Archive for June, 2007

The Bar at Town: Urbane Excellence In Miniature

June 26, 2007

1) Low-key high quality service: I’ve rarely felt so warmly welcomed when entering a high-end restauarant without reservation or plan. The front of house gently steered me to a small plates menu and a great seat overlooking the dining room. Well timed course delivery rather than typical Chinese restaurant approach made for an elegant hourlong mini-dinner rather than a rushed cramfest.

2) Composed Cheese Plate: Artisanal has a bigger selection. Picholine has better cheese trolley theater. John Johnson simply has the best palate for cheese pairings in the city. Each offering is a miniature dessert composition consisting of three or so perfectly harmonized elements. Epoisses with apple strudel and walnuts and an easygoing goat with blueberry and cured lemon were two favorites.

3) Oyster platter: It’s easy to get spoiled by oyster service in high end restaurants. It’s even easier to get spoiled when they come with a perfect stippling of acidity in the form of a mustard vinaigrette and a grace note of color and flavor contrast thanks to a just so chervil leaf.

4) Cocktail craftsmanship: Much remarked on mixology continues to be a draw at Town. Everything made in house except the rigorously curated liquors. Surprisingly well-priced and unpretentious. I was particularly taken by the Hendrick’s gin drink with its lovely citrus and cucumber elements. I would happily have had several more if a late night dinner reservation hadn’t been looming.

5) The rest of the menu: A great mini-meal like I had at Town makes me want to poke around the rest of the menu. I don’t want all the answers in a single session. Even an epic tasting menu should leave room and reason for a return. A small plates meal should prove that much more enticing. It did.

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Blaue Gans: Tribeca’s Best Wurst

June 26, 2007

5 Hits and Misses at Blaue Gans

1) Happening house made sausages: The brat and weiss wursts were snappy well cooked delights. Perfectly set off by beds of sauerkraut, a good biting mustard and a few vinegared potatoes. Great as morning, lunch or late night fare.

2) Belly busting butter poached apricot jelly rolls:
Sounds too rich; isn’t. A great plate to split with two or three table mates. Like IHOP’s international pancakes, but oh so much better.

3) Child friendly chopped pancake with apple compote: Served with chewable cinammon stick and cut into bite sized pieces. Just like back when you needed help cutting your food. Perfect for handfeeding the little ones or sharing. Dangerous to eat alongside greedy table mates.

4) Funky feel with nary a hint of black turtlenecked pretense: The vaulted ceiling is papered in vintage posters taken from the German-speaking arts world. They add color and light to the open space. They also seem to have absorbed just enough beer funk to suggest a mild hangover after a great one night stand–the kind where you might have breakfast together at Blaue Gans before going your separate ways.

5) Sour Coffee Sloppily Served: The standard brew here is wan, watery, and worse still, never refilled. I don’t expect a parade of delicious treatments of schlag and espresso in the Café Sabarsky mode nor beautiful coffee service in the Café Gray mode; I do expect a committed flavor and a decent looking mug. The only off note during a gracefully executed and graciously served meal and an easily remedied problem.

Spigolo: Last Year’s Favorite Becomes This Year’s Classic

June 19, 2007

5 Reasons to Stop by Spigolo

1) Best little front of house in Yorkville: Danny Meyer may have moved out of Yorkville in the eighties, but his spirit has returned in the aughts thanks to USC and EMP vets Heather and Scott Fratangelo. Union Square Café-level service at Yorkville prices is reason enough to stop by. Meyer’s touch is evident in everything from the smart uniforms (green replaces blue for the Gramercy Tavern-style shirts) to the warmth, knowledge and emotional intelligence of the servers.

2) A smart wine list that’s easy on the Amex:
Well-curated, food-focused—no willfully strange stunt wines— bottle selection is neither as dogmatically purist Italian as Babbo’s nor as overpriced as Elio’s. The under forty dollar offerings are surprisingly deep. Plenty of sip- and slurp-able selections to pair with pastas and charcuterie plates. Rich reds as well for the heartier meat courses. I thoroughly enjoyed a young and aromatic chenin/viognier blend from Pine Ridge on a recent visit.

