Archive for May, 2009

New York minutes/End o’ May 2009

May 2009

The good: Boqueria in SoHo, where we headed with a Philadelphia friend in town for the book expo who expressed a preference for either Caribbean or Mediterranean, anything “light and sunny.” Sort of Spanish sort of fit the bill, although I admit I paused at the blackboard brunch sign out front when I realized how likely eggs were to dominate and how close we were to the Saturday fallback, Aquagrill, with its sidewalk terrace. But it was early, and we got a nice table overlooking the plancha, and the waiter was attentive and the food and wine were excellent even if the music deserved deportation and the bathroom looked worthy of a train, and not in tidy Spain. We just shared a few pricey but excellent tapas: tender octopus on skewers and toast with tomatoes and sugar snap peas in green olive vinaigrette; diver scallops with English peas etc. in bacon vinaigrette; three croquetas — suckling pig, mushroom and salt cod — with sauces, and padron peppers, which were good but not up to Lanzarote level because only one I got had any heat. Rosé and sangria were $9 and $8 a glass; with two each it came out to $38 a person with tax and tip. Not bad, but not the proven deal down the block. WIGB? Maybe. Just not on Egg Day. 17 Spring Street between Thompson and West Broadway, 212 343 4255.

The better than we had any right to hope: Le Petit Marché in Brooklyn Heights, where I met locals and my consort after his workday and with very low expectations, given the neighborhood and the Alouette evocation when I walked in the door on a drizzly gray night. But our food was pretty satisfying, much more so than the sullen-at-best service. I had eaten earlier so only ordered my idea of nibbles — an appetizer of crab-chickpea fritters with chipotle-smoked paprika aioli plus a side of truffle-Parmigiano fries — and was happy with both. My consort made me taste his very chewy but flavorful duck with date gastrique and sweet potato puree, and our friends seemed happy with a special pasta with sausage and summer squash and crab-corn chowder (on this gray evening) plus an off-the-menu pork chop with corn risotto. We split two bottles of red and I think got out for under $100 a couple. WIGB? Absolutely, were I to find myself in that neck of the far woods ever again. 46 Henry Street, 718 858 9605.

P.J. Clarke’s at Lincoln Center, where nine of us landed after the disappointing “Departures” at the little theater around the corner and where we had no reason to complain given the location, location, location coupled with the reasonable prices, decent cooking and showoff service. Our small mob was seated almost instantly at a few tables jammed together in a back corner where we could mostly hear ourselves talk, and the waiter was patient and mellow when some of us just ordered salads or side dishes and others ordered no booze. My Caesar was the same as it ever was, and my consort looked to have more goat cheese than he needed on his spinach salad. Friend to my left was blissful with her sliders if not the bizarre “bubble and squeak” that came with; friend to my right ate the latter with as few complaints as he had for his French onion soup once the kitchen omitted the cheese topping. WIGB? Absolutely. Even if we have to again fight our way through a bizarre horde trying to get into the bar at Center Cut next door. 44 West 63d Street, 212 957 9700.

New York minutes/Late May 2009

May 2009

The really good: Aldea, where I lured my consort for his birthday because he wanted someplace relaxed with good seafood and where he knew instantly that the “arroz de pato” was why we were there. Even though rice is one of my least favorite foods (fodder as a kid), the enhancements listed on the menu — duck confit, chorizo, olive, duck cracklings — had to make it splendiferous, and it truly was, with very tender slices of breast to boot. We got off to an awkward start first when Bob saw his surname was F’ed up on the reservation screen and then when the hostess tried to seat us in the empty upstairs while the open kitchen was glowing like a lamp for us moths. After gently objecting, she did let us take two stools at the counter facing into the glow, and it was perfect. The chef plating apps was close enough for Bob to ask what the little puffy white things were with the sardines (along with Madeira raisins and citrus) and close enough for him to go get a green almond, cut it open and show what he had extracted to soak in milk. Boss came over to watch, too, said hello and then comped us each a huge, beautifully cooked scallop set over farro risotto with cucumber and orange. The scallops had been scored so that they got really crusty on the plancha, and the combination of hot grain and cold accents was revelatory with them. Nothing will convert me to sardines, so I swapped Bob for his ramps with crisped pig’s ear, apple and cumin yogurt and while chewing still thought I came out ahead. His main course of monkfish was better than we could have made at home, with crab and sausage in the brodo. We split a bottle of light Portuguese white for $28 and each had an albariño for $7.50, all fine with the food. The servers were that rare mixture of friendly and competent, too. Best of all: $126 before what I realize was too small a tip. WIGB? Absolutely. That “duck rice” was $20. 31 West 17th Street between Fifth and Sixth, 212 675 7223.

