Hiatus

January 26, 2012

Belly’s full and wallet’s empty, so I’m taking an extended break from heavy dining and blogging out. Will return when balance is restored.

Before I do, here are a few notes on recent meals.

20′s and Lex: Meat and Beer or Beer and Meat

The Cannibal: Amazing tartares and charcuterie. If Willie Wonka had a butcher shop, this would be the tasting room.

Resto: A sad second cousin next door, though full thanks to Cannibal’s recent good run. Service is spotty, seats are uncomfortable and food is nowhere near the level of its neighbor.

And on to the ugly end of the Upper East Side: Yorkville Eats

Café D’Alsace: Gets steak tartare about as wrong as possible–all capers and coverup, no meat flavor–but still Xanaxes you out with the golden light and cracked mirrors. Balthazar-lite for Yorkville.  Even more necessary now that Elaine’s and its neighboring sport bar are no longer with us.

City Swiggers: Beer on tap is well selected. Loved the Greenport offering. Not much atmosphere if you want to use it as a bar, and the food is an after-afterthought, but this is the best thing to happen to beer in Yorkville since Café D’Alsace arrived. A little bit of Billyburg meets Blind Tiger Ale House on an otherwise sad stretch of 86th street.

Kaia Wine Bar: South African eats are filling and fun, though kitchen is Easy-Bake Oven size, which slows down service.  South African wines are perfectly pleasant and a nice change of pace.   Avroko lights, full house and generous pours make this worth adding to the pre or post dinner routine.  Kudos on doing something different and doing it well.

Parlor Steakhouse: Totally adequate suburban Florida steakhouse in Yorkville. Prices, drinks and protein are all better than they need to be. Shellfish exceed expectations. Avoid the chintzy prix-fixe with subpar steak: You get what you pay for. Very child-friendly day or night.

Sifton’s Last Review

October 6, 2011

SS is going to crown Le Bernardin the best restaurant in New York, guaranteeing himself a permanent seat at the big boys’ food table. Cookbook 2013? Aspen F&W 2014? Perhaps. Sifton’ll soon be busy with the new job, but at least he won’t ever have to waste time picking up the check again.  Of course, he could add the Thomas Keller empire to his free eats passport–Boulud, Meyer, Batali, Colicchio, etc.–with a Per Se review instead, but that would mean he had completely sold out…Oh.

Doughnuts with Danny: Morning Meals in Mr. Meyer’s Neighborhood

July 11, 2011

For a man who spent little time serving breakfast in his first quarter century in the New York restaurant business, Danny Meyer has really stepped up his game in the last few years.  From Untitled to Maialino, he’s finally setting the table for the most important meal of the day.  Today I focus on two of my favorite breakfast items: coffee and doughnuts.

1. Blue Smoke Chocolate Frosted and a Cup of Americano:  Unblogged, untouted and undeniably delicious.  These stealth numbers are available only on Saturday and Sunday, and in only two flavors, dark chocolate frosted and honey glazed.   They are the best yeast doughnuts in the City.  Yes, the best.  There’s a grownup earthiness and substance to the dough that you rarely find these days.  The bitter edge to the chocolate frosting is equally appealing.  Note: Blue Smoke coffee isn’t as memorable as elsewhere in Dannyland, but it’s a necessary add on for intincting your doughnuts, unless you prefer to dunk in a glass of milk.

2. Coffee and Doughnuts Frozen Custard at Shake Shack UES:  A Saturday flavor of the day, this mini-concrete tastes like its name suggests it would–cake doughnuts, still soft and flavorful, plus creamy coffee.  A welcome eye opener when your night ends a little too close to morning.

3. Double Espresso and Slice of Apple Pie at Untitled: Beats Sant Ambroeus, Sicaffé, Café Sabarsky and all the other UES stalwarts.  Meyer’s Platonic ideal of a diner is serving the Platonic ideal of coffee.  Stumptown beans, top notch barista work and no outer borough attitude.  No doughnuts here most days, but a slice of the Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie of the day will set you up right for the morning.  I’m partial to the salted caramel apple variety.

4. Bombolini con crema and a Latte at Maialino: This is coffee and doughnuts in all its Roman splendor.  Is Maialino’s breakfast menu an Italianized American idyll of pastry and pork delights or an Americanized Italian one?  Is it authentic?  I don’t care; it’s one of my favorite breakfasts in the City.

