New York

June 24, 2011

You know one thing I’m grateful for? Friends who plan their weddings in ~NEW YORK~ in June, that’s what. What an amazing time to be in the city, and of course I had to stay for a few extra days to charge around and stuff my face.

A few non-related-to-food things you should check out in case you’re heading to the Big Apple in coming months: do not miss the Met’s Alexander McQueen show, Savage Beauty, what a marvel. The best fashion installation I’ve ever seen. The Picasso and Marie-Thérèse show at the Gagosian Gallery was also one to see. And the other thing that blew my mind was Sleep No More, the creepy and engaging theatrical production in a building in Chelsea that was like a cross between The Shining, the Exploratorium, and Eyes Wide Shut. Some of the best $80 I’ve ever spent. Don’t miss it.

You can view my complete photo album on Flickr here.

200 5th Ave. at 23rd St.
birreria.JPG I went to check out the latest addition to the Batali-Bastianich empire, Birreria, which is perched on top of the Eataly building. Ended up being the perfect Sunday supper destination in my post-wedding, hungover state. There will soon be three cask-conditioned beers brewed on the rooftop from the brewmasters of Dogfish Head, Del Borgo, and Baladin, and in the meantime, there’s quite the lineup of beers on tap (9) and bottled (20). My friend and I tucked into a carafe of the DFH Festina Peche ($14), while working our way through some killer mushroom dishes, like fried shiitake ($15) with sage and a marsala reduction drizzled on top (we attacked this), and the roasted maitakes ($15) with a pecorino sardo cream sauce with asparagus and peas. (Whoa.)

Beer. Meat. Bring it on. The mixed salumi plate ($21) had some gems, including a coppa piccante and garlicky soppressata. The sausages (all $19) are freaking fantastic, like the rich cotechino and the biroldo, a Toscana-inspired blood sausage. I liked how the cotechino was served: sliced and seared, so you get that crispy-fatty goodness in each bite, and you get some mustard and a choice of one side, from kraut to potato salad. And one of my dining partners was ready to double down on the beer-braised pork shoulder ($19), he loved it that much. I really enjoyed the airy space, and while I’ve been told the lines to get in can be insane, we literally walked in on Sunday evening.

Tía Pol
205 10th Ave. at 22nd St.
tiapol.jpg I have been wanting to go to Tía Pol for far too long, and it ended up being a dream spot for lunch on a warm day. It’s a long and narrow slip of a space, so I can imagine it’s just as packed in the evening as I’ve heard it is. But for a midweek lunch? We waltzed right in. The Spanish menu is full of all the things you want to eat in warm weather: boquerones ($12) and deviled eggs made with smoky pimentón de la vera ($3 for three), all alongside big glasses of rosé, of course.

We also dialed in on a few more tapas, like the wicked paquetitos de jamón ($9): little triangular bundles of artichoke and manchego wrapped in serrano ham. Dude. The lengua a la plancha ($8)—veal tongue topped with pickled red onion on toasted baguette, was another decadent hit—while the piquillo peppers ($7) with potato salad and tuna were the only clunker dish—just kind of bland compared to everything else. Dessert finished strong: leche frita ($6), Basque-style balls of fried custard accompanied by drunken cherries. Seriously, hold the telefono. All in all, it was a fun little side trip to Spain while on the streets of Chelsea, and it’s right by the High Line, so you can enjoy a buzzed paseo after your meal.

156 10th Ave. at 20th St.
cookshop.JPG My friends and I tucked into a hearty brunch here before cruising around the Chelsea galleries one afternoon. It’s a good brunch spot, with a spot-on bloody mary, and be sure to get some ricotta beignets ($11) (made with Di Palo’s ricotta) for the table while waiting for your order. My friend’s chilled beet soup ($8) was marvelous, and I ate every last bite of the radicchio and escarole salad ($10), nicely dressed in an anchovy-garlic vinaigrette with a flurry of Parmesan and breadcrumbs. My friend and I split the poached eggs with housemade pork sausage ($14) over Anson Mills grits (which were smooth but desperately needed some salt). I liked the airy space, the cheerful gingham shirts on all the servers, and the seasonal brunch menu is exactly what you want, from huevos rancheros to salads to a burger.

352 W. 39th St. at 9th Ave.
mercato.jpg I wouldn’t necessarily go far out of my way to seek this place out, but boy was I pleased this cozy trattoria was directly across the street from where I was staying. I had a charming solo meal at the bar late in the evening, dining on rustic southern Italian dishes like garlicky rapini over a fava bean purée ($10), and trenette al pesto trapanese ($14), another garlicky dish with a rarely seen pesto made of almonds, garlic, tomatoes, and basil—delicioso. I liked how the menu had a variety of unique pastas, from Sardinian malloreddus to some Pugliese dishes (which is where I was told the owner is from). Super-friendly bar staff, and I ended up getting great tips on various Italian places to check out from a local in the neighborhood who sat next to me (I returned the favor by introducing him to Carpano Antica). Loved the bar setup—so New York.

Arthur Ave.—The Bronx

Before I flew to New York, my dad gave me a nudge, “Be a good girl. Go to Arthur Avenue and bring your father back some Crotonese from the Calabria Pork Store.” I was thinking to myself, “Now, when the hell am I going to have time to schlep all the way out to the Bronx to get some cheese?” On my first night sitting at the Mercato bar, my drinking partner Peter said the same thing: “Have you ever been to Arthur Ave.? It’s the real deal. You gotta go.” Armed with some great pointers from Peter, I decided to head out for a Monday excursion to score my dad some loot for Father’s Day. It was so worth the hour trip—that place is full of culinary gold.

I started with lunch in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, an enclosed bazaar of sorts. I was told to hit the Café al Mercato in the back for a slice of pizza—I loved the thick rustic style, and the eggplant and tomato sauce slice I picked (after much mulling, let me tell you) was so packed with flavor. I enjoyed my lunch next to firemen (hot) and old Italian guys gossiping at the (classic) red-and-white checkered plastic tablecloth tables—too legit to quit. I also scored a reproduction of the Romagna in Bocca book for $20 at a neighboring stand (the Mount Carmel Gourmet Food Shop), and was so sorry I wasn’t staying much longer, because I wanted to cook the fresh fusilli and cavatelli they had on the counter.

I swung by the Madonia Brothers Bakery to pick up my dad some black pepper and fennel taralli, and on a whim, ordered some amazing-looking amaretti cookies. Let me tell you, they proved to be the best amaretti I’ve ever had. I’m ready to call and order a huge box of them, seriously.

I walked into the Morrone Pastry Shop to grab an espresso, and picked up a couple sfogliatelle to bring home. But when I looked at the pastry case and saw they had pesche (peaches), I had to order one. It’s a pastry I only see in Calabria—it’s a cream-filled pastry with a pink exterior that is dyed with maraschino to make it look like a peach. (There’s a recipe for them in Rosetta Costantino’s My Calabria book, and here’s a blog post someone did outlining how to make them). Sadly my pesca tasted a bit old, but it was still nice to be reminded of how much I love these pastries. Gotta set aside an afternoon to make them, soon.

So, the highlight of the trip was definitely my visit to the Calabria Pork Store. Mother of God, you walk in there and the first thing you notice is the exquisite smell of meat curing. Spicy meat. The ceiling is covered—literally covered—with hanging soppressate; it would be a perfect scene for a vegetarian nightmare, right out of Seven. I had a great chat with the owner, and ended up getting $60 worth of sausages (cash only, of course) and the requested Crotonese cheese for my dad. (I also couldn’t resist getting a caciocavallo that was hanging behind the counter—so glad I got it, it was creamy and sweet.) The hot soppressata is amazing, such sweet pork fat, and I loved their version of ‘nduja, a bit firm but full of peperoncino. I also got a soppressata with fennel, another amazing sausage. These guys kick so much ass with their salumi, it tastes right out of the old country. (I didn’t get any of their pancetta calabrese since my dad makes his own.) If there is a salumi cave in heaven (and in my own personal heaven, there certainly is), well, then this is the place it was modeled on.

Yakitori Totto
251 W. 55th St. at 8th Ave.
yakitoritotto.JPG Another place long on my to-try list has been Yakitori Totto, a hidden-away restaurant in Midtown (you have to look for a small sign and climb up a narrow staircase from the street to get to it). We had a short wait (the place is tiny) and then started ordering a parade of dishes, like the delicious Totto soup ($7) with chicken meatballs and mushrooms; ikura don ($11), salmon roe over rice; and a really interesting dish: bainiku and nagaimo isobemaki ($10), little “sandwiches” of pickled sticky yam with a shiso leaf inside—you pick it up and wrap it with a slice of nori. Not for everyone, but my friend and I dug the texture and flavors.

The house specialty, true to its name, is yakitori. Sadly the kitchen ran out of the prized chicken oyster, so we had the momo ($3, thigh) instead, along with our favorite of the night, the shishito tsukune ($4): shishito peppers stuffed with ground chicken meatball. There were a few dishes that fell short, but it was overall a fun, funky, and packed little spot to catch up with a friend over Sapporos late into the evening. And props to a restaurant for finally doing what I have wished all restaurants would do: put toothpicks in the frickin’ bathroom. Which is exactly where they should be.

261 Moore St. at Bogart St., Brooklyn
robertas.JPG I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it to this much-recommended Brooklyn outpost this trip, but Roberta’s late hours (nightly until 12am) blessedly made it possible. And I would have missed out on my favorite dish of the entire trip: fried soft shell crab ($18) with spicy mayo and fresh herbs. So simple, but so sweet and fresh: total crustacean perfection. Of course we had to have one of the pizzas from the roaring pizza oven in the open kitchen—while the banana hammock was tempting (ha ha), we did the Specken Wolf ($14) with mozzarella, speck, mushrooms, onion, and oregano. Couldn’t stop eating the damned thing, and the taste of the char from the oven on the bready crust was fantastic. There’s a spacious outdoor area with a huge garden (impressive), so we couldn’t resist ordering a salad of miner’s lettuce ($14) with maitake mushrooms, bottarga, and Taleggio cheese.

Loved the low-key vibe of the place—felt like it was the neighborhood clubhouse, with young (and kinda drunk) couples sharing a pizza and canned Budweisers, while my friend and I were a bit more bougie with our fizzy bottle of Fattoria Il Gambero Bonarda. I am so coming back for an early evening dinner (or brunch!) so I can check out the gorg garden. And a tablehopper reader tells me the off-the-menu Cortez pizza is hella tasty (spicy tomato sauce, chorizo, cilantro, radishes, and a “crazy good creamy cheese”). It’s just a quick ride on the L train, don’t let the Brooklyn address deter you from this fab spot.

Colicchio & Sons—The Lot on Tap
Entrance on 30th St. between 10th and 11th Aves.
thelot.JPG My friend and I swung by this makeshift outdoor beer garden for a quick drink and a bite before heading over to Sleep No More, which was just a couple blocks away. I was fired up to see the Taim falafel truck was parked there (green olive falafel? yay!) along with a couple other trucks, so you can nosh on something over a pint of Sehr crisp pilsner from Sixpoint Craft Ales (there are fives beers and wines each that you can choose from). This place will assuredly blow up during the summer.

