Pricey Playboy Club menu bunny-dips into your bank account
There was nothing sweaty, steamy or salacious going on the other night at the new Playboy Club. The second coming of the loved-and-loathed debauchery den, now open at 512 W. 42nd St., is sexier on the plate than in the flesh. Yuzu dip even whipped the fabled “bunny dip” hands down.
And if anyone was “degraded,” it wasn’t the bunny-clad staff, but customers who were met by doormen as fierce as the ones who once guarded Studio 54.
Our dinner table was in the cozily upholstered, red-and-black “Mansion Room,” where vintage photos strain to evoke Playboy’s golden era. Some diners are shunted to the clubby front bar area on nights when the Mansion Room is filled with club members who pay $1,000 to $250,000 a year for access to more private alcoves; the top fee includes flights on the Playboy jet.
Don’t expect any kind of “forward cuisine,” but the pricey menu developed by Playboy Club “creative director” Richie Notar and turned out by executive chef Tabitha Yeh offers mostly delectable basics and strong raw materials. “These are the longest french fries I’ve ever seen,” my well-traveled friend Phil said of crisp, hand-cut nearly 10-inchers with a juicy dry-aged burger ($29).
Tasty fried shrimp ($24) with that yuzu dip and the rich edamame hummus ($19) — appetizers billed as “plates to share” — more than got the job done. Blue Point oysters gratin ($26) went down like candy. But miserly tuna roll ($18) from a sparse sushi lineup was a joke: three small pieces “spicy” in name only.
Among main courses, a hefty claw anchored lobster mac and cheese ($36), thick with al dente elbow pasta. Chicken milanese ($36) was perfectly crisp-battered. Decadence made a stand in “Beggar’s Purse Quilted Giraffe,” a yummy, thumb-size crepe filled with Chinese Kaluga caviar that’s hard to tell from Caspian Sea beluga. As my brain was warped by an $18 “Bunny Thing” rum-based cocktail — Alexa, our bunny server, endorsed it as “my favorite!” — I expected multiple purses for $45.
Alas, they were $45 each. The house generously sent out three more for free.
But forget the old bacchanalian spirit. The bunnies, who once personified Hugh Hefner’s pleasure pits, bare less skin than Times Square’s “desnudas” — or even the Rockettes. They stand motionless at tableside, as expressionless as Buckingham Palace guards, while deftly balancing trays of napkins and stirrers.
Charming Alexa said she learned how to stand still in 3-inch heels “at my job at Disney World.” What’s with the all-black ears? “They used to come in all different colors, but now they’re all Roberto Cavalli black,” she explained.
She gamely showed off the bunny dip, the working bunnies’ signature move at the clubs back in the day, which involves bending slightly backward and leaning down, knees together, while serving food and drink. It suggested the modesty-conscious maneuver a woman in a skirt executes to enter a car.
Notar later proudly led us through the members-only lounges full of bunny-ear motifs, including a pair inside a giant tropical fish tank.
How did Notar, who went from a busboy job at Studio 54 to a 17-year career as managing partner of the Nobu empire, end up amid the bunnies of far-west 42nd Street at age 69?
“I was looking for something new,” said Notar, who was mostly idle after his Harlow restaurants closed a few years ago.
He chose something old — a shtick that breathed its last more than three decades ago. Maybe he can make it new again. But first, teach the doormen how to smile.
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