Archive for January, 2009

New York minutes/Late January 2009

January 2009

The good: Kefi, where my consort and I met great friends for an early birthday dinner and where their shock at the inflated wine prices in the new location was offset by the superb service and unexpected freebies. We got a relatively sheltered table in the cacophony (only in Strollerland would an 8 o’clock reservation be on the late side), and the waiter was outstanding. He sold us on a $48 bottle of “Red Velvet” to start, and poured it as judiciously as a waiter would in Paris. Our orders of the assorted spreads, grilled sardines, Greek salad, sheep’s milk dumplings and Greek sausage with pita were supplemented by the kitchen’s beneficence of grilled octopus and meatballs. We even got a comped dessert topped with a candle, a wedge of semolina cheesecake in filo sauced with quince and candied orange peel. WIGB? Late and often. 505 Columbus between 84th and 85th Streets, 212 873 0200.

The sad: Harry’s Cafe, where we stupidly agreed on Inaugural night to meet a friend who lives nearby, on the assumption that “Jump, You Fuckers” would be watching the teevee. Instead, the joint was sleepy, maybe six tables filling all long night long, and the only screen was in the busy bar. But our food was pretty good, both Bob’s frisee salad with egg and bacon totally reinvented and my copious portion of duck confit on white beans with portobellos and haricots verts. We didn’t try Kevin’s cod special but were happy enough with his choice of wine, a $40 red Bordeaux that was substantially better than the red Bob chose in the low $30s. So much for the cheapest wine on a great list; this one obviously caters to people who order by price. At the high end. The waiter, though, was spectacular. WIGB? Maybe. Not much happening down there these days. You don’t even have to watch for falling bodies. One Hanover Square, 212 785 9200.

The pretty good: Bar Boulud, where we toasted my actual birthday and where we were both thrilled not to be squandering the usual 300 bucks in some swank clip joint. Thank allah we got a table in the front, near the window, because even though I reserved (in a friend’s name) the “hostesses” wanted to shunt us to the jammed bar in a room that looks like a French train station. The paté “Grand-Pere” with foie gras and assorted meats was sublime, although the toasts that came with it were charred and poor Bob had to intercept the stressed waiter at a nearby table to get a second round of them. It was so great, in fact, that neither of us could finish even half of our main courses, not my rather desiccated monkish with blowaway “super green” spinach or Bob’s hyper-rich coq au vin with fat lardons and hand-rolled pasta. Our arbois was excellent with both of those, although I’m not sure I needed the sommelier to slap me down when I ordered our starter glasses as “Champagne” —  I know Cremant is just a sparkler and would have said it with a lower-case C if I had known he was in a superior mood. I also can’t remember the last time I saw busboys and runners who looked more defeated. WIGB? Absolutely, next time we’re leaving a movie and looking for a snack and a great glass of wine rather than a meal. The crowd is a trip; the tab was half the price of a visit to the vet with a geriatric Siamese. 1900 Broadway between 63d and 64th Streets, 212 595 0303.

The always good: The New French, where a friend and I adrift at an odd hour after the Bronx Museum wound up after having farts blown in our general direction at Company and after bailing on realizing we had landed in a “Sex and the City” bus tour at Spice Market. (I refuse to eat anywhere people are wearing sunglasses indoors. In winter.) The place was empty at around 5, so we got a nice corner table and soon had $8 and $7 glasses of Italian white, followed by two of what really are the best cheeseburgers in the city.  Neither of us could come close to finishing the heap o’ fries that comes with. WIGB? Absolutely, even though I inadvertently hurt the owner’s feelings by declining comped wine. The cooking and service are holding up incredibly well. 522 Hudson Street at 10th Street, 212 807 7357.

New York minutes/Mid-January 2009

January 2009

The good: Hecho en Dumbo, where I met my consort after an excellent afternoon with a fellow language junkie over in Brooklyn Heights and where the food and prices were worth the oily after-effects (you’ll leave there smelling as if you just ate at Ugglesich’s in New Orleans). I also suspect the place might be brutal, noisewise, later in the evening, but around 7 on a Monday night it was superb. We split the best guacamole in eons — what looked like a mingy portion was actually ample with the warm chips — and then outstanding sopes topped with crab and with chorizo etc. Wines and service were also better than I would expect. WIGB? Undoubtedly, given that the prices are right and the place is right around the corner from Bob’s underheated office. 111 Front Street, Brookyn, 718 855 5288.

The also-good: Zoma, where a table right next to the arctic-breezing door was the one downside to dinner for four of us with one injera spread with mounds of well-spiced vegetables and another with lamb, chicken and sirloin. The price was certainly right — I got there first and ordered a $7 glass of sauvignon blanc to keep me company in the cold, and then we split a bottle of red and it all came out to all of $25 a person. The place looks great, and the staff is surprisingly attentive and efficient. I don’t know enough about Ethiopian cooking to be critical, but I liked most of what we ate, particularly the red lentils, which could pass for Indian. WIGB? The price is right. (Cash only, though, and reservations are respected.) 2084 FDBlvd (Eighth/CPW) at 113th Street, 212 662 0620.

