So a new French bistro opened in the neighborhood. This wouldn’t be so remarkable if it weren’t for the closing of so many bistros in Greenwich Village and the East Village over the last decade – often to become a TD Bank – but Claudette, started by the guys who brought you perennially popular Rosemary’s, was big news from the start. “It’s right around the corner from your apartment,” my mom said when we dined here on a random Monday night, months after it opened. “You should make it your neighborhood place.”
“We haven’t been able to get in until now!” This was sadly true. (more…)
There are a couple places near my apartment where I would eat once a week if money were no object. One is Blue Hill, another is Neta, the sliver of a sushi restaurant opened on an unlikely block of 8th street populated by defunct shoe shops and a Gray’s Papaya. The omakase, made by Masa alums Nik Kim and Jimmy Lau, will set you back $95, but it is money so well spent that, as at Blue Hill, you will start plotting your next meal here before you even walk out the door. (more…)
I usually like Gabe Stulman’s restaurants. Fedora and Jeffrey’s Grocery are great neighborhood places with good, inventive food, even though they could have gotten by on the scene alone. At Perla, Stulman has taken over the old Bellavitae space on tiny Minetta Lane in the West Village (the location of many scenes in Serpico), redone it with the requisite Edison bulb light fixtures, exposed brick, wooden bar and antiqued mirrors and installed chef Michael Toscano, formerly of Babbo, in the open kitchen with an open hearth in back. (more…)
When New Yorkers talk about our favorite French restaurants, we’re usually talking about the type of creaky old (looking) bistros that aren’t exactly au courant with young people in Paris. So where would your average Parisian hipster actually go? Someplace a lot like Amélie, the new wine bar that opened quietly on West 8th Street a couple of weeks ago. (more…)
“Buzz” is the key syllable in this new wine bar by sommelier Laura Maniec, former wine director of the B.R Guest restaurant group. Since Corkbuzz opened in late November, it’s gotten dozens of press mentions and seems to be constantly packed. Certainly an upscale wine bar by one of the few female sommeliers is a nice addition to Greenwich Village. But there are already lots of wine bars in the city, so what gives?
Maybe what New York’s wine bars needed all along was a feminine touch. They’re mostly patronized by women, yet the owners and wine directors of most serious wine-centric places are men. It seems like a type of machismo for a sommelier to push an intimidating, challenging wine list that does more to prove his own wine knowledge than satisfy the customer. Corkbuzz represents a kinder, gentler approach. (more…)
Beautiful layers of a chunky cashmere knit sweater, tweed coat and thick scarf get the finishing touch with sexy leather leggings on this woman on University Place, presumably a model. They are all back in town for NY Fashion Week, which starts this Thursday.
Such a cute Parisian ingenue look on the streets of NY. Black and white from head to toe, and even her rain boots have bows!
This first branch of this rapidly-expanding Italian “fast casual” chain in New York, Vapiano fills a void left by Dean & DeLuca when that panini and coffee shop closed just a couple blocks down on University Place, and it will probably become to the neighborhood what Dean & DeLuca was: a go-to place for a simple lunch or dinner. What will keep it from closing like Dean & DeLuca did? Vapiano has a liquor license, a spacious bar and a knack for marketing.
The light-filled interior, with soaring ceilings and sleek Italian design throughout, sets the stage for what’s actually a very back-to-basics dining experience, though at first glance it seems high tech. After picking up a key card at the door, you take a tray and collect your meal yourself, selecting panini, salads, pizza and pasta from various food stations, where they prepare each dish in front of you and scan the card. If your college dining hall went gourmet, this is what it would be like. (more…)
The Waverly Inn may be one of the most celeb-packed restaurants in the city, but some of us actually went for the food. Sure, the scene is thrilling – particularly the time that Owen Wilson came out from the back room to mix with us civilians at the bar – but the thing that made the aggravating attitude at the door tolerable was the reward of those flaky, golden, melt-in-your-mouth biscuits. Without fail, they would be plopped down on your table as soon as you sat down, a light at the end of the tunnel.
