Hungry in Manhattan: The Prix Fixe Lunch, Part III

It is a fact. I have better taste in food than in clothes. And this is why, the first time we stepped inside Café Boulud I momentarily considered flight. The graciously appointed dining room brimmed with what author Tom Wolfe, in Bonfire of the Vanities, called “social X-rays” and what I call “The Impossibles”: impossibly blonde, impossibly thin, impossibly rich. This is, after all, the sweet spot of the Upper East Side, at the corner of Madison and 76th.

But there we were, “we” being my beloved CE in his rumpled sport coat and me in my way-past-sensible shoes. I think it may have been raining outside, so there was also a whiff of drowned rat about us. Truthfully, we belonged at Five Guys down the block, but instead of re-directing us to the burger joint, the winsome gentleman at the podium (wearing a finer suit than my husband has ever owned) smiled welcomingly and led us to a cozy booth. The waiters and their captains were unfailingly kind, cordial and presciently competent.

And thus, we have returned again and again. The Impossibles give us a wary once-over, dismiss us as tourists and mercifully ignore us. The real question is how do they dine here and remain impossibly thin? The prix-fixe lunch at Café Boulud is the heartiest of the quartet we sampled during this last stay in the city. At $39 for two courses and $45 for three, it is also the most expensive, but you’ll just have to trust me when I tell you it is still a good value.

My first course was a salad, which at first glance, was just a salad. Yet somehow it is always memorable at Café Boulud, here for the garden fresh mint leaves and crunch of pistachios strewn amidst the greens. It was the quintessential summer salad:

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For our second course, we both ordered the pork loin, which arrived as a generous portion, garnished with arugula and fresh peaches and anchored by a square of polenta:

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In a rare moment of discipline, I eschewed a third course, but the CE’s gluten-free request was honored with a cheery trio of sorbets:

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There I was, feeling just a little virtuous about declining dessert, when the waiter arrived unbidden and, with a flourish, delivered a small basket of plump, piping-hot and wholly irresistible madeleines. Shades of à la recherche du temps perdu! So much for skipping dessert…

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We assuaged the madeleine guilt with a walk across the Park, but you could just as easily stroll from here to The Met and work off a calorie or two. Or not. You could also just leave the hard work of thinness to The Impossibles and head home for a nice nap.

Location: 20 E. 76th Street at between Fifth and Madison, in The Surrey Hotel.

High points: The service here is a cut above, even in NYC. And seriously, those madeleines

Fun fact: This space was the original location of Daniel Boulud’s eponymous flagship restaurant Daniel, which I fully intend to visit right after I win the lottery.

Dress code: Well, we were there, so clearly they let anyone in. But the general look is Upper East Side sedate. There is no formal dress code, and surely more leeway at lunch,  but they do appreciate if gentlemen wear jackets and refrain from wearing shorts, sandals, sleeveless shirts, and baseball caps.

Reservations: Recommended. OpenTable or by calling (212) 772-2600.

The last word: Café Boulud strikes the perfect chord of rarefied but not stuffy. Put on your pearls and enjoy a lunch like the .001%r’s do.

Next up: Saving the best for last…

 

 

 

 

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Hungry in Manhattan: The Prix Fixe Lunch, Part II

“But doesn’t it feel like you’re in the middle of Grand Central Station?”

Well, yes. And no.

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Perched on the west balcony of Grand Central Terminal is Cipriani Dolci, a tiny jewel in the crown of the famed string of eateries and drinkeries harking back to Giuseppe Cipriani’s original Harry’s Bar in Venice. (When you think about it, the dynasty’s fate might have been entirely different had they called it Giuseppe’s Bar. Harry was the guy who helped finance the original watering hole in Venice and fortuitously claimed the naming rights.)

We failed to pay homage to Harry in Venice, although we did raise a glass to him in Rome, where we snickered at the high menu prices that are synonymous with the Cipriani name – and paid them anyway. Hey, we were tourists!

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If you’ve ever paid a king’s ransom for an undistinguished hamburger with soggy French fries at Harry Cipriani’s in the Sherry-Netherland Hotel (like I once did), you might have vowed to steer clear of all things Cipriani in the future.

But then again, don’t we all occasionally find ourselves at Grand Central Terminal feeling a little peckish right around noon? Cipriani Dolci, with its sweet location overlooking the Grand Concourse and a reasonably priced (for NYC) mid-day repast beckons the weary traveler. At $29 for three courses Monday through Friday, the Ciprianis atone for many sins on their upcharged uptown 5th Avenue menu with this 42nd Street prix fixe lunch.

