Archive for the ‘Midtown’ Category

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.

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Soba Totto: Good to Gross

September 4, 2009

Below are a few high and lowlights of my recent meals at Soba Totto (211 E 43rd St # A).  Much reputable, some rebarbative.

1. Bloody latex is not a taste bud tingler: If you’re cutting chicken and you cut yourself, for God’s sake, wash up, bandage up and chuck the bloody bird bits.   The Soba Totto line cook sliced and diced through his palm, then skewered up the platelet platter as he watched coagulation set in. In a good blood sausage, pork or beef blood is delicious.  In any form, man blood is disgusting.

2. Undercooked chicken puree on rice: Ground chicken over rice had texture of soft serve yogurt and flavor of sock shod wet feet. The hot rice didn’t cook the chicken, it simply brought the stink–and not an Epoisses good foot stink either–closer to my nose.  Bland food with look of bung seepage.

3. Salty salad not bad: Greens with ginger dressing, fried shallots and sprinkle of salt crystals were way too saline on one occasion and just right on another.  Nice idea and well past the Benihana salads of the seventies, but the execution was erratic.

4. Best beer Mug In Town: Earthenware beer Mugs for half beers are nice to look at, easy to hold and make the frothy midday carb-load that much easier to down.

5. Relentlessly friendly service: No intrusion but also no dropped cues. Checks arrive quickly.  Upsell pressure is minimal.

6. Eponymous Excellence: Cold Soba Noodles make the case that JGV wasn’t crazy to open a noodle joint-Matsugen-in the old 66 space. There’s plenty of art here, albeit a pretty subtle and vaguely Puritan art.

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.

DB BISTRO MODERNE: Miracle on 44th Street

February 5, 2007

Welcoming warm intuitive service wasn’t what I expected in mid-town pre-theater dining, nor consistently excellent, well-priced food. Nonetheless, on a recent visit, DB BISTRO MODERNO raised the bar from greeting to goodbye.

My spouse and I arrived for dinner at the peak hour on the peak day of pre-theater rush with no reservation, no insider connections and no illusions. Nonetheless, the maitre d’ smiled, welcomed and accomodated us at one of two marble communal tables. This was precisely what we had wanted, and we got it with nary a sniffle or snort about failing to have planned ahead.

The table’s waiter (one worked all three parties) was fast on his feet but also unhurried, gracious and pleasantly non-Parisian French. In the course of the meal, he managed to adjust our wine order twice on the fly, get us the proper temperature on the foie and short rib burger while splitting it unasked, sequence an obscenely generous Marc after coffee on request and chat up a neighboring solo diner, all while serving other tables, dodging main room diners and otherwise making himself useful.

He also wrangled a pair of aggressive and obvious photo bloggers. In fact, DB seemed to be a bloggers’ paradise. When the maitre d’ observed the flashing camera and telltale notepad, he invited the bloggers to speak with anyone in the kitchen who might have insights for them. NB: Lose the notetaking at the table, and cut back on the flash photography! Blatant blogging is bad blogging and a desperate call for extra attention. Observe don’t alter the experience.

Fortunately, the food more than redeemed the ersatz amateur media frenzy. Fries were excellent, especially dipped in house mayo, where the French are many steps ahead of our Hellman’s/Miracle Whip red state/blue state divide. The burger on the other hand, was worth a detour not a journey. A bit on the boiled tasting side, it was more of a great idea than a thought-provoking act of deliciousness-making. Like Mario’s beef cheeks or Gray’s short ribs, it’s something to try and talk about. Unlike those dishes though, I wouldn’t come back for seconds. Messieurs Boulud and Tourondel, the French have a great cuisine, but let’s be clear, you’re not burger people. In the future, I’ll stick to Shake Shack.

More fun by far was the meal’s front and back matter, i.e., the appetizers, desserts and drinks. A torchon of foie gras was full bodied, full-flavored and full sized, easily enough for two. Tuna tartare was a bit CIA-level but by no means reproachable. Plus, it helped prevent a full on post-prandial crise de foie. A Banana chocolate tart and Baba au Rhum were superb takes on classics, especially the rum-soaked latter which served as a sort of digestif before the digestif. A surprisingly tasty Corey Vineyards North Fork wine, a powerful if pricey Chassagne Montrachet, and, again, that wonderful whopper of a snifter of Marc, all left me impressed by the beverage program.

Most of all though, it was the courtesy of professionally and personally adept service, from runners and coat checkers to servers and hosts, that made good food taste better. DB may not have wood smoke like Gramercy, nor flames like Landmarc, but it has the warmth of home on an otherwise cold stretch of 44th Street.

