The seriously good, again: Recipe, where my consort and I stopped in for a real lunch to fortify us before a picnic dinner in Riverside Park and where the best thing besides the food was the manager acting as if he didn’t recognize me after my overstaying at dinner. We ate the usual main courses — outstanding skirt steak with chimichurri and roasted potatoes etc. for me, roasted hen with farro etc. for him — after the bitter-sweet salad with grilled pancetta, walnuts and Parmesan and the beet salad with goat cheese and pecans. It’s the best lunch deal in town: $11.95. And would be worth it at twice that. 452 Amsterdam Avenue near 82d Street, 212 501 7755.
Archive for August, 2010
As usual, I went bitching and whining to Buffalo and am now here to half-argue, again, that it’s the most overlooked destination in New York State, and not only when it comes to eating and drinking. If only someone would realize Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s fantasy of a high-speed rail line from here, half the hipsters in Williamsburg would be settling down in great houses with access to music, art, parks and, especially, food. Already the city is allowing urban gardens to be planted on abandoned lots, and those are becoming tourist attractions — while we were checking out the hoop house on Wilson Street on Saturday, a car inched by with other sightseers, who could very well have been former residents of that block. Detroit gets all the buzz on the Re-Greening of Urban America, but Buffalo never fell as far. And it has richer history; the beautifully designed new park at the Erie Canal terminus explains the earlier parts artfully.
We always start with a stop at Premier, the food shop and wine megastore very near the boyhood home. Eons before Holy Foods tried to skirt NYS law on separation of booze and food at the dread TWC, this place knew you could provide almost one-stop shopping with separate entrances — so you enter on the left to buy kitchenware and gifties and cheeses and everything else edible, then you check out and can walk right into the wine store, which is nearly overwhelming. Premier carries labels I have never seen in Manhattan, and definitely at prices you won’t see here.
Our first meal was a hookup with Bob’s aunt, uncle and cousin-in-from-Spokane at a quintessential Buffalo family restaurant, Marotto’s. Like so many QBFRs, it looks like nothing special from the street, aside from the neon TRIPE sign in the window, but the chef is dead-serious about his food. Of course many jokes were made about that tripe, so Bob ordered it and most of us tasted it, and I could see why it’s in the window; it was surprisingly tender, and really enriched the superb red sauce with it. It would be amazing over pasta.
As usual with QBFRs, salad came with the meal, except with my choice, the special fish fry — a Friday tradition we have somehow never tried in 27 years of eating there. I got two huge slabs of haddock, but the batter they were fried in was nearly burned; luckily, the macaroni salad and coleslaw were above average, and the day’s potatoes were over-the-top rich and creamy. Rick said the problem was that the batter should have been made with beer, which would have lightened it, but I had another suspicion. The broiled haddock was $5 more, so draw your own conclusions.
We had lunch at the Lake Effect Diner, despite the awful Fieri connection, because I kept reading that the owners, the Curtin family, are so into local ingredients now. Unfortunately, my getting swept up in the hype enticed Bob to order a beef on weck, only to finish the gray meat on soggy bun with tame horseradish and ask: “Why do I never remember these are never very good?” My pulled-pork sandwich, though, was surprisingly great, the meat smoked seven hours and nicely sauced, enough so that the processed American “cheese” in the bun was imperceptible aside from its color. And the poppy seed-flecked coleslaw, which the waitress had warned us off, was outstanding, crisp and not overly mayonnaised. We all shared the special “carrot gazpacho,” which was more like a mise en place for minestrone with a shitload of Tabasco. (The diner itself, moved to Buffalo from Pennsylvania, looked medium-cool, but the bathroom was more like a truck stop’s. Yikes.)
Between meals, we checked out the little farmers’ market in Kenmore, near the boyhood home, then the one on Elmwood, which was New York quality with New York prices. White Cow Dairy was the only stand to get us to open a wallet, with its France-level yogurt in glass jars in unorthodox flavors (like rhubarb), its fascinating lemon drink (made with whey and maple syrup) and its spiel (soon to expand to what sounded like a Chelsea Market North).
