Pizzeria Sirenetta This is type of place–pizzas, pastas, snacks, all under $20–just taken for granted in so many neighborhoods. (A little less so in this more-desolate-than-you’d-think pocket of the Upper West Side.) I mean, it’s kind of boring. Also, I would kill for one. There just isn’t anywhere to get skinny linguine creamy with meyer lemon-spiked ricotta and sprinkled with micro-croutons or what I’ve decided is my favorite pizza, the perfect bitter/rich/salty combo of arugula and prosciutto. Instead of the little chocolate pudding freebie offered at the end of the other Mermaid restaurant meals, you will receive a tiny panna cotta with a droplet of balsamic vinegar.
Posts from the ‘Upper East Side’ Category
I spent Christmas truly alone this year and it was surprisingly fun. This isn’t something I’ve brought up because it makes me defensive, and it wasn’t until I received the email earlier this week from Dirt Candy announcing “Solo Diners Week,” meant to counter the Valentine’s onslaught, that I gave it more thought. Sure, I guess it’s sad on some level to dine alone on Valentine’s Day, but not everyone is coupled up and really anyone who wants to go out eat on February 14 (unless it’s Dallas BBQ, obviously) is asking for trouble, whereas dining alone on Christmas is just straight up pathetic because who doesn’t have friends and family?
* * *
Some people are mildly horrified when they hear this and begin secretly judging you differently than when they met you hours ago as you were trying to hold their attention with animated stories. An impression that you’re a suspicious decision-maker with no ties has already been imprinted when they convince you to walk the three blocks to their apartment after the New Year’s Eve party instead of the bus stop where you intended to go even though they are not 100% single.
Some people think it’s normal enough not to comment like the stranger who also didn’t go home for Christmas who you’ve been texting with sporadically for over a month and plan to meet at my favorite extinct-on-the-East-Coast chain restaurant in a few weeks when you finally do visit family in Oregon because you’re not a monster.
Some too-young stranger you have no rapport with and have never met texts you something benign on Christmas morning when you’re still in bed and you think that’s creepy because he should probably be spending time with his parents so you ignore him.
* * *
This was the first year the words “I hate Christmas” came out of my mouth even though I’ve hated Christmas for at least the past 15 years. I never considered myself a Scrooge despite my ex-boyfriend calling me one because I wouldn’t participate in decorating the tree he’d buy in the Western Beef parking lot right before ditching me to head to his parents’ in a D.C. suburb where I was never once invited in over a decade. I was the only one who ever saw the tree on Christmas. And then it would stick around pissing me off right up until Super Bowl like a desiccated guest who’d long overstayed its welcome.
Some years I’d throw orphan parties. Some years I’d go out to eat with friends. This was the first year I made zero overtures. It was a weird year. I wasn’t going to go out at all, partially to try and save a little money for vacation. But an unexpected raise coupled with the fear of becoming a shut-in (too late) had me scrambling for a counter seat experience that would be just right i.e. special but not baller (we’re talking maybe two nice-ish dinners a month raise not Powerball money).
Oh yeah, Tanoshi. I wouldn’t say I follow the NYC sushi scene closely, and I kind of hate talking about sushi because I don’t have the vocabulary, but even casually observing I’d say there has been a recent trend toward the luxe and maybe even the bombastic. That’s not Tanoshi, which I haven’t heard much about since 2013 when everyone was going nutso about the bargain priced omakase being served in a small, understated storefront in Yorkville with an impossible reservation system that possibly added to the lore.
It’s still bare bones, just ten seats, and an ideal candidate for the Second Avenue subway, but you can now reserve online. The price has risen thirty dollars to $80, but it’s still BYOB, and I would argue still a bargain.
