Archive for March, 2011

New York minutes/Even more latish March 2011

March 2011

The half-good: Pure in Hell’s Kitchen, where my consort and I headed after the MOMA Meyer night when he was hungry and I was just curious about the midtown cousin to Land. We were already arguing about something I was right about (food shortages as the cause of upheavals in the Middle East), so it was lucky we got seats within a few minutes at the bar facing into the noodle kitchen and soon had the distractions of wine and food. All the whites looked fruity, but my viognier made sense once I tasted the special crab salad with peanuts, chilies and lime. The salad itself was sensational, the first thing I’ve eaten in Manhattan that ever gave me a sense of the pyrotechnic aspects of Thai cuisine, and the almost syrupy wine countered it. Bob, unfortunately, ordered off the regular menu and was penalized with one of those interchangeably gloppy/bland big plates (bean sprouts, noodles, shrimp, scallions). Still, the room was pretty jazzy and the service was A+ even in our cramped quarters, right next to the “shophouse,” a few shelves with esoteric ingredients like durian chips. WIGB? Absolutely if I’m down that way again. Otherwise, I’m more determined to broaden my horizons via Land’s menu. 766 Ninth Avenue near 51st Street, 212 581 0999.

The vaut le voyage for adventure’s sake: Q in Port Chester, where a Louisiana/Texas friend who now lives in Greenwich lured us with the promise of great barbecue and a diversion in the Batali/Bastianich shops in that immigrant bastion. Several lessons were learned, starting with the fact that total luxury on venturing to the ’burbs is being able to walk off the train and into downtown, without the usual clambering into a car to be spirited off to parts unknown. So within five minutes of detraining Metro North to Stamford we were wandering around the Tarry market, ogling the meats and pastas and cheeses etc. and succumbing to focaccia as round and high as San Francisco sourdough and a packet of Manicaretti’s extraordinary garganelli. Next door we tried some Italians reds from the well-curated selection after checking out the menu at the Tarry Lodge restaurant, which Kevin said serves food that’s too salty and that we saw was clogged with old white Greenwichers. The bare-bones BBQ joint he walked us to next was much classier than I expected (the sink’s in the dining room, sure, but we were right between Greenwich and Rye). And we did have to order at the counter, but from then on it was a total restaurant. I shoulda listened about the brisket, which was not just as dry as the cliché but also fatty and tough and not really flavorful; at least the potato salad I ordered alongside was quality stuff. Bob fared better with a quarter-slab of ribs, meaty and juicy and smoky, and Kevin’s pulled pork nearly bested that. Drinks were also a deal: a second round of two drafts and a sauvignon blanc came to all of $13. WIGB? Sure. After we try the Mexican restaurants Kevin’s raving about. Especially since we learned Metro North cops will retrieve a 12-year-old irreplaceable Kenzo scarf if you happen to leave it on the train at 125th Street. 111 North Main Street, Port Chester, 914 933 7427.

New York minutes/Latish March 2011

March 2011

The good: Market Table in the West Village, where my consort and I wound up after a lively 50th at Automatic Slim’s a few blocks east on St. Drunken Day when Pearl was backed up and Fedora was Bedlam and where we scored some pretty great food at a fair price at a relatively quiet table. The $12 crispy calamari, with a thick crust around juicy “meat,” ranked among the best I’ve ever eaten, especially with the guacamole and chile crema blanketing the plate underneath. We shared a salad of Cara Cara and blood oranges with hearts of palm, basil and pomegranate, too, and Bob (and later The Cat) seemed content with his $22 “pan crisped” chicken with sweet potato salad and bok choy. Service was also above average. WIGB? Happily. Hospitable and creative are not to be underestimated. 54 Carmine Street at Bedford, 212 255 2100.

The floundering: Elsewhere in Hell’s Kitchen, where we headed with two friends after a Moving Walls opening at OSI after getting shut out of Yakitori Totto and where we must have been jinxed on this third try. We first got a crappy table near the door and the din and had to wait forever to order wine, then I asked about moving to the booth where we sat on our first foray and we were accommodated but then waited forever to get the gruner, which the servers kept coming back to say was hard to unearth (even though it was poured by the glass last time). The kitchen was on the slow side too. Len didn’t seem too wowed by the portobello sliders we clearly oversold, but Bob cleaned his plate of the sliced hanger steak over (chewy) spaetzl and brussels sprouts, and my Caesar was better than average. WIGB? Yeah. Just because there still isn’t much competition thereabouts. 403 West 43d Street, 212 315 2121.

