Written by Hulda Lawrence
Just off Central Park West at One West 67th Street, (212) 877-3500, is the delightful Café des Artistes where one enjoys windows bedecked with a myriad of fresh flowers, the service is excellent and the food is top-drawer. The creation of George Lang a number of years ago, this is a place to see and often be seen, but it also is charming and relaxing. Recently, George returned to Budapest in his home country to share some of his American luck with Gundel, a fine restaurant in an exotic atmosphere there.
Not only is the food delicious and beautifully served at Café des Artistes, but the aura is fantastic. Howard Chandler Christy, one of the earliest residents of the adjacent Hotel des Artistes, which was constructed in 1917, painted six murals of lovely nude nymphs. As one sips a martini at the intimate bar one can gaze at these lovely maidens.
On our recent visit, we shared a Lobster Salad which is graced by some wonderful German style potatoes. The lobster was tender and tasty. Another dish we enjoyed was Salmon Five Ways: hot-smoked, cold-smoked, gravlax, poached and tartare. This is a superb treat. We could not resist sampling the Sturgeon Schnitzel, but felt the other dishes were superior. Whatever the food, the accompanying sauces were excellent and quite varied.
There is a fine list of wines by the glass. We enjoyed Pouilly-Fuisse, "Les Murgets," Roger Lassarat, Burgundy 2001 and Chardonnay, Jordan, Russian River Valley, California 2000. The wines by the glass range from $8 for Egri Bikaver Bulls Blood "Gundel" Lang-Lauder Vineyards, Egri, Hungary 1999 to Veuve Clicquot "Yellow Label" Brut, Reims, France at $19. From the huge wine list there are such choices as Paulliac-Chateau Moutor Rothschild 1990 at $690 and Relentless, Sonoma 1999, $195; Batard Montrachet, Grand Cru, Domaine Leflaive 1997 at $450. There also are a good number of half bottles. A number of dessert wines are available by the glass, vintage ports as well as Madeira, Cognacs, Calvados, Brandies, Armagnac, Grappa and Eaux de Vie.
The daily luncheon prix-fixe at $25 consists of three courses. The first course is a choice of Corn Chowder, Mixed Green Salad or Country Pate. The luncheon main course is either Halibut sautéed with arugula and salad with a spicy mango cilantro and pepper dressing or Roasted Half Chicken with basmati rice, dried apricots and haricots vert. Dessert is Ice Cream or Sorbet, Key Lime Pie or Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Cake.
From the a la carte menu first courses include Corn Chowder, Mixed Green Salad, Endive Salad with grapes, walnuts and crumbled Stilton, a half dozen oysters, Fresh Sardines, the Salmon Five Ways, Andre's Country Pate, Steak Tartare, Cheese Sampler and a Fresh Fruit Platter. First course prices are $9 to $19.
Second courses are Smoked Salmon Benedict, Omelette Forestiere, Kitchen-Smoked Chicken, Chicken Salad Waldorf with snow pea pods, apples and walnuts, Red Snapper, Hanger Steak, Pot au Feu with bone marrow, Duck Confit, and a platter of Roasted Seasonal Vegetables. Second courses are $19 to $26.
Desserts are Berry Tart, Apple Strudel, Key Lime Pie, Banana Hazelnut Torte, Caramelized Banana on a hazelnut crust with banana sorbet, Ilona Torte, Flourless Walnut Espresso Chocolate Cake, a Trio of Crème Brulee: chocolate, lavender and vanilla, hot fudge and berries. A variety of sorbets and ice creams are always available and for those who eschew sweet there is a Cheese Sampler with fig and almond preserve at $18. Desserts are $10 with the Napoleon $14 and the Crème Brulee $12.
At dinner, first courses also include Wild Mushroom Ragout or Seared Foie Gras. Main course in addition to those mentioned at lunch present Maine Lobster; Herb-Crusted Tuna, Turbot, Dover Sole, Duckling Two Ways (tea-smoked breast and crisp confit leg with currants), Squab, Roasted Half Chicken, Steak Frites and Rack of Lamb. Dinner entrees are $27 for roasted vegetables to $45 for Dover Sole. There is a nightly prix fixe at $45 with about the same choices as at luncheon.
This is a wonderful place to celebrate or just to have a fine luncheon or dinner in a charming environment.
Hours: Lunch Monday through Friday, noon to 3 p.m.
San Domenico at 240 Central Park South at 59th Street, (212) 265-5959, is a handsome and totally delightful restaurant. Under the control of Tony May who created it in 1988, San Domenico has drawn the finest comments and has attracted the rich and famous to its doors. On a recent afternoon, we were warmly greeted and after being seated, my eyes moved to the huge slicing machine right inside the entrance to the dining area. It was made by Berkel in Middlesex, England and is a wonder at thinly slicing the divine prosciutto which tasted better to me than that what I had eaten in Parma, Italy!