Szechuan Gourmet
21 W. 39th St. at 5th Ave.
szechuangourmet.JPG My New York spice-loving pal is madly in love with this outpost of all things Szechuan, and boy did this joint bring it. Went in with a friend for a late lunch of their double-cooked pork belly with chile leeks ($7.60), shreds of smoked tofu with Asian celery ($6.95), and incredible dan dan noodles ($4.95) with minced chile pork. Each dish was spectacular—balanced flavor, and just enough heat that you got a little sweaty but could still taste your food. Total mother lode of flavor here, the price is right, and super-nice staff. I need to come back with a posse of eight and turn this place out.

The Dutch
131 Sullivan St. at Prince St.
thedutch.jpg Nothing like filling up on a monster fried lunch before getting on a long plane ride home, right? I was thrilled to be able to check out Andrew Carmellini’s latest project in SoHo, primarily because I had my heart set on the fried oyster slider I’ve been reading so much about on Twitter. Well, that little treasure had been swapped out with a soft shell crab sandwich ($16) instead, with a yuzu-tobiko sauce, and a side salad of red watercress. Now that’s what I call a sandwich—move over fried chicken. (And move over lousy slice of tomato I had to rescue the sandwich from.) On the lighter side, the crab salad in a bloody mary sauce—bright with tarragon from the Green Goddess dressing—was also fantastic. The creamy avocado base brought it all home.

Okay, the fries, the fries! I think they’re the best fries I’ve ever had. Seriously. They almost shatter, but still have a slight tender chew to them, with a lovely golden exterior. Our server couldn’t tell me anything more about them except they’re cut in house. Uh, okay. Anyway, get them. We also loved the fried chicken ($19), juicy and even better with a few shakes of the housemade hot sauce—let me tell you, the leftovers made the best dinner I’ve ever had on a plane ride. Oh, and don’t fail to ask for their by-request-only scallion-cornbread with whipped butter.

The tavern-brasserie look is a bit Keith McNally-ish, and made for a fun lunch destination. I’ve heard it blows up at night, and I can believe it. I’m coming back for their famous pie. And more fries. And yes, that’s a threat.

Two more random bites:

Fresh mozzarella from Sergimmo Salumeria (a small little deli that makes fresh mozzarella every two hours)—their sandwiches also looked great.

Sable from Zabar’s (I can’t go to NYC without a visit to their fish counter)—and did you know you can score a free Zabar’s mug if you sign up for their mailing list? Now you do.

You can view my complete photo album on Flickr here.

April 15, 2011

It’s not every day your favorite band EVER is giving up the ghost, hanging up their hat, and calling it a night. So when LCD Soundsystem announced they were playing their last show ever at Madison Square Garden on April 2nd, my sister and I decided to make a long ~NEW YORK~ weekend of it. Hey, you only live once. Let’s do this.

You can view a complete photo album on Flickr here.

92 Madison Ave. at 29th St.
millesime.jpg When chef Laurent Manrique saw that I was coming to New York, he kindly invited me to check out his latest project, Millesime (with executive chef Alan Ashkinaze), a seafood brasserie in the Carlton Hotel. It made for a truly perfect late-night meal since it was merely blocks away from where I was staying in the Flatiron. I dumped my suitcase, and we headed on over for a meal of fresh oysters; an elegant hamachi tartare crowned in wasabi tobiko and a chiffonade of shiso ($15); a big pot of plump mussels with garlic bread ($15, five to choose from); and a fantastically creamy clam chowder ($11). A standout for the table was the quenelles Jean-Louis ($14), two plump and tender quenelles of pike, in the most decadent, buttery lobster sauce that demanded to be mopped up with bread (when you’re not busy slathering your bread with the red wine and onion butter). The carbonara made of calamari ($14) was clever (and shockingly tender), rich with the flavor of smoked bacon, but it was sadly over-seasoned.

The stocked raw bar, cherry red banquettes, red and white napkins and plates, sparkly chandeliers, tiled floors, and shining brass railings all give it a snappy brasserie feeling, along with an exuberant staff, and there was an eclectic crowd dining late. If I was having an affair, it would be the perfect venue: the room is located upstairs from the street, there are lots of little tucked-in corner booths, and it’s in a hotel. Score.

Kin Shop
469 6th Ave. at 11th St.
kinshop.jpg I have been curious to try chef-owner Harold Dieterle’s Kin Shop for some time (his first restaurant is the nearby Perilla), and it made for a spot-on lunch on a rainy day. Since I was technically on vacation, I started with the ALN, a martini of Farmer’s organic gin and housemade spicy Thai pickle brine. Um, yes. (I heart a boozy lunch.) We continued on the spicy train with the popular spicy duck laab salad ($13), a stellar rendition that was not shy on chile—and any menu item that has ** next to it and a footnote of “These are the spiciest dishes on our menu. They’re hot and we mean it.” is speaking to me. The fried pork and crispy oyster salad ($13) sounded like another must-try, but in the end, the duck was the one with the most personality by far. Until we tasted the massaman braised goat curry ($22). What a dish. The spices tasted so fresh, with such tender pieces of goat, along with purple yams, mustard greens, and a topping of fried shallots and toasted coconut. Pure heaven with a side of the crispy roti ($5), one of the better executions I’ve tasted in some time.

The place is casual, with a peaceful décor of soothing tones of verdigris, and there is a chef’s counter for those who want to watch the kitchen do their thing. I’d totally head back for dinner—the vibe and concept kind of reminds me of a Thai version of the original Slanted Door.

Momofuku Ko
163 1st Ave. at 10th St.
momofukuko.jpg Oh lord, the drama to get a reservation at this place. It basically entailed getting up at 7am on a Saturday (sorry, I don’t have freaking kids, and I like to sleep in, thankyouverymuch) one week prior to when we wanted to dine there, and fighting with a bunch of users at the same time over a few paltry reservations on a checkerboard screen. I felt like I was playing a really demented culinary video game. Then, if you are so lucky as to score a 9:30pm reservation like I did, you have 120 seconds to get your name and credit card info typed in. And then due to a weird bug, the damned thing wouldn’t accept my credit card expiration date. The countdown mercilessly continued. I tried another card, but it had the same expiration year that seemed to be causing the problem. Fie! And then I lost my reservation. Total #FAIL. And the Momofuku people had zero answers or recourse for me. Momofuku Ko quickly became MOMOFUCKYOU. But I was determined. I stalked that bloody website for a cancellation like a crazy person. Total SWF style. And guess who shockingly got a reso? After all that, let me tell you, dinner needed to freaking DELIVER. And it did.

Hilariously, no images are allowed at the restaurant, so all you get here is a picture I took of a poster in the bathroom. Total David Chang humor, what can I say?

You sit at a counter at an exhibition kitchen (there are 12 seats), and you are served directly by the chef (or in our case, a rather reticent sous). The place really is bare bones—they’re doing the minimum service-wise (I didn’t even get my coat put on at the end of the meal—the “gentleman” just handed it to me), but are giving you their best on your plate. Many of the dishes were fantastic, like a peppery daikon-potato soup with tiny bites of super-flavorful (and fatty) lamb rib with artichoke hearts and browned Brussels sprouts; smoked soft-boiled egg with hackleback caviar (I love some egg on egg), fingerling potato chips, onion soubise, fines herbes, and the groovy acidic hit of sweet potato vinegar; and the famed Microplaned frozen foie gras (it has a wondrous texture in your mouth) with lychee, riesling gelée, and pine nut brittle. Dessert also rocked, like a donut with parsnip glaze and another with hazelnut crumb, plus parsnip and caramel ice cream. Go parsnip. Great textures and balance in (almost) all the dishes.

I dug the quick pace of dinner: 10 courses, 2 hours. Boom boom boom. Impressive. Mercilessly wasn’t a three- or four-hour drawn-out affair. Will set you back $125. (You can also go for lunch, which is 16 courses for $175.) I wasn’t overly full afterward, but was definitely done eating. Music was a quirky mix of REM, Beck, Phish, In Living Color, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton. Crowd was mostly couples, including one who could have been straight out of central casting (she looked like Maggie Gyllenhaal in a bad wig and glasses). There was one solo diner—not sure if he had to pay for two, but I imagine so. So, was it worth it? Yes. And I was actually pleased to not take pictures or write down notes for a change (I know my sister appreciated it as well).

Dumpling Tour

I am really lucky to be friends with Jeff Allen, a total dumpling obsessive who took us on a lunchtime tour of some of his fave Chinatown spots (homeboy goes to Chinatown with a backpack, jus’ sayin’). It was a blast to be able to walk from place to place and eat our faces off with dough and pork items.

Here’s where we hit:

Prosperity Dumpling
46 Eldridge St. at Hester St.
prosperity.JPG Go nuts: you can get the chive and pork dumplings (fried or boiled), and it looked like the fried sesame pancake disappeared in a heartbeat (I will be back to try it—we were on a dumpling tour). The dumplings came out piping hot, super juicy, with a rich and savory filling, and the dough was sublime. Cheap as hell. There is literally room for six people—it couldn’t get tinier—so be prepared to have someone’s elbow or ass in your face if you try to eat in there.

Mei Li Wah
64 Bayard St. at Elizabeth St.
This place is all about their char siu baos/baked barbecue pork buns. Fully loaded, and some of the better ones I’ve ever tasted. $0.80 a pop. Get some extras for later. (Hence the backpack.)

Tang Tou Wang’s
15 Eldridge St. at Canal St.
tangtouwang.JPG This literal hole in the wall specializes in a few Fujian dishes (from the city of Fuzhou, specifically) on a very straightforward menu on the wall—it’s okay, go downstairs and try to nab a spot at the narrow counters. Proceed to hork down a plate of their boiled dumplings, and the egg noodles with peanut butter sauce (although I heart me some ESL: “sause”).

Xi’an Famous Foods
Note: the location in this story is now closed. Check here for other locations.
xian-lambburger.JPG The grand finale of our tour was something that has been on my list FOREVER: the spicy cumin lamb burger ($3). This location literally has a counter with room for about five people tops, unlike their other locations—you’ll either have to get your treasure to go, or you can try to weasel in at the counter. So, that lamb burger. Oh yeah baby, it’s an explosion of cumin and chile and lambiness, with some grilled onion, peppers, scallion, and pickled jalapeño, all sandwiched in a slightly crisp and warm bun that is like a thick English muffin. Fortunately the “burger” is served in a plastic sandwich bag, so the hot chile oil and juice that starts dripping after your first few bites doesn’t end up on your shoes. I am craving it so much right now I almost don’t want to write about it. PANGS.

The other star of the menu we tried are the Liang Pi cold skin noodles ($4) that are also messy as hell. The noodles are thick and wheaty, with chunks of gluten that are all tangled up in the dish and soak up some of the spicy and oily sauce, with hits of sesame. You almost need a bib, no joke. And while you’re waiting for your order, you get to watch them hand pull their noodles right in front of you. Slap slap slap. Just like the chile oil in your face! Can’t wait to return.

54 E. 1st St. at 1st Ave.
prune-sweetbreads.JPG Since I was in the middle of reading chef-owner Gabrielle Hamilton’s book, it only felt fitting to swing by her restaurant for a quick dinner. Prune is as cozy and charming as I remember, but also as packed as always, with people practically sharing your table—if you need to have a big talk about your STDs with your partner, this is not the place to have that talk.

