Venturing into the gilded, mosaicked ostentation of the Waldorf-Astoria sweeps away the grime of this dirty city. I step softly across the marble floors in the high heels in which, as a grown woman, I still have never adjusted and pull self-consciously at my clothes. I’m carrying J*’s violin, a badge, though not my own, which solicits smiles from people in the lobby and offered seats. Perhaps they assume I’m a rather accomplished musician to be staying at such an establishment, or that I’m one part of fitting string quartet for some romantic pocket of the hotel. In reality, I’m a delivery girl, bringing my boyfriend his contribution to a yet unnamed southern rock band, as we meet for a dinner at Peacock Alley.
Peacock Alley presents more as a casual bar than a fine dining destination, but it’s placement is the point. Open to the lobby, diners could once feast their eyes on the parade of outfitted glitterati between the Waldorf and the adjoining Astoria, the hallway aptly named “Peacock Alley.” In some part, they still can. J* and I went for the prix-fixe menu, and settled cozily into the back of the restaurant, directly behind the bar. I awkwardly accepted help in seating myself and pushing up to the table, as done in so many upper-crust restaurants. Honestly, this is the oddest courtesy, simply proving that such simple tasks cannot be performed by committee.
The meal began with a complimentary portion of cold pea soup, garnished with crab meat and a hint of chili. J* remarked that expensive cold food always makes him feel somehow cheated, and I can see what he means. Cold soup has never been satisfying to me, and the pea soup was not exceptional. I had a tiger shrimp roll first and J* had the duck confit. I quite liked my crispy, egg-roll with spicy salad, but J* picked unenthusiastically at his dish. Exhausted both with lamb and salmon on menus lately, I picked a vegetarian option for my main course. Beautiful heirloom tomatoes and summer squash were the main attraction in this pasta dish, but the sauce was a bit too cheesy and heavy to truly enjoy the seasonal produce. I felt definitively ill for a couple hours after the meal.
J* had a gorgeous lamb shank, well-cooked but not dazzling. Perhaps, the exceptional skirt steak at Brassiere last week biased his taste buds. The desserts were the only, truly satisfactory part of the meal. I had a rich, chocolate tart, surprisingly topped with rice krispies, which I devoured with glee. Leaving Peacock Alley, we couldn’t decide whether we disliked the style of cuisine, or whether the meal was simply mediocre. Either way, a small, comfy restaurant, whether a charming Belgian spot offering Mussels and Fries or a small Indian Tandoori Oven with exceptional service, will always be closer to my heart than a famously gaudy one.