The pretty good: Gradisca, where two friends lured us to meet his Italian cooking teacher and where I was relieved she had the same verdict on the mamma-made pasta so that I can report with no qualms. Bob and I had had lunch there years ago and remembered the ravioli being spectacular but very expensive, so the $26 on the menu was not shocking. And if the gems had been cooked just 30 seconds longer, they would have been perfect; the filling was sublime, only the edges were doughy. Bob and I split little artichoke “meatballs” that were nice enough plus one wedge of Anna Teresa’s piadina, which almost wiped out my memory of the one we’d had at another restaurant that was about as supple as a Communion host. And I snared a bite of our host’s excellent fresh mozzarella (with anemic tomato). Bob’s main course of cavatelli with eggplant and ricotta salata was faultless, as was the farro lasagne my friend shared. (I think — should have stolen the menu for notes because nothing is current online.) I was glad we were there early; by the time we left it was getting very loud in the back dining room, and the food was already slow to arrive. WIGB? Maybe, if someone else was paying again. As good as the food was, it was very removed from the matter-of-factness in Italy. 126 West 13th Street between Sixth and Seventh, 212 691 4886.

The always good: The New French. Yet again. Running out of descriptives, but there is no better burger. Spanish rosé was perfect with it and the salmon salad.

The expedient: Hecho en Dumbo, where 500 of us descended just before the kitchen closed after the amazing “Driftless” screening at Galapagos and where the service was surprisingly proficient. My “picaditas” with chorizo, though, were topped mostly with potato, a complaint the friend to my left had about the chorizo filling in his “burritas.” More demerits for the din, the cash-only policy and the one bathroom, which by the end of the night looked Hecho en Mexico. WIGB, though? Probably. Location, location, location. 111 Front Street, Brooklyn, 718 855 5288.

New York minutes/Mid-May 2009

May 2009

The not horrible: HB Burger in Times Square, where we stopped in after the dry Avedon opening in search primarily of cheap and where the bartender was smart enough to keep us glued to our stools for several glasses of $8.25 wine and a couple of normal-sized “side” salads for $4.50/$5.50. First he presented us each with a tiny mug of beer to try, one dark, the other light, then he set down a huge platter of potato chips and faintly blue cheesy dip, saying it was left over from happy hour. Who cared that neither element had much taste? We ordered a Caesar, topped with processed cheese, and an “Asian” salad of noodles, vegetables and glop and had no reason to complain when we knew exactly what we would get. WIGB? That big “nothing over $9” sign out front works. 127 West 43d Street, 212 575 5848.

New York minutes/Early May 2009

May 2009

The not bad: Smith’s in the West Village, where four of us settled in hopes of an affordable meal in a quiet setting and where we got half our wishes. I landed there first and could not have been treated more hospitably while waiting at the bar without ordering wine (next to a couple who had met online and who were exchanging TMI for sure); without being asked, the bartender happily brought me ice water and even an extra candle so I could try to decipher the Time magazine keeping me company. We eventually got a good booth that would have been great if it had not had 14 speakers directly overhead. The waiter also stayed extremely patient even as we dithered in ordering. And my food was pretty good: The grilled squid might have languished a bit too long on the grill, but the pepper relish with it overcompensated, while the ramp risotto with mushrooms and Parmesan was better than average despite the unnecessary Meyer lemon. Both our friends seemed happy with their warm artichoke salad and his chicken-and-grits with shrimp-andouille gumbo if not her skimpy salmon with watercress — it was absurdly small considering my half-portion of risotto was enough to doggie-bag and Bob’s John Dory with shellfish stew and potatoes was a big deal at $23. Elixirs seemed overpriced in comparison to the entrees, too, but then I guess wines are being marked up crazier than fish. WIGB? Hospitality aside, I see no pressing reason why, unfortunately. 79 MacDougal Street above Houston, 212 260 0100.

New York minutes/Late April/Early May 2009

May 2009

The always good: The New French, where I guiltily went to re-calibrate my appestat after the Wednesday Greenmarket. A-plus for Cheddarburger, fries, rosé and service. Would have given my compliments to the chef on the way out, but he was doing what chefs so rarely do: Cooking his ass off at peak lunchtime. 522 Hudson Street at 10th, 212 807 7357.

The not bad: Bar Artisanal, where I hooked up with my consort after the book party down below and where the pluses outweighed the minuses, maybe because the Boss Man was on the premises, in his whites. Manchego “beignets” were a rip, four little deep-fried dabs on long skewers for $9, but the $16 seared cod with cockles, chorizo and potatoes was actually big enough to share and the $15 tartiflette “pissaladiere” was a generous slab richly topped with lardons, potatoes and Reblochon. I had a half-glass of Brachetto at the bar while waiting ($7) and felt happier with a full glass of $9 Verdicchio at the table. The place looks pretty grand, but the hostess told Bob it was one restaurant one night and this one the next, so credit where credit is due. 268 West Broadway at Sixth Avenue, 212 925 1616.

The promising: Centrico, where I was a bad guest at a decent book party and where the passed apps and the margarita made me think, yet again, I have been remiss in never investing in a full meal there. Crab tostaditos were irresistible and the little meatballs . . . spicy. Bartenders were great; it was all almost enough to make me forget my one ignominious night cooking in the teeny kitchen there when it was 211, back in the last century. 211 West Broadway, 212 431 0700.