Archive for September, 2007

New York minute/Late September 2007

September 2007

Sometimes it’s not where you eat but with whom. I might have found Kashkaval too loud, cramped, busy and definitely if my consort and I had wandered in there by ourselves after the theater some night. But we were lured there by friends of his from the year of magical learning, two of whom who happened to be good friends from Paris with our hyper-efficient waitress, and everything was about as good as excess gets.

Until a table opened up, we wedged ourselves at the comfortable bar to be plied with big glasses of wine and fine Mediterranean spreads: chickpea, spicy walnut and excellent black olive, all with warm pita. Once we were wedged at a tiny table where it was easy to talk, five of us shared three fondues: the namesake, made with sheep’s milk cheese; Cheddar and ale, and a classic, with Gruyere and Emmenthaler. We ordered crudite to dunk along with the chunks of baguette and were comped some sausage slices as well, and we got more spreads and bread. The wine kept flowing as wineglasses broke all around us with surprising regularity and little recoil.

From my NYTimes days I remembered the place as a cheese store with takeout and coffee beans, but it’s been transformed with that great bar in the back, a small L-shaped dining room and two very commodious bathrooms, once you get past the display cases in the front. Prices are excellent: The fondue was $10 a person and wines started at $6 a glass, I think but don’t quote me; we just chipped in a tip. Plus it has one hell of a waitress in Emma the friend of the friends from Middle Earth.

856 Ninth Avenue near 56th Street, 212 581 8282.

New York minutes/Mid-September 2007

September 2007

The pretty good: BXL Cafe, where my consort and I had quite a satisfying lunch at a corner table out of the monsoon and where I gained new respect for (either that or it is maturing fast). I thought I knew every restaurant in that grim neighborhood, but this Belgian bar turned up in a fast search when menupages was unnavigable after Bob called suggesting I meet him on an unexpected break from his new gig down the block at ICP. The place feels like the old theater district, with the walls hung with Belgian beer signs and not a chain detail in sight. The service started slow but progressed to perfect, the sauvignon blanc was better than $8 would lead you to expect and the bread and butter were superb. It was hard to fault Bob’s Caesar with chicken, and I was fine with my grilled vegetable-goat cheese sandwich once I tasted the crisp fries and mayonnaise alongside it (over a heavily dressed mesclun salad). WIGB? Probably often, given where it is and he’ll be. 125 West 43d Street, 212 678 0200.

The not bad: Bistro Cassis, where we resorted yet again after a movie and where we left thinking, yet again, how scarily easy it is to run through a hundred bucks on nothing much anymore. The place is always lively, and the host always finds a table, and the service is generally earnest. My sole was not a spectacular piece of fish, but the lemony sauce with it helped, as did the julienned carrots and zucchini underneath. Bob was much happier with his huge paneed pork chop with salad on top and lardons all around. We split a $30 bottle of Chateau de Grollet rose′, one of the very few cheap choices on the list, and then the $93 tab with tip, after which we had to stop and remember that our first big dinner in Manhattan, at Le Lavandou for my birthday in 1982, cost a then-staggering $125. I think we have to start eating at home before the movies. Either that or start finding bars with ample snacks afterward. WIGB? Unfortunately, inevitably, given how few decent alternatives exist near the theaters we frequent. 225 Columbus Avenue, 212 579 3966.

The compromised: Saravanaas, where the seriously great cooking is always offset by the go-fuck-yourself-in-Tamil attitude. We stopped in for Saturday lunch after the Greenmarket, when the usually zooey place was two-thirds empty, and got a table right away. Then, after a long wait, Bob got his “business lunch” and, after a much longer wait, my South Indian thali finally arrived. Both were exceptional, though, with sublime spicing. I even liked the syrup-soaked sweet among the three that came on my too-big platter. All three breads were India-worthy, too. As always, we left wondering about the sign over the sinks in an alcove off the dining room: “For hand washing only.” What else could they mean? Fannies? WIGB? Undoubtedly, although Chola at lunch is better and a better deal, just in the wrong neighborhood on a Saturday after the Greenmarket. 81 Lexington Avenue at 26th Street, 212 679 0204.

The improved: Rickshaw Dumpling Bar, where I probably swore I would never go back but where I found myself on an afternoon when I needed an expeditious cheap lunch between the Greenmarket and the F/V train. For the first time, the kitchen took its time, and so the Peking duck dumplings were properly fried. They still didn’t have brilliant flavor, but they were fast enough. And done right. 61 West 23d Street, 212 924 9220.

New York minutes/Early September 2007

September 2007

The good: Land Thai, where the $8 lunch special was, as always, a better deal than it has any right to be. The vegetable spring rolls were dainty but perfectly fried, and the beef Thai curry was more decent beef than vegetables and just hot enough — I usually avoid cheap beef and now see why I’m usually let down. Bob had the daily dishes, some kind of chicken and rice noodle salad that was perfectly balanced and a shrimp thing (shrimp and I don’t communicate). Service gets an A, too. WIGB? Absolutely. 450 Amsterdam Avenue near 82d Street, 212 501 8121.

