Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

When you know you will pass this way again

July 2017

There is no travel luxury like time. When you have 18 days in one place, a Mollica can happen.

One afternoon in Torino I was wandering back from an hour studying the alimentary canal (and femurs and brains) at the anatomy museum and swung past a new restaurant a food photographer had recommended. It looked a bit too intimidating for a sweaty traveler at lunch, but a couple of doors up on the piazza I spotted an enticing little sandwich shop with the most alluring concept: panini made to order with bread, cheese, salumi and salse from small producers in and around the city. It had a line and looked tricky to navigate for someone still sleepwalking through jet lag, but I took a couple of snapshots. On a quick trip that would have been the end of it.

A few nights later three of us who can speak about three phrases of Italian among us braved the intimidating restaurant for a two-bottle dinner (more about that later, of course) and then wandered past the shop again. This time a small group of youngs was clustered outside, so we stumbled in to gawk at the design and were followed by the owner, who explained the concept. In English, because this generation of food-changing Torinese always seem to speak it, usually well.

On a quick trip, that would have been the end of it. But my consort and I had the luxury of time the following Monday to make a foray. And it was so worth the journey. The counter was manned by two stylish women (daughter-mother?) who summoned an older man from the courtyard to translate even though it turned out daughter? spoke excellent English. We could choose from three breads (I learned morbidoso is not stale but soft), half a dozen each cheeses and meats, grilled eggplant or zucchini or sun-dried tomatoes and four salse, from verde to oliva. Even with gentle explaining, it was all a bit overwhelming, so Bob went with one from the list of suggestions for the undecided (coppa, cheese, grilled zucchini) and I stupidly chose mortadella as the base for mine, meaning there were limits to what could be added without overwhelming the main ingredient (robiola, though? great). Of course the sandwiches themselves were nothing like what you get in train stations and stand-up caffes, just layers of perfection, but the mother? also plied us with tastes of cheese and lardo. Wine was E3 for a little plastic cup of serve-yourself local white or red. And the bill came to all of E15. Because we drank wine, water was free. WIGB? I hoped to, but there are so many choices and now so little time. It says everything, though, that when I touted it on FB the owner responded with a grazie.

New York 60th-minute

June 2017

So where does $60+ go on a Friday night? Not to either Mermaid Inn or Tangled Vine, both swamped when I hooked up with my consort after a friend bailed on us. We wound up at Barley & Grain for dramatic hummus with warm, puffy pita, a nice deal at $6 even though they charged for the necessary extra bread. But we passed on the $6 happy-hour wine deal in favor of a $42 bottle of Provencal rosé. Pinot grigio is just one step up from Flint water.

New York minutes, A (plural) to Q

February 2016

Twitter might have done me a favor for once. A digital pal just asked what my favorite dining/drinking spots, $ to $$$$, might be. And of course the answers would take more than 140 characters. And of course I couldn’t just send her here because my site is a bit dusty, which is an ass-saving way of saying downright neglected. Now I’m motivated, even though I have to quote my consort’s response whenever he was asked, back when he was on the road nine months of the year for National Geographic et al: Favorite city? The next one.

So. I haven’t gotten around to writing why RedFarm was my choice in early November for what could have been my last meal. The cooking and service are unsettlingly close to perfect every time we go. Pro tip: Stick to the dim sum and appetizers and you will eat extremely well for just $$ and not $$$$. We also find ourselves at the Mermaid Inn almost too often since it expanded and added soundproofing. Happy hour is even more of a deal for surprisingly creative cooking. (I can make a meal of the crab cake appetizer.)

We are also devotees of $ Jin Ramen, although I always get the rice bowl with beef rather than the namesake bellybuster. We like $$ Saravanaas in Curry Hill for the thali and the dosa and the atmosphere (uptown? not so much). Great New York Noodletown in Chinatown ($) never lets us down, either, but Hunan House in Flushing is vaut le $$ voyage for atmosphere as well as a great menu.

I always like Baker & Co. in the West Village after a movie because it’s good and quiet and $$. We usually get a good meal (prosciutto-arugula pizza for me, inevitably) with very cheap wine at Fairway’s upstairs cafe. We like the Smith, too, even though it’s loud and it’s not at all cheap — it delivers in a restaurant what nearby New York Look promises in clothing. Because of the peeps behind it, I like Toloache in any of its locations although, again, the appetizers deliver more than the mains for a lower tab. I could happily eat at least once at week at Momofuku Noodle Bar, the best duck dealer going.

