For people not from NYC, it seems like you are propelled through your days a little faster than is comfortable. The Café des Artiste corrects that impression as soon as you walk in. It starts when you enter the restaurant and are warmly greeted by the staff, who make you feel as though you are welcome and they are genuinely glad to see you. This is a nice change from the usual “are you good enough for us” appraisal from most trendy joints.
Rich dark woods and brilliant white tablecloths set off the museum quality murals of nymphs throughout the restaurant. The atmosphere is cozy and the dining room is broken up into areas that afford a nice sense of intimacy, even if the restaurant is full, as is usually the case. Plenty of truly professional wait staff insures that your water glass is topped off, but without giving you their life story.
Heads of state, wholesale lots of celebrities, US Presidents have all dined at the café. It may be that intimacy translates to privacy for those who want to get a great meal without being ogled.
For my brunch, I and my companions sat at the bar in the back of the restaurant. The bartender that day was quite personable (my companion describes him as handsome). When he didn’t know how to make a “Ginger Rogers”, he got the basic ingredients from the person ordering it and invented a great drink on the spot.
Between the four of us we exercised the brunch menu pretty well. We started with Salmon Four Ways (smoked, poached, rillettes , tartare), Checko’s Popovers and a drink called the “Fountain of Youth” (Poire William-scented Champagne with spiced pear). The salmon is a classic Café dish and is outstanding in that each of the preparations brings out a different aspect of the salmon. The popovers were light and fluffy and came with a selection of great spreads. The champagne and pear combination worked beautifully.
I moved on to my favorite, the duck comfit. The skin was crispy, the duck moist without being fatty and the accompanying potatoes made a nice counterpoint. My wife had the cobb salad (Romaine lettuce, avocado, bacon, Stilton, hard-cooked egg, lemon dressing). She loved that instead of making the dish size of a turkey platter, the chef concentrated on presentation and the quality of the ingredients.
The classic Eggs Benedict our companions ordered was served correctly on toasty English muffin, moistened only with the butter and the yolk of the egg. Even good restaurants often get this classic wrong, but not here.
We all managed to abstain from the renown dessert cart with it tiers of incredible concoctions crowned by the unsurpassed Ilona torte.
The café is a New York romantic classic that is not resting on its laurels. It has that unique combination of strengths that let you concentrate on your dinner companion in the firm knowledge that the café will take care of everything else with style and grace.
Scale: 1 = Worst, 10 = Best
• Food: 9 (Hungarian-inspired continental classics, wonderfully prepared)
• Service: 9 (Professional, knowledgeable staff - Unobtrusive )
• Price: $ out of $$$$$ ($$$$ - Dear, but worth it)
• Ambiance: 9.5 (Intimate, flattering lighting, museum quality art, romantic)
One West 67th Street
New York, NY 10023
Reservations definitely recommended