Archive for October, 2007

New York minutes/Very late October 2007

October 2007

The good: Fatty Crab, where I connected for the first time with a lyrical e-correspondent and his consort for early Saturday lunch and where I finally experienced the food as it’s meant to be eaten. Usually I go alone or with my consort and we taste at most three dishes; this time I was with people who first insisted the waiter move us to a four-top and then ordered like Halliburtoneers.* (Given that we were planning to do that in any case, the waiter did not have to warn us we needed to “order a lot of food” to justify the move in an all-but-empty restaurant.) A bottle of Sicilian red (Tenuta Terre Nere) went better with most everything than my usual single glass of gruner. Otherwise, I thought the mango salad was a C compared with the usual A, but the Malay fish fry, spicy skate, Chinese water spinach and spicy pickled vegetables were all top grade. After insisting we also order the heritage pork ribs, I abstained, but that plate was cleaned as well. And for once the music being blasted for the staff’s pleasure suited the AARP crowd — “Beast of Burden” is just what makes the Bush-bashing go down. WIGB? Not for a while. I miss the fatty duck, and now Spice Market is back on the radar. 643 Hudson Street near 12th Street, 212 352 3590.

*Bad joke, I realize too late: Gofuckyourself would never pick up a tab.

The better: Buddakan, where I took Bob after the excellent J-G party when Asian sounded most enticing. I was surprised we were seated after such a quick wait in the bar; he was astonished that the place was so packed on a Monday night. One reason came clear at meal’s end, but first we drank too much wine and shared excellent potstickers and glazed cod and sloppily executed frisee salad with Peking duck and overcooked egg. The noise level was not painful and the design of the place is dazzling, so what more could you ask? Well, the waitress forgot we wanted to take home the leftovers and the hostess came over to offer to have the kitchen cook both dishes fresh to pack up to go. We declined, but there’s no reason even to ask WIGB? Stephen Starr has a winning formula. 75 Ninth Avenue at 16th Street, 212 989 6699.

The bad: Thai Market up near Columbia, where I set out for lunch expecting jazz and was rewarded with a dirge. The restaurant is stunning, with huge photos of Thai food vendors and floor-to-ceiling doors that open onto Amsterdam Avenue. But the tantalizing special of duck with flat noodles was first not available, then materialized as a study in grim. (Whatever that meat was, it did not resemble the bird I order, eat and cook at every opportunity.) If not for the spiciness, it would have tasted worse. The waiter had clearly had about enough, although he was efficient. Ultimate insult: My one dish cost $10, $2 more than two courses at Land, a restaurant that is Vong by comparison. WIGB? I’m slow but not stupid.

New York minutes/Latish October 2007

October 2007

The good again: Toloache in the theater district, where I ventured to meet a friend around 8 on a Saturday night, where we expected post-curtain dreariness and where it was just like eating in a real neighborhood. I got there first and took a seat at the bar, where the margarita inches away looked so seductive I ordered one myself, throwing off my friend. By the time we were ready to move to a table, we had to haul old ass up the stairs because the first floor was full; at least it was slightly quieter if much hotter (over the kitchen). The waiter was a charmer I remembered from last time, a guy who could sell sun lamps to Sonorans (he even pointed out that we would have been better off ordering a bottle of albarino). We split a special of crab, cheese, chipotle and pumpkin baked in a small pumpkin, with chips for dipping and a vibrant salad of quartered cherry tomatoes with onion on the side — my only regret on passing up the queso fundido for it was that it should have been bubbling hot. I had carne asada tacos in which the meat actually seemed braised, while Wally was in ecstasy over her octopus. We, being girls, had no room for the special of apple enchiladas, although that idea haunts my thoughts. WIGB? Soon, for queso fundido at least, although the skirt steak with enchilada next to that other margarita on the bar looked pretty tantalizing. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.

The not bad again: Saravanaas, where the south Indian thali is $9.95 at lunchtime, the German riesling is $6 a glass and the amplitude of the tiny dishes makes up for the sameness of flavors. Having been there often enough, I no longer get worked up about the brain-dead-to-hostile service. The place is clean, the light is nice, the food when it finally arrives is always fine. If I wanted variety and the whole spiritual journey, I would be up at Chola. WIGB? Absolutely. 81 Lexington Avenue at 26th Street, 212 679 0204.

