The first thing that strikes you about this place is the awesome bordello-like cheesiness of the surroundings. The big banquets decked out in what can only be described as crimson velvet suggest more burlesque than classy restaurant. And this place ain’t cheap. I guess those prices come when a joint had a Michelin star, but you’d at least expect them to get someone in there to decorate that doesn’t make the space look like something out of Jack Ruby’s wet dream. The restaurant itself is tucked away behind the facade of The Excelsior Hotel, the entrance an awkward hallway that leads to the low-ceilinged interior. And that interior, and about 90% of the tables, was empty. That’s always strange for any Manhattan restaurant, especially one that just opened in 2008 and purports to be a place where people want to eat. The few elderly customers who were there might as well have been moldering to dust in a grave somewhere rather than gobbling twenty-dollar appetizers with their manmade chompers. We, on the other hand, were young(ish) and eager to chow down. The evening started off on an odd note as our waiter seemed completely confused about the menu and how it worked. We asked about the tasting menu, and he stammered and stuttered and walked away to get us the print out. He returned and told us that he couldn’t, in fact, tell us what was on the tasting menu. We asked if he could give us just a hint. He said no, but that if there was anything on the tasting menu that we didn’t like, we could request something different. Uh, and how could we tell him what we didn’t like on the tasting menu if there wasn’t a menu? He stood in stunned silence. All of us looked at each other with obvious frustration, shrugged and stared daggers at him when he asked, “So, did you want to do the tasting menu?” Needless to say, we went a la carte. And, surprisingly, I ended up pretty happy with my meal: soft shelled crab appetizer, foi gras and scallop ravioli and short rib paired with a decent bottle or two of wine. The others in my party were less thrilled with their meals, especially given the steep prices. I guess the less then auspicious beginning with our dumbass waiter and weird surroundings soured the evening right out of the gate, and the group just really never recovered. [MF]

45 W 81st St.