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Posts from the ‘Union Square/Flatiron’ Category


This is that birthday time of the year for me. There’s like a two-week period late March/early April when it feels like everyone’s getting a year older (and I can relax knowing I still have a few months ahead of me). Luckily, I only have to worry about special occasion dining for one of the celebrants. You can’t ignore your significant other special occasion dining duty. I never know what I’m going to get, some years it’s more of a blow out than others. 2006 I was taken out to Cookshop, a place I never would’ve picked on my own yet thoroughly enjoyed.

I rarely go for trendy (though whatever year it was that Spice Market opened I did choose it) so Morandi or Waverly Inn were wildly out of the question. Then there’s the stodge issue, Eleven Madison Park and The Modern have been hovering in mind for a while but the time never seems right for them. There are also an infinite number of likeable standards that I doubt I’ll ever get around to, from the Le Bernardins and Daniels to the Union Square Cafes and Crafts of the city. It’s too bad the reviews have been so mixed for Gordon Ramsey at the London because that’s one restaurant I was initially interested in for a splurge.

Instead, I went kind of random and picked Devi. Pretty and creative, though not over the top or ostentatious. I don’t dabble in haute Indian so it was refreshing in that regard. I’d been avoiding it because my former supervisor loved it and I couldn’t imagine how my tastes might overlap with a plastic surgerized, middle aged Jewish woman from suburban New Jersey. But we all have to let go at some point.

First, we stopped into nearby Flatiron Lounge. Just as the thought of Morandi gives me shivers, I have been shunning Death & Co. like, well Death, I guess. My one and only visit to Pegu Club predictably irked me, though I do love the concept of all these newfangled gin joints.

Flatiron_lounge_jack_rose Flatiron_lounge_jamaican_firefly

I started with a Jack Rose (applejack, grenadine and lime juice), then segued into a Jamaican Firefly (rum, ginger beer, lime juice), essentially a dark and stormy. It looks like James’s drink in the background is the same in both photos but it’s two pale colored cocktails, a corpse reviver #2 (gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc and lemon juice) and something made with pisco.

Devi_interiorAs we were escorted upstairs at Devi to a completely stand alone, enormously square table for two nowhere near any other diners in the room, I thought “this is a table.” No squeezing or sliding, nothing communal or stifling about it. You could wave your hands or kick about in any direction and not bump a soul. Space is relaxing as long as there’s not too much formality attached to the luxury. I’m still not sold on bar seating, as much as it’s hyped.

Continuing the cocktail theme, I had a Mumbai Margarita with silver tequila, elderflower, mango juice and cayenne powder. I would’ve kept up my mid-week drinking binge—I’m all for wine pairings with tasting menus, but James has less tolerance for alcohol, wine in particular, and it was his birthday dinner, after all. Halfway through the courses I had a glass of random Riesling. I didn’t see a wine list and I didn’t bother to ask (I was a little hesitant after James asked our waitress where the restaurant got its lime leaves for his twist on a gin & tonic made with cilantro. She got kind of flustered. He was just making small talk, which isn’t either or our fortes. Then she disappeared in the middle of our meal and camped out with a cell phone on a box or a stool in this pitch black storage area in the very back of the second floor. I only noticed because even though she was hidden in the dark, she was in directly in my line of vision. I could make out a white napkin that she seemed to be pressing to her face. There was definitely crying and quiet fighting going on but not in English so I couldn’t eavesdrop. We had a male waiter for the remaining part of our dinner).

You could make a perfectly respectable meal from a few dishes and a bottle of Kingfisher beer, but if I’ve never been to a restaurant I like to (though both times I’ve been to Ureña—James’s birthday dinner last year–we ordered a la carte) sample as many things as possible. At $60, the tasting menu is fairly priced. It’s not high luxury or fusion Indian either. There’s a good deal of tradition at work, with the addition of atypical ingredients and very layered flavors and spices. Possibly the most punch per square inch of food I’ve experienced in a while.

Let’s see how much I can recall from the procession (with the aid of their website, of course). This is where words will fail me and why the hardcore write tasting notes on the spot. I find playing with a camera distracting enough, juggling a notepad is too much for a recreational meal.

While this looks like falafel, I know that it is not. I guess I wasn’t amused because I can’t remember what it was.

Calcutta Jhaal Muri
rice puffs, red onions, chickpeas, green chilies, mustard oil, lemon juice

This was a crunchy mishmash like a chickpea fritter rolled in rice krispies. I think I know this blob better by the name bhelpuri, though that seems to be listed elsewhere on their menu.

Salmon Crab Cake
tomato chutney mayonnaise

After spending a chunk of time in Baltimore, James always picks crab cakes. We rarely share food and most definitely do not feed each other. Therefore, I didn’t taste these.


