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Restaurants; Food That's Nearly Worthy of the View - The New York Times

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Food|Restaurants; Food That's Nearly Worthy of the View


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Restaurants; Food That's Nearly Worthy of the View


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WHEN the elevator finally lands on the 107th floor, the doors open, and this is what you see: a stuffed deer standing next to a split-rail fence, peeking around some pine trees dusted with fake snow. It is oddly disorienting, as if you have traveled all this way just to land back on the ground.

The fall decorations at Windows on the World were even more bizarre. Quilts and apron-strewn cupboards led the way to the restaurant, and the dining room was decorated with autumn leaves and rustic wooden bowls filled with apples. All that cute Americana seemed almost apologetic, as if trying to deny the restaurant's main selling point.

A restaurant that occupies the top of New York City's tallest building should understand that people are eager to feel that they are above it all, if only for a little while. Nobody wants to be brought down to earth.

Although the management can't seem to get the decor right, it has finally fixed the food. Hiring Michael Lomonaco, the former chef at the ''21'' Club, was a brilliant touch; nobody will ever go to Windows on the World just to eat, but even the fussiest food person can now be content dining at one of New York's favorite tourist destinations. Provided that person orders carefully.


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My favorite meal at Windows on the World would begin with beer-braised short ribs. It is a hearty dish, a very American version of a gutsy pate, the rich meat cooked until it is soft enough to spread on toast and then topped with pungent crumbles of American blue cheese. It is not an elegant dish, but it is very satisfying.

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I liked the skillet-roasted bluepoint oysters, too, in their rich, caviar-embellished cream. Lobster salad is also delicious, big chunks of tender seafood in a smoked chili dressing.

Other appetizers just miss. An open ravioli of mushrooms is an exercise in vegetarian excess, an extravaganza of mushrooms, pumpkin and pumpkin seeds in so much cream that it is almost cloying.

Foie gras paired with draft cider and squash hash is an idea that would be more interesting if the tones were more distinct. Foie gras requires something sweet or acid as a contrast, but this is all so similar that it seems like mush.

Oak-smoked salmon would make a fine beginning to a meal if it came with more than one measly little corncake on the side.

When Mr. Lomonaco was inventing the menu, he clearly considered the restaurant's volume. The room seats 240, and on a busy night the kitchen feeds 600 people. In such circumstances it is wise to keep things simple.

I liked grilled venison chops, with their rich whisky-and-pecan-laced yams. Roasted chicken with chanterelle gravy and a little wild rice and cranberry cake on the side is excellent. Rack of lamb in a rosemary-mustard crust is fine, too, and so is roasted quail served with mushroom stew and black-truffle risotto.

But seafood is less reliable. The first time I tried the lobster, served out of the shell in a richly truffled sauce with buttermilk biscuits on the side, it was dreamy. Another night, the lobster was so overcooked and the biscuits were so tough that the entire dish turned into a disaster. The same thing happened with monkfish; once the combination of the fish with chorizo, olives and tomatoes seemed a wonderful idea, but the next time I tried it the fish was overcooked. If you select seafood, be sure to specify that it is not overdone.

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You will want to choose dessert carefully, as well. This means avoiding everything listed under the ''something special'' category of the menu in favor of simpler creations like ''warm berry bongo,'' a sort of individual deep-dish pie. I liked the sorbets and ice creams, but the most exciting finale is surely chocolate dome with brandied cherries, an elegant creation that would make any pastry chef proud.


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There are other sources of pride here. They include one of New York's most wonderful wine lists. Anyone willing to take the time to read the entire tome, instead of simply sticking to the one-page short list will find many hard-to-find and surprisingly affordable treasures. The service is another pleasure, at least once you get past the irritating bottleneck at the door.

And then, of course, there is the view. It is a marvel, a magic carpet of lights at your feet. Take one last look before you leave and hold it in your mind as you walk to the elevator. It is a far better image than that silly stuffed deer.

Windows on the World

** [rating: two stars]

1 World Trade Center, (212) 524-7000.

ATMOSPHERE: Despite recent renovations, New York's highest restaurant still looks like an airport lounge; if not for the fabulous view, you could be in a bland hotel in the Midwest.

SERVICE: Enthusiastic and professional.

NOISE LEVEL: Very pleasant.

RECOMMENDED DISHES: Beer-braised short ribs on toast, roasted oysters with caviar cream, seared sea scallops with truffle vinaigrette, smoked salmon, lobster salad with smoked chili dressing, grilled venison chops, roast chicken, roasted quail with truffle risotto, rack of lamb, warm berry bongo, chocolate dome with brandied cherries.

WINE LIST: Affordably excellent.

HOURS: Dinner, Mondays to Thursdays, 5 to 10:30 P.M.; Fridays and Saturdays, until 11:30 P.M., Sundays, until 10 P.M. Sunday buffet lunch, 11 A.M. to 1:30 P.M.

PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $9 to $18; main courses, $25 to $35; desserts, $8 to $9. Prix fixe sunset menu (before 6 P.M.), $35.

CREDIT CARDS: All major cards.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBILITY: Elevators to dining room.

What the stars mean:

(None) Poor to Satisfactory

* Good

** Very Good

*** Excellent

**** Extraordinary

Ratings reflect the reviewer's reaction primarily to food, with ambiance and service taken into consideration. Menu listings and prices are subject to change. --------------------

Past reviews. Hundreds of Times restaurant reviews are available on line from @times, an arts and entertainment guide on America Online. Software and information: 1-800-548-5201.

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