Written by Hulda Lawrence
Brasserie 8 1/2, 9 West 57th Street, (212) 829-0512; fax 212 829-0821. Not too long ago, Restaurant Associates opened a new place in the 9 West 57th Street Building, which is graced in front with a huge number '9'. This charming brasserie is aptly named 8½. It is wonderful to view the restaurant from street level above the curving stairway that leads those who want to walk down to the level on which the bar and several private party rooms are located, and then ultimately to the restaurant proper. It is airy and spacious with light and tall ceilings adding to the ambiance. For those who prefer, there is an elevator to transport diners to the restaurant level.
At a recent lunchtime, we were greeted by Michael Boyer, who escorted us to one of the banquettes which are wonderfully separated from each other and allow little sound from our neighbors. From this locale we could appreciate the floor-to-ceiling glass mural by Ferdinand Leger which separates the kitchen from the dining area. A number of works by Henri Matisse decorate the lounge area.
Each table is set with French butter and exceptional rolls. We relaxed over a Kir for me and a Negroni for my companion. Although prix fixe luncheon and dinner are offered, we opted to try dishes from the a la carte menu. We sampled the jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, a "first course," which arrived with an artichoke and sea bean salad. Other "first courses" include Fricassee of Wild Mushrooms, Braised Veal Cheeks, Organic Field Green Salad, Prince Edward Island Mussels and Frisee aux Lardons with Quail Eggs. These "first courses" are from $8 for Crispy Calamari to $12 for Veal Cheeks.
Our waiter, Keven, suggested we have that day's wine by the glass. Each day "by-the-glass" wines change. We sipped a good Cotes du Rhone and a Sauvignon Blanc. There is an extensive wine list with prices from $21 for Pinot Grigio Scarlotta 1999 to Chateau La Tour 1985 for $575; but there is a goodly number of wines in the mid ranges. There also are a number of half bottles available from $18.
We selected two "lighter" luncheon dishes. We shared a poached Lobster Salad, done with fennel, mango, avocado and dill, and an 8 1/2 Burger made with Swiss cheese and tomato chutney, and accompanied by beer batter onion rings and crisp delicious French Fries. The burger arrived exactly as ordered - on the rare side - and both dishes were excellent. Other lighter luncheon selections include Grilled Chicken Salad "Chinoise," Niçoise Salad and Grilled Hanger Steak Sandwich. Prices run from $16 for the burger to $25 for the lobster salad.
We also shared a fine Roasted Wild Ocean Striped Bass, a main course with black truffle vinaigrette, salsify and pea shoots. We already knew that Executive Chef Julian Alonzo was a devotee of seafood so this entrée was not to be overlooked. It was exceptional. Other main courses include Seared Sea Scallops, Seared Atlantic Salmon, Grilled Florida Pompano, Seared Tuna and Roasted Organic Chicken. Main course prices range from $19 for the chicken to $27 for the seared tuna.
Desserts were Baked New York State Apple with cognac sabayon and cider reduction. It was tasty and good. The Pumpkin Trio consisting of Crème Brulee, Cheesecake and Mousse each made deliciously from pumpkin and presented handsomely will take your breath way. Desserts are $8 and $9.
The prix fixe for lunch is priced at $25 - $32 at dinner. The dinner menu has many of the same selections as at luncheon with additions such as Tournedos of Beef, Pork Tenderloin, Roasted Baby Pig, Cote de Boeuf, Truffle Crested Loin of Lamb and Filet Mignon. Dinner entrees are from $19 to $29.
Brunch is served Sunday at Brasserie 8 1/2 from 1 p.m.. to 3:30 p.m. It is served buffet style and is $24 for adults and $14 for children under 12. This is a delightful place with superior food and fine service.
Hours: Luncheon: Monday-Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"21", (212) 582-7200; fax 212 586-5065, is still one of the places in New York to see, be seen and to enjoy some very satisfying food. There always are "stars" there relaxing and dining as well as "chewing the fat." "21" was founded by Jack Kriendler and Charlie Berns in 1920 in Greenwich Village. In 1929 it moved to its present location at 21 West 52nd Street. As everyone knows, it originally was known as a speakeasy and called Jack & Charlie's '21'. It soon became noted for its fine food.
