Tuesday, June 23, 2009

More Carbs

Believe it or not, the nutritionist I saw yesterday actually told me I was eating too few carbs.  I know this seems incredible, given my penchant for pizza, but the truth is my days revolve around veggies and lean protein.  Dr. Atkins scared the bejeesus out of all of us.  

To remedy my carbohydrate drought, I went for white flour (not the nutritionist's suggestion, I assure you) at Al Di La, the Park Slope restaurant that seems always to have a line snaking around the corner down Fifth Avenue.  The restaurant and wine bar down the block (on Carroll Street, in case you were wondering) both serve the same menu.  We ate at the wine bar's bar because, well, we weren't in the mood to wait long. 

A beef carpaccio was made with high-quality beef and came topped with shaved parmesan and whole anchovies.  I'm not the biggest anchovy fan in the world, so I let my dining partner eat them while I stuck to the dish's other adornment, capers.  Mussels were served in a rich and tomatoey broth, but the best part of the dish was a crusty piece of bread snuck beneath bivalves, absorbing all of the elements a nutritionist would say are better left uneaten.  Oh, well. 

For my fellow diner, a rich and creamy tagliatelle with ragu.  It tasted kind of Hamburger Helper-ish, but in a good way.  My spaghetti with clams (finally!) did not disappoint.  The large and briny Manilas were judiciously scattered and I didn't find even one empty shell.  The pasta itself was al dente and swimming in oil and chili flakes.  I returned my plate to the bartender with a half cup of pasta remaining.  "You left the pasta," he said.  "You know, that stuff at the end really is the most unhealthy part.  But it's also the tastiest."  Maybe so, but after all that white flour I didn't really need a full cup of oil.  

And we passed on dessert, but next time I would likely order any of the cheese-based delights on the small menu. 

Al Di La
248 5th Avenue 
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I Can't Get Enough

Pizza.  That's right: pizza.  I wouldn't want to miss paying my respects to the establishments I visited during my sojourn upstate earlier this week.  On Wednesday night, I dined at Schlesinger's, the kind of steakhouse that reminds me of what steakhouses were like when I was younger.  A shared French onion soup was sufficiently cheesy and bready and terribly unhealthy.  A Ball canning jar on our table housed over a dozen tiny half-sour pickles. My complimentary salad was large, crunchy, and judiciously dressed.  And my ribeye, 20 ounces without a bone and a good inch-plus thick, came with the requisite grill marks and deckle fat.  What it didn't come with was the New York City price tag (this baby only cost a paltry $24).

The next afternoon, it was more meat, this time at Richard's Dairy Shed, where I enjoyed a burger on a plain roll with lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, and mayo.  It would have been better with pickles, but it was fresh and hot and wrapped in wax paper.  In my hands, it didn't last long.

For an evening snack, we visited Wildfire Grill in downtown Montgomery.  Somewhat rubbery calamari and decent Southwest "wontons" (egg roll wrappers filled with chicken, cheese, corn, and black beans) gave way to sublime tail-on shrimp wrapped in crisp bacon and roasted.  It was a shame to see so few on the plate. 

But back in the city, it was pizza time.  We headed to Franny's in Park Slope, where I had heard the pizzas were too good to keep secret.  Marinated pickling cucumbers came with delicate and perfect buffalo ricotta and sliced red onions.  Sugar snap peas, blanched and served cold, had been dressed with a mint-infused oil and lemon juice and topped with fresh cracked pepper.  They were highly addictive.  A piece of crostini with ramp butter and thin strips of pancetta tasted like the best garlic bread I have ever eaten.  

So the pizzas?  They were okay.  We ordered a pie and a pasta.  The Franny's go-to is the clam pie, but I ate a clam pie two weeks ago at Tarry Lodge and was feeling a tomato base.  So we had pizza with buffalo mozzarella and sausage and it was crispy and black at the edges and that was lovely.  But the pizza's center was soggy and didn't hold up to meager toppings.  I found myself a little disappointed. 

