Wallse, Oct. 28, 2005

344 W. 11th Street

I've had an incredible week of eating. Not often does someone like me get to eat at Babbo and Wallse within three days of each other. Which is a shame, because lord knows I appreciate it.

Entering Wallse at 7:00pm on a Friday night is akin to approaching a lion's den while wearing a blindfold. Velvet drapes, which by the way never move easy enough for the customer, hide a loud and packed house that is only further crammed by numerous people at the host stand. The white, brick walls spotted with artwork and the smallish bar area to the left in the front room were a complete blur as we were whisked to the nearly packed back room. This room, also with black carpeting, white, brick walls and the now well-known but still moody none-the-less, Julian Schnabel pieces was loud and offered very tight seating arrangements.

We sat between an older Austrian couple (to my right) and a younger couple in their 30s (to my left) and were able to hear every word of their conversations as the night went on, which to me is too close for comfort. The bench seat that Danna sat on was covered with comfortable moleskin-like fabric which satisfied her seating needs. My chair, a flimsy, lightweight and semi-comfortable piece of furniture was discouraging.

We got the menus and was happy to see some specials that I was unaware of on them. I knew I was going to try the rabbit and spaetzle dish for my appetizer but was pleasantly surprised to see the scottish partridge dish added for the evening and ordered that as well. Danna had the chestnut soup (a surprise, I confess) and had the poached lobster with spaetzle for her entree.

Danna, who's mother is a graduate of I.C.E. (actually, Peter Kump's), commented that her mother's annual chestnut soup at Christmas was thicker and in general, better.

My rabbit and spaetzle dish was creamy and flavorful without the gaminess but with a pleasant essence of the rabbit. I think the rabbit flavor was less pronounced than I'd have expected but made the dish a bit subtler, which was just fine. The hen of the woods mushrooms among other wild varities and sweet peas added great depth, flavor and texture to the dish.

Having had three rabbit dishes within three months (after never having tried rabbit before), I am happy to report the extent of which rabbit can be prepared so as to be completely different from one another. The Red Cat, Park Bistro and Wallse all cook rabbit excellently, and differently, and I'm not sure which one I enjoyed the most. Park Bistro's presented the essence of rabbit the strongest, Wallse the most subtle, with the accompaniments (the spaetzle) of the Wallse version rising up to the occasion the best. I would definitely recommend this dish - at all three restaurants.

Danna's slow cooked lobster with spätzle, corn and concord grape sauce was very tender and remarkably tasty. The lobster/sea foam that topped the dish was a perfect execution of the Ferran Adrian-inspired add-on. Salty and lobstery - it worked and more importantly, made sense. Danna was thrilled with this dish, which made the whole night worthwhile. This dish is hard to beat.

But my Scottish partridge gave it a good try. I have to check my notes as to what accompanied this dish (I plum forgot at the moment), but am happy to report that it was a solid effort and seemed to never end. A lot of meat in such a tiny bird, which was cut up and arranged in a deliberate stack to unveil the best, most tender breast pieces last.

During this course, the older gentleman to my right, started to perform one of the things I dislike the most, a result of which was no doubt bad karma coming back to me. About a week ago, as we were in bed after a night of drinking, Danna came down with a nasty case of the hiccups. I despise hiccups and cannot understand how people don't know how to stop them immediately. It was a trick I learned from necessity (I dislike the sound and was embarrassed by a sound like that coming out of my mouth) long ago. So why this 70-something year old couldn't stop it (even at his wife's suggestive pleading) I don't know. Danna, who knows my disdain for hiccups firsthand, as demonstrated by my unhelpful pleading to the point of arguing for her to stop a week earlier, held my hand so as to calm me for what she knew was driving me insane. Fortunately they were finishing up so I wouldn't have to hear it for long.

As for wine, we ordered a bottle of a Zweigelt (a cross of Blaufränkisch and St.Laurent grapes) of which I don't have the name and vintage in front of me. It was very nice, mild tannins, not overly fruity but not too dry either, though it did fall on the dry side. Went well with both of our entrees, specifically, but needed to be accompanied with food as it was a tiny bit drab on its own. One downside of the wine was that it never provided a buzz. This is clearly not an oeniphiles first need of a wine, but it was Friday, we were sort of celebrating, and a buzz would have been nice. The wine was very nice though.

For dessert we ordered the Salzburger Nockerl with Huckleberries, which for the uninitiated, is a giant pillowy cloud of marshmallow-like egg white souffle with oozing berries underneath. Delicious, remarkably sweet and too much to handle even for two people.

