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Posts from the ‘Midtown East’ Category

Le Train Bleu

I had no idea there was a restaurant on the sixth floor of Bloomingdale’s built to mimic a dining car. The rectangular room complete with overhead racks and pretend scenic windows is mildly fun in a stodgy way. I imagine this is the sort of place you’d take a hypothetical elderly aunt, but the only aunt I even vaguely see on a regular basis, which is almost never, is in her forties. Actually, that might be perfect; out-of-towners of all ages might relish eating on a fake train inside a department store.


It’s very possible that this fusty peculiarity is just an unknown to me because I’ve only shopped at Bloomingdale’s once in my life. When I worked in the neighborhood two jobs ago I briefly popped in looking for an interview suit so that I could move on to a different office-centric neighborhood. Unsurprisingly, I found what I needed at an Edison, New Jersey’s Macy’s after applying for a credit card to get the 20% discount (and after an I.Q. test and four interviews, I remained job offer-less).

As might be expected at certain old Manhattan lunchy-shoppy places, the food tends to be pricier than it needs to be, hardly exciting, though rarely wretched. Hotel-like fare that gets the job done and will fade from memory within weeks (ok, days, but I have an elephantine memory).


Sweet, rich and gamey are pluses to me so the pheasant pate containing pistachios and dates made for a decent sharable starter. You don’t expect Bar Boulud charcuterie wizardry. The Cumberland sauce (typically a tangy jellied affair based on red currents and orange zest) gave the potentially French dish a heavier Britishness.


A burger is a burger.


The togarashi-spiced tuna on soba was my attempt at something non-heavy. The noodles were a bit mealy and kind of overwhelming, but thankfully the tuna was kept rare and the wasabi aioli squiggles added a little punch. Plus, it’s not every meal that you get your lemon wedge wrapped in yellow seed-stopping mesh.


Read my balanced take at

Le Train Bleu * 1000 Third Ave., 6th fl., New York, NY

Ben & Jacks Steakhouse

3/4 I’m fairly certain that I haven’t eaten at a steakhouse in nearly two years, and that on-the-fly indulgence happened to be at a Morton’s in Hong Kong. That’s just not right (that is, not visiting a steakhouse in two years, not that I ate at one in Asia).

Steak had been on my mind lately due to little influencers like the last meat-heavy Saveur issue (I might be thinking of avocados instead if the current issue had made it to my apartment) and Diner’s Journal chatter. For James, all it took was a late-night, low-budget Ben & Jack’s commercial to prompt a reservation a few days later. I had been contemplating less traditional steakhouses like Strip House or Quality Meats but a Manhattan near Peter Luger clone didn’t draw any complaints from me.

Ben_jacks_baconAnd essentially, the two menus are replicas. I never thought the service was as gruff as purported in Williamsburg but customer attention is the most noticeable difference with this midtown offshoot started by former waiters. Glasses are never left unfilled, the second your plate nears empty, two more slices of steak are placed upon it using the two metal spoons tong-like approach. In fact, they continue to gregariously serve you throughout the meal, which was kind of unsettling when a giant mess of potatoes plopped all over the tablecloth, not thanks to me.

I never touch the salads or shrimp cocktail. Whoever dreamed up slabs of singed, fatty bacon as a starter is right up there with the inventor of bacon toffee. One $2.95 strip is plenty but we each got two so we’d have a smoky treat the next day.

Ben_jacks_porterhouseOur steak order was textbook: porterhouse for two, medium-rare. The sputtering grease flecked serving plate isn’t pretty (and my photos are even less so) but it must be so. And this is one of the only places where a warning of, “be careful, the plates are hot” is genuinely warranted. The first slices are presented with flourish and a quick tap and press along the bottom edge of the ceramic, inducing a hiss. I didn’t want to fill up on bread but the pool of juices and butter at the bottom are made for an onion roll.

Medium-rare is served on the pink side, but the soft rawness is tempered by the charred edges and the best hyper-meaty parts near the bone. In fact, I really noticed the aged, minerally quality more the next day while gnawing on a room temperature bone.

Ben_jacks_plate There’s not much to say about the creamed spinach and German potatoes since they’re perfunctory, yet necessary. 

I swear, in the past we’ve eaten the entire steak but that seemed like an impossibility on this occasion. After four pieces, I was heading into uncomfortable territory. And even though this was a carnivorous event, I couldn’t help but thinking of the possibility of a hot fudge sundae. 

