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Posts from the ‘Soho’ Category

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Bone-In Steak, Birthday Cake

Costata tomahawk steak

Costata Eating at two Michael White restaurants in almost
the same week is kind of odd. I’m not a fanatic or anything. But it was a
birthday dinner option and I took it (Maggiano’s in Bridgewater, NJ–don’t
ask–and Mission Chinese were also tossed into the ring. The Elm might’ve been
the best choice but I don’t like to pick my own special occasion meals) because
I was up for something meaty and I wanted to see if the room was all D.C. style
because I love corporate hotel chic (it’s not that bad) and if it was all
blobby blowhards in suits. No, strangely, there were lots of groups of 20-something
ladies in sausage casing Vegas/Meatpacking dresses drinking cocktails and
primping in the bathroom.

Costata duo

Get the tomahawk rib-eye if someone else is paying and skip
the pricey crudo (I’m not lumping oysters into that) even if they are. I don’t
care about pasta, so farroto with bone marrow and parmesan and the broccoli
rabe with fennel sausage worked as sides. Go wild and drink Spanish Rioja instead
of Barolo (I don’t care about expensive Italian reds either). Though dry-aged
for 40 days, the steak isn’t super funky. Some slices had that hyper-meaty edge
while others were mild and tender, maybe too much so. You don’t really need
black truffle butter, but after $118 for a slab of meat what’s another $3?

Cata razor clams

Cata After reading about the rising price of raw bar fodder,
and the $21 razor clams at Costata in particular, the shellfish sauteed with
garlic and olive for $14 sounded like a relative bargain while having a giant
pre-dinner gin and tonic flavored with kaffir lime leaves.

Cata kaffir lime leaf gin & tonic
Also $14, and though I recently boo hoo’d about
this cocktail price point, these drinks are long-lasting, not gone in four
sips, and potent as two normal gin and tonics.

Cheesecake duo

Cheesecake Factory Sure, you can go to Edison and discover
Indian food if you’re friends with Floyd Cardoz
, or you can eat at Cheesecake
Factory in the mall. I first stumbled upon this part of New Jersey (I have not
forgotten about the Post-Millennium Chains of Middlesex County, by the way) in
2005 when looking for America’s first Uniqlo
(which will soon be returning to
the Menlo Park Mall, plus Staten Island and that horrible Atlantic Ave. Brooklyn
shopping center with the Target) that served as a testing ground for Soho then closed. I prefer other chains over Cheesecake Factory (the
martini with blue cheese olives is three dollars cheaper at Bonefish Grill,
which is only one reason why I love Bonefish) but the Thai lettuce wraps are a
classic appetizer in all their glorious unauthenticity, and the fried chicken
salad was more demure than I’d anticipated size-wise (that’s not a negative).
And yes, there was a slice of turtle cheesecake involved.

Green symphony salad bar

Green Symphony is the bizarro Yip’s (R.I.P.?). It’s also one
block from my office like my former love, but this by-the-pound buffet is
greaseless and healthy and borderline Little Lad’s (also R.I.P.) even though
it’s not vegan or even fully vegetarian (there is organic chicken in various
guises). These piles include a cucumber salad, broccoli rabe with pine nuts,
curry chicken salad with fake mayonnaise, edamame salad, wild rice salad,
quinoa salad and some tofu mushroom thing. I can dig this.

Worst birthday ice cream cake ever

Baskin-Robbins The West Coaster in me wanted to blame
Carvel (Baskin-Robbins is also an East Coast brand, but ubiquitous–I’d never
heard of Carvel till later in life) for this ice cream cake disaster that
supposedly bears my name, but it was the handiwork of a Brooklyn
Baskin-Robbins/Dunkin’ Donuts hybrid shop. My name is not aes (?) for the record.

 

 

The Dutch

The Dutch, with its new lunch menu, seemed like the perfect candidate for my sporadic effort (Má Pêche was the first) to eat more real lunches instead of lentil soup, dried seaweed and water at my desk. Dreary.

