Archive for August, 2009

New York minutes/End of August 2009

August 2009

The respectable: Tue Thai Food in the Village, where my consort and I headed after the Greenmarket after finding the enticing Laut was apparently hours away from opening (do they understand how much business they miss by starting lunch so late on the biggest shopping day of the week at Union Square?) We also passed up Petite Abeille on 17th when Bob pointed out that it had nothing on the menu but fries that we could not make at home (we are getting fussy about our food dollars). We both remembered Tue being cheap and better than Spice, and we were not disappointed and even rewarded: It now has a weekend brunch special of app, salad, main course and (non-booze) drink for all of $9.50. I’m a sucker for crab Rangoon, and this was way, way above average. Bob ordered Thai fish cakes, the first we’ve had since that memorable night in Hong Kong when we heard a shit-drunk British lout, post-soccer match on the teevee, inform a local cop that “You, sir, are a wanker.” And recalling that only made these more satisfying, with a great balance of heat and sweetness. My spicy eggplant with rice was just okay, but Bob scored with green curry chicken. His lemongrass drink was too sweet, and the salad was mostly iceberg with thin peanutty dressing. Still, who could complain when the service and setting were charming once again? WIGB? We told two tourists studying the menu outside as we were leaving to get their asses inside. You could eat way worse for lots more. 3 Greenwich Avenue off Sixth, 212 929 9888.

New York minutes/Latish August 2009

August 2009

The good: Joseph Leonard in the West Village, where my consort and I headed after the seriously hilarious but profoundly sad “In the Loop” at IFC and where the experience was nearly as good as the movie, odd as that sounds. We got a table in the window on walking in when it was half-empty, and if the width of the table coupled with the brayers next to us made talking a bit of a strain, that was a small complaint in a place so small and so new. They got about everything else right, right down to the Molton Brown in the rustic bathroom with the typo-ridden ode to writing over the toilet. Veltliner and Rioja were $7 a glass, with a taste pour to start. Bread was a choice of onion brioche and sourdough. Waitress was excellent, and her constant smile did not look forced. We split the $8 peach salad (with arugula, Cheddar, croutons and sunflower seeds), which we both liked but wondered if riper fruit would have balanced the acidic dressing better. Bob had very tender lamb T-bones with cauliflower gratin (for $20); that meat turns my stomach but this was worth braving a taste. But I really scored with the $11 duck rillettes, easily the best I’ve had in this country, not least because they were served at the right temperature (not fat-cold) with three huge slices of toasted bread (why does everyone else skimp?) and pungent Dijon mustard. And they packed up the half I left over to take home for a sublime breakfast next morning. WIGB? If we can get in. (No reservations.) 170 Waverly Place at Grove Street, 646 429 8383.

The sad: Resto in Murray Hill, where I stupidly suggested we head after the Greenmarket when the humidity was so thick it was like swimming up Park Avenue while dodging all the goddamn kamikaze bikes that have so quickly overrun the car-free lanes. Fat guy at the front jumped up to seat us from whatever he was doing at a table with another couple, but I wish the waiter heading our way had arrived first, because the couple just behind us got a four-top away from the hyenas in the back corner while we were wedged at a deuce in the din, with no AC aiming my dripping way. Which would have been okay, but the waitress was dumber than a post. I sickened myself by uttering the words “egg sammy,” but it turned out to be pretty good, once I got past the fact that the “souffléed eggs” bore a striking resemblance to the firm square an Au Bon Pain guy once waggled in my face at LaGuardia when I ordered a breakfast sandwich. How can you go wrong with hollandaise, guanciale, Gruyere and a superb English muffin, for $8? Poor Bob was not so lucky, even though I gave him my half-dressed greens. Shrimp and grits was a lot of fuss and very little food for $15: four shrimp, maybe half a cup of Anson Mills with a poolette of sauce and two slices of fried green tomatoes that could have been fried green anything. An hour later he was hitting the peanut butter. WIGB? Unlikely. He had to wave his card wildly for the check, twice. And neither the fat guy nor anyone else said a word as we walked dejectedly out.

The oy: La Carbonara on the Chelsea-Village border, where I will have to take the shit hit for suggesting 10 of us meet for a very young friend’s birthday. Insisting on a table in the back room where my consort had had a great experience with a similar-sized crowd was one mistake after not updating a reservation made for 8, which meant we were crammed in with another big and rowdy table. Which would have been tolerable if the waitstaff had not been justifiably pissed. The food was decent, although none of it lived up to the promise of the seasoned ricotta served with the good bread. My carbonara was spaghetti in a blizzard of cheese and eggs when a dusting would have sufficed, and the “pancetta” looked much scarier next day when I served it to The Cat WCTLWAFW, who of course scarfed it right down. I didn’t try Bob’s chicken cacciatore, but his mozzarella appetizer was quite good. Tiramisu did not exactly vanquish my hospital memories of “tiralisu” in Turin, no matter how happy everyone else was. I also didn’t keep a good eye on the wine ordered or would have been more adamant we stick to the low end, particularly with the Italian whites. As it was, jaws dropped when the check came out to $47 a head. In a joint chosen for $9.95 pasta. WIGB? I hope not.

