Ah, NYC Restaurant week, the only time I can justify trying new, trendy, expensive, etc. restaurants that I otherwise wouldn't think about. Twice a year for two weeks, lots and lots of restaurants through Manhattan participate in restaurant week with $25 brunches & lunches and $35 dinners. It's a great way to eat your way through the city without feeling too guilty (those drinks will add up though). With brunch and lunches (only a handful of restaurants offer the brunch option), a main course and dessert is offered; dinners are a starter/appetizer, main course and dessert. Reservations are made through Open Table via the Restaurant Week site.
Some friends and I decided to have dinner at Fig and Olive in the Meatpacking District. I can't speak for everyone's idea of a typical, stylish New York City restaurant, but this fit the idea in my head. When you walk in scented candles fill the area around the hostess stand and bottles of olive oil are lined along the tall shelves. The restaurant itself had tall ceilings with wicker lamp shades hanging, wine lined shelves separating the dining area and white linen chairs surrounding the table. The music switched between melodic and a few oldies, but nothing too distracting. The hosts were nice enough, and although we were told our table would be ready in two minutes, we ended up waiting closer to fifteen. It was a Friday night, so it wasn't too bad of a wait.
Once we were seated I skipped the dinner menu since I had already decided what I wanted earlier that day so instead I studied the drink menu. The drink prices weren't that bad (for not only being a Manhattan restaurant, but a Meatpacking restaurant), being either $12 or $14, their signature martini the only $16 option. I decided to start with the Sweet Red Pepper and it most definitely hit the spot; I'm hoping to recreate it at home sometime soon. I was afraid it'd be too sweet or juice like what with muddled strawberries and passion fruit syrup, but it was light and smooth and the red pepper gave it a summery taste. For the opener I went with the Maine Lobster Bisque. IT WAS DELICIOUS. I would definitely recommend it. I should go into specifics, but it was just damn good. That's it. For the main course I went with the Pumpkin Sage Ravioli (with chicken. this wasn't listed in the menu title but it's in there. I mention this because we had a vegetarian in our group and because it seemed like chicken wasn't a main component it could removed from the menu item, but it couldn't). It was a solid dish. Nothing too exciting about it, but I liked having the crunchiness of the toasted pumpkin seeds scattered around. Dessert was the Chocolate Pot de Crème. Delicious, and like the main course, it satisfied me.
Overall, I really loved this place and might actually go on a regular night. The only downside was for my vegetarian friend. The only option for the starter was a salad and she had no options for the main. They ended up making her a pasta dish, but it literally was just pasta and oil. No vegetables or additional sauces. That was a disappointment.
The one brunch I did during Restaurant Week was at Pera Soho. I will say, the food was delicious, but everything else was disappointing. The restaurant has more of a lounge vibe so it felt a bit odd eating brunch in a place that you feel there'd be club music and Wall Street guys bragging about their money. Plus the tables were just awkward to maneuver ourselves into (two of us are on the taller end). When I asked the hostess what kind of place this was at night she said she doesn't really know; every night it's a different vibe and crowd. So take that as you will. Their outdoor space looks wonderful, but it was winter and slush was everywhere, but if it were summer, we definitely would have wanted to sit out there. We received our first order of drinks pretty fast (I started with the sangria, tasted like juice to be honest) but the food was another story. We were already done with round two of the drinks by the time our food arrived. I got the Eggs Benedict which had some tasty beef patrima and herb roasted potatoes on the side. A friend got the Shakshuka Eggs and was in love. Our dessert arrived not too long after our main course. Two of us got the chocolate mousse (I think I have a think for mousse/puddings) and the third got the baklava. There were no complaints in the dessert department. Then came time for the check. With only two other tables we figure it would come out soon enough but our waiter was nowhere to be found and finally after about 20 minutes I went to the hostess stand to ask for the check.
Basically, come for the food, nothing else. I may have to give it another try once it gets warmer to check out the outdoor patio.
Oh, 21 Club, how I love you. There is something about this place where they would have to do something majorly terrible for me to hate it. I love the old supper club feel to it, the kitschy ceiling with toy planes, trucks, football helmets and more. There is so much history in this place and it has been featured and/or mentioned in many many movies and television shows including Valley of the Dolls and Sex and the City. Though it was only my third time coming here, I hope the fantasy of it doesn't grow old for me in the years to come.
To give you a little history about this restaurant:
The original 21 Club opened in Greenwich village in 1922 by cousins Jack Kreindler and Charlie Bersand and was one of America's most famous speakeasies. It relocated two other times until settling into its current location (West 52nd Street) on January 1, 1930. They have stored private wine collections for many of the famous including a few Presidents, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Zsa Zsa Gabor and many more. The area where they stored these collections is still a wine cellar for the restaurant itself but part of it was remodeled as a private dining area. In 1985 the families of Jack and Charlie sold their interests in the restaurant to General Felt Industries then 10 years later, the heads of that company sold the restaurant to Orient-Express Hotels.
Back to my adventures at 21 Club.
I arrived a little early so I took a seat in their Bar '21' and within seconds a drink menu and tray of assorted nuts and some sort of tasty rice snacks (at least that's what they reminded me of) were set in front of me. I started with the Blood and Sand and DAMN was that delicious. Obviously if you don't like whiskey, it won't be so tasty, especially since they did not skimp on the alcohol. Once my friend arrived there was a bit of confusion about whether our table was ready or not, but eventually, we were seated.
My friend and I were seated at Fred Trump (Donald Trump's father) and Dick Flanagan's official table where we were told Donald Trump would sometimes accompany them for meetings.
I started with the Maine Crab and Salmon Tartare (again with the seafood as a starter?). To be honest I can see a few people not being a fan because there was a strong, salty vinegary taste to it, but I love salty foods and you can't go wrong with a seafood tartare.
For the main I went with the Faroe Islands Salmon. It was what it was. I was so impressed with the flavors of the starter that the salmon seemed a bit dull for me.
Keeping with the theme of my previous Restaurant Week desserts I went with the Chocolate Panna. The difference between those chocolate mousse types and this one was that this one came with a bit of citrus, it was a great balance (my favorite Christmas tradition is to get one of those Terry's Chocolate Oranges, so it's like they knew).
Bottom line: I'll be honest, the food isn't always kick you in the crotch, spit on your neck fantastic, but it's never disappointing and it's the general vibe this restaurant gives that makes it worth going. It seems intimidating because of it's history and dress code, but the bartenders, wait staff, hosts, etc. are always willing to answer any questions or tell you a fun fact about the place. I'll admit I can't afford to eat here on a non-Restaurant week night (maybe someday) but in the meantime I'll pretend I can. And to read more about their history and possibly sitting in a famous regular's spot, click here.
With that, I'm looking forward to NYC Restaurant Week in the late summer and trying some new and some familiar places.