Cuisine: Soul, Caribbean, Latin
Cards: All majors, and Discover
Features: Healthy options, late-night dining, felonies
As soon as we arrived my companion and I had anticipated that management wouldn’t be able to honor our reservation due to a double stabbing near the entry foyer. But, to our serendipity, what might have put Le Bernardin or Café Grey out of business for the night wasn’t the slightest bit of a hindrance for the veteran Justin’s staff. We were escorted to our table mere moments after crossing the police line.
Justin’s ambience makes it quite suitable for a romantic dinner – the soft candlelight could smooth out the most hideously scarred of dates and the pounding, bowel-quaking music mimics a beating heart. On most nights a live DJ mixes a variety of memorable tunes peppered with swears and occasional small arms fire.
Although you’d think a muzzle flash and scream would set diners on edge, we found it added a sense of electricity and excitement to the air – something I’ve never experienced at an old stalwart like nearby Gramercy Tavern. As we learned, an atmosphere of impending danger tends to bring people together – be it a first date, record release party or company outing.
Our waiter knew the menu like it was written on the back of his hand, which it was. When pressed for his opinion on what to order he recommended an appetizer followed by an entrée. He left open the possibility for dessert assuming we weren’t too close to closing time. For a starter, I opted for teriyaki wings while my partner chose the basket of fried catfish.
Though the wings themselves were cooked well – not too much, not too little – I found the teriyaki sauce to be overly salty. The portion was suitable enough for one person, but you’d be disappointed if you’re the type who likes to share. I couldn’t help but notice Jay-Z slumped over in the booth next to us, delirious from blood loss.
The fried catfish was another disappointment. When I asked the waiter if the fish was fresh or frozen, he said he’d find out – but he never did. Whether that’s because he forgot or because he was hiding from a gun-toting Young Jeezy, I’ll not know. In my professional opinion this was generic, frozen catfish heavily battered and fried in oil that was well past its prime. We hoped the entrées would be more promising, and we wished Fabolous well as he was wheeled out on a stretcher.
It should be noted that throughout our dining experience service was highly irregular. Our water glasses were refilled only once and our mustard not replaced even after a ricochet shattered the entire condiment dispenser. The pepper mill, having been used to bludgeon a member of Mos Def’s entourage, was rendered useless.
Even a talented bartender with a fully-stocked bar is useless when he’s been run through with a bread knife. I was forced to accept that another cough syrup, Sprite and Jolly Rancher cocktail would not be forthcoming. To add insult to injury, no one would answer questions about my order – apparently in keeping with the restaurant’s “Don’t Snitch” policy.
Though there was huge lapse in time between the appetizers and entrées arriving, it in fact seemed like no time at all had passed. I chalk that up to the excitement of being present for 50 Cent’s tenth and final shooting. The majority of the establishment erupted in cheers as the recording superstar crumpled to the ground. The remainder of his entourage limped out of the establishment – peppering the crowd with 9mm gunfire and epithets. In an homage to the fallen singer, the DJ put on a delightful 18-minute version of P.I.M.P. before being taken away for questioning.
My beef ribs with steamed vegetables and fried plantains was quite a satisfactory dish. A large portion was called for – especially when your menu items are in the $25-$30 range – and a large portion is what I received. The tender ribs fell off the bone, as did Nas.
My partner found the roast chicken was to die for, prompting me to pass on dessert.
It should be noted there was no effort made to recompense me for the loss of my colleague, and after looking at the check I saw why: an 18% gratuity is automatically added to every table, something I find reprehensible in a service industry. I grabbed my companion by the ankles and dragged her out, making sure to give the manager an earful on my way.
In this reviewer’s opinion, Justin’s has its task cut out for them. There are far too many restaurants in Manhattan to be this mediocre. Being owned by Diddy is not enough to make it in the restaurant business, especially in the face of competition like Kanye’s Steaks and Mousse of Usher.