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Restaurant Charlotte

Every theater goer knows the drill. Dine before the curtain rises and you must arrive at the restaurant by 6:00 to avoid the rush. Get there one-half hour later and the restaurant is packed with people who want to be out by 7:30. Decide to eat after the final applause and your stomach grumbles through the performance or you find yourself nibbling candy at intermission.

Restaurant Charlotte in the Millennium Broadway Hotel, located just steps from the Great White Way, has come up with a novel solution for ticket holders. Order the Broadway Encore three-course prix fixe dinner and have your appetizer and entree before the show. For dessert and coffee go back when the last curtain comes down.

The dimly lighted winsome contemporary room has high ceilings, just the right amount of detail and is calm and comfortable. Wooden tabletops are two-toned and highly polished to show the grain. Sleek tableware, marble, mirrors and a wall of windows complete the look.

Straightforward food is the ticket here, nothing flashy and no major flubs. Begin with briny and warming Prince Edward Island saffron-mussel chowder or duet of smoked salmon and salmon tartar, a simultaneous presentation of different tastes of the same ingredient. Main courses of seared scallops were plump and luscious. Roast chicken was acceptable, but a side of the mashed potatoes was, unfortunately, cold.

A break of several of hours to watch a play before returning for a finale at the restaurant is a welcome one. Apple brown Betty with vanilla ice cream and caramel-bourbon sauce and warm chocolate cake wrapped in filo with chocolate filling and pistachio ice cream were rich and captivating.

Restaurant Charlotte, Millennium Broadway, 145 W. 44th Street, New York, NY 10036. Tel. 212-768-4400. Open seven days for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Prix fixe dinner is $36.50. A la carte menu is moderate. www.millenniumhotels.com


Torre di Pisa

In foodland where "theme restaurants" are pervasive and command a thick picture book of the same name, Torre di Pisa took the cover. If Dali illustrated stories for hip kids, he might have painted this scene. Irregularity is the bottom line, living room chairs whose backs are higher on one side than the other, the tower's pattern scattered in several forms throughout the room and blue and white plates suspended from the walls. Therein hangs a tale. Chinese plates in an Italian restaurant? The Meacci family who owns the original Tower of Pisa in Milan bought the dishes at a store in the city's old Chinese community.

The room is a happy one. And some of the food will leave you smiling, too. Appetizers and pastas outdid the entrees. Tender, just done calamari, accompanied by caramelized vegetables, emerged from the grill puffed up like pommes souffles. Lightly dressed arugula salad contrasted nicely with the buttery, improbably thin Parmesan pastry in which it was served. Three robust pastas were very satisfying. The gold star goes to the penne that blended beautifully with smoked mozzarella, zucchini, prosciutto and creamy saffron sauce. Spaghetti with shrimp in red tomato sauce and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes had a proper zing. Fettuccine with garlic, pesto and a hefty dose of shitake mushrooms was also appealing.

Main courses did not fare as well. Thinly sliced beef, reminiscent of meat in a Philly cheese steak sandwich encased a ball of watery mozzarella, the size of a baseball. There was too little beef and too much cheese, not that it mattered, for neither had any taste. Grouper, on a delicious bed of spinach, was thick and juicy, but did not merit a price of $32. The tiramisu and signature torre de pisa desserts were pleasant and not too sweet.

Torre di Pisa, 19 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036. Tel. 212-398-4400. Open lunch, Monday to Friday; dinner, Monday to Saturday. Expensive. www.torredipisa.us/family.htm

Spring 1999