Archive for the ‘Baby Food’ Category

Hill Country: 5 Reasons to Go Texan

September 4, 2007

Baby, wallet and foodie friendly restaurant lives up to the hype. Here are a few reasons why.

1) Redneck Foie Gras: Beef shoulder had thick marbling of juicy flavorful seared fat and crispy skin that was scoopable like beef marrow and as unctuous, smooth and tasty as foie gras. In fact, the crise de foie I had last night was just like one I suffered after doing a seven-course foie menu at a poultry farm in Northern Spain. N.B. Orujo shots do not cure indigestion.

2) Best Iced Tea in Town: The Sweet Tea was minty and mellow with a long, smooth lingering taste on the tongue. The Mason jar vessel was generously if not 7-Eleven absurdly sized. And for three bucks, it is one of this City’s best handmade beverage bargains.

3) Sweet Soundtrack: If you ever wore baseball caps indoors after dark, learned the Greek alphabet not for Greek class or thought Phish lyrics were received wisdom, this soundtrack is for you.  Great blues, bluesy rock, Allmansy country rock (crock?) and everything else a seventies to nineties college grad or infant in a stroller would love (several were swaying to the beat at least as gamely as their parents). Especially enjoyed the Anastasio, Willie and Robert Cray.

4) Largest and most friendly barbecuers in the City: I’ve never seen such immense hunks of meat get chopped off with such gentleness. It helps that Hill Country’s barbecue station workers look like NFL farm teamers, except without the scowl attitude and criminal records.

5) PBR in a bottle: Enough of the canned beer and canned smugness of the trucker hat hipster. PBR tastes better in a bottle, and here they serve it that way. Liquor selection isn’t up to Blue Smoke speed, but it’s fun, reasonable and goes well with the live music scene which makes Blue Smoke’s citified jazz seem positively stuffy and cerebral. And who can argue with Texas wines alongside Texas links and ribs?

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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.

Landmarc-TWC:

May 11, 2007

Landmarc TWC’s Best and Worst 

 5 VIRTUES:

1) Excellent innards
Landmarc’s Marc Murphy is arguably the best and only mid-priced organ meat master in the city. Bone marrow is generously portioned, easy to eat with available instruments and paired with the perfect salt and bread (texture and taste of both are spot on). Foie gras is equally good, and a pleasingly priced treat. The latter dish could create a legion of toddler food snobs, that is, if foodie parents were willing to share with their tri-toothed offspring. Sweetbreads are also a standout, though not quite in Parea’s league.

2) Just juice: Visionary Wine Pricing
You’ll drink more and better than you have any right to expect in New York for this kind of money. Half bottle selection is among city’s best. Full bottles are even better priced, and the list is superbly curated. There are even some bargain magnums for large parties. Lack of upselling on beverages and gouging push for extras make this the anti-Hanson (Steve).

3) Baby Love
Babies and toddlers are embraced but not coddled. Your server is not your sitter nor will he pretend to be.  That said, he will bring a spoon for baby to play with and help shift steak knives out of harm’s way.  Cheerios strewn kids’ section (really the whole place in the early evening) is remote enough for screamers and squirmers and close enough to big windows for grownups wishing to enjoy the remarkable city views.  As a bonus, the constant motion of the runners is Ritalin to the toddler set, who watch transfixed by the live action entertainment.

4) Simple, relatively reasonable dessert selection
Easy to say yes, easy to say no. Good not great options make dessert sampler an excuse to add some table time but not a shackle if you run out of Cheerios.

5) Hot snail salad
Sounds like a particularly appalling pornographic endeavor. Thankfully, it is in fact a delicious and daring dish that speaks to Murphy’s creativity. A plate possible only in a food-obsessed city ready to treat an exotic protein as nourishment not stunt food.

5 TO FIX:

1) Unevenly trained staff
I don’t need to memorize the cheese options for my burger; you do. I’ll also place more faith in your wine and food suggestions once you master simple pseudo-Continental waiter French. “Sancerre” and “Gruyère” shouldn’t exceed the pronunciation skill set nor slip the memory of any hooked on phonics trained server with a half meg of RAM upstairs.

2) Poorly-marked bathrooms
Steel cauldron men’s room is, I assume, a vestige of the Jean George disaster that used to fill this space. Ugly, unclearly marked and miles from the vaguely labelled ladies’ room. It’s doubly hard to tell standup from sitdown bathrooms when so many toddlers stray from parents in both spaces. Better signage needed now.

