Archive for July, 2012

New York minutes/Mid-July 2012

July 2012

The really good: Lan Sheng in Midtown, where I met up with the best group of adventurous eaters I have ever known and where, as usual, I left the menu-driving to them with great payoff. I cannot overstate how valuable it is having a Caucasian who speaks Chinese at the table; he sat down and picked up the specials card and immediately started choosing so much better than the usual Sichuan #58 and #89. Just the dish of cucumbers dressed in sesame oil and some mysterious greenness as we sat down was impressive, but we went on to succulent bamboo shoots, pungent water spinach with garlic, fresh tofu in the most amazing sauce with chilies, peanuts and Chinese celery, (dried-out) rabbit with almost as much chile as meat, meaty soft-shell crabs on a platter also heaped almost as high in dried chilies as in shellfish, slices of pork belly served Peking duck-style, ribs in “rice powder” (actually almost like spicy paella in little mouthfuls) and the most astonishing dish, mung beans transformed almost Adria-style into cubes of gelatinous-looking/tasting cubes in yet another spicy sauce. Service was on a par with the cooking, too. And the sophistication did get that old discussion going, on why Chinese chefs are never celebrities. I thought it was more that restaurants rather than staffers are stars, but I was countered. (Conclusion: You had to be there.) WIGB? Can’t wait. At $27 a head, it was pricier than Flushing, but it was also so much faster to reach. 60 West 39th Street, 212 575 8899.

The “how could you hear if it was good?”: Tertulia in the West Village, yet again, where I met up with a friend who chose it from my short list because she spent her semester abroad in Madrid. Once we met up we went into that weird state where you’ll put up with any crap since you’re there — we finagled seats at the bar after being told our table was 15 minutes away, then turned down the communal table we were offered after ordering a bottle of rosé and finally, finally were seated at an individual table where conversation felt more frustrating than it must be in a prison with both parties separated by Plexiglas. Did I note that it was fucking loud? At one point I told Wally only those who know sign language should eat there. The food, as I’d promised, was stellar, although the mushrooms on the toasts with ricotta and pine nuts could have been rehydrated to a more supple state, and the $7-for-2 deviled eggs with bacalao could have tasted less made in advance. The fried ham-and-cheese balls were great, especially with the fig sauce underneath, and the special of smoked trout over beans and creaminess almost made us hear straight. WIGB? Not at night, and not for a good long time, if ever. Especially after reading the hometown paper’s exploration of the din in dinner and how noise is designed to drive out us olds. The place was so painful we walked for blocks afterward looking for someplace for a nightcap and rejected I can’t count how many before winding up at Lyon, where the sound was relatively low but I hate to hear what the weaving women at the bar sounded like in their bathroom next day. . . .

The good again: Mermaid Inn on the Upper West Side, where we headed with friends who wanted a “budget” meal after the underwhelming “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (Social Media Monday = “starfish” for 20 percent off). As always, the front room was deafening, but we were promised the best waiter on the premises and, as always, he was. He was even great about us being double-cheapskates, ordering mostly apps and the cheapest rosé. I had satisfying fried green tomatoes topped with chunks of crab and laid over super-spicy tartar sauce (or aioli or whatever the term was); I will be trying that at home very soon. My consort ordered the only entree among us, skate with carrots with peas and carrots, and he was happy although I thought the chef should leave the sourcing to Northern Spy. And I tasted the soft-shell crab appetizer if not the grilled calamari but will let our friends’ plate-cleaning be the judge. WIGB? Absolutely. Good food, affordable food, decent wine, affordable wine, good service, great hospitality. Sometimes, who needs quiet?

The deal of deals: Land Thai on the Upper West Side after the so-seductive (and free)  “The Clock” at Lincoln Center, where we headed after trying to try the newish Purple Fig in the old All State Cafe but finding the room dark under the “open for lunch and dinner” sign. For $9 for two courses, it would be hard to find fault, but my spring rolls were perfectly fried and my jungle curry with tofu enough to restore my faith in soybean curd. Every bite made me wonder why we ever ordered from a “Thai” joint a few blocks north that was just slammed down by the Health Department.

New York minutes/Early July 2012

July 2012

The pretty good despite the MIA waitress: Bubby’s in Dumbo, where we took AC refuge for lunch after broasting at the outstanding Photoville in the Brooklyn Bridge Park. We got in just before a wedding party closed down the joint, so I guess I shouldn’t bitch that my consort had to go fetch water and then ketchup for us because the ditz of a waitress was nowhere to be found even at tip time. My BLT was about 90 percent B and came with good fries, while Bob’s chicken club with avocado plus salad made him extremely happy. The lime “press” turned out to be worth 7 bucks as inspiration alone, both for blogging and emulating. WIGB? Definitely, although the more we walked afterward the more I realized I need to do more homework before we cross the water. Just by wandering, we were able to experience overpriced, underwhelming cookies at One Girl Cookies and buy outstanding croissants and baguette at Almondine before checking out Forager’s and coming home with a wild cut of lamb shoulder from a butcher who trained himself to carve by book-learnin’.

The not bad despite the MIA waitress: Kefi on the Upper West Side, where we met up with photo-star friends in from Chicago plus his daughter and her boyfriend down from Columbia and where I was dreading the experience after a G-reader recently reported on a dinner in hell among the stroller brigade. But we were seated downstairs (next to the service area, unfortunately), and it was quiet enough to talk as we shared the reliably superb spreads and a bottle of Greek white. My macaroni and cheese was soupier than usual but had great flavor, even reheated next day, and everyone else seemed happy with fish, pasta, burger. WIGB? Not soon but inevitably. As we trudged there, we agreed we’ve stayed away because we’ve eaten the whole menu too often, and because Loi is so stellar. But there’s are reasons it’s constantly packed. Plus Momofuku Milk Bar is just up the avenue for the dessert you didn’t have.

