Becco

The Garrick

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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 26, 2000. All rights reserved.

Dining Out — On Broadway

E-mail: SimonSaltzman@princetoninfo.com

Becky Mode’s Fully Committed, Broadway’s frenetic

one-actor play about an unemployed actor, Sam, currently employed

to sit at the phones in the bowels of a swank New York restaurant

and take reservations, has proved a popular hit. With unflagging patience,

tact, fortitude, and savvy, Sam takes on the Herculean task to fill

the seemingly impossible number of requests for dinner from a variety

of the rich and famous. Not wanting to unwittingly become part of

this humorous dramatic text, I concentrate my efforts on simply finding

a good place to have a reasonably priced pre-theater dinner.

In light of "Fully Committed," I am happy to report that at

none of the eateries below did the reservationist ask for my membership

card, pedigree, or by whom was I recommended. Although one restaurant

(The Garrick) misplaced my reservation on their computer, and another

(Becco) sat me so close to the kitchen I almost felt obliged to wash

my own dishes after the meal, the odyssey proved fun and rewarding.

So where do non expense-account theater critics eat? We can’t eat

heavily or we’ll fall asleep during the performance. We can’t eat

too lightly or we won’t be satisfied, and what producer wants to see

a grouchy critic with a pencil in his hand.

This is no easy task, especially in New York’s theater district, where

restaurants cater to a seemingly unlimited supply of hungry tourists

and well-heeled expense account clients. With numerous shows opening

as the season comes to an end and the Tony nominations looming large,

I found myself forced to attend a series of theatrical "double

headers," making a restaurant meal a necessity rather than a luxury.

My wife, LucyAnn, and I sampled the fare at three conveniently located

and affordable restaurants. Becco was recommended by our daughter,

a theater professional who knows all of Broadway’s haunts and hangouts.

Garrick was recommended by a friend and fellow critic who considers

wine the main course wherever he eats. And, after many years’ absence,

my wife, and I returned to an old favorite, Chez Suzette.

Chez Suzette

We’ll be out of the matinee around 5:30, but we have

to get to another theater for a 7:30 p.m. curtain. Can we do it?"

I asked Gerard, the proprietor of Chez Suzette, when I called for

a reservation for a Sunday afternoon.

"Oh, yes, " he answered, "Don’t worry. We’ll have your

table waiting for you," he assured me with a voice that was as

friendly as was the smile he gave us when we arrived 10 minutes late.

This cozy French bistro that had occupied a spot for years on trendy

Restaurant Row, also known as 46th Street (under the name "Crepes

Suzette") has moved a little west of the heart of the theater

district. Having fond memories of the restaurant in the old location,

my wife and I thought it might be nice to reacquaint ourselves with

what we remembered as reasonably priced, unpretentious, and satisfying

French cuisine.

While disappointments with the food have to be noted, the cordiality

of the staff made us more tolerant. The dozen tables for four and

six for two are reasonably spaced for intimate conversation. The brick

walls, fleur-de-lis decorated drapes, the petite arrangement of fresh

flowers on the table (candles were placed on tables as we were leaving),

and a humorous lighting fixture in the shape of the Eiffel Tower aren’t

worthy of more than a quick glance. But you will notice how both regulars

and strangers who arrive are greeted like family.

The basket of fresh and exceptionally appealing loaves of sourdough

bread and a mini baguette arrived immediately as a welcoming sight,

although butter pats wrapped in foil have always annoyed me. A three-course

dinner, including appetizer and desert, can be had by adding $6 to

the price of any entree. The pungent and gratefully not-too-salty

Soupe a l’Oignon au Gratin is a good start, if you don’t mind a losing

battle to keep the stretchy cheese from following you all the way

from the crock to your mouth and beyond. (Go ahead use your fingers.)

If LucyAnn felt a little cheated when she noted how one of the six

shells of Escargots de Bourgogne was empty, she was pleased enough

with the garlic and butter fix that drenches this traditional delicacy.

The Sliced Filet Mignon Bordelaise ($19.95) was tender and tasty,

with the flavor of the sauce typically more prominent than the beef

itself. A bland medley of cubed carrots and zucchini showed as little

inspiration as the accompanying home fries. The same dull vegetable

and potato appendages arrived with my order of Soft Shell Crabs ($13.95),

which Jan, our personable waiter, recommended as the house specialty

and which in reality was one crab of generous size that had been delicately

sauteed in butter and herbs. Oh, the joy of real butter in French

cooking.

