Here is a story of two dinners, both unplanned.
The first happened Friday night. I was meeting my friend Mark, theater critic (who has a story in the NYT coming out soon!), to go see a production of Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband.” Mark couldn’t do dinner first so I was on my own. I went to the theater on 54th street and began exploring. On 9th Avenue I saw this in front of me:
From that perspective, you really can’t tell much about a restaurant. I gathered Asian food was involved. I knew their fax number. I saw some people inside.
But as I came closer, I saw taped to the door articles and “blurbs” from various newspapers and magazines. I am a total sucker for that and for good reason. When you have no idea what to make of a restaurant, reading a colorful praise-heavy clip from a newspaper lets you know that at least ONE person who cares about food thinks this place is worth eating at. And, as the title of this post suggests, that kind of knowledge is some kind of power. Plus the praise in this case was very specific. New York Magazine raved over the duck salad.
So I went inside and ordered the duck salad. (Normally I’d go to menupages and find the precise Thai name for the salad but Wondee Siam II’s menu’s not showing up.) Here it is in all its glory:
This salad is so indulgent and so good. There are cashews and red onions and pieces of pineapple but the best part is the duck. It’s basically duck bacon: fatty crispy bits scattered throughout the salad. The dressing is lime juice. There can be hot peppers, but I said no. I scarfed this mother down like it was my job. And if I’m ever in that hood again, I’m totally going back.
So that’s part one in a story of two dinners.
Part two was less successful. Ricky and I went tonight for a walk on the Christopher Street pier, which was fun, and then we went a’wandering for dinner. The West Village, as you’ve frequently heard, is my favorite place to stroll and stumble upon great restaurants. Oh, there’s The Spotted Pig, and August, and Mary’s Fish Bar, Magnolia Bakery, etc. We hit a corner with some pricey but very pretty open-windowed joints. Extra Virgin, which looked the most promising, had a long wait. So we came to this place, Osteria Del Sole:
This picture’s a bit unfair because it doesn’t show you the lovely view outside. We were on the corner of Perry and West 4th and the tree-lined streets make for quite a charming view. One part Mary Poppins to two parts Sex and the City. (Haha, I just had this image of Julie Andrews in her brown wig at a table with Samantha, Miranda, Charlotte and Carrie telling them, in her clipped British accent, “Girls, have I ever told you about my umbrella?”).
So it looked promising and cute, but were there blurbs and articles outside to confirm our suspicion that this was a good place to eat? There were not. Should this preclude us experimenting with a new restaurant? Of course not. Knowldge may be power but ignorance is bliss.
Or is it?
Ricky and I started off sharing this Caesar salad. They accidentally brought us the wrong salad first but that was remedied. Here’s the Caesar:
It was ok: nothing great. Sometimes I order a Caesar because it’s comfort food and what my family eats when we go out, and other times I order it as a test of a restaurant’s competence or its innovativeness. The Caesar at Pearl Oyster Bar may not be my favorite, but it’s innovative. Or at least interesting. This was neither.
For our entrees, Ricky ordered from land, I ordered from sea. He had the “Fettina di Manzo al Pepe Nero” (Charcoal Grilled Hanger Steak served in a Black Peppercorn Sauce):
And Ricky may look excited, but the steak would quickly end that. “I wish there were more peppercorns on it,” he said sadly, after a few bites. I tried it too and it was a bit bland. Which tied in nicely with my pasta:
“Spaghettini alla Bottarga con Ruchetta e Pomodorini Piccanti” (Spaghettini Pasta Tossed with Dry Mullet Caviar, Arugola & Cherry Tomatoes (Sardinian Specialties)).
Something with that long a name should go equally long on flavor. This didn’t. Ricky tried it and said, “It tastes like noodles in butter.” Well, olive oil, but yeah. And for $17 you’d think it would taste like a whole lot more. It didn’t.
So what have we learned? That when dining planlessly one should look before they leap? Perhaps. But Ricky and I had fun, so all was not lost. And what if the meal had been great? I’d be whistling a different tune. I suppose it’s a matter of odds: you increase your odds of having a good meal the more you know about where you’re eating before you eat there. And that’s your platitude for the night.