IF YOU STAND IN THE RIGHT PLACE in the bar, you can look down at the Statue of Liberty; from your table, you can see the planes lining up to land at La Guardia, or catch that magical moment of dusk when the line of traffic waiting to get onto the Brooklyn Bridge dematerializes into a constellation of winking taillights. Setting foot in Windows on the World, the restaurant that reopened last week on the 107th floor of New York's World Trade Center, is an epiphany, like landing in America itself. The place transforms you, in the same way that it turns a chunk of goose liver into a sauterne-glazed foie gras. Stunned into an acquiescent torpor, a state of simple, infantile greed, you get through the whole menu without once nudging your wife and muttering, Jesus, $7.50 for mashed potatoes? My mother fed a family of four for less than that.
It was virtually a moral imperative for the United States to re-create Windows on the World, which was closed after the terror bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. For more than a decade after its original opening in 1976, Windows was one of the most prominent and successful restaurants in the world, a potent symbol of America's pre-eminence in expense-account dining. To rebuild on this very spot an even more luxurious restaurant, incorporating all the great advances in food preparation, wine selection and menu pricing of recent years, was America's way of standing up to terror and destruction and nihilism by saying loud and clear, ""Uhh, could we get a little more cheese on this risotto, please?''
In fact, the creators of the new Windows, Joseph Baum, Michael Whiteman and David Emil, have put together a unique and alluring menu of what Whiteman calls ""World View Cuisine.'' He describes this as ""an honest attempt to present the world's culture through food,'' unlike the pretentious and inchoate efforts of too many young chefs to cover all the world's great cuisines in a single dish. ""We're not going to be serving truffled duck-sausage enchiladas with ginger-soy dipping sauce,'' he says. This discipline does not imply a lack of imagination or ambition. You wouldn't offer a dish of freshwater pike with pineapple, shiitake mushrooms and coconut-cream sauce unless you were pretty sure of yourself (and by the way, which country is it, exactly, that has both pike and coconuts?). Mexico is represented by a wonderfully aromatic veal shank slathered with Mexican spices and roasted in parchment; Scandinavia by shrimp ""grilled on skewers, sauced with crme frache, aquavit and caviar.'' Asparagus ravioli with fresh morels probably isn't a staple food of any culture in particular, unless you count ""Yuppie,'' but if baby boomers had contributed nothing else to society, this $13 appetizer alone would represent a substantial bequest to future generations of restaurant customers.
Notwithstanding the vivid blue-and-yellow plates designed by Milton Glaser, this is serious food, which you eat -- if you're a man -- in a jacket or not at all. (There is, though, a lively and informal bar, where you can make a pretty good meal out of things you wouldn't want to get all over your good clothes, like jerked pork on skewers, fried calamari with black-bean aioli, and chorizo pizza.) If you go to Windows on the World, you'll probably never hear your captain say, ""Hi! I'll bet you folks are from out of town -- am I right?'' or ""It comes with fries and a small soda.'' You will sit in hushed appreciation when your captain presents your roast in a polished copper pan, then bears it off to a central carving station for its ceremonial dismemberment and saucing. Yes, for the cost of a single veal shank ($60, serves two), you could have taken your entire family to the movies and dinner back home. But Windows on the World is not just a place for food. It is a place to be transformed.