Archive for November, 2011

New York minutes/Late November 2011

November 2011

The seriously good: Settepani in Harlem, where we met friends who had wanted to brave Red Rooster but heeded our NFW for dinner. Not only could we walk there and back, but everything about the sleek place was ideal even though a large family was celebrating a young birthday near our table. Which was in the front, near the window, where two of us could watch the street and all of us could hear easily. The waiter gets an A, not least for his advice on the wine and food (why do we think employees have ever eaten what they’re asked to recommend?) And that wine and food were both reasonably priced and supremely satisfying, but we all woke up the next morning most appreciative of how serene the experience had been, and how the whole attitude was like being in either of our living rooms; there was no sense of being rushed. As for the food, everything seemed cooked to order, starting with our shared appetizer of very creamy polenta topped with sausage. Spaghetti with shellfish baked in parchment tasted lively and fresh, and we’ll all still be digesting the osso buco with polenta at Christmas (which is high praise for authenticity). My mushroom lasagne was a too-big-to-finish slab topped with good bechamel that I wished had been baked longer; the kittybagged portion was even better reheated next day. But the most impressive entree was the special duck, with none of the tired/reheated aspect you usually suffer with  either breast or leg. Cabbage with it was dazzling as well (and when does cabbage ever merit that adjective?) We all split one panna cotta, billed as fruits of the forest but described as including blood orange, with a couple of biscotti plus a strawberry and whipped cream. One more indicator of Italian authenticity: The sweet was an afterthought. WIGB? I’m amazed the place is not mobbed by my own neighbors, given how good and how accessible it is. Even the panhandler on the walk home who called me and one friend “crackers” for not giving him money made it vaut le voyage. 196 Lenox Avenue near 120th Street, 917 492 4806

The good again: Loi, where my consort and I went back twice in a week for atmosphere, service and, especially, food. (Fairway: Step up your game!) The first time we went with a friend who wanted a real meal while we were just looking to top off “Into the Abyss” popcorn with eggplant and salad. Her scallops were kinda strange, but the portion was huge and everything else was outstanding: an amuse of mini-stuffed grape leaves plus Greekesque crostini, great bread with peppery olive oil, good white wine, free desserts. The second time we got snappier service but food just as great. The Greek salad by another name was a really satisfying mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions and olives with a paving stone of mild cheese over the top and a dusting of anything-but-dusty oregano. The moussaka was just as marvelous as the first time, the vegetable almost melting into the meat. I didn’t try one friend’s honking-huge slab of salmon, but we all agreed the grilled calamari with pistachio and parsley sauce was outstanding. Best of all: We arrived with no reservation at a fully committed restaurant and were able not just to score a good table but were in and out for a dance performance even with the usual free desserts afterward. WIGB? Early and often, despite the crowd (sometimes “Sex & the City” raucous, other times God’s waiting room). 208 West 70th Street, 212 875 8600.

New York minutes/November 2011

November 2011

The pretty good: Elizabeth’s around the corner, where my consort and I headed with two neighbors on co-op newsletter reconnaissance and where we were thrilled until we came home and rode the elevator up with another neighbor who said it rated only a B+ for location. But that’s pretty damned good for this neighborhood. Certainly the owner’s wife could not have been more welcoming, insisting we take her favorite seats, in an elevated booth in the bar, and spending time to talk through the concept (sustainable/accountable) and the back-story (cut it a break for being related to abysmal Gabriela’s next door). Whoever is in charge earns extra points for letting the kitchen get its street legs, holding off on the specials of the day while the place is slammed. Our shared starter of three spreads was marred only by a bit o’ olive pit in the tapenade; the whipped feta and white bean puree were fine. My fish and chips, billed as made from Chatham cod, was fine, and Bob liked the fried chicken, with non-gummy macaroni and cheese plus greens, even though the Red Rooster version was fresh in his taste memory. Our friends also seemed happy with the butternut squash soup, crab cakes and Cobb salad. The Chilean chardonnay we ordered was priced right and tasted close enough to sauvignon blanc that we had a second bottle ($28 an unscrewing). WIGB? Location, location, location. Plus the tiles in the bathrooms are almost vaut le voyage. 680 Columbus Avenue at 93d Street, 212 280 6500.

New York minutette

November 2011

Until we were lounging next to the carefully apportioned wine at the Eater Awards party I never realized just how much my consort dreads the food events I drag him to because I feel bad about leaving him home to a martini and roast chicken with The Cat. (Why do I go? You never know . . . ) Before we got there I’d invested a good half-hour researching where we might forage afterward in that neighborhood; as he testily warned, “We’re going to need to eat and drink.” Usually it’s Night of the Locusts, with scrums at the bar and food tables and with din to beat your eardrums to deaf. But this was one of the very few mega-fetes run right. Although the place was packed, the 99% young crowd knew all about personal space — we could easily thread our way to the food, plus you didn’t have to scream to talk. And while we joked about the classy plastic wineglasses, they did seem to have a calming effect on partygoers, servers and busboys alike. When nothing is breakable, you have nothing to fear. Only one restaurant represented ran out of food, but even it had brought emergency backup chocolates. Two notes on the tastings: Those Pok Pok wings must come from chicken from another planet, one where the fowl have gyms. And I suspect the nation-famous Franklin Barbecue brisket out of Austin did not run out because it was probably the most cerebral BBQ I’ve ever encountered (and I’m old). The meat was amazingly tender, but as Bob said, the flavor was nuanced. You would never want to hoover it, just eat thoughtfully. And then go straight home, with no $150 wasted in a crapass restaurant that just happens to be near the party venue.

New York minutes/Early November 2011

November 2011

The good: Loi, next door to Cafe Luxembourg, where attention-paying friends suggested we meet before the snooze-inducing “Ides of March” nearby and where the only off notes were the beginning and the end. Those first: I walked in, gave our friends’ name, the “hostess” said they had already arrived . . . and then picked up the phone for a protracted call. (One thing I learned while working as a shoe dog in my downtime as a bookkeeper was that the customer in front of you always takes precedence.) And although our desserts were comped, none of them impressed us. But everything else did, especially grilled calamari with parsley-pistachio sauce, the “meat” in thin, tender twirls; a green salad with a great smoked cheese, and amazingly delicate moussaka. Service was top-level, the sound level low. WIGB? Absolutely. The celeb chef herself came by to answer questions (like how she got the eggplant so light: soaked it in milk first) and say we would be getting desserts. The curse of Compass may finally be vanquished. 208 West 70th Street, 212 875 8600.

The impressive: The Foundry in Long Island City, where I schlepped for an event I stupidly assumed was promoting salmon but was really about saving Bristol Bay in Alaska from greedy mining polluters. (As one of several excellent speakers said: “You can’t eat gold.”) I know the owners and had been to a private party there, but by car; like several other guests, I almost didn’t go because it seemed kinda scary to walk to alone from the subway. But it was not at all unnerving, and what a perfect space, with plenty of room for the bar, a separate room for the chefs’ stations, an ideal noise level etc. etc. The next organizer thinking of cramming a promo party into a Manhattan shoebox should consider crossing the water. I had a third glass of wine to soak up all the salmon and good hors d’, knowing I would be fine getting home.