Thanks again for the recommendations of where to go for dinner before the Westminster Dog Show.
We ended up going to Artisanal, as suggested by one poster, because my guest hadn't been and wanted to try it. I arrived at 5:30, about half an hour early, and while they said that my table was ready, I decided to sit at the bar, where I had a glass of Prosecco. I love the fact that all the wines on their "general" wine list are available by the glass. They have newspapers hanging on wooden dowels in the corner, and so I got to peruse the Post and Page Six, which I rarely do. My friend arrived at 5:45 and we were seated in at a corner table in a banquette, next to the cave. I slid in, while my friend sat in the chair, and I'm glad I did because, although I'm not tall, I'm taller than she is, and I felt a bit like a child at the grownups' table, in need of a booster seat.
Our waiter came over right away with menus, and I ordered a small order of gougeres, and my friend a glass of Oregon pinot noir, since I was still sipping on my Prosecco, which the hostess carried to the table for me on a tray. While we waited for the gougeres, we were brought tap water and bread, and perused the menu. We ordered the small Artisanal fondue to share as a starter, and then the small moules and small steak tartare, as well as an order of frites. Our waiter, who had a wonderful modified version of a Van Dyke moustache and beard, pointed out that we might save money by ordering one large, that comes with frites, and one small, which we did, thereby saving fifty cents. I also ordered a bottle of the Yamville Valley Pinot Noir that my friend was drinking.
The gougeres. I've been defending them, but no more. They were flaccid. Nice cheesy flavor - maybe a smidgen more of salt needed - but flaccid. They should be hot and crispy, not warm, especially since you're paying about a dollar per. I think we did eat them all though. Then the fondue arrived with bread cubes (white and whole wheat), and the apples that the waiter suggested. I also thought the fondue could have had a sharper flavor, but overall we enjoyed it, and I particularly liked the apples with it and will have to try that at home. My tartare was quite good, though I do think it is odd that they serve it in a mason jar, and came with nicely toasted bread, and a small salad with an anchovy and a parmesan "cracker" (frico?). My friend's mussels looked and smelled good, though she left about half of them - not sure if was because she was a bit full already or because she didn't like them - will have to inquire. The frites were well prepared - crispy and chewy in the right ways, brought with catsup, and we were quickly brought the mustard and mayonnaise with which we respectively prefer to eat our frites (no, not combined).
The service was very attentive to start, but then flagged as a very large table next to us was seated. We had to ask for our main course dishes to be cleared and still no sign of our waiter. We were really too full for cheese or dessert, but given the delays in catching the waiter's eye or his stopping by (or anyone else for that matter), we wouldn't have had time for any, and I wouldn't have minded an espresso. We finally were able to stop someone and ask for the check, as it was now about 7:20. So, all paid up, my friend headed to the cloakroom to get our coats (a bit of task since I misplaced, as always, my ticket) while I headed to the ladies room, into a stall with no latch, resulting in an "intrusion"! Over to the cloakroom, the kind woman there patiently looked for my coat and found it, along with my hat. Headed out to 32nd Street to walk over to MSG - hat flew off and the wind sadly took it away, not to be retrieved, but despite that delay, we made it to MSG by 7:50 - really a quick walk, even with the cold.
Check was about $140 or so before tip, not including the Prosecco.