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We are fussy about noisy restaurants, so what are we doing here? Amazingly, while you can hear the din below, you can also conduct a conversation, or, as many patrons do, a business deal, while you nosh on the breadsticks that are my personal Cipriani favorite. If you sit along the rail, you might catch a glimpse of one of the many couples who choose to get married at Grand Central:

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If you don’t have to conduct business, or a wedding, you can order a glass of wine, which somehow tastes better served in the restaurant’s tiny signature caraffa.

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Soup or salad to begin – nothing revelatory but always fresh and satisfying – and then the pasta course. When we visited earlier this month they were serving an outstanding homemade veal ravioli in brown butter. And plenty of it:

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Service is prompt but unhurried. Incredibly, one of the waiters (remember, there are 750,000 people tromping through Grand Central on an average day!) recognized us from our last visit back in March.

And then, there is dessert. The many-splendored, many-layered meringue cake of my dreams. And since it just arrives as part of the prix fixe lunch, you didn’t really order it and are therefore not responsible for any caloric consequences. Right?

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After cake, there is a double espresso and then the mile and a half walk home (uphill!) to assuage the guilt. But you could also take the subway, since, of course, you’re in Grand Central Station!

Location: With an address that is simply “Grand Central Terminal” it’s easy to get confused, especially if you see the “Cipriani” sign posted outside 110 42nd Street across from the Terminal. That one happens to be a private event space. Best access to the restaurant is to use the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance.

High points: Are you kidding? That meringue cake! Oh, and the breadsticks.

If I’m being fussy: There is no restroom! They point you to a stairwell (there is also an elevator nearby) and somewhere above on a neglected floor is a washroom, but good luck finding it.

Dress Code: Business casual rules here.

Reservations: Available via OpenTable or by calling (212) 973-0999. You don’t always need a reservation, but it is a relatively small space, and if, like me, you like to be seated along the rail to gawk at the humanity below, you’ll want to call ahead.

The last word: I’m not just wild about Harry’s, but this prix fixe is a good bet and a Midtown oasis- there aren’t a ton of dining options for lunch around GCT.

Next up: Let’s head uptown…

 

 

 

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Hungry in Manhattan: The Prix Fixe Lunch, Part I

The best-kept dining secret in NYC is really no secret at all – like leaks out of the White House, everyone seems to know the scoop: the best way to enjoy snazzy Manhattan restaurants is to skip the exorbitant dinner tab and instead, drop in for the stellar prix fixe lunch menu. We found four of them, each one worthy of a return trip. Let’s begin with a good bet if you’re in Midtown:

Estiatorio Milos $29 per person/3 courses (125 West 55th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues) 212.245.7400 lunch served 12-2:30 p.m.

You can drop someone’s college tuition on dinner at Milos in NYC or Las Vegas but the prix fixe lunch is, by comparison, an incredible value. Seafood forward and perhaps the lightest of our four dining experiences, but satisfying and almost healthy. The best tomato salad in recent memory! Our waiter told us that they source their tomatoes from farms in New Jersey in the summer and from hothouses in Canada during the winter. He could have told me that they fly them in daily from Greece and I would have believed him; they tasted that good!

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The dining room at Milos is capacious by NYC standards and inspires daydreams of a trip to a Greek isle. There are a few tables outside but based on the gritty Midtown view and serenade by an orchestra of jackhammers – definite buzz kills for the Greek isle daydream – we decided to sit inside.

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The restaurant is currently remodeling so there is a bit of aesthetic disruption but nothing that detracted from our dining experience.  For a main course, I ordered the crab cake and grilled shrimp, and the CE had grilled branzino:

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Dessert was a platter of fresh fruit with a taste of baklava and what looked like walnut cake. It took all of my willpower not to sample it…

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Location: Just steps away from New York City Center, so it’s a perfect place for lunch before a matinée. Also walkably close to Bergdorf Goodman and the flagship Nordstrom store set to open in 2018-19.  If you prefer the High Line over shopping, another Milos location is slated to open at the behemoth Hudson Yards development in 2018.

High points: Those tomatoes! That baklava!

Quirky: A small pot of oregano on the table from which the waiter snips a few leaves to garnish your meal.

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If I’m being fussy: Service was a bit slow – took forever for the drinks to arrive.

Dress code: Business casual, and for lunch you could probably stretch this to casual as long as you aren’t sloppy.

Reservations: In the summer, at least, it was easy to get a last minute reservation for two. The spacious dining room can easily accommodate groups, although a credit card is required for parties of six or more. Reservations by phone or on OpenTable.

The last word: Excellent value. We hope to be familiar faces here for lunch in the future!

Next up: A prix fixe lunch where you may least expect it…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I Spy: how well do you know Manhattan?

