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The Palm Court

A Manhattan Icon

When Ed and I wanted to celebrate Labor Day and the start of the fall season we searched for a New York icon and found it at the recently refurbished Plaza Hotel. Problem was he preferred lunch and I craved Tea. A quick communication with the Palm Court offered the solution. If we made a 2:00 pm reservation, we could order from two different menus. I've always had a soft spot for those epergnes filled with lady-like miniature sandwiches, but could I really believe that he would choose thin slices of cucumber resting on a base of white bread and tiny pastries. He might go for the scones, but that's about it.

September 6 was the last day of New York's famed restaurant week and Chef Willis Loughhead was still offering several hardy entrees, including loin of lamb. Now isn't that what a man wants! We knew we would both be happy at the conclusion of this mid-day repast. Many of the Big Apple's famed eateries will no longer be serving special menus, but the Palm Court plans to continue its prix fixe lunches.

We entered The Palm Court with smiles on our faces—we hadn't been to The Plaza since its face-lift was finished. This space in the center of the lobby appeared to be both familiar and different. The fleur-de-peche marble columns topped with bronze capitals were, as always, resting against the beautiful arches and outlining the windows. Crowning the room was the original and magnificent stained glass skylight. Yes, The Palm Court had been updated with new lighting and furnishings, but the mood and the sense of the era in which it was constructed, 1907, are completely recognizable. The influence of Greek architecture also remains. Four columns grace the entrance and statues adorn the walls. Oil paintings, beautiful floral carpeting, tall palms, and massive chandeliers complete the look.

The tables and booths are widely spaced creating a very quiet atmosphere in which to dine. And as for the food I think that lunch bested the tea and were I to eat here again, I would follow Ed's leanings. Heirloom tomatoes are one of my passions and his appetizer had at least a half-dozen varieties sitting on a bed of watercress and mesclun salad. The main course lamb was splendid—tender and juicy and accompanied by creamy polenta spiked with cipollini onion and balsamic vinegar. The crusty seeded olive French rolls were among one of the best breads I've ever tasted. The meal was topped off by three varieties of crème brulee.

Four kinds of Tea were available—Classic, New Yorker, Chocolate, and Eloise—and a choice of teas to accompany them. The Madame Butterfly Jasmine China had floral and fresh green notes and would satisfy the most discerning tea drinker. What I liked most about The Classic Tea was the variety of the sandwiches, each one was served on a different kind of bread. The truffled quail egg salad in a flaky pastry tart was the most scrumptious of all. Smoked salmon on pumpernickel was a classic combination. Lobster with a dab of caviar was a special treat. Garnished cucumber hit the spot, but bland roast beef on whole wheat disappointed. Warm scones served with lemon curd so thick it could have been a pie filling, house made apricot jam, and Devonshire Cream were winners. Of the five kinds of pastries and sweets, some were acceptable, others were baked with more sugar than my palate finds acceptable. My reaction to the tea was mixed. As I looked around the room at the other tables I noticed a great variety among what the three-tiered serving plates offered. The Palm Court gets an A for ambiance, service, and lunch. Tea falls beneath that rating. Nevertheless, I would return, to try The New Yorker. After all, Tea at The Plaza is a special Gotham custom.

The Palm Court, Plaza Hotel, Fifth Avenue at Central Park South, New York, NY 10019, 212-759-3000

Fall, 2010