Archive for November, 2010

New York minutes/Late November 2010

November 2010

The pretty good: Bettolona in “the hinterlands,” as one stressed friend coming from Midtown described it, where my consort and I met her and a new friend for too little food and just enough wine (BYO) after he had tried it for lunch on advice from my Columbia e-correspondent. Last time we were in that space it was nouveau Latino, but it’s been transformed and now turns out slightly soggy mushroom pizza, decent whole wheat pasta with vegetables, above-average spinach lasagne with meat sauce and good grilled squid. Baked asparagus with Fontina, though, arrived as three soggy spears and not even the promised “hint” of truffle oil. Neither tiramisu nor the crespelle with bananas and Nutella could be faulted, and either could the tab, a little over $20 a person thanks to the reportedly nervous-making wine shop two doors south. WIGB? Sure. It wasn’t loud, either. 3143 Broadway near LaSalle Street, 212 749 1125.

The surprisingly respectable: RedFarm Stand at FoodParc, where we stopped after the Saturday Greenmarket for a quick, egg-free lunch and where all of $20.95 bought four carefully prepared items. We shared the duck bun, which turned out to be slabs of tender, fatty roast duck on a soft roll with pickled vegetables, and the wild Katz’s pastrami egg roll, a fat, crispy cylinder with maybe one layer too many of dough and a creamy mustard dunking sauce, as well as a mesclun salad loaded with good vegetables cut small and topped with rice noodles. The best things were the black pepper pork potstickers with chile-soy dipping sauce, which were filled right and fried perfectly — they put Canteen 82’s to shame, I’ll have my uptown friends know. Because it was the holiday weekend, the place was pretty deserted, so we had two tables to ourselves to sit side-by-side with a nice view of the patio and the huge screen outside showing a creepy art video with baby. And maybe the cooking was more careful because it was so slow, but the potstickers on another table looked just as good. WIGB? Absolutely. Sixth Avenue at 29th Street.

New York minutes/Mid-November 2010

November 2010

The good: Lyon in the old Cafe Bruxelles in the West Village, where we were lucky enough to arrive early when it had just opened and got a nice table in a quiet corner in the back and tried not to dwell on why we had been so underwhelmed by food in the real Lyon. There it’s belly-busting heavy, so I only ordered two appetizers: escargots in risotto, a nice idea, and quenelles, which someone should have warned me were not real — chicken is foul when you’re expecting fish — although the sauce with black trumpet mushrooms was excellent. My consort loved his lamb shank on a few white beans with spicy merguez, though. And wines are a deal (starting at $7 a glass), but they took forever to arrive. WIGB? Absolutely. Although no one will take the place for authentic because the waiters are too thin. 118 Greenwich Avenue.

The pretty good under the circumstances: Donatella in Chelsea, where four of us headed after “Long Story Short” in the hellhole that is the Theater District and where the din was definitely put in dinner but the food redeemed everything. The kitchen was slammed, maybe thanks to the great review in the Village Voice, so my consort and I should have known better than to try to order things we’d loved previously. A first go-round of the fried calamari with aioli spiked with bottarga lived up to memory, but the second looked over-browned and heavy. His spaghetti with sea urchin also seemed more sodden this time. Eggplant parmigiana, though, a tiny portion in an iron pot, was exceptional if dainty for $13. And my mushroom-and-smoked mozzarella pizza was soggier than I expected but had great flavor and ingredients; the Enzo, with sausage and broccoli rabe, probably qualified as true Neapolitan because it sagged at the center as well. Comped zeppoli made our friends who know from the Jersey Shore very happy. WIGB? Probably, if we’re near there. The waitress was a bit of a ditz, and someone really needs to teach the staff which wineglasses go with which wine, but the food and value (with both food and wine) make it far better than anything on that strip. Despite the din. 184 Eighth Avenue near 20th Street, 212 493 5150.

The surprising: City Winery in Tribeca, where I stayed to try the product while on another mission and was happy to find the chardonnay straight from the barrel in the cellar was a serious wine and the flatbread made with lees left from the winemaking was beyond respectable. The special that day was chorizo and padron peppers with Manchego, and it held up well despite the charred chiles. The waitress, once she kicked into gear, was also outstanding. WIGB? Definitely, especially after Film Forum, and absolutely for a concert. 155 Varick Street at Vandam, 212 608 0555.

