August 15, 2004 11:16 PM | By Adam Roberts | 4 Comments

Take Me To The River (Cafe)

Months ago, mom talked about our River Cafe reservation.

"The weekend after you move to New York, we're going to the River Cafe for my birthday," she said. "It's very special: you should be very excited."

To be honest, I wasn't that excited. The only thing I knew about the River Cafe was that Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser eat there every New Year's Day. Consequently, I attempted to manipulate mom into changing the reservation.

"As long as we're going for fancy French food," I'd say, "Why not Alain Ducasse? Daniel? Jean-Georges?"

But mom stayed firm. "Wait until you see the view," she'd reply.

So we made our way across the Brooklyn Bridge last night (where The River Cafe is located, on the East River) and my arms were folded in skepticism.

"River Cafe," I grumbled, "More like LIVER Cafe."

(I like to grumble in non-sensical rhyme).

Soon we were there:


Immediately, upon entering, my icy interior began to melt. The largest cluster of flowers I'd ever seen--literally, a forest of flowers--adorned the lobby. I'd never seen so many flowers in one place and the smell was like a punch of beauty.

We were led to the bar area where we were told to have a drink. Instead, we crept outside and soaked in the view. It was gorgeous.

Luckily, the food was equally gorgeous. We had a genial/helpful waiter who led us capably through the menu. First, though, dad surprised us by channeling a gangsta rapper and ordering a bottle of Cristal for the table. The waiter popped the cork enthusiastically:


The money shot:


Immediately, the taste conjured forth the poetry of our age:

"Cristal forever, play the crib when it's mink weather / The M.A.F.I.A. keep canons in they Marc Buchanans." - Notorious B.I.G.

"This fed time outta town pie flipper / Turn Cristal into a Crooked I sipper." - P. Diddy

"Her name was Lola / She was a showgirl / Sipping Cristal at the bar, Jackie hit her with his car." - B. Manilow.

Actually, label me unhip, but Cristal left me unimpressed. In a blind-folded taste-test I'd have trouble differentiating it from the stuff they give away for free on cruise ships. Unless they give out Cristal for free on cruise ships, in which case it was pretty good.

Moving on...

The meal started with an intense lobster consomme, served in a mini-mug:


It made me think of a quote from Ruth Reichl's "Tender At The Bone" concerning her first fancy chicken consomme: "It tasted like a million chickens died to make it." Same goes for the lobster.

Next was my appetizer of choice: Terrine of Foie Gras with Port and ginger poached plum, spiced almond brittle, brioche melba toast:


I figured since we were fine dining, foie gras was the way to go. And it was! Now I'm starting to really enjoy foie gras (not that it's a habit I can keep up). I know how inhumane it is--the whole force-feeding ducks until their livers expand 10-fold leaves me feeling queasy, but I've yet to work out the ideological issues concerning foie gras so that I can still stuff my face with ethical immunity. The silky, smooth livery foie gras contrasted gorgeously with the plum and the almond brittle. Then the waiter was kind enough to bring out a glass of the suggested paired wine, 2001 Maison Nicolas Reserve Sauternes:


Never before in my brief culinary career has a wine paired so wonderfully with a food: it was like Sauternes was born to chase foie gras down my gullet. I loved it.

Next, the waiter surprised us with a round of free appetizers. Mom had of course bragged that I was the Amateur Gourmet and so the waiter, perhaps, noticing my picture-taking attempted to seduce us with free food. What nerve! To think that I, a respected online food journalist, could be seduced by plates and plates of Buffalo steak tartare?


Did he think I'd notice the quail egg, the Cognac gelee, the traditional garnish, the toast points? Ok, I noticed the quail egg:


See how it's holding salt? How adorable! What a salty quail that might have produced.

There was also a special appetizer of roast suckling pig ragu and foie gras ravioli:


Look for me at the gym this week, strapped ceaselessly to a treadmill at 10-speed. Just the appetizers alone shortened my life by three years. (Though, despite the fact that she's dead, isn't it remarkable that Julia Child spent her life eating fatty buttery French food and lived to be 92? Perhaps I'll skp that treadmill after all.)

For my entree I chose the duck. I love duck, it's one of my favorite entrees.


This was advertised as "Crispy Duck Breast" and I must confess that it wasn't very crispy. However, it was tasty paired with fresh Bing cherry "agrodolce" (I don't know what that means), white asparagus spears, duck confit-potato cake, and foie gras sauce. Wow, I ate a lot of foie gras last night. (Liver Cafe indeed!)

For dessert, of course another candle for mom whose actual birthday moment had come:


Happy Birthday mom!

And look at her dessert: a chocolate Brooklyn Bridge.


I went with a plum/apple tart that was indeed delicious:


The waiter gilded the Lily with free summer berry pudding:


Plus there were little treats at the end that I, the eternal treat-eater, couldn't even stomach. I was stuffed to the gils. Thank God that was my last meal with my parents! I need this week to deflate.

As for the River Cafe, resistence is futile. It's a beautiful--perhaps the most beautiful--New York dining spot. The only place my dad says came close is no longer there: the Windows on the World at the top of the World Trade Center. Actually, I must say that since I've arrived to New York the absence of the World Trade Center in the skyline is as present as any of the real buildings still there. I grew up drawing the twin towers in my juvenile attempts at a skyline, and staring at the lower tip of Manhattan from the River Cafe one does feel a sense of loss. But then one turns inside and sees the gleaming faces, the shimmering water reflected in the windows and one knows that New York--wounded so greatly three years ago--is still very much a live, magical city. Bravo, River Cafe.


Oysters! PUnky BREWSTER! I soooo remember that episode, I was Punky brewster, i had the freckles and pig tails and mismatched socks. I love you for actually gaving light to this small bit of 80's television history, I have always remembered it. And now I shuck oysters for a living, quite good at it too :)

Yay, the River Cafe! I had lunch there sometime last year and it was fabulous.

I believe that agrodolce means sweet and sour in Italian.

Always order Veuve Cliquot for any occasion. It never disappoints. I flew to my 'Food Lover's Companion' to look up agrodolce and discovered what McKenzie already knew. If you don't already possess this volume of culinary riches, get thee to a bookstore toute de suite!

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