I’ve never met Tina Nguyen, a writer now at Vanity Fair with an uncharacteristic way of cutting through the pop-culture-food bullshit, but have been following her on twitter for several years.
Halfway through a recent late lunch at the Trump Grill—the clubby steakhouse in the lobby of Trump Tower that has recently become famous through the incessant media coverage of its namesake landlord, and the many dignitaries traipsing through its marbled hall to kiss his ring—I sensed the initial symptoms of a Trump overdose. Thanks to an unprecedented influx of diners, we were sitting at a wobbly overflow table outside the restaurant, in the middle of a crush of tourists, some of whom were proposing to their partners, or waiting to buy Trump-branded merchandise, or sprinting to the bathroom.
As my companions and I contemplated the most painless way to eat our flaccid, gray Szechuan dumplings with their flaccid, gray innards, as a campy version of “Jingle Bells” jackhammered in the background, a giant gold box tied with red ribbon toppled onto us. Trump, it seemed, was already fighting against the War on Christmas.
The allure of Trump’s restaurant, like the candidate, is that it seems like a cheap version of rich. The inconsistent menus—literally, my menu was missing dishes that I found on my dining partners’—were chock-full of steakhouse classics doused with unnecessarily high-end ingredients. The dumplings, for instance, come with soy sauce topped with truffle oil, and the crostini is served with both hummus and ricotta, two exotic ingredients that should still never be combined. The menu itself would like to impress diners with how important it is, randomly capitalizing fancy words like “Prosciutto” and “Julienned” (and, strangely, ”House Salad”).
Our waiter, coiffed and charming, was determined to gaslight us into thinking we were having a good time. “Trump gets the taco bowl and the lasagna and baked ziti,” he said, before subsequently informing the table that we could not order the lasagna or baked ziti. I asked the waiter what Trump’s children eat. He didn’t seem to understand the question, or, like Marco Rubio, appeared unable to depart from his prescribed talking points.“Oh, I’ve shaken hands with him before, and they’re pretty normal-sized hands,” he responded.
Our table nevertheless ordered the Ivanka’s Salad, a chopped approximation of a Greek salad, smothered in melting goat cheese and dressing and missing the promised olives, that seemed unlikely to appetize a SoulCycle-obsessed, smoothie-guzzling heiress. (Instead, it looked like a salad made by someone who believes that rich women only eat vegetables.) But the cuboid plant matter ended up being the perfect place to hide several uneaten Szechuan dumplings.
Our waiter eventually noted that Don Jr. gets the filet mignon cooked medium-rare, with garlic mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli. The steak came out overcooked and mealy, with an ugly strain of pure fat running through it, crying out for A.1. sauce (it was missing the promised demi-glace, too). The plate must have tilted during its journey from the kitchen to the table, as the steak slumped to the side over the potatoes like a dead body inside a T-boned minivan. Don Jr. probably does not eat the filet mignon here regularly, either. Come to think of it, judging by its non-cylindrical shape, it might not have even been a filet at all.
The one thing required to save the meal—booze—turned into its greatest disappointment. Trump himself does not drink alcohol, a possible explanation for why the cocktails seemed to be concocted by a college freshman experimenting in their dorm room. The Tower was a tall glass filled with three types of rum and several types of fruit concentrate. (One person named it “The Cancun,” and slowly nursed the spring-break-colored drink over the next two hours like morphine.) The You’re Fired, an oversized Bloody Mary, appeared to be a chunky shrimp-cocktail sauce, heavy on the horseradish, mixed with ice and a lot of vodka. The Fifth Avenue—Grey Goose with Cointreau and a “splash of cranberry”—tasted like vodka mixed with Crystal Light, the ultimate drink for an 18-year-old pledging a sorority. The alternative to these cocktails—which we could not bring ourselves to finish over the course of two hours—was Trump’s own branded Trump Wine, which came with one red option and one white option.