Nice Place, Good Food, Sadistic Door

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The Pure Slav in me?this fellow admires what this good new restaurant called Midway has done with its doors. The establishment's pulled the old switcheroo?it's made what should be its back door into its front, and its front into its back, in a manner that renders the premises difficult to enter. This backward situation's what I would call Slavic in its sullen perversity. I think that had my great-grandfather made his living designing downtown eateries instead of shooting grain alcohol, weeping in bungalows, punching people in the balls and scraping melancholy tubers from his allotted several acres of Ruthenian dust, he would have formulated, in his Slavicness, precisely the confusing and maybe ultimately untenable method of ingress and egress that characterizes Midway. And if it didn't work for patrons; and if it freaked people out; and if it meant that using the restaurant was more difficult than it needed to be; and if it created complications and, potentially, fistfights, where there needed to be none?well. What was he supposed to be, as perfect as God?

Have you been by Midway yet? It's a very likable place, mostly, but if you have, you'll know what I mean about the doors. Midway's located on the corner of Charles and Washington Sts., in the space Waterloo used to occupy, way over there in the West Village, where the world becomes Hobbit-scaled and appealingly empty. The restaurant's Washington St. facade is a vast and welcoming wall of glass with smart burnt-orange awnings cantilevered out over the sidewalk?and luxuriant golden light spills out through the huge windows and onto the nighttime pavement, which means that the restaurant beckons as you approach it from the north, drawing you toward its amber pulsations of light.

Amazingly, though, this facade isn't the front of the restaurant?and the glass door that clearly punctuates this elegant plane, behind which you can see patrons mingling in their well-dressed slenderness, is in fact some sort of service door, or at any rate a door that's required to be kept shut and locked. You're supposed to enter Midway on Charles St., through a nondescript and almost secret industrial metal door that's tucked into the far corner of the restaurant's windowless brick southern facade. (I saw the wall and thought of my ancestry again: peasants shuffling against its blankness with cigarettes jammed between their lips, facing Czarist riflemen.) Sit at the Midway bar, behind that wall of glass, and drink cold gin and look out into Washington St., and it's like you're behind the windshield of a giant sedan rolling at night through swamplands: it's like there are insects smacking against the auto-glass, whap whap whap. An Andersen Consulting guy spills from a cab, working a cellphone, walks innocently up the curb and over the sidewalk and smack?runs up against impermeable membrane. (Were he a bug, and Midway a Chevy, his innards would be smeared against le pare-brise.) Pulls at the locked door, grimacing, cellphone jammed into the space between his overcoated shoulder and his flushing red face, tugging, tugging, tugging at the damn thing?

I don't know. If I ran Midway, I wouldn't make it so hard on the guy. It's like he's showed up just to eat dinner, and ended up on Candid Camera, pulling at a dummy door for the amusement of the masses. Foot against the glass, straining at the unyielding door, trying to gain purchase. His date, feeling for him, uncomfortably sips vodka on the other side, six feet and a million miles away. Should she help? Would doing so make it worse? She doesn't know. Sometimes people at the bar would do this helpful mime trip, and mouth words at the confused people outside, and point around the corner to the Charles St. door.

At any rate, once you get in, Midway is an admirable restaurant in which to consume sturgeon, wine, chowder, portobello mushrooms, tasty "all-natural" chicken and other delicious and toothsome dishes. The prices don't faze you, everyone's around your own age, the men are no less than esthetically presentable, the women are reassuringly thin and admirably clad in what my trained fashionista's eye identified as the appropriate garments (Michael Kors rules!), the seating doesn't work an injustice on the musculature of your lower back and the hostess accomplishes her duties with a sense of earnest dispatch.

So. The decor's clean and elegant and industrial without being alienating and monochromatic, except for the burnt-orange chairs and upholstery, which I suspect were acquired via a cloning experiment with those crazy signature nuke-orange chairs at Canteen. (Or else, if the chairs at Canteen and Midway aren't related, they at least belong to the same general social circle, and bowl together every several weeks.) Midway offers youthful elegance without a bunch of the usual inconveniences: the crowds (though of course Midway is new, and then, too, I was there early in the week; God knows what kind of super-crowded excrescence it will mature into, especially on weekends); the attitude; the overdesigned or just fundamentally bad food; the squirming.

I would like to tell you about a variety of satisfying Midway dishes that I think you'll enjoy. First, the sturgeon. If you've never had sturgeon, then this is your lucky restaurant, my friend. Midway served me two huge slabs of what seemed to be pan-roasted sturgeon on a big white plate over a bed of finely cubed parsnips?and by God I mean finely cubed parsnips: each yellow-whitish cube was smaller even than a sugar cube. I sure hope you'll find this dish as delicious as I did. Sturgeon is a soft, pale-white fish with a silky, milky consistency. It's almost bland. That's why?my compliments to the resourceful chef?the earthy, snappy parsnip bits are necessary. They add that fresh and pungent rooty pep, that integral bit of verve, that zesty get-up-and-go.

New York clam chowder was also quite a delight. It tasted fresh and vegetative. Eating it reminds you of how much your conception of Manhattan clam chowder is informed by MSG?by the scads of the stuff that get dumped into so much canned soup. But this clam chowder was tip-top. The clams were plump and good, and it was all I could do not to show them off to my dining companions, proud as I was of them. The bottom of the soup bowl swam with crisp, butter-tasting white beans, which made the dish that much more excellent. And if that green slick of coriander slime floating atop the soup didn't improve the soup yet another notch, then I'll be Tom Thumb. Oh boy, was it good.

Roast "all-natural" chicken is another dish I think you'll find pleasing. It's served over a bed of something or other. We ordered a dozen oysters. Maybe because they were West Coast oysters, each was fatter and more worthy of respect than your run-of-the-mill East Coast oyster, which is a generally wan and phlegmy thing, especially compared to its mighty, obese, palm-sized and actually meaty Gulf Coast cousin.

What other delights await you at this estimable establishment? Why, the duck. The slab of duck was served over something or other?consult the menu, if you've got one?perhaps a bed of wild rice. That's not all that made it special, however. I also liked that it came presliced, horizontally, across the bias, so that my friend was presented with what were effectively medallions of duck, crusted with the fatty-crispy skin that makes duck such a delicious treat.

There was also, somewhere in there during our meal, a dish of sliced portobello mushrooms with a heap of salad on the plate as well. The mushrooms were insufficiently garlicky to appeal to me, but I assume that if you like portobello mushrooms you'll like this dish. And if not, not. No shame.

We drank a brown-liquor dessert, paid $155.88 before the tip, which isn't unreasonable under the circumstances, and floated happily out through the in door.

Midway, 145 Charles St. (Washington St.), 352-1118.

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