Turns out I must not be alone, because many patrons of the Waverly Inn have followed chef John DeLucie here to the Lion. Mick Jagger caused a stir on a recent night there, and now the flashbulbs of paparazzi outside the door greet anyone vaguely famous-looking. Alas, the Lion’s democratic touch that enraptured Jay Cheshes at Time Out is already fast disappearing, and you may find waits of two hours or more now for one of those walk-in tables in the front room.
Though food critics always seem to be on the hunt for latest new undiscovered place, most of the real buzz this year has been about new restaurants by old masters. Just try landing a table at Danny Meyer’s Maialino on opening night or getting through the door at Keith McNally’s Minetta Tavern without a reservation. With established brands like these, a market of loyal followers is already in place before a new restaurant even opens.
Which is why Danny Abrams’ Mermaid Oyster Bar will probably thrive in the space that once housed the charming but ill-fated Smith’s on MacDougal Street (never helped by the fact that it opened at the same time as “The Smith” on Third Avenue). The redesign shows signs of an expert touch.
Amid all the buzz about Keith McNally’s new venture, there was always one thing that wasn’t clear. Why had he chosen this crusty old place as the next incarnation of McNallyism? If you’ve lived in New York long enough, you know the Minetta Tavern because you’ve walked by it–often solely for the purpose of getting away, fast. Once the intersection of cool and the setting for Serpico, MacDougal Street and Minetta Lane is now only the home of Cafe Wha? (and the underrated Bellavitae) and has gotten as touristy as it once was cool.
But as soon as you walk into Minetta Tavern, the answer is apparent. There’s an old school bar, murals and caricatures on the wall, the decor harkens back to an earlier age of the Village, and gorgeous Ralph Fiennes is sitting across from you. Is Minetta Tavern McNally’s answer to the Waverly Inn? Certainly McNally had an unlikely rival in Graydon Carter, who never so much as dabbled in restaurants before, then came in to gather up the celebs in one fell swoop.
If Minetta Tavern is the next chapter, McNally has come up on top. He’s wisely gotten away from Italian and back to his bistro roots, installing Riad Nasr of Balthazaar in the kitchen. The Pat LaFrieda burger (called the “Black Label Burger” on the menu) that has inspired so much worship appears here, and, as steak meat ground into burger form, it’s exactly right for the times. If we like to have our steak and eat it to, this is it – and yes, it’s all it’s cracked up to be.
In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that I have a relationship with the restaurant featured in this review: The folks at Wawa Canteen prepare delicious food, and I eat it. Several times a week.
When a tiny Korean restaurant in central Greenwich Village closed a couple years back, neighbors were dismayed, expecting the usual NYU-geared smoothie/creperie/coffee shop to open in its place. But what arrived was Korean Restaurant 2.0, with a sleek design comprised of wood counters flanked by modern chairs, tiled walls and floors, and displays of rice and Sapporo lining the back wall. It’s now owned by Philip Rodrigue, who used to own the Cooler in the MPD. (He brought his excellent music collection with him.) What a relief to have an actual restaurant in this spot, and an approachable one, too. The ergonomic layout allows for quick service, because, as Rodrigue puts it, “You ought to be able to eat some decent food for $10 and be in and out in a half hour.”
Eureka. It’s the concept of a diner applied to ethnic food, in this case, Korean cuisine, which is underrepresented in New York compared to the plethora of Chinese, Japanese, and pan-Asian spots. Though Rodrigue says he was going for “generic eating,” the results are anything but. Consulting chef Donna Lee put a California spin on Korean food with home-cooking style dishes like surprisingly light kimchi fried rice.
