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 West Side’ Category
Cooklyn There are two types of New Brooklyn restaurants: those that bore and those that deliver the goods. (Also, I’m patiently awaiting the emergence of the New Queens restaurant). Cooklyn, perhaps even in spite of its name, falls into the latter camp with the assist of a few unexpected Greek touches. Yes, there’s octopus. I never order pasta but those I sampled, from a squid ink cavatelli to a lobster mac and cheese to a new-for-spring beef cheek fusilli with fontina, dried cherries, Kalamata olives and mint were strong. Notable small plates (no, they’re not going away) include two of the most un-Chinese versions of buns and wontons I’ve encountered in recent memory: lamb, dill and feta like a mini gyro, and venison dumplings (pictured) served with stone ground mustard.
Pizzeria Uno Like many fleeing obsessions, I don’t recall how or why I became consumed with hitting up an Uno for the first time in over 13 years (thanks to a history of documenting the mundane, I know exactly when my previous and first visit took place even if it’s embarrassing reading old missives). In that decade-plus span Uno added farro, artisan a.k.a. non-deep dish crusts, and arugula and prosciutto as toppings. What? No. I’m pleased to see that the chain is ditching the pseudo-upscale healthy trends and getting back to doughy basics. Sure, deep dish is kind of an abomination. Yet if you think of it as a lasagna with a tart-like buttery crust, it’s reconcilable.
Maravillas I naively assumed that a dish called chicharrones en salsa verde would contain a strip of crispy pork, all crunch and contrast, not soggy, soft skin rolled around the meat. I did not hate this, mostly because the sauce was great and that level of fiery where you begin feeling a tingle creep through your tonsils up into your ears, and perfectly tempered by corn tortillas that I’m pretty sure weren’t store bought. The chips made from these tortillas were light and flaky, but the nachos they were a part of? My gringo punishment. (I’d just had an exchange with the guy replacing a window in my apartment upon seeing my last name: “Can you make Spanish food? You look like someone who cooks cabbage.”) They were cold, not just cold like food delivered carelessly and slow–the pork was steamy–but never warmed in the first place. Chilled beans and solid squares of Munster beneath hte guacamole and sour cream. And I still want to return in person despite all this.
Pampas Argentinas If you find yourself hopped up on tiki drinks at End of the Century (and maybe a surreptitious puff on a silent residential street) and aren’t up for Danny Brown Wine Bar next door and it’s too late for a sundae at Eddie’s, Pampas is a fine enough choice for splitting a parrillada for two three ways and still being barraged by meat. It’s also a little pricier and a lot weirder than the better known Argentine/Uruguayan steakhouses of Jackson Heights/Elmhurst/Corona. You’ll get chicken, not intestines, which is more accurate for Forest Hills. You will also hear a lot of ’70s soft rock, some deep cuts even, Gerry Rafferty plus much Steely Dan. White sangria might come wine-free but tasting like rum. Um, I guess none of that is so weird in retrospect. I did accidentally tip over $100 and had to fill out a new slip, then walked two miles and spent nearly two hours getting the four miles home, none of which was Pampas’ fault.
There’s still a lot of hubbub surrounding Spanish food (or have we moved on to Scandinavia?). Yet, for such a de moda cuisine, there are many swaths of the city lacking a single Spanish restaurant, modern or traditional. I can’t believe it took until last week for South Brooklyn to get a tapas bar (no, La Mancha doesn’t count).
Maybe I’m geographically biased, but the dining diversity on the Upper West Side has always felt a bit bleak. That’s why it’s surprising that Spanish chef, Jesús Nuñez, has decided to open his first New York restaurant on W. 69th Street. Known for deconstructions, playful presentations…and a penchant for graffiti art (hence, the name, not to be confused with Jehangir Mehta’s Graffiti) hopefully his vision will translate in this staid neighborhood.
This is a preview of what Graffit will be serving when they open in November. As this dinner was hosted at Compass, chef Milton Enriquez contributed dishes, as well. Free food clouds one’s judgment so this is by no means a review. Just the facts. I will say that I would likely return on my own. Mercat, Txikito, Casa Mono and countless other tapas bars are justifiably popular, but I would say that we haven’t had a creative full-on Spanish restaurant since Ureña.
