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Posts from the ‘Gramercy/Murray Hill’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Birds, Blood, Chile Oil

paet rio nam tok soup

Paet Rio take two. I didn’t do a very good job of selling someone who wanted Japanese noodles for lunch and isn’t into Thai food because he thinks it’s all sweetness and coconut milk. I said no pad thai because I’m controlling, then eased up and didn’t provide enough guidance and he ended up ordering rad na, which is the weirdest, blandest, gravy-drenched Chinese-Thai noodle dish that I’m convinced only means something to people who grew up with it. So much so that I passed on a photo. I went looking for a nam tok soup replacement post-Plant Love House (Pata Paplean succeeds, but that’s not a weekday affair) and received an ok rendition. It was a little wan when I was seeking something more powerful and dank.

ivan ramen trio

Ivan Ramen came through on the Japanese noodle front, though accidentally, while weaving from the East Village to Chinatown, not all that hungry after green tea bun at Panya and afternoon beers and a shot at 7B.  The spicy broth slicked with chile oil was softened by finely minced pork and a yolky egg fluffed into an almost-scramble. The tangle of noodles light and springy. I wouldn’t consider $22 a bargain lunch special but with a can of Japanese beer and a chosen side (cucumber pickles in my case) it’s as good a way as any to spend a leisurely afternoon.

le coq rico trio

Le Coq Rico is where you’d expect a prix-fixe lunch to be $38 (though I had a $27 deal because I’m a grandma, see above). The Parisian import is all about aged birds of many breeds, some more than $100 a pop. This particular week, and maybe always, the featured non-whole chicken was a 110-day aged Brune Landaise, roasted with riesling and other aromatics, ideal for the dark meat types (I’ll never understand white meat-lovers), plated simply with jus and a side salad, but not necessarily revelatory. It’s chicken. I’d need to taste more varieties in quick succession to better suss out this particular breed’s attributes. First course was chicken livers with another salad. There is a lot of liver lurking under those leaves, plus some unexpected smears of hummus for added creaminess and richness. That île flottante, though (baked Alaska is next on my list of classics). The meringue mound surrounded a crème anglaise moat and slivered toasted almonds was the breakout star. It was practically a sext when I sent a pic of myself cradling the dish–and now, I’ve firmly entered middle-aged Better than Sex Cake (Better than Robert Redford Cake, if you’re even more aged) territory. Wow. 

duck soup

And speaking of poultry offal, the shop with a three duck logo and name I can’t recall because I don’t think it was in English, is where to go in the New World Mall food court if you want a bowl of mild, cloudy broth full of clear bean thread noodles and bobbing slices of fried crueller and hidden cubes of duck blood, gizzards, and other, livery bits instead of the more popular hand-shaved noodle soups. It lacks the luxuriousness of fatty roast duck and the herbs to read as medicinal. I’d say the soup is restorative. When in doubt, add chile oil. It’s Probably good for a hangover.

white bear wontons

White Bear is hardly an unknown. All non-Chinese order the 12 for $5.50 #6, and I’m not one to buck that wontons with chile oil trend.

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Bready

Saltie balmy sandwich

Saltie I'm extremely late to this tightly edited collection of mostly focaccia-based sandwiches (I'm still not clear how the little shop managed to fill an entire cookbook) because I never used to be anywhere near Metropolitan Avenue before 6pm and I am a sad person who tries to avoid bread and eschewing sandwiches is the easiest way to do that. You hear about the Scuttlebutt and the one that's mostly lettuce (don't think it's currently served) but the Balmy may be a sleeper hit. Like an American banh mi with the pate in the starring role, this hearty sandwich combines a thick layer of liver and shaved ham with pickled onions, carrots (and assorted other unidentifiable things) green olives, parsley instead of cilantro, a little jalapeño and swipe of mayonnaise. It's the soft bread (and lack of fishy component) that sets it apart.

