Two different people recommended a seafood shack in the West Village in New York. Two people – it’s a sign.We must try it, I said to my oldest-newest-best-friend. We waited in the predicted long line—something I hate and generally do not engage in We chatted with out-of-towners and I offered up my favorite food destination, Morandi. Then we were told to grab two seats at the counter. I pointed to my left, a quick celebrity sighting, an offbeat one. Louise Lasser. A former Mrs. Woody Allen.
Libbie kept telling me she could NOT be Louise Lasser since she was far too young. We argued back and forth as I stood my ground. Turns out she was talking about the waitress and I was talking about Louise Lasser, eating a dainty kale salad. That’s not what I would order, I thought.
We went for it, ordering too much -- partly due to hunger. A few appetizers that sounded southern and perfect. Fried Green Tomatoes, which, honestly, I can never resist. Libbie loves deviled eggs, so an order of those, and a shrimp, crab and avocado cocktail. And of course a lobster roll, at “market price,” which means expensive, $32.00. I had no problem with that, as it might have made it worth the subway trip downtown. Turns out, the deviled eggs were made with sour cream, not mayonnaise. So, after one bite, I put mine down and knew never to order those again. Then, the Fried Green Tomatoes, not great at all. Followed by the lobster sandwich, which was fine but certainly not the best I’d ever had. What a waste, I thought, of ingesting fattening food. What a waste of money. This was off my list, not that it had yet made it on.
We went to the Lower East Side the other night to see what the young people are up to. Our son, Max, was playing a gig at the Bowery Ballroom with a great band called dinowalrus. They totally killed — awesome. Jill and I were the oldest people in the neighborhood by at least thirty years.
We didn’t make reservations for dinner before the show because we always assume we can get ourselves fed when it’s just the two of us — often at the bar. I did have a destination in mind, though — Xicala, a tapas/wine bar that looked online to be properly LES. It was raining, so we scurried from the Grand Street subway across Bowery to Elizabeth Street, where Xicala promised to be and it was closed. Locked shut. I later checked their website, which says they’re “undergoing a makeover.” Good luck, Xicala. See you next time.
We were now wandering aimlessly in the rain, looking to grab a quick bite before the show. It was definitely an any-port-in-a- storm situation. We saw little orange lights coming out of a dark front window and crossed Elizabeth Street to see what was up and it was a restaurant called Little Rascal that serves Turkish food. Yeah — Little Rascal — Turkish. It made no sense to me, either. But our interest was definitely piqued — and our appetites as we’re both partial to Turkish food.
We ate some wonderful Venetian bar food at Bacaro last week. Tucked away on adorable Division Street that runs on a slant between Chinatown and the Lower East Side, Bacaro unwinds down the stairway from the busy bar to the brick vaulted dining spaces below.
Dining in Venice can often be disappointing because so many of its restaurants are shamless tourist traps. It’s been that way since before the Renaissance. It’s the only town I’ve been to in Italy where there are more bad restaurants than good. But the crafty gourmand can eschew restaurants completely and eat and drink quite well in the many wine bars around town. They serve snacks on little plates — cichetti — along with a small glass of wine Venetians call un ombra, a shadow. I think the reference is to the art of taking the edge off the day.
Bacaro celebrates this particular style of Venetian eating and drinking — it’s bar food, but a bar with a very good kitchen in the back.
Sardines in saor is the classic cichetti. Bacaro’s version with its sweet and sour sauce napping the fried sardines and wine-soaked raisins makes your mouth immediately call for another glass of Verdicchio. The same with the spicy fried meatballs, which I mistook for fried olives on first taste. That shows what an educated palate I have.
To celebrate my vegan’s birthday, I called Kajitsu on 9th street in the East Village and made reservations. Actually, I had serious reservations. Kajitsu is Shojin cuisine, which means we’d be eating vegetables and grains as they are prepared for Buddhist monks. Now, I have nothing against monks of any stripe, but they do have a reputation for austerity and that’s never been my go-to word when scouting out dinner.
But this was Jill’s birthday, not mine, so off we went through the biting cold to see what the monks were cooking up. We were greeted graciously and austerely and led to our table in the back. I must say it was wonderful not to hear loud voices competing over pulsing music. Kajutsi offers us only the faint tinkling of a waterfall somewhere off in the distance.
You can order the four-course menu or the eight-course menu and we opted for four. I added a sake pairing with each course, of course. Jill sniffed each sample of my sake because she doesn’t imbibe. But she loved the sniff of each subtle fragrance — each one different, each one perfectly suited to the food it was paired with.
Okay: the food. It is very, very good.
Nestled under a nail salon, down just a few stairs, there lives an outpost of delicate seafood, with a touch of unexpected spice.