And it was great. Not precious and exactly what I needed. (Last year around Christmas, but not on the 25th because I wasn’t fully embracing real holiday aloneness yet, I splurged on Momofuku Ko with wine pairings, and while lovely, that kind of experience demands a high level of attention and energy, and honestly, tasting menus can be agitating when maybe you just want to zone out. Not to mention that I’m kind of over spending that kind of money on ephemera.) I didn’t take copious notes and I’m not going to regale you with descriptions of scored flesh or how the warm, vinegared rice almost managed to taste buttered when melded with fattier pieces of fish. I also felt a little anxious taking photos, which I did for my own memory not to demonstrate any skills, obviously–I was semi-seriously warned I had three seconds–because this style of sushi is loosely packed and falls apart quickly, no time for fussing around.
A rhythm developed. Listen, quickly snap, pick-up with fingers, cram into mouth and slowly savor the whole piece while trying to stay in the moment even if only ten seconds. Done. Sip some sake, nibble a slice of pickled ginger. Chill. Repeat.
Kelp-cured fluke, marinated big eye tuna, cured king salmon, winter mackerel, cherry blossom leaf amberjack, miso marinated black sable, uni (Hokkaido or US, I don’t recall, though I want to say Maine) saltwater eel, fatty tuna with yuzu pepper, spicy toro.
Then three extras a la carte: kani miso a.k.a. crab brains, not unlike lobster tomalley, bittersweet guts really; the halfbeak just because I thought the name was cute and the presentation, two spirals, more than met my expectations; then ending with the nodoguro/black throat, suggested because I asked for something rich and unctuous.
Really what was cool, and that I was vaguely aware of, is that while Toshio Oguma is the head chef, half the restaurant is served by Oona Tempest, who I’m not sure is a full-fledged chef yet or what that even entails, but no matter because it’s so rare seeing a woman behind a sushi counter and Tanoshi has two (Alex, left, is apprenticing).
* * *
It was truly the best potentially worst Christmas ever. Afterwards, warmed from my small bottle of chilled sake, I stopped by 7-Eleven for cigarettes on the way to Seamstress because it was close and a real cocktail bar open on Christmas and a woman resembling a younger Kathy Bates was rampaging the aisles and yelling at both of the young Latino men on duty, “Where is the hard candy?!” My first instinct was fist-clenching anger and I wasn’t even working there and then I made eye contact with the cashier and said, “So, where’s the hard candy?” and we both started laughing and then I couldn’t stop as if I felt more high than drunk and became the new crazy lady in the store.
Maybe it was the 60 degree weather. Maybe I was just out of my element. I was definitely happy to have left the house and to have not turned into someone harassing people trying to make a living on a major holiday. Eventually, I ended up drinking a beverage garnished with a candy cane and marshmallow Christmas tree and aggressively making out with a grown man wearing glitter nail polish and eyeliner who caught my attention by talking about the ups and downs of NYC co-op ownership, neither thing I anticipated ever happening on the Upper East Side on Christmas. It all happened because of sushi. I’m pretty sure.
Tanoshi Sushi * 1372 York Ave., New York, NY
Because I didn’t see myself ever going uptown to eat expensive chicken, I never paid any mind to Rotisserie Georgette chatter–you can’t keep tabs on everything–but it turned out to be the ideal setting for a Valentine’s-ish (never on the 14th) dinner.
Fact: Lotsa NY restaurants hurt more by this winter’s weather than they’ll say publicly, but share privately. Bitter cold worse than snow
— Steve Cuozzo (@stevecuozzo) March 2, 2014
On a particularly brutal weeknight, the dining room was suffering from the half-empty cold-weather blight cited by Cuozzo, but still managed to feel buzzy. I stressed out irrationally over how to wear heels around unavoidable ice puddles (short of taking a cab, obviously) and figured out that you don’t. The five-inch heel crowd seemed excited for the chance to wear statement yeti boots with shaggy fur and jangling pom poms.
Simplicity really is the beauty of the restaurant, though. You barely have to think because you know you’re going to order chicken in some form, and that puts the focus on conversation rather than an attention-hogging parade of courses. The concept also addresses the FOMOOOD (fear of missing out on other dishes) factor that’s possible at other chicken-for-two notables like The NoMad.
