Archive for October, 2011

New York minutes/End of October 2011

October 2011

The pretty good: Nam in Tribeca, where a friend and I headed for quiet and snacks after Kurt Gutenbrunner’s superb book party at Blaue Gans (as social as being in someone’s home but with better food and real waiters working hard at keeping glasses and mouths full). The Nam waiter was a little brusque, and no one was happy to have us linger till closing time, but the food came through. We ordered four appetizers, which turned out to be way too many after pralined foie gras: summer rolls with beef and with shrimp, sausage and peanuts plus five-spice baby back ribs and grilled eggplant with ginger and lime. WIGB? Anytime I’m in that neighborhood. It’s great value in a sleek space. 110 Reade Street at West Broadway, 212 267 1777.

The even better: Red Rooster Harlem, where my consort just back from a week of food hell at a workshop in Kentucky insisted we head for Monday lunch as walk-ins and where the setting and service rivaled the cooking. I won’t eat catfish and two of the offerings involved farmed salmon, so of course I had to have the cheeseburger, which was $16 worth of excellent, sauced with a spicy mayonnaise and topped with mushrooms, red onions, tomato and lettuce; the great fries were tossed with baby arugula and lots of salt although the truffle flavor was AWOL. Bob’s “yard bird” was all it’s been billed as, a big plateful of juicy, perfectly fried breast and leg, laid over perfect collard greens with a little spicy sauce on the side. As he guessed, it was roasted first, as we learned on gawking at the kitchen and being invited over by the expediter to check out the wood oven (and then meet all the cooks). The vibe in the place that day was amazing, as were the beautifully designed bathrooms. (Not so sure about writing Crisco on the dining room wall, though — why not Spry?) WIGB? Absolutely, although I’d guess it would be insane for dinner. 310 Lenox Avenue just north of 125th Street, 212 792 9001.

The aurally alluring: Lyon in the West Village, where we met a friend who was in from New Hope for a photo event and had one request for a destination, that it be quiet enough to talk. The food and wine and service were all fine, although I’m not sure why we three were seated right up against the service/ordering station in a nearly empty dining room. But we could talk. And talk, through a second bottle of Crozes Hermitage. I think I liked the silk weaver’s brains the best, the herbed cheese spread from Lyon, because it was paired with Virginia ham and crudités and Bob was smart enough to ask how to tackle it — just wrap the ham around the vegetable and dunk. “Barbecued” duck wings were as good as the first time we had them, meaty and sticky-sweet, and I made them a main course with a side of excellent broccoli rabe, the bitterness muted by halved cherry tomatoes and sweet onions. Since I ordered those, Bob was liberated for once to grab the duck, and it was nice enough, a perfectly cooked breast over a buckwheat crepe enfolding pearl barley and kale and (imperceptible as always) “truffle.” I didn’t try the other Bob’s chicken, but he seemed happy. WIGB? Anytime. I was underwhelmed by the food in the real Lyon. This is the perfect detour. 118 Greenwich Avenue at West 12th/Jane Streets, 212 242 5966.

The addictive: Milk Bar on the Upper West Side, where I’m going to have to complain to the community board about that neon sign. It’s like a damn siren song every time I pass by, even after a party where I gorged on great cheese and still had to stop for a compost or corn cookie.

The emulative: The very different bars at Regional and Boulud Sud, both on the Upper West Side, where I was amazed by the “happy to serve you” attitude. At the former we  met a friend in from Santa Barbara to promote an admirable book, and I’d chosen it because it was nearly equidistant between where she was staying and we live. It was happy hour, and the bartender not only came over to the communal table to take our orders but volunteered that a Chianti and a pinot grigio could be had for $5 a glass, so we were able to have two for one. As we left, a proprietary-looking woman with a baby on her hip came over to thank us for coming. We will be back. At BS, I decided we need to quit wasting real money in dive bars where the crap wine is $11 or $12 a glass and you can’t hear your brain cells die for the din. Meeting a Twitter connection in from out of town, I had a nice glass of picpoul from the Languedoc for all of $9, and even as the restaurant filled up she and I could still talk easily. When another woman came in and asked us to move down a barstool, the bartender topped off our wineglasses for free for complying. As my consort had warned after having a similarly great experience there recently, the crowd is a bit fogeyish. But I’ll take it. Kids are not always all right.

