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Her World

The Power to Choose in New York

April 03, 1988|JUDITH MORGAN | Morgan, of La Jolla, is a magazine and newspaper writer

"Would you like your coffee black?" the flight attendant asked as she filled my cup that morning.

"Yes," I replied, staring through the stream of liquid, "but brown will do."

My tone was not mean, and neither was her smile. We both shrugged at the vagaries of jet-age kitchens, and I slept most of the way to New York.

It was the last time I was groggy for a week. In New York, people walk fast and talk fast, even early in the morning. That vibrant city, after all, is the home of the Power Breakfast, which to me is an oxymoron. Rarely have two more incongruous words been smashed together.

Power People-Watching

This apparent madness--the notion that corporate giants could be alert, decisive and tough before coffee and juice--was launched at the Regency Hotel by Robert Tisch, Loews' chief executive officer who seems to have the sort of system that automatically kicks into high upon rising. He began inviting other titans for white linen breakfasts in the Regency restaurant. Civility reigned; roses brightened each table. The idea spread.

It was such an amazing scene that New Yorkers would walk along the hotel's 61st Street side between 7 and 9 a.m. to peer in to see what deals might be brewing and who was sitting with whom. Power Breakfast was the term that emerged.

Now Power Breakfasts have spread to other Manhattan enclaves that vie for those with corporate or political clout by offering cordless telephones and calculators at each place setting.

The Perfect Breakfast

As for me, the perfect New York breakfast is room service: grapefruit or melon, a bran muffin and large portions of coffee, newspaper and silence. I like to dine in robe and slippers and gaze at bold roofs and green terraces.

I was relishing this laid-back style at the Regency not long ago while Robert Tisch was being honored at a breakfast downstairs, an 8 a.m. event that marked his return to Loews after serving in Washington as U.S. Postmaster General. Afterward I saw his sharp-eyed friends stride across the marble-and-tapestried lobby and onto Park Avenue. Their pace made me dizzy.

My New York breakfasts proved something of a dream, but lunches and dinners were memorable. I was enchanted with the original fare and sleek decor of a new Chinese restaurant, Chin Chin, on East 49th Street between 2nd and 3rd avenues.

The owners are James Chin (former manager at the fabled Auntie Yuan) and his brother Wally. The front rooms have off-white walls, hung with small sepia-toned photographs of the extended Chin family. A back room is more formal and seems to glow with an all-white light.

From a tantalizing menu a friend and I shared pan-fried pork dumplings as an appetizer, followed by sauteed string beans and tender lemon chicken. I wish I could go back today.

Another perfect lunch was at the Gotham Bar & Grill in a former Greenwich Village loft at 12 East 12th St. Vases of budding forsythia stood tall in this high-ceilinged space, with its soothing background of violins and upbeat conversation. From tempting chowders, broiled fish and northern Italian treats, I followed the waiter's suggestion of tortellini; it was their "Special Pasta, Composed Daily." I wish I could be.

I enjoyed a spinach salad at a corner table at Cafe 43, which is on West 43rd Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue, convenient for theater. I had a splendid light supper at the Grand Tier restaurant on the mezzanine of the Metropolitan Opera House during the first intermission of "Turandot."

An Interim Plan

It was a rainy night and I was not hungry enough to dine before the performance, nor did I want to wait until after the final curtain. (You order in advance so that your table is set with wine and food when you arrive. The intermission was 35 minutes.)

I always leave New York with a next-time list. If you get there first, try these neighborhood favorites: Cafe du Parc near Gramercy Park; a garden bistro called Provence on MacDougal Street, and Il Vagabondo, a boisterous Southern Italian cafe on East 62nd Street, where you can have a ball and play boccie while you wait.

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