food 12.1.03

Lever House

Lever House, 390 Park [53rd] 212.888.2700

Design: Australian designer Marc Newson uses the word "pod" a lot in his designs (as far back as 1989, he created the Pod Bar in Tokyo). The restaurant benefits from his declarative use of shapes; podule tunnels, alcoves, and wall/carpet/ceiling designs. It's all very George Nelson meets George Jetson.

Food: Dan Silverman, from Union Square Cafe and Alison on Dominick, has always been something of an undersung chef. Never showy, never precious, his food is straightforward without being dull. Whether it's a pan-roasted poussin with foie gras sauce or loup de mer with rosemary-garlic sauce, Mr. Silverman invariably delivers food that pleases.

Service: They've taken a page from the Danny Meyer School of Service, which means it's first-rate and friendly. When we were pondering a choice of three different wines by the glass, our waitress scooted off to bring us a taste of all three. That's a first.

The Crowd: Given the iconic location and all of the above, it's not surprising that this has become a mogul magnet at lunch and a seriously New York, seriously moneyed, black-clad crowd out for a not-so-seriously good time.

Noise: Lever House isn't the place if you're looking for a quiet chat. It's hard not to feel celebratory here and that keeps the decibel level high.

Design: Most of Marc Newson's design works beautifully, with a couple of exceptions. The bar stools are treacherous getting on, staying on, and getting off. If you're in your cups, don't even try. Also, there was a serious miscalculation with the bartop, which has two levels; that means, if you put your glass midway between the two, it's sure to spill.

Prices: Entrees average about $33 at dinner, no bargain, but it's the wine list where we'd most like to see a little break. There are a few wines at the lower end but in each category, there's a quick jump into the $70 and up range.
Own a mini Lever House, about five inches tall, in pewter, antique gold, bronze or copper for $85 from Skyscrapers.

Fran Lebowitz on Lever House:
"If you live here for more than five years, they're going to tear down something you like. The invariable rule of thumb is that what they will put up is worse than what they tore down, even if what they tore down is terrible. I mean, I was once with a man who was asked — during the course of the time I was with him — to sign a petition to keep them from tearing down Lever House and he signed it. He's a much older man and he turned to me and said, 'You know, I remember signing a petition to keep them from putting up Lever House.' And that is the story of anyone who has lived in New York long enough."

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