New York City - Continental Cuisine
( Originally Published 1959 )
THE FANCY FOODS IN PARIS AND ROME ARE WHAT NEW YORKERS GET AT HOME
BY "continental cuisine" is usually meant French and Italian, or French or Italian menus, many of which are indistinguishable. It is the Italians' contention that the French got their knowledge of cookery from Italy—possibly acquired during Napoleon's occupation of Naples. The artifacts lifted by the Little Corporal must have included garlic, as you'll get more of it in Paris than in Rome. In fact, garlic is practically an unknown quantity in Italian cooking north of Naples.
Maud Chez-elle, at 40 W. 53rd St., is definitely French, and well named. "Chez-elle" means "at home," and this restaurant's success depends as much on the gracious personality of its hostess as it does on the chef's cuisine.
Mme. Alriq is slight, blonde and pretty, but she has the handshake of a tennis player and can be tough on occasion. She is tough on the subject of pipe-smoking in restaurants and once told the Duke of Windsor that he had a choice: he could either dine at MAUD CHEZELLE or smoke his briar, but not both.
Born Maud D'Alembert, at Champs-sur-Marne, near Paris, she married Lawrence O'Connor, a former American Red Cross captain, in Paris in 1919 and came to New York with him in 1932. Two years before her husband's death in 1938 Maud O'Connor, as she was then known, made her first experiment with a restaurant at 151 E. 49th St., catering to an artistic crowd. Its success led her to open a second, much less expensive one, around the corner on Third Ave., called LE BISTRO in 1940. Wartime rationing and the threat of having to deal with black market operators decided her in 1943 to close the more expensive operation for the duration.
In December, 1950, Maud reopened MAUD CHEZELLE in one of two buildings she bought in the then unfashionable neighborhood of Second Ave. at 57th St., hoping for a permanent location. But the City's Board of Education recently condemned the property and razed the buildings for a new school. Maud's third move was to her present location in December, 1957, taking along her fabulous kitchen, famous pewter bar and rather choice collection of paintings. Her present husband, Jean Alriq, acts as manager.
When Mme. Alriq advertised MAUD CHEZ-ELLS in the slick-sheet magazines as "expensive," she wasn't kidding. For a time MAUD CHEZ-ELLE was rated the most expensive restaurant in New York. Sensing a recession, a typical French prix fixe dinner more commensurate with the times was introduced on the menu. And the restaurant is planning to expand.
Mme. Alriq still owns the little BISTRO on Third Ave. and plans eventually to open a rural restaurant at her Mt. Kisco, N.Y., home, a 66-acre estate formerly be-longing to the Baldwin piano family, who spent a million dollars on it. The palatial French Renaissance mansion includes a huge music room equipped with a pipe organ costing (circa 1917) $85,000.
Chez Vito, 36 E. 60th St., has been called "the most romantic restaurant in New York," and it well might be, if swooning violin music, candle-lit elegance, opera singers and a host who resembles Charles Boyer is what makes for romance.
A Neopolitan, Vito Pisa's beginnings in the restaurant business were unromantic enough—food buyer for the Italian Navy at the age of 19; travel agent; floor-walker at Franklin Simon; manager of a chain restaurant in Detroit; head of the Princeton ROTC kitchens and adviser to the U.S. Navy's educational programs.
Vito's first New York nite club was Le Perroquet on upper Second Ave., where he experimented with entertainment and introduced a young pianist just out of the Navy named Hugh Shannon. At his second, in the Hotel Meurice, he expanded to include music of Cy Coleman, Norene Tate, et al, by which time he was ready for grand opera.
Among the entertainers at the new CHEZ VITO was a beautiful operatic singer, Leyna Gabrielle, who worked there for $40 a week. After quitting the club several times for better jobs, La Gabrielle returned to CHEZ VITO and this time, to see she didn't leave again, Pisa married her. Signorina Pisa continues to sing there but is also important in picking other singers and considering the exceptionally fine voices—always two male and two female—there apparently is no professional jealousy. The routine of having the singers sit informally at a table has been extensively copied else-where, but nowhere is it done so well.
A couple of seasons back, Pisa opened a new CHEZ VITO Up in Westchester County to which patrons of the E. 60th St. place can get the same quality programs and excellent restaurant service during the warm weather.
Quo Vadis, which opened at 26 E. 63rd St. when the BRUSSELS moved from that location to 115 E. 54th St., has in the past 11 years established itself as one of the major class restaurants of New York and the equal or superior of many famous European establishments. It takes its name from a restaurant in London which, in turn, was named for one in Rome.