The underwhelming: Shorty’s32, where I lured another friend who had proposed Aquagrill among other destinations and where we were lucky to escape without needing ear trumpets. And maybe if it had not been so loud and crowded we might have appreciated what the poor gifted chef is doing in a doomed space. Our food took so long to arrive we were comped a very rich Jerusalem artichoke soup with very Jean-Georges garnishes (I suspected intervention by another food writer across the room); maybe that’s why my “crab sticks” just seemed like a great crustacean forced into pollock duty. I didn’t try the chicken entree across the table but got the strong sense that a chicken shunner was not converted that night. The service was better than it had any right to be in a gang bang; the bartender in particular gets points for knowing what wines we had ordered from her before being seated after a surprisingly long wait. A few days later I ran into the above food writer at a kluster phuck and he made a good point — in my words, that real estate is restricting. WIGB? Maybe, although Provence when we fled there for a quiet drink afterward was so serene and comfortable and alluring I almost wondered why we care about food when we leave our homes with all of the above. 199 Prince Street, 212 357 8275.

New York minutes/Mid-October 2007

October 2007

The pretty close: Charm, where we headed for a fast lunch on a crazed day with no time for the extra 15 blocks to Land and where the food was surprisingly decent even though the staff clearly wanted to sit down to its own lunch that late in the afternoon. My consort had the $8 special of lively salad with peanut dressing and respectable pad Thai, while I went off the cheap chicken-or-beef menu and indulged in the vegetable spring rolls and the duck salad. We both ate too fast and regretted it, but there was Gilileo just around the corner for excellent coffee. WIGB? Yeah. It’s pretty close. 722 Amsterdam near 95th Street, 212 866 9800.

The pretty dirty: French Roast, where I can only hope the kitchen floor is kept mopped more than the one where all the customers can see the filth. It was one of the few places I passed that had something more than eggs on a late Saturday afternoon, though, so I succumbed and had a two-steps-above-diner-level grilled portobello sandwich with a little Fontina and a lot of radicchio on soft toast. A big pile of mesclun came with it, with a few clots of dressing. But the service was great and the food came fast and the room certainly looks nicer than the real diners a few blocks south. WIGB? Inevitably. The alternatives are grim and slim. 2340 Broadway at 85th Street, 212 799 1533.

The pretty gougey: Brooklyn Diner on 57th Street, where I found myself in despair after walking all the way west from PT without finding anywhere that called my name and where I realized too late I had squandered the price of an infinitely superior lunch just a short walk away, at BLT Market. I chose one of the cheapest things on the menu, the $15.50 fish sandwich, and was just glad I had not sprung for anything pricier. It was a piece of decent fried cod on a plain bun — no lettuce, no tomato, no nothin’ — with a couple of wedges of lemon, a handful of adequate fries, a little ramekin of tartar sauce and a honking portion of flavor-free coleslaw. The waiter was great, though. WIGB? Silver-plated revolver to the back of my head, maybe.

New York minutes/Earlyish October

October 2007

The good: Land Thai Kitchen again, where $8 at lunch bought a bright and lively green papaya salad and a perfectly balanced pad see ew, a hearty mix of rice noodles, egg, cauliflower, broccoli and superfluous beef. My consort was underwhelmed by the special menu that day, mostly by comparison, but the service as always was enthusiastic and the room has such a sleek look and cheerful feel. WIGB? Yes, it’s worth the walk beyond Charm and Asiakan for sure. 450 Amsterdam Avenue near 81st Street, 212 501 8121.

The lame: PicNic for dinner, where we sat outside to avoid the nursing home crowd and were rewarded with overpriced, uninspired food. I just had the salad with goat cheese croutons, and the lettuce was supermarkety; Bob had sauteed trout that tasted mealy to me (you are what you eat even if you’re a fish). Add the AWOL waiter (Bob had to go track him down to order our second glasses of wine) and I wondered where our $83 went. WIGB? For breakfast only. No place for blocks is as appealing in the morning.

The clubby: Payard, where the duck terrine made me ridiculously happy, enough to ignore the snotty service. It was a hefty slab, studded with pistachios and very flavorful, and came with an oniony jam and a little pile of purslane to cut the richness. I treated it like a DIY tartine, and it was like eating in France. The $11 gruner-veltliner I ordered didn’t have much to say to it, though, and the bartender clearly couldn’t wait till I got out of the way of her regulars. WIGB? Probably, but I’d sit at a table next time, like the other lunching ladies, much as I prefer eavesdropping at the bar. 1032 Lexington Avenue near 73d Street, 212 717 5252.