3) Baby-friendly outside, baby-free inside: The stroller set uses first-come first served outside seating, while the ambulatory and potty-trained dine with reservations inside. Indoors, I’ll do the chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings over several hours. Outdoors with bambina in tow, I’m happy to eat quickly by the bussing station. Over there on the edge of Etats-Unis’ tavern, the occasional infantile shriek of delight or dismay goes unnoticed and Cheerios detritus gets crumb combed away before any damage’s done.

4) Magic doughnuts: Heather Fratangelo’s signature caramel ice cream affogato with bombolini has become ubiquitous in New York in the last year, but it is rarely done better than here. Hot doughnut holes, salty, rich and sweet caramel ice cream, and freshly brewed espresso make for a compelling combination of textures, temperatures and flavors. Guaranteed to please the food slut; likely to tempt even the incorrigible food prude.

5) Neighborhood pride and pragmatism: Spigolo sits at the intersection of Yorkville’s attempt at a restaurant row. Mid-fancy competitors Sandro’s, Etats-Unis and Turqoise are all within a block or less. Taste, Elio’s and King’s Carriage House aren’t much farther. If we patronize them, and push them to improve, we may just enjoy cab-free quality cuisine within stumbling or stroller-pushing distance of home. Wouldn’t it be nice to stop commuting to dinner?

5 Reasons Why You’ll Continue Hailing Cabs

1) Dated dishes: 80’s era Silver Palate style cooking lives on in the overuse of sweet balsamic and questionable deployment of halved grapes and cubed apple chunks. Nothing wrong with these flavors or ingredients, but they taste dated and underintegrated in the clunker arugula salad. Too much chopped oregano and too many sun dried tomatoes also brought back memories of shrimp and pasta dishes from my junior high Joshua Tree years.

2) Heavy hand with dairy fat: In the dog days of summer, Spigolo could stand to lighten up on cream and butter, particularly in the pastas. Tagliatelle was perfect with rock shrimp, so why the cream sauce overkill? That said, fava beans and parm reg were deliciously paired with prosciutto, and grilled burrata on toast was an oozing instant favorite. Excess is sometimes perfectly sufficient. But why not rest the butter and cream for a while, and redeploy the delicious cured lemon from the octopus salad in a few more antipasti and secondi?

3) Pricey wines by the glass and even pricier digestivos: Nothing in the single digits for the former, little to tempt in the latter. Makes sipping and snacking at the cramped bar even less appealing. Even Uva has a few options under ten dollars. An Otto-style house grappa selection would be a big hit as a closer and a heck of a lot cheaper than what’s presently available. Why not append a seasonal cocktail menu to the wine list as well?

4) Dearth of Dessert Options beyond Bombolini: Spigolo needs a second hit on the dessert menu (Or bring one back from the EMP days). As it stands, it’s too heavy and monochromatic. This would also be a nice place for some light fruit-based sweets or a cheese selection focusing on great accompaniments, such as mostarda, à la L’Impero. Instead, the special dessert last night was apple tart tatin atop a caramel streudel. Not so appealing at sundown on a summer night. Haven’t tried the cheese yet, so maybe there’s more to it than menu indicates. I wish it were better spelled out.

5) Tight quarters: Yorkville generally means cheap rents, but this closet-sized space must have been the bargain of the decade. Until Spigolo’s inevitable expansion, and perhaps the Fratangelo family’s, Spigolo’s claustrophobic quarters will continue to require social and physical dexterity on the part of servers, runners and host. Fortunately, they’re up to the challenge. Sometimes, I’m not. Of course, Spigolo’s waiters have nothing on the Etats-Unis staff, who dodge traffic while Froggering across 82nd Street from restaurant to tavernside tables. If your conversation ever lags outside, just watch the E-U’s blue shirts wizzing by and listen to the back and forth banter with Spigolo’s staff.