The good: La Mangeoire in Midtown, where my consort and I headed after a bizarre opening at ICP (if I’d known it was a costume party, I would have ordered an Aretha hat) on a brutally cold night and where the place and food were just evocative enough of Provence. I’d come across another mention that Christian Delouvrier was cooking there, so we thought we’d see what the king of $38 cauliflower soup was up to, the chef who once sent Ruth home feeling as if she was Cinderella in a gilded carriage. We’d been there a couple of years ago at least and knew at least we could get downsized portions of entrees, a menu trick that is not to be underestimated. But the whole experience was satisfying if not carriage-worthy. They seated us at a corner table in a small room where even a bunch of old people celebrating a birthday were bearable (another relatively young couple busted into the singing to say, “You can do better than that,” but if it was loud it was mercifully short). The good bread was presented with little ramekins of excellent anchoiade, olive oil and little olives. The Provencal white was unobjectionable at I think $34 a bottle. The waiter was both engaging and attentive. On his advice on what the chef had changed, we split the petatou, a little cast-iron pot filled with potatoes, airy goat cheese and meaty lardons in perfect balance. Bob had the petite coq a vin, really rich and almost sticky sweet; my similarly sized duck confit on lentils with raw escarole was faultless for $19. As we left, there was the onetime king, sharing viand frites near the front door. WIGB? Probably. Besides the food, the noise level is commendable. 1008 Second Avenue near 53d Street, 212 759 7086.
Archive for January, 2010
The good: Barrio Chino on the Lower East Side, where my consort took me for a birthday lunch on the advice of someone he had lunched with the day before at El Paso Taqueria. I was expecting a long wait and attitude, but we got a window table just after walking in and the staff could not have been more mellow, which only made the preening patrons in the minority look sillier. My sinchronizada was outstanding, with melted Oaxacan cheese and just-greasy-enough chorizo sandwiched in good flour tortillas and topped with avocado slices and green salsa on the side; Bob was thrilled with his tacos al pastor despite the ridiculously undersized corn tortillas. We split a jalapeño margarita and were very glad we had not ordered two; it was scary-good — the heat made you want to take another sip instantly. WIGB? Absolutely, but only at an off-hour. 253 Broome Street near Orchard, 212 228 6710.
The not bad: Le Monde, where we landed after finding Community closing right next door after Bob’s former employer’s team picked up at DuPont award at Columbia’s J-school. I wanted to try the panisse with smoked trout, but they were out and so I settled for a better-than-average Caesar; Bob had a goat cheese-and-potato salad, and we drank too much wine to make up for getting cut off at the pre-ceremony reception across the street. WIGB? Probably. You can eat far worse around there. 2885 Broadway near 112th Street, 212 531 3939.
The mellow: Market Table in the West Village, where a friend confidently led three of us after the slow but good “Police, Adjective” at IFC while insisting he knew nothing about the neighborhood. We walked in, got a nice table, the waitress was fine with us just sharing two appetizers and a bottle of zinfandel, and they let us sit so long we ordered more wine by the glass. I can’t remember the last time a restaurant emptied out while the kitchen cleaned up and shut down and the staff stayed so hospitable. Fried calamari with guacamole and chile crema was quite good, as was the beet salad with horseradish, goat cheese and fried shallots. WIGB? Definitely, even though I was put off by the attitude at lunch when it first opened. 54 Carmine Street at Bedford, 212 255 2100.
The gruesome: Butter, where it’s a long story told in Bites but where the main courses really were on the level of what we found in our summer exploring the Hudson Valley for Geographic Traveler 20-some years ago. Our shared salad of baby arugula with pickled and sautéed mushrooms was rather lively and very promising, but then, after six more birthdays dragged past, the main courses landed. Bob’s arctic char was poached in olive oil, which seemed to have leached out all good fish flavor while imparting only richness to overwhelm the beurre blanc-y sauce. My duck breast was the scariest thing I have seen not scurrying in a dim restaurant — a brown mess mounded with green-brown strands of braised radicchio. As it does so often, the meat tasted slightly geriatric. And why would the waitress bother to make such a big deal of asking about doneness with either item if the kitchen just sent it out cooked to hell? Cheese biscuits to start, however, were nearly raw in the center. The waitress apparently fancied herself a patron, and the host, too, was more absorbed with phone and screen than with live bodies in front of him. The most pleasant person in the place was the coat check girl. WIGB? Not even for the equivalent of a blow job by a top model from another table.
The port in a storm: At65 at Lincoln Center, where my friend treating me to “Carmen” and I wound up after getting shut out of Bar Boulud, Ed’s Chowder House, P.J. Clarke’s and Rosa Mexicano and after fleeing Oneals on realizing not a single overpriced thing on the pre-theater menu appealed to either one of us (in fairness, I would have settled for crab cakes if I had not had them for both lunch that day and dinner the night before). I think we both decided to imagine we were in Europe rather than acknowledge it was just a lobby cafeteria with table service, but the smart hostess and sharp waiter helped with the illusion. So did the $10 flatbread with sausage and broccoli rabe, and Donna’s Italian wedding soup (for $4.75). I don’t know what I was thinking ordering the house salad, so I deserved a couple of bits of artichoke and a lot of mesclun. Pinot blanc at $10 a glass was a better deal than the $11 sauvignon blanc at Oneals, too. WIGB? Absolutely. That waiter was outstanding. Points off, though, for not printing a phone number on the receipt when salient details are so hard to come by online.
