The really good: Great NY Noodletown, where my consort and I headed for Saturday lunch when I realized it had to be the safest place in Chinatown after getting shut down by the Health Department. The roast duck was outstanding as always, the lo mein with a plethora of ginger and scallions sublime again. But the sautéed pea shoots were also amazing, light and fresh and greaseless, with just enough chunky garlic. All of that came to about $20 before a good tip. Also as always, the waiters were both patient and efficient. WIGB? Guiltily, because there are so many other places we should try, especially the newish Malaysian and Vietnamese ones. But I can never forget that health inspector quoted in the New Yorker eons ago: No sane New Yorker eats in Chinatown. 28 Bowery at Bayard, 212 349 0923.
Archive for March, 2010
The good: Kefi, yet again, where I was unforgivably late for a Friday night reservation with friends but where the staff let the three of us hog a table for hours. When I got there they were halfway through good potato chips with tatziki and their first glasses of wine, and the conversation got so spirited we were soon mostly through a bottle of the Skouros before we got around to ordering. Sue was so persuasive I ordered the macaroni and cheese, something I almost never do, but she was right: it was not the usual stodge; the combination of sharper cheese and greens made it more like a respectable baked pasta. We shared a good Greek salad, and Donna was thrilled with her grilled octopus with chickpeas. The staff was so patient we didn’t even object to the overcharge for the glass of wine Sue canceled before we ordered the bottle, just paid up happily. WIGB? Of course, even though it does get loud on a Friday night. And all agreed we would never want to go out for Greek but are always up for Kefi. 505 Columbus Avenue near 84th Street, 212 873 0200.
The good II: Toloache, yet again, where my consort and I hightailed for a little more food after hors d’ (by Restaurant Associates) before a screening from our friends’ doc on “How Democracy Works Now” (begins soon on HBO). The place was relatively quiet, and we had wine before us in minutes, followed by the huitlacoche/truffle quesadilla (still more of a cheese crisp, with only one tortilla, but excellent since the woman chef was back at the oven) and a great salad with jicama, almonds and tamarind vinaigrette. WIGB? No need to ask. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.
The not bad: Bhojan in Curry Hill, where Bob and I made our way after the Greenmarket for Saturday lunch and where he admitted only on finishing that he never wants to go out for Indian. “I got over my red-checkered-tablecloth idea of Italian, but I still think of that street with Indian,” he said, meaning Sixth, where the old joke was that one kitchen spewed into every restaurant, and poorly. This place was a thousand years more modern, looking like someplace swank in Calcutta or Mumbai, with upside-down kadais on the ceiling as decoration and light fixtures made of green wine bottles and a bathroom enclosed in clouded glass. And the thalis, both my Gujarati and his Punjabi, were a pleasure to explore, all 10 or 11 elements from chutney to four kinds of bread, and worth the $16 weekend price (smaller ones at lunch during the week are $8). My curds and a salad of sprouted mung beans were particularly good, and the dal and black chickpeas special rivaled them. And for once there was enough bread, good bread, to scoop up as much as I could eat. I even liked my dessert, “sweet curd,” flavored with saffron and flecked with chopped pistachios. The service was a little slow, but we overheard a waiter saying the place was not even officially open yet, despite having been touted in the Times. WIGB? Maybe, although every time we head to that neighborhood there’s something new to try. 102 Lexington Avenue near 27th Street, 212 213 9794.
The really good: The New French, yet again, where we met newly engaged friends in from Connecticut on Saturday night in the gods-must-be-infuriated rainstorm and where the right table and the right waitress combined with the food to make another exceptional evening. We were late thanks to the fucked-up trains, so we were able to sit right down at the table our friends scored and join in the red wine and, shortly, another go at the pizza bianca with kale, Fontina, apple and Parmesan. We also all shared a New French salad and the beet appetizer, both great, before my consort tucked into a special of peppery seared tuna with long beans and, I think, bok choy; Kevin into the roast chicken, and Dan into the pulled pork with (they’re back) great fries. I confused the smart waitress with my order for the steak salad, but she and the kitchen sorted it out immediately. A shared slice of cheesecake almost revived my interest in that normally leaden dessert — it was fluffy but still intense. WIGB? Early and often, again. 522 Hudson Street at 10th, 212 807 7357.
