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I don't dine at EBT often, but I'm always delighted when I do. The entertainment begins at the front door, where there's a handsome pianist doing his thing on the baby grand. Then a cool blond hostess carries the menus, designed like an artist's portfolio, as if they contained the Dead Sea Scrolls. With surprising grace and agility, black-clad servers maneuver their rolling, tile-topped carts through the dining room for showy tableside dishes, including the Caesar salad pour deux that Billy and I shared. Our young server, Misty, mixed up the ingredients for a garlic vinaigrette dressing (complete with a coddled egg) in a big wooden bowl before adding the chopped romaine and an overabundance of croutons. I liked the salad a lot, but Billy sniffed at the limp greens and was scandalized by all the croutons. "The preparation is a lot more exciting than the finished product,"he complained.
While Billy regaled me with his memories of the original EBT "The elevator operators were ladies shifting this manual lever device, and they never quite got level with the floor" Misty served our dinners: tender slices of smoked duck breast for me, a flaky hunk of pan-blackened escolar splashed with a sassy Creole sauce for Billy. The duck, sided by a slab of au gratin potatoes, was tasty, but there was barely a drizzle of the lingonberry barbecue sauce that the menu had promised. And Billy couldn't get over the fact that his fish, lolling on a bed of black beans and rice, was served in a bowl. "It's not a pasta or a soup," he griped, "and it's too hard to eat this way."
We decided against dessert because, other than the bananas Foster, all of the selections sounded so ordinary. "At the old Emery Bird Thayer Tea Room," Bill said with a sigh, "they served homemade ice cream with a silver pitcher of chocolate sauce." That, alas, was not on the EBT menu.
Whereas Billy was underwhelmed by EBT, my friends Kathi and Susie were far more enthusiastic dinner guests. It had been nearly a decade since they had dined there. "It's really a special-occasion place and kind of expensive," Susie said.
The women liked the whimsy of the new chandeliers and were relieved to find small signature touches (fresh flowers on the table and silvery baskets heaped with buttery, toasted bread crisps) intact. Our server, Gerri, an eight-year veteran here, assured us that even though the look of the place had changed, chef Russ Muehlberger's menu still evoked the old restaurant's continental spirit.
After sharing a tiny grilled flatbread topped with olive tapenade and a blanket of gooey mozzarella, Kathi and Susie split a dish of marinated asparagus dotted with slivers of salty prosciutto and chewy figs. Meanwhile, I was presented a bowl no, more like a small vat almost overflowing with a creamy, wonderful clam chowder. It was enough for four people, but I did a good job on my own.
Kathi couldn't fathom Muehlberger's concept of a parmesan-breaded sea bass in a bowl of pasta with Alfredo sauce, but when it arrived, she was crazy about the gorgeous piece of flaky fish atop fat, twisty fusilloni noodles in a feather-light cream sauce studded with chopped tomatoes, garlic and capers. And Susie, who knows her lamb, insisted that EBT's luscious coriander-grilled chops, served with cranberry relish and a supple shallot marmalade, are the best in the city. The two of them dined modestly, saving half of their dinners to take home, but I greedily pounced on my meal, a meaty shank of braised Berkshire pork slowly cooked, osso-buco style, and sided with a rustic sausage and apple dressing. I cleaned my plate, so I opted to pass on dessert and let my two guests share the bananas Foster.