We decided to make a meal of the appetizers, often my favorite way to dine. Sis and I ordered the Parmesan omelette ($8), which ended up being a good accompaniment to the shad roe appetizer special that night. We also had the octopus ($15), nicely tender, and livened up with celery and the heat of chile flake. Of course we shared the famed sweetbreads ($14) that come fried with a satisfying crusty exterior, accompanied by capers and a slice of bacon. So good. And with that, we were done; it was a rich repast (we also had a hefty brunch that day). Although the grappa torte did pique my interest… Oh yes, and about the brunch here: although this place is famous for theirs (and their Bloody Marys), time is always too short for me in New York to be able to suffer that line. Maybe someday, when I live there…

222 Waverly Pl. at W. 11th St.
taim-falafel.JPG Another long-standing item on my wish list was the falafel at Taim in Greenwich Village. Mother of God, what amazing falafel. This place is best in class—the savory falafel are fried to order, sporting the most sublime interplay between a crisp exterior and tender interior, and are stuffed into the fluffy style of pita I love (and proves so hard to find). You can choose the traditional green falafel (with parsley, mint, and cilantro), harissa (with mild heat), or red (made with roasted red peppers)—we were harissa all the way, baby. The sandwich comes slathered with a creamy hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, and marinated cabbage. Total home run. $5.25 for the keys to lunch heaven. I’m ruined forever.

We also tried the sabich sandwich ($6.25), with eggplant slices fried to order, a ton of sliced hard-boiled egg, hummus, tahini, Israeli salad, marinated cabbage, and amba, a tangy, pickled mango-fenugreek chutney. Again, pure, unadulterated sandwich love.

There’s a small counter, and one bench outside, but that’s it. Oh, you can now track down their Taim Mobile truck on Twitter as well. Some of the nicest service, as refreshing as their ginger-mint lemonade.

228 W. 10th St. at Bleecker St.
lartusi-cavatelli.JPG A dear friend who lives in New York treated me and some pals to dinner here one night. He said it’s one of his favorite places for a first date, and I can see why—it’s lively, with a menu that is easy to share dishes off of—but it was also perfect for our group of four. The Italian-inspired menu reminded me a bit of some local Cal-Ital menus; and while it didn’t read as particularly groundbreaking, dishes were well executed, with five kinds of crudo dishes and nine kinds of pasta (all made in-house), along with some larger plates. My hands-down favorite was the cavatelli ($18) with spicy lamb ragu and mustard greens. Incredible texture and ka-pow flavor. My friend’s orecchiette ($18) were also well executed, with the non-traditional addition of some radicchio. Points for having some Statti Gaglioppo on the all-Italian wine list, which our table polished off with verve.

Adult Beverages

I Sodi
105 Christopher St. at Bleecker St.
isodi-negroni.JPG I had heard about the selection of Negronis at I Sodi (four in all), and it proved to be a great spot in the West Village to meet up with a friend for a drink (and a plate of fried artichoke leaves) before my dinner at L’Artusi around the corner. We were served by a really savvy bartender, who was happy to tell us about all kinds of unique spirits he had behind the bar. Dude makes a mean cocktail. All I can say is I am so returning to this cool place for dinner—the artichoke lasagna that was served to a neighboring diner looked (and smelled) amazing.

Death & Co.
433 E. 6th St. at 1st Ave.
This bar is always top of my “while in New York” list. Was happy to hang out with sis and a friend over three drinks here (funny how three drinks can suddenly happen), and we were lucky to score a table after waiting just 15 minutes. But for some reason, the three drinks I ordered (Morfeo, Hot Lips, Petticoat) all bordered on a bit too sweet. And since when do you play along with bartender’s choice and give a few specific pointers, and you end up with something that is already on the drinks menu? Yawn.

Little Branch
22 7th Ave. S. at Leroy St.
Always takes me to my happy place. Gorgeous ice, spiritous cocktails, underground musty vibe, live jazz, moody lighting, little booth tables, and cheeky servers. Was (and will always be) the perfect place for my final-final.

You can view a complete photo album on Flickr here.

May 21, 2010

Boy, was I overdue on some ~NEW YORK~ scouting. Since I spent last year writing and working on my book, it had been a while since I took a bite of the Big Apple. I hope you’re wearing some comfortable pants, or at least have an extra hole or two on your belt, because it’s time to get down to biz-ness.

Oh, and you can view my Flickr album for more photos of all these eats, drinks, and establishments.

Joseph Leonard
170 Waverly Pl. at Christopher St.
josephleonard.JPG Before I left SF for New York, a friend slipped me the business card of this joint. And then another pal sent me an iPhone picture of his lunch here. And then I realized the restaurant was only a block away from where I was staying. Okay, okay, I get it! I’m coming! Jeesh. A pal and I had a marvy brunch at this stylish and affordable corner spot—imagine if one of your stylish friends opened a bar and mini restaurant in their attic, and you’ll get a sense of the vibe here. My farm-fresh eggs were cooked to perfection, served with a house-made pork and garlic sausage and crispy hashbrowns, plus arugula, and a whisper of crème fraîche, for a relatively affordable $13. Meanwhile, my pal’s omelet with wild mushrooms and thick slices of brioche, plus a side of baby lettuces, was $14. Really fresh ingredients, and the dinner menu looked sick. Would love to return—especially for the beef tongue corned beef, are you kidding? Full bar, friendly staff, groovy eclectic style, and reportedly a hit with industry folks later in the evening (they serve until 2am Tue-Sat).

271 Bleecker St. at Morton St.
keste.JPG This much-lauded APN (Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani) pizza place in the West Village has been on my list for a while. And it’s legit: all the guys working there have accents and dialects as thick as ciabatta, the oven was made by Italian artisans, and the menu of pizzas doesn’t have any American misspellings or weird combos. Of course I went for a margherita ($12). Whoa, the pizza arrived quickly—a sign of a hot-ass oven. The crust was sublime—tender but bready, with an even char, and salty. The San Marzano tomato sauce popped with acidity and brightness. But I found the mozzarella to be a little rubbery—I wanted it to be creamier. In an endearing gesture, one helpful neighbor offered me a slice of his “regina margherita” ($15), made with mozzarella di bufala—this cheese had the freshness I was hoping for. And then my other neighbor insisted I try his “pizza del re” ($19), with prosciutto, mushrooms, and truffle cream. SO decadent and delicious. I totally dug this tiny place, would totally go back. And kudos for drawing some of the friendliest fellow diners I’ve ever met.

230 9th Ave. at 24th St.
co.JPG If there was one place I wished I had more time to revisit on this trip, it was this one. Jim Lahey’s pizza is one of the best I’ve ever tasted—what a crust. So delicate, it almost disintegrates in one bite, but still has the sexiest whisper of crispness. Yeah, that wood-fired oven is cranking hard. The veal meatballs ($18) on top were so tender and savory, and the caramelized onions, olives, and aged pecorino conspired to make this pizza kick total flavor ass. The mozzarella (made locally by Lioni Latticinni) melted like a dream. Shit, I am gonna have a jones for this pizza until I get my heinie back to NYC. A lot of tables were crowned with the Popeye ($17), topped with huge, crispy pieces of spinach, and the stracciatella ($17) with crushed tomato sounded positively illegal. Call the cops.

Caffe Reggio
119 MacDougal St. at W. 3rd St.

It was too late in the day for me to order their trademark cappuccino (this caffè supposedly served the first cappuccino in New York), but my macchiato on the run (I asked if I could just stand at the back bar) was lovely. I just wish I had time to linger at the tables, surrounded with the slightly frayed old world vibe of the place. Since 1927, gotta love it.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters/The Ace Café
18 W. 29th St. at Broadway

The next time I stay in New York, I wanna book a room at The Ace. Partially because it means I can wake up with Stumptown coffee every morning. I think you have to wear a hat to work here—no joke, every single person behind the counter of this outpost of the famed Portland coffee roasters was doffing a sassy lid of some sort. Nice folks, who pull a mean espresso.

The Breslin
16 W. 29th St. at 5th Ave.

After perking up with my Stumptown coffee, I meandered in to the post-work scene at The Breslin and found a perch at the bar. Damn, Fergus Henderson was reportedly in the seat next to me not 10 minutes before I had arrived. Dag! Anyway, love all the rock ‘n’ roll drink names (Rush of Blood to the Head, London Calling)—I went for the Beggar’s Banquet: bourbon with maple syrup, lemon juice, bitters, and topped with ale. Huzzah. Backed up with the scrumpets ($7), an effed-up version of fried chicken fingers, but instead made with lamb belly. I know, whoa. (You dip them into an accompanying sauce of mint and vinegar in a vain attempt to cut the swath of fat about to enter your mouth.) I only managed to eat one before fearing I was going to keel over off my barstool. Scrumpets: merely the tip of the brisket of the meat-centric menu here (chef April Bloomfield/Spotted Pig is to blame). Reportedly the lamb burger ($17) is a big hit, and I saw plenty of the thrice-cooked chips ($7) on the bar. Cool eclectic style, a bit of a tavern-meets-antique store mash-up, with wood everywhere, and piggies, natch.

240 Central Park S. at 7th Ave.

Is this a lesson about hype? Perhaps just managing my expectations. Argh. The luxe space is quite beautiful, the menu of seafood and Italian cuisine reads like a dream, and yes, the ricci—sea urchin on crostini, with an almost-melting piece of lardo draped on top and sprinkled with sea salt—is out-of-the-park hold-the-phone delicious. So why was I left with a lingering feeling of disappointment? Every food writer I can think of was singing about the dishes here. But some of the crudos weren’t exactly what I’d call chilled (except the perfect ruby red shrimp with lemon and black lava salt), the pastas didn’t quite win me over (I really don’t understand why everyone is going stir-crazy over the octopus and bone marrow fusilli—the nuance of the bone marrow was totally lost), and the service needed to be a bit more dialed in considering the main dishes ring in from $38-$47. (Cough.) Example: I can’t even count how many times my chair was bumped by servers—I felt like I was on a plane with a squirmy kid behind me. Yes, it was all very pretty, but gorgeous plates do not a happy diner make. Le sigh.

The Odeon
145 W. Broadway at Thomas St.

I know, it’s a classic that some might not even have on their radar anymore. But when your heel suddenly breaks off one of your high heels, and you’re in Tribeca, and you’re hungry, and it’s midnight, whatcha gonna do? Slide on into a table at The Odeon, that’s what. My croque-monsieur ($14) with mornay sauce and mixed greens was on point, and my friend barely gave me a bite of his burger, he was that into it. Hot frites, cheeky server, nicely made martini, and a timeless McNally brasserie style.

9 W. 32nd St. at 5th Ave.

It’s late, your feet are tired from standing all day at the James Beard Awards, and you’ve got a posse of ten ready to eat. Where you gonna go? This Koreatown gem was like a beacon in the boozy night. We chowed down on kimchee and seafood-and-scallion pancakes, tucked into soon doo boo chigae (the ever-delish soft tofu stew with seafood), ate piping hot bibimbap, and of course, downed a fleet of OB beers. Open 24 hours, very gracious staff, and everything you want in a late-night bite.

Mandoo Bar
2 W. 32nd St. at 5th Ave.

Sure, I just had a Korean feast the night before, but the call of dumplings was irresistible! (It usually is.) I figured it was time to try the Korean dumplings here upon seeing the cooks making them right in the window—doubly irresistible. I wish I had someone dining with me for my lunch, but I gave the menu my best. I took the friendly server’s reco and ordered the Vegetable Mool Mandoo (boiled dumplings; $9.24 for 10), and the Goon Mandoo (fried; $9.24 for 8). I liked the chewy texture of the wrappers, and compiling the trinity of soy/sriracha/vinegar for the dipping sauce—so good. I’d totally be a regular at this perfect lunch place—it has helpful servers (they let me do half-orders), affordable pricing for such handmade food, and I liked the simple, modern design. Am so curious about their bibimbob served cold. I know, wild! Wanted to transport this place back with me to SF.

