Archive for October, 2012

New York minutes/October 2012

October 2012

The good: Swine in the West Village, where we met up with internet connections, which presented no end of issues — food, noise, tastes etc. And it was damned near perfect, probably partly because we went on a Monday night, when it was pretty empty. We got a boothette, so the noise level was bearable enough that four near-strangers could converse easily and share tastes and get away for about $80 a couple before tip. We split a salumi/charcuterie board that included pork rillettes, duck prosciutto and superb merguez, then a “toast” topped with smoked trout and celery root, outstanding sweet potato “fingerlings” in a blue cheese melt, very good deviled eggs and excellent mushroom-fava salad with pecorino and mint; we were also comped spicy duck fat cashews. Wines by the glass were better than from the tap. But the service was good  even though we were all olds (and never so happy to be so aged as when we saw another server working his way around another table pouring hooch down a marrow bone into kiddles’ mouths; we at least did not have to rent our food). WIGB? Absolutely. It’s so much closer than Brooklyn.

The really good with the right people: C&L Imperial in Flushing, where I was lucky enough to be invited to join a smart lunch crowd for 11 Taiwanese tastes for all of $15 a head. The place is pretty bare-bones, but one in the group had been there so many times we got great treatment, plus a comped dish of outstanding braised cabbage. As always, I was super-happy to let others maneuver through the menu, especially when I saw much of it was untranslated and more was heavy on the intestine side (no duck, only guts and tongue). So we started with an fascinating oyster pancake, spicy noodles with pork and “rice tube pudding,” with meat and mushrooms tucked among the grains. We had crispy “three-cup tofu” (cooked in equal parts soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine), weirdly good corn with beef off the specials posted on the wall, bitter melon and super-tender red-cooked pork ribs. Two of the best dishes sounded the funniest: “fly heads,” bits of minced meat mixed with chives and green peppers to resemble insects with eyes, and “putz” fish with little olive-like berries. Not one dish was a dud. WIGB? Can’t wait, with many other mouths. 59-14A Main Street.

The worth it: Tarallucci e Vino on the Upper West Side, where my consort and I wound up after the mind-expanding “Looper” after finding the new Casa Pomona still a long way from opening despite the NYT’s promise. It did cost a hundred bucks for a couple of glasses of wine each and three shared dishes, but the food was impressive even though we nearly had a breakup over the octopus. (I can’t eat it because it’s too human but figured I could just nibble my way around the “galette,” and of course it was three honkin’ chunks, so there was a bit of sad meltdown over why I didn’t remind him sooner.) Creamy mozzarella bruschetta with eggplant and tomato was just as good as the oozy mozzarella over roasted red peppers and grilled zucchini and eggplant (after you’ve eaten too much popcorn at the micey movies, there’s no such thing as too much mozzarella). Extra points for the bread basket, with at least three different varieties. WIGB? Sure, as long as Bob is paying.

The right place on the right night I: Murray’s Cheese Bar in the West Village, where we were able to walk right in after the gorgeous but snoozy “Detropia” and sit right down at the bar to explore that fever dream of a menu. The bartender did a great selling job, so we soon had enchiladas verde with mozzarella in tomatillo salsa, a Bibb lettuce salad with grilled nectarines, marcona almonds, Rogue’s smoky blue cheese and prosciutto crisps and a queso fundido made with three goat cheeses plus chorizo, to be scooped up with blue corn chips. Wines were made for cheese, and the bartender also brought us a taste of kombucha in case we leaned weird. WGIB? Absolutely. The best part is knowing you should order the “real” food and just go next door and buy the meats and cheeses for home.

The right place on the right night II: Mermaid Oyster Bar in the West Village, where we headed after a cookbook party close by that was light on the food if fulfilling on wine and company, and after passing up a couple of nearby new restaurants whose owners did not seem to have had any business training ($48 steak in a 12-seat cafe with no amenities?) It was early, so we were able to turn down a table next to the kitchen door in favor of two seats at the quiet bar, just in time for happy hour and discounted wine and snacks: shared crazy-hot shishito peppers, then avocado-shrimp slider and chicken wing “lollipops” with blue cheese for Bob and the always perfect wedge salad with blue cheese, bacon and tomato for me. WIGB: Sure — it’s always a solid choice in that neighborhood but especially at happy hour or on Social Media Monday.

