Archive for August, 2012

New York minutes/Late August 2012

August 2012

The surprisingly good: Revolucion in the JetBlue terminal at JFK, where my consort and I ducked in for lunch on our way to PGH and where the food was so worth the wait despite our being surrounded by teevees television distortions in kaleidoscopic visuals with no sound. We had actually allotted time just to eat at the airport, and it was vaut le detour on the way to the gate — the torta with carnitas came perfectly assembled, with tender pork layered with guacamole and salsa on ideal bread, plus the sweet potato fries were the best either of us had ever had, crisp and light and not at all gooey/caramelized/gross. I think that cost all of $9. We ate the tostada salad, with crisp tortilla chips buried under guacamole, greens and cheese, on the plane, so it might have suffered from the wilting languish, but it still made a perfect harbinger for the amazing eating experiences we would have for the next four days. WIGB? Happily, although I am now curious about the other (more expensive) restaurants in that gleaming food court.

The surprisingly not bad: Home in the West Village, where we wound up early with three friends after two of them got shut out of the excellent, food-heavy Ai Weiwei doc at IFC and where I at least was chagrined that we had never tried it under the “new” ownership (the old one once wrote me an unhappy letter over something I’d written in Newsweek). The menu struck me as weirdly clueless when it came to seasonality, but everyone seemed happy picking and choosing, one friend and I with the “artichoke” and pancetta cheesecake topped with tart tomatoes and capers, my consort and her husband with the pork chop over wild rice, suspiciously large fava beans and asparagus and our other friend with the clam chowder with grilled bread, plus a side order of grilled radicchio. Whole-grain bread in the basket was great, flavor-free butter not so much. We all tasted the cherry pie a la mode and split a bottle of Finger Lakes rosé for a reasonable $36, too. Judging by the server’s reactions to our questions, I doubt family meal is ever involved, though, and as much as we all appreciated being able to eat in the garden in the quiet, I personally wish I had not gone out to eat and wound up becoming a mosquito buffet. WIGB? Probably, even though the cooking is maybe too homey. Also, too: Spunto after the movie turned out to be an ideal destination for drinks in quiet, with skinny tumblers of sauvignon blanc for only $7, but why in hell do restaurants not A) train servers to check back often with a table that has ordered only drinks, just in case more could be sold and B) let busboys wipe down tables with bleach while patrons are drinking those cheap wines and picking up hints of Clorox? But at least the place was better than Cornelia Street Cafe, where Bob and I had settled in desperation the night before after “Sleepwalk With Me” when Murray’s Cheese Bar had a long wait and Pearl was just not interested in anyone at the bar who did not want dinner. Two deal-breakers: Crappy wine. Dirty.

The worth-the-death march: Covo in West Harlem, where Bob and I trudged and trudged after a so-worth-it expedition to the Caribbean show at the Studio Museum in  Harlem and after aborted attempts at brunching at both Red Rooster and Harlem Social.  We walked into the former just before noon to see about a third of the place empty but were still shunted to the nearly empty bar “until some tables clear.” As the bartender ignored us, I noticed the latter across the intersection and told Bob it was new and I’d been invited to the opening party but had passed. Just as he started to search his iPhone for the menu there, a sweet young thing suddenly surfaced to offer us a table in the bar. Which we took even though it was next to the ordering station, but we only sat  long enough to read a bit of the menu: “Yard” bird for $22? Burger for $19? Sorry. Outta there. Only to be shunted outside at Harlem Social for a lecture on how the only seats were at a high shared table and how we would have to surrender them in an hour and a half. Bob was more pissed than I on noting the the place was almost empty. But we both looked at the menu — $25 prix fixe for brunch — and walked out. I’d remembered Covo from an e-friend’s recommendation but had seen it referenced in a Harlem guidebook in the museum gift shop, so off we went. Thank allah the menu was a la carte, because that was one long walk in the heat and humidity. By the time our pizza (of the day, with spicy salami, roasted peppers, mozzarella and baby arugula) and salad (with artichoke hearts, more roasted peppers, tomatoes and more mozzarella) arrived, I would have been happy with Papa John’s. Even with an espresso, the whole lunch cost less than brunch for one over in Coolville at 126th and Lenox. The space also felt anything but Manhattanish. And we were virtually next door to Fairway for shopping and right next to the bike/walking path down the Hudson to home, five miles after we’d set out that a.m. WIGB? Maybe. That part of town does seem restaurant-deficient unless you like industrial pork in your BBQ.