Joe’s Shanghai
Multiple locations

Since we’re on dumplings, I went to this place just to try their xiao long bao (soup dumplings), which I was told are the best in NYC. (I wasn’t able to trek to Chinatown, so I went to their Midtown location during one of my numerous walks around the city.) Holy mother of pork, were these babies rich. I’ve never had such a rich broth filling—almost too much. They were also pretty hefty in size—they took some negotiating. The wrapper was mostly tender, but tasted a bit doughy to me. I guess I need to get my butt to Shanghai.

El Quinto Pino


401 W. 24th St. at 9th Ave.
I heard about this evil sea urchin-butter-mustard oil combo on ficelle, and I had to have it. Yeah, it was $15, but that’s what I call a panino. Whoa, welcome to flavor country. This tiny Chelsea offshoot of the popular Tía Pol is the kind of spot where you would find me often. It’s a shoebox of a space, with a horseshoe bar and a few tables along the wall and front window, with a blackboard listing an array of tapas. And that’s about it. My friend and I were grooving on our drinks (his: a frozen basil-infused gin lemonade, and mine: a celery-citrus-sherry combo that rocked my boots). In the words of Arnold, I’ll be back.

65 4th Ave. at 9th St.

This import from Japan is my ramen church. I don’t care how hot out it is, gimme a bowl of their porky perfection. My friends and I came in late, almost to closing (11:30pm Mon-Thu, 12:30am Fri-Sat), and it was assuredly the painless way to score a table at this always-packed spot. I dove into the Akamaru Modern ($14), a flavor-loaded tonkotsu bomb of a bowl of pork chashu, with half of a custardy soft-boiled egg, and scallions, and bean sprouts, and and and… it’s freaking heaven. My friends were equally enamored with their bowls. The noodles here are a benchmark for me. The design is totally fascinating, from the bundles of dried ramen under glass at the check-in counter, to the open kitchen that is total theater. Hearts.

240 East 9th St. at 2nd Ave.

When you’re done with your feast at Ippudo (or perhaps waiting for a table), put away a bottle of sake in this divey subterranean hideout that’s been getting people lit on over-poured sake in boxes since 1993. The walls are covered in graffiti, the lantern lights are low, the sake list is long, and the music and vibe is energetic—it’s the kind of place that’s ripe for trouble-starting.

SHO Shaun Hergatt
40 Broad St., 2nd Fl. at Exchange Pl.


It’s like Vegas in New York—but dated enough to feel like a place Gordon Gekko would have liked. Mega technique and labored-over presentations and flavor combinations, and the mignardises cart literally had its own dry ice show (complete with four kinds of macarons). Not my preferred style of dining, but it’s a generous tour for $69 for the three-course menu. Service rode the waves with good timing, and then the tide would recede and someone’s wine glass would get empty. Too much show, not enough go for me to return.

Rouge Tomate
10 E. 60th St. at Madison Ave.

With one sip of my Green Tornado, a juice of tarragon, spinach, basil, butter lettuce, fennel, mint, and lemon juice, I started feeling the evils of my week in New York get counter balanced. This modern and spacious restaurant near the southeast corner of Central Park has a format that I hope we see more of in the future: it has an in-house nutritionist who works with the chef to create balanced and healthy (and low in sodium) dishes; there’s a juice bar which they also use for their cocktails (which range from lighter to heavier drinks); and all the ingredients are local and top quality (and many are house-made). Leading the kitchen is Jeremy Bearman, a chef whose elegant food I adored when he was at LarkCreekSteak, and now he’s rocking it (the restaurant just earned a Michelin star). The flavors and textures were delicious, and it’s exactly the kind of food you want to eat when you go out because it’s so labor intensive that you’d be in your kitchen all day if you made it at home. For example, the farrotto (farro risotto) dish was enriched with an onion purée made from the scraps of soup stock—no butter was used. In fact, there’s no butter and no cream used at all here. Nor a fryer. (It takes quite a chef to make healthy food taste this good.) I did note a lot of garlic in a number of the dishes, so the kitchen does lean on it for flavor.

The concept is a smart marriage of high-end cuisine and nutrition, and it took a Belgian restaurateur (Emmanuel Verstraeten) to bring it to the U.S. Just look at the pictures I took—the food was as beautiful as it was clean and delicious, and the serene interior was full of natural elements and light. I can only hope they open one in San Francisco—it’s a concept whose time has come. (Yeah, I liked it.)

105 Hudson St. at Franklin St.

I know, random choice! But a friend offered to take me, and I had never been. We actually ate at Nobu Next Door, which has easy walk-in capabilities, and since we were both totally wiped out from our previous late night on the town, we were able to go on auto pilot and ordered omakase. And oh crap, how did I forget this place serves bluefin tuna? As soon as the first course of the bigeye and bluefin toro tartar came out, my heart sunk. I totally forgot. But what was I going to do, send it back? I considered it my guilt-ridden farewell to bluefin forever—a fitting place to do it, I guess. The omakase dishes were far from what I’d call a tour of pristine sushi—it was more about modern combinations and flavors, with some unique ingredients, and a lot of hot dishes. And I can’t believe the massive portion of lobster tempura they served us, I thought I was gonna die. It was a hefty omakase, that’s for certain. The décor was a bit dated and tired, but the majority of our attention was on our plates. The evening ended up not being what we expected, but we just had to go into a 1995 frame of mind, and it all came together. Besides that nagging bluefin guilt I left with. Why is that on the menu? Damn.

Grand Central Oyster Bar
89 E. 42nd St. at Vanderbilt Ave.


Call me a sucker for nostalgia. I mean, come on, it’s an oyster bar in Grand Central Station. I parked myself at the counter and ordered a mid-afternoon snack from the surly waiter, which consisted of a few picks off their 30-plus list of fresh oysters, and I slurped down a Bloody Mary. It’s a fun scene, watching fellow tourists in the funky atmosphere with a cool arched ceiling. But was it love? Not really. I think it was one of those places where I needed to be with someone. Officially checked off my list. Next!

Serendipity 3
225 E. 60th St. at 2nd Ave.

Another New York classic I had to check out. If it was good enough for Andy Warhol and Jackie O., then you know it was one for the tablehopper to try. It was a hot spring day, and after being thoroughly entertained with one of the most cleverly written menu covers ever (you can read it here, but it’s missing the whimsical illustrations), I plunked my straw into the massive frrrrozen hot chocolate, their trademark dessert. It was icy, chocolatey, and covered with a mass of whipped cream. Total danger. I was a little bummed with the out-of-context pop music playing on the soundsystem, but got a big kick out of seeing fellow ladies gleefully tucking into sundaes, which seems to happen often here.

95 Avenue A at 6th St.
Thumbnail image for cienfuegos.JPG

Just a few doors over from Death and Co. (another favorite of mine) is this sexy rum punch bar that is a welcome break from the omnipresent speakeasy style, although you’ll still have to enter through a sandwich shop (called Carteles). The vibe is very Havana boudoir, with robin’s egg blue and white tufted walls, curving high-backed salon chairs, and a pink cove of seating in the back. On the menu: delicious rum punches by Charlotte Voisey. You can order them simple (one person—around $13), amigos (two-three—around $30), toda la familia (four or more—around $60), and the royale (six and up—around $100). We rolled as amigos, and ordered the Cayo Romano Punch with Domaine de Canton, Mount Gay Extra Old, 10 Cane, lime juice, clementine juice, Angostura bitters, orange bitters, and St. Elizabeth allspice dram. We were feeling even more like amigos at the end of that boozy bath, man. Good thing there is also food on the menu, including an array of empanadas, to keep you from crashing your ship.

Raines Law Room
48 W. 17th St. at 6th Ave.
(no phone)

This quiet little speakeasy has a less-stuffy vibe than many, with downright friendly service (once you get past the door), and no “I have a little mustache and a vintage vest” attitude. Classic cocktails are shaken and stirred in the back room and brought to your table (be sure to sit at a table with a little pull chain that sets off a light in the back room to signal someone at your table is thirsty). I liked chatting with my gay in the comfy upholstered chairs—but we agreed it would be a sexier place for a date. Bonus point for the complimentary kettle corn they send out.

Lather, rinse, repeat: Of course some of my favorite drinks in the whole world were at Little Branch (22 7th Ave. S. at Leroy St., 212-929-4360). That bar kicks so much cocktail ass. The penicillin was exactly the medicine I needed.


And after a night of imbibing, here’s how to fix it. I have Nicole Plue to thank for turning me on to the joy that is egg on a roll. Oh man, how did I miss having this item all my life? Go to any grungy corner deli, and they likely serve this heavenly combo of egg, American cheese (yes, that’s right, the processed stuff), and you can get ham or bacon if you’re especially hungover. It’s all stuffed into a soft and squishy Kaiser roll. Most rockin’. Here’s a pic of Nicole’s victory breakfast the day after winning her first James Beard Award for Best Pastry Chef. Breakfast of champions, indeed. (Photo by Nicole Plue.)

Murray’s Cheese
254 Bleecker St. at Leroy St.
And as a final scene-wrapper, do not miss an opportunity to experience Murray’s. I had to put together a wine and cheese party for a friend, and was quickly corrected by my personal shopper at Murray’s, “No no no, it’s a cheese and wine party.” Damned straight. Some of the sassiest product signs I’ve ever read, and I had some great discoveries here. Viva New York.

You can view my Flickr album for more photos of all these eats, drinks, and establishments.

January 22, 2008

Can you believe on this last trip I ate at ~MOMOFUKU~ twice? Yes, the pork buns really are that freaking delicious (especially with a squirt of the warm sriracha that has a lingering, beastly heat--be sure to request it). The buns demanded a repeat performance the very next day. David Chang's noodle (and more) outpost in the East Village has total cult status, and every chef I know seems to love this place--yup, there's a lot lot lot of hype hype hype, and I'll be damned, it's quite deserved.

The menu is a ridiculous tour de force of animal scrumptiousness, from the spicy tripe and bacon braised with carrot and onion; Manila clams in a thick stew-like broth with sunchokes and parsnips; and the grilled beef tongue with mustard and a side salad of frisee dressed with pickle juice and topped with thinly sliced cold tongue totally rocked--the salad tasted like the best tongue sandwich. Ever. And you get to try their perfect pickles, too. The pork neck ramen dish we ordered didn't really do anything for us, in fact we didn't even eat it since it was so blah, but the kimchi stew the next day with pork shoulder and rice cakes was the bomb. Wash it all down with some spendy Hitachino Ale ($11). Hoot.

Don't bring a vegetarian--there are no substitutions, and there is only one noodle dish they could eat. It's all communal dining, with everyone crammed in at the sleek and minimalist tables or the long counter… love the rock blaring, like the Clash. Trick: go for a super late lunch midweek, like around 3:15pm, and you should waltz right in.

