Archive for September, 2012

New York minutes/Late September 2012

September 2012

The always good: Loi on the Upper West Side, where a friend was wise enough to reserve for seven of us as a retreat after “The Master” (AKA “2 hours & 16 minutes on Bullshit Mountain”) and where, as we had hoped, the room was quiet and the staff was accommodating. We mostly shared double orders of appetizers — the amazing eggplant, calamari with pistachios and gigantes with feta plus the rather tough cheese and spinach pies — and two superb Greek salads followed by meat and veg renditions of moussaka (I only tasted the mushroom, and it was rather brick-like). With two shared bottles of white wine, the tab was $48 a person, which seemed reasonable given the quantity of food and the swanky place itself. I’d take points off for wine that needed chilling (both bottles), slow service/busing (we had to stack empty dishes to make room on the table) and tough pita and dried-out whole-grain bread. I’d add a couple back on, though, for the grape leaves and yogurt served gratis. No question on WIGB, especially considering they let us sit there for hours while we chewed over just how craptastic the movie was.

The pretty good: Empellon in the West Village, where my consort and I wound up after confronting a 25-minute wait at Buvette nearby and where we walked right in, sat right down and had guacamole and two salsas on the table in what felt like seconds. The arbol was great, but the smoked cashew with chipotle was phenomenal, and the guacamole was nearly a match for both. (Chips are obviously housemade but were rather greasy and tough, although we certainly didn’t turn away the second “basket.”) We each had tacos, tongue for Bob and dogfish for me, and it was not a good sign that he immediately started asking what a similar dish goes for at either Toloache or El Paso. His were just the meat and the tortillas for $12. My two, for the same price, could barely contain the chunks of beautifully fried fish, green salsa, lime mayonnaise, shredded cabbage and radish slices. Maybe because the fish was so outsized, I needed those salsas. Still, WIGB? Absolutely, at least for brunch/lunch. The room is beautiful, the service so accommodating.

The half-good: Anjappur in Curry Hill, where we headed after gorging on Duane Reade potato chips with Sherry-Lehmann-level wines at a press event when we should have stuck around and had more of the re-envisioned Cornish pasties, pigs in blankets, Scotch eggs and devils on horsebacks (best food ever at the Ace Hotel). I was curious to experience the reincarnation of the French restaurant I had walked past for 30-plus years without ever trying, and the menu/diners did look more enticing than at the other two places we scoped out, so we headed in. The wine was fine, the waiter was wonderful and the food was actually above average — we shared a lively thali on which only the cardboardy bread was disappointing plus a well-spiced chicken biriyani teamed with a jazzy onion raita and fiery gravy — but my answer to WIGB? would have to be: Probably not. When we asked to take home the three-quarters of biriyani we couldn’t finish, the “hostess” just brought over a styrofoam box and a plastic bag so we could scrape our own shit, then, while Bob was in the bathroom and our overcrowded table had still not been cleared, came over to peremptorily demand we move said box/bag off the next table where we had set it so she could seat more people. I left feeling glad the place is catercorner from another restaurant space that has had 20 tenants fail — and hoping the owners walk out the same door every night to the same reminder.

New York minutes/Mid-September 2012

September 2012

The always good: The Mermaid Inn on the Upper West Side, where we headed on Social Media Monday, which has become the biggest incentive to eat out after three nights of Greenmarket amazingness at home. “Fish-ionista” was the password to 20 percent off four glasses of wine, a shared iceberg-bacon-blue cheese salad and my fried green tomatoes with crab and my consort’s fried shrimp. We reserved early and were rewarded with a relatively quiet table against the far wall on a night too holy-crap-it’s-fall to sit outside, then our usual perfect server came by to say hello even though he pretty much only sees us on 20 percent-off-Mondays. WIGB? Absolutely for many reasons, not least that there is no negative vibe on claiming the discount for a meal we would happily cover at full price.