Bien cuit duo

Bien Cuit Once the bread floodgates have opened,
there is no stopping. Even though I never once visited the full-service Smith
Street location, I was excited to hear about the weekend bread-only pop-up,
oddly situated on the ground floor of that odd narrow bright blue apartment
building on Metropolitan near the BQE turnoff that looks like something you'd
see in Amsterdam. I needed something grainy for an Easter butternut squash and
kale strata, but ended up going with the sturdy baguette instead of the
many-grain, which seemed too intense for what was essentially a breakfast
casserole. What I really wanted in addition to eat with two pounds of Acme
smoked salmon was a dark, chewy smorrebrod rye like they serve at Aamanns. Instead,
I returned Sunday and picked up that seriously dense many-grain (buckwheat,
wheat, millet, rye, amaranth and black sesame), which is described as being complementary
to cheese, but works with gravlax and dilled sour cream too. Unfortunately, I underestimated
its edibility and had to send a guest out for another loaf (plus a rye &
sunflower, for good measure and to help make sandwiches of leftover ham).

Nomad quad

The NoMad What do you eat when you've already tried
the chicken for two?
(Funny, this question came up this week because though I
know it's a whole chicken, it really doesn't seem so.) You could order it
again. Or you could jump all over the menu while slicing and picking at the freshly baked foccacia. The sweetbreads croustillant,
a.k.a. eggroll-style are a little odd because they seem too naked, just soft
innards in a shell and no sauce. Fun in theory, but they needed something more.
The gratineed bone marrow with anchovy worked better (and though I'm contradicting
what I just said,  I kind of like my
marrow plain and unadorned with nothing more than crunchy grains of salt). The
lobster wasn't a disappointing chicken alternative, and light despite being
bathed in rich buttery foam that had that nice subtle licorice quality from the
fennel. The smooth white globe of ice cream in the coconut-centric dessert
resembled a hard-boiled egg so much it was nearly distracting.

The NoMad

At first I didn't care about The NoMad. Then I did. It's one of those things. Even though the restaurant has been billed as more casual than Eleven Madison Park, it's not exactly meatballs, fried chicken and burgers. With well-spaced tables and a velvet-and-mahogany plushness (I was in the still-day lit atrium), it's the kind of place you get your parents to take you if you're young and have doting parents with good taste  (none of this describes my situation). Instead, I acted as the adult and took out a friend for her birthday.

The nomad crudite with chive cream

I don't think normally either of us is sweet on crudite, but it felt WASPy and right. And when the vegetables, all saturated colors with a cool green chive dressing, was presented on its bed of ice, I knew this was the correct snack choice while sipping a Turf Cocktail (gin, dry vermouth, maraschino, absinthe, orange bitters) and Gingered-Ale, soft cocktail (not for me).

The nomad tagliatelle with king crab, meyer lemon, black pepper

This is the same friend that is always up for an annual Never Ending Pasta Bowl, no irony, so now we've proven that we're also able to appreciate the dainty portion of tagliatelle with king crab meat and a hint of Meyer lemon. Sure, we could've eaten twice as much (and you can–this was an appetizer size). The NoMad is not inexpensive, but at $19, even I have to concede that this dish is a better value than the seafood alfredo that's $21.25 at the Times Square Olive Garden. There is no justifying midtown chain dining beyond an emotional urge (pros go to New Jersey to assuage their guilt).

The nomad zucchini bread

Zucchini bread that’s not, you know, zucchini bread.

And of course, the blabbed-about roast chicken for two. Normally, I wouldn’t order roast chicken outside of a Peruvian or Caribbean restaurant, otherwise it’s dry and boring as a Thanksgiving turkey. I just wanted to see what the big deal was. I forgot to take a photo of the whole bird (it’s not like there aren’t enough pics floating around already) stuffed with rosemary and lavender sprigs. (A minor deal is made with presenting the picture perfect chicken to the diners before being taken back into the kitchen for carving, but ours got shown to our neighbors first accidentally, so the dramatic reveal was lessened.)

The nomad roasta chicken, foie gras, black truffle, brioche

When it came back, the breast, a blend of crumbled brioche, foie gras and black truffles tucked beneath the skin, was plated with a swipe of truffled foie gras, beige and creamy like a makeup swatch of foundation, a farro-corn medly and a little jus. I generally eat chicken as a vehicle for crispy skin and shun vast hunks of white meat (I’ll never understand people who insist on white meat like it’s premium when in reality it’s bland 90% of the time) but, no, this wasn’t disappointing. Apparently, basting with liquefied foie gras does wonders for white meat.

The nomad chicken, mushrooms, corn

The dark meat came in a separate small cast iron pan with mushrooms that were like the dark meat of the fungi world (I don't know which type, but definitely not the morels I've seen mentioned elsewhere) and corn in a rich tarragon-y sauce.

