Gobbler doesn't have an elaborate, high-design office cafeteria to visit, or even much of an office. And he doesn't spend too much time hanging around with waiflike fashion models, or even the willowy, waiflike fashionistas who publicize them. So when a highly placed friend at one of the Hearst fashion magazines asked if he'd be interested in sampling the grub at the brand-new corporate cafeteria, in the gleamingly impressive, just-opened, Norman Fosterdesigned Hearst tower, he dropped his morning game of Sudoku, put on his trousers, and hopped in a cab heading uptown.
Long ago, during his prolonged, slightly plaintive freelance period, the Gobbler was an occasional guest at the much-praised, -discussed, and -fussed-over Gehry-designed Cond Nast cafeteria. He had not-so-fond memories of standing in long lines to sample esoteric varieties of salad and perhaps a taco or two, while legions of winsome, Cond Nasties milled around in the low-ceilinged, blue-and-green room that seemed much smaller than its outsize reputation.
The new Hearst cafeteria, which is catered by Restaurant Associates, happens to be really, really big. In fact, it's not in a room at all and instead sits on a long ledge in the building's lobby, overlooking the escalators and a vast, burbling, corporate waterfall. "It's fun for people-watching, even if it does look like the lobby of a bank," said my editor friend, helpfully, as we sat with our lunch trays, peering out over the abyss. "And we get sushi every day. At Cond they only get it twice a week."
Foraging for food, the Gobbler plowed into a scrum of girls with chiseled cheekbones and uniformly pointy boots and came away with a not entirely horrible piece of fried chicken (it was rolled in cornmeal and assorted Cajun spices and looked a lot better than the suspiciously cafeteria-like Salisbury steak); a piece of chewy skirt steak from Hearst Ranch in California; a scoop or two of refreshing Chinese-style salad with mangoes and recently unfrozen shrimp; and a portion of the "Hearst Sushi Combo," which included a passable California roll and five pieces of sushi for $9.50. As the Gobbler scarfed the contents of his heaping tray, the lady next to him quietly nibbled a shred of toro. "It has a slight fishy taste," she whispered, "just ever so slight, but I'm sensitive to that."
The plentiful, well-subsidized desserts (seven of them plus four coffees cost a total of $22.00) drew better reviews (the plastic cup of double-chocolate pudding was best), except for a bizarre seasonal dish from O, the Oprah Magazine, which was supposed to be maple-flavored panna cotta but had the consistency of maple-flavored toothpaste.
Not that Gobbler pointed this out to his hosts. When dealing with fashion models, friends of fashion models, and top magazine editors of every kind, he employs a personal policy of politeness and tact.
Ideal Meal: Spicy tuna roll, grilled chicken salad, double chocolate pudding.
Scratchpad: Is the Hearst lunchtime grub as good as at Chez Cond Nasty? Ummm, maybe.