A Globeful of Cuisines, An Automat Atmosphere

The whole point of an automat used to be that what you saw was what you got. The Globe restaurant looks like an automat from the 40’s and offers a similarly wide selection of dishes (although they are not designated for a Horn & Hardart shelf life and they don’t come out of tiny coin-op cubicles). It sets out to be all things to all people, from early breakfast to late-night supper, with a menu that runs the gamut from pizza baked in a wood-burning oven to homemade doughnuts and meatloaf with gravy.

At the entrance, which is done up with curved white walls, stainless steel, glass and aluminum, is a large, round oyster bar that functions as a breakfast counter in the morning, a takeout counter at lunchtime, and at night is heaped with seafood on ice.

When we walked in one evening, a clever visual pun met our eyes: Instead of day-old Boston cream pie, the glass display cases were filled with shrimp and lobsters. Further back, the vast, handsome restaurant, which has 18-foot ceilings, 40’s light fixtures and marble terrazzo floors, looks more like a hotel lounge, with hints of Schraft’s and Childs. Billie Holiday was playing on the sound system and, as I sank into a booth, I thought how much New York had changed since the days of whisky sours, Parker House rolls and middle-aged waitresses in orthopedic shoes. Our friendly young waiter, who had silver hoops in both his ears, set a basket of focaccia on the table and handed us menus.

My husband was eyeing the raw bar. “Would you like to try some oysters before we decide what else to order?” he asked our 9-year-old son, who was absorbed with his new computer toy, a “Dino-in-your-pocket” he had received as a party favor that afternoon.

“Go ahead!” said the waiter cheerfully. “I used to eat oysters all the time when I was your age.”

“Where did you grow up?” I asked.

“Buffalo.”

I didn’t try oysters until I was 17. It was my first day in New York and my mother took me to the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal, where I put away a dozen Bluepoints, plus a slab of cheesecake, which I had also never had before. Life, I felt that day, had finally begun.

Our waiter returned with a plate of glistening Bluepoints and Malpeques. My son picked out the smallest Bluepoint and put it in gingerly in his mouth.

“It tastes like a nice, green, slimy sludge.” he said, taking a swill of milk to get it down. “I like it.”

“Have another.”

“No thanks. I’m waiting for my dinosaur egg to hatch.” He resumed pressing buttons on his toy.

“There’s a lot of stuff on this menu,” said my husband who was looking it over. “I wonder if the food will be any good. Have you ever eaten in a place that was serving everything from everywhere?”

I had to admit I had not.

The menu at the Globe is indeed nothing if not eclectic. Chef Jamie Leeds, who has worked at the Union Square Cafe, has thrown her net far and wide. If you don’t want roast pork with noodle pudding, how about a plate of roasted, grilled and steamed vegetables instead? Feel in the mood for Chinese? There’s Peking duck with scallion pancakes on Fridays. French? Try coq au vin, bouillabaisse or cassoulet. Italian? Have the pasta with four cheeses.

I began with tuna tartare (de rigueur on any up-to-the-minute menu these days). The fish was cut into small chunks, piled in the center of the plate and served with fried plantains and little heaps of capers, chopped onion, herbs, eggplant caviar and mustard. But the tuna was flavorless, so the dish-a play on the classic steak tartare-didn’t work. Steamed mushroom dumplings were a disappointment, too; they had little taste and were served with a rather harsh-tasting sauce. These appetizers seemed more about style than substance and lacked conviction.

The house smoked salmon served with spicy watercress, roasted red peppers and cream cheese was very good, however, as were the fried artichokes I had here last fall (they are not on the current menu). The pizzas, which are baked in a large wood-burning oven in the back of the restaurant, were excellent too, with very light crusts and interesting toppings that included chicken, smoked mozzarella and basil, or fennel sausage and wild mushrooms with a creamy, homemade mozzarella.

Grilled lamb kebabs with couscous were pleasant, if not especially memorable, as were the ribs with cole slaw and mashed sweet potatoes. I liked the cassoulet-which was baked in the wood-burning oven-with duck confit, lamb, garlic sausage and white beans under a crispy topping, but like many dishes here it was underseasoned.

Desserts were lavish, old-fashioned and as American as anything ever served at the automat. They included a warm fudge brownie sundae, a ricotta cheese cake and a Key lime pie with a filling that was on the gluey side and a crust that was too sweet. But we liked the “yodel,” a slice of dark chocolate cake wrapped around a cream filling and sprinkled with caramel and chocolate sauces and toffee crunch.

“Good with milk,” said my son, scraping the plate clean. He turned his attention to his toy. “My dinosaur’s hatched! What shall I feed it? An apple, a radish or a fish? I wish I hadn’t finished that yodel,” he added suddenly. “It was way too much.”

“Why did you eat it all?”

“Because it was there.”

Pace Sir Edmund Hillary, that pretty much summed up the way I felt about the food at the Globe.

The Globe *

373 Park Avenue South,

between 26th and 27th streets

545-8800

Dress: Casual

Noise Level: Fine

Wine List: Well chosen and reasonable

Credit Cards: All major

Price Range: Main courses lunch $8.50 to $14.95, dinner $8 to $23

Brunch: Saturday and Sunday 11:30 A.M. to 3 P.M., Monday to Friday (takeout only) 7 A.M. to 3 P.M.

Lunch: Monday to Friday noon to

3 P.M.

Dinner: Sunday 5 P.M. to 10 P.M., Monday to Wednesday 5:30 to 11 P.M., Thursday to Saturday to midnight

* good

** very good

*** excellent

**** outstanding

no star poor