Archive for February, 2011

New York minutes/End of February 2011

February 2011

The half-great: Ma Peche, where my consort and I met up with friends who wanted to try it after their first choice of Osteria Morini was fully committed and where we were all worried about the tab given the bizarre absence of prices on both Menupages and the website (why should the paying customer be the last to know?) So I’ll get the bad part out of the way first: We waited 45 minutes for the reserved table, after getting shunted to the hotel lobby and then to the bar, where we all awkwardly held our unchecked coats and drinks while surrounded by a . . . shall we say . . . low-rent crowd and inhaling the grease fumes from the kitchen downstairs. (Always fun to consider how close “hospitality” and “hostility” are.) Also, once we were finally seated the wine took its “savory” time arriving, and the service would best be described as desultory. But the table turned out to be one surrounded by bigger tables of guys going all Tom Jones on beef and bones, so it was like being on an island of quiet. And the food was exceptional, starting with the perfectly made spring rolls. We just stuck everything in the center and shared, and not one dish disappointed. The duck, a tender breast plus sausage plus hoisin spaetzl, was the best I’ve tasted in years. Cod came in second, in a lively shellfish broth with ginger and coconut. The broccoli appetizer has me attempting to replicate it at home, with miso and sesame seeds. And while I’m not much on pork (flesh, not fat), the Bev Eggleston chop was blowaway, even at $68 for two. That, unfortunately, is the one price I can quote, because Bob and George split the bill and we came home with no printout. WIGB? Absolutely. Cooking like this reinforces why this trained cook goes to restaurants. 15 West 56th Street.

The promising: The new Ditch Plains on the UWS, where Bob and I wandered in after the Sunday Greenmarket and spotted strollers, the surest sign someone was serving. Turned out it was a soft opening, with 15 percent off the check. We found out the second half of that sentence only when the check arrived, but we were mellow knowing it wasn’t “live” yet. So it didn’t really matter that the fried pickles as an appetizer were inexpertly fried, although it did make me worry after having ordered fish and chips despite the waitress having told us she had not seen that yet, let alone tried it. Cod instead of the usual muddy tilapia sold me, though, and the excellent fries and perfect frying compensated for the lack of crust on the nearly naked fillets. And the dipping sauce, the same as for the pickle fries, elevated everything. Bob ordered the quite good spicy shrimp salad without specifying the appetizer size, so the $7 off the tab helped. We were among the few not ordering alcohol, but both the bloody Marys and the wine list looked enticing (no glasses, only bottles and half-bottles, at very good prices). The space seems much more inviting in its latest reincarnation, and the manager was extremely gregarious. WIGB? Absolutely, despite all those strollers — G.M. said the kitchen will stay open till 2 a.m., which is a huge boon on the early-to-bed UWS. 100 West 82d Street, 212 362 4815.

The “WTF was I thinking?”: New Chiu Chow in Chinatown, where we wound up after I plucked the name out of the Village Voice listings in desperation as we were rushing to schlep down to Bob’s storage room in the old NYPost building — the name had me at Chiu Chow, which really is “Cantonese with flavor,” as they said in Hong Kong, and the tout mentioned that most irresistible of foods: duck. But as soon as we walked into the dingy room and had to wait a few minutes for a table away from the door I knew we were in the wrong place. But the menu did promise duck, and it was not bad, if nowhere close to what we first had in Hong Kong or now make at home. Good thing we ordered a half, not a quarter, because the “spicy spare ribs” on rice with black bean sauce proved to be chewy nuggets of creepy industrial pork. And the Chinese vegetables in oyster sauce seemed very rudimentary for the price, again something we could have thrown together at home. Only as I was sitting dejectedly did we notice every other table was eating the same thing, the soup. Which is, of course, exactly why most onliners recommend it. Oh, well. The leftover duck was rescusitable in dumplings using wrappers from Hong Kong Supermarket, after a respectable egg custard from the bakery across the street. WIGB? From now on, we are never eating Chinese in Chinatown. We’re either trekking happily to Flushing or opting for anything else. Even “Italian.”

