Archive for March, 2010

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.

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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.

Five Bites: My Top Tastes of the Week

March 5, 2010

1. San Marzano Slice: $1.85 for a margherita slice and 3 bucks for a beer all day long.    The crust may not be quite as muse worthy as a few of its competitors, but at this quality price ratio, who cares if it doesn’t quite jump the asymptote into Motorino territory?

2. Creme Broulée Doughut at the Doughnut Plant: This is Mark Israel’s Madeleine for a new millennium.   The magically Maillardy crust and creamy middle more than justify a somewhat steep three dollar price tag.

3. Cold Brewed Coffee at Café Pedlar: Platonic ideal of iced coffee.  Tastes as good as  it smells and even better than  it reads in the cupping notes.

4. Szechuan Gourmet Won Ton Soup: Everyone talks about the rest of the menu, but the tender ugly little dumplings in the throwaway soup turned out to be some of the porkiest, lightest meat pockets I’ve had in quite a while.

5. Café Falai Yoghurt: Expensive soured milk it may be, but with a scattering of winter fruit and a drizzle of honey on top, this is one of the best breakfasts in the City.

Hair of the Food Gods: New York’s Mane Talent

March 5, 2010

1. Tony Bourdain:  A proprietary combination of hash oil and yak butter makes for one of the lushest heads of salt and pepper in the industry.

2. Eric Ripert: A coif with the otherworldly glow of an alien life form.  Like Spider Man’s sentient black web suit.  Saw Ripert effulging one day at dusk as he walked up Park Ave.  This man could put Vidal out of business.

3. Jean Georges: Hannibal Lecter with a dye job. Take some tips from 1 and 2.

4. Mario Batali: Midlife hair resurgence, like penis growth after puberty, is either a medical miracle or the result of unnatural tampering, so kudos to MB for letting the reverse tree ring of hairline recession mark a well-lived half century.

5. Keith McNally: A retreating flip job bang crest makes McNally look like Jamie Oliver’s long lost older uncle.  Somehow, it works.