The decent: Blue Water Grill, where my consort and I wound up in desperation post-Greenmarket after finding BLTFish is no longer open for lunch at all(!) when Bob, coming off a week of really bad eating, decided what he really wanted was fish. Try finding that at midday on any Saturday, when real chefs are sleeping in and letting egg jockeys sling omelets and worse. He wound up ordering $16 scallops (with favas, asparagus and gnocchi in morel sauce) because the main fish offering, Chilean sea bass, should not even be on the menu. And I didn’t mind that my $17.50 crab cake sandwich on burger bun tasted mostly of the heavy garnishes: avocado and chipotle sauce. I don’t know why the kitchen even bothers with the jicama slaw, though. Does anyone eat shredded shirt box? Gruner and rosé were each worth the $10, and the waiter, beaten as he looked toward the end of another day of egg hell, was superb. Whoever’s managing the staff is doing a hell of a job (as opposed to a heckuva) because even the runner was upbeat, and the reception men and women were seriously cheery. 31 Union Square West at 16th Street, 212 675 9500.
Archive for June, 2009
The reliable: Mermaid Inn on Amsterdam, where our usual fine food, cheap wine and good service were enhanced by a couple of sides sent over by a friend who spotted us across the crowded room. We had already finished our shared gazpacho with crab and whole roasted trout with fried potatoes when our usual (superb) waitress set down new flatware and then expertly grilled asparagus with aged provolone and a bowlful of sensational buttery-tasting lentils, but they both were so good we kept eating. Who cared that the fish tasted the way so much farmed fish does, of only the grain it had been fed? WIGB? Always, especially if my grocer is in the house so we can reciprocate. 578 Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.
The good: Dim Sum Go Go in Chinatown, where a friend and I sat for 2 1/2 hours over exactly $27 worth of food, tax and tip while the waiters just kept refilling the teapot and water glasses. At a nice window table we split steamed dumplings (including duck, Chinese parsley, seafood), fried turnip cakes and shiu mai, all faultless. So what if half the other patrons came in clutching guidebooks and the only Asians in the joint were staff? It’s clean and bright and hospitable, not to mention very easy to talk there. WIGB? Anytime. 3 East Broadway off Chatham Square, 212 732 0797.
The seriously good: Bar Boulud, where a friend and I wound up with a great sidewalk table after an odd little evening of Will “Tear Down This Myth” Bunch and “Laughing Liberally” in the Theater District; we just wanted salad and a glass of wine, but $12 for either seemed a little steep at the first places we considered, and PJ Clarke’s looked and sounded like a 20-something WASP convention in Bedlam. So we took our $24 across the street. Of course once we sat down salads seemed absurd when there was all that charcuterie to be had, so she ordered Grand-pere and I chose the excellent $15 tourte de canard, with foie gras layered throughout. My white was all of $9, but her red took forever to arrive, as did her knife. Bread, though, was excellent. The waiter seemed disappointed by our dainty order, although he warmed right up when I asked for a kitty bag for my half-eaten paté. WIGB? Such a deal! And Wyl-E was so happy. 1900 Broadway near 63d Street, 212 595 0303.
The “terrific:” Kefi, yet again, where my friend in from a dining wasteland was quite pleased and not just because we were comped really good orzo with shrimp, feta, spinach and tomatoes. The waiter listened when he wanted something more austere than the glass of white I ordered while waiting for him, and the bottle whose name I didn’t note was a step up and poured at just the right pace as we split the always-great spreads and then swordfish and striped bass (the latter made a superb lunch next day to share with The Cat WCTLWAFW). Gary paid, which should have made me feel terrible, but the place is such a bargain. WIGB? Very soon, I’m sure. 505 Columbus Avenue near 84th Street, 212 873 0200.
