Opened in 1977, the River Café sits on a floating barge underneath the Brooklyn Bridge and is perhaps New York City’s best known restaurant located outside of Manhattan. A couple of years ago, as I was enjoying a beer at the South Street Seaport, I spied the River Café from the outdoor deck and wondered what the food and view would be like from the Brooklyn side of the East River.
My better half and I decided to celebrate a special occasion (my birthday) at the River Café. We took a taxi from our mid-town hotel (about $25 one way), and were cheerfully greeted by the maitre d’ who was wearing a bow tie. Fortunately, that night I also decided to wear a bow tie, and when the affable host noticed it, he decided to seat us at a window table. He asked us to wait at the bar for a few minutes, and we ordered glasses of prosecco. Here, I was disappointed because the prosecco was served in 187 ml mini bottles with twist off caps. I thought that in a restaurant of this caliber (and for $11 a glass), they should have poured the sparkling wine from the larger 750 ml bottles.
The River Café was simply decorated with nautical themes. On the left side of the main room was the small bar and cocktail lounge that was open to the dining area which occupied the majority of the space. Though the tables were not exactly on top of each other, they were close together, and when the restaurant is crowded, as it was on the Saturday evening that we were there, you do not get a lot of privacy. However, every table was placed to afford maximum views from the large front windows that looked out over the East River. These windows, and the views from them, defined the restaurant’s atmosphere. If you are lucky enough, as we were, to get a seat right next to the window, you will get a bird’s eye view of the underside of the Brooklyn Bridge, the boats on the water, and, of course, the skyscrapers of the Financial District with the new World Trade Center spiraling upward.
The Food and Wine
The restaurant is the recipient of one Michelin Star and offers a three course prix fixe menu for $100 or a six course tasting for $125. We chose the three course menu, and I had the cold Foie Gras Two Ways for an appetizer while my better half had the warm Sautéed Hudson Valley Foie Gras. For an additional $4.50, a tasting of 2003 Maison Nicolas Reserve Sauternes was offered with the foie gras. This made for a classic food pairing, and perfectly complemented our appetizers which were soft, rich and creamy melting on the tongue. For a main course I ordered the rack of lamb which was a good size portion that was cooked to the medium rare temperature that I specified. The other entree was the crisp duck breast which was, unfortunately, a bit dry. A specialty for dessert was handmade chocolate in the shape of the Brooklyn Bridge. That seemed a bit touristy for us so we ordered the toffee cake and caramel parfait. Both were good, but neither had a wow factor.
The wine list is a recipient of Wine Spectator’s Best of Award of Excellence and features many noteworthy and expensive selections. From France, a bottle of 1990 Chateau Petrus was offered at $10,000 while a cult cabernet from California, Screaming Eagle 2001, went for $3,000. However, there were more modest selections including a nice list by the glass that ranged from $11 to $22. Because we started with prosecco and sauternes, I decided on just a half bottle of wine (there was a nice selection of about 20 halves) and ordered a 2006 Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru Les Ruchots ($80 half bottle) which went well with our main courses.
Service at the River Café was old world and professional. The captain, waiter, busboys and sommelier all worked in concert to keep the evening flowing smoothly. Wine and water glasses were never left empty, and dirty plates were cleared in a timely manner. Seated next to us was a young military couple celebrating the husband’s return home from Afghanistan, and the wait staff went out of their way to make the evening memorable for them.
The River Café is an expensive restaurant. Figure almost $400 for two with tax, tip and modest wine. However, for locals looking to celebrate a special birthday, anniversary or event, this restaurant will certainly fit the bill. For tourists visiting the Big Apple, the River Café is a worthy choice for that one special “only in New York” evening.
Address: The River Café, 1 Water Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Hours: Lunch (Mon – Fri): Noon – 3pm: Sat: 11:30am – 2:30pm
Dinner (Mon – Sun): 5:30pm – 11:00pm
Sunday Brunch: 11:30am – 2:30pm
Attire: Jackets required for gentlemen for dinner.
Transportation: The River Café uses a car service to take you back to Manhattan. Midtown rate is about $30.