Archive for March, 2009

New York minutes/Latish March 2009

March 2009

The reliable: Mermaid Inn, where I met a genius friend who is increasingly appreciating the lure of Demon Wine and where our usual server in the back room tacitly helped by pouring us to-the-brim glasses of the $12 Gruner. She also tipped us off to the changes in prep for the salmon and skate, and Pam went for the latter, braised on the cartilage with tomatoes, garlic and saffron and quite good. I, of course, had to eat like a home-alone child with the special fish and chips, which at least was excellent as usual. 568 Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.

The painful: Fatty Crab uptown, where a dieting friend and I connected to chagrin for her and aural abuse for me. She was the neighborhood moth drawn to the flame of the new, only to realize not much on the menu would make Weight Watchers happy; I was the uncharacteristically accommodating pal who by the end was ready to shoot out the speakers. Unlike downtown, the music was not just loud but pretty lame, but as she noted, all you could hear was bass. Booming bass. Add to that kiddle waiters (propellers would be appropriate on some caps) who came by every five minutes to ask if we were “still working on that.” As for the food, my memory must be faulty. I don’t recall so many bean sprouts padding out the excellent mango salad downtown, or such a skimpy portion of the fatty duck (I loved it although I don’t think it was the freshest thing in the kitchen). The “watercress,” as the waiter translated it, was perfection, though. We left debating whether the place would do well in a neighborhood where value notoriously trumps just about anything. But maybe we were grumpy because we settled for two dainty glasses of the $9 Gruner each rather than risking a $50-plus bottle of something unfamiliar. That list must have been written pre-Madoff. WIGB? Well, my consort will want to try it. And we have nothing to talk about when we go out. . . . 2176 Broadway near 77th Street, 212 496 2722.

New York minutes/Mid-March 2009

March 2009

The always great: Both Kefi and the New French, where I should be weary of the menus but where we find ourselves heading over and over. We met friends for a late Sunday supper at the former and wound up closing the joint, which gets extra points for easing us out far more gracefully than Le Cirque did. It was so late we all only split the superb spreads, an order of the sheep’s milk ravioli and another of the crispy calamari plus the house-made sausages the kitchen sent out. Chad and Pam each had the special white bean soup, which looked great. We were also comped our bottle of red wine, but even without it I would say the experience was close to perfection. Ditto for the New French, where we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table for latish Saturday brunch. The place is like a humming machine: the service was fast and friendly and efficient; the cooking was outstanding. Bob was as happy as ever with that masterpiece of a Nicoise-esque salad, which has to take mega-prep but is always done with care. And the cheeseburger was even better than I remembered. Bob insisted I take the half I didn’t finish home, and I would be embarrassed to admit I reheated it next day except that it was still great warmed over. 505 Columbus Avenue near 84th Street, 212 873 0200; 522 Hudson Street at 10th Street, 212 807 7357.

The pretty good: Savoy in SoHo, where I met a new friend for lunch after she suggested heading there to split one of the special cassoulets and where the waiter was only half-able to mask his disdain at our perceived chintziness. She had been once before to try the Toulouse version, so I trusted her when she said the Carcassonne would be enough for two; I certainly didn’t want to be still digesting at Christmastime as is usually the case with what my consort calls French pork and beans. And of course we didn’t even finish it, although the $25 portion in a cast-iron pot was not excessive, just lots of gigande beans with smoked pheasant, duck confit and outstanding house-made sausage. It came with a little mound of mixed green salad, but we’d also ordered one with goat cheese, so we got our cud’s worth. Bread and butter were excellent, and my gruner was a generous glass for $9 (she had Basque cider, poured right). Almost the best part was the table, perfect for people-watching in style central. WIGB? Yep. Peter Hoffman walks the walk. 70 Prince Street at Crosby, 212 219 8570.

