Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Old and New on 53rd Street

A few weekends ago Rob and I found ourselves in the middle of midtown on a Saturday, in serious need of a drink and some food. I wanted to try the new Vero Midtown wine bar on 2nd ave and 53rd street, so we headed over for some wine and upscale snacks.

It was the middle of the day, so we were one of the few people there. I ordered the Fife "Redhead Red" syrah and was a bit disappointed -- I expected with a name like that, the wine would have more spice to it. Rob ordered his usual Reisling and enjoyed it.

Most of the menu here is made up of small, shareable plates. I was most excited about trying the saffron arancini -- it was pretty much the reason I wanted to go to Vero in the first place. I've always loved arancini (fried rice balls with mozzerella) but these were made with risotto and had saffron in them. I figured it would be an ultimate version of an Italian favorite, but I wasn't a big fan. It was mostly risotto and not a lot of melted cheese, and the saffron gave it a weird aftertaste. It just didn't come together like I'd hoped.
Since we had just barely whetted our appetites, we ordered one more plate -- the veal meatballs. These heavenly little treats were incredibly tender and more than redeemed all the mediocre arancini and wine. I thought the golden raisins and pinenuts would be weird, but they definitely added some great texture to the meatballs that otherwise melt in your mouth. They were served atop some incredibly delicate ("slow cooked") san marzano tomato sauce and a beautiful green basil sauce. A dollop of white ricotta cheese on top and what do you know? A delicious Italian flag.

Well, at this point we'd spent over $50 and we were more hungry than when we first showed up to Vero. So instead of ordering more plates, we headed west on 53rd for some substantial eats at our old favorite subterranean Mediterranean spot, Marrakesh. Well, its more like Middle Eastern cuisine that has everything from Moroccan soups to Mediterranean sandwiches and even pasta specialties. I've never tried anything that leans towards Italian, but of all things babaganoush and falafel-y this place has never disappointed us. And we've been coming pretty consistently for about two years now.

I have no idea why no one is ever here, but each time we go we're one of only two or three parties. We always take the same spot, under the window. The service is always really friendly but kinda slow. And we always get the mint tea. Always. It's so sweet that it hushes my sweet tooth long after we leave. But it's also clean and refreshing and comforting. and it comes from a cute silver pot on an engraved silver tray. What more could you ask for?

This visit I tried something I hadn't before -- the couscous with lamb and seven vegetables. The platter was huge, and when I was absolutely full I still had enough for a full lunch the next day. The lamb was tender, the vegetables were exotic yet seasonal (some types of squash?), the couscous was perfect even microwaved after it was refrigerated. Rob got some kind of platter with all the good stuff -- hummus or babaganoush with falafel and salad. As always, it was affordable, satisfying, and we left feeling as though we just had a homecooked meal in a cozy and secret locale.

Below: the lamb couscous and combo platter.

Overall: midtown isn't the greatest place to be stuck when you're hungry, but if you have a solid go-to spot you can feel a little safer trying something different.

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