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 white, 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.

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  1. I am so glad to have discovered this! I worked at Windows on the World from 1978 to 1980, one of a handful of young women at the time. I worked with Claudette, Mr. Beauclair, and Kevin Zraly. My short time there left a big impression on me. (I even wrote an essay about my time there for the Christian Science Monitor, where I later worked.) One of my fondest memories was having my team chosen to wait on John Lennon on my 29th birthday, June 15, 1980, a truly amazing day. And I can still taste the food there, 40 years later! The marinated shrimp and the dacquoise, but especially the pear-and-chocolate tart. I’ve been hoping to find a recipe for it ever since, but so far haven’t. Can you help? Thank you.

  2. Thank you for such a Spot On memory of the Hors d’ Oeuvrerie. I worked there in 1987 working the dreaded breakfast shifts in order to work the coveted evenings. I was always impressed at the professional standards that were followed by so many people, and such an international staff. A real joy and privilege to work there. The Dacquoise was a treat that I took advantage of almost daily.

    1. Vincent, it’s so good to hear from you! And I’m delighted that this post reconnected us after 31 years. Such great memories with you, Brett, Judy, Lori, Sam, Carrie–and that scary garde manger, who keep threatening our private parts with his clever whenever got too close to his station!

  3. Interesting observations and subsequent comments. I worked at WOW 1983-1986, as a steward then running 106 floor stockroom/cafeteria. Bill Johnson, I definitely remember you, and Lou Symos as well, and of course Kevin Zraly-as I remember, Lou and Kevin shared an office area and secretary. Interestingly enough, in 1992 I joined the Port Authority Police and was assigned to the WTC. After the 1993 bombing I was part of the crew assigned to recovering Wilfredo Mercado’s body from the rubble and spent many days driving his wife from home to the WTC and back. I lost two very close friends, and about 30 friends and coworkers in all on 9/11. I still have dreams to this day of working at WOW, some of my fondest memories are of my days in the WTC, and just can’t bring myself to go back down there.

    1. John, thanks for chiming in. I, too, dream of WOW and the people I met there. (A chapter in my memoir is devoted to Windows.) And I also can’t get myself down to the site. My publisher is three blocks and away on Broadway, and I always come and go on the eastern side of their building. The closest I ever got was the Oculus. I simply can’t go to the memorial or see the footprints.

  4. Thank you David for the fond memories of Windows On The World. So nice to see the picture of Claudette. I remember her well. You may remember me. I was the reservations manager there from 1976 to 1991. I left just prior to the first bombing and was working with Lou Symos at The Rainbow Room when it happened. I returned to hire and train the new reservations staff and then returned to The Rainbow Room as Joe Baum operated both properties at the time. Windows On The World was & is still a wonderful part of my life. Thanks again David…

    1. Hi Bill,

      I was the one that posted the photo of Claudette Fournier, I was thinking, she was 34 at that time, she must be in her early 70’s now, but I’m sure she is still beautiful.

  5. Dear David,

    Thank you for your warm memories. My parents celebrated my older brother’s graduation from Columbia University in May 1985, by taking our whole family, which included four children and three grandparents, to dinner at the Windows on the World restaurant. I honestly cannot remember what we ate, but I still remember the beautiful and ethereal decor and the breathtaking views from the endless walls of windows. NYC at night time is gorgeous! Whenever I think of NYC, my heart aches for the loss of life as well of the loss of physical beauty that special buildings and places bestow upon us. Never take anything for granted.

    1. Cynthia, you are most welcome. Windows on the World holds a very special place in my heart and in my youth. And you’re so right, “Never take anything for granted.”

  6. 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…

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

    1. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

    1. 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.

  13. 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!)

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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

          1. 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

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

      1. I was one of the original staff members at windows. i worked in the main dining room from 3/76 to 81 with the beautiful Claudette Fornier and Paul Eggar. This was my first real job at 20 years old. Wonderful memories that will last for the rest of my life.

        Claudette Fournier

        1. walter, we wouldn’t have overlapped, time wise. It was a beautiful place to be. You know, I never, ever ate in the main dining room. I did go to Cellar in the Sky once when Kevin Zraly was still there. Wonderful.

          1. I am looking for a menu from Windows on the World, as close to September 10, 2001 as possible for use in a National Geographic documentary about that day.
            Thank you. I enjoy other’s memories.

          2. Hello David, I just read your story of your time working at Windows On The World. It was both poignant and sweet. Never have been to NYC and it must have been an amazing view from up there in the sky. I could picture you so vividly up there watching the world wake up and the sky coming to day. BEAUTIFUL!

            Lyn Price

            1. Lyn, thank you so much for your kind words. It was, indeed, an amazing thing to watch the world wake up. My heart aches every time I look downtown and don’t see the twin towers.

              1. David, I can only imagine the sorrow and grief the people of NYC felt. Along with everyone else in the US. I do not own a TV, and the day that happened I saw a small clip of terrible images and didn’t want to see any more. It was too much. Still do not have a TV.

                1. Lyn, I think not having a TV, at least for this, was probably a lifesaver. We stared at ours for more than 12 hours that day and had nightmares for weeks.

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