Archive for the ‘Yorkville’ Category

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.

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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.

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.

Parlor Steakhouse: Beating Expectations in a Neighborhood Known to Dash Them

August 25, 2009

Yorkville offers all the charm and culinary vibrancy of a suburban strip mall with none of the convenience.  Given the dearth of commendable comestibles, any new restaurant is good news:  Things can’t get worse.  That said, there are a few standouts in the area.  None merit a taxi ride for outsiders but several save residents from having to take one.  Parlor Steakhouse has definitely joined the latter club, alongside Spigolo, Café D’Alsace and Sushi of Gari.  Below are the five most notable subpar and superior items from their non-steak menu.  As far as fatty cow goes, Parlor is a full service flesh palace, but I’ll save that discussion for another review.

1. Nicely Twisted Tomato Salad:  Gorgeous grape tomatoes in beautiful color and flavor array topped goopy gorgonzola spread.  Good, bad and ugly all in one bite.   Big textured salt crystals and a fruity olive oil helped hold the blue cheese flavors at bay.

2. Bold and Beautiful Yellow Tomato Gazpacho: On an August night that needed it, this soup was liquid air conditioning.  Well balanced flavors—they nailed the tart, sweet—and nice to look at.  Even more refreshing than the salad.

3. Magically Moderate Mac and Cheese: Not as rich as Michael Jordan’s, but also not as likely to induce late night fat sweats.  Price and portion in total concord.

4. Scalding Swill:  This was a sad end to a swell swill.  Room temperature in August is no way for a Pinot to exit this world.  At first taste I thought they’d deglazed a pan with it, except then at least I would have gotten some butter and beefy flavors.

5. Carbonized Cookie Platter:  Reheated storeboughts were hot, dry and lousy.  If you’re going to make me pay pay to play for ersatz petits fours, make them good.   A sorry  end to an otherwise excellent meal.

A New Stop on the Taco Trail: Patty’s Tacos at 86th and Lex

July 23, 2008

A promising  taco truck has recently set up shop on the northwest side of 86th Street and Lexington Avenue, and the neighborhood food scene will never be the same.  Patty’s (or Paty’s as the menus and truck read)* Tacos is delivering a taco revolution to a neighborhood so bereft of good  Mexican as to lack for even a Taco Bell. 

Yes, The Burger One is a step in the right direction for portable bargain bites of the Mexican variety, but other than its modest offerings, Lex Mex is an oxymoron until the upper nineties.  Crossing the economic border from the UES into Yorkville, foodies and those willing to talk to them have only the good willed but moderately bland Cinco de Mayo, the seriously bland Taco Taco, and the Zocalo priced ripoff shack–and Michelin favorite–Maz Mezcal to choose from.  It’s bad enough that there’s so much white brick over here.  It’s even worse when the food is as bland as the architecture.  None of these local restaurants merits the sweaty walk from the subway, so save your money and time and stick to The Burger One and Paty’s.

So on to the food.  The selection of meats for the tacos, burritos, sopes and tostadas is notably broad–chicken, beef, chorizo, pork al pastor and enchilado, tongue, cecina and shrimp are not just promised but delivered.  The salsa selection for now is limited to an avocado based number familiar to fans of Peruvian chicken fave Pio Pio, but perhaps more will be available as business picks up.   Crema and queso mexicano are as authentic as anything in Queens or Hamilton Heights and don’t need any embellishing.

N.B. Be ready to order and eat on Mexican time.  Everything is made to order, and everything takes a while to put together, from glasses of horchata, sorrel water and bottles of Mexican sodas, to the the sopes, huaraches, burritos, tacos and soups.  Be patient with the order but don’t wait too long to eat it once the food is ready.  This food has the shelf life of McDonald’s fries.  A trip to Best Cellars or Mr. Wright and on to Carl Schurz or Ruppert Park would make for quite a picnic!

This is just a preliminary post, so I’ll put up more info soon. I intend to keep on digging into the remainder of the menu this week on both the food and beverage ends.  I’m particularly keen to try the tostadas with fatty cow feet–“patas”–which I’m told will be back tomorrow.  “Habrá patas mañana, señor.”   Sweeter words have rarely been spoken atop the subway grate on Lexington.   

