Bellevue Hospital is probably the most well known medical center in NYC. Spread over the upper 20’s on the east side, it has always been the first port of call if a visiting president is shot, an inmate of Riker’s needs attention, a canny producer wants the ICU for a photo shoot (!), or if you plainly just need to go to a hospital. But times have changed, and now one of the best reasons to go to Bellevue is for the food. Nestled in the midst of the complex of scientific research, facilities for the homeless and the emergency clinic, is an absolute gem of a restaurant. But not just a restaurant, and not just nestled. This place is practically hidden! I felt like I was given a secret sign when I was told to look for the guard house on 29th street and walk to the end. However, I knew I was in the right place when I saw the farm. River Park has a market garden overflowing with enviably fresh produce that adorns the menu and gives healthy recipes a whole new meaning. Apparently the construction of a hospital building extension had been delayed, so the restaurant took advantage of the space and planted herbs, strawberries, tomatoes and all things crunchy and delicious. ( They have tours of the ‘farm’ on Tuesdays ). Having found the farm, we then spotted a modern, architecturally glamorous building sitting next to the FDR with views over the east river. What I may initially have thought was stylishly clinical, the reception area led past a sweeping staircase to the restaurant itself, where style could never be confused with stiff. Looks like a million dollars, costs much less and the staff are friendly and hospitable. This is a place you want to live!
Of course I had to order a dish that maximized the bounty from the farm, which meant having the summer squash frittata, blossoms and mixed greens. Delicious and inspiring. ( My terrace tomatoes will next year become terraced as I endeavour to fill the balcony with vegetables of farm-like proportions. ) Then – spoiler alert – we shared french toast, which seriously challenges the status of Francesca’s in the East Village as my favorite in the city. Made with baguettes and served with peaches poached in a vanilla bean syrup, whipped cream and maple syrup, the bar has been raised.
River Park Restaurant is at the end of East 29th Street, and you can only enter from First Avenue ( not from the river side ). Dress is totally New York – you can go casual or in a ball gown, and you will warmly welcomed regardless. The best thing is that you don’t need a medical emergency to go….