The trip: Hindu Temple Society’s canteen in Flushing, where we hooked up with new friends via Bob’s gig at CUNY and where the tradeoff for folding tables and styrofoam dinnerware under fluorescent lights was very lively and seriously filling South Indian food that would have been a deal even if we had not been treated. After letting our new friends-in-the-know order for us all in a medium-long line at the counter, we sat down to a table soon covered with mango lassis and mango juices, plastic cups of water and plate after plate: chile-flecked vadas with coconut chutney and sambar; dosas stuffed with potatoes and with potatoes on the side; a special vada with red onions, and a vegetable uttapam, a big pancake studded with peas and tomato. It was all transporting to Bangalore, although the coconut chutney was milder than I remembered from seeing it pounded on the floor at MTR. The bill came to a little more than $9 a person, with way too much food. WIGB? Yep. To take someone new. It’s a great experience, not just as an alternative to Chinese in that neighborhood. 45-57 Bowne Street off Kissena Boulevard, 718 460 8493.

New York minutes/Mid-March 2011

March 2011

The good again: Elsewhere in Hell’s Kitchen, where my consort and I reserved for after the Tow reception for the entrepreneurial journalism center at CUNY and where we arrived full from Evans catering but not so stuffed we couldn’t appreciate how great those portobello sliders are. We shared a respectable escarole/bacon/walnut salad to start, then each had one of the three sliders, chunked with spicy remoulade, and took the last home for an outstanding cold lunch next day for me. The place was pretty empty on this latest go, so the waiter had plenty of energy to oversell the gruner. WIGB? Anytime. Everything about it is way better than the neighborhood usually inflicts. 403 West 43d Street, 212 315 2121.

The half-bad: The Breslin in that weird zone of cheesy wholesale fashion, where we met three friends for a 9 o’clock Sunday breakfast and where the seating and setting made up for the lame food. The place is overdesigned to the max, right down to nonfunctioning water fountains in the basement, so we were happy with our booth with adjustable lighting, plug-ins for phones etc. and retractable curtain and buzz light to summon servers. They seemed disturbingly on, hyper and super-chatty at that empty/early hour. But the food. (And the coffee! My cappuccino tasted bitter and scorched, no matter how gorgeous the foam pattern was.) Our orders took forever, after we took forever ordering, and my grilled cheese with house-cured ham was totally flavor-free, even when slathered with coarse-grain mustard. Bob’s special bubble & squeak was more like bland & grease. One friend shared a good chunk of his skirt steak, which tasted livery to us. And I did not taste another’s Greek yogurt although Bob declared it a rival to sour cream. But Friend No. 3 was not a bit happy with her grapefruit, sliced on the bottom to sit flat but “whacked back and forth” without separating the segments, and encrusted with a clumped “ginger sugar mint” topping. WIGB? Only with friends from out of town on expense account. A for ambiance. D for cooking. 16 West 29th Street in the Ace Hotel, 212 679 1939.

The worth-the-line: Doughnut Plant on the Lower East Side, where I lured my consort before our awesome class at Pizza a Casa a coupla doors away. We hit it just right, with only two people waiting on the sidewalk as we walked up, so 15 minutes didn’t matter. Bob was happy with his tres leches cake doughnut, and we were both awed by the raspberry jam-filled square yeast doughnut I chose. So much so that we wrapped half up and schlepped it home to let The Cat taste before fighting over it. WIGB, though? Only if the line was nonexistent, or if an out-of-continenter was really hellbent on trying it. 379 Grand Street near Norfolk, doughnutplant.com