171 First Ave.
Cross: 10th St.

Sun-Thu 12pm-4pm, 5:30pm-11pm
Fri-Sat 12pm-4pm, 5:30pm-12am

Just around the corner, famed SF Blue Bottle barista Jamie McCormick has opened his charming little café, ~ABRAÇO~, and I am thrilled to see how well he has already ensconced himself in the neighborhood. Terrific coffees, natch, from the individual drip coffee to a café cortado--and they are even making almond milk that is supposed to be extra-delish warmed up. Everything tastes all smooth, like the Brazilian records playing. Chef Mario Hernandez is turning out some tasty little bites, like pressed panini, and don't get me started on baker Elizabeth Quijada's olive shortbread (there are all kinds of house-made morning and sweet treats too).

86 E. 7th St.
Cross: First Ave.

This place is almost kitty corner to Abraco and totally pinged on my radar, but I was so damned full from my lunch at Momofuku I just couldn't indulge in one single arepa. Nary a bite. Jamie at Abraco said the arepas at ~CARACAS~ are just incredible. And they're wheat free, crazy. Next time I am all over one, perhaps the version with roasted pork shoulder and a spicy mango sauce. You can even make your own combo, but there are 14 to choose from. Empanadas too. And juices, like a coconut milk shake with cinnamon. Mreow.

91 E. 7th St.
Cross: First Ave.

Over in the West Village, I had a nice time hanging out at the charmingly rustic ~GOTTINO~, the brand-new enoteca from Michael Bull and Jody Williams (the chef of Morandi). The place smelled like cheese. Heh. The crostini were ridiculously tasty, like the one of walnut pesto with Parmesan and thyme, and another with bottarga and a poached egg. I purred over the savory bread pudding of pig trotter and chestnuts. There are a variety of well-chosen Italian wines by the glass, and you can crack some complimentary nuts (like walnuts, yo) while sippin' at the marble counter. Ideal place to hang out for an early (or late) evening bite and catch up. Order an espresso and they put sugar on top of the coffee before drawing your shot from their gleaming Faema machine. Wild, man.

52 Greenwich Ave.
Cross: Perry St.

After checking out the killer Richard Prince show at the Guggenheim, my friend and I had fun walking across the park and catching an early dinner at ~KEFI~, an unassuming Greek place under chef Michael Psilakis and Donatella Arpaia on the Upper West Side. We got a kick out of the West Side scene packing the room, all outfitted in black and some in furs. I wouldn't make a special trip uptown, but if you're in the 'hood, the price is right. And in SF, we really don't have much Greek, so I was happy to check it out.

We dug the stuffed cuttlefish with a sweet and sour honey glaze as a starter, and the gnudi that were lightly pan seared, served with pine nuts, tomato, spinach, and a spicy lamb sausage--I decided this sauce would make a perfect pizza topping (both $8.95). My grilled branzino was juicy but needed salt and lemon--when all is said and done, the two hearty filets with olive, potato, and tomato were a downright steal at $15.95. My friend's pan-seared striped bass was too oily and under-seasoned, so no comment. Good Greek wines for crazy cheap (like, $6!). Service is brisk and the tables are packed, with even more people waiting to eat, so don't expect to hang out.


222 W 79th St.
Cross: Broadway

Also had lunch at Michael Psilakis's other outpost, ~ANTHOS~ (with partner Donatella Arpaia, who was actually hanging out when we arrived). The $28 prix-fixe lunch menu seemed swell until we were told the famed lamb burger was 86ed. Rats! To the main menu. I couldn't resist the bizarrely intriguing combination of grilled Hawaiian prawns, saffron orzo, smoked chicken, and a six-minute egg. The flavors were rustic and kind of smoky-haunting, but what a pain to shell the prawns in the clay pot it came in. And at the lovely Midtown business lunch price of $18.

The grilled (with the head still on, yay!) loup de mer ($29) was cooked just-right and oh-so-juicy, but the side little crock of winter vegetables was actually kind of a crock: under-seasoned, and too underdone. Why not have them on the plate? And again, a total mess to try to eat out of the crock. The room was kind of blushed, with cherry blossom art, and the first time I saw a base layer of pink table linens in a restaurant. Service wasn't very fabulous, especially considering the prices--a not-ready-for-primetime kind of lunch squad. Dessert was unique (chocolate mousse and ouzo syrup anyone?), but the true charmer was the goat's milk butter we scarfed with our bread.

36 W 52nd St.
Cross: 5th Ave.

When I went to Tales of the Cocktail last year in New Orleans, I met this swell woman from Liberia who promised to take me out for some real African food the next time I was in NYC. Yay, I took her up on it, and headed up to Harlem to ~AKWABA~, a quirky little place run by women with a menu of West African fare, mostly from Senegal, Guinea, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast. I loved the new flavors, like attieke (ground and fermented cassava that is almost like a couscous), palm oil, alloco (plantains), and I had my first taste of Maggi, a bouillon cube that is supposed to be a West African staple. We had a delish grilled fish (poisson braise), yassa (fried chicken with grilled onions and a tangy lemon sauce), and some dibi (fatty grilled pieces of lamb with mustard and onion). Cheap, and a fun and filling adventure.

62 E. 116th St.
Cross: Park Ave.

After taking in whatever is showing at MoMA, I don't know about you, but museums make me hungry and ready to take a seat for a little while. All you have to do is head downstairs for a bite off the afternoon menu in the low-slung Bar Room at ~THE MODERN~ while relishing a little Danny Meyer hospitality. We savored a glass of Ruinart rose over the scrumptious tarte flambée, a thin crust Alsatian tart with crème fraîche, onion, and bacon. No, that did not suck at all. Dessert was also gorgeous, namely the hazelnut dacquoise with milk chocolate chantilly. Pretty! And quite artful itself.

The Modern
The Museum of Modern Art
9 West 53rd Street
Cross: Fifth Ave.

I also was having fun checking out some galleries in Chelsea, but after some laughable gallery attitude from the knob working at the Cheim & Read gallery who fancied himself smart AND handsome, I had enough. I needed a coffee and a bite. I remember a tablehopper reader telling me about ~LA TAZA DE ORO~, an authentic little Puerto Rican diner. Within five minutes of perching on a stool at the counter, it totally won my heart, and was perfect to counterbalance the vapidity I experienced not 15 minutes before. Everyone on both sides of the counter was friendly, curious, and had something to say. So New York. I dug into my pastele (banana meat tamale for a whopping $2.50) and finished with a café espresso ($1, thankyouverymuch) wishing I could come back for some of their daily specials. XOXO.

La Taza de Oro
96 Eighth Ave.
Cross: 15th St.

Some more cheap eats I was fired up on were the chive and pork boiled dumplings (8 for $2) at the ~DUMPLING HOUSE~. No, not the best, but for $2, who's complaining? Even better though was the warm sesame "pancake" sandwich stuffed with roasted pork and loaded with cilantro and pickled carrot, for $1.75. I'd be here every week, perhaps more than once. I think a lot of other people feel the same way. Good thing they just moved into this new location that is quite a bit more spacious.

Dumpling House
118A Eldridge St.
Cross: Broome St.

Mmmm, caviar. I was convinced caviar cream cheese was going to be the shiznit, but after trying it, it sadly wasn't anything major. However, just the experience of going into ~RUSS & DAUGHTERS~ made me happy. Oh, and the Super Heeb was pretty tasty (whitefish/baked salmon salad with horseradish cream cheese on a bagel, with wasabi flying fish roe). In fact, all the lunch sandwiches look rather stellar. This joint has been around since 1914, and I wish I could swing by the counter each week and order half a pound of gravlax, a pound of sable, and some pickled herring to keep in my Lower East Side apartment fridge. Some day.

Russ & Daughters
179 E Houston St.
Cross: Orchard St.

Ah yes, more fish please. Kitties like fish. A $65 omakase linner (that's lunch/dinner) at ~BLUE RIBBON SUSHI~ in Soho was one of the better sushi experiences I've had in a while. And for $65, compared to the crap you can spend that money on in NYC, well, I say spend it here. We were presented with a stunning array of freshwater eel, horse mackerel, hamachi, perch, toro that almost had a weird hint of beef, urchin opened minutes prior, the tiniest and sweetest creamy ama-ebi I've ever had, smooth amberjack, smoked yellowtail topped with shiitakes (genius), giant clam, snapper, maki of toro and scallion… criminy, it was all so gorgeous.

This place continues to hold it down, with the groovy touches of its sauna-style bathrooms, mellow reggae music, well-worn wood, friendly and professional staff… Again, a great place to eat at for a late lunch/early dinner during the week (like we did at 4:30pm, because we could) since you'll walk right in. Otherwise you will WAIT, my friend. I loved it years ago, even before I knew what good sushi tasted like, and am happy to say I think I love it even more now.

Blue Ribbon Sushi
119 Sullivan St.
Cross: Prince St.

I had a fun hipster dinner with a pal dining at the counter at ~RAYUELA~, a stylish Lower East Side joint under chef Máximo Tejada. The name means hopscotch (you'll see the motif throughout the restaurant's cool design)--there's also a lovely olive tree that starts downstairs near the boisterous bar where you'll find some clever concoctions, and extends up to the spiffy second floor.

The menu is kind of pan-Latin/Spanish (freestyle Latin, as they like to put it), with ten ceviches to choose from (I liked the corvina with carica and red onion)--the version with the sea urchin was a bit disappointing after my recent memory of the über-fresh urchin at Blue Ribbon. Hey, more carica! I still don't see it much in SF; we had stuffed carica with duck confit and spinach in a Pedro Ximenez duck sauce, tasty. And the grilled steak tenderloin (churrasco con camarones) topped with shrimp chimichurri was cooked to the requested medium rare, why thank you. I luuuurved the Spanish cheese custard with an odd kick of olive compote and basil mousse (for dessert!).

165 Allen St.
Cross: Stanton St.

I know, didn't I have a drink? Of course, darlings. If you really want to get away from it all, descend into the ~124 RABBIT CLUB~ in the West Village, a warren of a bar with an incredible selection of beers from Belgium, the Czech Republic, England, and more. Quite staggering, that list. I had my first Rodenbach sour red, not for everyone, but perfect for me. You can also get a sandwich made with pretzel bread (there are four kinds to choose from, like roast beef and boursin). The place is a narrow one, with low ceilings, brick walls, a brass bar, Flaming Lips and Violent Femmes playing, flocked wallpaper, candles, and exposed light bulbs in trippy little industrial cages. I can't imagine what a firetrap this must feel like when it's full. Not for the claustrophobic. But definitely for the friendly. And beer savvy.

124 Rabbit Club
124 Macdougal St.
Cross: Bleecker St.

And yay, I finally got to experience ~PDT~ (you can read about my attempt during my last trip, and how this East Village speakeasy entered through the phone booth in a hot dog place all works, here). You can call at 3pm the same day to make a table reservation, but then you'd miss the opportunity to snag a seat at the bar and watch the bartenders do their thing.

I was thrilled to take a tour of the new winter menu, including the Black Flip, a killer concoction of Cruzan Black Strap Rum, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, and a whole egg; Fallen Leaves, an Audrey Saunders dream of a drink; a Rittenhouse Old Fashioned; a Harvest Moon that was total cocktail couture; and a Cinema Highball, with buttered popcorn-infused Flor de Cana Silver Dry Rum and Coke, a total winner from bartender Don Lee. After all that, I was so grateful to be able to order a Chang Dog (a deep-fried dog wrapped in bacon with kimchee puree, yes, it was brilliant except for the non-toasted bun), and the ghetto fabulous mountain of tater tots with cheese and jalapenos from Crif Dogs next door. Ahhhh, saved. Otherwise the next day I would have felt like some of the stuffed taxidermy in the room, like the jackalope.

