Tuesday, May 6, 2008

44 and X, a "heavenly" dining experience in Hell's Kitchen

I had a bad day yesterday. I'm talking one of those quintessentially crappy Mondays at work where everything goes wrong and by the end you're trying to make it out the door before you start crying. Fortunately, I had a date to go to dinner with my brother Monday evening-- a fact that sustained me through every excruciating, soul-crushing hour.

I finally escaped from work, my stomach rumbling and my head throbbing, around 6:15. I fled down three avenues from my office to the lovely little white-wood-paneled restaurant front of 44 and X. Immediately I felt a bit better-- and I hadn't even gone inside yet. Things were looking up.

Once in the door, I was greeted by perhaps the friendliest hostess I have ever encountered in my life. I arrived there before my brother, and the hostess and I engaged in some delightful banter before I planted myself at the bar for a few minutes. Nursing a glass of ice water, I watched the passers-by on Tenth Avenue outside the window. Soon, my brother arrived and we were shown to our seats. The hostess joked that I was the only girl ever to choose the chair over the bench when given the option. We both interpreted that as her making fun of my brother and made fun of her in kind. You could cut the witty repartee with a knife.

The bright, airy atmosphere and bustling waitstaff

Safely ensconced in our table, we looked over the menu. 44 and X is not a cheap restaurant, but it's not overpriced, either; my brother commented that it would be a solid date place, nice enough to show you're not cheap but not stuffy or expensive enough to make you regret coming there. As we decided what to order, a waiter brought over two lovely, crusty multigrain rolls, which we devoured. The rolls came accompanied by a dish of sweet butter, delicious but highly chilled and therefore a bit less than spreadable. But I'm splitting hairs, here-- that's one of my only complaints about the entire experience.

A seeded multigrain roll, just enough to quell my hunger momentarily

We placed our orders and chatted for a bit, and soon our food arrived. I ordered a mixed greens salad with cherry tomatoes and a sherry-herb vinaigrette. I had had my eye on the Mediterranean chopped salad, but when the waiter described it, it seemed not to have what I was looking for (i.e., there were too many peppers. And we all know what peppers do to me...). So the mixed greens would have to do. They arrived as a bountiful plate of greenage with a few tomatoes scattered here and there. It was a fairly substantial salad, and the tomatoes were particularly delicious-- they had soaked up extra amounts of the sherry-herb mixture and were quite flavorful. I polished off my plate quickly.

Foliage-- delicious, delicious foliage

My brother ordered the burger, which he upgraded with a slice of cheddar cheese (N.B.: said slice of cheddar cost $3. That's my second-- and only other-- complaint about this restaurant). The burger was preceded by a small tray of ketchup and mustard. I'm posting the picture here just because it was cute, but my brother noted that the servings of these condiments were unusually generous for a restaurant.

Classy ketchup and mustard

The burger was accompanied by a medium-size stack of thin shoestring fries, dusted with a coating of herbs and salt. I tried a fry, and it was definitely on the better side of serviceable, hot and crunchy but a tiny bit too thin for my taste.

The burger is in there somewhere...

The burger arrived well-cooked at the requested medium temperature. As a special bonus-- mad props to 44 and X for this-- instead of a run-of-the-mill bun, the patty came perched on an English muffin. So cool!

English muffin bun

The carnage, so to speak

And... done.

As my brother polished off his burger, I cleaned my plate of the greens. Our waiter returned to take away our plates, and he ribbed me that it looked as though I had licked the plate. I would have, good sir, were it socially acceptable.

Both of us pretty full (me primarily from the bread, my bro from the burger), we decided to skip dessert and asked for the check. The $3 slice of cheese and cold butter aside, 44 and X got rave reviews from us both. The staff is exceptionally friendly, the food is very good, and the place is welcoming, bright, and cheerful. I'd want to go back to check out the creative cocktails, the desserts, and maybe even the roasted beet and goat cheese terrine, an interesting-looking starter that I passed up this time around. If you can think of no other reason to make the trek to 10th avenue and 44th street, go for the bathrooms. I'm serious. The bathroom on the main floor (there's a set underground as well) is the most pimped-out, boudoir-style, rose-strewn candlelit restaurant bathroom I've ever seen. I tried to take pictures, but the crazily romantic atmosphere was too much for my camera to handle. And this way, you'll just have to go see for yourself!

My brother and I walked out full and happy, with 44 and X firmly on our list of great new neighborhood finds.

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