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Steve R.

The River Cafe

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Believe it or not, I dont think that there's already a thread on The River Cafe. It's the forgotten star in Brooklyn. Ginny and I went there for her birthday this past Friday night. We've been there a number of times over the years, especially loving the food from Charlie Palmer & David Burke when they ran the kitchen (missed Forgione's years, and wasnt thrilled w/Rick Laakonen or Rick Moonen) . But we havent been back for dinner these last several years (although many times for drinks), having so many other good places in Bklyn to choose from these days :( . The food was great & the place is still magical. I highly recommend it. The current chef is Brad Steelman & he's lightened up the place.

 

First of all, for those who dont know, it's a barge on the Bklyn side of the Brooklyn bridge & the wall to wall windows have a perfect view of the bridge, the skyline, the boats, and the Statue of Liberty. It's probably the best room in the city, at least in my opinion, and watching sunset from there is without peer. We were at the bar for awhile, then seated at a table for 2 by the window, which is always a plus; however, only a few seats in the entire restaurant are problematic for a view. The place was full &, as usual, celebrity sightings made the place buzz. Bernadette Peters at a table for 11 celebrating a birthday; Ron Jeremy (dont ask how I recognized him :lol: ) on his cell by the bar.

 

There was a time when River Cafe was in Zagat's top 5 in NYC list. There was a time when its pricing made you consider it in comparison to the best places as well. No longer. The pre fixe is only $85, with a 6 course tasting menu at $102. That puts it well below many, many places and, in fact, we spent less there than we have at Danube & Felidia, certainly not top price NYC tickets themselves. I guess my point is that, given today's NYC dining scene, this should be compared to a slew of mid-range choices and not to the upper echelon of restaurants now available.

 

Dinner, as I said, was great. We'll probably go back more regularly. Steelman is interesting & I like what he's doing. I started with 2 large rounds of Bluefin Tuna, seared rare with foie gras stuffing, burgundy black truffle vinaigrette & sweet roasted onion puree. Sounded a little off putting to me but it piqued my interest (I live on the edge :lol: ). It worked. Nothing (including the truffle oil) overwhelmed the tuna and the tastes blended nicely. Ginny had 3 very large "Bee Gee" Shrimp, stuffed w/Maine crabmeat, pineapple, jalapeno & tangerine Hollandaise. We both liked this as well. Certainly not the usual staid fare and maybe I'd have expected it more at Centrico than the River Cafe :( . For entrees, I had a Duck Breast w/braised duck and potato "croquet", truffle honey, fennel poached figs, roasted parsnip and rainbow swiss chard. Ginny had Colorado Rack of Lamb w/house cured lamb Merguez sausage, golden fondant potatoes, mint and mustard seed glaze, & lamb jus (by the way, is anyone not realizing that I'm blocking and copying from their on-line menu? My memory is not this good). Both entrees were substantial, with very high end ingredients and full tastes. Some taste bud confusion w/the lamb dish (too many ingredients) but none with the duck. Bottom line: we both were happy with the taste. We had brought over our drinks from the bar (prosecco and a Manhattan), which lasted into the apps. We ordered a '94 Paulliac, which was very full in taste. The desserts were Chocolate Sticky Toffee Cake w/pistachio ice cream sandwiched between dark chocolate cookies, butterscotch sauce, & Ronnybrook Farm whipped cream for Ginny (too ridiculous for me) & the cheese plate for me: California Humboldt Fog (goat's milk), Italy Pecorino Ginepro (sheep’s milk), England Keene's Cheddar (cow's milk), Iowa Maytag Blue (cow's milk), & France Epoisses (cow's milk). Very generous, very ripe &, since I'm not a chocolate person, exactly what I needed.

 

By the way, a word about the wine list. It's still very comprehensive and includes quite a few in the many hundreds to a thousand range. (I always loved the stories there about Rod Stewart coming in regularly during the '80s and ordering $500 bottles of red wine, then adding ice cubes). But, surprisingly, there are some in the high $20s and enough in the under $100 range to give a solid choice to everyone. We were going to go with a bottle of St. Emillion '00 for $65 or so, but I asked about the Paulliac and the sommallier liked it better so we went there instead ($58?). We're not experts, but liked it.