The dutch cocktails

Cocktails beat water coolers anytime. The Aviation Royale, which wouldn’t have been out of place on New York’s lineup of rainbow drinks, tweaks the standard gin, crème de violette (Yvette, in this case) and lemon by adding sparkling Vouvray for fizz. I wasn’t double-fisting, hence, I don’t recall the name of gingery cocktail on the right—it doesn’t match any of the descriptions from their online menu.

The dutch cornbread

A baby loaf of jalapeño cornbread and butter sets the tone: American, homespun, a little spicy.

The dutch barrio tripe

Tripe and Fritos may be the new pickled tongue and soda crackers, marrying organ meats with a more familiar staple. Brooklyn Star with their tripe chili and The Dutch now with Barrio tripe, are both tapping into a Tex-Mex canon, heavier on the Mex. The tender, stewed meat topped with chopped avocado, radishes, white onion and those corn chips tasted like an open-faced taco.

The dutch asparagus

Of course, The Dutch is not strictly Southwestern. The asparagus in a curry-kaffir lime sauce and crushed peanuts was as light as the tripe was heavy. We needed a vegetable. Maybe I’m just coming down off of my post-vacation seared-foie gras-for-$5 San Sebastián high, but isn’t $14 a lot of money for a dish of asparagus, Jersey asparagus, or any asparagus? Ok, maybe German white asparagus that has been flown in straight from the soil?
The dutch sloppy duck

The sloppy duck sandwich may be a little messy but it isn’t a minced, saucy Manwich affair. Instead, the dark meat remains chunky and is flavored like a banh mi with hits of sriricha heat, salty fish sauce and lemongrass brightness. And more crushed peanuts. The minted cucumber salad that accompanied the sandwich was refreshing, but I nipped that nod to health right in the bud with a side order of fries. I could tell from the plates sitting on the tables to my right and left that these were going to be real, thin, double-fried beauties, an anti-steak fry.

One fried item was plenty, which meant I had to forego the fried chicken that’s only served at lunch and late night. A return visit wouldn’t be out of the question because the pie selection—coconut cream and lemongrass?—could also stand some exploring. I’ll just refrain from the asparagus next time.

The Dutch * 131 Sullivan St., New York, NY

 

Lizarran

Is it shameful to eat chain tapas in a city with a grasp on creative Spanish nibbles (unlike other places in the US where eggrolls, sliders and mini-pizzas have been bestowed with the T word)? As someone who has eaten chain tapas on their home turf, Cañas y Tapas in Madrid, I say no.

Lizarran exterior When I heard that, Lizarran, whose parent company also owns Spanish chains like Cantina Mariachi and CH!NA ¡BOOM!, had spread as far as Russia and even had a location in a place called Walmart Commercial Centre in Shouzou, I needed to see their first NYC outpost in person.

Despite being in Soho, the restaurant feels more awkward and earnest than its surroundings. Maybe I’m just responding to the little table with flowers and bottles of sitting outside the front door. Welcome to Spain! handwritten in rainbow chalk above the tableau.

I feared a reliance on greatest hits—brie on the cheese plate didn’t put me at ease—and while a good deal of the printed menu was perfunctory, blackboard specials like carrilladas (pig’s cheeks), morcilla (blood sausage) and callos (tripe) were more adventurous than the tortilla and gambas everyone knows and loves. 

Lizarran interior

On the early side of Friday night, the narrow brick-walled room with a large amount of tables in the back, was far from bustling. I know I can be crowd-phobic but tapas demand an element of conviviality (indoor smoking wouldn’t hurt the mood either). Diners were composed of an after-work group enjoying pitchers of sangria, gallery girls making a dinner of a single vegetarian pintxo, and a young couple lording over an item each like they were entrees. I would never occur to me to stop in a tapas bar to eat a bowl of soup.

Pintxos, things served atop slices of bread and held together with a toothpick, are housed under see-through domes at the counter much like you’d see in Barcelona. Periodically, servers will pass by tables with a sampling, and you can pick and choose, $2.50 a piece. We ate two. The rest of this meal we ordered from the menu.