Ben_jacks_hot_fudge_sundae I was wondering if they’d replicate the “holy cow” hot fudge sundae from Peter Luger. And yes, they did, merely swapping bovine genders to create the holy bull. An avalanche of serious schlag dominates the first handful of bites, and by the time you reach the intense concentrated fudgey remains, you’re done in. “The drink,” as I’ve always called that painfully sweet, last syrupy bite that’s tough to choke down, is almost my favorite part of a sundae. I half-seriously considered ridding my stomach of its contents before dessert arrived, but I don’t possess that can do spirit.

Ben & Jacks Steakhouse * 219 E. 44th St., New York, NY


Aquavit never would’ve occurred to me as a special occasion restaurant to choose but it was a welcome diversion from genres I’ve mildly bemoaned in the past. For a spell, it seemed like all surprises entailed manly/meaty or Latin American, all styles I enjoy, but not for every celebration.

Originally, I was tempted to say that the food wasn’t overwhelmingly Scandinavian. But I take that back. I probably shouldn’t be fit to judge anyway, considering my Swedish repertoire barely extends beyond Ikea meatballs and lingonberry sauce. As I started looking over my (overly dim and yellow) photos and tagging them in Flickr, it became apparent that Northern European components were definitely being employed, though the overall effect on a dish was frequently mitigated by a more familiar (avocado) or foreign (tandoori spicing) flavor.

The room was easily 80% full when we arrived, though you wouldn't guess it from this photo at meal's end. We eat slowly.   

To generalize, the cuisine was very clean, sharp and in more than a few instances, bitter. That’s a profile I’m not naturally drawn to; it’s a cold shoulder. Bitter and sour are slow going while hot and sweet never fail to immediately win me over. It’s good to diversify.

Amuse of lettuce soup and something fishy.


I’d already downed a couple of gin and tonics at frozen-in-time Bill’s Gay Nineties, one block south, so not everyone would think a flight of three aquavits wise. I did, and chose saffron, cucumber and pear, vanilla and black pepper from a long list. I preferred the spice and fruit of the latter, cucumber was as you’d expect and saffron despite its golden color had little taste. These kept me occupied through the first few courses. At some point I switched over to a 2005 Weingut Meinhard Forstreiter Gruner Veltliner. Just a glass, though.


Another amuse. Clockwise from top right, pickled herring, tandoori salmon with what I swear was a dab of bbq sauce, oyster and something topped with roe that I can’t recall. This is when we noticed that they really love micro greens. Or green. Single miniscule leaves turned up throughout the meal.

I’ve never encountered a tasting menu presented in this manner. There were 14 dishes listed, which in hindsight sounds voluminous, even if they were only a few bites each. As it turned out, each diner gets seven, one all from the left column, the other from the right with no say in the matter. We were initially baffled when James was presented with a lobster roll (spring, not Maine style) with bacon and trout roe and I received yellowtail tuna, sea urchin, lime sauce and duck tongue.


Mine was like pure ocean. I felt a little guilty eating bird tongues like that’s the kind of callous opulence (though it’s not as if people are slaughtering ducks just for their tongues) that would cause PETA to threaten ripping out my own tongue. I have no idea what those black, slightly sweet wafers were made from but they tasted like candied seaweed.


Hot-smoked trout, salsify, apple-horseradish broth. This wasn’t mine. But all those flavors are way Scandinavian. I’m eating my words now.


Octopus, smoked avocado, lemon vinaigrette. As implied in the name, this was a smoky dish and the charred around the edges cephalopod added to that. The charcoal tastes were smoothed by the creamy avocado and tangy lemon.


Foie gras ganache, cured quail, raisin vinaigrette. This was the only dish where I was like, “that should’ve been mine.” Sweet, rich and meaty is my M.O. Luckily, it was too much for James and I got a few bites.


Beef tartar, mushrooms, salmon roe. Mine was the dead opposite. Literally cool, atop ice, raw and punctuated with grated horseradish. I would’ve loved this completely if there wasn’t quail and foie gras a few inches from me.


Short ribs and rib eye, asparagus, hop sauce (the unpictured companion was venison, green asparagus, bacon, horseradish dumplings). See what I mean about bitter? The slight bite from the hops did work, especially with the tender but compact brick of shredded short ribs.


Sorrel granite, rhubarb, yogurt foam. This was a palate cleanser all right. Triply sour but definitely sugared, as well. The yogurt gelled the ice and crunch. Vegetal granitas are the type of thing I would never make for myself but that I envision concocting for a dinner party.

Fourme d'ambert, apple, date bread.


Humboldt fog, blackcurrant, olive bread. Behold the microgreen. I was pleased that I got one of my favorite chevres instead of the blue (and I love blue cheese) and that it was ripe and runny. Cheese at my house rarely gets to that stage because I eat it too fast.


