205 East 38th St. (bet. 3rd Ave. and Lexington)
The only restaurant on this residential block, one block in any direction away from lower mid-town law-firms and the like, looks from the outside like your run of the mill tavern.
The disguise continues as you make your way into the bar and receiving room where a large man in a dark green and remarkably outdated "captain's" suit sits behind a faux wood-finished bar with your typical alcoholic offerings. Not all is outdated however, as a bottle of the 10 Cane rum that is prevalent in liquor stores and bars of choice in the city (as of press time) was sitting casually next to Tanquery and Grey Goose.
I waited around for a few minutes for my father (I'm rarely ever there before him) until he showed up, as usual, one minute before his scheduled appointment with me. He hadn't been here in a long time, I gathered, as he asked me if we'd ever been there. In fact we had, about three years ago, and I swear we got the same table as the last time.
Getting to that table, you walk down a narrow hallway which opens up to a well-lit, empty with the exception of 2 tables, at 12:30pm, room with a about a dozen tables. To the left and down a few stairs, another, larger banquet room is also empty. By 12:45 the entire restaurant is packed with loud, networking executives, lawyers and other suits of various professional backgrounds. It's a boy's club, with only two or three women in attendance.
The menu is northern Italian, the accents on the waitstaff are genuine and understandable, the scene is hustle and bustle (or eat or be eaten), the service is sharp and on point, the decor is dank Elk's Club in the front, 20's Mob hangout in the back and the food is hearty and masculine.
We both started with Caesar salads, which in turn started a conversation by my father about the lack of restaurants (are there any anymore?) that make Caesar salads tableside. He enjoys the service and knowledge that the dressing isn't some jarred goop, no matter whether he tastes the anchovy or not. For $10, the salad was okay at best and I think that for that amount of money, I too would prefer it made tableside as well. If anyone knows of a place where they make Caesar salads tableside, please let me know.
Dad ordered the Osso Buco special that was big and beefy, and reduced to just its bone after dad got through with it. I ordered a special "envelope" pasta with lamb and veal and brown sauce. The envelopes were, as advertised, freshly made and melted in your mouth. Very, very good. I have avoided veal for years based on the ethical treatment of the animals and the taste. I never really liked the taste. I think I still don't like the taste and I do still have ethical issues with the raising of veal, but I needed to expand my horizons a bit. The brown sauce, no doubt made with veal stock, was very good, but the clear winner in all of this was the pasta. Very, very good.
We ordered a few glasses of the house chianti (3 total) and the tab came to just over $100 after tax. Somewhat pricey and certainly not something I would shell out on my own for lunch. But its a classic venue, in the same vein perhaps as Le Petit Auberge, and deserves some respect.
For businessmen (and women) in the area, its worth a business lunch visit, though I'm sure it is already well-known considering the old-fashioned (tired?) decor still brings a solid lunch crowd.
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