Written by Hulda Lawrence
Café Centro, in the MetLife Building at 200 Park Avenue, East 45th Street and Vanderbilt Avenue, (212) 818-1222, is a delightful spot for dining in the midst of one of the busiest pars of town. Inspired in décor by the legendary La Coupole in Paris with an art deco approach it is large, lively and the food is very good. As soon as one is seated, a long flute of wonderful French bread with excellent butter is brought and the mood is set.
The other day we lunched there, but in the past I have had dinner on numerous occasions and never have I been disappointed. A word must be said about the serving staff. It is well-trained and always helpful. This time our waitress was Mia from Thailand who did not need to be reminded to bring ice for my companion's drink.
At lunch, the menu is slightly different from what I had enjoyed at dinner on previous visits. There are daily plats du jour, the same price at both meals and only in the evening a prix fixe dinner. We began with taste of a fine Lobster Chowder and then appreciated the absolutely divine Crab Cakes done with salsify, pommery mustard and horseradish sauce. So far, they rate tops in my informal rating of crab cakes throughout Manhattan restaurants. They have very little breading and the crab flavor is wonderful. We also sampled Frisee aux Lardons, a salad with croutons and strips of aged Gruyere.
Our entree, Yellowtail Tuna, was accompanied by Ratatouille, Saffron Aioli and Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette. This was an excellent dish and we also sampled the Wednesday Plat du Jour, Cassoulet Toulousain of Duck Confit, Merguez Sausage and Stewed White Beans. The duck was tender and the sausage was nicely spiced. Our wines were a California Merlot for me and a Russian River Chardonnay for my companion. Incidentally, there are half bottles available as well as a wide variety of wines by the glass. Beers on draught include Guiness stout, Coors Light, Brooklyn Lager and Paulaner Pils. There are bottled beer as well. Wine by the glass is $7 to $9.50; half bottles are $12 to $24. Wines by the bottle are $19 to $29.
Desserts always are my downfall and the three we shared were outstanding. Strawberry Rhubarb Tart with Mixed Berry Sorbet and Chocolate Marquise Dome with Coffee sauce with a kiwi cookie were delicious. The Vanilla Crème Brulee with chocolate crust was sweet and different. Pastry Chef Philippe Falait does a good job.
Other luncheon entrees include Roasted Ocean Striped Bass, Mussels, Roasted Breast of Chicken, Seared Rib-Eye Steak du Poivre and Free-Range Herb-Roasted Chicken There is a Café Centro Hamburger, Steak Frites, Sirloin Steak and Filet Mignon. Pommes Frites arrive with all steaks. Luncheon entrees are $16 for Porcini Mushroom Omelet to $26 for two Jumbo Crab Cakes. Appetizers are $8 to $12.50 (for one Crab Cake). Desserts are $5.50 for ice cream to $7.50 for other delights.
In the evenings such specialties as Moroccan Lamb Tajine and Sauteed Filet of Sole can be ordered. The Prix Fixe dinner for $30 provides a choice of Gravlax, Mixed Greens or Wild Mushroom Risotto as an appetizer; Filet of Beef, Norwegian Salmon or Roasted Chicken as an entrée; and Chocolate Marquise Dome or Sorbet for dessert.
Executive Chef Frank Deletrain is from Paris, worked there and in Italy and came from Tropica Restaurant to Café Centro. He keeps an eagle eye on everything that happens and one of the joys for diners is that they can see their food being prepared and cooked through huge glass windows. General Manager Renaud Ammon from Bordeaux and Matthew Conlan oversee the working of this popular restaurant that handles 300 to 400 people for lunch. There is a private dining room and as in most Restaurant Associates enterprises, nothing is left for granted. It is well located for pre-theatre dining and for those commuting through Grand Central Station it is a breeze.
Hours: Monday through Friday: 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Siam Inn, 854 Eighth Avenue, (212) 757-4006, has been located right near the theatre district for 12 years and has been attracting many who live and work in the area. It is modest in appearance with only a few charming sculptures of Thailand perched high over the dining room. Its capacity is 72 people and they arrive, enjoy their food and leave. It is always busy and everyone seems satisfied and happy.
We stopped in a few days ago for lunch and learned a good bit about the food. We began by sampling two of the several soups on the menu. Soups can be ordered small from $3.75 or large from $10.95. Our Tom Yum Goon was a spicy and sour lemongrass soup with kaffir lime leaf, mushroom and chili with large shrimp swimming in it. It was a considerable contrast to our second soup, Tom Kah Gai, of chicken, lemongrass, coconut milk, kaffir lime leaf and mushroom.
Incidentally all foods are rated by stars indicating mild, medium or hot levels of spiciness. And a word must be stated about the marvelous way the vegetables are cooked . They are cooked, but barely and all their flavor comes through.
Next we had a delicious special appetizer of Crispy Fried Soft-Shelled Crab Salad. It was tossed with coconut lime dressing and served with baby greens, red onion, orange and cherry tomato at $8.95. Another taste pleaser was Thai Spring Roll made of crisp vegetables, cabbage, clear vermicelli, celery and mushrooms with a great wild carrot dipping sauce, at $4.25.
With our luncheon we were prepared to have wine by the glass from $5 (there is a choice of eight), but settled for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, Callaway Coastal for $17. The wine was light, not at all acidic and a fine accompaniment to our food. In fact, it impressed me so much I ran right out and bought a bottle to consume at home. Other wines include some from New Zealand, France, Australia, California and Chile with prices from $16 to $37.
Our main dishes were Young Coconut Shrimp, a combination of broiled jumbo shrimp stuffed with sea scallop and topped with young coconut meat, seasoned with panang curry sauce. It was served with curried rice and Thai salad and is $15.95. Our other main dish was Chicken Basil, Gra Prow Gai, and consisted of sautéed chicken with holy basil, white mushrooms, pepper, garlic and chili at $10.95. Both dishes were enticing and were considerably different from each other in levels of spiciness.
On another visit, Beef Curry, Shrimp with Wild Mushrooms, Chicken Chili, Siamese Fish, Bangkok Duck or Noodles might be ordered with prices from $10.95 to $16.95 for these various dishes. Then there is Yum Yum, spicy Thai salad with seafood, beef, duck or green papaya. The salads can be ordered in small or large portions from $4.95 to $12.95.
Other appetizers include Curry Puff, Fried Tofu, Steamed Dumpling with chicken, shallot, peanut and radish, or KA-Nom Jeeb dumplings filled with shrimp, crabmeat, pork and mushroom with spicy soy sauce. An appetizer for two might be Mee Grob, crispy noodle, shrimps and tofu glazed with tamarind sauce or a Sate of Chicken or Beef. Prices start at $1.25 for the puff to $9.95 for the sate and $8.25 for the Mee Grob for two.
Our dessert was Toong Tong, fried banana in crispy rice paper, honey and sesame seed and Taro Custard with apricot sauce.
We found that we had had a fine luncheon, but were not over stuffed as we exited the restaurant. Next time we will try some of the fancy mixed drinks at $6.50. Mai Thai of rum, triple sec, peach schnapps with orange and pineapple juice, or Bangkok Blessing of Mekhong Thai whiskey, apricot brandy, and Galliano with lemon and pineapple can be ordered.
Siam Inn is unpretentious and casual with waitresses dressed in the costume of the country. It is a fine place for before theatre, but no reservations are accepted.
Hours: Monday - Friday 11:45 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
The dollar sign indicates the approximate cost of dining for two persons, excluding beverages, tax and gratuity.