Its two operators are Gino Robusti and Bruno Carvaggi, who first met when they were working at a Belgian spa—Gino as owner of a restaurant near the golf course and Bruno as headwaiter at the Hotel Britannique. They came together to New York for the World's Fair of 1939 and remained. Bruno worked as captain at the BRUSSELS restaurant and Gino, first as a captain at the COLONY and then as headwaiter at the long vanished Monte Carlo.
QUo VADIS is one of the favorite dining places of the United Nations personnel.
Nino's Ten East, at 10 E. 52nd St., was originally operated by Nino Manini, who reigned over Cafe Nino for about ten years and later was maitre d' at the Casa-nova across town. (Incidentally, there are so many Ninos around town that the maitre d' at the ITALIAN PAVILION has decided to identify himself as Nino No. 7.)
Frank di Lello, former co-partner at the BAROQUE and later sole operator of the BACCARA on E. 45th St., recently took over NINO's TEN EAST and brought his BACCARA staff with him. Despite his youthful appearance, di Lello is a veteran restaurateur with a back-ground of experience at the Savoy in London and Ritz in Paris, and does things in the grand manner. Frank's chef is Mario Borini, who sewed in that capacity at the Italian Pavilion during the New York's World's Fair and also on the S.S. Conte de Savoia, but the cuisine is predominantly French.
NINO's TEN EAST was recently redecorated in holly-berry pink, the color introduced by Queen Elizabeth on her visit to this country, and contains a superb mural, "Esprit Carnaval" by Linzee Prescott.
On the second floor at Nino's is what amounts to a private club called the Sports Afield room, seating only 40. It is the last word in elegance and probably the most expensive restaurant in the world. On 48 hours' notice the Sports Afield can supply rare delicacies and almost any sort of wild game; also (the menu promises) Moroccan octopus, baby shark, water buffalo steak, Mexican armadillo (for four, cost $l00), Australian kangaroo, porcupine ($55 a portion), and Mexican antelope.
The Forum of the Twelve Caesars, at 57 W. 48th St. (Rockefeller Center), is New York's newest and most pretentious luxury restaurant, chiefly notable for the spectacular decorations of William Pahlmann and the equally spectacular menus. A Swiss chef, Albert Stockli, presides over the kitchen, and there are so many flaming dishes that one wag remarked that he would feel more comfortable if there were a few fire extinguishers handy.
Nino's Continental of Palm Beach, 149 E. 53rd St., is in no way related to NINO'S TEN EAST, and the Nino of the title long since departed. It is now operated by Teddy Klaster and might be renamed Teddy's Nino's Continental of Palm Beach. It is housed in the former apartment of interior decorator Yolanda Saylor, who entertained extensively there, and friends of Mrs. Saylor are sometimes slightly nonplused to find themselves sitting on one of her antique sofas in a commercial restaurant.
Le Chateau Richelieu, 48 E. 52nd St., is owned by Peter Robotti, an Italian who came to this country 62 about 30 years ago and opened a very small restaurant of that name on W. 52nd St.
Robotti invested in real estate and in time became a wealthy man. Last year he decided to build the restaurant of his dreams, so took one of his holdings at 48 E. 52nd St., tore down the building and put up a new 10-story office building in its place. On the ground floor he designed an eating establishment that might have found favor with Cardinal Richelieu himself. Imported red silk damask from Italy covers the walls; the bar and cocktail lounge are done in gleaming copper and on the wall is a $50,000 replica of the Cardinal Richelieu Palace in Paris done in collage (millions of bits of colored paper, pasted together to create an almost three-dimensional picture).
Monsignore, at 6i E. 55th St., manages to live up to the "continental cuisine" label by having both a French and an Italian chef. Caters much to the international set, though you're quite likely to find such non-continentals as Milton Berle, Red Buttons, Danny Thomas and Red Skelton dining there.
MONSIGNORE features entertainment, a six-piece string orchestra usually with a name soloist—Greta Keller, Ernesto Bonino, Marie Bernard, Mary Tremain and Patti Betz are some who've appeared there.
MONSIGNORE moved to its present location about two years ago, after five years in a building on E. 60th St. which has been razed.
Gaston's, at 48 E. 49th St., was given that name "because it is a French restaurant," says its owner, an Italian named Terzo Papperini, who worked his way up in French restaurants in Italy from busboy, waiter, captain, maitre d' and manager. Papperini came to New York in 1939 to work as captain of waiters at the Italian Pavilion at the World's Fair. By the time his six months' visa was up, we were at war with Italy and he was sent to Ellis Island, where he sweated it out for 85 days, waiting for action on his application to become a U.S. citizen.
