Rich: Central Park's Loeb Boathouse is the kind of a place an old person would go to for a celebration demarking another milestone. In the process, that only reiterates the oldness.
Caity: It reminded me of the kind of place where two of the Real Housewives would meet to have a peace lunch.
Rich: It reminded me of the kind of place that two people would eat at in a movie and have gentle but profound realizations about their lives, or perhaps remark, "And look at the way we live. I mean, just our lifestyle."
Caity: It looks like the kind of place that is just how you pictured it.
Rich: It's the kind of place where people are constantly spitting out air in that isn't-everything-insane-and-chalky Jennifer Aniston way. "Isn't this ridiculous? And by ridiculous I mean fabulous. And by fabulous I mean ridiculous." Spit. Spit. We are so privileged.
Caity: It felt like boathouse. It did not feel like a boathome.
The best restaurant in New York is
Central Park's Loeb Boathouse.
À la carte, with tip included automatically.
Cost including tip, two glasses of sparkling Rosé, and two Diet Cokes
Rich: I arrived alone to a line at the hostess' podium. A line! A man, who I'm assuming was the manager, but maybe was just the rare breed with a shred of sense was telling people that there were no more openings and that they should go get something from the stand outside. "Sorry, you will not be eating halibut today. Go suck on a hot dog."
Caity: We tried to make a noon Thursday reservation online the day before, but the only available time was 2:30. This, I assumed, was the result of a bug in the code of the booking website. Surely a restaurant I previously had displayed no interest in patronizing could not be booked AN ENTIRE DAY except for one window at 2:30 p.m.
Rich: The bug had infected the city, in fact. Everyone wants to go to the Boathouse. Like bugs to a light, burned by the zapper.
While I waited for you, I saw many people complaining.
"I waited an hour and 10 minutes! Can you please just check?" a woman said to the hostess.
"I'm really, really, really sorry," said the hostess.
Caity: You were still waiting when I arrived and ducked into a restroom to wash the subway off my hands. The fixtures in the bathroom were elegant but the room itself was chaotic and disordered. It was like a 5 star hotel being used as a makeshift nuclear fallout shelter. Chockablock with people who just happened to need a place to pee while ambling through Central Park. There was a tip jar in there but the tip jar was unmanned, so actually what it was was just a jar full of dollar bills. A donation to the bathroom's protective spirits.
Rich: As I was waiting for you, I was taking notes and a waiter saw me. He was one of several handsome men with perpetually knowing looks in light denim shirts. It all felt very pre-Stonewall or maybe modern-day Townhouse. I couldn't tell if he had recognized me as someone who was clearly taking notes on the place, or just as another gay man. Did he know what I was doing, or whom I was doing? Was it both?
Caity: This wasn't our waiter was it?
Rich: No, but I had my suspicions about him. He reminded me a bit of ANIMAL New York founder Bucky Turco twisted with Kevin Spacey.
Caity: I got the sense that our waiter knew more than we did about what we were doing there.
Rich: Well, speaking of twists, there was one at the end of our meal that refutes your suspicion, which I will reveal at the end of this post. WAS he Keyser Söze? WAS Gwyneth Paltrow's head in our take-away box?
Anyway, our waiter was wonderful. He never told us his name. I think "Bevin" would work.
Caity: He didn't trust us with his true name, but I would bet anyone five million dollars it actually was "Bevin."
As soon as we sat down, Bevin came over and started gently bragging about himself to us.
Rich: He called himself a "hardcore gastrophile," which, I have to say, was much more pleasant than "foodie."
Caity: Let me be real with you clowns—(snaps metal knife in half over knee)—I'M HARDCORE.
Rich: So hardcore that he, in his own words, would push his "grandmother down the stairs for a bite of that pasta" with clam sauce. He also said the halibut special had "flawless presentation" and that the fish was cooked until it was "as white as the table cloth." It was as if his aim was to efficiently establish the cuisine and type of restaurant we were dining at for the expository sake of this very post. (His sell worked. I got the "Linguini.")
Caity: I frequently felt like he should have been your lunch companion, and I should have been bringing you guys food.