My first feeling upon biting into the kimchi fried rice with chicken was one of deep regret. Here I’d been eating at Wawa Canteen for nearly two years, and I’d never tried the best dish on the menu until now, in my quest to cover as many items as possible. The kimchi is so good – spicy, sweet, crunchy, tangy – and the sticky, fluffy rice has chili flecked throughout. Though this is traditional home cooking, the type you won’t find in Koreatown restaurant-style food, the presentation is elegant, with fine strips of nori on top. It’s exciting comfort food, and it can be habit-forming.
Kimchi is an insanely popular ingredient here: during the NYU school year, Wawa goes through four 15-gallon vats of it in a week. Like a new pickle, Wawa’s kimchi retains that vegetable crunch that enlivens so many of the dishes here. The soft, barely sweet dough of the kimchi pajun is interlaced with strips of this crispy goodness, all of which goes beautifully with the slightly vinegary soy sauce.
Of course, what kimchi also does is heat things up. Only the intrepid should opt for the kimchi stew, an incredibly spicy, sour concoction that blows away neighboring faux-Asian places whose food has too much sugar and not enough heat. A red slick of chili oil on the soft tofu stew tells you this is one seafood dish that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Thankfully, the white rice served alongside helps put out the flames.
If you can’t take the heat, never fear. Several dishes offer up healthy, vegetable-centric Korean food in a milder format. The best of the non-spicy bunch is the curry rice with chicken and vegetables. (Just ask for both chix and vegetables.) The rich sauce exudes a slow burn that complements the stewed potatoes, carrots, chicken, and beans. Also tasty are the pork dumplings, soft little dollops whose sweetness is nicely cut by a vinegary black sauce. Ramen hits somewhere in between hot and mild; a hint of spice turns up the noodles a notch, and the pork in the pork ramen is plump and juicy.
If you really want to go healthy, go for the soy ginger glazed chicken or the soy and ginger glazed chicken, definitely two of the lighter dishes on the menu. Both of these are barely dressed. The carb-avoidant could even eat just the protein and the very fresh sautéed bok choy and leave the rice behind. There are also plenty of vegetarian options on the menu.
Salads have true substance, like the cold buckwheat noodle salad topped with mixed greens and grilled soy-marinated steak, sliced razor-thin by a Korean purveyor. The dressings here – soy, citrus ginger, sesame – are delicious, and really make the ingredients pop.
But the ultimate Korean dish is a mixture of spicy and mild, hot and cool, animal and vegetable: bibimbop. Wawa’s is a bonanza of hot soy-marinated beef, cold steamed spinach, bok choy, jullienned carrots, broccoli, bean sprouts, and rice, with a spicy red barbecue sauce served alongside. All the four food groups are well represented, except one. This is my one complaint about Wawa, and the first question I ever asked there: What about the egg?
I’ll have to ask about it again next week.
289 Mercer Street, between Waverly Place and 8th Street
New York, New York
* Open Mon – Fri. Check website for hours.
I turned around as subtly as possible to see an older gentleman in a lime green top and matching lime green glasses enter the restaurant at about 9pm.
Silvano had arrived.
It wasn’t the only celebrity sighting of the night – Rihanna later emerged from the depths of the restaurant to be pounced on by paparazzi waiting outside with video cameras – but it was the most exciting. It would have been hard to recognize Silvano from his svelter illustrated portrait on the Da Silvano balsamic vinegar or the Da Silvano water. Yet this was the man who has been able to lure celebrities here consistently for years now (for details, see his site and photo album), even though Da Silvano is, well…not known for the food.
Not all of it is bad, but Da Silvano is a lesson in levels of access and being in-the-know, in keeping with the celebrity theme. One of the best dishes wasn’t even on the menu. When High Maintenance ordered a caprese salad, I asked the waiter why this popular choice wasn’t listed with the rest of the salads.
“Everyone knows we have it,” the waiter said, in his signature blasé manner. Oh, of course. “Everyone.”
At least the caprese was good. The firm exterior of the freshly made mozzarella yielded to a soft, slightly salty inside. I couldn’t determine the provenance of the tomatoes due to Italian-American translation difficulties. (How do you say “heirloom” in Italian?) But the waiter agreed that the tomatoes were “speciale” (my word).