The reliable: Land Thai Kitchen on the Upper West Side, where my consort and I went to lay down some wine absorption before our second birthday party in two days and where we got just what we expected. I had suggested Recipe, but the menu was only eggs and sandwiches at Saturday lunchtime, and we could have had those at home, so it was funny that the couple at the next table struck up a conversation about their love of both restaurants (same owner). My vegetable spring rolls were better than Bob’s outsized vegetable dumplings, but he won with chicken curry over my beef thing (for once I decided not to think about sourcing, only about laying down some wine absorption). For $8 a lunch, it’s hard to complain. WIGB? After Bob tries Recipe, but absolutely. 450 Amsterdam Avenue near 82d Street, 212 501 8121.
The overhyped: Kesté Pizza & Vino in the West Village, where four of us met up after another friend’s opening at Leica Gallery and where the pizza was just as Italian as promised — doughy and soggy — while the vino was priced as New York gouge-y as it could be ($25 for a half-carafe that would go for 3 euros in Rome). We didn’t have to wait too long outside for a table, as the deceptively charming host promised, but the one we snared happened to be right under a speaker blasting Gloria Gaynor-era noise and right next to the bus pan where plates were steadily tossed in crashing piles. Right next to it was a table of chunky guys polishing off the first round of a pizza apiece who said it was so much like Naples you should watch your wallet. The special, loaded down with burrata and clumps of fresh basil, was satisfying because of all that cheese if not all those clumps. But the $16 capricciosa was the same as it always is anywhere in Italy: too much topping (mushrooms, artichokes, ham, cheese) on sodden “crust.” We also split the house salad, with mozzarella and grape tomatoes, and the Toscana, with a few slices of pear and sloshed-on balsamic vinegar. Too late, we realized we should have ordered a bottle of white for $38 plus a half-carafe rather than three stingy pours at $25 a pop. WIGB? I hope not. But stranger things have happened in that neighborhood. 271 Bleecker Street, 212 243 1500.
The lame: Dos Toros Taqueria off Union Square, where I waited in a ridiculously long line after buying my $8.40 eggs at the Greenmarket (subway fare included) and after deciding Chipotle’s portions are just too huge. I give the counter crew credit: Special orders did not upset them. They just kept doing their leisurely thing even with people out the door. By the time I got to the front I only wanted a quesadilla, and it was the oddest I’ve ever had: two slices of cheese on a fast-steamed tortilla half-melted on a griddle, then topped with pico de gallo, hot sauce and guacamole (for an extra 92 cents) and folded up like a letter, or a flat burrito. The tortilla was especially strange, almost more fat than flour (one day I will find something that approximates what my neighbors in Arizona used to make every day). The guacamole was respectable, but the ratio to tasteless cheese was way off. I guess it’s just what I deserved, though, for thinking hipster Mexican was worth a wait.
The seriously good: Cafe 2 at MOMA, where (I forgot to mention) my consort and I fueled up between the great Bauhaus and whimsical Gabriel Orozco shows and the scrum that was the Tim Burton. The place is civilized, the staff is actually hospitable (even when a manager reclaimed a stool we’d unthinkingly pilfered from a reserved table, he did it graciously) and the food looked and tasted amazing. We split an $11 panino stuffed with prosciutto, cheese and arugula and a $12 wild mushroom-wilted greens tart dolloped with robiola; the former came with excellent pickled cauliflower and olives, the latter with a huge mound of mesclun and grape tomatoes. Both of us could only marvel at how far museum food has come over the last few years. Coffee, of course, was excellent. Maybe I should quit ragging on Saint Danny. He does do things right; it’s not his fault he’s the restaurateur who stares at goats — it’s the media’s for swooning at his every move. WIGB? Absolutely, next time I can get my nerve up to brave the hordes. It took me years to get this far (I’ve been to the Modern three times, I think, but this was my first venture inside the museum.)
The pretty good: Marseille and West Bank Cafe, also in Hell’s Kitchen. Five of us snared stools at the packed bar at the fully booked cafe on 42d Street after a Saturday matinee of Part 2 of Horton Foote’s “Orphan’s Home Cycle” (friends’ daughter is in all three parts), and the bartenders were great waiters when we ordered the (overpriced at $12) cheese plate, mushroom risotto balls and calamari with two good dipping sauces, plus a lemon mousse for the starlet. Sauvignon blanc was $10 a glass but came in a glass big enough to float a goldfish. Mom and Emily went back to the theater for the evening’s performance while Dad and my friend from Philadelphia headed to Marseille a few blocks away for more substantial fare; amazingly, we were able to walk right in and get seated, and the place stayed busy all evening, which of course resulted in very distracted service. I had forgotten my reading glasses but could sort of make out a frisee salad with blue cheese on the menu, and it was a huge thing, with almost dairy overkill along with too-vinegary slices of pears and lots of walnut halves. Both guys seemed to like their salmon main course, although they agreed the accouterments were almost better than the fish. They finished up with a huge bowl of berries and good whipped cream and a creme brulee. Best part of the meal, though, was the bread, which didn’t have a lot of sturdiness but was flecked with what I think were cumin seeds — outstanding. 630 Ninth Avenue at 44th Street, 212 333 2323.