Lizarran chorizo pintxo

This was a simple chorizo pintxo like you’d get for free with a drink in Madrid.

Lizarran piquillo pintxo

The fried piquillo was a bit more elaborate. Our server had no idea what the pepper was stuffed with so I took a chance assuming it was salt cod. It turned out to be shredded meat, more beefy than porky. No, I couldn’t say for sure and this wasn’t alarming.

Lizarran pulpo a feira

Pulpo a feira wasn’t terribly paprika’d but the octopus was tender.

Lizarran huevos estrellados con chistorra

Huevos estrellados con chistorra sounded similar to the good and greasy huevos rotos we’d encountered in Madrid. The concept was the same. These sliced boiled potatoes were too healthy, though. A crisp-fried base for the eggs and stubby Basque sausages would’ve been perfect.

Lizarran croquetas

The two croquetas I ate from this sampler were made of ham and spinach raisin. I never find fault with croquetas.

I would like to see more emphasis on the pintxos because that’s where Lizarran could differentiate themselves from other tapas bars. The setup was a little confusing; it wasn’t clear if you were supposed to wait for someone to bring them by your table since there isn’t a steady dim sum-style stream (or enough patrons to demand fast turnover) or if you should go up to the un-inviting counter and choose your own.

Lizarran * 45 Mercer St., New York, NY

Tailor

While settling into a post-birthday dinner at Tailor with my friend Sherri, conversation turned to her recent Portland excursion. I am from Portland. She is not. I was wowed by all of the photos of trendy restaurant food she had taken because it’s not my Portland. It’s not that upscale dining didn’t exist pre-1998 (though the food scene has hipified radically), it’s probably more that I tended towards the “grubbin’” side of cuisine. Horrible, horrible word, but it conveys the message: cheap, filling drunk/stoner food, exemplified by rice-filled (abhorrent) burritos big as your forearm.

To say Tailor is anti-grubbin’ is an understatement. Which isn’t to say that it’s not enjoyable. If price were not a concern, I could’ve sampled peculiar ingredient combinations on plate and in glass all evening long. It’s fun. I even gave into a bell pepper dessert (not so the bell pepper lemonade), despite the sad vegetable being on my bad side (strangely, the green menace had also shown in my Pret a Manger gazpacho at lunch earlier).

Tailor hibiscus highball and bazooka

Cocktails, kind of Tailor’s selling point, were an immediate must. A lightly sour, gender-neutral hibiscus 7up, rye and key lime beverage for me and the insane prettiest pink Bazooka, that yes, relies on bubblegum liqueur and tastes exactly like it looks though maybe one notch less sweet. I do wonder where the color comes from. Could it possibly be natural?

Tailor veal, marrow beads, parmesan crumble, huckleberry

Despite ultimately sharing, I picked out the veal, which came thinly shaved and cured like prosciutto. The whiter more gelatinous spheres were marrow, rightly rich and fatty, the denser orbs were composed of parmesan. Once again I was taken with color, apparently so much so that I can’t even recall what ingredient created the intense emerald green swoosh. The culprit was obviously herbal and tasted like a shot of wheatgrass. Paired with huckleberry drizzles and purple leaves, the result was pleasingly foresty, nothing like this scary forest.

Tailor coriander fried sweetbreads, citrus puree, salsify, white beer

Coriander-crusted sweetbreads were more straightforward and creamy almost like foie gras. A salsify base was neutral while the beer foam added bitter punch.

Tailor skate, purple tater tots, malt vinegar mayo, sweet ketchup

There are very few things more compelling than pork belly. Normally, those fatty striated slices would’ve been my first choice but the starchy component of “skate frites” snapped me to attention. Tater tots would’ve been good enough on their own because I love them (though not quite enough to craft a vest from Ore-Ida bags). But purple tater tots?! This had to be seen. To be honest, they didn’t have much flavor but they came atop a pool of ketchup and well, the looked pretty cool. The skate was formed into scallops and accompanied by a mayonnaise tarted up with malt vinegar and pickled shallots.

