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In NYC, a High-Class All-You-Can-Drink

By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 19, 1998; Page E04

What: A platinum card-style dinner, with endless pourings of wine, on a Discover card budget.

Where: Cite, 120 W. 51st St., 212-956-7100.

When: Anytime.

Why: Because we like it.

Big steaks may be a big business again, but expense accounts are being put on a diet. So next time you're trying to up the professional ante, invite your prospective investor to sink his teeth--rather than your nest egg--into an almost literally Bacchanalian feast right in the heart of midtown Manhattan.

At Cite, the menu is pure pinstripe: shrimp cocktail, crab cakes, rack of lamb, prime rib, veal chop, sirloin, roast chicken, creamed spinach, etc. And so are the prices--at least, if you just glance at the a la carte menu. But it's the beverages that are the real bottom line: Starting at 8 every night (5 on Sundays), you can order a three-course dinner of appetizer, entree and dessert straight off the regular menu and consume as much as you want of any, or all, of the four wines being poured that night, all for one fixed price.

It's called the "Taste of the Grape" program, and each evening the staff pops the corks on one sparkling wine or champagne, one white wine, one light- or medium-bodied red and one chewier red, so you can mix and match around the table. The specific four are chosen from a rotating list of 15 or so, and we're not talking bargain basement stuff: The sparkling list includes Tattinger, Iron Horse, Jordan (known, like that other high-flying star, simply as "J") and Domaine Chandon. And if you hit a Clos du Val night, go to town. The bottles just keep circulating. (Make friends with the waiter, and you may go home with a hair of the dog all ready for the morrow.)

Nor does Cite skimp on the size of the meat to offset this viniferous extravagance. A corporate sibling of such prominent steakhouses as Smith & Wolensky and Maloney & Porcelli, where 24-ounce porterhouses are the specialty, Cite is able to capitalize on the family grocery and winery bills without casting any aspersions on its reputation. (The kitchen does understand seafood, incidentally: A recent daily special of huge chilled prawns and a half-lobster was perfectly cooked.)

And what does this banquet cost? Brace yourself: $59.50 a person, less than the average theater ticket (or single bottle of wine, in some cases).

Another virtue: Despite its hearty food, the ambiance at Cite is less macho meat market than at some of the more famous steakhouse names. The style is light, liquid and bustling, more like a trattoria than a chophouse; and its customers tend to be a broader mix of biz men and biz women than the traditional old guys' hangouts. You'll see mostly suits, of course, but only the twentysomethings are wearing rep ties; the more mature, self-assured ones are wearing Italian silks. As for the men, well . . .

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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