According to the CE’s calculations, with all of our sojourns strung together, we’ve spent almost two of the last fifteen years here in the city. But I still can’t shake off the tourist glow; I snap photos everyplace I go. There is a collective sense of discovery in the city, always something new or treasured to see. Some moments amuse, some shock, and some uplift the soul. (Well, at least when it’s not winter and snowing/sleeting/pelting rain!)

Here are some of my favorites from this visit. Let’s play “I Spy”:

We’ll start with easy peasy:

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Got that one? There’s nothing like walking through Columbus Circle on a hot summer night, cooling off with the mist spray from the fountains. Did you know they were designed by the same firm that created the fountains at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas?

In case you missed that one, let’s go even easier:

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I walk past the Atlas statue at Rockefeller Center several times a week, but I still can’t help snapping his photo every now and then. “Don’t shrug! Don’t shrug!” I whisper to him as I pass by. He is now widely associated with Ayn Rand’s novel, but when the Art Deco statue was erected in 1937, there were complaints that he looked too much like Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

How about this one for you Midtown denizens:

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Can’t quite place it? It’s detail of a ceramic pillar at New York City Center, the neo-Moorish building that once served as headquarters for the Shriners and now serves up spirited theatre revivals.

Sometimes the devil is in the details:

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You know you’ve seen it, but it’s tougher out of context. It’s a ceiling detail in the Main Concourse at Grand Central Terminal. Taken from a seat along the rail at Cipriani Dolce, which is a lovely place to have lunch and soak up the hum of humanity – 750,000 people pass through Grand Central on an average day; that jumps to a million during the holidays!

Here’s one you’ll recognize:

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You probably know the Petrie Sculpture Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but did you know that the brick wall was the original front entrance to the Museum? According to the Met web site, “It opened onto Central Park with a curved driveway so that visitors could pull right up to the door…in their horse-drawn carriages!”

Let’s go downtown:

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If you got this one, you know your Soho: 38 MacDougal Street is the cheery home of Hundred Acres restaurant, where we had a fine dinner the other night.  Jackson Pollock once lived nearby and just up the street at Nos.130-132 is Louisa May Alcott’s former home.

Last one:

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Okay, the answer to this one could be “ubiquitous”. The squirrels are everywhere in this city, but nowhere are they more forward and brazen than along Central Park South (although Madison Square Park probably runs a close second…) This guy was putting on quite a show – luckily, he works – literally – for peanuts.

Love this city!

 

 

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Manhattan, all to ourselves.

Midsummer, and they’ve all fled to the Hamptons. Perfect time to be in the city! How empty is it? Well, not empty enough to get a reservation at the new-ish Union Square Café but you can definitely walk the streets without being jostled at every step. Grand Central is just as grand but seems just a bit less central – it’s as if everyone left but they were kind enough not to lock the door behind them.

Weather has been mostly fine. Caught this beginning of sunset from our living room window the other day. It made CPS and Fifth Avenue look like a jewel box:

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Speaking of jewels, when everyone’s away it’s easier to shop. I am coveting these lace-dipped-in-gold earrings from Peipers+Kojen on the UES:

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Ah, but the true jewel of the city is in my front yard – my beloved Central Park.

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We paused along Central Park South the other evening just before dusk and saw the first glimmers of evening fireflies in the hydrangeas. Magical.

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But back to coveting: Bergdorf’s home section seems to be one big tag sale right now, but as you might expect, the prices on their tags are forbidding. I adored this pitcher, but alas, not its price:

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No matter. There are other things for the eyes to feast upon. We took a field trip down to the WTC Oculus to see the Up Close: Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel exhibit. We paid for tickets, which gave us access to the interior of the exhibit and a complimentary audio guide, but you can get a pretty good gander at it just by walking through the hall.

We were told at the entrance that the photographs were transferred to cloth and that, as well as Michelangelo’s genius for understanding how the eye would behold the paintings from the distance of the chapel’s ceiling, probably accounts for the slightly fuzzy resolution of some of the panels. No one, least of all Michelangelo, is quite prepared for the extreme close-up scrutiny of the world we live in today, but it is, nonetheless, a joy to behold his work. I think Adam and Eve would agree:

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We beheld another art form on a friend’s terrace the other night. Green and verdant and hushed and magnificent:

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There we sat among the ferns and the orchids, drinking rosé until we had long worn out our welcome and walked home along the edge of the Park under a veiled sliver of a moon. NYC is just that magical – or maybe it is the rosé, which my friend, Lori, described to me yesterday as “the New York summer water”. Oh, how I love this city:

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Okay, so it’s not always perfect. We went to a Yankees game last night, where it started pouring at the top of the 4th inning. We got antsy after what promised to be an interminable rain delay and headed home, only to discover in this morning’s paper that we missed seeing Aaron Judge slam the ball out of the park, breaking Joe DiMaggio’s record for most  home runs by a Yankees rookie. If you aren’t paying attention, things can go awry in a New York minute.

