Under The Stairs Restaurant (688 Columbus Ave. bet. 93rd & 94th Streets) is one of the half-dozen or so first-rate bar/restaurants in the West 96th Street area. And it caters to diverse moods and appetites.
For the past ten years, owner Roderick MacGregor has charmed the Upper Westside with this sunken-level, cozy retreat. The wide stairs over the doorway explains the name: after descending three steps you discover that you actually are and under the stairs.
Daytime dining hours are unpretentious, perfect for casual dining with friends, alone or with children. Or just drop in for a drink. Candlelight transforms evenings, and the atmosphere becomes conducive to intimate conversation. It’s easy to linger for hours; the unhurried, friendly service makes you feel right at home.
The restaurant is divided into three areas. Each has its own appeal. The first area has mainly tables for two, a few secluded “in the corner, in the dark.” Then there is a small row of semi-intimate tables across from the usually crowded wooden bar. This area is particularly inviting because the tables are lined along a huge window, giving diners a view of passersby. In both areas, amid exposed brick wall, wood beams, wood floors and butcher block tables, there is light dining or cocktails. The dining area, which accommodates the hearty appetite, looks like an outdoor patio, with wrought iron furniture, slate floors, brick and stucco walls and a flowing fountain. The ambiance there makes dining a real pleasure.
The dinner menu offers a variety of choices as well as combination plates. You can begin with one of several appetizers, perhaps Maine steamers ($1.95) or escargot ($2.75). Next the soups: onion ($1.25) and clam chowder ($1) have good reputations. Word has it that the chowder is of impeccable quality, so much so that clam chowder lovers venture here for that alone.
The accent here is on seafood, and for the entrée, owner MacGregor recommends the shore food specialties. These include dishes with lobster, shrimp, scallops, various shellfish and grilled seafood. We found the Seafarer’s casserole ($5.95), a combination of shell fish in cheese Newburg sauce, a savory treat. The Shore Dinner ($7.95), steamers or shrimp cocktail, clam chowder and a one pound steamed Maine lobster with potato and salad, was quite delicious.
Restaurateur MacGregor also owns The Lobster Place, a wholesale and retail shellfish and live lobster market in Manhattan, which explains his ability to pamper fish lovers. The high-quality fish is brought in daily; and this is one of few places where you can devour a one-pound Maine lobster for only $5.95, or two for $9.95. Such heaven! (From January to June lobster prices are $1 higher.)
Alternatives include broiled center cut pork chops ($4.95), prime filet Mignon ($7.95) or roast duckling in orange sauce ($5.25). All entrées include salad and fresh vegetables, and in some instances a choice of potato. The salad, served in a large bowl, is placed in the center of the table so you can help yourself. Dinner hours are 5 p.m. – midnight, Sunday, and, Thursday and 5 p.m. – 2 a.m. on Fridays & Saturdays.
The luncheon menu includes burgers, sandwiches, salads, soups, chili, Quiché Lorraine, with prices ranging from $.70 to $3.95. Broiled pork chops with rice, vegetable and salad ($4.95), broiled shell steak with potato and salad ($6.95), broiled chopped steak with mushroom gravy, potato and salad ($4.25) and a one-pound steamed Maine lobster ($5.95 with other options). Luncheon hours are noon to 5 p.m. Monday – Saturday, but diners may choose from this menu at anytime.
Desserts are limited — cheesecake ($1.25), hot pecan pie ($1.50) and hot apple pie ($1.50)
A selection of imported wines and house wine can be ordered by the glass, carafe or bottle. Drinks are moderately priced from $1.60 to $1.80. During Sunday brunch they are only $1.
The Sunday brunch (noon to 5 p.m.) menu includes Eggs Benedict ($3.50), French Toast with Canadian bacon or sausage ($2.95) or omelets ($2.95).
Plan to visit Under The Stairs or drop in when in the neighborhood. You’ll be glad you did.