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Café Gray - Closed Now, But 2009...


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I had lunch at the bar there on Friday. I had grilled striped bass with olive oil mashed potatoes, artichokes, and a bell pepper/saffron emulsion. The fish was great - medium-rare and moist. Minced black olives on top, when used judiciously, added a great salty flavor.

allison

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  • 4 weeks later...

I had a late dinner last nite and felt the need to post a quick note this morning. It was the 6th or 7th time I've been to Cafe Gray for dinner. Both the food and service continue to amaze me. I don't think there is any restaurant in NY serving better food right now. I also can't think of any restaurant where there is as big a discrepancy between the quality of food and the quality of service. I keep coming back for the food but it is a real shame they can't get their front of the house act together. Just an observation, but staff turnover seems high too.

Andrew

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[...]I keep coming back for the food but it is a real shame they can't get their front of the house act together.  Just an observation, but staff turnover seems high too.

Signs of bad working conditions and a bad boss?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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  • 1 month later...

Had lunch there today. Service was pretty good, don't know if we were lucky or it's improved. I had the house salad, which was first rate, some microgreens, strips of root vegetables and leaf lettuce. Tasted like just picked, which is clearly impossible. Main was the short ribs with grits. Very good, but those weren't grits, at least as I know them (and I ate at Hominy Grill in Charleston last month). Very, very rich grits with lots of dairy products I think. The flavors are strongly Asian, Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese, not Japanese. Dessert was cheesecake, which turned out to be a very good and light blueberry thing, almost custard like. My three courses were about $50, which is pricy for lunch. My friend had the prix fix for I think about $46. A thin grilled piece of white fish to start, covered with a vegtable dice (pepper I think) and pomegrante seeds, which were memorable. Again, strong asian flavor (friend is Japanese, says flavir is not Japanese). Main was vension, which was small strips cooked quite though, and covered with seseme seeds. Reminded me of bo luc lac, Vietnamiese stir fried beef, and I couldn't tell it was vension. My least favoriet dish. Dessert was a very good almond cake.

I thought overall it was in the two to three star range. It is a little pricey. The salad was four stars, the desserts were three star, rest was two to three star range, very good but not remarkable. And maybe too much Asian flavor for what is supposed to be a cafe in Vienna.

I think the decor is fine. It's quasi art novo, vintage 1910. It could be better done, but the concept is sound. The frosted glass for example is a copy of Lacique I think, for a real and much better example, look at the upper floor windows at Henry Bendel on 5th Ave. The same thing with the early vintage light bulbs, the newspaper rack in the bar (same as Neue Gallary's cafe) and the overall use of shapes.

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[...]

I thought overall it was in the two to three star range.  It is a little pricey.  The salad was four stars, the desserts were three star, rest was two to three star range, very good but not remarkable.  And maybe too much Asian flavor for what is supposed to be a cafe in Vienna.[...]

Interesting report, Todd. It sounds like you've been to Vienna. I have not (unless going from one train station to another on the way from Italy to Hungary counts, and I don't think it does). I take it Asian-influenced fusion cuisine is uncommon in Viennese cafes nowadays? The reason I ask is that the way someone who hasn't been to a place or has been there but not recently thinks about the food there may be different from how it is now. I used to find it odd that Malaysian restaurants in New York were serving Tom Yam soup, which is a typical Thai soup. Tom Yam soup was never considered part of Malaysian cuisine in the 1970s, but now, it's served all over the place in Malaysia, so Malaysian restaurants in foreign countries have followed suit.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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[...]

I thought overall it was in the two to three star range.  It is a little pricey.  The salad was four stars, the desserts were three star, rest was two to three star range, very good but not remarkable.  And maybe too much Asian flavor for what is supposed to be a cafe in Vienna.[...]

Interesting report, Todd. It sounds like you've been to Vienna. I have not (unless going from one train station to another on the way from Italy to Hungary counts, and I don't think it does). I take it Asian-influenced fusion cuisine is uncommon in Viennese cafes nowadays? The reason I ask is that the way someone who hasn't been to a place or has been there but not recently thinks about the food there may be different from how it is now. I used to find it odd that Malaysian restaurants in New York were serving Tom Yam soup, which is a typical Thai soup. Tom Yam soup was never considered part of Malaysian cuisine in the 1970s, but now, it's served all over the place in Malaysia, so Malaysian restaurants in foreign countries have followed suit.