These stuffed breads (kulcha, I suspect) showed up after the first few dishes. I was torn between not wanting to ruin my appetite and wanting to eat warm cheese and spinach filled dough. Not surprisingly, by the close of our meal my half had been decimated.

Tandoori Quail
spicy fig chutney

I always forget how tiny quail is, yet I often order it if I see it. I was swayed by the fig component. The bed of fruity mash (that you can’t see in this picture) contained little gritty bits, just like a Fig Newton. That freaked me out as a child, but I’m OK with it now.

Hmm, James had the grilled scallops with roasted red pepper chutney, Manchurian cauliflower and spicy bitter-orange marmalade instead of the mini game bird but I seem to have missed my photo op.

Veal Liver & Brain Bruschetta
veal with quail egg and green chilies, liver with cinnamon, tomatoes and onions

I knew we’d split on this course. I’m like baby animals and gray matter? Bring it on. The liver was much more distinctly organ meaty than the brains, which were tempered by the little fried egg. More teeny quail product. I don’t know what James’s fish of the day was (no photo because it was even worse than the ones I've deemed fit for publishing).

Tandoori Prawn
eggplant pickle, crispy okra

The side pile was almost like a salad made of shoestring fries, using dried wisps of okra instead.

Tandoor-Grilled Lamb Chop
sweet & sour pear chutney, spiced potatoes

I wasn’t going for a bone poking you in the eye effect—I just seem to have zero mastery over my camera. I can’t not take photos but these moody, low light meals really don’t lend themselves to flashless photography. This dish exemplified the simple seeming yet million flavors at once approach. The meat was mild and creamy from the yogurt, the potatoes were hot, punchy, soft; the chutney crisp and bright.

Emperor's Morsel (Shahi Tukra)
crispy saffron bread pudding, cardamom cream, candied almonds

How do you turn down something called emperor’s morsel? I had the warm cardamom flavored bread pudding and James had pistachio kulfi. He was annoyed because he’d just had pistachio gelato at Bouchon the week before. I was like those are so not the same, plus I was sitting home bored in Brooklyn while he was in Napa Valley (not on some foodie pilgrimage–his sister lives in Santa Cruz and it was a family obligation) so I had zero sympathy. He could’ve just ordered the same as I did but has a thing against food duplication.

Pistachio Kulfi
Indian ice cream, candied pistachio, citrus soup

Devi * 8 E. 18th St., New York, NY


*Ureña is now Pamplona

I don’t tend to revisit higher end restaurants, even when I’ve had a remarkable meal. There are such an overwhelming number of options in NYC (sometimes I wonder if living in a second-tier city would be more manageable food-wise and otherwise). I could eat at a new-to-me establishment weekly and barely make a dent in my to-try list by year’s end. But I thought Ureña warranted a second look, especially since it’d been almost a year since my first visit. And lord knows the creative yet un-flashy (some might say frumpy by New York standards, on the other hand, it looks like an respectable, non-casino restaurant in Las Vegas) restaurant might not last until next winter.

They have dimmed the lights, which was a criticism when they first opened (moody is nice but it makes crisp flash-less photo taking problematic) Service is gracious and never stuffy. With recent attention drawn to discrimination lawsuits, I couldn’t help but note that the wait staff was entirely Hispanic. I have no issues with accents, but when we were presented with an amuse both James and I thought our server said martian rather than mushroom. We kind of hoped we’d heard correctly since a shot of Martian soup would’ve been brilliantly bonkers. I would expect such a thing more from Moto, but that’s tomorrow evening’s dinner (assuming that this blizzard lets up soon).

We started with cocktails at the bar. I had a Martine with lemongrass, bitter orange and possibly rum (I’m blanking on the spirit). With dinner we chose a sparkling, scarlet Mont-Ferrant Rosé Cava. I love the promotional copy I found this morning, “a spring like cava, perfect for young people.” See, I’m a young person. Actually, we were easily the least decrepit diners in the room for about half or our meal. The narrow space was around 75% full when we arrived and only 25% occupied when we left around 10pm. That might not be good business for them but it’s rare to be granted a spacious four-seater for two with an empty table separating you from the nearest party.

Unfortunately, a bland (the guy was prep school attractive, the female was dull, ponytailed and turtlenecked), likely younger twosome with MBAs (which I obviously wouldn’t have known if they hadn’t been squawking about their degrees) were eventually seated next to us. The male sent a bottle of wine back, which I almost could’ve predicted. (I’ve never understood the etiquette. I always thought that it was the customer’s responsibility to choose wisely with or without advice from a sommelier, but sending a wine back would only be warranted if there was something wrong with the wine, not that the flavor wasn’t to your liking. Anyone who sends wine back becomes an automatic asshole in my eyes. It’s not impressive.)

