Restaurant: Any Month of the Year!
||On an evening in early in August we walked over to East 58th
Street a block off the East River to a lovely little brownstone
sitting behind a black wrought iron gate. Above the doorway, the
word “MARCH” was spelled out in sturdy capital letters. “The
family name from Louisa May Alcott’s ‘Little Women,’”
thought one of us. “The month of March,” thought the other. But
“march in” is what we did past a tiny flagstone patio whose
garden was abloom with tall purple hostos into a sparkling jewel of
a restaurant in that part of Manhattan where Midtown is about to
give way to the Upper East Side.
welcoming fireplace yielded to a long deep room with walls painted a pale
yellow and hung with 19th century Florentine botanical prints. Comfortable
banquettes were upholstered in bold Bauhaus patterns. Tables were covered
with crisp white linens, each lit by a single candle beneath a miniature
lampshade and set with white Limoges plates bordered with a delicate lemon
and green pineapple design. We had reserved an outdoor table but as the
evening turned out to be typical New York August hot and humid, we swiftly
agreed when headwaiter Chuck Mason suggested interior dining would be more
comfortable and followed him beneath a chandelier we would swear was
Lalique to a table just before the glass-roofed mezzanine dining room
where French doors lead to the terrace. Before we could settle in,
however, we had to have a peek. Under the misty sky, six tables were
arranged on a porcelain-tiled floor that overlooked a small garden. Beyond
we could see the Bridge Market beneath the Queensborough Bridge and
glimpse the Roosevelt Island Tramway off in the distance. If the
interior of March had a European ambience, the view from the terrace
clearly stated “New York, New York.”
to be a kind of metaphor for the sophisticated and eclectic March whose
cuisine co-owners Wayne Nish and Joseph Scalice label “Contemporary
American.” International influences abound on the March menu, but that’s
what being American is all about, especially for Wayne, the son of a
Norwegian-Japanese father and Maltese mother who was doing “fusion
cuisine” when March first opened back in 1990.
Wayne and Joseph grew up in New York. Wayne is March’s chef; Joseph its
wine director. Chuck Mason, who’s from Wisconsin, doubles as floor
manager and maitre d’. “I came on board in 1994 as assistant wine
manager,” the ruggedly handsome Mason said. “Once the restaurant
reopened after it had closed for renovation several years ago, they needed
one person on the floor to direct traffic. So here I am.”
Chuck Mason, March’s ruggedly handsome maitre d’
|Chuck directed us through the multi-course March dining experience
which is novel not only in its wonderfully unexpected taste
combinations but in the arrangements of its servings. He
suggested we begin with a glass of Bollinger “R.D.” Brut to set
the appropriately festive mood and as we consumed an amuse bouche of
a crepe so light it almost wasn’t there filled with a briny
mixture of lobster, black truffles, and shallots, he presented the
extensive March menu and explained the March process.
has abandoned the old fashioned concept of large appetizer, large entrée
and dessert in favor of a four to seven course-dinner of appetizer size,
the last course always being reserved for dessert,” he said directing us
to pages 2 and 3 where twenty six intriguing options were listed. “You
needn’t be intimidated by a seven course menu; it’s not overwhelming.
But it does sneak up on you.
if you don’t want to make decisions yourself, turn to the first page,”
he added. “Here is a five course dual tasting menu meant to be shared by
a couple. Each course has two dishes selected by Wayne and a wine selected
thought, this is something we can handle. Several months ago in Istanbul,
we’d managed a three-cuisine menu that approached the size of a novella.
Now we flipped back to page one and studied the eight offerings and
dessert sampler at the bottom. Enticing. But then again, maybe too much.
do the four courses,” we told Chuck.
case, you should select your own wine,” he said and placed March’s
substantial and diverse award-winning wine list before us.
was intimidating. Later that evening, we’d get to see Joseph’s wine
cellar where 4,500 bottles are neatly stored. For the moment, we turned
past the champagnes, sherries and sakes to a collection of American whites
and reds from Napa and Somona as well as other California counties and
also Pennsylvania, Oregon, New York, even Rhode Island; a hefty French
list with excellent regional selections; a sampling from Australia and New
Zealand; Austria, Germany and Switzerland; Spain, Portugal, and Italy;
South America and South Africa. Whew! Narrowing the overwhelming to the
considerable, we surrendered to a longing for a crisp white Burgundy this
summer evening and with Chuck’s assistance settled on the
Chassagne-Montrachet, Henri Prudhon les Chenevottes 1998.
point, however, he suggested we postpone the Burgundy in order to
sample two varieties of sake to accompany our first course. Sake?
