Rich: Hopefully, at least one of the dozen or so enthusiastic employees that you interacted with before being seated was able to cheer you up.
Caity: They did, actually, because I could not believe the sheer number of people inquiring politely about whether I was having a good evening while I stood in front of them literally crying. It ended up making me laugh. One word I would use to describe the experience of entering the Polo Bar is: harrowing.
The best restaurant in New York is
The Polo Bar at Manhattan's flagship Ralph Lauren store
À la carte
$228.82 oh my God
Rich: Just to give an official count there were: Two people at the door with the reservation list, two people at the end of the bar/top of the stairs that lead to the dining room, two people at the bottom of the stairs, and three people at coat check. All three pairs asked me for my name. It was very ritualistic, in the way that Groundhog Day is ritualistic.
I talked to more Polo Bar employees that night than members of my extended family in the past year.
Caity: Our legs buckling under the weight of a thousand best wishes for our evening, we were directed into the lower level of the restaurant, where yet more employees greeted us, and bade us check our coats.
Rich: A lifetime's worth of people stood around politely during this ordeal.
Caity: And then, at last, we were introduced...to the person who would be guiding us to our seats. A walk of four seconds. Nice to meet you.
The dining room struck the balance between stately and cozy, like modest private den located on the lower level of a yacht. All the wood and all the leather was a similar shade of deep caramel. On the booths were propped green tartan throw pillows to match the dresses of the hostesses.
Rich: The walls were covered with depictions of polo-playing. Imagine a TGI Fridays with all horse everything EVERYWHERE.
Caity: Yeah, it was a bit like a bespoke TGI Fridays located on the grounds of Le Petit Trianon.
Rich: It was kind of tacky, no offense to Mr. Lauren.
Actually, fuck Mr. Lauren. But we'll get to that in a second.
Caity: It was tacky in the way that all things very very rich people love are tacky. Teeny tiny teacups.
Via tongs, we received the WASP delicacy of popovers to start our meal. I was very impressed by the tongs, as I always am.
Caity: I was impressed by such an ambitious choice for the free bread. The popovers were distributed by a somber gentleman—the Polo Bar Lorax, who speaks for the popovers.
Rich: Who MUMBLES for the popovers. What was in the popovers? Who knows. "Green cheese," I thought he said and then still thought that after he repeated it, though I never was quite sure.
Caity: All I know for sure is what was on them: globs and globs of this labeled butter, applied by my heavy hand.
Rich: At one point, after I had finished my popover, Polo Bar Lorax came back to offer me another popover and when I accepted, he frowned, hesitated, and then said, "I'll be right back. They gave me the wrong number." I'll tell you what the wrong number is: not giving me a popover from the basket that you're holding.
Caity: That was a confusing moment, because I could clearly see another popover in his basket. He had at least one. And I didn't need one because I was still eating mine.
Rich: I saw two! I want one, you have two, give me one and you'll still have one. Maybe he's OCD and needs to empty his basket every time so that he doesn't feel the universe collapsing. Whatever, man, a few minutes later I had a second green cheese popover. Can't really complain.
Caity: He was a strange presence in our evening but not an unwelcome one. I liked our waitress—who had no role in the Popover Wars—a lot.
Rich: She reminded me of Kortnie from ANTM Cycle 10.
Caity: I bet everyone says that
Rich: Fun, fresh, vivacious. Easy, breezy, beautiful. Maybe a pathological liar, but sweet about it. For FREE, we received little finger sandwiches. What were they, corned beef?
Caity: Yes, the chef quote unquote would like us to try the corned beef sandwiches. "Mr. Lauren's favorite."
Unfortunately, the chef's wish did NOT come true because I ate my sandwich and yours, since they contained meat. I loved them. Call me Mr. Lauren.
I washed my free sandwich triangles down with my standard drink, which is "I will have your sweetest cocktail, please."
Rich: Yeah what was it? Some kinda cranberry thing with Rock n Rye whiskey, which is made in Williamsburg, of course.
Caity: "The Polo Bar Winter Punch." It had raw cranberries in it, I guess because the bartender assumes a lot of cranberry knowledge on the part of his customers. I didn't eat them because I know raw cranberries are incredibly bitter, but tossing a bright red berry YOU SHOULD NOT EAT inside a sweet, fruity drink you SHOULD guzzle seems risky. Like, if you put a cherry in a drink, I'll eat that. But you put a cranberry—that looks almost exactly like a cherry—in a drink. Don't eat that!!!