The nomad chocolate tart with caramel, hazelnut, fleur de sel

Chocolate and salted caramel isn’t pushing any boundaries, but you can’t argue with the combination.

In a way, the same could be said for the whole menu. Unseen preparation aside, nothing feels radical, and it doesn't have to. Chicken breast, pasta and raw vegetables with dip have the potential to be utterly boring and dated where instead, here, it comes off timeless and luxe.

The NoMad * 1170 Broadway, New York, NY

The Hurricane Club

Both refined and junky—broccoli with Cheetos? Yams with homemade ranch dressing?—at Park Avenue Autumn, chef Craig Koketsu cooks the kind of food that I like to eat.

Hurricane club dining room

The food at Hurricane Club, a dark, glossy, multi-level restaurant that looks more '70s-art-deco-adaptation than Polynesian, is even more snacky. A few cocktails, a selection of pupu and a shared plate or two is more than enough. It’s a scene for nibbling not a multi-course meal.

Hurricane club pupu platter

In fact, you’re only presented with a cocktail and pupu menus when you first sit down. I would've preferred seeing the other dishes before making a choice. The Imperial Platter showcases a selection (not up to you) of five of the nine offerings ranging from Asian-ish fried, taro-wrapped shrimp to new American near-cliché in the form of beets, toasted walnuts and goat cheese tucked into cones (don’t let Andrew Knowlton and his hair hear about this). The finger sandwiches with peanut butter, guava jam, prosciutto and Thai basil were as distinct as the croque monsieur spring rolls were muddled. Devilled eggs, meant to be Samoan in some fashion, rounded out the set.

Hurricane club #17Not only are the drinks not particularly tiki (most of the rum is found on a separate list to be taken straight) they were surprisingly unsweet, so much so that it almost felt like they were making a statement with their bitters. Take us seriously, please. The only place I drink sweet, fruity cocktails is at Cheeseburger in Paradise because come on, garnishes a.k.a. garnimals wearing miniature sunglasses? I prefer a stiff drink yet my #17 (Montecristo spiced rum, coconut, lemon grass, kaffir lime and coconut nib bitters) from the Boat Drinks section, teetered so close to savory that I almost felt like I was drinking food. I’m not saying I didn’t like it.

Hurricane club peking roast pork

The peking duck-style pork was decadent, an undeniable success—and pricey. Positioned right in the center of the menu like a bull’s eye, the not-so-subtle psychological nudge worked on us. Besides the awkwardness of trying to fit angled chunks into the fluffy steamed buns, the meaty + fatty + crispy skin combination made a more than fitting substitute for the more typical rich poultry. Ginger sauce was an interesting extra, but the traditional hoisin, cucumbers and scallions did the job by themselves.

Hurricane club green glass noodles

Sides were a gut-busting mistake with the amount of food we already had ordered. The bean thread noodles with a Thai basil pesto were much heavier than I expected, thanks (or no thanks) to the parmesan.

Hurricane club asian patatas bravas

I loved the Asian patatas bravas, though. I imagined there would be a red blanket of Sriricha to mimic the spicy, Spanish-style tomato sauce but these potatoes were completely unique, fried hard for an extra crisp exterior and cut thick enough to maintain soft middles. I worry about such stubby cuts veering into horrible steak fry territory. A mystery sauce (I couldn’t see it from where I was sitting) is poured over the potatoes tableside and is pure umami. All I know is that bonito flakes are involved and that the liquid is pale, possibly clear—maybe it’s infused oil? An ultimate bar snack, these would probably be even better with beer.

Hurricane club #88

After I knew the score, I went straight to the Strong section of the cocktail list, no playing around with creamy and the fruity. The #88 (Patron Silver, kalamansi, cinnamon bitters and house made triple sec) was like a pleasingly sour, bone dry, margarita (I wasn't expecting a salted rim) with an extra cinnamon hit from the floating roll of bark. It actually paired well with the fatty and rich pork and potatoes. However, the woman sitting at the table next to me sent hers back to be sweetened up.
The Spanish-speaking gentlemen on my other side were sharing a bottle of Chardonnay, so obviously, not everyone was enjoying the cocktails. Much of the Friday evening crowd appeared to be kicking off their night, taking the club part of the name seriously. The wine drinkers, kind enough to offer us some of their sweet potato fries (those sides are heavy!), had Greenhouse in their future. Me, I was just trying to figure out how The Smiths snuck onto the bass-heavy play list. Sixteen, clumsy and shy? Not on Park Avenue South.