The pasta was tasty enough, peppered with sweet peas and chiffonades of salami.  The sauce was green, but less overtly vegetal than a basil pesto.  The spaghetti itself, cooked very al dente, picked up the sauce well.  It could have used a few more peas.

For dessert, we ate almond pound cake (impressively moist) with macerated tristar strawberries and a spoonful of whipped cream.  It was the perfect June dessert, even if the pizza wasn't all that. 

Schlesinger's Steak House 
475 Temple Hill Road
New Windsor, NY 12553 

Richard's Dairy Shed
1103 State Route 17k
Montgomery, NY 12549

Wildfire Grill
74 Clinton Street
Montgomery, NY 12549

295 Flatbush Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Brooklyn Round Up

I've been spending a lot of time in Park Slope/Sunset Park lately, which has given me the opportunity to taste what's going on in the other boroughs.  I'll make this short and sweet, since it would be impossible to give a lengthy overview of so many restaurants at once.  

I had a sub-standard banh mi at Sidecar, where the French fries are delicious (thin and McDonald's-style), but the sandwich lacks bite.  Not only was the thing way too big, but it was insufficiently pickled.  The pickle is everything when it comes to good banh mi.  I have it on good authority that the burger is worth the calories, but I didn't take that route.  

Beer Table in Park Slope offers a much more successful menu.  An arugula salad with pickled onions and shaved parmesan was just lemony enough without suffering from over acidification.  Sausages, though a tiny bit mealy, had a deep offal quality to them that even the most discerning foodie would not have been able to criticize.  They came with slightly boring but very buttery roasted potatoes.  The cheese plate, featuring Bayley Hazen Blue (a personal favorite), brandied cherry compote, and crusty bread was a tour de force.  Beers range from affordable (I had a Hitachino espresso stout) to not (what I really wanted was the Rochefort 10).  Belgians make the requisite appearances, as do obscure Italian brews.  If we'd been in more of a drinking spirit, we likely would have splurged on one of the many 750ml bottles.  

Tacos Nuevo, also in the Slope, impressed me more for their happy hour deal (two for one sticky-sweet margaritas) than the actual food, though I will admit that the chorizo-refried beans dip was addictive and clearly unhealthy.  My huarache, also made with chorizo, wasn't quite crunchy enough.  My dining companion said I should have ordered the tacos.  Maybe next time.  

Finally, my only expensive Brooklyn meal in the past week has been the least innovative.  Blue Ribbon Brasserie on 5th Avenue did have some excellent New Brunswick oysters, small and creamy and served with this cucumber/cilantro salsa that was good on its own.  They were also $3.50 apiece, which just seems absurd when you think about how small an oyster is.  We drank a very good bottle of 2007 Chateau Pradeaux Bandol rose with our pierogis (half fried, half steamed; order the steamed and save yourself the wasteful calories), which came with a sweet onion marmalade and lots of sour cream.  Barbecue ribs were the Blue Ribbon standard: very sticky and very sweet and very worth the trip.  Shrimp remoulade were fine.  They tasted like crabcake dipping sauce.  I wasn't impressed.  One of the night's specials had been a 40-ounce rib steak for two, and that would have been more satisfying, given the slightly enormous bill.  At least dinner wasn't on me.  

Sidecar Bar and Grill
560 5th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Beer Table
427B 7th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Tacos Nuevo Mexico
491 5th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Blue Ribbon Brasserie, Brooklyn
280 5th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11215

Saturday, June 6, 2009


My sister and I went to this bachelorette party last night for one of our cousins.  It was one of those parties that started late and included an even later dinner and when I picked her up at Grand Central, we were both hungry.  Since we had to be in the Union Square vicinity, and since it was a cold and rainy day, and since our last attempts at a meal at Ippudo had been thwarted by crowds, we decided to make it a ramen day.  

