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21 Club

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Address: 21 W. 52nd St., near Fifth Ave.
Phone: (212) 582-7200
Dinner: Mon.-Thur., 5:30 p.m.-10
p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 5:30 p.m.-11:30  p.m; lunch, Mon.-Fri., 12 p.m.-
2:30 p.m. Closed Sundays.
Cuisine: American
Vibe: Midtown country club
Occassion: Power-lunch spot; time-warp dinner
Don’t Miss Dish: Mixed grill of game, pommes souffles, apple crisp.
Drink Specialty:Exemplary global wine selection.
Price: Appetizers, $12-23; entrees, $30-45; desserts, $10.50. $35 prix fixe lunch menu; $40 dinner prix fixe menu.
Reservations: Recommended; dress code strictly enforced.

A changing of the guard in the kitchen demands a revisit to this NYC classic.

There is nothing subtle about the dress code inspection at the ’21’
Club. It is an unapologetic once-over by hosts, who vigilantly deny
entrance to guests in jeans or sneakers.

Though this midtown institution may have surrendered ties at lunch, it strictly enforces an old-school jacket policy.

It’s ironic that a former speakeasy with bar shelves that once
emptied into the sewers, and a stealthy wine cellar, would cling to
such traditions. Yet after 85 years, co-founders Jack Kriendler and Charlie Berns‘ club still manages to lure celebrities and the social elite.

While an Old World order still guards the four-story townhouse’s
entrance, a new regime of chefs presides over the kitchen. After 12
years at the ’21’ Club, chef John Greeley
earned the “chef” title just last year and thus permission to exact
change in the kitchen. Regulars who get their “usual” are missing out
on splendidly tweaked classics as well as distinctly haute additions.

The ’21’ Club could easily rest on the laurels of its classics, many
of which have been served since the 1930s. Where some classics are
concerned, the kitchen coasts on autopilot – as was the case with a
tired ’21’ Caesar salad with stale croutons and a shallow wash of
dressing. The signature $30 burger proved average, and a
breadcrumb-dense crab cake certainly didn’t merit its $24 price tag.

But what you’re paying for is also the privilege of dining in a New York City landmark steeped in history. Nowhere else can you feast on a sirloin as you sit beneath Willie Mays‘ baseball bat dangling from the Bar Room’s ceiling or dine on a Dover sole as you gaze above at an Air Force One model donated by President Bill Clinton.

Many menu warhorses have withstood the test of time. Excellent pommes souffles
resemble swollen French fries with unrivaled crunch. A thick sirloin is
juicy and charred. Of all the tableside theatrics in the city, none
compares to the charms of a tuxedo-clad server preparing steak tartare
in a room decked with toys and checkered tablecloths.

Though it’s hard to compete with the power-lunch scene, Greeley’s
cooking demands attention. Forgo the crab cakes for jumbo lump
crabmeat, glossed with olive oil, avocado and lime juice. It’s sided by
an avocado puree with a kick of jalapeño. An Arctic char – served with
farro, bacon and hedgehog mushrooms – could give many of the newly
installed, market-driven dishes a run for their money.

Greeley’s finest performance is the mixed grill of game, $44 and
worth every penny. While I envisioned a barbaric stockpile of meat, it
turns up as a sophisticated plating of expertly cooked cuts: The best
of the lot is a tender elk chop and a robustly flavored chocolate and
chile-rubbed venison loin.

Pastry chef Kimberly Bugler (formerly of Dennis Foy)
thrills with a decadent fig and cherry pudding with homemade toffee ice
cream, and a rustic apple pie. Its walnut streusel topping gives way to
a warm, chewy mix of dried and fresh apples.

If the cost of admission seems steep, the $40 dinner prix fixe menu
is a deal. With a changing of the guard in the kitchen, the ’21’ Club
demands a revisit.

Excellent pommes souffles
resemble swollen French fries with unrivaled crunch. A thick sirloin is
juicy and charred. Of all the tableside theatrics in the city, none
compares to the charms of a tuxedo-clad server preparing steak tartare
in a room decked with toys and checkered tablecloths.

Though
it’s hard to compete with the power-lunch scene, Greeley’s cooking
demands attention. Forgo the crab cakes for jumbo lump crabmeat,
glossed with olive oil, avocado and lime juice. It’s sided by an
avocado puree with a kick of jalapeño. An Arctic char – served with
farro, bacon and hedgehog mushrooms – could give many of the newly
installed, market-driven dishes a run for their money.

Greeley’s
finest performance is the mixed grill of game, $44 and worth every
penny. While I envisioned a barbaric stockpile of meat, it turns up as
a sophisticated plating of expertly cooked cuts: The best of the lot is
a tender elk chop and a robustly flavored chocolate and chile-rubbed
venison loin.

Pastry chef Kimberly Bugler (formerly of Dennis
Foy) thrills with a decadent fig and cherry pudding with homemade
toffee ice cream, and a rustic apple pie. Its walnut streusel topping
gives way to a warm, chewy mix of dried and fresh apples.

If
the cost of admission seems steep, the $40 dinner prix fixe menu is a
deal. With a changing of the guard in the kitchen, the ’21’ Club
demands a revisit.

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