Meandering Through Manhattan

Attending the annual meeting in New York of the Masters of Fox Hounds Association (the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible, to quote Oscar Wilde), Mrs. C and I ensconced ourselves at The Pierre and made a culinary tour of Manhattan in the limited time we had, arriving Wednesday in time for lunch and departing after breakfast the following Sunday. 

Our first meal I need to comment on for reasons that will become apparent was breakfast at Sirio’s (one and the same Sirio who owns the iconic Le Cirque), the restaurant within the Pierre. Wanting only coffee, I declined a menu, but the ever voracious Mrs. C had orange juice, tea, two organic eggs, bacon and coffee. I was a bit surprised to find that this breakfast for one and an extra coffee, with tip, came to $80.00. It is for that reason I wanted to illustrate what you can get in Manhattan, at nice restaurants, for the equivalent of breakfast at the Pierre. To level the playing field, if I had ordered the same breakfast, excluding the tea, breakfast for two would have been $150.00, with nary a drop of alcohol. I have devised for your ease in comparison, a numerical formula to gauge the difference – the numerator of which is the cost at the Pierre and the denominator of which is the cost at the other restaurants. I have called this the “Pierre Hotel’s Unreasonable Quotient/Manhattan Equivalency”, or PHUQ/ME factor, but I urge caution if you choose to read this in public.

Our first stop after check-in was Todd English’s restaurant in the food court at The Plaza, two blocks from the Pierre and a short stroll taking us by the horse drawn carriages (more on that later) on Central Park South. I had an exquisitely prepared and generous portion of grilled octopus (whole tentacles) on a fresh salad. Mrs. C had an equally satisfying cioppino, and the bill (excluding alcohol, as I will do with most future comparisons) with a tip came to $80.00, generating a PHUQ/ME factor of 1.875. Obviously, the higher that the factor, the greater the bargain of the comparison restaurant.

Dinner that evening was at Felidia, an Italian establishment as formal as it is famous, and worth the price of admission, although I can feel free to say that since my joint Master, Dina, picked up the tab. The lure of house made pasta was so strong to Mrs. C that she took a gluten antidote before dinner and charged into the pasta with braised duck full speed ahead, feeling no worse for the wear the next morning from the gluten, though I wish I could say the same for her about the prosecco. Unable to resist octopus in any venue, I had an appetizer of yet another, but different, octopus salad and an entrée of lobster and ricotta stuffed ravioli. Wine with dinner and the obligatory proseccos for Mrs. C ran the tab for three tangential to $400.00 (similar to dinner for two at Bacchanalia), but backing out a bottle of wine, a martini and two glasses of Prosecco, the bill would have been $250.00. Adjusting the Pierre’s breakfast to include three diners with the appetite of Mrs. C, that bill would have been $219.00, yielding an adjusted PHUQ/ME factor of .876, which, while lower that our earlier lunch, was, all things considered, quite a bargain. As I said earlier, this restaurant is worth the price of admission. 

Thursday’s lunch took us to Bagatelle, a rather new restaurant of French origins in the meat packing district. In addition to a delightful menu, there is an emphasis on Champagne, by the glass or the bottle. It is the first establishment I have patronized that offered Dom Perignon by the glass ($90.00). I had a delicious and generous charcuterie platter and Mrs. C had what was described as a tuna tartare and avocado salad, which was a beautiful round five or six inches in diameter and at least an inch high of guacamole topped with no less than a quarter pound of expertly prepared tuna tartare. We had no room for dessert, and had Mrs. C not been indulging her weakness for the grape, the tab would have been $80.00, yielding another PHUQ/ME factor of 1.875, yet another bargain.

Duty called me Thursday night to a dinner at the Union Club for the ostensible purpose of my New York journey, attendance at the Masters’ dinner for the MFHA. Mrs. C however dined with friends at Molyvos prior to their engagement with The Lion King. This Greek restaurant on Seventh Avenue in the theatre district has been a must for us since we first discovered it on an earlier trip and we have dined there three or four times. Since her dinner was prior to the show and she had no desire to snore through the musical, Mrs. C eschewed alcohol and had only an entrée, generating a bill of $40.00 and a PHUQ/ME factor of 2, a rather high figure, but in fairness to The Pierre, she had no appetizer, coffee or dessert.

Friday’s lunch took us to Al Dente, an Italian spot on Amsterdam Avenue a few blocks behind the Museum of Natural History, that morning’s tourist destination. As is my practice, I dined lightly, after all, the real trick for lunch in New York is to eat enough to satisfy your appetite while guaranteeing that you will still be hungry at dinner. For this reason I had only an appetizer portion (though exceedingly generous) of fried squid and Mrs. C had a salad caprese and a rather large bowl of well prepared mussels. Excluding her obligatory two glasses of Prosecco, the bill, again, hit that sweet spot of $80.00, for the third PHUQ/ME factor of 1.875.

