The building itself is only ’80s-old, but its history predates even the Gatsby era levels of grandeur. The service follows suit, as immediately apparent from the courteous complimentary valet under the porte–cochère that sheltered the doormanned entrance of this AAA Four Diamond hotel.
We walked in to a sparkling lobby where, immediately to our right, were the open door and smiling hostess and manager of Polo Steakhouse (once known as Rein). Having arrived a few minutes early, we literally peeked behind a billowing curtain to preview what was in store for us at Long Island’s answer to the Rainbow Room in New York City. Set up in a semi-partitioned space with tasteful decor, ornamental fireplaces, and streaming sunlight with stations set up strategically along the passageway, the layout belied the variety and quantity of choices on which to dine. The flow was such that despite the crowd, you didn’t feel crowded; despite the tremendous selection, you felt relaxed and not overwhelmed.
We’d also like to note that sharing lobby space with a semi-enclosed brunch spread can be challenging since bacon and its like tends to waft, but clean air circulated throughout the space and kept scents neutral–an impressive feat.
We were escorted through the tasteful Polo Lounge space, where a large bar was capped by large TVs and coffered ceilings. Stately in a country club smoking lounge kind of way, it was upscale without excess and very classy. From there, we were led past a second hosts’ stand to the main dining room, where rich reds and golds, leather trim and heavy oversized seating, and an ornate chandelier set in a tray ceiling set a tone of posh, masculine tradition befitting a high-end steakhouse. The setting was intimate and extremely luxurious, but again, in a discreet manner that makes one simply feel important just for being there without being able to state why.
And so we began.
Everyone talks about the cold seafood display here–and they are 100% right to do so. It’s the first thing you see when you glance behind the dividing curtain and it is impressive in its vastness and selection. The lunch selection was outstanding, with a roast station and six chafing dishes of elegant Continental entrees that were refreshed regularly.
The wall of salads was no wallflower (!), either. Frankly, it stole the show for me, which is saying quite something given the towers of beautiful viennoiserie that flanked the crepes-to-order station and the breakfast pastry station. Others might swoon over the chocolate fountain before the decorative fireplace while others still might find their bliss among the wide array of cheeses and cured meat.
- The bread category here cannot be summed up easily. The heartier carbs, although beautifully presented in the meat and cheese corner, took a back seat to everything else at this exceptional buffet, and we were unable to make trying this a priority. That’s how good the array was. In the basket were multi-grain and raisin and (presumably) nut-studded rolls and what looked to be a ciabatta or airy sourdough loaf sliced into even pieces.
- Breakfast pastry was represented by flaky mini-croissants; apple-stuffed or raspberry-topped laminated dough; moist, bite-sized muffins in various flavors, including classic bran and blueberry that day; and tiny bagels, with and without toppings. The presentation of butter in formed balls was darling as well as convenient and clean.
- Getting right to it: the famous seafood display. This and the bottomless bubbly aspect makes this brunch not only worth every penny of its price tag, but a great value for your dollar. Allow us to break it down:
- Sweet jumbo shrimp cocktail, fresh and succulent
- Perfectly steamed split lobster tails, chilled on ice and continuously refilled
- Cracked lobster and crab claws for easy access to the meat
- Smoked fish, including lox
- A caviar bar, with tiny toasts, capers, and other accoutrements
- Specialty sushi rolls and sashimi, presented in two tiers. Especially noteworthy was that the rolls weren’t primarily your basic California, spicy tuna, and other entry-level types; think layers upon layers of a rainbow of fish, drizzles of eel sauce, and split shrimp.
- Hollandaise, warm clarified butter, and delightfully zippy cocktail sauce with plenty of horseradish were available, along with soy sauce for the sushi and lemon slices in mesh bags.
- Show cooking consisted of a crepe station that offered fresh berries, Nutella, and fresh whipped cream; an omelet station with the usual suspects of fillings; a waffle station where macerated berries, chopped nuts, chocolate chips, and more fresh whipped cream sat ready to top; and next to the latter few, a carving station that featured prime rib of beef and actual beef ribs (this selection changes with regularity), plus a burner for pasta, which was in a puttanesca sauce on this day.