With criss-crossed blocks of seared foie gras tucked into the back of the metal basket and mushrooms and panko crumbs smothering the breasts, poule de luxe arriving on raised platform, is where it’s at. The skin was just shy of burnished (of course the Instagram filter deceives–all my real photos turned out blurred, most likely the result of an extended stop at Subway Inn beforehand) still delicious but in need of slightly more crackle. The meat, though, was perfectly juicy–even oven-baked leftovers the next day were no worse for the wear. Coupled with a bottle of Chinon Cabernet Franc that cost less than the bird, it was a winning combo.
Sides are less important (though I still get bummed when you request remainders to go and they’ve been tossed). The red cabbage and apple was tart, traditional and contained very large nuggets of cured pork. And the sundae, advertised as a brown butter parfait, showed up with hot fudge in lieu of caramel, but before I could object, the waiter deflected, “Oh no, chocolate is wonderful” and started to pour the thick sauce in a way that couldn’t be argued with, smoothly, forcefully French.
Rotisserie Georgette * 14 E. 60th St., New York, NY
So, I’ve eaten a few things in my absence, a lot or not much, depending on your perspective. I don’t eat out every day, and I don’t relentlessly pursue newness. I will likely elaborate on a few of these in the near future.
JG Melon: A belated birthday burger. My first time ever at the UES institution.
L’Albero dei Gelati: No salmon or blue cheese gelato, but the savories of the day, saffron and red pepper, were pretty nice paired with cheese and salami.
The Elm: Convincing a vegetarian to eat a few dishes at the bar with me meant no large format sharing (the$48 zillion vegetables in a cocotte contains pork
broth, by the way). I will have to return. There was a tom yum scallop.
Bagelteria: I reached new levels of laziness and ordered an egg and cheese on a roll (plus a bagel with lox to make the delivery minimum)
from Seamless on a Sunday morning.
Desnuda: Two visits ordering the exact same thing, $1 oysters and one of my new favorite cocktails, The Reformer (Cherry Heering, Elcano fino sherry, Avua Amburana cachaça, Peychaud’s bitters, and pasilla and scorpion chiles). The drink is spicy but almost melon-tasting, a surprise because I hate melon.
Maggiano’s: I’m no lover of Italian-American food, but I do love a new-to-me chain, and it’s rare for one of these types of places
to serve non-sweet cocktails. Yes, I went all the way to Bridgewater, NJ for an Aviation (so many leave off the crème de violette, which is the whole point)
and something called Catcher in the Rye (Knob Creek Rye, Luxardo Maraschino, simple syrup, old fashioned bitters). The food was what you’d expect.
Motorino: Delivery once, dine-in another time. The Brussels sprouts pizza is classic, despite not being particularly summery. The tomato pie with four varieties made up for it with his hyper-seasonality.
Roberta’s: So, I’d never been before. An embarrassment, considering that for me it’s hardly the arduous journey media makes it out to
be (under two miles/30-minute walk). More pizza, the Beastmaster (mozzarella, gorgonzola, pork sausage, capers, onions, jalapeno) plus duck prosciutto and a
grilled squid special. The thing that stands out the most, oddly, was the peanut butter and celery gelato that tasted exactly like peanut butter and celery. This is the only restaurant where I’ve ever seen an e-cig smoker at a table. (I have them too, but it feels too douchey to use them indoors in public.)
Sripraphai: They really don’t believe you anymore when you say you want things spicy, yet I still go. The nam priks and assorted chile pastes in the fridge are another story and I’ll always pick up two each visit. This so-called “jail bong” is blistering hot, humid garbage funky and delicious as all get out. It was described to me as being “like blue cheese,” but I would say it tastes like the fermented anchovies that it moslty is.
Ootoya: Read more here. It’s the new Times Square branch. Pricier than a typical lunch, but also peaceful and not like anything else in the neighborhood.
Gambrinus: There’s no doing this Russian seafood café any justice in a sentence or two. The bar is shaped like a boat, staff is dressed like sailors, everyone sits
outside and drinks vodka and smokes—that’s why the indoor piano player is all alone.
