October 24, 2005 | Ask Gael

Desk drudgery is getting me down

        Nibble the life of leisure at the Asia Society, where culture, bauble-boutiquing, and lunch converge. My friend and I snuck away from our desks and have almost bought - but resisted - a gorgeous teapot, a dazzling mandarin jacket, yet another chunky turquoise necklace from the gift shop. Now we’re indulging in the tranquility of the adjacent Garden Court Café, with shrimp spring rolls in rice paper and a luscious chicken-curry salad plate - a vibrant artwork itself - with crunchy Asian slaw and slivered cucumbers. Light pours into the soaring atrium onto celadon tables, a blue marble floor, an artist’s giant garden rock, and tropical greenery. The waiter invades our serenity gently, as if he just awoke from a dream. A small rush of late lunchers does not violate the Zen. Most regulars favor that chicken salad, although there are other options: tandoori salmon, lamb pie with vegetable biryani, a bento box, and seared-tuna-and-avocado sandwich. We can’t get enough of the spicy Thai dip served with fabulous pastry crisps. I taste hints of tamarind, garlic, tomato, sesame oil. “The chef had made extra to sell,” confides the waiter. We decide to split a stash, feeling pleasantly fulfilled by the mere act of spending money. Just $20, cheaper by far than coral and jade. Open 'til 4:30 p.m.

Asia Society, 725 Park Ave. at 70th St. 212 570 5202

Patina Restaurant Group