Archive for the ‘new york’ Category

New York minutes/August 2016

August 2016

Hot is about the least alluring adjective for a restaurant these days, and not because it’s 160 degrees outside. I’m happy to wait till the digitally driven hordes have moved on before trying anything new. Or so I thought until I started seeing excited Tweets pop up in my stream about @paowallanyc, even from other chefs. Floyd Cardoz in a bread-centric return engagement seemed worth jumping through a few hoops to experience. So I reserved nearly a week ahead, and the joint was packed, in SoHo, at 7 o’clock, on a Tuesday. Between the service and the cooking/wine, it was easy to see why. When the crab ranks No. 4 out of six dishes, you know the kitchen is in transformative hands. As my consort, just back from Torino/Santa Fe/Tuscany, confessed: “When you said Indian, I was not looking forward to it. This is not what I was expecting.”

So what was No. 1? Easily the shisito pakoras, the peppers halved lengthwise, coated with chickpea flour and fried, then paired with peanut and red onion “salsa.” The textures and the flavors were equally lively. Grilled stuffed calamari was almost as sensational, tender but with deep char and a fabulous if mysterious filling (mushrooms? I feel like that idiot writer at the Beard House who once tucked into shiitakes and asked: “What is this? Baloney?”) A chat with black chickpeas and edamame was also great, and maybe even better kittybagged the next day. The tingmo turned out to be even more spectacular than the waitress described it, a steamed bread wrapped around a very hot chile paste, while the cheese kulcha Dan Kluger had raved about was like an Indian quesadilla but with seriously good bread as the “tortilla,” and cumin seeds to deliver haunting flavor. As for the crab, the seafood itself was outstanding and the seasonings perfectly calibrated. Modern Indian is an understatement.

And then there was the wine: A fascinating Sula sauvignon blanc, one we had had in Bangalore years ago, was $40, less than you’ll pay for a mediocre California or even more mediocre Italian white these days. Extra points for perfection in pouring. WIGB? Not right away if only because Bob is now so psyched for hot and new if they can deliver on this level. But we would both go back hungry and not jet-lagged because the big plates sound mighty alluring.

You can also file the Great Northern Food Hall in Grand Central Terminal under hot, but I was glad we made an exception for it, too, on a Saturday when Bob was between workshop gigs and I wanted him to see what I’d only reported on. The best pastrami I have ever had came not from a deli or even a BBQ pro but was tucked inside a slab of Danish bread, along with a thick mayonnaisey sauce and crunchy shallots for contrast. Bob was just as thrilled with his lamb sandwich, even though he’s not usually either a sandwich or a creamy kind of guy. The prices seemed high until I took half my lunch home for dinner. WIGB? I’m planning to soon with a friend who married into a Danish family, just so we can check out all the gorgeous blondes wandering from food stall to food stall.

Light in the harbor

June 2015

WIGB? If you’re talking Pier A, I already did. Lunch a while back with a friend with benefits (or at least an expense account) was such a great experience I insisted my consort and I head there as a reward for me braving one of our dreary trips to the horror-movie-worthy storage center down near the old Fulton Fish Market. The setting is magical, with a huge deck outside a beautifully restored building with sight lines straight to the Statue of Liberty, and the food is far beyond what you would expect in a tourist magnet (maybe because the crowd includes jump-you-fuckers suits from surrounding office towers?) Both lunches I had fish and chips, the cod perfectly fried and matched with good tartar sauce plus excellent fat, crunchy fries (and okay coleslaw). The oyster po’ boy at the first lunch was more bread than bivalve, though, so I was glad Bob immediately went for the Buffalo chicken wings. Which were so much better than we have ever had the few times we have bothered with them in their namesake city. These were big and meaty and juicy and, again, fried right, plus they were awash in buttery hot sauce. He had a beer, I had a glass of rosé and the view did the rest. I will say service merited an A+ the first time and at best a C the second; four times a runner showed up at our table with food we hadn’t ordered, plus the waiter did not know the rosé price, which beers were IPA etc. and vanished for too long between those questions and our ordering. Both the WiFi and the computer system were down, though, so everyone is entitled to an off day. The place was also full with a wedding and a private party. And I could forgive it anything because I spotted Harry Poulakakos*, dad of the partner in the place, on my way to the hoi polloi bathroom and got to catch up to his sweetness a bit on my way back to the table. His apple not only did not fall far from the tree but has spread fruit all over Lower Manhattan, the best place to get out of New York without leaving the island. *It’s a long way from the sea of heartbreak.