5. After the Coffee: You have to get the bacon at Maialino and the bacon and cheese home fries at Untitled.  Of these, the bacon at Maialino is my sentimental favorite.   It’s thick and flavorful and spicy and rich and a meal in and of itself.  The fat has a complexity I’ve only ever experienced with Hill Country’s brisket on a good day, and the meat is a good deal more rewarding on the palate.  Okay, the home fries with cheese and bacon at Untitled are pretty solid, too.  They taste like the Johnny’s Luncheonette Waban Frittata (Newton, MA) without giving you the fat coma spins an hour later.

Mad Mocha: A Week on the Stumptown Trail

January 13, 2011

1. Stumptown at the Ace Hotel:  This is Joe Baum food theater for the PoMO set. Baristas look like a Greenpoint drama class doing a read through of a “Deadwood” spec script.  Fortunately, they have a few more practical skills to go with the props and costumes.  Oh, and the lattes are flawless.

2. Café Pedlar LES: Yes, I’m on the Stump this week, and it’s not a bad way to get your bean juice. However, Café Pedlar’s rumpled ersatz emo rocker staff is a bit too inconsistent with the pull.  I’ve had some good espressos here, but this time, the result was a bit on the burnt popcorn side.  A followup latte was just as bitter but also frothy and fat laden.  In short, Stumptown beans are not quite getting the treatment they deserve.

3-4. World Bean at LGA: Who would have expected some of the country’s best coffee in the putzy part of the Delta terminal at LaGuardia?  Color me a convert. High end machine, well trained staff and cherry picked beans made for my best pair of lattes of the week. As good outbound as it was inbound four days later.

5. Whitney Museum finally worth visiting:  Hipster coffee, the city’s current top espresso machine, and the crema that is Danny Meyer hospitality make this the most impressive cup of coffee I’ve ever had in a Brutalist building. It’s still an awful space, and I have my doubts about how much the forthcoming USHG restaurant can warm it up, but for now, this is the best place to get caffeinated on the UES.

Honorable mention:

Lattes from Kato’s jerry-rigged coffee setup in the “Green Hornet.”  I haven’t tasted one, but they sure look great in 3D.

Sifton sells out.

September 29, 2010

Sam Sifton can now look forward to a lifetime of comped meals  in Tom Colicchio’s and Mario Batali’s restaurants.  More precisely, he can look forward to Colicchio and Batali picking up his tab in perpetuity just as soon as the Times stops doing so. All it took was one cynically inflated review of Colicchio & Sons and another of Del Posto. That the two restaurants happen to be on the same block in the Meatpacking district seems more than coincidental.  This is where chefs, and apparently critics, go to cash in and sell out.

Top Tastes of Late Summer: The Sandwich Report

September 9, 2010

1. Merkato Porchetta Sandwich (51 Orange Street, New Haven, CT)

Made to order sandwich–at a Slow Food pace–of warm porchetta, mozzarella and fennel on crusty Italian bread.  No detail missed, no ingredient less than superlative.  May not be Caseus, but it’s a great snack spot before walking to the train station.

2. Hilltop Brain Sandwich (1100 Harmony Way, Evansville, IN)

Just as creamy, warm and delicious as I remember.  As comforting as French fries, but so much deeper in flavor.   Would be a favorite of teenagers if not for the namesake ingredient.

3. Shake Shack Shroom Burger (86th btw. 3rd and Lex., NYC)

This is meat-free like cocaine is non-alcoholic.  One vice’s absence does not indicate another virtue’s presence.  That said, a delicious, deep fried, greasy bar bite on a bun.  Perfect when combined with a real beef patty in the Shack Stack.

4. Egg on Fries at Terrace View Café (800 Chestnut Street, St. Louis, MO)

Well cut, fried and seasoned potatoes with an exuberant herb sprinkle–not quite a salad’s worth of late season parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, but close–topped by the easiest and most delicious highlowbrow luxury of all, a yolky farm egg.  Works well as a sandwich substitute.  Nice color on the potatoes, nice flavor throughout, especially with a bit of parm reg to bind the elements together.

5. White Manhattan at Dovetail (77th and Columbus, NYC)

Corn whiskey, white vermouth and lemon bitters make for the most delicious variant on the Manhattan that  I’ve tasted recently.  For a more standard version, I’ll always have a soft spot for Esca’s Amarena cherry topped number.  N.B. If ordered upon arrival, it will do wonders for relieving new babysitter high expectations first visit to a restaurant meal anxiety, like the Dukes Hotel martini at Eleven Madison Park.

Top 5 Bites of the Early Summer

July 2, 2010

1. Baohaus’s Birdhaus Bao (137 Rivington): Pork belly, butt and buns have all enjoyed recent star turns on the culinary catwalk, as did beef cheeks before them.  Now fried chicken is the dish no restaurant seems to be able to forego.  Breasts, thighs and assorted other parts are turning up downtown and uptown and everywhere in Brooklyn.  When Park Avenue Summer offers a fried chicken and waffle sandwich, you know you’re looking at a megatrend.