The adequate: Metro Marche in the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where we headed for proximity’s sake after an opening at ICP and an encounter with NYC’s nastiest outside a Hillary event (pedestrians forced to walk in the street? no problem!) The place was the busiest I think I’d ever seen it, but the bouncer/manager was doing a better job than the cops; when three girls tried to use the same bathroom, his shoulders stepped in. Wine, service, my pizzette were all fine, but Bob’s frisee salad looked as if it had walked in from Weehawken: tired, overdressed greens mixed with soggy lardons and weary walnuts. It didn’t matter, though, because the subway entrance was mere steps away on that brutally cold night. WIGB? Inevitably. The crap going in across the street at the shrine to Pinch’s ego doesn’t look much better. 625 Eighth Avenue near 41st Street, 212 239 1010.

The unsettling: Pearl, where I was so disoriented by the emptiness at lunch that I must have set myself up for disappointment. When I got there exactly no one was at the bar and two tables were occupied in the “dining room,” but that didn’t stop the bartender from pushing around a couple of foreigners who did not understand why they had to wait for a complete party to be seated and who were told to “take any stool on the wall” when one went to the bar to sit down while the other was on the phone; the surliness even after one ordered a bottle of “Champagne” almost made me embarrassed to be a New Yorker. It’s the first time I ever thought about how one letter separates “rule” from “rude.” (Or maybe I’ve just been kicked around too much in countries where I don’t speak the language.) As for the food, I got my usual fish sandwich, and the bread was so huge I ate quite a while on one half before finding the cod in all the sauce and lettuce. I guess it was what it always is, but for the first time it struck me as almost gross. Fries and muscadet were fine, though. And the bartender/enforcer was certainly efficient with my order. WIGB? Yep. Any place can have an off day, with or without extenuating circumstances. 18 Cornelia Street.

The cheap and cheerful: Cafetasia, where we ducked in after freezing our bones and metal off on Union Square and where my crab Rangoon and Thai-eggplant-loaded green curry together cost about the same as the pound and a half of organic stew meat we had to buy at Whole Foods because the Greenmarket only had goat and pork. For the same $7.50, Bob had gyoza (lame) and udon (respectable). The place was packed, but the staff was outstanding (we got a table immediately in a room designed for communal eating). I just wish I had been two tables away with the male couple who were on their second bottle of wine at 12:30 on Saturday. WIGB? Probably. The green curry sauce was much gutsier than Spice’s, and the price was tres right. 38 East Eighth Street, 212 529 2363.

The painful: Ninth Street Espresso in the Chelsea Market, where I met a friend for our once-a-year coffee and where I can’t remember when I have felt more bilked (and she bought the $3.50 cherry scone at Amy’s afterward). The Camorra have killed for a less muddy cappuccino. For $4 at that.

New York minutes/Early January 2009

January 2009

The great yet again: The New French in the West Village, where we made our first pilgrimage in exactly two months to meet a friend and where the perfection was the same as it always is. I had had the cheeseburger on my mind since eating it on doctor’s advice last time, and it lived up to my memory: great meat cooked right, topped with sauteed onions and pickles with a chile sauce on the side; the good fries as usual came in a too-big-to-finish heap. Consort and friend had steak salads, also superb (anchovy vinaigrette is the way to dress), and she raved about her latte. A tiny table with a cushion for a window seat turned out to be ideal because we could all hear each other no matter how the throngs flowed in around us. Service and wine were also faultless. No wonder the food mafia is finding its way there, with two boldface names in one week. 522 Hudson Street at 10th Street, 212 807 7357.

The well worth the journey: Franny’s in the alien borough of Brooklyn, where friends who live nearby lured us with the promise of fabulous pizza and where the payoff included three of those plus amazing octopus and interesting wine (bianco di Custoza for $34 a bottle). Not to mention relatively few of the human larvae I was dreading. We shared the olive oil-sea salt pizza, one with tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella and one with clams and parsley, all little masterpieces on charred bread from the wood oven. Marinated olives as a starter were fine, but the octopus, which normally is blackened rubber, was totally tender, surrounded by a few chickpeas in great olive oil. WIGB? Absolutely, with a meat lover to try the house salumi, but the whole experience actually made me want to go exploring more. 295 Flatbush Avenue, 718 230 0221.

The right place on the right night: Kefi on Columbus, where we headed on New Year’s Eve because it met key criteria for us traditionalists — regular (read: non-gouge) menu, and location before Champagne at our friend’s in the Beresford and the fireworks at midnight in the park. For those whose first question is: Was Donatella there? The answer is yes; she showed us to a table on the lower level and apparently alerted Michael to our presence, because killer sardines and amazing Greek sausages arrived between the array of always-brilliant spreads we’d ordered as a starter and Bob’s fat slab of swordfish and my appetizer-as-main-course fried cod with garlicky potatoes. We should have split a bottle of wine because we ordered by the glass as a pacing mechanism and of course kept ordering, but it was worth it. The place was packed and beyond festive, especially after Donatella went through the room passing out hats and noisemakers. Which was reassuring when we remembered how many wonderful Dec. 31 meals we’ve had over the years in just-opened empty restaurants that are now long gone (can you say Toqué!?) WIGB? Early and often. 505 Columbus near 84th Street, 212 873 0200.