For dinner Friday we chose to visit the food court at the Plaza again, since on our first visit we discovered a caviar and champagne bar. We each had a platter containing two ounces of exceedingly exquisite paddlefish caviar, which easily passes the blindfold test when compared to beluga or sevruga. In addition we had a bottle of Perrier Jouet Champagne, bringing the tab, including Champagne, to $210.00, for a PHUQ/ME factor of .71. All things considered, on my next visit I will go there for breakfast if they are open – it was that enjoyable.

Saturday’s lunch took us to Carravagio, an upscale Italian restaurant on the upper east side on Madison Avenue. This is our second visit there, and on our first we dined with Yoko Ono, although for full disclosure we were not at the same table. I had a mixed seafood grill, which consisted of  (and each item I describe will be large) a scallop, a shrimp, a tentacle of octopus, and a chunk of lobster tail. Mrs. C had a salad caprese and a white bean soup with mussels, the portion of which was so generous that she could not finish it and pushed it in front of me for disposal. Again excluding her proclivity for Prosecco, the bill came to  just a hair over $100.00, generating a PHUQ/ME factor of .80, which, while lower than the rest, was an absolute steal considering the ingredients, the preparation, the presentation and the ambiance.

Desiring a bit of an ethnic dining experience, Saturday night we joined another couple, the ever ebullient and adventurous (having never partaken of Indian cuisine) Master and Mrs. L at Dawat, Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian outpost in Manhattan. Once again, in order to level the PHUQ/ME factor playing field, everything has been adjusted to allow for breakfast for four coming in at $288.00. Dinner for four, including a variety of appetizers, my obligatory butter chicken (the national dish of Britain), two mixed tandoori grills, and a tandoori lamb sausage dinner, with lemon rice and some of the best naan extant, came to $200.00, yielding a PHUQ/ME factor of 1.44, the hands down winner in this comparison, all things considered.

We did not have dessert at Dawat, because on our walk there from the Pierre to meet Master and Mrs. L, we spotted a lovely looking window for a bar, decorated as though it was a shop window at Bergdorf’s but for alcohol, with a sign that read “Entry around the corner through the courtyard”. As we followed the directions to the door, imagine our surprise when we discovered the bar was part of Le Cirque, yes, you get the connection, Sirio’s restaurant. Mrs. C and I each had a martini, but the large glass, filled to the spilling point with top shelf ingredients, Hendrick’s gin for me and Grey Goose for Mrs. C, eased the $20.00 tab for each, displaying for me why I love New York, they may charge, but they deliver.

With that as a backdrop, our ever eager companions, even after being forewarned about the possibility of a $9.00 cup of coffee, chose to join us for dessert at Le Cirque, where we each had selections that bordered on works of art from a presentation standpoint, as well as that of taste, and coffee. Once again you must imagine our surprise to discover that Sirio only charges $4.00 for coffee at Le Cirque as opposed to $9.00 at The Pierre. With desserts at $15.00 (and worth it), four coffees and a tip came to $100.00, generating a PHUQ/ME factor of 2.8, exceedingly high in our favor, but again in fairness to The Pierre, it was only dessert and coffee. 

So what should you do if staying at the Pierre (which I highly recommend) and finding yourself in need of breakfast. Just around the corner on Madison Avenue is an old fashioned coffee shop/diner – Viand. Their breakfast of two eggs, bacon, hash browns, orange juice (fresh) and two coffees, including tip was $30.00, and there was more food than at Sirio’s. While there was a less elegant ambiance, elegance is not as important at 8:00 a.m. as it may be at 8:00 p.m. One morning Mrs. C had Canadian bacon for a change, and while I noted two very large slabs and was thinking it was quite a bargain, it was not until she unearthed two more slabs from beneath her hash browns that I realized what a bargain it truly was. I also glanced at another patron who had ordered sausage with his eggs, and noted that he had three links, each the size of a knockwurst. 

In closing, allow me my bully pulpit. One evening after dinner Mrs. C and I decided to take a carriage ride through Central Park. You have no doubt read or heard news reports about either the abuse or the neglect of the carriage horses. As a long time rider and horse owner let me assure you nothing could be farther from the truth. Every horse I saw there was well groomed, probably too well fed (they could use more exercise, not less) and happy. When not engaged with a fare they are blanketed and not shivering. The drivers depend on these animals for their livelihood and it stretches the imagination to think they would mistreat them. The push to ban the trade is economic and political. Years ago I packed a pair of half chaps and paddock boots so that I could ride a horse in Central Park before they went the way of the buffalo. I was lucky I did because they did. Their stable on the upper west side is now luxury condos. I was not about to let this opportunity get away from me. The carriage ride was $100.00 for forty five minutes including the tip for our driver, who was really more of a tour guide through Central Park and Manhattan history. I hope they are there for your next visit.

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