But this all makes me realize how big this city is and how small the world is.

I think the birthday night we cabbed home from Le Bernardin and reflected that we (or one of us) could have flown to Paris for the same amount I’d just paid for dinner was sobering, because we almost never go out for fancy anymore. We’re much more interested in places like the awesome Fung Tu, or the Musket Room, where we’ve had perfectly splendiferous meals for less than a month’s maintenance.

Because Twitter is not the room for an altercation, I didn’t ask why my pal was asking about restos. But she has made me confirm something. The $$$$ is no longer about the food. It’s the experience. I went to a media event the other night at one of New York’s Finest and was kinda stunned by how bustling the place was, how mixed the crowd was, how lively the whole mood was. But the food just struck me as safe. And I wasn’t even paying.

New York minutes/Late July into August 2013

August 2013

The seriously good: Empellon Cocina in the East Village, where my consort and I headed after getting shut out of the City Streets tunnel attraction on a Saturday and after a Twitter pal had been raving about the pork being better than Daniel’s or Chang’s. The menu was more eggs- and sugar-oriented because it was the worst time of the week — brunchtime — but we were blown away by the tacos, one order with short rib pastrami and the other with English peas and ricotta. We also ordered bacon guacamole with black pepper salsa and masa chips, and it had barely landed when the main attractions were set down. But that turned out to be the right order of eating. We got to concentrate on how fabulous the tastes and textures of the fillings were, then could slowly explore all the nuances of the appetizer: the avocado-bacon harmony, the crunchiness of the crisps, the way the creamy salsa amplified all the tastes. With chips, you dunk and gorge. It would be unpossible with this. The restaurant itself is also gorgeous, and everyone but our waiter was muy hospitable — WTF with bringing the check while we’re still eating? WIGB? Can’t wait, although for dinner and on the early side, because that dazzling array of tequilas and mezcals seemed like a pretty good indicator it might get loud.

The surprisingly good: ABV on the Upper East Side, where Bob suggested we go on one of his just-back nights rather than settling for Elizabeth’s yet again and where the food, service and noise level were almost like eating at home. We split a chilled spicy tomato soup that proved you don’t need to translate that concept into Spanish, especially if you add charred edamame and cotija cheese. Then we had an outstanding brisket torta with avocado, cheese etc. plus delicate but rich gnocchi with asparagus, smoked ricotta, mushrooms and more. WIGB? On the early (quiet) side, anytime. A $32 rosé was fuel for the walk back across the park in the gorgeous light.

The unsurprisingly good: Barrio Chino on the Lower East Side, where we wound up after a stock-up trek to Di Palo even though we had set out with Parm on our minds — something about the lure of a jalapeño margarita whomped the notion of eggplant Parmesan. As always, the food was fine (chorizo quesadilla for Bob, huge and great molletes for me), and that margarita was vaut le voyage. The kitchen was kind of snoozy, but the server was at the top of his form. WIGB? Anytime we’re close by. Although when we walked by empty Mission Chinese on our way to the killer black sesame gelato at Il Laboratorio, we did have a bit of eater’s remorse. One day we’ll make it there.

The pretty good: Market Table in the West Village, where I was treated to lunch by an editor who had offered Korean or Greek or Bar food and where the dissonance between careful cooking and craptastic acoustics was rather unnerving. (Neither of us is a loudmouth in person.) I should have picked up on her vibe and hints about the “roasted vegetable falafel,” because it really was a trudge. The Mexican corn off the cob we shared tasted pretty great, and so did the quinoa hush puppies the chef comped her as a powerful regular. And she sounded happy with her watermelon and peekytoe crab gazpacho. WIGB? Sure, if someone else is paying.

The all good again: The Smith across from Lincoln Center, Mermaid Inn uptown, Elizabeth’s and Txikito. At that last one, we had much of what I’d enjoyed on my first foray, including the crab gratin, but we also loved the cured pork canapé and a salad of baby arugula, egg and crisp silverfish. And then there was Saiguette on the Upper West Side, which really is too great to be anywhere near this close to home. The banh mi is easily the best we’ve ever had, even when lemongrass-grilled pork fills in for the special pork belly. Summer rolls are exceptional and steamed (not fried) dumplings pretty great.