New York minutes/Early June 2012

June 2012

The pretty good: Excellent Thai in Flushing, where we reconnected with a great eating group and probably had only our leaderless selves to blame for not ordering perfection. The tea leaves salad was as sensational if more heat-unbalanced than the first time we had it, and the steamed fish with lemon and chilies held up once we realized it needed to be apportioned in bowls, with its brodo. I was underwhelmed by the greens with shrimp paste we chose when sweet potato leaves were not available, the flat-tasting pork with fermented bamboo shoots and the spicy chicken, but then each of those was built on a protein pretty far down my ideal shopping list. “Crossing the bridge noodles” was also not my bowl of flavor. But I was pretty blown away by the Yunan yellow fried tofu, the texture of which one of the smart young palates around the Lazy Susan compared to fried marshmallows. WIGB? Maybe. It did come out to $18 a head, and the oranges at the end were so great they were, as Mom of SYP put it, “almost fake-tasting,” and the service is so enthusiastic. But the more we go to Flushing, the more we realize there is so, so much more to try. 36-50 Main Street, 718 886 8972.

The disappointing: Hunan House, also in Flushing, at least with carryout. Our new strategy is to eat anywhere, then pick up a smoked duck for dinner (then go have egg tarts at Tai Pan Bakery). And I don’t think it’s because the one from the cousins’ branch LINK in Manhattan was so good that we were so disappointed. When we opened up the leaking container, the scanty hunks were all weird (were there even three slices from the breast?) and the meat was both dried-out and unsmoky. Oh. Well. As I have long lamented, the impossible dream with restaurants is consistency. WIGB? Not for takeout.

The redeemed: Tangled Vine on the Upper West Side, where friends lured us out for a quick drink that turned into three and where I was happy to concede I was too harsh about our first outing. All three servers showed just the right balance of attentiveness and “oh, sit as long as you like”ness. A sidewalk table and gruner for $6 a nice glass are not to be underestimated, but I woke up next morning clear-headed and thinking more about the succession of little plates we split. Fried chickpeas and housemade potato chips were naturals (and we did make the poor waiter suffer finding out whether the former was made with canned or dried garbanzos; he said fresh and got us going on that possibility). Fava hummus was exceptional, with pecorino chips on top and a hint of mint plus a dusting of Aleppo pepper. And after a second glass, how can you not appreciate nicely done bacalao fritters or arrancini? WIGB? Happy Hour sounds so much better as HH.

By way of Gramercy Tavern

May 2012

All the time I squander on Twitter is usually made up every time I need an out-of-town restaurant recommendation, and that was never truer than when I desperately threw out “anywhere good to eat between NYC and the Catskills?” @MSCharak suggested Peekamoose, especially for the paté, and it turned out to be in the same town as the great resort where the wedding was going to be. Bob and I took a little drive before the “BBQ” the first night and saw the big sign reading “open 4 to 10, Thursday through Monday” and of course had to stop in. And once we were in, we had to try some wine and then some food after seeing everyone eating so happily in the bar. The place is just designed to the max, with taxidermed animal heads in the tap room and rustic chandeliers in the dining room and a special “cage for baby pork” (AKA kids’ playroom) right outside the bar. And the bartender was amazing: friendly but fast and efficient as she took orders even from tables. I had a Finger Lakes Riesling, Bob had a Spanish red, both described accurately by the AB. I was tempted by the charcuterie plate, but Bob reminded me we would be eating within an hour, so we settled on the beets with spuma made from local goat cheese. Which also bought us a slab of warm “focaccia-style” bread with a little ramekin of roasted garlic-chive butter. I hope to have more to say about all this somewhere else, but the whole experience brought home how far countryside restaurants have come as real chefs open them with an understanding of both sourcing and service. Not to mention insight into how the Thursday-through-Monday set functions . . . .

