When John C. Borden of the textile family and his wife Judith were passing through Scotland two months ago at the height of the grouse-shooting season, they stopped at the famed Malmaison restaurant in Glasgow at my suggestion and ordered grouse for dinner. Sorry, explained the mam�tre d'h�tel in great chagrin, but the Queen Mother had just put on two very large dinner parties at which everyone was served grouse, and there were no more of the birds to be had. "If you want to eat Scottish grouse this week," he said, "you must go to '21' in New York."
For some years Jack and Charlie's "21" has had a standing order for 200 brace of grouse to be shipped from Inverness-shire, commencing on August 12, traditional start of the season in Scotland. And on succeeding days many regulars of "21" journey in from far places to the restaurant on New York City's West 52nd Street to begin their enjoyment of this delicacy, which has long been a sportsman's favorite. (One devoted client comes every year from Bermuda, arriving promptly on August 13.)
But Scottish grouse is only one of a large number of game specialties which have helped to establish the considerable reputation of "21." Chukar partridge, mallard and other species of duck, hazel hen, Mexican quail, young Canadian snow goose and Norwegian ptarmigan are other available items in season. Larger game includes venison, of course (the ragout of venison St. Hubert is outstanding), reindeer, moose, elk, hare from Canada and, occasionally, saddle of antelope. Also, of all things, bear. Gary Cooper, I was told, on his visits to New York never misses ordering the grilled black bear chops.
Old patrons are convinced that the chef at "21" can make anything taste good. Yves Louis Ploneis, shown opposite as he starts the preparation of baby pheasants bon viveur (see recipe below), is the commander of the 30 cooks and their 19 helpers who man the restaurant's several kitchens. This big, blond descendant of a line of Atlantic-sailing Bretons started at "21" in 1939 as one of the fish cooks; he can look back with untroubled brow on his own career story—calm seas and a prosperous voyage through shoals of mussels marini�re; reefs of lobsters � l'am�ricaine, thermidor or en bellevue; oceans of trout or crisp fried whitebait; islands of "best" fishes—striped bass, salmon, pompano and red snapper; not to mention vast peninsulas of sole Dugl�r�.
Today Monsieur Louis is still a fish enthusiast and an ardent fisherman, with a boat which he keeps on Long Island. Though he no longer shoots (no guns in the house, he says, on account of four children—"Les quatres gosses! les fusils alors!") he adores game and—happily for "21"—is very fussy about the manner in which it should be prepared. On the subject of wines, Louis's face lights up with the kind of smile he reserves for only the prettiest feminine visitors to his kitchens. "Quels vins!" he exclaims. "More than 100,000 bottles sur place! Monsieur John Hay Whitney and Monsieur Winthrop Aldrich and many others, they buy wines they like, they keep them in their own bins here, they drink them here."
"What do you like to cook for yourself when you go home?" I asked Monsieur Louis. "Me?" he replied. "I do not cook; my wife she cook."
For those who do sometimes cook at home and who like to dine after the manner of "21," Louis has given me his instructions for preparing the succulent dish shown in the photograph at left.