I spent a week in Vienna in about 1998. Many of the cafes there are never changing. It's a traditional kind of place. I have strong doubts Asian fusion cusine has made it into a typical cafe. Some of the places I went to boasted they had the same furniture in the 1848 "revolution." Places like the Hotel Sacher, as in Sachertorte, are still there. People seem to expect that sort of thing in Vienna. One odd touch at Cafe Gray is the glass of water served on the tray with your coffee, that is classic Vienna coffehouse.

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I don't think the idea is to serve typical Viennese cafe food. I think the Viennese cafe acts as a stylistic inspiration. Gray Kunz's food is sui generis.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I don't think the idea is to serve typical Viennese cafe food. I think the Viennese cafe acts as a stylistic inspiration. Gray Kunz's food is sui generis.

Serving a glass of water with the cup of coffee on a straight out of Vienna tray fits the decor, as does the floor length aprons of many of the front of the house staff. It's not that I mind Asian flavors, it's that nothing on the menu prepares you for them. Even the salad dressing is Asian. I don't expect hot rolls with raspberry sauce ala Vienna, but it would be nice to make it clear you had better like Chinese five spice powder. Incongerous flavors that are not consistent with ones' expectations. I would have to say there is more direct Asian style in the spicing than in any other quasi-french place in NYC that I have been to, and this was in four out of four dishes.

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We've eaten in Cafe Gray once. Vienna never crossed my mind. I didn't think it was supposed to be a cafe in Vienna. Was Vienna really mentioned at some point as a starting off place for Gray Kunz here? Having had Kunz' cooking at the Penninsula years ago, we didn't expect French cooking at Lespinasse either.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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We've eaten in Cafe Gray once. Vienna never crossed my mind. I didn't think it was supposed to be a cafe in Vienna. Was Vienna really mentioned at some point as a starting off place for Gray Kunz here? Having had Kunz' cooking at the Penninsula years ago, we didn't expect French cooking at Lespinasse either.

Quote from their entry on OpenTable "Modern French cuisine with Asian influences and an Eastern European flair: Cafe Gray is an upscale cafe with panoramic views of Central Park from Chef Gray Kunz, creator of the acclaimed New York Times 4-star rated Lespinasse." I assume that Cafe Gray's marketing people wrote that. The decor just screams Vienna and art novo. If my memory serves, before it opened, it was always described as an eastern euro cafe. That's why I found the strong Asian spicing odd. The menu gives no indication of Asian spicing and neither does the decor. It tastes good mind you.

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We've eaten in Cafe Gray once. Vienna never crossed my mind. I didn't think it was supposed to be a cafe in Vienna. Was Vienna really mentioned at some point as a starting off place for Gray Kunz here? Having had Kunz' cooking at the Penninsula years ago, we didn't expect French cooking at Lespinasse either.

Quote from their entry on OpenTable "Modern French cuisine with Asian influences and an Eastern European flair: Cafe Gray is an upscale cafe with panoramic views of Central Park from Chef Gray Kunz, creator of the acclaimed New York Times 4-star rated Lespinasse." I assume that Cafe Gray's marketing people wrote that. The decor just screams Vienna and art novo. If my memory serves, before it opened, it was always described as an eastern euro cafe. That's why I found the strong Asian spicing odd. The menu gives no indication of Asian spicing and neither does the decor. It tastes good mind you.

The decor at Lespinasse didn't exactly suggest Asian influences either. By now, the name Gray Kunz should. I don't find anything of art nouveau, which I associate with curvilinear decoration, in the decor of Cafe Gray. Perhaps there is something of Vienna and Europe east of Vienna in the wood and glass. I'm not the one to look for a connection as I find the decor at Cafe Gray rather heavy handed.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Has anyone sampled the brunch options here yet? I noticed in last week's New York that Café Gray had begun serving brunch, though the website and menupages.com do not make a note of it. (On Café Gray's website it is listed as "coming soon".)

