Windows on the World’s Dacquoise

When the horrific memories of the World Trade Center attacks sometimes threaten to crowd out everything else, especially on the anniversary of 9/11, I call up a different, comforting memory shared by perhaps only several hundred people in the world:  sunrise from Windows on the World, on north tower’s 107th floor.

In the mid-’80s, I was a waiter at the Hors d’Oeuvrerie, the lounge and international café of Windows on the World, where women and men from around the globe came for perhaps a bit of then-unheard-of sashimi, after-dinner dessert and dancing, or the glittering, quarter-of-a-mile-high views of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Everyone from heads of state to rock stars to Broadway royalty visited the Hors d’Oeuvrerie on their way to or from Windows on the World’s main dining room, which faced uptown. Elegance and pedigree abounded, even among the staff: Waitresses wore satin sarongs and waiters bowed almost imperceptibly when greeting guests. The tall, silent piano player was rumored to be a protégé of Leonard Bernstein.

During the day, though, the Hors d’Oeuvrerie was a private club, a place to conduct business lunches and the newly popular power breakfasts. When a waiter made it through the gantlet of personnel interviews, he was handed a taupe-colored, naval-style jacket—his day wear—and a schedule that included at least one breakfast shift a week.

Working dinner the night before a breakfast shift usually meant my head barely hit the pillow before I had to be up and at the restaurant by 5:30 a.m. Never a caffeine addict, I nonetheless needed a way to wake up, so I’d stumble to the dessert case and cut a generous slice of dacquoise, a delicate cake of hazelnut meringue layers with coffee buttercream filling. The dacquoise, which was made the day before, was best then; the crunchy meringue had softened into a slightly chewy nougat because of the filling. I’d install myself at one of the east-facing tables, and with my feet up and my fussy uniform falling open like a bathrobe, I’d watch and wait. My reflection would fade while the sky turned from black to gun-metal gray to a luminous mauve, as if the world had just discovered Technicolor. On the clearest of mornings, I could see almost 90 miles, or so the bartender would always tell me.

When I’m in downtown Manhattan these days, I look up and try to remember exactly where in the sky I entertained guests, patiently pointing out landmarks and boroughs, and where I never tired of those sunrise views. And how a day could begin so sweetly.

Windows on the World’s Best Recipe

Hazelnut and Almond Dacquoise

David Leite's signature
Comments
Comments
  1. Marilyn Canna says:

    Striking photo and a poignant reminder of one morning’s restaurant service that ended so sadly and profoundly.

  2. Allison Parker says:

    David, we missed each other by more than a decade, but it’s a nice idea anyway to collapse time and imagine that while you were perched in that eagle’s nest eating dacquoise and looking out from those windows, I was sitting with a mug of real strong coffee on the balcony of my 10th floor apartment on West 57th Street, facing south toward the single slice of renowned NYC skyline I could see: the Twin Towers. That was my morning ritual. I lived in that apartment a couple years beyond 9/11, too, but frankly lost my enthusiasm for breakfast on the balcony after that day. This tribute adds something pleasant to a grim anniversary. Thanks for that. (Plus for the reminder that I am free to eat cake for breakfast if I so choose; one of many liberties I should not take for granted!)

    • David Leite says:

      Allison, thanks for your sentiment. Windows on the World was a very special place for me; it was the first real job I had in New York, and it made quite an impression on me. And it allowed me to move on to work at Restaurant Lafayette, which was Jean-George Vongerichten’s first place in the city. But Windows also haunts. I still find it very painful to look at photos of the restaurant, let alone images of the attack.

      • Allison Parker says:

        It was a special place, wasn’t it? And impressive. Actually, my husband was at Windows on Monday the 10th for a wine course, and I remember how he came home with an immigrant’s awe, as if every time he went there was the first time. I confess that I grew up accustomed to seeing the towers, so they were just part of the landscape… until 2001. But to my husband, who grew up in provincial France, well… the sight of them was always something awesome and symbolic.

