Zakarian is clearly still tinkering, and on my last visit to the grand dining room, the giant fish stick had mercifully disappeared, replaced by a perfectly cooked piece of halibut set in a green springtime pesto of crushed arugula, white wine, and clams. The sea-urchin creation had disappeared, too, in favor of nice cigar-size cannelloni stuffed with minced lamb and crème fraîche. After these dishes, the inevitable cheese cart came trundling by, laden with delicately stinky wheels of Bleu d’Auvergne and Epoisse. It was followed by a selection of Eurocentric desserts like crème citron (lemon sorbet over a lemon brioche), and an impressive wedge cut from a giant pithiviers (a kind of French puff pastry) filled with sugary crushed almonds. This food was presented with all the exaggerated pomp and ceremony you’d expect at a grand European hotel. But we’re not in Europe, of course. And, as you sip your glass of after-dinner Muscat, you can’t help wondering whether, in their rush to expand, these facile and talented New York chefs haven’t begun to run out of fresh ideas.
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Address:90 Madison Ave., at 29th St.; 212-889-7100
Hours: Café: Breakfast, Monday through Friday 7 to 10:30 a.m. Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner Monday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. to midnight. Sunday, dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, brunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Upstairs: Monday through Saturday, dinner 6 to 10 p.m.
Prices: Café: Appetizers, $9 to $17, entrées, $17 to $26. Upstairs: $85 prix fixe.
Ideal Meal: In the upstairs dining room, shellfish velouté, lamb cannelloni, halibut, almond pithiviers. In the café, beef tartare, seared skate wing, peanut-butter royale. Note: The downstairs café serves a full breakfast and lunch menu, and the room is much more peaceable during the daylight hours.
Scratchpad:The food and service upstairs are at a potentially three-star level, but the somewhat strained concept and relative narrowness of the menu, combined with the uneven barely one-star quality of the café downstairs, drags everything down a notch.