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I think it's fair to say it's modeled, stylistically, after a Viennese cafe, in the sense that it looks much more like a Viennese cafe than it is like anything that existed before in New York. In particular, many of the fixtures come from that part of Europe or are based on designs inspired by that region. Then again, I'm not aware of any cafe in Vienna that looks like Cafe Gray. What Diego Gronda of the Rockwell Group (the designers) called it, as we reported in the Daily Gullet far in advance of the opening, was "abstraction of brasserie . . . different representations of brasserie."

I guess I'm wondering whether the alternative would be preferable: if you use Asian spices in your cooking, must you be limited to decorative schemes that involve paper lanterns and pagodas? Must you print on your menu, "WARNING: Whilst we have chosen decor reminiscent of Vienna, please be advised we utilize many Asian spices in our cuisine"?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I guess I'm wondering whether the alternative would be preferable: if you use Asian spices in your cooking, must you be limited to decorative schemes that involve paper lanterns and pagodas? Must you print on your menu, "WARNING: Whilst we have chosen decor reminiscent of Vienna, please be advised we utilize many Asian spices in our cuisine"?

Well, when the coffee at Cafe Gray arrived on a silver tray with a glass of water, the first thought that came to mind was "finally, something from Vienna!!" And I wouldn't say "warning, we use many asian spices in our cuisine", I would say "better like five spice powder." Much as I liked it. I had dinner at Sugiyama tonight, and that had less Asian spices than what Cafe Gray served.

I suppose that decor doesn't have to match the food, but it usually does. What would your reaction be if we reversed say Per Se and Decibel? Would Per Se's food taste as good in a dark, dank basement with obvious Japanese dive bar overtones? Would Decibel's microwaived bar snacks taste better at Per Se's space. Probably..........We depend on the visuals to give us clues (or if you want to more technical, signals) as to what kind of food to expect.

In any case, Cafe Gray is a fine place, but the spicing is inconsistent with what you get. I didn't expect (nor would any rational person not familar with Kunz) my short ribs with creamy grits to taste like Chinese 5 spice powder. And yes, if a restaurant has a really unfamilar way of doing something, it would nice if someone told you before you ordered. We don't realize how much we depend on dishes being fairly standard, based on very short menu descriptions. For example, how would you feel if you ordered roast chicken, expecting a nice crispy skin, and what you got was a skinless chicken. covered with red Tandori spices? Both are roast chicken....

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Has anyone sampled the brunch options here yet?

We went for Brunch last Sunday. Limited menu with some of the breakfast items spruced up slightly.

Tried the 'French Toast' - strongly recommended by server. Not bad, but didn't excite.

Also tried the short-rib sandwich. The meat was excellent, although BBQ sauce (served on side) was not as spicy as I like.

Creme Brulee was 'correct' but not as exciting as some.

Whole experience was 'middle-of-the-road' lacking any real excitement. Interestingly, saw several people walk out - it seemed as if they had been expecting a buffet-style operation.

Service was casual. Some dishes arrived before cutlery. Coffee never arrived until re-requested.

Summary - not worth a detour, but OK if you're in the area.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Dinner on Friday night was reallllly great. Oxtail roulade, oysters and caviar to start, and skate schnitzel (which I ordered purely for its name) for the second course. The sommelier convinced me to try a Long Island wine (my first!), just a glass, and I was pleasantly surprised.

We were seated next to the service kitchen, and loved that the cooks had a nice view (none of them seemed to be staring out the windows, though). I'd rather watch them work, to be honest.

I could write for an hour about the specifics and pacing of the courses, the plating, the balance of the spices but to me, here's what's important: The service was as attentive and kind when we left at 8:30, as it was when we were seated at 5:45 and the place was nearly empty. No one rushed us. Chef Kunz stopped by to say hello between courses. Wines were chosen with minimal fuss. The dining room was hopping, happy and upbeat -- no reverential silence or constant interruptions to admire and listen to descriptions of our food. And the food was terrific. I wouldn't have changed a thing.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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The need for a pre-Lincoln Center dinner brought me back to Café Grey last night. Only eight months since its eagerly anticipated opening, the place was deserted when I got there, and was pretty much still so by the time I left at 7:30. Several very casually dressed groups wandered in during their exploration of the Vertical Retail Space, poked their heads in the dining room, and then crept sheepishly back out. One can’t help wondering whether the unwelcoming décor – that sepulchral bar with its glacial temperatures, and the blinding glitz of the main dining room – put them off, or the formal aspect of the place.