The oddly off: The New French, where it was damn lucky the food was as spectacular as always and the design holds up because the service and noise level were mortifying. I didn’t realize what a bad choice it would be for the combination of a soft-spoken scholarly writer and someone who, in the immortal phrase of a friend in Treviso, “chews words.” I couldn’t hear her, and she had it even worse — at one point she thought I was talking about Craig Claiborne rather than John Hess and reacted as if I had said Paula Deen was the new Julia Child. The waitress was an absolute ditz in a half-full room: took forever to come over, had to be hailed for a second glass of rosé, forgot my friend’s second beer, never refilled the water glasses, had to be hailed for the check, had to be hailed again to be told she overcharged me by $4 (sparkling/Spanish/what’s the diff?). And if I had to hear the same track of the Mamas and Papas blasting over all the braying one more time. . . . Still, WIGB? Absolutely. That Cheddarburger with heap o’ fries is just the best. Friend was happy with fresh tuna sandwich, too. And they let us sit far, far longer than Pearl would. 522 Hudson Street at 10th, 212 807 7357.
The good: The Red Cat, where my consort and I headed for dinner after a nearby screening of the well-shot “Witnesses to a Secret War” and where we were very glad we’d reserved — even the bar was lined with people eating. Table of course was not ready, so we had to wriggle in to snare glasses of gruner and something red, and as soon as we had those in hand we were seated. And I realized I wasn’t even hungry and only wanted a salad, which turned out to be substantial: Bibb and Romaine interspersed with lentils and Parmesan, with golden beet slices as a base and crispy garlic slices on top. Bob had the special softshell crab (one big one, perfectly fried) over garlicky greens for a reasonable $26. Bread and olive oil were also outstanding, as was the service. Most amazing: He filled out a comment card and got a thank-you email a couple of days later. WIGB? Absolutely. It’s now open for lunch again. 227 Tenth Avenue near 23d Street, 212 242 1122.
The not horrible: The bacteria bars at Whole Foods in the dread TWC, where we resorted for a quick emergency refueling after a 5-year-old’s birthday party in the park where we snared mostly hummus and chips and before a sprint through the surprisingly worth-it Museum of Arts and Design across Columbus Circle (all galleries there are worth a serious look, but particularly the ones showing art in industrial ceramics). I had my usual reaction to the hubbub and swirl of people around all those choices of so much not-exciting food, which was a serious urge to flee, but Bob persevered and managed to choose rather lively chickpea salad with surprisingly Indian flavor, above-average coleslaw, okay orzo salad and chewy broccoli-mushroom salad, which we shared from a trough-like cardboard box at one of the grubby tall counters. He was happy; I was not too despondent. But would I do it again? I hope not.
The twitchy: Joe on Columbus, where I arranged to meet a friend and where we immediately realized our chances of either sitting or having a conversation were slim to none. Instead we got our cappuccino to go (despite her having ordered a latte) and headed to the park. It’s a great-looking little space, but the people who line up to patronize it stake out tables and do not move. And the line is out the door, partly because the team behind the counter is not very teamy — order taker could not hear orders, couldn’t find fresh cups, etc. The coffee was better than my doughnut, though. That would be best described as sugar encasing grease. I didn’t even take the leftover half home to The Cat Who . . . . WIGB? Probably not, just because it lacks the one thing I ever go out for when it comes to caffeine: A place to sit and talk. Someone who could open that in the Eighties or Nineties on Columbus would clean up.
The different: The Pinetum in Central Park, where a dozen of us managed to commandeer not one but two picnic tables for a feast with what must have been a case of discreet wine. On the menu besides my failed pumpkinseed flatbread and sad oven-fried chickpeas: amazing grilled grass-fed beef with chimichurri, grilled swordfish with aioli, 97th Street market vegetables with aioli, cabbage salad, mango-peach salsa with chips, a fascinating blend of green peas, feta and almonds, Sue’s signature sandwiches (tomato-mozzarella-pesto and smoked salmon-egg salad on baguette), chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano, Trader Joe’s snack bags, Georgia’s bakery chocolate cake and Burton’s world-beater lemon bars. This crowd had already given up restaurants for our living rooms. Now we have a new alternative. If only it had someplace for girls to go when they need to go.