December 7, 1998 | About Gael

Regine: All The Rage

          Bosoms are billowing tonight, no thanks to any Wonderbras, darling. All the wondrous women at this table, cleavage unabashedly bared, are flashing jeweled clavicles, ears, wrists, sparkle on every available appendage. This is not just another laid-back Saturday-night excursion because we’ve been too lazy to get invited out of town. This is Saturday night at Rage. Regine is back in town.

          It’s Rip Van Winkle in reverse. I leaped out of bed this morning and I was twenty years younger. Freeze-frame. If Abba singing “Dancing Queen” is an old chestnut to you and not the anthem of your pre-midlife crisis, let me introduce Regine.

          Skin nightlife-white under flame-red hair, Regine was already queen of the night in Paris, Monte Carlo, and Brazil. Then, in the darkest default days of 1976, she lured toot New York to Regine’s in the newly spruced-up Delmonico Hotel. We were already boogying till dawn at Studio and Xenon, but Regine frosted our nights with jet-set decadence, Galanos evening pajamas, waiters in black tie with gardenias, and caviar-on-scrambled-eggs-in-the-shell by Michel Guérard.

          I had no idea how much I missed Regine till I descended the curving sweep of stairs to her brand-new subterranean Rage, the fastest-opening restaurant in recent history. In a myopic blur I see a cluster of figures gazing up at us. They seem shocked, paralyzed, transfixed. “It’s you,” she cried. Same flame-red hair, a bit more billow. I look out into the room, a sexy and smart merger of Palm Beach and Paris, with its jungle and veranda feel, zebra stripes, leopard tuffets, Regine’s inevitable amber mirrors, her lightmeister’s peachy glow—balm even for the first and second face-lifts.

          But the room is empty. I realize at once that nine o’clock is loutishly early. I want to dissolve into a puddle of shame. Instead, I bravely sip a $17 flute of champagne. And slowly, tentatively, and then boldly, out of the woodwork they come: Regine’s people. Everyone is kissing the air and cooing, “You haven’t changed at all. You look exactly the same.” Noses growing longer as we speak. My guests arrive.

          “I loooove this place,” says my billionairess songwriter friend, wiggling happily in her armchair with its leopard-and-camel plush seat. “We have to help her. We have to get everyone to come. We need this place desperately. It’s no fun getting all dressed up and going downtown to Pravda or Moomba with all those 20-year-old models so you feel like shit.”

          Tonight’s crowd is skewed, lots of exiles and Europeans who live wherever the deal beckons, aging playboys in dark shirts and dark glasses, but no sign of the people who support Memorial Sloan-Kettering or either Met. Tables are filling quickly now, and a D.J., moonlighting from Life, spins songs we remember from the days we used to dance every night to Regine’s tune.

          Craziest of all, the food is good. I suppose I should not be surprised. Regine does care. Her kitchens always do well. Here she has signed up consultant Matthew Kenney, a hustling mercenary of the range, and he had sent his right-hand brigadier, Montrachet and Picholine veteran Michael Scheiman, to work with the crew.

          Big portions at big prices. Appetizers up to $22, but “we encourage plate sharing,” it notes on the eccentric menu. “Raging Cool,” it says. “Raging Hot.” (Even the waiter doesn’t realize that the Hots are starters.) Sure enough, so many tables are asking for the “Poo-Poo Platter”  -- eleven items from chicken-liver paté to spicy chicken dumplings and guacamole at $44 for two -- that Scheiman has had to hire an extra cook to do nothing but poo. Try to order a conventional meal -- three courses and a decent red—and figure $175 or more for two. But for a comparative pittance, two can share a pileup of excellent crab cakes on tangy bok choy, then finish with a luscious croquet monsieur on focaccia or a giant first-rate burger with bacon, cheddar, and addictive fries.

          At our table, we’re not too busy celebrating our rescue from redundancy to enjoy inauthentically delicious imperial rolls, seviche with a treasury of perfect gulf shrimp and scallops, the unclassic shrimp cocktail with so many tails it looks like a night at Plato’s Retreat. Endive tossed with pear, Gorgonozola, and walnuts and the Caesar are both big enough for two. Tonight’s shellfish stew floats in a fragrant sauce, and the venison is juicy, rare, and tender. I had no idea from the menu’s language that my fazzoletti would come crunchily baked—wide noodles layered with spinach, cream, pistachios, and lightly dried tomatoes, huge and just $17. Six of us (two sworn to honor Dr. Atkins) can barely make a dent.

          By citrus-and-ginger-crème-brûlée time, the place is packed. Lots of jumping up and aerobic hugs, the better to justify fabulous mini-tarts and cookies from City Bakery or marvelous chocolate-mousse-cake with caramel-crunch ice cream. Flashy guys with babes they don’t seem to talk to are crowding in. Born-again bachelors the third time around clot three-deep at the bar. There’s so much energy and electricity in the air, my hair is curling. “I see Onassis,” Elizabeth cries. “I know he’s dead, but there he is.” Sure enough. White hair, dark shades, definitely Onassis. “I’ve seen three Onassises tonight,” she adds.

          Rage may not be everyone’s rage, but it has the smell of success. It probably won’t be the next Mortimer’s, though Kenny Lane and “the girls” would look positively nubile in this glow and the lunchtime prices would agree with Nan Kempner’s delicate digestive system. But the bar looks made already. The first Thursday night drew a contingent in black tie and uptowners coming home from dinner downtown. They cross the red carpet where a lipstick-colored velvet rope -- that magnet for nocturnal S&M -- awaits the hoped-for multitudes. (“Not for snobbery,” says Regine’s husband, Roger Choukroun, “only for safety.”)

          And by the time Rage has rekindled our need to dance, Regine hopes to have found the right spot for her new dance club, Jimmy’z. Will it have a Lucite floor with a neon heart that throbs? Well, it won’t be Art Deco. And it won’t be Victorian (à la her new Jimmy’z in Miami). But it will be in midtown. “That’s our fish bowl, says Choukroun. “We stay where we’re comfortable.” I know just what he means.

123 East 54th Street (753-8555). Daily lunch (and Sunday brunch).

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