I ordered the special "small taste" which was a green apple and celery sorbet with horseradish, sea salt and olive oil. The celery sorbet was great and really offered an icy vegetal taste and served on a 2 inch high, 5 inch in diameter, puck of ice. The sea salt was a bit too underrefined. Too much crunch, unlike the perfect olive oil gelato at Otto. The slices of green apple and shavings of horseradish were questionable and perhaps unnecessary add-ons but made the dish more different, which was fine. Worth trying for the sake of trying.

Service was fine. Strict, to the point, but somewhat confusing. Too many people involved with getting us our food. The waiter gave us the menus. The maitre d' took our order and helped with the wine selection as well as retrieved our jackets, a server brought us our meals and took away the plates and the waiter came back to bring us the check.

Food was brought to us efficiently, plates, clean to the point of sparkling (it was all very delicious), were taken away promptly and our check ($183 before tip) was given, processed and returned quickly.

I will hopefully return to this restaurant to try more of Chef Gutenbrenner's delectable (but strict - how can food seem strict/regimented) Austrian fare but have to agree with Amanda Hesser's review that this is a 2 star restaurant. The outdated flower holder on each table, of which our neighbor's was cracked/niched and not even replaced (we've seen the same at the original Aquavit and I think they sell it at Bo Concept), the flimsy chair, the too cramped seating, the noise level and the cramped and cold feeling of the place (I'm not referring to temperature) bring the 3 star food down.


Lombardi's, Oct. 27, 2005

32 Spring Street

My teacher at I.C.E, Brian Buckley, who also owns and operates Plan B Consulting, a restaurant consulting practice that has been used by some notable figures in the NYC (and London)restaurant scene for helping fix problems as mundane as what utensils should be used to more important problems like losing money (is it theft or poor management of food costs?), took us to Lombardi's, "America's first pizzeria" tonight to taste their charcoal fueled-oven cooked pizzas.

The result was numerous amounts of pies. To save space and time, I'll do a brief review of what we sampled.

House salad - the tomatoes were remarkably sweet, red onions were crisp and flavorful but not bitter, greens were clean and crisp. Much better than expected, even for just a side salad.

Plain Pie - The San Marzano tomato sauce makes this pie sing. Delicious and made in the Margherita style, this is the quintessential pizza. There is no need to add toppings to this pizza. And evidence of this was found when we tried multiple varities.

The pepperoni was okay and probably the second best pizza topping. The best was the meatball pie. Housemade meatballs that relied on pork and veal (I don't think it had any beef in it) were delicious and reminded me of meatball parms from good ol' (and dearly missed) Allendale Pizza. Other toppings were marginal at best. The sausage was a dissapointment and the highly anticipated pancetta pizza was a waste. The white pizza was pretty good if uneven and due to the heavy rains the week earlier, we didn't get a chance to sample the clam pizza. Which, to Lombardi's credit, proves that they are responsible foragers. I think their was also a broccoli pie and a mushroom pie but I was full at that point.

Lombardi's is excellent, no doubt, and a cultural landmark, but stick to their plain and meatball pies (or I suppose the clam when they have them, though I can't attest to its quality).

Photo credit goes to the Pizza Specialist himself, at The one at the top of the page is from Lombardi's website.


Babbo, Oct. 25, 2005

110 Waverly Place

My in-laws, Leo and Carin, took Danna and me out for our anniversary (which was in August) tonight to Babbo, a place they've enjoyed on several occasions previously and a first for us.

Having tried Otto and Lupa and knowing that this was his (currently, this is pre-Del Posto) flagship restaurant, I could guess as to the experience that was to unfold in service, ambiance and of course food.

Her parents picked us up at our home and I drove to the restaurant and as luck would have it, I found parking right in front of the restaurant. Why the limos in front double-parked instead of taking the spot I got I'll never know, but I thank them for not doing so.

We walked into a completely packed and uncomfortable but lovely, perfect temperature-controlled room that smelled of fresh pasta, truffles, herbs and freshly crushed pepper and was abuzz with people that clearly appreciated the fact that they were there but with sophistication, not of touristy ogling.

We were early and the bar area was swamped, so we stepped outside for a few minutes. A recognizable man from film (no idea who, B-list at best) and his wife were outside smoking a cigarette stood next to us and was eventually seated next to us at dinner. A few minutes (I guess the length of a cigarette) later the six of us made our way back inside, I took the Danna and Carin's jackets to the coat check, and just like that we were ready to be seated.

