Sunday, February 15, 2009

Recession? The $150 Burger & $1,000 Frittata

I just got back from New York City where I was taken to lunch by a magazine editor to discuss an article I’m going to do. This kind of expense-account lunch has become almost as rare as the 15-cent subway token (and yes, children, I do remember the 15-cent subway token.) In fact, most people I know working in the media in New York are lunching at McDonald’s and waiting to be fired.

The editor took me to lunch at DB Bistro Moderne on 55 West 44th Street. It was crowded with very well-dressed people crammed shoulder to shoulder at little tables.

As soon as I looked at the menu I realized this was the home of the famous DB Burger—“A Sirloin Burger filled with Braised Short Ribs and Foie Gras” for $32. (DB stands for the famous chef Daniel Boulud.) Next came the DB Burger Royale which adds “10 grams of shaved black truffle” to the basic burger, bringing the cost to $75. If you really want to splurge, you can order the DB “double truffle burger” with 20 grams of black truffle. The price is $150.

No, I didn’t order any of these burgers, although the editor encouraged me to. I ordered some gnocchi that was on special. It was good, but a much smaller portion than you would get at Café Espresso in Worcester. She ordered a skinless chicken breast, which they make special for her, because she doesn’t want to “look like a blimp” (She was probably a size 0.) She also insisted we share a dessert of berries. They brought a small plate of assembled blueberries, raspberries and strawberries. Probably individually chosen, but they were just plain. No sugar or cream or anything. I have no idea how much they cost per berry.

It was a good meal – especially the ice tea which was made with Hibiscus. (Have you noticed that nobody drinks alcohol at lunch any more?) The editor requested liquid sugar in a tiny pitcher, which the waiter had forgotten to provide. It was fun to revisit the long-gone days when we magazine journalists thought nothing of expensing a lunch like this. But now even a $32 burger seems immoral, never mind a $150 one. And who eats foie gras any more, after finding out what they do to the geese? My own liver recoils at the thought.

The mega-priced burgers reminded me of the $1,000 frittata that’s on the menu at Norma’s on West 57th Street. The menu calls it the “Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata” and adds “Norma dares you to expense this.” It comes with 10 ounces of Sevruga caviar. (You can get the lobster frittata with only 1 oz. of caviar for only $100.)

Norma’s in the Parker Meridian Hotel is the ultimate power breakfast place (not the Regency on Park Ave.) where they serve the most decadent breakfasts imaginable from 7. a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. There’s always a tiny smoothie of the day gratis. Just people-watching is worth the price of admission. I certainly don’t order the zillion-dollar frittata and I don’t think anyone else does either.

After the extravagant expense-account lunch at DB Bistro, I walked over to Cartier because I had to replace the leather watchband on my Tank watch (a gift.) I had replaced it several times over the past 20 years. Normally it cost about a hundred dollars. When you went up to the second floor, you had to announce your name to the receptionist and wait until you were called. This time there was no one else in the store except for the smartly dressed employees—all in black. No waiting. The cheapest watchband cost $140. (To replace the alligator one that was broken would cost me $240. Just for the band.)

I was alone until four Japanese tourists came in. Two older men had trouble explaining what they wanted done to their watches. A staff member told me, when I asked, that the employee who speaks Japanese was off that day and it was too bad, because they had loads of Japanese customers every day.

Later, walking up Fifth Avenue and looking into the expensive stores like Tiffany’s, I realized that the best customers—almost their only customers—were the Japanese and the Russians. I wonder if they order the Zillion-dollar Lobster Frittata at Norma’s.

1 comment:

lactmama said...

I would not have shared my berries. I think Russians and Japanese have their own expensive restos in NY. Thanks for an updated view of New York. I wonder about the watch band's price increase - maybe another brand would fit the watch as well?
Looking forward to magazine article.