07 May 2007

Restaurant Nostalgia

Recently I found an old restaurant guide at my mother's house: The New York Times Guide to Dining Out in New York, by Craig Claiborne (1968). I flipped through it, looking for restaurants that are still around, and departed ones that I remember eating at as a child. Though the prose isn't nearly as wonderful as in Kate Simon's New York Places & Pleasures, it did conjure up some memories.

On our first date, in 1986, W. took me to the Fontana di Trevi (on West 57th Street). It's still there, and gets decent notices. I remember the restaurant fondly, good food and gracious service, and it was a place we went back to a number of times. Clearly though, they'd hoisted themselved up by the bootstraps, because here's what Claiborne had to say 18 years earlier:

It might be charitable not to go into too much detail about the décor and food at the Fontana di Trevi. Suffice it to say that the décor is on the dark side and dusty, and there are plastic vegetables at eye level along the edge of the banquettes. The stuffed clams are humdrum, most of the antipasto was taken from a tin and the fettucini can be watery. The espresso at Fontana di Trevi is not too bad.

The crack about the coffee is a classic example of damning with faint praise.

When I was about 10, we went to Lüchow’s for my birthday dinner. My birthday is just after Christmas, and Lüchow’s was decorated to the hilt. I can't remember what we ate, but I do recall that it was boisterously good time.

Lüchow’s is a landmark of more than 80 years, and, as such it has a special eminence. It smells profoundly at times of red cabbage and sauerkraut, and it is one of the noisiest restaurants in the City. It is also one of the most colorful. At times there are German bands playing oom-pah-pah, and children love it. There are festivals galore, numbering among them the bock beer festival, the venison festival and the goose festival. The food at its best is excellent. One of the major faults is that the portions are enormous and sometimes arrive at the table lukewarm. Lüchow’s is schmaltzy enough to border on the sophisticated, and the beer is cold. There are few places in town where one can dine as well on a limited budget.

Alas, Lüchow’s is no longer, knocked down and replaced by an NYU dorm. Too bad, the NYU students probably appreciated the cold beer. I was too young to drink the cold beer when I was there.


Mayberry said...

How fun! My friends and I used to love/hate wandering through the city and saying "remember I went there on a date with...?"

niobe said...

Thanks for posting that amusing review of Fontana di Trevi. Now, if I'm ever transported back in time to New York in the late 1960s I'll know exactly the restaurant to avoid.

BOSSY said...

You're never too young to drink the cold beer. Just ask Bossy's Great Dane Stella. (Just kidding, Animal Control People.)

pinknest said...

oh that's fun to look back at restaurants that conjure memories!