The adequate: Pacifico in Brooklyn, where we settled with a mini Winston Churchill in tow on a brutally hot night and where the faintly Key Westian ambiance compensated for pretty lame food. The hostess let us sit outside with the verboten stroller, which was above and beyond and halfway compensated for one among us getting her hands besmirched trying to stabilize the picnic table. I had the most expensive thing on the menu, “crabcakes with chile relleño,” and all you need to know about the quality of the star in that sad show is that the whole thing cost $14 (with [allegedly green chile] rice, green beans and pico de gallo). Rosé was $6 a glass, which seemed great till we got home and remembered a whole bottle of the same Spanish wine is $6.99 from PJ’s. Bob’s margarita was pretty good, though, and we did get to sit outside. Overall, we were much happier to be there than at the “pop-up” restaurant we passed coming and going where a bunch of people who had schlepped from “as far away as the Upper West Side” were paying big bucks to eat froufrou food inside, away from the starlit sky.

New York minutes/Middish August 2009

August 2009

The good as always: The New French, for post-market cheeseburger and steak salad done right. Kitty bag was kinda sloppy (leftovers all tossed into one tin, which leaked) but otherwise it was as it inevitably is: perfect.

Otherwise, I only broke away from our kitchen for dinner at our friends Debbie & Jim’s place down CPW, and as always it was great food and consummate hospitality: excellent guacamole, trailer park dip (equal parts mayonnaise, Cheddar and Vidalia onion, baked till gooey), salad with watermelon surprise, seafood-chicken-sausage paella, raspberry-sauced almost-flourless chocolate cake baked by Emily the star of stage and small screen and many, many bottles of wine to fuel lively conversation. Much as I like to cook (and control), having someone else do it is beyond luxury these days.

New York minutes/August 2009

August 2009

The reach-exceeding-grasp: Bhatti Indian Grill in Curry Hill, where my consort and I wound up after the Greenmarket when Park Avenue was closed to cars and the mood was so festive and he was wanting to wipe out the pallid taste from mal-Indian in Brooklyn Heights the day before. File yet another under “doomed by the desire for new.” We scanned the menu outside only cursorily before plunging in and taking a table in the empty, small dining room, and I had immediate misgivings. Everything was too swank for the neighborhood, plus it was hard to make sense of the menu and the kebabs, when the former seemed so familiar and the other so under-explicated. But we ordered achari paneer tika (four slabs of grilled fresh cheese with peppers and pickled onions), haryali chooza (“coronation chicken marinated in a heady mix of fresh mint, cilantro, green fenugreek, green chilies and hung curd, grilled”) and dal Bhatti, for which I will not even waste keystrokes to transcribe the menu description. Paneer rated an A, the chicken — thighs on the bone with superb texture and flavor — an A-plus and the dal about a B, simply because I could have made it at home, and maybe better, using the cookbook I brought home from Kolkata six years ago. The garlic naan was above average, however, and Bob seemed happy with the rice I didn’t touch (I eat with my fingers). And the pappadam and sauces, the chips-and-salsa of Indian restaurants, were unobjectionable. I said nothing as we were leaving when they asked if we had “any suggestions for the food.”

But cooking doesn’t always conquer all. The AC was on arctic overdrive, and even when they turned it down at my request it was still ridiculous to the point that I had to wear Bob’s over-shirt while watching the food congeal. Worse, the kitchen had apparently been slammed the night before and some things Bob wanted to try were not available. Worser still, the bathroom was not usable for at least the first 10 minutes; someone was either “working in it” (official story) or dumping in it big time. Given how key sanitation is to cuisine in India — you can eat anywhere if there’s a sink in the dining room — this was epic fail.  But WIGB? No, and primarily because it’s mislocated. In that neighborhood, you don’t want fancy table settings and flatware changed between courses. You want something approximating Real India, Saravanaas-style. Bhatti would probably do quite well up on East 58th Street. Only at dinnertime, though, not up against Chola’s buffet.

The ridiculous: Lucy Browne’s in SoHo, where I suppose I deserve everything that happened even though Bob and a friend did not because I was the one who chose it in the interest of newness and cheap food and accessibility after they and two others went to see apparently awesome “Cove” at the Angelika. Once again, I learned you get what you pay for. I got there first and would have bailed if I had been alone, even though the host was beyond hospitable, as soon as I heard the young woman with her dad next to me at the bar ask what cocktails were on offer and the blowsy ’tender say only: “I can make anything: Cosmo, martini. . . “ Sorry. Girls just want to be seduced with long lists of enticing ingredients fortified by booze. Big-time missed opportunity. I got an equally lame response asking about white wine, and it was only after we finally were seated and I saw the list that I learned gruner was an option beyond the usual pinot grigio, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc (and a buck cheaper to boot). Guys to my right ordered nachos that looked pretty half-assed, and I was really ready to bail but had no backup option, so Mr. Good Sport snared us a picnic table on the sidewalk around the corner, where we sat. And sat. And sat. He was actually on his iPhone ready to call The New French to see how busy it was when the waiter finally materialized.

