The subject is lunchtime.
Where? In Rockefeller Center, the epicenter of New York City, home to 1.5 million crazy people residing on a 23 square mile island.
More specifically, at Brasserie Ruhlmann, from the same folks who bring you the consistently reliable BLT Steak, BLT Fish and BLT Burger. It's not a new discovery, but I've lunched here a dozen times and it's still a revelation. The beautiful Art Deco design -- dark paneling, multicolored tiled floor, chandeliers descending from the sky-high ceiling -- as well as the classic brasserie fare, conspire to create a timeless New York meets 'April in Paris' experience.
The restaurant is located directly across the street from the just-closed-for-the-season skating rink, which itself becomes a swell sunken outdoor dining spot in warm weather. 30 Rock sits catty corner. The lunch crowd is 50/50 'home and away'. At the next table you'll hear a couple speaking Argentine accented Spanish. Pan across and you'll spot a couple of suits from NBC. Considering that part of what you're paying for is the real estate, do dine outside on a beautiful day under giant umbrellas, survey the passing crowd and feel oh-so cosmopolitan.
Why? Because you're hungry for classic, unpretentious French fare. Plus, there's something kind of cool about taking in the Big Apple like a tourist from a quintessential vantage point, without a camera, map or tour guide.
What? Order the Frisée Aux Lardons. ($21) Or Moules Marinieres. ($18) (Unless you're feeling a little naughty and adventurous - in which case it will be steak tartare and a gin martini - my personal Happy Meal.) The Frisée salad is composed of lettuce (think of frisée as the fancy French word for frizzy) topped with a hefty handful of crispy little 'chunklets' of bacon (lardon), super thin slices of red onion, small croutons for crunch, and three enoki mushrooms for effect, in a perfectly executed vinaigrette from the people who invented vinaigrette (the French, that is). A medium-cooked egg, coated in breadcrumbs, sits atop, awaiting penetration. Yes, it's a bacon and egg salad. And ask for it lightly dressed with additional vinaigrette on the side.
The mess of mussels arrives in a ceramic oval filled with a pool of aromatic broth flavored by wine and shallots. The bivalves are plump, sweet and plentiful; the liquid is luscious, but on occasion, can be slightly salty. You'll still want to spoon it like soup or mop it up with the decent house roll. The accompanying fries come in a paper cone, hot, crispy and tasty enough so as to render ketchup unnecessary. Either dish is all you need, except of course for any one of their good wines by the glass, like an easy drinking Pinot Gris ($11) or the dry Rosé ($8), reminiscent of Provence in the spring.
A second glass of wine? Oh no, you couldn't; then you might have to blow off work for an hour and walk half a block to St. Patrick's Cathedral to take in the majesty of one of the world's most magnificent churches. Or ascend 70 stories to the Observation Deck at Top of the Rock for the stellar 360-degree panoramic view. Too touristy for you? Step across the street to the Promenade and eat ridiculously expensive Swiss chocolates at Teuscher, while you sit amidst fresh flowers and flowing fountains. Feeling more erudite and Francophile? Pop into the Librairie De France, now having a sale before closing in September, and pick up out of print art books or make yourself a Paris style street sign. If you're a shopper, the very French Anne Fontaine is next door and Saks Fifth Avenue is just across the street. All within steps of lunch.
When? Midweek. Midyear. Mid-now.
Whatever you do, remember: "Life is short. Never waste a meal."©
Brasserie Ruhlmann 45 Rockefeller Plaza (212) 974-2020
For restaurant reservations, I use Open Table
Teuscher 620 Fifth Avenue
610 5th Ave (212) 489-1554
Saks Fifth Avenue 611 Fifth Avenue (between 49th & 50th St.)
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