This is a real shame, because they’re missing out on food that is as happily dazzling as the design around it isn’t – better even than I remembered from my first visit, when my group was slightly overwhelmed by the whole experience. Tucked comfortably into a banquette in the largely empty bar, without the glare of the main room and the bustle of the service to distract me, I was better able to concentrate on and appreciate the terrific cuisine Chef Kunz is turning out. A sweet & sour lemongrass nage all but made me gasp with each bite: a rich velvety fish stock flavored with galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, a whisper of chile, pineapple and lime juices, the whole so perfect that the bay scallops and lobster struck me as superfluous and actually distracting. A combo of crisped pork shank and tamarind-glazed slow cooked pork belly, served atop sauerkraut in a champagne sauce with crisp fried slices of scallion, was a circus of textures and flavors – maybe too many of both for some, but not for me. It was a pleasure to savor each and switch from one to the other, and I was sorry to see the plate taken away. I had a glass of a crisp, lean Veltlinger with it, not necessarily a great pairing with this very busy food but delightful on its own.

Did I have room for dessert? Nope. Did that stop me? Yeah, right. The hazelnut floating island, suspended in a pool of rich crème anglaise and tangy rhubarb, was a gossamer tower of barely cohered meringue, that looked like it might float away entirely like soap suds with one breath.

Café Grey provides the quintessential example of the True Gulleterers’ creed: ignore everything around you, focus solely on what’s on your plate, and life is glorious. At Café Grey this is definitely the approach to take, and the food is certainly worth it.

Food, glorious food!

“Eat! Eat! May you be destroyed if you don’t eat! What sin have I committed that God should punish me with you! Eat! What will become of you if you don’t eat! Imp of darkness, may you sink 10 fathoms into the earth if you don’t eat! Eat!” (A. Kazin)

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After six months of regular stops at CG, I have to agree with Ewindels. I love the food but could do without the atmosphere.

I paid my first visit there for brunch this weekend. I ordered the steak and eggs. The steak was a flatiron cut with a rather cloying sweet brown sauce, overwhelmed by what I'd guess was Chinese 5 spice. It was accompanied by garden variety scrambled eggs and something that I'd describe as a cross between cornbread and brioche toast. I didn't enjoy the sauce on the steak, and the whole thing wasn't remotely par with what they turn out for dinner. The portion was also quite small and cost $24. I hoped to salvage the meal with my current dessert favorite, "Rum Toast", but was informed this wasn't available at brunch.

I was also rather annoyed by the fact they were blaring music which at one point ventured into what I could only describe as latin teen pop. Just awful! Thank goodness someone finally switched things over to less intrusive jazz selections.

They do a great job at dinner, but I wouldn't bother with brunch. If you're in the area and want this sort of thing, walk across Columbus circle to Nougatine at Jean-Georges where they do a better job at lower price point.

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Hello everyone,

Its been a while but since I actually went somewhere new to me last night I thought that I'd share.

I was at an event in the time warner mall, uh center and afterwards I decided to indulge by having dessert at Cafe Gray. It was around 10pm and the place was still busy, so I knew I wouldnt be a nuissance by having dessert or I wouldnt have stayed. In any case, I sat at one of the comfy round tables in the bar room. The room itself was a bit much for me. I wasnt too fond of all those mirrors everywhere. But the music was lovely and it wasnt too loud. I checked out the entire menu and for me, eventhough I am a vegetarian now, nothing really leaped out at me as something I really wouldve wanted to try. In any case I had come for dessert. The dessert list was fairly lengthy, 2 sections, one of desserts and then one of only chocolate desserts. They were all very pricey ranging from $14- $17. Of course the one that I so desired was the $17 Cherry Almond Souffle with cherries flambe. I was informed that it would take 15min to prepare. I was more than willing to wait.

It was fun to people watch there. The crowd, unsurprisingly enough were made up of a lot of white older businessmen in suits downing martinis. The table next to me ordered about 7 appetizers. I heard them discussing really delicious foie gras sandwiches. I couldnt see too much of the main room, though I had seen it on a previous occasion when they first opened, but it was quite full from the heads I could make out through the glassware on the shelves.