Tailor pork belly, miso butterscotch, artichoke

If mixing and matching were allowed I would’ve tossed a few purple tater tots into the pork belly bowl and created a giant plate of awesome. The butterscotch miso is the perfect blend of caramely and savory, almost like a salted palm sugar. I can see why Dale copped it for his own on Top Chef; unfortunately, it led to his downfall. Even the addition of artichoke made sense when bathed in this sauce.

Tailor bell pepper cake, cornbread ice cream, sweet pea

I’ve said it before, but I am fairly conservative when it comes to desserts. Herby granitas and poached fruit bum me out. But that’s primarily because they’re unfun. I don’t really mind cerebral as long as I’m entertained. So, I gave into the bell pepper cake with cornbread ice cream topped with a pea frond. I mean, it makes sense that this trio would be compatible. Cornbread is frequently sweet and cake-like anyway. This could just have easily been a starter.

Tailor kumquat confit, caraway ice cream, soy caramel, pumpernickel

In some ways, the kumquat confit finisher was more challenging because I have a hard time associating deep, brown European caraway and pumpernickel flavors with sweets. All it needed was the addition of dill or sauerkraut and I might’ve lost it. The candied fruit paired with thin crisps and earthy rye-like ice cream made me think of what would happen if I took my usual Wasa crackers and slathered them with jelly instead of laughing cow cheese. I don’t think I’ll do that anytime soon.

Tailor mate sour and blood & sand

The flavors of these two cocktails have merged in my brain because I was drinking them at the same time (don’t ask). On the left is a maté sour using yerba mate and while tea-like at first, an astringent, not unpleasant dirt-like aftertaste stuck with me later. The other is a blood and sand using scotch, sweet vermouth, cherry ale and an orange foam, which was smoky and orange peel bitter.

Tailor * 525 Broome St., New York, NY

Cafe Noir

1/2 I never eat in Soho, mostly because I’m never in the neighborhood. But there’s always a sense of style over substance, as well. Café Noir strikes me as one of those good enough restaurants, more geared to sustaining drinkers with passable Moroccan/Spanish/Middle Eastern/French bistro nibbles.

I knew I was in trouble when I ordered steak tartare and the waitress felt the need to explain, “you know that’s raw, right?”

Cafenoirtartare

And the customers weren’t much better. Bare feet don’t belong in a dining establishment and they most definitely don’t belong atop the long shared booth, inches from my leg. The offending appendages belonged to a sweet young girl who seemed very interested in probing her Swiss “date” about his income and career goals. When he mentioned that he might just go back to school, she then offered up that she had an investment banker boyfriend. Clearly, this dinner mate wasn’t enough of an upgrade to maintain her façade.

Cafenoirmerguez

The merguez wasn’t half-bad, though I felt like the scoop of couscous should’ve been warm since the carrot salad was also cold.

Cafenoircroquettes

Seafood croquettes were ok too.

Read my less anecdotal Nymag.com review

Cafe Noir * 32 Grand St., New York, NY

Despaña

I totally went nuts at Despaña. For years (ok, maybe one year), I've had intentions of heading out to the Jackson Heights wholesale location. I go to Jackson Heights pretty frequently, the problem was, if I'm correct, that their open to the public hours were only 9am-1pm on Saturdays. I can never get it together that early on weekends. It's not like I ever make it to Nolita, Soho, or wherever you call Broome and Lafayette streets, either, though I did have business in the neighborhood twice this week (haircut and blue food dye)

Elquiote My goal was to spend no more than $40 on a supplementary birthday present, but when all was said and done I'd blown close to $100. It happens. I bought, lomo, cabrales, Manchego, squid ink, saffron, membrillo, both hot and sweet paprika, Valencian rice, sherry vinegar, chorizo, morcilla and a bocadillo.

