Key: (now also with numerical scores for the color-blind and for fine-tuning)
|best of the best: not just great, but the best example of its type I've ever had|
|a favorite, with dishes that reliably knock my socks off|
|solidly recommended: would be happy to go back|
|at least good enough that I don't regret having gone there|
|not a place I'd return to without grumbling|
Last update: 04 December 2004 (added: H&H Bagels, Sal & Carmine's)
|2nd Street Café||American||7th Ave & 2nd, Brooklyn||08 Apr '01||1|
|This place always seems crowded. I can only assume it's because people can't get enough of the 80s tunes playing on the PA, because I can't imagine that it's for the food. If the eggs florentine I ordered, with its day-glo Hollandaise and sad spinach, had come out of the kitchen at Rockwell in Villa Park, I can only assume that the proprietors would either burst into tears or start firing people.|
|Al Di Là||Semi-upscale Italian||5th Ave & Carroll, Brooklyn||06 Apr '01||4|
|I'd heard this place had some top-gnotch gnocchi, and finally got around to checking it out. The gnocchi in question turns out to be Swiss chard wrapped in gossamer and drenched in butter and sage, and it's pretty good. Jen got beet ravioli which she described as "good — a strange good, but good"; I tried some and my impression was "yup, them's beets all right." Portions are small, but that's fine — this is the sort of food where you get tired of the flavor long before you're full. So, yeah, I don't regret checking out Al Di Là, but I doubt I'll be back.|
|Angelica Kitchen||Vegan||12th St & 2nd Ave, Manhattan||27 Apr '01||1|
|This is a slightly more upscale version of exactly the sort of thing you picture when you hear the words "all-vegan restaurant." Tofu and tempeh up the proverbial yin-yang, that sort of thing. Since becoming a vegetarian I've gone from liking 10% of vegetables to liking about 80%, and naturally the dishes here focused on the other 20%. I had a chickpea vegetable soup — chickpeas good, cauliflower bad — and some of the hummus appetizer (hummus sort of enh, but the crispy herbed pita was quite good) before getting my main dish, a pasta and vegetable salad in a green dressing of some sort. It tasted like chlorophyll. I was unhappy. So I wouldn't personally recommend this place, but it depends how your tastes run: Jennifer was just loving her marinated tempeh, so if the idea of countless preparations of soy appeal rather than repel, you're definitely this place's target audience.|
|Anna Maria Pizza||Pizza||Bedford & N. 7th, Brooklyn||01 Aug '01||3|
|About a zillion different specials available by the slice — I got one with ricotta, pesto, mushrooms, garlic, tomato sauce and cheese. I also got a plain slice. They were okay. More points for variedness than quality.|
|Anopoli||Diner||3rd Ave btw Bay Ridge/Ovington, Brooklyn||18 Oct '01||3|
|Stopped in for a milkshake. Surly service, runny milkshake, but good enough that I'd go back if ever I were passing by and thought, "Hey, milkshake."|
|Areo||Italian||3rd Ave & 85th, Brooklyn||19 Feb '02||6|
|This place is always packed to bursting — every time I've passed it the crowds
have spilled out on the sidewalk and up the block, wannabe John Travoltas as far as the eye can see.
So is the food the draw, or is this just a fashion show for Goodfellas extras? I figured I'd never
have a chance to find out, but when I passed it on a rainy Sunday afternoon around 3pm it looked
like they had a couple of tables open, and I managed to snag a nice one off in the corner. First
they brought some bread — two loaves, white and wheat — but that wasn't all: immediately
thereafter they brought out some bruschetta piled with tomatoes and olives, and then a couple minutes
after that came a bowl of thin breaded zucchini strips, which I probably wouldn't actually order but
which were interesting and pretty good. The capellini primavera, like Tonio's rendition (see below),
came in a tasty cream sauce, but at Areo the plentiful vegetables were julienned and had clearly never
spent time in a plastic freezer bag. Good stuff.
I went back a few months later and it was much the same thing — second-class treatment for being alone and an outsider, but great food. This time I got the pansotto, little spinach raviolis in a walnut sage cream sauce. Then I ordered up some dessert, which turned out to be too huge to finish and so elaborate it was almost a shame to eat it: a huge slab of chocolate truffle cake with a scoop of pistachio gelato in a chocolate dish, accompanied by some pistachio mousse served in an open-weave cylindrical basket which was also made out of chocolate. Maybe not the tastiest dessert I've ever had, but I can't recall one more elaborate.
|Aunt Suzie's||Italian||5th Ave & Carroll, Brooklyn||27 Sep '01||3|
|Quantity rules over quality here — not that the quality is low, per se, but these are not exactly iron chefs in the back room. Ziti with broccoli was a huge-ass pile of pasta and cheese with some haphazard chunks of significantly underdone broccoli and some red sauce on top that tasted like metal. This makes it sound awful but as it happens I ate most of it. This will fall to a gray rating if I go back sometime and it isn't better, though.|
|Bagel Hole||Bagels||7th Ave btw 12th/13th, Brooklyn||13 Jan '02||5|
|For some reason I didn't expect the local bagelry to be any good; when I finally gave it a shot I mainly just wanted to see if the bagels were tolerable in case I ever needed one while rushing to the subway or something. Tolerable? Try "damn tasty." The bagels are smaller and denser than those at La Bagel Delight, but neither of these are faults.|
|Bagel Stop||Bagels||Sheepshead Bay & E. 15th, Brooklyn||06 Oct '01||3|
|Far from a great bagelry, but sourdough looks tempting enough that I won't write it off just yet.|
|Bagel Works||Bagels||Bay Parkway btw 67th/68th, Brooklyn||13 May '01||3|
|Grateful as I was to find a bagel shop as I staggered to work early Sunday morning, it must be said that the bagel itself was unremarkable.|
|Bahar||Afghan||Coney Island Ave & Newkirk, Brooklyn||04 Nov '01||5|
|Stopped in to sample the cuisine of the country we're bombing, thinking I'd get some scallion ravioli or some such. I didn't see that exact item on the menu, but covered both bases anyway, getting a mixed bolani appetizer (there're your scallions) and ashi lobya (a pasta dish). The bolani (bolanis?) bore the trademark fry-bubbles of a samosa, but were flat triangles cut into pieces, some stuffed with potatoes (good), others with scallions (okay) and still others with finely-sliced pumpkin, which seemed to turn to pure brown sugar in the frying process (remarkable). The ashi lobya was a bed of wide cellophane noodles on top of a pool of herbed yogurt, topped with a stew of kidney beans. Both were very good if self-limiting (a certain amount of oil, a certain amount of yogurt, and you're done.) Later I tried the ashak, scallion dumplings topped with onions and, yes, yogurt. Let's hope this place is around longer than it looks like Kabul will be.|
|Baja California Grill||Burritos||Henry btw Orange/Cranberry, Brooklyn||09 Oct '01||2|
|Better burritos than most places on this list that share this rating, but still a bit short of the acceptability mark for me to give much thought to going back.|
|Bay Leaf||Indian||56th St btw 5th/6th, Manhattan||02 Jul '01||2|
|Heard this was the best Indian buffet lunch in the city. I sure hope this isn't the case, because while I suppose it's above average it's far from great, nowhere even close to my favorites in the other places I've lived. And it costs more than twice as much! I knew going in that a Midtown place was likely to be pricier than the joints in the East Village or even Little India, but still, yeeowtch. So this isn't a warning that a lunch here will be bad, not at all — but it will be a ripoff.|
|Ben's Pizza||Pizza||3rd St & MacDougal, Manhattan||17 Oct '01||3|
|An okay slice. Looks like they keep a billion varieties on hand.|
|Beso||Pan-Latin||5th Ave & Union, Brooklyn||04 Mar '01||3|
|Went in for a late Sunday brunch and was pleased to find empanadas on the menu. Remembering the delicious stuffed corn fritter thingies that Taco Mesa in Orange offered once — but only once — it was with no small anticipation that I ordered up a batch. What I got was egg, spinach and queso blanco in a sort of pie crust — not untasty, but still, we're talking about a glorified version of Hot Pockets here. Yucca hash browns were initially interesting but after a few bites proved inferior to the potato variety. Service was inattentive: it took me forever to get my check, and this in a nearly empty restaurant at quarter past three during a snowstorm. Plus they gave me my change in Canadian currency. At least pesos would've been more in keeping with the theme.|
|Bravos Grill||Burritos||5th Ave & St. Marks, Brooklyn||18 Apr '01||1|
|A poster to chowhound.com asserted, "Being from Colorado, there's only one place in New York whose burritos I can stand" and named this place. I checked it out. In retrospect, this post would seem to indicate that Colorado is an even bigger burrito wasteland than New York.|
|Bread||Sandwiches||Spring btw Elizabeth/Mott, Manhattan||06 Jan '02||6|
|I get the sandwich of fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil with lime dressing on ciabatta here — it's truly excellent. The bread really makes the sandwich: I'm usually ready to eat two more when I'm done. Great stuff. The service, however, can be slow and distracted. Can't have everything, I guess.|
|Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory||Ice cream||Fulton Ferry Landing Pier, end of Old Fulton, Brooklyn||28 Feb '02||4|
|Another ice cream place I put off visiting until the eve of my departure from New York City, the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory won't be luring me southward from Massachusetts: it's fine, but fairly ordinary-tasting ice cream in a handful of flavors.|
|Bukhara||Pakistani||Coney Island Ave btw Ave H/Glenwood, Brooklyn||14 Jun '01||4|
|The food is quite good: the dal I got wasn't really significantly better than the boil-in-bag version of the same thing, but fresh Indian bread is always a treat. I got both a (round) naan and a paratha and they were just fine. The room is very nice, fully carpeted (including a fair amount of the walls) and bright and airy. But it did take a bit long before anyone would take my order (especially troublesome given that this is over-the-counter service) and I especially disliked being quizzed by the proprietor about my ancestry. "Where are you from?" "California." "No, OR-i-gi-NA-lee."-(squinting)-"Puerto Rican?" I should've given him a copy of my book with page 42 bookmarked. Or, like, thrown it at him.|
|Cafe Boulud||Upscale||76th btw 5th/Madison, Manhattan||15 Nov '01||5|
|Cafe Boulud is the supposedly informal spinoff of Daniel, one of New York's half dozen
hoitiest, toitiest restaurants. And yeah, you don't have to wear a tie. But you still have an army
of waiters switching your forks before each course, you still have to make reservations and you're
still gonna pay over a hundred bucks for dinner for two, even without wine. This is definitely a
special-occasion sort of place. Unless you're filthy rich. Which probably everyone else in the
The Cafe Boulud menu is divided into four portions: traditional French, seasonal, vegetarian, and a regional spotlight. In the past it's been on places like Vietnam and Brazil; the Fall 2001 choice was the American Midwest, so you have gourmet versions of such dishes as macaroni and cheese, peanut butter whoopie pie, and Apple Betty. That left Jen sufficiently tickled that I managed to talk her into giving it a try, even though she's normally allergic to obsequious yet condescending waiters and the rest of the usual upscale-restaurant trappings. As it turned out, neither of us ended up ordering off that portion of the menu, but it did get us in the door.
The first thing we were asked after being seated was if we wanted any drinks to start off with. Jennifer got a club soda. Then came a plate with half a dozen little bread crisps and an eggplant tapenade for dipping. This was quite good. When we ran out of crisps, a fellow came by with a big basket of bread from which we were allowed to select one or two pieces; the offerings were sourdough, raisin walnut, olive, and mini-baguette. They seemed pretty intent on pushing the baguettes: every time we were about to ask for a piece the guy would say, "Baguette?" and hand one over, only for us to say, "Er, no, sourdough," or, "Actually, walnut." At some point along the way, we ordered our actual meal.
I started off with the butternut squash soup, which turned out to be the highlight of my meal. It was ten dollars and worth every cent. With curry, coconut cream, coriander and apples, this soup boasted an assortment of flavors that combined to form a scrumptious uberflavor — really delicious. And there was a fair amount of it: this was a nice-sized bowl of soup, not a measly little tasting portion. (Also larger than expected were the spoons, which were so big and deep that they were halfway to ladlehood.) I had Jen try some and the waiters tripped over themselves to fetch another spoon... it wasn't until around 6:30 that the place started to fill up enough to keep all those waiters busy. Anyway.
More squash was on the way, as I had ordered the miniature goat cheese ravioli with foamy squash sauce. These were also good, but not quite as good as the soup — the sauce wasn't quite as interesting, and the ravioli, while meltingly light and soft, had that extra edge that said, yup, this here cheese done came from a goat. Jennifer got a piece of salmon on a bed of lentils and mustard, and said that all three things were pretty magnificent. Then came dessert. I had the chocolate souffle cake with pistachio ice cream, which was good but sorta disappointing: I was expecting something different from the molten chocolate cake that seems to be de rigueur at restaurants of this type, but no, same stuff — and for $13 it wasn't as good as Tabla's $8 version. Jennifer got a more interesting dessert, a "bitter chocolate bombe" with orange confit. We also got a basket of lemony madeleines (tiny UFO-shaped fried doughballs), which I knew was part of the standard Cafe Boulud dinner — but Jennifer didn't, and for a moment she had a slightly horrified look like she was expecting to find an engagement ring at the bottom.