The thing most people will have heard of from Chef Andres Figueroa’s Mexican-inspired tapas menu is the crickets. I think most of the conversations will go something like this:
“It’s a new place where you can get crickets!” “Crickets? Really, did you try them?” “Sure did, and they were great, you should totally eat some.”
As the chef told us, it is part of his goal of bringing some of the (unfamiliar to most Americans) flavors and textures of Mexican street food to the streets of New York. Crunchy and salty with a hint of lime, crickets turn out to be an excellent hot sauce delivery vector, and one I hope my local sports bars stock in the future.
Still, a snack of crickets seems to be more a gimmick to get you in the door than an end in itself. And if the gimmick works on you, you’ll be glad it did, especially if you order heavily from Figueroa’s seafood offerings.
The Big Dog and I lunched this afternoon at Ai Fiori, The Big Dog is my high-priced attorney. We were discussing some ultra-subtle legal maneuver that could only be fully investigated in a very, very good Italian restaurant. You’ll be happy to know that we solved all our problems — and everyone else’s, as well. It was a very nice lunch.
Ai Fiori is a Michael White creation. I had dined at his Marea after everybody told me this guy made the best pasta in town. I was concerned about this because I thought I made the best pasta in town. Well, okay, he gets paid for it and justifiably so.
Ai Fiori is sleek and rich. It’s on the second floor, which allows a nice light through the windows and a quiet midtown buzz. It’s in the Setai Hotel, which is a lovely new hotel on Fifth Avenue just below Thirty-Seventh Street.
The lunch menu is prix fixe – a choice of any two courses for thirty-six bucks, which given the quality of food, has to be one of the best deals in town.
That’s a loaded statement so let me describe the dish before we go any further. It’s a pot of clam chowder — with a light cream base — with succulent, dinner-sized hunks of pork, rosy-pink and tender as a clam, floating in the broth. You spear the pork onto your plate with a fork and then ladle up the soup from the bottom of the pot where the spiced and diced potatoes, clams and vegetables are lurking. Oh baby, oh baby.
This all took place at MoMA P.S.1 in Queens where we caught an early dinner at the M. Well’s Dinette, which serves as the museum’s commissary. It’s not easy to catch dinner there because the Dinette is not open for dinner, but I guess we qualified as a very late lunch.
The M. Well’s Dinette is the second incarnation of this concept from Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis, who are partners in life and business. Hugue came to New York via Montreal’s Au Pied De Cochon and first opened M. Wells, where he dazzled and shocked New Yorkers with his fun, fat and filling take on the eating experience.
“I just need to get out of the apartment.” I whined to my friend Blaine on the phone.
“It’s raining.” He replied.
I looked out the window. It was just drizzling.
“I don’t care. I need to do something different today.”
“Spend a little time on Facebook this morning?”
Ooohh. Busted. It was true though. That morning I had fallen into a k-hole of friend’s Facebook check-ins as they were out exploring, tasting, and experiencing the world. My life looked really black and white in comparison. Of course, I know that this is a common trap to fall into these days.
While Facebook might be good for keeping up with people without exerting very much effort, it is basically a way to promote your life by showcasing only the highlights. This summer I ran into an old friend at a party and I told her how jealous I was of her vim and vigor (the activity I only know about through Facebook). She replied that her life really wasn’t that exciting, it’s just that you don’t post on Facebook about sitting on your couch crying while eating a pint of ice cream.
I had one of the top ten dishes of the year today in the middle of what could have been a dreary day. It was raining and I was limping around puddles on my way to a lunch meeting in Soho.
I had just come from the podiatrist, my throbbing foot wrapped to within an inch of its life to protect the plantar fascia, the ligament that goes along my arch to my heel.
I had injured it, as athletes will do, in some moment of extreme competitive zeal, which I cannot at this moment recall. It only hurts when I walk, Mother.
So, I was in pain, I was late, I was wet, I was peckish. Not a good potential lunch partner.
I was meeting two fine fellows who work for my book publisher, so they know their way around a lunch table. They had chosen Balaboosta on Mulberry Street and I’m glad they did.
We finally got up on the roof at Eataly for a German-Italian- American-style lunch at Birreria.
Like most things at Eataly it did not disappoint. Birreria is a stunner — a wide open rooftop with views of the Flatiron Building to the Southwest and the Empire State Building looming over the campanile-style Metropolitan Life Building to the North.
The inner visuals satisfy as well — the eye gets stimulated as well as the appetite. There’s a retractable vaulted ceiling that gives you that German-beer-hall-we’re-all-going-to-get loaded-together feeling, but then there’s this red motif with the chairs and a lot of natural wood that makes you think you’re in … I don’t know … California? Anyway, it’s good. You want to be there.
They’re making their own beer, of course — that’s on one side behind a glass wall with serious-looking copper vats with pipes coming out of them. On the other side of the room they have wines coming out of spigots from big barrels. Mario, I love you.