Archive for July, 2009

New York minutes/Late July 2009

July 2009

The pretty good: Applewood in faraway Brooklyn, where we met friends who live nearby but had never been and where the best part was the noise level. Imagine four people sitting at a good-sized table in a nearly full dining room and actually hearing each other talk. But that’s not to discount the food, which was far better than the understated menu led me to expect — except for the goat stew and pan-roasted sweetbreads, most entrees read like stuff I could make at home. The energy and the deftness in the cooking, though, would be beyond me: my $23 sautéed haddock came with peas and bacon plus a potato cake, while my consort’s $23 bluefish was not only perfectly fresh but would have been redeemed in any case by the tapenade with it, and our friend’s $24 grilled pork sausage was certainly impressive. Bob and I split roasted beets with goat cheese fondue and roasted hazelnuts and snared a taste of our other friend’s lively mixed green salad with prunes and country ham and the good scallops with peaches, onion jam and chimichurri she had as a second course. Everyone else was happy with two shared desserts, but I have to confess they were literally forgettable (I don’t care, and I didn’t keep the dessert menu). Wine was a reasonably priced verdejo, and the bread with choice of schmears (blue cheesy, cayenney and plain butter) was a nice touch. Service was fine, and the room is really seductive, with a screen door to the kitchen and a few tables on a little patio out front, but I have to modify my “good” because the entrees were so sloooow in coming — I actually started to wonder if they were grinding the sausage from scratch. WIGB? No, but for only one reason: The whole experience was so satisfying it only made me want to explore others of this ilk. Otherwise, a resounding yes. Starting with the reservation process it was everything a restaurant should be. 501 11th Street off Seventh Avenue, Park Slope, 718 788 1014.

The not bad: Jolie, again in faraway Brooklyn, where six of us decamped after Veuve Clicquot, raspberries and cherries in a fourth-floor walkup and where the ambiance alone was worth the journey. Again, all of us could talk comfortably, and the service was good, and everyone else seemed happy with their food, not least because that night the special was three courses for $30. Maybe it was all the fruit beforehand, but by the time we were seated the only thing that appealed to me on the short menu was the crab cake appetizer. My consort insisted on sharing his beet salad, then gave me a taste of the accouterments [NYT preferred spelling] with his lamb chops and then his sorbets (passion fruit and coconut were sensational). So I didn’t even mind that my choice was heavily breaded and fried and over-garnished to an absurd state; the spicy sauce redeemed it. I was surrounded by apparent happiness. And not just at our table. WIGB? Maybe if I lived closer. 320 Atlantic Avenue between Smith and Hoyt, 718 488 0777.

The almost Italian: Caffe Falai in SoHo, where Bob and I landed after the Saturday Greenmarket just hoping for an alternative to eggs and where the linguine with imported clams was like eating in the pesto homeland. This was the day he should have been flying off to Tuscany to teach as usual, but the Chimp brought down the goddamn global economy, so it was almost bittersweet to try something so transporting: good pasta cooked till it was just chewy enough to support the light and liquid pesto, very tender tiny clams with actual flavor, the ideal balance of sauce to other ingredients. The portion size was also authentic (at $14). Our shared salad with avocado and truffle oil balanced rich and bitter nicely as well. I liked the $12 gnudi with spinach and sage, but Bob hit on exactly why they were off: They seemed unfinished, more like loose cheese and chewy vegetable than a cohesive dish. We both decided we like our focaccia a little lighter and airier, but the other bread, flecked with fennel seeds, made an ideal mop for the vinaigrette, his sauce and the butter on my plate. Tiny, amazing bombolini served with the check almost tempted us to order dessert. Bob’s macchiato was a little milkier than it should be, but then we weren’t in Tuscany. The room is really airy and light and actually better than sitting outside, and the service would be best described as relaxed and professional. WIGB? In a Roman second. 265 Lafayette Street at Prince, 212 274 8615.