We nibbled as we sipped our drinks, a Negroni for my companion and a perfectly mixed Cosmopolitan for me. We relaxed in this well-lit, subdued ambience with a minimum of noise and knew we were in for an exceptional food experience.
Although there is a three-course luncheon special at $20, we opted for choices from the regular menu. One of the outstanding "starters" is Uovo in Raviolo al burro Nocciola Tartufato, a great and delicious egg yolk filled raviolo with truffled butter. We also shared Trofie con Pesto alla Moda Ligure, fresh pasta twists with Ligurian, small-leaves basil pesto and Pecorino cheese. Other appetizers include a marvelous Zuppa Fredda di Pomodoro e Scalogno con Ricotta Salata ed Erbe della Macchia Mediterranea, chilled tomato and shallot soup with aged ricotta and Southern Italian herbs; Insalata di Finocchio, Arancia e Indivia all'Olio e Limone; Fennel, orange and endive salad; Coda de manzo in gelatina di aceto di riso can insalata di sedano, rucola e ravanelli, oxtail terrine flavored with rice vinegar with celery, wild rucola and radish salad; Spaghettoni alla Chittarra con Pomodoro e Basilico; Tagliatelle alla Bolognese; Ravioli del Plin al Burro e Salvia; and Risotto alle Zucchine e Menta. These starters are $8.50 for house salad to $21 for the Risotto.
For our main course we shared Insalata I Gamberi del Tirreno e Fagioli Cannellini Nani all'Olio Extra Vergine, whole shrimp and rice-bean salad with rosemary and extra virgin olive oil. After our filling appetizers, this was a perfect main course. Other entrees include Insalata di Pomodoro; Tonno e Lattuga; Inslata de Petto de Farona con Julienne de Pomodori e Porri e Montastio all'Aceto Balsamico, guinea hen salad with tomatoes, leeks and Montasio cheese in a Balsamic dressing; Mozzarella de Bufala con peperonata fredda al basilico e capperi fritti; Bufala mozzarella with basil-scented peperonata and fried capers from Panelleria; special fish of the day; Branzini all'Acquapazza con Fregola Sarda, fillet of sea bass in a light tomato zucchini herbed broth with "fregola sarda" Galletto Fritto al Rosmarino e Patatine al Forno, fried Cornish hen scented with garlic and rosemary with roasted potatoes and Scaloppa di Bitello Milanese con Zucchine e Pomodoro. These main dishes are $15 to $19.50.
A wide variety of wines are available by the bottle. There are ten Italian wines which can be ordered by the glass from $7.50 to $12.50, with such choices as Valpolicella, Orvieto, Chianti, Merlot and our choice, Pinot Grigio, Rubini, Friuli, 2001.
The extensive list of desserts made our mouths water, so we chose several to taste. They were so fine, we ate every crumb. Tiramisu "San Domenico," Pannacotta con Fragole e Salsa all'Aceto Balsamico, an eggless milk custard with strawberries and a caramelized balsamic vinegar was dense and excellent; Bomba all'Arania con Biscotto all'Amaretto, orange semifreddo with Amaretto crust was very good and the rich Tortino al Cioccolato e Nociola con Gelato all'Amaretto e Salsa ai Fruitti di Bosco, warm chocolate and hazelnut torte with amaretto ice cream in a mixed berry sauce. There is a ten-minute wait for this wonderful dessert and it is well worth it. In addition to the above there are Pollenta Nera, warm polenta hazelnut and dark chocolate over a white chocolate sauce; Baba al Rum with orange salad; Napoleon of Zabaglione cream with chocolate shavings and Amaretto cookie crumbs; Tart of sheep ricotta and raisins over an "Orzata" sauce. With our cappuccino, we relaxed and leisurely enjoyed our "Dolci," which are $12.50 for sorbets and ice creams to $15.50 for the Tortino. As an after-luncheon drink we were brought Muscato di Asti and we left sated and happy.
Of course, the dinner menu is comparable to those dishes served at lunch with a slight increase in price. Service is impeccable and the atmosphere is friendly. In addition to the formal restaurant, Tony May has private rooms available for groups of small family parties. The dinner prix-fixe is $32.50 and is served seven days a week from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m.
Hours: Luncheon is served Monday through Friday. Dinner is served seven days a week
The dollar sign indicates the approximate cost of dining for two persons, excluding beverages, tax and gratuity.