Archive for the ‘top of the food chain’ Category

New York minutes/Early February 2012

February 2012

The seriously good again: Momofuku Ssam in the East Village, where my consort and I met another food-obsessed couple via the Twitter for a Sunday lunch that was even more invigorating than my two previous weekday indulgences. We were there before the door opened at 11:30 so of course got a nice table (and, I learned later, a waiter who Tweets, too). The four of us shared everything, which meant I tasted excellent sweetbreads I normally would spurn (prep them once or twice and you will, too) and the spicy sausage and rice-cake dish, as well as lively pickled vegetables and a pear sorbet brilliantly accessorized with pumpkin, cornflakes and blue cheese. All the duck — rotisserie, dumplings, pulled sandwich — was of course perfect. The only letdown was apple kimchi with bacon and maple labne, which amounted to ingredients talking past each other. WIGB? Can’t wait. 207 Second Avenue at 13th Street, 212 212 254 3500. (BTW: We all went down the avenue afterward to Vandaag for the exceptional coffee in that rigorously designed room; the cappuccino was one of the best I’ve ever had on this continent.)

The transporting: Il Buco Alimentari in Nebulousnabe, where we fortified ourselves with  Saturday lunch before a time trip through the amazing Merchant’s House Museum nearby and where the history was nearly as palpable (wood from the way-back machine). Seeing a whole porchetta on the rotisserie in the theatrical open kitchen made the panino irresistible, and it was a juicy/crunchy/tender marvel on just the right bun; pickled vegetables on the side only made it seem more of a deal at $16 (Porchetta’s is of course sublime and much cheaper but without the creature comforts). We shared the $14 insalata di cicoria despite my resistance to Scalia anchovies for their name alone, and it turned out to be one of the rare enjoyable bitter salads, with almost sweet Treviso radicchio tossed in and crunchy fine bread crumbs over the top. And $14 grilled sausage over Umbrian lentils had real nuance; fried sage leaves and sweet onions were grace notes. As the server warned, the coffee needs work; even with way more than a cloud on the macchiato it was bitter. (We stopped by Colombe later just to compare and now suspect, though, that taste is not what’s cutting into business; it’s probably more the scene.) The market in the front is quite nice, too, although we managed to get out without buying anything. WIGB? Absolutely, at least for serene lunch. I’d guess it might get loud at dinner, with all those hard surfaces. 53 Great Jones Street, 212 212 837 2622.

The satisfying, again: La Mangeoire in Midtown East, where we landed after being warned of a 45-minute wait at the Smith after an opening of New York in Color with a friend’s work at the Howard Greenberg Gallery on 57th Street. The $38 white from the Languedoc matched well with both Bob’s intense coq au vin with mushroom-bacon sauce and my pork roast (first time I’ve ever ordered that, and my reward was super-tender thanks to the server actually asking what temperature I wanted). And the anchoiade, olives and oil with the bread basket were just gravy. I’ll admit it was a little sad to see Christian Delouvrier and think back on Ruth’s bedazzled  review in his $30 soup days, but his cooking has lost only the flash and price tag, not the style and substance. WIGB? We may never make it to the Smith. Add in no din and the option of downsized main courses and it’s definitely worth the journey. 1008 Second Avenue near 53d Street, 212 759 7086.

The over-the-top: RedFarm in the West Village, where we left my name and of course got a perfect little table and no end of comped food from gregarious Eddie Schoenfeld; we only had to wait as long as it took to pick out three new salts at the Meadow down the street. Thank allah we kept a receipt, because it really was more dishes than any cranial sieve could retain (he at least did the smart thing and said: “Take a taste and take it home”). We chose good shu mai shooters (two for $7.50), huge and slightly overwrought crab and duck dumplings (four for $12), exquisite vegetable and chive steamed dumplings (four for $8), noodles with both Dungeness and rock crab ($27) and sublime okra and eggplant yellow curry ($17 and enough to keep me from succumbing to mediocre Thai again for a long, long time — this had at least six kinds of vegetables in addition to the excellent stars, and the sauce was all nuanced flavor). Forced upon us were killer soup dumplings with truffles; strange but irresistible eggplant “bruschetta” topped with smoked salmon and caviar; mushroom spring rolls; amazing barbecued Berkshire pork belly; the $39 like-buttah Creekstone prime rib steak with the best baby bok choy I’ve ever stuck an implement into, and two desserts: chocolate pudding and a “fruit plate.” The kittybag was damned heavy on the way back to the C train, and we ate from it for three days. We also shared a $32 bottle and two $16 glasses of an ideal wine for Joe Ng’s style of cooking, S.A. Prum “Blue” Mosel riesling (Joshua Wesson did the list). WIGB? Can’t wait, although I may sneak in with a bag over my head. But that might mean missing out on Eddie’s entertaining tales. 529 Hudson Street, 212 792 9700.

