To begin, I must first disclose that I am a huge fan of the Divine Miss. M not only as a performer but more importantly for the work her organization does to make the city I call home a more beautiful place for me and millions of other New Yorkers — so a heartfelt thanks from GFM. Now on to the review…
After a day spent wandering around Ellis Island we had planned to end the day with a late brunch at Bette Midler’s New York Restoration Project’s restaurant the New Leaf Café in Fort Tryon Park set just below the Cloisters. I’d been to this restaurant before and thought that given the lovely day, nothing could be nicer than sitting among the lush park, high atop Manhattan. Well, a ferry delay caused a late departure from Ellis Island back to the mainland and found us rushing to get to the restaurant before the 3:30 p.m. cutoff. The good news is that we made it to the restaurant by 3:00 p.m. but parking is scarce so my partner ran in to secure a table (they do not take reservations for brunch) while I circled with my parents. An event was just letting out but still no spaces were to be had. Long story short I used my New York parking skills to edge out a competing car for a space in front of the restaurant that I had been waiting for.
I walked into the restaurant and see that my partner and family were just making their way to the table. Here is where it gets interesting. The hostesses would not seat my partner alone, only the entire party. Once my parents walked in he made a point of noting there were now three of the four present and could they please be seated (my parents are in their 70s). The hostess’ response was only if he knew what I would be ordering because the deadline for ordering was fast approaching – ridiculous. One would think that in this economy you would do your best to make people feel welcome. I noticed while being seated PLENTY of tables available both inside and on their lovely terrace which is where we decided to sit. So my partner is now clearly aggravated but cooling down at the incompetence that was the front of house. Policies are policies but there are ways to say things and making two seniors stand around is quite frankly inexcusable. Funny enough after we were seated and the 3:30 p.m. deadline that seemed so important to the hostesses came and went, a young father was seated with his son but they soon left after they were told only the brunch menu could be ordered from. I think they were looking for a dinner item and the kitchen could not accommodate at the time, fair enough, but that fact that the hostesses made us feel rushed and not particularly welcome still frosts my proverbial cookies.
The outside terrace is a lush oasis completely covered with garden umbrellas to shield diners from the beating sun. The dining area is flanked by planters featuring greens and herbs used in their dishes. It was truly wonderful to be sitting high atop Manhattan, flanked by the Hudson with the breeze rustling through the trees. In a word it is indeed magical. We began to look over the brunch menu which includes juice or coffee and your entrée so not a bad deal at $18.95. As always, I had looked over the menu online to ensure that there was something I could eat and there were indeed several choices. Our server was friendly and accommodating (and to her credit did not make us feel at all rushed as did the front of house), and listened when I mentioned my shellfish allergy (which was also noted on the kitchen order form and subsequently my receipt). I was not concerned about gluten as I opted for the chicken paillard with roasted red bell peppers, parmesan cheese, and field greens after confirming the dressing ingredients. My mother had the same and my partner and father had the sirloin cheeseburgers with lettuce, tomato, sour dill pickle, and French fries. My father ordered his rare with bacon on the side and Swiss cheese. My partner ordered medium with no bacon or onion and Cheddar cheese — keep this in mind as you read on.
When the food arrived, the chicken was wonderfully thin and grilled to perfection and topped with a hearty portion of the greens and freshly shaved parmesan cheese. It was really a large portion. I noticed after the meal that the meal ticket only marked one of the chicken as “Shellfish Allergy” so hopefully both were prepared with added care though my instinct tells me otherwise. The hamburgers arrived and my father’s was well-done not rare with Cheddar cheese not Swiss and my partner’s was medium rare with Swiss cheese, bacon, and onions. Really? The restaurant is almost empty at this point and the kitchen cannot get an order for four correct (with only two main course variations)? Not good.
The good news is that food was delicious and while the burgers were a complete mess from an order standpoint, everything was fresh and home made which helped take the sting from the kitchen’s incompetence. It also felt good to know that some of the revenue goes to support the New York Restoration Project which is a fantastic organization doing really great things in the city I love.
If you are looking for a unique locale in New York City than this is most definitely the place to come. You cannot beat the ambience but the service and accuracy of the kitchen leaves a lot to be desired. It is indeed a quintessential New York establishment that is a hidden gem location-wise and a kitchen that clearly knows how to prepare good food but was sloppy on this occasion.