I have had the good fortune to experience many excellent dinners on Christmases past at places such as The Box Tree (in its heyday), La Cote Basque, etc. Those restaurants went out of their way to provide memorable occasions for their patrons. I looked forward to the Carlyle Restaurant as they have the blessing of Zagat as one of the finer places in town (in caps!!) and because they were one of the few establishments serving on Christmas.
The room itself was lovely, dominated by a huge spray of flowers and opening out from the lobby like a brightly-lit, mirror-adorned theater set. A large gingerbread house greeted you at the entrance. After ordering glasses of wine, we settled in for what my companion and I hoped would be a delightful meal.
Was it unreasonable to expect (at $85.00 a head) an amuse-bouche or some kind of holiday "lagniappe" that was never offered? Perhaps. But an even greater surprise was in store when the rolls we were proffered turned out to be stale. When my companion gently pointed this out to our breadserver, we, indeed, received warm rolls on our next round---warm and stale.
The starters that followed turned out to be the highlight of the evening: Malpeque oysters. Icy cold, briny, delicious, they were marvelous as was the champagne we ordered.
My first course, described as a "Sweet Corn Chowder,Jumbo Lump Crab Cake" came with a quarter-sized round of some kind of unidentifiable, crusty crustacea (see below). My partner fared better with his Winter Truffle Omelet, which,indeed, contained a liberal amount of shaved truffles.
The entrees, a Filet of Sea Bass, served en croute and Authentic Pike Quenelles w/ Fresh New Orleans Crayfish were also a mixed bag as the Sea Bass arrived less than warm and soggy. My companion, not wishing to make waves again, decided to make do. I had better luck this time with the quenelles, which were flavorful and light in a rich Nantua Sauce. They were accompanied by two miniscule, thumbnail-sized crayfish. I realized then that these were the shellfish that came with my soup (see above).
The real kick-in-the-pants came with dessert. I ordered Buche de Noel and my partner a gratinee of fresh fruit. For all practical purposes, the "Yule log" was two slices of the most ordinary-looking ice cream roll, with not a merengue "mushroom" in sight. And it only took one bite to realize it suffered from a very bad case of freezer burn. Obviously, this was a Buche de Noel for ALL seasons. Coming on the heels of a magnificent Buche de Noel served at The Four Seasons ( see my post below), it was the last straw. Though the waiter hastily brought me an order of the fruit gratinee after I made my dissatisfaction known, I couldn't wait to get out of there.
Yes, I know the best of restaurants can have off nights but,at those prices, I have every right to expect them to be at the top of their game, especially on a holiday. If tonight was any indication of what their daily operation is like, the glory days of the Carlyle Restaurant are long past.