Four-star debt

Don’t ask who smuggled me in, but I finally got to eat as the DI/DOers do in the towering monument to a depleted gene pool. Of course I walked in predisposed to bitch, especially after seeing everything was upgraded but the phat phucks at the security desk — no wonder the stock I bought in the high $30s is worth about what a Papaya King feast is these days. But it was all rather excessive, very “Brazil,” as the home for a business that once was scrappy and anti-establishment and gray-collar (between blue and white). The first two big-city newspapers I worked at were lucky to have vending machines, not in-house dining. The third had a pretty basic buffet line, even in a city undergoing a restaurant renaissance. By the time I wound up on 43d Street the first time, I knew enough to corral the other young copy editors on the national desk to go out and drink our dinners. When I came back, from 1998 to 2002, I dubbed the joint the Cafe Regret. No matter what I ordered, it expanded in my stomach, making me think how much processed crap I had ingested even while ordering carefully and avoiding the bacteria bar frequented by the healthful eating expert. 

So I was equal parts dazzled and dismayed on entering the new incarnation of CR. It had everything in a light and airy environment: a “carvery,” a hot food table (none dare call it steam), two salad bars, a sandwich station, a sushi station, desserts, a wall of waters and other pricey drinks. I have no idea what came over me, but I succumbed to the special pastrami sandwich with fries at the carvery, a choice that would never have been possible back in the day of the passive-aggressive grill jockey who took his sour time with anything cooked to order, knowing it would dissuade the hungry from ordering and making him actually work. My consort, astonishingly, braved sushi, which everyone at our table insisted was the best bet, and he finished it all. While I slowly gnawed away at my sad sandwich and grease sticks, hoping for a hint of satisfaction, only to have it all balloon internally in all-too-familiar fashion. 

The whole experience would have been less absurd if the cafeteria had been miles from nowhere, but there are a Dean & Deluca and two restaurants (so far) on the ground floor and untold cafes and delis within minutes’ walking distance. Captive audiences do not make enterprising journalists, I would say. No wonder $50 dinner parties don’t include wine, only industrial pork.