Hours: Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. till 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m. till 6 p.m. Prices: Sandwiches: $4.50-5.95; entrees, $4.50-8.50. Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa
By design, Mazza Gallerie is self-conscious. With its peach paint, green plants, etched glass and angled skylights, it draws all eyes to its own center foyer -- quite a feat, when you think of the flashy, high-hip displays of Neiman-Marcus et al.
With the creation of Cafe Parisienne, Mazza makes a new pun out of "conspicuous consumption." In the foyer bottom, set off by wrought iron from the passing parade -- on stage, as it were -- you can nibble on a predictable but pleasant pastiche of French patisserie and nouveau American cafe.
Despite its being tucked alongside the escalators (which, as some people insist upon addressing the staff while descending, gives it something of the air of a futuristic drive-through), the cafe is pretty. The chairs have verdigris-green, scallop-shell backs that are more comfortable than they look (the tables have too many widespread legs, however), and the smallish, square marble bar is rather distinguished.
The major confusion seems to arise from the fact that the kitchen is off in a store area, from which the food is haphazardly ferried. The staff seems to have inherited the confusion: The hostess is doing accounts, the waiters are seating customers, the bus boy looks incuriously at empty soup bowls for 20 minutes on end and eventually the waiter clears the table.
And, although the menu says that entrees include a house salad and the kitchen's own French bread, we have yet to see a salad, after two visits, and only once the bread basket.
Still, the food that's forgotten is easily asked for (the staff is perfectly sweet, if a trifle erratic). And if you work in the area, go to school nearabouts (hordes of Wilson, St. John's and Immaculata kids pass through the hallways at mealtimes) or take the occasional window tour, it's a good place to take a load off and add a lunch on.
Among the appetizers are artichoke salad, snails in mushroom caps, country-style pate and be-cheesed onion soup (it's like an interior designer's idea of a bistro menu).
The cold vegetable terrine is a boldly-colored layering of pumpkin, potato and spinach, nicely textured but slightly underseasoned. The beef consomme is dark as oxtail and slightly tinny; the soups of the day have been more pleasing, including a rich chicken with fat egg noodles and an almost-too-thick clam chowder.
A salad (caesar, shrimp, chef's) could be a light meal with soup, but the sandwiches are strong contenders here, and a half-sandwich and soup of the day can be had for $4.95. On either French bread or croissant, the cafe piles snowy turkey with swiss, ham and swiss (or all three), chicken or shrimp salad.
Entrees go back to the designer cliche: coq au vin, a seafood Newburg in pastry, and a "paisan" platter of pate, brie and fruit.
Coquilles St. Jacques are nearly delicious, although underflavored. Chicken cordon bleu was marred by not having been skinned, but the breast itself was moist.
One of the cafe's main attractions is its pastry tray. In an era when napoleons are lovely in layers and sawdust on the tongue, these have a sturdy, short pastry and a flavorful, delicate, chocolate cream. Now that's entertainment.