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But today is a new day and I’m sure new adventures (and plenty of that summer water rosé) await us. I would say that I wish you were here, but I’m kind of loving having this great, grand city all to ourselves…

 

 

 

 

 

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June…or Junior?

Had a chat with a neighbor who is a fellow chicken keeper. We’ve swapped notes about our birds before and we’ve consoled one another after the coyotes roared through, treating our coops as the neighborhood KFC’s. Always look forward to chatting with him. Except for this latest conversation. Did not like what I heard.

I was telling him about baby June, our Ameraucana chick. “Oh yeah”, he said. “We got two Ameraucanas from that feed store. They both turned out to be roosters.”

Roosters?

But we can’t have a rooster! She can’t be a he! Oh no!

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Here’s the thing about baby chicks. Unless they are a sex-link variety, in which the males and females have visibly different markings, it can be a tricky business to differentiate the gender of a just-hatched chick. Hatchery personnel are trained in vent-sexing but it is apparently somewhat more of an art than a science. Mistakes are made. The first and last thing they told us at the feed store when we picked up our chicks is that they can only provide an 80%-90% guarantee that the chicks are female.

What’s wrong with roosters? First and foremost, they don’t contribute to breakfast. No eggs. They also don’t contribute to neighborhood harmony. While I don’t mind the sound of roosters crowing, other people do, and we’ve assured our neighbors that we won’t ask them to contend with any 2 a.m. cock-a-doodle-dos.

No one wants a rooster. So what happens to them all? You don’t want to know. Let’s just say that in the poultry world “male privilege” is most definitely a myth.

After that chat with my neighbor, I’ve stared and stared at baby June, looking for any signs that she could be a he. Trouble is, the conventional wisdom is that you can’t really tell until she lays an egg or he crows, which is months down the road.

Is there any way to tell?

Feathers, apparently. Hackle feathers around the neck will be pointy in a male bird. Males also have pointy saddle feathers that extend from its back and sickle feathers, which are the ones that sprout up from its tail. I panicked when I looked closely at June, because I didn’t like the look of those long feathers drooping from the back and the sides.  Should I be worried about those?

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But then I read that the feathers in question don’t really manifest until 12-16 weeks. June is only about 5 weeks old. Too soon to tell, they say. Maybe those are just normal hen feathers?

Sometimes, I’ve read, a male bird will begin displaying “boy behavior” fairly early on, boldly challenging even adult hens. Not seeing that with this chick so far. Whew! Another tell can be comb development. While both male and female birds have combs, in the Ameraucana, at least, the male’s develops earlier and larger. Here’s a pic posted on backyardchickens.com of a five-and-a-half-week-old Ameraucana chick that later turned out to be a rooster:

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And here is our baby June at about the same age:

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See? Not much going on with the comb yet. I am counting on June not to turn out to be Junior. My neighbor managed to pawn off one of his roosters on another flock. The fate of the other one has not, ahem, been openly discussed. I am really, really hoping that this sweet little chick is, indeed, a chick. You might say her life depends on it…

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Dispatches from the fog zone.

At first I couldn’t place the sound – what was that humming I heard? I walked down the hall to better hear it – ah, yes, it was the furnace kicking in. The heat had come on. Of course. Because it is June in Santa Barbara.

It’s that trickster month for tourists who show up to sample sunny California and instead get treated to our famous June Gloom. According to the Wikipedia article on the phenomenon, “this weather pattern is relatively rare, and occurs only in a few other parts of the world where climates and conditions are similar.” Tell me where they are so I can avoid them, please.

To be fair, this hasn’t been our worst June. There have been a few glorious summery days and at its worst the sun has at least shone in the afternoons. Polling neighbors on my morning walks, half of them claim to love it: “an excuse to stay in my pajamas all day!” And the rest of us sink into a muffled despair and wait for July…

I’m not sure which camp our cat Dodger is in, but he’s thinking about it. Can you see him?

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There are consolations. The neighborhood spiders are hard at work, making necklaces for the shrubbery:

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The gardenias are blooming and the air is filled with their perfume.

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A pair of mourning doves have moved in to serenade us at dusk, and there are bunnies everywhere!

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The remaining baby chick is thriving and her name, chosen by the grandsons is, appropriately, June. Maybe because she’s the color of fog.

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Meanwhile, I just add layers for the morning walk. A shirt, a shirt over the shirt, a sweater, a wrap. And don’t forget gloves. Brrrr!

At least baby June knows how to stay warm…

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