New York minutes/Early October 2007

October 2007

The seriously good: Toloache, where we headed after a beer-infused photo show at Splashlight Studios (and after I had run into the chef’s wife at Zarela’s party) and pretty much got dinner and a show. No one was at the door, so we seated ourselves right in front of the brick oven where an astonishingly efficient woman was assembling everything from guacamole to quesadillas. It was close enough to kitchen and bar to expect the worst, but the waiters were great — various members of a small crew arrived quickly, brought beer and wine fast and not only delivered our food efficiently but stopped back to say they were not the best servers but wanted to be sure we were happy. The chicken tacos were exceptional, and the queso fundido with huitlacoche may be the best in town. It was served with fresh flour tortillas rather than corn, and we had no trouble getting one more made to order. The place is noisy as hell, but the huge menu holds enormous promise. WIGB? Can’t wait. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.

The uncomfortably good: Hill Country, where I was uncharacteristically happy but where my four escorts were put off by the butcher paper for plates, picnic tables and head-banging noise level. What can I say? One friend requested barbecue, and this is the best I’ve found, at least close to where everyone was planning to be. Whatever bitching went on I couldn’t really hear, but I have to say the jalapeno sausage and the creamy/spicy potato salad were extraordinary. We also liked what we tasted of the brisket (stupidly, I warned them off the “moist” because I remembered it as fatty), the pork ribs and the beef ribs. And maybe I don’t eat cafeteria food often enough, but the corn pudding, macaroni and cheese and green bean casserole also were nothing I would throw off my butcher’s paper. Yeah, it was noisy, and it was a mistake to go there with these friends. But it was real barbecue, and the staff is really cheerful. WIGB? Yes, but with no more than one other eater. 30 West 26th Street, 212 255 4544.

The promising: Bar Stuzzichini, where my starving consort and I headed after realizing there was no way we could make it home to cook any of the multiple bags of food we had just burdened ourselves with on Union Square. Saturday turned out to be a good day to experiment, because the brunch special for $13.75 included a quartino of prosecco (or Bellini) — how bad could be a spaghetti-egg-cheese “torta” be? Bob, on hearing that the tidbits were the specialty, insisted we get three for $12, and they were quite a deal. Panelle (deep-fried chickpea triangles) were a little sodden but surprisingly light; zucchini scapese was even more awash in olive oil but had great mint and garlic flavor, and the octopus salad was fine even for someone who gets weirded out by eating such a smart specimen. That spaghetti cake was fine, with baby arugula salad and super grilled bread, and my consort’s eggplant parmigiana would have been as good as any in Parma or Rome if the eggplant had been Italian rather than seedy American. On the deficit side, the tables were riculously small in the front, where everyone was crammed, and the service was ditsy. When Bob was finally able to order a glass of wine after his entree arrived, I tried to move my drink to make room and wound up knocking the bread basket onto the floor. I apologized, saying we didn’t need it anyway because I had bread, and the waitress said: “You could have told me.” To which I pointed out: “He didn’t.” WIGB? Yep. It’s tantalizingly close to a certain park where I find myself at least twice a week. 928 Broadway near 21st Street, 212 780 5100.

The really bad: Goodburger, where I found myself for no defensible reason after the Greenmarket and in a major funk. I was in no shape to sit down to a real lunch and so ducked in after spotting this newly opened and seeing it had alternatives to potentially Topps meat. The BLT, even tsunamied in “the works” of onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard and mayo, was one step below your average Greek diner’s — it had two strips of bacon max, industrial tomatoes and iceberg lettuce on supermarket white bread. And the cheese fries I spotted while waiting to order were incredible: They had absolutely no taste, despite having something oily and melty in two colors draped across them. The noise level was painful; it made McDonald’s sound like a Buddhist temple. Maybe the burgers are as good as the big media blurbs on that takeout menu promise. But WIGB? Not even if you put a gun loaded with mad cow to my head.

The well-serviced: Adrienne’s Pizzabar, where we made our way after a great promo event put on by Bob’s newfound heroine at the Spiegelbar at the South Street Seaport for her new edition of the superb NFT (Not for Tourists Guide) to New York City. It was quite a scene, like right out of a travel article on Eutopia: Half a dozen or more restaurants packed and spilling over onto a brick-lined street. We found seats on benches at the pizza place on Top Guide’s recommendation and had a nice if overly sweetened arugula salad followed by a just-the-right-size margarita pizza. The next table of assholes was acting the part as we started to order, so a runner took our requests and brought the beer and wine and salad instantly. Then we sat. And sat. Finally a couple who arrived after us at the next able was delivered what we suspected was our pizza. Said runner intercepted the other runner to say get another margarita to us ASAP, and within five minutes we had an adequate pizza plus the promise of a free round of drinks. We ordered them and sure enough, they were off the final tab as the waitress said the pizza was on the house as well. And it was coming clear why that street has to be the busiest in all of New York. Who cares about food when the people between you and the kitchen do so well by you? WIGB? Anytime. What a show. 54 Stone Street, 212 248 3838.