My horrified look came when I found that Jennifer's club soda had cost $3.50. I mean, charging $30 for some ravioli or a piece of fish, that's one thing — coming up with the technique that went into the preparation of said dishes, not to mention the artistry that goes into making them every time someone orders them, could conceivably be worth that much, sure. But $3.50 for opening a bottle and pouring 25 cents' worth of carbonated water into a glass? Um, no.
|California Burrito||Burritos||Port Authority, Manhattan||26 Apr '01||4|
|While this is not a place to get a great or even a particularly good burrito, it's still a cut above the typical New York fare if only by virtue of serving burritos smaller than your thigh and costing less than five bucks. Still, the presence of Kitchen/Market and the Cosmic Cantina means there's no need to go here, like, ever.|
|Ceci Cela||Pâtisserie||Spring btw Mulberry/Lafayette||04 Oct '01||3|
|Arrived in late-ish afternoon, so figuring that the pastries would be sorta stale, I scanned the mostly unidentifiable selection and went with a slice of cherry flan. It wasn't bad. I doubt I'll go back, though — I wasn't exactly salivating over the display cases.|
|Chez Isabelle||Pâtisserie||7th Ave & 14th, Brooklyn||18 Jul '01||4|
|This place is better than most other establishments on this list to the extent that desserts tend to be intrinsically better than non-dessert foods. (There are, of course, many exceptions.) The reason I'm not singling this place out, therefore, is not that it's not a cut above the rest of the eateries on this list; it's that it's not a cut above other dessert shops I've tried. Peach bread pudding, napoleon cheesecake, chocolate raspberry cake, chocolate cream raspberry choux: it's hard to imagine such morsels tasting bad, and the ones from Chez Isabelle were all interesting, respectable, even yummy to varying degrees... but remarkable? Not so much.|
|Clemen's||Burritos||Prospect Park West btw Prospect/Windsor, Brooklyn||16 Apr '01||2|
|A typical New York burrito shop, attempting to make up in quantity what it lacks in quality. Amusing murals and other assorted decorations, however.|
|Cones||Ice cream||Bleecker btw Jones/Morton, Manhattan||17 Apr '04||6|
|The flavors are simple. You've got about a dozen exceedingly creamy ice creams:
vanilla, chocolate, hazelnut and so forth — no Snickers bubble gum marshmallow swirl here.
Then you've got about a dozen sorbets: lemon, pear, pineapple, grapefruit, you name it. So you
only get one or two flavors per scoop, but each is done really well (assuming you like the flavor
to start with.) The lemon sorbet, for instance, features 80 freshly-squeezed lemons per gallon
tub. So if your primary criterion in selecting an ice cream is the number of kinds of candy
chunks embedded in it, you may want to give Cones a pass. But if you're a purist, this is the ice
cream palace of your dreams.
Update, 2004: Still pretty good.
|Cosmic Cantina||Burritos||3rd Ave & 13th, Manhattan||31 Dec '01||5|
|Four flags hang over the counter here. Those of New York, California and Mexico are fairly self-explanatory, but why North Carolina of all places? Because the original Cosmic Cantina is in Durham, and had just opened when I started grad school at Duke. Before long I was eating there several days a week — not because it was necessarily the greatest, but because the food ranged from fair to very good (no way of knowing which you'd get on any given visit) and was a real Berkeley-style burrito shop in a place I hadn't expected to find one. It was on the second floor of a building in a low-traffic alley, run by a trio of students who were total novices to the restaurant business — there was a wall of Polaroids of them rebuilding the space with tools and advice from The Home Depot — and looked like it might go under at any moment. Five years later, they have a branch in NYC. And while this branch is in a primo space, and everything costs a couple bucks more than I remember (how much of that is NC vs. NY and how much is 1997 vs. 2001 I don't know) it's otherwise pretty much exactly the same. I got some nachos, and dangit, they were honest-to-goodness Cosmic Cantina nachos. Okay chips with a mountain of toppings: black beans, white cheese (unmelted), sour cream, okay guacamole, and pico de gallo that's basically just chopped tomatoes, somehow becoming much more than the sum of its parts. I've also ordered the salad, which is a mountain of the same goodies on top of a big plate of lettuce, and was pleased to find that the lettuce was really fresh and intrinsically appetizing, making this probably a better choice than the nachos since the chips are often stale. And then a few days after that I got a simple burrito, which sums up both what's great about this place and what makes you shake your head about it: the tortilla was correctly done, the fillings were tasty and in the right proportion — except that all the beans were in the top half and all the rice was in the bottom half. Still tasted fine, but nevertheless, oy. Ah well. There's always the reliable Old School burrito, which is difficult to mess up: pintos, salsa, a little cheese. When I first ordered that one, instead of the guy asking my name he just said, "Adam, right?" and when I said, "Actually, yeah," he replied, "Uh-huh. I remember you from down there," and pointed at the NC flag. So how about bringing up the Wellspring pie counter next?|
|The Crêpe Factory||Crêpes||Smith btw Sackett/Degraw, Brooklyn||19 Sep '01||1|
|The crêpes sure look pretty. As to the taste... well, one my first visit I got one with mushrooms, spinach and gruyere, only to discover that I don't much care for gruyere and that I seem to be less fond of mushrooms with each passing day. So I actually didn't much enjoy my meal, but I figured I'd at least try one of the sweet ones before writing the place off entirely. So I did. Verdict: bleah. The crêpe itself again failed to register as anything more than a wrapping with little taste of its own, the strawberries were terrible (there are great strawberries available at any number of farmer's markets, so what's up with these supermarket ones? bleah!), and the whole thing was way too expensive. Thumbs down.|
|the Crooked Tree||Crêpes||St. Marks btw 1st/A, Manhattan||11 Jan '02||7|
|The best crêperie I've yet encountered in New York, by a healthy margin. The crêpes themselves are very good, not rubbery or tasteless or burnt like some others I could mention, and the fillings are top notch: bananas, mushrooms, cheese, all are a world more flavorful than at the city's other crêpe places, and the mesclun salad with its mustard vinaigrette is the clincher. I love the food here. What I don't like is the clientele. The mind-bogglingly inane conversation I could handle, but the cigarette smoke, not so much. Better to sit out in the cold and huddle over a hot crêpe for warmth.|
|the Crosby Connection||Sandwiches||Crosby & Bleecker, Manhattan||18 Oct '01||1|
|The guy who runs this sandwich stall seems like a swell fellow, and at three bucks the price is right, but the sandwich I got just wasn't good. Cheese, tomatoes, peppers, basil, all flavorless, and the tomatoes had a fairly objectionable texture to them. I'll have to stick with the delicious sandwiches served by scowling hipsters, I'm afraid.|
|Custard Beach||Frozen custard||Grand Central Station, Manhattan||23 Nov '01||4|
|Frozen custard, it turns out, is not unlike ice cream that's been sitting out for twenty minutes — it sure seems pretty fricking melty. Yet it maintains its solidity. A mysterious beast, yet a fairly tasty one. The consensus seems to be that creme brulee is the flavor to go for, and I certainly can't disagree.|
|De Robertis||Pasticceria||1st Ave & 11th, Manhattan||08 Dec '01||4|
|All the goodness of Veniero's without the drawbacks of madhouse crowds and unlabeled food? Maybe not all the goodness — the cannoli is far inferior to the Veniero's equivalent — but some of the other pastries aren't bad, and you can even call them by name when ordering them. Labels. What a concept. (That said, I generally don't get anything here except for the airy, crunchy chocolate hazelnut cookies. For anything else, V's is the winner.)|
|Del Mar Pizzeria||Pizza||Sheepshead Bay & Voorhies, Manhattan||27 Oct '01||5|
|Pretty darn good stuff, with big chunks of tomato in the sauce even of the slices, and truly excellent when the pizza's hot. Another contender for best non-Di Fara slice shop I've come across.|
|Del Rio Diner||Diner||Kings Highway & W. 12th, Brooklyn||11 Jun '01||1|
|Not normally the sort of place I'd patronize, but I was in an unfamiliar neighborhood,
I needed to fill up fast and there seemed to be no other eateries for blocks around. Got some French
toast. It was reasonably edible, and cheap. Given that I was in an "about to spend hours teaching
on zero nutriment" situation, things could've come out much worse.
I fully expected that I'd never see the inside of this place again (why would I?) but then someone in the group of people Jen and I occasionally hang out with — the one who'd previously taken us to one of the worst Indian restaurants I've ever been to — organized a dinner trip to an Italian restaurant near the Kings Highway stop on the N-line... and it was closed on Mondays. Strike two! So with seven people milling around out front in an area fairly devoid of eateries, we ended up back at Del Rio. A good time was had by all, mocking the food: salads which were bowls of lettuce garnished with two slices of pinkish-white tomato, mysteriously delivered plates of celery and radishes covered in ice cubes, an eggplant parmigiana that seemed to quite frighten our visiting Norwegian friend. I played it safe and went for a baked potato. It wasn't bad. In fact, for all I know, as diners go this isn't bad. But in general I prefer to eat in places that don't beg for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment.
|Delices de Paris||French bakery, gourmet grocery||9th St & 5th Ave, Brooklyn||01 Jul '01||2|
|Can't comment on the wide range of gourmet groceries or on the varied selection of French cheeses, but I can comment on the cheese danish and pain au chocolat: limp, doughy, mostly butter.|
|Di Fara Pizza||Pizza/Italian||Avenue J & E. 15th, Brooklyn||16 Apr '04||9|
Best of the Best: NY-style pizza
The service: place an order, and the dazed-seeming proprietor will nod and go about his business, seemingly oblivious to the fact that you're still there. (Hey, after forty years handcrafting pizzas for a bunch of people who can only seem to communicate by bellowing, you'd be a bit dazed too.) Have a seat at one of the well-used office tables lining the walls. You'll get your food in the fullness of time. This is not a place to go if you're in a hurry, or really if you have anyplace to be at any point in the future. I once had to wait eighty minutes for a sandwich. If you're the type who would have a cerebral hemorrhage under such circumstances, you're well advised to steer clear.
The pizza: it's an acquired taste, light on cheese and awash in olive oil. I've acquired it with a vengeance, though it took me a few weeks to become a fan. Generally, I either get the squarish Sicilian slice with its relatively thick, crunchy crust topped by a pool of the delicious Di Fara pizza sauce and cheese, forged by the oven into a single fluid, or else a regular slice with a topping. Which brings us to...
The toppings: here's what makes Di Fara a real standout. This isn't just a matter of quality, but an entirely different approach: unlike at most pizzerias, where the requested toppings are just tossed onto the pie straight out of the bin, ordering up a topping at Di Fara requires a visit to the back room. It's sautéing time! And good heavens, but they know how to sauté here. The artichokes make the second-best artichokes I've ever had come off like something from a different, inferior food group, and the peppers are even better. And they're carefully piled onto a quadrant of pizza as it comes out of the oven, so what you get is not a pizza slice with some incidental peppers on it but rather a meal of sautéed peppers that happens to be served on a slice of pizza. What's more, for '02 Di Fara is offering a panoply of new high-end toppings, such as broccoli rabe and baby zucchini. The latter in particular is glorious.
The pasta: I've tried a few of the non-pizza offerings here as well. The manicotti is missable, but the bowls of ziti are worth a try. I've had the artichoke and the broccoli ziti, and both look alarmingly simple: the broccoli ziti, for instance, is just pasta and a few florets with a lot of chopped garlic and some red pepper flakes (and a big pool of olive oil at the bottom of the bowl.) But this austere-looking dish packs an explosion of flavor. Then there's the spaghetti marinara, a bowl of noodles with a little red sauce on top. First bite: "Hrm, it's just spaghetti." Second bite: "I paid seven bucks for this?" Third bite: top quality tomatoes with basil and pepper and half-cloves of garlic = MMMMMMM. Another winner.
The rest: The salad is skippable; while it's full of fancy fresh greens, excellent tomatoes, and hunks of fresh mozz dressed in balsamic vinegar, it's not the sort of revelation that other choices are. The soup (which isn't actually on the menu, but you can get some if you ask for it) is also not really a must-try: the bulk of it is long stringy anonymous vegetables like those in a number of Chinese soups, with some beans and whatever's lying around the kitchen (mushrooms, perhaps, or hot peppers culled from the plants in the front of the restaurant.) And the calzone, a huge folded-over pizza shaped into a crescent, can be safely overlooked, being a bit too overpoweringly cheesy. But the heroes are another story, delicious and addictive. I get either the pepper and egg or the potato and egg, and what (eventually) arrives is a long oven-browned roll stuffed to bursting with scrambled eggs and either tons of sautéed peppers (red or green or both depending on what's in stock) or potatoes about the size of the first joint of a thumb and done up like home fries only not quite to the point of crispiness. They're very good, and huge: one half the size would be a meal in itself. Then there are the beverages. I practically never get beverages when eating out, but once I got one of the imported Italian sodas to go with my slice, there was no turning back. A Di Fara slice in one hand, a limonata in the other... this is my most positive memory of New York now that I've left.
Update 2004: This place may have become a victim of its own success. The walls are now festooned with worshipful writeups in the New York Times and such, and while service was always slow, on this visit it took me an hour and fifteen minutes to get four slices of pizza. The place was packed and everyone around had had a similar wait.
|Dimple||Vegetarian Indian||30th St btw 5th Ave/Broadway||23 Nov '02||7|
|Where's the best Indian buffet in the city? Not Tabla or the Madras Cafe: there you order off a menu. Not Thali: there you just eat what they bring you. So my vote goes to Dimple, which is remarkable on all sorts of counts. First things first — the food is delicious, with both unusual entrees like coconut curried vegetables and potatoes in a spiced tomato sauce, and wonderfully flavorful renditions of classic Indian buffet staples like dal makhani and navratan korma. And there's a terrific variety of stuff to try on any given visit, with several vegetarian entrees, rice and parathas and naan (which at other places is often not included, or at least not freely available for the snagging), salads, raitas, condiments, you name it. At seven bucks the price is right, and here's a touch I've not seen before: the tables come pre-loaded with forks, spoons, napkins, pitchers of water... you don't even have to get up for silverware or wait for an AWOL waiter to refill your glass. Best Indian buffet in the city? Heck, possibly the best Indian food in town, period.|
|El-Rawsheh||Lebanese||Steinway btw 25th/28th, Queens||03 Apr '01||0|
|Trekked all the way to crapulous Queens to finally try the much-vaunted Kabab
Cafe. It was closed — proprietors on vacation. Dammit, there went three bucks. So I went a little ways
down the street and tried this place, ordering a falafel hummus platter. Four falafel balls, a saucer of okay
hummus, and a dish of olives. No real salad. Oh, and a basket of thin, tasteless pita bread. Yeah,
that was sure worth turning my feet into leather for.
