I don’t usually go to celebrity restaurants. Unfair though it may be, I associate them with average food, higher prices, and a willingness to coast on the name of a disinterested star who was willing to slap their name onto the outside of the establishment. I’m in New York after all, and why would I sit with the tourists at Mickey Mantle’s or Don Schula’s or Michael Jordan’s when I just go to Keens and get an infinitely better meal for around the same price — and sit next to Teddy Roosevelt’s pipe to boot? However, I’m nothing if not a sucker for something marketed seemingly directly at me, so when legendary Knicks court general Walt “Clyde” Frazier appended his name to a Hell’s Kitchen eatery, my interest was piqued — first because I love Clyde, and second because it wasn’t a steakhouse.
I grew up in a state where college basketball rules with an iron fist and the nearest professional team was five hours away in Chicago, but it being the time it was, we remote Kentucky kids still picked NBA and ABA favorites dazzling enough to shine through the curtain of Cats and Cards basketball (OK, OK…and the Hilltoppers too…barely). Dr. J, Larry Bird, Magic, Kareem, UK star turned Phoenix Suns luminary Kyle Macy — the usuals. For me, though, Clyde was The Man, even if I’d never seen him play (no cable TV back then). Just looking at him in Sports Illustrated or The Sporting News, decked out in an assortment of cutting edge fashion when he wasn’t in the signature NBA tiny shorts, made me a fan.
Years and years later, thanks to a brief article in an issue of the Beastie Boys’ much-missed magazine Grand Royal, I learned that Walt wrote a book — “Rockin’ Steady: A Guide to Basketball and Cool.” With choice quotes like “I slap cologne all over my body; lookin’ good, smellin’ fine” I knew it was something I’d have to track down. Luckily, my dad was one step ahead of me and managed to find a copy –signed, no less — to give me as a Christmas present (it still occupies a prominent spot on my bookshelf). The book is fantastic, with Walt musing on everything from trouser length to cravats to how to show a fine lady a good time to how to guard Larry Bird. When I moved to New York, I was pleased to see Walt was still Clyde, though that cowskin blazer? Don’t know about that one, man.
So Walt opening a restaurant? Yeah, that would be worth breaking my “no celebrity restaurant” rule for the first time in decades (the only other time I broke it was when I lived in Florida and went to a restaurant owned by WWF tag team The Bushwackers, but that is another story). So some friends and I made the trip up the west side of Manhattan to see what Clyde Frazier’s Wine and Dine Restaurant was dishing out.
The place is huge, first of all, with the restaurant and bar consuming the entire length of a city block. The interior is modern had has such subtle touches as giant pillars with fifteen foot tall pictures of modern-day Clyde in his most outrageous ensembles. The walls are covered with massive murals of Frazier from his playing days. Even the bathrooms (single occupancy with full doors — or what we like to call “sex havin’ bathrooms”) are camouflaged by giant pictures of Walt. It’s like eating in a future designed by Walt Frazier (who should totally design mankind’s future anyway). Totally ridiculous, over the top, and utterly perfect. You want to eat at Walt Frazier’s place and have it be tasteful and understated? This place is Clyde, pulling off glitz and audacious fashion that would look tacky on anyone else.
The menu is pretty eclectic. David Waltuck, former chef of Chanterelle, created the menu, and while one could say it lacks any sort of sense, jumping from one style of food to the next with alarming unpredictability, I wasn’t bothered by the lack of cohesion. Like I said, for once a sports guy hasn’t opened a steakhouse, and since a place like this will attract everyone from adventurous diners to sports fans to families to refugees from the Javitz Center looking for something more satisfying than the convention center’s overpriced school cafeteria pizza, I can understand why the menu tries to cover as many bases (sorry, wrong sport) as it can. Anyway, the proof would be in the food.
For appetizers, the table went with potato knishes with sweet and spicy mustard and chive crème fraîche (high falutin’ I know, but this is Clyde!), fried calamari with chipotle aioli, and crispy sweet & spicy chicken wings. Any preconceived bias I had about this being average food was quickly dispelled. Clyde’s wasn’t messing around. We’re not talking the finest of fine dining here, but everything was good enough that you can measure Clyde’s against actual restaurants rather than against Times Square tourist traps like Planet Hollywood or Hard Rock or…are any of those even still open? whatever the case, Clyde’s outpaces them like a speedy guard running circles around a lumbering center. After a pear & endive salad with walnuts and gorgonzola cheese and a round of cocktails named after famous Walt Frazier rhymes (I had the Winning & Grinning — like many restaurant cocktails they tend toward fruity and sweet but will do in a pinch), we moved on to entrees.
Every interview I’d read with Walt before coming to the restaurant featured him talking about the blackened Scottish salmon with vanilla-bourbon butter. The man would not shut up about the salmon, so I figured I better have the salmon. A little heavy on the vanilla-bourbon butter but tasty. Since the menu is so skittish, you can find something that’ll suit pretty much everyone: po’ boys, pizzas, burgers, pasta, roasted chicken, and yes — even a New York Strip steak (he can’t let MJ have all the fun). There’s nothing subtle or complex about the food, but you don’t always need subtle and complex. And did you really expect subtle and complex when you ordered from a leopard print and cowhide menu? The food gets the job done more than adequately, and while it may not satisfy a more refined palette, I pushed back from the table feeling more than satisfied.
The desserts keep pace with everything else, and you can burn off that cheesecake and tiramisu by visiting — no joke — the half-court contained in the restaurant. With too many large-screen TVs to count, solid food, a vibe that accepts anything from a Zegna suit to cargo shorts to a slinky black cocktail dress, friendly staff — and did I mention the goddamn basketball court??? — Clyde’s ended up being a whole hell of a lot of fun to eat at. I’d go back. I probably will. It seems only appropriate to watch at least one Knicks game there. Even if the season goes off the rails (what a shock that would be), I’ll be surrounded by towering Clydes offering me food and drinks, and that can make even the loss of Jeremy Lin seem like not that big a deal.
Clyde Frazier’s Wine and Dine
485 10th Ave, Btwn 37th & 38th Ave