Most importantly (for Shovel Time's purposes), the bocadillo. It's strange because during my 9-6 Monday through Friday life I would never spend $7.50 for a sandwich because I'm cheap. But on the weekend that's more than fair for high quality ingredients. The bread comes from Sullivan Street Bakery, and the fillings are simple, no more than three ingredients per sandwich. I was mesmerized by all of the choices, but ended up choosing the el quijote: lomo embuchado i.e. dry cured pork loin, Manchego and membrillo spread. The counter guy commented "women always order that one." Well, I love pork and sweets together (don't get me started on Hawaiian pizza), I guess I'm a stereotype.

Despaña * 408 Broome St., New York, NY

Pegu Club

I really wanted to like this place. And at 6pm on a Monday, I thought we'd be safe. Safe from the crowds, yes. Safe from the showboating-to-neglect bartenders, no.

The space is lovely, the cocktails superb. But I only managed to enjoy one drink in the hour and a half I graced Pegu's presence. The Jamaican firefly, a gingery, dark rum riff on a dark and stormy, held me nicely for a spell. I thought I might like to try something made with applejack next. James wanted to order coconut shrimp even though we had 8pm reservations at Public. I wasn't opposed to sampling some haute bar snacks. But it was not to be since we couldn't get the attention of either bartender the rest of the evening (it makes one wonder if they'd be noticed if they chose to drink and dash). While sitting at the bar initially seemed optimal, perhaps the cozier tables with waitress service would've worked out better.

I understand this isn't a margarita machine, slap dash operation, they're crafting thought out cocktails with flourish and show. That's appreciated. But I took issue with the attention lavished on particular patrons, namely the couple seated next to us who perpetually engaged the one-step-up from Royal Oak, Williamsburger mixologist with their thrilling tale of a documentary in progress about new-school bartenders. Fine, impress friends, filmmakers, out-do each other with obscure liqueur awareness (peons like myself know what creme d'yvette is, too) but spread the wealth (of knowledge). Despite the club in Pegu's name, I thought this was a public space and not a private venue. I would like to return and likely will at some point, though I'm the type who has a hard time forgiving tainted first impressions.

Pegu Club * 77 W. Houston St., New York, NY

Kittichai

This year I was lucky enough to have my formal birthday dinner at brand new uber-chic Thai restaurant, Kittichai. I don't really have a strong desire to eat at of-the-minute, trendy and intimidating restaurants (like Spice Market, which I did for James's birthday in May), but I do like trying innovative and/or upscale takes on S.E. Asian food because I'm crazy fixated on the cuisine and use special occasions to check out what's going on at the higher end of the spectrum.

I wasn't so concerned about the scene (apparently, it has been closed on Sundays so people like Alek Wek can throw parties), but had read an article in an Oct. 2003 Saveur about Bangkok chefs including Ian Chalermkittichai, who is the chef at this Soho restaurant using half his surname. I was fascinated by the idea of a Thai celebrity chef (in Thailand, I mean) and that he was the first-ever Thai executive chef (as opposed to the usual European choices) at a Bangkok five-star hotel, the Bangkok Four Seasons.  (What I havent been able to figure out is why Jean-George took the name Spice Market for his MePa [I'm joking, I'm joking, like I'd ever seriously acronym Meatpacking District] restaurant, when that name is already used and associated with one of the restaurants in the Bangkok Four Seasons. I didnt have a chance to try it, having reached my quota for fancy dining with Blue Elephant and Celadon) Plus, his recipe for poo khai kem, a take on Singapore chile crab, peaked my interest. It's not the sort of Thai food you really get in NYC, so I was curious.