Addendum: It gets worse. For the second time in just over a week (see Fava, below), food poisoning! What the fuck? Is the local chickpea supply contaminated? Does New York not have a health department? If I wanted to spend my nights with my head in a toilet bowl, I'd take up drinking.
|El Rincon Familiar||Mexican||5th Ave & 19th, Brooklyn||02 Jun '01||1|
|After striking out at Elora's (see below) I found myself in front of this place, and chiles relleños were on the menu, so I gave it a shot. The service was enthusiastic: "Delicious!" the waitress cried when I ordered the enchilada and chile relleño plate. But her assessment turned out to be wrong. It's not that they weren't trying — the enchilada was full of odds and ends of vegetable, and the chile relleño was covered with a green mole sauce, so they were clearly attempting something more ambitious than the usual glops of cheese. But good intentions alone don't make for a good meal. This was lousy.|
|Elegante Pizzeria||Pizza||5th Ave btw Bay Ridge Ave/Ovington, Brooklyn||20 Sep '01||1|
|Read a number of recommendations of this place, so I got a couple of slices. If the recommendations were ever warranted, they aren't now. Crust like cardboard, cheese and sauce not remarkable in any way.|
|F&B||Euro fast food||23rd St & 8th Ave, Manhattan||08 Jun '01||3|
|I'd read that the fries here were so far above average that they'd revolutionize the way I think about fries. So I got some, along with one of the many froufrou dipping sauces (in this case, garlic herb butter.) And they were... well, they were frickin' French fries. No need to alert Robespierre — there's no revolution here. The thing is, I've had fries that did warrant the raves bestowed upon these good but unremarkable ones, at a diner on Ninth Street in Durham. So it's not that I had unrealistic expectations for what a fried wedge of potato could be. It's just that these didn't meet that standard.|
|Fascati Pizza||Pizza||Henry btw Orange/Pineapple, Brooklyn||23 July '01||4|
|Had a pretty good regular slice and a not very good Sicilian slice here. Perhaps the whole pies are better.|
|Fava||Mediterranean/Indian||7th Ave & 9th, Brooklyn||25 Mar '01||0|
|I'd been avoiding this place since I got some fairly atrocious foul here
a couple years back, but I decided to give it another shot and try a sandwich. The sandwich I got reflects
Fava's attempt to blend the fare of Italy, Southwest Asia and India: falafel with mozzarella,
wrapped in a piece of naan. It wasn't atrocious (though the falafel was soggy), and it suggested that
naan sandwiches may have the potential to be quite yummy, even if this particular one (or, most likely,
any available at Fava) wasn't. Extremely yummy, however, was the girl in line in front of
Addendum: Food poisoning! I prefer not to have to give much thought to my meals once they've safely arrived in my stomach, but Fava wouldn't permit me that luxury. A whole new meaning to the phrase "the bowels of hell." Argh. Avoid, avoid.
|Ferdinando's Focacceria||Sicilian||Union & Hicks, Brooklyn||22 Jan '02||5|
|I went in expecting fancy sandwiches on trendy garlic and/or rosemary focaccia; instead I found a little shop that's been there for 98 years, serving food that's the opposite of trendy. It would not surprise me a bit if the sandwich I got (potatoes, chickpea fritters and ricotta on what was basically a roll, albeit an excellent one) turned out to have been on the menu since the place opened in 1904. And it was really quite good! Not the sort of thing I'd been in the mood for every day, but since then I've come back every now and again when I want big ol' tasty starch bomb, and it really hits the spot.|
|Figs||Mostly Italian||LaGuardia Airport, Queens||08 Jul '01||4|
|First chains like Pizza Hut and Cinnabon started putting franchises in airports, replacing the
generic snack bars; now upscale or at least semi-upscale restaurants are getting into the act, as the future
Iron Chef American, Todd English, has put one of his now dozen-plus restaurants in the main food court at
LaGuardia. The sign out front defensively protests that the prices aren't inflated and that this is in fact
what you'd pay at a non-airport restaurant in New York City, so when I ordered the eight-dollar Macaroni
Simone, I expected a little dab of the stuff on a saucer. (Why else would someone have protested "THIS is
eight dollars?! Get me the manager!" and prompted the management to put up that sign?) What I got was
basically a wok full of melted cheese with some orzo floating in it. It was huge. Tasty, but very
heavy, and, did I mention, HUGE. I got through about a third of it and thought my stomach would explode.
Then I went to catch my plane.
I made another visit when my return flight landed four days later, this time getting the pizza, again featuring a quantity/price ratio that's way the heck up there. It's pretty good — better than Park Slope pizza, anyway. Oddly, it's nothing like the pizza at the to-go version of Figs nested among the D gates, which is cheesier and has a much less crisp crust. Neither has sauce worth mentioning. Also, the service was SOOOOO SLOOOOOW (and it wasn't even crowded or anything) that by the time I was able to flag down my waiter looooong after finishing, I was hungry again and so ordered the white chocolate challah bread pudding for dessert. It was tasty, though the blob of white chocolate mousse was still half frozen — bleah. The whole thing was also really heavy — perhaps this is English-san's trademark. In any event, good enough food for a low enough price that I'll probably go again the next time I'm at LGA despite the crappy service. After all, the alternative is actually eating what the flight attendants give me.
|Francesco's Pizzeria||Pizza||3rd Ave & 85th, Brooklyn||07 Oct '01||4|
|Got a couple of slices here mainly out of gratitude for the fact that they had a clock on the wall when I needed to know what time it was. The fresh mozz pizza started off with uncooked cheese so that the heating process was a first melt rather than a second, which was a nice touch. Slices were just okay, though.|
|Fratelli Ravioli||Ravioli||7th Ave & 1st, Brooklyn; Lincoln & 7th Ave, Brooklyn||23 Dec '01||5|
|"Oh, no," I said as I took my second bite. "Bad?" Jen asked. "No," I said. "It's just
that this was pretty expensive, but it's so good I'm gonna have to go back." Not that it was actually
all that expensive, all things considered: I'd been disappointed when my $7 box of pesto ravioli turned
out to contain a quantity of pasta for which Pasta & Co would've charged $4, but discovered to my
astonishment that these plump when you cook 'em — plump to like 250% their original size when
you cook 'em, in fact. And they were great. And the tomato/basil sauce we got with them was
even better. This proved to be a really fortunate first impression, though, as most of their stuff
is good but far from transcendent:
Pastas: right now I'm fond of the gnocchi, those teensy little potato dumplings... after Di Fara's potato and egg hero, Ferdinando's potato and ricotta sandwich, and Vittorio's potato fettuccini, I guess I've been trained to like potato-centric Italian food. I also like the spinach-stuffed rigatoni, which are really just long rectangular ravioli. The non-pesto raviolis I've found to be just okay or worse: spinach is unremarkable, and broccoli/cheddar and black bean are noble failures. Manicotti is fine but nothing to get excited about. Pesto agnolotti is cute, but has only a teensy amount of the filling that makes the pesto ravioli the clear-cut winner here.
Sauces: I used to like the filletto, a red sauce impregnated with parmesan and full of halves of San Marzano tomatoes, but then they changed the recipe and made it a vodka sauce, so that's out. And that leaves just the organic tomato, since the other red sauces aren't very good — the marinara is smooth and dark and paste-y; the artichokes don't add much to the artichoke marinara; the garden vegetable sauce seems to have spent just a little too much time in the blender and consequently achieved an unpleasant consistency, neither smooth nor chunky. The alfredo is okay but a bit bland; it tastes more of butter than anything else, and is the consistency of cheesecake before it's heated. And the pesto is a real washout, basically half a basil leaf floating in a tub of oil. I literally had to dump 90% of the oil to make this edible.
But I can always get one really good thing here, so I'd be happy to go back.
|Ghenet||Ethiopian||Mulberry & Houston, Manhattan||24 Aug '01||2|
|Okay Ethiopian, but not great and pretty expensive. Most of their budget seems to have gone into ambiance, and it's a nice room, but you can't eat a room.|
|Giardini Pizza||Pizza||Smith & 2nd, Brooklyn||22 Jan '02||1|
|Not the worst pizza in the world, but it was served lukewarm and the cheese was kind of off, so.|
|Gramercy Tavern (Tavern portion)||Semi-upscale American||20th St btw Broadway/Park, Manhattan||10 Dec '01||6|
I took Jen to the "Tavern" portion of the Gramercy Tavern for her birthday back in
'00; the food is much the same as that in the restaurant proper, but reservations and fancy dress aren't
required. Both halves of the establishment make use of the same cheeseboard, so when a certain
cheese-obsessed friend of mine turned out to be coming into town for the day, I couldn't pass up the
opportunity to see how she'd react to the Tavern's extensive menu of exotic cheeses. She's not normally
one given to triumphant exclamations, but apparently the Stilton called for an exception. I was amused.
However, I myself didn't much care for it... in fact, I'm not really much of a cheese person myself, and
though the Ardrahan was very nice, that alone wouldn't make me single out the Tavern as anything special.
Nor would the meal itself. In fact, I'd have to give the artichoke salad I got a thumbs down: the dressing was so tart that its effect on my lips went well past the point of tingling and into the realm of painful stinging. And it didn't even taste good; both the friends I was with tried it and after debating what it was that was marring the dish — an undercurrent of olive, perhaps? — eventually decided that it was just a matter of "mystery flavors that don't like each other." Service was a bit on the clueless side — my other friend had some questions about the menu (for instance, one item was "salmon rillettes," and she asked, "What are rillettes?") and the waitress was stumped more often than not. So by the end of the main course I was pretty peeved. Now, I'd had the best dessert of my life the last time I'd been to the Tavern, a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler with ginger ice cream, so I knew that this wasn't going to end up all bad. But as far as I was concerned, the bad salad had killed a potential top rating. Not even the best dessert I've ever had could bail the place out.
So what did? The two best desserts I've ever had. The cobbler, this time without strawberries and with vanilla ice cream, was just as awe-inspiringly delicious as before — the fresh warm pastry is indescribably scrumptious even before it gets soaked in hot fruit and cold ice cream — but we also got a chocolate soufflé with caramel ice cream and that was every bit as good. We're talking so good that I literally could not keep from crying out in amazement not just upon the discovery that came with the first bite, but with every subsequent bite as well. Did the desserts make up for a bad salad? Hell, they would've made up for being beaten with a truncheon for an hour and a half.
I've been back a few times since then and we've usually gone straight for the dessert menu — don't let it be said that I'm not a quick study. The buttermilk flan was not to be missed if you're into that sort of thing, but the minuscule almond cake, while no smaller than the soufflé, was a bit too light to get away with being so tiny. The apple tarte tatin, on the other hand, had no such problems — it was huge, relatively speaking — but wasn't really to my taste. (I seem to be the oddball on this score, however.) And then, just when I thought I'd covered everything GT had to offer dessert-wise, at least in the front room, they went and changed it all around. So, on to the summer menu.
The entrees appeared to be the same, or mostly so; this time out I had the wax bean and walnut pesto salad, which was just a small dollop of those two things on a plate, with big rolls of pecorino and a couple small pieces of darkly grilled brioche — good, but not really worth the $11. We also ordered some cheeses, of which my favorite by a solid margin was the nicely subtle Camembert — I can see myself getting some of this at a cheese shop sometime, should I find myself in the right mood. The service was also better this time around, with a waitress who knew a little bit about the food, at least enough to talk about the differences among their various Camembert suppliers when I singled it out as my favorite. But enough about the incidentals. On to the desserts!
The summer '01 tarte tatin swapped apple for peach, with black pepper ice cream and basil syrup; we steered clear of this one. But we did get most everything else. The blueberries and creme fraiche on shortcake didn't do much for me, and the blackberries on cornmeal cake with corn ice cream was chiefly notable for the sheer wackiness of corn ice cream. The chocolate soufflé cake was still around, this time accompanied by a mint ice cream that really reminded you that mint comes from leaves — when the waitress asked what we thought and I mentioned that I slightly preferred it with the caramel ice cream that used to accompany it, she brought out a dish of the caramel ice cream gratis (though unfortunately the cake had been polished off by that point.) Instead of the rhubarb cobbler, the skillet dish was now a nectarine and cherry crisp with cream cheese ice cream; I looooove nectarines, but the buttery crumbs were no substitute for the cobbler pastry. All of these were okay to very good, but the winner, hands down, was the strawberry and cream tart with strawberry sorbet. The tiny backyard-style strawberries and scrumptious cream were freaking amazing, and the sorbet that went with it was similarly delicious.
Two months later the menu had changed yet again, with the disappearance of summer fruit in New York. So instead of strawberries on the tart, there were figs; the blackberry corn cake became pear corn cake; the nectarine crisp was replaced by a plum crisp. But I haven't tried any of those: I stuck with the chocolate souffle cake, and Jen got the selection of ice creams, which turned out to be mint, caramel, and a chocolate ice cream that was in no obvious way different from your typical chocolate ice cream yet was somehow several orders of magnitude more delicious for no discernible reason. I also got a look at the cookie plate when the guy at the table next to us ordered it: these weren't Campitelli-style large soft cookies, but small ones, Famous Amos sized, about five or six varieties and roughly 20 cookies in all. Jen needled me for ogling the cookie plate and I said, "Hey, at least I wasn't ogling his date's breasts"; Jen replied, "I'd rather you had been. That'd be less embarrassing to explain."