In Crif Dogs
113 St. Marks Pl.
Cross: Avenue A

December 4, 2007

By Chef Charlie Kleinman

Four pounds of foie gras. That, according to the best estimates of the three of us (all chefs with ample experience working with foie) is how much we consumed of the lipidinous substance in our two-hour dinner at Au Pied De Cochon. Certainly after a goring like that we would stop our binge eating and find the nearest salad to try and correct our dangerously high cholesterol levels. Well, maybe if we were normal people. But we are not. We are chefs, a different breed, and we were determined to eat all we could after years and years of staff meals that left us (not quite) satiated.

I am a New Yorker, and count myself as one of the chosen people, not only as it applies to my religion, but perhaps more importantly as it applies to my bagel eating. You see, bagels really are better in New York, and yes I really do believe it is our water (that and a little bit of our superior attitude as well). So imagine my surprise when a trip to Maison du Bagel (263 St. Viateur Ouest, Montreal, 514-276-8044), the bagel shop in Montreal that some people claim rivals any New York bagel, actually left me satisfied.

These bagels are good, really good even, but they are still not as good as the best New York City has to offer--give me Columbia Hot Bagels or H&H any day. That said, these bagels are excellent and different than anything found in the U.S. For one thing, they are cooked in a wood-fired oven, which gives them a smoky and rich flavor not often associated with the bagels of my youth. They are also a little flatter than what I am used to, which helped save them from the cottony texture that plagues the impostor bagels across this country. Their texture was an excellent blend of crispy and chewy, and the bagel had just enough malty sugar mixed in with salty topping to officially make it the best bagel I have ever had outside of New York.

The trip to Maison du Bagel satisfied my intellectual quest for finding the best of the best in culinary delights, but our next stop would be purely visceral. We were on a daytrip to Quebec City, that capital of French-speaking Canada, and one of the most beautiful cities in North America. This walled city surrounded by cannons and gun turrets is the fastest and cheapest way to feel like you are in a European medieval city that I know of. On every corner is another bistro that looks warm and inviting, offering classics such as steak frites and tartare.

However, we didn't go to Quebec to mess around with any of that frou-frou. We were here to eat poutine, the uniquely French-Canadian food that is an ambrosial blend of crispy French fries, meaty gravy, and squeaky cheese curd. (Yes I described the cheese curd as squeaky, and I challenge you to find a better word to describe this pleasant yet slightly foreign texture and flavor.)

There are a myriad of places where one can enjoy this treat, but after much research, we chose Chez Ashton (54 Cote Du Palais, Quebec City, QE, 418-692-3055). This chain of fast food restaurants has the look and feel of a McDonald's, and the added bonus of employing a cashier who made us feel as if we had walked in to the Canadian remake of Clerks. We all ordered the poutine avec saucisson, or poutine with hot dogs for the less sophisticated of you out there.

How to describe this treat? Ethereal? Subtle? No. How about stick-to-your-ribs, make-you-want-to-take-a-nap, no-need-to-eat-again-for-the-rest of-the-day good. I'm glad we did this, and am relieved that I won't have to eat it again for a while since I'm not sure my system could take it.

While we had a blast in Montreal and Quebec City, we were excited to move on to Toronto for the next stage in our trip. There were many reasons we were looking forward to Toronto. The Hockey Hall of Fame (okay that was just me), Wayne Gretzky's restaurant (okay, again just me), and last but not the least of all, Susur (601 King Street West, Toronto, OT, 416-504-7886). We had all wanted to visit Susur Lee's eponymous restaurant for as long as we knew about it, and this reservation had been burning a whole in our itinerary for over a week now.

That said, how can I best describe our experience after weeks of great food? I guess Susur would have to be categorized somewhere in between disappointing and criminal. It is one thing to leave a meal you simply didn't like, and quite another to feel like you had been held up at dinner. Nothing was done correctly here. The service was inattentive and awful. The wine was overpriced and did not deliver on its promise. But the food, the reason we had visited this restaurant, nay, this city? Under seasoned, poorly delivered, uninspiring, and well, lets just leave it at that. Let's move on to happier meals.

This was not hard to do as we had one more stop on our tour before arriving back in New York City. We woke up bright and early to make our last trip to Buffalo. That's right, you read it correctly. Buffalo was the next stop on our road trip for two reasons. First of all, we had to drop chef pal Ryan Farr off at the airport, but more importantly, we needed to see the culinary mecca, the place in which my favorite food was invented, and hopefully still executed in its truest form.

The place was the Anchor Bar (1047 Main St. Buffalo, 716-886-8920), and the food is, as some of you may have guessed, Buffalo wings. The wings delivered. The three of us polished off a heaping pile of these wings with such alacrity that we were ready to head to Nathan's and challenge Kobayashi to a hotdog-eating contest. These spicy, salty, and crispy fried treats were the only positive thing about Buffalo so far as we could tell, so we made haste back to NYC and the end of our culinary adventures.

With 15 days of eating and drinking under my belt, there are quite a few things I have learned. For one, there is just simply not enough room on tablehopper to tell you about every meal. The casualties of this limitation include (but are not limited to) Sri Pa Pai, an amazing Thai restaurant in Queens, New York, and Shake Shack has one of the best burgers I have yet to taste. I am sure many of you who are a wee bit jealous of this trip may be happy to find out that I have wrecked my stomach to the point where I get heartburn after almost every meal. That said, I will carry on, but might for the time being try and change my focus back to feeding people, and away from feeding myself.

Thank you, Marcia, for a forum to share tales of my gluttony. Let me know the next time you need someone to help you out with your dirty work.

November 13, 2007

The three words every guy wants to hear… You know what I'm talking about: "pickled lamb's tongue." Lucky me, I got to hear those words just two courses into my meal at ~BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS~ (630 Bedford Hills, Pocantico Hills, NY, 914-366-9600) this week.

Perhaps I should back up a bit. Jake Des Voignes and I quit our jobs as the chefs at the Fifth Floor and have embarked on a two-week culinary tour of the Northeast. Five cities, two weeks, and all of the food and drink we can stuff in our bodies in that time.

We started in New York City, where, after getting off of the plane Jake and I headed straight to ~MOMOFUKU SSÄM BAR~ (207 2nd Ave., 212-254-3500). For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure, this is one of those must-sees in a city full of great food. So good in fact that Jake and I ate here twice in the last week. The ssäm bar is named after the Korean burrito-like sandwich that combines braised pork, kimchee, rice, edamame, and shiitakes in a tinfoil-wrapped delight. These ssäms are great and alone are worth the wait for a table, but are by no means the only stars on this menu.

The steamed pork buns are the thing I crave most when away from New York, and they couldn't be simpler: pork, steamed bun, cucumber, and hoisin sauce. I love these so much that after my last trip to the city when I ate at Momofuku, Per Se, and Babbo on consecutive nights, it was these little pockets of porky love that consumed my thoughts on the long flight back.

Other standouts here include the Brussels sprouts made with fish sauce and guanciale, and the pork and lemongrass sausage ssäm, which is a lighter version served in a butter lettuce wrap. If you notice a theme here, it's that everything has pork in it, and unapologetically so. In fact, my favorite thing about this restaurant might be that the menu states that no accommodations will be made for vegetarians.

Our next day was a marathon of eating and drinking, including brunch at ~PRUNE~ (54 East 1st St., 212-677-6221), and dinners at the ~SPOTTED PIG~ (314 W.11th St., 212-620-0393) and ~BARFRY~ (50 Carmine St., 212-929-5050). Prune is one of the best brunches in the city, which is why we waited for two hours for our table. However, tucking into the huevos rancheros made it worth it, as well as the vegetable-packed Bloody Mary served with a little side of beer. I love it when booze comes with more booze. Unfortunately, temperance was not the order of the day, and my hangover the next day could not be helped, even by Marcia's best hangover remedies.

This was my first time at the Spotted Pig but definitely not my last. Fried pig's ear with lemon and capers? 'Nuff said. From what I can see you can't go wrong at this place, we enjoyed the gnudi (ricotta dumplings), and the roll mops (pickled herring), along with our pig's ear. Make sure you try out the extensive beer list--I was drinking the cask-conditioned ales, a special treat when you can find them. Thank god for this meal, as our other dinner that night fell flat at BarFry.

While our dinner the next night at the ~FATTY CRAB~ (643 Hudson St., 212-620-0393) was as great as always. But I am running out of my allotted room and need to go back to where I started, those three little words.

Our pickled lamb's tongue came diced, under a gently poached egg laid that morning by the hens at the farm at Stone Barns, with the addition of tiny pickled mushrooms, shaved matsutakes, and some lardo thrown in for good measure. Dan Barber and his crew created one dish after another that highlighted the unique situation of cooking on a working farm where the food comes from the ground to the plate in record time.

While Stone Barns and its restaurant Blue Hill are a must-visit for anyone, for a chef it should be a required reading, so to speak. We all dream that we can have this bounty at our hands and can treat it with such dexterity. While I am not one to wax poetic, this restaurant simply exceeds expectations.

I feel I might have abused Marcia's generosity with my lack of brevity, so tune in next week for my tales of eating our way through Boston and Canada. [Ed. note: Yeah, like I'm one for brevity.]

September 11, 2007

Man, my New York jetsetter pieces just keep coming. I was way too aggressive with my tablehopping while I was there, oops. This one is going to cover some of my fave Lower East Side discoveries, and some of the underground spots I made my way into as well. Aw heck, I have all kinds of stuff in here, let's just do this.

A cult favorite amongst most chefs, and a must-do in New York is Momofuku (it means "lucky peach," which makes me love it even more), along with the latest David Chang outpost, ~MOMOFUKU SSÄM BAR~ (a ssäm is like a Korean burrito, with pork, onion, shiitakes, edamame, and red kimchee puree all wrapped up in a flour pancake--I need to come back for lunch to try one). Momofuku Ssäm Bar is a meat lovin' HQ (hello, the menu has an "Offal" section and unabashedly states "we do not serve vegetarian friendly items"), and is packed with hipsters and savvy diners scarfing down flavor and texture wonders like Hokkaido sea urchin with tapioca and whipped tofu ($16), the famed steam pork belly buns ($9), and steamed Manila clams with bok choy, Chinese sausage, and a gutsy bacon dashi ($19). I was fortunate to have a pack of NYC friends invite me along to a bo ssäm dinner ($180), which entailed attempting to devour a whole monstrous pork butt, served with a dozen oysters, plates of crispy Bibb lettuce leaves, rice, a couple sauces, and Napa cabbage kimchee, all for wrapping up the pork. It was a crazy pig fest, replete with unctuous pork and nooks of stringy carnitas-esque bites of pork and some rather intense bones too--we were all thoroughly suffering a pork hangover the next day. Didn't know pork hangovers existed, but there you have it. Service was a little, uh, casual, but the pig was just so good we didn't even care.

Momofuku Ssäm Bar
207 Second Ave.
at 13th St.

Since there is usually a long wait (unless you have a big party and pre-reserved a bo ssäm dinner), here's a cute place nearby to hang out at for a drink until your table is ready.

Resto Leon
351 East 12th St.

Also liked having a proper cocktail after dinner at the ~BLUE OWL~. I ordered a Negroni Sbagliato (which means mistaken in Italian)--it was made with Aperol, sweet vermouth and a prosecco float. That's amore!