The Hurricane Club * 360 Park Avenue S., New York, NY

Eleven Madison Park

I'm not sure which is more embarrassing–to be pegged as a blogger or a tourist. I've always felt a little bit dorky breaking out the camera during meals, especially at higher end restaurants. It does become a compulsion, though, and one I’m not fully ok with. The conundrum is that no one has the attention span or wherewithal to actually read what a blogger has to say about a restaurant; people just like to scroll through photos. In fact, I'm wasting precious keystrokes this very second.

So, I found out that tourist feels worse when asked by our waiter if "we were visiting from out town." Dude, not everyone taking photos in restaurants are rubes. Er, or maybe I am a yokel in denial. Either way, it set a discordant tone for my leisurely day-off lunch.

I never take a real lunch. Usually I brown bag it and walk around the block for air, rarely taking more than 30 minutes of my afternoon (many males in my office take one-hour-plus lunches going to the gym. I would appreciate knowing how women manage that without having to shower and re-do hair and makeup because I hate wasting time after work at the gym). So, for pre-holiday July 3, I thought it would be fun to try an upscale prix fixe lunch. Jean Georges has a good deal with two courses for $28, additional offered for $14 apiece, but I was there for Valentine's Day and wanted to go someplace I'd never been. Eleven Madison Park wooed me with their two-course $28 deal. Apparently, $28 is the going rate for these fancy mid-day offerings.

Eleven madison park amuses

It's a good thing we didn't go all out with the $68 tasting and $45 wine pairing, which I initially thought I might want. The more retrained option was sufficient, and as it was, I’m not certain that five courses would’ve been more enjoyable. Despite the room being about half full, the pacing felt off and there were minor distractions. I'm not a fuss budget (unlike the Louboutin lady next to me who sent her $10 supplemented lobster roll back for reasons I couldn't discern, then nibbled maybe two bites of the second rendition and left everything on her plate—maybe she was practicing that three-bite diet rule I still cant wrap my head around) but there were little things like not being brought any silverware to eat our entrees. It also would've been nice to have had our cocktails with the warm cheesey gougères, butter-enrobed baby radishes and cucumber-salmon rounds, but they awkwardly came right before the first course despite having ordered them before even focusing on the small nibbles.

Eleven madison park oaxaca 747 I did like my Oaxaca 747, though, a smoky take on the Aviation that used mezcal and agave nectar in addition to the usual gin, maraschino and crème de violette. I'll order practically anything using crème de violette even though the deep amethyst color in the bottle always translates as gray in the glass, not even mauve. Once again, I encountered the big ice cube.

Eleven madison park tete de cochon with pickled vegetables

One thing is certain; their presentation and use of color is beautiful. Instead of feeling fussy, the baby vegetables and tiny bursts of pink and orange on this plate of tete de cochon provided more dazzle than was hinted at by mere “pickled vegetables.” The tartness of the radishes, onions and carrots and chopped parsley-onion condiment helped offset the richness of the pork, whose comforting texture reminded me of corned beef hash, not in a disparaging way. I couldn’t determine what flavor the ivory-colored gelatinous cubes were.

Eleven madison park skate with capers, cauliflowers, almonds

I wasn’t expecting such a golden exterior on the skate but it was fortuitous because sometimes I find fish too delicate (subtlety is often lost on me). This gave it enough heft to stand up to the strong, Spanish-ish accompaniments. I chose this specifically for the sweet-salty components: briny stem-on capers, oily Marcona almonds, neutral cauliflower, golden raisins and a few croutons that seemed to be rye.

The additional set of appetizer and main course that I didn't sample:

Eleven madison park poached egg, asparagus, hollandiase, parmesan

Slow Poached Organic Egg with Asparagus, Hollandaise and Parmigiano Reggiano

Eleven madison park suckling pig with broccoli rabe, pickled mustard seeds

Suckling Pig with Broccoli Rabe and Pickled Mustard Seeds

Eleven madison park lemon meringue pie

Dessert was the biggest disappointment. Not that there was anything wrong with the lemon meringue pie. I’m just a sucker for trolleys and when the desserts came wheeling by I felt compelled to pick one. Soon after, though, I began to covet the plates of parting mini macaroons in unusual flavors and pastel shades that the non-dessert orderers around us were presented with. Unless you’re dead set on a particular pastry, I wouldn’t spend the extra $12 (strange, that I don’t normally discuss pricing so much—maybe the economy has finally sunken into my consciousness).

