Steak with crispy fingerling potatoes, watercress, and cipollini onions is another option that is executed almost perfectly, yet lacks any kind of exciting, innovative flourish that would guide the future of cooking in New York. It is regrettable, because one might crave steak on a weekly basis, but there is no reason one would crave the steak prepared at The Fourth.
The high-ceilinged space also mirrors this sleek, parsed-down version of success, with decor and service that hit just enough interesting notes correctly to keep the place in business. The risk here, of course, is that the system may be too efficient to make up for a failure of one element. When it takes 45 minutes after the appetizer course for an entree to arrive, the pleasurable moments earlier in the meal may be forgotten, not special enough to withstand more serious scrutiny.
In a city like New York, we must ask more of our restaurants in order to push the boundaries and the discipline of the industry. It shouldn’t be enough for The Fourth to appeal to the average out-of-towner staying in the hotel above. We must ask for a little controversy in our restaurants, a little passion to ignite cooking that is not vetted by a democratic panel of hotel executives, but is thoughtful and adversarial and instills in us the vivid memory only food can create.
Put another way, The Fourth is a restaurant post-gentrification. There is no authentic charm, no honest, human touch manifested in its work. It is the Starbucks of its kind - good, reliable, neutered, banal. The Fourth has played the game too safely, and when we walk out the door, it leaves us with an experience that will ultimately soon be forgotten.