The frustrating: La Mangeoire in Midtown East, where I met friends in from Seattle after one actually voiced an opinion on what to eat (meat!) and I was angling for someplace near their hotel where we could all actually talk. As I warned Dianne, it would feel like eating in NYC on our first trip north together in 1979 or so but it would be worth it. And it was. Ken got his honking slab of $36 steak, one that came with good fries and peppercorn sauce, and we dainty eaters were quite happy with crab-avocado-grapefruit appetizers as satisfying as a main course. I didn’t try Ken’s bouncy-looking profiteroles, but Dianne’s apricot tart was excellent. And the bread served with olive oil, anchoiade and olives is almost worth a journey on its own. I’ll admit I was surprised the prices are creeping toward $36-soup level — even the pared-down entree options are in the mid-$20s now — and I was kinda bummed we were stuck in an airless little alcove with a huge table of other olds close enough for aural discomfort. We were there for hours, though, so I guess I can’t complain the waitress pretty much just moved on with her life after belated dessert, surrendering any opportunity to sell more wine or even a coffee or two. WIGB? Maybe, for only one reason beyond the seriously good food — we walked outside and were almost blown back inside by the cacophony blasting from all the bars/restaurants on that avenue.

The sadly departed: The New French in the West Village, where I hadn’t been in at least a year for maybe the same reasons it’s no longer in business. It was so perfect for the longest time, then the chef went west and the food went south, and sidewalk tables were added that the staff clearly couldn’t staff. The slip in food would have been “stomachable,” but the service just became craptastic — and at the very time competition was opening up and down the same street. I do hope someone picks up the Maira Kalman wall drawings and the cool Heimlich poster. The place did so many things so right. H/t Adam for the death notice.

New York minutes/Early September 2012

September 2012

The not bad: Jacob’s Pickles on the Upper West Side, where I suggested my consort and I meet for an earlyish dinner after yet another of his crazy-busy days rather than him having to politely eat another of my perfunctory meals and where the setting would compensate for almost anything. It was a perfect night and tables were open on the sidewalk, where we didn’t even mind the inauspicious beginning of hearing the woman eating a salad alone at the next table begging for a biscuit and winding up paying the tab to which it was added without ever seeing it (hire some help — taking it off is too little too late). Bob was so happy with his over-the-top burger with multiple garnishes that I neither made much of the fact that it was cooked to desired doneness without ever developing that essential hot crust, nor whined that my previously perfect “leek country sausage” had been cooked to shit. Both our proteins came with more (respectable) fries than anyone but Chris Christie would think rational (and they held up well once kittybagged). The overworked server was good, and the rosé from the tap was acceptable in a tumbler for $9 each pour. WIGB? Sure. At least the owner is now working the tables to be sure people leave happy.

New York minutes/End o’August 2012

September 2012

The good: Sel et Gras in the West Village, where my consort and I headed partly because it was close to Jeffrey’s Grocery, where he was having work drinks, but largely because the name is so enticing. The place turned out to be teeny, an odd sliver of a bar/cafe, and loud, but they kindly seated us oldsters at an awkward but relatively quiet table, and we soon had nice glasses of rosé and some chickpea-battered and fried “market” vegetables with a chutneyesque tomato jam. Duck rillettes came with beer mustard and excellent pickled turnip, and we finished with an excellent croque madame, cut into thirds, each one a perfect layering of ham and cheese and sauce mornay topped with a fried quail egg. I was most impressed on my trip to the train-size bathroom on hearing the kitchen — it sounded not like a bar’s but a top chef’s. WIGB? Absolutely, although I have to take points off for the phrase “diminutive degustation” on the menu.

The reliable: El Paso Taqueria on the Upper East Side and Luke’s Lobster on the Upper West Side, again. The first was the right place to head after the cafe at El Museo del Barrio looked too cafeteriaish, and the second loaded almost too much lobster on its buns. (BTW: The current show at the museum is kinda baffling but includes some great food-related pieces: Barbados cookie cutters with a literal sharp edge, black-and-white photos that include one of “three-meat stew” and an absolutely wonderful collage entitled “Uncle Sam Wants Your Surplus Fat” by an artist with, it turns out, an equally wonderful back story.)