Bridget actually got the cookie plate when I went with her, and I sampled one of each type — they ranged from quite good (the almond biscotti) to sort of enh. I got the chocolate cake again for Bridget's benefit, but it was underdone and the cinnamon ice cream that came with it was low on flavor and had some ice-crystal crunchiness to it. We also got some cheeses (a not very good crumbly gouda, an okay-tasting but foul-smelling meunster, and a pretty good buttery cream cheese) and a marinated vegetable sandwich, which I thought was extremely good once Bridget had removed the onions — but still, a sandwich had BETTER damn well be extremely good for fourteen bucks. And for a food item at GT to surpass the desserts is disturbing. Plus the service this time out was extremely slow and a bit condescending. It's now been several visits since I was really wowed by GT, and while the best desserts I've ever had are here, they are not currently available. So at least a temporary downgrade is in order. Let's hope a healthy yellow returns come the spring.
|Grilled Cheese NYC||Grilled cheese sandwiches||Ludlow & Stanton, Manhattan||26 Nov '01||4|
|To an extent, this is even sillier than Hero's Sweet Potatoes (see below), since grilled cheese ingredients are easier to find and the sandwiches quicker to prepare than Japanese sweet potatoes. But if I were to get a loaf of bread and a wedge of cheese and a red pepper to roast and a container of pesto it'd probably come out to a lot more than four bucks, and while it's true that I could then make a lot more than one sandwich, I wouldn't really want to. So, Grilled Cheese NYC, where you can choose from half a dozen different cheeses — so far I've tried the provolone (good), the cheddar (not so good) and the havarti (ditto) — and a bunch of complimentary add-ins like those mentioned above, plunk down $4 or $4.50, and get a reasonably good sandwich. And they're made in a panini press, which I don't have in my kitchen. I've also tried the fresh mozzarella sandwich, which comes with tomatoes, pesto, mesclun and balsamic vinegar — and is served, ungrilled, on a crunchy Italian roll — and it too is quite tasty, if a tad small for six bucks.|
|Grimaldi's||Pizza||Old Fulton & Front, Brooklyn||14 Jan '02||4|
|At Grimaldi's, they figure anything 500 degrees can do, 850 can do better. The whole reason they're in Brooklyn is that Manhattan doesn't allow new coal ovens to be built, and that's what it takes to get the temperatures that allow a pizza to turn from dough to charcoal in five minutes. The results are good. This is one of those places that offer a thin crust with pools of fresh mozz, a few dollops of bright sauce, and a handful of basil leaves; this isn't the best example of such I've found in the city, and certainly not the best-priced, but it's a notch above the standard yellow slice.|
|H&H Bagels||Bagels||Broadway & 80th, Manhattan||04 Dec '04||5|
|This is a large, empty space with a counter at one end from which you can buy whole bagels to take home. (You can also get Snapple and similar crap but you have to get it yourself out of a refrigerated case.) The bagels are good.|
|Haveli||Indian||2nd Ave & 6th, Manhattan||26 Aug '01||4|
|Haveli tries to set itself apart from its competitors around the corner on 6th Street with schmancy touches like tuxedoed waiters and no chili pepper Xmas lights hanging from the ceiling, but the cuisine, for all its priciness, isn't similarly distinguished. Banana pakoras sounded like an offbeat change from the usual Indian appetizers, but they turned out to be big spherical doughnuts with a teensy bit of banana at the center. Korma is purported to be a specialty, but while it was more complex than the typical korma, it wasn't really any better. Naan was average.|
|Helen's Fabulous Cheesecake||Cheesecake||Union btw Columbia/Hicks, Brooklyn||25 Feb '02||5|
|Helen's offers creamy cheesecake in a variety of flavors — I've had the pistachio and the peanut butter, and they're pretty good. Also available are an even wider selection of excellent scones, including a "tollhouse scone" with chocolate and butterscotch chips. Of course, if my experience with the bagel bigots is any indication, somewhere out there are a bunch of people pursing their lips at the idea that someone might offer a scone in more than two varieties.|
|Hero's Sweet Potatoes||Sweet potatoes||13st St btw 5th Ave/University, Manhattan||12 Oct '01||4|
|You walk in, you shell out two bucks, you get a Japanese sweet potato (like a regular one, but a lighter in color, a bit smaller and much less fibrous) with a topping. I've tried peanut butter, cinnamon sugar, chocolate and sour cream — all make for tasty combinations with the potato, though the place is pretty stingy with the toppings. There's nothing magical here, nothing that requires the services of a chef — they're just potatoes — but while you could easily duplicate this in your kitchen, at Hero's you don't have to go hunting for Japanese produce or wait an hour for the potato to cook.|
|'ino||Italian sandwiches||Bedford btw Downing/Houston, Manhattan||19 Sep '01||4|
|'ino is mainly a bar, or at least that's how it struck me on my visit there; the tables seemed like afterthoughts. The menu includes various panini and other types of sandwiches, but I stuck to the bruschetta, which offered more veggie options. At two bucks a pop, I ordered three: tomato and basil, asparagus and parmesan, and pesto. They weren't bad by any means (though I'm discovering that I don't actually like asparagus) but on balance I prefer the standard bruschetta with olive oil, melted mozz and tomatoes, which is easy enough to make that I don't really have much excuse for not making it more often at home.|
|Juice Generation||Smoothies||9th Ave & 45th, Manhattan||17 Apr '04||4|
|Pretty good smoothie place. I had one with pineapple, coconut, strawberries, banana, and (not my choice, but I took it) agave nectar. I still would have gladly had some more after I finished the 24-ounce cup, so while I wasn't exactly wowed I have to think that's a reasonably good recommendation.|
|Junior's||Cheesecake||Grand Central Station, Manhattan||09 Jan '02||5|
|This place apparently serves things other than cheesecake, but it's the cheesecake it's known for and it's the big cheesecake counter I went to. I probably wouldn't have shelled out the five bucks they charge for a slice, but luckily before I wandered off I noticed that they have little baby cheesecakes that go for three, which is more like what I was looking for. And it turned out that the cheesecake is, in fact, very good. It's the dense and sweet kind rather than the fluffy cheesier variety, and the one I got had a very welcome raspberry swirl running through it, since even a really good cheesecake by itself isn't really all that exciting.|
|Kabab Cafe||Egyptian||Steinway & 25th, Queens||26 Feb '02||7|
|For most of the time this page has been up I've had the Kabab Cafe listed as a noteworthy place to grab a Middle Eastern meal. But that impression was based on coming in at odd hours, usually grabbing takeout. Now I know this: come in and sit down during regular dinner hours, when Ali is really into it, and you stand a chance of getting a flat-out amazing meal. I got my usual standby, the foul medames, which shot past Papa Hassan's in Orange to become the best rendition of this dish I've had, with peppers and even apples (!) added to the mix to keep things interesting. But what really blew my mind was the baba ghanoouj, which Bridget had ordered — this is not normally a favorite of mine, not being much of an eggplant fan, but Ali's rendition was one of the most remarkable things I've ever tasted. Smoky, complex, deep — I can't really describe it; all I can do is throw superlatives at it. Be warned, though, that the quality of any given dish varies wildly depending on how the stars are aligned when you show up. For instance, the baba wasn't quite as good when I went with Jen, but we also got the "Egyptian potato salad," a mix of diced regular and sliced sweet potatoes encrusted in Ali's favorite spices, and it scored top marks. Then when I went a couple of weeks later the potatoes were kind of blah, just big chunks in a lemony sauce, but the foul was better than ever. So if you find you really like something and want to get it again later, be warned that it may have mutated in the interim.|
|Karam||Lebanese||4th Ave & 86th, Brooklyn||16 Sep '01||4|
|While the food hasn't struck me as entirely worthy of the fairly extreme plaudits bestowed upon it, I'll give Karam this: they're almost alarmingly cheap. Falafel sandwich? Three bucks. Stuffed grape leaves? Three for a buck. Very, very cool. But the things I've tried have been merely acceptable rather than noteworthy, and I just can't bring myself to overtly recommend a place that refuses to serve me the menu item I most covet (foul madammas) unless I come down at like nine in the morning.|
|Kiev||Ukrainian||2nd Ave & 7th, Manhattan||25 Jun '01||3|
|It was late Sunday night, I'd woken up at like 8pm, and while I generally can't bear the thought of food for a few hours after getting up, I was finally hungry. And, bizarrely, I was hungry for blintzes. Luckily, I just happened to know a place where one could get blintzes at one in the morning, and so finally got around to trying Kiev (which at the time was called Zoo for some reason.) Make an L7 with your hands, and that's about the size I'm used to blintzes being; Kiev's were burrito-sized and there were two of them, so after I got the first few "mmmm, blintz" bites out of the way, I found myself with about one and a half blintzes left which no longer seemed quite so tasty. Another case where I'd rather have half as much, even if I had to pay two-thirds the price.|
|Kitchen/Market||Burritos||8th Ave & 21st, Manhattan||16 Apr '04||8|
I wuz snookered, I tells ya. The first few times I visited this place I just had
to try the offbeat fillings like barley corn salad and green chile posole — I even skipped the
burritos altogether once and got the tortilla pie, which cost 50% more than the equivalent item at the
Green Cat Cafe in Seattle and was about 50% as good. And even those burritos were frustrating: it was
so obvious that here was possibly the only place in New York City where they actually knew how to make
a burrito, how to prepare the tortilla (hint: the answer is not "throw it, dry, onto a grill"), how to
fold it (into a cylinder, not a throw pillow), etc., but the results just weren't working for me. But
before I gave up, I decided to owed them one more chance: after all, the burrito I'd been looking for
was not one of the froufrou varieties I'd been ordering but your basic vegetarian black bean burrito.
So that's what I got: the three-cheese San Francisco with black beans, salsa fresca (free!) and none
of that @#$%ing hot sauce that'd been so insistent on keeping my tongue from actually being able to taste
the damn burrito. And it was great. The best burrito I'd had since leaving California, no
contest. At last! I've since gone back to experimenting a bit, but this time secure in the knowledge
that if I come up with something I don't like, it's because I don't care for what I've selected, not
because the place sucks. (For the record: the guacamole's good.)
That said, I still can't help but grumble about the prices: we're talking a New-York-sized nine bucks for a California-sized (ie, smaller than a boat) burrito. And there's nowhere to sit inside or outside, so I've ended up scarfing the things down on the subway, not exactly your ideal dining environment. But then, this place does bill itself as every bit as much a market as a kitchen, so it makes up for its lack of amenities with even more stuff to take home: a panoply of desserts ranging from cakes to cookies to puddings to items that don't even have real names, obscure bottled beverages, spices, seeds, chiles... and then there's breakfast. It wasn't until ten months after I'd moved away that I got around to trying the breakfast burrito, on a year-end business trip — and it was possibly the best breakfast I have ever had, period. Eggs, black beans, salsa, chiles, juicy wonderfulness. And only $4.16! Truly excellent.
Update 2004: I have now been away from New York long enough to have regained some perspective. $9.50 is a crazy amount to pay for a bean burrito.
|L&B Spumoni Gardens||Pizza and spumoni||86th St btw W. 11th/Ave V, Brooklyn||02 Dec '01||5|
|I arrived with three bucks in my pocket, having heard that the Sicilian (ie, square) pizza slice was worth a trip. I got one. It'd been sitting around for a while and was consequently not very good, though it showed signs that it might have been good fresh. (Subsequent visits have proven that the pizza is in fact a little better when just out of the oven. A little. It's still basically a hunk of fluffy bread with some sauce and bad cheese painted on top.) I now had a buck fifty left. My initial impulse was to try the regular slice to see if that was any better. But then I thought, hey, it's not called L&B Pizza Gardens — I should try the spumoni. So I shelled out my remaining cash and got a cup. Good move. Lighter than ice cream — spumoni comes from the Italian for "foam" — this frozen dessert comes in vanilla, chocolate and pistachio, but I followed the lead of everyone else and simply asked for "a spumoni" and consequently received a bit of all three mixed with little almond bits. Delicious! No wonder the place has survived into its seventh decade now.|
|La Bagel Delight||Bagels||7th Ave & 5th, Brooklyn; Court & Schermerhorn, Brooklyn||07 Dec '01||4|
|Very good bagels, when they're hot. However, the cold ones aren't really anything special, and lately that's been what they've been sticking me with. Feh. Also, their flavor selection is a tad limited — Noah's and Bagel Me and the like may not have made as good a bagel, but I sure miss being able to get peppercorn and cinnamon sugar — and when the place is crowded (which is usually) the place can get chaotic. "STEP UP! NEXT! STEP UP!" they scream. "CALM DOWN! CALM DOWN!" I think in reply.|
|La Villa||Pizza||Avenue U & E. 66th, Brooklyn||08 Sep '01||3|
|Where to eat in Mill Basin/Bergen Beach, where the subways don't go and it looks like 1962 New Jersey? Research turned up this pizzeria and restaurant. I can see why — Mill Basin isn't exactly bursting with gourmet grub, so a decent pizza parlor is going to win raves even if it's nothing spectacular, which it isn't. Though I might have felt differently had my regular slice not been blackened, leaving only a bready Sicilian slice to really judge by. I'll probably try something more substantial if ever I return, but really, when am I gonna be in Mill Basin again? (Note to boss: that was a rhetorical question.)|
|Lahore||Pakistani||Crosby btw Houston/Prince||05 Jan '02||1|
|This is a little hole in the wall that I'd heard good things about but which didn't live up to them. I got a vegetable samosa and a potato/pepper mix over rice, but these things were simply taken out of a case and popped into a microwave. The samosa came out soggy and the entree remained mostly cold. And while the samosa was tasty enough even while soggy to finish, when I gave the entree to a homeless guy out front I wondered if I was really doing him a favor.|
|Laila||Middle Eastern||7th Ave & 15th, Brooklyn||05 Apr '01||2|
|Things started off very promisingly, as the bread was excellent. Then the vegetarian fassoulia I ordered had chunks of lamb floating in it, which was less promising. They quickly remedied the situation — no huffiness or "can't you just eat around it" business, thank goodness — but even then, the meal was... clumsy, I guess. A mound of white rice (not even sticky rice, but the big smooth-grained kind) and a bowl of (admittedly tasty) green beans in a red sauce that was somehow simultaneously bland and garish. Not bad, mind you. Just not anything I'd go back for more of.|
|Lavagna||Italian||5th St & Avenue B, Manhattan||07 Nov '01||3|
|My trip home took me through Alphabet City, so I stopped here for dinner since I'd been meaning to check it out for a while. I started with a roasted artichoke on a bed of white bean puree with crimini mushrooms and parmesan, which was good, though Di Fara does artichokes a million times better and it was a bit small for seven bucks. Then I got the pizza margherita, which was a mistake. That was what I'd been in the mood for, but Lavagna is no pizzeria, and having a wood-burning brick oven and all the rest doesn't help if you don't know how to make a crust with the right taste and texture or what type of sauce and cheese constitutes a margherita. The pizza was not terrible but with its thin, limp crust and gloppy cheese I certainly wouldn't recommend it. Then came dessert, a chocolate hazelnut pudding cake, or so the menu said. But c'mon, people: a homeopathic dose of hazelnut extract or whatever does not give you license to put hazelnut so prominently in the title. This was the Something Sweet fiasco writ large, way too heavy and unsubtle. I'd consider going back, but this was not a good meal for the price.|
|Le Zie||Venetian||7th Ave & 20th, Manhattan||18 Jan '02||3|
|Since we skipped the macaroni and cheese at Cafe Boulud, I felt I had to try the rendition here, which includes broccoli rabe and black truffle. But the flavor was unfortunately more "interesting" than actually good: bitter cheese plus bitter broccoli makes for a meal that's not for the sweet of tooth. Pici pasta is more successful on this count, but though the dish is good overall, the somewhat slimy feel is a little off-putting.|
|Lenny's Pizza||Pizza||5th Ave & Prospect, Brooklyn||10 Apr '01||1|
|Now this was a subpar slice. Not wretched, but cheese, sauce and crust were all worse than I've come to expect around here, and I haven't come to expect very much.|
|Lento's||Pizza||3rd Ave & Ovington, Brooklyn||23 Sep '01||1|
|Pizza about as thick as an index card and about as tasty. And, as a passerby once told me and Jen as we looked in the window at John's in Greenwich Village, "dey only soiv pies," so I had to shell out for a whole pizza for the privilege of finding out that it was bad.|
|Luce||Italian||11th St & 6th Ave, Brooklyn||28 Feb '02||4|
|One of the better restaurants within walking distance of my apartment, so naturally it didn't open until I was weeks away from leaving. The first dish I tried was the ravioli in a red pepper and garlic sauce with spinach, which is pretty good stuff, even if the portion is less than generous (and actually, on my most recent trip the flavor balance was a bit off... too garlicky.) Later I tried the penne with broccoli rabe and can now say with some confidence that I just plain don't care for broccoli rabe. And while the white bean puree is an improvement over the usual butter or olive oil, and the sesame breadsticks are good, the fluffier breadsticks are covered with those fresh-bread seeds you get at Indian restaurants and it just does not work. The biggest winner is the chocolate cake, full of teensy slivers of almond and accompanied by pears and a good-sized dollop of mascarpone — very nice.|
|Luna Pizza||Pizza||Kings Highway btw Coney Island Ave/E. 12th, Brooklyn||11 Aug '01||2|
|This had been my default place to go when stuck in the area of the main Princeton Review office and starving to death. But then I got some slices when I wasn't absolutely ravenous and realized, hey, this doesn't actually taste very good. It's bready and the cheese is sorta... off. Ah well.|
|Lupa||Roman||Thompson btw Houston/Bleecker, Manhattan||21 Feb '02||4|
|This place is intense. Well, no, strike that. It's not the place which is
intense. The place is actually quite friendly. Nice room, excellent service (water constantly refilled,
check delivered and taken away promptly, amiable wait staff)... even the menu has a glossary on the
back spelling out the ingredients for each dish, which earns Lupa big points in my book. And it's
casual. And reasonably priced. But then the food comes and, bam, it's a mule kick in the teeth.