We recently visited "21" and sat for a while in the Bar Room where the ceiling is decorated with all kinds of "toys," from Leon Hess' miniature gasoline truck to model airplanes, replicas of early radio mikes, jets and sports memorabilia. There also is a model of the PT-109 presented as a gift to "21" by President John F. Kennedy.
Our captain Orestes led us to our table in the dining room. The basket of bread included some rolls stuffed with black olives as well as some toasted raisin and nut bread. We nibbled as we imbibed ... a Negroni for my companion and Pellegrino for me.
From the luncheon menu we elected Maine Crab Cakes with cucumber salad and cumin-carrot emulsion. Lump crabmeat was definitely within these cakes and very good they were. From the menu group described as "21" classics we chose "21" Caesar Salad with garlic croutons and aged Parmesan cheese which had an excellent dressing. Maine Lobster Salad with roasted potatoes, long beans and tomatoes was another choice of ours.
The appetizers include Grilled Game Sausages, Roasted Loin of Rabbit, Pam Seared Foie Gras, Home Cured Smoked Salmon and Butternut Squash Soup with toasted pumpkin seeds and lump crabmeat Prices for this group of appetizers are from $14 for baby greens salad to $24 for the foie gras. The crab cake is $21.
The "21" classics include appetizers such as Cold Senegalese Soup with grilled Chicken and apples; and the Caesar Salad, $12 to $24. Other "21" classics are Mussels Marinara, Chopped Cobb Salad, Dover Sole, Chicken Hash, Game Pot Pie, "21" Burger and Steak Tartare. Prices are $26 for the Burger to $39 for the Lobster Salad.
As our main course we chose Grilled Filet Mignon with roasted eggplant and crisp potatoes. The meat was delicious, done very rare as we had requested it. With it we drank wines by the glass which were $8 to $20. We had Pinot Grigio San Pietro and Chardonnay Grgich Hill, Napa. There is a very extensive wine list with bottles to $4000 for Chateau Mouton Rothschild as well as La Rache Domaine de la Romanee Conti at $3600. Half bottles are available from $23 to $985.
Desserts can make everyone happy. We enjoyed Whiskey Scented Chocolate Cake with caramel ice cream. It was wonderful as was the individual Apple Pie with maple walnut ice cream. Other appealing desserts include Pineapple and Coconut Ice Cream Sandwich with caramel sauce, New York Style Cheesecake with fresh strawberries, Rum Soaked Raisin Cake, Vanilla Bean and cinnamon Rice Pudding, Vanilla Ice Cream Profiteroles with dark chocolate sauce and tasting of Chocolate Pudding, Butter Pecan Ice Cream and Rice Pudding. Desserts are $10. Grand Marnier or Chocolate Souffle is $13.
Diners entering "21" are greeted by statues of 32 lawn jockeys placed on the wrought iron balcony and on the grand staircase. The jockeys are a tradition which began back in the 1930s. The club was home to the "horsey" set and many breeders started donating jockeys to show their appreciation of "21".
Throughout the restaurant and in some of the private rooms above are magnificent paintings by Frederic Remington. The beginnings of this collection of old west cowboys came from those high profile customers who could not pay their sizeable bar tabs during the Great Depression. They settled their accounts by donating Remington paintings to "21". This engendered the collecting of more Remingtons by the owners in later years.
"21" is not inexpensive, however the "Upstairs" has 32 seats and provides a 3-course prix fixe dinner for $70. Diners must appear between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. The Bar room prix fixe in $37 (5:30 - 6:30 p.m. only). Another private room is the Wine Cellar which in the days of Prohibition was constructed to feed investigators who wanted to close "21" down. Now it can seat 20 guests. The restaurant is equipped to serve up to 1000 for cocktail receptions. The Bar room prix fixe in $37 (5:30 - 6:30 p.m. only).
The prestigious Orient-Express Hotels purchased "21" in 1995. It is a great spot to visit and everybody who is anybody goes there! You can learn more about the history of "21" by visiting www.21club.com.
Hours: Luncheon Monday-Saturday noon to 2:30 p.m.
The dollar sign indicates the approximate cost of dining for two persons, excluding beverages, tax and gratuity.