3) Restaurateurship: The Devilish Details
There’s a reason why Nieporent, Meyer, and yes, Hanson, have done so well. They make you forget the details of dining because they never do. I don’t want to consider the chain of events that brings condiments to the table with the burgers rather than with dessert; I just want it to happen. I don’t want to wonder where waiters go when idle; I just don’t want to watch them stand around bored while I eat. I also don’t want to think about how to pace meals in such a large restaurant; I just want mine to be paced right. Don’t let me see you sweat. We’re all rooting for Murphy, but he needs to turn that goodwill into great results before patience wears out, else this will be one for Midwestern museum-quality cafeteria in a mall with windows.

4 and 5) Blessedly, the good far outweighs the bad.

Pie by the Pound…Beers for a Buck: A Decent Restaurant Grows in Yorkville

March 19, 2007

Like polar bears and sand fleas, Pie by the Pound www.piebythepound.com blends with its hostile environment—the tobacco row of slatternly ball cap bars that dominates the East Eighties—but also transcends it. Outside, it’s as nondescript as any of the neighborhood’s soulless swill houses. In fact, it’s even more bland than the area’s faux Irish bars and ersatz Southern barbecue joints. Inside, however, Pie by the Pound shrugs off the mortal boil that is Yorkville and shows its inner Barcelona chic.

Chairs are hiply modern and generously spaced to allow for double parked double wide strollers, extreme lounging and straightforward casual eating. An unexpectedly interesting magazine selection offers entertainment for solo diners and pacification for bored teenagers dragged along by parents. Flat screens add a nice take on the universal intergenerational opiate.

Of course, looks will only get you so far, even on this desperately unbeautiful block where beer goggles are the preferred eyewear. Fortunately, the pizza is hot and delicious. The serving format is innovative as well, a big step up on the dank slice joints down the block. For eat-in customers, a dozen freshly made tiles of pizza sit at the ready behind a thin sheet of glass. You simply indicate how much you want with a hand gesture to the knife wielding server. A moment later the appropriately sized swatch of pizza goes into the oven for a quick refire.

Most of the topping combinations are straightforward: fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil; a great white pizza that avoids the greasiness pitfall so common with this variety; and several mushroom mixes. For those seeking a little nutritional balance, a veggie combo offers all the sweetness and light one expects when six particolored fresh cut vegetables decorate a pie but none of the bitter overload of the classic chlorophyll laden pie. For a bit more fun and a lot more taste, the margherita potato chip pizza proves texture can be as important to toppings as it is to crust. The combo seems odd then inevitable: crunchy, salty, sweet and addictive. It’s easy to see why it sells out so quickly.

As if this bargain priced embarrassment of pizza riches weren’t enough, the beer selection is painfully cheap, not alcohol by the ounce but rather Buds by the buck. Yes, Budweisers run a dollar each here, as do Amstels. Only Heinekens push the price envelope at a princely two dollars apiece. Hipster artisanal sodas round out the selection and are perfect for family outings, but I keep my loyalties with St. Louis’ finest watery refreshment. It won’t distract from the pizza nor leave your wallet much lighter than when you came in the door.

So next time you’re thinking of Totonno’s Yorkville branch or, heaven forbid, a trip to Tony’s di Crapoli, do think twice, it’s not alright. Weigh your options then pick up the phone and order from Pie by the Pound. Better still, bring family or friends, or catch up on your magazine reading, tv watching and beer drinking over a solo slice or two. Pretty soon you’ll be a regular.

King’s Carriage House: A Country Inn for a Night in the Neighborhood

March 13, 2007

It’s a hard knock life being a foodie in Yorkville. The good German and Hungarian stalwarts have long since been kudzued over by a tobacco row of dank bars and dangerously dirty slice joints. The new waves of cuisine, from nouvelle to molecular gastronomy leave us high and dry. Neither haute Paris nor ethnically savory Sunnyside, Queens, Yorkville is a little bit of everything and not much of anything. Nonetheless, a few brave souls are making meals worth a walk if not a cab ride.

Among the new breed, Spigolo, Uva and Café D’Alsace are the obvious well-publicized standouts. Several rungs lower, York Grill remains an adequate standby, unwilling to get better and unlikely to get worse. King’s Carriage House, according to my friends’ reports, falls somewhere in between, but closer to the former group than the latter. This past Friday I gave it a try.

After a single visit, I’d say this lovely little converted brownstone is much more about feel than food, but the feel is wonderfully warm and clubby and perhaps the perfect answer to the modest expectations of a Friday night’s repast. A favorite of many Carl Schurz Park volunteer gardeners and other Connecticut second home owners, its décor is delightfully country inn tweedy, from the hunt scene prints to the candelabra. It’s also surprisingly cosmopolitan.

