What do you want from an $700 night out? A dinner party in the penthouse of an Art Deco skyscraper and the best view of New York City you’ve ever seen? A cocktail as soon as you step out of the elevator? A surprise scene change in the middle of dinner and a sculpted tree of candies at the end of it? If you like your restaurants like Catherine O’Hara likes her characters, then you’ll appreciate the flair and drama of Saga. But if you just want a nice view for a lot less than $700, we have a better solution.
Saga is the deluxe upstairs sibling of Crown Shy, a new American restaurant on the ground floor of a 1930’s building that’s an official New York City landmark. Unlike a meal at Crown Shy, dinner at Saga happens on the 63rd floor in a carpeted room fit for Bond villains moonlighting as AIG executives. (The space formerly acted as the company’s C-suite clubhouse.) Saga exclusively serves a 12-ish course tasting menu for $245 per person, and by the time you’re back in the elevator descending to earth, you’ll have spent four hours in the sky.
As soon as you arrive off of the elevator, a bartender will offer to make you a complimentary cocktail. Then you'll head to a lounge area featuring a 63rd-floor terrace with a view that other fine dining restaurants would do illegal things to have. After about half an hour of playing East River I-Spy, it'll be time to waddle into the dining room where roughly 20 people sit facing big wrap-around windows. Geometric lamps commissioned specifically for the restaurant perch in the middle of each table, and there’s a watercolor portrait on the wall that we swear we saw at The Whitney in 2016. The staff will talk you through some wine, and dinner will start.
The first part of the meal embodies the energy of Fine Dining Disneyland, or at least a showcase at the Culinary Institute of America. You’ll gnaw on something that looks like dry-ice meringue made with citrus and fennel to clear out your palette, then you might encounter five different preparations of fluke bites on a two-tiered abstract sculpture. Many of the dishes at the beginning of the meal pay homage to what we call the The Coat Check Holy Trinity: caviar, foie gras, and truffle. The highlight is a warm sturgeon caviar dish with an airy bonito espuma and a brown butter crumble that makes the bottom crunchy like a cheesecake.
As Saga’s tasting progresses, the theme wanders like a child at the Grand Canyon who has recently been de-leashed. A take on laksa is served with black bass, littleneck clams, Maine lobster tail, and soft thumbelina carrots. Then comes a family-style course of Moroccan-influenced dishes—built around your choice of duck or steak. If you opt for duck, it’ll be served as a tagine surrounded by a fleet of flatbreads, salads, and dips. Perfectly-cooked as the two-week aged duck breast may be, this entree course might as well have teleported from a completely different restaurant. You’ll splatter the table cloth with a beet hummus mess while building your duck flatbread sandwich and have trouble retracing your steps back to the caviar you ate an hour prior.
At this point (hour three), you might lose the inhibitions that have kept you from bending down to investigate whether Saga’s carpets are as soft as they look. You’ll be drunk, loopy, and wondering if there’s something sinister about a room full of people popping fluke-stuffed cucumber balls into their mouths 900 feet in the air. Just as you build up the courage to inappropriately brush Saga’s carpets, a server will come over and ask you to follow them for “a surprise.” We don’t want to ruin Saga’s party trick, but we will tell you that “the surprise” involves being taken to and subsequently left alone in a room with many throw pillows. This immersive happening feels like it’s four theater classes away from being Sleep No More. (If you go, we’d love to debrief “the surprise” with you afterwards. Send us an email about your Saga saga.)
Thanks to the restaurant’s built-in flair—the cocktails on the terrace, the surprise halftime show, and the view itself– you’ll likely remember the 63rd floor setting more clearly than you'll remember what you put into your mouth. In fairness, it would take a lot of magic for some foam and beet hummus stains to steal the spotlight away from a once-in-a-city location like Saga’s. A more focused menu would help, though.
Saga’s food may lack cohesive flow, but looking down at the Brooklyn Bridge and the New York Harbor is one unrivaled perk of coming here. Which is why you should reserve a spot at Saga’s upstairs bar, Overstory, for the same view and cocktails. No matter who you are or how much money you have, we recommend the existential feeling of being a tiny speck up there on the 63rd floor. The four-hour dinner, on the other hand, isn't necessary.
Saga’s themeless tasting menu is eclipsed by the restaurant’s other extravagances. (FYI, you can always reserve a spot at Saga’s upstairs bar, Overstory, for the same view and the same delicious cocktails.) But that’s not to say that the food isn’t well-executed. The most memorable courses include a fluke in an escabeche style cut like the world’s smallest tomahawk steak, some airy focaccia shaped like muffins and presented in a treasure chest, and the big old duck. We’d happily pay $100-ish for that duck course, eat nothing else, and call it a day.