Floating island. This was complimentary and I’m not sure what all the ingredients were. The ice cream contained either cream cheese or yogurt and the sorbet seemed like raspberry. All three desserts came at once so there was a frenzy trying to sample everything before the chilled bits melted into nothingness.


Mint-chocolate mousse, orange sauce. Junior Mints and Peppermint Patties have always been my enemies. Sweet mint doesn’t do much for me. But the mint in the few bites of mousse I tried was very herbaceous and much better than similar things made with extract.


Chocolate cake, licorice, plum, chocolate stout sorbet. After the sweetness of the floating island, this mix came as a bit of a shock. The licorice and stout were anything but fluffy. I’m still not sure that I liked the dark, yes bitter, flavors. I can remember them vividly three days later, though. In fact, I’m getting the same sensation from a cup of strong black coffee as I type.

davidburke & donatella

I'm more of a fast food salad luncher, but in a perfect world I could do a two-hour fine dining meal on a daily basis. The $24 d&d price fixe is a pretty amazing value. Unfortunately, the circumstances completely distracted from any joy I might've derived from an otherwise swank meal. As they say, there's no such thing as a free lunch. I knew that when my department's director asked my supervisor and me to lunch that it wasn't for leisure's sake. Let's just say that this is the most disgruntling office I've ever worked in, and leave it at that.

I certainly didn't take any food photos during this business-esque meeting, though the presentation would've warranted it. Initially, you're presented with popovers in adorable individual copper pans. I chose the lobster bisque with green apple essence ($15 alone at dinner) as my first course, which comes in a deep bowl with a long cylindrical lobster-filled egg roll laid across the top. The crisp skinny tube is designed to look like a firecracker with a little fuse sticking out one end that would be a mistake to eat.

Their market salad was speckled with shrimp, chicken, goat cheese, Asian pear, walnuts and bacon. I lost interest about 3/4 of the way through, the precise moment when the serious talking began. I didn't even finish the damn thing, which isn't like me at all. I was able to eat most of my generously portioned caramelized apple tart. One glass of Riesling was hardly enough to get me through this afternoon annoyance.

davidburke & donatella * E. 61st St., New York, NY

East Ocean

1/2 Despite working in the E. 50s for over three months now, I still haven't settled into a smooth lunch routine. And I'm still a bit disgruntled at the area's offerings.

While hardly amazing, I will make the half-block journey to East Ocean maybe once a week. They have one of those point and pick deals where you get rice plus two choices and a soda for $5.95. You don't have to get fried rice and fatty battered meat (though you certainly could–I'm just trying to say that cheap steam table Chinese isn't all unhealthy) They have things like simple greens in oyster sauce or lotus root stir fry, and most importantly, they have cans of seltzer. I have fits when you get a free drink, but it has to be a can, therefore a soda. I just want water (not out of health–I just don't like soda) and it seems cruel that water costs more than carbonated corn syrup. Silly as it is, including seltzer as a free drink option, boosts my opinion of East Ocean up a notch or two.

Here's an all-brown meal I got the other day. One entre is pork belly, the other is a bizarre combination of taro cubes and short ribs. I try to eat light lunches (primarily to justify eating hearty dinners) but some days you're just starving and need a meaty/starchy boost.
East Ocean * 159 E. 55th St., New York, NY


I usually just go along with what everyone suggests for business type coworker lunches (which are very, very rare in my world) because I'm very grin and bear it (I hate that phrase and have used it enough as a joke that it's starting to permeate my normal conversation) in the workplace. But this time I was saddled with choosing the restaurant, wasn't in the best of spirits, so wanted to make sure I got to eat something I actually wanted. (I really didn't care if no one else wanted Indian food, because I wasn't about to slough through an overpriced chicken caesar salad with dressing on the side.) I'd intended on trying Yuva for dinner for a few weeks, but because it's only three blocks from the office it never made sense for anyone to come up to midtown just to meet me for an evening meal.

Normally, I wouldn't dip into the teens for lunch, but since it wasn't coming out of my pocket the prices seemed reasonable. The quality and presentation was much higher than you'd expect from a run of the mill midtown Indian place. The decor is subtle and leaning towards neutral.

I wish I'd had my camera (though I would've been reluctant to whip it out in front of my new-ish boss and colleague) because the nine three-by-three chutneys and sauces that were brought out on a square platter, were amazingly hued. Brilliant greens, sunshiney oranges, raisin browns, and flavored with green peppers, mangos, mint, yogurt, and obviously more. I felt bad not being able to try them all. Work lunches are never really about enjoying the food, are they?