I was pleased to sample their cocktail of calamansi juice (I told you the fruit was going to be the It citrus of 2004), coconut milk, Grand Marnier and Skyy vodka. It was tart and creamy without being cloying. A very refreshing summer cooler. And I'm still not sure what the difference between tapas and appetizers is. The prices are similar and the portions seem close as well. We tried a tapa of Southern Thai ceviche with diver scallops, caviar and lemongrass in an egg nest, which while tasty didnt really highlight the scallop. It was more tangy and eggy. The crispy rock shrimp, grilled eggplant with chili lime appetizer was right on. My entre of short ribs in green curry was a nice choice. It was traditional in a good way, while using an atypically Thai cut of meat. James chose the special of dorado, which was cubed, dusted in tempura batter (they made the point of saying it was dusted, not heavily coated) and presented between the head and tail with a sweet chili sauce. I loved the accompanying fried basil and lime leaves, but then, I'm a sucker for fried herbs (or fried anything, really). For dessert we shared the kaffir lime tart with coconut ice cream and palm sugar syrup, which was enjoyable. The grated lime rind (I think that's what it was) added a nice punch of color to the little rectangle.

I thought the food was to be served family-style, this is what I'd heard, and we were both given small plates before our food arrived. But when it came to the table, our plates were removed untouched and the large bowls were placed in front of us, according to whom had ordered what. I wouldve preferred to share, though this seems to irk some people.

None of the food is terribly spicy, despite the slinky waitstaffs unnecessary warnings. And thats where I'm unclear. I'm not sure how upscale Thai food is supposed to be spiced. I know people have the tendency to equate authenticity with heat level, but not every dish is meant to eat the glaze off its artfully crafted ceramic plate. I felt disappointed with much of the fine hotel food we ate in Bangkok, it seemed tame, and one of our waitresses at Celadon confirmed that the menu was "for tourists." (Though that didnt stop a table of Middle Eastern men to choke and yell for water.)

The most amusing aspect of the evening (apart from James sharing the rest room with Mario Batali) was being seated next to the May/December table. First, it was the classic couple: a 50-ish guy with a super tiny, large breasted, early-20s blonde who drove me nuts because she called the kaffir lime key lime. They were replaced by German equivalents. They were more subtle, the Euro female had simple, chin length brown hair and minimal makeup (and thankfully since she wasn't speaking English I couldn't deduce if she was mangling the pronunciation of ingredients). She was wearing a ribbed white tank top that covered her up to her collarbones instead of a low-cut lacy camisole top like the other trollop, but after sneaking a few glances, I did note that it was quite snug and that she also had quite large breasts in proportion to the rest of her body.  It must be nice to have a sugar daddy to woo you through costly coriander and lemongrass concoctions. It sucks that that my much older boyfriend never, ever ate (seriously, he had some intestinal problem–the guy had a 27" waist).

Kittichai * 60 Thompson St., New York, NY

Lombardi’s

1/2

The oldest pizzeria in the U.S.? The oldest coal-burning oven? Something
like that. Many swear by Lombardi's. However, I just sort of ended up there.
I'd wanted to go, but on this particular evening, Raoul's was the plan.
Twice the price, triple the crowd and who knows what else. I just wasn't in
the mood for a sceney place (I mean, the "New York Times" claims it to be a
favorite of Matthew Broderick and Gwyneth Paltrow, and who needs that). It
was freezing, and even though we were supposed to be a bistro mission, but
in the back of my head I was thinking how good an old-fashioned piece of
pizza sounded (actually I was thinking how great a Hawaiian pizza sounded,
but that's blasphemous in N.Y.) so we headed east for some simpler fare on
Spring St.

It was a house salad, a large sausage and mushroom pie and root beer. I
don't know where the root beer idea came from since I never drink soda and
it's not like this is Pizza Hut. All was good and low-key, and we ended up
sitting next to the third guy from "O Brother, Where Art Thou?." Not George
Clooney and not John Turturro–the other one (who I just looked up so as not
to sound uninformed–it's Tim Blake Nelson). Who needs Gwyneth, right?

I only regret leaving the leftovers in James's fridge. I meant to bring
a piece to work for lunch and I fear it'll be gone by the time I make it
back over there. (Yep, they were gone when I checked the next night.)


Lombardi's * 32 Spring St., New York, NY