Sunday, January 31, 2010

Dining in New York

I tried to eat in as many places as possible while I was in New York and picked none of them myself. I left restaurant choices to friends (all long time New York residents) with one caveat : no Italian restaurants. Mostly people chose restaurants near home or work, places they go to frequently, which was just perfect. I’ve organized dining comments geographically.

Taboon in Hell’s Kitchen (773 10th Avenue, between 52nd & 53rd) has coined the phrase Middleterranean to describe its food: a successful mixture of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. The restaurant takes its name from the Arabic word for the domed oven used to bake the in-house delicious, puffy flatbread. We tried a vast assortment of the dishes and all were delicious. Taboon is cozy and atmospheric.


44 ½ is also in Hell’s Kitchen (44 ½ 10th Avenue, between 44th & 45th) and offers standard American fare. I had a crab cake, spinach salad and a peanut butter tart; all tasty. The restaurant is long and narrow with a beautiful, almost kidney-shaped bar and a nice outdoor terrace for summer dining.

One thing I can’t start my day without is a decent espresso macchiato in the morning. I usually seek out a Starbucks: it’s not amazing coffee but it’s reliable and readily available. A friend took me to Oren's Daily Roast at 830 3rd Ave (and 51st). The coffee was excellent and has Starbucks beat. It’s also much less crowded and therefore more pleasant. There are eight Orens locations in Manhattan. Orens was founded in Manhattan by Oren Bloostein in 1986.

Oren's Daily Roast:

My very first night in Manhattan I was too jetlagged to eat anywhere other than near my hotel. I met a woman in a neighborhood grocery store who sent me to the Mee Noodle Shop & Grill, 922 2nd Ave, at 49th St. Mee’s is a little hole in the wall neighborhood restaurant. I had a gigantic plate of crisp, flavorful , sauteed Chinese broccoli that I’ve been thinking about ever since that night. I never made it back but what a find! There seem to a few Mee Noodle Shop locations in Manhattan, most likely all good. They have a take-out window (always with a line) plus seating.

TAO, on 42 E. 58th, was probably one of the most beautiful places I dined in: a former 19th century Vanderbilt stable, converted to a balconied movie theater, and most recently to this restaurant with Asian décor (featuring a giant Buddha). The high ceilings and original brick wall are intact and create the real beauty of this space. The food is tasty Asian fusion, with the exception of very disappointing Peking duck spring rolls with hoisin sauce.

My last night I had a quick meal at a Thai restaurant near my hotel: Thai 51, (224 E. 51st, between 2nd & 3rd). I had green curry and a small order of pad thai. The food was average at best and the portions, as is too frequently the case in American restaurants, so oversized they could have sufficed for three people.

Langans is a lively Irish pub in the theater district perfect for a drink before or after a show (150 W. 47th) which is exactly what I did.

If you’re in the Columbus Circle area and want a luncheon spot with a beautiful view, try Landmarc on the 3rd floor in the Time Warner Center. (Columbus Circle - 59th and Broadway). We tried the French onion soup and caesar salad with grilled tuna; both fine.

Not far from Columbus Circle is the Bar Boulud (1900 Broadway between 64th and 63rd), one of Daniel Boulud’s six Manhattan French-inspired eateries. Most are casual except for Daniel, a three star Michelin restaurant. I had a delicious truite amande: trout with toasted almonds, cauliflower, brown butter and radish.

Orsay, on the upper east side (1057 Lexington Ave. & 75th Street), is full of old world charm, with a menu featuring delicious and beautifully presented French/American food. The tuna tartare with wasabi and tempura bits is outstanding, as is the raspberry tart and butternut squash soup with sage.


Maialino (in the Gramercy Park Hotel, 2 Lexington Avenue & 21st St) was the one exception I made to my plan to not eat in an Italian restaurant…..but not really. Although this Danny Meyer restaurant (part of the Union Square Hospitality Group) sells itself as “A Roman trattoria at Gramercy Park” it is anything but. Chef Nick Anderer, a New Yorker, does an outstanding job. I had Uova al Contadino (country eggs): delicious poached eggs over a bed of brussel sprouts, turnips & chestnuts. The poached eggs were done to perfection (not an easy feat), but this dish is not something you would ever find in a true Roman trattoria. But who cares? The food is great, the restaurant charming and the Gramercy Park hotel is exquisite.


DBGB Kitchen & Bar, (299 Bowery, between Houston & 1st) is another Daniel Boulud restaurant, featuring sausages and charcuterie. I nonetheless chose a double order of spicy crab cakes, with pickled radish, avocado, vadouvan curry sauce. Good thing as they were delicious. The wine list is impressive and the service was impeccable.

Dinner with friends Judith & Jeff Klinger in their lovely SoHo apartment was one of my favorite meals. On this particular evening I was sick as a dog with a cold, but feeling just well enough to go out. The dinner really hit the spot and nurtured my ailing body. Jeff greeted me with a cocktail concoction of fresh juices and I’m not sure what else, beyond the fact that it was delicious and only topped by the lovely cocktail glass it was served in. Dinner was simple and tasty: Brandade de morue (a creamy, crusty-topped cod and mashed potato dish) that for some reason I had never had before. We had a fresh green salad, lovely red wine and fabulous cookies from Balthazar on Spring St.

Butter (415 Lafayette St. in NoHo) was a letdown. Although the food was fine (although I don’t recall what I had so it was clearly unremarkable), the service was shockingly bad. Our waiter appeared occasionally to pour our water and red wine for us and each time he sprinkled our entire table with water and wine in the process. Not a place I’d return to.

Cabrito (50 Carmine St., between Bleeker & Bedford in Greenwich village), is a fabulous Mexican restaurant. Cocktails are great as is everything on the menu. We shared delicious roasted baby brussel sprouts with chili-vinegar adobo and house-made chorizo that disappeared immediately. I had sour orange, garlic and chili-rubbed goat for my entrée (slow roasted and served chopped with salsa borracha and warm flour tortillas) and it was amazing.


Last and least: Fraunces Tavern. This historic inn (that’s why we ate here) with a Colonial atmosphere has been around since Samuel Fraunces established it in 1762. George Washington dined here frequently. Unfortunately the food is very average, to bad, American fare. The All American Apple Pie our waiter said is the inn’s signature dessert seemed to be frozen rather than fresh baked.