One of the things I miss most about Milan and Paris is not, as you might expect, fancy restaurants. What I do miss are the numerous coffee counters in Milan when you could just step in and get an excellent-quality espresso or macchiato for a couple of euros and down it in an instant. In Paris, I miss the gourmet take-out shops right near the Saint Paul metro stop: Aux Désirs de Manon for bread and quiche, Au Sanglier for beautiful terrines, and Pascal Trotté for cheese. There was never any reason to cook anything, even though I had a kitchen there, when there was so much tempting food to take home.
Finally New York is catching up to Europe with the introduction of Gastronomie 491 to the Upper West Side. This little shop has all kinds of salads, meat, fish and sides you might like for a home cooked meal – if you actually felt like cooking. But why bother when chef Steven Gutterman can do it for you, most likely with much better results?
At last night’s opening, we sampled the sushi-quality Sicilian-style seared yellow fin tuna with caper berries, pickled onions, and anchovies ($22.00 per pound), which would make an excellent summer main course.
Flavorful but light Corsican shrimp rests in a chickpea puree with a hint of harissa ($20.00 per pound).
Free range chicken and vegetable kabobs with labna-feta sauce ($13.00 per pound) also have a Middle Eastern accent.
For pure indulgence you can’t go wrong with the upscale macaroni and cheese: baked cavatappi pasta with taleggio cheese sauce ($11 per pound), which Gastronomie 491 is obviously producing in bulk in anticipation of demand.
There’s a European-stye coffee counter here with Illy espresso that you can just drink at the counter with a minimum of fuss – a nice reminder that the real Italian coffee experience never involved people in headsets taking orders for pumpkin lattes.
And a very tempting draw lies at the back of the shop: a well-stocked cheese counter curated by our friend Martin Johnson of the Joy of Cheese. If you’ve ever been to one of his cheese seminars at the 92nd Street Y or elsewhere, you’ll find some of the greatest hits from the class, from standbys like the Irish Ardrahan to newcomers like goat’s milk cheese wrapped in cherry leaves (the little packages wrapped in red string, pictured at top).
The cheese stocked here isn’t cheap, ranging from $12 per pound to $30+ per pound, but it’s top quality, carefully stored and often hard to find elsewhere. Also, the fact that this is an actual cheese counter – not a pile of shrink-wrapped hunks of cheese – means that you can get personalized suggestions and order no more than necessary – though it may be hard to scale back in the face of so much deliciousness.
Beer lovers will also find some great selections like the Haf ten Dormaal from Belgium.
If you insist on cooking, Gastronomie 491 also sells the raw ingredients, from artisanal pasta to spices to a wide selection of pristine fruits and vegetables.
Owner Nicole Ahronee grew up shopping in food markets in Italy and southern France, and the knowledge shows in the selection. Not only are there standards like Maille dijon mustard, but this olive oil harvested and released just like Beaujolais Nouveau each year.
I almost forgot dessert. There are some exquisite pastries here, like these macarons.
If you don’t live near here, Gastronomie 491, so named because it’s located at 491 Columbus near 84th Street, may make you wish you lived on the Upper West Side. But even for visitors, it should be a must-stop for Central Park picnics when the summer season begins. And there’s even seating in back with a full menu and table service – if you insist on dining out.
491 Columbus Avenue, between 84th and 85th Streets
New York, NY