Blue Owl

196 Second Ave.
at 12th St.

Back on hangovers: the ~CITY BAKERY~ in Union Square saved my tookus one morning with an iced coffee and one of their famed pretzel croissants. I know, what the hell? Mmmm, pretzel croissant. Their hot chocolate is also famous, but it was too hot for chocolate. Great people watching, and all kinds of tasty goodies to eat.

The City Bakery
3 West 18th St.
at Fifth Ave.

Another savior was ~VESELKA~, a Ukrainian diner in the East Village that gallantly stood in for Momofuku, which was on my dining itinerary that day but was closed, dag. I was testy. There were also testy old school line cooks who provided serious entertainment as I perched at the counter watching them turn it OUT. Unfortunately the stools were so tall I slid off at one point and totally scraped my wrist as I slipped. So retarded of me. I still have the scar. Man, hangovers are brutal. Let the healing begin! I went for the meat combination plate ($10.95), which meant I wolfed down some satisfyingly oily chicken soup, a fresh salad with dill dressing, some meat and potato pierogis (there are also specials of the week, like goat cheese with arugula), and a stuffed cabbage roll with mushroom gravy. No wonder I fell off the stool. Humpty Dumpty here.

144 Second Ave.
at Ninth St.

Yo, I need some coffee. One fuzzy afternoon after the gut-busting brunch at Veselka I was brought back to life (CLEAR!) with a perfectly pulled macchiato at ~MUD~. I guess this place got its start as a coffee truck, and now they have a brick-and-mortar location as well. Fun funky vibe with a garden in the back and cool folks just kicking it over some good kaw-fee. Complimenti.

307 East 9th St.
at 2nd Ave.

One of my favorite dinners in New York was at ~FATTY CRAB~, hands down. In of all places, the super cheesy Meatpacking District. No matter. The flavors of the small plates of Malaysian food here went snap, sour, crackle, fatty, hot, pop! What's not to love about fatty tea sandwiches ($7) made with pork belly and sambal aioli, a precious balance between delicate and rowdy? I am still pining for the watermelon salad ($12) with scallion, pickled watermelon rind, Thai basil, and crispy chunks of Berkshire pork belly, along with lemongrass, and a soy marinade of sesame, chili, cilantro, mint, and palm sugar. A total flavor tour de force. Then we were fully sunk by the fatty duck ($16), with rich and deeply spicy and sugary tamaki (sticky) rice that had a nutty flavor and popped in your mouth. The riot of flavors put me over the edge, with pickled mustard greens, cilantro, Thai chiles, and the haunting taste of gula jawa, a syrup of unrefined palm sugar. Bring it! Can't wait to eat here again. The intimate space was candlelit but casual, service was spot-on and sociable, the tunes were kicking (from Bowie to Bananarama) and I am therefore ready to move in and put a cot in the back. Or at least book a trip to Malaysia, stat. Zak Pelaccio is the man!

Since this place is so freaking popular, I was told a good idea is to visit for lunch, or for dinner early in the week before 7pm; late at night Wed-Thu is also supposed to be a good time to dine.

Fatty Crab
643 Hudson St.
at Horatio St.

Dinner is divine, but I have always been a big fan of lunch. I love me some lunch. I had at least two tablehopper folks rave to me about ~LITTLE GIANT~, and I decided to check it out for lunch (offered Mon-Fri). Can you say super cute? This hip corner spot in the LES is from Julie Taras and Tasha Garcia-Gibson, and has friendly servers, heartfelt and seasonal food that felt almost San Franciscan to me, a fab prefab modern interior with hand-crafted and well-chosen vintage touches, breathy French pop playing, and it was priced nice! The panzanella salad ($14) I tried was chock full of meow, with bright cherry tomatoes and huge pieces of basil, avocado, salty cubes of ricotta, pickled red onion, and warm sesame croutons. The duck club ($14) was ridiculous: pulled duck confit with applewood smoked bacon, avocado, tomato and herb mayo. More meow. I am way over mac and cheese, yawn zzzzz, but the devil made me order a side of the Grafton cheddar mac and cheese ($7), made with cavatelli pasta, a browned breadcrumb top, and the option of more applewood smoked bacon ($2 extra). Pretty killer. (My heart concurred.) I wanted to return for dinner, and the famed pickle plate and deviled eggs, but alas, it will have to be another time. The dinner menu looked super appetizing, with mains in the low $20s. Giant love!

Little Giant
85 Orchard St.
at Broome St.

Just down the street I tried a scoop of Thai chili chocolate gelato from ~IL LABORATORIO DEL GELATO~. The texture didn't quite transport me to Italy (and like you'd ever find that flavor in Italy to begin with), but the whole point is really the array of playful flavors (Mexican cinnamon, grapefruit Campari, rosemary…). My kind of lab.

Laboratorio del Gelato

95 Orchard St.
at Broome St.

Another sweet spot in the neighborhood is ~BABYCAKES~, featuring vegan, gluten-free, wheat-free, and refined sugar-free desserts, like cupcakes, crumb cakes, scones, cookies, brownies, even cinnamon buns. Don't get me wrong, I love me some classic cupcakes with sugary frosting, but I have to hand it to these bakers, they have really done a bang-up job. This place would blow the hell up in San Francisco.

248 Broome St.
at Orchard St.

So there is all kinds of drama behind the ~GUSS' PICKLES~ sidewalk stand and the "other" pickle stand, The Pickle Guys. There is no way I am going to try to explain it here. Complicated. But what I just couldn't get over was the simplicity (and novelty) of ordering a perfect half-sour pickle direct from a big barrel with gallons of other pickles, like spicy, or quarter-sour. For something like 50 cents. Done. Chomp! The pickle was a crucial component of one of my weirdest days of meals: I had a hot dog for an emergency breakfast at 1:15pm, then a vegan cupcake at 2:30pm, followed by a pickle at 3pm. You'd think I was pregnant or something! What the hell?

Guss' Pickles
85 Orchard St.
at Broome St.

I could have spent all day chillaxing at ~'INOTECA~. Ideal open corner space, with all kinds of sidewalk seating under cheerful green awnings, both small tables and communal seating inside, dark wood floors, a long bar chock full of magazines and newspapers, and a clientele that was fun to drink wine with (yay, afternoon imbibers!). 'inoteca had a leisurely vibe I easily slid into, like a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, or if I'd taken a couple Vicodin with a chaser of Jack. The servers were also so darned nice. Really hospitable.

The menu was like my dream snack attack, with salads and antipasti like grilled octopus, sliced meats (yay, bresaola and speck!), at least eight different tramezzini (delectable little sandwich fillings that are stuffed inside triangles of soft white bread--I ate them daily while living in Italy), a wicked selection of panini and bruschetta, plus some fried dishes and larger plates (they do a suckling pig each week). And of course, a ton of Italian wines by the glass, carafe, or bottle; I went for the Ciro Rosato, built for the hot sticky weather. I munched a tramezzino of pollo alla diavola ($6) made with decadent dark meat, and tried a panino of culatello ($9) with a cheesy noci spread and mozzarella. A pal told me I was supposed to try the truffled egg toast with bottarga ($10) but I messed that up; perhaps some late night when I'm back in the neighborhood, tipsy, and in need of egg.

98 Rivington St.
at Ludlow

Time for some drinks! It's 5 o'clock somewhere. One spot that totally took my breath away was ~SMITH & MILLS~ in Tribeca, which looked like something out of a Jeunet and Caro movie set (they were the visionaries behind the film "The City of Lost Children"). The entire space was a steam punk playground, with all kinds of industrial touches and elements, plus low ceilings and lighting, tufted banquettes, a big wooden swinging door (was this a garage before?), no sign out front, and a bathroom made from an old French elevator. Brilliant design and space. Our posse just threw back some good classic cocktails, but there is also a dining/bar menu that looked intriguing. Since I was drinking my dinner that particular evening I can't vouch for the eats, but I'd happily have a reason to hang out in this space again, and for as long as possible.

Smith & Mills
71 N. Moore St.
at Greenwich St.

~LA ESQUINA~ is brilliant fun: you enter a dining car doubling as a busy late-night taco stand, but if you get cleared by the doorman, you descend the stairs and pass through a restaurant kitchen (it felt very "Goodfellas"--you're like, wait, really? I'm supposed to go through the kitchen? Cool!). You end up landing in a happening little warren of a cantina, replete with a Rottweiler velvet painting, exposed pipes, lots of wrought iron, moody lighting, and a bouncy hip-hop soundtrack. Whoa! Total fiesta in effect. We didn't stay for dinner, but did have a couple spiffy margaritas off the extensive list of tequilas, and checked out the ethnically mixed crowd (refreshing) of mostly music industry folks.

La Esquina
106 Kenmare St.
at Cleveland Pl.

So I was all fired up for drinks at ~PDT~ (Please Don't Tell), a speakeasy bar accessed through an old-school phone booth located in a hot dog place called Crif Dogs. You got that? I know, what a concept. You go into the phone booth while people in the hot dog place curiously look at you, wait for someone in the bar to pick up the phone, and then a panel on the other side of the phone booth opens and you're suddenly let into a bar that's going full-tilt. Sadly the night we were there the bar was packed with yahoos and the hostess was lacking certain charms, so we skedaddled. Bummer, because James Meehan of Gramercy Tavern did the drinks list. But we did try a deep fried hot dog on the way out and some waffle fries. Verdict: meh. But they probably would taste pretty good after a couple drinks, especially Jim's.

PDT/Crif Dogs
113 St. Marks Pl.
at Avenue A

The tablehopper's trip to New York wouldn't be complete without a visit to ~MILK & HONEY~, the famed reservations-only speakeasy bar that kick-started the whole trend stateside. My friends couldn't believe the door we were supposed to knock on was really the door to the bar, but once we opened it and witnessed the intimate little shotgun space, we were all believers. Our polka dot-attired and accented hostess escorted us to our cozy booth, where we took in the deco vibe, low light, and jazzy music. The barman was like a pharmacist, preparing our drinks with sublime precision. I had a concoction of cucumber, mint, and bourbon, and our table was intrigued with the trademark big ice cubes they make here. Great medicine. We had such swell drinks, perfect in fact, even though you end up waiting 20 minutes for them and your wallet gets lightened by $15 apiece (the smiley face on the bill was slightly disconcerting). Sorry, I can't give you the reservations number or address or I'd never get to enjoy a drink here again. Ask your New York pals to refer you!

July 17, 2007

Since it had been at least a couple years (two years too long) since I'd been in New York, my list of places to hit had become, shall we say, major? With ten days and far too many restaurants to visit, I had to come up with some hard and fast tablehopping rules with my dining musketeers: one dish, one drink per person, per place. So when I was traveling with my wonder duo, we were able to sample three plates total per place. When I was out with just one wingwoman, we'd sample two plates (well, sometimes more, heh). Not a definitive way to judge a restaurant by any means, but it was the easiest way to tablehop around town, check a bunch of places out, and figure out where I want to return next time I'm in the 212, which will be soon, hell yes.

We also hit restaurants that mostly resided in the middle price-wise--didn't dine at the big guns (Daniel, Per Se, etc.) because that would have entailed sitting in one place for three hours, and lifting at least two Benjamins out of my wallet. Next time I'm in town I'd like to commit to some full-scale meals, but this trip was all about hitting the town, tripping the light fantastic.

