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The National: Midtown’s Sweetest EscapeGeoffrey Zakarian’s The National Serves Inventive Cafe Classics in Chic Midtown Digs
I’ve passed Geoffrey Zakarian’s Midtown East restaurant, The National Bar and Dining Rooms, a few hundred times. And while I’ve always admired its classic black and white awning perched beneath the Benjamin Hotel, the bustling location surrounded by hotels and office buildings never really struck me as a dining destination. But that was before I finally stopped in for a lunch break and realized what I was missing.
After whisking through a revolving door, I forgot all about the crowded street outside. The airy, two-story space provides a perfect escape, outfitted with a gorgeous black and white tiled floor, a beautiful grand staircase, and a decorative old-fashioned delivery bike purposely placed near the entrance. And while plenty of diners were enjoying their meals at wide leather booths and bistro-style tables, the ambiance was surprisingly calm and homey. (Seriously, I could have stayed there all day.)
But of course, the food is what has made The National a Midtown mainstay ever since opening about a year ago. Each menu—the spot serves three meals a day—features fun twists on bistro and café classics that the Food Network star/Iron Chef winner does so well. There’s an “Ugly Burger” with pickled jalapeño, house sauce, house pickles and Bibb lettuce ($17), oysters on the half shell with apple ginger mignonette and traditional cocktail sauce ($3.25 each) and fabulously fresh salads with ingredients straight from a greenmarket. “I’m personally passionate about getting really, really fresh greens,” Executive Chef Paul Corsentino (who also served as Zakarian’s sous-chef on Iron Chef America) told me, as I lunched on a perfectly cooked Branzino with cauliflower, grapes, endive, and lemon gastrique ($28) and sipped on the best iced tea I’ve ever had in my life. No joke. It had a hint of vanilla and ice-tea ice cubes so it didn’t get watered down. (Genius!)
For dessert, the eatery offers similarly inventive twists on the classics, including malt gelato with devils food cake ($12), a mocha praline sundae ($11), and a light and refreshing house-made sorbet. Who knew you could find such a sweet escape in the midst of Midtown’s chaos?—AMANDA LIBBYThe National| 557 Lexington Avenue|212-715-2400