Monday, May 16, 2011

Manhattan Rooftop Dining Attracts UN Insiders

By Irwin Arieff | May 10, 2011

The German mission to the UN offers a fashionable lunch with the right views.

Let's face it, the United Nations cafeteria is looking a bit forlorn these days.

With a years-long renovation of UN headquarters under way, the cafeteria, which is located on the ground floor of the Secretariat complex at the south end of the UN compound, is pretty thoroughly boxed in by construction that includes asbestos removal.

The once-mobbed and highly popular cafeteria must also be feeling somewhat unloved, with many Secretariat workers temporarily assigned to commercial Manhattan office buildings blocks away. Most UN staffers seem to be checking out the corner cafe in their new neighborhoods, rather than walking the half-mile to the mother ship, to sip a cappuccino, toss off a salad or choke down a sandwich.

How lucky, then, that in-the-know UN aides and V.I.P.s can stroll uptown to 49th Street to German House, inside the German mission to the UN and the German Consulate, for a stylish lunch at its top-floor restaurant.

The German House dining room, on the 23rd floor, is comfortable and casual, offering striking views of northern Manhattan and the East River through the oversize windows lining two sides of the room. The food ranges from generic to Germanic, from fulfilling to frilly, from straightforward to quite ambitious. Accompaniments include Bitburger beer and wine, a pastry of the day and a very decent espresso.

Recent daily menu items, mostly $10 to $12, included a hearty soup, panini with soup and salad, beef goulash with spätzle, gnocchi with julienne vegetables, wiener schnitzel with potato salad and mixed greens and grilled fish with fusilli pasta and pumpkin sauce. The servings are ample.

Irwin Arieff
At Germany's mission to the UN, the top floor is the setting for German House, a luncheon restaurant catering to diners with a UN pass.

Because of its diplomatic roots, there is no sales tax, and because it is mostly self-service, tipping is not in evidence. The dress ranges from T-shirt and jeans to diplomatically dark business suit. The entire establishment can accommodate only about 70 diners, and the seating is widely spaced, so you are unlikely to overhear the highly classified conversation that might be going on at the next table.

You order at the bar, pay up front, and walk your own drinks, water glass and silverware to the table of your choice. In short order, a server delivers your food and cleans up the table after you eat. The main drawback, as with many UN-related sites, is security. Just as it is difficult for tourists to go beyond the UN gift shop, visitors to German House must run a gauntlet of identity testing.

First, at least one member of your party must have a UN photo ID. If you plan to lunch there regularly, you must go to German House ahead and pick up a form in the lobby applying for a restaurant pass. Once you fill out and turn in the form, it can take two to three months to get the pass, according to a German UN mission administrator.

In a pinch, you can call the restaurant and ask if they can accommodate you by sending an escort to the lobby to usher you past the security barriers and up the elevator. If the staff agrees to let you in, you must leave behind your UN badge at the front desk as a safeguard.

Irwin Arieff
Outside the German mission to the UN.

The restaurant is run by Elderberry Catering, a New York City firm whose classically trained executive chefs, Wolfgang Ban, Eduard Frauneder and Werner Tschiedel, actually hail from Austria. Their specialty, the firm boasts, is "European cuisine with a modern flair." Elderberry also runs two other restaurants in Manhattan, Edi & the Wolf and Seasonal Restaurant and Weinbar.

German House is located at 871 United Nations Plaza, on the west side of First Avenue between 48th and 49th Streets. The rooftop restaurant is on the 23rd floor and is open from about 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. For information or to arrange for an escort, call 212-610-9552.

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