A note about the wine

July 2010

I had a lot of time by myself while Bob was preoccupied with his students, so I invested it in serious research, investigating “rose wine,” as the waiters called it. The House Cafe had a pleasant balcony and charged 12 Turkish lira for a big glass of fine Lal, from Kavaklidere, apparently the dominant producer in Anatolia. At the sleek cafe in the wonderful Pera Museum with its spirit-lifting Botero exhibit, I tried two other producers’ over two days for only 10 TL a pour and got amazing pistachios to go with them. And one afternoon I invested an hour tasting four different rosés at Sensus, a wine cellar with a cheese counter. I’m not sure how any of them would stack up against something from Languedoc or Provence, but they were beyond impressive there. I see Astor carries some of them in New York, and they’re much cheaper than they were in the restaurants.

New York minutes/Latish May 2010

May 2010

Wow. Did I really eat out nowhere this week? I know I had endless Champagne at Mireille Guiliano’s book party at her home. And I ate some great short ribs braised in Austrian vinegar at a press party, plus a great fava bean salad with pumpkinseeds and pumpkinseed oil, all tucked into a crunchy cornet. But I also realized, yet again, why chefs should be wary of those kinds of promos: What I tasted from a restaurant I’d been wanting to try was rated NG. For all a certain chef’s alleged fear of cooking for 200 in a kitchen set up for that, the awful truth is that way too much turns to rubber chicken when you have to transport it and serve it to a crowd.

New York minutes/Middish August 2009

August 2009

The good as always: The New French, for post-market cheeseburger and steak salad done right. Kitty bag was kinda sloppy (leftovers all tossed into one tin, which leaked) but otherwise it was as it inevitably is: perfect.

Otherwise, I only broke away from our kitchen for dinner at our friends Debbie & Jim’s place down CPW, and as always it was great food and consummate hospitality: excellent guacamole, trailer park dip (equal parts mayonnaise, Cheddar and Vidalia onion, baked till gooey), salad with watermelon surprise, seafood-chicken-sausage paella, raspberry-sauced almost-flourless chocolate cake baked by Emily the star of stage and small screen and many, many bottles of wine to fuel lively conversation. Much as I like to cook (and control), having someone else do it is beyond luxury these days.

New York minutes/Late April/Early May 2009

May 2009

The always good: The New French, where I guiltily went to re-calibrate my appestat after the Wednesday Greenmarket. A-plus for Cheddarburger, fries, rosé and service. Would have given my compliments to the chef on the way out, but he was doing what chefs so rarely do: Cooking his ass off at peak lunchtime. 522 Hudson Street at 10th, 212 807 7357.

The not bad: Bar Artisanal, where I hooked up with my consort after the book party down below and where the pluses outweighed the minuses, maybe because the Boss Man was on the premises, in his whites. Manchego “beignets” were a rip, four little deep-fried dabs on long skewers for $9, but the $16 seared cod with cockles, chorizo and potatoes was actually big enough to share and the $15 tartiflette “pissaladiere” was a generous slab richly topped with lardons, potatoes and Reblochon. I had a half-glass of Brachetto at the bar while waiting ($7) and felt happier with a full glass of $9 Verdicchio at the table. The place looks pretty grand, but the hostess told Bob it was one restaurant one night and this one the next, so credit where credit is due. 268 West Broadway at Sixth Avenue, 212 925 1616.

The promising: Centrico, where I was a bad guest at a decent book party and where the passed apps and the margarita made me think, yet again, I have been remiss in never investing in a full meal there. Crab tostaditos were irresistible and the little meatballs . . . spicy. Bartenders were great; it was all almost enough to make me forget my one ignominious night cooking in the teeny kitchen there when it was 211, back in the last century. 211 West Broadway, 212 431 0700.

New York minutes/Early April 2009

April 2009

The pretty good: Anthos Upstairs, where one of the last editors with an expense account treated me to Recessionary Chic and where I wonder how happy the chef is that his downstairs regulars were so ready to try the cheap alternative. We split the better-than-Kefi fried cod, the exceptional dumplings with a surfeit of leeks, duck gyro (strange) and the beet-feta salad (great) and were comped the overwrought mussels and underwhelming red mullet. Each generous small plate was $12 or under, and you could get away with fewer dishes. The waiter seemed a good guide to the Greek wines by the glass, too. WIGB? I felt as if I was walking to a foreign country on leaving the subway, and I may not get a ticket there again soon. 36 West 52d Street, 212 582 6900.

