Archive for April, 2008

Of Savory delights and Service Disasters: Solo Dining in the Cruelest Month

April 16, 2008

Springtime in New York is great for eating out but lousy for eating out alone.  Outdoor seating is way too precious to leave half empty—everything’s at least a two top—and indoor seating is neglected by bartenders rediscovering the charms of nicotine breaks or nubile prep cooks.  On an international tour of pork destination dining spots, a pair of favorites rewarded return visits even as a trio of others persuaded me never to return.  In a surprise twist, Italy won twice while Malaysia, Spain and Korea fell way short.


Fatty Crab in the midafternoon would perhaps be more aptly named Fat Blunt or Fat Roach.  I don’t know if my server was smoking toad venom or the Chronic, but no one on the right side of Kubla Khan would call a dish of pork belly and watermelon the “Mecca of Pork.”  He also probably wouldn’t tell a solo diner that “Fatty Crab rolls family style, so ordering for one will be tough…but you can stay….if you want.”  Keep on rolling, buddy.  Sorry for the buzzkill.  If you don’t want my money, I don’t want to spend it.   


Airheaded server, arrogant owner and errant flavor combinations made for a disappointing first foray to the counter at Boqueria.  The “bikini” sandwich—yes, the two piece swimsuit is also a grilled cheese in some languages—wedged an ill-advised mixture of cheeses and sun-dried tomatoes between a multi-grain bread that has never and should never grace a Spanish table.  A hacked up ham plate did little to remedy the situation. Pressure to booze and dessert denial from pneumatic beertender put a bitter finish to a none too sweet meal.  Gallic diffidence from paper-doodling owner Rochefort snuffed last bit of good will.  


I will not eat David Chang’s porky butt and buns.  I will not eat David Chang’s green eggs or ham (former undercooked, latter mouldy).  I will not eat at Noodle Bar or Ssäm.  I will not be ripped off again and again.   I’m done with the Happy Peachster until his prices approach sanity and consonance with the cheap setting and minimal service on offer at Ssäm and Bar . 

During my last Noodle run, my prawns were well past gamey, my slow cooked eggs were simply undercooked (and vaguely chlorophyll colored) and my soft-serve ice cream had the texture if not the flavor of bung seepage.   Similar experience at Ssäm.  Hicky of a hangover from the crapulence of too much good food and drink fine.  Bruising bout of nausea from bad food and brazen overpricing, not so fine.  Ssäm and Noodle are too hip for this square.  The would be Emperor of the East Village needs some clothes, quick. 


Great view of coal oven and jovial highly caffeinated pie wranglers and servers added some noise in the early lunch hours.  Whole white pie with monstrously fresh and juicy clams and and mozzarella reminded me what all the fuss was about.  Cold glass of Long Trail was perfect foil.  Sometimes the perfect wine pairing is a quick cheap beer:  Whole meal was less than twenty dollars including twenty plus percent tip.    Porky pepperoni to go was a pleasure for my return train meal on wheels.  Gastrotourism in the Havens pizza belt sure beats Hamptons run to Nick & Tony’s!


And back in the City for one more pie. Late afternoon counter eating was a people watcher’s delight.  Drunken middle aged woman kissing bartender and exclaiming in Brooklyn French upon increasingly evident subtleties of her third quartino of rosé.  Hipsters muttering and mulling over hip things hiply.  A few random NYU professors in for a quick cacio e pepe and a quicker couple of cocktails. Finally, a bartender willing to hold to restaurant’s promise to restore any and everyone at the bar from unabashed boozers to teetotaling foodies.   Price was high—almost fifty dollars for delicious lardo pizza, scalding and mediocre Lagrein quartino and a brilliantly redeeming ice cream confection—even for one, but I left feeling better than when I went in, and I left wanting to go back. The great places have no off hours or meals: When they’re open, they’re open with open arms.  Otto’s on the list.