You know what I ordered after his exquisite, delicate sell? Double burgers. "Double burgers please, thanks."
Rich: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, Bevin. I'm gonna go with the usual." He also told us that the crab cake was probably the best we'd ever eat. The thing was, I was putty in Bevin's hands. "Yes, whatever you say! And can you also feed it to me? I trust you know how to feed myself better than I do."
Caity: I was the insane hobo whose hypothalamus was lighting up like a Christmas tree, who looked at all of Bevin's recommendations like they were railroad bulls sniffing around my boxcar. When Bevin recommended the crab cake, I immediately checked to see if it was the most expensive appetizer. (YEP.) When Bevin volunteered that he'd push his grandmother down the stairs for a plate of pasta, I thought "That's an interesting admission, Bevin. How many women have you killed?"
Most alarmingly (and suspiciously and unbelievably) of all, Bevin saw through my attempt to avoid a plate splitting charge (which the restaurant does not have anyway, apparently) for the arugula salad you and I planned to share.
"...And I'll have the arugula salad" I said to Bevin.
A few minutes later, what should arrive at our table but "my" arugula salad...PRE-SPLIT ONTO TWO PLATES FOR SHARING. BEVIN! WHAT DARK WONDERWORKING IS THIS?
Rich: He was the lover that loves you like he's been loving you all of your life. He's what R&B songs are made for.
Caity: The salad contained dried and fresh strawberries, which I loved because it reminded Special K® Red Berries Cereal. "This salad tastes like Special K® Red Berries Cereal!" I said.
Rich: It was very sweet for a strawberry salad, which I know sounds insane to say, but I've had a lot of salads with strawberries in them and they are usually not this sweet. It was nice. We ate it first, which KILLED Bevin. "I can't wait for the crab cake reaction!" he said as he passed our table while we were chomping on arugula and strawberries and dried strawberries.
We should mention that before our meal, we were given (WITH TONGS), the choice of bread.
Caity: I hate it. Give me all the bread, Bevin!
Rich: Tell 'em what you got, Philly.
Caity: I got a pretzel, of course, which I loved, of course.
Rich: Same. Repping South Jersey.
The crab cake was very good. Among the best crab cakes I've ever had in my life.
Caity: Crab cake was great, but I'd like to live a little longer before I deem it "The Best I've Ever Had in My Life," Bevin.
Listen—let's just get this out of the way right now: Everything we ate was goddamn fabulous.
Rich: It was the best meal we've shared, top to bottom.
Caity: It was executed with a ruthless perfection seldom seen outside 16-year-old Russian girls' figure skating routines. But did I trust the meal? No, I did not. Something unsettling about that level of perfection. Felt like this meal had never had a childhood. Felt like this meal didn't know how to love. Only how to win.
Rich: I didn't just trust it, I turned on my back, opened my legs, and let this meal take advantage of me.
Bevin approached our table against a backdrop of barbecue smog over the water and asked, "So where you guys from?"
Caity: "The rails, Bevin."
Rich: I told him that we're from the city, and always "challenging" ourselves to try tourist-oriented places that other New Yorkers may pass up.
Caity: Bevin told us that actually 60% of this restaurant's clientele is local. Many of the people dining around us certainly looked like they must have had stunning views of Central Park from their penthouses. I can't believe we didn't see anyone's snooty fiancé get decked and flop into the lake while we were shoveling food into our mouths.
Rich: Bevin said my assessment was a "misnomer." Spank my ass, go ahead, I love it!
Caity: There were lots of what looked to be wealthy grandparents dining with gangly, casually expensively dressed preteens. There was a baby wearing a gold bracelet.
Rich: And earrings. And what looked like a giant gift bow on her head. Her face was reminiscent of Cousin Shelly's. I liked that kid more than I like most children who ogle me in public.
Caity: YOU KNOW I CAN READ THIS, RIGHT?
Rich: She really liked the group of five white women in spandex FILA shirts that walked by.
Caity: She pointed at them. "Go home and put on suitable luncheon dress," she said with her chubby baby hands.
Rich: "Go make some money to afford a bracelet as lavish as the one I was born with in my mouth."
