205 East 45th Street
New York, NY 10017
(212) 867-4200

I'd not seen Turtle in I don't know how long and the extra-long hours I'd been at work had cost my going to his birthday party downtown at Havana Central. Add to that the fact that I've been too busy to go out much and along comes a recipe for dinner plans. I'd get a new review, and he'd get a free meal. It was win-win. I decided to take him to Riingo, the Japanese-Fusion restaurant at the base of the none-too-cheap Alex Hotel.

Riingo is a dark, modern place. While there were a few couples there, it's not exactly the first place I'd go to take a date. Its interior, while candle-lit and jazzy, has a sharp cornered, square theme on everything from the tea lights on up, making it far from romantic. Inviting, maybe. Romantic, no. Add to the atmosphere 20 foot high ceilings, and you've completely sapped the intimacy factor. Speaking of tea lights, in addition to the real ones, they project digital versions ten feet high on the back wall. Funky. In short, it's a great place for a corporate meal that will impress a client without making them think you're trying to sleep with them.

Riingo's front is a trendy lounge with cushy sofas and a long bar. It's dining room is in the rear, past the sushi bar. But if you want sushi, go somewhere that specializes in it. Don't go where's it's the sideshow. Turtle and I were here for the regular menu. There were no specials that day, which I found odd. I can't remember a time when my waiter or waitress didn't offer up that short little list. The first thing we did was get drinks.

Like clockwork, immediately after our order was placed came the bread basket, which was quickly devoured. I then realized that in the battle between eyes and stomach, eyes will always win. I silently cursed for having ordered an extra side-dish and drank some of my overpriced Japanese beer. Kirin Light, if you must know.

My appetizer was the Chicken Dumplings. Three were served atop a bed of scallions and ponzu in a bowl of vinegar. While the vinegar was well-paired with the dumplings, there was simply too much of it and the insides of the dumplings absorbed it like a sponge, making the taste far too tart for its own good. I liked it, but it could have been better. Turtle ordered the miniscule Beer Braised Short Ribs, served with an apple puree and sliced hearts of palm. His dish was excellent. Tiny, but excellent. Melt in your mouth tender with a wonderful apple undertone.

For an entree, Turtle chose the Steak Frites in a black pepper sauce. This wasn't the most Asian thing on the menu, but this is a fusion place, so the distinction is in the details. Here, the detail was the accompanying side dish: Taro Fries. These fries are not made out of potato. Instead, they're made from some sort of mixed vegetable puree that turns the fries lavender-white. They aren't bad, but growing up with real french fries means that my expectations are just not compatible with this twist on the classic. The lesson, don't mess with a good thing. The steak, however, was very good, even though Turtle ordered it medium-well, something I consider a crime. Had he requested it somewhat less cooked, I'm sure it would have been excellent. My entree was the Rare Tuna. And rare is just that. The dish is basically three two inch-by-two inch squares of tuna, seared on the sides only about two millimeters deep and served on a bed of pumpkin puree and tatsoi. Truly a great dish if you love rare tuna. Those who aren't of that ilk would want to pass. Since we were extra hungry when we ordered, we also asked for two extra side dishes: sauteed Baby Bok Choi, something I love, and the Riingo Fries, which are pretty much french fries but with some herbs sprinkled on top. Fancy restaurants love doing that. The bok choi was perfect. The fries were a tad overcooked.

We were extremely full by this point, so naturally we ordered dessert. Just to round out the meal, of course. Turtle ordered the Warm Chocolate Cake, a small lava cake with a side of vanilla ice cream. Chocolate lovers take heed. This is for you. Really heavy and rich, but very smooth. My recent experience at Lounge 47 made me wary of coffee themed creme brulees, but also curious. I needed to see if coffee and creme brulee just wasn't meant to be together or if I was just unlucky. I therefore ordered the Espresso Creme Brulee (and a regular coffee), which came with a small dish of chocolate sorbet. I, it turns out, was just unlucky. The chef at Riingo knows how to make one helluva smooth, not bitter at all creme brulee.

All in all a very good experience. The staff was extremely friendly and the service was attentive without being in your face all the time or hovering over the table waiting for any excuse to refill your water glass. Even the menu welcomes you with "good evening" on the front page. The stiff corporate atmosphere melted away once you sat down and realized you could talk loudly and no one would care, and I certainly can't make any but slight criticisms of the food. If you have an expense account, it's where to go. If not, you'll notice how much lighter your wallet is as you leave. I'd definitely go back and I certainly think it's worth a try for something a little different.

Our meals, which were a beer, a soda, two appetizers, two entrees, two side dishes, two desserts and a coffee, plus tax and tip, was an even $160.

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