Sunday, June 27, 2010


West Village's Recette has been on my list of places to visit since the Times gave the small plates place such a glowing review last March. I finally had the chance to visit on Friday night and tried to adhere pretty closely to Sifton's recommended dishes. Overall, I was really impressed with this place. Even better, it wasn't terribly crowded and we didn't feel rushed to leave. It was a nice place to sip wine, enjoy each plate and relax into the night.

I started with the recommended glass of Gruner Veltliner, which later turned into two glasses. I'm normally a red drinker, but on hot nights like Friday I needed something a little more refreshing. I prefer my whites to taste just like this -- more dry than sweet (no mineral whites), refreshing, with enough character to help liven up the meal.

We started with the assorted charcuterie plate, which was not as nearly as amazing as Marlow & Sons' but pretty decent anyway, if only because the foie gras terrine was sublime.(From left) we had the salty Jamon de Bayonne, the silky, decadent foie gras terrine, the tasty but unremarkable cacciatore, and Tete de Cochon. The gelatin combined with the soft meat reminded me a lot of a very thin pot roast, but maybe my palette isn't refined enough for head cheese yet. They were served with sweetly pickled vegetables and a zesty mustard.

We were served the salt cod fritters at the same time as the charcuterie: a tiny pot of three croquettes nestled atop a spicy lamb ragu sauce. Sifton was right when he called it a "head scratchingly good combination." The saltiness of the dish was perfect; the meaty sauce gave the soft fried fish some depth with the fatty flavor. A curried aioli was drizzled on top, rounding everything off with some color and acidity.

Another strange but wonderful combination: the heirloom tomato salad, basically a caprese with peekytoe crab. The tomato, ripe and perfect, was coated in a basil vinaigrette, with decorative basil seeds making tiny flowers on the plate. The crab meat was perfect and tender, but the real treat was below that, a fresh burrata cheese, made from mozzarella and cream. The soft texture mimicked that of the crab: a tiny bit stringy, but soft and delicate on the tongue, a perfect counterbalance to the heirloom.

Strangely, it seems that the plates with the more obvious sounding combinations are not as amazing. Chilled pea soup with foie gras and sea urchin is a great example. The thickish soup wasn't created with nearly as much tender love and care as the others, the hardened foie gras thrown in almost as an afterthought, the small amount of uni not adding much either. In the end it was overly salty; it could have used some dill or other livening herb (for a mind blowing pea soup, head to Nougatine).

As far as we experienced, the soup was the only real misstep. The halibut was among my favorites: a tender, buttery, perfectly flaking fish was the focus of what looked very much like a painting: fish meets forest, in watercolor. The mildness of the fish lent it perfectly to its assembly of vegetal and fungal accompaniments: a few morel mushrooms, artichokes and asparagus; bright dipping pools of Saffron Beurre Blanc.

The pork belly was a good way to end the parade of small plates. The sherry caramel fired the pork into meat candy territory. The belly was topped with a turnips and an amazing, crispy fried piece of rock shrimp; a tomato-y romesco sauce served on the side. This dish was definitely too big for me, the fat and the sweet caramel got tired after a few bites. But I can never resist trying new ways to eat pork belly and I'm glad I gave the shrimp-tomato-caramel combo a spin.

Of course we had to finish with dessert: pastry chef Christina Lee, a Per Se alum, created her own version of s'mores with graham cracker ice cream, toasted marshmallow cream and a spicy cayenne chocolate sauce. The dessert was beautiful to look at, but the cayenne overpowered the subtle graham cracker flavor of the ice cream. It's too bad, because I really do love spicy chocolate, but I also want to appreciate the quieter, more complex flavors. I think this is why I've always preferred vanilla ice cream to chocolate. But I digress. Recette is fantastic, and I hope to come back for the cheese spread, the tuna crudo, and more of that heirloom tomato salad.

328 W. 12st St (at Greenwich St)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Outer Banks Highlights

My family and I visit the Outer Banks for vacation every year or so. It's taken us awhile to weed out the bad restaurants and stick with the good ones. In the name of brevity, this year I had...

Amazing top sirloin and cold smoked chicken at Kill Devil Grill...

