Archive for November, 2008

New York minutes/Late November, early December 2008

November 2008

The really good: West Branch, where I suspect reserving in my name snared my consort and me a good corner table and fine service for an exceptional meal. The Caesar (and I would know) was above average, but my crispy fried quail with potato salad was shockingly good, while Bob’s duck confit with choucroute (and pork shoulder, and sausage, and potatoes) was better than Alsace (small is good). Wines by the glass were fairly priced, the two breads were cheesy and warm, and I disagree with my friend who thinks the room is gloomy. WIGB? If I can ever get in. 2178 Broadway at 77th Street, 212 777 6764.

The satisfying: Mermaid Inn yet again, where we met friends who had had us to a party where of course they couldn’t talk. They live six blocks away and were awed, which says a lot, although I noticed the place is starting to razor away to keep prices down (the skate used to be a bigger wing with potatoes and chorizo and now comes with cauliflower and capers). A special of striped bass with spinach and (unbilled) beans was double-whammied by undercooking of two key ingredients, while the whole roasted fish (once dorade, now always trout) was pretty desiccated although the green sauce and fried potatoes redeemed it. I didn’t try Bob’s shrimp po’ boy, but the fries were excellent. So was our shared salad of calamari, feta and frisee. WIGB? Inevitably. 578 Amsterdam Avenue near 87th Street, 212 799 7400.

The slipping: Toloache, where we dragged friends in from Connecticut who always eat Mexican on Fridays because it was geographically convenient to their luxe lodgings at the Trump hotel where Jonas Bros groupies were grouped as we passed. We started with drinks at the Mandarin Oriental, where the hostess in the main bar should transfer to the TSA at the nearest airport to put that graciousness and efficiency to serious work. (Regular bar redeemed it, especially since our friends sprang for the by the glass priced by the bottle.) At T we did get a table downstairs as requested after a detour to the bar, and apparently I was in the minority on the food. The roja guacamole was great, as apparently were the tacos we mostly split: pork, chicken, veal cheek, brisket, tilapia. But the huitlacoche quesadilla seemed mingy and dry, and the tamal underwhelmed everyone (meat shreds on the side were like jerky; masa was characterless). Beyond the food, the music was hammering loud at an off-hour on a Saturday, and the waitress was obsessed with clearing the table even of water glasses. WIGB? Yeah, because it is mostly good, but I just wonder how long it will stay that way. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.

New York minutes/November 2008

November 2008

The good: Mermaid Inn, yet again, where my consort and I reconnoitered with friends in from Chicago mostly because it was the best place within gimping distance. Service was pretty slow, but the food, price etc were all great. I had the skate with chorizo and potatoes and left happy. WIGB? As long as it’s the best place within 20 blocks. 568 Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.

The not bad: Whym, where my consort and two friends retreated after the OSI Moving Walls opening for, as usual, geographic convenience. We had to wait a drink but got a back table for mahi on white bean puree for two people, excellent succulent barbecue chicken and grits for Bob and an acceptable baby arugula salad with pecans, pears and goat cheese for me. WIGB? As long as OSI is showing photos, I guess. 889 Ninth Avenue near 58th Street, 212 315 0888.

New York minute

November 2008

The pretty good: La Rural, where my consort treated me to my first meal out since the Great Incision and where even a mis-ordered salad could not dampen my outsized pleasure at my escape from my own kitchen. We split the excellent entraña (skirt steak), seriously garlicky Provencal fries and that salad and had enough left for lunch for me next day. The place was less than half-full, so the noise level was painless, and the service was outstanding as always. WIGB? Meat’s still on my RX pad, so I hope so. With a glass of wine each, the bill was $56 before tip. 768 Amsterdam Avenue near 98th Street, 212 865 2929.

New York minutes

November 2008

Here’s something you don’t hear every day: Eat meat. Put on some weight.

That was the surgeon talking before my date with the chainsaw. So I took him up on it twice at The New French (cheeseburger, steak salad) and also used it as an excuse to brave a Chipotle Grill. I never eat fast-food meat, but I swallowed the hype and ordered soft tacos with “steak.” Which were surprisingly decent although the guacamole was mostly color, not taste. I also cooked brisket while testing recipes from cookbooks for Epicurious. And I even ordered the “country meatloaf smothered in brown gravy” in the hospital and understood why a nausea patch had been attached behind my ear.

Charlie Palmer also came to the iron rescue at his scrum of a 20th-anniversary party at Aureole: a whole table set up in the back was loaded with charcuterie, including foie gras.

And out of the hospital, my pal Cheese Jenkins has supplied us and drop-in friends with weight-adding food for days. Not sure when I’ll be able to venture out to a restaurant, but things could be worse. . . . Too much of a good thing is almost enough.

New York minutes/End of October 2008

November 2008

The good: Mermaid Inn uptown, where my consort treated me to a last supper before the chainsaw and where the food, service and price were just what we needed. I usually avoid trout like the real chicken of the sea, but it was the best bet on the restricted plan I was on, and it was saved by a plethora of herbs and lemon roasted inside. The mashed potatoes I substituted with it were outstanding; Bob was totally happy with his skate with roasted potatoes and chorizo. WIGB? Repeatedly. 568 Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street.

The bad: Cafe Luka on the Upper East Side, where I stupidly retreated for a “real” lunch between appointments. A guy standing out front volunteered that he had just eaten there and it was good and fast, which was all I wanted. But the Reuben (a special) was industrial meat under a cheese-like substance that was barely cheese-like, and the potato salad with it was unnerving. To call the aftermath intestinal distress would be like describing a four-car pile-up as a fender-bender.

The great, again: The New French, where I went first for a cheeseburger alone, then back three days later for a steak salad with my consort since doctor’s orders were to eat meat and put on some LBs. The burger was easily the best I’ve ever had, perfectly cooked, topped with caramelized onions and three pickle slices and teamed with not just a huge heap of exceptional fries but a spicy aioli. And the steak salad was just totally happy-making, great meat seared right and laid over Romaine, French green beans, potatoes, hard-cooked egg and sweet peppers in anchovy vinaigrette. I’d rave more but am out of time. Just WIGB? No question. 522 Hudson Street at Tenth, 212 807 7357.