At a busy corner through tall panes, we see a couch-filled lounge and an inviting front bar with plenty of little tables for two by the windows. In the back we find a comfortable, high-ceilinged, square dining room done up modly and backed by a trance-y mix. A goldenrod-and-brown bench seat wraps around the entire room, and a huge mirror shows you to everyone and everyone to you. Big hanging lamps look like filmstrips, and orange rectangles serve as candle-holding sconces throwing flickers. All in attendance are between 25 and 35, excepting your reviewer. An unusually attractive and casually well-dressed bunch?bell sleeves and peasant looks. Mostly double-dates. There is one lone diner, in gray business attire, but she looks glum.
There's a full bar and a menu of specialty cocktails that go for $9. Link's Flirtini is purply pink with a coiled twist floating in it; a fizzy, medicinal, raspberry-flavored jolly rancher. It smells sickly sweet. Supposedly it is made from Stoli raspberry, lime and cranberry. My martini glass sits three-quarters full throughout our meal, but the waiter does not offer a replacement, nor does he take it off the check. The Tanger-ini Mrs. Baker has ordered is a better option; like an alcoholic Tang, it goes down way too easy. It is composed of Sauza tequila, Monin orange syrup, o.j. and lime. The silver-sequinned hostess recommends the Chocolate in the Nude (Stoli Vanil and Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur). And Brooklyn Lager ($5) is on tap. The international wines run between $22 and $94; 10 bottles on offer go for under $30.
A small square of slippery paper serves as a placemat over the dark, bare table. A server makes the rounds with a platter piled high with puffy bread triangles. They are crusty and delicious and served with high-quality butter. Tall glasses of ice water are relentlessly kept full. Food is stylistically plated. An appetizer of stuffed tomato ($6.50) holds an onion-enhanced cold eggplant salad that is quite agreeable, especially with the chunklets of rich, smooth and mellow Gorgonzola that have been added to the mix, as well as dribblings of sassy syrupy balsamic that are artfully drizzled about. The pink-tinged tomato itself is watery and mushy. A side of herb and garlic fries ($4.50) is served piping hot and benefit from the addition of salt from the itty-bitty shakers. They're of the thick yellow diner fry variety and just standard, although I like their garlicky kick. I spy orders of the Link salad of dressed mesclun topped with fried vegetables. They are piled high and wide and look appetizing.
Mrs. B orders shiitake-stuffed roast chicken ($16), which is perfectly cooked, thickly meaty, moist and tender. The mushrooms tucked inside the breast, while a delectable texture, have been overwhelmed and taste only of chicken. The entree sits over a creamy lap-uppable scallion sauce. An unfortunate accompaniment is a parsnip wasabi puree. I detect no spice in it, just pure blah baby food parsnip. A fried onion garnish is droopy. A pastry pie ($18.50) of goose, foie gras and sweetbreads wafts a slightly off-putting gamy odor. The innards are mostly shredded and I encounter a bit of gristle. The crust is beautifully baked, golden and shiny. Its sauce is irritatingly sweet and there are a few hot purple berries within. "What's that?" "A blueberry. A huckleberry. A boysenberry?" Her opinion is it's a cranberry that's been soaked in booze. There's a layer of delicious spinach beneath the oversized pastie, but the sucral sauce interferes with the leaves' green goodness. This is a rich dish that comes close to working, and extremely filling on a chilly night, but it ultimately makes you long for the potpie it could be.
Warm banana bread-and-butter pudding ($6.50) is too hard and sweet and not buttery; as with many baked foods, the caramelized top is the best part. It's served with a fruity Griottine cherry coulis (the mystery "berry" perhaps) and a heaping tablespoonful of dense and luscious French vanilla ice cream. The pudding has a layer of custard within that is eggy and light, but lumpy. We attack the ice cream and the pulpy tart cherry sauce, but there's not much other damage done. This dish, as all that we've been served here, is gorgeous on the plate, but again we've found the emperor is half-dressed. Also on the dessert menu?a chocolate fondue, with marshmallows and fruit served with a glass of citrus punch, for two ($12), a cheese plate with raisin pecan bread ($9), after-dinner wines and ports. We receive the check for the two girls sitting next to us (which turns out to be almost exactly the same amount as our check), and the waiter is extremely apologetic in the manner of one who isn't used to making mistakes. Our neighbors didn't care so much for their meal, but they agree that the ice cream is good. One volunteers that this spot is always crowded. On the way out, we pass by energetic groups in the loud lounge.