New York minutes/Mid-September 2011

September 2011

The good: Zoe on the Lower East Side, where my consort and I met up after a news photography opening in Nolita, with a detour to September Wines when I thought to ask about liquor license/credit cards. We’re friends with the chef/owner’s dad, but I reserved in my own name with the idea that I could just not write about it if it underperformed, to use a euphemism. And he arrived just after we were seated, but we stayed where we were, at a great window table. The place is tiny, and the menu is short and savory and, because it was BYO, very affordable ($55 before tip, after we brought in a $10 rosé). I’m a sucker for rillettes and Bob agreed to that appetizer because it was made with turkey instead of duck. The fatty meat was studded with capers and meant to be spread onto warm toasted baguette drizzled with the chef’s mom’s Tuscan olive oil. TCM also got credit for the outstanding eggplant parmesan, the texture almost creamy, with smoked Gouda rather than mozzarella. I can’t stomach lamb but insisted Bob order the enticing appetizer of ribs and breast, and we both were impressed. The meat was not gamy, and the ribs were succulent, the breast tender inside its breaded and fried crust; tzatziki and peppery pickled cherry tomatoes provided the perfect counterpoints. Radicchio salad with capers, anchovy and Parmesan hit the middle note a little too high for me, though. WIGB? Absolutely, especially after a movie at Landmark Sunshine around the corner. 245 Eldridge Street, 646 559 5962.

The not bad: Toloache taqueria in the Financial District, where we headed between mind-blowing experiences with the Guggenheim’s “stillspotting” music. This was around 3 on a Saturday afternoon, and the place was deserted, but as soon as we ordered the cooks leapt into action, and before long it was thronged. Bob ordered three tacos with the only fillings on offer, with no chicken or pork available, and I asked for tortilla soup, then threw in a small order of guacamole. That soup might be the best I’ve ever had, the base more like an enchilada sauce than the usual chicken broth, with tiny squares of corn tortillas and a good amount of grated cheese to be mixed in to enrich and texturize. Salsa, both on the table and delivered fresh, outshone the guacamole. As for the tacos, the brisket ruled, the huitlacoche was acceptable and the tilapia died on the platter. I balked at tipping when paying at the register but went back afterward to drop in some dollars because the staff was so enthusiastic and happy to serve — whatever Julian Medina is doing, every restaurateur should emulate. WIGB? Sin duda, if I were in the neighborhood. Too much food came to $17 before tip. 83 Maiden Lane near William Street, 212 809 9800.

The fascinating: Isa in Williamsburg, where young friends who live nearby lured us for an early catch-up dinner on a Saturday night. None of us expected to be able to get in, but I was encouraged to see people even older than Bob and I ensconced when we walked in with our BYO wines. All I really knew about the place was what I’d read in the hometown paper, about the care in designing it, so I was a little surprised it had been done to hobbit scale. But the staff let us sit for more than three hours at one long communal table while they did the squirming and wriggling needed to serve us, so I won’t complain. Only three entrees were on offer, but most of went us for the great-sounding appetizers: mussels with coco beans on crisp Baltic bread under a forest of pea shoots and parsley; fat and juicy wood-roasted shrimp with squid ink; four good slices of La Quercia prosciutto; pungent pickled daikon with kombu and shaved horseradish; a whole sardine boned and laid alongside its deep-fried skeleton and meaty head with olives with celery (no comment); cubes of melon enfolded with yogurt in sweet potato leaves with a dusting of toasted seeds, plus a salad of Treviso radicchio, cabbage, “nut cheese” and granola. One intrepid soul among us ordered a main, slow-cooked cod with fish roe, carrots and seaweed. What I tasted of it was exceptional. We all stuck spoons into an odd little dessert of apple rings topped with a quenelle of chestnutty honey ice cream and garnished with buckwheat crunch. That was reaching higher and not quite attaining exceptional. WIGB? No, but only because I see so many other temptations in Williamsburg. Anyone else? Go. 348 Wythe Avenue at South Second Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 347 689 3594.

New York minutes/Late July 2008

July 2008

The good: Both Fairway and Pearl. What’s left to say about a great cheap burger and a sublime fried skate sandwich? Well, maybe that you can tell a lot about an establishment by how stable the staffing is (same waiter I’ve had a dozen times at Fairway) and how well a bartender can juggle seating, serving and schmoozing (the regular babbling on the next stool at Pearl never noticed that the attention being paid her was less than total).

The not bad: Sookk, where I wound up with a friend who wanted Thai for Saturday lunch in the neighborhood. I’d been warned, so my expectations were low, but the room was surprisingly pleasant (although it does look like a fabric store), the service was fine and the sound level was reasonable. We both ordered from the lunch menu, so it was also hard to complain about tasteless spring rolls when they came on a platter with surprisingly good imitation duck with spicy noodles for all of $8. Pam seemed happy with both the steamed shrimp dumplings and a combination of five-spice beef in soupy noodles that she usually makes at home. WIGB? Sure. Even though they were running the AC with the front door criminally open. 2686 Broadway near 102d Street, 212 870 0253.

