New York City was covered with a soft blanket of white. Snow stopped falling. White dusted the esplanade on Park Avenue. Christmas decorations glistened at every pedestrian entrance to stately buildings. People huddled in their scarves and mufflers, rushing home in the cold crisp air. The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel stood out in the cold. Flags unfurled, doormen whistling down taxi cabs, people coming and going. It is an American landmark. An oasis in midtown Manhattan. An icon of beautiful construction that mixes art-deco with turn of the century opulence.
There is always something going on at the Waldorf. Banquets, parties, events, conventions. The complex takes up an entire city block between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue east and west and 49th and 50th Streets north and south.
A grand mosaic inlaid in the mezzanine entrance was obscured by men and women in evening wear. Their event spilled out into the lobby. Good cheer radiated everywhere. Walking through the happy melee lead to the main atrium. On one side guests check in, the other boasts the fabled restaurant Peacock Alley and bar. Piano music drifted across the room. Visitors paused for photographs at the base of the Waldorf’s magnificent antique clock, center piece of the hall.
One of New York’s best restaurants is located on the Lexington Avenue side of the hotel. The Bull and Bear has been a city tradition for decades. It is of burnished dark mahogany wood panels, gigantic mirrors, a large bar area with a unique round of liquor bottles in the middle service area, stacked up to a kind of pyramid. There is always a crowd around the bar after working hours. It has been the traditional haunt of Wall Street brokers, financial analysts, professional people and those seeking a drink and convivial company. Bull and Bear is a landmark. Its hallmark is derived from the stock market’s ups and downs. Vigor and frenzy in a bullish economy, its hibernating bear and reticence in a downturn.
A lighted digital ticker-tape runs around one side of the bar room. Perhaps it is for ambiance, perhaps because patrons earn their livelihoods from the stock market. At the end of the day, an hour or more after the New York Stock Exchange’s closing bell, the Bull and Bear takes patrons to another world. It offers a warm atmosphere in pleasing surroundings for cocktails. Favorite libation in hand, business weary guests are transformed into social beings once more.
In a separate room the stately restaurant prevails. Experienced servers cater to the tastes of patrons. The Bull and Bear Restaurant is popular with families as well as Hollywood stars, the rich and famous as well as visitors to New York. Whatever the calling, Bull and Bear serves up good, wholesome fare.
Matt Schindler is Chef de Cuisine. He came to the Waldorf-Astoria ten months ago after a three- year stint at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hampshire, south of London. Matt hails from Seattle, Washington where he served his apprenticeship twenty years ago.
Of cooking, Matt says, “I liked it right from the start. I was washing dishes at the age of fifteen. I needed the cash,” he laughed. When asked what he liked to cook, this affable chef replied, “Honestly. I eat very healthy at home. Roasting a whole chicken is one of the things I love to do. It is the best you can do. I’ve been here ten months, there is so much to learn here.”
Matt took a pan and stirred mushrooms to garnish one of Bull and Bear’s prime Angus steaks. As Chef de Cuisine, Matt is responsible for both restaurants, Peacock Alley and Bull and Bear. One entire floor of the hotel is devoted to the main banquet kitchens. The Waldorf-Astoria is a world’s centers for meetings, conventions and events. They require fine food. The two restaurants offer guests and visitors alike good fare and elegant service.
Jessica Fusco, Food and Beverage Manager, seated us at a window table. Tall windows with dark wood venetian blinds at top, its large pane inscribed with ornate scrollwork on the sides. The hallmark double Bs of the restaurant were in the middle. The window gave a view of bustling Lexington Avenue. A cold wind blew outside, snow melted on the busy street as taxis and buses headed south, one way traffic. The window offered insight into Manhattan’s grand canyons. Inside the table was snug and cozy.
A comfortable leather settee and leather upholstered chair with the privacy of a balcony where other tables were spaced to make it perfect. The table was set with a ribbed pattern linen cloth, slightly beige, with large matching napkins. A heavy brass lamp holder supported a delicate shade that sheltered a flickering candle. Crystal goblets and glasses, china plates, fine place settings, wooden pepper mill and salt shaker were perfect attributes to Bull and Bear’s leather bound fifteen-page wine list.
