Reading about Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter’s new Midtown venture, Monkey Bar, situated in the Elysee Hotel, I was enticed. By some accounts, it’s his tour de force in Manhattan scene (if not cuisine?); by others, it seemed like a voyage to turn-of-the-century Bombay, an intriguing move, if of questionable taste. Ultimately, Ruth gave it the nod. And I love an adventure.

Because my recent work schedule prevented me from planning anything–even meals–well in advance, I committed to go about an hour before I hoped to be sat. I called the reservation line at about 9:15 on this particular weeknight for my party of one. I volunteered to eat at the bar but expressed a preference for the dining room. (Know that I’ve been an event planner–I hate phones, but I know what I’m doing on them.) I was invited in to dine, and I went.

Upon arrival, one of the reservationists immediately recognized me as the caller and warmly greeted me. I was steered to bar seating, which was dark and mostly empty, so I inquired into space in the dining room and offered to wait if I needed to. I was immediately accommodated with a corner table in the dining room and assured it wasn’t a problem when I expressed my apologetic delight. The table was perfect for me–it was near the servers’ station, which for a lot of people wouldn’t be a desirable position, but it made me feel socialized. My look was very neutral, dress-casual, all black. Other diners were more ornately decorated, and the diversity of the dining room bridged age and ethnicity, if not socioeconomic status. My server, with the FOH staff, turned a stormy weeknight into a special occasion. I enjoyed his visits to check up on me–not something I often say when I’m out by myself–but he was just such a professional.

I would be remiss not to mention the bread in the order in which it came out. Soft, doughy, stretchy, salty, perfect rolls. I didn’t have to wait until after I ordered to receive them, which is, I think, a confident and classy move on restaurants’ part. My first course was minted pea soup garnished with crostini spread with goat cheese, which I paired with a glass of Veuve. I liked the soup, but it was unspectacular, and I was frustrated to have a burnt tongue for the remainder of my meal. (I’ve mentioned minted pea relish at Proof on Main in Louisville on this blog before, and it sets the bar high.) I paired rose with a main course of kedgeree, made with Basmati rice, haddock, and fried shallots, in a cream curry sauce. It added depth to my experience–kedgeree’s origin is in the British Raj, Indian fusion cuisine long before the likes of Tabla or Spice Market. Fusion by circumstance, not curiosity. I kept putting my spoon down and pushing the bowl away, then picking up my spoon and pulling the bowl back until it was almost finished.

It seems that the menu has already undergone several iterations, and I hope to see it hone in on the dishes that, like the kedgeree, are of another time and place. That said, I’d hate to see the long dessert list go. My kedgeree was trumped only by sticky toffee pudding. I was told the chef is French and cared very much about perfecting the dish, which seemed to be the official seasonal dessert of Manhattan this winter. It was the best way I’ve ever had it, and it paired well with a glass of port.

My server waited until I had paid–a modest $100 and some change for three courses and wine pairings–to ask about my connections with the restaurant, how I got the table. I shrugged and smiled and said, “I just called ahead.”

I enjoy the “meta” of how Graydon has nodded to colonial empire-building in his own Manhattan empire-building, and I hope it works out better for him than it did for the Brits. With Monkey Bar, I am confident it will.

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