The Taco Bowl

Or, Jonathan Goes to Trump Tower.

Or, Facts Matter.


I read Vanity Fair‘s mean-spirited 2016 piece about the Trump Grill(e) and its (in)famous Taco Bowl.  To paraphase the author’s quote from Fran Lebowitz, it’s a dumb person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like.

(Rest assured, the original was far worse:  that Donald Trump is a poor person’s idea of a rich person.  I submit that it is worse to insult the poor than the dumb.)

The review was extravagantly biased, the writer (Tina Nguyen) fumbling for adjectives with the shaking haste of an opioid addict.  It was quite clear from the second or third sentence that the point of the article was to offer consolation to those who’d voted against the president.  It wasn’t journalism so much as devotional prose–no offense intended to the latter.

I understand political animus, but please, don’t pretend to write a review when you really want to say God damn it, Hillary lost and I hate, hate, hate it.  Try, try your hardest, to distinguish fact from opinion.

One other point:  the Vanity Fair piece was also elitist in the worst sense, not only deciding what poor people think, but also writing off everyone who isn’t the author or her approved designee as a moron.

Business Insider did a followup piece two days later, carefully presenting it as a fact-checking piece, and lo! it came to an identical conclusion.  The Taco Bowl–by the bye, the president’s personal favorite–was singled out for its “whopping” price of $18.  For midtown, next door to Tiffany’s, I wouldn’t bat an eye at that price, as long as for $18 there was something visible on the plate and it tasted reasonably good.

If you read Business Insider, eighteen dollars isn’t “whopping.” Give me a big fat break.

Then, I read the Yelp reviews.  They were as abysmally divided as this country.  The highly negative ones sounded artificial and polemical:  cockroaches, food poisoning, no toilet paper, bad service, horrible food, overpriced.  Several pictures showed food brought in from a street cart–hot dogs in paper sleeves–on a Trump table, representing that as the restaurant’s own offerings.

The positive reviews were downright glowing for the most part, and thus less fact-checkable on the level of language.  If you love a place, you love it.  Is your response colored by politics?  Who knows?

So, I told myself:  truth is still wanting on the internet.  Time to do some research.  Plus, I’m hungry and need a break from the Village.

So I personally went to Trump Tower.

There was a fully-armed soldier at the door, and concrete barriers.  As this is a presidential residence, in post-9/11 New York, it was not surprising.  The sight of armed soldiers is something I’ve had 17 years to wrap my mind around.  I was in Manhattan on the fateful day itself and will never forget it.

I walked in and, after getting through a quick and very friendly bag check (“Just put it into the scanner.  You’re good, buddy–have a great day!”)  I looked around for the Grill.  (Yes, it’s spelled Grille on one awning, but I’m going to use Grill for this review, because it is the usual form.  Anyone who carps at a spelling issue should stay offline.)

The Grill is on the lower level, so I went to the down escalator and got to the lower food court.  It was quite elegant as food courts go, a far cry from the echoing, screaming, elbowing, slippery white plastic of most malls. The waterfall was dramatic and gave soothing white noise.  There were food choices matching many tastes and budgets–no franchised mall-Chinese or mall-pizza.

Yes, there is a note of baroque opulence to the setting.  It did not offend me or make me giggle; it was fine.  For Manhattan especially, the decor was just that:  just fine.

The Grill is a small restaurant, essentially an attractive nook in the corner of the atrium.  Business class in an airplane, perhaps.  Wall mirrors make it look larger.  The esthetic is essentially Manhattan steakhouse, and cleaner than some I’ve been in.

I approached the hostess station and was immediately greeted cordially by two ladies, who were the bartender and the hostess.  I was seated by the waterfall, but asked if I might sit inside.  No problem, no demur; immediately I was reseated in a place more to my liking.

Water came quickly, as did the waiter.

I ordered the Taco Bowl and an iced tea.

As I waited I contemplated the decor and read some of the Vanity Fair hatchet job.  The terribly superior author carped at the art on the walls, calling it “French-ish” and coming from “Home Goods.”  I did not see her point, except that (like a daughter in a divorced household) she had to find fault with absolutely everything because it was dad’s.

The art was fine. Somewhat generic, traditional, clubby, large gilt frames, but fine.  More English-ish than French-ish.  The decor overall was attractive and appropriate.  No psychoanalysis to do here, at least of the proprietor.

The food arrived and I was very impressed, first, at the size of the Taco Bowl.  For $19 (it’s gone up a dollar) it was a tremendous amount of food, especially for Manhattan.  I had a hard time dispatching it all.  It was delicious.

The shell was crispy and delicious, and broke readily at the press of a knife.  There was enough meat in the shell for at least a hamburger and a half, and it was seasoned and cooked very well indeed.  The guacamole and salsa on top were tasty.

The greens were absolutely perfectly fresh, and they did not comprise the lower 2/3 of the bowl as is typical–they were part of the dish, not most of the dish.  The greens were also not the generic chopped and browning iceberg lettuce of fast food (the reference point of the Business Insider co-hatchet job).  There was rice involved as well.  I enjoyed breaking pieces of the shell off and scooping up some of the rich innards of the dish for a nice bite.

The dish wasn’t a revelation, of course:  it was a taco bowl.  But it was a damned good one, and for the price, on Fifth Avenue across from Van Cleef and Arpels, it was an excellent deal.

I went to the men’s room after lunch, and found it immaculate, spacious, and entirely suitable in every respect.  No complaints.

There were no cockroaches.

Today, I have no food poisoning, though I must say I’m still not hungry!

I did not have any alcohol, coffee, or dessert.

My empirical conclusion.  Politics are what they are, and opinions are deeply divided.  If you are physically enraged or sickened at the thought of the president, you might be upset at the mere name of this venue.  In that case, stay away.  If you adore him, by all means make a pilgrimage.  If you are objective, and try like Socrates to observe the Olympic games from a higher vantage point, I can recommend Trump Grill on the grounds of my experience.  For service, food, and price, it is a great choice, especially in that location.

I don’t know what you are looking for, but I wasn’t disappointed yesterday, nor did I find magical validation of a particular political theory.  I might just go back.

About Jonathan B. Hall

Keyboard artist, sacred musician, teacher, writer, working in New York City and State. Many interests include music theory and history, literature, astronomy, genealogy, philosophy and theology, gardening, and good food. Cat lover, too.
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