Zizi Limona: There is $5 house wine at lunch, which would be compelling enough without the chicken and smoked eggplant sub with paprika-dusted fries and
Jacob’s Pickles: When our waiter informed us that a marriage proposal was about to go down, all I could do was think about ruining it somehow, potentially using Twitter pre-emptively. Unfortunately, no diamond rings appeared to be lurking in the fried chicken biscuit sandwiches.
Battery Harris: Somehow six pints of beer, jerk wings, two patties and a kale salad only cost $29. All-Monday happy hour is a feat.
Dairy Queen: It took me 15 years to finally ride the Staten Island Ferry, and there was a mini Blizzard (my childhood fave, turtle pecan) waiting for me on the other side as a reward. Supposedly, there will be another Dairy Queen appearing in Times Square before the end of the year, and then it will cease being special.
SanRasa: It wasn’t just the most interesting thing walking distance from the ferry, but also the only business that appeared to be open on Labor Day (even the Subway was shuttered). Lamprie, this enormous mound of basmati rice, caramelized onions, cashews and kingfish curry, a croquette that may have been fish or vegetable mush, topped with a paper umbrella and served in a banana leaf, is as good an introduction as any to Sri Lankan food.
Sadly, SanRasa’s beer garden was closed. Luckily, I was fueled by a giant can of Modelo on the ferry.
Peter Luger: There was a steak for three (I hate the odd-numbered steak divvying) for my visiting mom’s 63rd birthday. Benecio del Toro was sitting at the
next table, so she at least got one celebrity sighting. Mother may know best, but I ordered the creamed spinach (am I the only one who likes it?) despite her protestations.
Dumont: Still a very good burger. Medium-rare is taken seriously.
Qi Thai: I order delivery all the time at home, and pick-up duck salad for lunch when I’m at work in Times Square. I had never ordered Thai iced tea to go, however. Apparently, it comes in plastic takeout container. I guess it’s not so much weirder than how they put drinks in plastic baggies in Thailand.
Brooklyn Star: Smoked bone marrow and Texas toast is probably meant to be a shared plate, but I made it my dinner last night. It’s good having a place to eat after midnight on a Tuesday.
We caught the last gasps of summer (yes, I'm very
aware that fall doesn’t arrive until next Friday) before Park Avenue morphed
into autumn. It was my 13th (dating) anniversary, though it wasn't meant to be
a big deal, no blow-out, no special flourishes, just a restaurant we hadn't
been to in a while and felt like re-visiting. And it's a good thing we didn't
go in expecting a super-special celebration (really, after 13 years it's hard
to get that excited) because the meal was kind of a bust.
And I don't even mean the food, which was fine
enough but quickly made irrelevant. It was ruined by the beastly couple next to
us who fought loudly through most of the meal in a total Real Housewives manner
and culminated in the husband calling his wife "trailer trash." Meanwhile,
their sending back food and demanding nature cancelled out our service altogether.
By the end of our meal, our water glasses hadn’t been refilled once. Squeaky
wheels, I guess. But squeaky wheels that will keep me from returning to the
restaurant again. It’s like the time when I threw up at Ruby Tuesday after
eating dicey dim sum earlier. I now have a bad association with Ruby Tuesday and
there’s nothing that can be done about it.
I was ready to high-tail it by the time we were
handed the dessert menu, and then the decision was accelerated when the child
of the heinous abovementioned pair began playing DVDs aloud at the table (is
this a Dear FloFab candidate?).
But I did want a dessert still, particularly my
favorite all-American dessert (second only to pecan pie) that I rarely eat: a
big fat sundae to raise my spirits. Where?
I hate being one of those uptown/downtown dividers
(and really, I'd have to be lumped more into the borough-centric side of the
Brooklyn/Manhattan battle) but the Upper East Side isn't exactly my comfort
zone or area of expertise. I wondered, “Isn't Serendipity up here somewhere?”
Indeed, it was, and quite close to Park Avenue Summer. Ok, I'd play tourist.
