Archive for the ‘Flatiron/Gramercy’ Category

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.

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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.

Blowout at Blue Smoke : A Restaurant Week Winner

August 10, 2009

Fancy restaurants don’t usually succeed on the restaurant week downgrade.  They grit their teeth and toss out salmon and chicken that we grit our teeth and eat.  Yes, the toilet paper and linens are the same at Jean George, the Modern and elsewhere during RW, but the food almost always looks and tastes like the catering version of the real thing.

So why ask upmarket to go down when it’s so much easier for downmarket to go up? Abundance and variety are easily added. Cheap subs for expensive ingredients, however, are hard to hide.

With that thought in mind, I headed to Blue Smoke for a delightful feast at a relatively low price point.  Barbecue is all about making the most of cheap meat, so I had no fear of rubber salmon or chicken.  My optimism was amply rewarded.

Yes, there were some duds amidst the delights, but I’ll definitely be back.  Below are five picks and pans from the meal.

1. Too tart yellow tomato gazpacho with pickled onions: Way too tart, vinegar heavy to point of pain.  Also, a bit one note in the flavor and color departments.  An herb or two on top and a slick of olive oil could have fixed the problem in an instant.   Gazpacho is a very easy dish to make look good and a pretty easy dish to make taste good.  This was neither.  Since the chef was out front interviewing prospective employees, I will have to lay the blame on the sous chef.

2. Succulent short ribs: The meat was beautifully cooked.  The ribs were tender, flavorful and kept enough textural contrast to keep each bite interesting.  It tasted like those “mountains of beef” ads make you think beef should taste, kind of like getting a cup of coffee that tastes the way it smells.  N.B.: Lose or replace the succotash type base of brown sauce, lima beans and corn.  It added little to the plate.

3. Superb shortcake with blackberry ice cream and whipped cream: The highlight of the meal.  Moist steaming center on the shortcake with snapcrackle crust.  Best I’ve had in years.  Super ripe fruit was unexpectedly intense in flavor.  A bit of lemon in the cream balanced the tastes beautifully.  I’ve been to Blue Smoke a dozen times, but this was the first visit when dessert was the best part.  Like Otto, Blue Smoke has finally added sweets worthy of its savories.

4. Delaminating lemonade: Housemade isn’t always a good thing.  As overtart as the yellow tomato gazpacho.  I can’t imagine this teeth tingler was made by the same pastry chef who put together the shortcake.  Next time I’ll get an IBC root beer and damage my dentition at a more deliberate pace.

5. Superlative service: Not many people were eating at 3:00 when I arrived and none were dining solo and boozeless.  Neither feature stopped my server from being as attentive, friendly and competent as she would have been to a sixtop slugging Barolo and house bourbon.

Closing thoughts: The deviled eggs are too good to resist ordering even when faced with a plentiful RW prix-fixe.   They aren’t that filling, and they are that good.  Next time, I’ll add a “supplement” to my tasting menu.  I’d do the same with the toasted ravioli, though only if I had the fish special instead of the short ribs.  Even gluttony has its limits!

Eleven Madison Park: Overdue for an Extra Star

July 28, 2009

For a year or so, Danny Meyer has been declaring the rise of the quick turn improvised meal and the fall of the long format prix fixe lunch and dinner.  Putting his money where the mouths are, he’s added greater flexibility to nearly all of his restaurants’  dining options.   There’s one exception to this trend of letting people determine length, order and quantity of their meals, namely Eleven Madison Park’s stubbornly rigorous multi-course lunches and many course dinners.  I think the reason is simple: Such are the apparent requirements of the Times 4 Star review, the one accolade that’s eluded Mr. Meyer.

EMP is definitely an ambitious restaurant, Meyer’s most ambitious restaurant, and on some nights this past winter, it seemed like Meyer’s folly.  I have to imagine he took a hit to keep it running at full speed when the crowds thinned.  Fortunately,  Meyer has had a restaurant empire to keep this place going during the rough patches.  And when we come out of this downturn, it should join the City’s elite.

Why bump it to four stars?  Because it’s not the same restaurant it was a few years ago.  Meyer’s restaurants always get better with time.   Name another restaurateur so intent on relentlessly revising and improving his restaurants based on guest feedback.  Name another restaurateur whose restaurants consistently get better after their third or fourth years under a chef.  That’s why  Meyer’s restaurants nearly always merit a rereview.