The never-disappointing: Barrio Chino on the Lower East Side, where we stopped for lunch on a brutally hot Sunday between Illy stocking-up at Di Palo and photo-gallerying at Anastasia (typically great show, by Paolo Pellizzari and his Noblex). My sincronizada with chorizo, avocado and super-spicy salsa verde was perfection, and Bob was surprisingly happy with his sopesitas, three of them, topped with chorizo, steak and nopales and paired with superb salsas. Our order took just short of forever (well, 40 minutes), but WIGB? Absolutely. Each dish was 10 bucks, the room is so nice and the drinks are so tantalizing unless it’s 100 degrees outside and you have miles to walk before you nap.

The time-warpy: Henry’s End in Brooklyn Heights, where friends from the neighborhood ushered us after the frustrating “Safety Not Guaranteed” down the block even though I was curious about the shiny new joint in a space one of those friends warned is a death sentence for restaurants. My crab-corn cakes (appetizer as entree) were surprisingly satisfying, and the Shinn rosé was a good deal at $32. We all shared tuna tartare and ribs to start; I got a taste of the special duck (seemed as if one old bird is designed to fit all sauces), and Bob took home his happy-making fried chicken. The waitress was a total trip, a Republican dream of happily working till you drop. WIGB? Probably not, pleasant as it was, even as we were seated next to the toilettes. It was like eating in the Hudson Valley in 1988. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, aside from the fact that it is 2012.

New York minutes/Late June 2012

July 2012

The good again I: Northern Spy in the East Village, where we met friends who live down the block but had never been and where the staff was impressively unfazed by the squirming toddler in our perfect booth. Even she liked all the starters: the airy-crispy gnocchi with Brussels sprouts and sage, the farro with lamb bacon and egg and the unfishy bluefish rillettes with pickled onions on garlic toasts. My consort’s pork with black-eyed peas was good and hearty, so I was okay with my unexpectedly dainty asparagus salad with fascinating egg. Poor Mom had to miss the good chocolate cake. WIGB? Absolutely. Especially now that I know why it’s so Brooklyn: It was priced out of Brooklyn. (And because Dad introduced us to a great Spanish wine bar just down the block for an after-Turley Cinsault glass or two: Pata Negra, where the server could not have been more accommodating and I tasted a new-to-me godello.) 511 East 12th Street, 212 228 5100.

The good again II: Loi on the Upper West Side, where we met up with a gallery-crazed friend in from DC and another from way uptown and where we had the usual superb service and full swanky-joint experience even though we only shared first courses and a salad. This is the rare restaurant that treats every ass in the seat as valuable, and given that it never filled even on a Saturday night, the Athens owner is smart to keep us coming back for less. (Her visits to every table are also very savvy.) I was underwhelmed by the grilled sardines even though my expectations were already low, and I didn’t try the octopus because I just can’t do it anymore. But like everyone else, I thought the baby eggplant with feta mousse was sensational, the amuse of stuffed grape leaves superb and the gigantes redeemed by the unbilled cheese with them. Sea urchin with “crispy pita chips,” though, probably needed the lemon I didn’t squeeze over my two spoonfuls. We also split a dessert, about which the least said the better. (Oh, I’ll elaborate: It was the kataifi, it was soggy and it tasted better when dessert was a giveaway.) Bob’s and my $10 glasses of wine were good, and came with excellent recommendations by the waiter, and the bread basket was beyond generous. Plus the service was almost surreal, yet again: Waiters in suits catering to us as if we were spending megabucks in any other white-linen dining room. WIGB? Anytime. Not least because it’s so nice to be among old pharts and feel young.

The good again despite the din: Toloache in the Theater District, where we wound up after trying Anzas in the newish Hyatt on Fifth Avenue and being spurned both upstairs and downstairs. The place was packed even after curtain time, but we got a table fast and soon had decent wine and the quesadilla with huitlacoche, then overstuffed but fabulous brisket and carnitas tacos, then a salad with jicama and avocado. WIGB? Undoubtedly, but I think next time we’ll try the new outpost on East 83d Street. 251 West 50th Street, 212 581 1818.

The gone-to-hell: Tre Otto on the Upper East Side, where we landed on a super-hot night seeking refuge from our own kitchen and where Bob dropped way too much money for dinner in a garden sauna. We made the mistake of strolling through the gorgeous park up to a tapas place I’d read about on 103d & Lex, only to decide the menu looked pedestrian and the wines seemed overpriced, then swung by ABV, only to be told we’d face a half-hour wait for a table in Bedlam populated by young uns all the same age and skin color, so we figured Tre Otto was a safe bet. And it turned out to be like eating in Rome in August: Immigrants slopping it out in the kitchen, overstretched staff neglecting too many tables, followed by sticker-price shock. I only wanted a Caesar salad, and it was not awful, if underdressed with a few too many rusty leaves. But Bob’s $18 pasta with “Trapanese” pesto turned out to be a few gummy noodles in a bowl of glop. As the waiter warned, it was heavy on the garlic, although light on any other flavors. The bread was rubbery, the rosé $45. And the sweat? Immeasurable. We baked like pizzas. WIGB? The next night we were back on that side of town, for dinner at friends’ whose gorgeous terrace overlooks the reservoir, and they, too, wondered: Why did that place go to hell so fast? I blamed the clientele and will probably never get invited back.