The not bad: Adrienne’s Pizzabar, where we resorted after poor Bob was pressed into being a messenger boy at the end of a grueling week, with a stopover near Wall Street between a party in Dumbo and home. The place was rocking, loudly, but we got a table right away, had water and bread before we’d even gotten our coats off and had wine poured not long after that (undistinguished red from Campania for $34). My insistence on olives and mushrooms pushed the $16.50 “old-fashioned” rectangular pizza to $22.50, but it was beyond satisfying, with a crisp crust and a thick layer of fresh mozzarella along with the copious extras. We managed 2 1/2 slices apiece, had the rest boxed up and were set for breakfast for the next three mornings. WIGB? It’s a great port in a downtown storm, although one day I’ll get my nerve up to try another of Harry’s son’s enterprises. 54 Stone Street, 212 248 3838.

The snotty: La Pizza Fresca in the Flatiron, where we stopped in late with a friend after Bob’s star turn before a picture editors’ group around the corner and where the officious waitress who may have been the hostess or an owner was almost vibrating with scorn when we tried to order one pizza. (At that time of night I only need to see food, not really eat it.) She talked us into another plus a second salad and was never seen again, nor was the server once he poured the first round from our bottle of red. Salads were excellent, one just classic arugula with shaved Parmigiano, the other beets with Gorgonzola. But the pizza was as authentic as signs promised; like so many we have eaten all over Italy, both were more cheese soup on soggy bread than crisp crust with topping (funghi for one, buffalo mozzarella, olives, Parmigiano and basil for the other). I took some shit over at the Epi Log for getting “buffaloed,” but maybe you had to be there. WIGB? I’d have to be a glutton for condescension.

New York minutes/Early March 2009

March 2009

The good: Cabrito in the West Village, where my consort and I wound up because it was geographically convenient when I was in peanut-reputation-rehabilitation wonderland and he was on his way home from Dumbo. I got there first and would have walked right back out if the bartender et al had not been so insistently pleasant — it was almost unsettling. The place looked cramped and crowded and potentially tequila-fueled loud, but the niceness was seductive. I chose to stand near the door to wait after being encouraged to walk through to see if Bob had arrived, but they laid out a menu and brought a glass of water and it was hard to say let’s move on when he did. My gills were bulging from all the peanut products earlier, so I only ordered rajas con crema with flour tortillas, which was just right. But his plate of carnitas was outstanding, crispy chunks of barnyardy heritage pork with good corn tortillas and salsa verde. I still hate the Barfry-holdover tumblers sentenced to serve as wineglasses because they make even good pinot blanc taste jug-like, but it was hard to complain with fine service to go with the food. WIGB? Absolutely. The huaraches with chorizo are calling my name. 50 Carmine Street between Bedford and Bleecker, 212 929 5050.  

The pretty good: Klee in Chelsea, where we headed after the opening of the intense  Jonathan Torgovnik show at Aperture on children born of rape in Rwanda.  Luckily, all the stylish gallerygoers preening in front of the photos made it easier to transition to food and drink, but Red Cat was jammed and Company (as the sign says on the restaurant) looked even worse from a block away, so Klee it was. Bob just plunged in without checking the menu, and it turned out to be rather more ambitious than I imagined, with a tasting menu and a sommelier and other pretensions. The place was almost empty aside from a couple of tables in the back and one in the window, so we were happy enough with a table near the bar — at least until the hostess seated the Large Family exactly next to us, a braying woman with three other hearty eaters who made big noise as we tried to talk and eat. WTF? We shared the Liptauer, paprika-pungent with thin bread chips, then I just had the “Alsatian pizza,” which I ordered as tarte flambé and should have known was “Alsatian pizza” — the dough was like a flour tortilla. Flavors were right, though. Bob ordered $27 duck, a huge tender breast set over wheat berries, but I guess I need my glasses checked because I thought the plate was draped in kitchen twine used to hold the two halves of the slab together. He forked up a segment and I yelped, “Don’t eat that! It’s string!” And it was julienne of lemon zest. Not good when garnishes go bad. “Steal of the day” in wine was a nice enough verdicchio for $36, endorsed by the sommelier. WIGB? Maybe. The bar looks very accommodating, and we’re down there a lot. 200 Ninth Avenue near 22d Street, 212 633 8033.  

