At the Loews Regency Hotel in Manhattan, the price of a "TV Dinner" is on par with Kobe beef or lobster. But other than the nostalgic segmented plates, there's not much "TV Dinner" about this thirty-buck meal.
Introduced last month, the weekly-rotating combos are available downstairs at The Library restaurant or via room service. Here are ten differences we discovered between chef Andrew Rubin's creations on Park Avenue and 61st Street and your average Swanson-brand frozen dinner.
1. There are no pull-back plastic covers on the $30 version.
2. Lowes Regency does not use a microwave or what Rubin remembers using "back in the day"—an oven.
3. You don't have to poke special holes for the dessert. Rubin prepares his old-fashioned chocolate pudding and other desserts separately, so they don't accidentally reach tongue-burning temperatures meant for pot roast.
4. Swanson's has never expressed an interest in wasabi-crusted salmon, Rubin's "retro" entrée this week. Add to the list: seaweed salad and green tea crème brûlée, his featured sides. Microwavable crème brûlée probably wouldn't work, as Swanson's must have realized in a staff meeting.
5. The iconic medley of peas and corn appears on Rubin's fried chicken plate, but how un-TV Dinner, it's not from a can. "Remember those kind? Blech," reminisced Rubin, definitely that kid who fed Fido under the table. Instead, these are peas hand-removed from each pod and kernels hand-shucked from each ear of corn. Much crunchier, this approach also runs the risk of wayward corn hairs (so you know it's real).
6. Skipping the generic orange goo, Rubin's mac and cheese combines cheddar, swiss, Parmesan, and Asiago. Both versions are pretty comforting at the end of the day, but this one might not kill you as quickly.
7. Lowes Regency uses real tables instead of TV trays.
8. Chef Rubin is toying with a meatloaf platter made of free-range turkey and Kobe beef. Do we smell duck fat-fried tater tots?
9. If you're seated at a good angle, The Library still gives you the TV part of the TV Dinner experience, but the sleek flatscreens typically broadcast the Yankees and Mets, not Lucy and Desi.
10. Since the plastic and old-school aluminum trays don't jibe with the Loews hotel brand, they special-ordered heavy ceramic dishes first spotted at Crate and Barrel. Of course they have the important food cubbies: "When it comes down to it," Rubin admitted, "it's really those special compartments that make a TV Dinner a TV Dinner."
The Library at the Loews Regency Hotel
540 Park Avenue, New York NY 10065 (at 61st Street; map)