Fuji Apple, Endive Salad
Greek yogurt, manchego, tangerines, pistachio vinaigrette
Carabinero, Langoustine and Prawn Carpaccio
Saffron Cream, Sauce Américaine, Olive Oil Gel and Sea Dust
I wasn't going to editorialize, but this was my favorite–so much color and flavor crammed into such small surface areas.
Potato + Onion + Egg = Tortilla de Patata
Hudson Valley Foie Gras
Meyer lemon curd, brussels sprouts, porcini mushrooms, toasted pinenuts, 50 -year old balsamic
Pan Roasted Dover Sole
Sunchokes two ways, poached hen egg, white truffles, parsley beurre blanc, osetra caviar
Bacalao in salsa verde, kokotxas, traces of bell pepper
I also like the use of mauve and bisquey earth tones, which aren't intuitively appetizing.
Braised Veal Cheeks
Celeriac, chanterelles, cipollini onions, mustard asian pear salad
Chestnuts, Wheat Risotto, Lentils and Pumpkin
More of those flesh tones–and lavender micro cauliflower. Yes, I'm a sucker for unnaturally colored food.
"Orange Julius" jasmine granite
Curry scented pineapple sorbet, coconut bubbles
Molten chocolate buñuelos on a canvas of colors, flavors and textures
More lilac hues. A fitting send-off.
Graffit * W. 69th St., New York, NY
Did I love it? Yes, I did and plan to tackle the outdoor location now that Fall weather is creeping up and I’m becoming zen about insufferable lines.
It’s one thing to say you’ve never eaten at Masa, many haven’t, but it’s quite another to admit you’ve never been to Shake Shack. I’m
line-phobic, I’m sorry. And I still haven’t braved the Madison Square Park trauma. It just happened that I was unexpectedly dispatched to the Upper West Side on a Saturday afternoon.
Try Gus and Gabriel because it’s new? Kefi, which has always sounded vaguely interesting but is just too far? I’ve already tried the uptown Fatty Crab. It had to be Shake Shack.
Now that the weather has become balmy and manageable, that brief painful humid spurt already seems like the distant past. I wouldn’t say that 90-degree, sauna-like conditions are optimal for double cheeseburgers. But all went smoothly, even during prime time, we didn’t wait more than ten minutes for food and were able to snag a table inside.
My bun literally disintegrated from the hot air trapped in the waxed wrapper combined with the heat from my hands. The tall layered sandwich began to meld into one squished mass on the end where I was holding it. Which isn’t to say that the juicy, melted mess wasn’t tasty, I just had to devour the burger faster than normal because it was falling apart before my eyes. Seasonings and any subtleties of flavor were lost, no time for pondering patties.
And because that wasn’t enough molten gooeyness, we ordered cheese fries. Once you’ve crossed the line into excess, there’s no sense in retreating. As a fan of processed, bright orange, the thick, mild real cheese sauce was a shock. A good shock, not bland in the way macaroni and cheese can be (I think I’m a rare mac & cheese hater). Now I’m ruined for Nathan’s cheese fries.
If I had any doubts as to whether Shake Shack qualified as a chain, they have been quelled. Seven new overseas branches are planned for Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Maybe they can make lamb burgers.
Shake Shack * 366 Columbus Ave., New York, NY
I don't know if the relatively new uptown Fatty Crab needs a new entry here, as the food is pretty much the same as at the original location. The main differences being that the UWS branch is larger and is on Open Table (an important distinction to me since I had a $20 rewards check burning a hole in my pocket and now thanks to the recession I feel less like a rube using a coupon).
But not being a mental multitasker, I feel compelled to post these photos and impressions so I can shift my thinking to from Malaysian food to spice-averse Madrid where I'll be in less than 24 hours.
I enjoy the food at Fatty Crab, always more than I expect that I will. No, it's not wholly traditional but the flavors are strong, funky and not tamed for Americans. My only quibbles are that the service is dudely, they overexplain everything (I do realize that Malaysian food isn't as familiar as Thai or Vietnamese to most New Yorkers and from my observations diners do ask lots of questions) and upsell on top of it, the pacing is random; things come out willy nilly and there can be ten-minute gaps between dishes. And, well, I would feel better if $3-$5 were shaved off the prices across the board (quality ingredients and labor intensive prep, acknowledged). Sounds like a lot of caveats, but I really like the food.