Fans are everywhere, and so are a few major doubters.  That’s fine.  But if you’ve been to 4-starred Daniel, Le Bernardin or Jean Georges lately, you have to ask what they have that EMP doesn’t.  Yes, their chefs are far more influential–each has at least one national trend to his credit–but they’re also far more leveraged.    While  Goldman is down to leveraging its money 14:1,  Jean Georges seems intent on leveraging his flagship’s name and stars at ever greater ratios.  Just how many kitchens can he visit?  Boulud isn’t far behind.   Even Keller has joined the expansion fray.

Yes, Humm doesn’t have a foie and short rib stuffed burger or salmon cornet with his name on it, but he does have a restaurant executing gorgeous and delicious food  with service to match.  He also has the best wine program in the City.  It’s time for the critics to set the record straight.   Go forth and add the star, Frank.  EMP is ready to join the club.  Present day fans already know how far the restaurant has come.  Potential fans should know as well.

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?

Boqueria Reigns in Food of Spain

July 3, 2007

If you want great Spanish food in New York, look for an Irish-American chef. Bolo’s butter-cheeked Bobby Flay is already well known; Boqueria’s sun-averse Seamus Mullen will be soon.

Cause For Applause:

1) Clean flavors: Market-fresh arugula, scapes and other seasonal produce lighten and brighten up bar snacks and large plates. Don’t worry though, Mullen’s no culinary Calvinist. The menu also contains plenty of fried favorites for those so inclined, from meal-opening croquetas—obligatory and workmanlike— to meal-ending churros—extruded wonders that belong on the short list of New York super-doughnuts.

2) Dirty chef: I love it when the chef makes the rounds of tables, especially if there’s evidence of cooking on his whites to tell you he’s really working the stoves. Even better when he’s a shy kitchen craftsman happy to hear a compliment or answer a question but happier still to return to his station. Mullen’s no media-savvy FN food actor, and that’s great news for dedicated food fans.

3) Quality Caffeine on The Quick: The barman at Boqueria had no problem answering a booze athlete’s call for a mid-bout bolus of restorative caffeine. He also knew to cut it with a pitch perfect half-nipple of milk. For those who tend to match wine to water consumption, consider throwing caffeine in the mix and you just might outlast the college kids at the other end of the bar.

4) High performance, low-key cheese plate: A perfect bar snack or first dessert. One of the best edited and plated cheese selections I’ve seen recently. An understated wood plank held flavor complementing cherries, apples and quince paste alongside generous chunks of lush ripe torta de serena, garrotxa, idiazabal and cabrales.

5) Golden Showers at the Bar: Half the fun of easygoing Txakolí is the pouring method. Here it’s cascaded down from on high, just as it is in Galicia and the Basque Country. Fine to drink this light white at the tables as well, but much better up front. Would you order French maid service for your apartment while plugging away at the office?

Cause for Correction:

1) Twice-killed swine: Rough-cut thick slices of jamón serrano took subtlety out of the dish. Spanish ham should be too good for this brutish treatment. And speaking of pigs, how about some feet on the menu?

2) Still no Orujo: Spain’s grappa homologue remains elusive in this city. A server hinted at the culture preserving virtues of trade barriers in explaining its absence from the menu. I say leave the canned fish back on the Peninsula and start importing the world’s best hooch.

3) Not much bottom to the wine list: Txakolí and the other Basque whites on Boqueria’s list were once the quite reasonable choices of factory workers out for a low budget low pretense moveable feast. I know Spain has moved up in the world economy and that the Euro is now crushing the dollar, but there have to be a few Iberian options left under thirty dollars. The same applies to double-digit heavy options by the glass.

Parea’s Spartan Delights

May 1, 2007

5 Best and 5 Worst at Parea Restaurant (www.parea-ny.com)

Kalos: The Good

1) Lush and Lusty Lamb chops: The classic Greek meat was a revelation. Rich and meaty as beefsteak without any of the usual heaviness. Cooked to specification, generously portioned and worthy of a second order.

2) Lickable lamb ribs with orange zest: The braised flesh yielded to gentle pressure, releasing far more flavor than I ever thought could be squeezed from Little Bo Peep .

3) Superlative Sweetbreads: Perhaps the most delicious dish on the menu. Richly roasted with smoky flavors, strong meaty mouth feel and wonderful seasoning. Better than Eleven Madison Park’s sweetbreads, better than Landmarc’s, better than Blue Ribbon’s.

4) Stellar Greek Whites: The native grape wine selections were resin free and flavorful. Priced well below expectation by Gramercy area standards, they delivered far more surprise and delight than I would have expected.