- Typical breakfast staples like eggs Benedict, bacon, sausage, and thick, cinnamon-y French toast appeared in chafing dishes, but the spread was much more lunch-focused, to be quite honest. Eggs can be cooked to order at the omelet station, obviously, and I’m sure they’d allow you to request a poached egg from the kitchen, but if you’re in it for the eggs, I’d recommend doing this at the later seating and calling it lunner. There was a frying pan next to the waffle iron, so perhaps pancakes are possible (total speculation), but none were seen.
- The cheese selection was commendable, with soft, hard, sharp, pungent, and creamy all accounted for. Your vehicles: water crackers or bread.
- The salumi/charcuterie plates were even better. Polo Steakhouse went beyond the typical Italian prosciutto, salami, etc. to also offer pate and little gherkins to enjoy with it.
- The main course/entrees were excellent, especially given that they are–as typical at a brunch buffet–prepared en masse and are required to sit well. The appearance of venison stew and pecan-crusted trout fillets showed that the team here is unafraid to tackle atypical (for buffets) and upmarket proteins; flank steak with shaved parmigianno in a red wine reduction, creamy chicken fricasse, steamed vegetable medley with asparagus and haricot vert and mashed fingerling potatoes with a healthy dose of truffle demonstrated that they were not taking the cheap way out on their basics.
- The salad station, so often an afterthought or a filler at buffet brunches, was absolutely spectacular … so much so that this, too, requires a secondary breakdown.
- The grilled vegetables were marked perfectly, seasoned wonderfully, and in an assortment that was a joy to behold. Romaine lettuce (seriously, before you knock it, try it!), broccolini, zucchini, eggplant, red and yellow bell peppers, asparagus, sweet onion, Roma tomatoes … this was a veggie-lover’s dream.
- The tumeric-roasted cauliflower and oil-laced roasted broccoli hit that ideal sweet spot between crunchy and tender. Another single-vegetable hit were the soft, earthy, umami-laced fire-roasted fresh shiitake and maitake mushrooms. We detected some toasted sesame oil in the dressing and loved it. The corn salad with roasted chicken was also of note.
- Plantain chips, tri-color tortilla chips, and pita slices made great vehicles for dipping into guacamole or caponata.
- The seafood journey continued on this table, too. Scallops, tiny lobster roll sliders (sometimes crab), and seared tuna all checked in.
- The dessert table here is not for the weak-willed … or is it? Elegantly plated in tasting portions makes it so guests can just try a taste … or a little bit of everything. Opting for the former is nigh impossible, though, when pignoli cookies, Parisian macarons, cookie dough bites wrapped in chocolate shells, chocolate ganache cake, cheesecake, banana caramel cream parfaits, strawberry mousse tartlettes, white and milk chocolate mousse tulips, coconut panna cotta mango/coconut cream cakes, and amaretto-spiked tiramisu-style shooters stare you in the face. Biscotti, jelly beans, and gummy bears lighten it up, but they’re right next to the chocolate fountain and its marshmallows, graham crackers, pretzel rods, pineapple wedges, and whole strawberries. And then, of course, we’re back at the crepe station mentioned before.
- Coffee is poured from metal carafes with a generous portion of chilled milk provided for the table. Yellow, pink, regular, and raw sugars were provided, but the creamy medium brew with its caramel hints needed no sweetening.
- House mimosas, Bloody Marys, and wine was included, and attentive service made sure these glasses stayed full. Mimosas were the more popular beverage, and the balance veered more toward the bubbly.
- My bellini was a special request that the wait staff fulfilled unflinchingly, and was executed well. It was minimally syrupy and refreshing.
I loved …
- That it not only lived up to, but exceeded its reputation in both quantity and quality. At first glance, you may feel that the spread isn’t quite as lavishly large as you’d anticipated, but once you start filling your plate, you’ll find yourself an hour in and still not having sampled everything–especially since everything was so well-prepared that it could all stand on its own. Even though this was a buffet, no corners were cut and no shortcuts were taken. Much of what I had could have passed for a la carte.
- That they took risks with going beyond the expected, clearly catering to a higher end clientele. The fact that game was on offer, a less standard finfish, seasonal vegetables, international flavor profiles (beyond Asian, which has become commonplace), and creative salads, on top of dressed-up stand-bys is commendable when it’s so easy to take … well, the easy way out when it comes to pleasing a crowd.