In a good way? Kinda hard to say.
There are about a dozen vegetable appetizers, with some seasonal variation. I ordered the broccoli the first time around, and it came on a teensy little plate — but it turned out to be more than enough, since the olive oil it was drenched in was spiked with hot peppers and a small dose was plenty. The artichoke I got on my second visit was similarly treated: the vegetable itself wasn't all that flavorful, but it was soaked in a tangy sauce with chile and mint. I don't think I'd get either of these again, though. Big taste is not the same as great taste.
On my first visit I got a pasta dish which looked very skimpy: it was just a bowl with what appeared to be a tongful or two of thin linguine, in a very plain dressing of olive oil with pecorino and coarse cracked peppercorns. This, too, turned out to be a deceptively generous portion. The pasta was so al dente that if I'd prepared it I would've thought it underdone, but maybe I've just been overcooking pasta. And while it may have appeared whisper quiet, the flavor was LOUD, peppercorns and cheese exploding in every bite. It all looked so small and plain, but this was anything but a plain lunch. My second trip was less successful. I specifically went on a Thursday so I could try the gnocchi, but it turned out that Lupa's idea of gnocchi fails to coincide with the mainstream one: these were little ricotta patties, and since they didn't hold their shape I soon found myself with a plate full of what seemed like a sort of dairy polenta topped with pepper, cream and cheese. And as I find the texture of polenta a bit, well, gross, this monolithic mass was a bit off-putting. But hey, another place I don't have to make regular pilgrimages to visit.
|Madras Cafe||South Indian||2nd Ave btw 4th/5th, Manhattan||08 Dec '01||5|
|My first encounter with the Madras Cafe was in February of '00, when a meeting with friends at Kiev a couple blocks up the street was foiled by servers who refused to seat Jen and me and we retreated here. Which was really fine by me, since I'll take chutney over borscht any day. It certainly didn't hurt that the Madras Cafe is among the best Indian I've had. It's an all-vegetarian place, and the cuisine is specifically from southern India: in other words, no naan! Dosas! This most recent time out Jennifer actually got one of the dosas; the lentil crepe wrapping was very good, but the inside was mostly onion, so a forkful was more than enough for me. I decided to forego my favorites and try a green bean dish that turned out to be quite tasty, as were the samosas (a cut well above the average, but also about three times the price of those at, say, Milon) and the paratha. A fine dinner indeed. Later I went back for lunch and found that they have no buffet, so I ordered up some mulligatawny (tasty lentil soup with a hint of lemon) and an utthappam, a sort of pancake with green peppers, onions and tomatoes baked into it. It was also pretty darn good. A later order of the vegetable korma also turned out nicely.|
|Madras Mahal||Indian||Lexington btw 27th/28th, Manhattan||31 Jul '01||2|
|A bunch of different veggie stuff at the lunch buffet — this whole block seems to be nothing but veggie Indian — but unfortunately it's not that great. Dishes tended to be overspiced and the parathas left a lot to be desired, showing evidence of hockey puck effect. Ah well.|
|Maharani||Indian||29th St btw 6th/7th Ave, Manhattan||18 Jul '01||1|
|Urk. Soggy samosas, food that's either underdone and overspiced or overdone and underspiced, and often looks just like it must have on the bag of frozen veggies it came from.|
|Maya||Semi-upscale Mexican||1st Ave btw 64th/65th, Manhattan||17 Dec '01||4|
|This place has a review in the window from one Hal Rubinstein, who declares that not only
is the margarita the only bit of Mexican cuisine he can stand, but that one would have to drink several
of them to be able to choke down a burrito or tamale without gagging. Oh, sure, some people like
Mexican food, but they're plebes who actually live, if you can believe this, outside New York City!
Horrors! So Rubinstein heartily endorses Maya, where you can get a margarita and then order up a nice
Maya is another one of these high-end joints like Rosa Mexicano with only one meatless dish on the menu; luckily, Maya's is significantly better than RM's: it's roasted squash with sweet potato puree, asparagus, froufrou mushrooms and spinach in a red pepper reduction. This comes with very good rice and black beans on the side, though the combination of the three isn't quite worth nineteen bucks, I don't think. The dessert list, though, was very impressive — I had the "tamal de chocolate" (chocolate cake subbing for corn masa and phyllo for corn husk, with hazelnut syrup and vanilla ice cream), though I came thisclose to getting the banana walnut empanadas with strawberry coulis and coconut ice cream. Maybe next time, if there's a next time. Though I won't be trying Rubinstein's recommendation, the sufficiently-non-Mexican-for-him crêpes with goat cheese. Grah. Now I want to move back to a state with a Spanish name, posthaste.
|Max & Moritz||Semi-upscale||7th Ave btw 14th/15th, Brooklyn||06 Sep '01||3|
|I'd actually heard not very good things about this place, but I knew I'd have to give it a try someday; passing it most every day and having my umpteenth look at the menu of the only high-end place in the South Slope, I couldn't help but be a little curious. But it never seemed as if a solo walk-in would be welcome — the times it wasn't packed solid, it was either in the middle of opening or shutting down for the night. But then this evening I passed it on the way to the subway and noticed that there were a lot of tables available, and I figured, hey, now's my chance — I can save myself a trip. The bread was excellent, the basket containing three different kinds, including a delicious, super soft pumpernickel and a tasty seed bread. But the capellini special I ordered was full of stereotypically high-end vegetables — sundried tomatoes, eggplant, weird-ass mushrooms, crunchy green slabs of some description — which both tasted worse and cost more than the standard fare at less froufrou places. Still, if they bring back the walnut ravioli from the winter menu, I'll probably give it a chance.|
|Meskerem||Ethiopian||47th St & 10th Ave, Manhattan||15 Oct '01||2|
|The first time Jen and I went here we got the veggie combo, which featured two things we didn't like: a cabbage concoction ("Alas, poor cabbage," said Jen, "so nutritious, yet so foul") and a punishingly spicy chickpea wat. But the lentil wat was very good, especially the non-spicy version; the string beans were great, despite being served among pieces of carrot; and the side of collard greens was flat-out amazing, so much so that I vowed that on my next visit I'd try to get them to up the portion by getting just the stuff we liked. So on my second visit, that's what I did — which may have been a huge mistake, because the waitress seemed really confused when I tried to describe what we wanted instead of just spitting out a number, and then when our food did arrive, it was bad: the collard greens were worse than Ghenet's, and nothing else was all that great either. So which was the "real" Meskerem? Not sure I'll bother to find out.|
|Mike's Pizza||Pizza||E. 16th & Quentin, Brooklyn||30 Apr '01||1|
|Grabbed a curiously flavorless slice here — though from the flavor I did detect, they may have been doing me a favor.|
|Milon||Bangladeshi||1st Ave btw 5th/6th, Manhattan||14 May '01||4|
|When I first went here in '97 I was astonished at its quality/price ratio: I was used
to paying twice as much for the same items other places. But sharing a block with fifty other Indian
restaurants'll have that effect. Not that Milon is Indian, exactly; it bills itself as Bangladeshi,
which from what I saw means that the dishes are more overtly tropical than in the usual Indian places
one finds in this country. Bananas and coconut abound on the menu. Also abounding on the menu are
entrees priced under five bucks, which may seem like an amazing bounty if you're from one of the poorest
countries in the world but which struck me as so low it was hard to keep from laughing with amazement.
A samosa appetizer that would normally run you three bucks? One twenty-five! Bwa-ha-ha!
But Milon will probably disappoint those who prefer a great meal at an okay price to an okay meal at a great price. My sweet, coconutty vegetable korma ($4.95!) seemed to have been prepared with the understanding that the vegetables were just filler, a sort of sauce delivery system: we're talking about broccoli stems and other slivers of mystery greenery. The naan also left something to be desired, puffy and round instead of in the classic thin teardrop shape, tasting of too much salt in one bite, too much yogurt the next. And if you're looking for an pleasant dining experience, steer clear: this is a second-story shoebox, the entire top half of which is a solid mass of chili-pepper Christmas lights, complemented with shiny red wallpaper and Bangladeshi music turned up to about 14. But the fare is miles better than typical Indian takeout and costs half as much as a typical sit-down Indian restaurant. Make of that what you will.