Papperini's next job was as captain of waiters at the BRUSSELS restaurant, and in 1944, when he was 35, he started at "21." In 1943 he married Maria Nancy Lecurci, an Italian lady who decorated GASTON'S. The restaurant, now seven years old, attracts big business, show business, and celebrities in every walk of life. Anna Magnani prefers scampi, Nina Foch baked mussels, Walter Slezak the duckling a l'orange, etc.
Definitely in the top brackets of New York restaurants.
Le Marmiton, 41 E. 49th St., calls itself a "provincial" French bistro, specializing in regional French dishes from the Bordeaux country which are served, naturally, with Bordeaux wines. Co-hosts are Camille Ducraux, and Edouard Duthu who, as recently as ten years ago, were respectively the hatcheck girl and the maitre d' at the restaurant. When they learned it was for sale they pooled their resources and bought it. They have been elected members of the Compagnon de Bordeaux by Le Grand Conseil l'Academie du Vin for promoting Bordeaux products.
Their chef is Paul Roumieux, for seven years associated with LE PAVILION, and the maitre d' is young Henri Badan, who served his apprenticeship in the fore-most hostelries of Switzerland and France.
At LE MARMITON you may find yourself seated next to such French celebrities (when they're in town) as Maurice Chevalier, Claude Dauphin or Corinne Calvet.
Chapeau Rouge, at 14 E. 52nd St., is an attempt to recapture some of the charm of another nite club of that name also presided over by Peppy D'Albrew, in the 1930's. Peppy in those days was also partner with John Perona in a speakeasy called the Place Pigalle (over what is now the HOUSE OF CHAN), a venture eventually dissolved, the story goes, by Perona's objection to Peppy's habit of wearing a live white mouse in his lapel.
Peppy himself always made more news than any of the speakeasies, restaurants or shows with which he was associated. People remember him from the 1920's as unusually handsome in the Latin manner (he is a Brazilian) and the dancing partner of at least two glamor girls of the period—Lconora Hughes and Wilda Bennett. He appeared, as actor or dancer, in at least 20 stage productions. He married Wilda and their battles, private and public, made front-page news for years. His present wife, the former Olga Milliard, is his third.
Peppy, with an assist from Gerold Frank, has put his life story between book covers under the unusual title of Champagne and Vinegar.
Some other restaurants in the same bracket, all elegant, expensive, and ranking with the world's best, are:
Brussels, 115 E. 59th St.
Voisin, 575 Park Ave.
Le Valois, 45 E. 58th St.
Chambord, 803 Third Ave.
Cafe Chauveron, 193 E. 53rd St.
The Polonaise, 230 E. 51st St. (see "Nationals.") Laurent, 111 E. 56th St.
L'Armorique, 54th St. at Second Ave.
Charles a la Pomme Souflee, 157 E. 55th St. Romeo Salta's, 39 W. 56th St.
Robert, 33 W. 55th St.
Mercurio, 53 W. 53rd St.
Italian Pavilion, which replaced Patio Bruno, 244 W. 55th St.
The Baccara, at 203 E. 45th St., though located in the heart of "Steak Row," is one of the smaller, more elegant continental-type restaurants, which for six years depended for its popularity mostly on the personality and know-how of Frank Di Lello, former co-operator of the BAROQUE and now presiding at NINO's TEN EAST (meaning 10 E. 52nd St.).
Fontana Di Trevi, 151 W. 57th St., is obviously named for the famous Roman fountain that inspired the movie Three Coins in a Fountain. In fact, a small replica of that cherished institution is on view, so you won't miss the point.
Armando Mei, owner-host of this authentic "Roman restaurant" is a member of the famous Ristorante Mei family which has flourished for 400 years on the Giancolo in Rome.
Hi-fi music, usually Italian folk songs and grand opera, entertain you, and you may toss a coin in the wishing fountain, and even take it off on your income tax, since all such contributions go to charity.
Hapsburg House, 313 E. 55th St., is presently owned by Alex Chiesi, a Swiss who came to the United States as a chef in an international contest and remained. The restaurant was created some 25 years ago by Ludwig Bemelmans and is particularly interesting because of his tromp l'oeuil decorations painted on the walls. Very few people who are familiar with Bemelmans' witty writings and amusing drawings know that in his early days in this country he worked as a waiter. Ernie Stark, formerly of the Hotel Pierre, and now operating his own restaurant in Rockland County, recalls working alongside Bemelmans at the Ritz-Carlton when Bemelmans would draw sketches on his waiter's pad which today would be collectors' items.
