Thursday, March 22, 2007

Café Gray... Taste with an Attitude

Delicious meets Pretentious at Time Warner Center

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The weather can make us do crazy things.

It was a gray, snowy, cold Saturday… and all I could think of was a good, hot meal. But not in my kitchen. Nope. Somebody else’s.

Café Gray, a spot that has been on my “get to” list for months was the call. OpenTable showed an early 5:30 rezo, and I snagged it. Dinner and watching the snow fall over Central Park. Good stuff.

So off I went, on the #10 bus heading oh-so-slowly towards the TW Center in just plain nasty weather. A little shopping, a little walking… and a nice dinner for 2.

Here is the skinny.

I know the dress is dressy casual (or so they imply), but don’t be fooled. My nice, casual appearance at the restaurant was met with a snarl… as suits and dresses seemed to be the order of the day. Did I mention there were women in furs? Hmmmm. No PETA folks at this joint. Uptight.

The person who sat us was nice enough, and the “waiter” (hard to qualify here, as you are serviced confusingly by many) was uber-nice. The rest of the staff was almost unbearable.

But wanting the experience to be about the food and not the people, we focused on dinner, which before 6:30pm is offered in a “pre-theatre” prix fixe. This was fine, but I really wanted to see the full menu, and almost felt as if they were happy we’d be gone by the rush (which was hopefully coming later, since the restaurant was nearly empty). Whatever.

The good news is that there is excellent food here, and not at astronomical prices (as compared to the rest of the establishments here at the TW Center).

The three course menu for $62 was a good choice, and the portions are filling.

There is an unspoken push here by the waiters to get you to order the house favorites on your first visit… and after eating them, I can understand why. They are full-proof, and sure enough, here I am sitting here telling you just how good they are.

The first course I selected the Risotto, with wild mushroom fricassee. The presentation was nice… as a warm bowl of risotto is gently placed in front of you… accompanied by a silver bowl of mushrooms, swimming in a delicate cream, which is promptly spooned over the top of the risotto. It is every bit as good as it sounds, and if in fact I were a waiter, I too would be suggesting. Other options included a Crab Salad, a gnocchi dish and a Bibb salad… but after seeing a few these surface from the open kitchen… I think I made the right choice.

The main course I enjoyed is also considered a specialty of the house… the Braised Short Rib of Beef.

This short rib… braised for over 24 hours, is melt in your mouth incredible. Served over grits with a meaux mustard sauce, the dish is aromatic and delectable. This is rich stuff mind you, but the beef is so tender, you’ll have problems getting it onto your fork. This is one of New York’s better dishes.

When dessert rolls around, you are getting fairly full…. but when there are options like caramelized Key Lime Pie (very good, but not my first choice) you find room.

The selection here, by far, is the sampling of homemade ice cream and sorbets. The silver dish comes with some 7 servings, and is incredible. Homemade coconut, pistachio, vanillas, chocolates, caramels, raspberry… you name it. This is just the right portion and sweetness to accompany your espresso before your comfy cab ride home.

So, as you can tell… I like the food.

It’s the snobby floor managers, sommelier and reception folks I can do without.

If they are reading, let me lend you this advice. The true greatness of Café Gray is the fact that this menu and price point is an approachable option for those who want to step up from Bouchon Bakery but not flip for a Per Se. Quit wishing you had a job at a nicer restaurant and start making your patrons feel wanted. The setting alone is spectacular enough to sell the experience… the overwhelming sense of high-brow bullshit is out of place here and got tired in 10 minutes.

You can make up a mediocre meal with this type of service approach… but you can also kill a great meal with an overbearing sense of being. Back off. Perhaps Alain Ducasse will be hiring soon.

Photograph by Kenneth Chen.

Cafe Gray
10 Columbus Circle- At 60th St
New York, NY 10019

212 823-6338