|Mr. Falafel||Egyptian||7th Ave btw 3rd/4th, Brooklyn||27 May '01||2|
|Quite a long wait for bland, beany foul. The pita bread is good but otherwise I can't recommend it.|
|My Little Pizzeria||Pizza||Court & State, Brooklyn||23 Sep '01||4|
|A higher standard of pizza than a lot of places I've been to, but hardly a destination spot. It is quite nice to see margherita versions of both the Neapolitan and Sicilian available by the slice.|
|Naidre's||Cafe||7th Ave & 12th, Brooklyn||08 Mar '02||4|
|I've seen many an intriguing dessert thingie advertised on their little board out front, but so far have only tried a couple slices of cheesecake, a lemony plain one and a marble one that, instead of swirling regular and chocolate cheesecake, swirled regular cheesecake with flaky solid chocolate. They've ranged from okay to quite good — I hope to try the chocolate butterscotch one at some point. I've also ordered up a couple of breakfast things — a muffin and some coffee cake — that might as well have been desserts. Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, part of this balanced breakfast.|
|Naples 45||Pizza/Italian||45th St btw Lexington/Vanderbilt, Manhattan||04 Jan '02||8|
|This place has various Italian fare, but I've never ordered anything but the margherita pizza, which is somewhere between great and really, really great: flavorful crust, fresh tomato sauce, delicious pools of fresh mozzarella... it's not the orchestra of flavor you'll get from Zachary's or even Di Fara, but it's a wonderful little string section. The problem? A pizza that one person can easily polish off solo will set you back close to twenty bucks if you get tableside service. The solution: go to the take-out counter before noon or between 2 and 6pm. The exact same pizza will be made to order for you and it will cost $4.50. And you're not even handed a box and cast out of the restaurant — have a seat at one of the little tables near the counter and enjoy your pizza while laughing at the poor fools on the other side of the partition paying four times as much. Though if you want a box, you can get one, and your fresh pizza will be ready to go in about the same time it takes most places to reheat a slice: it's quite the kickass oven. This may be the best food value in the city.|
|New York Brick Oven Pizza Co.||Pizza||3rd Ave & 77th, Brooklyn||20 Feb '02||8|
|NYBOP Co.'s personal margherita pizza is pretty much indistinguishable from Naples 45's: the excellent sauce, the delicious cheese, the scrumptious crust, it's all there, made to order. It does cost a buck more, but it's also a straight shot down the R line from my apartment, so I can be door to door in less than half an hour. This place has been absolutely empty every time I've ever gone, which is a shame since it's easily one of the best places I've been in the city.|
|Nick's Pizza||Pizza||Ascan btw Austin/Burns, Queens||25 Oct '01||5|
|This much-ballyhooed pizzeria in Forest Hills is quite good: light, tasty sauce with little blobs of fresh mozz, complemented with artfully arranged toppings. This is all served on a carefully charred, cornbready crust, which may be the distinctive factor that places Nick's at the top of a lot of lists, but I prefer the more standard crust at places like Naples 45, NYBOP Co., and of course Di Fara.|
|Nino's||Pizza/Italian||Union & Henry, Brooklyn||03 Oct '01||3|
|The slice of pizza I got was reasonable; I didn't try the cafeteria portion of the place, since it looked like they charged more than other places ask for food that's freshly prepared. And the more upscale room next door seemed to have the exact same menu, which makes me suspicious...|
|Nino's Pizza||Pizza||Ave U & E. 14th, Brooklyn||27 Jul '01||4|
|One of the best non-Di Fara slice shops I've been to. I probably won't be making many visits — why go to a #2 choice when a #1 is more convenient? — but I do recommend it to those nearby.|
|Norma's||Breakfast||Le Parker Meridien, btw 6th/7th Ave and 56th/57th, Manhattan||11 Dec '01||2|
|When Bridget came to New York I put a bunch of places on the itinerary selected for their deliciousness — and one, this one, because the menu is just so appalling that I had to show it off. Like, you can get French toast anywhere, and some places will have funky riffs on it like banana bread French toast with mascarpone — and then you've got Norma's, where they'll drown it in strawberries, pistachios and Valrhona chocolate and charge nearly twenty bucks for it. This is one of the items that appears in the section of the menu titled "Your Mom Can't Make This"; problem is, Norma's cooks can't make these things either. The first time I'd visited I'd selected the item everyone had recommended, the wince-when-you-order "Waz-Za," which turned out to be a plate-sized waffle with fruit in the batter so it was purplish with chunks of pineapple in it, on top of which was a thick schmear of some sort of melty pink frosting, on top of which were bananas, on top of which was a brulée of crisp melted sugar, on top of which was powdered sugar. And the whole thing was burnt. This most recent time I aimed for something lighter and got banana-macadamia pancakes; they were burnt. So this isn't just a matter of the food not being good enough for the exorbitant prices — it's not good, period. Unless your idea of a balanced breakfast includes a hearty serving of pure carbon.|
|Olive Vine||Mediterranean||7th Ave & 15th, Brooklyn||06 Mar '01||3|
|Unremarkable Mediterranean joint that seems to focus on pita pizzas, which I think I had in '97 but don't recall much about. What I can tell you is that the falafel is flavorful but nothing really special, the hummus is thin and odd-tasting, the veggies are chunky, and the pita comes in balloon form so that the top of the pocket ends up like a pappadam. Also, the room was really dim: it was dusk, and the place was lit entirely by Xmas lights. At least they weren't the blinky kind.|
|Olive's||Cookies and sandwiches||Prince btw Wooster/Greene, Manhattan||03 Nov '01||4|
|I stopped in here having happened across the tip that the cookies were good: an intriguing prospect, given that a friend of mine, back when he lived here, was wont to lament that New York is not a cookie town. So I got an oatmeal walnut chocolate chip cookie. It was really good! Crunchy, rich, delicious. But here's the catch: the cookie was two bucks. And we're not talking about a cookie the size of your head, unless you have a small head. Campitelli in Anaheim makes a better cookie for less than half the price. But then again: okay, so cookies don't normally cost two bucks. But then, I've paid four bucks for pastries no bigger or tastier than this cookie, without feeling I'd been robbed or anything. So I've been going back, and have also tried the chocolate cookie with black cherries and white chocolate chips, which is a definite winner; however, the smaller, one-dollar cookies are definitely skippable.|
|Original Pizza||Pizza||4th Ave & Bay Ridge, Brooklyn||21 Nov '01||4|
|This place and My Little Pizzeria (see above) seem to be the same organization under different names, but freshly-made slices here seem to be half a notch above MLP's stuff: soft and sort of soothingly sweet. But like MLP, a good neighborhood place and nothing more.|
|Ovo||Pizza and stuff||2nd Ave & 4th, Manhattan||29 Aug '01||3|
|Ovo's pizzas are very similar to those at Naples 45, but they miss the mark by just a smidge and that's enough to bring them down from great to okay. They look great, that's for sure, but the crust lacks that certain element of crispiness and the flavors are just a little too muted. And they cost triple what the pizzas at Naples 45 do, so the choice is obvious.|
|Pancho's||Burritos||2nd Ave & Houston, Manhattan||07 Aug '01||2|
|Got a quesadilla here that was really just a cheesy burrito. Not terrible, but it seemed to miss the mark somehow. Maybe it was the day-glo rice that did it, or the bitter sauces splashed onto the plate underneath the quesa-rito, but I don't anticipate gathering data for a more incisive analysis with the Cosmic Cantina so close by.|
|Paprika Cafe||Italian||St. Marks btw 1st/A, Manhattan||08 Jan '02||1|
|The meal was basically identical to the one I'd had the day before at Pepe Rosso, but this just went to show how even a simple plate of pasta can vary dramatically from one place to another. The pasta was underdone, the red sauce was less flavorful, the cheese was skimpy (and a side bowl of what was called parmesan but was basically bread crumbs hurt more than helped)... I'd left Pepe Rosso thinking that I'd never be able to duplicate the dish at home despite its simplicity, but left Paprika certain that I could do better on my own.|
|Pasticceria Bruno||Pasticceria||Bleecker & Leroy, Manhattan||16 Dec '01||3|
|Got some cookies here, but there were harder and yet not as crunchy as the similar ones from De Robertis. Ah well.|
|Patsy's Pizzeria||Pizza||1st Ave btw 117th/118th, Manhattan||18 Sep '01||6|
|I'd heard that this was possibly the best pizza in the city, so I took the 6 up to East Harlem for the first time and walked from Lexington to 1st to grab a couple of slices. They were great! Bright, tasty sauce, just enough cheese and a wonderful crust that's a little carbon-heavy in the last couple of bites but is otherwise great taste- and texture-wise. If I lived anywhere near Harlem I'm sure I'd go a lot.|
|Peek-A-Boo Pizza Cafe||Pizza (and other stuff now)||7th Ave btw Windsor/Prospect, Brooklyn||27 Sep '01||2|
|Had a black olive slice at the former Jerry's... the toppings and seasoning were okay, but the cheese was a bit dubious. Later I tried a ziti slice (because I needed change for the laundromat next door, and few places these days give change unless you buy something) and it was a desiccated shell of the Jerry's ziti slice. Still far from the worst pizza I've had, mind.|
|Pepe Rosso||Italian||Sullivan & Houston, Manhattan||13 Jan '02||5|
|This is a tiny place, geared primarily for takeout and offering only a few seats. Correction: offering only a few seats and some really good food. On my first visit I had the penne in red sauce with spinach and ricotta, which sounds simple enough to make at home — boil some pasta, steam a few spinach leaves, add a dollop of cheese — but if you can make a marinara sauce this good, then you should be opening your own place. Spaghetti with pesto, potatoes and string beans was also very good. Fettuccini with porcini mushrooms is quite skippable, however.|
|Pino's La Forchetta||Pizza||7th Ave btw 1st/2nd, Brooklyn||23 Oct '01||4|
|The place advertises itself as the best pizza on 7th Avenue, and that's probably accurate. Both the fresh-mozz and the regular slices are a cut above the usual Park Slope fare, which may not be saying very much, but hey, it's something.|
|Pizza Gruppo||Pizza||Ave B btw 11th/12th, Manhattan||03 Sep '01||3|
|Ultra-ultra-thin crust lovers, you may have found your perfect pizza: the crust at Pizza Gruppo is about as thick as a playing card. Unfortunately, the cheese has that reheated feel to it and the sauce has a sort of ketchuppy taste... not so much as to make it taste bad, but it's far from great.|
|Pizza Plus||Pizza||7th Ave btw 10th/11th, Brooklyn||18 May '01||4|
|Stepping inside Pizza Plus is like leaving New York City. I don't know whether it's the 70s-era sign, the knickknacks and formica tables, the all-white families at those tables with their babies in tow, the "easy listening" music on the PA system, the stack of newspapers with local — very local — news (the restaurant review was for the place next door), the "mozzarella stix" on the menu, the bready pizza with its little squares of limp green pepper, or some combination of these, but this is like cruising into Ogden, Utah, at sundown, getting a motel room, searching through the yellow pages for a place to eat that isn't a fast food chain and seizing upon an ad bearing a 70s-era logo: "Ah ha! 'Pizza Plus'! That'll do!" And this is not an insult! The pizza wasn't great, but it was tasty enough that had I been spending the night in Missoula, I'd be patting myself on the back for making such a find.|
|Pó||Tuscan||Cornelia & Bleecker, Manhattan||15 Jan '02||4|
|I went in all set to order up a plate of the white bean ravioli, only to find out that that's a dinner-only item. Gyah. So instead I tried the gnocchi all' arrabiatta, gnocchi being one of my new standbys; these were quite good, but the sauce was just too fiery. (For dinner you can swap out the red pepper flakes and swap in artichokes... sigh.) I don't mind the sting, really — it's just that spicy food tends to taste like burning, and before long this proved no exception. A few days later I returned for the ravioli, which proved to be pretty good, though I was expecting better given that the white bean bruschetta is freaking amazing.|
|Pollio||Italian deli||7th Ave & 10th, Brooklyn||13 Sep '01||4|
|My first deli experience wasn't half bad. I stopped in for a sandwich and decided to try a hero with spinach, roasted peppers and fresh mozz stuffed with pesto and sundried tomatoes. I had no idea what this might end up tasting like and was very pleased to find that it was tasty — a real step up from the shredded lettuce torpedo that calls itself a veggie sub at most sandwich shops (if not quite as good as the California branches of Togo's.) Their pasta salads range from pretty good to not so much.|
|Provence en Boîte||French||3rd Ave & 83rd, Brooklyn||11 Oct '01||4|
|Three things I don't like about this place: high prices; unlabeled food (how'm I supposed to pick a pastry when I don't know what they're called or what's in them?); supercilious clerks who wonder what an American pigdog like me is doing looking at their display case. But I must admit that the slice of chocolate mousse and cream pie I got was quite good.|
|Rainbow Falafel||Falafel||17th & Union Square West, Manhattan||01 Nov '01||4|
|The falafel here is very, very good. So my lukewarm reaction to the sandwich as a whole here means one of two things: either the other elements weren't very good (and they weren't: lettuce, tomatoes, pita were nothing more than average) or, more likely, I'm just discovering that falafel sandwiches aren't really among my favorite things.|
|Red Hot||Chinese||7th Ave & 10th, Brooklyn||20 Jan '02||6|
|I hate Chinese food, so the fact that I find Red Hot's fare non-loathsome speaks very highly of it indeed. It's got a sizeable vegetarian selection including pretty darn good veggie wonton soup and scallion pancakes. For a long while I had bad luck with entrees — Jen tends to get big chunks of tofu with vegetables and I'd steal bites of the latter, but whenever I tried to select a menu item that looked like vegetables without said tofu, the veggie selection would be lousy. Maybe a floret or two of broccoli and the rest, mysterious cabbagey bits. But I finally hit the jackpot, trying the "green bean noodle": this is a plate of sauced, absurdly thin noodles in which lodge scores of delicious green bean bits, long red pepper slivers and very thinly sliced garlic cloves. Nothing I don't like, tons of stuff I do. Found my dish at last!|
|Red Rose||Italian||Smith btw Union/President, Brooklyn||09 Nov '01||4|
|The first time I went to the crêpe place and found it randomly closed, I just went home. The second time I didn't have that luxury: I hadn't eaten all day, had a class to teach with just an hour or so budgeted to grab some food, and on top of all this, had neither any cash nor a working ATM card on me. I ended up ducking into this Italian spot near the Carroll FG station, and after ascertaining that it wasn't closed — there were no customers, just a waiter chatting with what appeared to be the bartender and proprietor — sat down and ordered up some rigatoni with white beans, spinach and parmesan. Not dirt cheap, but huge and, mainly thanks to the beans, enormously filling... oh, and lest I forget, very tasty too. It was nice to spring for a departure from the usual red sauce and have it work out. I liked it so much that when I went back I got the same thing and it was just as good; Jen got a vegetarian risotto that contained some off notes both taste- and texture-wise. Then on a later trip I tried the ziti, which was prepared with inferior cheese and not great overall, while Jennifer got eggplant parmesan and found it to be mostly breading. So Red Rose looks to be a blah place with one really good dish, rather than a really good place. Fair 'nuff.|
|Rice n' Beans||Brazilian||9th Ave & 50th, Manhattan||16 Aug '01||5|
|Lunch here consisted of a pile of rice, a bowl of black beans, some chopped leafy greens, some zucchini slivers, and half a dozen fried plantain pieces; mixing and matching these staples was my job. It's the kind of meal that not only tastes good but makes you feel virtuous — look at all the nutrition! — and the sort of thing that I can imagine someone eating every day for a lifetime without complaining too much, which isn't something you can say about most meals, however good.|
|Roma Pizza||Pizza||7th Ave & Union, Brooklyn||02 May '01||1|
|Got a very appealing-looking tomato slice here, but it tasted like... crispy air.|
|Rosa Mexicano||Semi-upscale Mexican||1st Ave & 58th, Manhattan||14 Dec '01||1|
|Only one meatless entree on the menu here, a pair of chiles relleños. Luckily, I love chiles relleños — there's a place on 45th in Seattle that specializes in them which was one of my regular haunts when I lived there. But these were blah, covered in a sauce that might as well have been Campbell's tomato soup, and for this they had the audacity to charge eighteen freaking dollars. Gyah.|
|Rose Water||Brunch||Union & 6th Ave, Brooklyn||25 Nov '01||5|
|This is a little place which presently has the misfortune of looking out upon a construction
site, but the inside is tranquil in a Japanese-inspired manner. I'm presently unfamiliar with their dinner
offerings, but here's the lowdown on brunch. It's a $10 prix fixe dealie, with a limited but interesting
menu and a number of specials. I tried the frittata with Swiss chard, Jerusalem artichokes and small slabs
of hard ricotta; it was pretty good, if a bit salty. Though perhaps my perception was influenced by the
very salty side dish, red and sweet potatoes cubed and roasted: these were very good, at first, but eventually
the saltiness caught up with me and I couldn't finish them, even with the salsa-like homemade ketchup to cut
the salt. Thus, this rating is based pretty much entirely on Jennifer's meal, which I ended up eating about
a quarter of: banana bread French toast with mascarpone cheese. I don't know whether it's a matter of me
having more of a sweet tooth than a salt tooth or if the French toast (a special, lamentably) was just plain
old better, but this was a real winner that Jen and I are going to have to try duplicating at home. The
banana bread is also available in a bread basket which includes the cornbread that came as a side dish with
my meal; it was filled with little pieces of peppers and such, and was also a bit dry. The prix fixe
includes a beverage, and when I picked the fresh-squeezed orange juice I was surprised to find that it was
more than thimble-sized — hell, it seemed like it was almost a quart. I couldn't finish it.
