Standing apart from the fast-food ethnic and pizza eateries on Third Avenue between 74th and 75th Streets “TBar is a magnet for good food and good service,” said Marius, the general manager at the restaurant. “It’s nice to see new faces in here as well as the faithful customers who dine with us for four- to five days a week,” he reported. “Tony Fortuna [the owner], personally greets his customers and makes sure the restaurant is running smoothly, and that his patrons are enjoying themselves,” he concluded. A shimmering glass panel separates the contemporary well-stocked bar from the comfortable dining room and lounge, where a baffled ceiling keeps noise to a minimum.
Marius told us TBar was once the Lenox Room before Tony Fortuna took it over in 2008 and redesigned the restaurant with a fashionable concept in mind. Circling the dining room is a cushioned, patterned banquette, above which at the rear is a stylized Asian wall mural. Dazzlingly white table cloths, soft votive candles on tables and indirect amber lighting create a space that glows. Regulars who have lived in the neighborhood for decades, after “fivers” and small and family groups prefer this room.
Above the left banquette, two rows of Ceramica and a row of wine glasses delineate the dining room from the lounge. Large fresh flower arrangements flank the steps that lead to the lounge, which draws young businesspeople who find the intimate space conducive to meeting for a “drink and a bite” or for a full dinner. “The bar becomes very lively toward the evening,” said Marius. Still, attentive service brings an old-world charm to the restaurant, no matter what the hour.
Even though my guest and I arrived early on a Tuesday evening, TBar filled up quickly – a sign the food is good. Executive chef Ben Zwicker (formerly with Petrossian, Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco), worked directly with Tony Fortuna to develop what to serve and how to present it. Evident in the kitchen and at the table are nuances of flavor and texture; a sweet fish or meat is paired with savory sauces or side dishes.
We began our dining experience with a pizza for the table. The light layer of tangy tomato sauce and slightly salty mozzarella cheese topped the wafer thin, crisp crust of the pizza Margherita ($19). It was hard to believe a pizza could be that delicious.
More hard-to-resist appetizers followed with Market Oysters ($24). The six small, perfectly shaped Long Island beauties have their own unique flavor profile. Migmoette, cocktail sauce and fresh lemon juice accompanied these delightful mollusks.
The subtle, delicately cubed yellowfin tuna tartar ($22) was served with soy, ginger, black pepper and sesame seed oil and then sprinkled with chives that balanced the smooth dressing on the slightly tangy frieza. Four perfectly tender tiger shrimp ($20) were served with a delightfully piquant cocktail sauce. The basket of bread was warm, crusty and delicious. Upon request, a small bottle of delicious extra virgin olive oil was brought to the table. I’d have liked to try the seared Spanish octopus ($18), which was served with potatoes, celery and olives, but that appetizer will wait for another visit. We washed down the appetizers with Sancerre, Pierre Jolivet, 2014 white wine ($18 glass).
For our entrées the Mediterranean Branzino ($33) was as fresh-tasting as it had just been caught. Grilled and served on a bed of tomatoes, olives and capers the flesh was firm, flaky and delicate. Chef Zwicker complemented the sweetness of the Brazino with a caramelized fennel root.
The boned free range chicken ($28) drizzled with jus was minimally seasoned with a hint of cinnamon. It was succulent, moist and tender. It was served with mash potatoes and braised carrots.
The Desserts bring out the kid in the most sophisticated customer. Mounds of bananas between layers of coconut wafers topped with a caramel broulee make the Banana Parfait Mille Feuilles ($20) a sweet ending to a perfect meal. Still, there’s no dessert richer and gooier than a Strawberry Sunday ($20). The shortcake on the bottom is infused in Gran Marnier, layered with whipped cream, smooth, creamy vanilla ice cream, and topped with a marangue.
TBar is located at 1278 Third Avenue in Manhattan (212-772-0404), e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Lunch and Brunch are served Monday to Sunday from 11:30am to 2:30pm, Dinner is served Monday to Saturday from 5:00pm to 10:30pm. Sunday dinner is served from 5:00pm to 9:30pm. Reservations are recommended.