That entailed getting on a waiting list at 10pm with
a quoted hour wait. Not a problem, I'd need a few shots of whiskey at nearby
Subway Inn (which isn't an old man dive on a Saturday night but hangout for a
lot of short, Spanish-speaking young men and people, other people I’m guessing,
who put Maroon 5 on the jukebox) to appreciate the ice cream parlor's (which turned out to have more savory items than sweets, including shrimp fettucine and sauteed chicken livers) frippery
On return, we were ushered upstairs and asked,
"Have you seen the movie?" What movie? No. And then felt bad because
we were given the coveted fireplace seat for two where the scene from The Movie
(Serendipity, duh) took place and we weren't appreciating it properly. I'm no
Kate Beckinsale. Though, I admit it the setting felt more appropriate for the
anniversary we attempting to celebrate low-key. Others, however, totally knew
the movie and were taking photos of our seat. I had no idea it was that kind of
place, in the Magnolia Bakery vein. (Or not, I honestly knew nothing about its
history—Andy Warhol was a regular?—that’s far more charming and storied than an
early '00s cupcakery.) I also can't believe that Dubai doesn't have a
And it was exactly what I needed. A massive $15.95
sundae (a special, not on the online menu, with a name I can't remember) with
all of my favorite ingredients: butter pecan ice cream (no boring vanilla) hot
fudge and pecan pie (an entire slice is sitting in the bottom of that dish)
smothered in walnuts with a billowing cap of whipped cream studded with slivered
almonds (three different types of nuts and no peanuts?!). Um,
because I'm a glutton, I would've even tolerated a drizzle of caramel, but no
one should take my advice on constructing the perfect dessert because I have a
genetically strong sweet tooth (I will never forget taking my mom to the
Brooklyn Flea where she bought a bunch of artisanal candy bars and later
complained that they weren't sweet enough.)
That's all I wanted, more than plenty for two (or
four) but I panicked over the $8.50 per person minimum on the menu (would they
really enforce that if were $1.05 under?) so James also ordered a peanut butter
Frrozen Hot Chocolate that came with four straws. Excessively excessive, the
whole thing, but a right-on night-saver.
1/2 It's closed. (12/08)
I really hate it when you want a restaurant to be successful yet they do everything possible to mess up your first impression. Cambodian food is crazy scarce in NYC. We only have Kampuchea on the Lower East Side (which I’ve always avoided for no good reason) and the aptly named Cambodian Cuisine on the Upper East Side which was formerly located in Fort Greene where Smoke Joint is now.
The Brooklyn spot was a semi-hole-in-the-wall that also did generic Chinese food, mostly for take out. The new incarnation has more aspirations. The bi-level room is big and sort of minimalist zen with brick walls and a few baskets and folk art sculptures carefully placed throughout. The entrée prices are well into the teens. It’s all keeping in line with owner’s wish for a “real restaurant” as mentioned in a Salon article from last year about the dearth of Cambodian food in the US.
Thai food has been a runaway hit for years, Vietnamese is pretty mainstream too. Cambodian? I don’t think I’ve ever tasted it. A good friend in middle school, Valida, was Cambodian and never once did she offer up any window onto the cuisine. (As opposed to our mutual friend Lema whose Filipino family fed us constantly.) I have no idea what her family even ate (other than Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal) because they were secretive and odd; she never wanted me to come inside their house, which was a lone mobile home off of I-26 in this woodsy patch of nothing.
I could never figure them out. They had chickens running around outside but drove a Peugeot, and Valida always wore way more expensive clothes than I did. My family never shopped at Nordstrom like hers. I had the sense they were well off but lived weirdly, and from what I gathered her parents were mentally unstable and physically abusive. I suppose if you’d escaped the Khmer Rouge, you’d probably be testy too.
Valida was a super smart goth outcast who was clueless about middle school things like shaving, makeup and menstruating. After we ended up going to different high schools she turned totally hot and started dating jocks and eventually joined the military and (unintentionally) married a gay marine when she was still in her teens. I haven’t seen her since the early ‘90s but I’m fairly certain she’s still in the military. And more to the point, I never got one clue what Cambodian food was like from her. Asking such a mundane thing seemed off limits.
