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The weekend before last took us to Martha’s Vineyard for an impromptu visit with my husband’s aunt, who spends her summers on the Vineyard. Aunt Belleruth was a great guide and treated us to some of the island’s best-known eats. Highlights included scallops, clams and chowder at The Bite in Menemsha and dinner at Atria in Edgartown. She also tipped us off to a few culinary destinations to check out when we return (hopefully) for a longer visit – State Road, Art Cliff Diner, and lobster rolls from Grace Church.

We travelled to the Vineyard on a new ferry that runs directly to Oak Bluffs from NYC. Ten hours on a ferry provided me with a lot of time to catch up on blog posts, the most belated of which is my review of the Taste of the Lower East Side (TOTLES), which I attended in early May(!). One of my clients is on the board of Grand Street Settlement, which hosts the event, so a colleague (a fellow foodie) and I attended to support him. The TOTLES is a great event, and I recommend it highly to those who can stomach the $150 price tag on the tickets.

My colleague and I dutifully tasted and compared the food being served by the 40+ participating restaurants. Here’s our take….

Top honors went to Clinton St. Baking Co. & Restaurant. On our first pass, Clinton St. was serving cottage fries with smoked salmon, crème fraiche and caviar (I skipped the caviar) – lovely. Later in the evening, the restaurant transitioned to dessert and served scrumptious ice cream sandwiches. Clinton St. gets the nod as much for the quality of the two items served as for the effort put forth to serve an appetizer and a dessert.

Other top picks included: Continue Reading »

Ever on the lookout for specials in these recessionary times, I was delighted to see a post on Grubstreet about the 25th anniversary special at Gotham Bar & Grill. On Sunday nights until Labor Day, Gotham is offering a selection of classic menu items at their original 1980’s prices. I didn’t think twice before making a reservation, particularly as my husband had never been to Gotham (I went a few years ago with my other favorite dining companion, my dad).

A visit to Gotham on a Sunday night was a far cry from our normal routine of cooking and eating in front of the TV (the one day a week this is allowed). What fun it was to put on decent clothes and go to one of New York’s most iconic dining establishments.

The huge, open dining room is full of grandeur. Despite being mostly full, the restaurant was surprisingly quiet. With a few exceptions, they just don’t make restaurants like Gotham anymore. The new darlings of the dining scene are bustling, cramped and very loud restaurants (see Minetta Tavern) – as though the decibel of the noise level in the restaurant is an indicator of the quality of the food (the logic goes that if you are willing to put up with not being able to hear anyone at your table, the food must be very good). Fortunately, in the case of Gotham, the restrained noise level did not result in a mediocre meal. Quite the contrary.

My husband and I stuck to the 80’s pricing options on the menu – there were four choices for each course. Here’s what we got with the year the dish was introduced to the menu and the price (my general reaction to the prices was “people were willing to pay this much for food in 1984?!”). Continue Reading »

While waiting for a table at Barrio Chino on Saturday (more on that another time), we stopped in to Allen & Delancey for a cocktail. We were surprised to find the restaurant closed – the bar was open for business, but food was not being served. We were told that the shuttered restaurant was not related to Allen & Delancey’s recent bankruptcy filing, but rather to a problem with the restaurant’s oven.

This seems like terrible timing for the restaurant, which unveiled new chef Ryan Skeen’s menu last week (the pig maestro himself was hanging out at the bar). Apparently, the restaurant was most likely going to be closed for the whole weekend, but we didn’t return on Sunday to assess the situation.

For our part, we contributed to the restaurant staying afloat with the purchase of a gin lemonade for my husband and a cucumber margarita for me (this drink is featured on Tequila Mondays at the restaurant). I love the “grown up” cocktails poured at Allen & Delancey and these drinks were no exception. I have had my qualms with Allen & Delancey, but I am rooting for the restaurant’s success – they are so close to getting the formula right.

The (updated) List

I have lots to write about – among other things, I have a review of dell’anima almost ready to go and I need to compose my thoughts about the Sunday night 80’s pricing special at Gotham Bar & Grill, which we enjoyed last weekend. But first things first, I have to update the list. The revised list is as much for me as for you – for weeks, I have been cross referencing the old list with an increasingly illegible sticky note with proposed revisions. Enough is enough.

A few names have been removed (Irving Mill, Bacaro, and Forge) and many more have been added. I went to some restaurants – like 10 Downing (review coming) and Minetta Tavern – before I had time to add them to the list. Input welcome, as always. With no further adieu…

  • Agua Dulce
  • Apiary
  • August
  • Bar Boulud
  • Bar Stuzzichini
  • Barrio Chino
  • Co.
  • Corton
  • Defonte’s
  • dell’anima
  • Gazala Place
  • Gottino
  • Gradisca
  • Gramercy Tavern (I’ve been to the “fancy” part of Gramercy, but I’d like to try the more casual tavern menu)
  • Il Bagatto
  • Joe’s Shanghai
  • Keste
  • Kuma Inn
  • La Esquina
  • Locanda Verde
  • Malatesta
  • Mary’s Fish Camp
  • Mia Dona
  • Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar
  • New French
  • Orchard
  • Pearl Oyster Bar
  • Peasant
  • Perbacco
  • Piadina
  • Po
  • Raoul’s
  • Salt
  • Savoy
  • Shopsin’s
  • Shorty’s.32
  • Suenos
  • Terroir
  • The Place
  • The Redhead
  • Txikito
  • Westville

Upper West Side list

  • Bar Luna
  • Celeste
  • Eighty One
  • Gennaro
  • Gus & Gabriel
  • Picholine
  • Pio Pio
  • Salumeria Rosi
  • Spiga
  • West Branch

I always get overwhelmed when I make a fresh list…time to take a breath and dig in.

