VIEW DINING is for the relaxed tourist. There are spots, if carefully selected, from which you may see the best parts of a village, a city, a harbor, a seacoast or a mountain -- or even the backyard of a royal palace while you dine leisurely. If you take in the view -- and the food -- slowly, you are certain to enjoy both.
A book critic once wrote "... wherever you find a truly great view -- anywhere in the world almost -- you will find a truly great restaurant." I wish that were true. Yet, there are certainly times when even mediocre food is tolerable, given the pleasure of relaxing at a table facing a fine panorama.
I have researched perhaps 2,000 "view" restaurants around the world, with vistas from atop buildings, towers or mountain peaks, along the shores of an ocean, river or pond, or actually on the water. The following selection includes some of my favorites in this country. These views are outstanding and the food is generally delightful, although gourmets may differ about some of them.
Our nation has the greatest diversity of views. We have the highest restaurant atop a building; we have the largest revolving restaurant, and we have the highest restaurant atop a hotel. Every major sightseeing object from Niagara Falls to Diamond Head can be viewed while relaxing at the table of a good restaurant.
Most of our major cities have restaurants atop tall buildings, generally called skyrooms.San Francisco has the most, more than a dozen of them, making it possible to view this city on the bay from a variety of vantage points. One of them, Victor's, specializes in haute cuisine. Named for Victor Hirtzler, chef at the St. Francis from 1906 to 1926, it now occupies the 32nd floor of the new hotel tower. Executive chef Han Lenz features the nouvelle cuisine, which emphasizes lightness (rather than the heaviness Escoffier preferred in his sauces). Dinner is $17.50, or you may order a la carte.
You begin to enjoy the view as you go up in an elevator outside the tower at 1,000 feet a minute. You have a choice of a full vista of the hill city, including the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge or, directly below, of that small green park with palm trees called Union Square. In October, Oz, a New York-style disco, opened next door, and it shares the same views.
Another San Francisco view, but at ground level, is from Potpourri, in one of the town's most gracious hotels, The Stanford Court. The view is of the only crossing in the city of the two cable car lines. There is an even closer view. from the new glass-enclosed dining area of Fourou's Ovens, the hotel's gourmet restaurant.
The highest restaurant is Windows on the World, on the 107th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. Even when the weather is not clear enough to see the 55-mile vista available on good days, the view is enough to make poets of ordinary people. Watching the Queen Elizabeth II ethereally float from the Hudson River into a fog-covered Atlantic Ocean is like seeing a movie dream sequence. The operators are proud that so many New Yorkers bring their out-of-town visitors to see the city from that vantage point.
A table d'hote dinner is $18.50, a la carte from $10.75. The Grand Sunday Buffet is $13.95.
In Newport, R.I., The Inn at Castle Hill was built in 1874 as a private summer home for Alexander Agassiz, renowned scientist. He felt that Castle Hill peninsula offered the best facilities for summer study of marine animals.
Still in evidence is the original home-like atmosphere of this building, whose architecture suggests the chalets of Switzerland, Agassiz' home country. This country inn includes some of the rare oriental furnishings he brought from China, and provides a comfortable and relaxing setting on 32 acres of secluded Newport shoreline. From the dining areas you have views of Newport Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. Across the strait leading into Naragansett Bay you can see the Jamestown shoreline with another solitary century-old mansion set upon a promontory.
Dinner costs from $9 to $13 for the entrees.
The panorama is breath-taking in all four directions from The Penrose Room, atop the nine-story wing of the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs, Colo. The view to the west is of the front range of the majestic Rocky Mountains. Here you get a rare look at the point where the Great Plains end and the Rockies begin. The dining room reflects the opulence of the grand hotels of Europe during the Edwardian era. Excellent meals are served under the direction of executive chef Ricard Bunge. Lunch starts at $4 and dinner at $9.
The Sun Dial atop the 73-story Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta claims it is on top of the tallest hotel in the world. (So does the Summit, atop the 73-story Detroit Plaza hotel. Both were designed by John Portman. Statistics show the Sun Dial is half a foot higher.)
