23 Hoyt is the reincarnation of Balvo, Kenny Giambalvo (of bluehour) and Bruce Carey's short-lived Italian joint. Carey is still behind the scenes, but the split-floor restaurant has been utterly transformed— the bright lines of Balvo giving way to coats of gray paint, moody draperies, and flickering candlelight, and the menu retooled to included a broader array of European-influenced flavors.
I wasn't a Balvo fan and had high hopes for the new place, but my first visit to 23 Hoyt started on a sour note, with service that was lackadaisical at best. Our server barely greeted us, we were seated at a truly terrible table (a makeshift affair by the door that felt exactly like the "kids' table" at a family Thanksgiving dinner), and the wait for drinks and appetizers seemed endless. My friends and I are all servers, prone to giving fellow service types the benefit of the doubt, and we found ourselves looking around the restaurant hoping to find a good reason for the way we were being treated. The restaurant was busy—maybe our waitress was totally swamped? Maybe her dog just died? I hope there was some mitigating factor (preferably not the dog thing), because I'd hate to think the shoddy service was simply because we were young and wearing jeans.
The dining experience was looking pretty grim at this point. By the time our entrées rolled around, we were prepared to hate every bite. We were grudgingly forced to admit, though, that our meals were truly unhateable.
One of my dinner partners finally quit bitching about the service when his swordfish arrived: The thick, tender cut of grilled swordfish was flawlessly cooked, though topped in a slightly overpowering red-pepper sauce, and came with a crowd-pleasing side of fried potatoes.
I ordered duck, which came with both a braised duck leg and slices of roasted breast meat. The portion was enormous, the duck juicy, and the heap of red cabbage and apples on the side mingled tangy, complementary flavors.
It's hard to stay mad when you're gnawing on a duck bone, so by the end of the meal the mood had lightened considerably. A light and crunchy pear caramel strudel rounded out the culinary portion of events quite nicely, and even our server had warmed up to us a bit by the end of the meal.
A more recent visit to the bar, on a slow night, yielded a very different dining experience. I tried the fried rice croquettes, which combined the texture of undercooked rice with the taste of the deep fryer. I was picking one apart, looking for edible bits, when my server noticed my dissatisfaction and offered to bring me something else (I ended up with a perfectly serviceable butternut squash and chickpea soup). In this case, the service was attentive and gracious, but the food didn't live up to the previous visit.
With a bar menu featuring an attractive range of options for under $10, and some inventive and well-crafted house cocktails, this could be a great place to grab either a cheap dinner at the bar, or to splurge on a date. I wouldn't hesitate to spend money here if I knew I could expect a consistent experience. Hopefully, given a bit of time to smooth out the kinks, 23 Hoyt will live up to its potential to provide top-notch food and service to every diner, every time.