Archive for the ‘Favorite 5 Lists’ Category

Five Points of Virtue at Five Points

May 12, 2007

Another in my series of Lads who Lunch leisure meals. This time, at Five Points, the best thing to hit Great Jones Street since Don Delillo. www.fivepointsrestaurant.com

1) Value in the Village:
20 dollar prix-fixe tasted like twice the price. No wedding dinner salmon or chicken on this three courser (Modern and Nougatine take note). With the exception of an oleaginous tartar sauce splooge, every component was clean flavored and beautifully plated.

2) Freshness First:
Seasonal squid and soft shell were young and frisky. They tasted of themselves and in consequence required minimal intervention.

3) Creativity:
Best deployed citrus notes since early Dan Barber. Tartly dressed squid was highlighted, not hidden by stipples of sweet and sour. A crunchy shredded salad under the crab added one more texture point to an already complex soft creamy crispy interplay.

4) Generous beverage service:
Glass of Riesling was closer to a quartino. Carried me through to the panna cotta and rounded out the sobremesa time. Second beer was brought to table when first seemed short. No questions asked. Happy to tip accordingly.

5) Décor:
Flowers were fresh, extravagant, beautiful and understated, much like the food. Open spaces at both ends and great Andalusian airflow were Euro-cool without the exchange rate problem.

The Faults:
Didn’t look for them and didn’t find them. An unslick but well-oiled machine.

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.

Comforted With Apples: Beating the Rainy Day Blues at Bouley

April 27, 2007

When it rains on Sunday morning, spend a few hours and a few dollars on the Times.  When it pours, spend the day and a few hundred dollars at Bouley Restaurant.  Grab a cab downtown, shake off the raindrops on your London Fog and take in the apple dappled walkway that carries you past Tribeca’s heaviest and most beloved wooden door. This is as far as you can get from Manhattan without jet fuel, and a lot better than what you’d find on the other side of the big puddle once you landed.        

Dodging a few little puddles and entering Bouley on such a day, you are instantly in an unimaginably different and delicious place, a country that you can’t quite identify but definitely want to visit–not far from where Eric Ripert found his accent.  This is a restaurant with a feel as distinct and pleasurable as Gramercy Tavern in the nineties.  And David Bouley will never host an infomercial for Sears masquerading as a Bravo tv show.    

On a recent rain soaked Sunday, I was surprised to discover Bouley far from full.  The maitre d’ indicated that half the lunch covers had been  canceled by gastro-pansies fearing a little pre-prandial precipitation.  It was a motley crew that remained, but a dedicated one.  At a nearby table, a dozen waterproof Frenchmen toasted someone’s business acumen.  Closer to the kitchen, a family of  intrepid South American adventurers rewarded their ambulatory derringdo—they’d walked two whole blocks outdoors with only a trio of golf umbrellas to protect themselves from the elements—with a mindblowing array of wines.   I would have been happy to have been their sommelier’s wine napkin!  Finally, a solo diner of uncertain national origin slurped and giggled his way through his meal like M.F.K. Fisher on her first solo trip through France.  This particularly devoted foodie had clearly arrived at the breakfast hour and seemed poised to eat right through to dinner service–an immensely superior alternative to a day of lattes at Starbuck’s.

I was out of my league in that crowd of puddle jumpers large and small, but I did manage six courses, a bracing bottle of Vouvray from Huet and a pair of mid-afternoon marcs.  As I wended my way from the first slice of olive bread to the last macaroon, I observed and enjoyed some of the most splendid and subtle service I’ve ever had in this country.  The food was exceptional, and worthy of a separate post, but on that particularly rainy Lord’s Day, my Oh Gods were reserved less for the Connecticut madman who’s given me four of the best meals of my life than for the little Swiss genius at the maitre d’s station who runs the tightest front of house in the City, shine, or, especially, rain.       

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.

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.

Re-Setting The Table: 5 Smudges on Danny Meyer’s New Book

January 4, 2007

In Danny Meyer’s restaurants, the tables are always well marked, and the glasses always glisten. The only fingerprint you see is his, and that’s on the whole place. Unfortunately, Meyer’s copy editor missed a few typographical “smudges” in the hardback edition of Setting the Table. Below are a few to fix before the paperback version goes to press.

1) P. 55 During in those first weeks and months it didn’t take me long to learn that very little makes guests madder than having to wait for their reserved table or their food.

2) P. 66 I had already learned that the trick to delivering superior hospitality was to hire geniune, happy, optimistic people.

3) P. 88 My assitant also reviews the sheet in the morning.

4) P. 120 First Paragraph: …having convinced his chef, Gray Kunz, to greatly expand the number of aromatic spices in the resataurant’s pantry.

5) I’m sure I missed one.

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.

Top Features of Telepan (And a Few Things to Fix)

December 30, 2006

Lo bueno:

1) Welcoming waiters: No problem being the first one through the door, nor seating me without my date. A server showing real warmth and Midwestern cheekbones started my meal off right. Place filled fast, but bustle never turned to rush. Someone’s managing this team effectively.

2) Wine list with room for everybody: Good variety of prices suggests wine director on customers’ side. Looking to cultivate clientele, not exploit them. Second glass of Barossa a bit warm, but it may just have been sitting at the bar too long. Also fun to imagine occasions for ordering jeroboams, double magnums, nebuchanezzars and other whimsically named mega-bottles on offer.

3) Doubling down on Trout: Salmon is the chicken of the sea for cost-conscious prix-fixe menus. Trout gets you to the same place price-wise without evoking bad wedding dinners. Particularly liked the cold trout dish.

4) Circulating chef: Friendly but not overbearing. Telepan made the rounds with sincerity and speed. Long enough face time to let me know he’s really here, and short enough face time to let me know he’s really cooking.

5) Potent espressos: Wickedly strong work. Cut right through two glasses of wine and had me skipping to Levain Bakery for a post-lunch snack. N.B. Do not order a tasting trio of Levain’s cookies and eat them sequentially after lunch at Telepan, unless you have good milk, of course, or access to a vomitorium.

Lo malo:

1) Terrible Tomme: Stingy and sloppy cheese plate. No shape or design to speak of and truffle-like portion size.

2) Bread: Impossible to eat without making a mess. Inconsistent quality and insufficient variety.

3) Surcharges belie the bargain lunch: Unfair number of supplement charges for a short menu. Be realistic, you’ll make the money on wine by the glass anyway. Don’t make me feel ripped off and I’ll spend more.

4) Cauliflower main is a weed in the entrée bouquet: Cauliflower dish was beautiful in conception but not in execution. A little “enchanted broccoli forest mid-70’s vegetarian” for such an accomplished chef. Flavors were indistinct, and some florets were unintentionally (I hope) overcooked.

5) That’s it: The good far outweighed the bad in a restaurant I’ll continue to root for.