Hoping to Dionysus that we didn't have to sit in that cramped front area/bar room where even my ass got in diners faces accidentally, I was relieved to see our hostess take us past the large round table in the middle of the dining room, which had a beautiful bouquet of branches that had small autumn-colored flowers at their tips and up the double-wide staircase to the sky-lit dining room.

This was "half a restaurant" different than downstairs. The buzz was still there, but not as feverish, the music was softer (I'll get to that in a minute), the table spacing afforded greater elbow room between both party members and other tables. If the downstairs floral centerpiece represented autumn, then the upstairs' represented winter, as only bare twigs, entangled in a large vase brought diners together.

There was a cocktail and wine server table with a marble slab and bottles scattered willy-nilly next to ours for decanting and mixing purposes. A nice touch that continued the proper/not proper vibe that is Babbo.

This vibe can best be described by pointing out the details. The walls (muted beiges, whites and the like) with mirrors that mimicked windows, the lovely centerpieces I've mentioned, the quality of food which we'll get to, the staff dress (white and black), the service (for the most part), the address/location of the restaurant and the townhouses adjacent and across the street all point toward fine dining. But underneath all of this is a little troublemaker.

Babbo is just like the prep school kid of a conservative family that grows his hair long and starts smoking pot and listening to 60s psychelic rock and the Beatles but proudly adheres to Emily Post's guide on etiquette at the dining table during his trips back home to visit the family.

Our meal, though formal in most senses of the word, was scored with Squeeze's album "Singles" in its entirety as well as a Bob Marley album that we only caught two songs of to be able to tell which album it came from. Even the food is a little hard edged I suppose. Before tonight, I couldn't say that I've eaten tripe, sweetbreads, liver, tongue, cheeks all in one sitting before.

It's simply a great, comfortable (no formal attire required, though despite some wearing jeans, like myself, everyone looked great - with some excpetions of course) restaurant. So on to the food. Here's what I ordered and also things I got to try:

Chickpea Bruschetta
The chickpeas were not the typical superdry and mealy variety. These were a nice, simple starter.

Warm Lamb’s Tongue Vinaigrette with Chanterelles and a 3-Minute Egg
I just had to have this after what I've heard. The egg was nearly perfect, most of the yolk running out all over the salad. One small area of the yolk had solidified, but hardly noticeable and certainly didn't affect the dish. What a delicious egg too. Farm fresh and similar in taste/quality as that of the Blue Hill @ Stone Barns that I've lauded previously. It's hard to describe the dish though as I've never experienced these flavors before but the tongue, in both method of cooking, texture and maybe almost taste were akin to Marco Canora's hen of the woods mushrooms at Hearth. I was surprised at how many pieces of tongue were in the dish, though I confess that I was happy that they looked more like mushrooms than tongue. The vinaigrette was excellent, never cloying, and the running egg glued all of these remarkable textures and flavors together. Very different and certainly worthy of the recommendations I'd been given. The chanterelles were lovely, of course, especially the little, full ones.

Beef Cheek Ravioli with Crushed Squab Liver and Black Truffles
The raviolis were shaped like triangular envelopes and came approximately seven per dish. Grated pecorino romano was added tableside and neither helped nor hindered the dish. Perhaps if I'd let him grate a little more it would have made a difference. The black truffles were, unfortunately, devoid of any flavor, but added a nice snappy, toothsome texture to the dish. The innards of the ravioli, a nearly purple puree of beef cheeks and squab liver was manly or earthy in scent and in taste. Bold and in your face. You knew what this was and the smell is hard to forget, in a pleasant way. What I notice about nearly all of Mr. Batali's food is that the smells/odors never reach beyond a foot or two above one's plate. This allows for the restaurant to have a lovely odor and not an overpowering one, and one that blends together nicely without battling for attention. Obviously this is something that most fine dining experiences should provide, but was appreciated here just the same.

Pistachio and Chocolate Semifreddo
Another dish that was recommended by fellow 'hounds, this was delicious and a nice portion size as well if you like bigger desserts. I thought all of the other dessert portions were skimpy. This "cake" of pistachio "ice cream" covered in chocolate with a crunchy, chocolatey base was topped with a luscious, rolled chocolate stick and sat in a lake of pistachio milk with scattered chunks of chopped pistachios. Delicious.

Here's what Danna, Carin and Leo had, of which I got to sample:

Warm Tripe “alla Parmigiana”
This was quite good and looked like a chicken parm (minus the crispy cheese on top). The tripe flavor and in general, essence, was strong without being overpowering. I've only had tripe once before, at Scott Conant's Alto, and this dish made me appreciate tripe and the different executions of it. Both were very good, though this dish put the tripe on center stage.