The pretty bad: Sido on Amsterdam Avenue, where I stopped for a quick falafel sandwich on a crazed day and where I was almost saddened to see the former stationary food cart has taken over the relatively swanky La Grolla space while ambitious La Grolla has become a pizza-by-the-slice sliver in the old Sido space. Chilewich placemats and flatware wrapped in paper napkins on each table were nice touches, but the poor cooks were running hard and running behind. My sandwich seemed about average until I got home and, an hour or so later, felt like a float in the Macy’s parade. Not sure what the secret ingredient is, but I suspect baking soda. WIGB? Not unless proximity overrules good sense.
The impressive: The Malaysia Kitchen for the World promotion at the FCI. Normally I wouldn’t write directly about a press event, but this was so smart and well-run every promoter could learn. It had the right mix of chefs to illustrate the disparate influences that shaped Malaysian cuisine and how it both differs from and echoes Chinese, Thai and Indian. Each of them demonstrated a definitive dish (roti canai, curry laksa, chicken satay, beef rendang), which was then served to us at our seats in the lecture hall. It all made me want to head straight out for Malaysian with new understanding of what to order and why, or at least to Chinatown to buy ingredients for the recipes provided in a sharp little booklet featuring those chefs. And the year-long promotion for restaurants all along the East Coast will make putting my education to work even easier. So many of these events are just gang-bangs where everyone gorges and runs, leaving no one more informed than on walking in. Figures that so few old-media types were in the audience. . .
The obviously irresistible: Fairway’s upstairs cafe, where we wound up not just yet again but twice in three days, drawn by the ungreedily priced wine and the dependable food. I, of course, had the Caesar salad both times, and it was excellent both times. On encounter No. 1, the waiter suggested my consort and I order my salad and his chicken as the prix fixe, but we didn’t want the dessert and missed out on a helluva deal. One we availed ourselves of next time: I got the salad; he had the outstanding hanger steak, and three of us spooned up the banana thingola, for $26 total. WIGB? Absolutely. Not only is the food good and the wine cheap, but you can hear yourselves talk.
The almost great: The New French in the West Village, where we had not been in months and where we forced our friends in from Chicago to rush to avoid a long wait on Friday night. The bad news is that we arrived first and stewed in high anxiety about holding up a table as they were in E train hell. The good news is that they got there just as our special pizza bianca, with kale, Fontina, apples and Parmesan, was landing. I didn’t taste my consort’s roasted scallops or Paul’s grilled salmon salad (the table was too tight for passing plates), but they looked happy. Leasha said she had achieved the impossible for a change in getting her cheeseburger cooked all the way through, and my medium-rare one was sheer perfection, aside from the fries — the color of John Boehner and way too crunchy (I like a little potato with my carbon, ordinarily). We also shared a special salad of broccoli rabe with boccocini that was stellar, so much so that I regretted not accepting the kitchen’s challenge with my main course. WIGB? Absolutely. Even when the place is slammed, the service is good and the cooking superb. And the enterprising wines start at $9 a glass. 522 Hudson Street near Tenth, 212 807 7357.
The pretty good: Toloache off Times Square, where we met friends for a mutually geographically convenient dinner on a sloppy-wet night and where everything but the huitlacoche quesadilla (now more of a cheese crisp) was as good or better than usual, aside from service glitches. The friends did pay for chips and exceptional salsa at the bar when they arrived first, and their investment was never ferried to the table, but that oversight was corrected with a second batch later. Plus my $10 sauvignon blanc was charged at $9. Consort and I split the downscaled quesadilla, then three overfilled tacos: a special with beef, cheese, poblanos and avocado; pastor, and cabeza, with crispy/tender veal cheeks. The other side of the table ordered the $35 Restaurant Week specials and made appreciative noises. WIGB? Of course, but maybe we should find out where the great woman chef who used to make the quesadillas is working now. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.