New York minutes/Early March 2011

March 2011

The surprisingly good: The Astor Room in the landmark Kaufman Astoria Studios, where four of us were lucky enough to land after a great couple of hours at the Museum of the Moving Image across the street when Pachanga Patterson did not appear to be open and M. Wells was too far and too overcommitted with a 40-minute wait. I had low hopes, seeing the half-empty if hugely atmospheric room (the old actors’ commissary), but it was the first day of Saturday brunch, and the promise of free Bloody Marys (or mimosas) certainly sounded seductive. And these would have been spectacular at any price, thick with horseradish and each tall glass topped with both a lemon wedge and a caperberry. We passed plates, so I can vouch for my consort’s jerk chicken and waffles (juicy, perfectly fried breast and leg); Diane’s spinach and goat cheese omelet with, as billed, “robust flavors” plus accompaniments of both roasted potatoes and salad; my own lump crab melt with avocado and tomato under a blanket of melted Fontina, and Len’s “Astor Disaster,” a crazy-sounding but very harmonious layering of French toast, barbecued short rib, bacon, poached egg, Cheddar and onion rings. Who cared that the fries with his and my order were just industrial? The bill, with one coffee and a Lavazzo espresso, was all of $55 before the tip. Lagniappe: The chef, a David Burke protégé, came out to chat. WIGB? Absolutely. What better double bill for the Alain Resnais program at the museum? And the fried oyster and egg sandwich looked pretty enticing. 34-12 36th Street, Astoria, 718 255 1947.

The good again: Elsewhere in Hell’s Kitchen, where we stupidly assumed we’d have the room to ourselves after 8 after a work drink for a story and where the half-hour wait was well worth it. This time we were seated in the “garden” room, which was also a plus. We split popcorn with “bacon butter” to start, so I could finish only part of my portobello sliders, awesome as they were: mushrooms grilled like beef, topped with Fontina, layered in brioche with lettuce and “green” tomato that looked more yellow, and teamed with spicy remoulade. I could swear Bob made me taste tender lamb on polenta or grits, but it doesn’t appear to be on the menu now. WIGB? For sure. This is the new Theater District, with serious cooking in the hours when restaurants are usually dark. 403 West 43d Street, 212 315 2121.

The not bad: Piadina in the West Village, where friends lured us back for the “cheap and awesome food” despite our recollection of the namesake dish tasting like quesadillas in an Irish Catholic orphanage (hint: like communion hosts stuffed with scraps). And they were quite right. The room was charming, the salad was satisfying and my $14.50 garganelli in cream with peas and a plethora of prosciutto proved to be outstanding. I didn’t taste our friends’ food, but they seemed happy, so I’ll assume Bob’s watery orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe had to be an aberration. Points off, too, for the dismissive service. I will never understand why, if times are so tough, so many waiters just clear wineglasses and plates without asking: Hey, suckahs — want anything more? WIGB? Maybe. It was pretty cheap. (More points off, though, for cash-only.) 57 West 10th Street, 212 460 8017.

The apparently forgettable: Superfine in DUMBO, where the Bugses and we headed after hearing Gabrielle Hamilton talk about her memoir at Powerhouse Arena and where we were able to walk right in and sit right down and hear each other, which was key with Dr. B p*ant-gearing up to appear on the Colbert Report next night. I was a little unnerved on passing the pool table on the way in, but it’s a pretty nice space. And the reds we ordered were pretty good and affordable. Otherwise, I know there were steak frites and grilled mahi passed around, and I had decent pasta with goat cheese, broccoli and pancetta; the fourth dish has escaped my cranial sieve. WIGB? Possibly if we wound up in that neighborhood on a cold night again. Otherwise, Hecho en Dumbo on the Bowery is calling. . . 126 Front Street at Pearl, 718 243 9005.

Quick takes: Luke’s Lobster on Amsterdam came through yet again with meaty, overstuffed, thoroughly satisfying lobster rolls for all of $15 apiece. Fedora in the West Village came through with a totally transporting bar, the best argument for preservation (I could almost see Dawn Powell knocking back a few stiff ones there). And Terrizzi in Astoria delivered as a total trip, the one bakery we dared walk into after passing so many that looked so industrial. Sfogliatelle seemed Naples-worthy, with flaky dough and a sweet ricotta filling, and it came with character from the elderly woman in charge. She said we could find something like it in “The City.” Maybe. But not with her salesmanship.