Acqua Pazza, Dec. 27, 2005

Acqua Pazza
36 West 52nd Street (bet. 5th and 6th Ave.)

Tonight was our annual Holiday dinner with the wife's friends from college. It was five of us, not the usual six, and prior to our requisite visit to The Tree, we ate at Acqua Pazza.

Disregard the lousy descriptions on OpenTable and on their website (neither discusses the food in any depth whatsoever) and be happy with a relatively reasonable value for their northern Italian cuisine.

We had a drink or two at the bar (avoid the mixed drinks. The wine is the better value) while waiting for some of the party. The room is very nice...who knew blue could work for an italian restaurant. I've never seen it pulled off before, but it really worked in here. Very stylish place. The bar stools were great (people at THOR, take note) but not as good as the quite possibly perfect ones at Maremma (best ever).

Once we are all together, we were brought to a nice five-top round toward the back of the room. I'd say the restaurant, at its peak of the evening, was 1/3 full.

So service was quite good and attentive but never intrusive.

We all started out with caesar salads. My wife and her friend Dawn split one...but you'd never know it. They were as big as mine. VERY crisp and clean lettuce. Dressing was subtle but pleasant. A good rendition, though the shaved cheese might have been slightly too thick.

Items ordered by others included the raviolis, and seafood risotto (special) with mussels, shrimp and clams. Both of these were gobbled up and enjoyed by those that got it.

I ordered the Osso Buco (special) and found it to be unbelievably tender and tasty. It came with three slices of sweet potato (nice) and a saffron risotto (excellent). Excellent dish. Thrilled to have ordered it. Even the marrow (I only had a little, watching the cholesterol) in the bone was good.

Most of us had the vanilla creme brulee for dessert, which was on par with what you'd expect. I got the Tiramisu, which paled in comparison to the version at Financier. Dessert, and the subsequent calories could have been skipped.

Total bill for food including 2 cocktails and 2 glasses of wine came to $258 after tax. Not bad at all.

I'd recommend this place for a midtown dinner and especially if you are planning on visiting the tree.

FYI, after reading an older NYTimes review, I am a bit bummed I didn't try their other special, a whole Branzino cooked "acqua pazza" or in "crazy water".

I'll try to go back for their signature seafood dishes.

According to the old review, which gave it one star (hmmm. Yeah, I guess, but its REALLY close to two), they used to not serve meat at all. That's obviously changed...and I'm happy for it.

Also, side note...we went to the "Top of the Rock" observation dinner afterwards and WOW what a view.

Please treat yourself to this on a clear night. There was NO line whatsoever, the sky was clear, the lights of the city were bright and the views were mesmerizing.

Take advantage of this!

THOR, Dec. 20, 2005

Rivington, (bet. Essex and Ludlow)

This was a fairly anticipated dinner. We hadn't seen our friends Sue Ann and Doug in quite some time and the hype over the restaurant was also intriguing.

I'll avoid paraphrasing a Flavor Flav lyric, but will say that there was definitely highs and lows.

The first high, unfortunately, wasn't a good one...as it has to do with the temperature in the bar area. I've never been in a warmer place. Never. It was so hot in the bar area that I can't imagine anyone wanting to stay for more than one drink...if that. The stools and the space afforded between them and the bar was remarkably uncomfortable.

Waiting for our friends, I ordered a Taxi Cab in honor of the city employees that have free reign to try and rip us off at every chance they get during this transit strike (more on that later). It had cachaca (brazilian rhum, not rum - made from cane sugar, not molasses), fresh orange juice and vanilla. Pretty tasty, but worth only trying once. I switched to an O'Leary Walker Cab/Merlot blend for dinner.

So with all of us ready to eat, we sit down in what is quite possibly the most uncomfortable dining situation I've ever been privy to in New York. We had the right corner to ourselves, that is if you don't include the loud, vibrating humming that was coming through the wall that our backs were against. I'm assuming it was the hotel's A/C unit. The seats themselves were okay, but the distance across the table was much to far. Even with only a few people in the room, the conversation to my wife across the table was challenging, once you add the noise from the A/C unit and the distance. Ugh.

For appetizers, both my wife and I ordered the gnocchi dish. This came with shitakes, peas, thick and heavy gnocchi (12 or so) that looked seared on one side. This was great, and without trying to stop you from reading further, was the best dish of the night.

Sue Ann had the lobster raviolis which were okay-to-good, but of a very small portion.

Doug had the Bibb Lettuce Salad with 1 hour poached egg. It came adorned with a circular, hard (baked) cheese webbing of sorts. This was Gutenbrunner's version of the Batali warm lamb's tongue vinaigrette...but with anchovies (or related fish) in replace of the tongue. It was very good.

