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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 26, 2000. All rights reserved.
Dining Out — On Broadway
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.
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
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
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
New York. 212-974-9002.
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.
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
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
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
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
New York, 212-489-8600.
— Simon Saltzman
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