Archive for December, 2007

New York minutes/Last o’ 2007

December 2007

The pretty good: Barfry, where I retreated after finding Pearl closed for Xmas break and where I had a great crab cake po’ boy but the strangest service even though only one other diner was in the joint at lunchtime. The waiter behind the bar pointed me to a table and let me sit while he did a few chores before finally bringing a menu and weirdly funky-tasting water. Then he disappeared into a back room or basement to retrieve milk and was gone so long I considered leaving, but Pearl was closed. I think it took longer to order than to eat, since the check shows 22 minutes elapsed. But that $15 sandwich was superb, with great crunch to the crab cake and lots of little pickles in with the dressing and chopped lettuce. It was too big by half, but that’s a tiny complaint. I also had a $10 Tasmanian chardonnay that really needed a proper wineglass rather than a ridiculous little tumbler. WIGB? Probably, although my money goes farther at Pearl and the thought of that glass sent us to Jane the next night . . . . 50 Carmine Street, 212 929 5050.

The not bad: La Rural, where we headed for a Sunday dinner to avoid washing dishes and where we got the deal of the month. Because it’s BYO, we split a big salad, a heaping order of “Provencal” fries and a skirt steak so huge we had leftovers for burritos the next day, and the bill with a good tip was $42. The meat was good and perfectly cooked, very fast, and the fries were fine, too. The engaging waiter remembered us from when the place was Pampa; it looks nicer now but still takes cash only. And because it was nearly empty, it was luxuriously quiet. WIGB? Happily. 768 Amsterdam Avenue near 97th Street, 212 865 2929.

The charming: Tiffin Wallah, where the room and the Koizumi-look-alike waiter compensated for the sub-Saravanaas cooking at Saturday lunch. The hand-washing sink is in the dining room, and it’s the coolest one imaginable; the walls are hung with great black-and-white photos from India, while the waiters’ area has shelves filled with Indian gewgaws. And the behl poori was everything Irene Sax promised: spicy, crunchy, a great blend of cooling and hot. The Mysore sada dosa with coconut chutney and sambar was big and greasy, though, and the best thing in the Gujarati thali was the dessert, which says everything given how cloying Indian sweets can be. The bread was too greasy to eat, and the curries were one-note; the two fried bits were also sodden. No wonder most of the clientele was not Indian. WIGB? Maybe, as an antidote to Saravanaas hostility. 127 East 28th Street off Lexington, 212 685 7301.

The annoying: Jane, where we landed after the truly extraordinary “Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and where the ample portions at low prices had to be weighed against the crazy-making service. Why do restaurateurs insist on stinting on waiters? Six busboys are not much use if they can’t take an order for a second glass of wine with the entrees. Plus the waitress was really a waitron, with a chip implanted that made her unable to deviate from her water-selling script. I ordered the $19 veal Milanese because it came under an arugula-tomato salad, and it was literally the size of the not-small plate; that and the flavor made me wonder if it was really the ingredient with top billing. My consort’s $23 scallops were also oddly gargantuan, but they came in a spectacular chile sauce with pozole and bacon. Wines by the glass started at $8, but I had to switch to the $10 sauvignon blanc after the not-great viognier. WIGB? Maybe — price and proximity to two movie theaters are not to be underestimated. 100 West Houston Street near Thompson, 212 254 7000.

New York minutes/Late December 2007

December 2007

The surprisingly decent: Le Mangeoire, where we met friends in from Bucks County who had been there before and rated it quiet and where we had a great evening with some decent food and no aural trauma. The place is a wild throwback to a Manhattan where French ruled — it’s full of knickknacks and posters and Provencal accents, and the menu hits all the right notes. The best part was the option of small or regular entrees; I ordered Muscovy duck with salad greens and got more than I could eat with the former ($19 as opposed to $27). Tiny olives, lively tapenade and olive oil were all served with the bread, and an appetizer of lump crab layered with tomatoes and avocado was outstanding for $13. Mostly we got what we wanted with the noise level — it was too easy to talk right through after-dinner drinks. WIGB? Maybe, for our ears alone. 1008 Second Avenue at 53d Street, 212 759 7086.