New York minutes/Last o’ 2007

December 2007

The pretty good: Barfry, where I retreated after finding Pearl closed for Xmas break and where I had a great crab cake po’ boy but the strangest service even though only one other diner was in the joint at lunchtime. The waiter behind the bar pointed me to a table and let me sit while he did a few chores before finally bringing a menu and weirdly funky-tasting water. Then he disappeared into a back room or basement to retrieve milk and was gone so long I considered leaving, but Pearl was closed. I think it took longer to order than to eat, since the check shows 22 minutes elapsed. But that $15 sandwich was superb, with great crunch to the crab cake and lots of little pickles in with the dressing and chopped lettuce. It was too big by half, but that’s a tiny complaint. I also had a $10 Tasmanian chardonnay that really needed a proper wineglass rather than a ridiculous little tumbler. WIGB? Probably, although my money goes farther at Pearl and the thought of that glass sent us to Jane the next night . . . . 50 Carmine Street, 212 929 5050.

The not bad: La Rural, where we headed for a Sunday dinner to avoid washing dishes and where we got the deal of the month. Because it’s BYO, we split a big salad, a heaping order of “Provencal” fries and a skirt steak so huge we had leftovers for burritos the next day, and the bill with a good tip was $42. The meat was good and perfectly cooked, very fast, and the fries were fine, too. The engaging waiter remembered us from when the place was Pampa; it looks nicer now but still takes cash only. And because it was nearly empty, it was luxuriously quiet. WIGB? Happily. 768 Amsterdam Avenue near 97th Street, 212 865 2929.

The charming: Tiffin Wallah, where the room and the Koizumi-look-alike waiter compensated for the sub-Saravanaas cooking at Saturday lunch. The hand-washing sink is in the dining room, and it’s the coolest one imaginable; the walls are hung with great black-and-white photos from India, while the waiters’ area has shelves filled with Indian gewgaws. And the behl poori was everything Irene Sax promised: spicy, crunchy, a great blend of cooling and hot. The Mysore sada dosa with coconut chutney and sambar was big and greasy, though, and the best thing in the Gujarati thali was the dessert, which says everything given how cloying Indian sweets can be. The bread was too greasy to eat, and the curries were one-note; the two fried bits were also sodden. No wonder most of the clientele was not Indian. WIGB? Maybe, as an antidote to Saravanaas hostility. 127 East 28th Street off Lexington, 212 685 7301.

The annoying: Jane, where we landed after the truly extraordinary “Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and where the ample portions at low prices had to be weighed against the crazy-making service. Why do restaurateurs insist on stinting on waiters? Six busboys are not much use if they can’t take an order for a second glass of wine with the entrees. Plus the waitress was really a waitron, with a chip implanted that made her unable to deviate from her water-selling script. I ordered the $19 veal Milanese because it came under an arugula-tomato salad, and it was literally the size of the not-small plate; that and the flavor made me wonder if it was really the ingredient with top billing. My consort’s $23 scallops were also oddly gargantuan, but they came in a spectacular chile sauce with pozole and bacon. Wines by the glass started at $8, but I had to switch to the $10 sauvignon blanc after the not-great viognier. WIGB? Maybe — price and proximity to two movie theaters are not to be underestimated. 100 West Houston Street near Thompson, 212 254 7000.

New York minutes/August 2007

August 2007

The good and gimmicky: Hill Country, where I wanted to hate everything but actually was impressed by both the concept, the unnaturally hospitable staff and the Kreuz Market sausage. I’m not sure I would brave it at a busy dinner hour, when it would have to be a circle of cacophonous hell, but at lunchtime on a Monday it was pretty deserted and we were patiently served at the barbecue, side dish and drinks sections. You start with a meal ticket to be stamped at each stop (one that costs $50 if you lose it), and facing down the food makes you want to over-order before you head for the picnic tables with rolls of paper towels waiting to eat off butcher paper. We stuck to a quarter-chicken, a quarter-pound of “moist” (as opposed to lean) brisket, one sausage, coleslaw, pickled cucumber salad and a glass of Texas chenin blanc and got out for $34, no tip needed. The brisket turned out to be too fatty for my taste, but the chicken was excellent for chicken and that sausage was just outstanding — I’d had it before by mail order, and fresh was a whole new experience. Most meats are sold by the pound, but you can buy as little as a slice. WIGB? Only for lunch. I’m too old for head-banging din. 30 West 26th Street between Sixth and Broadway, 212 255 7245.

