Open for lunch Monday through Saturday 12 to 3 p.m., for dinner daily 6 to 10 p.m. Sunday brunch 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. AE, MC, V. Reservations suggested. Prices for lunch and dinner: Appetizers $4 to $7.50, main dishes $9 to $16, desserts $3.75 to $6. Full dinner with wine, tax and tip about $40 a person.
When a catering company opens a restaurant it puts itself on the line. What the public expects is a view of what private catering is all about, a glimpse into the parties of the rich and famous. If that were true at Glorious Cafe, the restaurant spinoff of Glorious Food, nobody would try very hard to be rich and famous, because you can eat a lot better than that at many an everyday meal. And a lot cheaper.
What is glorious about this cafe is the environment, an L-shaped space magnified bmirrored and windowed walls showing a large courtyard that would be delightful for al fresco lunches. Greek columns and huge stone vases of flowers introduce a grandeur. A marble bar and bare marble tables with black marble service plates carry it further. The black metal hinged menus contrasting with the homey cushions on bamboo chairs. Even more decorative are the waiters; Glorious Foods has always been known for hiring waiters who look like models and dressing them dashingly, in this case in short, fitted, gold- braided white jackets. In all, Glorious Caf,e looks sophisticated enough to meet one's highest anticipations.
The menu is short but encouraging, offering choices to suit every mood from a little salad to a pizza to full dinner -- though the tiny tables, barely large enough to accommodate any more decoration than salt shakers, suggest light suppers. No matter the hour, you can have grilled swordfish with anchovy butter, a steak with french fries, three kinds of fish in a court bouillon or hamburgers -- in this case two small ones, one with roquefort, accompanied by french fries and ratatouille, for $10. There is usually pizza among the daily specials -- also at $10 -- and there are main-dish salads such as papaya and seafood, watercress and endive with smoked goose breast or grilled chicken with green beans, as well as a chef's salad. The 10 main dishes on the regular menu also include seafood casserole and fried sole, roast chicken with mustard sauce and grilled lamb chops or veal paillard; daily specials are likely to include a stew, an omelet and a pasta. Among the appetizers are smoked salmon, seviche, pasta primavera, salad with baked goat cheese, cold sea bass and several soups. The short wine list starts at $12 but climbs steeply; there are some nice wines by the glass starting at $3, including Roederer brut nonvintage champage at $6.
The restaurant kitchen is separate from the catering kitchen, I am told. Certainly its products are less interesting and less glamorous looking. Among the caf,e's better dishes -- and it has been consistently good -- is the roast chicken with mustard. The meat is fairly juicy and the creamy sauce is sharp enough that you know it is mustard but not so strong that it overwhelms. It is not a great dish, but quite satisfying. The veal paillard, too, has been nicely done, grilled quickly so that it is slightly smoky and caramelized but not overcooked, and topped with slices of rosemary butter that gradually melt to moisten it. There are other pleasures as well: the seafood salad with perfectly ripe papaya cubes and tarragon in a light creamy, mustardy vinaigrette; the seafood casserolette including chunks of lovely sweet lobster and a standard creamy wine sauce; the tiny scallops tossed with finely diced hot green and red bell peppers in a mild seviche; the beautiful pearly coral hand-carved smoked salmon sprinkled with peppercorns and chives. The bread service is endearing -- warm rolls served from a basket, and two butters -- plain and herb. From time to time chicken livers have been saut,eed perfectly to a just-pink interior, and the hamburger tastes as if the meat had been minced in-house rather than machine-ground. Poached fish in court bouillon is a beautiful presentation of batons of fish fanned out in a circle, with court bouillon ladled over it and a crusty browned potato cake accompanying it.
But that fish and bouillon had so little flavor the dish fell flat; that smoked salmon was served with toast so heavily buttered that it dripped, which hardly suited the dish. And seafood dishes have repeatedly teamed fine shrimp and lobster with stringy, bland crab meat. The cold poached sea bass tasted watery and couldn't be saved by its tarragon mayonnaise. An omelet at brunch one day was cooked to rigidity, and the french fries were freshly made but so pale and crunchy that it seemed as if somebody had forgotten the second frying and left them half raw. Another day the swordfish smelled and tasted rank. (The waiter took it back and removed it from the bill, but somebody should have noticed its smell before it left the kitchen.) Pasta with wild mushrooms was just that -- just tossed with mushrooms, dry and dull. And a stew of duck and veal had a commendable dark, rich sauce and nicely caramelized batons of vegetable, but the meats were so hard and dry that you couldn't tell the veal from the duck. The fact that the air-dried beef with slivers of parmesan was good said more for the supplier than for the kitchen.
One should hardly bother with pizza at such an eclectic restaurant unless it is superb. But here it doesn't come close, with crackery crust and half-cooked onions that add only bitterness to the bland chunky tomato sauce.
In other words, far too much goes wrong at Glorious Caf,e, and what goes right is not so exceptional to warrant prices such as $15 for the ragout, the wan fish in court bouillon or the grilled swordfish; $4 to $5 for soups, $ to $7 for appetizers. These are not prices one expects to pay in a caf,e where there are neither tablecloths nor bread plates and where the cost is set to absorb expensive service or accouterments. Nor are they prices one is willing to pay for food that is ordinary, forgettable and only sometimes meets expectations. Desserts, too, are high: $6 for sorbets -- good ones, but well they should be -- and $4 to $6 for rather good but not wonderful mousses, souffl,es and fruits with liquered sauces.
The service could compensate, but it doesn't. Charm and handsomeness don't long cover its flaws -- excessive waits for appetizers and not even the offer of bread to keep one occupied. "Would you like another coffee?" a waiter asked, but apparently he was only curious, for he never brought it. There is considerably more attention than efficiency.
At best this should have been named the O.K. Cafe. Glorious? Not close.