Archive for July, 2011

New York minutes

July 2011

The pretty good: Hecho en Dumbo downtown, where a Brooklyn friend and I hooked up  to split the weekend-subway-hell difference and where we were both happy to get away spending so little for such satisfying wine and little plates. I asked for the quietest spot and the host suggested the chefs’ counter, which turned out to be perfect for avoiding ear abuse if frustrating for getting service. And it was a little awkward to be eating, or not, right in front of the guys making the sopes and queso fundido, although proximity saved that dish when we couldn’t find the tortillas and a cook said they were under paper napkins. Crab picadita was nearly as good as I’d remembered from Dumbo, and the chorizo sopes were also fine, although both benefited from the three salsas delivered first. Queso fundido with huitlacoche also succeeded, not turning to either grease or rubber as it sat. An affordable bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc brought the tab to about $35 each with tip. WIGB? Absolutely, if I were in that neighborhood. 354 Bowery near West Fourth Street, 212 937 4245.

The not bad: Trattoria di Vino in the neighborhood, where we headed on the night my consort got back from three solid weeks on the road and wanted good wine and a refuge from our 150-degree apartment. The wine kinda sucked, since there was only one rosé on the list and it was, of course, Italian (those guys make good whites and awesome reds but apparently not much in between). But my chopped salad turned out to be nothing like the slopped-out kind you get at a Hanson enterprise, with good borlotti and other beans mixed with diced zucchini and fennel and beets plus provolone and herbs. And Bob’s pasta bolognese looked sauce-to-tagliolini unbalanced but tasted perfect. Focaccia in the bread basket evoked Thanksgiving stuffing, but that’s not a dis. Our waiter was a bit of ditz, or just poorly trained, and the room reminded me of a hotel restaurant in Mumbai. But WIGB? Sure. We’d resisted the place for years as too pricey, but not now. 2427 Broadway near 89th Street, 212 787 3070.

The half-bleak: Columbus Tavern on the Upper West Side, where I steered Bob after “Midnight in Paris” after we were un-AC’d out of IFC and “Tabloid” and had planned on dinner at Fairway as a backup if we were shut out again. And the hostess could not have been smarter, admitting the enclosed sidewalk cafe would be sweltering and then giving us a table for four for two with a sidewalk view in the cooler dining room. From there on, however, it was downhill slow. It took forever for a waiter to materialize in the nearly empty room, and then it took him just short of forever to report back that the sauvignon blanc he’d touted was not in stock. We wound up with a too-fruity pinot blanc off the syrup-forward list and then spent the rest of the meal trying to flag down people to pour it. The warm biscuits with too-sweet lemon-chive butter were a nice touch, and Bob’s duck was a little sloppy but quite satisfying, with scallion pancakes and a hot-and-lively carrot slaw. But I should have known not to order the Tavern salad that had been done so well on our first visit. This time I got fresh and vibrant radicchio and frisee with just a few mellow leaves plus avocado and cucumber. It all was relatively cheap, and we did get a free show in a booth across the room of a young woman passed out with her angry parents, acting out what looked like pattern behavior on Winehouse weekend. Still, WIGB? Never say never, but the combination of shitty service and only fruity wines is not exactly seductive.

New York minutes/Early July 2011

July 2011

The seriously good: The Dutch, again, in SoHo, where my consort and I were able to walk right in after an early showing of “The Trip” at IFC on a holiday weekend and where the food was even better than we’d remembered. We got a nice corner table where we could sit side by side (inspiring far younger couples) in the happy front room, which is much quieter than the bar, and if the waiter was a bit ditsy and distracted and emptied the rosé bottle too fast, the busboy/runner was a total pro (little things that mean a lot: before clearing the silverware between courses, he discreetly checked the check to see what was arriving next). We’d had popcorn, so I wasn’t going to tackle a main course, which meant Bob got a rare shot at the duck option I always hog. And it was of course perfect, plus the dirty rice with it seemed even dirtier than the first go-round. We split asparagus with pork belly, poached egg and shaved bonito to start, which gets A for effort. Even the whole loaf of warm cornbread that arrives first seemed to have come into its own. But the total winner was my dressed crab, set over avocadoey Green Goddess in a Bloody Mary pool. That is the most amazing combination since the crab-jalapeño crostini at Locanda Verde. WIGB? Every night if I could. The food was even more enjoyable after the fussy stuff in the well-made movie. 131 Sullivan Street at Prince, 212 677 6200.

