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Thursday, July 26, 2012


Lots of places have Restaurant Week, but it would be very hard to match New York City’s Restaurant Week when we can choose from some of the finest, most famous, and sometimes landmark restaurants in the city.  The fun begins when we choose from our personal wish list, and we find those restaurants offering a very reasonable three-course prix fixe lunch and/or dinner.

Generously, or perhaps because even the best places are hurting in our dismal economy, this summer’s Restaurant Week extends from July 16 all the way until August 10, although the end date seems to vary among the restaurants.  Don’t miss the opportunity!

Last Tuesday I met my sorority sister, Angie, for lunch.  21 was the choice.  The hot weather did not deter us.  In fact, I sat in air-conditioned comfort on the Metro North train and in the subway.  The only lapse was the short walk from the subway exit at 53rd and Fifth around the corner to 21 at 21 West 52nd Street.  I waited for Angie who was coming by bus from South Jersey in the Starbucks diagonally across the street from 21, sipped a Grande, and people watched--a favorite NYC pastime for me. 

What goes on in that Starbucks?  Surprisingly to me, job interviews.  The turnover was rather quick at the two tables next to mine, and it was constant job interviews.  Is Starbucks the new HR Dept.?  But I digress.

Jockey Statues at 21
21 West 52nd Street is a splendid old building, a townhouse built in 1871 turned speakeasy by a pair of ambitious entrepreneurs who shifted from one location to the next as the "situation" warranted.  When they finally settled in this location in 1929, they stayed and created a bastion of good food and service.  Presidents, celebrities, captains of industry, and just about anyone of importance has stepped past the wrought iron gates (moved from a previous location), observed the jockey statues that welcome diners, and made their way into one of New York's landmark restaurants where the dress code of jackets for men is still honored.  No jeans or sneakers allowed here.

A story has it that trouser-wearing Katharine Hepburn was allowed in, and another woman, balking that she was not allowed the same privilege to wear slacks, went into the ladies’ room returning minus her slacks—in her panties.  Her moxie gave her temporary privileges, and she was allowed to dine!

There are, of course, other stories, and other famous facts--about the hidden wine cellar that escaped detection by federal agents during prohibition and the ceiling of antique toys that decorate the Bar Room where Angie and I had lunch.  In other words, this is a wonderful place to enjoy on several levels.

Oh yes, and the meal was delicious.

Angie and I selected from the Restaurant Week luncheon menu, but I have since learned that there is a prix fix luncheon and dinner menu throughout the year, so don’t be deterred.

After being ushered to our seats, Angie and I felt this rarified atmosphere required martinis—she a Cosmo and me vodka which we slowly sipped and enjoyed as we relaxed from our trips in the city, looked at the toy-laden ceiling and caught up with each other’s lives over the past months.

And then we looked at the menu.  On this hot summer day, the seasonal appetizers beckoned: she chose a crisp Chopped Summer Salad of romaine, radicchio, roasted corn, carrots, radishes, and white balsamic vinaigrette while I selected Heirloom Tomatoes served on a bed of green leaf lettuce, with white anchovies and topped with a creamy Parmesan dressing.  Couple these with a basket of rolls and special breads and toasts.  No rush here as we continued talking.

 On to our entrées.   Angie’s Sautéed Organic Farmed Salmon was served with graffiti eggplant, baby zucchini ‘ratatouille,’ zucchini purée, and tomato-basil sauce.  The presentation was lovely, and in this case, looks were not deceiving.  I chose the Grilled Flat Iron Steak—beautifully arranged medium rare slices of steak served on a bed of Bordeaux spinach, roasted fingerling potatoes, cave aged blue cheese, and grilled red onions.  Once again, it was as good as it looked. 

We lingered over this main course as we watched the restaurant fill.  I appreciated the fact that the noise level was low and thoughtful, something that rarely happens in newer, techno-decorated restaurants where the noise and bustle overrides the dining experience.  This room was calm and considerate of others.  Service was excellent but unobtrusive, and we friends were permitted to be friends undisturbed.

Coffee was accompanied by marvelous desserts.  Angie had a Coconut Chocolate Swirl Sundae, with fudge sauce, toasted coconut and pound cake crumble.  It was beautiful to look at, and she reported delicious to eat.  I chose, and was not disappointed in, the Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée served with blueberries and a lemon sugar cookie.  It was as wonderfully tasty as the description. 
Creme Brulee at 21

It’s not hard to believe that even though we were done with our meal, it was difficult to leave the white-gloved service and the care with which we were treated.  In a hustle-bustle world or the rush to get to the theater or to an appointment, it is good for the soul to simply sit back and enjoy a bit of a traditionally quiet meal with a good friend.

So I recommend getting in to New York City for Restaurant Week, and I recommend you try 21.

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