The pretty good: Pudding Stones West, where I met my consort for an early dinner to escape my own kitchen and where we had a surprisingly great experience, despite the views (huge piles of garbage bags in Bob’s line of sight, a funeral home where we saw off a friend and neighbor in mine). In a million lifetimes I would never have expected a pretty sophisticated wine bar with outdoor seating to open on that — or any — stretch of Amsterdam Avenue, so I would have been happy with just a couple of glasses and a decent snack. But the hummus with warm pita was outstanding (if a tiny portion) and both my Caesar and Bob’s goat cheese and roasted beet salad were spiffy-looking and great tasting. The waitress was excellent, the wines were decent pours (although of the four we tried, two were just slightly past their prime) and even the kid at a nearby table was behaving — mostly because his parents were slipping him a little red every so often. WIGB? Absolutely. The serious food looks enticing, too. 635 Amsterdam at 91st Street, 212 787 0501.
Archive for April, 2008
The good: Square Meal, where we finally lucked in on a Saturday night and only realized why when we saw so much Passover food on the menu. On the plus side, the place never filled up, so the din a friend had warned me of never had a chance to build to bedlam level. On the minus side, chicken liver pate with matzoh is not my idea of bread and butter. But my consort loved his roast “organic/kosher” chicken with potato latkes. I was happy with airy/crispy fried “Thai” calamari on an Asian pear and Meyer lemon slaw, and we both were impressed by the “Boston ’n buttermilk” salad, with its delicate balance of leaves and dressing with tiny croutons and bacon bits. We almost never order dessert, but Bob got kid’s eyes over the ones being served all around us, so we succumbed to a pretty decent coconut cream pie. It’s BYO, and I had a great red left from a magazine story, so we got out for $55 before tip. Bonus points for the look of the place, which is sleek but homey, and for the staff, all total pros and a real team. As the neighbor who tipped me off to the Yura enterprise put it, “It’s special.” And considering where it’s located, it really is. WIGB? Hope so. 30 East 92d Street, 212 860 9872.
The not bad: Pasita, a Venezuelan wine bar where we wound up after the devastating “Body of War” at IFC. The long, narrow room was nearly empty on a Monday night, and the server spent most of the evening reading at the bar, but the food came fast and the wine pours were more than generous for $9. A pizza would have been the way to go, judging by the brick oven, but we just split a “cremosa” salad with iceberg lettuce, avocado, red onion and tomato with a creamy pepper dressing, and, at the child-for-a-night’s insistence, “tequenos,” described as cheese puffs dusted with cumin but actually more like mozzarella sticks with a great green salsa. My Los Andes Torrontes was outstanding, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising in a place whose slogan translates as “happiness in a bottle.” WIGB? Absolutely. 47 Eighth Avenue near West Fourth Street, 212 255 3900.
The not awful: Ostia in the West Village, where I stupidly suggested we repair when the one table open at Centro Vinoteca after an early book party seemed to be in an especially deafening level of aural hell. Of course as soon as we sat down and ordered wine I realized we were trapped next to something worse: a big table of braying Euro-holes. But the poor waitress was so mumbly-shy we stuck it out to share some decent grilled shiitakes and an obviously made-to-order tortilla (never a good thing). That and three glasses of wine cost fifty bucks. WIGB? Not likely.
The weirdly good: The New French, where I met my office-bound consort when he was looking for a sidewalk cafe experience without the chill and bus fumes and where we could have been in a whole other city. BYOB Philadelphia with the convenience of a wine list, say. The place looks rather bare-bones, with an open kitchen and a deliberately crudely written menu, but it had personality to spare. We got a great table by the window and really satisfying food: a pulled pork sandwich with excellent fries (all of $9.75) and a pizza bianca topped with crispy duck, pickled onions, arugula and radishes ($8.50). We didn’t need the huge green salad I also ordered, which was lucky because the top-grade leaves were drenched in dressing. The service is best described as offhand but attentive; the waitresses could keep the good cheap wine flowing. WIGB? Very happily, assuming it’s not overrun. 522 Hudson Street near 10th, 212 807 7357.