I chose the chicken tikka masala, which comes with a bowl of rice and dal, each in small round white bowls that are more like coffee cups without handles. They were set atop individual square plates, which rested on a larger square plate like the chutneys had been. The clean geometry and pale monochrome tones elevated the food. It's likely you'd detect a higher degree of care by taste alone, but the impression gained from a meal served on ceramic rather than in Styrofoam is obviously higher. Getting take out, which you can here, might feel different.

You're given a choice of soup or salad, but being ladies we all chose the salad. I was curious what the soup was. We were also given grilled yogurt chicken wings and onion kulcha on the house. What I think was kheer, a cardamom laced rice pudding, came unexpectedly at the end. It was a bit much for an afternoon workday meal. The funny thing is that one of the coworkers in attendance, happens to live up the street, and ended up bringing her girlfriend to Yuva later that day for dinner Eating two meals at the same restaurant, hours apart, by choice is pretty indicative of its allure.

Yuva * 230 E. 58th St., New York, NY


Oh my god, every year I get brattier and brattier. In the old days I'd be shocked and amazed if a guy bought a carton of kung pao chicken and let me pick a few bites. Now I expect the world. Well, the world outside east midtown.

Guacamole_1  I've had such irrational aversion to the east 50s since my new job stuck me in this stagnant no-man's land. Sutton Place is scary. Shun Lee Palace is scary. All of Third Ave. gives me the heebie-jeebies.

So, it weirded me out when James mentioned he'd chosen a Valentine's restaurant near my office. I'm still not sure how he stumbled upon Pampano. But I guessed it because he has a propensity for Latin American or meaty restaurants for celebrations. Really, he was being thoughtful since I've been attempting to eat moderately light and figured seafood would be safe.

And Pamapano was perfectly nice. Unfortunately, it got overshadowed by our showier Blue Hill meal later that week. I mean, the two are nothing alike so I shouldn't compare them. Valentine's is one of those tricky dining occasions because it's hard to avoid the hype and hokeyness. It's definitely not the best measure of a chefs strengths.

We started with guacamole because that's what you're supposed to do at higher end Mexican places in Manhattan. And then we went with the prix fixe, which I'm having a hard time recalling in great detail, despite taking photos. I think drinking on an empty stomach before dining can exacerbate this memory problem. It is interesting to see the food all together in this fashion, as it's clear that there's a distinct color palette being employed.

Pomegranate seeds, roe and shrimp
Mixed ceviche

Shrimp, manchego empanada, pineapple bell pepper relish, chile chipotle vinaigrette

Squash soup with amazing huitalacoche wonton and epazote
Shrimp, calamari, scallops, octopus and cilantro rice with achiote-coconut sauce
This was James's and I'm not 100% sure which fish and preparation he had
a messy (yet tasty) panna cotta
pineapple and mango sorbet

Pampano * 209 E. 49th St., New York, NY

Outback Steakhouse

Maybe it's the 44 ounces of Foster's talking, but this eerie Midtown Outback totally rules (sorry, no rules, just right). I've been eyeing this branch ever since I started a new job across the street from their take out window. There's something absurd about advertising curbside service ("no rules just right to your car") in a city where no one drives. But then there's something absurd about an Outback Steakhouse on the cusp of the Upper East Side, too.

Nothing pleases me more than the absurd so I was thrilled to finally pay this anomaly a visit. The most glaring difference between this Outback and every other one I've ever been visited, is that there wasn't a wait. In fact, half the tables were empty (though there was a minor male dominated happy hour scene at the bar) I've waited over 60 minutes in Edgewater for the privilege of a seat. This lack of large families with toddlers crowding the entrance was unnerving. Of course the prices are all a couple bucks higher ($8.95 Bloomin' Onion as opposed its $6.96 New Jersey counterpart), but that's the price you pay for NYC class.

To be honest, I'm not fanatical about steaks, meat is meat (well, Peter Luger is pretty convincing). I just like the rigmarole and side dishes. I never know which cut to order and really I don't know how much it matters. I ultimately went with a 9-ounce center cut filet, medium rather than my preferred medium-rare because even ordering medium gives the waiters conniptions. I'm sure it's part of their training, but they insist on explaining what medium means, emphasizing that there will be some pink in the middle like they're trying to scare you up a doneness notch. I don't think they're even allowed to serve anything prepared rare.