The warm Japanese rice wine? “Not warm,” Chuck said. “In the
past the sakes were served warm because they were too harsh on the palate,
but these are very delicate in flavoring and best served chilled.”
and Jozen Mizunogotoshi, ginjos – a word which refers to the milling of
the grain -- were served in frosty crystal stemware. Both were aromatic
with wonderful fruity flavors and perfect pairings with sashimi -- a
translucent hake with white soy sauce and sprinkled with white sesame
seeds and chives; and fettuccine with tiny clams and spicy cod roe.
have wonderful stories that go along with them,” Chuck told us. “The
Shirataki is named for a lake that is fed by a waterfall that is fed that
is fed by newly fallen melted snow. Keep that in mind as you taste.
As you would imagine, it’s very clean.”
beginning to understand the uniqueness of the March experience. Our first
courses, one of Asian, the other of Italian origin, had been exquisitely
served. Small in size, they demanded a savoring of each mouthful,
their delectable flavors enhanced by the Japanese rice wine we had long
eschewed but which now had taken on a completely new
were whetted, but miles remained to March. Three canopies appeared: a
miniature octopus salad with cucumber, a single water chestnut with
poached salmon, one shrimp wrapped in cucumber and tomato slice –
beautiful presentations of miniature delicacies. A waiter came by with a
selection of fragrant, warm rolls. The white burgundy was uncorked and
stood in wait for the second course: delectable chanterelles with a
poached quail egg and avocado yogurt for one; soft shelled crabs with corn
juice for the other.
third course, we both settled on the North Atlantic lobster which Chuck
called “one of the most extraordinary dishes on the menu.” Poached and
served out of the shell in a light Rhone Valley wine sauce, served with
polenta and garnished with fennel, it was truly sublime.
|Dining at March this summer evening of the year 2001, we tried to
imagine what a meal in this very brownstone might have been like
around the turn of the last century. Banquets of the sort described
by Edith Wharton or Henry James came to mind, endless courses of
staggering portions. How far the March concept is from the gluttony
of the Gilded Age. Focusing on exceptional taste combinations, it
leads diners to savor fine and imaginative food, leaving them
satisfied but not sated.
March’s kitchen where Wayne Nish works his
trolley rolled by. We sampled a tangy goat cheese with black ash
throughout, a firm Swiss-French gruyere, a strong stilton. Then fresh
fruits in a Japanese apple nectar arrived followed by an impossible to
resist but reasonably small portion of Baked Alaska with espresso ice
cream and toasted almonds, and finally, lest we think we were getting off
guilt free, a heavenly rich chocolate cake.
dinner and afterwards when we toured the multi level dining areas, we
noticed how some parties were getting the full explanation of the March
process while many were obvious veterans of the experience and needed no
guidance. Regulars abound in this romantic setting, Chuck had told us.
As one would expect, most are from the New York area but repeat
guests come from distant places as well.
expect to join that throng. Pages 2 and 3 of the March menu came to mind,
those twenty odd suggestions we had by-passed: the maitake mushrooms
poached in parsnip broth with fava beans, and the lobster custard with
scallops, and the barely cooked Canadian salmon with braised leeks in
white miso, and the sautéed duck breast with sweet soy sauce and Chinese
crème fraiche. . . Maybe next time we’ll brave a five or even six
then, Wayne is known to change the menu. Will all these dishes be there in
September? On the other hand, the new season is bound to bring new
creations, new taste sensations equally worth the sampling.
September, October, November, December . . . through all the months,
we feel safe in saying March is worth a visit any time of the year.
405 East 58 Street
New York, NY 10022
courses $72 with wines $116
courses $90 with wines
courses $108 with
courses $126 with wines $203
by: Harvey Frommer
# # #
About the Authors: Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband
team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional
scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories
It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in
America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in
Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.
They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining
as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United
States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
about these authors.
You can contact the Frommers at:
This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer. All rights