A final suggestion.  Avoid the canker-sore inducing Horchata.  It’s way past saccharine.  Get a Jarritos tamarind soda instead and toast the best news on the UES food front in quite a while.

*There’s no double tt in Spanish.  Of course, nor is there an apostrophe.

Best Mex on Lex: The Upper East Side’s New Top Taco

July 15, 2008

The Upper East Side has a new top taco, and it’s being served at The Burger One on Lexington between 79th and 80th. Hot, fresh and cheap carnitas, chicken and beef numbers are made to order with just the right blend of blistering green salsa, biting chopped onion and cooling cilantro.  Half-wrapped in foil, they are astoundingly portable:  I can eat two before I get to my stop at 77th and Lex and rarely spill more than a squirt’s worth of salsa on my Mountain Khakis.  That said, these tasty tacos are even better at the counter.  

When time permits and I can’t afford to Pollock another pair of pants, I grab a stool, watch a little Telemundo and listen to the cooks and countermen wrangle the exuberant stream of customers, most of whom are blue collar and almost all of whom are more comfortable conversing in Sunnyside Spanish than Quogue English.  Taking a seat also gives me time to enjoy the great selection of Mexican beverages recently added to the menu, including Cane Sugar Cokes—no ethanol corn syrup American variety here—Jarritos fruit sodas and various house made Aguas Frescas. 

After a year of steady visits, I can safely say this place isn’t going away any time soon. The once tentative and tiny taquería inside an old burger shop is now a full fledged Mexican lunch counter with a precise regional perspective.  It knows what it can do well and it does it.  Cooks happy to serve their own cuisine and clients happy to eat it have revitalized and repurposed a once stolid neighborhood restaurant and added a little pep to a still stolid neighborhood.  I can only hope that this transformation is the start of a major trend in the area.  Most every kitchen on the UES speaks Spanish; it’s about time some of the food did too.    

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.

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.

Great Food Finds in Yorkville (And a Few to Forego)

January 6, 2007

1) Conte’s Meat Market (90th and York):

Cut the fat from your budget by avoiding the overpriced overhyped Vinegar Factory. Instead patronize this nearby workhorse that continues to carve high-quality meats at a price point belying a recent surge in real estate value. Service is quick, knowledgeable and amiable.

N.B. Also great for sandwiches, particularly the world-class rare roast beef. Stop by for late afternoon lunch and you’ll see a stream of schoolkids popping in for single serving ice-creams from the freezer.

2) Cinco de Mayo (89th and 2nd)

Skip the overpriced bulletproof cliché that is Maz Mezcal (after grabbing some chips and spicy avocado sauce at the bar) and head over to the humbler and better-priced Cinco de Mayo. As authentic as Mexican gets in this neighborhood, it’s especially good for breakfast. Great egg dishes and horchata for the early hours. Superbly balanced torta sandwiches for lunch. You’ll figure out dinner. If you need some bubbles, grab a Mexican soda or beer. The beverage selection, like the savory menu, is comprehensive but not overwhelming.

3) Two Little Red Hens Bakery (85th and 3rd)

Toss your Rive Gauche menu in the East River–erratic service, high prices and galling attitude–and head to friendlier shores at Two Little Red Hens.

The main money maker here is the cakes to order– high-end, high butterfat, high quality often destined for blocks west of here–but the small and affordable stuff is equally exceptional for those seeking value.

Mammoth Maple or Almond Cherry scone with a double espresso makes for a filling and well-priced start to the day. For a mid-afternoon snack, grab one of the coconut lime bars. Edge of crunchy crust, great lime taste and balance of flavors make for a vastly improved revision of the classic one note lemon bar.

If you’re dining solo, consider the individual servings of fruit pie, particularly the much-loved apple.

4) Andre’s European Café and Bakery (85th and 2nd)

Skip the ethnic hostilities at the Hungarian Meat Market, unless you’re a sausage fanatic or speak unaccented Magyar. They’re always out of the “daily special” sour cherry soup and the goulash is grammar-school glop. Save your money and wounded pride and head over for dinner with Andre. The dinner menu is a bargain, the service is friendly and the pastries up front, especially anything with sour cherries or poppy seeds are super-stars.