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Will Gustav Mahler Help With Your Digestion at Lincoln Center Restaurant?

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Eater critic Robert Sietsema offers a first glimpse of the new restaurant inside Avery Fisher Hall.

[All photos by Robert Siestema]
[All photos by Robert Siestema]

It seemed like a good idea – a restaurant in the lobby of a great urban concert hall. Instead of buying tickets for the symphony, you could blow the same dough in the restaurant, while the piped-in orchestra music played in the background. Who wants to actually watch a musical performance in miniature from your perch among the rafters when you could be feeding your face instead? That’s the apparent lure of newcomer Lincoln Center Kitchen in Avery Fisher Hall.

Of course, restaurants carved out from building lobbies are never very satisfactory in appearance. This one occupies a barely fenced-off area opposite the grand stairs that ascend to the theater seats, with its overall L shape dodging pillars and running along the picture windows that look out onto the subway entrance. Actually, it’s fun to see patrons climbing out of the 1 train in tuxedos and floor-length designer dresses straightening their outfits one last time. Even though the restaurant has only been open a couple of weeks, it was three-quarters full when a friend and I dropped by recently.

The menu aims to present great American standards in a contemporary idiom, at slightly shocking prices. Thus sailed in three deviled eggs ($14), each a little carved boat with a mast of bacon and cargo of black caviar. The bacon, alas, was thick and tough, and chewing it eclipsed the creamy and salty pleasures of the rest. We’d arrived at 7, and the concert – Mahler’s First Symphony, conducted by Alan Gilbert – was scheduled to commence at 7:30. As we were finishing up to the eggs, The P.A. came to life with the loud sounds of an orchestra tuning up, horns blaring out of tune, strings sawing away at a volume too loud for a restaurant.

While the deviled eggs were technically a Snack, our next two dishes were drawn from the Starters: a salad of "Jones farm lettuce" (capitalization theirs, $13) and a wild mushroom popover ($14). The salad was too lightly dressed and almost all lettuce; the popover was huge, partly justifying the price, but the mushrooms were bland and slippery.

At this point, the first of three scratchy recorded fanfares blared out to summon milling patrons to their seats. It was the best spectacle of the evening: concertgoers pushing up the stairs en masse, and our fellow diners dropping their napkins and rapidly herding themselves out of the restaurant and into the lobby. We were left almost alone in the 100-seat space, with only a single other table occupied by a guy who was clearly drunk, and a female companion who seemed to slump in her seat from shame.

While the earlier dishes had been so-so, the entrees took flight, suggesting that one could skip the starters entirely and eat the mains as if they were blue plate specials in a diner. The roasted baby chicken ($28) was a diminutive pullet sided with chunky hominy grits and king oyster mushrooms, grilled so that they looked like lobes of foie gras. The Skuna Bay salmon ($31) was an orange fillet atop a satisfyingly large cushion of basil-laced mashed potatoes – real rib-sticking fare.

But the high point of the meal had to be the apple crisp with a scoop of cinnamon ice cream. Unfortunately, when Mahler finally came to life over the lobby speakers, it was at such a low volume, that we had to strain to hear it and then could barely make the notes, denying us the combined music-food satisfaction that we’d sought. Lincoln Center Kitchen: When the music begins in the concert hall, PUMP UP THE RESTAURANT VOLUME! 10 Lincoln Center Plaza, Avery Fisher Hall, (212) 874-7000

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