For entrees, I had the venison with pistachio crust with brussels sprouts and red cabbage. The venison was okay, certainly not the best I've had. The pistachio crust was lousy and bland. Detracted from the venison. There might have been one brussels sprout deconstructed on the plate, but that was that. The cabbage was very nice. Overall...definitely pass on this dish. Not worth it.

Danna got the poached lobster which was too similar, but according to her, not nearly as good as the version at Wallse'. She was slightly disappointed but agreed that it was still good.

Sue Ann ordered the beef tenderloin which was probably the tastiest dish of the lot. Perfectly cooked and quite flavorful.

Doug ordered the sea bass, which was presented simply but nicely and had a very nice color to it. It tasted pretty good and Doug seemed to enjoy it.

When it came to dessert (10:30), we ordered our desserts (apple terrine, pumpkin cheesecake, etc.) only to have our (second) waitress return to let us know that they sent the pastry chef home for the night due to the Transit Strike.

Wait. What?

I just didn't get it. I still don't. So the maitre d' comes over and apologizes and offers to buy us a round of drinks. We'd ordered our drinks at the bar before sitting down, so he took the venison off of the tab, which we thanked him for, rightfully so.

But wow.

Overall, I cannot recommend this restaurant. I'm not sorry to have tried it, we had a great time as friends afterall, but the food and atmosphere and slightly dizzying room (no need to have the wallpaper on the ceiling of the bar area as well!) are not worth returning to or even going for a first time.


Fraunces Tavern, Dec. 16, 2005

Fraunces Tavern
54 Pearl Street

A quick review...

Went here for a quick bite and to get a little more history under my belt. Apparently this is where George Washington said his farewell before being sworn in as President a few blocks away on Wall Street, across from what is now the New York Stock Exchange.

It has that "old tyme" feel to it, that is for sure. I sat in the bar room, a more casual alternative to the only-slightly fancier main dining room. It was a cozy place but nothing at all significant. For comparison, the Old Ebbitt Grill in D.C. overpowers Fraunce's in the "historical feeling" department.

I ordered a turkey club with fries and a Smithwick's Ale. It was average at best. In fact, it was the kind you'd get (though cut in half, not quarters) in the 80s at any Irish pub. Or probably in the 90s or today for that matter. Nothing at all significant. The beer, however, was of perfect temperature. Went down nice and easy.


Park Bistro and P.S. 450, Dec. 13, 2005

Quick note...I'm officially a regular here I think. Danna's Christmas/Holiday party was tonight so I was on my own for dinner. Later I'd meet up with Danna, Sonya and Kathy at PS 450 for post-party drinks, so I made the logical decision to eat at Park Bistro which is equidistant to both my home and PS 450.

So I went in, had a seat at the bar and ordered the Coq au Vin after seeing Danna enjoy hers so much a few days earlier.

It was indeed very good. Unfortunately the bread and butter they served me was not so good. The bread was a bit stale and the butter was frozen. Ugh.

But Marouf treated me to an endive salad which was very nice. I opted for Kronenbergs tonight over wine being that I'd be drinking for a few hours afterwards. The coq au vin was wonderful and good enough to wipe any remnants up with the stale bread.

I spoke to the chef who encouraged me to try the cassoulet next time. I was going to have that tonight, but my recent experience at Artisanal with their overly-garlicked cassoulet made me wary - especially when I knew I'd be with Danna's female coworkers. What a buzz kill that would be...but chef Robert Shapiro assured me that it was nothing like that. It's on my queue.

At P.S. 450, where my all-too-good-looking-for-his-own-good, friend Brian R. bartends (he's also my wife's colleague, Sonya's boyfriend), I proceeded to become friends with Mr. Jack Daniels and later, when the girls finally arrived already wasted, some bar snacks including cheeseburger sliders, french fries, hummus and a fish quesadilla. The slider was only passable...the brioche bun being the best part. The fries were very, very good but I had to pass on the quesadilla as I was in no mood for fish of any kind. Jack Daniels, shots of Jamesons and fish do not go well together. And apparently, the quesadilla didn't go well for anyone. Danna and Kathy (Kathy only ate the quesdadilla) were both sick...Danna to the point of vomiting, after eating this. AVOID it. In fact, as much as I like my friend Brian and the owners of this establishment and Vig 27, the food is pretty lousy at both of these places. Not one option on the menu at Vig 27 looks appetizing. Which I simply don't understand. My visit last year to Punch and Judy, another restaurant/bar under their control, was quite good, albeit nothing like the two Murray Hill establishments. They reconfigured Punch and Judy during the summer and it now, unfortunately serves hard alcohol. I guess they have to in order to survive the Lower East Side...but what a bummer. I liked it the way it was.

P.S. - The Treo camera sucks.