- That vegetarians, vegans, and pescatarians could easily find themselves not just satisfied, but totally full here. Although I am neither of these things, I have a lifelong love affair with vegetables, and find it challenging to get my fill of them when eating out … especially when it comes to meat-heavy brunch, which often relies on sausage, bacon, and eggs to carry the meal. Here, I finally had all the vegetables I could ever want, and then some, including harder-to-find ones like acorn squash (brilliant with the pecan-crusted trout) and costlier ones like asparagus and brussels sprouts. Vegetables appeared in every chafing dish, too, which was another detail we were excited about.
- That it was actually extremely easy to eat healthfully and not go too far off the rails. Doing what we do makes it a challenge to stay within bounds, and the plentiful options for clean eating, the excellent assortment of fresh fruit and seasonal vegetables, and balanced preparation was actually a huge relief.
- That it didn’t smell like breakfast. There wasn’t even a hint of grease in the air, indicating both cleanliness and containment, healthier methods of preparation, and freshness of the spread. Along those lines, it didn’t smell like seafood, either, which is just as impressive given the size of the display.
- The thoughtful, attentive, yet unobtrusive service, as befits a venue in a Four Diamond-awarded hotel. Details like returning to your seat with a folded napkin in place are always nice, as is chef readiness to answer questions or guide you through the food displays.
- The constant movement in and out of the kitchen, which indicates smaller batch preparation and again, freshness of the spread. Things kept getting refreshed and refilled, but turnaround was quick so nothing was left empty for more than a moment.
- That this was clearly a gourmet buffet for everyone. High-end dishes done creatively, traditional dishes elevated, comfort foods revisited, ethnic eats interpreted, and every food group represented.
Food highlights were …
- Obviously, the seafood. Everything was really, really fresh, and the variety was aces. The attention to detail like well-placed cracking and no soft shells made it really easy to eat (we all know what it’s like to struggle with a stubborn claw!) The quality of the shellfish was outstanding–meaty, sweet, succulent. The fish for the sushi was without a doubt true sushi-grade, and, as we said before, they went above and beyond to provide loaded specialty rolls.
- The waffles. Seriously, we couldn’t believe that one of the best waffles we’d ever had came out of a chafing dish. Light, airy, eggy, custardy, warm, and still crispy around the edges, these were everything that could be hoped for in a sweet Belgian waffle. A dollop from the bowl of hand-whipped cream (another detail we loved seeing), fresh fruit, and warm breakfast syrup made it so good, this treat appeared for both the breakfast and dessert portion of our brunch.
- The truffled fingerling mashed potatoes. The clear truffle flavors sang through buttery, skin-on, rough-mashed potatoes that paired so well with the juicy roast.
- The roasted broccoli and roasted mushrooms. Call us crazy, but they were insanely good here. The silky, marinated Asian mushrooms–another splurge for those familiar with the varieties and fresh versus dried versions–had such deep flavor and a luscious, velvety texture that made us finally understand how it can be seen as an acceptable meat substitute. The broccoli’s slightly charred florettes gave it a sweetness, and the burst of oil on the tongue was a joyful celebration with every bite.
- The amaretto shooters, chocolate cake, and cookie dough cake pops are not to be missed. The first is like an almond liqueur-scented, spongecake-based tiramisu in a shot glass. The second is a chocolate-lover’s dream, with a–literally–quarter-inch sheet of buttery, decadent ganache on top of gloriously rich cake. The third is heavily chocolate chipped dough dipped in chocolate which is then dipped into even more chocolate chips. More need not be said.
Find a special occasion. Then go. Or just go. Sure, it’s a splurge, but think about how much you pay per person for a nice multi-course dinner in this type of ambiance … and that’s BEFORE drinks. Trust us, if you brunch here, you won’t need to eat for the rest of the day. We certainly didn’t! The staff really makes you feel special here and selection and quality is heads and tails above what we’ve had so far. Worth the drive, worth the price, worth the calories.
Polo Steakhouse at the Garden City Hotel: 45 Seventh Street, Garden City
- Days: Sundays
- Times: 11 AM – 4:30 PM; seatings available for 11 AM, 11:30 AM, 2 PM, 2:30 PM
- Menu: Rotating
- Type: Buffet brunch, $75
- Promotions: Unlimited Mimosas, Bloody Marys, and house wines; $42.50 for children 2-12 and free for children under 2
- Yelp Reviews | My Review – Extraordinary