Wines by the glass or bottle are offered as rare vintages as well as excellent sommelier choices. Some examples from the wine list include sparkling Cava from Spain $15 the glass $60 a bottle. Prosecco La Marca from Veneto, Italy is $18/72. Moet and Chandon Champagne from France is $25/95. The Veuve Clicquot is $35/70. The list includes excellent reserve Champagnes like Charles Heidsieck brut reserve from Reims $165 a bottle. Krug Grande Cuvee, brut from Reims is $425 and vintage Krug bottled in 2000 is $720 a bottle.
White wines include Sauvignon blanc from Jean Vincent in Sancerre 2012, $18/72. Chardonnay David Stone 2011 from California is $16/64. Red lovers will find their favorite Pinot Noir from Ramsay Northcoast, California 2012 at $18/72. Merlot from Raymond in California 2011 is $18/72. For the grand ‘consommateur’ there is Dom Perignon rose Champagne from Epernay a 1998 vintage $825 as well as Perrier-Jouet “Fleur de Champagne” rose from Epernay bottled in 2002 for $880. Burgundy’s offering of Domaine de la Romanee Conti “Richebourg” Grand Cru bottled in 2004 is $1200 a bottle for the grand connoisseur.
Jessica Fusco told us that the chef is preparing a special Christmas eve dinner menu. “I cannot tell you yet, because he is still working on it. It will be a very special Christmas eve meal. On Christmas day we will serve a prix-fixe dinner.” Jessica presented an elegant menu. The tall binding balanced a blend of milk chocolate and dark chocolate colored leather. Inside the offerings were all tempting.
Appetizers include iced shellfish. Oysters, shrimp and lobster. We chose the shellfish platter. It came to table as an iced tower. Alaskan crab legs graced the tower with perfectly chilled shrimp, oysters, lump crabmeat and Maine lobster. The lobster was shelled, its shells left to decorate the plate. At $35 for one or $65 for a large table serving the iced shellfish platter is a highlight for any meal at Bull and Bear. It is as tastefully arranged and as appetizing to look at as it is to eat. All of the seafood was fresh and cooked to perfection. Oysters are uncooked and served on the half-shell.
For a hot appetizer the menu offers pan seared day boat scallops. Lobster bisque has the wonderful flavor of pumpkin and savory Maine lobster. There is Bull and Bear’s onion soup gratinee and jumbo lump crab cake. Appetizers run from $14 to $25 for the crab cake.
Bull and Bear is known for its dry-aged Angus prime beef. Only a very small percentage of Angus beef is judged to be of the highest quality. The U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for the designation ‘Prime’ are rigorous. The Waldorf-Astoria has extensive meat storage coolers where beef is dry-aged from 28 days to 60 days for their American Kobe Wagyo rib-eye.
Steak lovers will relish Bull and Bear’s long bone prime rib-eye. The 30 ounce portion is dry-aged for 28 days and served hot and juicy from the grill, $79. The 5 ounce beef tournedo crusted with blue cheese is $48. New York strip, a 14 ounce prime steak, is $57. The Black Angus filet mignon is 10 ounces of tender, succulent meat, $50.
For chicken lovers there is roasted chicken with toasted pecans, $34. Double-cut rack of lamb grown in Colorado is $53. The ocean provides king salmon steak, pan seared with lemon butter sauce, $36. Grilled Block Island swordfish is served with tomato and basil, $46. Dover sole ‘meuniere’ with browned lemon butter is $59. Sides of asparagus, steamed spinach, mushrooms, onion rings and potatoes run from $12 to $14.
Bull and Bear is one restaurant where room should be saved for dessert. Of all the temptations like New York cheesecake, toffee bread pudding, apple crisp and red velvet cake the ‘piece de resistance’ is their dark chocolate Budino. The sensation is served with a scoop of Bull and Bear’s own peanut butter ice cream. The chocolate sensation melts on the tongue and is savory on the palate as it dissolves in the mouth.
Dining out is as much entertainment and enjoying the company of family and friends in comfortable surroundings as it is eating. Bull and Bear Restaurant is convivial in any season. It is one of the world’s iconic places to dine. Chef de Cuisine Matt Schindler has brought his own signature and culinary experience with him. For all its sophistication and grand dining, Matt is aware that dishes he and the skilled staff of chefs and cooks prepare serve people with individual tastes and preferences for food.
Matt returned to his memory of good home cooking when he said, “My Mom loved that kind of stuff.” If his preparations pass that test, you know the offering will be delicious. The season is upon us and New York is decked out for Christmas. What better time to visit the Waldorf-Astoria and enjoy a Bull and Bear meal.
For more information visit their website at www.waldorfnewyork.com or call 212 872 4606 for reservations.