The inevitably perfect: Pearl, where my cod sandwich came with overheard snippets of chef gossip that made me think about how un-New Yorkly hospitable the West Village is to women (Rebecca, Anita Lo, April Bloomfield, Jody Williams, Amanda Freitag, to name just a few).

The not bad: Alouette, for a change, where we sought out neutral ground after my consort dragged in from a week of teaching at the Maine Photo Workshops. I chose it primarily because the noise level is usually so inoffensive even if the food, whether by idea or execution, can be mediocre to gruesome. But our timing was off, and we were led to the attic level (read: hot) two tables away from boors and basically felt as if we were eating in the spillover chute. Still, the special of mayonnaisy shrimp in avocado was a dated notion but satisfying, and Bob’s monkfish with shiitakes was far better than average for the neighborhood. A real chef could turn this place around so that the upstairs would be as packed as downstairs. WIGB? Where else can I find peace and $7 Macon-Village sanity so close to home? 2588 Broadway near 97th Street, 212 222 6808.

The overreaching: Asiate in the Mandarin Oriental, where the protracted Restaurant Week deal reeled a friend and me in and where both of us walked away adding up all the other venues where $24.07 would have gone further. I was further suckered into ordering salmon because it was described as glazed with both sea urchin and miso, and the resulting flavor and texture could best be described as cat foody. The corn soup with crispy chickpeas and chanterelles that preceded it was unobjectionable, but my date was beyond underwhelmed by the taste-light raw tuna salad and the special cod. I think the cheapest glass of wine was $11, which had to help underwrite the view-maximizing design of the room but was still hard to swallow. The service was almost obsequious. On the plus side, the bathrooms were exceptional. WIGB? Only when I have $24 for a diner breakfast with a view, served by inchworms. Or if someone gives me megabucks to explore that tantalizing wine list.

The dispiriting: Tandoori on 94th Street, a “new” cafe that proves something about reincarnation, although I am not sure what. In 21 years in the neighborhood, I ate at the original at 97th and Columbus exactly once and got takeout or delivery only slightly more often, and I remembered the food as being slightly less dull than dishwater. So don’t ask how I wound up on the buffet line at the new location, where I used to be able to buy crema and chilies and fresh chorizo at Stop One. (Well, actually, I had fled the new fusiony Asian place nearby because it was not just empty but reeked of fish.) Suffice it to say that it was a total rip if you don’t eat lamb or tandoori chicken or whatever fish previously occupied the third Sterno station. I was left with only a yellow dal, an okra-heavy curry with potatoes and spinach with chickpeas to eat with coriander chutney and mango pickles and a whole basket of bread. It was only $8.95 and I have seldom felt so cheated.

The divey: All State Cafe, where I had not been in donkey’s years but agreed to join friends who were craving cheeseburgers and worried that Fairway would be too zooey. I just had a turkey club with big leaden fries and a couple of glasses of overpriced glasses of wine, and the place was the same as it ever was. WIGB? Maybe. It was quiet enough for a shockingly calm debate about Israel. 250 West 72d Street, 212 874 1883.

The doomed: China de Puebla, where the owners have apparently sunk megabucks into the swank decor without considering location, location — our table looked out onto a barrier under the subway tracks and off toward the projects. Only four tables filled on a chilly Monday night. The food was up and down, but at least the concept was clear when the excellent salsa landed with a mix of tortilla and shrimp chips. The best thing three of us split was the hoisin-braised duck empanada with chipotle sauce; the salmon seviche with Asian pears, passion fruit and cilantro was over-cured. And the best entree was the roast chicken with black sticky rice and plantains; my consort’s shrimp and scallops were drowned in other dark flavors, while my crispy tofu with vermicelli and edamame in curry sauce was a bunch of very fresh-tasting ingredients refusing to talk to each other. The service was excellent, although having spent five weeks in a too easily begrimed sling, I have to say the sight of one on a server’s wrist was a little queasy-making. WIGB? Not anytime soon, unfortunately. 3143 Broadway at 123d Street, 212 222 8666. [Late July 2007]