We ventured out in the rain (yes, more rain) on Friday night to continue working our way through the list.  Inspired by a quick bite (delicious crab and artichoke  dip) at Ed’s Lobster Bar earlier in the week and in keeping with my “reservation free” summer dining policy, I opted for Mary’s Fish Camp. 

We arrived at 7:15 expecting a wait and were seated immediately.  The restaurant is dingy and cramped in the most charming of ways.  You might expect to find Mary’s tucked away in a New England coastal town rather than on a quintessential West Village corner. 

To start, we split an order of the peekytoe crab beignets with key lime aioli.  I would have preferred a more discernible crab flavor and the dense consistency reminded me more of a hush puppy than a beignet.  The beignets were  enjoyable, but I would recommend venturing elsewhere on the starter menu.   

We had no such complaints about our entrees – summer flounder tacos with pico de gallo and chipotle aioli for me and a lobster roll with french fries for my husband.  Both were excellent and perfectly suited to be enjoyed on a warm summer night.  My husband washed his meal down with a can of NY-state brewed Porkslap Farmhouse ale, which he enjoyed, particularly for $4.

Our only qualm with dinner was the $30 price tag on the lobster roll (my tacos were a reasonable $18), but that’s more of a reflection on NYC than on Mary’s. 

After all but licking our plates, we finished our meal with bread pudding served with hot buttered rum sauce and pecans.  I would have preferred a more summery dessert (sadly, the peach cobbler that was advertised on the chalkboard was not available), but the bread pudding was good if a tad sweet.

I highly recommend a trip to Mary’s in these last lazy, hazy days of summer, before the natives return from the Hamptons and you have to wait an hour for a table.  Camps are meant for summer, after all.

NYC Chocolate Tour

choc - NYC cab

It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to share the details of the Chocolate Tour that my best friend, Maggie, and I took several months ago when she visited me in New York.  The tour was offered by the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and was led by Alexandra Leaf, who was a delightful guide.  The tour brought us to a few familiar places and introduced me to some chocolatiers who were new to me.  Here’s the list of where we went – keep reading after the jump for details and lots of pictures (pics courtesy of Maggie).

Continue Reading »

Minetta Monday

Two Mondays ago, we snagged a coveted reservation at Minetta Tavern.  We have been eager to try Minetta since it opened and even more so since Bruni raved about the steak.  Alas, “normal” reservation times (e.g., 7:00-10:00) are not available for “normal ” people.  I dutifully called the restaurant one month out from my husband’s birthday and was given the option of dining at either 5:30 or 10:00 so I moved to our backup plan – Wolfgang’s (a steak dinner is a tradition on my husband’s birthday).  On a whim, I called Minetta on the morning of my husband’s birthday and was offered a reservation at 8:30.  Bingo!

So did Minetta live up to the hype?  Without a doubt. 

We had to wait a few minutes for our table so we tucked up to the bar and perused the lengthy cocktail list.  I opted for a Rhubard Sophie – a Minetta creation (half of the cocktail menu was classic cocktails and the other half was specialty cocktails).  The Rhubard Sophie was made with Below 42 vodka, rhubarb bitters, lime, agave nectar and cucumber.  This is the perfect summer drink – refreshing, light, and slightly tart.  My husband ordered a cask ale initially and when it arrived warm (the bartender assured us that this was the correct temperature for a cask ale…and offered to make another drink), he opted instead for Rhubarb Sophie.  When my husband is willing to drink a cocktail named a Rhubarb Sophie, you know it’s good.

We were ushered to out table fairly quickly.  The aesthetic at Minetta is speakeasy, which seems to be the current restaurant theme of choice in New York.  The main dining room was noisy and cramped, as you might expect of a Keith McNally establishment.  We did not recognize anyone (I was hoping to see someone famous given the many reported sightings at the restaurant), but I suspect that there were a lot of black cards floating around.  I went to Minetta for the food, but it was hard not to be drawn in by the people watching as the over-the-top scene unfolded. 

Speaking of the food…drumroll please.  We started with a shared order of the Pasta Za Za – fettuccine-like pasta with pancetta, sage, parmesan, and a fried egg.  The fabulous pancetta made this dish.  Starting a steak dinner with an order of pasta is aggressive, but birthdays only happen once a year!  We both ordered the New York strip – I almost broke rank and ordered the highly-praised Black Label burger, but now I have an excuse to go back (assuming that I can get in again).  In a word, the steak was magnificent.  I was in a euphoric state eating that fabulously flavorful piece of meat – I may have even thrown around the word orgasmic.  The steak is quite possibly the best steak I’ve eaten (and I’ve been to Luger and the other usual suspects).  We also shared an order of Potatoes Aligot, which played their supporting dish role well.  Made with cheese curd and probably something else sinful (crème fraiche?), these potatoes are not for the birds.  We washed down our meal with red wine by the glass (there were lots of extremely affordable glasses) – a Cali cab and a Grenache – both were fine if not great. 

Having eaten too much red velvet cake earlier in the day, we lingered over cups of decaf and then made our way in to the night, very full and very content.