I will say that I liked the young British sommelier whose looks and uppercrust accent reminded me of John Brisby in the Up series circa 28 Up. He seemed genuinely excited to talk about Rieslings even though I was only ordering one by the glass. And the 2005 Hofgut Falkenstein, Niedermenniger Herrenberg Spätlese Trocken, which he claimed to enjoy as his after work drink, was pleasingly zesty and fruity. I’d like to track down a bottle.

The food was quite good but the experience didn’t do much to enhance it. Maybe this was just the result of Friday before a holiday afternoon sleepiness. Then again, maybe we were getting tourist treatment.

Eleven Madison Park * 11 Madison Ave., New York, NY

Dang Lai Palace

1/2 I accidentally took part in meatless Monday this week. Eating a vegan lunch and near-vegan dinner in the same day isn’t my usual M.O. It just turned out that I had the mid-day urge for Little Lad’s when I’d already planned to eat at Dang Lai Palace later.

I’ve only eaten at Zen Palate once (when I first moved to NYC, my sister, mom and grandma all converged here at the same time and my sister wanted to go to Zen Palate. My grandma made a stink about it being too expensive and how she’d just as well eat the Chinese food near my apartment on Fresh Pond Road. Well, somebody keeps those one-per-block takeout joints in business and the Union Square Zen Palate did go out of business, so maybe she was on to something) but that one visit was enough that I can see Dang Lai Palace is drawing heavily from their menu, right down to the names of dishes.

You kind of have to dig fake meat to appreciate this style of cuisine and there are plenty of people who would rather just shun flesh and not mess with blobs crafted from wheat gluten and bean curd. I happen to like the taste of mock morsels (though I’ll never understand the logic behind substituting Ritz crackers for real fruit in an apple pie). However, I’m not convinced that there’s anything particularly healthy about pseudo-meat from either a well-balanced diet or caloric perspective.

Dang lai palace sampler

This is the Dang Lai Platter, which is meant to be an entrée, but functions as a perfectly nice starter to share. It’s a lot of food for two, though. The meatloafy rectangles are vegetarian duck, which taste nothing like poultry. I have no idea what makes autumn rolls fall-like; they’re crisp-fried just like a spring roll but the skin is made from bean curd sheets that happen to be red for some reason. Mushroom and cashews is a take on cashew chicken. Sesame protein in sweet and sour sauce is a fairly obvious rendition of sweet and sour pork but the chunks are pliable and soft rather than battered and fried. 

Dang lai palace tofu salad

We had to get some greens in so a fresh kale and tofu salad fit that need.

Dang lai palace spring comes to world

Spring comes to the world. It’s strange because real ham wrapped around vegetables would never appeal to me in a Chinese context but this dish was very satisfying. Strands of enoki mushrooms and zucchini slivers are wrapped in vegetarian ham and fastened with a black mushroom knot. The soft and crunchy textures were nice and the ham was very hearty. The sauce is very light and comes with wedges of tomato and gingko nuts. I gave it a boost with chile oil because it was almost too delicate for me.

Dang lai palace beef with broccoli

Orange-flavored beef with broccoli wasn’t mine, but the one bite I had was appropriately sweet, lightly spiced and gloopy. I mean that as a compliment, it’s like takeout but with springier blobs of protein.

I’m not clear on the alcohol situation. When I showed up Sherri already had cracked open a bottle of Malbec she’d been OK’d to bring in, then towards the end of our meal our waiter mentioned that we could have a free glass of wine. Huh? I wouldn’t assume you could byob if they had a liquor license and then I wondered if they meant “wine” in the same way they served “meat.” No pomegranate mock wine for me, thanks. But no, it was real red wine of some sort. I don’t turn down free drinks, even house wine.

One thing I’ll say about this type of food is that it’s filling as heck. Granted, we ordered a lot to eat and I ended up taking some home, but by 1am I was still so full I could barely fall asleep. The next time I eat vegetarian Kosher (did I mention it’s Kosher too?) Chinese food I will be less gluttonous.

