Sunday, February 7, 2010

The New Adventures Of Old Cuisine

After an evening run on Thursday, followed by a quick stop at the New York Sports Club, which I often consider my public shower, I found myself in the city with time to kill before meeting a friend downtown. Wandering the wasteland that is midtown at 8 pm on a weeknight, I ruled out the following: bad pizza from one of the many take-out joints on Lexington; a bad sandwich from one of the ubiquitous, lunchy chain restaurants; anything from McDonald's. It was cold and I was hungry and then hungrier when I happened to duck down 45th Street, passing a small Japanese restaurant that advertised ramen on a plastic-covered menu affixed to the window: Menchanko-tei. Ramen seemed the perfect antidote to a cold and hungry midtown night. I found a place at the bar.

Like Ippudo, Menchanko-tei serves a variety of different types of ramen. They have tsukemen, broth made from roasted pork bones, my personal favorite. They also have soy and chicken-based broths, also traditional species of ramen. I ordered a plate of cucumber pickles, briny and salty little disks. I ordered a plentiful bowl of pork bone ramen, toothsome noodles floating in a milky broth and topped with a tea-smoked egg, pickled bamboo and ginger, sesame seeds, scallions, and a rolled slice of cooked pork belly. I was surprised at the soup's quality, noodles just as fresh as the Ippudo version. The broth was sufficiently porky and the restaurant, as a whole, doesn't suffer from the relentless popularity that makes a trip to Ippudo tantamount to waiting in line for Space Mountain.

On that aimless walk that night, I also happened past a place I've been reading a lot about lately, a French import by the name of Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecote. Please don't ask me to pronounce that. It seemed to fit the bill for what I had planned Saturday, an inexpensive meal with my sister. In Paris, throngs of people line up nightly for L'Entrecote's $24 prix fixe menu, which includes a salad dressed with mustard vinaigrette and walnuts, crunchy French bread, an abundant plate of French fries, and a thinly sliced steak. Oh, and the sauce. Don't forget the sauce. The sauce is shipped from Paris and the ingredients remain secret. I could identify lemon and pepper and butter and something darker and earthier, possibly liver. If you ask for a list of ingredients, restaurant workers will not divulge, so don't bother. It would be worth it to come back just for a $24 jar of sauce.

The steak at L'Entrecote, something approximating a hanger steak, comes very thinly sliced and bathed in that sauce. At meal's beginning, a waitress, wearing a French maid uniform (black top, short skirt, tiny white apron) asks you how you like your steak and then writes your answer on the paper tablecloth covering your place setting. After your salad is cleared, the steak and frites arrive, served twice. Until you are ready for your second helping, the steak and potatoes stay nearby, atop small candles on a metal chaffing dish. The dessert menu makes up for the lack of variety posited by the restaurant's set playlist. Given over ten options, we chose three tartlets: cherry, lemon, and chocolate. They were small tarts indeed, buttery and fine and hard to justify sharing. Lemon tasted of a meringue pie filling and cherry was topped with three plump versions of the fruit. At night's end, our bill was so low, I considered staying for an encore.

131 East 45th Street
New York, NY 10017

Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecote
590 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10022

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