A Day at Chipotle: Surviving on Chain Food

January 12, 2007

A Day of Fast-ish Food: Don’t be a sad and skinny food prude. Sometimes it’s the chains that set you free!

1) 11:30 AM Carnitas taco: Beat the lunch crowd by arriving at 11:30 for a pulled pork taco. The meat is from Niman Ranch and far exceeds fast-ish food expectations. Most flavorful fare at Chipotle and customers know it. Chipotle’s Niman order is so big that they forced Mario Batali (I’ve heard him say) to find new suppliers for pork shoulder. Skip the Mexican sour cream, unless you have time for a mid-day fat stroke. Stick with a bit of white cheese and tomatillo-green chile sauce.

2) 1 PM Mr. Pibb and Lemon: The perfect early afternoon beverage break. No worse for you than Starbucks and you can chew on ice while staring at your computer monitor. Plus Pibb Extra sounds vaguely athletic.

3) 2:30 PM Taco tasting: Order one each of chicken, beef and beef (barbacoa and steak). Triple down with a trio of salsas (boring, tomatillo green and tomatillo red). This is fast-ish food at its best. Throw in a complimentary water to wash it down and add some lemon and lime slices for a house-made homage to Lymon (or if you’re shameless, pour a bit of Sprite while pretending to hold down the water button).

4) 5 PM Salty chips and Sol: Use Chipotle for an abbreviated happpy hour. The beer selection includes Bohemia, Tecate, Sol and Negra Modelo, and the chips are cheap. Add some house-made tomatillo red sauce and a few squeezes of lime juice and linger if time permits.

5) 9:30 PM Salad and Margarita: It’s Friday and you’ll be at work ’til dawn. Don’t worry, no fat-induced night sweats if you keep it light for the night feeding. This is the culinary equivalent of the disco nap. You’ll mellow out a bit about a wasted weekend and feel virtuous enough about the salad to forget you haven’t exercised in days, unless you count chair swivel contests. Granted, best not to drink at your desk, so enjoy the hipper than expected soundtrack while eating on the lower level, then head back to the salt mines.

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.

Fat and Happy at Houston’s: 5 Favorite Features

January 2, 2007

1) Spinach dip: A gut-swelling appetizer that belies the term–fat sweats and mild nausea will overwhelm not enhance the appetite if you take this one on solo. Best ordered with company, or after a double-session on the squash court. Discard irrelevant salsa and sour cream.

2) Fish Fillet Sandwich with Cauliflower and Red Cabbage sides: A total surprise in a beef barn, this fish sandwich is perhaps the best thing on the menu. Fillet’s fine, but it’s really a set-up for the buttery bread and comforting nip of the tartar-type sauce. Remove the superfluous red onion, but please don’t put it in the space-age flip-top sugar dispenser again. You know who you are.

3) Hickory Burger and fries: Flawless ratio of toasted bun to beef. As with fish, the whole exceeds the sum of individual parts. That said, remove half the shredded cheddar and add to your fries for a perfect second main. Yes, the shoestrings (Steak N’ Shake-like) are superlative and substantial enough to be a meal unto themselves. A little green Tabasco or hickory sauce sets them off nicely.

3) Art Collection: Who would expect Jim Dine in a burger joint? Some remarkable finds, though dim lighting does little to emphasize them.

4) Servers: Easy on the eyes wait staff is Soho hot without the attitude. Sincere service (scripted but effective) ranks with the best in the city.

5) Bargain espresso: Order a dollar espresso to end the meal. Warning, unless you’ve lost your sense of smell, the espresso is merely an excuse to linger at your table. Crema on coffee looks good, but tastes like day-old pig-farm runoff. When you’re finished with your witty anecdote, get a real espresso upstairs in the Barnes & Noble.

A Foodie Forages in Grand Central

December 7, 2006

1) Oren’s Daily Roast (breakfast): Get the peanut butter raspberry jelly doughnut and an espresso, or the coconut cream doughnut. Both are from Doughnut Plant and both constitute a full and fully satisfying breakfast.

2) Grand Central Market (lunch): Murray’s for stinky cheese and membrillo. Greenwich Produce for fruit selection. Koglin German Hams stand for exceptional smoky schinkel and more exotic animal parts. Finally Corrado Bakery at far end for baguette and a pastry. Take your picnic downstairs or over to Bryant Park.

3) Michael Jordan’s (snack): Order your own Mac&Cheese and a beer. Service is primitive and desserts are weak, but views and Mac are spectacular, especially around Christmas.

4) Metrazur (dessert): Finish up with a well-mixed drink and another lovely vista. Look at the Metro North boards and think about heading to Blue Hill Stone Barns for dinner.