Antonioni’s Gato was nuts, so too Le Philopsophe. I just wanted to sit at a bar and have some drinks and snacks. Antonioni’s, a short walk away, was suggested–and don’t kill me, but I had no idea what it was because if I ever see anything written about a new restaurant with an Italian-ish name, I skim past it because it’s just not my thing. We all have our biases. I might compare Antonioni’s kitschy mid-century Italian-American theme to Parm, but I’ve never eaten there and am only interested in the pastel, layered ice cream cake.
The restaurant turned out to be fun, bustling yet just chill enough to grab seats at the bar with no maneuvering or hovering. The much-Instagrammed orange jungle animal wallpaper set the right tone. You can start with a stiff brown drink like the Ace High (Laird’s Applejack Brandy, Cocchi di Torino, Luxardo Maraschino, Fernet Branca, Gran Classico, Scrappy’s orange bitters) and end with an intense amaro made from rhubarb that tastes not unpleasingly like burnt tires. The fried artichokes were all hearts, no leaves, making them more like the steak fries of the fried artichoke world. Just a warning. Some people love steak fries. Eggplant rolatini is something I would never order myself, but the eggplant had a smoky quality and crispy edges that kept it from being all about the tomato sauce and melted cheese. The pizza crust could be described as biscuit-y, which I don’t mind. Most people–a mix of older locals, industry types, and families with young children–were eating pasta anyway.
Chez Jef is the cutesy French pop-up that’s acting as a placeholder before the now-dead Bowery Diner turns into something else, presumably. The core menu is short. Just get the steak frites, even if you feel pressure to branch out and try something pseudo-healthy like the salmon with sunchokes so there aren’t two plates of the same thing on the table. The salmon’s boring; the steak isn’t. Plus, you get a metal gravy boat of béarnaise. And a whole jar of cornichons and a pair of tongs to play with if you order charcuterie. The oblong radishes and slices of crusty bread served with a thick slab of butter the size of a Kraft single topped with crunchy sea salt is also a nice freebie.
Applebee’s Astoria may have created a new arts district, but there’s still a Pizzeria Uno and Applebee’s in its midst. Order some $1 happy hour oysters and a Mary Pickford (silver rum, maraschino, grenadine, pineapple juice) at the Astor Room, watch a non-blockbuster movie like Grand Budapest Hotel (now gone) at the Kaufman Astoria Cinemas because it will be nearly empty, and then cancel it all out with a Bourbon Black & Bleu burger and a Sam Adams at Applebee’s. The bar is the only thing bustling after 9pm in the immediate vicinity.
Martha Definitely go for the general tso fried chicken (this is also done at Sweet Chick on a waffle, by the way). I was also happy to see that in addition the now requisite brussels sprouts and fish sauce dish, there was a spin on Thai eggplant, spicy, and tossed with basil and bits of hard-boiled eggs that’s almost too much for two. I was less happy about my order being lost and seeing skillet after skillet being diverted elsewhere, but they were super transparent about the mix-up, apologetic and comped a round of drinks, which was all thoughtful. I’m not so paranoid or self-absorbed to think these sorts of snafus are personal (think how many times I order my food, get it, eat it, no biggie) but it seems to be a not uncommon Brooklyn restaurant thing. Even more confusing was that I subtweeted this issue and Karloff, where I’ve never eaten in my life, responded.