Thursday, April 28, 2011

New York Central at the Grand Hyatt

The Grand Hyatt Hotel, next to Grand Central Station, holds a lot of memories for me. As I explain in my latest piece on The Strong Buzz, my grandma and I used to stay there every time she'd take me to NYC for the weekend. A few weeks ago I had dinner there with a friend and was blown away by the decor, the food... it was truly wonderful. Here's my article:

“New York Central -- A Reason To Eat at the Grand Hyatt Again”

When I was a little girl growing up in Connecticut, my glamorous Brooklyn-born grandmother would whisk me off for a weekend in Manhattan several times a year. I remember it so vividly—we’d shop on Fifth Avenue, see a show on Broadway and stay at The Grand Hyatt next to Grand Central Station. As a child, the Grand Hyatt was enchanting to me with its seemingly enormous lobby and beautiful rooms. As I grew up I began to realize it was a bit, well, stuffy.

Originally built and opened in 1919 as The Commodore Hotel, The Grand Hyatt was renovated in 1980 and by the mid-1990’s, the 15-year-old décor was already in dire need of another update. Fast forward to 2011. Not only has The Grand Hyatt hotel undergone a complete transformation to the tune of $130 million, but the former Manhattan Sky Restaurant (that I also used to find alluring) has been replaced by New York Central, a brand new dining destination that is the epitome of old New York style and class.

From the moment you enter the hotel lobby and either ascend the blue granite staircase or ride the dedicated elevator into the 6,000 square foot New York Central, it’s clear that this isn’t just your average hotel restaurant. An enormous glass chandelier hangs high above the space, cascading light throughout the entire room. The restaurant boasts several unique features including a digital wine bar in the lounge that allows patrons to sample high-end bottles as well as the distinction of being Manhattan’s only restaurant that has seating located above a city sidewalk.

While there are many distinct traits that set New York Central apart, its décor alone took my breath away. Adorned in silver and blue accents, the interior was designed by the famed Bentel and Bentel (Gramercy Tavern) and serves as the perfect backdrop for a memorable meal. Radiating a trendy, urban vibe, the lounge is the perfect place to grab drinks after work with co-workers and friends. The sleek white bar is the centerpiece of the room, and a worthy one at that, where patrons can order Midtown-themed cocktails such as the Rush Hour (VeeV Açaí Liqueur, Appleton Blanco Rum, Exotic Juices, Mint, Seltzer, $15) and the On Broadway (Death’s Door Vodka, Verjus Blanc, Raspberries, Ginger Beer, $15.)The most coveted seating includes a beautiful chef’s table overlooking the massive, pristine kitchen and several tables for two that are located directly over the sidewalk, allowing the diners to people-watch as they enjoy their meal. The beautiful space is just an appetizer to an evening spent at New York Central, and the real treat is the food.
Photo courtesy of New York Central

Chef Christian Ragano comes to New York Central from the famous NoMI in the Park Hyatt Chicago. Originally raised in Queens, Chef Ragano spent more than ten years cooking his way through the extraordinary Chicago restaurant scene before returning to his native state of New York. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Chef Ragano’s style can be described as nothing short of inventive and unique. His food is a perfect harmony of his classic French training blended with Spanish and Italian influences.

A friendly, outgoing man, Chef Ragano is as gracious as he is talented. Since the kitchen is completely open, you can watch your meal being prepared while you sit and enjoy drinks and conversation. It’s a little theater with every dish.

While I chose to start with the Local Lettuces ($8), Chef Ragano insisted that I try his latest invention, Foie Gras Brûlée. Served in a small glass jar, the Foie Gras had the exact consistency of Crème brûlée but the sweet essence of the dessert was replaced by the savory flavor of Foie Gras. The dish wore a crispy, caramelized hat that gave way to the creamy, pudding-like Foie Gras below. I have to say, it was a pleasant surprise and unlike anything I had ever tasted before.

The Local Lettuces Salad with Smoked Squash Puree and Root Vegetable Crudités was bright, fresh and packed with flavor, it was a modern salad in both concept and flavor. I finished every last bite and let out a long sigh of satisfaction. If Chef Ragano could do this to vegetables, I couldn’t wait to see what else was in store for us.

For my main course, I ordered the Half Roasted Chicken with Wild Mushrooms ($22.) Chef Ragano let me in on a little secret about the chicken—it’s roasted in duck fat! How could I turn down something like that? When the waiter placed the dish in front of me, I knew I had made the right decision. At first glance, it was apparent that this was one juicy bird. Cutting into the succulent meat, my initial impression was confirmed. I’ve had plenty of dried-out chicken in my day but this version was wonderfully prepared.

The balance of flavorful meat and crispy skin is the true sign of a perfect roasted chicken, and Chef Ragano hit the nail on the head. At one point I gave up on my fork and knife and picked up a few pieces of the chicken to eat with my fingers. Manners be darned, I had to be make sure not one morsel meat was left behind. After giving my fingers one final lick, I pushed my plate to the middle of the table and surrendered the bones to the waiter. “I’ll take the rest to go,” I joked.

The dessert menu was truly one of the most creative I’d ever seen including everything from Milk Chocolate Cremeux with Hazelnuts and Brown Butter ($10) to Ricotta Clafoutis with Quince, Elderflower and Rose Jam ($10.) We ordered a sampling platter so we could try everything on the menu, and each dessert was better than the one before it. At one point, I had an odd sensation in my mouth and realized that I had eaten chocolate-covered Pop Rocks. What a great surprise!

The Grand Hyatt hotel has come a long way since my visits 15 years ago. New York Central is a modern restaurant with excellent food and ambiance that is exactly the breath of fresh air that the hotel needed. I look forward to returning to New York Central to claim a seat at the beautiful bar, sip the cocktails and watch the excitement of the city unfold on the sidewalk below.

New York Central is located at 109 East 42nd Street, Park Avenue at Grand Central - 646-213-6865 - New York Central

—Rachel Barbarotta

Thanks for reading.

Let's Eat!
-The Fabulous Foodie

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