WHEN YOU GO TO ERTÉ, you have to order a Pink Squirrel. This ambrosial blend of vanilla ice cream and creme de noyaux (a garnet-colored liqueur that tastes like nuts in the same way that LifeSavers taste like fruit) is the original girlie drink. In its heyday, the Pink Squirrel was a concoction best sipped through a straw by a woman wearing a miniskirt and go-go boots. At Erté, it never went out of style.
Nor did the leopard-print carpet on the staircase. Or the steaks and martinis and dark, clubby atmosphere. When it opened five years ago, Erté complemented local institutional steak houses and supper clubs by serving classic night-on-the-town dinners in a space that felt retro and hip, without the presumptions of those new suburban throwbacks that think they can earn authenticity by hanging up a few vintage photographs.
This past January, Erté expanded into the neighboring building, opening the Peacock Lounge and upgrading its liquor license. With the help of her husband and sons, new owner Patte Kraske painted a faux marble veneer on the walls, built a mirrored mahogany backdrop for the bar, and moved the restaurant’s entrance from University Avenue to 13th Street. (Kudos to the Kraskes for recycling—the bar top that matches the tin ceiling came from the former Brasserie Zinc.) Patte’s naming suggestion was initially met with skepticism (“Oh, Mom, Peacock Lounge?”), but judging from the metal fowl preening above the Hefeweizen tap, Mom’s moniker seems to have come home to roost.
Erté’s tables are covered with black cloth protected by brown craft paper, which sums up its ethic of being tasteful yet fiscally sensible (the restaurant is recommended on thriftyhipster.com). Steaks and salads are straightforward and well-prepared, but the crisp, buttery hash browns set Erté apart. Solo diners and pairs may prefer to hop up on barstools for an appetizer. We tried the cheese plate, passing over the pickled vegetables in favor of the sweet spiced nuts, salami slices, and a varied array of cheeses.
Straying from the old standbys resulted in one hit and a miss: thumbs up on the soup of the day and thumbs down on the fish. Lentil soup lovers know that without proper seasoning, simply throwing the little legumes in a pot will create only a bland, pasty gruel. But with the right additions, such as Erté’s hint of hot spice cooled with tangy buttermilk, a cook can enhance the loamy character of this often overlooked protein. Unfortunately, this culinary cognizance didn’t transfer to the evening’s fish special: poached salmon with “Asian rice” that tasted as bland as baby food.
Dessert lovers, take note of The Elvis—a chocolate ganache and peanut butter mousse pie topped with a puff of whipped cream and warm disks of banana. It’s as decadent as the entertainer himself: fawning women and sequined bell-bottom jump suits rocked and rolled into each slice. If Mary Tyler Moore could leave God for the King (Change of Habit, 1969), a Pink Squirrel drinker might do the same for dessert.