Dang Lai Palace * 180 Third Ave., New York, NY


I’ve found a new contender for the most awesomely un-salady salad. Sripraphai’s crispy watercress salad is still tops but Resto’s crispy pig’s ear salad is a close second. Clearly, the secret to a good salad is the use of crispy ingredients.

Resto crispy pig's ear salad

I’m still not sure how something so suspect can taste so good. The sizable curls of fried ear almost outweigh the chicory leaves. The meat has much more chew than chicharrones, the closest thing I can compare the cut to, but still retains lots of crackle. White tarbeis beans are also distributed through the dish and everything is laced with a mustard-based dressing most likely herbed with chervil (the little fronds looks like parsley yet taste a little licoricey). The crowning glory is a soft-cooked egg.

I’m so sick of mix and match Financial District lunch salads I could cry. Even the cheapskate in me would order this $12 (oh, it’s $10 at lunch) number on a regular basis if it were available in the neighborhood.

Resto debal curry mussels

After my new favorite ear mélange and a bottle of Kasteel Donker, curry mussels were superfluous. I was just going for something relatively light and non-meaty. Never mind the French fries and mayonnaise. Those fries were very tasty, but abnormally heavy.

Resto tete de veau sandwich

James and I were going to share appetizers, but he was more into the tete de veau sandwich spiced with sriracha and I was obviously smitten with my salad. He actually preferred the head cheese on toast to the much lauded gruyere burger, his entree. I forgot to taste the burger so I’m not sure what to think.

Resto chocolate sampler

Dessert was a chocolate tasting, from left to right: cinnamon milk chocolate, Sichuan peppercorn dark chocolate and orange dark chocolate. Not purists, we chose all flavored bars, besides they were out of the hardcore 88% cacao anyway. I love Sichuan savory food but I’m not sure how I feel about the use of these crunchy pods in sweets. The metallic tingly effect is kind of overpowering, like licking aluminum foil. I could still feel it while waiting for the 6 train 20 minutes later.

I know that if you were reading a cooking blog and they were whipping up pig’s ears they would be sourced from a quaint farm where the animals are blissful or special ordered by their local butcher they’ve forged a trusting relationship with. And those ears, lovely as they might be, would set you back say, $30. And maybe that’s a small price to pay for quality ears. I don’t know.

Western beef pig ears

But I’m a grocery store girl so Saturday while at Western Beef, my favorite all-purpose supermarket, I browsed the walk-in meat cooler for ears. And of course I found them all frozen and scary looking, yet for a mere $2.39 a pound. I needed no convincing to put them in my cart.

It’s just cartilage, skin and fat. Do you think there is genuinely a marked difference between odd bits from a grocery store and a butcher? That would be one taste test that would be hard to recruit for. Well, I’m only out $3.87  if my pig’s ear cooking experiment goes south. I’ll crack open my copies of Nose to Tail Eating and The River Cottage Meat Book tonight

Resto * 111 E. 29th St., New York, NY

Gramercy Tavern

1/2  One of the things I was most struck by while my sister, Melissa, and her husband were visiting from England recently was how impressed they were with the quality of restaurant food. They kept marveling at how good everything was everywhere, and I mean everywhere.

I would never see the goodness in a breakfast at B Bar like they did, but then I probably wouldn’t eat breakfast (or any other meal) at B Bar. Is that because I’m jaded or because British food is truly that bad?

They seemed to think that our standards are higher, that here even mediocre restaurants serve decent food (I’m sure we could’ve proven them wrong) and recounted rampant U.K. kitchen nightmares involving frozen food, microwaves and general staleness.

I thought England was on an upswing, but it’s true that a lot of the trends seem focused on meat: nose to tail eating, raising your own livestock, butchering practically as hobby (they really seem to love killing animals on TV—I’m sure it’ll be all the rage here in 2009). Perhaps reviving old traditions is having less impact on vegetarian fare.

So, I hadn’t realized my houseguests would be so easily impressed, but I still sought out an appropriately high-end vegetarian-friendly restaurant for my sister’s birthday. Per Se wasn’t going to happen, and even with the favorable exchange rate I still think it would be a little rich for their blood (mine too, really, but I was keeping in mind that my sister is a recently unemployed social worker and her husband is a tree surgeon).  I considered Daniel and Bouley but I just didn’t think they would be enjoyable.

