French fare at Andrew Carmellini's Lafayette in Noho

Lafayette tantalizes, but doesn't go all the way

There's media hype. Then there's restaurant reality.

Frankly, there is no better place to dine right now than Andrew Carmellini's new Lafayette–that is, if you want to feel at the center of the Manhattan dining scene. Lunch at Lafayette is a captivating golden Noho afternoon, and dinner is prime time for people-ogling.

The food, though, is not nearly as good as the breathless praise would have you believe.

Most of the dishes we tried did not falter. But they also did not shine. There was textbook rotisserie chicken for two ($22 per person), and the flavors of a Niçoise salad cleverly applied to fresh spaghetti with tuna, toasted garlic, capers and breadcrumbs ($22). Both were functional rather than inspired, more like the utilitarian Mid-Manhattan library than its landmark Beaux-Arts cousin across 5th Avenue. 

There were a few luminous items: a pâté maison, delivered with its own pot of mustard ($16), slabs of pound cake lacquered with a wave of raspberry jam ($3.50), and the delightful rum syrup, coconut frangipane and banana croissant ($3.50).

But with so much superb French cuisine flourishing in New York right now, there is no need to be rankled if you can't score a reservation at Lafayette. Better to wait, because we bet–and hope–that the food will catch up to the flash.