Raw Porcini with Arugula, Parmigiano and Aceto Manadori
As fresh as if you'd picked the mushrooms and arugula yourself before you sat down at the table. Very outdoorsy. The porcinis, raw, were quite nice but perhaps they need to be cooked to better appreciate them. Delicious though.

Pumpkin “Lune” with Sage and Amaretti
This dished leaned toward the sweet side of a savory dish even before the amaretti cookie was grated over the lunes (round raviolis). Pumpkin and sage are an excellent pair and this was the perfect dish for Danna. It should be noted...she was very stingy with her sharing of this. At least seven of the lunes were served.

Linguine with Clams, Pancetta and Hot Chiles
I've never had better pancetta. How silly that may sound, but seriously, excellent pancetta. The linguine was perfectly cooked. Toothsome and lovely. Truly. The clams themselves were fine, nothing out of the ordinary, and the hot chiles "woke" this classic dish up a bit.

Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads with Sweet and Sour Onions, Duck Bacon and Membrillo Vinegar
Wow. Beautiful presentation...probably the nicest of any of the dishes with exception of perhaps the warm lamb's tongue salad. Another "second" tasting of a particular offal meat. The first time I had this was at Eleven Madison Park and I must report that the two versions are completely different. At EMP, they are thin (most likely pounded down) and I suppose deep fried. The ones at Babbo are very large, larger than the size of my thumb, and I guess braised, but certainly not fried. Remarkably meaty and flavorfull. I swore I tasted citrus/orange peel in this dish - but alas, I guess not. If you like sweetbreads...

Baby Artichoke somethingorother
One of the specials was a baby artichoke appetizer. I wish I knew what was in this, as all I can tell you was that it was grilled and was one of my favorite dishes of the night. Bite for bite, this was probably better than the beef cheek raviolis. A must get when in season.

Saffron Panna Cotta with Quince and a sorbetto of some kind
The panna cotta was delicious and the quince "gel" was packed with flavor. A solid dish.

Pumpkin Cheesecake of another name
This was a special and was served with ripe golden cranberries. Delicious and perhaps the best dessert item.

Cheese Plate
Taleggio Latte Crudo
Pecorino Toscacci (accidentally given to us - just like they did at Otto)
Blu (I forget the last part, for shame!)
Robiolo Prosecco

I thought the cheese plate was pretty weak, especially considering what we got at Otto. The Blu was wonderful and more reminiscent of gorgonzola than say roquefort, the pecorino was average if not too dry, the taleggio was fine but not the best I've ever had and the prosecco washed cheese was a pleasant surprise. I liked that one a lot. The blue was the best, followed closely by the prosecco one. The portions were a bit meager as well.

Petit Fours
This were traditional...chocolate biscotti, pistachio loaf and a buttery confection as well.

I think, but don't hold me to this (I'll have to ask Leo or Carin), we had Bovia, Rio Sordo, 1997. I'm fairly certain that was it. Great wine for most of what I ate. Big cherry flavor, similar color as well. Nice medium bodied wine that could go with just about anything or nothing at all.

The host and hostess were nice. He being the cheerleader so to speak (perhaps ringleader would be a better word), she being the pretty face in the FOH. A very similar format exists at Lupa. Our waiter, who looked seasoned, was either trailing another waiter, was new, or was simply in the weeds. He gave us menus and then disappeared for awhile. Drinks took a bit longer than I would have liked, especially since we ordered three glasses of prosecco, though the sidecar (which looked too good to drink, including sugar-in-the- raw along the rim/edge) might have taken some time...but still.

We'd had our drinks for some time when a younger waiter, about 29 or so, pulled up to our table to let us know that he'd get the ball rolling to help his coworker out of a jam. This, and the subsequent service he provided, was stellar and as professional as you can get without any fluff.

At one point, Danna asked about nuts in a dish. Our original waiter was unsure, the younger pro wasn't sure either but offered to go in the back to find out, which was more of a courtesy to the other waiter than it was for us.

Overall, I wish I could eat here once or twice a week. One could never get bored with this menu, especially with the litany of specials that they have. Every dish on the menu looks fantastic and I'd bet all of them are. I truly felt priveleged to be eating there tonight.

Photo credits go to Matson's Girl and Cia at


IXTA, Oct. 22, 2005

48 E. 29th St. (bet. Park and Madison)

Two weeks ago I received a postcard from IXTA which doubled as a $10 off coupon. We probably would've tried the restaurant regardless, considering it's in our neighborhood, but the coupon certainly got us more motivated to try it out...that as well as their recently joining OpenTable, of which I was able to receive 100 points.