The assholey: Irving Mill, where we acceded to going back with a low-key/high-powered couple of friends mostly because we knew it would be quiet and where we left pissed on several levels. They had reserved a couple of weeks in advance through Opentable, which had said only 6:30 was available, and of course the place was nearly empty. Our H.P. friend asked for a booth and was told they were for parties of five or more, and of course we ended the evening at our snug table surrounded by booths either filled with or set for foursomes. Why lie? The servers were idjit noodges, too — the waitress interrupted at will, and the busboy with his silly basket of two choices of bread insisted on disrupting conversation rather than just quietly laying the two pathetic slices on each bread plate. I didn’t see the list, but my consort was freaking that wines were $42 and up. And the food? Big shrugs all around. I ordered monkfish solely for the celeriac puree billed with it and got only a schmear under a mound of red cabbage. (Truffle vinaigrette, you ask? Me, too.) The vegetables with the octopus appetizer were nice enough, but the strudel for dessert was about 15 minutes away from being properly baked. Pretty sad when the giveaway peanut butter cookies get raves by comparison with everything else. Even if every element had been extraordinary, though, it could not compensate for the inherent hostility. Saint Danny can sleep very peacefully these days. WIGB? Not on a strong bet.

New York minutes/Latish December 2007

December 2007

The good: Lunetta, where I stopped for lunch to break my post-Greenmarket addiction to Rosa Mexicano’s queso fundido and where it was hard to find fault with anything even though I sat in exactly the same spot I ate the two times I braved the funky Mayrose that preceded it. The host was a host, the waitress was efficient and beyond personable (she spilled the salt on clearing the table and threw some over her shoulder for both of us) and my panini was a good value. Fontina, lots of prosciutto and a little arugula were melted together in a good roll, and a big mound of wild arugula and a little ramekin of garlicky sauce came on the side. A $9 glass of tocai helped drown out the woman at the next table nattering on to her tablemate about family scandals (I left when she started in on the relative involved with a married guy who has drawn her into three-way sex; the tablemate looked on in envy as I gathered my bags and coat and fled). The bread and olive oil were quite good, though, and the space has been transformed to make the most of the tall windows and good light with a trace of Balthazar charm. WIGB? Absolutely. Who needs “Sex and the City?” 920 Broadway at 20th Street, 212 53 3663.

The not awful: Charm, where my consort and I retreated for a fast lunch when neither of us could deal that goddamn Mother Hubbard we have unleashed. A two-course $8 lunch special is hard to complain about, but I suspected the dishwasher was cooking that day. The vegetable springrolls were clumsily rolled and scantily filled; the beef in my curry could have come from the shoemaker a block away. Bob was happier with his seafood ravioli soup and pad Thai, especially after he realized a squeeze of the lemon wedge served with the latter livened it right up. WIGB? Unfortunately. How many burritos can one couple eat? 722 Amsterdam Avenue near 95th Street, 212 866 9800.

New York minutes/Early December 2007

December 2007

The good: Mermaid Inn uptown, where the noise level was not as brutal on a second visit and where the food and service were actually impressive. We walked over after the excellent “Gone Baby Gone,” around 7:30 on Saturday night, and expected a line out the door but were instead assured by the hostess the wait would be more than 10 minutes. Then we had just enough time to get our $9 glasses of gamay and gruner at the bar before we were seated. The very personable waiter, after promising four oysters in the grilled appetizer and delivering three, poured our second glasses with a very liberal hand to compensate. A special of grilled Arctic char seemed strange, laid as it was over rings of pasta and a mound of broccoli rabe with chilies, but it worked brilliantly. And the very meaty, nicely seasoned lobster sandwich not only came with excellent Old Bay fries but was made with a real brioche bun rather than a hot dog holder, which may be traditional but actually sucks. Who cared that the free chocolate mousse was overly gelatinous yet again? WIGB? Absolutely. 568 Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.

