While it was bitterly cold outside and I couldn’t feel my face, fingers, toes or butt cheeks after the trek from Grand Central Station to the restaurant, at least the sun was shining—enough so to fool any unsuspecting tourist into believing that the mercury would climb above freezing (which it never did that day). Maarten and I had taken the train in from Stamford to have brunch with our friend Ab who was visiting from France. We arrived forty-five minutes early for our brunch date and decided to wait it out in the café bar area until Ab’s arrival.
Having major difficulties thawing out, I resorted to the one true method to ease the chill in the human body: alcohol. Okay, so it was a little early in the day, but as I looked around and saw a couple of other people in the café bar sipping on mimosas, my guilt and shame faded as quickly as they had materialized. But a mimosa really wasn’t want I wanted, so I did that one better by ordering hot apple cider with rum. Earlier for breakfast I had only eaten a piece of dry toast and a glass of juice, so I’m not sure what made me think I could handle rum on a near-empty stomach. After three or four sips, my head began to get fuzzy and my eyes crossed all by themselves. I was on the verge of an early afternoon drunk. I had to get some food into me, and quick.
We looked over the menu for a quick bite of something to eat—a little tidbit that would tide us over until Ab’s arrival. There was a nice, tidy little selection of appetizers to select from, but none that I would readily classify as “small”, like the Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes or the Seared Yellow Fin Tuna. I wasn’t trying to spoil my appetite for brunch, just kick start it a little. I finally decided on the Artisanal Cheese Sampler. Not exactly small, but cheese anytime of the day is a good thing…a good thing indeed.
When the waiter brought the cheese tray out, it made for a striking presentation. Sliced baguette sat at the helm of the plate, and the gourmet cheeses progressed downward from there. Sprinkled on top of the cheese with artful recklessness were pieces of caramelized walnuts. To round out the plate, dollops of sweet apple compote, as well as tomato marmalade were strategically placed next to the various cheeses. Oh my stars, every single cheese and both spreads were absolutely tantalizing to the tongue. Sure, I initially justified needing something to act as a filler in my belly so I wouldn’t be traipsing through the streets of New York like a Grade A lush, but at that point none of that mattered. I just wanted the cheese. So what if I spoiled my appetite and wouldn’t want brunch—I could eat my way through my fourth screening of Avatar (this time on the IMAX big screen and in 3D) with popcorn and Jujubes. But then I thought of Ab; “Wouldn’t it be nice if we left a taste for him?” I asked Maarten. He agreed and, with great effort and tremendous personal sacrifice, I turned my back on the remainder of the cheese plate. Ab arrived just in the nick of time.
With our dining threesome complete and very little cheese left on the table, we left the café bar and made our way to the main dining room. Bryant Park Grill is a smart looking establishment, with white table linens, high windows and cushioned seating along one wall. The chairs were comfortable, and the acoustics in the room were great; we could actually hear one another talk and we didn’t have to shout to be heard.
Once again, we were perusing the menu, this time for something more substantial and filling. The first order of business, however, was to request a bottle of Chalone Vineyard 2008 Pinot Noir. After all, what would brunch be without a sip or two of the warm and fuzzies? Do you notice a running theme here? Yes, it was a smooth red wine that ended on a subtly crisp note. It was a great start to the meal and would prove to be the perfect compliment throughout.
Initially, both Maarten and Ab were oohing and aahing over the brunch menu, but they eventually ordered from the regular lunch menu, as did I. There was something quite melodious sounding about the Panko Crusted Chicken Sandwich on Ciabatta, hence my selection. Maarten, in turn, chose the Smoked Salmon Scramble, while Ab brought up the rear with the Grilled Skirt Steak Sandwich on Toasted Pizza Bianca Bread.
While we waited for our entrees to arrive, Maarten and Ab talked shop while I stared blankly around the room. Oddly enough, I felt like a six year old surrounded by adults talking about things foolish children just don’t understand. So much for exercising my brain cells over the weekend.
The Panko Crusted Chicken Sandwich was a little intimidating because of its sheer size. If it were any larger, I would have felt like I was doing battle with a ginormous bite of food on an episode of “Man vs. Food” and hoping I would live to tell the story. The ciabatta bread was easily as large as, or larger than, my foot (and that’s saying a lot). It was sufficiently crusty and beautifully toasted with golden brown hues. Between the two pieces of bread, the tender chicken was nestled among fresh mozzarella, tangy tomato sauce and fresh basil. The chef even snuck a few slices of roasted red bell pepper in the mix which surprised and delighted my tongue as I was not expecting that little taste treat. This had to be one of the best chicken sandwiches to ever pass my lips…ever! Yes, I know that sounds a bit towering in its praise, but really, it was a truly triumphant sandwich. It kind of makes me wish I had never been so charitable as to offer Maarten and Ab a bite—naturally, they both obliged and took me up on my generous offer. In the end, the sandwich that I ate was actually minus two very large bites!
The brunch set a fabulous tone for the entire day. Imagine having a great meal with wonderful company, followed by an exciting movie, then culminating in a Super Bowl Party with gracious hosts who, by the way, enjoyed the game even though the other football (soccer, to us Americans) was their game of choice (being European and all…)—that was my glorious Sunday.
As for Bryant Park Grill, this was my second visit there, and it was as good as the first time around. I can’t wait for warm winds to prevail so that I can once again dine al fresco under the sky and stars.
Would I recommend Bryant Park Grill? I would absolutely recommend this restaurant. There hasn’t been one item that I’ve tried here (either from my own plate or someone else’s) that was not either rich in flavor, appropriately tender and succulent, or just plain delicious.
Is Bryant Park Grill a good value or do you need to take out a loan to eat here? Well, it’s located in NYC, so it’s all relative. Having said that, lunchtime entrées range from $16.95 for a Chicken Caesar Salad all the way up to $39.50 for the Sea Grill, which is a collection of grilled whole lobster, sea scallops, jumbo shrimp and saffron tomato rice with herb butter sauce—sounds like a ton of food to me! If you want to really enjoy yourself with an appetizer, a glass of wine or two and dessert along with your entrée, you might want to make sure your credit card can handle the burden.
What about atmosphere and ambience? Bryant Park Grille has a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere with an air of sophistication and understated elegance. It doesn’t hit you over the head with a highbrow attitude, and the staff is very pleasant. The dining room is large and open; however, if you want something more casual and intimate, try the café bar, which has the same menu as the dining room.
Bryant Park Grill
25 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018 (212) 840-6500