Stuffiness wouldn’t fly. My family is super casual–I’m fairly certain that my dad never owned a tie–but I wouldn’t say they’re yokels either. Beforehand, I described Gramercy Tavern to Melissa as, “the type of place you’re supposed to take your parents…but not our parents.”

Don't get me wrong. The Christmas before last I gave my mom and the stepdude a gift certificate to Park Kitchen, which didn't strike me as Olive Garden-y.  though I couldn’t say if  that was their speed or not. Despite spending nearly the first quarter of my life in Portland, I’m no longer familiar with the dining scene, which has changed dramatically since I left in the late ‘90s.

My favorite way to experience a nice meal is to warm up with a few drinks first. Maybe I’ll move on to an artisanal cocktail at the restaurant, then wine with dinner, in this case a bottle of 2005 Lucien Crochet Sancerre Le Chene, but I actually enjoy downing a few beers at a non-fancy venue earlier. I’m not talking about getting trashed, say, three pints over a two-hour period like we downed at No Idea. Maybe I’m a drunk because I rarely suffer ill effects, though the rest of the household seemed a bit rough around the edges the next day.

Gramercy Tavern was a complete success. Everyone was happy and that's rare. James and I were allowed our meat and seafood and the visitors had the vegetable tasting menu (it’s notable that this version was already vegetarian, the one I saw in the fall contained bacon and lobster).

The service was genuinely impressive, never stuffy but eerily attentive. It’s silly but I was most wowed when a new course came while Melissa was in the bathroom and a metal dome was employed. We were asked if wanted ours kept warm until she returned. Uh no, as if any of us are that considerate.

For the sake of space, I’m linking to photos of the vegetable courses. This is what was served:

Root Vegetable Terrine and Mustard Crème & Herb Salad
Carrot Soup with Spiced Cashews
Butternut Squash Risotto
Warm Salad of Winter Vegetables and Farro
Mushroom Ravioli with Wild Mushrooms and Aged Balsamic


Though I rarely drink them anymore, whiskey sours used to be my cocktail. This is a pear sour using Belle de Brillet, a pear cognac and Clear Creek Williams Pear Brandy. Oh, and lemon juice, of course.


An amuse of beet and what I believe was duck lardo. Lardo sounds classier than fat when describing food, but no much when talking about a person. Hey lardo.

Snow Crab, Radish and Lemon Vinaigrette

The vivid colors are mesmerizing. The sweetness of the crab meat contrasted nicely with the tart lemony smudges of dressing. I don’t recall ever eating sea beans before but through some sort of culinary osmosis I immediately recognized them.

Nantucket Bay Scallops, Lentils, Pickled Mushrooms and Salsify

I’m still don’t have a handle on salsify even though I’ve been served it more than a few times in recent history. The somewhat mushy texture was stiffened up by the pickling. I have no idea what stained it brown but I liked that it transformed into something Asian seeming that might be sold by the pound in a tub at the back of a store.

Smoked Trout, Sunchoke Purée and Pickled Cippolini Onions

Pickling again. The sweet and sour quality and crimson color made me think there were cranberries involved. Not so. In my mind I’m imagining a mustard flavor too—perhaps that was a component of the sunchoke puree.

Quail, Cinderella Squash and House-Cured Bacon

It was hard not to admire the world’s tiniest wing (and poached egg). Mini poultry is tough to manage with fork and knife, though. I ended up using my hands.

Rack of Veal, Wild Mushrooms, Asian Pears and Celery Root Purée

The portions were hardly enormous but I did start feeling full by this course (those three pints will catch up with you) and the richness of the meat kind of finished me. Any additional savories and I might’ve felt ill.


I almost forgot about this in-between course of mango sorbet, tapioca pearls and cilantro sauce. I guess you could say it was refreshing. 


Dessert was a choice of cheese plate (James’s option), a chocolate mishmash (both UK visitors’ pick) and an apple clafoutis, which I was swayed by. I love cheese but like I said, I couldn’t take any more savory. Chocolate kills me after a serious meal. An avowed fruit-hater, it’s usually the route I go for a sweet finish. It’s naked fruit that makes me listless and this tart with cinnamon ice cream was embellished just enough to be exciting. 