The better if bizarre: Hurapan Kitchen, where the kitchen was as attentive as the service was weird. Our table of three was the only one in the well-decorated house, and you can guess how that turned out. “Mussaman” curry with duck was light on the protein but fresh-tasting, spicy and lively, everything standard Thai is not. Charred rare tuna with a wasabi glaze was just as billed and came with exceptional crispy eggplant. Even the vegetarian summer roll with avocado and ginger-hoisin sauce was well above average. WIGB? I just wish it was closer. 29 Seventh Avenue South near Bleecker Street, 212 727 2678.

The surprisingly decent: Dishes in Grand Central Terminal, where I grabbed two sandwiches for the train ride up to Beacon for a party at a friend’s after an outing at DIA. The “media noche,” essentially a Cubano, was adequate if undergrilled, but a smoked turkey with Monterey Jack, avocado and chipotle mayonnaise on a huge soft sesame bagel was outstanding, melty and spicy. And both were done in not much more time than it took to buy the tickets. WIGB? Probably. It was the ideal prelude to a surprisingly great cappuccino at DIA and wines (Domaine Gaujaul rose and Vrak Macon Villages, each $9.99) from the new Artisan shop on Main Street in Beacon.

New York minutes/Late August 2007

September 2007

The good again: Fatty Crab, where my consort and I headed after finding Fry Bar, Perilla and Ostia closed at Saturday brunchtime on a clear-sky holiday weekend when Manhattan felt as if a neutron bomb had hit. I had meant to try Mercadito, given that the restaurant has started a fund to support the delivery guys killed by a drunk right out front, but forgot it in a pain haze in the schlep from Union Square to Dean & Deluca to the Apple store to the far West Village. We evicted some guy waiting for a newish date at the best table on the sidewalk and shared the superb mango salad (with pineapple, cilantro and roasted peanuts), the outstanding Malay fish fry (tilapia in tempura on very spicy crab-curried rice) and the strange wonton mee (fried noodles, silken dumplings). I would have killed for the fatty duck but settled for designer dogs on parade. Apparently no one in that neighborhood owns a mutt. WIGB? In a Kuala Lumpur heartbeat. 643 Hudson Street north of 12th Street, 212 352 3592. (And for coffee afterward, we have a new destination: Ninth Street Espresso, newly opened west of Amy’s in the Chelsea Market. A just-brewed small cupful for $1 had fascinating flavor. Plus you can get a kick watching the barrista fling coffee everywhere while pressing each cup of real espresso.)

The not bad: Picnic, where we met up with a DC friend for very early Saturday breakfast and had to endure only a minimum of wheezing buses and snot-emptying homeless guys at the sidewalk cafe. My cappuccino was excellent even in a mug rather than the proper cup, and the scrambled eggs with frites and wheat toast were unobjectionable. Our visiting friend brought home just how underserved the neighborhood is when she said she had eaten there the day before simply because there was nothing else for 10 blocks in either direction. Maybe another Chase bank or Duane Reade would help. 2665 Broadway near 101st Street, 212 222 8222.

The convenient: Heartland Brewery at the South Street Seaport, where we scarfed down appetizers and wine after not leaving enough time for a real meal before Spiegeltent and the awesome “Absinthe” (Bob’s pithy description of the show: a bawdy Cirque du Soleil). The tents this summer do cut into the illusion that you are eating somewhere close to Sydney harbor, but the service was quick and the music was bearable. We over-ordered and ate too much hummus, baba ganoush, guacamole and pita plus chips. None of it was great, but that was not the point. Getting up close and personal with dervish crotches was. WIGB? Inevitably. Location, location, location.

The excruciating: Tarallucci e Vino dangerously close to the Greenmarket, where I stopped in for fuel for PT, ate half of it and lost the rest along with half my hearing. The place was not even a third full at early lunchtime, but the waitress was nervous in the service and the noise level was at Gonzales level. Then the Russian bimbette next to me got her soup, whipped out her cellphone and started shrieking while the jackass to my right was bellowing into his phone. I just gnawed through part of my lukewarm arugula and scamorza panino, asked to take the rest home and never saw it again. WIGB? Never inside when it is even half-busy.

The innocuous: Bin No. 220, where we made our way after the show, sat on stools outside, split a teeny plate of cheese and a couple of glasses of wine in tumblers and marveled at the transformation of the Seaport. Twenty-five years ago you would not have seen baby carriages being rolled past at 10 o’clock at night, let alone hordes of drunken traders. WIGB? Why not? 220 Front Street, 212 374 9463.

The Albanian: No. 28 on Carmine Street, where we wound up after the devastating “No End in Sight” at Film Forum when the new occupants of Shopsin’s were not receiving visitors and Bar Fry seemed too close to popcorn for comfort (and liquor-license-free to boot). The small pizza with prosciutto and arugula was not awful, or any worse than the pallid insalata mista, but the tab was a surprise: with two glasses of wine each, sitting at a rickety table on the sidewalk, we dropped $33 each with tip. WIGB? Not anytime soon.