Archive for December, 2011

New York minutes/End o’ December 2011

December 2011

The old-style good: Tertulia in the West Village, where a Spain-obsessed friend lured my consort and me for brunch after we’d already gorged at the New Amsterdam Market and where you could almost imagine the ghost of La Palapa had been vanquished unless you wound up in a quarrel over how restaurants do tend to start fine but go to hell in this town. Our table was perfect aside from the bathroom in my sight line, and the ebullient waitress held her own when challenged after spouting silliness about sobrassada being an Italian sausage or a puree of some sort (I checked out at that point). I was most impressed by the marinated mushrooms with smoked ricotta on toast as an appetizer, which were super-flavorful and mostly made me wonder how the place could pull off the dish for only $9 with pine nuts included. I also liked my $14 coca, topped with the sausage in question plus caramelized onions, Mahon and done-right quail eggs (runny but not liquid). I’m no lamb lover, but the other two at the table were wowed by the ragout over creamy polenta with an egg as well, with cheese-slathered toasts on the side. And the garbanzos with romesco sauce baked with eggs and mustard greens were also nicely done. House wine, on tap, was only $8 a tumbler but also very house-y; the Basque wine for nearly twice as much would have been sent back by our mutual friend who lives on the France-Spain border. WIGB? Absolutely. Great room, nice people, a lot of energy, plus we got out for $40 a head with tax and good tip. 359 Sixth Avenue at Washington Place,  646 559 9909.

The new-style good: Parm in Nolita, where Bob and I headed on our expedition to the Lee Friedlander xmas photo show and where our timing was perfect — he left his mobile number, we went through the gallery and two others in the same building and we got the call just as we were done. So we walked straight to a table in the back (next to a double for Megan in “Bridesmaids”). As with Chang joints, and Torrisi’s the original, this place is all about the food, not the frippery (paper placemats, napkins etc). Spicy broccoli rabe was as garlicky/fiery as at Torrisi’s, while “B&G poppers” — peppers stuffed with cheese and teamed with spicy dip — were addictive. Our one quibble with the pickled vegetables (cauliflower, celery, carrot, etc.) was simply that they would have been even better if the kitchen had held off on to serve them as a counterpoint to our shared main, an $11 meatball parm hero, the meat cooked soft, nicely seasoned and tomatoed right. WIGB? Absolutely, even though it made me laugh to think that what we were eating is standard fare in Bob’s boyhood home, where they would freak at $25 veal parm for dinner. 248 Mulberry Street between Prince and Spring, 212 993 7189.

New York minutes/Early December 2011

December 2011

The nearly perfect: Momofuku Ssam, where my consort suggested we head for lunch on a good friend’s advice after our neighborhood Greenmarket diverted us to Union Square in search of turkey nether regions and where we could only wish for an uptown branch, ideally slightly north of the Milk Bar. As directed, we ordered at the back counter and chose seats at the elevated communal tables facing the rotisserie; while Bob was washing his hands and I was back ordering a glass of wine, our first three choices landed: sublime pulled-pork buns with smoky mayonnaise; broccoli crunchy with smoked bluefish vinaigrette, and perfectly fried duck dumplings laid over pickled red cabbage teamed with sriracha mayonnaise for dipping. Our duck sandwich (banh mi, the menu did not say) was just as sensational, the filling like sliced duck sausage. Every single staffer was professional but engaged, too. WIGB? Can’t wait — especially after watching a duck spin on a spit and everyone around us tuck into rotisserie duck on rice, with or without chive pancakes. 207 Second Avenue at 13th Street.

The seriously good: Osteria Morini in SoHo, where we were able to meet Jersey friends dying to try it because we reserved (online) on a Monday night. We under-ordered, but I at least felt full after tasting three pastas and a bit of two mains (seafood in brodo, mixed grill). The pastas were Italy-worthy, particularly the garganelle with radicchio, cream, prosciutto and truffle butter and the stracci (“pasta rags”) with mushrooms. One friend also knew to ask for the off-the-menu chocolate dessert, essentially a big bowl of melted chocolate. Service was relaxed but superb, and the noise level was bearable. But the wine list tilted toward downtown; the cheapest still red was $46 (at least it was as singular as promised). WIGB? Definitely, although we may try another White joint first. 218 Lafayette Street near Spring, 212 965 8777.

The pretty good: Sookk on the Upper West Side, where we met up with Dr. Bugs before his appointment with our landline and where the food/space were so much better than you would expect in this glasian wasteland. I realize lunch in is a whole other experience from delivery, but I’d rate it at least a B. The room is tiny but nicely designed, even if the textile rolls on the walls do invoke a fabric store, and the staff is super-accommodating. The deal is $7/8 for sublime soup plus appetizer of choice plus main course (w/ or w/out rice) plus coconut ice cream. No wonder none of us cared that our curry/pad see euw/rama dishes were just adequate — fresh hot sauce helped. The good shiitake spring rolls only needed to be dunked into the fried chicken dumplings’ sauce to sing, and the dessert was as finely wrought as the soup. WIGB? Can’t wait, especially with vegetarian friends who are still wasting time/calories at Aangan close by. 2686 Broadway between 102d and 103d, 212 870 0253.