I suspect we'll be trying dinner here before we leave town.
|Royal Bagels||Bagels||Kings Highway btw E.16th/E.17th, Brooklyn||25 Aug '01||3|
|Okay bagels, perhaps a bit too roll-like. They had chocolate chip, though, which I can only applaud (and buy, which I did.)|
|Rue des Crepes||Crêpes||8th Ave btw 15th/16th, Manhattan||05 Oct '01||3|
|Couldn't find a savory crêpe that appealed to me, so I got dinner elsewhere and returned for the sundae crepe. It was okay, maybe a little sticky-sweet. The crêpes themselves are thin and a bit underdone. No reason to go here with Crooked Tree around.|
|Russo's||Italian deli||7th Ave & 11th, Brooklyn||16 Mar '01||2|
|Picked up some manicotti and marinara here and prepared and ate it a day later. The manicotti turned out to be more of a tubular crêpe deal than an actual pasta item — not bad, but I'd've preferred the more traditional preparation: a manicotti tube shouldn't be spongy. The marinara was bland and watery. A week later I went back for a sandwich that proved far inferior to the similar sandwich from across the street at Pollio. So with Pollio for my sandwich needs and Fratelli for my pasta ones, I don't foresee many more stops at Russo's.|
|Sal & Carmine's||Pizza||Broadway btw 101st/102nd, Manhattan||04 Dec '04||2|
|Cripplingly salty pizza. I ordered a whole pie and it was reasonably tasty but after two slices I just couldn't take anymore. Even that was enough to give me some kind of electrolyte imbalance — my mouth was dry for an entire day afterwards.|
|Sal's Pizzeria||Pizza||4th Ave & 87th, Brooklyn||22 Apr '01||2|
|My first slice here was above average. Not miles above, but good. The second one was enh. The third was truly lousy. I won't be back; at this rate, the next one will kill me.|
|Sandwich Planet||Sandwiches||9th Ave btw 39th/40th, Manhattan||27 Nov '01||1|
|This place has been widely praised, primarily for its quality ingredients, but the assembly of those ingredients is actually important. I ordered up a sandwich that very closely resembled the one I like at Bread, but the results were dramatically different. Missing were the little details like the pinches of this spice and that, the little squeeze of lime, y'know, the stuff that turns the sandwich from a pile of cheese and bread into a delicious lunch. And come to think of it, the ingredients weren't really especially good. The mozzarella here was tasteless, the ciabatta oversized and difficult to eat; at Bread the both these things are good enough to eat big chunks of alone, let alone in concert with the other components. So, yeah, this was a big disappointment.|
|Second Helpings||Eclectic||9th St & 7th Ave, Brooklyn||01 May '01||2|
|Passed this place a million times without seeing it, since it's not on 7th Avenue proper but just around the corner from it. When I did spot it, I stopped in out of curiosity and got a teensy sweet potato and corn empanada ("Wow, only $2.50!" I thought. "What a deal!" Then I saw that the morsel was more the $0.50 size.) This was more the Beso hot-pockets sort of empanada than the Taco Mesa variety, but it was good. Not so good was the fare when I returned for an actual meal: I got a wrap that wasn't all that great (yeah, yeah, that may well be redundant) and for dessert, a peanut butter chocolate chip brownie that was chokingly over-rich while at the same time possessing all the flavor of a health-food cookie. Even the lemonade didn't measure up to the stuff Jen and I have been making at home. And then my third trip was a disaster: the much-vaunted macaroni and cheese was poorly reheated, slightly foul-tasting, and for this they charged more than Pasta & Co. in Seattle charge for their delicious rendition. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for a recounting of trip #4.|
|Shade||Crêpes||3rd St & Sullivan, Manhattan||17 Oct '01||2|
|This crêpe window has no menu as such, just a list of ingredients from which you are invited to choose three. The crêpes are a bit underdone and the ingredients aren't quite up to Crooked Tree quality, but I think I'll try a sweet one before sticking with Crooked Tree exclusively.|
|Smiling Pizza||Pizza||7th Ave & 9th, Brooklyn||25 May '01||2|
|The cheese slices and the fresh mozzarella pizzetta here were good enough that when Jen wanted to have a whole pizza delivered, we decided to go with this place. Well, that's a mistake we won't be making again. The pizza was somehow simultaneously burnt and underdone, and though we ordered green peppers, some olives and (eeeagh!) onions (eeeagh!) made it onto the pie as well. The pizza may have been smiling, but we weren't.|
|Something Sweet||Dessert||1st Ave & 11th, Manhattan||21 Jul '01||1|
|Veniero's was packed solid, so I tried the place next door. The chocolate hazelnut tart looked tempting, but after getting one I was disappointed to find that it wasn't packed with hazelnuts like the chocolate hazelnut pie at Sweet Addition in Issaquah or even the hazelnut tarts at Veniero's — there were just the teensiest flecks. Basically, I'd shelled out $3.50 for a wedge of dense frosting. Ew.|
|Sotto Cinque||Italian||3th Ave & 29th, Manhattan||03 Jun '01||4|
|A couple summers ago I vowed that I would learn to cook at least a few things, and the first several of these things all looked about like what I got at Sotto Cinque: ziti in a cream sauce with some broccoli and zucchini thrown in. Jennifer got rigatoni in a tomato sauce with eggplant. Most of Sotto Cinque's stuff is like this: simple pasta dishes at reasonable prices (the name means "under five," and there are a handful of dishes priced at $4.95), neither cutting corners (the broccoli was irregular and chunky, and the zucchini had been sauteed a bit... nice to see that they weren't out of bags of frozen veggies) nor achieving the magic that I encountered regularly with very similar and even cheaper dishes at the corner pasta joints in Melbourne, Australia. Not bad, but certainly not worth trekking to.|
|Sotto Voce||Italian||7th Ave & 4th, Brooklyn||07 Mar '01||2|
|I tried the fusilli ai formaggi, thinking that (a) walnuts sounded good and (b) the four-cheese blend sounded like something I could never get right in my own kitchen. Nor, it turns out, would I want to: the sauce tasted slightly foul and if the walnut pieces in the dish amounted to even one whole walnut I'd be surprised. Jen liked her portobello and pepper sandwich, though, so maybe I just ordered the wrong thing. Service was fine.|
|Soup As Art||Soup/salad||3rd Ave & 84th, Brooklyn||07 Oct '01||4|
|Got a cup of lentil soup here that was surprisingly good. Not really worth seeking out, but since I wandered in out of sheer need for nourishment, it was nice to luck into something better than the Cup-O-Soup version.|
|Spring Street Bakery||Bakery||Spring & Mott, Manhattan||05 Jan '02||1|
|Got a crepe here that was a tasteless sponge and a peanut butter cookie that was a tasteless crumb disc. That's enough to convince me not to give them a third strike.|
|Tabla (Bread Bar portion)||Semi-upscale Indian fusion||Madison & 25th, Manhattan||18 Apr '04||4|
|Like Gramercy Tavern, Tabla is a Danny Meyer restaurant, and like its sibling, Tabla
also has a tough-ticket main room (at Tabla, upstairs) and a casual no-reservations room, which at Tabla
is known as the Bread Bar. The food is Indian fusion, so the menu includes Indian twists on things like
pizzas, cornbread and chocolate cake. But I figured that I'd give Tabla a chance to wow me with its
creativity later. On my first trip, I was content to let it wow me with its quality.
This it did, and then some. I got a couple of small dishes, a bowl of masoor dal (lentils) and one of boondi raita (yogurt). The dal was flat-out amazing. This wasn't dal makhani, with whole black lentils, but closer to a sambar, a sort of brothy soup with lentil puree; this was a world better than any sambar I've had, though, light and wonderfully flavorful. The raita wasn't quite as good, but was still very good; the yogurt had not only the usual greenery in it but also little chickpea puffs like Kix cereal, only smaller. And the sourdough naan I got, while lacking the strong sourdough flavor I'd been hoping for, was meltingly soft and delicious.
On my second trip I took Jen along, partly because I wanted to share the Tabla experience with her, and also, I must admit, so I'd be able to taste even more stuff. And that I did. She ordered the raita I'd had last time, and I'd planned to order the masoor dal so she could try it, but alas, it was gone. Instead, we got an actual sambar, with summer squash and melon in it (but no onions) and it was delicious. Peach chutney was also very good, but unlike the sambar with its expert mingling of flavors, the chutney's goodness was mainly due to the fact that good peaches are mighty tasty. Jen's selections included a bean chaat, which was a salad of apples and a couple different kinds of small beans: the sort of thing where after a spoonful you say, "Yes, that tastes good," but you're not tempted to dig into the bowl for scoop after scoop of the stuff. She also ordered us a cheese kulcha, Indian bread stuffed with good cheddar and peppers, like a quesadilla with a different flavor balance. Then for dessert I ordered cherry clafoutis with strawberry sorbet, but what we received were pineapple clafoutis with coconut sorbet and mango syrup. Good, but tiny: this shouldn't have been an $8 dessert. Jennifer adds that the cappuccino was much better at Tabla than at Gramercy Tavern. (I don't drink coffee so can't corroborate.)
Trip three came on a gloomy Wednesday at four in the afternoon, and the place was dead: except for the first and last few minutes of my meal, I was the only customer. This time I finally got around to trying one of those "pizzas," this one a rosemary naan stuffed with padano cheese and topped with a tomato and mustard seed compote with Thai basil leaves. It was interesting — and not in the euphemistic sense, as it was very good — but not quite as tasty as the much larger real margherita pizza I'd grabbed the day before at Naples 45 for a third of the price. I also got the molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and strawberry syrup, a fairly primal dessert that make me want to lick the plate clean when I was done.
Then came trip #4.
Four Wednesdays later, it was back again for lunch at a time I expected to be less dead, 12:30 — but there were still many, many seats to be had. This time the dal was more of a makhni type deal: good, but well short of the slurpable glory that was the masoor dal. Breadwise, it was finally time to try the cornbread, which turned out to be almost tortilla-flat, and hard... kind of disappointing, actually. The paratha was good, but paying five bucks for a paratha is pretty insane. I also snagged some of Jennifer's mushroom pizza thingie, but it wasn't to my taste. The staff was also giving every table a complimentary bowl of avocado salad (pretty much indistinguishable from good guacamole) and rice chips. Then when dessert rolled around, Marie ordered the vanilla bean kulfi, which I'd heard was like ice cream but turned out to be a very different beast: it wasn't cold, and held its shape so well it took a serrated spoon to dig into it. Tasty, but now that my curiosity is satisfied I don't see myself ordering it again. I got the molten chocolate cake and everyone tried some, and as we ate the liquidy center we traded stories about home ec teachers who'd been exceptionally zealous about warning people about salmonella. These seemed less amusing twelve hours later, when Jen went to bed with a serious stomachache; about three hours after that, I got hit with the same thing, and while Jen had recovered by morning, I was sick with a pretty clear-cut case of some sort of food poisoning for over twelve hours. Argh. I don't know what it was — was the cake the culprit? Or were they giving away the avocado salad because it'd been sitting out for too long, or was it the mushrooms, or the lentils...? In any case, I can't help but find myself much less jazzed about a return visit.
Update 2004: Three years later, I gave it another try. Verdict: enh. It's trying to do interesting things with Indian food, but it's just not successful. I got a dal dish and sourdough naan that were much less tasty than their more traditional counterparts in a good Indian restaurant, and the spinach korma was just flat-out weird, the spinach floating in a kind of gruel.
|Tacos Nuevo Mexico||Mexican||5th Ave & 12th, Brooklyn||17 Mar '01||2|
|IT'S A GOOD THING WE'RE NOT AT THE PLACE, BECAUSE THEN I'D HAVE TO SHOUT THESE COMMENTS! It's that loud. This is one of those places, like Taco Mesa in OC, that buries everything under a pile of lettuce, radish bits and finely shredded cheese; in this case, though, the food isn't really worth the effort of digging out. I got the cheese flautas, remembering the tasty extra-long taquito thingies at Mario's in Berkeley, but TNM's version was full of rubbery cheese and the shell was crunchy without being crisp, like a pie crust. I tried to get strawberry agua fresca, but they were out. They were also out of Jen's first choice, some spinach thing, so they steered her toward the sopes, little fried cakes topped with room-temperature beans. Jennifer isn't normally one to remark on her food, but as she was picking at her plate, she protested, "How do you make a radish taste like... like nothing? How is that even possible? Maybe this would be okay if it were at least hot..." Spicy-hot or warmth-hot? I asked. "Either one! It's bland, it's lukewarm... it's drone food." That about sums it up.|
|Taqueria D.F.||Burritos||5th Ave & 23rd, Brooklyn||17 Apr '01||2|
|I was walking to the subway. I needed food. I passed this place. I thought, hmm. On
the one hand, New York burritos suck. On the other, the alternative is passing out from hunger in
the middle of teaching a class. Maybe this one won't be so bad, and in any case — portable
food! So I ordered up a burrito to go.
