Take the stairs or the elevator to City Kitchen at Row Hotel.
I don’t like to walk more than a half block from dinner to the theater. Even when it’s not raining or frigid with snow. I get lazier every year. So if the curtain is going up anywhere on West 44th Street, I might meet my theater date at City Kitchen in the Row Hotel. Last night we had tickets to Linda Vista, at the Helen Hayes Theater on West 44th.
Antipasto at Bond 45 on West 46th Street – a pre-theater favorite.
Normally we would go to Bond 45 on West 46th Street or Ben and Jack’s Steakhouse. But studying a map I am suddenly seized with memories of the fast food options at City Kitchen. You can buy sushi from Azuki, pita wrap and Korean falafel at Ilili Box, tacos and quesadilla at Gabriela’s Taqueria, ramen and pork buns from Kuro-Obi, lobster, crab rolls and Cape Cod chips from Luke’s and burgers with wedge salad from Whitmans. Plus beer and wine by the glass.
The first time I went to the City Kitchen mall I feel in love with the $9 peanut butter and bacon burger at the counter of Whitmans. It was a powerful and scary hunger, like a passion for young boys or hot fudge sundaes.
Ilili Box offers pita wraps and falafel.
In downmarket arenas, one gets down market hungers. I am early as I often am, but so is my niece Dana. She is perched on a tall stool at the window. She stops me as I emerge from the elevator. We catch up on the doings of the day and then she goes off to fetch my burger and to order at Ilili Box Combo for herself, roasted duck folded into a pita with a side of fries.
Dana chooses the duck taco and an order of hot and crisp French fries.
Some aggressive old ladies have swooped into the last seats together at a table, so the two of us return to the tall stools at the window overlooking Eighth Avenue. Every time someone comes up the stairs, the door slams shut with a deafening crash and we both flinch. We share the fries, dark and crisp. A triumph of frying. Not what you might expect in a fast-food mall.
As usual I’ve over-estimated the time we need to eat. With small bites, ever so slowly, the last morsel of the majestic burger is gone and it’s only 7 pm. An hour before curtain. Plenty of time for more indulgence.
I can’t keep my eyes off the doughnut at the kiosk called Dough.
My gaze falls on the kiosk called Dough. On my first visit to City Kitchen I had a bright scarlet hibiscus-glazed chubby round of pastry. My date had looked away, disgusted. Now I walk over to study the offerings closeup.
There are salted chocolate caramel doughnuts, toasted coconut, mocha-almond crunch, and cheesecake. I contemplate the lemon-frosted doughnut. I stand in the coffee line long enough to change my mind. “You want the passion fruit,” the woman behind me tells her mate. Like a robot, I forgot about the lemon and focus on the passion fruit-glazed round.
There are salted chocolate caramel doughnuts, toasted coconut, mocha-almond crunch and cheesecake.
Normally I don’t drink coffee after 10 am. But ever since I fell asleep during a raucous comedy, I prescribe myself a medicinal espresso before the theater and hope it won’t keep me awake till 2 am. Dough does a serious espresso to order for $2.25, grinding the coffee and pressing it into the machine basket while you wait inhaling the haunting perfume of strong coffee.
Kuro-Obi sells ramen and pork buns.
I always make a point of using the ladies room at my pre-theater restaurant. You never want to get stuck in a line for the powder room along with the entire last 25 alumnae classes from Sarah Lawrence during a ten-minute intermission.
Alas, the Row’s ladies room is not particularly convenient. You have to wait for an elevator to the basement, then wander in search. The ladies lair is in desperate need of a janitor. Is this squalid ambiance the fault of the hotel or the restaurant? Maybe they also have yet to decide who’s in charge.
City Kitchen at Row Hotel NYC. Vendors: Gabriela’s. Azuki. Luke’s Lobster. Kuro-Obi. Whitmans. Ilili Box, Dough. 700 Eighth Avenue between 44th and 45th Street. 212 869 3600. Sunday to Wednesday 6:30 am to 9 pm. Thursday to Saturday 6:30 to 11:30.