Eating for a living takes the Underground Gourmet to all sorts of strange and mysterious places — the Upper West Side, for instance — but none more sinisterly exotic than the typical department-store café. As anyone who’s ever lunched on frozen yogurt and cantaloupe at Bloomingdale’s Forty Carrots or nibbled miniature quiche at the American Girl Cafe can attest, these shopaholic fuel stations are not the manliest places to tie on the noonday feedbag. So how the UG found himself ensconced at a petite table at Henri Bendel’s new third-floor Chocolate Bar the other day, God and Ms. UG only know.
Among the things which distinguished the experience from, say, lunch at Sparks or Peter Luger was the menu’s nearly complete lack of red meat, the thumping house music from below, and the busboy’s pointy shoes which curled upward like a fashionable elf’s. The only real downside was that with the beer-and-wine license pending, the UG was at a loss to brace himself against the frightful ordeal and was more or less forced to sip a raspberry soda. The upside: His No Mayo Tuna Sandwich was surprisingly good and definitely Sandwich of the Week material. It came on thick Balthazar bread embedded with olives and swiped with a zingy tapenade. And like its counterpart at ‘wichcraft, the tuna was the good olive-oil-packed Italian stuff mingled with lemon zest, capers, and red onion. Although he did not raise a pinky, the UG ate it in delicate bites between gulps of raspberry soda, a stranger in a strange land, but well fed at least. —Rob Patronite & Robin Raisfeld
Chocolate Bar at Henri Bendel, 712 Fifth Ave., nr. 55th St.; 212-582-8283