5) Friendly Front of House: Servers and maitre d’ were warm, honest (I don’t care for ouzo either) and flexible. They seated our incomplete party, brought appetizers to keep us busy while we checked Blackberries and generally helped ease a few awkward moments of thumb twiddling down time.

Kakos: The Bad and The Ugly

1) Octogenarian Octopus: A Greek place without fresh seafood is Eater Deathwatch-worthy. Our ancient creature of the sea was richly sauced, lovingly plated and godawful. I cannot accept gamy tentacles as anyone’s idea of haute cuisine, particularly at the peak of weekend service. Someone should have noticed the half-full platter we sent back and asked if there had been a problem. I fear they already knew.

2) Leathery Langoustines: When young and beautiful, langoustines look and taste good anywhere from raw to roasted. These old-man stenched, manky numbers were beyond repair and confirmed that the octopus disaster was a trend, not an exception.

3) Desultory Donuts: Much praised in print, ours were greasy and off temperature.  This is a common and delicious dessert item and could and should have been much better.  Greek coffee was a pleasurable counterpoint, but pricey for what it was, Turkish coffee with nationalist pretenses.

4) Off Atmosphere: Empty at eight upon our arrival and just filling as we left at ten. Parea feels like a lounge with food, not a restaurant. I don’t mind if the place goes disco late at night, but don’t make diners feel like they got to the party too early. This isn’t Madrid. Some of us do eat before nine. For a room to be loud and empty is merely a triumph of bad thinking.

5) Monochromatic Color Scheme: Three white sauces with white pita on white plates may work in a beautifully decorated flawlessly executed seafood restaurant on an intimate Greek isle. Here it felt like a platter of paint samples. Thankfully, the sauces, particularly, the feta and lemon, didn’t taste like High Gloss Benjamin Moore.

Takeaway: Stick to the turf and you’ll eat like a hero.  Venture into the surf and you may wake up feeling like you’re swimming with the fishes.

Gramercy Tavern’s Mid-Winter Renaissance: A New Voice Emerges

January 30, 2007

I went to Gramercy Tavern last night and had a wonderful dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. New chef Michael Anthony is still finding his voice–he’s not quite ready to jettison that Blue Hill bag of tricks–but after one round of his Winter Tasting and Vegetable Menus, I’ll vote Gramercy a forward-thinking concern again.

Cooks, clients and servers alike seem relieved and recharged now that Captain Tom has finally moved on. Colicchio had a great run, but his inattention was beginning to show. The buzz is coming back now and so are the unforced smiles and belly pats of people eating above expectation.

On a first pass, and I plan to make more, I noticed Anthony’s degustation was a far lighter and less overtly luxurious affair than I’d encountered previously at Gramercy: comforting food without after-dinner discomfort. Little butter, no mushroom cappuccinos, no foie gras and no beef meant no late night fat sweats nor early morning Advil.

The vegetables, greens, herbs, and sauces accompanying this lighter fare were fresher, tastier and more colorful than I’d ever had in the City at this time of year, much less at Gramercy. Cilantro purée was beautifully colored, clean flavored and delicious. Beets, cauliflower and daikons were prepped summery even if they’re winter stalwarts. Citrus accents on scallops didn’t hide the Blue Hill connection; then again, Blue Hill never hid its respect for the Gramercy model, even down to their servers’ uniforms.

After five savories–fluke, mackerel, bass, bacon and lamb–I was still feeling peckish, and thankfully the cheese menu was there to lead me toward satiety. Two full pages of rarities, it’s a far bigger and better affair than on my last go-through. Though I missed the ceremony of the cart in the far backroom, I did appreciate the generous portions, appropriate varieties of bread and, yes, the cheese. All the taste but none of the Artisanal preciousness and portion chintzing. Vacherin slid off the plate into oozy, smile-making pools. A gouda of the fruity, funky high quality parm reg school was mimolette on meth, the kind that makes you proud to be Dutch. A Bayley Hazen blue was less exciting but irreproachable.

Wines were uniformly excellent, though 3AM headache (okay, some Advil was still required) makes me wonder about the Hungarian number. Still, beverage director Juliette Pope has a beautiful nose, so I’ll resist the urge to libel her selection.

Pastry Chef Nancy Olson’s desserts and petits fours were also exceptional. A chocolate multi-parter proved how versatile this ingredient is in the right hands, especially the almond joy riff. I wish I’d ordered a third selection for the table, mainly to find out how much more she can do. Best work since Claudia Fleming.

Would have done a Marc after coffee, but check was already on the table. Server was good, though a bit off on reading our sobremesa mood. Of course, I like to talk to servers and linger while my spouse wants to dine and depart in a veil of silence. I guess it depends on whom she read.