The “good luck to them”: Left Bank in the far West Village, where we met one of our favorite people, in from Veneto, for a great long, long Sunday dinner. We reserved at 6:30 to try out the “happy hour,” which sounded so much more respectable than “early bird,” but were only able to take advantage of the half-price, half-assed Aperol spritz ($6) because Diego didn’t get there by 7 for the three courses for $20. Dinner was still a steal: I had outstanding potato gnocchi with pumpkin, black pepper and pecorino, almost like spaetzle, for $17; the guys both had the superb juicy-crisp roast half-chicken with capers, cornichons and dill for $21. (Usual sneakiness: Sides are sold separately.) We also shared a pretty great rendition of brandade with warm toast and olives for $10 and a lively bottle of grillo from Diego’s second home of Sicily for $36. Service and the room were both fine, too. (Even though we got the worst table in the house, right under the speaker with nothing but #RIPWhitney — by the end of the night I was starting to realize why she needed drugs.) WIGB? No question, if it lasts. I know we’ve eaten there before . . . 117 Perry Street at Greenwich, 212 727 1170.

The dispiriting despite the design: Cafe Centro in Hell’s Kitchen, where we ducked in just for cheap sustenance at a sunlit table on our way to the must-see Loving and Weegee shows at ICP. Warm, salty chips and decent salsa were too easy to fill up on, which was lucky because the rice and beans with my lukewarm cheese enchiladas merited no more than one bite each. Bob ordered tacos with carnitas cooked in Coke and we were both glad he had resisted the mahi ones; these were overfilled and hyper-sweet, but things coulda been worse. WIGB? Why do restaurants get better on Ninth as you head south?

New York minutes/Mid-February 2010

February 2010

The good: Nam in TriBeCa, where four of us headed after the amazing “That Night’s Wife” with original score at the World Financial Center and where I could only wonder why we had never tried it before. The elegant room looks like $30 entrees, but I don’t think anything was over $18; Oyster Bay SV was only $30 when wine stores are gouging at $13 or $14. We split outstanding beef rolls and seared tuna rolls plus exceptional grilled eggplant; only the bland green papaya salad with shrimp and scabs (a k a dried beef) was a letdown among appetizers. Roast duck might not have been the freshest bird ever, but it was perfectly cooked, and a noodle dish with pork-and-shrimp meatballs and grilled pork rivaled it. WIGB? Absolutely. Len was longing for the Vietnamese coffee we saw at the next table, and it would only be safe at lunchtime. Plus the staff was so chipper. 110 Duane Street near West Broadway, 212 267 1777.

The sad: Quinto Quarto in the West Village, where we stumbled in for late lunch after finding Market Table closed for a wedding reception and where we soon learned $14.95 is no deal for two courses, wine and coffee. Bob described the food as profoundly mediocre, but I think he was too kind: My “orzo” salad of barley, radicchio and tomatoes with a dusting of grated pecorino bordered on flavor-free, as did his “ribollita,” a mess of mixed vegetables in bland broth. Worse was the baked lamb, allegedly with rosemary; it tasted as if it had been sitting on a steam table long enough to turn to mutton. Only my “bombolotti alla gricia” was half-worth eating, although it arrived cold, a mortal sin in Italy; the sautéed onions, guanciale and pecorino hung together despite the absence of the promised “hot chilly pepper.” Trebbiano and Montepulciano were big pours but also wan. Espresso and macchiato, though, tasted almost Trieste-worthy. And the waitress who made them was incredible: super-friendly, efficient, upbeat. Too bad she wasn’t doing the cooking. WIGB? If a real chef were around. The room is quite nice.

The believe-the-hype: Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village, where a friend and I landed after Sigiri was closed despite the open-hours sign on the door on a less-snow-than-expected afternoon; we were able to walk right in and get seats at a relatively quiet table in the back and were soon sharing a superb pork-kimchi tamal, fabulous steamed buns with shiitakes (more like soft tacos) and spicy noodles with Sichuan sausage, spinach and cashews. I never like wine in teeny tumblers; it never feels worth $9. But that’s a tiny complaint when the staff was so hospitable, the ingredients so clean and the experience so uplifting. WIGB? Can’t wait. I’m even half-tempted to buy the cookbook. 171 First Avenue near 11th Street.

