Did This Man Invent the Modern Restaurant? : THE REVIEW

“If it’s not within four blocks of 55th and 6th, forget it. That’s what I said when I was looking for a location. And I was right; just look at this crowd!”

Michael McCarty is pleased. He’s got all the right people.

“Look over there,” he points. “There’s a guy, I would say, we’ve been open 10 days, he’s eaten here nine times. He loves his little green salad. This is a guy who’s going to be eating here all the time.” Michael bounces down his stairs, his ebullience infectious.

“After all these years of putting waiters in Polo shirts, where do we land? Next door to the headquarters of Ralph Lauren. It’s great--they come in, they book four, five tables a night, and they drink like mad at the bar. This is a fashion street . . . " He opens his hand, ticks off on his fingers. “Perry Ellis, Manolo Blahnik. And the museum’s right here too, and 57th Street, with all the galleries. It’s good for me.”


And, judging by the crowd, good for them.

Michael’s is a pleasant place to be. He is making the sort of food that is easy to eat and serving it in a room that is easy to be in. The waiters all look like surfers, but the service is surprisingly smooth. And after all these years Michael’s menu has calmed down to a pleasant pace; if there is nothing here you haven’t had before, there is nothing here you wouldn’t be happy to eat.

This is the same menu as the one at Michael’s in Santa Monica--but at a lower cost. (Actually, just last month Michael lowered his prices by a third in Santa Monica as well.) The oysters are wonderful--served with fine walnut bread. Salads have a lot of ingredients--three kinds of mushrooms, herbs, garlic and pancetta on baby greens is one example--but they work. Even a simple salad of red leaf and limestone lettuce comes out looking like a little flower with diced tomatoes at the heart. Soups tend to be a little too creamy for those who are no longer acquainted with cholesterol, but they taste fine.

My main quarrel with the main courses is the vegetables. It’s hard to find fault with a well-aged steak served with the now-famous Mor-Ida frozen French fries and a little sprig of watercress. You delight in that fine squab with foie gras, and find that you don’t even mind the raspberry sauce. Sweetbreads really are crisply cooked, and the caper, lemon and parsley that comes with them is understandably classic. The kitchen does nice things with fish. The chicken is always reliable. But the vegetables have almost no flavor, and are so fussily arranged that they’re cold by the time they reach you. You can’t help wondering if they have been sitting on the plate all day. It’s a little like eating a dinosaur; doesn’t Michael know there’s been a vegetable revolution?

I’m not crazy about the desserts either. More dinosaurs. Desserts have evolved over the years until they have become one of the more interesting courses in really good restaurants, but Michael’s still serving all those tarts and tortes and mousse cake things. I invariably find myself ordering the dessert called “les 5 sorbets et les 8 cookies"-- and feeling rather silly.

But then I look around and notice that Michael is the only other person in the room who is ending his meal with a sweet. The room is filled with fashion folk--and they definitely don’t do dessert.

Michael’s, 24 West 55th St., New York. (212) 767-0055. Open for lunch Monday-Friday, for dinner nightly, brunch Saturday and Sunday. Full bar. All major credit cards accepted. Dinner for two, food only, $80-$120.