... a great tuna salad and lemongrass beer from the Outer Banks Brewing Station...

... and mint chocolate chip ice cream in a melty chocolate chip cone at Sunset Ice Cream in Duck.

How could vacation get much better than that?

Sandwich Fridays

While last year's early release summer Fridays yielded celebratory cheeseburgers of all shapes and sizes, this summer's theme so far has been sandwiches. Since Grubstreet's 101 Best Sandwiches list was released, I've been mapping out sandwich shops wherever my early weekend happens to take me. Last week I met a friend in the West Village, and we headed over to sandwich winner #18's establishment -- Ino.

Ah, what's not to love about the West Village? Tiny, charmingly paved narrow streets that cut through the avenues like organic growth. Tiny coffeeshops, bakeries, bars. And Ino, a cafe and wine bar that seems to specialize in bread -- most of the menu is paninis and bruschetta.

Most items have about three ingredients. Usually something simple and fresh, with enough variation to stay interesting. Like the artichoke with fennel and fontina, or cacciatorini (a type of salami) with goat cheese and black olive pesto. Not everyone knows what all the ingredients are, so they have a little cheat sheet on the back that defines everything from pancetta to mortadella.

I had the soppressata with fontina (cheese) and rucola (arugula). It was laid out thinly across two pieces of bread so crusty it cut up the roof of my mouth a little. The oozy cheese, salty meat and crusty bread kept me coming back for more anyway. It was served with a very cute and tasty little mushroom and pepper salad.

While I didn't order the recommended quattro panino, I'm finding it hard to believe that Ino ranked all the way up at #18. I'm a little curious as to why Faicco's huge soppressata didn't make the list either. Well, speculation aside, I'm glad to have experienced a small slice of the West Village the other day -- and to check another sandwich off my list.

Ino Cafe & Wine Bar
21 Bedford St (between Downing St & Houston St) 
(212) 989-5769

Sunday, June 13, 2010

My Own Sifty Fifty

Last week, Sam Sifton released a list of his current favorite restaurants in the New York Times' Diner's Journal, the cutely named Sifty Fifty. In conjunction with the list, the Times released an iPhone app that lets you check off the places you've visted (along with Pete Wells' top 25 bars, and a few other nifty foodie things). I generally liked Sifton's list, but had to disagree with some of it. What, Baoguette made the list, but Maialino did not? Keen's Steakhouse, but no Marlow & Sons? And no Annisa?? Are you kidding me?

So I decided to make my own list. I think 50 restaurants would probably be every good restaurant I've ever visited (and then some), and I needed to be able to exercise some selection. So now I present my very own top list, the Wisty Twenty-Five:

Acqua Santa
Fette Sau
Le Bernadin
Marlow & Sons
Peter Luger
Pho Viet Huong
The Redhead
Sushi Azabu
Tia Pol

There probably won't be any iPhone app for this list, but you never know.


Last week I was treated to a special birthday lunch at Convivio!

This was my first Michael White experience, and expectations were high. Tudor City is like a magical little oasis in midtown and Convivio fits in perfectly, a modest but majestic brick alcove right across from the park.

If you've ever wanted to try a 3-star restaurant but thought it'd be absurdly priced, head over at lunch. At Convivio, the business lunch is $28 for any two courses you want; any additional is $12. I've had crappy salads in midtown for more than that!

I started with the sgombro, two beautiful slices of raw yellowtail with olivada (olives, oil garlic), pistachios and scallions. So simple and yet so exquisite!

Next was the malloreddus, a perfectly textured Sardinian saffron gnocchetti with crab and sea urchin. The crab was plentiful, and the bits of sea urchin moistened each bite. Frank Bruni said it best in October '08 when he noted that the texture of the crab mimics that of the dumplings, "its taste proving another whisper of the sea."Dessert was a trio of freshly spun gelato: espresso, cream cheese and chocolate. The cream cheese was a little too richly tart for me, but the espresso and chocolate were perfect.

The caramel sea salt tart with vanilla ice cream was as tasty as it was pretty, the salty/sweet combo a perfect end to an amazing Southern Italian meal.

Micheal White will be hearing from me again. Marea, you're next!