The decent: Turkuaz on the Upper West Side, where we hooked up with three friends after another great “Selected Shorts” at Symphony Space on a snowy night and where the staff let us linger well past midnight in an empty back room. Raku to start was not the smartest idea, but it kept us to one bottle of Turkish white for $32. I’m not sure the “platter” of spreads was worth $19.95; it was more the size of a dinner plate, and we got two baba ghanoush because they were out of a fifth spread. Everything tasted fine, with excellent bread, though. I didn’t try the two meat shish kebabs or $26 lamb chops, but the decent vegetable casserole was overpriced at $14.95. The bathroom was a trip, too, back to the 1950s or a backward country, with old armchairs and that disinfectant reek. WIGB? Maybe. It was certainly comfortable, with more than accommodating service. 2637 Broadway at 100th Street, 212 665 9541.

The design/food fail: Community Food & Juice across from Columbia, where Bob and I settled after a preview program on the enticing “Latin Music USA” series on PBS at the  J-School and where we might have been happier if we had taken seats on the banquette rather than evading two self-absorbed crazy women at the door. Instead we were crammed into a ridiculously tight table in an alcove where the waiter and runner could only get to the next table by slamming into Bob and where the jerk at the next table was bellowing about tits. It all made me think a new rule should be that any restaurant designer should have to suffer a meal at every table greedily wedged in. But all that might have been forgiven if the zucchini-scallion pancakes had not been both desiccated and tasteless and the shrimp dumplings had not been so sad. Only the spicy green beans with peanuts redeemed the meal. Does no one monitor what leaves the kitchen? WIGB? Not on a bet.

New York minutes

November 2008

Here’s something you don’t hear every day: Eat meat. Put on some weight.

That was the surgeon talking before my date with the chainsaw. So I took him up on it twice at The New French (cheeseburger, steak salad) and also used it as an excuse to brave a Chipotle Grill. I never eat fast-food meat, but I swallowed the hype and ordered soft tacos with “steak.” Which were surprisingly decent although the guacamole was mostly color, not taste. I also cooked brisket while testing recipes from cookbooks for Epicurious. And I even ordered the “country meatloaf smothered in brown gravy” in the hospital and understood why a nausea patch had been attached behind my ear.

Charlie Palmer also came to the iron rescue at his scrum of a 20th-anniversary party at Aureole: a whole table set up in the back was loaded with charcuterie, including foie gras.

And out of the hospital, my pal Cheese Jenkins has supplied us and drop-in friends with weight-adding food for days. Not sure when I’ll be able to venture out to a restaurant, but things could be worse. . . . Too much of a good thing is almost enough.

New York minute/Late January 2008

January 2008

The seriously good: Maze by Gordon Ramsay at The London, where my consort treated me on my birthday and where, by the end, we were both glad to have turned down a reservation in the “real” restaurant. I got there latish to find Bob ensconced at a quiet back table next to the door leading to the inner sanctum, and every time it opened we got a whiff of the dark side — stuffy and rich and coffin-ready. We had silverware excess enough, thank you very much. The whole experience was like being in a baby bistro in France. The sommelier happily steered us through the shoals of the wine list to a gruner for around $50 (“steely,” and he was right), and the waiter could not have been more engaging and encouraging. Even the crowd, heavy (literally) on Brits, acted mellow. We split six small plates at $12 to $16, and only one was a dud, the confit hamachi. The best was the apple-cured duck breast, sliced buttery thin and topped with frisee and crispy duck tongues on one side and a cube of over-the-top smoked foie gras with crunchy amaranth to prolong the flavor on the other. White onion veloute with duck ragout and shaved truffle was also obscenely good, as was the cod crusted with Iberian ham and set over a fricassee of artichokes, chorizo and mussels. Scallops with cauliflower puree and beignets were just as I pictured them, although beets with ricotta and pine nuts looked gorgeous but seemed a little too cheesy even for me. The bread tasted more like focaccia and did not need the excellent butter sprinkled with coarse salt. We passed on dessert but tried the truffles and peanut brittle that arrived with the beyond-reasonable check. I’m glad I ate the former last; the latter had been made with rancid legumes. WIGB? Without even waiting for an occasion. All the way home in the cab we talked about how we had talked all the way home in the cab about birthday dinners at twice or three times the price that were less than half as good. 151 West 54th Street, 212 468 8889.