New York minutes/Earlyish August 2012

August 2012

The partly good: Porsena in the East Village, where my consort and I headed after standing outside the kitchen window at Yunnan Kitchen while he read off 100 other destinations on his phone after hearing the wait there was 45 minutes even though the cooks we were staring at were pretty much standing around doing nothing while the patrons boozed it up. (WITA? Not on a bet.) Both of us have good memories of the porchetta at Porchetta, so Bob acceded to my suggestion we support an excellent Tweeter, to the point that he didn’t even stop to read the menu before we bounded in, hungrily. He’d called for a reservation and been told there were no tables, but we got a high one in the bar instantly. And that was about all that happened fast. I’ll do the best news first: The wine list is tantalizing, with lots of unusual offerings, and the pours are generous. Now the frustrating. Jeebus, was it loud, for a tiny restaurant not fully full. Bob was disappointed that the pork options were so few, and we both realized we had chosen the wrong destination for dinner after lunch at home had been pasta perfection. Luckily for our relationship and my cred as a restaurant-chooser, half the food (all appetizers) was outstanding. We assumed the crostini with salami, anchovies and butter would arrive assembled, but we got the nicest little party plate and put the toasted bread together with the pickled red onions and the other elements, only asking the waiter later on if that was correct. (Damned if he knew.) The green bean salad with toasted almonds and fennel was also FTW. But our first taste, crostini with mozzarella and bottarga, was just sad. Maybe if the bread had been toasted? Maybe if the bottarga had been more generous (or fresher/more aged/something)? And while we were happy with the salt cod patties once they’d been kittybagged and recycled into scrambled eggs and, yes, more pasta, they seemed underwhelming at the table. Or maybe we were just cranky. WIGB? Sadly, no. We still regret not bailing and trotting back to Porchetta for a sandwich to eat in the little sidewalk cafe, wine or no wine.

The pretty lame: Liang’s Kitchen in Flushing, where I met up with my amazing food sharers for a Sunday lunch that confirmed my sinking feeling on walking in — that only losers eat in hotel restaurants. This was in the basement of a Best Western, and I was just glad I took a bathroom break and saw there were guest rooms right down the hall from the cacophony — at least I was only paying (almost nothing) for a meal; usually we get the worst lodging. As always, I was blissfully passive as others negotiated the menu; when you eat at a table of 14, you’re bound to find something you like. I was underwhelmed by the bitter melon pancake (omelettesque), the soup dumplings (skins too fragile to deliver the experience that matters more than the taste), the beef rolls (scary meat inside oily fried bread, flavor AWOL), the unsettling fish slices in red chile sauce. But I liked the pickled carrots and cabbage served free, the delicate wontons in incendiary chile oil, the lion’s head meatballs with their haunting spicing (star anise, we guessed), and the lavender-beautiful steamed eggplant was good enough. More dishes landed on that Lazy Susan, I know, and the waitress was amazingly patient, and, most important, all that cost me all of $15. Still, WIGB? Not even with earplugs. But then maybe it was just off-day in the better Chinatown — I headed to Hunan House right afterward to get a smoked duck for dinner for my consort stuck home editing, and that plus an order of “cake dumplings” took just short of forever to arrive and yielded the butt end of the bird, and not much of it at that.

The too-muchness: Chipotle, where we’ve been going more often since Time’s feature on the founder, which included such nuggets as the fact that the food will actually vary from outlet to outlet, intentionally. And it’s true. The only problem is the quantity. You can get too much of a good thing.

The better than we deserve: Mermaid Inn on the Upper West Side, where “social media Monday” lured us out again and where, as always, the food, service and whole experience were so unlike most places in the neighborhood. We split the surprisingly lively iceberg salad with bacon, tomato and blue cheese (or, rather, the kitchen helpfully split it for us) and I had the superb fried green tomatoes topped with crab again. Bob’s trout with corn, guanciale and mushrooms was spectacular, the crisp skin almost popcorny and the assemblage so complementary. (MI cooks are about the only ones who can actually make trout taste like something beyond the grain those fish feed on.) We split a bottle of nebbiolo rosé and had two glasses beyond, since the price was right at 20 percent off the whole bill. Both waiters were outstanding, too (although the new and almost too-friendly one spilled the wine while overpouring). And even though we’re now pegged as regulars, we still get the plastic fish fortune with the free chocolate pudding.