August 31, 2011 | Ask Gael

Where should we eat before or after the theater?

Watch the guacamole-makers in the madness of pre-theater Toloache. Photo: Steven Richter
Watch the guacamole-makers in the madness of pre-theater Toloache. Photo: Steven Richter

        Before I started working out at 8 AM, we used to book a supper after the show.  We weren’t just pretending to be Manhattan sophisticates.  For a while – in my Orbach’s copies of Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy, my satin jumpsuits and hot pants, we almost were. And we still might book after the curtain if it’s an early breaking show, 90 minutes without an intermission.  I’ll never forget the thrill that came with our check at Esca when Paul Newman walked in with Tom Hanks and company about 11.

Low Forties West of Broadway

Squeeze lemon, snip mint, add a hit of chili, Esca’s razor clam ceviche. Photo; Steven Richter

        Geography determines our choice of restaurant. It’s always Esca (402 West 43rd just west of Ninth Avenue) if the theater is on 42nd Street or no farther away than 45th and west of Broadway. The Road Food Warrior always orders the two-minute ceviche of lemon-marinated razor clams with chilis and mint and Rita’s bucatini laced with spicy baby octopus, a recipe Esca’s Long Island-born chef David Pasternack learned in Naples from a friend’s mother. On nights when neither is on the menu, he glumly settles for grilled octopus and linguine with clams. And winds up just as content. Long before it hits the table, I can almost taste the heady brine of sea urchin on my inevitable maccheroni alla chittara with crab. Yes, Esca seems more expensive than ever with pastas from $24 up to $30. “Darling we deserve it,” I’ll rationalize. We skip dessert though our favorite waiter usually brings a few cookies – perfect with the espresso I must have before the theater.

Low Forties East of Broadway

Don’t miss Brooklyn Diner’s NY-style cheesecake: the best in town. Photo: Steven Richter

       If we’re headed for the Lyceum theater on 45th or the Stephen Sondheim on 43rd, both east of Broadway, we might stop first for a snack at Brooklyn Diner: the burger with fried onions and the obscene 15 inch long hot dog with fries for Steven. Chinese chicken salad with a crunch of fried noodles and mandarin oranges for me. I can skip the strawberry blonde cheesecake but if you’ve never had it – don’t resist.  It comes with a pitcher of warm chocolate. Spoon that up of course but don’t splash it on the cake. With an early curtain we would definitely reserve after the show at Aureole in the bar room, most likely for the excellent burger with fries.

Applewood bacon, caramelized onions, and aged cheddar top Aureole’s burger . Photo: Steven Richter

High Forties West of Broadway

       The day I scored tickets to House of Mormon on West 49th Street, I immediately booked a table at Toloache around the corner. (251 West 50th between Broadway and 8th) I believe I was the first critic to discover chef Julian Medina’s upscale tacos, in his first Mexican venture --he’s since gone on to open two Yerba Buenas, a Toloache tacqueria in the financial district and the Cuban-Latino dinner Coppelia on 14th Street that I love. But Toloache is no secret. We’re lucky to settle at a crowded two-top before the hordes pile in.

        Of course we’ll have the traditional guacamole medium spicy. Steven has a ceviche. We share a quesadilla of huitlacoche and truffles with manchego cheese. Then tacos for two: likely guajillo marinated pork with grilled pineapple, braised brisket with tomatillo salsa and horseradish crema or the braised veal cheeks with chile de arbol. Service is swift. Last time we finished so far ahead of our fixed 7:40 getaway that I insisted we order tres leches lemon cake with hibiscus coulis not because I needed a sweet finish but just so we could linger and avoid the wretched ticket holder’s line.

Midforties West

Make an entrance on Blue Fin’s fantasy staircase. Photo: Steven Richter

       Blue Fin’s sushi menu solves Steve’s pre-theater eating-light resolution and I often have salmon. It is always decked out with seasonal vegetables. I ask for it rare and the kitchen delivers. The welcome is friendly, it’s not as noisy as it will be later when a younger crowd starts drinking and sushi-popping.  I love the open look and the dramatic stairwell. On our way to Follies a week ago I ordered the special fried soft shell crab.  I thought it might have been crisper. We carried a big, fat warm chocolate chip cookie in a paper bag to the theater. There it is on the dessert menu along with caramel corn, $5 for either one.  Present a theater ticket for Mamma Mia, Hair, Catch Me If You Can, Priscilla Queen of the Dessert or Sister Act with the day’s date and get a free dessert with purchase of an entrée. 1567 Broadway at 47th Street.


Ed’s Chowder House offers two pound lobster with coleslaw. boiled potatoes.

Around Lincoln Center

Atlantic Grill’s pre-theater crowd keeps sushi chefs slicing non-stop. Photo: Steven Richter

       Guiding you here will be fraught with angst.  Three of Insatiable Critic’s advertisers and two Citymeals board member have restaurants competing for the culterati before and after concerts, opera and theater.  But there seems to be more than enough heat to fill everyone’s tables. Quite frankly before or after the movies on Broadway, Caffe Fiorello (1900 Broadway between 63rd and 64th Street) has become our easiest go-to. Everyone seems to recognize us and we get a favorite booth.  Steven loves the ribolita in winter and we usually get pasta: linguine with clams for me, bucatini alla amatriciana for him, then sorbetti to share: two scoops of lemon, one of chocolate. And two big hunks of chocolate from the silver bowl at the maitre d’s stand on the way out. (Both for me!)

        But we also are regular drop-ins at Atlantic Grill (49 West 64th Street between Broadway and Central Park)  for the pasta or sushi, and at Ed’s Chowder House (44 West 63rd Street in the Empire Hotel) – where we each have a huge bowl of a different chowder followed by chopped salad with calamari for me, tuna tartare for Steven. We love watching our friends order the 2 lb. lobster with two sides for just $29. It’s not on the menu; you must mention me or my web site.

Four or five small plates at Boulud Sud make a fine pre-concert dinner. Photo: Steven Richter.

       As I wrote in my BITE, small plates at the bar of Daniel’s new Boulud Sud (20 West 64th Street) are a perfect prelude to a concert but I’m not the only one with that idea. The place is usually jammed with early birds pre-theater as is Bar Boulud next door. The two of us are already addicted to the merguez lamb sausage with harissa and mint at Épicerie Boulud (1900 Broadway corner of 64th Street) before a movie. When we’re not fast enough to snag one of the three outside sit-down tables, we huddle at the standup table for our Moroccan fix. Sometimes I’ll have the Cobb salad instead though I’d prefer blue cheese dressing to Daniel’s tarragon buttermilk. One of these days I’ll have to try the DBLT: grilled heritage pork belly, butter lettuce, smoked bacon and horseradish dressing on salted herb focaccia. Or a DBGB dog with everything.  Sandwiches this elegant, so modestly priced are the talk of the neighborhood.

Chef Jonathan Benno had found his own signature at Lincoln. Photo: Steven Richter.

       Recently when I called anonymously and was told Lincoln (165 West 65th Street) on the plaza was “fully committed” for pre-theater dinner, I asked if the two of us could sit at the bar for pasta before the 8 o’clock call for War Horse. I have to guess the chef’s extra amuses and two sides when we ordered only one were VIP perks. But the excellent bread, the powerful olive oil, the bar tender discussing brands, and Chef Jonathan Benno’s exuberant food, generously portioned, available to all, reveal the smartly refined, settled-in Lincoln style.