Tag Archives: service

Café Edison, a quintessential piece of New York

Breakfast was not included in my deal at the W Hotel in Times Square. If it had been, I would never have discovered the Café Edison. To have missed this iconic Broadway eatery would have been to miss a quintessential piece of New York.

Café Edison
Café Edison

Housed in the former ballroom of Edison Hotel, at 228 West 47th Street, in the heart of Broadway, the café’s mirrored bar and booths with benches sit under a vaulted blue ceiling and between pink walls busily embossed with white. Added to this is a pastiche  of posters, homey art works that look like the oeuvres of some rising family star, fragments of menu, advertisements and framed newspaper article that proudly blow the trumpet of this theatre world landmark.

Theatre patrons, stage-hands, actors, producers and playwrights all congregate here. Plays are conceived and written here. August Wilson dashed off the notes for three of his scripts on Cafe Edison napkins. Neil Simon’s comedy, 45 Seconds From Broadway is about this café which he claimed as his second home, whose staff he embraced as his family and where he could always be found at his special, reserved, cordoned off table, just inside the front door. Big theatre deals are clinched and important Broadway decisions, like who’s up for a Tony, are thrashed out at the Café Edison’s tables.

The café is also known as the Polish Tea Room, which according to N.Y.C. lore, is a nod, or rather a dig, at the prestigious, expensive and now long-gone, Russian Tea Room. But it is also, surely, a tribute to the Café’s Polish founders Harry and Frances Edelstein and to the legendary Polish Jewish cuisine that the Edelstein family have turned out over two generations. The menu includes Latkes, matzo brei, borscht, stuffed cabbage, corned beef, pastrami, lightly fried blintzes stuffed with sweetened cheese, blueberries or cherries, giant open-faced reubens, kasha varmishkas, mazzo brei, an assortment of soups, including, according to Condé Nast Traveler, “the best matzo ball soup in town” and fabulous breakfasts with eggs “over easy” and endless coffee.

Wielding the coffee pots is a gaggle of waitresses of an appearance, age and style that strongly reminded me of an already dated sit-com called Alice which I watched every day during at 1.pm during the summer of 1983 while I breast-fed my newborn son. Other reviewers have described them as “short”, “rude”, “crabby” and “off-hand”. But to me, they had the weary, long-suffering, matter-of-fact, business-like demeanor of working mothers with jobs to do, mouths to feed and messes to clean-up before they could get off their feet. So, cups were filled, toast was replenished and extras added to meals without fuss or favour because they knew, or seemed to, what all their customers needed before they did themselves and it wouldn’t have surprised me in the slightest if they’d slapped some hands and wiped some chins into the bargain.

Don’t miss the Café Edison on your New York adventure, it’s worth it for architecture, the people watching, the exceptional (though not in the conventional sense) service and absolutely unreservedly for the food.

Putting on the Ritz in London

Frequented by Royals, rock stars and the rich and dripping with class, privilege and luxury, the Ritz has long enjoyed a reputation as the best joint in town – any town – Paris, New York, Rome or London. The epitome of all that is exclusive and, often, unattainable, to ordinary folk, it has informed song, in the cheeky “Putting on the Ritz”, story, in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s whimsical “A diamond as big as the Ritz” and popular expressions, in  those stock retorts to dissatisfaction with fare or service at family tables the world over – “What do you think this is, the Ritz?” or even “Where do you think you are, the Ritz?”  So, what, really, makes the Ritz so special? What is it actually like behind that grand façade? What exactly is it that brings in all those big names and megabucks? I popped in for lunch recently to find out.

 

The Ritz
The Ritz

Arrival at the Ritz is a kind gauntlet run (and probably a well disguised presentation and security check, too) past top-hatted, waist-coated and bowing doormen, from the taxi, up the steps, through glass doors (opened and held by more top-hatted, bowing waist-coats) and across a lobby gleaming with polished wood.

The interior is a symphony for the eye – no discordant note of mismatched colour or misplaced decoration here – no, everything, from the perfectly pleated and draped curtains, the deep-piled carpets, the ceiling roses, the choirs of sculpted cherubs, the plaster cornices, the chandeliers bristling with twinkling bulbs, the huge wall mirrors, the furniture, the table linen, the china to the cutlery, is in perfect, soft-sheened pink, green, cream, white, gold, glass and silver baroque harmony. Classical piano music plays quietly against a background of discreet voices and the subdued tinkle of silver – no musak, no bursts of raucous laughter, no clash of stainless steel or crash of smashing plates here. No camera flash distracts the guests or disturbs the subtle lighting. Photographs are not permitted at the Ritz.

My three course lunch, from an unpretentious, English, three-choice menu, probably speaks for all Ritz cuisine. It all looked too good to eat but, in the end, tasted even better than it looked. The monkfish entrée was small, a manageable, melt-in-the-mouth lead-in to the “just-roast-pork-with-apple-sauce-and-four-veg.-but-oh-boy-what-they’ve-done-with-it” main, while the not too sweet and deliciously healthy vanilla yoghurt and fresh fruit dessert was the ideal finale.

Service at the Ritz strikes the perfect balance between the discreet touch and the flourish. Glasses never empty while plates and cutlery come and go as if by magic. Serviettes flap into place with a flick and a twirl while courses are ferried by waiters in single file who lift their silver covers with one accord. Staff are formal but not stiff, friendly but not familiar, attentive but not intrusive, respectful but not obsequious, efficient but not brisk, and mindful of their jobs but not afraid to be themselves.

Undoubtedly, the Ritz is luxurious, classy and exclusive. But the thing that really made my Ritz experience so special and that would certainly bring me back again, is that it is beautiful, comfortable, pleasant and welcoming.