New York minutes/Early November 2010

November 2010

The good: The Redhead in the East Village, where we met two friends coming from Greenpoint as a compromise location and where we had that rare experience where things got better as the place got busier/louder. The lighting at 5 was police-interrogation level, so we spent our first round feeling as if were drinking at a VFW hall, but that soon changed. Then we were worried they would rush us out of our table as people started arriving for dinner in the tiny room, but the servers couldn’t have been nicer. We had to start with the bacon peanut brittle, which was not as great as I’d remembered from the New Amsterdam Market, but my duck rillettes, a special, may have been the best ever in an American restaurant, and came with enough toasts for a change. Bob’s fried chicken was also respectable, and a huge portion, with a big salad and corn muffin. I didn’t try the gnocchi across the table but heard no complaints, and we could still hear. Wines were well-chosen, too, and our friends seemed happy with beer and a Sazerac. WIGB? If I were in that neighborhood, for sure. 349 East 13th Street between First and Second, 212 533 6212.

The promising: Tolani on the Upper West Side, where we headed after finding Fairway’s cafe closed for a private party after the depressing “Inside Job,” and after I remembered reading about this weeks-old place in the Columbia newspaper my consort had brought home from his teaching gig. We just glanced at the menu prices ($18 or so) before asking for a table, and the super-happy hostess turned us over to a congenial host who led us downstairs to the “garden,” an awkward room with a glassed-in back wall and a view of the kitchen. (The upstairs was full.) And then the waiter informed us everything was small plates, designed for sharing. But we’d had popcorn for our first course and just ordered the grilled quail, hot but listed under “cold” because it came with a bulgar salad with dates, and the roasted half-chicken, with creamy mashed potatoes. Both little birds were juicy and flavorful, perfectly cooked. I recognized the consulting chef’s name, Craig Hopson, but had forgotten he works for Le Cirque; he’s branching out with this couple, who own another restaurant on the Upper East Side. The wine list had a couple of choices neither of us had encountered, including a Tasmanian white that was really fruity and would be great with that quail if I had not moved on to a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. WIGB? Absolutely. The cooking and the combinations were spot-on. 410 Amsterdam Avenue near 80th Street, 212 873 6252.

The fine: Num Pang in the Central Village, where we stopped for a quick lunch on a market Saturday after the Strand (which now must have the best penny-candy selection in town, and where we were amazed to see how many people could pay in cash when the computers went down — the line was huge). Bob shared his “seasonal special” sandwich, with five-spice glazed pork belly, that was messy/juicy perfection for $7.50; I had a $3.75 cup of the good “curry red lentil soup,” topped with pickled red cabbage, cilantro and fried shallots. With both, it was easy to see why the house policy is “have it our way,” with no substitutions, alterations or modifications allowed — the combinations work. As a bonus, we were able to grab stools in the teeny dining room up a spiral staircase rather than searching out a park bench. WIGB? The ginger barbecue brisket sandwich is calling my name. . . 21 East 12th Street between University and Fifth Avenue, 212 255 3271.

New York minute/Early November 2010

November 2010

The promising: Buca on the Upper West Side, where friends steered us and where we happily headed to escape bedroom/bathroom restoration hell. As we’d been warned, the place is totally tiny (21 seats), so I didn’t complain when we got the TV dinner-tray-size table leading into the bathroom when we landed around 7. The wine was the kind that Riedel could not elevate, and of course it was served in tumblers, so it tasted overpriced at $6 and $7 a glass. But the pizza was amazing, and not least because it was all of $11. We didn’t even mind that we ordered the special with arugula and mushrooms and got one with sausage and broccoli rabe. Gnocchi weren’t bad, mostly because they were baked with tomato sauce and cheese. And the owner keeps it all light. Our pizza arrived in minutes; when we remarked on that, he joked with the chef that it must have been frozen. WIGB? Absolutely. Early and with cash. 201 West 103d Street off Amsterdam, 212 531 8730.