The not bad: P.J. Clarke’s at Lincoln Square, where the cold drove us for proximity’s sake with another couple after the nearly interminable “I’m Not There” and where the one drawback was the buffoons bellowing at the bar next to the oversized booth where we were trying to decide if we had seen art or annoyance. My Caesar salad was fine, Bob’s chicken potpie was big and our friends seemed happy with a burger and a big salad; the Chateau Ste. Michelle cabernet was about $35. The waiter was one of those relentless if pleasant upsellers, but the vibe in the place was definitely “happy to have your business.” WIGB? Probably. Buffoons are inescapable, and it is temptingly close to the best art house for miles. 44 West 63d Street, 212 957 9700.

The great: Chola yet again, where I met up with three friends for a long lunch and where the waiters not only let us linger unbothered but were even pleasant as we finally left, maybe because having a table occupied drew a second wave of diners for that always satisfying buffet. Every time I go it seems new temptations are on offer; this time a tomato chutney was exceptional. The bread baker was on a roll, too. No wonder all the other Indian choices on the block are all but empty. WIGB? Constantly. 232 East 58th Street, 212 688 4619.

New York minutes/End of November 2007

December 2007

The pretty good: Irving Mill, where we walked in bedraggled and overburdened from the Greenmarket and Barnes & Noble for lunch on Saturday and where we were given a booth big enough to sleep in with all our belongings. The food was almost beside the point — the place is so overdesigned right down to the bathrooms I’m surprised Danny Meyer isn’t pulling a Rebecca Charles. But I liked my peekytoe crab salad ($14 appetizer) with frisee, fingerlings, beets, leeks and crosnes even though the dominant flavor was salt rather than the promised truffle vinaigrette. I also liked my consort’s less-than-succulent braised rabbit with olives, garlic sausage and potato puree even though it, too, seemed to be absent a menu-marquee flavor (rosemary). The bread and butter were as copious as the wine pours were abstemious (the $9 verdejo was underwhelming, the $9 Bordeaux better). Service was a bit pretentious, but it is competing with the best restaurant in St. Louis. WIGB? Bob said yes for me on the comment card, but on reexamining the bill I see the rabbit was $22 on the menu and $24 on the receipt. Not so sure now. 116 East 16th Street, 212 254 1600.

The promising: Pamplona, where one drawback beyond the risky business with the credit cards is the noise level. Six of us were lucky enough to score a back booth, so we could sorta hear what three of us were saying at one time, but I guess that’s what you get when the draw is imaginative, well-executed nueva Espanol. Food went by in a blur, but I know I tasted good chickpea fries, salt cod croquettes and salt-cured tuna, way-above-average patatas bravas and lively crab lasagne with salsa verde, among other dishes. The free-flowing tempranillo was fine, too. WIGB? Cautiously, given the carelessness with credit card numbers and the fact that I just looked at the purloined menu and see that it advises a 20 percent service charge tacked onto bills for parties of six or more — if I dredge up that telltale receipt and find we all tipped twice, we will not exactly be happy. 37 East 28th Street, 212 213 2328.

The boring: Market Table in the West Village, where a friend/professional eater in town for a few days to soak up New York at its most exciting was lured by this fool too lazy to schlep to more promising destinations. The service was beyond personable and friendly, but my $19 crab cake sandwich was a snore begging for livelier tartar sauce and less rubbery bun. All the menu was a snooze, though, to the point that we briefly considered decamping to Pearl on first scanning it. But it was raining, so we stuck around for good bread and butter, good gruner (a glass going for what the same bottle sells for at Gotham) and a borderline-acceptable noise level. My friend was happy with her very straightforward soup and the side of sauteed greens she persuaded the waitress to bring, and with the bathrooms, which she said are way far above those in the town where she is sentenced to serve. She also got her New York’s worth yukking it up over the maple syrup for sale in the weird “market” at the entryway. How many ways can you say “buyer beware new-age idiocy”?