45 Tudor City Place, betw 42nd &43rd streets
(212) 599-5045

Lobster Roll Fever

A few weekends ago, Rob and I headed up to Maine to do some work on his family's summer cottage. It was a long day of scraping, painting and re-painting, but at the end of the day it was all made worth it with a lobster roll from Lobster in the Rough.

This place is more like one of those day camps that schools take kids at the end of the year than a restaurant. Except instead of horseback riding and mini golf, this place has an outdoor sports bar, horseshoes, karaoke, bonfires, a playground and the best lobster roll I've ever had in my life. Two tails, four claws with just the right amount of mayo on a split bun.

I should have shirts made that say "Will work for lobster." Who else would wear one?

This lobster roll got me craving the buttery, soft textures of the perfect Maine food, so I finally gave in the other day and headed up to the Urban Lobster Shack in midtown on my lunch break. Everyone on Yelp was complaining that its too small and too expensive, but I gotta say that these people must have never been to Maine. You can spend up to $18 for a small but decent lobster roll up north. Here, ten dollars gets you a tasty, normal sized roll, plus cole slaw AND a salad. What's everyone's problem?

While it obviously was not as fantastic as Lobster in the Rough, I gotta say this was a pretty solid lobster roll. A few good chunks of meat, although some of the meat on top is strangely shredded. The chunks of celery were a little large for my taste, but the extra butter on the split roll made up for that. For a lobster roll in midtown that satisfies the craving, I say its definitely worth the $10.

Lobster in the Rough (Behind the Lobster Barn)
Open mid-May through October
1000 Route 1, York, Maine
(207) 363-4721

Urban Lobster Shack
805 Third Ave, betw 49th & 5oth streets
(Lower level in the Crystal Mall)

Meatballs: The New Burger?

Critics always argue over who has the best burger in the city, but the burger's meatball cousin rarely seems to get any attention. The new-ish Meatball Shop aims rectify that, and so far I'd say they're doing a pretty good job. Their spicy pork hero was recently mentioned on Grubstreet's 101 Best Sandwiches in New York, which is pretty awesome since that's exactly what I ordered. I sure know how to pick 'em!

Speaking of which, the unique ordering system here is one of my favorite aspects of the Meatball Shop. The menus come with dry erase markers so you can mark up the combination of sliders, heroes and plainly dressed meatballs you'd like to see on your plate. Say you'd like three kinds of meatball sliders -- a salmon slider with a mushroom topping, a vegetable meatball with tomato, and a classic beef topped with parmesan cream. Hard to remember? No problem -- just mark it all up on the slider grid. I'm waiting for tapas places to adopt dry-erase menus like these. I get a little bossy when a bunch of us dine together and I'm sure they'd appreciate not being assigned 2-3 items to remember each.

You would think that this whole setup makes servers' job as simple as possible (just collect and hand to the cooks?) but the service here needs a lot of work. Maybe I'm being a little harsh as they'd only been open a few weeks when we went , but the food took forever and when it DID come, the waitress had no idea what was what. There were colored toothpicks in each one, so we assumed they were representative of the type of enclosed meatball. Unfortunately this assumption is false, and everyone who ordered sliders ate most of someone else's before even realizing it.
Luckily, the tasty meatballs overshadowed the service. I had the spicy pork with parmesan cream and lots of mozzerella. The unexpected amount of cheesiness hit the spot, although the pork was a little bland to be labeled as spicy.

The meatball heroes, sliders and dishes were all tasty, but the homemade ice cream sandwiches were easily the highlight of the meal. You choose from five ice cream types to sandwich between five kinds of homemade cookies. I had vanilla on ginger snap, but I bet caramel on walnut meringue is equally amazing. The only unfortunate part is ordering the ice cream at the same time as the meatballs. I've never been to a place where I felt so pressured not to fill past the dessert line (an actual line in the stomach that some less experienced eaters may have trouble locating).
The Meatball Shop
84 Stanton St
(between Allen St & Orchard St)
New York, NY 10002

Note: It appears I spoke too soon on the popularity of meatballs. Check out this upcoming Meatball Madness event hosted by none other than Giada De Laurentiis!