IXTA is an interesting place as it caters to the local residents more than anything else. Murray Hill is quite the haven for 20-30-something professional singles (women especially and recent grads as well) as any visit to the Bagelry on a Saturday/Sunday morning or a walk past Rodeo Bar, Dos Caminos, Mercury Bar, Dip, PS 450 or Banc Cafe any evening during the week will demonstrate.

IXTA offers margaritas and other fruity concoctions, presumably for the ladies, a smattering of different tequilas for the guys who chase them as well as a fairly simplistic menu of relatively tasty Mexican cuisine.

Despite technically being a restaurant, IXTA is a design and social structure first, a place to drink second and a place to eat third. This isn't an opinion but rather an assumed fact from what you can read on the website. The restaurant came about after Mike Himani, the restaurateur, asked an interior to design a space that would serve drinks and food. IXTA was the result, and it certainly was catered to the location (runoff from a packed Dos Caminos can find similar fare and drinks 2 blocks away at IXTA) and demographics (we've already discussed this).

So we went with little expectations on a dreary and wet Saturday evening.

I ordered a particular beer that I had never heard of (and can't remember...started with an H) only to learn that they were out of it. So I ordered a Pacifico at $6 a pop, a bargain compared to the Coronas for $7. Wow. Danna had a Diet Coke.

The tall and narrow, crisp chips they served came with two dipping sauces. A too-thin green sauce that was mild in both spice and flavor and a red sauce that had nearly perfect viscosity, heat and flavor. We went through a batch of the chips and were promptly given another boxfull.

I asked our waiter if the chalupas came two to an order so that we could share. He said yes and didn't explain any further. We ordered the chalupas and to our surprise, three were plated. So the waiter didn't know what he was talking about. No problem as it worked in our favor.

The beef had an adequate amount of kick to it, was accompanied with aged goat cheese, shredded lettuce and your typical accompaniments and was seated on a too-crispy-to-cut-through disk made of corn. It was slightly unmanageable to pick up and eat, but that's what needed to be done. I added some of the red sauce to this and found the dish passable to quite good. Danna was nonplussed with it.

For our entrees, Danna ordered the pork chops with ginger glaze and mashed potatoes/carrots. I ordered the queso stuff chicken with warm forest mushrooms and mulato emulsion. The chicken was pretty good - though not overly juicy. The queso was nicely melted and seemed to have unknown or discernable herbs in it as well. The warm forest mushrooms were plain brown buttons and the mulato emulsion was good and as it turned out, good for the pork as well.

Danna's pork chops were, in a word, humongous. They were also a little dry, lacking much distinguished flavor and came without a sauce of any kind, though the mashed potatoes (which were fluffy and tasty) sat in an apple-ish tasting sauce that was very nice. The carrots were sorry "baby" carrots out of a bag.

Overall our dinner, total cost with two beers, no dessert and a $10 gift certificate came to $52. I am happy I had the gift certificate and won't return for a second chance. It's not that the food wasn't passable, in fact it was good (certainly not great), and was a good change of pace...but this place is not a food destination. It's a place to meet people or meet up with people, have a drink and maybe get a bite to eat if you stay long enough. It was designed this way and works this way and fortunately doesn't strive to be much more. This will fall into the same subjective camp as Suba, Banc Cafe and others that cater to a demographic instead of focusing on the food first.

Final comments...the music was awful. Danna, who has much greater patience for "today's" music than myself, were both left shaking our heads as to the tripe playing over the speaker system.

The bright entrance seems a bit much but in the end I kind of like it, and the business cards are kind of cool too.


Bamiyan, Oct. 21, 2005

358 Third Ave. (at 26th St.)

Danna and I had planned on going to Wallse tonight, but after a very long and trying week, we both decided to order in and post-pone our Austrian dinner. So, staying at the top part of the alphabet of cuisines, we went for Afghan from Bamiyan.

I confess, this was a new but much anticipated dining experience for me. I'd never had Afghan cuisine before, at least not knowingly, and had been growing more curious about the local restaurant as of late.

In fact, I almost went last night but steered north to Park Bistro.

Bamiyan, for those like me who didn't know, is the location where the remarkably tall and beautiful Buddhas were scupted into the mountain sides of Afganistan. These religious artifacts were, unfortunately, destroyed by the Taliban in the early 2000s. I'm happy to report that the restaurant of the same name does justice to the lost sculptures.