A cranberry-orange muffin for the next morning.

Gramercy Tavern * 42 E. 20th St., New York, NY


The first and last time I visited Artisanal was Valentine's Day 2001. There's no particular reason why it took me nearly six years to return; it's just that it never occurred to me until last week when fondue seemed in order.

The melted cheese with crudites and air-dried beef was perfectly acceptable but I wasn't bowled over either. I do enjoy letting the thin coating of cheese on the bottom of the dish char into a frico disk.

Duck rillettes (they spell it with one L but that looks weird), on the other hand, were very satisfying and generously portioned. You can't let the layer of fat scare you. The fondue felt a bit skimpy, but maybe I'm just a cheese pig.

My goal was really to binge on cheese. We stayed away from bistro entrees and ordered a cheese and charcuterie plate, which made me want to forget proper dinners forever and just eat cheese, fruit and nuts every night. This was the best decision ever because one of the four cheeses presented to us, Cato Corner Farm Hooligan, made me insane (in a good way).

The next day I was obsessing at work over whether I'd have time at lunch to get to Murray's and back. I'm still thinking about it. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone carries it in Brooklyn except at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket, which does me no good since it's Sunday.

This Hooligan is seriously awesome and I don't use that word willy-nilly. The oozy cheese is one of those classically smelly washed rind beasts that divide people. At a recent holiday party the hostess had to put the cheese plate in the fridge because people (well, her ex-boyfriend that she still lives with) were complaining about the stench. I was like bring that shit back out.

Left to right, the cheeses are Constant Bliss, Berkswell, Hooligan and Valdeon. (12/23/07)

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Of course I know better than to get sucked into hype, but part of me (a tiny sliver buried deep inside) was curious what the Wakiya fuss was about. I hate scenes so I hemmed and hawed over bowing out of my reservation (I didn’t realize that obtaining one was such a big deal. I called, I got one. And 8:45 seemed like a perfectly sane dining time to me). Do I really want to pay good money to get treated like an untouchable?

Wakiya_interiorBut aging naïf that I am, I was genuinely interested in the cuisine. I realize food is hardly the point of a place like this (I’m currently planning a fall trip to Shanghai and don’t anticipate encountering much Wakiya-style fare) but what little I’ve read so far has focused more on service and style issues. I didn’t encounter much attitude and I actually expected the prices to be crazier (though yes, the portions are petite). We spent about $120 with four dishes and three drinks. No bargain, but hardly outrageous either.

I was a little bummed to see nary a C-lister. Just common folks to my uneducated gaze. Gawker saw Dennis Quaid a few nights ago (I saw him last night in Day After Tomorrow on cable. I didn’t want to—I was waiting for Damages to start). I was hoping for at least Randy Quaid or a lesser Arquette or Baldwin.

Soup dumplings. No complaints and the vinegar with ginger shreds was a fitting acidic touch. They instruct you to eat them from a small bowl but you really kind of need a big spoon with these messy blobs of dough.

Bang bang chicken. This is a cold dish of shredded chicken dressed with a sweet-hot sesame, soy and vinegar mixture. I could imagine some people thinking this was spicy, though it easily could’ve been amped up threefold.

Tso tsao pork. That’s sweet and sour pork to you. Supposedly the black vinegar makes it more refined. I think it was the tiny serving size that shouted upscale.

Soft shell crab with golden sand. To remain poetic yet maintain accuracy, I would’ve called it scarlet sand, as it the grit was orange-red, and frankly, tasted like crushed Lays BBQ chips. In other words, the sand was quite tasty. But the crumbs were panko, black beans and a few different dried chiles that I can’t recall. I think Aleppo was one variety.

XO omelet fried rice. We really didn’t really need this, though James thought it was the best dish. The egg-wrapped rice came at the end and was duly filling. I might’ve forgone it for a dessert.

Wakiya_toilet Urine-drenched toilet seats were the least surprising thing of the evening. As I’ve discovered with various NYC jobs, the “classier” the caliber of ladyfolk, the filthier shared bathrooms will be. This was a unisex bathroom, but I only saw groups of girls jamming into the cramped space. I am supposed to be talking about food here, so I’ll spare you further gruesome anecdotes.

Wakiya * 2 Lexington Ave., New York, NY