Our last overindulgence was at Hutch’s, after getting screwed at The Stillwater trying to use the $75 gift certificate we had given the I-LE last March, and after trying to figure out what in holy hell had inspired us to buy it. We left a message to reserve and heard nothing back so proceeded downtown, only to be informed the kitchen was closed until after Labor Day. If we had been alone, we would have stayed to drink the bar dry, because I kinda doubt the place is gonna last long enough to redeem that certificate.
Too late I remembered Seabar as a backup, so we headed to nearby Hutch’s, where we’ve happily eaten before. Good Chilean sauvignon blanc and Argentinean malbec for $7 a glass changed our moods fast. And I can forgive the otherwise world-class waiter less for screwing up my order than for referring to me as “the young lady” who might be persuaded to share her good portobello fries — when they have to lie, you know you look old.
The beet salad with heirloom tomato, blue cheese and walnuts was impressive, as was the watermelon gazpacho we started with. I didn’t try the I-LE’s calf’s liver, but it was sliced thin, grilled rather than fried and pretty effectively camouflaged under crisp bacon strips and caramelized onions alongside superb mashed potatoes. Bob had the special soft-shell crabs, which were almost whales but perfectly fried and laid onto a super-rich sauce, with a side plate of green beans and potatoes. Three were way too many, though. Rather than my ordering the excellent crab cake appetizer for $15, we should have paid the $3 charge to have the kitchen split his entrée to share. And I’m writing that just so I hope I remember next time.
As always, we left the I-LE’s refrigerator crammed with kitty bags when we happily flew home. You will never stagger out of a Buffalo restaurant hungry.
Premier, 3465 Delaware Avenue, Kenmore.
Marotto’s, 3365 Delaware Avenue, Kenmore, 716 873 0551.
Lake Effect Diner, 3165 Main Street, 716 833 1952.
Hutch’s, 1375 Delaware Avenue near Gates Circle, 716 885 0074.
The good, even though: Recipe, twice. The first time it was four of us, early, and we dutifully got into the Epago program, sharing the macaroni and cheese with corn, peas and bacon as an appetizer (good, not great) and a nice panna cotta for dessert, plus one bottle of wine, and happily going on our way. As always, the main courses were superb, both my halibut and The Consort’s huge pork chop. All in all, a perfect evening. So great that I came home and reserved for two nights later with a new guy in town, one who doesn’t understand that you only rent a table in this town, especially in a tiny, very good restaurant. Food and service were again superb (I had the duck, we shared a crab cake), but we were having such a great time discussing the sorry state of the world and America’s sorry part in it that we kept ordering more wine until finally the host had to come by and tell us people had been waiting 15 minutes for our table. Or, here’s the check and what’s your hurry? It was rather mortifying, even under Bob’s name. WIGB? Only for lunch for a while, I guess. It is the best restaurant in the neighborhood at that price point. 452 Amsterdam near 82d Street, 212 501 7755.
The improved: Cafe Luxembourg, where we met friends for an early dinner on Saturday and reveled in the best part of Manhattan in August — no assholes. Only afterward did they confess that they had preferred Compass because they had had rushed and un-fun experiences here. But this great waiter let us take our very long sweet time talking before ordering, so we could enjoy the great room and the mellow noise level. I never think of the food as brilliant, but my hanger steak was beautifully cooked and well matched with bearnaise, broccoli rabe and potatoes “confit,” and Bob’s good branzino came with baby leeks and a very spicy tomato compote. Dr. Bugs seemed happy with his lobster roll (we were with his fries), while Lady Bugs’s corn ravioli with truffles could have used more of the former. I also tasted the shared chocolate-coconut terrine, which was like stacked Almond Joys but better than that sounds. But the best thing that landed on the table was the mango gazpacho, tomato-free and very lively with cilantro oil. The food was so much better than I remembered that I actually tracked down the waiter to ask if the chef was new, and he seemed taken aback. WIGB? Absolutely. Not many places in this town are that reliable. 200 West 70th Street, 212 873 7411.
