Match Uptown Crowded, Noisy, But the Food Is Thrilling

Given what has happened lately in Far East markets, only the most robust Wall Street executives are in the mood for Asian food these days, not to mention caviar. At Match Uptown, the latter comes in a martini glass, spooned onto clear, chilled consommé that looks like Jell-O. Instead of artificial strawberry or raspberry, however, the flavor is genuine tomato, with a subtle undercurrent of lemongrass, and the dish is topped not with Reddi Wip and a maraschino cherry, but with crème fraîche and chives. Like so much of the cooking, it is both intriguing and a surprise.

At first glance, however, Match Uptown would seem to be more about a scene than about food. The bar and lounge are packed with a very different crowd from the original Match in SoHo: fewer jeans and combat boots, more suits and leather pants and expensively dressed Europeans with out-of-season tans, the sort of people you see spilling out of Ferrier, La Goulue, Le Taxi, Le Bilboquet, Le Relais and other, similar bistros in this neighborhood.

On a recent evening, we plowed our way through the Match throng to a corner table in the main dining room, a few steps down to the right, separated by a low wall from the bar. Looking across the line of people packed in along the banquette, I saw rows of martini glasses glowing in the candlelight before them.

“What’s that you are drinking?” a stranger asked a woman sitting at the table next to him, whose cocktail was as pink as the color of her suit.

“Absolut and cranberry juice,” she replied. “Want a taste?”

He did, and soon the two tables were engaged in animated conversation.

The very noisy dining rooms are done up simply: blond wood, brick walls, tilted mirrors, tan banquettes and burgundy chairs, with soft lighting. In one corner of the main room is a small sushi bar.

“A clever idea to serve sushi,” said my companion as we looked at the menu. “It’s for the people who aren’t here to eat, but feel they should have something.”

Too bad if they stick only to sushi, because the rest of the food is so much more interesting since owners Bill Gilroy and Peter Fay (who also co-own Match downtown and Granville) hired Gary Robins in August. I first tasted Mr. Robins’ cooking when he was executive chef at Aja in the Flatiron district, and found it thrilling. He makes, as Dr. Johnson said of the writing of Alexander Pope, the familiar new. He uses Asian spices, herbs and cooking styles with American ingredients to create complex, original dishes, cleverly balanced in taste and texture.

Dim sum arrived on a three-tiered cake rack so high you could barely see over the top. They included a spicy, moist chicken satay with a peanut dipping sauce; samosas made with ground lamb mixed with chilis, yogurt and cilantro stuffed in flaky pastry (much better than those you get in the average Indian restaurant); and summer rolls filled with an exotic mixture of poached salmon, avocado, grilled shiitake mushrooms, cabbage and glass noodles, with an orange-chili dipping sauce.

A mound of spicy tuna tartare with slices of avocado, sesame and daikon arrived on a heap of crunchy rice cakes. Ceviche made with sliced scallops marinated in lemongrass and citrus was also served with perfectly ripe sliced avocado, along with seaweed and cucumber. Sautéed prawns in a spicy orange and sesame glaze were paired with chilled somen noodles and asparagus topped with a quail egg. (The prawns were so big and meaty, you wanted to do the Cajun thing and suck out the head.)

Mr. Robins’ main courses were no less exciting. Cod, brushed with five-spice chili oil, roasted and served in a fennel broth with spinach, sweet corn and leeks, had a serious intensity of flavor, with a dash of rice vinegar pulling the whole thing together. All we needed was spoons. Tuna was also delicious, with pickled daikon, asparagus-enoki salad and a vivid roasted red pepper miso.

Lamb chops with grilled morels were a veritable stack of flying buttresses, piled up on a bed of steamed spinach with parsnip-hazelnut purée and mango pickle. Seared duck breast in a five-spice crust was cut in meaty, rare chunks like steak, and served with a pleasant lemongrass-peach dipping sauce, creamy corn custard and a springlike choice of vegetables: fennel, peas and morels.

For dessert, there was warm chocolate cake with a scoop of banana-passion fruit sorbet melting on top, and blueberry spring rolls with sour-cream ice cream and pineapple dipping sauce. But the winner was the mango sundae, which was like no other sundae I have ever had. It consisted of coconut ice cream and mango sorbet divided by layers of tamarind-lime sauce with kaffir lime leaf, chili-macadamia praline, dried and fresh mango, faintly scented with cinnamon. The combination of hot and cold, spicy and sweet was extraordinary. “I’m not sure about the praline chunks,” said my companion, tasting it cautiously. “They could take you from the problem of 29-plus dental work to the problems of 49-plus denture work in one bite.”

I didn’t care. I simply couldn’t stop eating.

At the end of dinner, we were given a cookie plate that included homemade fortune cookies. In one was a quote from Pablo Picasso: “Everything is a miracle. It is a miracle that one does not dissolve in one’s bath like a lump of sugar.”

Feeling somewhat bemused, we paid our bill and elbowed our way out through the crowd at the bar.

Match Uptown **

33 East 60th Street 906-9177

Dress: Euro-chic

Noise Level: High

Wine List: Unusual, with some good deals

Credit Cards: All major

Price Range: Lunch main courses $14.50 to $25.50; dinner $22.50 to $29.50

Brunch: Sunday 11:30 A.M. to 3 P.M.

Lunch: Monday to Saturday 11:30 A.M. to 3 P.M., late lunch to 5:30 P.M.

Dinner: Sunday and Monday 6 P.M. to midnight, Tuesday to Saturday 6 P.M. to 2 A.M.

* good

** very good

*** excellent

**** outstanding

no star poor