The good by hearsay: Remi in Midtown, where I have twice sent old people who have sent back rave reviews of both food and, especially, hospitality. I may have to go back there myself someday. . .
The not bad: Market Cafe in Hell’s Kitchen, where four of us headed for proximity’s sake on a frigid night after “Avatar” at the spooky AMC on 34th Street and where the accommodating staff and decent food made up for my qualms about the bathrooms. The host uncomplainingly moved us to a warmer table after we stupidly tried one in the window, and the waiters were all efficient. My Caesar was pricey at $12, but it was perfectly made, with good dressing and just the right amount of croutons — and of radicchio, which I despite (two or three shreds, just to keep the menu description honest). One friend ordered the same thing, and she got all the stems of the Romaine, while I got the leafy tops. Kitchen oops. I didn’t try Bob’s chicken or Dr. Bugs’s skirt steak with pesto and fries (both deals at $19), but they seemed happy. Viognier was unobjectionable at $8 a glass. WIGB? Probably. It is a wasteland around there. 496 Ninth Avenue near 37th Street, 212 564 7350.
The forgettable, apparently: A Voce Madison, where an editor and I retreated when we agreed we shared zero tolerance for the attitude at The Breslin, which was swamped at 12:30. The cavatelli with tons of garlic, broccoli, toasted bread crumbs and ricotta was outstanding, although a ridiculously huge portion for a primi, but I would not have remembered eating there if I had not just gone back through my Tweets. Maybe I was blanking out the annoying hotel-lobby music. Or the annoying service — after turning down wine, we were asked at least twice whether we wanted soda or iced tea, and when we asked to have the food split to eat Italian-style, in courses, they just presented both entrees with small share plates. I had hoped trout, which always tastes like the grain it’s fed, would be redeemed by the anchovy vinaigrette, but the roasted potatoes with it were the best part of the dish. Chocolate budino was intense, though, with candied kumquats and ice cream. The room seemed unnervingly deserted — wonder how it does at dinnertime since all the buzz has shifted uptown. WIGB? Nope. I’d brave the din to the north first.
The pretty good: Great N.Y. Noodletown in Chinatown, where my consort insisted we head after hearing from a chef at an amazing party that the God of Momofuku had been inspired by a dish there. We hadn’t been in years, but aside from the price of the roast duck to go, nothing seemed to have changed much, although the staff was mellower and the proportion of Caucasians was higher. We waited briefly for wedged-in-tight seats at a communal table and had steaming-hot tea instantly. Ordering duck rolls from that kitchen was not the smartest move, but the two of them benefited from great ingredients if not skillful frying. Bob got advice from both a tablemate and the waiter on the quest dish, and it was both surprisingly simple and lively. I’m a duck junkie and almost overdosed on roast duck on rice. We walked out stuffed for $14.25 including tax and tip. WIGB? Absolutely. 28 1/2 Bowery at Bayard, 212 349 0923.
The pretty bad: The Edison Hotel’s cafe off Times Square, where I met a friend in from the mashed potato mines in Boston who needed to eat close to Penn Station and which I will not dignify by calling the Polish Tea Room. Despite two sentences in Times Square, I’d never been, and now I see why. The room has its weird charm, but time apparently stopped in the kitchen about the time grape jelly in individual packets was invented. The toast was industrial, the fatty bacon (which I’d ordered crispy) was stringy-scary, the scrambled eggs had something crunchy in them I hope was shells; only the home fries were respectable if not great. My friend succumbed to stewed prunes and an order of blintzes with sour cream; the latter choice, she said, would have been better with something acidic. The damn things were huge, though. She had coffee, I was too timid and settled for club soda, which was served in a plastic Coke cup. The ancient waiter was shuffling evidence that decades of experience don’t always pay off. WIGB? Not on a bet. Good thing I’d noticed online that the tip is included or we would have felt even more ripped off.
The decent: Dhaba in Curry Hill, where Bob and I wound up for a fast lunch after the Wednesday Greenmarket when I needed to do a curry-leaf-and-Kalustyan’s run and his choice, Tiffin Wallah, had too long a line for its $6.95 smorgasbord. I guess we got our extra $3 worth: A table opened up fast, and the app and bread were waiting on it by the time we got through the mobbed buffet line. As always, I had only veg (saag paneer, aloo matar, kadhai bhindi, dal, plus curds and chutneys) and was fine with it all; Bob indulged in lamb and various chicken curries, too, then we split the carrot dessert. Can you say filling? Dinner was a mesclun salad followed by popcorn. . . WIGB? Maybe. The place looks great, and the staff has almost gotten its act together. 108 Lexington Avenue near 28th Street, 212 679 1284.