It's amazing that this place has a wait, even at 5:30 in the afternoon.  When we finally took a seat, it was closer to 6:00.  Salty-sweet chicken wings had that perfect, glossy, crunchy texture only acquired with hot oil and a substantial deep-fryer.  They came with sweet pickled cucumbers and carrots.  Ramen was, as always, a memorable experience.  I'll agree with Frank Bruni for once and say that the best dishes at Ippudo are the soups made with stewed pork bone broth.  The noodles are slim and not too chewy.  Our soups (the Modern this time around) also came with pieces of cabbage and Berkshire pork).  

We headed to the W to meet my cousin and her friends, where we played a bridal trivia game, drank Korbel with raspberries, and wore giant red-glowing plastic rings.  Then it was off to Alta, a tapas bar on 10th Street.  

My cousin is gluten-free, and Alta had a menu telling us which dishes we could order.  In a way, that made things easier, since there were so many choices on the menu.  I deferred my input.  Sometimes I'd rather sit back and not look at the menu.  Salty mussels came in deep cast-iron posts with plenty of residual broth.  Skewers of shrimp and chorizo were spicy and smoky.  Crab cakes came without panko, but as a result lost that textural contrast so important to a good cake.  Lamb and okra skewers were confusing; pieces of eggplant that looked like lamb were actually, well, eggplant.  The lamb itself was good enough, once we could locate it.  

Sea scallops eluded me (there were only three) and chicken wings with paprika didn't live up to our previous wings.  I couldn't eat a pretty beet salad that came studded with hazelnuts (I'm allergic), but I could eat perfect pounded duck breast wheels, stuffed with scallions and served over a foie gras emulsion.  Deviled eggs were just fine; the pork toast version Resto serves is better.  

Dinner wasn't expensive: 50 bucks per person and we covered the bachelorette.  But my sister and I got to thinking that if we hadn't eaten a mere few hours before, we would have probably found dinner a little anemic, or maybe I would have dipped a little deeper into the Oloroso Sherry pool.  

65 4th Avenue
New York, NY 10003

64 W. 10th Street
New York, NY 10011

Friday, June 5, 2009

Pizza Par-tay

You just can't take me anywhere.  

I realized this a quarter of the way into dinner at Tarry Lodge, where I was celebrating a birthday with family on Wednesday night.  That was when I recognized the sommelier in the blue dress, a friend of mine from a few restaurants back whom I knew had moved "upstate," though I couldn't remember where she'd landed.  

I thought that eating dinner in Port Chester would mean no random encounters with industry peeps, but, sigh, that's increasingly impossible.  You bet your lucky stars I got a free dessert. 

Tarry Lodge has the warm, wainscotted feel of a Vineyard restaurant (I thought of a placed called Atria in Edgartown, where I once dined two tables away from a tall and loud Denis Leary).  It didn't have the airy turn-and-burn quality unique to all other Batali-Bastianich enterprises.  That was fine by me.  It was nice to dine on tablecloths for a change--Babbo has them, but most of the others do not--and to sit in a warm, cream-colored room.  My passion fruit bellini upstaged the birthday girl's pear version.  Shrimp with melon and mint were halved and grilled jumbos, served with ample slices of cantaloupe and honeydew, alongside pickled onions.  A "chopped salad" was, more accurately, a play on antipasto, included chiffonades of the requisite players: salami, mortadella, provolone, roasted red peppers, artichokes, onions.  Roasted fennel and strawberries provided a toothsome contrast to all that soft meat and cheese, crunchy blackened chunks of anisey fennel up against season starter straws.  As Rachael Ray would say, Yum-O.  

The pizza course included one white (vongole, with in-shell littleneck clams and plenty of garlic) and one red (hot Italian sausage and black olives).  Both were unevenly shaped and black in parts.  The pizzas were better and more pliable than the Otto variety.  Our pastas--stinging nettle tagliatelle with braised lamb, linguine carbonara, spaghetti with Manila clams and pancetta--couldn't have been closer to perfect.  The nettle pasta was greenish with a deep herbal flavor.  The carbonara came with an egg yolk on top, the perfect binder for a perfectly hedonistic dish.  Spaghetti was undercooked in the right way and touched with a little pancetta, but not too much.  