Tarta de Ropa Vieja:
foie gras, duck confit, short ribs, suckling pig and micro greens.

There wasn’t any mention of cheese so the dairy was a surprise. I’m assuming that the different meats had been shredded and combined into one carnivorous powerhouse. Everything was placed on crouton toasts.

de Cordero: lamb and goat cheese, Bunuelo de Queso: manchego, chorizo and stout beer fritter, Piquillo Relleno.

I couldn’t really taste the sausage in the fitters but these liquid-centered cheese balls were insanely good. I could eat a bowl-full. These were James’s tapas and I didn’t try the other two dishes.

Pato en Dos Texturas:
poached duck breast, confit thigh, braised red cabbage, carmelized quince, parsnip puree, star anise sauce.

Perfect for the weather. I was mildly wary of duck minus its crispy skin but there were no disappointments. The breast strips were soft and tender but obviously not as meltingly so as the confit. The quince nearly mimicked chunky applesauce, star anise was a vivid aromatic touch and along with the tangy, sweet cabbage the dish was lifted out of the Spanish realm.

Cochinillo Confitado:
confit suckling pig, granny smith apple puree, shitake mushrooms, wilted green leaf lettuce, truffle sauce.

I’d wanted to try this but I realized that it was essentially the same dish I had last March but with squares of suckling pig instead of pork belly. It went to James.

Bunuelo De Chocolate Y Crema Catalina:
chocolate and creme filled fritter, orange and dried apricot puree, yogurt sorbet.

Our second fritters of the night. The little puffs were gone in an instant. I don’t think the original pastry chef, Caryn Stabinsky, is still around. According to their barebones website, Alex Ureña is listed as pastry chef. (2/13/07)

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Basta Pasta

1/2 This is a crazy Japanese Japanese-Italian place that you could walk by a million times and not really notice. Ingredients tend towards luxe (lobster and foie gras) and portions are small (definitely a nod to the Japanese rather than Italian side). Normally, I might shy away but it wasn't on my dime. I will admit dining is much more enjoyable when cost isnt a major issue. See my Time Out NY Eating & Drinking Guide review.

Basta Pasta * 37 W 17th St., New York, NY

Mesa Grill


"Everybody likes Bobby Flay" goes some annoying guy in an annoying Food TV
commercial. That is a flat-out lie, but I have no beefs with Bobby's
restaurant. I'm not so into the '80s Southwestern, bold flavors thing, but
the brunch is surprisingly good (I go nuts because it seems like our friends
go to the same brunch place, Teddy's, a block from their apartments every
single freaking weekend. Why do I care? It just annoys me when people won't
venture beyond the place on their corner. Or maybe I'm just jealous because
I've never had a place on my corner).

The woman at the neighboring table was surprisingly non-good. The bread
basket filled with baked goodies and jalepeno jelly, chicken sweet potato
hash with poached eggs and chile hollandaise and home fries was almost
ruined by listening to some twat (sorry, I've been addicted to that word
lately) go on and on about weddings, her expense account and her brand new
$500 boots (which unfortunately I couldn't see, as she was too close). She
committed ten million food faux pas. She asked about the burger. She ordered
a salad. Her friend ordered the exact salad. You don't order salads and
burgers at restaurants that do other things better (both her and the
level-headed friend shamelessly ogled our food, not without surprise) and
you don't order the same thing as your dining partner unless it's like a bbq
place or chicken shack, you know, a place known for their one thing. She
didn't know what tomatillos were, but made it seem like this was the
waiter's problem, not hers. This is the kind of woman who abuses customer
service, returns things after wearing them and is mean to "the help." When
the waiter innocently asked, "how is everything" she matter-of-factly
replied, "I'm bored," as if it was his job to play court jester.

My mouth was happy, my eyes and ears were in hell. I think it's the Food
TV curse. Demanding people who care very little about food and lots about
dining out. God help me the day I dine at an Emeril venture.

Mesa Grill * 102 Fifth Ave.,
New York, NY

Blue Smoke

Some moderately clever reviewer could craft some line about Blue Smoke and
mirrors, since most BBQ aficionados don't believe this latest Danny Meyer
creation is all that it's beefed up to be. I'm no bbq aficionado. Heck, I
enjoy Dallas BBQ. I've never been to the Carolinas, Texas, Kansas City or
Kentucky. I've lived in one city in the NW and one city in the NE. What I'm
saying is that Blue Smoke made a perfectly acceptable Saturday night
excursion because what you don't know won't kill you.

