Gramercy Park

Casa Mono

It only took 10 years to get a reservation at Casa Mono.

This little Spanish restaurant has been perpetually jammed since Mario Batali and Andy Nusser opened it on a pretty corner of Gramercy in 2003. Just mention the words “Mario Batali,” and suddenly a line of 20 people will form at the door of any restaurant. Though you can put your name in and wait for a table at Bar Jamon next door, numerous failed experiments to do so led D. and me to hold out for an Open Table reservation in that prime slot between 7 and 9pm, which mysteriously never appeared even weeks ahead of time. In the meantime, Casa Mono inspired a host of other tapas places in the city and a mini Spanish food revolution, as flavors like pimenton and the whole small-plates dining concept spread like a contagion.  (more…)

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An old bit of travel advice goes like this: If you’re looking for a casual place to eat in Italy, go for a trattoria over a ristorante. The word “trattoria” implies that the establishment is a family-owned business where the food is made in house, while the word “ristorante” connotes a more expensive place that’s run as a business, not as a labor of love.

Maialino, Interior

Though Danny Meyer may be renowned for his business acumen, the feeling of a home-cooked meal comes through in his new Maialino, which he specifically calls a trattoria. Despite the madness surrounding its opening in the Gramercy Park Hotel two weeks ago—it’s nearly impossible to get through on the phone to make a reservation, so try Open Table—on a recent night, Maialino was surprisingly calm, orderly and friendly inside on a recent night. (more…)

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Lunch: Defonte’s of Brooklyn

Defonte's of Brooklyn - Lunch CounterThere are a lot of good things coming out of Brooklyn these days, not least of which is Defonte’s sandwich shop. The only drawback to the first Defonte’s was its location in Red Hook, too far away for most of us to get there for lunch. But there’s a reason for that other than the trendiness of Red Hook: Nick Defonte came over from Italy and worked in Red Hook as a longshoreman before starting up his sandwich shop there in 1922.

Now Defonte’s of Brooklyn has opened on Third Avenue and 21st in a modern, prime corner space with a stainless steel counter and a few granite tables, bringing their specialty hot sandwiches to the Manhattan work force. (more…)

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What happens when Frank Bruni leaves the building? Can a restaurant keep its standards high after a positive review, or do they just keep on gettin’ through the gettin’ through? Bruni knighted Resto a “terrific new restaurant” in mid-May. Since his rapturous descriptions of Resto’s hearty, meaty fare appeared at the beginning of a hot summer, Marie Fromage and I waited til fall-ish to sample it.

Resto sits on a quiet stretch of 29th Street, its simple, white-washed and wood-floored interior making it a bare bones but welcoming kind of place, with basic gastro pub decor that echoes the Half King’s on 23rd Street. Like the Half King, in the off hours it can be a good place for a beer and a conversation, but when it fills up, the uncarpeted space can get loud.

Of course, one of the main draws here is the lamb ribs. These were the highlight of Bruni’s review, and they were as much of a cholesterol-laden thrill as promised. Charred on the outside and tender within, rubbed in a Indian spice blend, they were just as meaty and fatty as any rib eater could handle. Served with a yogurt sauce alongside, they tasted like donner kebab elevated to gourmet status.

The Middle Eastern and Asian influences throughout this Belgian restaurant may seem odd, but they’re an accurate reflection of chef Ryan Skeen’s 5 Ninth training and of what European food is now, not a nostalgic view of what it was a couple decades ago. Though you may think of moules frites when you think of Belgium, shawarma is insanely popular there now.

Cuttlefish, which is closely related to squid, arrived in a salad special and provided a nice, lightly acidic counterpart to the meat dishes. Drizzled on the bottom of the plate was a romanesco sauce the Spanish joints in town have taught us to crave. We only wished there was more of it.

Whatever health benefits we gained with the light cuttlefish salad were immediately undercut by the deep fried crispy pork toast lurking under the deviled eggs. These were too heavy even by our fat-seeking standards and overwhelmed the relatively delicate taste of the eggs.

On the other hand, some items were not as indulgently fatty as previously reported. The staff kindly brought us the “tête de cochon” sandwich Bruni chronicled, though it is no longer on the menu. These little pork jowl sandwiches were also kind of “meh” for something dubbed “tête de cochon.” The ratio of meat to bread should be higher for true decadence. Shredded carrots seemed an odd touch, but according to Marie Fromage, carrots are used in almost everything German that requires vegetables.

Whatever the shortcomings of the appetizers, these nibbly bar snacks were better than the entrees, which disappointed after all the Bruni brouhaha. Moules frites with witte ale were nothing to write home about, and the burger was just too small. The burger circumference must be the same as or bigger than the bun; it’s a cardinal rule of burgers. Try serving anything smaller to a child and you’ll get a wail of discontent, which was what we felt. But the fries that came alongside were delicious, especially when dipped in the mayo with onion sauce.

This is not to say that Resto is not worth visiting. On a cool autumn night, there would be few things better than a pint of one of Resto’s many excellent and rare Belgian ales on tap, a platter of lamb ribs and a side of fries devoured at the underused bar. Just don’t come expecting nirvana, because apparently a good Bruni review can be a hard act to follow – especially for the restaurant.

111 E. 29th Street, between Park Avenue South and Lexington
New York, New York

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