In any case, I had a lovely chamomille tea while I waited for this $17 souffle to arrive. I don't know what I envisioned I would be receiving for paying such an steep price for a dessert. Well the souffle came and the server punctured the middle and poured the cherries flambe ( the flame had gone out- bummer) into the center. The top of the souffle was crispy with a crusty layer on top flowing over the ramekin. The middle as could be predicted was fluffly and warm. The flambed (sp?) were a bit too alcoholy for me. I think they were doused in rum, but i m not positive about that. I greedily gobbled it down, but in the end ,when my $23 bill came for tea and dessert, I suppose that I was rather disappointed. I had expected way too much from a dessert, but with a price tag like that, can you blame me?

the service was great and at the end a hostess came over and chatted with me and was very cordial. The atmosphere over all was very classy and it never got too loud though it wasnt full and i m not sure how the sound levels would be if it were a friday night.

Well, I guess thats all for now, back into hiding, though I do have a reservation at Per Se for May 17th! I m saving my pennies now for it and I hopefully will be able to go though again I wonder, with a meal that is truly outrageous in price, how high will my expectations be? and will I be disappointed if its not as amazing as it should be?

"Is there anything here that wasn't brutally slaughtered" Lisa Simpson at a BBQ

"I think that the veal might have died from lonliness"

Homer

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  • 2 months later...

I had a simply wonderful lunch at Cafe Gray yesterday. I started off with a refreshing chilled yellow tomato coulis with onion marmelade and basil. The texture and balance of flavor in this dish was masterful. At first I was suprised by how assertive the flavor of the coulis itself was, but it was balanced perfectly by the sweetness of the mamelade, with the baby basil leaves adding a high note on top. Next, the kitchen sent me out an obscenely decadent mushroom risotto with a nice hint of truffle, and what appeared to be sauteed chanterelles on top. I had to agree with the waiter when he said that "rice shouldn't be that good, no?". I've had my share of rich mushroom risottos in my life, but this was a standout. For my entree, I chose the Skate "schnitzel", which came with a melange of ingredients, that, on paper, appeared like they might be confusing when put together in the same dish. In the hands of most other chefs, this might have been the case, but not with chef Kunz, who is a master of balance. The skate was served with with capers, diced apples (poached in red wine), cauliflower florettes, beurre noisette, and what tasted like bright gastrique of some sort. The flavors were almost musical, with one flavor singing and then retreating into the background while another flavor would assert itself, but one would never overwhelm or clash with the other. Maybe I'm being a little silly with this analogy, but it was that good. At this point I was so full that I asked the waiter to kindly roll me out into the escalator, but apparently at Cafe Gray "I'm full" means "I would like dessert" because chef Kunz sent me out a whole assortment of sorbets, granites, and ice creams. These were served in one of the funkiest little pieces I've ever seen. It was a silver piece consisting of a shallow bowl with smaller bowls radiating off of it. Let's see: there was grapefruit granite, blueberry sorbet, pina colada sorbet, chocolate sorbet, peach sorbet, vanilla ice cream, and hazelnut ice cream. My favorite was the hazelnut ice cream. I almost asked for more (I still had a little room in my esophagus), but decided against it.

I was seated next to the open kitchen. A lot of people have complained about the setup of the restaurant and the fact the kitchen is in front of the windows. I personally like open kitchens, and I think that having it in front of the windows is a wonderful idea. It didn't really obstruct the view of the park, either. I wasn't such a fan of the decor, though, which was like a glorified '70's hotel lobby restaurant. Then again, who cares when the food is this good. I highly, highly recommend this place.

Nothing to see here.

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  • 3 months later...

I'm updating this thread to ask about service. The common complaint I've heard around is that the service doesn't stand up to the food. Do people have recent experiences that comply/contradict that?

Edited by raxelita (log)

Drink maker, heart taker!

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I might actually take the contrarian approach. Had a lengthy (2 hour) lunch there recently. The restaurant was about 1/3 full at 1:00pm. The food was good but not better than good. The wait staff was certainly very good to excellent (but nowhere near outstanding). The price, however, was outrageous. Lunch for 3, including 2 bottles of a village level borgogne, including tip, was just shy of $500.00. For that price, I can have outstanding food and service elsewhere.

