The Big Splurge
I’m not normally in favor of spending $350 on a single meal, but if you have a fat year-end bonus to blow, take the elevator up past the Aveda store to the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center, bow politely to the security guard patrolling the area, and take a seat at the glowing blond Hinoki-wood bar at Masa. If you find yourself face-to-face with a wry, middle-aged, vaguely monkish-looking gentleman, don’t lift a finger—Masa Takayama will do the rest. yama will do the rest. Maybe you’d enjoy a bowl of truffled uni risotto, or tuna rolls stuffed with milky pink tuna belly, and it’s perfectly permissible to close your eyes in quiet ecstasy when you take your first bite of Masa’s “Foie Gras Shabu Shabu.” But if by chance you don’t see Masa at the bar, or if they try to seat you at one of the small, dimly lit tables, do what my wife did when she first glimpsed our bill: complain bitterly, and threaten to turn on your heel and go spend all that cash at the Bose store downstairs.
Next door, at Per Se, the décor is pristine in an icy sort of way, the service is immaculate, and even if Thomas Keller isn’t actually in New York that day, he’s always connected to his palatial East Coast kitchen via videophone. The specialty of the house (following a bowl of truffled popcorn at the bar) is a profusion of small, preciously wrought, archly named dishes, many of which might be considered pretentious if they weren’t so damn delicious. Try the “Bacon and Eggs” (bits of braised calf’s head molded in a cake, with a poached quail egg wobbling on top), a sinful fat man’s treat called “Chaud Froid” (soft foie gras confit, apple purée, brioche croutons, and sweet cipollini onions), and anything you can find containing lobster, scallops, or snails.
If you tire of murmuring waiters and pious, fat-cat connoisseurs, then ride the escalator down to the third floor and join the party at Café Gray. Gray Kunz’s long-awaited second act is notable for old Lespinasse-style favorites like the lightly creamy lobster chowder, bowls of classically dense mushroom risotto, and tender, blocky short ribs braised down to their rich, beefy essence. But the real star of the show is the room itself: a sparkling, mirrored fun house, with a swanky bar area and a long, open kitchen that spreads before the rows of white-topped tables like a Broadway stage. Beyond the kitchen is a wall of windows looking out over Columbus Circle and Central Park. Suddenly, you don’t feel like you’re dining in a glorified corporate food mall anymore. You’re back, again, in glittering New York.