From the Sun Dial you can see all of Atlanta and more. In addition to three levels for dining and cocktails, a lower level revolves completely every hour. You may see 25 miles on a clear day. Hometowners point out such sights as Stone Mountain, the Stadium, Omni International complex and the Capitol building.
Waldo Brum, the executive chef, has a house rule we applaud. Only garden fresh vegetables are served. There are a number of indigenous specialties, such as Georgia Peanut Soup, among the fine continental selections. Dinner averages about $18, without drinks.
The Top of the Crown is an elegant restaurant on the 20th floor of the Crown Center Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri. One of the views is of a rejuvenated section of the city. The other is of the Crown Center Complex. Both are the results of the dream of one man, Joyce C. Hall, the founder of Hallmark Cards. It is a pleasant and rewarding mid-city sight. The restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows enabling diners to see all of Kansas City and the surrounding plains. Dinner is from $16 to $18.
In 1960, after Hawaii became one of the United States, Laurence S. Rockefeller was asked by the government and business leaders of Hawaii to establish a new area attractive to mainland tourists. He came upon the Kohala Coast on the big island of Hawaii and was impressed with its beauty and tranquility. By 1965, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was opened on the remote shores of Kaunaoa Bay, overlooking a perfect crescent beach.
Now operated by Western International Hotels, its three dining rooms have commanding views of the wide Pacific, the fishing and sailing boats, and the clear bay. Proflific vegetation surrounds the beach and on the hill-side in a blaze of tropical colors -- fire red of poinciana, flame orange of African tulip trees, and the pink and white of bougainvillea. In another direction is the majestic volcanic peak of Mauna Kea (White Mountain), usually snowcapped in winter, which rises some 13,000 feet.
Chief R. Achim Dietrich includes eastern and western dishes among the cuisine. Our favorite is a dessert, Macadamia Nut Sour Cream Pie.
Revolving restaurants are established so that diner-viewers may see everything. The first one was built at Dortmund, Germany. Called the Florian Tower, it is atop a radio and TV relay tower built in 1958. We copied it with the Revolving Restaurant at the Seattle World's Fair in 1962. Today there are at least 40 revolving restaurants and many more revolving bars/cocktail lounges around the world.
The world's largest rooftop, counter-revolving restaurant is The Summit, atop the Detroit Plaza Hotel, with an ever-changing 360-degree view of two nations (Detroit, Mich., and Windsor, Canada). Dinner entrees average $13. One of the most recently built is CK's Revolving Restaurant overlooking the international airport in Houston. The view is particularly attractive at dusk, as the lights of the airport, its traffic and of the city in the distance paint a colorful setting for dining. Chef Gerald Valone provides dinners from $15 to $20.
Another noteworthy view is from the Antares Restaurant atop the Reunion Tower of the Dallas Hyatt Regency Hotel. Named for the brightest star in the constellation Scorpius, this restaurant offers a 360-degree picture of the Dallas metropolitan area, and beyond you may see a forest of oil well towers. Dinner ranges from $6 to $15.
Our favorite Florida view to dine by is on the penthouse floor of a condominium in Ft. Lauderdale, and it is called Le Dome of the Four Seasons. One of 11 restaurants in the nation rated five stars by the Mobil Guide, Le Done serves food that is as exceptional as the decor, which favors the French. Views from all sides are pleasant, with three of them giving unobstructed views of the Florida coast and the Atlantic Ocean. Directly below are the boats in the slips of the Four Seasons Marina and attractive homes and gardens along the Intercoastal Canal parallel to the ocean. An excellent dinner is about $16 a person, without wine.
If your feet tire easily, and you love to travel, take our word for it, view dining is the way to go. Where can you see a palace backyard? From the top of the London Hilton (Buckingham Palace) and from Kasteel de Hooge Vuursche in Baaron, Holland (Queen Juliana's palace).