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A SOARING VIEW OF THE WORLD, FOREVER GONE

Two men I know who were in lower Manhattan for a day's work on Sept. 11 briefly thought of eating breakfast at Windows on the World, the famous glassed-in restaurant on the 107th floor of the North Tower in the World Trade Center.

At the last minute they changed their minds.

"Too big a deal," they said. They were in the mood for something much more casual, so they grabbed breakfast in a small coffee shop on the street.

Too big a deal? Yes, indeed, Windows on the World was a very big deal. To appropriate the words of a college anthem speaking of a totally different institution, it was reared against the arch of heaven looking proudly down. Down on a scene of sparkling towers and blue water by day and magnificent lights by night.

The New York Times restaurant guide for the year 2000 described Windows on the World in what are now chilling terms: "The comfortable chairs and pleasantly muted twilight colors combined with the view create the illusion of being in an airliner towering magically over Manhattan."

And this of Wild Blue, the restaurant within the Windows complex: "This intimate romantic new restaurant atop the World Trade Center offers spectacular views over New York Harbor. When night falls, Wild Blue feels like a plush space capsule hurtling through the cosmos. On a clear evening you can almost see the Earth curve."

Well, on a clear morning last week, you could actually feel the Earth collapse.

And all the splendor and at least 70 employees pouring coffee, making reservations and chopping onions for the day ahead were gone. As well as more than 100 people attending a morning conference there, hosted by the British finance company Risk Waters.

Just gone.

When something so terrible as the Sept. 11 attack happens, you tend to focus on one small part of the picture. I thought immediately of Windows on the World.

I have a few lasting memories of it. Of riding the elevator up, up, up, trying to pretend that I wasn't impressed how high I was going. But of course I was.

Of dinners served with that view at my elbow. Of some private parties and banquets. Of a drink at the Greatest Bar on Earth with its 360-degree view.

I loved all if it. But I cannot recall what I ate. Because of its very popularity with the people from the provinces, perhaps, the restaurant never got full marks for food. It never reached the epitome of stardom; fancy restaurant critics gave the adjectives a rest.

But it had been doing better in recent years. With the appointment of chef Michael Lomonoco -- who was lucky enough to be picking up his glasses at the Lenscrafters in the mall below the Tower when the plane hit -- the menus featured regional American dishes with a bit of spin to them. An excellent choice for a restaurant as American as could be. There were special praises for Wild Blue's dessert menu, which featured Napa Valley Chocolate Cake. The young and talented pastry chef, Heather Ho, is still missing as I write.

The restaurant had always been noted for its remarkable wine list, originally designed by Kevin Zraly, who presided over the highly praised Windows on the World Wine School. He was not there when the planes hit.

And now there is a void. "We were a family," said his spokeswoman, Karen Schloss. "There was no language not spoken by at least one member of the staff.

"I remember going to the restaurant for an office Christmas dinner. And at the next table were Annette Bening and Warren Beatty with their children.

"You had to show your family Windows on the World, no matter who you were or where you were from."

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