So we got our wine, and we sat through the up-selling on the specials and I asked for the one thing that appealed on the long menu: crab cake appetizer. Which of course they were out of. Bob and Jessica ordered the BBQ ribs and I settled for — what else? — a Caesar that was not half-bad. The ribs were juicy and meaty and probably unobjectionable, but the little plastic ramekin of slaw with them was off and the corn on the cob had clearly suffered failure to thrive — it was both skinny and tasteless. The Jamaican waiter (he invoked his heritage, not me) was smart enough to approach the table with wine bottles in hand to sell a second glass, but both Bob and I switched wines (and I got a fresh glass only because I pointed out that I was switching). So all and all it would have been just another night in misguided restaurantgoing with at least what appeared to be a tranny sideshow on the sidewalk. But then a cockroach the size of a UPS truck shot up from the gutter and under our table. And then I stupidly decided I might want to empty my bladder before the long ride back uptown.

At this point, around 9, the dining room was all but empty and I should have just closed the door to the beat-up-looking stall. But I locked it. And when I went to unlock it, the whole mechanism fell out onto the floor. I was trapped. I tried to jigger the screw back into the lock to refit it into the hole in the door but had such little luck I confess I had a hollering panic attack. I almost never carry my phone, and I envisioned being stuck back there for days. (As Bob later said, you never want to invade someone’s public space in a restaurant toilet; he and Jessica just politely waited and waited on the sidewalk.) Luckily, a woman’s voice was soon heard on the other side of the door, and she offered a few suggestions before heading off to get a screwdriver, which she threw over the door after warning me to step aside (think this has happened before?) and which of course landed in the toilet. She offered to get me a glove, but I fished it out barehanded for expediency’s sake and we threw it back and forth until I was finally released. On the plus side, she sent the worker who brought a stepladder to tell my pals what was going on, and she was a total pro who offered to buy me a drink to make up for the awfulness of it all. On the big-time minus side, it was pretty clear that lock was trouble from the git-go. What kind of restaurant, especially one freshly opened, does not maintain the basics? WIGB? In about 15 years I might find the whole experience amusing. Right now I think the place deserves what will undoubtedly happen: Early death.

The peculiar: A shake from Shake Shack on Columbus. We were walking home from an Illy run to Grandaisy when Bob offered to buy me one if there was no line, and of course we walked right in and ordered. It was a zoo when we walked back out, which gives a sense of how long it takes to get the namesake whipped up. I should have gone with the healthy choice — strawberry — but chose a black-and-white, which had an odd aftertaste and effect. WIGB? The burgers actually looked enticing, in a fast food sort of way — Bob thought they were just what you would love to pound down while hammered. So, if there’s no line: Maybe.

New York minutes/Early August 2009

August 2009

The not bad: Tue Thai Food in the West Village, where my consort and I landed after our inevitable “where the hell do we go now?” dithering after the Saturday Greenmarket while he was carrying 12 ears of great corn among other burdens. He suggested Otto, but we both looked at the menu and kept trudging, then I thought we could finally succumb to Gobo, but its prices seemed rather high for not-very-enticing food and we were finally considering the Asian place on Sixth we have resisted so far when I noticed this new Thai at an address that has been countless eateries since I wrote about an ATM in one eons ago. The kitchen was visible from the street, and people were inside, so we plunged in. It’s a cool-looking space although a little unfinished and slightly evocative of a public bathroom, but the staff could not have been more hospitable, checking back repeatedly to see how we liked our lunch and thanking us profusely as we left. And the food really did taste cooked to order, rather than slopped off an assembly line as at other places we frequent. I had sriracha fried rice with tofu and mixed vegetables, and if one of the latter was raisins and the former was a little rubbery, the flavor was still pretty great. We both thought Bob’s order was even better: “Our Secret Recipe Chalee’s Noodle,” with “grounded chicken,” eggs, vegetables and basil with perfectly balanced heat. With tax and tip it was all about $20, too. WIGB? Maybe on a weekday, when you get salad and app free with lunch. 3 Greenwich Avenue off Sixth Avenue, 212 929 9888.

Just for the record, I also had a decent Caesar at Toast on Broadway before a glass of wine at Campo. Wine in tumblers always tastes like it came from a hose. I had a slice of spinach-tomato-bacon pizza at Freddy & Pepper’s, and the cheese has gotten even slimier. We split a cup of coffee at the very serious Roasting Plant Coffee Company on Greenwich that had really amazing flavor but an oddly watery texture (yes, coffee can have texture), and it was even more worth it for the experience: If Rube Goldberg designed a coffee shop, this would be it (also sort of awed by the $1 cookie dough “shots” and the chocolate-covered matzoh for sale). Finally, my consort was quite happy when I directed him and nine in his posse to La Carbonara on 14th for an inexpensive meal — the tab was $32 apiece with drinks and wine. He said his pasta was fine, but the whole experience made it worthwhile: hospitable host, superlative waiter, room to themselves. Cheap is the new good.