We went cross-cultural with small plates. First up the sliders: spicy, juicy, slightly fishy little meat blobs dressed with thick pickles and aioli. These were cute and packed a lot of punch into a small toasted package.
Because I am a weirdo who doesn't like hot dogs, I was wary of the Fatty Dog, but as soon as I realized it contained a house-made sausage and not a boiled wiener I was more excited. The pork sausage contains belachan, pickled garlic and XO sauce, not wiener-y at all. Combined with pickled chiles, garlic, radish, cilantro and cucumbers and spread out on a potato roll, it's more of an open-faced sandwich than finger food.
Thick and chewy hokkien noodles were so hefty they bent my wooden chopsticks. The dark sauce is sweet from kecap manis and tarted up with a bit of black vinegar. Small strips of beef, shrimp and little clams are the main ingredients, though I was impressed with the traditional addition of tiny crispy lard cubes. In Malaysia some health-minded hawkers have been moving away from using extra pork fat, and it would be a shame to omit that much needed touch here.
Kang kong, a.k.a. water spinach was appropriately shrimp pastey and chile hot. There's a lot more here than one would think. We were actually going to do without a vegetable side but our server made it sound like we'd suffer miserably if we didn't order a $9 bowl of greens.
We were totally full by the time the short rib rendang came out; I could only eat a small chunk. Both the meat and rice are saturated with coconut milk, so it was a bit rich as the final plate of food. Thankfully, the braised dish keeps well and improves with age. Combined with leftover kang kong, it was enough for a full dinner the following night. And I just happened to have some toasted coconut lying around from a Thai pomelo salad I'd made (with grapefruit from the huge unwelcome sack I've been trying use) earlier in the week to spruce the rendang up.
After cobbling together two dinners from our food on top of using the $20 voucher, I felt less reluctant to order a $12 Fatty Sour. It was a well-made cocktail, less sour and more herbal than a typical whisky sour, my drink of choice. The inclusion of Pedro Ximenez Sherry and real maraschino cherries rather than a slice of citrus, was welcome.
Fatty Crab Uptown * 2170 Broadway, New York, NY
1/2 There’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to Valentine’s Day restaurant choices in my household. Last year I was surprised with bizarre, unromantic, now-shuttered Crave while this year during widespread economic gloom and doom, I was treated to Jean Georges. No complaints, here. And knowing my aversion to gimmickry, reservations were made mid-week rather than the 14th proper.
We went all out (though not so with wine, an apply-pear-ish 2001 German Riesling that I did not pick out but enjoyed) and ordered the seven-course signature tasting menu. I’ve never eaten at Jean Georges before so sampling classics seemed like the way to go. Honestly, I would’ve been fine with the $98 three-course prix fixe (I was curious about the Jordan almond-crusted duck breast despite reading about the dish being too sweet in more than one source. I love candied savories, though.) but James seemed hell bent on the egg caviar, which came with a $25 supplement charge with the lower-priced option. In his mind, this was thriftier because you were getting more food and not paying for extras.
A shrimp egg roll and tiny Boston lettuce leaf, chicken broth spiked with meyer lemon and salmon with what I swear was said to be kumquat though I don’t recall tasting it and see no evidence of said fruit in this photo. This trio summed up what was to come: flavors that were sharp while remaining refined overall, heavy on the salt and acid with the occasional tiny nod to Asia.
Ah, the eggs topped with eggs. The insides are an insanely creamy blend of egg, vodka and crème fraiche while the saline caviar adds a nice popping texture to the smooth interior layer. I never would’ve ordered this a la carte but I now understand why it is a classic. Total food porn.
Sea Scallops with Caramelized Cauliflower and Caper-Raisin Emulsion was actually the first course I would’ve ordered off the prix fixe because I was picturing something delicate and sweet. Oddly, this wasn’t dried grape sugary in the least but tart with a sauce that tasted of curry and mustard (but very well may have contained neither).
Young Garlic Soup with Thyme and Sauteed Frog's Legs. I didn’t feel the urge to dip the crispy appendages into the vivid, strongly seasoned broth (that salt and acid I was talking about) with my hands as suggested but did appreciate the warm water finger bowls strewn with rose petals that followed.