So yes, the steak was meaty. And after filling up on onion loaf, a peculiar dressing-heavy blue cheese chopped salad (I only ordered it because I never realized you got a choice besides the standard Caesar) bread and butter and a giant mug of beer, I only had room for half of my filet and chunky mashed potatoes. I don't think I've ever tried dessert at Outback. I'm not even sure what they offer–oh, that's right, The Chocolate Thunder from Down Under, duh. Maybe I'll get really wild and stop in for the disturbingly named hot fudge brownie sundae some night after work.

Outback Steakhouse * 919 Third Ave., New York, NY


1/2 Sometimes addictions creep up on you. I was initially attracted to Cafe Zaiya as a lunchtime destination at my new midtown job. It's bright, shiny, bustling, and heck there's a Beard Papa stand inside. But a few storefronts closer to me is no frills Yagura. There's a small Japanese grocery store in back, sparse, elevated seating to your immediate right, then the main event to your left, a bustling counter with perpetual lines.

Katsu, teriyaki, noodle soups…I'm not sure what the main draw is, but I always stick with the $4.50 chicken udon and have never been disappointed. Initially, it seemed straightforward, nothing special, but now I'll find myself thinking about it and looking forward to running across the street for a fix. The broth helps, it's very rich and flavorful (is that dashi?) and the noodles are thick and perfectly chewy. The chicken, usually five large chunks or so, has the skin on, making the whole bowl of soup tasty and probably too fatty for some. The best is when you get pieces where the skin is still crispy, the meat seems more fried or broiled than stewed, and maybe that's the secret.

Yagura* 41st St., New York, NY

Shun Lee Palace

Shun Lee Palace is a total time warp, though not quite nostalgic. It
probably wouldn't be unless you were an Upper East Side Jew with a taste for
expensive, not very authentic Chinese food circa 1976. This was one of those
out of the blue dining ideas James gets every now and then. I'd never had
any inclination to visit the place, but he had gotten it in his head that we
needed to try upscale Chinese food.

But I think he was thinking banquet food that Chinese people themselves
would actually eat, not overpriced renditions of Chinese-American fare. Not
that we didn't have a good time. In fact, it was a gas. Shun Lee is a weird
scene that I could appreciate, even if it scared me a bit. While the dcor
is opulent early '90s, the vibe is totally '70s. At our 9pm seating, the
room wasn't terribly full, but the clientele we did eyeball had
personalities big enough to fill the room. There was a nice combo of
caricatures, tourists, wealthy foreigners, and the inexplicably curious like

I was a little unnerved by how they make couples sit side-by-side at
tables facing out towards the room. We've always made fun of twosomes who
choose to next to each other while eating instead of just facing each other.
But we had no choice in this situation. In a way, we were lucky because we
had equally good views of the goings on. I'mmediately to our right, were two
cranky, over-the-top, 60-ish women who were apparently regulars, highly
demanding and totally of a New York I do not know (nor want to). Like they
get together every Saturday night and kvetch (did I just say kvetch?)
about their kids, exes and dead parents, then harass the waiter because they
were told there'd be an eel special and there wasn't.

To our right and down the row was a creepy, troll-like older Indian
gentleman and his much younger, serene Eurasian lady friend. They didn't
really talk, and they also were grumpy, she let the waiters know that he
didn't like fish. A few young-ish white bread couples seemed dazzled by the
ambience. One took photos of her food (I know "photoblogging" is all the
rage, but I just can't abide snapping pictures in restaurants. Maybe that's
an issue of my own) while the other duo ate quickly then paid with
traveler's checks (I didn't know that people even used those anymore).

My favorite table included a dapper Telly Savalas look-alike in a
yachting type sport jacket with a middle-aged woman wearing a bold-patterned
turban scarf and big, tinted frameless glasses. Very Cosmopolitan,
thirty years ago. She could play a rich eccentric on an episode of

I was impressed by the carved daikon swans that certain tables received
as garnishes (we didn't get any fancy frills). The food, not so much. We had
slippery chicken, which is chopped chicken with spinach in a garlicky sauce,
and curry prawns, which were swimming in a curry powder, peanutty gloop. I
actually liked the gloop, it was studded with things like peas, water
chestnuts and red pepper. James insisted it also contained creamed corn,
which is ridiculous. I also had a hot and sour fish soup, which was what it
sounds like.

We barely made it out under $100, which is why this isn't the sort of
novelty meal you can do on a regular basis. And that's why the idea of
regulars and eating Shun Lee takeout is so bizarre to me. Do people just not
get out? Once you enter the uptown vacuum, do you lose all sense of right
and wrong? People love Seinfeld reruns and Woody Allen flicks, so
maybe I'm the one whos warped.

ShunLee Palace * 155 E.
55 St., New York, NY