So here's what we ordered with descriptions from the menu:

Sambusa - crispy deep-fried dumplings stuffed with beef, split pea and herbs, with yogurt.

Barg - tender pieces of filet mignon, marinated with saffron with white basmati rice.

Combination Kabob - one skewer of Koobideh (minced, lean beef), half a skewer of Bareh (lamb) and half a skewer of Morg (chicken).

Herb salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers topped with watercress and yogurt house dressing.

The sambusa was essentially a flatter, less crispy samosa. Pretty good but I wouldn't say as good as a samosa from Curry Leaf or Curry in a Hurry. Went very well with the yogurt it came with.

The Barg was quite good. One piece was better than another that I tried. The second piece being quite tender. The saffron marinade came through nicely and evenly.

The Koobideh was also good and had a somewhat gamey flavor to it as did the Bareh. Both were full of flavor but didn't completely mask its gaminess, which is fine for me. It was certainly not overpowering gamey...just naturally so. The Morg, yellow dyed for looks (as opposed to the red you get in Indian cuisine I'm assuming), was the least favorite item of the group, however it was still flavorful. Perhaps drier than I'd have liked.

The salad reminded me of the stuff that falls out of a taco you make at home after you bite into it. A big pile of lettuce, spice, yogurt (okay, I don't put yogurt in my tacos, but the sour cream would provide the white color), tomatoes, cucumbers and the like. Very good, especially at first, but became overpowering toward the end.

Overall, I loved this place and look forward to staying there to eat. I like to pick up my food instead of relying on delivery. It makes me feel like I get it home quicker, I cut out a middle man thereby getting it to the table warmer than by delivery guy and it also allows me to get inside the restaurant to see what the "terroir" of the food might be.

And the terroir, if you will, is one of warmth, hospitality and calm. I immediately thought of who I would like to take there (Wes, Margaret and Jed) if and when they pay a visit to the city. But I won't wait for them to get up here before heading back to Bamiyan.


silverleaf tavern, Oct. 21, 2005

silverleaf tavern
38th Street at Park Ave. South

I was invited to lunch by Dad today and he picked a restaurant e.e. cummings would have been proud of. Not sure why the name is lowercase and wasn't interested enough to find out. Upon arrival, I was warmly greeted by the hostess then immediately interrupted by a somewhat rude threesome who stepped in front of me. About a minute and a half later, the hostess comes back (what could have taken her so long?) apologizes with a big smile and brings me to my father, who is, as usual, early and waiting semi-patiently.

The first thing one will notice, aside from the garish paintings in gaudy frames, the midwest black and red brick (smooth surface) walls and generally awkward table sizes, would be the limited lunch menu. I took a look at the menu on their website and thought that there was a mistake and that there would be more offerings.

When I had the actual menu in hand, I realized that that was it.
Dad ordered a bottle of Simi Sauvignon Blanc, 2003 which was just fine. Not too heady or memorable, but suited our lunches perfectly.

It must have been a good seven to ten minutes before our waiter came by to take our order. Long enough for me to forget that I hadn't yet ordered.
So when he came, we avoided the $20 "power lunch" that looked quite boring, and each ordered a bowl of their chicken gumbo.

The gumbo had a middle of the road viscosity, which I quite liked. There was enough of a kick to make it interesting and the okra was thin enough to avoid the slimy nature of said vegetable. Overall it was good and the portion was definitely adequate.

With only three entrees to choose from, our non-sandwich or salad choices were fairly limited. Dad went for the roasted salmon with a bunch of different vegetables.
I was tempted to try the burger but I'd already had my burger quota (Pearl Street Diner) for the week and I couldn't imagine that this place would have the chicken club sandwich that I've been looking for all my life, so I went for the chicken marsala with fettuchini and spinach.

Dad's salmon came out looking like it had been tested for doneness a few too many times, though the finished product was quite good.

My chicken was nice and crispy, similar to the version I had at English is Italian with dad, but a bit bronzer (which I like). The marsala lacked any mushroom flavor (I only recall seeing one piece of mushroom) or discernable flavor, the noodles were overly salted and drying out (that yellowy look was already setting in when I received it) and the spinach was well-wilted but managed to taste more like broccoli rabe than spinach.

But as I said, the chicken was well cooked - nice and juicy and tender with a nice crispy skin. Would I return...probably not by choice, though for that area of town, it's not a terrible option.

It was a good lunch, but the entrees were not something to go back to repeatedly, or for me working in the financial district, not a place to schlep to. Though I bet the half a dozen or so sandwiches, all at a reasonable price point, are worthy of going for if you worked in the neighborhood.

