A Weekend of Celebration: Meals at Mo Pitkin’s, August, Le Gigot and Beet

November 14, 2005 | By | COMMENTS

Ever since news of my book deal leaked its way on to the internet [Ok, so it was leaked by me, but still--there was leakage] the food blog media and my screaming fans are desperate to know whether I’ll still be the same old Adam or whether fame and fortune will change me. Let me set you straight right now: of course it’s going to change me! You losers are history. From this day forth, I’m sitting at the cool table and you nerds better do my homework or I’ll give you a wet willy and pants you in the gym.

Just kidding! It’s still sweet little ole me. Humble as apple pie. [And in case I ever did get a big head, I could go back and re-read this person's nasty review of me at Blogratingz that says: "[Adam] can’t write about food to save his life. A recent post about a German restaurant was peppered with such evocative adjectives as ‘delicious’ (twice) and ‘funky’ (also twice). Add to this lack of originality his delusion that he is funny, and what you’ve got is probably the worst food writing since ‘Where’s the beef?’” That last line actually made me laugh. And though it’s nasty, it’s well written. Delicious, even, and funky. I give it a 5.]

Where were we? Oh yes. My big head. Celebration. This was a weekend of celebration (see post title). It involved celebratory dinners at:

Mo Pitkin’s!

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[That's me and Diana out front with a stranger.]

August!

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Le Gigot!

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and

Beet!

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Won’t you join me as I reflect back on my weekend of binge-eating? Click the button to see all that was consumed.

So now I’d be lying to you if I said that all these meals were really in my honor. They weren’t. I mean, of course being in my presence for many of my companions was, indeed, an honor [big head alert!] but this was never explicitly articulated. And so it was that on Wednesday, the first big day after the good news, Diana, James and I trekked into Alphabet City after our teleplay class and made our way down to Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction.

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Mo Pitkin’s is one of those weird, inexplicable celebrity fusion restaurants where people like Jimmy Fallon (one of the owners) come together with Cubans and Jews and eek out an adventuresome cuisine. Here, that cuisine is Jewban food (get it? Jewish + Cuban = Jewban? Did I coin that term? Probably not.)

The New Yorker did its Tables for Two this week on Mo Pitkin’s and Andrea Thompson writes: “When you visit a restaurant that features ‘Judeo-Latino’ cuisine and is attached to a performance space that regularly hosts a comedy show called ‘Chicks and Giggles,’ it’s hard to begrudge a little stunt cooking.”

I’m not sure if it’s a stunt or if it’s just repulsive when you can order chopped liver, white fish escabeche and sharp cheddar cheese on the same plate, but that’s the question you face when you dine at Mo’s. Luckily, we started out with something very basic: potato latkes.

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This picture, taken by James Felder portrays the latkes as drab and average. And since a picture’s worth a thousand words, forgive me if I throw in a few of my own and say, in these latkes defense, that though they were a bit drab and average they were fresh—real potatoes, real grease, etc.—and miles away from the frozen ones my mom used to bake in the oven when I was younger. [Sorry mom for shaming you!]

My entree, though, is difficult to defend. This brisket (served on challah toast) was drowned in a sea of overly sweet, tangy sauce.

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I mean it wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t order it again. James and Diana both had hamburgers which the New Yorker calls: “excellent straightforward burgers.” Next time, perhaps, I’ll order that (though Diana’s was raw in the center.)

For dessert we shared challah-bread pudding with a thick dulce-de-leche sauce:

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This was gooey and sweet and just on the precipice of cloying but it didn’t cloy me enough to say I didn’t enjoy it. [But I love the word cloying, don't you? Pee-Wee Herman says it's the word of the day! AAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!]

All in all, Mo Pitkin’s is a fun novelty restaurant with fairly mediocre food. If you’re in Alphabet City, why not give it a try? It’s worth the shlep, compadre.

[See what I did there? I put Yiddish and Spanish in the same sentence because... ok, you got it.]

Moving on. Let’s talk about August:

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I’ve walked past August 8,000 times during my many West Village sojourns and each time I pine through the window and whisper, “One day I will eat here. One day…”

Well that day came on Thursday when Diana and I journeyed over after class. I was nervous that it’d be too expensive, too exotic. But then I reminded Diana that I had a book deal and that we needed to celebrate the wonder of my existence at a restaurant of my choosing. [Big head alert! Big head alert!] Diana slapped me across the face and said, “Ok, August it is!’

Let me just say right here: August is awesome. This was the best meal of the weekend by far. (Actually, not by far: Le Gigot was pretty great too. But Thursday’s not the weekend SO THERE!)

When you walk into August, there’s a buzz about the place—a food-centered gravity that makes you smack your lips in anticipation. Plus, there’s a wood burning oven with pizza-like things going in and out and you can’t wait to climb in there and lick the crumbs. [Well, at least in the fairy tale version...]

Diana and I strategized over the menu ["Well if you order this, I can taste that and you can taste mine..."] and settled upon a brilliant scheme of dining at August.

It began with my salad and her tarte. [Note: These things were recommended by our helpful waiter. Asking the helpful waiter for help was part of our strategy.]