Turbot with Chateau Chalon Sauce is another type of dish that would never occur to me to order. Just too simple. But of course that’s not true at all. The fish was poached to just-right firmness, the wine-based sauce was rich and buttery yet completely light and the miniature cubes of zucchini and tomato added fresh interest (despite not being quintessential February produce).
Lobster Tartine with Lemongrass and Fenugreek Broth and Pea Shoots might have been my favorite. Of course I was amused by the presence of fenugreek, now the official culprit of the NYC-area maple syrup smell. Here the subtle natural sweetness paired well with an equally restrained lemongrass flavor and enhanced the pure meaty hunk of lobster and claw. The orange sprinkles around the plate tasted like dried, pulverized shrimp though I imagine it was lobster-derived.
Our server sauced most of these dishes tableside, spooning mine from a silver vessel first. I did notice (as did James) that I tended to get more, which resulted in less for him. I received about 75% of this wonderful sauce and made sure not to waste any by using crusty rolls as edible sponge. James had white plate peeking through the bottom of his peach-colored pool.
Broiled Squab, Onion Compote, Corn Pancake with Foie Gras was the final savory course. Normally, at this point I might be feeling a bit overstuffed but the portions were sensible (the lunch at Robuchon a Galera nearly killed me and there were fewer courses) and I was still excited about what was yet to come. This was the richest dish of all, dark meat spruced up with five-spice, sliver of preserved Meyer lemon and a warm nugget of foie gras. What’s a tasting menu minus foie gras?
I didn’t realize there were two schools of thought on a squab’s degree of doneness until watching this week’s DVRd Top Chef (obviously, I couldn’t simultaneously watch while enjoying this meal). I would say that this version leaned more towards done than rare. Not that it was overcooked, no nitpicking from me if I were a TV cooking competition judge, I just don’t recall seeing much pinkness. It was also impossible to extract all of the meat from bones with a knife and fork. More finger food.
Desserts could be chosen from four themes: winter, apple, caramel or chocolate. Just the night before I proclaimed my love of all things caramelly over chocolate (just like with shoes, purses and babies, I don’t understand where chocolate’s stereotype as a lady obsession comes from) because I enjoy making pointless declarations aloud.
Obviously, I chose caramel. From the top left: Chocolate Pop, Coffee-Cardamom Ice Cream; Vanilla Soda, Liquid Caramel Sphere; Warm Caramel Tart, Crispy Olive-Hazelnut Praline, Caramelized Bacon; Caramel Curd, Dehydrated Sponge, Roasted Pineapple Sorbet. The gooey blob in the front was my favorite. Yes, you can still win me over with bacon, and the also savory olive component added extra intrigue.
This is a poorly photographed example of the winter dessert plate. All I remember is that there was a concord grape snow cone, a beignet and something meringue-marshmallowy and that this plate of treats looked more soft and comforting than mine.
I was just talking (ok, Twittering) with a friend who was impressed by someone she knew who’d recently received a dessert and candy course (at The London, it turned out). I, too, was wowed by such sweet overload at Robuchon a Galera, my first and recent encounter with this practice. You’re not going to find such overkill if you only ever go out for pizza and veggie burritos, I’m afraid.
I suppose technically these are mignardises not simply candies, but I’m American not French. The mini macarons didn’t taste terribly distinctive from each other. I think they might’ve been chocolate, strawberry and coffee. The gelees and chocolates were nice but the marshmallows—cranberry, vanilla and banana—were most impressive being cut with scissors from a coil tucked in a big glass jar wheeled out on a trolley.
There’s a place in hell for people who don’t eat their sweets. Is it just more refined to leave them on the plate like most of the diners finishing around the same time we did? I’m a freaking diabetic and I still ate mine (justified by only eating Wasa crackers, mushroom soup and oatmeal leading up to dinner, ugh, that sounds so beige and Eastern Bloc). I did manage to save the two take home gift chocolates until the following day.
Jean Georges * 1 Central Park West, New York, NY
I tend to think people who have a hard time navigating Brooklyn, or rather flat out refuse to visit Brooklyn, are on the retarded side. But maybe I should lighten up because I’m clueless about the nuances of navigating anything uptown. On my way to my birthday dinner, I managed to end up at 125th Street when I only meant to go to 81st.
