The other night at Osteria La Baia, a “coastal Italian” restaurant that opened last year, in midtown, a genial manager asked my party how we’d heard about the place. As we began to stammer an awkward reply, she cut in—“You walked by and saw our car out front?” Yes! That was it, the baby-blue vintage coupe parked on the sidewalk, silk flowers bursting out of its windows and open hood. It beckoned to us as we sauntered aimlessly down Fifty-second Street.
The truth was that we’d read about it. In February, Politico identified Osteria La Baia as a favored haunt of Eric Adams, New York City’s mayor. Last month, reporters for the Times determined that he’d visited on at least fourteen occasions in June alone, often arriving late and closing down the dining room—the private dining room, to be exact, which is encased in frosted glass.
Osteria La Baia’s Web site identifies it as a “coastal Italian” restaurant.
The twin brothers Robert and Zhan Petrosyants, whom employees referred to as the restaurant’s owners, are close friends of the Mayor. They are also convicted felons who are prohibited from holding a liquor license—in 2014, they pleaded guilty to a check-cashing scheme—and are known, too, for their affiliation with a pair of Brooklyn restaurants that owe more than a million dollars in debts.
Adams’s support of La Baia—appearances there with other high-profile figures, including Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio; promotion on social media; and glowing praise, as quoted in the Post—sits in an ethical gray area. The Times reporters did not observe the Mayor handling his check at the restaurant, though a member of his camp assured the paper that he pays a monthly tab. They did observe the Mayor (who wrote a book about keeping a plant-based diet) being asked by a server if he’d have his usual: the branzino.
In front of the restaurant sits a vintage coupe repurposed as a flower planter.
The meticulous investigation was missing only one key aspect: How was the branzino? That night, before our drinks had arrived, a server presented me with an enormous bowl of chocolate gelato. We both laughed at her mistake, but as dinner progressed it became clear that the error was my own. If only I’d eaten the ice cream and left.
A Caesar salad was palatable enough, if overdressed. The vitello tonnato, finished with caper berries, was unobjectionable—the high point of the meal, in retrospect—and I could muster only faint complaints about the lukewarm vegan pizza topped with delicata squash and green dollops of hemp ricotta.
Chewy lobster did nothing to redeem limp garganelli. The rigatoni alla Norma was overcooked and undersalted, the eggplant in the too sweet sauce barely traceable. Still, none of it prepared me for the main event. Never had I seen a fish thus presented: gutted and splayed skin side up, with its head in a forward position, tail at attention, like a fish-skin rug. When I sent a photo of it to a friend, he asked if I had seen the movie “Midsommar”: “They kill a guy the way that fish is prepared.”
Desserts include gelato, and semolina olive-oil cake with candied lemon and whipped cream.
The edges of the skin were bubbled and charred, but the center was taut and stretchy. My companions and I poked halfheartedly at the white flesh beneath, which sat on a mess of olives, tomatoes, and sweet peppers. It was enough to turn a pescatarian off fish. But then what would she eat? The mushrooms in the single vegan entrée tasted as though they’d been left to ferment under a heavy layer of damp leaves in a forest, and not in the René Redzepi way.
When an editor at this magazine inquired with La Baia management about arranging a photo shoot, demurral was swift: no photographers, even for reviews. The photographer would simply go to dinner, then, armed with an iPhone. Hours before her reservation, she got a call: the kitchen was closed, owing to a mysterious electrical problem. That evening, which happened to be September 11th, Instagram told a different story. The Petrosyants twins seemed to be throwing themselves a birthday party, according to time-stamped videos posted by guests. In one, the camera scanned a long table, lingering, for just a moment, on the Mayor. (Dishes $16-$155.) ♦