The Polo Bar

In a city with hundreds if not thousands of restaurants, how do you stand out from the pack? ….attention to detail. Seems easy, but few get it like Ralph Lauren’s Polo Bar on East 55th Street.

Start with the decor; just what you would expect from Lauren; wood paneling, leather booths, hunt pictures and murals, dark green walls, brass railings, fireplaces and more. Table settings are elegant with hunter green rimmed china with the restaurant’s name engraved on the plates and even the salt and pepper shaker’s are substantial and heavy. Small table lamps with shades add an element of intimacy.

The staff, all smartly dressed in custom made Ralph Lauren grey flannel trousers, leather wingtips, silk rep ties and white jackets….all could be models….but they have personality too!

But it was the food and drink that was a revelation here, starting with the complimentary warm spiced nuts and stuffed olives on the bar. And how can you not love a place that has “pigs in a blanket” as a bar snack? There are about a half dozen craft beers on tap, unique cocktails like the Polo Bar Winter Punch; Mr. Katz’s Rock & Rye, Clear Creek Cranberry and Ginger and the by the glass wine list has some interesting selections like an excellent Jean-Charles Boisset, Cremant de Bourgogne Rose at $18.

What is interesting about the menu is that it can suit whatever your mood. Feel like a big dinner with a steak or veal chop? They can do it. Want something less substantial like a Reuben or a burger? They can do that too. Best of all, everything is perfectly prepared. Our raw oysters were ice cold with a wonderful mignonette sauce, our friend’s Reuben was “the best they ever had”, my wife’s Dover Sole was better than our favorite at a haute cuisine French palace and my roast chicken was as good as it gets. Finally that barometer of all great restaurants….the french fry….was off the charts, crispy and firm and perfectly seasoned.

We opted out of dessert, although the word is Ralph’s coffee ice cream is fantastic. A small aside; when I made the reservation they asked if it was a special occasion. It was my birthday. After dinner they brought out a delicious chocolate cake with Happy Birthday and my name on it. Nice touch.

Big celebrity quotient here (Oprah was two tables away and we met Ralph and his wife Ricky when we went back upstairs), but everyone is respectful and make you feel a part of the club.

Reservations are difficult to get, but so worth the effort.

ROMANTIC QUOTIENT: Tucked into a corner table, even with the heightened buzz in the room, the sumptuous surroundings make for a romantic evening.

AAA Four Diamond Award

“Ralph Lauren–ness” runs high at the designer’s subterranean Midtown lair, where a “well-groomed” crowd “relishes” the “posh hunting lodge” decor and “dazzling people-watching”, not to mention “solid” American “country-club” fare ferried by “Polo model” staffers; reservations are an “ordeal” and tabs “mortgage payment”–size, but “yes, darling”, it’s “worth it.” ZAGAT