Archive for September, 2011

New York minutes/Latish September 2011

September 2011

The good: Elsewhere in Hell’s Kitchen, where we headed after a great presentation nearby at CUNY on the hometown paper’s digital innovations (news to me because I read the print version). My consort called ahead to be sure we’d get a table in this new age of Theater District restaurants busy after 8, and the hostess was totally engaging as she led us to a nice table in the front. As Bob told the offended waitress, the menu is in dire need of a graphic designer, but at least we were able to navigate the wine list to the cheaper choices on tap (sauvignon blanc for $9 for me was fine). We shared wine-braised kale with tomatoes that was odd but good enough to inspire us to make something sorta similar at home for a dinner party a few nights later. I had a frisee salad dressed with creme fraiche and mixed with chunks of pickled eggs and good bacon plus dried cherries and walnuts; what I kittybagged home was even better next day, after the bitter greens had fully absorbed the light but creamy dressing. And I only tasted the accoutrements in Bob’s grilled octopus salad, but it seemed fine. As were the peppery/buttery biscuits that accompanied it all. WIGB? Absolutely. This is not your grandmother’s Theater District. 403 West 43d Street, 212 315 2121.

The not bad: Brickyard, also in Hell’s Kitchen, where we landed after leaving the extraordinary documentary “Position Among the Stars” at MOMA and desperately searching “gastropub” on Menupages. Where has this place been the last 18 months? It was happy hour, so my Chilean SB was only $5 (after a lame Californian for $9), and Bob was beyond happy with the Ommegang beers on tap. He had a huge, juicy, perfectly cooked pork chop with truffled mashed potatoes and I had a very satisfying house salad with roast turkey (fresh), goat cheese, avocado, bacon, cherry tomatoes etc. The waiter and host performed above and beyond in both jobs. WIGB? Sure. It’s more pub than gastro, but the price, service, location were right. 785 Ninth Avenue near 52d 212 767 4582.

The good again: Coppelia on the West Village/Chelsea border, where we ducked in after the Greenmarket and before cooking for a dinner party, thinking we could get in and out as we had on a holiday weekend. Yikes. The place was slammed. It took a while to get everything, from water to the little (not-so-great this time) breads, but my short rib nachos had flavor/texture/jazziness to spare, and Bob’s chicharrone salad with Romaine, tomatoes, roast pork and fried egg was perfection, dressed just enough with sherry vinaigrette and flecked with blue cheese. WIGB? Definitely, and not least because it’s right on the route back to the C train with overladen bags. 207 West 14th Street near Seventh Avenue, 212 858 5001.

New York minutes/Mid-September 2011

September 2011

The good: Zoe on the Lower East Side, where my consort and I met up after a news photography opening in Nolita, with a detour to September Wines when I thought to ask about liquor license/credit cards. We’re friends with the chef/owner’s dad, but I reserved in my own name with the idea that I could just not write about it if it underperformed, to use a euphemism. And he arrived just after we were seated, but we stayed where we were, at a great window table. The place is tiny, and the menu is short and savory and, because it was BYO, very affordable ($55 before tip, after we brought in a $10 rosé). I’m a sucker for rillettes and Bob agreed to that appetizer because it was made with turkey instead of duck. The fatty meat was studded with capers and meant to be spread onto warm toasted baguette drizzled with the chef’s mom’s Tuscan olive oil. TCM also got credit for the outstanding eggplant parmesan, the texture almost creamy, with smoked Gouda rather than mozzarella. I can’t stomach lamb but insisted Bob order the enticing appetizer of ribs and breast, and we both were impressed. The meat was not gamy, and the ribs were succulent, the breast tender inside its breaded and fried crust; tzatziki and peppery pickled cherry tomatoes provided the perfect counterpoints. Radicchio salad with capers, anchovy and Parmesan hit the middle note a little too high for me, though. WIGB? Absolutely, especially after a movie at Landmark Sunshine around the corner. 245 Eldridge Street, 646 559 5962.

The not bad: Toloache taqueria in the Financial District, where we headed between mind-blowing experiences with the Guggenheim’s “stillspotting” music. This was around 3 on a Saturday afternoon, and the place was deserted, but as soon as we ordered the cooks leapt into action, and before long it was thronged. Bob ordered three tacos with the only fillings on offer, with no chicken or pork available, and I asked for tortilla soup, then threw in a small order of guacamole. That soup might be the best I’ve ever had, the base more like an enchilada sauce than the usual chicken broth, with tiny squares of corn tortillas and a good amount of grated cheese to be mixed in to enrich and texturize. Salsa, both on the table and delivered fresh, outshone the guacamole. As for the tacos, the brisket ruled, the huitlacoche was acceptable and the tilapia died on the platter. I balked at tipping when paying at the register but went back afterward to drop in some dollars because the staff was so enthusiastic and happy to serve — whatever Julian Medina is doing, every restaurateur should emulate. WIGB? Sin duda, if I were in the neighborhood. Too much food came to $17 before tip. 83 Maiden Lane near William Street, 212 809 9800.

