Who does Veritasty vividly and vehemently vouch for on Valentine's Day? Vitae!
After a long struggle to find places to eat in Midtown, we've hit on one that combines impeccable customer service and delicious food, for a really decent price. Vitae, on 46th Street and 5th Avenue, looks pretty unassuming from the outside. Once you step inside - past the cute entrance with a wall lined with fragrant apples - it looks a little Art Deco-ish with banquettes and geometric light fixtures. The dining room beyond the bar/banquette area is dimly lit, mostly from the tea lights on the tables, and cavernous: there's a staircase leading to a small mezzanine level dining room too. That's where our hostess brought us, to a private table in a corner overlooking the first floor. We were in for quite a treat, and the first indication was the personalized menus she handed us that read "Happy Anniversary Mr. & Mrs. Jagendorf"! Okay, so that was a little preemptive, but adorable nonetheless.
For food, we ordered the burrata and pork belly, cacio e pepe fettuccini, and roasted duck leg. The servers brought out some surprise amuse bouches as well; we had a potato chip with bacon crumble, a chunk of king crab in a miso soup, and a pulled pork taco. The potato chip was my favorite (anyone who knows me knows my favorite guilty pleasure snack is any form or flavor of potato chip): this simple chip was topped with salty bacon bits, a tangy aioli, and a thin slice of green onion for added oomph.
All the food was delicious, and I'm glad we shared a few appetizers so we could get a varied taste of the menu. The burrata was warm and melded with the bed of polenta below and surrounded by wild mushrooms and thinly sliced garlic chips. I thought a warm/melty burrata was a little unusual, but it tasted great. I particularly loved the earthy mushrooms and the extra crunch provided by the garlic chips. The pork belly was beautifully plated with four hunks of glistening meat all in a row, separated by slices of apple. Below was a parsnip puree, and scattered atop each piece of pork belly was arugula. The pork belly was glazed in a sticky sweet-and-savory ginger sauce, similar to the hoisin glaze with which my dad frequently cooks pork belly.
Next, we had the duck leg and slivers of duck breast. The most amazing part of the dish was the utterly crispy duck skin that coated the leg. Alex and I also enjoyed the brussels sprouts, which we found remarkable because as children, we and probably children everywhere thought brussels sprouts was the grossest food, like, ever, but we have grown to appreciate them as adults. The pasta dish was fun and reminiscent of a grown up version of mac & cheese with black pepper for an extra kick. Who doesn't love mac & cheese?! Our mistake, however, was not eating the dish immediately because by the time we got to it, the cheese had kind of congealed. I mean, I love cheese in any way, shape, or form, but maybe for the composition of the dish, non-congealed cheese would have been best.
Just when we thought dinner was over, our servers brought out a palette cleanser in the form of freshly squeezed watermelon and lime juice (can you actually squeeze a watermelon? freshly...pureed watermelon? hmm) in teensy weensy glass Coke bottles, which reminded us of the homemade Cel-Ray at Eleven Madison Park. But wait, for what were we cleansing our palettes?
Turns out we had a surprise dessert coming our way! On the plate was "Happy Anniversary" in chocolate sauce, surrounding a beautiful rectangle of a chocolate mousse cake. It was divine. I could eat it all day. The top layer of chocolate mousse gave way to a hard crust, which initially annoyed me because I couldn't get my fork through it, but tasted like the cookie part of a Twix bar (one of my old favorite candy bars back in the day). It didn't hurt to have a dollop of rich, sweet whipped cream on the side either.
Just when we thought dessert was over, we also got chocolate chip cookies in a cellophane bag! And a takeaway bag with more cookies, a little bottle of prosecco, and a candle! And two almond cookies with the check!
Besides the food being wonderful, I walked away from this dinner being incredibly impressed at the level of service. I think the only time I was wowed by a restaurant's attentive care and service (and bringing us surprise goodies) was at Eleven Madison Park, but let's be honest, our meal there was...umm, carry the one...four times the price of our very romantic, relaxing dinner at Vitae. Everyone from the front of the house staff to the servers took a lot of care and pride in their work. It was evident when they brought us dishes and took time to explain the ingredients rather than just saying "here's the burrata" or something. It was evident when the hostess came to us and asked if the table near us was being too noisy/rowdy and if we would like them to step in and say something (sidebar: We insisted it was fine and it didn't bother us. The group of eight or so was very boisterous, but we weren't going to be those people who say "yes, please tell them to shut up"). I think, at the request of some other diners, she actually did go over to that table and subtly asked one of the diners if he could maybe tone down the volume of his friends' conversation. Way to take one for the team! The most amazing thing to me was that Alex claims he booked our reservation through OpenTable and just wrote in the comments section that it was our anniversary, and the team at Vitae took that and ran with it. He didn't say we were bloggers or call to request any special treatment, but certainly what we got was a fantastic dinner. That's why we heartily recommend Vitae for any occasion, romantic or otherwise.