- Cuisine: American
- Vibe: Swanky supper club
- Occasion: Stargazing; see and be seen. Impress your date.
- Don’t Miss: Monkey bread, Nora’s meatloaf, sticky toffee pudding
- Price: Appetizers, $13; entrees, $25; dessert, $9
- Reservations: Highly recommended
- Phone: (212) 308-2950
- Location: 60 E. 54th St., near Park Ave.
Monkey Bar isn’t really a restaurant. It’s Graydon Carter’s uptown dinner party.
The editor of Vanity Fair began dabbling in restaurants a few years back when he revived the aging Waverly Inn.
Some people like buying vintage cars. Carter likes buying vintage
restaurants and restoring them. Monkey Bar still looks like the
original, 1930s supper club – rich red-leather banquettes, brass
trimmings, monkey lamps and a 65-foot mural of New Yorkers along the
walls. Most of the servers wear white steward jackets with long tails
and striped patches on the shoulders. The dining room has balcony and
Me, I got stuck at table 39 on every single visit. Have you ever
been to a wedding and found your place card puts you at the kids’ table
… with your back to the dance floor? That’s 39 – on the edge of Siberia,
smack in the middle of the server freeway. When we asked about moving,
the manager explained, “The tables are all preassigned by the owners.”
Really, like an airline? Ah, Graydon.
Comfort me with meatloaf and monkey bread. The monkey bread is the
crack of carbohydrates – an intoxicatingly sweet puff of dough made
with sugar, flour, eggs and heavy cream. If the oversized loaf isn’t
seductive enough, it has a closer of paprika-spiked pecan butter that’s
almost as good.
wrote “When Harry Met Sally,” but more importantly, she makes a mean
meatloaf, and she gave Carter the recipe. It’s a mix of ground veal,
pork and beef, seasoned with ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, then
blanketed with a wonderful mushroom sauce. I didn’t see Meg Ryan or Billy Crystal there, but I did see Jon bon Jovi, Betsey Johnson, Jerry Seinfeld and Katie Couric all dining in the balcony on the same night….
“My grandfather would love this menu,” my friend said as she
surveyed the offerings – oysters Rockefeller, clams casino, steak
tartare, Chasen’s chili and lobster Newburg. On my first visit, I had
an oily, oily skate with sun-dried tomatoes, capers and onions.
The chef who made the skate was fired a month after opening. Larry Forgione, who owned An American Place, has
over as consulting chef, and the skate’s gone, but most of the menu
remains the same. There’s a tasty dish called kedgeree, a traditional
Indian dish made with smoked haddock, curried rice, scallions and
coriander, all topped with a poached egg. And there’s a well-executed
entree of seared scallops with creamed corn and smoky bits of bacon.
Considering Carter’s reputation and Forgione’s pedigree, the food
should be a lot better. The lobster Newburg tasted like the crustaceans
died years ago, the roast halibut was horribly overcooked, and the
Chasen’s chili desert-dry.
Someone at my table called the cavatelli pasta with chewy short ribs “a dank train wreck.”
So save room for dessert, because most are excellent – a sticky toffee pudding, Elysian Muscat Jell-O and malted milk chocolate mousse with peanut brittle. Pastry chef Caryn Stabinsky, who worked at WD-50, also makes the monkey bread.
Graydon Carter’s social circus has come to midtown. All his Monkey Bar needs now is better food.