Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Monday, Monday

I always like to start the year off by breaking my resolutions immediately. I'm not much of a reformer, as evidenced by yesterday's descent into the opium den that is the New York restaurant scene.

First: We were planning on eating lunch at Flex Mussels on the upper east side, which would have changed the course of our day considerably. A call revealed that Flex opens at five daily. So that obviously wasn't going to work.

Instead, we went to TriBeCa for sausage. Lots and lots of sausage. Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner's Blaue Gans specializes in Austrian food and wine and their lunch menu is incredibly affordable. We're talking $8 for sausage and side.

Ambitious eaters we are. We ordered three types of sausage (slender frankfurters that arrived with cucumber dill potato salad, one fat bratwurst, and a sausage whose name I couldn't pronounce if my life depended on it). Sausages came with sauerkraut, shaved horseradish, and sinus clearing mustard.

We also ordered a terrine, flanked by sweet pickles, more mustard, warm bread. We were comped--because the former wasn't enough food?!?--jaeger schnitzel with spaetzle, thinly pounded pork, pan fried and topped with a bacon lardon/mushroom butter sauce and served with scallioned spaetzle that more closely resembled transcendent macaroni and cheese.

We didn't order dessert, but it came anyway: one very large and tasty almond croissant, a perfect apple strudel that was flaky and complemented completely by unsweetened fresh whipped cream, and the house specialty, known as the Sulzburger Nockerl. What is it? Springy white meringue baked over fresh huckleberries.

You'd think that three comped desserts, one entree, and one round of Austrian wine would have sent us and our spared wallets back to the boroughs. But no. Instead, we headed to Chelsea for early evening cocktails at East of Eighth, a warm little dive off 8th Avenue. Once the sun had safely slipped below the horizon, it was time to eat again.

This time, it was appetizers and sparkling wine (ok, for me a champagne cocktail) at Bobby Flay's spacious midtown brasserie, Bar Americain. House made potato chips with a melted blue cheese dipping sauce and grilled asparagus with green peppercorns prepared us for our final destination, a few avenues east.

Where we finally landed for our so-called dinner was Mia Dona, Donatella Arpaia's semi-casual spot. She was actually next to us at the bar while we ate. New York can be such a small place.

Again, free food. We ordered baked clams oreganata and two pasta dishes--gnudi and papparadelle--to share. Before the clams, however, an amuse bouche of fried risotto balls arrived, stuffed with melted mozarella and served with candy-sweet caramelized onions and eggplant puree. And then the clams, topped with a piece of roasted garlic apiece. They weren't my favorite (a little too heavy on the butter, which masked the clamminess of the dish), but the dish that came with them, a freebie plate of mussels served with basil pesto, ricotta salata, and fregola (a tiny ball-like pasta) satisfied our earlier mussel craving.

Then the pastas. Pillowy gnudi with crispy proscuitto and fried sage were, to my taste, slightly undersalted. Their texture made up for that. Toothsome papparadelle came in a light cream sauce with a traditional veal and pork base. Had my stomach any room left, I would have finished the pasta on my own.

Of course, we didn't order dessert, but it arrived anyway, this time sublime vanilla panna cotta with maple syrup, a honeycrisp apple compote, and a anise-flavored cookie for texture.

All in all, the day left me heading back to the drawing board in my quest for a healthier 2009. But what's life without a little excess?

Blaue Gans
139 Duane Street
New York, NY 10013

East of Eighth
254 W. 23rd Street
New York, NY 10011

Bar Americain
152 W. 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019

Mia Dona
206 E. 58th Street
New York, NY 10022

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