Park Bistro, Dec. 6, 2005

Park Bistro

Brief Review...

Danna and I went here for the second time together (my 5th or 6th visit) and were warmly greeted by Marouf and Hailey.

Marouf, gentleman that he was, offered us a glass of champagne which we no doubt accepted.

I had the quail appetizer, seared foie gras as another appetizer and steak onglet. For dessert I went for the bread pudding. It was all quite excellent as usual. The quail, crispy and flavorful, was laid out whole, something I'm familiar with but that was distracting to Danna. The foie gras was nicely seared adding that second texture needed with the dish. The brioche is sat upon was perfectly crisp on the top and edges and billowy inside. This was served with an applesauce and drunken (port?) pears sliced and elegantly stacked. The steak, cooked medium rare to a tee was very good but seemed to be missing something in the garlic/parsley compote its topped with. Not sure what...but I remember it having an extra little something the last time I had this.

Danna had the onion soup (far better than the version at La Petite Auberge, but still not as good as mine :)), the foie gras and the Coq au Vin which she absolutely loved. I had some and have to say that it was quite good but her foie gras wasn't completely de-veined. She had the pear millefeuille for dessert. A great dinner as always and Marouf is, well, Marouf...a true host.


Halal Cart on Wall Street, Dec. 7, 2005

I have no clue what the name of this cart is, or if it even has one, but it used to take the form of a big red (maroon) truck and was parked on Wall Street between Pearl and Water Streets. Now, this cart is located on Pearl and Wall Street and the truck has gone to the big parking lot in the sky.

These guys, usually three, sometimes just two, and occasionally four of them, chop, mix, and plate chicken, lamb and vegetable dishes with your choice of hot sauce or white sauce day in and day out to lines of people that can reach 25 people deep.

That's the way I first found out about it. Long lines of people waiting. So I gave it a whirl, and once the stomach settled down and I'd convinced my colleagues that I would never order the smelly stuff again, you really can enjoy the food.

I order the chicken sandwich ($3) with hot sauce and white sauce and sometimes ask for an extra dollar's worth of chicken and a Ginger Ale or Coke or whatever. Grand total = $5 but you could (and I have) spend just $3 and be satisfied. Comes in handy when you just get sick of paying ATM fees and all you have is a few singles in your wallet.

The food is good but be warned...your office mates will take notice. The brute strength of the food's smell is enough to warn others at the other end of your office to steer clear. I've resorted to eating it only when my office neighbors are out sick or on business travel for fear of embarrasment and dirty looks. But cheap, easy and tasty sometimes prevails.

This also is my first opportunity to use the camera on my new Treo - though my photos may not be a, um, ringing, endorsement for the product. Anyway, enjoy.


Artisanal, Dec. 5, 2005

2 Park Avenue (@32nd Street)

Dad and I had lunch at Artisanal today and as usual, the smell of ripe cheese punched us in the face as soon as we walked through the entrance.

The temperature has started to cool with our first taste of snow over the weekend and some projected for this evening. So I pretty much knew what I was going to order for my entree.

I started with the Frisee salad with poached egg, some funky lumps of cheese and really nice lardons. The salad was great. The cheese (why did I forget to ask what it was!) was really strong and so blue it was gray in taste, texture and color. The greens were typical, the poached/3 minute egg was good but perhaps overcooked by about 15 seconds (not a lot of goop) but overall a great way to start.

Dad ordered the sweet potato soup (soup du jour) and finished it but without too much fanfare.

For entrees, I had the cassoulet, which is served differently than when I had this here about 2 years ago and change. The cylinder it comes in is different and is covered with a green dust that I assume is parsley and garlic. And man oh man was there a lot of garlic in this thing. Way too much. My breath and body, after 2 showers and 3 brushings & antiseptic gargling still smelled of garlic. I kid you not...ask my wife who despite currently suffering from a nasty case of the flu including a stuffed head could still smell it after all of that. The lamb, sausage, beans and broth were all tasty but nearly washed out by the essence of garlic. It's a poorer example of what it once was and something, unfortunately, I won't return to have or recommend to anyone.

Dad ordered the Assiette de Charcuterie et Fromages for himself. This included a selection of four cheeses, grapes, figs, saucisson sec, prosciutto di parma, air-dried beef foie gras pate and cornichons. The cheeses included Banon (deliciously creamy - the winner of the four), Ossau Iraty Pardou (pretty good, a bit bland) aged gouda (nicely nutty and full of butterscotch flavor), and Colston Bassett Stilton which was pretty good as well.

I forget the wine we ordered, but it was very nice.

Service was pretty standard but our waiter was a bit of smug jerk.

Otherwise, a pretty good meal but the cassoulet was an overpriced mistake. Don't make the same one I did.

All of this plus four glasses of wine came to about $154.