The Lower East Side soared into a new era of decadence this past fall with the opening of the trendy new restaurant Thor. You may remember from your 8th grade literature class that Thor is the Norse god of thunder. If any god reigns here, however, it's the god of bad design. Take first the name—it has no connection to mythology but instead is just an acronym for The Hotel on Rivington. It’s the first of many clever but empty gestures that characterize the place. The hotel, a 21-story generic glass and metal tower, makes no attempt to connect with the historic tenements surrounding it. Enter the restaurant and the dissonance continues.
The walls and ceiling are covered with circular black, grey, and yellow patterns, and the cumulative effect is a bit nightmarish, the visual equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. A black metal stairwell emerges in the center of the restaurant like a portal to hell (it actually just descends to the bathrooms).
We hoped the food would provide ample distraction and settled into the large lobby lounge where you can order any number from a menu of warm and cold small plates. Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner, of the much more inviting spaces of Wallsé and Café Sabarsky, here offers food that shows his Austrian roots but runs a bit more towards the cerebral. The green spaetzle with sweetbreads, asparagus, and crispy shallots remained remarkably light despite the creaminess of its fresh herb sauce. Spaetzle (literally translated from German as “little sparrow”) is a type of flour and egg dumpling usually served plainly as a side dish. The spaetzle here are playfully treated more like Italian gnocchi. They melt on the tongue along with the tender sweetbreads, which have a mild, marrow-like flavor.
Everyone’s favorite starter nowadays— goat cheese—gets a little Austrian treatment in a terrine with beets, horseradish, and baby beet greens. It’s got to be one of the prettiest dishes we've encountered of late. The sweetness of the beets, accentuated by a swash of beet syrup crossing the plate, tamed the tanginess of the cheese but completely cancelled out the horseradish.It may be futile to cry out against the gentrification of the LES, which now seems as inevitable as the transformation of the Meatpacking District. But nearby high-end eateries like wd50, 71 Clinton, and Alias have managed to blend in to the hood, and that’s part of their appeal. Thor sticks out like an affront to the humble foundations of this area. And what could be one of the city’s more admirable efforts in the kitchen could be foiled here by a disposable design.