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The two crab "cakes," on the other hand, aren't much bigger than traditional marshmallows, and the ones I sampled had been fried until the exterior was the color of a very old copper penny — and nearly as tough on the teeth. "They're 90 percent crabmeat," my server explained. What's the other 10 percent? I wanted to ask. I took refuge in the accompanying spoonful of slaw — a tart salad with ribbons of Granny Smith and red pepper, bits of red onion and parsley in a sassy champagne vinaigrette.
Van Glabbeek's six entrées can be ordered in either a small "tasting" portion or dinner-sized. I made the mistake of first ordering the petite version of the braised short rib, which was just enough to make me wish I'd asked for two big plates. It's an exquisite, tender beef rib, seared and slow-cooked in red wine and veal stock, and served on a spoonful of creamy herbed orzo. Van Glabbeek says he prefers short ribs to steak, and he serves it like he means it: The Reserve's ribs are a blue-chip affair.
More surprising: The blackened-chicken sandwich — a dull obligation on most menus — kicks ass here. The kitchen rubs the bird breast in a blend of allspice, pepper, cayenne, cinnamon and chili powder, then sears it, slathers a piece of puffy focaccia with chipotle mayonnaise, and drops the meat onto it with a slice of pepper jack cheese.
There's not much meatless here, though, outside of salads, a plate of hummus and flatbread, and most of the side dishes (including a wonderful, rich, vegetarian-friendly macaroni and cheese that's blanketed in a thick sauce made with cheddar, Parmesan and nutty Gruyere). The only meatless sandwich on the lunch menu is an awkward concoction of al dente lentils, crumbles of feta, chopped tomato and arugula daintily spooned between two thin slices of bland flatbread. I found the one I tried impossible to cut, clumsy to eat and visually boring. (I failed to sample the dinner menu's pappardelle pasta, which comes in a seasonal-vegetable ragoût. I plead ribs.)
The kitchen bakes some kind of quiche every day, but a more memorable lunch entrée is the platter of tempura-battered sunfish, fried and served with a spicy poblano coleslaw, and house fries as thick as chubby Crayolas. (Their girth comes at a price, though; they need to be a hell of a lot crispier.)
If the server tells you that the praline cheesecake is made on-site, he's lying through his pearly teeth. It's mediocre anyway. You're better off with the fine house-made beignets, rolled in vanilla sugar, or a really dense devil's-food cupcake, topped with espresso meringue rather than with sticky frosting. The ice-cream sandwich is surrounded with house-made chocolate-chip cookies, which are crispy and delicious, but it's another small-plate-style notion, not a dessert made for sharing.
The servers I've encountered here so far are as friendly as can be, but their style doesn't yet have the polish that a sleek room like the Reserve deserves. One regaled us with his life story (a cliffhanger — he just graduated from college), and a lunch waitress another day frequently disappeared to see to her room-service duties. (I spotted her wheeling a tacky-looking cart toward the elevators. Scandalously, the lunch dishes had not been placed under metal covers.)
"We have a few kinks we need to work out," Lenny, a manager here who used to work at the Raphael, told me.