I was surprised how crowded Cambodian Cuisine was. Sure it was a Friday night at peak dining time but the entire first floor was filled. That was a good sign, I figured. Manhattanites must like Cambodian food. We were given one of the only remaining tables way in the back and provided with water and menus fairly quickly. Our order was also taken in timely manner. Not so for the twosome who came in after us and walked out after being ignored. Things started falling apart around that point.
We ordered cocktails because they had a list and it seemed like a novelty. I don’t know if that was the mistake. But 45 minutes later we still only had our glasses of water. Oddly, the table next to us ordered at the same time we did and had already gone through an appetizer and beers. I started getting antsy. There only appeared to be one waiter who was understandably flustered (and bizarrely, I swear he was our waiter last month at a restaurant called Asiana in Murray Hill that I never wrote about because it wasn’t worth mentioning) and like ten guys bussing tables and topping up water. I never take things out on servers, and I didn’t on this occasion, but this was starting to get out of control. If it were up to me I would’ve left but I was getting paid to write a review. Maybe the kitchen was backed up but could they not at least pour a drink?
We never got our mai tais, nor the beef salad starter. After nearly an hour, the three mains finally showed up all at once. Was it worth the wait? Eh, not so much. It’s not like Spicy Mina where you stew for an hour in exchange for supposedly mind blowing Bangladeshi fare (I have never been to their new location because I was so traumatized on my initial visit). The food was fine, perfunctory, what I’d expect Southeast Asian on the Upper East Side to be, a solid two shovels but not cravable.
Chhar kuey teo koke. The noodles were nothing like their Malaysian namesake char kway teow. They tasted as pale and ghostly as they appear on the plate. They were in desperate need of a chile-based condiment. I do not waste leftovers, even so-so ones, and plan to doctor these up with some nam prik for lunch today.
Ok, this was good. If I’m correct, ahmok is more commonly made with fish and is akin to Thai haw moek or Malaysian otak otak. The meat, in this case chicken, is blended into a mousse-like consistency, mixed with a lemongrassy curry paste and coconut milk and steamed. The taste is rich, creamy and a little hot. This version was kind of freeform like a big omelet instead of being parceled in banana leaves.
Fried tilapia was nothing special. Now that I’m looking at the menu I realize that it states filets but I had been hoping for a whole skin-on crispy fish. My mistake. The sauce was lightly spiced and a little gloopy sweet, not far off from Chinese take out.
Getting the bill was also an exercise in patience, and as I’d feared our phantom beef salad was on it. The harried waiter told us he’d never seen so many people in the restaurant at once and they’d had “six times as many customers than usual.” I’m not sure what to make of that. It is a large space but you would think they would be equipped to handle the room if it actually filled up. I mean, that’s the size they made the restaurant.
Taking nearly two-and-a-half hours from sit down to departure, it was one of the longest simple meals I’ve ever experienced. And the poor timing bit me in the ass the entire sweaty, grueling ride home. Once a night begins to go out of whack, the rest of the evening tends to follow suit. Did I upset some cosmic balance? Every single subway was pulling away the second we got to the platform. We missed the 4 by seconds, then the 6 took off instead of waiting for transfers at Union Square and the clincher was the F at Broadway Lafayette shutting its doors when I was only a foot away.
I don’t think I will be spending an hour traveling to try Cambodian food any time soon (I might cave and try Kampuchea, though, especially since I hate creating a category with only one thing in it–it's the librarian in me). But I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone who happens to live in the immediate area from giving them a chance. Maybe this Friday was an unfortunate fluke and I would love to be proven wrong.
Cambodian Cuisine * 1664 Third Ave., New York, NY
I only sampled the empanadas because I was researching a piece for the New York
Post. They were the fanciest of the bunch I tried and probably the least
satisfying, kind of mushy and bland. Not that that's necessarily a
reflection of the rest of the menu. (7/30/05)
Gauchas * 1748 1st Ave., New