Archive for October, 2010

New York minutes/End of October 2010

October 2010

The pretty good again: El Paso Taqueria on the Upper East Side, where my consort and I, in search of soothing/cheap food on a stressful Sunday, trekked with bulging Baggus from the Columbus Avenue Greenmarket and where our rewards were a plethora of overstuffed tacos and one great plate of three enchiladas with salsa verde, black beans and rice. I always want to write the place off, but the combination of location and value sucks me back in. My enchiladas were all of $9, and they were even better reheated next day to get them to Arizona-level meltiness. Bob’s tacos were $2.75 apiece, and two would have sufficed. WIGB? At least until a branch opens on our side of the park to beat down overpriced Cafe Frida and lame Noche Mexicana. 64 East 97th Street, 212 996 1739.

The not too bad: Little Giant on the Lower East Side, where three of us retreated after the outstanding Ed Kashi opening at Anastasia Photo (complete with good bar and great bartender). Our mission was to get far away fast to talk, so we passed up other places I was tempted by, and we got a table right away. The fact that we could not order a few apps first with wine was off-putting, but we did get to sit there for hours, sharing one bottle of red, some okay deviled eggs, some decent seared peppers, an over-cheesed kale salad and finally a pozole-esque concoction senza the dread cilantro. Too late, I remembered the place is all about the staff’s convenience. WIGB? Maybe. My cranial sieve is increasingly unreliable. 85 Orchard Street at Broome Street, 212 226 5047.

The tired: Aquagrill in SoHo, where I wound up with a great friend in from Veneto after finding my first old-reliable/quintessential-American choice has lost its chef to the wonderland of the West Coast. It was one of those gorgeous days when the outside tables were too tempting, but, as always, we would have been better off inside (and he might have gotten more of an impression of a Manhattan restaurant). The receptionist was nice enough to check his stack of books he was bearing to FedEx, though. I ordered my standby, the Aquagrill sandwich, after trying to explain what a crab cake is (“like a burger, but made with fish” — no sale), and he had the salmon BLT on my recommendation; apparently he scored. My choice was pretty heavily breaded, and the fries alongside seemed weary and meager (as did his). The breads to start also looked to be limping. We each had an inoffensive if not brilliant glass of white from Friuli, too, for $10. What was weirdest was the service. The waiter was flummoxed when I asked for tocai, which was all I absorbed from the description of the wine blend while Diego and I were intently catching up, so he brought the dessert menu to clarify. And then he never approached the table again for an hour and a half. How do you say WTF in Italian? This was a reprise of our last experience at the Red Cat, where a furriner also spooked the pro. WIGB? Hope not.

New York minute/Latish October 2010

October 2010

The good: Donatella in Chelsea, where five of us were lucky enough to get seats if not our own table after finding it suddenly open on leaving “The Social Network.” The boss herself was there and sent over appetizers and desserts, but I still would have been impressed, not least because the waiter, when I asked if the music blaring from a speaker overhead could be turned down, actually listened. The pizza was much better than Keste’s and far better value than Co’s, with a great crisp crust and superb balance in the toppings, particularly the $15 diavola, with tomatoes, mozzarella, pecorino, spicy salami and chili oil. The $16 Enzo, with smoked mozzarella, pecorino, sausage and broccoli rabe, was also good. My consort’s $17 lasagna was a huge portion and nicely executed, although the cheese could have melted just a bit longer (which was also the flaw in the mozzarella in carozza, which was redeemed by the runny poached egg and truffle oil paired with it). Fried calamari was elevated by the lemon-bottarga aioli with it, and the aracini were fine. The winner on the communal table, though, was spaghettini with sea urchin and fennel, and I’m no fan of fennel — the flavors were all in harmony, and the pasta was perfectly cooked. Bonus points for the price: $18. (Point off: Bob was bummed that his leftover didn’t come home in the kitty bag.) As the waiter promised, the sfogliata was the best dessert, flaky and full of ricotta cream with orange blossom. WIGB? Absolutely. It’s a find on a boulevard of mediocrity. 184 Eighth Avenue near 20th Street, 212 493 5301.

New York minutes/Middish October 2010

October 2010

The somewhat good: Atlantic Grill, the new one across from Lincoln Center, where my consort and I wound up after a surreal photo opening at the Essex House, which had had finger food ambitious enough for us to want better than we normally settle for. It’s amazing how the Ginger Man was transformed so quickly, and it was even more amazing how packed it was right around showtime. We settled for a table out in the north forty, which at least was quieter although apparently farther from the kitchen, because the food took just short of forever. And when it came it was more strange than satisfying, particularly the weird maki (we ordered one with spicy tuna, eel and avocado but the bill shows one with scallop and crab salad, and it could have been either). The seared octopus had too many accouterments (smoked paprika, chickpeas, mint, harissa etc.), and the poor creature was either old or abused; either way, it was tough chewing. Even the salad, frisee with bacon, was more shopping list than satisfaction (green beans, mushrooms, pecorino etc.) Wines were only $10 a glass, though, which was good because we were on our second by the time the plates arrived. WIGB? Maybe. Location, location. And Bob liked the look of the place. 49 West 64th Street, 212 787 4663.

The fully reliable: Mermaid Inn uptown, where I made two poor friends meet me again because I was too stressed to think of anything more ambitious and where we were at least rewarded with the usual. My cod with mashed potatoes and crispy spinach was a little bland, but at least the portion was enough for my dinner, two tastes for them and lunch the next day for me and The Cat. I liked what I sampled of the pecan-crusted trout with sweet potatoes, too, and the skate looked good. Service was rather dismissive, I guess because I was the only one springing for wine. But we all left happy enough.

New York minute/Early October 2010

October 2010

The half-good: Kefi, where my consort and I landed after he landed early on Sunday morning after 10 days in Namibia on a shoot and where our route was nearly as circuitous as his getting home. We had run down to the Greenmarket on Columbus Avenue only to find a crap show going on, so it took longer than usual to navigate the displaced stalls in the flea market in the schoolyard on 77th Street. It was 11:30 when he said he was starving and I suggested the closest tempting thing: dumplings. On walking into Canteen 82, though, I remembered exactly how we’d felt walking out. The place cooks for kids, who make up most of the clientele (and they’re the kind of kids who do not go to Greenmarkets with their dad and want clams for dinner, as we’d just seen at the seafood stall). Once again, the service was so unservice-y and we had so long to wait before ordering that we got the “bail, bail!” message simultaneously. So we wound up walking a couple of blocks north.

I was worried walking in because it was so deserted shortly before noon, and the beehived waitress and the hostess were kinda disinterested, but we soon had a table and menus and water and an order in for the Greek spreads. They took an absurdly long (or hungover-kitchen-long) time to arrive, but they were nearly as fabulous as always, with just grilled pita. We could enjoy them at leisure, too, before the superb crispy calamari and the Kefi salad arrived (updated Greek, with shaved fennel tossed with lettuce, onions, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, feta, olives, caperberry, roasted red pepper and pickled pepper). It took some work, but we flagged down the negligent waiter to get the check before the mega-table next to us filled up for a birthday party. As is so often the case, the service picked up as the place got busier. WIGB? Of course. Food’s great and priced right, and it’s close by. Plus we were spared bland dumplings and an even longer wait. 505 Columbus Avenue near 84th Street, 212 873 0200.