Oddly, the tomato bruschetta consisted of untoasted bread that was difficult to manage, though both bread and tomatoes were good separately. Not so for the panzanella – bread salad with tomatoes – which was quite disappointing if you’ve ever had the real thing. (It’s easy to make, too: For a recipe check out Rogers & Gray’s Italian Country Cookbook.)
“No,” I countered.
“But it’s good, isn’t it?” she repeated.
“Needs more garlic or onion.”
It also seemed to contain a lot of white wine vinegar, an odd choice that made the panzanella taste more British than Italian. Broccoli rabe sauteed with pan-roasted garlic was spot on, but the sausage that topped it off was dried out.
But forget about the food. We were here to dine outdoors (the summer theme of Gastro Chic), people watch, and drink wine. As for the reds, there were not a lot of offerings under $100, which annoyed me given Otto’s ability – and, OK, Morandi‘s – to find excellent Italian reds at inexpensive prices. The Le Cupole was a good wine at $95, the Sondraia a great one – bigger, more complex, and slightly more tannic – for $120.
In the entree category, the pastas fared well. The rigatoni focaccia was the best of the bunch, with its cream and tomato sauce of double smoked bacon perfumed with sage. All this dish needed was more of the excellent sauce. Sage also played a big part in the success of the ravioli bella Firenze, spinach and ricotta filled ravioli sauteed in butter and sage.
We took the train off the tracks a bit when High Maintenance’s fiancé Boob and I decided to split the roasted fillet of veal, exorbitantly priced at $95. Veal is already very delicate, but this roast was downright bland, and the gravy didn’t add much flavor at all. For tips on how to make veal gravy, the chef at Da Silvano should check out Marinella across the way on Carmine Street. If I had to do it again, I would order the grilled shell steak.
Good or bad, Da Silvano is truly Italian. A large part of the menu is given over to daily seasonal specials. A number of the diners here were speaking Italian, as was the staff. But the thing that really tipped me off to the true Italian-ness of Da Silvano – other than the photo of Silvano driving a sports car outside Modena – was a note on the bottom
of the menu, in all-caps: NO CHEESE SERVED ON SEAFOOD AT ANY TIME.
This food-induced rage about what’s correct is something you rarely see outside of Italy, the country where I was told “Cappucino doppo pranza non esiste, non esiste!” which loosely translates as: Not only is it incorrect to have a milk-based coffee drink at any time but breakfast, but cappuccino after lunch doesn’t even exist, it doesn’t exist!
Even though it is celebrity-driven, Da Silvano is approachable. Now that the maitre d’ she knew has departed for Morandi, High Maintenance and I had no special in at the restaurant, but she managed to make a reservation just like a regular person, and we were still given a nice table outside despite our non-celeb status.
“I don’t think people are here for the food,” I said.
“But the food is good,” she insisted.
With that we walked out of the patio to the spot where Rihanna’s black SUV had just sped off into the night.
260 Sixth Avenue, between Houston and Bleecker Streets
New York, New York
A friend and I were discussing the Strip House the other day when he said, “If I wanted to have a nice steak in the neighborhood, I would much rather go across the street to Gotham Bar and Grill.”
I’m a fan of the Strip House, but I could see his point. Gotham Bar and Grill, once famous as the instigator of the towering-food trend, has once again become a favorite in the Village, thanks to Alfred Portale’s critical acclaim and the efforts of sociable sommelier Michael Greenly, who has recruited a wealthy young clientele to the place. The still-chic restaurant has a pedigree on par with Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern, but because it is less well known in the hinterlands, it’s still a neighborhood place.
On a packed Sunday night a couple of weeks ago, I gave Gotham Bar and Grill another try after nearly ten years. (I once met Greenly, and he reprimanded me for not going there earlier. He has since left Gotham for a job in Napa, but the standout wine list remains.) The grand Tihany lamp shades are still there. At the bar, we ordered this 2000 Grands Echezeaux Mongeard Mugneret. The bartendress was ecstatic.