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I went to cafe gray for the second time about two weeks ago - the first time, when it first opened - and I had the chance to try the indian summer menu... yellow tomato coulis, chicken a la king, my girlfriend had the pork chop... and the taste and size of the entrees exceeded all expectations. I don't go there for haute cuisine, I go for exceptional comfort food. If there's any restaurant in the neighborhood this is meant to compete against, it's cafe des artistes where I've been many times before but I'm 27 and wanting a menu and decor updated for my generation I find cafe gray to be ideal. it's disappointing it's as empty as it is as often as it is but they've managed to create an escapist environment with flash and flavor that doesn't suffer overkill by scenesters. the only other place that seems to do this well is pegu club in soho - no snobbery, superior service, sex appeal, and just as there you forget the dirty loud street down below crowded with the dos caminos overflow, at cafe gray you're transported somewhere more glamourous than a shopping mall, almost more glamourous than nyc. it's where one would go to live that wallpaper magazine fantasy.

the service on my first visit was mixed as there was no one at the host stand and after waiting I had to walk into the restaurant to find someone to seat me then because no one checked my name off in the computer system opentable told me I was a no-show, but this last time the staff was warm, the food was prompt, and after wondering what the chef was holding in his hand on the lid of the silver dish for the noodles, the man who explained the answer - or at least hazarded his best guess - took over as our waiter for the rest of the meal. I don't know if he was a floor manager, he was in a jacket and tie, but there were no flaws in transition. (versus one meal at tabla where when ordering the tasting menu a new waiter took over and started delivering the wrong courses.)

Edited by adamru (log)
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  • 1 month later...

Green Day New York City Entry #42

In my first 100 days in New York, I had studiously avoided entering New York's Neo-Geo Twin Towers: the once-and-future AOL Center, the Time-Warner Center: Manhattan Glitz Central.

I broke my fast with lunch at Café Gray, the namesake stake of Gray Kunz, the former chef at the much-loved Lespinasse. Café Gray is a down-market version of Lespinasse, but Chef Kunz's (and Chef de Cuisine Larry Finn's) artistry shines through.

Café Gray is dominated by its display kitchen - oddly situated in that the doings of the cooks block what is otherwise a stunning view of Columbus Circle. That kitchen owns Manhattan's most stunning view for culinary labor. Cooks typically suffer in cramped warrens or underground bunkers. What a gig!

Lunch at Café Gray mirrors dinner in the choices and in the prices charged. Some are priced identically, including a Alfred Portale vertically-inspired skyscraper salad ("Café Gray Bouquet of Greens"), while others are a buck cheaper at lunch, a tease for bargain hunting diners. For a lunch bargain try Gray's Papaya. Given the casual, if elegant, setting, a thirty-plus price tag for an entree at lunch is presumptuous, or would be anywhere other than in this cathedral of consumption. For those who won't venture outside of TWC, this is Filene's Basement compared to neighbors Masa and Per Se.

For this critic money is no object, although I stuck with one entree and a dessert, producing a truncated review. As my second (there was no first), I ordered Roast Col Vert Duckling with a Star Anise-Honey Glaze, served on a bed of chestnut and savoy cabbage. This was a characteristically Kunzian dish: a classical preparation with Asian tasting notes. The Col Vert Duckling is a smaller, less fatty bird than the standard Long Island duckling, and the flavor seemed more intense and gamy. The cooking was precise: not raw, but a half-notch beneath medium rare. Perfect. The star anise added an exotic excitement and the savoy cabbage/chestnut slaw provided a nod to classicism, serving as a bed for the medallions of breast and braised leg. I imagine after several servings, the dish might seem thickly sweet, but wisemen eat dessert first.

Dessert brought a deconstructed Baked Alaska. This was not a vexing experimental rendition, but a subtle symphony of the flavors of this most traditional of desserts with the addition of sage and mandarin, again the Kunz trademark (and that of pastry chef Chris Broberg). The heated meringue blanketed a sphere of rich milk chocolate ice cream with the orb in a sea of deep chocolate jus. On one side was mandarin gelee and the other a mandarin compote. It was as startling as it was classic, revealing the skills of a chef who loves the intersection of tradition and experiment.

A two course lunch with a glass of wine for $80 is a lot of green, but if the alternative is to shop shop shop, Café Gray might be the bargain of a New York December.

Café Gray

2 Columbus Center (Time Warner Center)

Manhattan (Midtown West)

212-823-6338

My Webpage: Vealcheeks

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