Sometimes the fancy, leisurely lunch is the right move even when your celebratory self thinks only a wine-paired, tasting menu marathon will do. The $52 two-course prix fixe might not be the city’s ultimate bargain (Jean-Georges is still $48) but it’s a great value (and even better if near your office for optimal hooky-playing–a practical factor of mine despite the impracticality of such a mid-day meal).
The new, spacious restaurant in the Grace Building across from Bryant Park is crisp and modern, from the long lean silverware evoking Vienna Seccession-era design to the wall patterned with black and white
cranes storks (Alsace’s emblem, I’ve been informed) wings spread, mid-strut. All details and service read luxurious rather than fussy.
The bread game is strong. A savory kugelhopf appears first with chive fromage blanc, then amuses: a melon gelée with what I want to say was sea urchin and not just because of the shape of the tiny vessel, and pea puree fortified with goat cheese, sandwiched between black crackers, the first of two items incorporating ash to dramatic effect.
Summer does not have to be all rosés and whites. A request for a light red by the glass resulted in Domaine de la Pinte 2011, a hazy, almost amber Poulsard, both brightly fruity and serious.
It’s easy to be drawn to the more obvious charms of langostine tartar or a foie gras terrine instead of anything featuring sauerkraut prominently, but go with your gut because fermented cabbage paired with caviar is a perfect high-low combination. The sturgeon and sauerkraut tart (not to be confused with the tarte flambées served in the lounge), an import from The Modern, is presented covered in perky, glass cloche swirling with applewood smoke. The overall flavor, particularly from the mousseline, is saline and almost crab-like. Bamboo ash, more for looks than flavor, also appears in a string of rolls that I kept expecting to taste like poppyseed.
Super fatty and luscious Mangalitsa pork collar is paired a little unusually with morcilla and not illogically with apricot and fennel, creating an overall effect that read Asian almost as if infused with star anise and dried tangerine peel. Cheeks, hidden in the back, had the texture of a more delicate corned beef. Paired with a generously poured Alsatian Pinot Noir (Zusslin 2010) that was more about dried fruit and smoke than juiciness.
Dessert is available for $16, but wasn’t totally necessary. One benefit of solo dining is that the treats aren’t always scaled down for one. Did I really need five candies (cantaloupe and mint, lime…and who remembers?) plus two twigs of coconut-hazelnut “Pocky?” No, and not the glass of kirschwasser either. Needs are not the hallmark of the fancy lunch, though.
Gabriel Kruether * 41 W. 42nd St. New York, NY