Plan A on Saturday evening was Le Zinc, but when I stumbled onto a private party I retreated east on Duane to the restaurant City Hall. The hostess pleasantly welcomed me and although they do not start serving until 5:30 and she offered to seat me. I felt up to spending a pleasant 20 minutes or so in the bar, instead, where the bartender poured gin into a shaker from an impressive height. I liked the look of the place, the bar is chic, cozy and serene, with little banquettes against the wall and there is a nook upstairs with a sofa and table. What a nice spot for a special drink. I had the leisure to eavesdrop on the out-of-sight, pre-dinner pep talk for the staff, which I enjoyed. Perhaps it is because I am reading Pat Conroy's "My Losing Season," but I really wouldn't have been surprised to hear some dribbling and lay-ups in the background.
I started with some Pemaquid oysters that were pure and sweet, served with three traditional sauces, one the best mignonette sauce I have ever tasted. It was a difficult choice to make, because there was a special wild mushroom soup that had my name written all over it. I had a sentimental moment (surely the martini had nothing to do with it) remembering my food-adventurous parents who appreciated fine dining greatly. There were precious few opportunities in those bygone days and I wish they were around to share them with me now. I remember that going to a "real" restaurant meant that you were served a thimbleful of tomato juice, on a plate with a doily, at the start of the meal. With a package of saltines. And a wedge of lemon.
There was duck with wild rice, all so perfectly cooked and seasoned, and watercress. Another wave of nostalgia for my mother who searched out watercress with a zeal that was stupefying to us as children. It was peppery and crunchy with the duck. She may have been onto something. The service was terrific, too. At one point, mid-duck, someone who was not my server approached me bearing a plate, with a steak knife lying ceremoniously on a folded napkin. He wondered if my knife were sharp enough or if I might like to try another. I loved that.
My own server was no slouch, either, but solicitous, humorous and unobtrusive. Instead of dessert I opted for their good French press coffee. Before the coffee came, the chef/owner, Henry Meer, stopped by the table to introduce himself. He has a hearty handshake that lifted me from my chair. He is enthusiastic about what he serves and talked about the aged beef that is his special pride; he exacted a promise from me to return and try that another time. Ohhh, okaaaay. It is sort of the perfect steakhouse, to me, one that would appeal to more than fanatic carnivores. The seafood selections looked wonderful, too.
My server pressed an offering of wonderful, little cookies on me, because, as he said, with a great Gallic shrug, "Coffee without cookies "
It was a fine experience all around.