The always good, not least for a show: Fairway’s cafe, where we met friends in from Seattle for one Sunday brunch and where we headed after the Greenmarket for another. At the first, they missed seeing a famous actress storm off and leave her husband the famous director alone with her barely touched omelet at the next table; at the second, a blowhard writer at the next table got so upset over his food being slow to arrive that he first berated the hard-running waitress, then jumped up, blustering at his glazed-eye companion: “I’m going to say something to Mitch. He knows who I am!” Maybe. But it didn’t look as if Mr. London cared. (Our cheeseburgers were great and actually landed faster than usual, BTW.)

Past, blasted

October 2012

I was reminded this week that this was the last mega-tasting menu my consort and I ever succumbed to, the one that made us realize this way of eating is really more of a hostage situation. I dredged it up from the archives in the storeroom the Google keeps as “old site,” so I’m not certain of the date. But I do know we watched the invasion of Iraq on the teevee while we were in Oz . . .

On our last night in Sydney, my consort turned down dinner at a new friend’s home because we had long-arranged reservations at Tetsuya’s, the Charlie Trotter’s French Laundry of Australia. We wound up facing down 18 little assemblages of overhyped, overhandled food in a stuffy room, and we’re both wondering what we missed.

I can’t remember any dinner outside of the Beard House where I so wanted to yell: Make it stop. We actually skipped the third and last dessert out of stupefaction. Until then, it was one dainty dish after another, each element sedulously explained by the waiter again after the whole meal was forecast in exhausting detail by the headwaiter when we sat down. Because the entire restaurant was facing the same food in the same order, it was hard to get excited when the scallop carpaccio with foie gras arrived with great ceremony after other tables were well on their way to the roasted squab with buckwheat and mushroom risotto.

We also took the “wine option,” with half-glasses poured with each course for $65Australian extra apiece, which was not the smart decision it was at Trotter’s. About halfway through the ordeal, a waiter came by to say the kitchen was waiting for us to catch up on our wine. “If you were university students,” he added, “I’d advise you to slam it back.”

So how was the food? Suffice it to say that I remember the green salad served with Tetsuya’s signature ocean trout confit the best. A couple of his creations were quite good, like the scallop carpaccio, and a sliver of venison rolled around foie gras with rosemary and honey, and a little shotglass of beet and blood orange puree. But it was all too much, with too few of those fusillades of flavor that brilliant chefs can send out without even trying. I actually saw the butter presented with the bread as an omen: It was tricked up not only with black truffles but with Parmesan. A chef who would gild the tuber just doesn’t know when to stop.

New York minute/Late September 2012

October 2012

The uplifting: Primo Pizza 84 on the Upper West Side, where I ducked in after a screening in Midtown after realizing I was hitting the dead zone between 84th Street and home at lunchtime on a crunch day. I only noticed the tiny place in the last few weeks, so I doubled back to try a slice. The guys who run it were so friendly, the display case so quirky (a salad slice was topped with “lettuce, tomatoes, onions, ranch dressing, American cheese, mozzarella — want me to keep going?”), and the plain slice that needed no reheating was impressive. As I ate it, on a stool at the tiny counter overlooking a bench on the sidewalk, I wondered if the joint could possibly survive, in that too-easy-to-miss location. But the guys who run it seemed to know all the schoolkids and yummy mummies eating on that bench. So as I left, I asked one of the guys how long they’d been open. “A year, a year and two months. We just got the space next door and are expanding, gonna serve wine and beer.” Message: I can pick out an apartment, but do not trust me on restaurant locations. (BTW: I can also recommend the fennel-Parmesan shortbread cookie from Petrossian’s cafe, which fueled me from 58th to 84th.)