Archive for September, 2008

New York minutes/Late September 2008

September 2008

The good again: Aquagrill in SoHo, where we headed after my consort woke up late on Saturday and announced he wanted a real meal after seven beyond-grueling days of teaching while resorting to fodder rather than good food. I took that to be code for “fish,” and Pearl hates us on Saturdays, so we dragged all our bags from the market at Union Square to Spring Street only to find the crab cake sandwich I like so much is not on the brunch menu. But excellent roasted Casco Bay cod with spinach, artichokes and caper beurre noisette was, so I quietly put aside my salmon reservations and had the excellent BLT with the Atlantic fish and good fries apportioned judiciously. My qualms about octopus were stifled as well to please him, which was a good thing because the huge salad was outstanding: warm, amazingly tender tentacles with roasted peppers and sweet onions. Because we sat outside, the service was pretty discombobulated, with us begging for bread, waiting forever for wine. But WIGB? Absolutely. 210 Spring Street at Sixth Avenue, 212 274 0505.

The adequate: La Rural, where I met tired and annoyed Bob for a late dinner and where the entraña (skirt steak) was tougher than usual, but where the service and salad and wine were fine. WIGB? It is very close to home. 768 Amsterdam Avenue near 98th Street, 212 865 2929.

New York minutes/Latish September 2008

September 2008

The good: Wu Liang Ye in Midtown, where I dragged my consort with his queasy Stella stomach after the zooey opening at ICP and where we were both transported (I’ve only been to Hong Kong, and once; he’s been there and to China at least four times on extended trips). I thought of it after reading Ray Sokolov’s piece in the WSJournal, although I have long known Zarela raves about it. And just walking there felt authentic, with mega-cockroaches claiming right of way on the sidewalk and with the requisite stairs to the dining room one flight above street level. We got a table right away, surrounded by roughly 75 percent Asians, and when the buzz-cut waiter snarled at us for asking whether the Sichuan dumplings could be fried (“Fried? You can get fried anywhere!”), we knew we were in good cooks’ hands. The (boiled) pork dumplings were sleek and silky, in a sublimely spicy chile sauce, and the green beans with spiced sauce (pork? onion? both?) were absolutely worth the shocking $14.95. But the winner was the camphor-smoked half-duck, not as smoky-wonderful as one that still haunts me from Hong Kong but very succulent and flavorful and not at all fatty — plus the meat tasted fresh, which is far more remarkable than you might think. Big glasses of wine were around $7.50, and we walked out with enough leftovers for a huge lunch next day for a little over $50 before tip. WIGB? Can’t wait. 36 West 48th Street, 212 398 2308.

The reliable: Toloache, yet again, where we headed after “Burn After Reading” and had our usual satisfying experience at the oven-facing bar watching that amazing cook do her thing so efficiently. We split the huitlacoche quesadilla and the tacos de pastor and were totally happy with food, wine and service. The cat might be away with Yerba Buena etc., but the mice are not playing. WIGB? Over and over, obviously. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.

The geographically adequate: Stella Maris at the South Street Seaport, where three of us retreated after the scrum around the Murray’s Cheese table at the Edible Manhattan soiree and where we paid too much for too little but were happy to have a sidewalk table despite the racket from the dining room (if the Wall Street meltdown sobers assholes up, it might be worth the suffering). I had just come from a press event and had no interest in more food, but I tasted the tiniest bit of the sausage and the duck confit and was happy that was as far as I went when Bob woke up next morning feeling the room spin. And not from the overpriced wine. Remind me never to order torrontes again, though. That is a grape finding its way in the world. WIGB? Only if I could not crawl farther uptown.

New York minutes/Mid-September 2008

September 2008

The pretty good: Artisanal, where I met my consort and a good friend with his new wife simply because they were staying a couple of blocks away and where I reserved with my own name to ward off any disaster (although Seth does love to collect NYC dining disasters with us; he will always tell the story of the leather jacket stolen in a restaurant and the coming home afterward to find a guy puking on our apartment building’s doorstep). We got a relatively quiet table after the three of them had downed their $20-a-glass wine at the bar (and had sent back dregs that were poured first), and we were comped warm gougeres. By then it was late enough on an 8:30 reservation that no one wanted more than appetizers, so we shared the fondue of the night (Morbier with apricots and not blowaway), then really good duck-foie gras rillettes, far-better-than-average steak tartare, acceptable tuna carpaccio, strange watermelon-feta salad and grilled octopus that they all liked but I passed up. We also had okay chocolate marquise and drank way too much wine, and the guys had to have grappa as the new mom nodded off, but we still got away for $125 a couple before tip. I had to study the bill next morning to figure that out. WIGB? Yep, but only under my own name. 2 Park Avenue on 32d Street, 212 725 8585.