During a leisurely three hour dinner I was treated to discourses on changing admissions policies at Choate, Taft and Princeton from one table of Rep tied brownstoners, Spanish judicial corruption from madrileño renters and something unintelligible with a German accent from unidentifiable tourists. Only the slouching Tigers were overbearingly loud, and they did provide some modicum of entertainment. Fortunately, so did the food.

Lamb was rare, beautifully seasoned and set off by surprisingly fresh braised greens. Venison sausage and sweet potato hash would make for excellent haute breakfast fare, but also tasted great at dinner time. Only Stilton and fruit with a missing glass of port failed to live up to its promise. The cheese was bland and the presentation a bit dated without being dated enough—no modern funky flavor, no old-school maggot spoon. A goat cheese terrine was antiquated but comfortingly filling and fairly tasty, perfectly suited to the place and the pace. Grilled salmon exceeded wedding banquet standards but not by much. Fortunately, a blackberry crumble redeemed the evening, and left me fortified for the short post-prandial stroll home.

This wasn’t food or drink to contemplate, comment, wax or whine about. It didn’t lift my eyes upward to the heavens with exalted gastro-joy nor the ceiling in exasperation. Rather, it made me smile and look at and talk to my spouse. A good time, an easy reservation, a reasonable check, and baby and babysitter asleep by eleven. Number four on the Yorkville standout list, check.

Take the Princess to Queens: Family Foodie Adventures at Sripraphai

February 14, 2007

Foodie moms and dads: 

Don’t reheat another Terrance Brennan Fresh Direct meal this Tuesday. Don’t rush through another early dinner at Gramercy Tavern to make it home by nanny quitting time this Monday. And please, please don’t order another barbecue sampler from Brother Jimmy’s this Saturday. Get off the island and take your little princess—or sweet prince—to Queens for ethnic adventure dining! Where else can a night of gastro-fun be had for far less than you’d spend on that Barnard babysitter and a first quartino of Barolo at Babbo?

Ethnic food may not always be easy on the baby’s digestion, but if your little one is still at the Simulac stage, habanero intolerance isn’t an issue. For our crowd, Queens is a gustatory EPCOT without the lines, giant mice and risk of sunburn. And you don’t need to book a month ahead. Ethnic restaurants may intimidate spontaneous solo diners and first daters, but they’re almost always friendly to families who just show up; we’re their mainstay clientele. In fact, I’d hazard to guess you get better service with baby in tow.

Of all the options on the 7 line, I’d start with for Sripaphai. It offers clean, articulate and utterly delicious food at an outrageous value. It’s also well-known and packed, so start early and stay late. Once you have a table, order one round of food and make subsequent selections only when supplies run low.

Don’t get lost in the vast menu. Just pick your usual Thai favorites and discover how much better they can taste off the island. Flavors pop here like they never will in the Siamese slophouses of Yorkville; and it’s not from MSG. Sripaphai simply uses better and fresher ingredients without flourish or fetish. Chiles, herbs and sauces come through in Surround Sound because they’re well-sourced and well-balanced.

Nota bene: Don’t order anything made from grapes, no matter how thirsty you get. The house-special “Burgandy” ($16/liter) clearly isn’t what has Jean-Georges Vongerichten coming back. This ethanol substitute might solve our energy crisis, but it tastes like ass in a glass. Neither grape nor place, it’s merely a misplaced state of mind. This isn’t Tabla or Shun Lee, restaurants that make a compelling, if costly, case for Asian food and wine, so stick instead to light lager beer. For the abstemious, Thai iced coffee and tea are two sensible non-boozy ways to beat the heat.

Drunken noodles are obscenely good, so double down on them for starters or for leftovers. Green curry is also a must, and will certainly help you put on a happy face. Of course, it will also give you the flushed face, copious spice sweats and fast running nose of a dedicated adventure diner. Don’t worry, these are well-earned and respected red badges of courage. Finally, fried tofu is definitely worth getting, but don’t start a Lord of the Flies fracas over the last piece. Soy beans are not scarce; preserve your hard-won connubial bliss by ordering more for you and your greedy bite-stealing spouse. Beyond that, eat just about anything, except cockles and frog legs. The former aren’t too fresh, and the latter are ground, yes, ground, into a reptilian Nestle crunch.

Desserts, like good cockles in Queens, remain a dream deferred. They’re just not what’s good to eat here. Durian fruit is stunt food, not fun food. The sticky rice treats are fine, as are the various gelatinous options made from grass and coconut, but baby pap is best left to babies. Enjoy a Thai Iced Coffee instead, then pay up, head home, put baby to bed, and kick back with a Calvados or two. You’ll be up at 7, so don’t make it three, and please, please don’t open a bottle of Burgandy.