Back to our meal. I'd push my grandmother down the stairs for a strand of that pasta, too, since she's dead and wouldn't feel it anyway. It was just solid linguine with clam sauce. The clams were not sandy. That made it great.
Caity: My "Twin Boathouse Burgers" were also great, though I would rather have one burger than eat two small ones. Life is not a tea party; it's a Renaissance faire and I want the biggest piece of meat possible. They arrived with fries and a tray of three condiments: curry ketchup, chipotle mayo, and chimichurri. "Don't ration yourself on the condiments!" Bevin said. "I can always grab more." I did like that, though presumably this is the policy at all restaurants.
The burgers were a very popular dish. In the time we took to eat our meal at least 18 burgers (2 per plate) were delivered to tables in my line of sight. The sight of all those trays heaping with burgers made my heart sing.
Rich: At one point while we were eating, a member of the family next to us flung a piece of garlic bread and it landed midway between our table and theirs. They looked at us expectantly. I think they were foreign.
"Slippery little suckers," was all I could say.
Caity: That felt Marie Antoinette-esque to me. Like they were throwing it at us: "Eat this, trash!" Guess what? I'd love to. I'd murder everyone I've ever met (EXCEPT my beautiful Nana) for a scrap of garlic bread that had been on the floor. I'm a diva!
Rich: The very sexy nordic blonde daughter in Ray Ban aviators took was making eyes at me. Then she looked back and forth between us, trying to figure us out. "I think they're...writing an informal, chat-based column about restaurants in tourist traps," her eyes seemed to say. (Her aviators were off at that point.)
For dessert, I got what Bevin described as a "mind-blowing" "Banana Tart Tatin."
"Heretofore," Bevin told us, he'd never even heard of banana tart tatin.
Caity: I ordered the "Warm Truffle Cake" because it was as close to an Applebee's lava cake as the menu offered. Instead of the standard chocolate sorbet, I got it with popcorn ice cream. The cake tasted like a standard chocolate cake, which means FLAWLESS. The ice cream tasted like "This ice cream has popcorn in it for some reason."
Rich: Ever dip popcorn in water? Well, this is what it would be like to do so in sugary milk.
Caity: I love popcorn as much as the next person, but I would posit that maybe it should not be everywhere. Maybe the world should not be a Candyland-esque fever dream crafted entirely out of popcorn.
Rich: It didn't really work, no.
Caity: Your banana thing tasted like a dessert I could get for slightly cheaper at a Thai restaurant. Delicious.
Rich: It was great. Very banana.
So you left for the bathroom, and Bevin, upon delivering the check, asked me, "Are you guys Yelpers? You should go on the thing and write a review of what you thought." That's the twist. It's like he knew all along! Oh we'll write a review, all right, I didn't say, but I did say, "OK," and give him a knowing look. Only I knew what it meant. I twisted back.
Caity: To be fair, I think Bevin probably knew too because he's a robot who came back from the future to give us outstanding lunch service.
Is Everything Okay?
Questions about the Dining Experience
Would you go back?
Caity: Yes. I would go again just to prove to Bevin that I'm not afraid of him.
Rich: Yes, and when I do, Bevin will feed me grapes, charge me handsomely for the service, and I will love every second of it.
Is it a good first date spot?
Caity: Yes. The only way the meal could have been more romantic is if you'd pulled out a Tiffany box and proposed.
Rich: Yes, especially if you are either Romy or Michele.
Is it a good place to have an affair?
Caity: No. This is a very bad place to have an affair. Every single person in there was a gossip. Would throw their grandmothers down a flight of stairs for a shred of tittle-tattle about a stranger.
Rich: No. Everyone there is looking at you, searching for fodder for the next scene, which will then provide fodder for the scene after, during which a glass of liquid will be thrown on you.
Is it a good place to bring a doll?
Caity: No. There are not enough chairs in this restaurant for paying human customers, let alone freeloading dolls.
Rich: Yes—but only if she is wearing the finest jewels and a sneer to suggest that she knows it.
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 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
[Images by Rich Juzwiak and Caity Weaver]