Overall I found New York restaurants really wowed me with all their gorg style and concepts and aesthetics and blessedly late-night hours, but I didn't have a lot of culinary experiences that really made me say WHOA NELLY. I had a total blast for sure. Fun to the extreme. But was I blown away? A few places, yes (hello Fatty Crab!) but most resided in the zone of pleasant, good, engaging, interesting. But not FULL-ON MEOW. Which is fine. Leaves room for more adventures next time. I'll call my journey "The Quest for Full-On Meow." (Not exactly The Iliad, but a bit more fun.) For now, buckle up, and let's begin:

I had this trip's first New York lunch with a dear pal at ~OTTO~. (Say it: oht-toe, not auto.) I had not established the tablehopper rules yet, so we did a ladies who lunch kind of meal (i.e. ordered to our heart's content, and not just salads, mind you). This was also the first Batali establishment I'd tried (there were many more this trip--which isn't the most difficult thing to manifest, swinging a cat, etc.). I loved the rosy hue of the entire space, and I can imagine how the rows of tall standing marble tables in the bar area fill with throngs of the thirsty working masses after they punch the clock. There are two gleaming Berkels in effect in the salumi/olive bar/prep area.

Naturally, we had to start with some salumi, so we tried the testa, which looked like stained glass, with hints of orange and clove. The insalata di acetaia, with ribbons of prosciutto, was tasty but the salad actually had some rust around the edges--not something that most Cali restaurants would send out. Three bean salad: yum. Had to try one of the famed flat-top/griddled pizzas (there are something like 17 delish types to choose from, and most are about $13-$14) so we did the pane frattau with a delightful bright tomato sauce, with pecorino and an egg on top (I wanted two eggs, a la Pizzetta 211). For a pizza coming off a flat-top, I'll give it high marks. (Historic building=they couldn't put in a pizza oven.) Also tried linguine with cozze (mussels), with hints of saffron and marjoram--there are seven pastas, all $9, can't argue with that, but the big hunk of lemon peel in our pasta was a bit, shall we say, ungainly? The extensive wine list is a fun one to navigate, and dessert is all about the olive oil copetta, a wicked layered combo of olive oil gelato, passion fruit granita, strawberries, basil syrup, and olive oil and Maldon sea salt on top. Perfetto.

1 5th Ave.
at 8th St.

Another Batali joint I checked out was ~ESCA~. It's in the bottom of a random apartment building, but once you're inside it's a pleasant space with some rustic touches, nice lighting. Music was a little dated (Moby? Elton John?) and the crowd was a bit too, but we were there early, so it's not a totally fair judgment. Service was fantastic--snappy and attentive. This joint is famed for starting the now-omnipresent crudo craze--there are at least 15 to choose from, and most are about $16. There's a tiny bar with room for like four people, so ideally you could snag a seat at the bar and do the crudo tasting (six tastes for $30). We purred over the pink mounds of yellowtail snapper with the crunch of pink Alai salt, and the bluefin tuna carpaccio offered an incredible texture. Really a fab experience.

Rounded out this pit stop with a rich Venetian number called egelfino ($17) which was almost like a brandade made with smoked haddock and peas and served with a lovely browned top, and some house made maccheroni alla chittara ($24), with sea urchin and crabmeat. Yeah, really light! And yeah, really delish. Chef Dave Pasternack is on it. I was quite tempted with the array of seafood on the menu (cobia, local monk fish, crispy halibut cheeks...) and again, the wine selection just rocked (love the quartinos!). Supposedly this place gets slammed with a pre-theater crowd, but otherwise if I was dining with my parents in NYC, I'd totally take them here--it was calm, well mannered, and comfortable. Hopefully they'd be paying too--the mains were averaging $32. Would also be a prime spot for a biz lunch--you'd have plenty to write off, or expense.

402 W 43rd St.
at 9th Ave.

Since we're in Mario-land, let's hop over to his villas in España, and visit Casa Mono and ~BAR JAMÓN~. These two are right around the corner from each other, which is handy because while you are waiting for your seat at Casa Mono, you can snag some vino at Bar Jamón, and they'll even let you amble over with your wine glass. Bar Jamón is a sleek and candlelit little spot where you can edge your way in and hopefully plunk yourself down at a communal-style table, order up some jamón, pan con tomate, your choice of cheeses, maybe some tortilla Espanola, and feel all cozy and close with your neighbors. I wouldn't go out of my way for a special trip here, but if you're in the neighborhood and want to cool your jets or just want a good launch pad for the night ahead, this place is muy bueno.

Bar Jamón
125 E. 17th St.
at Irving Place

I'm just gonna say it: ~CASA MONO~ didn't really fire me up. Low points: the ventilation was dripping water on my friend's head. The food came out like a shot, and it showed: our razor clams definitely didn't have enough time on the plancha. Server was clueless. High points: We were seated quickly (I have heard horror stories about wait times here). The piquillos stuffed with oxtails were tasty enough, and I enjoyed the Hidalgo Manzanilla Posada Pastrana the friendly somm poured for us. If someone else wanted to bring me there to sit at the counter one more time so I could try the skirt steak, and if they were paying, I'd give it another try, but otherwise there are other Spanish joints I'd rather hit up around town. (Like Tía Pol, bummed I didn't make it to this place, food friends I spoke to luuuurve it.)

Casa Mono
52 Irving Place
at 17th St.

So, what are those other Spanish joints? I certainly hit plenty of them. One was ~BOQUERIA~, which had a look I wanted to eat up with a spoon. My dining cohort and I got here too late one night, so the menu was pretty limited at that point. Great time sitting at the bar, replete with a cheeky barman who kindly obliged me with an order of the cojonudo (fried quail eggs and chorizo on toast) ($6) even though he told me the kitchen was done for the night. (Good man, he saw the disappointment on my face--I wanted that quail egg.) The fuet (a Catalan pork sausage) had nice flavor, but the soft mound of soprasada spiked with paprika totally put me over the edge. Swoon swoon. I totally want to come back here for a full meal (hello, suckling pig), and would be happy to sip rosy bubbles (Juve y Camps Brut Rose) with some cured meats here any time. Also want to check out the sister restaurant, Suba on Ludlow Street. Chef Seamus Mullen is on a tear. Next time.

53 W 19th St.
between 5th and 6th Ave.

The recently opened ~MERCAT~ was a sweet spot (and it's not just because it has "cat" in the name)--I'm glad we hit it before Bruni reviewed it and the masses descended. Loved the menu rich in unfamiliar (to me) Catalan words and dishes. The wide marble bar was delightfully deep--I could even cross my legs comfortably underneath it. Gorg wine display on a mezzanine level, and I was ready to park at the cheese and meat station (flanking the bar) and flip my hazards on and start gnawing away at the jamón leg proudly on display.

We did the assortiment d'embotits ($24), which brought a fab assortment of jamón Serrano, lomo, llonganissa, xoriç, sobrassada, and some other meaty treats. The menuts (sweetbreads) ($14) were over-breaded and not very hot, plus the side of woody fennel and overdressed salad was lacking in certain charms. Pffft. Bonus points for the bunyols de bacallà ($10), scrumptious house-cured salt cod fritters that were fluffy and had a nice dark crispy exterior. The rest of the menu is full of traditional dishes, some I have never seen in the U.S. Some folks try braving the cruets for swigs of wine, I played it safe and had mine in a glass. Small twinge of 'tude at the hostess stand, and the crowd was a little droid (polo shirt swarm in effect) but the vibe was fun--perfect early-evening spot, actually. Downstairs there's a basement where they serve a smaller selection of tapas (cash only)--the place is ripe for subterranean escapades.

45 Bond St.
between 2nd St. and Bowery

Thirsty from those fritters? Me too. It's time for a DRANK. Here were my two favorite watering holes (although I will definitely be mentioning more):

~LITTLE BRANCH~, how I love thee. This place was so lovely I went twice. Deco dream, underground (yes, you are supposed to go down those steep stairs, you have the right address), tinkling glasses, cozy booths, gorg gorg drinks. My drinking cohort ordered my cocktail as such: "something bourbon and refreshing" and that is was; just tell them the flavors you like and it shall appear. Bartenders and servers with pompadours and vests and silver arm garters and suspenders. The Milk and Honey de rigueur large ice cubes (these are chipped off a block). A combination metal straw and stirrer (don't bite it). Some drinks arrive in coupes. Loved the slightly dank moldy smell of the room. Oil-lit lamps casting soft buttery intimate light. Painted corrugated metal low ceiling. The candlelit bathroom has cloth towels and was one of the few places in all of New York with toilet seat covers (nice hotels included); be sure to read "the rules." Jazzy music, at times a touch too tinny on the challenged system was my sole sniff--heard there is occasionally live jazz/musique, now that's hott. Wouldn't try this place on the weekend, but mid-week was in the pocket. Open until 3am nightly. Triple X.

Little Branch
20 Seventh Ave. S.
at Leroy

Tucked away on a mostly residential street in the L.E.S. is ~DEATH & CO.~ (the name comes from a Dashiell Hammett piece). Pass through the heavy wood doors, sidle on up to the marble bar, admire the petite chandeliers, the jazzy vibe, the low wood-slat ceilings, engraved glass tables, bartenders in vests, and open the smart menu with at least four juleps to choose from (my kind of place). I also enjoyed my Bitter French, with Champagne, Plymouth Gin, Campari, and lemon juice. Have fun with the bartenders here--they are happy to concoct on the fly, and try things out on you. They also measure, measure, measure, good lads. There's a small kitchen, so you can order late-night bites like the mac 'n' cheese cleverly served in ten spoons. But be quiet outside because the cranky neighbors don't need any ammo against this little gem of a place.

Death and Company
433 East 6th St. at 1st Ave.

Probably one of my favorite discoveries that showcased the art of food and wine was the ~MONDAY ROOM~, a spiffy wine bar in an annex connected to PUBLIC. (I never got to dine at PUBLIC, but it was definitely a captivating scene, and the design of the place is as clever as it is cool, thanks to the tastemaking design and concept firm, AvroKO.) The Monday Room feels like a groovy little reading room, with black leather button-back booths and armchairs where you can sit and curl up with a nice glass of riesling. My sole kvetch with the design is the tables make it impossible to cross your legs if you're sitting in one of the booths. Not a deal breaker, by any means.

Chef Brad Farmerie has crafted a menu of 10-14 scrumptious canapes for the Monday Room that come out of the PUBLIC kitchen. I was happy to see some antipodean ingredients on the menu, like dukkah and Tasmanian sea trout. We started with a lovin' spoonful of glazed eel with pickled bean sprouts that had a satisfying little crunch up against the smooth and soft-boiled quail egg, equally matched in swoon factor by the cordial glass layered with a sensuous dashi custard, lobster, and caviar. You can pick a few bites, or do the deluxe tasting menu ($75), with five courses and paired wines. This is where wine steward Rubén Rubero will totally work his magic, pairing fantastic wines that are somewhat unbelievably being poured by the glass. I loved his tableside manner, totally charming and enthusiastic, and you get a great education about each wine he pours--it's like they are all his children and he's telling you all about their quirks and proclivities. (Which is why I had him write a piece for the wino, check it out.) Or if you just want to just have a liquid evening, you can come in for sole glasses of wine, or mini-flights of whites and reds, ranging from $19-$40. Check it!

Monday Room
210 Elizabeth St.
at Prince St.