BlueSmoke * 116 E. 27th St., New
York, NY

Havana Central

Unremarkable. Same with "One Hour Photo," which we saw afterward. It was agreed that within a week we would have forgotten both the restaurant and movie. I have a hard time forgetting something I've told myself to forget, but you get the idea.

I ordered the undignified-sounding fried pork chunks hoping for something wonderfully crisp, fatty and flavorful like lechon or the fried pork with basil at Sripraphai. No such luck. The meat was dull and dry, likely a lean cut of pork to start with. It just doesn't work like that–you need the fat. If I was being respectful of my health, I wouldn't have ordered fried pork in the first place.

Barring the mojitos, the prices were reasonable and the portions were huge. I'm a fan of big and cheap, but mediocre? Not so much.

Havana Central * 74 17th St., New York, NY


Restaurants housed in stores can be scary like Little Caesars in K Mart, but of course, ABC Carpet and Home is no blue light special. Though after facing a sold out showing of "Y Tu Mama Tambien," tapas, across the street, seemed like a good second choice.

It was Saturday night, there was a long wait, the Gipsy Kings were blaring, but by the end of the evening, I was happy as a clam (or maybe that was the giant pitcher of sangria taking effect). We ordered way more food than we should've: shrimp and crab-stuffed piquillo peppers, shrimp in garlicky olive oil, a hearty salad with machengo, Serrano ham and the sweetest-ever sun-dried tomatoes and a dish called "lamb rice" filled with olives, figs, more of those tomatoes, topped with little lamb chops.

Though I didn't see the bill, I have the feeling Pipa is one of those places where little things quickly add up. Tapas have that way of sneaking up on your pocketbook.

Pipa* 38 E 19th St., New York, NY



Closed: I'm surprised it took this long for American to wither away.

Is this vast, oddly-muraled, noisy space for tourists? Parties? Groups?
Kids? Me? I'm not sure the target audience. America strikes me as one of
those places that may have been big before my time. No, not like the '60s,
I'm talking mid-90s.

The 50 states are represented by the obvious like crab cakes (Maryland)
or the invented warm duck salad with soba, watercress and toasted macadamia
nuts (uh, Hawaii). Sometimes they push it a bit. The portions are large, the
prices aren't completely unreasonable and the food is pleasingly mediocre
(not bad, just middling).

My main beef with places like this (Mars 2112 is another in this
category) is their use of the carrot, broccoli and zucchini vegetable
medley, which could only come out of a frozen bag. It's like my mom's in the
kitchen–and speaking of mom, America is exactly where I'd take an
unadventurous visiting parent.

America * 9 E.18th St., New York, NY

Big Enchilada

I give such little thought to eating here that I've never even mentioned it
before. It's not bad, but it's not great either. My friend Jessica can't
praise it enough, but she's vegetarian and their standards are always so
askew. She insists it's comparable to west coast Mexican food, which is way
off the mark. I guess if you only eat rice and beans in your tortillas you
might not be as sensitive to regional differences. But let me tell you, it's
not the same at all. Not one bit. I will say that it's better than
San Loco or Bennies (which isn't saying much), but it's nothing to go out of
your way for. The burritos are decent, the salsa's fresh, the prices are
right and it's next door to Cinema Village. If you're catching a less than
ubiquitous movie in the neighborhood, pop in for a quick meal.

Big Enchilada * 28 E. 12th St., New York, NY

Irving on Irving

I'm not sure what the heck this new restaurant's name is. I've seen it
called Irving Irving, Irving and Irving, but I'm sticking with what's
written on the menu. This confusing place peaked my curiosity when I heard
they did some new take on the Philly cheesesteak. That's a sandwich near and
dear to my heart. And since Irving on Irving happened to be right on the way
to where I was meeting acquaintances, it seemed like a good opportunity to
sniff it out.

Unfortunately, the cheesesteak is on the lunch menu so we had to opt for
dinner fare. There was absolutely nothing wrong with anything, but I
couldn't choose an entree for the life of me. Nothing jumped out at me. The
appetizers were appealing, the pizzas sounded good, but the entrees lacked a
pizzazz I craved. To start, I had sangria and a nice antipasti with a
generous selection of cured meats (do I ever love cured meat), olives and

I ended up choosing the salmon with a vegetable ragout over something
that could've been beans or a thick round grain (I was tired and didn't
scrutinize before I ordered). It was perfectly edible, even good, but my
socks weren't knocked off. James's kielbasa with potatoes and red sauerkraut
in an extremely sweet sauce (honey? maple?) didn't seem like a bad choice

The vibe is small, cozy, agreeable and possibly better suited to lunch.
It's a neighborhood type of place, and I'm often nearby so it's not
inconceivable that I'll be back.

Closed: It's Casa Mono now.

Irving on Irving * 52 Irving Pl., New York, NY