Archive for February, 2010

Taco Explosion in Yorkville

February 19, 2010

1. Maz Mezcal (86th btw 1st and 2nd): Eater’s essential 38 is meant for debate not derision, but that’s exactly what the selection of Maz Mezcal as one of the City’s best deserves.  Pot roast and gravy patrons might like the watery drinks and cheesey at all costs burritos, but this is basically Tony’s Di Napoli for Mexican food fans.  The only saving grace is the chips and trio of salsas, which include a particularly picant thin guac sauce.

2: Paty’s Taco Truck (86th/Lex): The letter “t” vacillates between single and double but the tacos are consistently good.  Tortas are bland and weighed down by a wedge of intolerably dull iceberg, so stick to the fast, hot and greasy options.

3: Cascabel Taquería (2nd btw 80th and 81st): Pie by the Pound didn’t fly so now there’s a gourmet taco joint in its place.  This is what Zac Pelaccio should have done, and failed to do, at Cabrito.  Take Mexican standards, add a few points of flare and elevate the ingredient quality without including Old Testament genealogies for every protein.  Amazing play with textures–fried scallion bits, pork cracklings, etc.–enriches the standards without distracting from what makes them so good. N.B. The Cemita is particularly delicious.

4. Burger One (Lex btw 79th and 80th): Still a top taco purveyor, strongest for its extra hot chicken taco.  None too complex, plenty greasy and only worth eating in house in the crush or one the walk home.  Again, not delivery food. Do ask for extra green sauce on your tacos.

5. MXCO (close to Cascabel, so what): Not worth the time for taco tasting.  Better for hungry drinkers than thirsty eaters.

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Casa Mono: Ugly American Meets Angry Iberian

February 19, 2010

This is not a restaurant built on love.  Chairs are tightly packed and sparsely padded to prod people in and out the door as fast as possible.  Service is equally unwelcoming.  Not a place designed to produce repeat business.  In short, the cultural illogic of lazy capitalism.    Below are a few lowlights of a recent meal.

1. Pedestrian Pan Con Tomate:  A simple dish but often sublime.  Not on my second visit, where salty and soggy came together in blissless matrimony.  Inferior to that served at Boqueria–simple version–and Tía Pol–deconstructed.  Roughly equal to that served at the Yale Club’s Spanish Night buffet.  The “Monkey House” would be better off serving Monkey Bread.

2. Occam’s Razor Clam: Occam’s proposition states that the simplest explanation is usually the best.  I’d add a seafood corollary: the simplest preparation is usually the best.  That said, it’s fine and good to salt, lube and saute your proteins, but I can get the same taste at Joe’s Shanghai for half the price.  Given that razor clams are the beef cheeks of the sea, I don’t need Ripert prices on this one.

3. Sun Drenched Spanish Wine:  The list is long and deep, and the pours are generous, but after my wine experience with a glass of Monastrell, I doubt I’ll be digging any further.   Monastrell is an amiable grape that generally gets along with everything. Here, however, my glass was served at kitchen temp not room or cave temp.  Overheated alcohol in a literally overheated glass turned this normally friendly food bev into a nasty little throat scratcher.  The wine made me feel like drinking, but it didn’t make me feel like drinking here.  If I return, I’ll stick to beer.

4. Glop Lo Mein: Fideos with mussels and a goopy sauce were a mayo drenched monstrosity.  Rubbery shellfish, glutinous sauce and grease addled noodles were like the worst of 1950s midwestern Chinese food tarted up in Spanish drag. Everything else I ate was diminished by kitchen work; this dish was a disaster from conception forward.

5. Bone Dry Bread Pudding: A beginning baker’s go to recipe is, apparently, not as foolproof as I had thought.  Bland coffee ice cream did little to improve the stale crouton texture and taste.  If you’re in the mood for dessert, hit Otto for stellar gelato and magnificently baroque sundaes; hit yourself on the head for ordering ice cream here.

Conclusions: Nearly every problem I encountered during my two meals was one of execution of dishes not conception.  Perhaps the issue was a simple as who was running the kitchen those days.  Given the rich options available in this City, I can’t say I intend to risk going back to find out.

DBGB: Standup Sausage on Flophouse Row

February 9, 2010

Like a heather flecked three season Harris tweed, Daniel Boulud’s Bowery menu makes fatty meat look good nearly all year round, a rare feat for the beer and sausage trade, which is at best usually a one season affair.  Below are a few highlights of recent visits.

1. Boudin blanc: As elegant as intestine wrapped innards can possibly be. Artful swirls of potato purée and and pair of braised apples turned a single link into a singular dish. Some well traveled microgreens added the obligatory color complement.

2. Foie gras in the boudin blanc: Foie gras taste and texture are distinct and complementary to the rest of the sausage. In some ways a better combination than the db Bistro Moderne foie and short rib burger. Fat flavor spectrum never goes greasy or gross.

3. Niçoise salad: Light tasting and beautifully glistening little sardines. A lively olive oil and good poached tuna. Throw in a scattering of olives and a few grape tomatoes, and it’s easy to forget the season or the street on which you’re eating this little number.

4. Good bread and great butter: Hearty bread perfect for sopping and a sea salt sprinkled butter that would fit in at Eleven Madison Park. A great high low combo. Freebies this good are a clear trickle down benefit of eating on the outposts of an empire.

5. Alevras in the House: When top chefs like Colin Alevras run a restaurant’s beverage program, good things happen. Places like Blind Tiger Ale House do a nice job of matching food to beer, but DBGB does a better job matching beer to food. I’d rather drink like a chef than eat like a bartender. In any case, DBGB’s wonderful beer list is affordable, never upsold and always worth exploring. They nail the little details of bar service as well: Lovely but not overdelicate glassware, nice crushed ice in the water glasses, and a deft hand with the refills.

6. Madcap mint sundae: A delicious dessert with a willfully unnatural looking gross out green color scheme. This ice cream confection makes sweet mockery of the loco locavore seasonality at all costs crowd. On the other hand, it is also far more natural than it appears. Hershey’s Kiss shaped meringue bites are Dayglo bright but made of local egg whites; whipped cream was Redi-Whip shaped but made from some hefty and tasty high fat high test cowjuice.

7. Impeccable Service: All the runners, floor managers and wine folks were fast and friendly. Better than any individual server was the coordination of the team. No Steve Hanson style scripted robotics and no Eric Ripert staffing overload.  In sum, warm well orchestrated front of house takes the chill off DBGB’s neo-Brutalist concrete jungle interior.