Café Gray

I've eaten at places in the Time Warner Center on several occasions now, but each time, I can't quite get over that Alice in Wonderland feeling that strikes at the entrance of each restaurant. One minute you're checking out shrunken vests in the window of J.Crew, the next you're transported to a restauranteur's very different world.

The feeling is intensified at Café Gray, where entering is like stepping back into another decade, one that some of us might like to forget in the fashion sense. The bar area is a riotous mix of bevelled mirrors, exposed bulbs in glitzy fixtures, and gold, gold, gold as far as the eye can see. It screams 1980's Trump, which is doubly ironic because the master of the universe across the way has never minced words about his feelings for the Time Warner Center. Someone channeling him must have decided to create an entry that spells klassy with a kapital K. But the over-the-top décor is kind of flattering, actually. Café Gray is certainly making an effort to impress, and in the process it creates nostalgia for schmancy restaurants past, where the service was courteous and the experience easy.

Beware the drinks, Alice. Not because they are bad, but because they are good, tempting, and quite potent, though the bartender kindly lets his brandied-cherry version of a Manhattan sit on ice for a few minutes before straining it into a glass. Thank God for the extra water in that one. Stumbling into the dining room, which is an open, airy, convivial space with views of the Columbus Circle fountain and, unfortunately, the apartment building across the way, you may find yourself seated near Richard Parsons, as I did. Seeing him here, in the least expensive of all his Time Warner restos when the guy can afford to eat anywhere, was revelatory and inspirational. Richard Parsons isn't having his secretary speed dial Per Se to wriggle his way into their busy schedule, if he even has to go through that rigamarole. Richard Parsons is dining at Café Gray.

No wonder: it's cheerful and warm inside, and packed with everyone from models in backless dresses to ladies of a certain age keeping their Goyard bags close at hand. We order the risotto with mushroom fricassée to start. It arrives as a bowl of risotto on one side and a small silver chafing dish of mushroom fricassée on the other. The chafing dish even has a little jaunty man on top, holding a chicken! It's so cute I want to put the silver dish in my handbag and run out of the restaurant before anyone can stop me! But then I wouldn't be able to eat the risotto, which is so good it makes me want to cry. A dish of nearly undiluted carbs, it is intriguingly delicious - velouté risotto mixed with subtly smoky mushroom sauce that you fold in yourself - and my friend an I inhale all of it. (We each ordered our own portion, of course.) Her fiancé has something inoffensive to start, but I am so distracted by the risotto that I forget what it is.

Continuing in the "lite" vein (not), the rabbit stew with foie gras, chanterelles, bacon, and apples is just as appetizing as it sounds. My friend orders a pork chop that could be from a genetically modified pig it is so large. Exhausted from the risotto high, she can't eat much of it, though it's perfectly cooked. Her fiancé committed a rare misstep earlier in his choice of appetizers. Actually, he is the Master Orderer, the sort of guy who, Jedi-like, can hone in on the best thing on the menu by intuition alone. The Master Orderer now digs into a plate of short ribs with soft grits and meaux mustard. The tangy sauce cuts the sweet fattiness of the ribs. These and the stew tie for first place in the mains, though I am rather tired of short ribs because everyone's doing them now. (Does anyone know which chef/restaurant started this trend in NYC? Please comment below if so.)

By the time we leave, we all have that equally '80s feeling of having indulged in absolute gluttony. All we need now would be a couple of fat cigars and a ride home in a Lamborghini with vanity plates to top it off. But reality strikes at the sight of the J.Crew, and we somberly descend the escalators while contemplating the huge buttocks of the Fernando Botero sculpture at the base.

Even if we end up looking like that, it was worth it.

Next up: As the Copycat Chef, I will attempt to recreate the risotto with mushroom fricassée at home and share the recipe with you, dear readers.

Café Gray
10 Columbus Circle
Time Warner Center


Anonymous said...

Mm, yes please! I made risotto last night and wondered how I could make it even better (it came out pretty well, if I do say so myself, for only the 2nd time making risotto). Sounds delish :)

joy said...

The Jedi-fiance had a steak tartare. I ate the porkchop the next day for lunch AND dinner...

IMHO, the short rib is dead. Long live the short rib! (The new short rib = rabbit, I think--just had a rabbit/truffle risotto at Picholine. Or maybe rabbit is the new chicken and lamb is the new short rib per your post below?)

Dina said...

i am begging you to come over and make this for me! begging.

Anonymous said...

Coincidentally, Gray Kunz himself is probably most famous for short ribs and he's probably the first name that most come up with when thinking about them.

bellastraniera said...

The funny thing is that we were sitting at the table that night at Cafe Gray wondering, who the heck started the whole short ribs craze, anyway? But yes figured out later that it was Gray Kunz.