Dinner may very well be a better option, and by the looks of the menu, it probably is, but despite what one member of the rude trio who jumped in front of me said ("this is our new favorite lunch spot"), it needs to improve its service and menu a bit to keep diners interested.

Park Bistro, Oct. 20, 2005

Park Bistro
Park Ave. (bet. 28th and 29th)

After class I was torn between trying out Bamiyan, an Afghan restaurant that has been calling my name for a few weeks or going back to Park Bistro, which would, inevitabaly, be an excellent meal no matter what I ordered. So as it were, I headed north.

I made it perfectly clear to Marouf, the maitre'd who knows your name, your wife's occupation, what you had the last time you came (even if it was a month or more ago) if you've been there once before or 4 times before as is my case, that I'd be eating a quick dinner at the bar.

And this I did. I opted for a glass of wine this evening and was steered to a Chateauneuf de Pape which as usual, hit the spot.

And in good form, I branched out and tried something new again. Tonight I would try the steak onglet, a glorified version of steak frites. But first, Marouf would comp me a serving of escargots which were effectively garlicky and buttery but none too much. An excellent, traditional starter served as it should be and a perk of becoming a dedicated patron.

Up next was an endive salad which was crisp and not as bitter as generally associated with this vegetable. The citrusy dressing was just fine and the dish was dotted with red peppers and pieces of orange.

Before I get to the steak, I'd like to mention both Hailey, the hostess, and Golan Shipu, my waiter for the evening. Hailey continues to be a pleasant hostess, still not shy about offering her opinions of dishes and Golan offers both accountable service and a smile bigger than I've ever seen of NYC waitrons. Truly makes the dining experience that much better.

Ok, so the steak onglet was ordered medium rare and it arrived perfectly medium rare. The frites were crispy to the point of snapping and the spinach was expertly wilted and seasoned - not too garlicky and not too bitter. It is without question the best steak frites/steak onglet that I have ever had in New York City. Better than Artisanal, better than D'Artagnan (when it was a restaurant as well), better than that pathetic rendition at the unfortunately-named Steak Frites in Union Square. If you want steak frites plus - get it here.

Lastly, this is an unsolicited advertisement for Park Avenue Catering. Chef Richard, the executive chef at Park Bistro, also operates Park Avenue Catering which specializes in special events of varying sizes. Speaking with the chef this evening, he mentioned an assortment of events he has hosted, including corporate functions and celebrations. I will be recommending their services for my friends Sue Anne and Doug's wedding, which they are starting to plan as we speak.

If you haven't visited Park Bistro yet, I don't know what to say. Your loss.


Murray's Cheese Shop

upcoming report on the Cheese Courses at Murray's


Kinchley's Tavern, Oct. 16, 2005

Ramsey, NJ

Danna's grandmother and aunt, Andrea, are recent survivors of breast cancer, so for the second consecutive year, we've participated in the Avon Breast Cancer Walk at Woodbury Commons - an indoor/outdoor mall that is erroneously called an Outlet Center. In any event, after our 3 mile walk, we went back to Andrea's house for quiche (sausage, ham and cheese, & broccoli), bagels and cream cheese (4 varieties), lox (Atlantic salmon, Sockeye salmon and Scottish salmon), smoked trout, my mother in-law's savory bread pudding, Mama's crumb cake, mulled cider with Capt. Morgan's and a ton of other stuff that added to my Sunday food coma.

Afterwards we went to DePiero's, a family run farm and grocery center in Montvale for our annual Pumpkin picking day. The in-laws are kind enough to buy us a pumpkin and give us money for groceries each year. This is where we get our annual supply of delicious honey and maple syrup, freshly picked apples from the on-site orchard, cider donuts, other veggies, spices, beef stocks and the like that cost an arm and a leg in the city. I bought several plastic bags worth of food for $47. The same items, purchased in the city would have been at minimum, $65.

It's worth noting that the pumpkins are amazing this year. Really heavy/full with thick and healthy stems, even coloring and are generally good looking.

Okay, so after all of this food, what do we do? We go to Kinchley's. Kinchley's is a favorite of mine and has been for nearly two decades. Their beer dough/thin-crust pizza is unlike any you've had elsewhere. True to form, I ordered the Fra Diavolo (spicy sauce) pie and others ordered a mix of plain pizzas, fried clams, spicy mussels and the like. The Fra Diavolo was a bit spicier than usual according to Danna - and I found the regular pie to be one of the better versions I've had. Delicious. The crust crunches, the sauce is flavorful with generous amounts of dried basil and oregano, and the cheese is "realer" than much of what you get in the city. They take great pride in their pizza and for good reason. Despite notoriously awful service, they take their committment to their customers seriously.