We go over to Old Town Bar where I can stand more than a few sips of my drink. One-of-the-guys Amanda Peet passes by, the fine bones of her face threatening to tear through taut luminous skin. An unattractive short fellow with a red brillo goatee says although she's the prettiest girl in the bar, she still doesn't do it for him. Ms. Peet doesn't seem too broken up that he has not approached her. Mrs. B's jaw drops; she is not used to overhearing that she herself is not the prettiest girl in the room.
An attractive gal sitting next to us says, "Your hair is the same color as Rhonda's." She was making a leap assuming I knew who Rhonda was and yet I did. It was true, although Rhonda's hair was better-maintained than mine; something had gone awry with my $8 box of 10-minute hair dye. And I've been cutting it myself in a couple of snips, for that dishabille mental-patient look. "I thought you were her. If you see her please tell her goodbye for me." Now I felt guilty?had she suffered the attentions of the middle-aged drunk who'd been talking her ear off because she thought I (Rhonda) wanted to hang out longer? On our barstools, Mrs. B. tells me of a man she met recently who sold his software company, has megabucks, he's really nice, sophisticated, not ugly but not handsome?sort of like Bill Gates, just a great guy, loves long bike rides, so can she give him my number? "No." She is exasperatedly explaining to me why that's the wrong answer. I argue above the drunken din, "I need sexy!" "So what's the conversation over here?" asks someone who is kind of sexy. We tell him and his buddy, but they don't buy us a round and want to take us to Whiskey Blue. No thanks. When we do leave, I notice that Red Goatee and friends have yet to find female companionship.
At Aubette, Mrs. Baker starts talking to a man standing next to us who is wearing a shirt that laces up at the neck. Why? Then she's telling him to give me his card and that he should get in touch with me. Why is she doing this to me? He keeps taking my shiraz from me, putting it on the bar and holding my hand. I don't know which is more offensive. I grab my hand back and my wine back and stalk away, over to a nearby group of guys, "So what's the conversation over here?" "We were trying to decide what color your eyes are." Good answer. Usually indeterminate, but on occasion I am startled by purely green eyes in the mirror. They're lawyers who went to Roslyn High and fun to talk to. Eventually Mrs. B. rolls her eyes at us; she needs a way out of what she inexplicably started with the icky guy. We yell at her, "Come over here." She does, to tell us that the laced of shirt was telling her "...he'd go down on me for hours." Eeeew! The tall dark and handsome former actor of this group takes a liking to Mrs. Baker. (Later she whines how could she be attracted to him when she's married, but you'd have to be dead not to be attracted to him.) The guys' idea of "sleepover at Lane's" is suggested and rejected.
We pick up some junk food from the 24-hour Walgreens at Empire State. (Conveniently, there's also a 24-hour McDonald's, White Castle and Duane Reade by that 5th Ave-34th St. intersection.) I serve Mrs. Baker a Three Cheese Rotini Bowl Appetit! and White Castle fresh from the microwave. She says it is sooo good and that she likes it much better than her dinner at Link. She admonishes me, "There's nothing but two Rolling Rocks in your fridge and your freezer is completely empty." That's not true, I have both Stoli Vanil and Ketel One in there. In five hours, she wakes me to go shopping. At Ricky's we have fun picking out Halloween costumes. "What's your husband going to be?" "Crabby."
Then there's walking and cappuccino and browsing and buying and Kumamotos with Pilsners at Aquagrill. In the evening, I walk her to her car. "It's such a beautiful night." "You know, it really is a beautiful night." One raised eyebrow sees another, "We could do it all again." "And check into rehab on Monday."
Link, 120 E. 15th St. (Irving Pl.), 995-1010.