Windows on the World, New York City
From the Print Edition:
Groucho Marx, Spring 93
The view. The wine list. The cigar policy. The cuisine. That's the order of things at Windows on the World, New York's highest restaurant. The dining center (it's more than just one room) occupies the 107th story of One World Trade Center, one of the New York Port Authority's towering twins that loom high above lower Manhattan's financial district. It's a location that ranks among the modern wonders of the world.
Sitting at one of the tables on the lowest level of the restaurant, right next to a window, you get the feeling of piloting a huge dirigible, floating high above the busy streets below. Even if you're not right on the cliff-hanging row of seats, the restaurant is terraced so you still get an unobstructed view of the city. It's hard during the first 15 minutes to do anything but point and identify: "There's the Chrysler Building"; "What's that three-block-long red building over there, right above the white one with spires?"; "There's my apartment building." The novelty wears off slightly after an hour, so don't be dismayed by a partner refusing to gaze into your eyes, staring off instead toward the horizon at an airplane, or a sea gull drifting by in the air currents.
The view is so spectacular that it actually pays to use that as your criteria for reserving a table. Yes, you can smoke cigars at your table here, but the smoking section faces east toward Brooklyn, Queens and north to the Long Island Sound. The north view, of the vertical strips of Manhattan avenues, the Empire State Building and the Hudson River including the George Washington Bridge, is non-smoking. The bar, with the same east view, also allows cigar smoking, so ask for a north view (table 51 is outstanding) and then move to the bar for a smoke. It's not that the east view is bad. If you prefer to stay where you are after your meal, by all means, sit in the smoking section. The restaurant keeps a selection of Royal Jamaica, H. Upmann, Macanudo, Partagas and Zino Mouton-Cadets.
The wine list ranks among the world's best, and at various times the restaurant has claimed to sell more wine each year than any other restaurant in the world. It has received The Wine Spectator's Grand Award. Expect to be surprised at the range of selections and the fair pricing. In almost every category and wine region, there are wines in the $20 to $30 range as well as the superstars--even the big names are not outrageously priced. On a recent visit, at the suggestion of the sommelier, we opened a 1977 Ridge York Creek Cabernet Sauvignon ($35). It was outstanding. Here's a sample of prices: 1985 Opus One, $80; 1987 Long Chardonnay, $42; 1988 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir from Oregon at $40; 1970 Château Lafite Rothschild for $255 (1961 and 1966 are also available); 1981 Château d'Yquem, $170; 1979 Chambertin Clos de Beze from Drouhin, $70; 1985 Pol Roger Brut Champagne, $65. The everyday wine list is adequate, and has more than enough variety to satisfy even serious wine lovers. But if you really want to put yourself in a quandary over what to order, ask for the extensive cellar list.
Here's a quick word about Cellar in the Sky, the prix fixe dining room with all wines included in the price. It is enclosed in glass inside the main dining area, and does not have a clear shot at the view. Great care is given to matching the cuisine with the respective wines, so it's worth the experience. But go prepared to smoke out in the bar for the view.
Finally, the food. It's last not so much for its own sake, but because of the excellence of the other categories. Nonetheless, this is a big restaurant, and it suffers from having to produce too many dishes for too many diners. Recently, venison with wild mushrooms was delicious, but the side dishes (overcooked carrots and broccoli) seemed to have been prepared hours before. A selection from the Down to Earth section, pork loin on sauerkraut, looked and tasted more like ham, but was nevertheless delicious.
There's a simple rule here. Stick to the basics. Start with salads and pâtés. Order grilled meat or fish for the main course. And, indulge yourself for dessert with the New York cheesecake. You won't go wrong, and you'll have plenty of energy to keep turning your head to stare at the urban landscape.
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