And the abysmal: Landmarc in the dread TWC, where I am mortified to admit that I led five others after the too-long, too self-congratulatory “Artist” in overpriced-restaurantland  and where everything was one step above a diner. I asked the hostess for a quiet spot, and after letting us the reserved cool our heels in the crowded entrance while walk-ins were seated she led us to a back dining room with interrogation-room lighting where two huge tables were sitting, un-set. And we took it because she promised “privacy.” And it went downhill from there. We split the chewy, gummy fried calamari, and it arrived before our wine. (If the waiter had put in the app order later, he might have sold a second bottle.) The busboy cleared away bread plates sloppily before our “mains” arrived, one of which, the calves liver, looked like a fried-hard abortion. (Sunday special of spaghetti and meatballs looked emptied from a can by that good old chef, Boyardee.) And my Caesar looked as if someone had flicked something from a nostril onto rusty-edged romaine; I sent it back while audibly hoping no one spit on it (the replacement was okay). The waiter went AWOL, the busboy crudely cleared everyone’s plates while one person was still eating and we had to beg for water refills. At least it wasn’t deafening, but by the end we had all noticed the sound went up whenever a song started and then down again. We spent too much time after the table was cleared thinking of where we should have gone (consensus: Loi). Thank allah someone thought to check whether service had been added before we surrendered credit cards: Yes, it was 20 percent on the taxed total. WIGB? That AWOL waiter resurfaced to toss out a jaunty “see you later” as we were leaving, and it was all I could do not to respond: “Not on a fucking bet.” I’m even having severe reservations about ever going to Ditch Plains again. I ruined five people’s evening.

New York minutes/Late November 2011

December 2011

The really good: Tacos Morelos in Queens, where four of us were steered by a DM to the Village Voice’s expert after our excursion to the totally awesome Louis Armstrong House/Museum in Corona. The neighborhood is lined with funky little taquerias and steam tables of all Central American persuasion, so my hopes were low. But this place was bright and cheery, with a full bar to boot (where the friendly owner spent part of our meal hanging Santas on poles and trapezes). The (free) salty chips tasted freshly fried and came with outstanding salsa. The chile relleno taco was even better than promised by the VV, a cheese-stuffed poblano that had been perfectly battered and fried and then laid onto orange rice in a good-size corn tortilla, with pickled jalapeño and onion for acidic heat. I didn’t brave my consort’s lengua and goat tacos, or our other friend’s roasted pork taco, or the third friend’s vegetarian tacos, but I liked the nopales salad well enough, mostly for the other elements: ripe avocado, sliced sweet peppers, mixed greens, lime juice. We did share guacamole that our friend just back from Mexico said was better than he had there. But the standout dish was my gordita, easily the best ever this far north of El Paso: crisp masa dough sandwiched with lettuce, cheese and crema, with green and red salsas for jazziness. Margaritas were fine, especially for $5 each, and the mojito was surprisingly decent as well. WIGB? I would spend more than an hour to get there to try some more of the less familiar options. That gordita haunts me. 94-13 37th Avenue, 347 332 91

The not great: Cascabel Taqueria on the Upper West Side, where we decided to brave Saturday brunch to avoid the cacophony we’d been warned of and where the room, service, prices etc. delivered everything the highly touted food did not. Queso fundido came in a Lilliputian cast-iron skillet with little evidence of rajas and even less of chorizo but with an abundance of bitter char on the cheese. (Lesson: Order it only at Rosa Mexicano, which does it so much better and larger [although I don’t care about the latter] for the same price.) Bob was baffled why the kitchen could not mix and match taco fillings as every other restaurant does, so he was stuck with two overloaded carnitas that were decidedly out of balance and totally underwhelming. Halfway through he asked: WIGB? And we agreed — not in any rush. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t good enough to keep us from walking up Broadway and into Chipotle to compare prices and options. Our few $ woulda been better dropped there.

The geographically perfect: Donatella in Chelsea, where we headed with four friends after a screening at the SVA theater and where at least my consort’s and my orders were outstanding (Enzo pizza with sausage, pecorino, smoked mozzarella and broccoli rabe plus a really good arugula salad with grilled zucchini and a bit of ricotta salata). Good service and wine, but the soggy/sad margarita pizza was a serious reflection of the distracted owner. 184 Eighth Avenue near 19th Street, 212 493 5150

The increasingly reliable: Elizabeth’s on the Upper West Side, for the third time, where I hooked up with Bob on a rainy/cold early evening and where we had the place almost to ourselves, with none of the threatened hoarseness on screaming through dinner. Fish and chips was even better, not to mention more copious, than the first time I had it (how often does that happen?) and the wings I stupidly advised him to order were at least artfully executed despite the too-sweet coating. Our shared salad rated an A, not least for the anything-but-ordinary radishes. WIGB? Always and forever. Can’t believe the same owners inflicted Gabriela’s on the neighborhood. 680 Columbus Avenue at 93d Street, 212 280 6500.