En cinco palabras: A great restaurant leaves you thinking and thinking about coming back. Gramercy: II is on the way. I’m looking forward to the Anthony’s spring creations. By then this place should be in full flower, not pushing up daisies as Mr. Bruni would have it.

Haute Cuisine is High Cuisine: 5 Options for Dining Under the Influence

January 23, 2007

Of course you don’t, but if you did…

1) ‘Shrooms: Room 4 Dessert
Wildly colored, flavored and textured foods, dangerously eclectic music and koan like phrases on the menu, plus city’s strangest servers. If that’s not enough to send you to Wonderland, talk to Will and really jumpstart your head trip. So much better than those late career Phish shows and a wiser use of your precious psilocybin.

2) Benzedrine: Gordon Ramsey
Not my speed, as it were, but given how fast they’ll rush you out, it pays to be predisposed to getting things done in a hurry.

3) Coke: Balthazar
No need to do it, just sit next to some middle-aged coked up patrons and dine off their plates. I’ve enjoyed towers of fruits de mers from nose-powdering neighbors who ordered and didn’t eat some of the best items on the menu.

4) Weed: Babbo
You’ll hear and see the flavor profiles in a whole new way with a bit of vaporized help from your friends. Though menu isn’t divided into burner categories of salty, sweet, buttery and spicy, it offers plenty of them all, plus umami-like depth of flavor, Italian style. You’ll lick your fork. Just don’t lick your server (or take a bite of Mario’s charcuterie-perfect calves).

5) E-Letdown: Gramercy Tavern
Who better to guide you back to reality after a night of ecstatic brain frying than Danny Meyer? Gentle rhythms, fantastically comforting food, warm voices and big friendly eyes that swaddle you in love: this is the infancy you never had and the perfect place to rejoin the ranks of the rational.

Top Five Tastes at ‘wichcraft (And a Few to Fix)

January 9, 2007

TOP TASTES

1) Slow roasted pork: Best ordered in the waning hours of the afternoon when the shreds and patches of pork peak after a long stew. Don’t worry, hot mustard, vinegared red cabbage and fresh jalapeños will wake up the meat and the meat-eater.

Additional kudos for not using gooey cheese as the simple solution to sandwich making. A Salamander need not exist exclusively for melting provolone!

2) Anchovy and soft-egg sandwich: A provocative combination, even with some salsa verde and ciabatta to buffer the unabashed anchovy flavor. Eggs are always good on this sandwich, but watch out for the undercooked breakfast egg, frisée and lardon combo. I loved my runny yolks but not the phlegm-soft, snot-textured whites.

Grilled gruyère with caramelized onion is a fun and funky alternative for the anchovy and ovum averse. Deep on the umami account, especially on warm rye bread. Relatively cheap and exceptionally satisfying.

3) La Colombe Coffee: Yes, they’re using this top-tier Philadelphia roaster’s beans in their hot drinks and in their exquisite iced coffee. Probably the fanciest thing on the menu. Best when paired in the morning with ham and cheddar grits.

4) Peanut brittle: Cheap, delicious and portable. Leaves you feeling gently hugged and not in the least bit screwed. In short, a bit of Gramercy Tavern in a fast-ish food chain.

5) Vanilla shake: Lustful luxury in a glass. Skip the Starbucks 5 dollars Crappuchino and order this ‘wichcraft concoction. You’re drinking dessert either way and might as well get something delicious.

A FEW FEATURES TO FIX

1) Colorless truffle sandwich. Bread is bland, dried out and adds nothing to the flavors of already mild truffle and fontina cheese. Truffles themselves are often gritty. Earthy flavors fine. Dirt, uncool. Total lack of garnish makes for a ruthlessly dull presentation, especially for ten dollars.

2) Unwelcoming interior: Perhaps if ‘wichcraft were always packed, I’d get over the sense of sterility, but at present the Barcelona plastic chic comes off as an empty Target store design module gone awry. Food porn on the walls is realistic representation of store offerings, but not warm enough to infuse soul into what remains an emotionally frigid takeout joint. Take your pleasure in a better place!

3) Water shortage: Almost impossible to get ice water without asking twice. When and if it comes, the portion is generous (no Dixie cups).

4) Chaos at the counter: People enter and exit from all directions and seem uncertain where to ask for and pick up food.

5) No liquor license: A few handcrafted beers and wines by the glass would go well at lunchtime and maybe even add a few covers in the evening hours.