Fine Foods of the Tri State

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21 Club at New York City

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[audio https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/203658380/diy2.mp3]

Perhaps one of my favorite things about  winter is the holiday of Restaurant Week (Yes, this is a holiday. Or at least in my book). For those of you unaware, Restaurant Week is a period of time where you can dine at some of the finest restaurants while paying only a portion of normal price. Twice a year, NYC hosts Restaurant Week; it is held once in the winter, and once in the summer. Notably, this year’s Restaurant Week in the winter was held at a later time frame than usual because the Super Bowl was held in New Jersey this year. For all of you who wish to dine at an upscale restaurant without having to pay the premium price, keep your eyes open for Restaurant Week in the winter and in the summer!

New York City is a hub for some of the finest restaurants in the country. 21 Club is an upscale traditional American restaurant located in New York City. The establishment is at 21 West 52nd Street, it is surrounded by the Paley Center for Media and the Empire Steak House. Interestingly, the street feels inconsistent with the quality of the restaurant; when you turn the corner from 5th Ave, it feels poorly lit comparatively. I would also like to mention that it is a little confusing for first timers to find the restaurant. It may have a unique design with the statues lined outside, but there is actually no sign to designate it as 21 Club. My friend and I had to second-guess ourselves. This is definitely something I feel as though they can, and should change.

If you go to 21 Club, you will notice that there are stairs past the fences that go downstairs into the restaurant, and ones that go upstairs. The stairs that lead down lead into the “Bar Room,” which, as its name suggests is the home to their bar. It does, however, also encompass the dining area and the lounge. The upstairs lead to a separate portion of 21, that notably has a separate page on Yelp under “Upstairs at 21.” Unfortunately, my dinner plans did not pertain to this section of the restaurant, but it is definitely a place I would be interested in checking out. There is a doorman at the entrance to the Bar Room who to engages in friendly greetings with the customers. This is definitely a small factor, yet also gives a very positive first impression in regards to the staff.

Upon entering the restaurant, you will notice the lighting. The lounge is dark, with extremely minimal lighting. I agree with this lighting; it certainly gives the lounge a calm feeling. As soon as you enter, there is a host to your right, who I assume is for the bar, and a coat room to your left. Further away is a host behind a counter, who is the host for the dining area. My first interactions with the staff with the doorman and the hosts were definitely positive, as they are extremely friendly.

After checking in with the dining room host, we were shown to our table. I would like to note that the dining area feels very different from the lounge and bar. The dining area feels very separated from the lounge. A wall stands between the two sections, with an opening obviously for movement between the two areas. The ambiance of the dining area is also significantly different from the lounge. Although you see that the lounge is dark and minimally lit for a calming atmosphere, the dining area is warm with dimmed lighting. If anything, it is akin to more romantic lighting. You will also notice the decor the instant you get into the dining area. There are toy planes, trucks, and football helmets suspended from the ceiling. They are not low enough to be a nuisance to any customers, but are close enough to be noticeable to any. Do not let their presence fool you regarding your outfit for the day, however. 21 Club strictly enforces customers to wear a jacket for men, and prohibits jeans and sneakers for all. Do yourself a favor and abide by the dress code. They are likely to turn you away should you not dress accordingly.

We were seated at a table along the wall perimeter, with a long, singular banquette bench on one side, and a chair on the other. This seating is a little awkward, as the bench cushion sinks in very deeply and puts you at an uncomfortable height with the table.  The tables along the perimeter are spaced far enough that there is no collision of conversation between parties. Although I have an issue with the banquette bench, I give kudos to the good spacing between the tables.

Like most places that participate in Restaurant Week, the customers for this activity are presented with a minimal menu. Participating restaurants offer a three-course dinner (appetizer, main course, dessert) for a total of $38. At 21 Club, you are given four choices per  course, which is actually more than most places for this event (you can find the menu here). My choices were the Cornmeal-Crusted Crab Cake, Prime Beef Short Rib, and Chocolate Ganache Cake. My friend decided upon the Tuna Tartare, Faroe Island Salmon, and Mixed Seasonal Berries. I will refrain from commenting on his items because I did not sample them myself.

Upon ordering, we were presented with complimentary bread and butter. The bread had two regular rolls, two raisin rolls, and several raisin bread crackers. Nothing too special to note about them, other than the fact that it is uncommon for complimentary bread to have raisins. One of the things that did irk me, however, was the water. The staff is quick to fill your glass, but a big part of it is ice. In fact, it was quite annoying when I wanted to take a large gulp of water, only to notice that there was not much liquid in the full cup.

Our appetizers were quick to be served, and  were plated very pleasantly, as expected from such an upscale establishment.  The crab cake was topped with winter squash and ginger puree, and was laid atop the corn. Citrus glaze was spread presentably on the plate. Notably, the squash was very bland, and had very minimal taste. The crab cake is soft and flavorful, however, and was complimented very well by the corn. The citrus glaze adds that extra excitement that is often lacking in a pure seafood dish, while managing to not take away from the taste.

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Next, we were brought our entrees. The time between these two courses were minimal. In fact, they came out within just a few minutes after we finished our appetizers. This is a trend you will notice at most upscale restaurants. The beef prime short rib was presented with baby carrots on top, encircled by parsnip puree and sprinkled with gremolata, making for a very artistic presentation. The short rib was very flavorful, and was complimented really well with the puree. The puree manages to add a smooth, creamy texture along with a sweetness that adds to the tangy and tenderness of the short rib. Notably, you won’t need a knife to eat the beef; it pulls apart nicely with just your fork. I would, however, like to draw attention to the staff. Although the host and doorman were friendly and attentive, our waiter was inconsistent with them. Although he came by for the occasional “how is everything,” that was about where his attentiveness ended. He was quick to disengage from us, and notably, other tables. At best, his service was mediocre.

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Finally, we were given our desserts, which was the chocolate ganache cake for me. Presented on a triangular plate, the vanilla ice cream laid atop chocolate chips. The plate was streaked by raspberry coulis, with the cake over it, and chocolate ganache on the top of the cake. This presentation was probably the most appealing out of all three courses.The ice cream is very flavorful and cold as ice cream should be, and was obviously not scooped from a Ben & Jerry’s container. The chocolate chip underneath added a good textural contrast to the ice cream, and remained consistent with the chocolate of the cake and ganache. As far as the cake goes, I would describe it more as a glorified brownie in terms of taste and texture. The ganache adds a unique experience to the cake, however. Although I feel it overdoes the chocolate aspect of the dessert, it manages to contribute a smoothness to the cake that works well.

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Overall, I must say it was a somewhat pleasurable dining experience. The food was plated and presented very artistically, while simultaneously being absolutely delicious. Although our waiter was somewhat detached, the rest of the staff was very focused in making our dining experience a positive one. Restaurant Week was definitely a good opportunity to check out 21 Club, and I think the price was well worth the quality of the food.

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