Restaurant Review: The Return, Again, of the Power Lunch

Upstairs at Four Twenty Five, the tables are set with crisp linens, and if you order bottled water it will arrive with a slim brass coaster on which to rest the vessel between pours. Benno’s offerings are appropriately pitched to anticipate the desires of a clientele that wants to be pleased but not challenged. A section of the lunch menu called Simply Prepared features the lovely cuts of meat and fowl and fish from the regular entrées, minus the sides and most of the seasonings. But he gets to flex a little bit, too, as with a terrific tartare of finely minced fluke dressed with tahini, chili oil, and toasted rice powder, which is eaten scooped into shiso leaves, a take on Thai larb that’s both gentle and genteel. For the mid-century throwback crowd, there’s a seventy-eight-dollar veal chop (smallish and exquisite, but the accompanying dill-flecked spaetzle is the sleeper hit), which goes nicely with a bracing Martini. For the more modern power diner, attuned to the virtuous aesthetics of wellness, there’s a suite of blended juices served in slim-stemmed wine glasses, each garnished with a floating edible flower, and an airy hummus made of whipped sunflower seeds, served with a rainbow of crudités on a bed of ice. (The hummus is twenty-five dollars, which I suppose doesn’t matter, if you’re expensing it.) The food, over all, is best described as precise: ingredients of excellent quality, handled with expertise. If it’s never quite exciting, at least it’s always good. Spaghetti in a tangy, sunset-orange pepperoncini purée is overlaid with sea urchin, brine on brine; an appetizer of sesame-crusted sea scallops is velvet, with the tender mollusks draped in a subtly savory nori butter. The most rousing dish, to me, was an entrée of celeriac, the knobbly, turnip-like root vegetable, sliced into thick rounds and ingeniously prepared in the Italian American style known as francese: enrobed in a thin wash of egg, then doused in a sunshiney sauce of lemon juice and white wine.

When it first opened, Four Twenty Five served dinner only, but it is a restaurant built to be lunched in.

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When it opened in December, despite its stated aspirations, Four Twenty Five served dinner only. In the evening, the room’s drama shifts: against a night sky, the room’s fixtures and linens take on a sultry edge, an effect enhanced by the enormous, feather-like floral arrangements that punctuate the room, and then undermined by the iPad wine lists, whose blazingly bright screens disrupt the restaurant’s soft, flattering lighting like a visual klaxon. This stretch of Park Avenue isn’t really a dinner destination; the brief traverse of the building’s lobby vestibule, on the way out of the restaurant, means that your final experience of dinner has all the elegance and romance of heading home after a late night at the office. This is a restaurant built to be lunched in: while the lunch and dinner menus are largely the same, the “Simply Prepared” section is exclusive to the midday crowd; a top-notch burger is served with fries (not too many) and a whole boat of a French onion-ish jus for dipping. The only downside of lunch is that you might be tempted to skip dessert, which would be a mistake: there’s a swoony rice pudding made with coconut cream and tropical fruits, and a note-perfect entremet of chocolate moelleux layered with a whirlwind of spiced creams and caramels and served with a quenelle of marzipan ice cream so silky and rich that it’ll make your toes curl. No one looks powerful taking a bite of ice cream, no matter how grand the room, or how lofty the skyscraper. That’s probably for the best. ♦

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