Lamdmarc is a not-very-old restaurant run by a fellow named Marc Murphy. It is in Tribeca and, for people who hang in that nabe, it is considered a sort of a friendly, un-fancy place where a family, a couple or a mere singleton can come in and have a cup of coffee or a full dinner on a slow Tuesday night or perhaps a quiet Saturday.
Landmarc in the Time/Warner Center,which you must know is a vertical shopping mall in Columbus Circle, takes the concept a little higher on the scale. This Landmarc is a mall restaurant.
Like you can't carry your bags one more minutes and the kids are hollering and the old people or non-shoppers in your party are getting that edge to their voices. So you say all right all right and the next thing you know you are seated at a table and there's a drink in your hand and life looks not quite so bad.
In Poughkeepsie, we call that restaurant Red Lobster. It comes with a salad and crayons for the kids, which are only two of the differences between it and Landmarc.
One other difference is not--not really--the price of your meal.
I know...you were expecting me to do that high/low comparison. It's cute, it's classic, but it doesn't actually work here because, accounting for better ingredients and the high cost of NOT being part of a chain, Landmarc's dishes are not priced that differently from the Lob.
I had an appetizer (roasted marrow bones with onion marmalade) and an entree (Roast Chicken) along with San Pellegrino water (I don't drink alcohol, but I can't bear to order a Diet Coke with a thoughtfully-cooked meal). The bill, with a really impressive tip because I liked my waitress, came to $60...about what it comes to for my big salad and appetizer and Tracy's full meal (now that she's off the kiddie menu) at Red Lobster.
At both places, the combination of sticker shock and a full tummy prevented me from ordering dessert.
Now, you know what the primary difference between the meals was. It was the quality of ingredients as well as the fact that Landmarc's menu is chef-driven, while Lobster's menu is customer-driven.
Restaurants like the Lob are in the business of responding to what their customers want. If Mario Batali's Lardo (pure preserved pig fat, the fat from a fabulous prosciutto ham) suddenly became all the rage among families with 2.5 children and an income between $35,000-$75,000 per annum, the Lobster guys would be out making deals with Oscar Meyer for every scrap of pork fat not already working in a vat of bologna. God alone knows how it would taste or what it would do to the obesity epidemic, but it certainly would be on the menu.
By the same token, when Red Lobster's market starts screaming for, say, coating in bran flakes instead of frying, you will never again see a fried item on their menu. As sacrilegious as it sounds.
(Twenty years ago, a fresh fillet of local fish, lightly grilled, would have been as out-of-place as Eric Ripert on a box of Gorton's of Gloucester. Now, it's a menu leader at the Lob...in some regions of the country).
As I understand it, the menu at a restaurant like Landmarc is made up with the seasonal ingredients, the chef's preference, the style of the restaurant and the wants of the public in mind. There is a certain amount of integrity, if you want to call it that. Maybe it ought to be called thoughtfulness--someone's thinking about something beyond the bottom line and staying in business.
Whatever it is, there's no doubt that it results in better food, much better food, for, as I said, not a great deal more money.
My dinner: I ordered the marrow bones and the roast chicken because I cook for myself so often these days that I wanted to see what professional hands and sources could do with two of my favorites.
When I roast marrow bones at home, I find it is a delicate balance. Do you roast the bones so that the marrow is crispy and not too greasy? If you do that, you could cook the marrow away entirely; a waste of money, although marrow bones don't cost very much. If you are too cautious, you'll get plenty of marrow, but it will be flabby and unappealing and you sure won't digest it easily.
Also, unless you have an x-ray machine or the guarantee of your meat supplier, any marrow bone could be so full of osseous structure (little bones inside the bone) that it could be almost impossible to get the marrow out of it.
Landmarc's plate of marrow bones had three 3" bones (probably from a veal shank, rather than the beef which is all I can find). One of the bonelets was pretty darn osseous, which meant that I managed to drip hot fat on myself as I wrestled to get the marrow out of the bone. One of the bonelets was pretty nearly perfect. The last was quite flabby.
I wondered if they had cooked (or pre-cooked) all the bones at different times, or were there hot and cold spots in the roaster? Anyway, the onion marmalade was wonderful and the country bread (this was also the bread in the basket) unforgettably good. On the whole, though Landmarc hadn't done much better than I, it was still an excellent dish.
They might want to add a parsley salad, as it is served in London. Just a suggestion.
My entree, the Roast Chicken, was something which I hadn't made for myself in a very long time. I hate undercooked chicken, "wet" chicken, flabby chicken skin. When I want to eat chicken, I usually get it from Boston Market and ask them for a "dark one", i.e. one on which the skin in well-done and crispy. All right, so the white meat will be dry; at least the dark meat won't taste like liver.
The plate with which I was presented featured a boned half-breast and a thigh/drumstick section, both from a smallish bird, both without much golden coloring on their yellow skin.
This freaked me so much that I started the dish by dipping a crust of that delicious bread into the sauce first. It was called Dijonnaise on the menu, but there wasn't any mustard tang or bite that I could find...although golden mustard seeds decorated its creamy tan surface. Still, it was a wonderful sauce. The taste filled my mouth the way "Umami" taste is supposed to; a full, rounded, savory note with nuance and interest. The texture of the sauce was light, so it didn't feel stifling or boring; the flavor was an extension of the chicken, and a complement, not a rival.
There was plenty of good chicken stock in that sauce. Maybe it was made from the chicken drippings? Plenty of good fat, but not enough to sicken the modern palate; there was butter, but not cream...or was there?
The rest of the plate consisted of crunchy haricots vert and "smashed" potatoes, probably small Russet potatoes. A sub-note was shallot, of which there was plenty. Michael Ruhlman had said in his "Elements of Cooking" that there is little reason not to substitute shallot for onion in most home recipes, and he's right; I've been doing it myself since January, and it's changed everything around my kitchen. Shallots have a subtlety and depth which onions do not; even when they're raw and spicy and challenging, shallots have no acrid taste, like garlic.
I finished every morsel on that plate.
The chicken was pretty perfect, although, since it was served in sauce, the skin wasn't crispy. Never mind. It was rich and yet unfatty, as if the kitchen had removed a subcutaneous layer of fat with a bicycle pump (don't ask, but there must be a video of Ming Tsai doing it someplace) as they do with ducks. Or maybe the chicken was a very special little chicken, better than what I could get even in Adams' Fairacre market. Landmarc's menu does not "source" every last ingredient, so I don't know.
No dessert, thank you. I couldn't even finish the whole plate of chicken, wisely asking for leg to be wrapped to go (and devouring it five hours later, without that magnificent sauce; it stood up beautifully on its own).
Thank you, Landmarc. I'll keep in touch. Lobster? Only if my Beautiful Daughter insists.