Fortunately, chicken is about the most universal of proteins, so there’s room left for innovation.  When the Escoffier files give out, there’s a world of international takes to pick up the slack.   Right now the tastiest chicken product out there is the Taiwan inspired Birdhaus Bao.  A soft steam bun holds fresh fried chicken dusted with a wicked spice mix, a sprig or two of cilantro and a secret sauce that seems something like tartar, but way better.  Low rent, small space, limited menu and easy prices.   This is what the LES does best.

2. Peter Luger Bread basket (178 Broadway, Williamsburg): Peter Luger’s Porterhouse is far too well covered to mention here, but the rest of the experience gets short shrift.  Specifically, the famous flesh palace also offers one of the best bread baskets in the city.  Start with the fluffy onion rolls.  If your fingers are fleet and your sense of propriety is limited, drop a few in a pocket or purse.  They’re great for breakfast.  If not, slather on some butter, down a few, then trade up to the City’s best salt sticks.  And take your time.  The waiters will press for an order, but there’s no upsell pressure to order a bunch of apps–”we usually suggest two sides per person” is a phrase you’ll never hear.  So make the bread basket into a starter, then decide whether you need the bacon, spinach and hash browns.  N.B. You do.

3. Hearth’s Fava Beans and Pecorino Salad (12th/1st Ave): Marco Canora’s green period has already outlasted Picasso’s blue.  Nearly every dish at Hearth has a green touch to it, and perhaps none more so than his fava bean salad.  Canora lines up the technicolored beans on a small rectangular plate, coats them in herbed olive oil (green, naturally) and sets them off with a fine dice of pecorino cubes.  Spring onions add one more green touch to the plate.   You might think Canora would run out of ideas, but  in a photosynthetic world, the flavor and color palette/palate of green is arguably the richest.

4. Raviolo mini-trend at Hearth/Tabla (25th/Madison): I’m not sure who struck first, but both Hearth and Tabla have an exceptional main dish sized raviolo on their menus.  These single singular pasta pillows are called “raviolo” for the simple reason that you get just one: It’s enough.  Tabla’s was filled with spicy lamb last month, Hearth’s is currently stuffed with zucchini and ricotta.  I’d give the edge to Tabla for flavor–Floyd Cardoz is the city’s best veg chef and among its most adept users of spice, but here he wins by going carnal.   That said, Canora’s is easier to eat and prettier to look at. His cooking and presentation generally feel rustic, but someone in his kitchen is a showoff with the knife skills, from matchsticks of zucchini to superfine perfectly shaped dices of cheese.

5.  Raspberry-Mint Paleta at People’s Pops (Chelsea Market): This popsicle is all fruit and flavor.  Sure you end up with a few seeds in your teeth, but that’s the price of perfection.  I’m not about to give up everything bagels just because I end up spending the morning spelunking my molar crevices for stray poppy seeds.  N.B. The sour cherry hand shaved snow cone is also worth a try.

Sandwiched: Standup Food at Whitney’s Popup Restaurant

March 31, 2010

Café Sabarsky has long been the best reason to visit the Neue Galerie on 86th and 5th with more than semiannual regularity.  Now Sandwiched makes a similar case for the Whitney at 75th and Madison.  Below are a few impressions of a first visit.

To begin with, Sandwiched reminds me of early stage  ‘wichcraft.  More specifically, it reminds me of ‘wichcraft when Craft, Craftbar and ‘wichcraft formed a contiguous restaurant sandwich of their own.  In the early aughts, well before boredom, Bravo and massive replication stole what little soul ‘wichcraft once had, Tom Colicchio seemed poised to do for the sandwich what he had done for  fungi and pork belly at Gramercy Tavern.  Now his energy is turned towards upscale restaurant redemption in the Meatpacking district, so someone else must take up the sandwich mantle. Enter Danny Meyer, the new Earl of Sandwich.

So how does the Sandwiched popup stack up to its big chain competitor?  Here the price point is marginally higher than at ‘wichcraft, but the ingredient quality and combinative creativity is measurably better.  We know what Tom has done, now we get an answer to the eternal Foodie question: “What would Danny do?”

To find out, I went with the diner standby of an egg sandwich when my turn to order came up.  Give Danny an egg challenge and he gives you the best bite on this stretch in quite a while, a Knoll Crest egg (fried) with bacon (yes, they were somehow tastily blended together), bibb lettuce, cheddar curds and crushed tomatoes.  It  was exactly as good and pedestrian as it sounds.  In other words, it is a fresh and tasty egg sandwich on superior Pain de Mie roll, and for 8 bucks it is the best of its kind in an unkind neighborhood, a game changer in a neighborhood with no game.

