Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hungry for a Tad Bit More From Fine Dining

The guacomole for two, above, is on the Restaurant Week menu at Rosa Mexicana but will cost lone diners $7 extra. Alas, inviting cuts of steak such as the Angus, below, are not on most steakhouse RW menus. Top photo from; bottom from

I arrive a few minutes late, but it is clear from observing a full house of lunch patrons who seem in no hurry to leave that my hosts are not ready to receive me.

After about 15 minutes Yours Truly is seated at a table for four at Café Boulud. On the NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2010 menu, there are only three selections for each course. I start with the Summer Corn Chowder (w/espelette, scallions, vanilla oil), followed by the Roasted Leg of Lamb (w/polenta gnocchi, heirloom tomatoes, mushrooms, rosemary jus). Is there any question that I will not have the Strawberry Parfait for dessert (cheese cake, berry compote, vanilla Chantilly)?

I am sitting contentedly, alternately reading my romance novel (a stress reliever) and looking about me at the well-orchestrated operation that is Café Boulud. It is clear by what I can see on the plates of other diners that there are quite a few people experiencing Café Boulud at RW prices ($24.07/$35 for lunch/dinner). Just as I am about to return to my heroine and hero who are taking a rather scandalous stroll into the bowels of Vauxhall Gardens, a server visits with an amuse-bouche in the form of a risotto ball. It is served in a miniature shallow bowl on top of a pile of uncooked rice. A very nice presentation. When I bite into the ball an explosion of flavors is set off on my palate. It is a good beginning.

Soon after, a server brings me slices of baguette and butter, which I eat sparingly until the arrival of the chowder in a bowl a hair smaller than a tea cup. There is no corn visible in the chowder, yet it is massively redolent of sweet corn. It’s as if I am eating straight from the cob. There are the other agreeable flavors, too, i.e., vanilla oil. Clearly, though, the corn is the star of the dish.

Much the same is my experience with the latter two courses. I am eating each element separately to get its unique flavor. And then together with the others for the cacophony. No doubt, this is the way Tom Colicchio/Padma Lakshmi and the other “Top Chef” judges experience food all the time. It is also very much like listening to jazz or symphonic music.

Several times my server or one of the others stops by to ensure I am enjoying myself. Incidentally, the service is very good. There is a retinue of fetchers and carriers. All men. One whom I believe is the captain on two separate visits asks my opinion of the meal. Because I am at a Michelin-star establishment and wish to speak intelligently about the food, I am not so laconic and trite as to utter, “It’s good.” I share my assessment of the chowder, disclosing that I grew up eating sweet corn.

At the completion of my meal after tea, which I took with complementary Madeleines that arrived warm and ensconced in a pristine white napkin fancifully arranged like a bag with folds, the captain again solicits feedback. Everything is marvelous, I give him to know. I relate to him the myriad flavors that teased my palate and how good it felt. “I just wish there were more,” I conclude.

He peers at me, picks up my tea vessels and shrugs as if to say, “I know the portions are very small, but the food is quite excellent, n’est-ce- pas?”

Indeed, they are minisculesque, my lone quibble with Boulud. To be fair the parfait portion is OK and the chowder vessel is not inordinately too tiny. The leg of lamb, though. The four or five thin slices on my plate are little bigger than a quarter, with a few clumps of polenta the size of moth balls and trace amounts of heirloom tomatoes and mushrooms. I left not quite hungry, but not nearly full. I could have easily eaten more and not have been stuffed. This was a meal well-suited to one who’d had his/her stomach stapled or a Lady who Lunches. Not so for someone with a reasonably hearty appetite, who by the way did have breakfast, and was also fortified by a risotto ball and a passel of Madeleines. And two glasses of water. And several cups of tea.

After Café Boulud, I recalled what Paul Daniel Quatrochi asked me before RW kicked off. That is, are the top-tier restaurants stiffing dinners in some way? He wondered whether they were putting out less than top-shelf fare. No doubt a few, at the least, are. Others have other ways, as I believe Café Boulud is doing with the pared-down portions, of giving RW week dinners just a little less. (See:

Does one really expect to get the same quality/quantity at RW prices, especially at venues where the same meal may easily cost more than $100? No, but one hopes. One hopes that the brains behind the schemes reason that money can be made on the bar as PDQ suggested, or on goodwill. That is, if they set out a splendid meal for as little as $24+change, they will get repeat business. Perhaps not on a regular basis, but surely on special occasions.

Virtually none offer everything on the regular menu during RW. Anyone perusing the menus on the RW Web site can quickly confirm this for himself. That’s to be expected. Also expected is a little more sincerity in the offerings – certainly as it concerns the steakhouses, for example. An acquaintance desiring to wine/dine me for my birthday suggested eating some cow.

After a perusal of the nearly 20 RW steakhouses, one question: Where’s the beef – the prime cuts – not medallions and tips? Lunch diners are almost out of luck at Delmonico’s. Sure, there are Delmonico Steak Frites, but one can get steak frites any old place, but at a steakhouse Vintage All Natural Short Loin Steak 28-Day Dry Aged is more appropriate. There is the option to order the Delmonico Steak for $15 extra, and the Filet Mignon is only available at dinner. Out of six available entrees, one is steak and available, one is steak but is not available and the one that is available will cost you extra.

At the Bobby Van’s in the Helmsley Building, two of the five entrees at both lunch and dinner are steak. Medallions of Beef Bordelaise is available with no strings attached. Petit Filet Mignon w/Bernaise Sauce, however, is $10 additional. Interestingly enough, while the steak dishes remain the same at lunch and dinner, there is some change in the other entrees. Similar such limitations/offers are in effect at all participating Bobby Van’s locations.

Angelo and Maxie’s Steakhouse offers one of the better deals for those looking to eat high on the hog – or cow – for $. Four of six dishes are steak, including a Grilled Filet Mignon and Chabroiled New York Sirloin Steak. Please note that two of the steak dishes are only available at dinner.

Meanwhile, random calls to several eateries, including Mesa Grill, 21 Club (Lincoln Center) and Rosa Mexicana (which is offering its famed guacomole) revealed that the RW week menu portions are not smaller. The proof, however, is in the pudding. I called Café Boulud several days after I dined there and was informed – though there was a slight pause before an answer was proffered – that its RW meal portions are the same as on the regular menu. One hopes not.

How can Café Boulud and similar offenders possibly justify so little food at prices that are on average $$$$ for an appetizer/entrée/dessert, even if it is local, organic and corn fed?

Learn more about NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2010, participating eateries and their menus at; get the recipe for Rosa Mexicana’s famed guacomole at

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