The restaurant occupies a former private mansion of three stories and has a charming garden in the back which is open during the summer months. There is zither music by Karl Schmidt, who was first hired by Bemelmans 25 years ago and has been there ever since.
Capacity is only 200 on all floors and the specialties are mostly Swiss and Viennese.
Frank Cerutti's, at 803 Madison Ave. (near 69th St.), is a new location for one of New York's long-established favorite restaurants which was formerly operated by the Cerutti brothers, Frank and Louis, at another Madison Ave. address.
There is still a Frank and Louis, but the Louis is the son and heir apparent to Frank, not his brother. Years ago the brothers Cerutti operated the Club Oasis at 123 E. 54th St., where Josephine Baker, fresh from her Paris triumphs, held forth. After that they gave up nite clubs and went in for straight restaurant operation, with only piano entertainment.
Almost going with the lease at CERUTTI'S-she has been with the spot, in both its old and new locations, some 18 years—is Mary Talley, who describes her baffling talent as "character analysis," but is better known to a vast following as "fortunetelling." Mrs. Talley has a long reservation list, and anyone who barges into CERUTTI's demanding an immediate audience is doomed to disappointment. Something about Mrs. Talley, not hitherto revealed, is that during the New Deal days in Washington she was frequently called to Washington to give psychic aid in difficult decisions by the late Jesse Jones, one of President Roosevelt's brain trusters.
The pianist at CERUTTZ's, Willie Gants, has been with the restaurant 20 years.
Maurice, at 988 Second Ave. (between 52nd and 53rd Sts.), is relatively new, dating from December, 1957. It is housed in what was once the Boccini Galleries, owned by the famed wigmaker Manuel, and accommodates only 110. Maurice D'Eufemia started his restaurant career as the doorman at Fefe's Monte Carlo (now vanished), strikingly handsome in a gorgeous pseudo-Italian uniform and hat with black coq feathers. From there Maurice progressed to more important positions with several other clubs, including the STORK and the HARWYN, and his patronage includes the same type of socialites and distinguished show business professionals who frequent those places.
Maurice's chef is Fernand Desbans, formerly of MAUD CHEZ-ELLS, and his "saucier" is Fernand Barat. The lush decorations are by Russell Patterson, who has become the No. 1 restaurant decorator of his time.
Cafe Renaissance, 338 E. 99th St., is operated by Stanley Radulovic, who opened a restaurant, he says, mainly to have a place to hang his paintings. Radulovic, born in Illinois, grew up in St. Louis and began sketching while still in grammar school but didn't take up art seriously until after World War II. In 1949, he was awarded a Fullbright scholarship which took him to Italy. On his return, he vowed he would never go hungry again, so opened a restaurant.
The RENAISSANCE attracts a representative crowd of show folks (Faye Emerson, Judy Garland, Janis Paige, Jim Backus, Gary Merrill, Ralph Meeker, et al) and many of Stanley's clients are also owners of his paintings. The original capacity of 30 has been doubled. It was Radulovic's notion to decorate his place in the style of 1923, with Tiffany stained glass, potted palms and other gadgets of the period.
La Strada, on Third Ave. between 21st and 22nd Sts., prefers to be known as an Italian restaurant. Owners and hosts are the three De Rose brothers and Frank Law, a former publicist. It is a rather new and welcome addition to the Gramercy Park sector, where good restaurants aren't numerous.
Marchi's, 251 E. 31st St., is a family operated Italian restaurant located in the basements of three houses on 31st St. immediately off Second Ave. A little difficult to find but worth the effort. There is no sign outside to indicate what it is, or its name: you have to guess which basement entrance to descend to find the door unless you have been there before. There is no menu: a quiet waiter asks your preference for fish, fowl or meat, de-pending on the nite of the week. Dinners are on the prix fixe basis, all included except the choice of wine. The antipasto is a meal in itself. The owners do not encourage publicity, claiming they are happy with their regular clientele and "wouldn't know what to do with any more customers."
The Penthouse Club, 30 Central Park South, is located on the 15th floor of a building overlooking Central Park and upper Manhattan and is as popular for its view as for its cuisine or entertainment. Many a young romance has flowered under the spell of Paul Taubman's organ and piano music. The club is now in its 30th year.
Taubman, the owner, is well known as musical director for such TV shows as "21," "Tic Tac Dough," "Dough Re Me," "Edge of Night" and his own show, "The Story Behind the Song" on NBC's Monitor. His following at the PENTHOUSE includes a goodly sprinkling of Broadway celebrities.