New York minutes/Late October 2011

October 2011

The not bad: Mee Noodle Shop in Hell’s Kitchen, where my consort and I wound up with our Taiwanese-rooted friend when I missed the message that Bouchon Bakery was the actual destination for our catch-up lunch. As she warned, the place is a hole in the wall that feels like China, although it’s large enough that the hostess showed me to a table for four when I stupidly arrived first and then let me vegetate there while the other tight tables turned constantly. I reflexively went for duck on dry noodles (which were actually just sauced enough), but Bob was smart to listen to Pam and order a far better home-style dish of pickled cabbage with pork that had been julienned and fried to float in noodle soup. I was fine with my timid dish, and the tab was probably what one lunch would have cost in her chosen connection point. Still, WIGB? Nah. Too many new Chinese places are trying harder.

File under Home Kitchen: Just a note to say I had to cook ribs several times for a magazine piece this week, and the difference between those bought directly from Flying Pigs Farm and those just labeled USA at Whole Foods was astonishing. Pork that is not from the belly of the beast kind of grosses me out because I know too much (lived in Iowa, live with a National Geographic photographer who has tales to tell that are only matched by his friends’). But the local ribs tasted totally clean.

New York minutes/Mid-October 2011

October 2011

The good, now that I’m over my snit: Crema in Chelsea, where my fried consort suggested we head after an exhausting morning at the Greenmarket on Union Square. I’d been boycotting it since a bad experience so long ago I can’t even remember, but his instincts were, as usual, dead-on. We got a table in the back right away and had superb service from one personable waiter; the $10 margarita was huge and perfectly blended, and the food dazzled. Bob’s chilaquiles easily outshone Hecho en Dumbo’s, which outshone El Paso Taqueria’s, but my chile relleno was a reinvention that could redeem the whole category of stuffed peppers. A roasted poblano was presented on a crispy flour tortilla alongside a little cylinder of good tomatillo salsa, with the pepper not battered or fried but slit open and loaded with eggs scrambled with chorizo and chipotle-flavored (I think) potatoes. The whole assemblage was presented on a schmear of black beans, so if you tackled correctly you got nearly everything in one bite. WIGB? Now, absolutely. 111 West 17th Street, 212 691 4497.

The aurally correct: Ditch Plains on the Upper West Side, again, where we wound up with friends after the underwhelming “Contagion” and where, once again, the deserted dining room was nearly half the allure. I didn’t taste the deviled eggs or fried calamari across the booth but can vouch for the plain Caesar and the spicy salad, again (shrimp or no shrimp, the heat redeems it). I did snare a bite of the Ditchbar ice cream sandwich, with mint flavoring, which was great. Three of us shared a good $38 bottle of Spanish red, and this time no one lost a molar to the saltwater taffy. WIGB? Definitely. 100 West 82d Street, 212 352 4815.

New York minutes/Early October 2011

October 2011

The good again: Ditch Plains on the Upper West Side, where we ducked in for wine and salads after popcorn at the outstanding “Moneyball” (“it’s a metaphor”). Jewish holidays really are the best nights to try anything in this town — the place was as empty as the theater,  and not in a depressing way; we got a booth for just the two of us and great service. The half-bottle list should be a deal-breaker, but as Bob points out, not only can we each indulge in our own color but we’d likely drink two glasses anyway. For $18 I got two and a half of a very lively Gavi from Piemonte. Seafood Cobb salad was too much to finish even in the appetizer size, with salmon, shrimp (WTF was I thinking not to have them hold it), bacon and avocado, and the spicy salad with shrimp was just as jazzy and carefully prepared as it was the first time we ever had it. WIGB? I hope it lasts, because: yes. A menu that huge should not be that consistent. 100 West West 82d Street off Columbus, 212 362 4815.

The great addition to the neighborhood: Momofuku Milk Bar, where we stopped to try the buns and pick up a corn cookie after the Sunday Greenmarket. We expected a huge line, but only half a dozen people were ahead of us, and the serene staff kept things moving even while taking the time to get everything right. Then the 10-minute wait for the buns had to be half that. The $8 pork was good, with juicy meat and cucumbers, but the vegetable for $1 less tasted almost meatier, with mushrooms topped with a sauce, carrot slivers and sprouts. Sriracha took the flavors higher, of course. And the corn cookie was perfection. WIGB? I’m thinking we should walk down for breakfast — the pastrami and cheese and the pistachio croissants looked awfully tempting, and the mile round trip would be a good start to the day. 561 Columbus Avenue at 87th.