Normally, this wouldn’t be the biggest deal– how many times do you arrive on the dot for a reservation only to be made to wait at the bar–but it turns out that Dovetail is persnickety about punctuality. It was just frustrating because I’m always on time, if not on the early side.
Well, my sweaty and late arrival at 7:15 (by my watch—7:20 according to James) was tardy enough that our 7pm table was given away to walk-ins. Fine, do Friday evening business as you must. However, what was kind of offputting according to James was that the hostess (who oddly dressed like a woman in her 40s but was probably two decades younger) apparently gave him the once over, then asked in so many words if his date was really going to show up. Like it’s been 15 minutes, are you sure that don’t want to just give up this waiting charade? I don’t know that that’s the best way to start off a customer’s dining experience.
So, I was initially soured a bit. I try to separate service from food but when you’re spending hundreds of dollars the two are kind of inextricable. You start thinking in more critical terms. I will say that the servers were professional and gracious, though we both got paranoid when a besuited gentleman we hadn’t seen all night, likely a manager, came over towards the end of the meal to check on us and took our dessert order. We became convinced that we were being watched, bugged and/or expedited for taking too long at the table.
Amuses: a mini taco-like crepe, turnip, and salmon with crème fraiche.
I was excited about the deconstructed muffaleta and wasn’t disappointed. I would never think to batter and pan-fry a lamb’s tongue and serve it with ham, salami and provolone, thinly sliced olive ovals and a capery mayonnaise. But I’m glad that someone else thought of this creation.
Compare the striated meat and cheese cross section of a classic muffaletta to Dovetail’s more refined roulade of layers that they call presse.
I’m not certain what cut of pork this is. The chop contained nice amounts of fat and char, and there’s a crispy strip tucked behind. I wasn’t imagining the chickpeas and fennel united in a chunky Indian-spiced puree, or the peaches at all. The meat was so good, though, that I didn’t ponder the slightly unharmonious side components.
I recently discovered that my birthday falls on National Hot Fudge Sundae day. I do love a sundae but that’s the type of dessert you can only ever find (at least in a straightforward fashion) at chain restaurants or Luger (no, you’re not going to catch me saying Luger’s). Instead, I shared a super buttery brown sugared bread pudding. It was the bacon brittle and rum ice cream that sold me.
Curry marshmallows and fudgey squares were our parting treats.
Clearly, I’m more provincial than I’d care to admit. I like to imagine that I’m intrepid but in the future I’ll probably limit special occasion dining to restaurants that are less than an hour away by subway. But I wouldn’t hesitate recommending Dovetail to anyone residing on the Upper West Side or vicinity.
Dovetail * 103 W. 77th St., New York, NY
1/2 I don't care how many Seinfeld reruns I see, the Upper West Side scares me. I know that's not a fair assessment of this restaurant. In fact, my cubano was perfectly fine. It's just that I feel out of sorts when I'm in this neck of the woods, and even numerous bottles of Negro Modelo won't help. But if I'm ever attending a Christmas performance in the west 80s by my boyfriend's coworker's choir, I wouldn't be averse to popping in for some pernil.
Caf Con Leche * 424 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY
The Upper West Side scares me. It always weirded me out how Seinfeld
made it seem like the UWS (ew, look at me making gross acronyms) was the NYC
norm, when that's so not true. I only know one person (and I don't mean out
of friend friends, I mean acquaintances, coworkers, friends of
friends, etc.) who lives up there. Amusingly, that one person would probably
love Gabriela's, as she will only eat things like Italian or Mexican (pretty
much a middle-American palate circa 1976) and likes blender drinks.
Gabriela's was fine. The portions were huge, the drinks were strong, the
tortillas even seemed homemade. We just needed someplace to eat near James's
parking lot that was open past 10:30pm. No easy feat, and Gabriela's fit the
bill. If I ever find myself on the UWS after 10:30 I might consider a return
visit. Maybe. (7/19/03)
Maybe the UWS tired of mediocre Mexican–Gabriela's is a goner. (2005)
Gabriela's * 685 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY