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I Guess It Beats Red Lobster

Rocky sullivan's lobster front view

There are so many dining events in NYC–pig roasts, cook-offs, food festivals–and generally I ignore them. Not because I think the food won’t be good but because I just can’t deal with crowds. And they’re never not crowded. I know my limits, lining up for food, waiting an hour for food, heck, running out of food you paid for, just aren’t enjoyable things, so I sit these out.

I feel kind of bad about it, maybe I’m missing out, but after reading this piece on World Hum about introverted travelers, I realized I’m just an introverted eater. I don’t enjoy striking up conversations with strangers and being surrounded by hundreds of hungry people certainly doesn’t make me feel more alive, just aggravated. One man’s convivial is another’s claustrophobic.

But I’ve been meaning to pick up lobsters at Red Hook Lobster Pound all summer and do like Rocky Sullivan’s. So, Lobstah Feast Fridays at Rocky Sullivan’s? Yeah, I’d give it a shot. Rocky Sullivan’s is where I go when I just want a beer and no hassle. Even on the weekends, even when a random ska or Irish hip hop band is playing and the only clientele are their friends, it’s not packed. Normally, it’s just us, our pints and the sprawling upstairs wooden deck in the back. No more than a few mosquitoes and a family of black-and-white cats who trick you into thinking you’re seeing the same one popping up on opposite ends of the roof.

Normally, I wouldn’t go on the first night of a new undertaking. But it’s always desolate Red Hook and I’d only read about the event on a few blogs—how busy could it be?

Pretty darned busy. Slammed. There are really only three rectangular tables that seat around eight. Part of the trouble is that you can reserve for parties or six or more, which meant families ordering pizzas and parking themselves while smaller groups waited…and waited. I expected a wait, though.

The bartenders were incredulous, wiped out and unable to keep up with the demand (I was told that a lot of staff had taken vacation this week). Pint glasses were soon replaced with plastic cups. An older regular remarked to his lady friend, “This is how it should be on a Friday!” I can see that. I’m all for good business, and didn’t mind the 45-minute-wait I was quoted to be seated for food because I’d finagled a spot at the bar. And they had me…until they skipped my name on the list.

This seems to be a recurring problem in my world. I don’t think I’m unattractive and offensive nor mousy and forgettable (not that either of those should cause being skipped over in line) but without fail I get screwed over in a just wait and see scenario. I joked about it right after I got my party of two on the list, “What do you bet that they never call us?” That’s why I’m a cynic who avoids these situations. And don’t bullshit me over anticipating negativity manifesting itself in reality. Thinking good thoughts is all it takes to sail through life, really?

No, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that I’m too polite. Yes, too polite. After 11 years here I still haven’t developed the art of pleasant aggression, yet on rare return visits to the NW I’m viewed as an impatient menace who stands too close to people in line.

By the time I realized walk-ins were being given tables after we’d waiting at the bar for an hour, it was too late. I should’ve said something sooner but I had hope since I'd heard the three groups written on the pad of paper before me being called loud and clear. I don’t want to have to get all Chinese on people's asses, blindly pushy looking out for number one, or even all New York about it, which is essentially the same as above but being more calculated and less obvious (and refraining from hawking loogies).

Rocky sullivan's lobster sides

We ended up ordering food at the bar because scoring a table started seeming hopeless and I was afraid the food was running out. I never saw a menu so I don’t know the exact deal. It appeared to be one lobster, corn on the cob and potato salad or coleslaw, I think for $23. It was fair but I think I will leave Rocky Sullivan’s as a drinking establishment and steam lobsters on my own time.

It wasn’t the wait that bothered me. It was Friday night, I didn’t mind sipping a couple beers. Everyone was being served at the same slow pace. Tables actually clapped when their food arrived and staff members were congenial despite being harried. What I didn’t appreciate was being ignored, plain and simple. Out of curiosity, we asked the hostess/waitress where we were on the list as we were leaving and she flipped back three pages to my name, not crossed off, with every name after it penciled through. We were then offered a table. Uh, I start to take these things, benign as they might be, personally.

 Pardon Me For Asking seemed to have a fine experience, though. Always Hungry also enjoyed their meal and got brownies from Baked, which I didn't even know was part of the menu. So, like I said, these things just seem to happen to me. You might be luckier. I’m sure they’ll streamline their process as the weeks go on. And I will continue to avoid foodie events. No hard feelings.

Le Relais de Venise

Le Relais de Venise is responsible for cutting my lunk-headed
attempt at banning sugar, starch and alcohol from my diet for the month
of August three weeks short. I am weak in the face of golden skinny
fries and inexpensive red wine. $20 bottles of drinkable Bordeaux? I

Relais de venise exterior

Locations already exist in London, Barcelona and Paris, where the restaurant originated. I can’t put my finger on why…well, maybe the maid outfits the all-female servers wear combined with a blind Francophila (I’ll never forget the story about Japanese tourists in France being so traumatized by rude treatment they had to go into therapy)
but I can see Japanese loving this place. And from what I understand
the no reservations policy creates line-ups in other cities. No such
thing on an early Friday evening in Midtown. This could be the result
of the office-heavy location, lack of awareness or possibly because New
Yorkers don’t like their steak soft and sauced.

Relais de venise salad

you will be ordering steak since that’s the only entrée on the menu.
The $24 prix fixe includes a salad with a mustardy tarragon dressing
and walnuts and steak frites in two portions. This quirk is intended to
keep the food warm; plates are kept at side stations atop little
flames. It could also induce panic to Americans accustomed to big fat
slabs of meat rather than a fan of rosy protein that could fit into the
palm of your hand.

I do prefer minerally beef with fatty rims
and charred exterior, pale pink inside, but I can appreciate non-aged
sirloin as well. I’d take this over Outback Steakhouse, you know, just
for chain comparison. Oddly, medium-rare is not a choice. Degrees of
doneness start at bleu, go up to rare then jump to medium (let's not
talk about well). We took a chance on the medium, banking that it would
be on the rare side. It was.

Relais de venise steak frites

sauce is butter rich, herby and possibly flavored with liver. That
sounds a little odd but there was an unmistakable offal funk in the
background. I actually preferred the sauce with the fries, which were
perfect in their golden yet still pliable form.

Relais de venise interior

is swift. Despite only a handful of the tables being occupied in the
spacious corner restaurant, courses came quickly. Our seconds were
brought before we had polished off our firsts. My barely eaten fries
were topped off and made equal to James’s pile that had a deeper dent.
Advice to fried potato gluttons: the more fries you initially eat, the
more will be replaced.

Relais de venise cheese plate

dessert list was surprisingly long. We opted for cheese since I was
still operating under the delusion that I was detoxing (though I’ve
gone soft on alcohol, bread and potatoes I do restrict my sugar) and
fat is preferable to me than sweets. Comte, brie and a blue of some
sort were a nice finish. For only a few bucks more you can get a glass
of port with your cheese but we still had wine to carry us through.

don’t have a good feeling about this location and the concept seemed to
confuse many who walked up to the window menu with only one meal
listed. But it’s definitely worth at least one try even if you’re not
in the immediate neighborhood.

Le Relais de Venise * 590 Lexington Ave., New York, NY

Two Wheels Good

Ok, I'm breaking my August silence because I'm kind of obsessed with the Brooklyn mom in this month's Gourmet (not talking about the one with the furry, cratered green blob on the cover yet). This is the season where all magazines are awash in alfresco porn, but Gourmet keeps veering younger and hipper with their models, so much so that I can’t even avert my eyes when trying to take a month off. I know that's not their core readership (once again: a 50-year-old woman with a household income of $81,179) so are these photo spreads succeeding in wooing their bloggy target audience?


I initially thought freewheeling Brooklyn mom but she actually strikes me as a bit young for motherhood in this milestone-delaying city (maybe all that cycling keeps you youthful). Maybe she's more Portland or Austin or Madison, Wisconsin. You always see those young families with amazing houses in Dwell or quirkier versions in ReadyMade, but they live in places like Minneapolis (unless they are power couple architects and then it's NYC and SF). It's not as if they don't stage cookoffs, can preserves, read Meatpaper, drink fair trade coffee, beekeep as a hobby and, I don't know…pay $300 a night to do farm chores, in the rest of the country, right? Please tell me they do that elsewhere.

Yerba Buena Perry

Would Yerba Buena Perry be a mere offshoot or a bonafide chain? It’s all in the eye of the beholder and for my nefarious purposes: chain.

Yerba buena bar

I’m very much not a party photographer if that isn’t painfully obvious. Besides, I don’t really get off on the blogger role during events and openings and the like—I just want to mingle and enjoy the food and drink without making the poor servers stop and hold their trays still. Not that that was even possible at the new Yerba Buena (which should open today) because the food was literally decimated before the plates made it more than a few feet out of the kitchen.

Pisco mojito I did snag a pretty, layered pisco mojito (pisco, bitters, lime and yep, yerba buena) and moved onto wine from there (and then dark chocolatey stout at Spuyten Devil after that—not so smart for a Monday night).

Breaded fried avocado slices were a hit (El Almacen has also been doing these—anyone else?) though I finally encountered the unthinkable: something breaded and fried that completely grossed me out, which isn’t to say the dish was ill-conceived, I just happen to hate melon more than any food on the planet. Yes, they’ve coated and crisp-fried slices of watermelon. Other “Latino Fries” will include more sensible hearts of palm, yuca, plantains, jalapenos and cactus.

Cheesey manchego croquettes, arepas topped with pork and a spicy fish taco were also promising. Of course these were all nibbles. I look forward to trying something more substantial. Maybe the parrillada?

Yerba Buena Perry * 1 Perry St., New York, NY

Feeling Good in the Neighborhood

Riblets It's hard to believe but there was a time when I had no idea what an Applebee's was. Portland was a late bloomer that way. I became hip to that fast casual restaurant scene through my teen penpal in Tucson, Seth Bogard, an unusually funny and prolific zine publisher known for Xeroxed missives about Macaulay Culkin, puberty and yes, Applebee's. I was inspired to seek out the nearest location–in Hillsboro as it turned out–and took a photo out front. I wasn't ready to venture inside of that world yet. Now I'm mature enough to handle it.

Completely un-chain-related, but this week I happened to catch Seth on Split Ends, the Style network show that's like Wife Swap for hairdressers. Culture clash, fish out of water, you know the score. It's strange to think of teens now being 29 because that makes me ahem, elderly. It think it's ok as long as I don't start a cougar blog.

My Never Ending Story

NeverEndingStory Never Ending Pasta Bowls are sporadic and fleeting as a mythical New York City autumn (seriously, it's near 90s then all of a sudden it's 45 and everyone's wearing hats and gloves). It's possible that there is a rhyme and reason to their appearance; maybe I should start a tracker.

But the $8.95 promotion is on now and is anything but never ending so get on it. Just be aware that if you're in NYC (or perhaps elsewhere) there will be no mention of it or any in-store signage. You'll be forced to ask for the deal, though there is no shame because this is Olive Garden, and all will be explained verbally. During my one and only experience with this special, I was surprised at the number of pasta types and sauces available but the 42 options are not committed to print so brush up here beforehand.

Such is the ephemeral nature of all you can eat starch in the city.

Chain Links: Was Nothing Learned From English is Italian?

Kolache Mama  slipped under my radar. I can't keep up with all of the burgeoning ethnic gone mainstream chains opening up in Midtown. [Midtown Lunch]

Jamie Oliver is going to China and taking Italian food with him. His five UK Jamie's Italian restaurants will blossom into 30 overseas. Well, there is the noodle connection, I guess. [AFP]

P.F.Chang's will be serving their Americanized Chinese food to Americans straight from the freezer aisle. Why not mongolian beef while in your pajamas? [Arizona Republic]

Bada Bing

09-jun-starbuz Taiwanese chain Kung Fu Bing has brought pancakey sandwiches to Chinatown. There's already a chain called Kungfu in Beijing, though I don't think they serve bings which are still the province of street vendors and aren't quite sandwiches. Apparently, they will ruin your sex life if you are a man. I bet ladies totally thrive on them, though. I'll have to find out.

Barros Luco, which looks like a chain but isn't (yet), is going to be serving Chilean sandwiches in midtown. Up until now the only place for churrascos and completos was in Astoria so I'm excited even though I fear great gobs of mayonnaise.

While Starbucks does nothing for me in the states, I do always pop into one when abroad. Too bad the Starbucks transformed into a mid-century coffeehouse a.k.a Bing Sutt wasn't open when I was in Hong Kong last year. A '50s diner Starbucks would be lame, yet this isn't cheesy to me, maybe because I'm American.

Meanwhile, we're giving Russia 25 Chili's over the next eight years.

Photo from Goods of Desire

It’s a Slam Dunk

Not shockingly, Dunkin' Donuts takes the top spot in the new Center for an Urban
Future snapshot, "Return of the Chains" and the report isn't even focused on food just "national retailers." There are 429 in NYC, 88 more than in 2008.

As a Portland, Oregon native I've always found the pervasiveness of Dunkin' Donuts on the east coast kind of surprising. I grew up with them but they've slowly gone out of business. Last year the lone remaining location in the state capital shut its doors and I think they're extinct in Washington and California, as well. Not all of America runs on Dunkin'.

Getting more micro, with a mere 11 chain stores, 11231 (which they're calling Red Hook) is the Brooklyn zip code with the fourth least amount of chains (can you even say fourth least?). No wonder I feel so deprived. 11234/Flatlands is the winner with 132.

Fern Barred

People have really gone bonkers over this Union Square T.G.I. Friday's. It's a bit too late, I'm afraid. And by now we all know that TGI Friday's was born in NYC, more New York than most of the transplanted chain-haters.

Just think if Twitter existed when Olive Garden and Outback Steakhouse set up shop a block from each other on the edge of Chelsea back in 2003.