First Impressions: Lowlife

November 21, 2015


I wanted the inhabitants of gut-rehabbed Georgian houses to hear the cries of murdered prostitutes when they settled in for an evening of plasma screen television. I wanted Sunday afternoon strollers to see the bones of the dead beneath their feet as they circled the blocks below Houston Street admiring the architecture.”

Luc Sante, Lowlife

Is irony intended in the name of this brand new restaurant?  Walking into the cool, modern space on the Lower East Side, with its bare wood walls and its beguiling scent of freshly hewn wood, I couldn’t help thinking about Sante, whose book is one long wail against the gentrification of New York.

Prosperity gleams at you from every corner of Lowlife, from its quirkily wonderful wine list to the fastidiously composed plates of local, seasonal ingredients. No bones here.

The restaurant, which opened this week, has an impeccable pedigree; it is the brainchild of Hugh Crickmore, who was a partner in Mas Farmhouse and Alex Leonard, formerly chef de cuisine at Blanca. There’s nothing remotely casual about the service, and the food is almost formal in its conception.

Consider, for instance, the opener above: beet puree, trout roe, local cream laid out like a small edible Rothko.  It’s an unusual composition, as bright in the mouth as it is on the plate, the salty roe rubbing up against the sweetness of the beets in the most appealing way.


Or this: sardines and herring in a medley of herbs that does nothing to impede the sheer strength of the fish which comes powering through.


Or this little tangle of perfectly cooked garganelli tossed in a lamb ragu and laid out so precisely you imagine a food stylist, tweezers in hand, contemplating where to place each tiny leaf.


A pristine square of halibut, Rauschenberg now, from his white period, with a little squiggle of  mussels and sorrel on the side.

IMG_7047Chicken “yakitori” (grilled over fancy Japanese charcoal), with smoked cabbage and green onions. It comes in whole or half versions; the whole one’s $54 but it’s a lot of food. This is the one truly robust dish I tried.


 Fat bay scallops on crunchy vegetables in a light lemongrass sauce.

IMG_7050The most impeccable little apple galette: all layers of crunch, butter, fruit and glaze – and a lovely little paean to the past.

I loved everything we ate at Lowlife – and I particularly loved the wine, an Aligote from Milkuski. (There are unusual bargains on this list.)  And yet…

Walking out the door my mind was on  Sante again, remembering this neighborhood before it was, in his words, colonized by prosperity, a time when it belonged to poets and painters squatting in old tenement buildings, dreaming art.  Of a time when this part of the city still welcomed people for whom hundred dollar dinners were not a way of life.

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  • Linda says:

    While I do enjoy your words, not to be critical, may I make a gentle
    suggestion that perhaps it’s time for a new camera or phone? Your dark photos don’t do justice to the wonderful food you are describing. Just sayin 🙂

  • Rita says:

    Sounds great ….. But where is it ????

  • Pat says:

    Great post. In reference to the comment above about dark photos: yes, perhaps you’d like to brighten some of the photos, but for this wonderful post – considering the restaurant’s name and the delicious Sante quote – these photos are perfect.

  • judy north says:

    Ruth, if you connect your camera to your MAC the photos will go into
    iphoto and you can lighten them with the edit function. It would help to be able to see the structure of the food you are showing us, not just the gleaming sauce. That always looks very good too.
    I love your site and look forward to it every day.

  • admin says:

    Linda, you’re not the first to say this. I’m going to get a new phone this week, which may help. Fingers crossed.

  • admin says:

    Thanks, Judy, I’ll start doing that. I’ve just changed platforms for the blog, and I’m still learning how to use this one…

  • admin says:

    Rita; good point. Everyone need’s an editor. My apologies. Lowlife’s on Stanton Street, on the Lower East Side, in what was once a tenement factory.

  • John Primitivo Orosco says:

    Sometimes your words suffice.

  • Jo Procter says:

    I agree with the person who said your prose is always wonderful but the photography is unappetizing. Food is difficult to photograph. Maybe an upgrade of your iPhone and then a chat with any and all food photographer friends for guidance.

  • Rob Marais says:

    Ruth, I do not denounce you for the dark photos. What ya gonna do, make a flash in a classy joint? That being said, it’s possible to manipulate the light values in an already taken photo (even in Instagram) that would improve the product.

    Thank you for taking us to food we should only dream of! BTW I loved Kitchen Year.

  • Radish says:

    Although your photos are dark, the problem is the white balance which is making these yellow. Have someone show you an editing program which will easily change this. I do not think an IPhone upgrade will help the white balance. I have years of photos where I not have the white balance in hand.

  • F.D. Central says:

    I had an inspiring experience there, but I somehow took away a different lesson — likely because I am inured to hundred dollar dinners. I usually get a lot less for that price point. Since the comparison class is stratospheric, actually, I think Lowlife is extraordinary:

  • Once I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a remark is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any approach you’ll be able to take away me from that service? Thanks!