For dessert, we settled for simple, strawberries with mascarpone and aged balsamic.  You can imagine how basic--and satisfying--it was.  A panettone bread pudding also arrived, alongside a rum-raisin gelato.  Not a bad way to end the night. 

Maybe it was unwise to follow great pizza with pizza, but I owed my coach a dinner out due to his effective (and free) services leading up to my marathon, so we went to Company, or Co., as everyone's been calling it.  People have been lauding the pies since the place opened a few months ago.  I'm not sure I agree. 

A chicken liver toast was way too mealy.  There was so much liver on the bread that I got totally grossed out and stopped eating it halfway through.  My radicchio salad was sufficiently bitter and well-dressed with a good balsamic, but the raw shitake mushrooms that adorned it seemed to serve no real purpose.  

As for the pie, I ordered the veal meatball.  It came with crushed tomatoes, olives, and parmesan cheese.  But because of the balls' heft, the pie was weighed down in the middle, losing the crispy crunch I craved.  The pizza bianco--dough doused with olive oil, sea salt, and rosemary, provided to us by a server to eat while we waited for our table--fared better in the crispness department.  Maybe it was just my pie with the toppings I had.  If I went back, I'd order the acclaimed Popeye, or maybe even a simple Margherita.  

Tarry Lodge: 1, Company: 0.  Sorry, Mr. Lahey.  Batali wins this round. 

Tarry Lodge
18 Mill Street
Port Chester, NY 10573

230 9th Avenue
New York, NY 10001

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Hunt for Damned Clams

After a day at Long Beach, my fellow New Englanders who had washed up on Long Island's shores suggested we go for shellfish.  We were thinking fried clams and steamers and lobster rolls and cheap wine and a quick internet search pointed to a place in neighboring Island Park.

First things first.  We went to a place called Tiki Bar, where I indulged in a pina colada that arrived in a hollowed-out pineapple.  I don't know why, but I love to drink things in empty fruits.  
And then it was off to Peter's Clam Bar.  We ordered steamers and fried clams.  According to the website, they had a lobster roll.  In real life, that wasn't the case. 

A glass of wine in and our server returned to tell us that they were out of steamers.  This didn't go over well, but the bottle was open so we decided on soft shell crabs instead to accompany our fried clams. 

The clams came out.  We nearly lost it right then and there.  Clam strips?  How could anyone, in good conscience, charge $16.00 for a plate of fried clam strips that were not identified as such on the menu?  

I called the manager over and did something that I never do: I sent the food back and asked for the check.  A clam without a belly is like a dry old crusty piece of bread with nary a butter pat in sight. 

We blackberried more options.  We made a lot of phone calls to a lot of places, all of whom informed us that they didn't have steamers at the moment, or they didn't serve whole-bellied clams, or whatever.  What was this, Mars?  Finally, some elaborate search pointed us to Bigelow's, where they did, in fact, serve whole fried clams.

For $22.50.  From Ipswich, Massachusetts.  Which, if you're keeping track, is a lowly ten miles from my hometown and where I could get the same stupid clams at the Clam Box for about $20 less.  

We did order the clams; divided by three, it wasn't too pricey.  We had a crab cake, too, and a soft-shell crab that had been fried beyond recognition.  The clams themselves were tasty enough, the portion anemic at best.  The meal's only resounding success were light-battered onion rings, hardly a regional specialty.  

I should have thought better when the cocktail waitress at the Tiki Bar offered a plate of wings.  I should have taken her up on the offer, because hot wings would have outdone the fried mess New Yorkers call seafood. 

Tiki Bar
832 W Beech Street
Long Beach, NY 11561

Peter's Clam Bar
600 Long Beach Road
Island Park, NY 11558

Bigelow's New England Fried Clams
79 N. Long Beach Road
Rockville Center, NY 11570