Photo: Grub Street
Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be a tourist to eat dinner in midtown — some people work in the neighborhood, too. But for as much as I’ve read about Rockefeller Center’s transformation into a dining destination, I don’t know anyone in my own Brooklyn-centric life who has gone there specifically to eat. I was nevertheless willing to believe someone is having dinner at these new restaurants — specifically Lodi and Le Rock — and so I decided I should investigate to see for myself.
Strolling past Lodi at 7 p.m. on a recent weeknight, I worried that my suspicions would be confirmed: The inside of the aperitivo bar and bakery looked more like a rest stop for office workers scrambling to finish their final emails of the day, and a handful of people were hunched over their phones. One couple sat at the end of the bar, sharing a bottle of rosé.
I soon learned, however, that the party is in the front, in an enclosed outdoor area where every table was filled, and diners looked like they were actually having fun.
Le Rock’s take on a classic Alaska cocktail.
Photo: Tammie Teclemariam
I continued through the plaza up to Le Rock, the new restaurant from the Frenchette chefs, where everyone seemed to be dressed in some variation on the same theme — “high-end officewear” — and I was able to find a single seat at the bar. Once there, I ordered one of the $26 “martinis maison,” which was made with yellow Chartreuse and “elixir végétal.” Soon after, a boomer couple took over the seats next to me and ordered a Ketel One martini as well as a Grey Goose–and–soda without looking at the cocktail list.
The woman next to me asked if there were any olives (“to snack on …”) despite having the menu right in front of her. Granted, there is a lot of French on it (barbajuans are kind of like fried spinach ravioli, I learned), but it was not difficult to decipher a lack of olives. I didn’t end up finding out if there were some in the house anyway, because I was soon distracted by someone I recognized: an art adviser whom I’m friends with on Instagram but had never met in real life.
I walked over to say hi, and when she saw me, she shrieked — and shrieked again. Maybe that’s just the effect I have on people! Alas, it also drew perhaps a bit too much attention because when I sat back down at my seat, a hostess soon appeared with an iPad. “Can I get your phone number?” she asked. She was about to log me into the restaurant’s Resy. There’s something creepy about an app that maintains a digital record of every customer, but it’s at least a bit more subtle if it happens when you first arrive and it’s given the pretense of trying to find a table. “We try to track all of our guests,” the hostess explained, though I don’t think that made it sound better.
While I have trouble with charging $20 or more for almost every glass of wine, I couldn’t find any fault with the food I ordered: duck rillettes, sardine escabeche, scallops with boudin noir, steak haché, and a raspberry soufflé that arrived with a barside pour of crème anglaise.
“You’re in trouble now!” said the woman next to me, before explaining that she and her husband ordered some fries because mine had looked so good. (They were.)
For a different vantage point, I joined my art friend and her two associates, who were splitting the bill between their expense accounts. When I asked them about Lodi, they said it’s the power-lunch spot these days, but you absolutely need a reservation to sit at one of the outdoor tables.
Who, then, is eating there at night? As I looped back to make my way home, Lodi was shutting down, and the last party, a cluster of young Europeans, tumbled out to their respective cars. I asked one if the restaurant was good: “Really good — especially if you get lots of things to share.” It struck me as the most nondescript restaurant review I’d ever heard, but I was happy they enjoyed their meal.
Photo: Tammie Teclemariam