I've played some weddings before at the River Cafe, so I knew how beautiful the view was and had some idea how pleasant and classy the grounds and restaurant looked, but I had never had a chance to eat there before. Therefore, I was happy a special friend reserved a place when she got reservations for lunch.
A word first on the neighborhood. I work pretty nearby, at Polytechnic University, but I seldom have occasion to walk around DUMBO and environs. It still strikes me as a somewhat odd neighborhood that, in many ways, doesn't seem like a place where many people would (or should?) be living. It's a combination of more or less beat-up warehouses (which one would expect) and chic new cappucino places, and a testament to the fact that people in New York find ways to make good living spaces out of virtually all available space. Similarly, I have a friend who's lived in Tribeca since the early 70s, and it was a serious no man's land of warehouses and few inhabitants then. And SOHO used to be an industrial area, etc. I suspect DUMBO will go the way of Tribeca in the foreseeable future.
As for the restaurant, it may be nearly impossible to make food good enough to match the quality of the view, but I'm not sure they didn't. The meal was truly outstanding.
There were two choices of soup/appetizer, entree, and dessert on the $20.01 menu: Gazpacho or lox salad, duck breast or scallops, melted chocolate cake or creme brulee.
The gazpacho was pretty brilliant. All the vegetables were blended together and, in the center, there was a creamy thing (I forget the menu description) of jalapenos. The soup was very spicy (to my liking) and delicious. The salad was small and very pleasant, though not as impressive to me as the gazpacho. As for the entrees, the duck itself was not incredible, but the dish as a whole was, because the duck was accompanied by a delicious cherry that had been preserved in some type of great syrup I could identify, and a mixture of barley and some other grain with a sweet sauce that might have included some maple syrup. The scallops were absolutely fresh, perfectly cooked, and accompanied by a great mashed potato/broccoli mixture and something else delectable (I forget what). The creme brulee was excellent, with a nicely caramelized, slightly thick, crunchy top, and it was accompanied by a delicious little banana tart and some fresh bananas. The chocolate dessert, which came with ice cream and a nice stick of chocolate, was probably the only item that I didn't consider special; it was merely good. We decided to share a bottle of wine on top of the prix fixe lunch. Our waiter recommended an absolute delicious Riesling; I'm terrible at remembering names of wines, but I think "Weil" was part of its name, and I definitely recommend that anyone who doesn't hate sweet wines consider getting it for your next dinner party.
We were served graciously, and the entire experience was delightful. I look forward to returning some time for an a la carte lunch. The regular lunch menu looked interesting, and it wasn't as outrageously expensive as I would have thought, with entrees mostly in the high teens and low twenties, from what I remember.