The not bad: Grand Sichuan in the West Village, where Bob and I had lunch after a trip to the Greenmarket on which we bought exactly one apple. (It was us, not the season.) He wanted Asian and I remembered online and other positive vibes for this place; only when we finished did Bob confess he’d been skeptical because nothing on Seventh Avenue South is ever very good or lasts. The service was rather addled (they stuck us at a bare table and took their sweet time both setting it and delivering the food), and bad music was compounded by scary paintings. As for the food, scallion pancakes were cooked to a greasy crisp and close to flavor-free, while the $17 tea-smoked duck had great flavor and crunchy skin but geriatric flesh. Since he’s traveled so much in China, Bob is obsessed with “ma po to fu,” and for once he got a pretty sensational rendition, the silky curd in a super-spicy sauce with a lot of nuance. A full portion at $9 was more than enough for a second lunch the next day. WIGB? Maybe, but the duck is far superior at Wu Liang Ye on 48th. 15 Seventh Avenue South near Carmine, 212 645 0222.    



New York minutes/End of February 2009

March 2009

The good: The New French, yet again, where my consort and I headed on finding Pearl closed for vacation after the devastating “Gomorrah” at IFC (toxic waste, toxic assets — what’s the diff?) The place was surprisingly empty on this Monday night, and only one waitress was working, but we had unsurprisingly great service and food, hanger steak with fries and great sauce for Bob and the salad with tuna for me. Half the meal was spent marveling that such careful cooking can be dispensed for such beyond-reasonable prices — the amount of labor that goes into the salad alone is daunting, a thought that was reinforced as we stood up to leave and saw the chef roasting a huge batch of red peppers for the next day’s round of copious salads. WIGB? The burger is calling my name. . . 522 Hudson Street at 10th, 212 807 7357.

The not bad: Cafe Luxembourg, where we reserved for complicated reasons involving crossed signals on concerts and Connecticut plus overbooking at West Branch and Kefi too busy to take reservations, and where the room and vibe, as always, compensated for perfectly adequate food. I had the New French steak on my brain and stupidly succumbed to the 7-ounce steak frites, a dish that was decent enough but nothing like what was stuck in my cranial sieve (and a lot more expensive). Bob was bummed that his chicken was the reheated kind, but our friends were polite about their chicken and their tuna burger. Bob’s beet salad to start was pretty okay, though. We split a bottle of gruner and got away for around $115 a couple. Probably the best part of the evening, besides the conversation, was knowing that that lame Compass next door has only survived from CL overflow. We met there for a glass of wine beforehand, and it was like God’s waiting room. WIGB? Inevitably. It’s the poor man’s Balthazar, but that is not a bad thing. 200 West 70th Street, 212 873 7411.

The transporting: New Leaf in Fort Tryon Park, where we stopped for lunch on our way to avail ourselves of the already dirt-cheap PJ Wine’s loyal-customer deal on bottles at cost and where the setting was like a Hudson Valley inn without the Metro North ride. For reasons I still question, I had the portobello wrap, with zucchini, peppers, basil aioli and tapenade (and, allegedly, Fontina, although it tasted more like smoked mozzarella), which came with a big mound of mesclun. It was actually better than a wrap has a right to be, and Bob’s chicken potpie was its rival, with puff pastry for a crust and a very rich sauce around perfectly cooked carrots and, he said, overcooked chicken chunks. Like almost everyone else — tourists and old people and hooky-players like us — we had to have alcohol, and the sauvignon blanc was a good pour for $9. One waitress, one busboy and a couple of managers worked that busy room like a winning team. WIGB? Absolutely. It’s so far away and yet so close. 1 Margaret Corbin Drive, 212 568 5323.