New York minute/Mid-February 2011

February 2011

The seriously good: Lievito Pizzeria in the West Village, where we headed after IFC and three of the short documentaries nominated for an Oscar and where it was hard to decide which was more seductive, the cooking or the charmsters. We got there so early the lights were police-interrogation bright, and the place looked unpromising, with big-screen teevees and a few tables awkwardly placed in the tiny triangular room. But one of the three Italians who opened it was a super-host in his ascot; we soon had big glasses of $9 wine (who knew even Sicily produces sauvignon blanc?) and were trying to choose among a plethora of temptations to eat. The artichoke flan starter read like a shopping list but was a serious party on the plate, with little bits of crisp pancetta and wedges of Parmigiano tuile on top plus sautéed shiitakes and dollops of Taleggio around the creamy center — with all that, it actually tasted like artichoke. And the $18 Crostone pizza bianca was a marvel, a crisp crust with intriguing yeasty flavor topped with mozzarella, good prosciutto, arugula, diced and whole grape tomatoes and coarsely grated pecorino. It was big enough that we kittybagged two slices, and they were almost better next day. Turns out the place is named for leavening, and the kitchen makes its own from fermented fruit, which also gives the Tuscan-style bread intensity, especially the crust. (It was served with too-cold paprika butter, but I’m not sure that gilding was needed.) As we were leaving, one of the three owners (one from Bergamo, the others from Florence) insisted on kissing me on both cheeks, “Italian-style.” They have the hospitality down. WIGB? Absolutely (but maybe not at peak dining hours). There’s a lot of creativity on that menu. And did I mention the charm? 581 Hudson Street at near Bank, 212 645 5811, lievitopizzeria.com

New York minutes/Early February 2011

February 2011

The good: Lyon in the West Village, at least at the bar, where my consort and I took refuge after getting shut out of the documentary program at IFC and where the engaging bartender and $7 sauvignon blanc kept us long enough to order first the spicy duck wings and then the duck rillettes (passing, at least, on the deep-fried cheese balls and salt cod fritters). Those wings looked long enough to power a goose, but they were pretty great, with a sweet-hot glaze on crispy skin, and three cost all of $8. And the rillettes came with warm toast and had been warmed slightly, too, so they melted into the bread; plus a basket of freshly toasted slices arrived just when we needed them. Aside from too-loud music as the afternoon wore on, it was the ideal refuge. WIGB? Absolutely, now that Bob has been dissuaded that the food is too heavy there. 118 Greenwich Avenue at Jane Street, 212 242 5966.

The good, again: Recipe on the Upper West Side, where we scored an early table when I couldn’t face dishes one more night. We shared three small plates: the beet salad with goat cheese; the too-greasy but quite satisfying duck confit hash (the meat mingled with roasted mushrooms and the whole assemblage topped with an oozy egg), and the perfectly cooked scallops with kabocha squash gnocchi, pumpkinseeds, chestnut glaze and crisped sage. The scallops qualified as cerebral food; every bite made me think. As always, the service was superb, too, but I’ll never learn to like wine from a tumbler. 452 Amsterdam Avenue near 82d Street, 212 501 7755.

The not bad: Spice, the new one in the old Monsoon on the Upper West Side, where we ducked in from the rain after the well-made “Fighter” and where the staff could not have been more accommodating. After a huge popcorn and too much lunch, all I could face was the house Caesar, with its miso-ginger dressing and (alleged) Sichuan croutons, but Bob insisted we get the warm duck wrap, too, plus chicken potstickers for him. The shredded duck, for all of $7, came in a fat mound to roll up in iceberg leaves with peanuts and slivered carrots and three sauces, and it was even good the next day, fresh out of the kittybag (Wyl-E was very happy, too). WIGB? Happily. 435 Amsterdam Avenue at 81st Street, 212 362 5861.

And the almost-worth-missing-the-movies-for: The new Meadow salt/chocolate/bitters/flower shop in the West Village. Bob bought me a salt sampler there for my birthday, but I had never set foot in the place, and it is quite seductive, with an entire wall of different salts and another wall stocked with esoteric chocolates. Stacks of salt slabs to cook on are also everywhere. The staff’s really welcoming, too. 523 Hudson Street near Christopher, 888 388 4633.

New York minute/Late January 2011

February 2011

The pretty good: The newish Luke’s on the Upper West Side, where we stopped for a fast lunch on the way to Fairway to shop for a dinner party and where the one downside was seeing how more than one other patron somehow grew to adulthood without knowing you are supposed to chew with your mouth closed (I felt sad for the baby strapped to the chest of the mom out with hubby and in-laws: doomed). We timed it well and got stools at the weirdly configured counters on that sleety/rainy afternoon, and the crab and lobster rolls were almost too richly satisfying. I would have been happy with only half of one although I had no problem helping eat the two $1 bags of chips, and tasting the tiny chocolate whoopie pie. Both sandwiches were overloaded with nothing more than meat, a tiny bit of mayonnaise and a splash of butter, on warm buns. And each was a deal, $10 for crab, $15 for lobster. WIGB? For lobster for sure. I’d forgotten Maine crab means stringy Jonah. 426 Amsterdam Avenue near 80th, 212 877 8800.