        • diane coady says:

          Dear Mrs. Parker,
          I am researching a National Geographic documentary about events on 9/10/2001, the day before September 11, 2001. I am intrigued by your story and would like to talk with you and your husband. Thank you, Diane Coady

          • A. C. Parker says:

            Diane, I believe my name links to my website, where you’ll be able to get in touch directly. Happy to provide whatever information I can. A documentary on events of 9/10/01 sounds interesting. Regards, Allison

          • A. C. Parker says:

            Diane, just an FYI that I’ve moved this off-site now. I received your email and sent you a reply (also via email). I hope you received. Best, Allison

  3. Jane George says:

    Thank you for a bittersweet remembrance.

  4. Karen says:

    David and Allison, thank you both for such a heartfelt glimpse of the part that The Towers played in your lives. I have friends who are still haunted by the memories of 9/11 as they struggled to find family, friends, and neighbors during the hours and days that followed. I hope that they, along with the rest of us, can recapture the good memories and keep them alive. It is from the memories of people willing to share them such as you are that we will be able to rebuild our dreams.
    Karen

    • David Leite says:

      Karen, I think you put it perfectly: The rebuilding of dreams is helped by those who share.

    • Allison Parker says:

      Karen, thank you. I agree with David: sharing, rebuilding dreams… your words highlight what’s important. I don’t think that day will ever be exorcised from the collective conscious in the city (or anywhere; it affected us all)—nor should it. I do also remember, though, the way everyone in New York suddenly felt closer to each other. People looked into each other’s eyes with more compassion as they passed on the sidewalk, and no one was ashamed to need comforting, nor were they shy about comforting strangers. Thanks again for commenting.

  5. carmen says:

    This was beautiful. Poignant and inspiring. I love NYC and the anniversary hits my family hard, as my husband’s cousin died in the second tower after phoning his mother. Much of his family was in the city that day and the sorrow in their stories, nine years later, is still sharp and pure.

    I’m thinking cake for breakfast is going to be my new policy.

    • David Leite says:

      Carmen, I’m sorry to hear about loss. After all these years, it still hurts, doesn’t it? And, please, have a piece of cake for me!

  6. Dianne Jacob says:

    Gorgeous rememberance, David. I did not know this about you! Fun to find out about your past. I would have read more.

    • David Leite says:

      Dianne—the biggest compliment you ver could give a writer: “I could have read more.”

  7. Anita Lipson says:

    David, I also enjoyed remembering the good memories of the WTC. I had dinner once at Windows on the World. It was a wonderful dinner, with great view, service and food. But, for me, the dacquoise was the best part of that evening, and I, too, will never forget it.

    Thanks for the recipe. I also could have read more.

    • David Leite says:

      Anita, thanks for chiming in. Funny, a dacquoise is looked upon as a fussy, old-fashioned dessert, but to me, it holds such—sweet—memories. I’ve made it many, many times since.

      And as for Diane and you wanting to read more, apparently I have to listen less to those naysayers who espouse no one is willing to spend time reading on the Web. Perhaps we need to get a movement going: READ MORE, SURF LESS…or some such.

  8. Janet in Maine says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable. I did not know that about you, either. I was living on the West coast when this occurred, and even though I lived so far away and had never even been to NYC or even thought about the towers, I was devastated. It was right up there with how I felt on the day of John Kennedy’s assassination.

    I think you are lucky that you have good memories of the tower. We all know the numbers of people that lost their lives that day and we know of the continuing trouble of many people that were there that day but hearing stories of the people that spent their workdays in the towers makes the situation more personal. Thank you for sharing your memories.

  9. Chris says:

    What a touching piece David, and so beautifully written. I live in CA and had the privilege of dining at Windows on the World only once but reading this transported me back to a beautiful memory of my own. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Alexandrea says:

    On 9/11 anniversaries, I prefer to look at pictures of the towers’ grandeur before the attacks. My search this year led me here. Beautiful photo, beautiful write-up.

  11. Kelley Butler says:

    I loved this story and especially the picture looking out over the water. It made me cry. Thanks for sharing the “windows.”

    I, too love to read vs surf. I have just discovered LC in the last couple of months so I have started at page one and am working my way forward…

    • David Leite says:

      Kelly, Windows on the World was a very special place to many and many others. And welcome to the site and blahg. I hope you enjoy your reading!

  12. Greer says:

    Worked at the restaurant in the early 80′s. I can’t even imagine the loss.

    • David Leite says:

      Greer, I was there 1985 to 1987. Were you in the restaurant proper or the Hors d’Oeuvrerie?

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