Monday, February 23, 2009

"Sign A Couple Autographs So I Can Eat My Meals For Free"

In New York, and pretty much everywhere else, it's all about who you know. Your career, your social life, and sometimes your dinner can depend on it.

This mantra was verified yet again last Saturday night. After a dinner in Little Italy that was on par with the usual LI fare, I headed uptown with my friend L and her visiting mum to pick up some dessert at Maloney & Porcelli , a steakhouse in Midtown (37 E. 50th St. between Park and Madison). L chose the place because an actor friend of hers is a server there and he encouraged us to drop by.

This place is spacious and seriously swanky, with two floors and a large center bar adorned with what appears to be a large statue of a ram. To the immediate left of the entrace is the coat check, where the coats are stored in quaint little cupboards that line the wide carpeted staircase (which included a banister, in case you were wondering). After we were seated, our waiters immediately plied us with fresh, warm bread that appeared to be multi-grain, flatbread and mustard butter. The bread, we were told, is baked fresh continuously throughout the day. Our waiter explained that if the bread isn't eaten within a specific time interval each day, it's thrown out and new bread is baked. This concerned me because it seemed pretty wasteful, so I'm still crossing my fingers that by "throw it out" our waiter actually meant "give it to the homeless."

Our stomachs already stuffed with pasta, we gorged ourselves on the amazing, doughy bread, which was warm and flavorful (especially paired with the tangy mustard butter). Thanks to L's connections, we scored some champagne immediately. This definitely helped me deal with the menu, which boasted prices that would normally induce me to faint. However, since we'd just eaten, we just opted to each order a $10 dessert and share them. L and I also requested cappucinos, which had already been offered to us on the house.

I chose the dessert special for the evening, a lemon cheesecake with graham cracker crust. L's was a mocha ice cream served with a bit of biscotti and espresso and anisette toppings, and her mother got an oven-baked apple tart.

As usual, it was a taste explosion. What was extraordinary was the beautiful and classy presentation. I barely managed to get a photo of my perfectly round cheesecake garnished with a thin, sugar-coated lemon slice balancing vertically on top before I dug in with relish.

Each dessert was perfect in its own way. My cheesecake, though rich, had just the right amount of refreshing, zesty lemon flavor to keep me from feeling like I'd gone too far and eaten too much (even though I had). The apple tart included thinly sliced apples arranged fan-like in a circle, sweetened to perfection without tasting syrupy. I don't think I even need to talk about L's mocha ice cream; the flavors of chocolate, coffee and alcohol all wrapped up in an ice cream package? Yes please!

In the end, three $10 desserts, two cappucinos and three glasses of champagne (with several refills) should have added up to a total bill of at least $70. What did we pay for delicious dessert, foamy caffeinated beverages, alcohol and friendly, expedient service, you may ask? A big, fat, UNBELIEVABLE nothing. ZIP. Forget location, location, location. What New Yorkers need are connections, connections, connections!

But speaking of location, it must be said that I would definitely come back to this place as a paying customer. It would have to be a special occasion in terms of justifying the financial aspects, but the bread and desserts were totally worth it, and the wait staff was charming, deft, quick and polite. Also, I'm pretty interested in the $75 Weekend Wine Dinner they advertise. Sounds like a birthday celebration in the works to me!

The moral of this story: next time a member of the food industry wants to trade business cards, it would certainly behoove you to oblige! It would appear that complimentary desserts and solid friendships are just two sides of the same coin.