One of my biggest disappointments in this excursion was my experience with an old favorite which had been recently remodeled. Film Center Café used to be the place where we would all go out drinking before we were of legal age. Film Center had a smarmy charm and spunky personality as it was dark, loud, with many of the finest movie posters from classical movies lining their walls.
Don’t be confused, where many of these fine restaurants I’ve reviewed in this series were sprawling or confined but with a risqué personality all their own, the thing about film center was that you always felt like you were getting squeezed out. There were one or two larger (x6/x8) tables that you practically fell over in the front as well as a few two seater booths line the front walls. It wasn’t until you got to the back; “the bar area” where it opened up at all. With the bar on the left hand quarter of the room, though, open up is a relative term. The back just had more tables and booths along the right hand side; as I said there was a controlled chaos to the whole thing which was at once heightening and appealing. And there was always some Bogart, Cagney, Hepburn, or other move playing on the TV screens to remove you from the news of the second and let you take your mind off things, however briefly.
It was with disappointment that I noticed they closed down Film Center Café a while ago for ‘renovations,’ so it was with much excitement that I decided this would be one of the restaurants I’d review for Associated Content.
I don’t know what I was hoping for; maybe a bit of the hopeless, carefree attitude of my youth, coupled with the recklessness I’d once felt visiting the café; surely not what I in fact ended up encountering.
We walked through the door and were greeted with the same restaurant, almost identical layout, but it was like they’d driven the bats from the belfry. All of the slimy, illicit charm I’d felt for this place had been replaced by a sterile, polite existence. The name was the same but the one big screen TV at the rear was playing CNN and I was stricken even more; forced to be reminded of what was going on in the world. While I understand that’s what a lot of people, including myself, are rabid for at current, I go to out to these bars and restaurants to escape that reality.
My friend Nick and I, the same friend who I’d visited these seething breeding grounds with all those years prior, were seated in almost the identical spot we used to sit; only now, instead of having our order taken by some greasy guy, a hipster girl showed up at our table and seemed attentive but also like she could care less. Her primary motivation was milking the tip, she just didn’t seem at all genunie, which is annoying. Who could blame her though? At this new Film Center the wait staff fully outnumbered the customers. Rather than their being rickety tables and booths, there were these new, sterile, bolted into the wall variety booth.
As I opened and perused the menu, I saw now where all that money into these renovations had gone. It’s a major thing for a restaurant in New York City to change the prices on their menus; while visitors may think the prices are outrageous, residents have come to accept prices for what they are and if the prices do rise at all it’s typically on specialty items or only a nickel or quarter at a time.
The “Sandwiches & Burgers” page on the menu; from this rickety place you used to be able to get a big burger and fries for $7.00; one of the least expensive options in midtown; blew me away. $9.00 for a grilled cheese! $12.00 for grilled tuna! $15.00 for a Kobe Beef burger! This is a bar people; I can still go to a bar anywhere in midtown and find a grilled cheese for four bucks and a burger (and fries) for eight!
There was much discussion about this and I’m not sure if it’s because we’re ‘older’ and ‘know the value of a dollar’ – I think it has more to do with the fact that these prices were just ridiculous compared with when we’d last visited. I cautiously turned to their entrees page and saw even more startling news: Macaroni & Cheese (‘made to order’ – what the hell does that mean?) for eleven bucks; eggplant parm, porcini & wild mushroom risotto, roasted organic baby chicken; I couldn’t believe it! They have seafood: Atlantic Salmon; Crab Cakes; Miso Glazed Cod; and steaks: Skirt Steaks, Hanger Steaks, Rib Eye, Sirloin, and Filet priced between eighteen and twenty eight dollars.
I was weary from this, so we ordered our usual; I tried a drink (screwdriver) from this new ritzy place, while my friend Nick just got a beer. Even though I had to pay ‘extra’ for my vodka of choice (Grey Goose) I was still disappointed as the careless waitress who needs to learn how to hold a tray. A fair amount of my drink had spilled over the edge of the highball glass in transit. More than that, I was disappointed by what was left over in the glass as what remained was watery, besides.
Needless to say, our forboding introduction was only further reinforced when the food arrived. It was unmemorable, at best; though we were both very disappointed. My friend Nick got the Fried Chicken entrée at my great insistence, which, when it arrived looked more like an art project than dinner (I thought of the great Steve Martin line from LA Story when he’s out with Victoria Tenant & Richard Grant at the designer LA restaurant and he gets his tiny free range chicken, dollop of potatoes, and veggies and to which Martin quips “I’m done already and I don’t even remember eating”) I opted for my favorite the bleu cheese burger that is a little bit illusive in New York; it’s the same item that was on the old menu; ordered the same way I’d always done, but in the final analysis, it seems that the emphasis at this new Film Center Café is more on style than substance; maybe my tastes had grown or maybe the offering was just so-so.
My friend Nick had the quote of the day as we exited as he advised; “Sam Adams out of the bottle is the same as it ever was. I wouldn’t try the draft.” No sir; not here. At the new Film Center Café, I’m not going to even go near it.