The seriously good: Yerba Buena, where I headed in desperation to meet my consort and friends in from Portland, O. — I hate the East Village, but the chef is from the great Toloache, so why not? I got there first and took a seat next to a braying asshole at the bar and spent my first 10 minutes with $10 Uruguyan sauvignon blanc sinking into deeper despair, since Latino drinks could bring out the braying asshole in monks who have taken a vow of silence. And I was losing it when we were shown to a table right by the bar with the BA, because the room is very tiny and potentially excruciatingly loud. But it’s amazing what stellar service and really good food does for a bad mood. Not to mention cheap wine — we had two bottles of $30 Uruguayan blends and could not have been happier. We split good guacamole and the excellent picada: a frites cone filled with amazing chorizo chunks, tostones and yucca balls, with a little ramekin of great red salsa on the side that we fought to keep to dunk the last guacamole chips in. I didn’t like the one main course we ordered, the suckling pig, because it had that pig funk I can’t abide (too much time in Iowa as a 20-something), but the appetizers we shared were mostly great, particularly the empanadas, the arepas with beef short ribs and the fried calamari (the fish tacos were good but the main ingredient tasted many days from the water). As good as the food was, we were all blown away by the service (and I reserved in consortial name). WIGB? Absolutely, especially after anything at Landmark Sunshine so close by. 23 Avenue A at Second Street, 212 529 2919.

The underwhelming: Grom in the West Village, where we cabbed after dinner with the P.O. friends who were craving gelato when the Laboratorio was long closed for the night. There was no line, which was good, and the scoopers were beyond patient, but Bob and I realized why we had never had the stuff in Torino. It’s just okay, and it’s really ridiculous to pay $4.75 for a tiny cup even when a friend is paying. The vanilla-chocolate stracciatella had a weird coconutty undertone, and the salted caramel scoop with it would definitely not make Haagen-Dazs bag the dulce leche. Only Heidi’s grapefruit gelato jumped. WIGB? Been there. Done it.

New York minutes/Early September 2008

September 2008

The good: Fairway’s cafe, again, where my consort and I met a new-to-New York couple for an affordable dinner in a quiet setting and had what we always have, satisfying food without gouging, although the service was a bit distracted (new faces). My pizza with prosciutto and arugula was fine, Bob’s game hen with fries was even better, and our friends seemed happy with their shared (misspelled) prix fixe menu of fig appetizer and lamb chop entree if not the creme brulee dessert (not enough crackling crust). The grilled pita on the table came with roasted or sauteed spicy zucchini that was excellent, to the point that I tried to duplicate it a couple of nights later, with only moderate success. That book needed more recipes. WIGB? Can’t beat the prices and the noise level. 2727 Broadway near 74th Street, 212 595 1888.

The unsurprising: Les Halles, where we went once again for a post-Greenmarket meat fix and where we walked out wishing only that we had shared the steak frites. Maybe that free chocolate ice cream was not such a good idea, because neither of us came close to cleaning our $17.50 plates. As it usually is, the meat was butchered right and cooked perfectly, the fries were copious and the salad was just enough. The ladies’ room was a bit neglected, but you can’t everything. Nothing crawled into all the bags we left under the table, and it certainly felt better than risking Primehouse with eggs down the street. WIGB? It is a good buy. 411 Park Avenue South near 28th Street, 212 679 4111.

The adequate: Cornelia Street Cafe, where we retreated after finding Pearl closed for vacation when we really needed uplifting after the thoroughly depressing “Trouble the Water” (how that literal son of a bitch lives with his narcissistic self when so many lives should be on his conscience mystifies me). We got a sidewalk table and the service was beyond attentive and the wine list was good and affordable, so who cared that the too-sweet pomegranate syrup drizzles made the hummus plate less than wonderful? The crab cake was made with that shreddy crab, but it was fried right and came over a nice cabbage salad. Four glasses of wine and two appetizers came to about what we would have spent at Pearl on food, so it was fine, especially given the setting — that street is one of the more magical on this island. But we trudged to the C train still depressed. 29 Cornelia Street near Bleecker Street, 212 989 9319.

New York minutes/Latish August 2008

September 2008

The adequate: Atlantic Grill, where a friend and I landed after wandering in a daze after a potentially life-changing appointment. We needed somewhere quiet with wine to talk and were running out of restaurants I could think of on that side of town, so we settled on a too-small table half-in, half-out of the bar on a hot day. We both had the $13 crab cake appetizer, which was better than I expected, with a green sauce and a spicy corn salad. The waiter was over the top but mildly entertaining, although someone should teach him or the busboys to clear the table before bringing the check. WIGB? Probably inevitably. It had to be better than JG Melon, where we walked out when the “host” refused to give us either a table outside or a more comfortable one inside because he was holding it in case a party of four showed up late in lunch service. Good luck, buddy. 1341 Third Avenue near 77th Street, 212 988 9200.