The fascinating: Isa in Williamsburg, where young friends who live nearby lured us for an early catch-up dinner on a Saturday night. None of us expected to be able to get in, but I was encouraged to see people even older than Bob and I ensconced when we walked in with our BYO wines. All I really knew about the place was what I’d read in the hometown paper, about the care in designing it, so I was a little surprised it had been done to hobbit scale. But the staff let us sit for more than three hours at one long communal table while they did the squirming and wriggling needed to serve us, so I won’t complain. Only three entrees were on offer, but most of went us for the great-sounding appetizers: mussels with coco beans on crisp Baltic bread under a forest of pea shoots and parsley; fat and juicy wood-roasted shrimp with squid ink; four good slices of La Quercia prosciutto; pungent pickled daikon with kombu and shaved horseradish; a whole sardine boned and laid alongside its deep-fried skeleton and meaty head with olives with celery (no comment); cubes of melon enfolded with yogurt in sweet potato leaves with a dusting of toasted seeds, plus a salad of Treviso radicchio, cabbage, “nut cheese” and granola. One intrepid soul among us ordered a main, slow-cooked cod with fish roe, carrots and seaweed. What I tasted of it was exceptional. We all stuck spoons into an odd little dessert of apple rings topped with a quenelle of chestnutty honey ice cream and garnished with buckwheat crunch. That was reaching higher and not quite attaining exceptional. WIGB? No, but only because I see so many other temptations in Williamsburg. Anyone else? Go. 348 Wythe Avenue at South Second Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 347 689 3594.

New York minutes/End of August 2011

September 2011

The good: Frankie’s 17 on the Lower East Side, where we headed after the Eater/Food 52 Bib party and its clever tidbits and cocktails. The waiter was capable if disengaged, but the food more than compensated, especially the house-made cavatelli with Faicco’s hot sausage and sage butter. WIGB? If I were in the neighborhood; otherwise, it’s on to 570 with great anticipation. 17 Clinton Street, 212 253 2303.

The better: Coppelia on the West Village/Chelsea border, where we stopped for Saturday lunch after the Greenmarket and left impressed with everything. Usually an empty restaurant is a sloppy restaurant, but the staff could not have acted happier to serve us, and both the flounder tacos and the pork-stuffed Cubano were little masterpieces of balanced tastes and textures. The two breads that arrived first were also outstanding. Plus the place looks great, and the music was lively but not loud and not the inevitable Buena Vista Social Club. WIGB? Happily. 207 West 14th Street between Seventh and Eighth, 212 858 5001.

The great: Fedora in the West Village, where we scored a table after seeing “Tabloid” the night before hurricane lockdown and where we would have been happy to count that as our last meal if necessary. Everything sounded tantalizing and turned out to be more creative than it read. We just had three appetizers: Egg in a hole with tripe ragout and cheese was a little exercise in overkill, and the charred squid was dainty but gutsy. Best of all was what was described as cured char with potato pancake, avocado and tobiko, which turned out to be more like a dosa, with a light pancake enfolding the other ingredients. Brilliant. Add in good wine, great service and a tolerable noise level and there’s no question of WIGB. 239 West Fourth Street between West Tenth and Charles, 646 449 9336.

The spectacular: Torrisi Italian Specialties even at lunchtime, where we headed on a Di Palo’s run for the cheapest Illy in town. Bob is down on sandwiches but was pretty happy with the two-fisted Italian combo, stuffed with meats and cheese for all of $8. Broccoli rabe for $3 was even better, almost half the little bowl made of up garlic and hot peppers. But the knockout was the $10 eggplant Parmesan; exquisite is not a word you associate with that concoction, but this was a marvel of very thin, perfectly breaded-and-fried eggplant slices layered with just enough cheese and sauce. It was an architectural marvel as well as a taste sensation, as good as the best in Parma. The server also deserves points for  being so upbeat and accommodating even when the tiny place was packed. WIGB? In an unhyped second. 250 Mulberry Street, 212 965 0955. (Also have to rave about Di Palo’s, which has expanded its display cases and is now even easier to navigate and which is always a trip. The owner waited on us, giving us tastes of two pecorinos and a Parmigiano and taking his time explaining mozzarella and sausage options. Plus he calculated the tab to the penny before ringing it up on the old-fashioned register: $77.66, including six cans of Illy, half at $9.99, the rest at $8.99.)

The also-rans: A) Hecho en Dumbo turned out to be better than it had any right to be at brunch once we settled in at a quiet table and saw the menu was kinda gouge-y unless you want a honking margarita — I took one for the team and it definitely mellowed me out even before my exceptional torta of rajas con queso landed. Bob’s chilaquiles also redeemed the reputation of that dish, which is so often just dishwatery dull.

B) The New French in the West Village, where we wound up with three friends at one’s suggestion after Pearl was overrun early after “The Future” (and let me warn you — you’ll need more friends to understand how much that movie had going on). I had pretty much given up on the place since the chef went westward and the sidewalk stressed everyone else, but we did well, thanks to Bob braving the elements and getting us one o’ those sidewalk tables, risking the rain but saving our eardrums. And the cooking has held up. Cobb salad reinvented had no poultry but blue cheese dressing, all nicely done.

C) Ditch Plains on the Upper West Side, where we had a nice quiet early dinner and two half-bottles of red/white wine at $20 apiece. Excellent deviled eggs were set over chopped lettuce, which kept them stable and added crunch. And the option of bacon in a chopped salad was genius, especially when that means lardons. Bob was not as thrilled with his chicken with rice and beans, though; the side seemed lackluster.