Archive for April, 2012

New York minutes/Early to mid-April 2012

April 2012

The totally good: Perla in the West Village, in the space that was our great friend Rolando’s magical Bellavitae, where we headed after I met my consort post-”Jiro” at IFC and where the wait was worth it, not least because it’s such a great corner on which to cool heels, with Amy’s Bread and Murray’s Cheese just across Sixth Avenue. We came back with heels cooled and bags full to be seated at a lovely booth with the most attentive service. And awesome food. Even Mr. Sprat agreed our shared foie gras tramezzini with pistachios and cherry were exquisite. And we both scored with garganelli with tripe and guanciale and with cavatelli with pancetta, egg and pecorino; both the portion size and the balance of flavors were faithfully Italian. But what made this a resounding yes to WIGB? was the service. Superb. 24 Minetta Lane, 212 933 1824.

The pretty good: ABV Wine Bar on the Upper East Side, where I lured Bob on a night when we both needed a diversion and when the prospect of a walk in the park followed by interesting food paid off big time. The place, in a long-abandoned brownstone, is a bigger spinoff of a tiny bar that opened not so long ago on Park Avenue, and the whole experience was like eating in Brooklyn. We snared seats at the bar and soon had interesting wines and an explanation of the name: (A(cohol) B(y) V(olume). We split a basket of decent fried smelt with how-can-you-go-wrong sriracha-tobiko sauce to start, then quite good gnocchi with root vegetables and mushrooms and then two scallops buried in cauliflower cream with cremini. A salad of bitter greens with banana-walnut butter, oats and shallot vinaigrette coulda been dessert. WIGB? Absolutely, but only on the early side. I suspect it might get loud later. 1504 Lexington Avenue at 97th Street, 212 722 8959.

The good again: The second-floor cafe at MOMA, where we settled in after the kick-in-the-head Cindy Sherman show with a friend in from DC and where the food/service/setting again matched the museum quality. Kainaz and I were hungry earlier than the breakfaster who’d had oatmeat with egg, tofu and sriracha, but Bob indulged us, so we were able to beat the line and get a nice spot at the window counter. We split the excellent bruschetti (cauliflower, mozzarella with olives, hummus with prosciutto and arugula), then rigatoni with pork and fennel in a tomato cream sauce (needed salt), salad with bresaola, candied pecans, dried cranberries and blue cheese, and the always-good mushroom tart. It did add up ($77 with 10 percent tip), but the guy who paid agreed: It was worth it.

The great with an asterisk: Excellent Thai in Flushing, where a friend in an eating group lured us for a Sunday lunch meet-up and where I got a refresher course in the payoff in letting go. With 12 at our big table, I just sat back and let the leader lead; he was the one who lived in Taiwan and who had sussed out the owner’s Burmese roots and homed in on the unusual offerings on a menu encompassing Thai, Malaysian, Burmese and Yunnan. So it was one dazzlement after another: Yellow tofu salad (made from peas, not soybeans, and much richer-tasting) with a spicy sauce. Tea leaves salad, like nothing I have ever tasted, with both crunch and heat. Shredded pork with bamboo shoots, which the outstanding waitress said we could not like (the shoots were kinda funky, but in a great way). Sautéed sweet potato leaf, which could have been anything but was perfectly done anything. Green beans, crunchy okra and baby eggplant Belaran, in a rich curry sauce. Beef with ginger and scallion, though, was perfectly cooked and greaseless but tasted like something you could get anywhere. The fins-down winner, though, was the whole fish steamed in chile-lemon sauce. It had flavor down to its essence — Le Bernardin would have a hard time improving on it. All that came to about $28 a head with tax and tip. WIGB? No, for only two reasons — without a guide through the menu, lunch might be pretty ordinary, and then there is the little issue of Hunan House being just a couple of blocks away. (Compromise: Eat elsewhere and pick up a smoked duck to take home.) 3650 Main Street, 718 886 8972.