It was not portable. I did not get a proper cylinder wrapped in foil for me to peel off as I ate; I got a tray with a pillow in it. It could not be picked up; it clearly needed to be eaten with knife and fork. And the shop did not have forks. I had to tear the pillow apart and scoop out the innards with my hands, like a monkey. These innards consisted mostly of rice, much of which was clumpy. But they could've been wonderful and it wouldn't have mattered. Hear me, New York burrito shops! Burritos should be small enough to eat while holding in one hand! They should cost four bucks, not six! They should taste good! Why is this so hard?
|Thali||Vegetarian Indian||Greenwich & 10th, Manhattan||10 Oct '01||6|
|Thali has no menu. Everyone who comes in on a given day gets the same thing, and what that is depends on what the folks at Thali picked up at the market that morning. When I came in for lunch I got the following, in addition to rice and some tortilla-like bread: yellow dal, which was excellent, just the right consistency for a tadka dal; a navy bean and kidney bean dish, which was out of this world, definitely something I'd order again and again if I were allowed to order; a small piece of artichoke that was delicious and left my bouche thoroughly amused; a square of something resembling rice pudding with cashews in it, which changed my mind about the potential of Indian desserts; and a pickled something, which was horrible. But four out of five is not bad at all. A month later I went in for dinner and the lineup was every bit as good: this time the dal was more of an Ethiopian-style wat, and the navy beans were doing solo duty, but both were still great; the platter also included mixed vegetables in a green coconut curry, a delicious carrot and yogurt concoction (and I normally hate carrots) and a soupy pudding for dessert that was terrific. This time the odd dish out was a tiny bowl of black olives and carrots, which was nothing special. But again, five out of six real winners — wow. Unfortunately, my third trip was kind of a washout. First, I got talked into trying their crêpe appetizer, which was almost as much as a lunch platter and not really all that good, the wrapping stiff and unflavorful, the cream cheese filling full of unpleasant crunchy bits of apple and pepper. Then the thali turned out to be mostly mixed vegetables: one tin of eggplant and one of something less identifiable. It was enough to make the no-choice gimmick seem distinctly less charming.|
|Tonio's||Italian||7th Ave & 8th, Brooklyn||21 Mar '01||4|
|Ducked in here mainly to get out of the rain and ordered up a dish of cappellini primavera. It came in a sweet, light cream sauce that was tasty enough that I broke out my spoon and finished it off even after the pasta was gone, but keeping me from giving the meal an enthusiastic thumbs-up is that the vegetables seemed to be out of a pack of frozen veggies. I like peas, but I don't like it when my green beans, broccoli and carrots are cut up into pea-sized bits.|
|Trattoria Spaghetto||Italian||Bleecker & Carmine, Manhattan||23 Jul '01||4|
|Brisk service and some interesting dishes: I had ricotta, spinach and walnut wontons (the menu gave them some Italian moniker, but they were shaped just like really big wontons — a nifty spin on the usual ravioli) in a pesto sauce, and Jen got little pasta shells covered with mushrooms, bell peppers and sundried tomatoes. Certainly good, but neither dish really knocked me out, not even to the extent that the rigatoni at Red Rose did. Thumbs up, but I'm not rushing back.|
|Turkish Cafe||Turkish||E. 16th & Kings Highway, Brooklyn||12 Aug '01||2|
|Found this on the Village Voice's list of best vegetarian restaurants in the city, but the only vegetarian offerings are the appetizers. Most of those appetizers are variations of cold eggplant glop and even the few that don't fit that category aren't very good (I got a platter with dollops of all of them.) I guess we have to give the Voice this much: this place may not be all that vegetarian-friendly, and it's far from the best, but it is a restaurant and it is the city. And 2 out of 4 ain't bad, right?|
|Uncle Louie G's||Ices||7th Ave & 9th, Brooklyn||20 Apr '01||2|
|I tried some of Jen's pineapple ice and was a bit thrown by the fact that it neither tasted like pineapple nor felt like ice. The last time I had Italian ice was at a place in Wilmington, Delaware, where I lived when I was five; that ice I recall being like tissue-thin sheets of ice, not flavored snow (and, needless to say, not wrongly flavored snow.)|
|Uncle Moe's||Burritos||7th Ave & 10th, Brooklyn||08 Mar '01||2|
|Marginally edible burritos. Would be unacceptable even at half the (ridiculous) price.|
|Union Square Cafe||Semi-upscale, Italian-influenced American||21st St btw Union Square W/5th Ave, Manhattan||26 Jul '01||4|
|USC is reputed for serving haute-cuisine versions of comfort food, and the menu
includes fancy versions of stuff like burgers and mashed potatoes. That said, I don't
know whom the fava-and-mint crostini is suppose to comfort. In any case, I went here with enough
other people that I was able to try a few things, so here's the report. My main dish was a plate
of white bean fagioli with herbs, which was disappointingly bland — the similar dish at Red Rose
was significantly more flavorful. I also got the garlic potato chips, which were probably the best potato
chips I've ever had, but that's saying less than it sounds like: yeah, they were fine, but even the
world's best potato chip isn't going to be a culinary highlight. I also tried some of the aforementioned
crostini, which turned out to be grilled sourdough with what looked like a thicker, off-color pesto on
top; the flavor was unusual, sort of soapy. The gorgonzola polenta tasted okay, but the baby-food look
and texture kept me from enjoying it overmuch.
Then, dessert. I got the dulce de leche brownie sundae, which was wonderfully over the top: a caramel-ribbon brownie with caramel ice cream and hot fudge on top, with cashew and toffee bits. Lots of fun, though it would've been more so if I hadn't practically broken my teeth in half on the toffee. Jennifer got a raspberry tart that was really, really... well, tart — I had a bite and it had some sting to it. And the third dessert I only saw, but it was the sort of thing you want to take a picture of: a tiny cheesecake with a teensy little slice taken out and moved half an inch away from the rest of the cake, on a plate dusted with cocoa in the shapes of stars and crescent moons. The sort of thing that makes you want to simultaneously applaud and burst out laughing.
This place regularly tops polls of New Yorkers' favorite restaurants. I'm not saying it's bad. But I had four better meals in the previous three days which, combined, cost less than this one.
|Uprising Bread Bakery||Bakery||7th Ave & 9th, Brooklyn||06 May '01||3|
|Pretty standard artisan bread. Oh, for a loaf of honey wheat from Great Harvest.|
|Va Tutto!||Italian||Cleveland btw Spring/Kenmare, Manhattan||02 Mar '01||3|
|The food is not bad. But it's very simple. Ravioli with butter and sage tasted like butter and sage, and there wasn't much of it. Cannelloni in white sauce tasted like spinach and mushrooms (inside the cannelloni) and butter (the primary constituent of the white sauce.) Which is fine, but I could make butter and sage taste like butter and sage. For twenty bucks, I want some alchemy. And leaving the restaurant full would also be nice.|
|Vatan||Gujarati||3rd Ave & 29th, Manhattan||20 Jun '01||3|
|At first I thought lunch was the only time to go to an Indian restaurant. You could
get a scoop of dal and a scoop of channa and a scoop of saag instead of having to choose
one, and stuff yourself for six bucks or so. But then one evening I wound up at the Moghul Palace in Bellevue
for dinner, and it was a revelation: turns out that, surprise surprise, the food tastes better when it's made
to order just for you and not for two hundred people two hours earlier. So I started going only at dinner.
But that was way expensive and I got tired of only having one dish at a meal. Quite a dilemma. Lunch!
Dinner! Lunch! Dinner! Can't you see you're tearing me apart?
Ahem. Anyway, Vatan seemed like an interesting compromise: a prix fixe ($22 per person) all-you-can-eat vegetarian dinner featuring dishes from the Gujarat region in western India. You get a reservation, show up at your appointed time, kick off your shoes, lounge on the cushions, and they bring out food till you tell them to stop. Of course, in practice this is hardly any different from a regular thali plate: after a plate of appetizers and about 3/5 of the main course plate, I was so stuffed that further intake was simply unthinkable. Unfortunately, the actual food was merely okay. It arrived lukewarm, which may have been deliberate or may have been a matter of inattention in the kitchen, but was off-putting either way, and the dishes weren't really all that inspired. Other than the cilantro in the channa appetizer, I didn't see much that was different — it's basically the same spinach, same chickpeas, same lentils you'll get anywhere — and while the price had led me to expect top quality, the fare wasn't even much better than average. Jennifer seemed to love it, though, so maybe my reaction is idiosyncratic.
|Veniero's||Pasticceria||11th St & 1st Ave, Manhattan||27 Nov '01||6|
|This century-plus-old Italian dessert shop intimidated me the first time I stuck my head in — a bajillion choices, no labels — but I finally decided to try a couple things I recognized and then branch out later if they turned out to be good. They are. The eclair was pretty standard, but the chocolate cannoli was very tasty — the shell had been impregnated with cinnamon, making for a taste that was complex and sophisticated but at the same time satisfied the demands of the sweet tooth. Good stuff — and cheap, too! Many pastries are under two bucks. I was astonished. Since then, I've also tried a few of the miniature tarts: the hazelnut-topped one is the winner, sez I. The cheesecakes are somewhat less astonishingly priced, at ten bucks for a seven-inch cake, but it is a damn good cheesecake. In any case, it's hard to go far wrong. Thumbs up.|
|Village Restaurant||Mostly Middle Eastern||1st Ave btw 2nd/3rd, Manhattan||27 Oct '01||4|
|I stopped in here for some lentil soup which turned out to be remarkably good and was only two dollars. Some of the other fare looked pretty dubious, but if I can find enough other good things here I'll be upping this rating.|
|Vittorio||Italian||Bleecker btw 7th Ave/Grove||16 Dec '01||5|
|The wait staff bears a striking resemblance to a boxer's coterie of bodyguards, but the food is great. I had the trinette al pesto (fresh fettuccini, string beans and diced potatoes in the house's own pesto, the ingredients of which are spelled out in the menu — for which I was very appreciative, not because I don't know what's in pesto but because just on principle I like to know what goes into the stuff I'm eating) and, for dessert, a really good tartufo (a ball of chocolate ice cream filled with vanilla ice cream and rolled in nuts and cocoa.) Now I just need to find someone willing to accompany me to try the specialty of the house: fettuccini alfredo, served in a WHEEL OF PARMIGIANO REGGIANO. Holy Toledo.|
|Waterfalls Cafe||Middle Eastern||Atlantic btw Clinton/Henry, Brooklyn||30 Aug '01||5|
|The foul here features only whole fava beans, which is normally a bad sign, but not here. The beans had just the right texture and the broth was wonderfully lemony — good stuff. Next time I'll try something a bit more adventurous.|
|Yaffa Cafe||Eclectic||St. Marks btw 1st/Ave A, Manhattan||27 Jun '01||3|
|I'd heard this place was chiefly notable for its salads, but since I arrived a bit too early even to pass off the meal as brunch (it was 8am, not really prime salad time) I got a spinach and brie omelette in hopes that it might approximate the glorious spinach omelette at Rockwell in Villa Park. It didn't come anywhere close. Better were the nicely herbed if soggy home fries. Not a terrible meal, but if I do go back it'll be to finally try the salad.|
|Zaytoons||Middle Eastern||Smith & Sackett, Brooklyn||24 Nov '01||2|
|On my first visit, I was distracted from the traditional dishes by an appealing-looking "pitza" that proved to be no better than any other pita/pizza hybrid I've encountered. Okay ingredients, but the attempt to whip up a sauce that went well with them produced a sauce that didn't go well with anything. So on my second trip I went for the combo platter, selecting five items from their long list of sides and salads. The stuffed grape leaves were fine, and the moujaddara (rice and lentil concoction) was innocuous, but the hummus tasted a bit off, the labneh (spiced yogurt) was too thick to take after a while, and the foul tasted bitter and, well, a little foul. This was accompanied by a pita which was tasty and fluffy at the very outer edges but flat, bland and hard to eat in the center. Not the worst meal I've had by any means, but too many misses for me to give it a third try.|
|Zócalo||Taqueria||Grand Central Station, Manhattan||23 Nov '02||5|
|Had to dash for a meal during a business trip, and the office was right next to Grand Central. That meant one thing: Naples 45! But it was closed. So I tried this place, mainly because I couldn't resist the possibility of decent nachos. And quite decent they were! I didn't like that they used entire corn tortillas rather than cutting them into wedges to make chips, but otherwise, no complaints.|
We are CLOSED now!:
|Bendix Diner||Diner||8th Ave & 21st, Manhattan||17 May '01||1|
|After scanning through the menu for the stuff I could eat, the best bet looked like the omelettes — but I'm loath to get an omelette at a restaurant when I know I can make a much better one at home. (Exception: no way can I duplicate the filling to the spinach omelette at Rockwell in Villa Park.) So I got the grilled cheese on challah, since unlike eggs and peppers, challah isn't something I tend to have around the house. It was okay, but since I could probably get a whole loaf of challah for the same price and make several equivalent sandwiches, enh. Service was surly, and the fellow treating us pretty much summed it all up when he said, "Normally I tip more than sixty cents, but normally I don't find a tin jelly lid floating in my coffee."|
|Il Gelatone||Gelato||3rd Ave btw 28th/29th, Manhattan||18 Apr '04||6|
|Great. Naturally I hear about this place two days before moving out of state.
Sigh. So, anyway, this is gorgeously light, delicious gelato; I got the stracciatella and tried some
of Jen's mou (caramel, apparently) and both were superb (if expensive at four bucks a cone.) I
imagine I'll be coming here on just about every visit back.
Update 2004: Except on my third visit back since moving away the place was closed! Awning was still up, but the place was gutted and the sign said the space was available. Alas!
|Jerry's Pizza||Pizza||7th Ave btw Windsor/Prospect, Brooklyn||02 Apr '01||4|
|I kept wavering on whether to recommend this place or not. The crust, cheese and sauce were okay but unremarkable; however, I was impressed when the green pepper pizza turned out to have big, chunky, irregularly shaped wedges of pepper on it that were firm but yielding and surprisingly sweet. Then Jen ordered up a mushroom pizza which I didn't much care for — I like mushrooms in certain contexts but pizza may be falling out of that group for me. Then one afternoon I wanted to grab a bite for lunch and didn't feel like making a big trek, and this place is really close, so I decided to see what their lunch offerings looked like. On the one hand I felt like some ziti, and on the other I felt like an interesting slice of something... and then I got to the counter, and there it was: a baked ziti slice. I liked the spaghetti pizza at Pie Works in Durham, so I gave the ziti slice a shot; it was no Di Fara artichoke slice, but it hit the spot all the same. So for that I gave Jerry's a mild thumbs up. Now it has been taken over by the Peek-A-Boo Cafe, so we'll see if anything changes either way.|