Rich: Mr. Lauren's bar, Mr. Lauren's rules. I had rozay.
For appetizers, we got six oysters and the crab cake.
The oysters were oysters (I think they were both East Coast, so they started their lives inferior) and the crab cake was breaded in filo dough and then deep fried. Never saw anything like it in my life. It was good.
Caity: I also had never seen a crab cake inside filo dough before, and after trying to eat it I realized why. It was like a filo dough firework had exploded on my plate. It tasted like a crab cake with a bunch of filo dough on it for some reason. It was good because inside the filo dough was a crab cake, but it also felt like eating tinsel.
Rich: I will say this: I tasted the oil. Reminded me of this alcapurria I had in Puerto Rico from a kiosko on the side of the road that was full of smoke because it wasn't properly ventilated and they were burning wood to heat their oil. They were all crying, all the kiosko workers. It was like a scene from a book, except it was my life. Anyway, I don't think they EVER changed their frying oil, and I'm not sure that Mr. Lauren does, either.
Caity: Thank you for finally calling me Mr. Lauren, but Caity is fine.
How many people would you say were involved in depositing and removing items from our table?
Rich: Oh several! A rotating cast of at least 10, in various states of formal dress. Generally speaking, at least two people attended the table at all times. Except for with the Lorax. The Lorax is a loner.
Caity: After "Be Our Guest" levels of dish-clearing choreography, it was time for our entrees. I ordered the herb-crusted veal chop ("Pounded and Served with Arugula, Fennel & Cherry Tomatoes"). It was a big, huge fried Flintstone portion of meat. It tasted good when eaten simultaneously with the accompanying arugula. When eaten alone, it tasted like a big mouthful of fried meat.
Rich: I ordered black cod. I did not receive black cod. I know black cod. I live for black cod. This was not black cod.
You're no black cod.
Rich: I felt like Reginae Carter at the car dealership when her mom suggested she get a BMW instead of a Ferrari. "This is not giving me (snap) life. This is just giving me...oh..." is my exact response to my dish of a fish that was not black cod. I knew that a $32 black cod dish at the Polo Club was too good to be true.
As it was, it was a completely reasonable dish, but it wasn't black cod. It just wasn't. I've been eating black cod for way too long to know it when it isn't in my mouth.
In this dish, the hen of the woods did the heavy lifting. Note to chefs: don't have a hen do your heavy lifting, especially when she's an actual mushroom since hens don't live in the motherfucking woods!
Caity: It was painful to watch this turmoil unfold. You had been excited about black cod for weeks. (Incidentally, how long it took us to get a 5 p.m. reservation at The Polo Bar.)
Rich: After some internal debate, I decided that the journalistically responsible thing to do was to confront our waitress about the lie that lay upon my plate. When she came back, we had the following conversation verbatim:
Me: "I think it's very well-prepared, although I've never had black cod…"
Me: "…taste like this."
Server: "Oh really? What does it usually taste like?"
Me: "It's got a buttery sort of…is this DEFINITELY black cod?"
Server: "It's definitely Alaskan black cod."
Me: "It's definitely different tasting than any black cod I've ever had."
Server: "What does black cod typically taste like?"
Me: "It's kind of ineffable, the actual flavor. It's just more buttery and has this specific flavor every time I get it. Whereas this, to me, tastes like cod. Well-prepared cod, delicious cod."
If there were a word to describe the taste of black cod, there would be no need for there to be black cod! Black cod tastes like black cod! That's why I order it. It's the only thing in the world that tastes like that! (It's also slimier than regular cod, which my fish almost certainly was.)
Caity: It's so hard to describe what things taste like, unless they are specifically flavored like those things. What does an apple taste like?
Anyway, being as polite as possible, I offered that maybe I just hadn't eaten ALASKAN black cod before. Our waitress told us she'd ask the chef.
Caity: I thought maybe the chef would come out and yell at us.
Rich: Several minutes later she came back, and this was the lie they had devised:
"The chef says that in most restaurants he's worked in, they baste the black cod in butter, but here we only baste in olive oil, so that would maybe be an explanation for the buttery taste, because Mr. Lauren's really looking for everything to be the healthiest possible option. So we take out every extra ingredient."
Yes, a crab cake covered in filo dough and deep fried is the healthiest possible option. Thank you, Mr. Lauren.
Caity: If you're starting from a point of, "This menu must contain a crab cake covered in filo dough and deep fried," it is possible the version of that dish they served was the healthiest possible option. That there is no healthier way to serve a crab cake covered in filo dough and deep fried than the one they chose.