The half-goods: The Tangled Vine and Ditch Plains on the Upper West Side on a Friday early evening, where and when we shared wine with a friend who knows her way around a happy hour but had never been to the kiddle kraziness uptown. She was worried we would be turned off by the B rating at the first stop, but I have to say that was the least of my worries heading in and heading out — when I would have awarded an F to the “servers.” Gruner for $6 a generous pour, a table overlooking the sidewalk and pretty great chickpea fritters otherwise added up to a WIGB: Yep, but only at happy hour. As for the second stop, a place I’d sworn off since an abysmal experience at Landmarc in the dread TWC, I’ll say I don’t regret the revisit. The place was overrun with human larvae, but we were sort of shielded in a booth, and the food was distracting (bland deviled eggs jazzed up with sauces from Buffalo chicken wings). WIGB? Oh, why not?

The dispiriting: The newish Jackson Diner on University Place, where Bob and I headed for lunch after the accountant near the Wednesday Greenmarket and where I knew on walking in the door how I would feel on exiting. But I also knew he needed to eat, and fast, so I shut up and loaded my plate with poorly fried pakora and bland “curries” and then sat and waited for (pretty good) naan to eat it all with. Tandoori vegetables tasted better than I expected, if sweet and gloppy, but the whole experience was just unsatisfying. I have never once gone back for seconds at the buffet at Chola, where the room is not papered with “don’t waste food” and other warnings. But here I debased myself, desperately seeking satisfaction. Then both of us hit the intestinal inflation wall at the exact same minute. Even though the people were so nice, and the room so pleasant (we two got a booth for four), WIGB? How do you say “emphatically no” in Hindi?

Special place holder

April 2012

I’m paving another few miles of the road to hell with my good intentions to write more about the amazing high points of our last superb trip to The Consort’s birthplace, but for now I’ll just recount our independent eating. We had a perfect lunch in the cafe at the Albright-Knox Gallery after the underwhelming “Wish You Were Here” show on the art scene in the Seventies: mushroom-Gorgonzola soup and a half-BLT for me; curried lentil-chicken soup and half-turkey/sage Cheddar/cranberry mayo sandwich for Bob, complete with a waitress with a good eye and a sharp edge. We had a thank-allah-for-wine lunch at the Eagle House in Williamsville with the in-law equivalent, who was polite enough not to object when we chose it out of the Buffalo Spree listings as something very old (1828) but new to us. (This was encouraging, though: She noted that her BLT was made with iceberg while she’s become accustomed to romaine at Panera. Chain change for good?)

And we had a surreal dinner at Mother’s, which we’d heard was a favorite of local chefs and was only a block and a half or so from our sublime lodgings at the Mansion on Delaware Avenue*. It felt like a speakeasy, and we both wanted whatever our waiter was ingesting, but the food was pretty good, especially what we ordered for the Amtrak ride home the next day (hummus platter with roasted peppers, olives and pepperoncini for breakfast, trout-potato-spinach-tomato salad for lunch). Bob’s fried oysters were beyond any I ever encountered back when I reported a piece on cooked oysters for the NYT — the breading was crunchy, the centers almost creamy — and they didn’t even need the spicy dipping sauce. His grilled St. Louis-style ribs with molasses-mustard barbecue sauce were better just-made than on the train the next day, but the coleslaw with green onions held up. The same was true of the special I ordered, banana peppers stuffed with “three Italian cheeses” (and lots of bread crumbs); we should have left those behind rather than clogging the Amtrak trash chute. And I was happy enough with my portobello stuffed with sausage and laid over a tomato-cream sauce although it lacked the finesse of everything else we ordered. As always in Buffalo, the wine was cheap and generously poured. Mostly, though, I’m very glad I was the one who insisted on Anderson’s in those 2 1/2 days. A baby size of black-and-white frozen custard is always an essential ingredient.

*The Mansion is not just the best hotel in Buffalo but one of the best we’ve stayed in anywhere in the world, and I’m saying that even though we had to pay for only one night of the three there thanks to Nickel City Chef. The rooms are exquisite, but you’re encouraged to treat the whole place like home. We could work by the fireplace in the parlor in daytime and catch up on email with a glass of wine from the honor bar in the billiards/dining room at night. Unusual wines are poured for free from 5 to 7 every night, and the “butlers” are, without exception, both super-attentive and very human. Plusgastre I’m happy to report the weakest link is now much stronger: Breakfast was a good mix of savory and sweet, and the pastries have been upgraded, big time. (turn off your sound, tho)