I never thought of the Time Warner Center as particularly warm and cozy. Some people liken it to a cold, glossy mall in the middle of the city. So it was a strange thing to wander into the Time Warner Center on Wednesday night, post hurricane fallout, and feel surprisingly at home. All the restaurants were thankfully open and buzzing with customers — from Bar Masa to Landmarc, A Voce and Porter House New York. But I never thought I’d stumble upon a new spot, which as many of you may know, is a very exciting thing for a foodie, especially for hungry, displaced hurricane victims seeking refuge from the storm. Who doesn’t take comfort in a stiff cocktail and fancy food?
Center Bar’s Slow-Roasted Halibut
It’s called Center Bar, a little oasis in the center of the atrium as you come off the fourth floor elevator, just across from Bar Masa. It’s a sexy little spot, a bar-cum-restaurant, with about 40 seats, all with a glassed in view of Columbus Circle and Central Park. The space is outfitted with a white marble bar, a black & white striped floor, scattered tables and lounges for relaxed dining and drinking endeavors. There’s a serious cocktail list (courtesy of Brad Nugent and James Moreland), a mix of classics, like a proper Manhattan and Hemingway Daiquiri, and newfangled libations, like the Mighty Servant, a “let’s pretend it’s still summer” blend of Grey Goose, Strawberries and Basil, or a champagne cocktail, called the Calypso, with macerated apricot and Grand Marnier. The drinks are organized into categories, like Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, Sours And Smashes, and Daisies and Coolers. (Try the Wild Harvest located under Daises And Coolers, made with Belvedere & Wild Blueberry Thyme Syrup.) While I’m not the biggest fan of drinks on the sweet side, I’ll happily make an exception for the Cliff Dweller, an apricot-tinted drink, composed of a beautifully balanced blend of tequila, aperol, cointreau and lime with hints of orange and rhubarb. But my favorite cocktail at Center Bar, by far, is the Maxim, a martini, made with Kettle One Vodka, properly chilled, and the ingenious swizzle stick wielding Wasabi Caviar-Stuffed Olives. That’s right, Wasabi-Spiced Tobiko tucked right inside two green olives — a unique addition that adds just the right amount of texture and spice to something so simple and perfect on its own. (The Maxim might make an alcoholic out of me yet! Just saying.)
The Maxim Martini
Center Bar’s the kind of place that you can stop at the bar for a drink while waiting for your table at Bar Masa or Porter House, or you can settle in for dinner. The food is the work of Chef Michael Lomonaco, who conveniently oversees the kitchen at his modern American steakhouse, Porter House New York, located just down the hall. Instead of hefty meats and decadent steakhouse sides, Center Bar’s menu is devoted to small plates, mostly the luxury sorts, like caviar, oysters and foie gras. There’s American Sturgeon Caviar with blinis and all the accoutrements, Ahi Tuna with a Bloody Mary Sorbet, and Braised Pork Belly with Pistachios, Aged Port and Pear Mostardo. There’s an elegant, and decidedly delicate dish of Taylor Bay Scallops Ceviche, served on the half shell and anointed with a Citrus Marinade, a subtly spicy chili oil and herb salad. I’m a sucker for Drunken Goat Cheese (soaked in red wine), so I had to try the Piquillo Peppers, plumped with this gorgeous cheese, and scattered with Toasted Marcona Almonds — a bite of Spain by way of Columbus Circle. There was a terrific dish of Charred Wagyu, sliced paper thin and cooked barely so that it nearly melted onto the tongue. It came sprinkled with sea salt and accompanied by a zesty wasabi remoulade for dipping. But my favorite dish was the Slow-Roasted Halbut, served over sweet yellow lentils, flavored with an olive tapenade and Moroccan spices — the kind of dish you’d go back for along with a Maxim Martini, of course. For dessert, there’s Bourbon Vanilla Rice Pudding with Honey Gelato and a Chocolate Pot Au Creme.
Come the holiday season, Center Bar just might be everybody’s favorite shopping break.