I’ve known about Brasserie Ruhlmann in Rockefeller Center for several years. My boss at a law firm job back then used to meet clients for lunch there all the time. I always wanted to go, but of course the question in my mind was: would they do dairy free well?
Well, I am happy to report that they do dairy free very well. I made a reservation for our lunch at the Brasserie through Open Table, and made sure to indicate in the “Comments” section that I am allergic to dairy and would appreciate suggestions that would accommodate my allergy. When we arrived, our server asked which one of us was the person with the allergy, and then proceeded to tell me which items on their lunch menu I could have.
I ordered the chicken paillard, and it was fabulous. Part of my goal for 2013 is to eat appropriate meal portions, not to overeat all the time, and the paillard was just the right amount of food. The chicken was moist, the salad on top had just the right amount of red onion (many restaurants in my experience overload their salads with red onion), the dressing was great. For dessert I had mixed sorbet – pear, raspberry and passion fruit – a lovely way to finish the lunch.
The food, of course, is only half the pleasure of Brasserie Ruhlmann. Since it is part of the Rockefeller Center complex of buildings, it is designed all in Art Deco. From the floor to the ceiling light fixtures, from the entrance way to the bathroom sinks, everything is stylish and delightful.
And the restaurant’s location is a great selling point for it, since it is on the edge of Rockefeller Plaza, the pedestrian area in the middle of Rockefeller Center. One of the most popular features of the Center, the ice skating rink, is just across the street, sunken one level below the sidewalk. Outdoor ice skating rinks are a center for recreational activity in New York City in the winter, and the Rockefeller Center rink is the most popular such rink, especially for tourists visiting New York.
I am afraid that many tourists miss Brasserie Ruhlmann, hiding in plain sight across from the rink. They are more likely to eat at places like Rock Center Cafe, an overpriced restaurant in the Concourse under Rockefeller Center which boasts windowside tables facing the skating rink. But there are lots of other options in the Concourse, like Bill’s Bar & Burger.
Since I worked for a number of years for law firms near Rockefeller Center, I got to know the Concourse level, and its various restaurants and public seating. For example, without paying Rock Center Cafe’s high prices, you can still have a good view of the people skating in a couple of seating areas that face onto the rink.
Besides the good food and fun ice skating in Rockefeller Center, the biggest draw for me is the art which one sees everywhere. The design of spaces like the Brasserie Ruhlmann dining room, which I mentioned above, is one good example. And the Center’s most poignant artworks are the many wonderful sculptures that are permanent parts of the Center. The most famous is probably Paul Manship‘s Prometheus, a mammoth gold leaf-plated sculpture which faces the skating rink on the lower level. Lee Lawrie‘s Atlas, which stands on 5th Avenue across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, is another popular one.
My personal favorite, however, is Isamu Noguchi‘s bas relief entitled “News” which is over the entrance to 50 Rockefeller Plaza (the former Associated Press building), at the north end of the plaza. One of Noguchi’s last figural works, it displays in a fabulously stylized manner the various roles carried out by newsmakers, from the photographer to the reporter who types out the story.
One of the reasons I love “News” is that it reminds me of the ennoblement of the worker that is at the heart of Rockefeller Center’s raison d’etre. In the 1930s, money from the WPA put huge numbers of Americans back to work building monumental structures like New York City’s Triborough Bridge, and the herculean efforts of those workers, the modern era their labor helped to usher in, and a resulting optimistic view towards the future, is commemorated in Rockefeller Center’s art.