 

So... given the ambience, the price range (all in w/generous tip: $335) and the fact that the chef is turning out some unpretentious, tasty fare, I'd head over there if I was you. It's on Open Table.

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So you can just drop by the bar for a drink? Is there a dress code? Is the bar crowded?

 

Absolutely accessible and with a perfect view and sliding glass door w/small outdoor standing area. Jackets for men. Never crowded when I've been but only seats 8-10.

 

By the way, there's also an outdoor informal menu area where you can order drinks and sit. Seats 60 or so and is usually not crowded either. 2-4 people, good bottle of something or other. Very nice.

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So you can just drop by the bar for a drink? Is there a dress code? Is the bar crowded?

The restaurant asks that men wear jackets and enforces that policy strictly. The bar itself sometimes gets full but never jammed.

 

There's a lounge area outside the restaurant proper where you can also have drinks. No jacket required there. The view is excellent but the space isn't as glossy as the main bar. It's worth it to put on that jacket.

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So you can just drop by the bar for a drink? Is there a dress code? Is the bar crowded?

 

Jackets are required for the bar, but there is an enclosed terrace next door to the bar without the dress code. Same view, and can be quieter than the bar which can seem a little tight.

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So you can just drop by the bar for a drink? Is there a dress code? Is the bar crowded?

 

You mean there's a bar somewhere in Brooklyn that you haven't been to ? :lol:

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By the way, for anyone going the bar route, be advised that the mixed drinks are well done but the wine by the glass is ridiculous for a place with this kind of reputation and wine list. For $12 or so a glass you're drinking table wine that can be found in upscale pizza places. Better to split a half bottle from the list (or bottle).

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The talk of The River Cafe in the "Michelin" thread reminded me of a service issue the last time I was there. I was enraged at the time. But in retrospect, I can't tell if I was justified, or if I was just too emotionally charged. So I'm asking for comments.

 

Please try to be rational about this, and don't let whatever sympathy the situation might invoke unduly affect your response.

 

We were a large party of 8 or 9.

 

WAITRESS: As you know, you all have to order the full prix fixe menu.

 

MY WIFE: I'm undergoing chemotherapy. I have less than a year to live. [OK, she didn't know that at the time and didn't say it.] Everybody else at the table can eat all those courses, but I'd just like a bowl of soup.

 

WAITRESS: You can have as little as you want. But you'll be charged for the full prix fixe menu.

 

****************************************

 

Now, as I said, at the time I was outraged. It seemed to me that with such a large party, they should make an acommodation for one person who obviously came along for social reasons (it was a graduation celebration for a friend's daughter) but was in no shape to eat a full meal.

 

But in the cold light of day, I can also see that a policy is a policy. The prix fixe-only policy was on their website, and I am informed our host was told of it when she made the reservation. Arguably, very sick people shouldn't go out to expensive restaurants if they can't eat. If my wife was there for social reasons, we (or in actuality our host, who of course didn't make a big deal about it) should be willing to pay the freight.

 

As I said, I just can't judge this, since I'm so emotionally involved.

 

(Certainly, in terms of customer relations, they should have sent a manager over to deal with the matter more tactfully than the waitress did in any event.) (It should go without saying that my wife and I didn't want to make a big deal about this at the time because we didn't want her disease to cloud the celebration.)

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Let's just say that I am pretty sure that wouldn't have been the policy, or the reaction, at any of Danny Meyer's prix fixe places.

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Well, I'm still enraged.

 

A group of three rolled up at 12 noon for a table at 12 noon. The m'd looked down his nose at us, scanned an entirely empty restaurant and asked us to wait at the bar.

 

 

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Well, I'm still enraged.

 

A group of three rolled up at 12 noon for a table at 12 noon. The m'd looked down his nose at us, scanned an entirely empty restaurant and asked us to wait at the bar.

 

I dont blame you. But, more importantly, does this mean that G.J. crossed the bridge to eat?! Is this the trauma that stopped him from ever doing so again? :rolleyes:

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Well, I'm still enraged.

 

A group of three rolled up at 12 noon for a table at 12 noon. The m'd looked down his nose at us, scanned an entirely empty restaurant and asked us to wait at the bar.

 

I dont blame you. But, more importantly, does this mean that G.J. crossed the bridge to eat?! Is this the trauma that stopped him from ever doing so again? :rolleyes:

It was the beginning. Brighton Beach didn't help.

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