More promisingly, it’s the dullest option on a menu that will reward repeat visits.  Floyd Cardoz, Kenny Callaghan and Carmen Quagliata had far more interesting inventions on offer, but they didn’t fit into my brunch hour egg plan. Also, I have to admit I balked at what was likely the best choice, a Daniel Humm chicken schnitzel with truffle-celery slaw, in part because it cost 15 dollars.  Now 15 dollars in Danny-landia is a well-leveraged chunk of change, especially across the street from the kleptocrats at Sant Ambroeus and down the street from Eli Zabar’s 15 dollar egg salad sandwich, but I’ll need to wait ’til payday to put the chicken after the egg.  In the interim, I’ll chew on my chocolate mint Nancy Olson brownie and think about how much better this neighborhood has now become for food fans.

Five Bites: Recent Top Tastes From Around the City

March 31, 2010

1. Boston Cream Cake at Two Little Red Hens (86th and 2nd):

Everything a Boston Kreme Pie aspires to be and so much more.   Moist white cake, lush custard layers and just dark enough dark chocolate to bind the rings of flavor together.  That they run out quickly only adds to the fun.  Scarcity, at least in bakeries, is still a virtue.  N.B. Get the Lemon Pucker cake if someone beats you to the BCC.

2. Ma Bo Tofu with Beef at Szechuan Chalet (72nd and 2nd)

None of the over-saline taste I’ve found recently at Szechuan Gourmet.  All the peppery potency.  Beef bits worked well in totally unvegetarian vegetable dish.  N.B. Tofu was creamily delicate and astoundingly fresh.  Like Chinese mozzarella curds.  Best rainy day meal I’ve had in a while.

3. Mini Pistachio Cannoli at Stuffed Artisan Cannoli (176 Stanton)

Same size as tuna cigars served at Buddakan, and equally flavorful.  Lighter shell than you’d expect and much more powerful pistachio flavors than I’ve had before.  Like a good super intense Laboratorio de gelato number turned into ricotta/custard cream.

4. Nduja and Grilled Bread at Pulino’s (East Houston and Bowery): Fruity olive oil somehow lightens up the offal spackle that is Nduja and puts it in the luxurious foie camp rather than the nasty grey meat category.  At first, there wasn’t enough bread to sop up this better than braunschweiger spreadable sausage stuffing, but that was easily remedied.  Maybe not in A Voce’s league, but there’s no A Voce on East Houston.

5. Michael Jordan’s Mac and Cheese (Grand Central)

More bite from the cheddar than you usually find in a steak house side and no over the top oleaginous notes.  Brouléed bread crumb crust adds needed textural contrast to what can easily turn into baby pap in the wrong hands.  A rare case of balanced flavors in an unabashed fat bolus.

Five Bites: Top Tastes of the Week

March 16, 2010

1. Torta de rajas con queso at Hecho en Dumbo (354 Bowery St.):

Stopped by on first day of lunch service for a great rendering of Mexico’s second best sandwich (Nothing beats a good cemita).  Yeasty bread, great beany smear to hold down the strips of chile and chunks of fresh mozzarella-like queso de Chihuahua.  N.B. Dot the peppers with the mole-dark chipotle side salsa for extra bite.

2. Pain d’Avignon’s Pain au Chocolat (Essex Street Market):

All the chocolate buttery flavor of the classic continental breakfast treat but none of the oiliness of a typical New York rendering.  I felt like I was walking into EMP’s bread basket when I stepped into their stall, especially when an eager young breadmonger offered tastes of just about everything.

3. Zabar’s Chocolate Babke (80th and Broadway): Good from the bakery at room temp but a little on the sweet side.  Even better a day later out of the fridge.  A thick slice with cold milk chaser is a perfect way to start a late morning.

4. Donut Holes from DessertTruck Works (6 Clinton St.): Brioche based donuts are coated with a sweater thick layer of granulated sugar and stuffed with warm liquid Nutella.  As unbalanced and oversweet a six-dollar dessert as I’ve had in quite a while.  Put some bitter chocolate in the middle and you might be on to something.  Compares poorly to Doughnut Plant’s broulée masterpiece.

5. Queso Flameado with Soft Wheat Tortilla at MXCO (78th and 2nd): Plenty of sausage in the mix and no strange stunt meat–sweetbreads, pig’s feet, etc.–to distract your attention.  They could stand to add a couple more warm tortillas, but that’s about the only flaw.


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