My dining companions, let’s call them “Mom and Dad,” since they are, talked about the wine list. Dad pointed out an excellent 1998 Domaine Leroy Rochebourg for $1,100. (We didn’t get that one.) He put a buy on 2005 burgundies, which he called the best in 25 years.
“I hope you’re not buying them,” Mom said.
“I am.” Dad’s wine cellar is slowly taking over the entire basement.
Not very many places in the neighborhood could qualify as purveyors of haute cuisine, but Gotham can. Alfred Portale won the James Beard award for Most Outstanding Chef in the Nation in 2006. A winning combination of delicate white asparagus, fresh morels, and a perfectly poached egg was a fabulous seasonal appetizer – get it while it lasts. The citrusy black bass ceviche was also startlingly good. Jicama, pineapple, and red pepper created a sort of firecracker effect of many bright flavors going off simultaneously.
On that night, I noticed something I’ve been noticing a lot recently – the appetizers were a lot more dazzling than the entrees. It’s as if, with the first impression over with, someone in the kitchen is saying, “Phew – now I can relax.” Granted, that person might not have been Alfred Portale himself, particularly since it was a Sunday night, usually a chef’s night off, so it might not be fair to judge everything on this.
In the entrees, the quality of the ingredients was still there, but not as much attention had been paid to them. The lamb, though it looks elaborate and towering, couldn’t have been cooked more plainly. It was crying out for garlic, salt, pepper – anything. The lobster was covered in a butter foam, but this and the squab might have been a little overcooked – they lacked the tenderness I was expecting.
There were still plenty of haute cuisine touches. The black beer sauce in the squab dish gave it a nice contrasting bitterness to the sweetness of the choucroute and rich foie gras sausage. It was creative and original, and it made perfect sense.
We lingered over some after dinner drinks – the Madeira Boal D’Oliveros was my favorite – and surveyed the scene. Why had it taken me so long to get back here? I don’t know, but I’m not going to wait another ten years to return to Gotham Bar and Grill.
Besides, I still haven’t tried the steak.
Gotham Bar and Grill
12 East 12th Street, between University Place and Fifth Avenue
The recent DOH shuttering of the popular vegetarian go-to spot Gobo threw downtowners into a tizzy. Gobo has since reopened (and sounds busy), but still… Though I’m not a vegetarian, and will probably return to Gobo someday, I sympathize with the squeamish. What’s a person for the ethical treatment of animals to do?
Fortunately a new rat-free vegetarian take-out place has opened in Union Square, land of the thousand yoga studios. Maoz Vegetarian (pronounced like Mao Zedong), is a popular European falafel chain that’s “dedicated to spreading the vegetarian lifestyle worldwide!” Because I am fascinated by things that are popular in Europe but may or may not catch on here, like David Hasselhoff, Mentos, and Pret A Manger, I decided to give it a try.
Though the space itself is tiny, with seating for just three or four people, the green-and-white tiled interior is very appealing. Squeaky clean and minimalist, Maoz is a vegetarian place designed for the IKEA era.
There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about a falafel sandwich, but Maoz’s extensive toppings bar is a new twist on an old standard. You can go wild piling your pita with cucumbers and dill, bulgur wheat salad, pickled carrot slices, cole slaw, olives, tomatoes and onions, excellent roast cauliflower, even cilantro sauce or salsa.
Dense, bright green and mildly spicy, the falafel tastes fresh and light. Here, too, Maoz shows more flexibility than the average falafel joint by offering it in several forms: as a Maoz sandwich (5 falafel balls) or a Junior (just 3), with feta, eggplant or hummus, or as a salad topper. The hummus is bland, but the Belgian fries are tasty. Like the falafel, they have a nice slow afterburn of Middle Eastern spiciness.
38 Union Square East, between 16th and 17th Streets