The seriously lame: The new Zero Otto Nove in the Flatiron, where we made the mistake of heading after the Greenmarket on Fourth of July weekend and where the fact that only three tables were occupied in the huge room should have been a warning that this would not end well. And of course the pizza we remembered as so great on Arthur Avenue, made by the same guy we’d seen tossin’ there, was half-assed, with a doughy crust and sloppily disbursed porcini and grape tomatoes over the mozzarella and Gorgonzola. The eggplant parmesan we shared to start was nearly cold at the center, which made its heaviness fork up even gloppier. The air conditioning was also emitting an annoying high-pitched whine, although the place looks to have cost a bloody fortune to design. But all that would be forgiven if not for the asshole waiter. He was not happy that he kept getting interrupted in his endless specials recitation by busboys trying to shove wads of cardboard to stop the table from rocking, on both sides. Then, when I asked the price of the special pizza, he just said: “How should I know?” Well, if you were going to be the one paying, Bub, you could keep your little secret. (He did admit what I suspected: It would be a lot more than pizzas on the menu.) And when I didn’t finish my half of the eggplant, he asked why. Excuse me? That’s between me and my hips. But his worst offense was lounging near our table so we couldn’t talk. Or dis the joint. WIGB? Not even for free pizza. Afterward we walked through Eataly to see if it was busy on that dead weekend, and we both agreed we’d have been happier eating in the Birreria. . .

The pretty good: Tenpenny in the Gotham Hotel in the Theater District, where we headed after the showing of students’ work at ICP and where the quiet alone would make it vaut le mini-voyage. The over-lit room is strange, and the emptiness didn’t make it any more inviting to us walk-ins, particularly after I’d gotten some bullshit about no tables when I’d called to reserve. But the servers were efficient, and the wine was generously poured. Pork belly tots, an appetizer, tasted underwhelming, neither porky nor totty enough. A starter of mixed spring vegetables was superb, though: roasted, raw, candied & crisped. And the black garlic spaghettini with lump crab, chorizo and charred scallions qualified as brilliant, one of the best pasta dishes ever. WIGB? Absolutely, even just to sit at the bar for a snack. Cuz it’s a wasteland around ICP. 16 East 46th Street, 212 490 8300.

The pretty reliable: Recipe, again, for my welcome back to this time zone after Italy; it’s always best there early at night before everyone gets anxious about turning tables. The cooking was not quite spot-on (pork was done to chew-toy state, and duck was too rare, and not in a good way). But the service was great. 452 Amsterdam Avenue near 81st Street, 212 501 7755. Under the same category, file Luke’s Lobster just down the avenue, where we collected our free roll after having bought 10. And that one was just as good as the first one.

The always good, even better with Twitter discount: Mermaid Inn uptown, where Bob and I loved our two most recent dinners even more for 20 percent off thanks to the secret code of the night. A table on the sidewalk only made things more enjoyable on a hot night. Both times Bob had the mustard-crusted trout with crushed cherry tomatoes and spinach; I had fine roasted cod with truffled mashed potatoes once and just a perfect soft-shell crab appetizer the second outing. (Seared shisito peppers were too bland, though.) A bottle of rosé went fine with each. WIGB? No question. It’s the best place for many blocks. Plus I sent Coloradans there and they were blown away. 568 Amsterdam near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.

The barely bearable: The newish Spice, where we met two friends for an early dinner rather than risk the new Saravanaa and where my promise of relative quiet was a joke. It wasn’t even full and we couldn’t hear each other talk, and we all had travel tales (they were just back from Paris, Bob from Oslo). And the waitress needed remedial English. Plus lessons in how to pour wine. But if was not cheap, the food was better than it had any right to be, especially the duck wrap (although with two few lettuce leaves provided), the papaya salad and the crispy duck main course. Even the Massaman vegetable curry was above average. WIGB? Unfortunately, yes, because of where it is, and what a bargain it is. But Mermaid never looked more enticing when we walked past afterward. 435 Amsterdam Avenue at 81st Street, 212 362 5861.

The port in a literal storm: Market Cafe in Hell’s Kitchen, where a friend in from Veneto and I retreated as the rain was threatening when he had only a quick window of time for catching up before his flight home after going to B&H. I heard no complaints about his steak frites although I should probably not have dissuaded him from ordering the salmon he really wanted after a week of too many sandwiches in the Outer Banks. And I had no complaints about my BLT, which was packed fatter with bacon than any I have ever eaten; there was more than enough to kittybag. Good fries with both were also copious. I don’t recall the service but will add redeeming points for the window table with a fabulous view of those buckets of rain. WIGB? Probably. Because I need to find more places around B&H and the 42d Street movie houses. 496 Ninth Avenue near 38th Street, 212 564 7350.