Kevin Liebov is stompin' at The Savoy.
Liebov, formerly chef-proprietor at Merrick's now-closed Nicholas James Bistro, revives and freshens The Savoy Tavern, which had a less-than-memorable debut last year.
This lively spot, though decorated with tributes to the departed Harlem landmark, has about as much to do with the Savoy Ballroom as the ESPN SportsCenter theme does with Chick Webb's band. But the oversize images of the Savoy, the "home of happy feet" that now exists in memory, music and a Lenox Avenue plaque, give the namesake restaurant some jazz.
The setting is showy enough. The Savoy Tavern took over the high-ceiling, polished-wood space once occupied by the Brooks and Porter steak house.
It's suitable. Liebov dramatically improves the food with New American flair and a fondness for homey dishes, too. There's a little of both in a special of braised pork belly, finished with a roasted shallot and a "brûléed" slice of pineapple. The fruit also figures in savory skewers starring charred shrimp and chorizo sausage, accented with a tahini-cucumber-yogurt sauce.
Crisp, panko-crusted lump crabcakes are excellent, served with papaya slaw and chipotle aioli. "BBQ oysters," though challenged by tomatillo salsa, are good. Have them with an order of panelle, a spin on Sicilian-style chickpea fritters. Roasted artichokes, with a coat of toasted breadcumbs; and plump, well-seasoned and sauced meatballs are tasty starters, too. By now, you may be on your second beer on tap, from a diverse and satisfying list.
Peroni, the golden Italian lager, sparks steamed mussels flavored with herbs, mustard, and roast garlic, with a warm pretzel on top. Kale salad makes an obligatory, healthful appearance, with green apple, sun-dried cranberries, manchego cheese and edamame.
Liebov's "tavern classics" take in juicy, roasted chicken with broccoli raab and a roasted potato wedge; and crunchy fish-and-chips, made with cod. Pan-seared soft-shell crabs in a citrus-butter sauce strewn with capers: an essential seasonal, though the hard, sweet potato gnocchi can be a distraction. Soba noodles tossed with an orange-ginger-soy dressing with seaweed are a fine foil for the pan-seared yellowfin tuna.
Pan-roasted Scottish salmon benefits from a honey-and-mustard crust and the company of braised lentils with bacon and arugula; a respectable rib-eye steak, from mashed potatoes, onion rings, asparagus and a hint of red wine.
There's moist carrot cake and tiramisu to conclude. But it's the warm-croissant bread pudding that could get you dancing.