The oddly off: Pearl Oyster Bar, where for the first time ever I had fries that seemed to be begging for Viagra. Their limpness made me hypercritical of the skate sandwich; I actually looked inside the ciabatta to be sure it was hiding fish. As always, though, the place was transporting, the bartender/waitress exceptional. After all, as I overheard when a woman wanted only three fried oysters rather than half a dozen, “It depends on the chef who’s on.” I left happy to take my chances again.
The geographically convenient: Mermaid Inn uptown, where we headed after realizing walking home that the popcorn from the really superb “La Zona” at Lincoln Center had worn off too fast on a Sunday afternoon. We had the place almost to ourselves just after 5, and apparently the kitchen got there later, too, because our food took forever. Luckily, my meal was fine: striped bass with a huge mound of lentils and heap of spinach. Bob’s whole roasted dorade seemed just past pristine but was still satisfying. A glass of Spanish white cost what a bottle does over at Gotham, though. WIGB? Undoubtedly. It is close by and cheaper than Docks. At least for now.
The port in a storm: Lucky Strike, where we fled the Umami bullshit at halftime and, luckily, ordered fries with our wine. Because of the scheduling screwup, that was our dinner on a Saturday night. And, luckily, they were good if not great, and the bartender automatically brought mustard along with ketchup, which definitely helped. The place was packed as we left; I don’t know why I never think to go there unless I’m desperate. Maybe it’s the too-thick tumblers for the wine. 59 Grand Street east of West Broadway, 212 941 0479.
The not very good: The Smith, where I headed for lunch in despair of finding anything interesting to the west of the Greenmarket on a Wednesday and where my reward was a seriously sorry fish sandwich after a very long wait. I ordered it because the fries across the room looked great, and they were. But the fish was soggy, the bun pathetic (cotton balls are sturdier) and the promised romaine looked as anemic as iceberg. Whatever the promised sauce was proved to be equally undistinguished (well, indistinguishable, actually). And I only found that out after the woman at the next table who was ordering when I sat down was completely finished. I think the cook had to go out and catch the disappearing cod. But the tumbler of viognier was actually seriously good (and $8), and the waiter was excellent. WIGB? Maybe. Not everyone can shop and fry like Pearl. 55 Third Avenue near 11th Street, 212 420 9800.
The not awful: Le Monde, where I made the mistake of stopping during brunch service and the bigger mistake of ordering something besides eggs and home fries and where I left wondering why I go out for lunch instead of cooking what I really want at home. The grilled vegetable sandwich had not a trace of the olive mayonnaise mentioned on the menu, and if that was mozzarella it had been put through a prosciutto slicer. The fries with it were limp, greasy and lukewarm. Why didn’t I send it back? Because it took so long to get in the first place. The waiter was hustling, though, and the place always has a good vibe. WIGB? Eventually. There’s not much competition. 2885 Broadway near 112th Street, 212 531 3939.
The understaffed: Gallo Nero, where three of us headed after an ill-fated presentation at ICP (shut up and show, someone should have yelled to the moderator). The busboy was super-efficient, so we had water, crusty rolls and bean spread almost immediately, but the one waitress was overwhelmed, and not just by the tightness of the tables. I tasted the octopus, which was tender but still creepy, but took my share of the mushrooms on crispy baguette, romaine salad with roasted pepper and avocado (overdressed but still good) and arugula salad with apples and goat cheese. We also split a plate of roasted peppers, prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella, which I hope was domestic. I ordered the same white twice and got two completely different tastes, but it was hard enough to get them that I just shut up and drank. WIGB? Probably. The prices are great, the room is really pleasant and the bathrooms are a train trip. 402 West 44th Street off Ninth Avenue, 212 265 6660.