The desserts here are prepared on the premises, with the classic Creme

Brulee and apple Tarte Maison our pleasing, if not spectacularly memorable,

choices. Evidently the clientele at Chez Suzette doesn’t demand freshly

brewed decaffeinated coffee, so the undrinkable black instant that

was served was a disappointment. There’s plenty of room for improvement

here. But, for a light French touch, without a heavy tariff, you may

just become family at Chez Suzette. Although we are not drinkers,

a wide selection of moderately priced wines is available. HH

Chez Suzette, 675B Ninth Avenue (between 46th and 47th),

New York. 212-974-9002.

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Becco

The rules for Becco could be summarized as follows:

1. Arrive hungry. 2. If you plan to talk, be prepared to shout over

the din. 3. Don’t be annoyed at the numerous times the busy and attentive

waiters will bump into you or jostle your table (lots of "excuse

me’s") while they serve you and the tables near you. 4. Try not

to eat fast and furiously in anticipation of another portion of pasta

that will surely be offered to you.

That’s right. At Becco, a popular choice is the Three Pastas prix

fixe dinner ($21.95) that includes either a Caesar salad or antipasto.

With the assorted olives, basket of assorted bread and bread sticks,

and a nice, but undistinguished red pepper puree for sideswiping,

you may be wise to ignore the tasteless barely dressed Caesar. It

is also a clever move for one person to order the three pastas, while

another orders from the regular menu so you can share and compare.

Pasta may vary, but on the night we were there the Manicotti stuffed

with spinach, cod, and topped with shrimp was superb. The Penne, with

an exceptionally fragrant Pesto, came in a close second. The Fettucini

with tomato and basil was rather ordinary, but the red accent made

a smart contrast to the predominantly green cast of the other two

pastas. It was no surprise that the awesome Ossobuco ($28), that arrives

looking like the monolith in "2001 Space Odyssey," is beautifully

prepared and presented, rich and filling, and accompanied by a hearty,

delicately seasoned mixture of barley and butternut squash.

Gluttons as we are (and were), and unable to decide on a dessert,

we settled on the Dessert Sampler for Two ($9), during the consumption

of which we swooned in harmony over the moist crust-enhanced bread

pudding with white grapes, silky vanilla custard topped with raspberries,

a familiar chocolate mousse cake, and a refreshing scoop of gelati

of unknown flavor. For pasta lovers, it’s an all-you-can-eat orgy.

For dessert lovers, it’s a nice way to die happy. Pretty and unpretentious,

the cream-colored dining room (there are three: main floor, back garden

room, and upstairs) offers a gallery of still life paintings of food.

HHH

Becco, 355 West 46th Street, New York, 212-397-7597.

Top Of Page
The Garrick

The black-and-white photos of theater celebrities from

the 1940s that dot the wood-paneled walls of the Garrick provide a

visual bonus for diners. Located in the small Mayfair Hotel, this

London-styled bistro, was named after the 18th-century Shakespearean

actor David Garrick, but there’s nothing 18th century about Chef David

McKenty’s bill of fare, which actually boasts an array of rarely encountered

mid-20th-century favorites.

Happily perched on a little step-up balcony with room for only two

tables, we enjoyed peering through a large window at the facade of

St. Malachy’s: The Actors’ Chapel on 49th Street and over the banquets,

there to spy on the other diners. With a young Humphrey Bogart not

willing to give us more than his handsome profile, our three-course

prix-fixe ($29.95) dinner began with pleasing corn chowder with a

fried oyster and the retro classic Oysters Rockefeller with spinach

and hollandaise.

Although I was told that the farm-fed striped whole sea bass over

red pepper flecked couscous would be served with its tail and head

intact; the waiter assured me the fish would be completely boned.

False. Notwithstanding my concentrated effort to remove the bones,

the fish was fresh, moist, and laced with strands of thyme. An otherwise

tasty rosemary roasted pork chop with mustard sauce needed the help

of a steak knife, a request that proved difficult to fulfill. Also

on the plate was a mushroom-filled egg roll that was unexpectedly

delicious.

The Lemon Torte with Berries and Raspberry Coulis and Chocolate &

Ginger Pot de Creme with Almond Tuile were just okay, both suffering

from the chill of refrigeration. As I was transfixed by a photo of

49th Street in 1948, a theater marquee ablaze with Madeleine Carroll

in "Goodbye My Fancy," LucyAnn had her eye on the house specialties

that arrived at other tables, including such traditional favorites

as Duck a l’Orange, Lobster Thermidor, Rib Eye Steak, and Roasted

Chicken. The Garrick also offers a very reasonable wine tasting dinner

that includes the three-courses plus a no-limit variety of wines by

the glass, all for $39 after 8 p.m. HH

The Garrick, the Mayfair Hotel, 242 West 49th Street,

New York, 212-489-8600.

— Simon Saltzman

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