The WTF was I thinking? Chez Lucienne in Harlem, where I dragged my long-suffering consort and the Bugses on a bitter night after I got a bug up my own restaurant notebook to try a nice chef’s latest outpost because it seemed so affordable. The host and the room were fine, very evocative of a French fantasy, but. .  .  The waiter was like a battering ram, repeatedly interrupting even though the place was pretty empty. And my consort spent half the long trek home bitching about the wine — the first bottle, a cabernet for $26, was so shiver-inducing he upgraded to the $32 St. Emilion for the second and felt twice as ripped off. As for the food, our shared endive-blue cheese salad was pretty sodden although the bit of our friends’ foie gras I tasted almost redeemed it. Lady Bugs and I both stupidly ordered the bavette, which was translated as skirt steak but was closer to hanger and really the worst of both cuts, chewy and sloppy. The potato gratin, while nothing to write home to Lydie Marshall about, was a saving grace, though. And certainly we did better than poor Bob with his cooked-to-winy-overkill coq au vin with noodles and Dr. Bugs with his beef daube (the polenta with it was fried, which seemed ill-matched). They split a “nougat glacé,” of which a forkful was plenty. It was $100 a couple, but Bob said he would always pay more for good. WIGB? Alouette is so much closer, if you catch my drift.

The adequate: The bar at PorterHouse in the dread TWC, where a friend and I hooked up before an outstanding evening of Jazz at Lincoln Center in the dread TWC. Pricey wines were strange (the Oregon pinot gris was as syrupy as they always are, and the Greek sauvignon blanc should have left the grape to New Zealand or Chile), but the bartender and his left-arm man were efficient enough to get us a bowl of $8 potato chips and a shared Caesar salad before we had to run to marvel at Wynton Marsalis et al in a performance broadcast live. Even with what seemed to be a huge meeting of Assholes Anonymous going on all around us, that whole experience was better than ducking into Blue Ribbon afterward, where the litter-covered floor looked like a tapas bar in Spain and wines by the glass were priced four times as high, and then Providence, where the eerie guy at the desk just inside, right out of “The Shining,” informed us there were no drinks to be had, and finally Kennedy’s, where the sauvignon blanc was just what you would expect in an every-day-is-March-17 kind of joint.

New York minutes/Latish March 2009

March 2009

The reliable: Mermaid Inn, where I met a genius friend who is increasingly appreciating the lure of Demon Wine and where our usual server in the back room tacitly helped by pouring us to-the-brim glasses of the $12 Gruner. She also tipped us off to the changes in prep for the salmon and skate, and Pam went for the latter, braised on the cartilage with tomatoes, garlic and saffron and quite good. I, of course, had to eat like a home-alone child with the special fish and chips, which at least was excellent as usual. 568 Amsterdam Avenue near 88th Street, 212 799 7400.

The painful: Fatty Crab uptown, where a dieting friend and I connected to chagrin for her and aural abuse for me. She was the neighborhood moth drawn to the flame of the new, only to realize not much on the menu would make Weight Watchers happy; I was the uncharacteristically accommodating pal who by the end was ready to shoot out the speakers. Unlike downtown, the music was not just loud but pretty lame, but as she noted, all you could hear was bass. Booming bass. Add to that kiddle waiters (propellers would be appropriate on some caps) who came by every five minutes to ask if we were “still working on that.” As for the food, my memory must be faulty. I don’t recall so many bean sprouts padding out the excellent mango salad downtown, or such a skimpy portion of the fatty duck (I loved it although I don’t think it was the freshest thing in the kitchen). The “watercress,” as the waiter translated it, was perfection, though. We left debating whether the place would do well in a neighborhood where value notoriously trumps just about anything. But maybe we were grumpy because we settled for two dainty glasses of the $9 Gruner each rather than risking a $50-plus bottle of something unfamiliar. That list must have been written pre-Madoff. WIGB? Well, my consort will want to try it. And we have nothing to talk about when we go out. . . . 2176 Broadway near 77th Street, 212 496 2722.