Rich: Look, I have made black cod for myself. Gilt City had a deal once and I ordered six fillets. That's how much I love this fish. I didn't baste it in anything but love. It still tasted like black cod.
Whatever. It wasn't black cod, it wasn't black cod, it wasn't black cod. But it was fine. Maybe the most specific case of "It's not right but it's O.K." that I've experienced thus far.
Caity: I treated myself to Gawker treating me to a second cocktail, and then it was time for dessert.
We asked our server to make recommendations for the two best dessert dishes. She suggested the "Polo Bar brownie" and the "Chocolate & peanut butter tart." She emphasized that the "Chocolate & peanut butter tart" tasted "like a Reese's Pieces." To me, a $12 dessert tasting like a Reese's Pieces is not a major selling point; you've gone to a lot of effort and all you have to show for it is something that tastes like a Reese's Pieces. Why not make it taste like something I can't buy at CVS?
Rich: Also, it was more like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. More lies.
Caity: I use those two names interchangeably. Maybe she does too.
Rich: Black cod is to Reese's Peanut Butter Cup as regular cod is to Reese's Pieces.
The tart had a nice crispness, and the brownie was a brownie with ice cream on it. It was all incredibly expensive completely acceptable food, especially if you think that being told lies is acceptable.
Caity: It was about $7 worth of dessert, served alongside $17 worth of ambience.
When the bill arrived, I gasped and gasped, like a black cod flopping inside a trawler's net. Because it was so high, I felt justified asking for additional popovers. "Could I please have a popover to take home to my boyfriend?" I asked.
THIS WAS A LIE!!!!
I CONFESS TO YOU NOW!!!!!
THE POPOVER WAS FOR ME!!!!!!
They gave me three, in a cute little paper bag with a twine handle.
Or, if my boyfriend is reading this, they gave me NONE!
Rich: And then we left, saying goodbye to hundreds of people along the way. Irish goodbyes are just not possible at the Polo Club.
Is Everything OK?
Questions About the Dining Experience
Would you go back?
Caity: The toilet stalls were nicer than my apartment. Of course I would go back. Mr. Lauren wants everything to be as healthy as possible.
Rich: Well, that depends. Is my black cod waiting there? Was this all a big misunderstanding? Was this a test like the one at the end of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and for detecting that I was not actually served black cod am I now being put in charge of managing the Polo Bar? OK, then, sure. I'll go back.
Is it a good first date spot?
Caity: It is an almost ideal place for a first date. The lighting is warm and flattering. The veal is warm and fattening. They got food there that tastes like Reese's Pieces. Horse pictures on each and every wall! The only catch is, you might seem like you're trying too hard. And, if you're paying, you'll never be able to afford another date, so this one will have to go really well.
Rich: Nah, take that pretty young thing you've had your eye on at your Black Cod Enthusiasts Club meetings elsewhere.
Is it a good place to have an affair?
Caity: It depends what time of night you go. When Rihanna turned up, a couple hours after we did, there were paparazzi outside. It certainly seems like the sort of place where people go to have affairs, or birthday dinners with their adult grandchildren.
Rich: Are you fucking a black cod? I'd pick another place—those types aren't welcome at the Polo Bar.
Is it a good place to bring a doll?
Caity: Who could afford to?
Rich: How the hell are you going to explain the Polo Bar's black cod situation to a doll?
There are a bunch of restaurants in the world, including some in New York City. But in a city of over 24,000 restaurants, how do you find the best? You begin your search in places that are already popular: New York's hottest tourist destinations. In The Best Restaurant in New York Is, writers Caity Weaver and Rich Juzwiak attempt to determine the best restaurant in New York.
Previously: The Best Restaurant in New York Is: The Best Restaurant in New York Is: The Tenement Museum; FAO Schwarz; The Rockefeller Center Ice Rink; The 9/11 Memorial & Museum Café; The Empire State Building; The Macy's Basement; Wall Street Bath & Spa; El Museo del Barrio; The Williamsburg Urban Outfitters ; The Central Park Boathouse; The Tommy Bahama Store; The Bronx Zoo; The Armani Store;The Crown Cafe at the Statue of Liberty; The Campbell Apartment inside Grand Central; The U.N. Delegates Dining Room; Play at the Museum of Sex; Le Train Bleu inside Bloomingdales; LOX at The Jewish Museum; The American Girl Café
[Photos by Rich Juzwiak and Caity Weaver]