New York minutes/Latish July 2009

July 2009

The not bad: Toast, where my consort and I headed to reconnect on neutral territory after his week teaching a workshop in Santa Fe. He had noticed it on the bus ride back from LaGuardia, so we headed north for a change and got a pleasant-enough table on the sidewalk and decent-enough food. The guacamole was rather wan, to the point that Mr. Salt Shunner actually reached for the shaker and shook hard. But my Caesar was better than average for $6.95. And his $15.95 pistachio-coated salmon may have been a dainty portion but arrived atop a huge pile of surprisingly tasty vegetable-rice pilaf. A bottle of decent rosé added only $20 to the tab. WIGB? He already has. And if it’s good enough for the famous  neighbors . . . 2737 Broadway at 105th Street, 212 663 7010.

The serviceable: Spice, the new one on 13th, where we headed because Bob was starving after the Greenmarket and at least it was someplace new. It’s pretty swanky for a $7.50 two-course lunch joint, with a serious bar and sleek design. And I was quite encouraged by my “duck wrapped” starter, which turned out to be a mound of good chopped meat with sauce and crisps to wrap in iceberg lettuce leaves. But the Samui phad Thai was gruesome, a sweet mess of bitter greens and glop with bits of smoked tofu, too-long carrot strands and great chunks of stringy eggs (yes, it turns out: eggs can be made stringy). Bob was happier with his eggplant with holy basil plus chicken although his steamed dumpling app was rubbery. But for that price and setting you can’t really complain. WIGB? Maybe. It does have location, location. 39 East 13th Street, 212 982 3758.

New York minute/Mid-July 2009

July 2009

The stingily good: Bar Luna, where three of us under-ordered and over-drank because it was $34 a head and we only had three shared apps. Teeny apps. I’m taking it on faith that there was tasso in the manchego fritters. Burrata with roasted peppers was a similarly dainty portion of cheese, but the peppers were surprisingly gutsy. Polenta with wild mushrooms was the real winner. We sat outside, definitely preferable to the gloomy and mostly empty indoors. And we tipped more than the service warranted; it ranged from distracted to negligent. WIGB? Maybe, some night when we want a tasty little snack at an inflated price and feel like walking a few blocks farther than Pudding Stones. 511 Amsterdam Avenue near 85th Street, 212 362 1098.

New York minutes/Early July 2009

July 2009

The always great: The New French, yet again, where five of us managed to convene without remembering it was Gay Pride Day after two had just been to “Food, Inc.” and still wanted the amazing cheeseburger (as did a third). I had the house-made sausage for the first time, which was unsurprisingly outstanding although the greens with it were overly sweet and underwhelming. And the fifth among us was very happy with the salmon salad. We also shared a suspiciously generous pizza bianca topped with runner beans and ricotta (as I recall). Plus rosé. Part of the reason we go back over and over is that this is such a deceptively serious restaurant. When I asked about the curry, which I’ve never had, the waiter took his time describing it, then when I wondered about the sausage, he squatted down to ear level to really describe it well. And everything is done with such care, right down to the sliced caperberries that one friend was so captivated by in the huge salad. 522 Hudson Street near West 10th, 212 807 7357.

The not bad: Num Pang Sandwich Shop, where I dragged my consort after he expressed a craving for a bahn mi and I didn’t remember he’d had the real deal in Saigon (not to mention in New Orleans East). The Cambodian version is rather ordinary by comparison. But it was a cheap lunch on a gorgeous day in Union Square: I had the roasted cauliflower with eggplant and he the pork belly with pickled rhubarb, both on good bread and dripping with chile mayonnaise. We didn’t really need the corn slathered with that same mayonnaise and dusted with coconut, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t finish it. WIGB? Maybe. The people were nice, and the service was fast. But we’ll try Republic’s first. 21 East 12th Street, 212 255 3271.

The entertaining: The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, where we had to stop for a chocolate-dipped cone after our al fresco dejeuner. The balance of ice cream to chocolate was perfect because the latter component does not harden and shatter. It was mostly worth the $3, though, for the show and routine. First he was so busy chatting that the ice cream plunged off the cone into the hot chocolate, then he told us he also plays the reeds so ice cream cannot take all his time. Thanks to the weird weather, this is the best summer ever in the city of be-all-you-can-be, and an enterprise like this just makes it more so.