The right place on the right night: The Corner, the latest incarnation at 93d and Columbus, where we recharged our batteries the night we got home from Istanbul and then remembered to meet up with a young friend reeling from a sting by a Portuguese man o’war on her vacation in North Carolina. I thought she would get into the three-for-$10
“steak” sliders at happy hour at the bar, but she landed first and chose a sidewalk table; luckily her favorite things were available there, too (although they were pretty overcooked). I had the quite respectable gazpacho, a huge bowlful, while Bob ordered the crab cakes again. The salad with cheese and almonds that I had liked the first time must have needed dressing not on the side, though, because Pam didn’t seem to attack it with gusto. WIGB? Totally. It’s close by, the setting’s great and the food hasn’t disappointed. 680 Columbus Avenue, 212 280 4103.
The wrong place on the right night: Jimmy’s No. 43 in the East Village, where I have always wanted to go but where the food was too small-plates for the occasion, which was a chance to reconnect with a photographer friend in from New Hope who’s spending more time in front of the camera than behind it these days. He was happy with the amazing beer selection, we less so with the wines served in Chimay goblets (message: don’t go to a beer specialist for anything else). But I should have understood the food would come out as the cook got it together, and that portions would be tres petite. We shared the good fried sausage slices with mustard and the shisito peppers, then one Bob had the bratwurst sandwich and the other, not sure why, “The Piggery salami,” which was seriously good but decidedly dainty. I usually drag our friend to more high-end places than he would like, but I think I aimed too low this time. WIGB? Sure, if I were in the neighborhood, after a movie and looking for something little in a convivial room. And had cash on me. 43 East Seventh Street, 212 982 3006.
The pretty good: Landmarc in Tribeca, where we wound up after the W debacle and after passing by and up Plein Sud because the menu posted outside looked (to Bob) too familiar and (to me) as if you could already see the cheap paper it was cheaply printed on crumbling after the place went under. (I hope I’m wrong; someone big liked it fine.) We got a window table downstairs and soon had an outstanding fontina and mushroom flatbread topped with arugula and crispy prosciutto in front of us, then half-bottles of white and red ($20 and $18 together seem like a deal compared with either a bottle or by the glass most places). My chopped salad was enhanced by hearts of palm, and his skirt steak with chimichurri sauce was flavorful if fibrous and came with decent fries. Service was great, view was good. And the four salty caramels with the check didn’t hurt. WIGB? Absolutely. 179 West Broadway near Franklin, 212 343 3883.
The pretty bad: RedBowl in Williamsburg, which we staggered into after a superb party nearby in a loft apartment with a backstage view of the Nas/Damian Marley concert against the Manhattan skyline and after our rube-like reconnaissance of the blocks around it. The basil pancake was surprisingly satisfying, but we made the mistake of listening to the distracted waiter about which of the duck main courses was best. The Cr should have been followed by ’appy rather than ’ispy; the $16 half-bird was really desiccated, even before it was blanketed in flour-tortilla-like pancakes with tired scallion shreds and sweet sauce. Usually one duck item on the menu is a warning. Now I know six are an Orange Level alert. Wine was $6 a glass, though, and the clean bathroom was very welcome before the ride home.
The bad except for the food: Toloache off Times Square, where we reflexively headed for a snack and glass of wine after the surprisingly good “Kids Are All Right” on 42d Street and where our punishment was dismissive service and delayed food. It wasn’t even full when we said we were two, but the hostess shunted us to the bar, which would have been fine if the bartender had not been in major hose-down mode, busier cleaning than tending to our order. While I sat watching the oven and what went into and came out of it. Only when Bob asked for a second glass did he check, and when the waiter sheepishly brought out the two plates, we both asked: How long was it sitting in the kitchen? He didn’t answer, and it was still warm enough not to send back, but still. The huitlacoche was as good as it always is, and the “costilla” with steak and chipotle BBQ sauce even better. But it was not a $60-plus-tip experience. WIGB? J’doubt it. Lots of new places are opening around there.
The we-put-the-din-in-dinner: Motorino in the East Village, where, luckily again, someone else was paying and where I left wondering how the waiters retain their sanity, let alone their hearing. We split the excellent “fire-roasted” mortadella with cherry tomatoes, basil, olives and pecorino, and it was about six universes away from the fried bologna I was envisioning (although the only way to eat bologna is fried, and fried crisp), then a pizza margherita and a special pizza with prosciutto and, if I remember right, burrata. I will never warm to wine in tumblers. Although now I wonder if those aren’t meant to be emptied and used as ear trumpets.