WHETHER YOU like the holidays or whether you loathe them, you still have got to eat. And since even Christmas-haters like to eat well, I would advise them to go and spend some money on the best dinner in town. If you live in New York City, that means the Grill Room of the Four Seasons restaurant, where the food is as fresh as can be, quality all the way through, and sufficiently different and well prepared to make for a memorable meal.
The Grill Room gained fame as the luncheon place of New York’s richest and most influential men, who gathered there for the “Power Lunch.” I don’t know what effect the market crash has had on Power Lunches, but I do know that at night, when the powerful men are not here, the Grill Room has become a much more attractive restaurant for ordinary mortals–a spot where you might want to dine with your beloved, rather than a place where you might negotiate a takeover deal. The room has been totally refurbished–new banquettes, new carpets, new linens, new dishes, lights on every table, and waiters wearing the conventional black garb rather than the seasonal outfits for which the Four Seasons is famous.
Now, at the Grill Room, you can eat food that is simply magnificent, such as Shrimp and Corn Cakes with Ginger and Cilantro ($15) and Baked Oysters with Golden Caviar ($13.50), to mention but two of the appetizers; and main dishes such as Deviled Lamb Chops with an Eggplant Timbale ($32.50), Baked Quail Stuffed with Oysters and Sausage ($32), and three kinds of curry: Mild Chicken ($29), Spicy Shrimp ($33), and Extra Spicy Beef ($30). (It may be a comfort to know that many appetizers and main dishes can be shared by two people or more.) The desserts are as good as any you ever ate. A Chocolate Cake with Peaches was great, and so was a choice of Autumn Fruits with Fresh Raspberry Sauce. The wine list, by the way, has been scaled down from the usual Four Seasons prices. The wine by the glass is not the usual plonk, but a reputable white or red potion, and fine vintage wines, different from those on the list, are offered at reasonable prices.
Still, the Grill Room is not a cheap place to eat, by any means. It is, however, a restaurant where every ingredient used is of the very best to be found anywhere, and where the quality of the ingredients is matched by the quality of the cooking (and where the imaginative dishes send even me, who like plain and yet plainer things). The credit goes to Seppi Renggli, one of the great chefts of the world, without whom neither the Pool Room nor the Grill Room would be what it is.
Renggli, who is a very good-looking man as well as a great chef, is of Swiss origin. He is innovative without being fussy, and has picked up ideas from many different parts of the globe. For me, the distinction of Chef Renggli’s cooking lies in the unexpected combinations of ingredients, such as wontons filled with wild mushrooms, or the unbelievably thinly shredded blanched vegetables that are served with his venison and polenta dishes (polenta livened up with gorgonzola and cream, as far as I can make out). In a future column, I will discuss Renggli’s Spa Cuisine, which he invented and which has been imitated quite often, but without the original’s healthful purpose.
But what are the poverty-stricken to do this Yuletide? Well, they can gorge themselves on the two great cakes that Chef Renggli developed especially for this “Delectations.” These cakes can be prepared in a home kitchen, that being one of the conditions set, which Chef Renggli honored. Of course, it would be nice if one or the other cake were baked to give to someone as a gift. After all, isn’t Christmas the time to think of someone else besides ourselves?
GRAND MARNIER POUND CAKE 9 tablespoons (4-1/2 oz.) sweet butter 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup mixed dried fruit (glace fruit) 2 large eggs 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder Juice and zest of one orange 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
But the bottom and sides of a one-quart loaf pan. Line the bottom with waxed paper and then butter the paper.
Cream the butter and sugar and mixed dried (glace) fruit in the bowl of an electric mixer, on high speed, until l ight and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the sifted flour and baking powder, a little at a time. Fold in the orange juice, zest, and Grand Marnier. Pour the batter into the pan and bake in a 400[deg.] oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove cake and cool on a wire rack. Topping: 1/2 cup lemon icing 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped 1/4 cup dried (glace) fruit, diced
Glaze cake with lemon icing and sprinkle with nuts and dried fruit.
ORANGE CRANBERRY CAKE 8 eggs, separated, at room temperature 1/8 teaspoon salt 1/2 cup sugar 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1/2 cup sifted cornstarch 1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
Lightly butter an 8″ X 8″ X 2″ baking pan. Dust with flour.
Beat the egg whites and salt in a large mixing bowl on medium speed until soft peaks form. Beat in the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until very stiff peaks form.
Whisk the egg yolks and vanilla in a small bown until blended. Pour the yolk mixture over the whites. Mix the cornstarch and flour in a small bowl. Sift over the egg mixture and fold with a rubber spatula until almost no trace of egg white shows and the dry ingredients are completely incorporated. Do not overmix.
Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake until the cake is very lightly browned on top and the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan–8 to 10 minutes. When it is ready, remove the cake from the oven. Invert onto a wire rack. Cool the cake completely before assembling. Filling and Topping: 1/2 cup butter 2 cups fresh, whole cranberries 2 cups orange segments 1/2 cup sugar 1 ounce cornstarch, dissolved 3 cups flaked coconut, lightly toasted 1-1/2 cups heavy cream, whipped to a soft peak
Melt the butter in a small saucepan; add the cranberries, orange segments, and sugar; cook till the first few cranberries pop. Strain off the juice, bring to a boil, and thicken with cornstarch. Cook until bubbling. Add the cranberry-and-orange mixture. Bring to a boil and cool off.
To assemble, cut cake horizontally into three layers. On one square layer of cake spread a layer of cooked cranberry-and-orange mixture, then a thin layer of whipped cream; sprinkle with coconut.
Repeat with two more layers of cake and filling.
Cover the top layer with cranberry-and-orange mixture. Finish the sides with whipped cream and coconut.