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Restaurant Review: The Vanderbilt

Sharing is caring, and nothing beats ordering lots of small (and large) plates to share over quality cocktails and craft beers at the Vanderbilt.

The Vanderbilt is located on the rapidly gentrifying stretch of Prospect Heights along Vanderbilt (naturally) Avenue.  The space is rather large for the neighborhood with high tables in the front, a bar in the middle and more traditional tables with chairs and banquettes in the back.  Try to get a table in the back.  It’s cozier and your back will thank you.  There is also seating outside during the warmer month.

Upon entering, we were greeted by a friendly hostess who seated us immediately even though our party wasn’t complete.  Hint: the place is a bit of a scene the later the night gets, so if you get there around 7:00 pm, you’ll get a table before the restaurant gets too packed.

Part of the reason the place becomes a late night scene is the cocktail list.  If you are looking to get hammered a la recent college graduates living in Murray Hill, these aren’t the cocktails for you.  While a bit on the pricey side, the drinks follow the current cocktail trend of showing off craftsmanship with good ingredients.  There is also a good list of craft beers and wines if you want something a bit lighter.

We ordered a number of items to share from the hors d’oeuvres, small plates and large plates sections of the menu.  One of the table’s favorites was the Serrano ham croquettes.  A crispy yet light outside crust gave way to an oozy, cheesy goodness on the inside with a salty, porky finish.  A tomato salad (that has since been replaced with a more seasonal fall salad with sweet potato and faro) was a nice accompaniment.

The steamed baby blue island clams were also another fan favorite.  The little clams were cooked just right — salty and sweet bursts of tender clam in every bite that reminded one of being at the beach.  The broth was just as delicious with some heat from red chili flakes.  We kept getting refills on bread until it was all sopped up.

The crispy pork belly with green papaya salad received good praise for its nod to the Southeast Asian balance of salty, sweet, sour and bitter.  The pork belly’s crisp outside gave way to a velvety soft inside.  The accompanying green papaya salad added great contrast with texture and brightness from the citrus.  The underlying fish sauce tied the pork and salad together.

We also tried some other dishes including the duck rillette and the brandade spread.  While both were satisfactory, they did not measure up to the other dishes.  I think they were both lacking that particular “oomph” one expects from such dishes.  It seems the other ingredients in the dishes masked any potential for more potent duck and brandade flavors to come through.

Service was attentive and friendly throughout the meal.  Water was refilled constantly (full disclosure: one of my pet peeves is having to ask for water to be refilled in restaurants) and they brought us as much bread as we wanted to slop up all the yummy sauces on the dishes.

If you want to check out what a fantastic neighborhood Prospect Heights is (and its potential for future growth) or just want to share a fun meal with friends, head down to the Vanderbilt for a fine evening out.

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