Kinchley's was once asked to use their facility for an episode of the Soprano's. The owner reportedly turned down the offer, which would no doubt drive even more business their way, citing that the seven days they would need to shut the restaurant down to film would be unacceptable. You see, Kinchley's is NEVER closed. Not for nobody, never. And so to satisfy its legions of dedicated patrons, even on Christmas at midnight, Kinchley's will never be in an episode of the Soprano's but forever in my thoughts of great pizza, small business ownership loyalty and my previous years living in Northern NJ.


Blue Smoke, Oct. 14, 2005

Blue Smoke
116 E 27th St - Bet. Lexington & Park Aves.

I've eaten at or from Blue Smoke about seven times now. Only three times have I sat down to eat at a table.

The first time was about 3 years ago (2002?) with a bunch of friends from around the country (Amir and his wife from Chicago, Mike Carmody who now lives in Asheville, Shawn, Skip and Mark from JC, and some others) who we've met during Phish's reign. I remember having the fry bread and a sampler that included pork sausage (not so good), pulled pork (pretty good) and something else. The most memorable items of that meal was the Anchor Steam Ale, the Mac and Cheese and the fry bread with addictive chipotle butter.

Then in 2004 we returned with friends Mike and Kathy. Sitting next to us in jeans and a white t-shirt was James Carville, sans Mary Matalin, but with his daughter and granddaughter. We ordered the fry bread and Mac and Cheese again and I had the rib sampler this time, trying the salt and pepper, St. Louis spareribs and Memphis style baby back ribs. The Salt and Pepper beef ribs were the clear winner of the trio. The St. Louis spareribs being remarkably lackluster and the babybacks being just okay.

But they worked on their product and I kept giving them a try. We returned with my folks in 2004 where I had the Salt and Pepper Beef ribs. These were very good but overly spiced with full kernals of pepper that just got in the way. A nice smoke ring though made me think that these guys might get it yet. The mac and cheese however, had begun to slip in quality.

And since then, I've taken home a pulled pork sandwich on more than one occasion, most often when Danna's working late or is traveling. Tonight, I grabbed George and Todd "Frank the Tank" and we went across the street (see Vig 27 review) to grab some grub. We ordered some Blue Smoke Ales, which I really like and find goes perfectly with their food, and some pulled pork sandwiches and chicken wings to bring back to the apartment. The pulled pork, I'm happy to report, has gotten much, much better. Even Danna wolfed hers down (she met us back at the house as we were finishing up) fully satisfied. The pickles and coleslaw were also perfect add-ons...but the side order of baked beans lacked any real flavor at all. A true disappointment...especially after such a great sandwich.

Danny Meyer is well known for the service at his restaurants, his longevity in the business and the renewal projects he blesses this city with. I just hope that the inconsistency with items at his restaurants don't become a part of his repetoire.
But perhaps that's because we eat at them regularly that we notice them more often.

Photo credit to Time Out New York

Vig 27, Oct. 14, 2005

coming soon


Heartland Brewery, Oct. 14, 2005

Heartland Brewery South Street At least once a year, almost always in October, I pay a visit to one of the four Heartland Breweries in Manhattan. The last two Octobers, I've gone to the one across from the South Street Seaport simply because of the proximity to my office. My favorite of the four is the Union Square outpost. It's definitely got the best vibe and I'd also say it has the best food of the four.

H.B. is not a true food-lovers destination, and my annual pilgrimmage has nothing to do with their food offerings.
It's all about the Smiling Pumpkin Ale.

According to their website, their "famous autumn colored beer is made with honey-roasted pumpkins and simmered with ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. A sweet and spicy harvest treat that goes down smoothly."

The alcohol by volume is 5.5%, the body is medium/complex, finish is spicy, mildly sweet and smooth and is only available September through November.

The beer really is good, and I think the best beer the brewery offers although the red rooster one is pretty good as well. Some friends enjoy the Stumpkin, a combo of the pumpkin ale and their stout. I've had it and agree its an interesting drink but stick the pumpkin straight up.

As for the food, its tavern food plain and simple, with a few other more modern add-ons in the other locales. The burgers are often fine but nothing earthshattering and the steak sandwich that I had on this particular day was cooked just fine but was more sustenance than exciting or even remotely interesting.

As long as I'm in the NYC area during the Fall months and as long as they keep brewing this beer, I'll be back, even if its just for the tradition.