My choice was a highly unusual salad that’s not to be found on the menupages menu (probably because it’s seasonal.) Looking at the picture I see arugula, parmesan, balsamic and then wheatberries with—and this was the highly unusual part—some kind of red squash I’d never heard of. It all came together beautifully:

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But the real triumph was Diana’s Tarte Flambe: Alsatian onion and bacon tart with creme fraiche.

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This makes me want to cry it was so extraordinary. Baked in the wood burning oven, the marriage of thick bacon and caramelized onion on wood-fired dough was pure heaven. Thank God Diana and I had our appetizer-sharing pact or I’d have stabbed her with a butter knife to get half of her pizza.

For our entrees, Diana had a pasta with cauliflower and some kind of cheese [I'm sorry! I'm a bad food journalist! I thought this would all be on menupages and it's not... Next time I'll carry a pad and pen, I promsie.]

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Needless to say Diana gushed over hers and then I gushed over my monkfish:

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Isn’t that a beautiful presentation? The outside was perfectly crisped and the inside was moist. The bright red sauce (which I can’t identify now) gave it all a certain piquancy (ooh, nice word) that made the dish pop in the mouth. [Notice how I haven't used the words delicious or funky? Screw you blogratingz guy!]

For dessert we shared an outrageously good panna cotta with oven-roasted grapes:

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This was so good, in fact, that I drew a line of demarcation on the panna cotta and ruled that anyone who ate beyond their line was to become the other’s personal slave for the next three decades. [Don't tell Diana, but I nibbled a drop beyond her line.]

What was most remarkable about this dish were the grapes. This is hard to articulate, but you know how when you have a grape lollipop or that grape dipping candy that looks like purple cocaine how it has this intensely artificial yet pleasurable flavor? Like how a real grape never really tastes like a lollipop grape? Well these oven-roasted grapes tasted like lollipop grapes in a shockingly authentic, natural organic way. They were dynamite.

And so our meal at August ended with a bang. I can’t wait to go back.

But onward we must sail to Le Gigot, where I met Lauren and her girlfriend Julie on Friday night.

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“We’re meeting at LAY Gigot,” I told Lauren over the phone on Friday afternoon.

“LAY Gigot?” she repeated. “L-E-S?”

“No,” I replied, “L-E Gigot.”

“Oh, so it’s LUH Gigot,” she corrected.

Don’t you hate people who speak French?

LUH Gigot is located in the Village on my favorite little side street—Cornelia, right off of Bleeker—and I ate there once by myself last year and never wrote about it. It was one of those cold winter nights where for some reason dining alone at Le Gigot made a great deal of sense spiritually and philosophically. Plus: if you’re going to dine alone at a French restaurant, this is the place. It’s the coziest, friendliest in town. (There are only 12 tables!)

And since there are only 12 tables (now stated outside of parentheses) we could only get a reservation for 9:45. But that worked perfectly because Lauren was coming in at 6:30 and needed time to get to her brothers, blah blah blah. But here she is with Julie at our designated table:

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They’re holding up their entrees which I refused to photograph individually based on my policy: “I Will Not Photograph Your Entrees Unless They Are Extraordinary Because I Don’t Have Enough Space Or Time To Store And/Or Write About Them On The Internet.” Fair ’nuff.

I feel like I need to mention right here that one of my favorite aspects of the meal (and there was no segue here, but my head is crackling with music and I need to tell you about it) was the music. (I think the parentheses there gave away the ending of that sentence.) Le Gigot has an awesome soundtrack playing for its diners: for our appetizers and entrees it was Billy Holiday, but then suddenly with dessert came on these French tracks. Several I recognized as Edith Piaf tracks performed by other artists. There was one I really loved but now I can’t track it down. And the other was “Champs Elysse” which Lauren learned in elementary school French. That one was terribly catchy too. I can’t find it on the iTunes music store. If you have the mp3, won’t you please send it to amateurgourmet AT gmail DOT com? Merci bo poo!

But the food. That’s why we’re here and it’s 1:09 and I’ve got lots left to write.

For my appetizer, the waiter tried to push the crab cake but I wanted something explicitly french and so I ordered escargot:

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I suppose the popular conception of escargot is best encapsulated by Steve Martin in “The Jerk” when he tells Bernadette Peters not to look down at the table after it’s served and he tells the waiter, furiously: “There are SNAILS on her PLATE!” Then she looks down and you see live snails crawling around.

No, no, no: that’s not what escargot is. Escargot is about butter and garlic—lots of it—so much, in fact, that you could put shoelaces in there and they would taste delicious. But also, cooked this way the escargot (which taste like tiny pockets of garlicky, buttery moisture) are very tender and succulent. I enjoyed them thoroughly.

Lauren’s appetizer forced me to violate my “No Pictures Of Other People’s Food Rule” because it was so terrific. This is wild boar pasta, a blurry picture—I apologize:

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The sauce was terrifically rich and decadent and the pasta was perfectly cooked. Julie had mussels mouliere (is that right? There’s no menupages menu for Le Gigot, D’oh!) and between the three of our appetizers, we were sopping up each other’s sauces like champs. (The bread at Le Gigot may be the best bread I’ve had at a restaurant in New York. It’s perfectly crisp on the outside and perfectly tender on the inside. And it’s the perfect sponge for mussel sauce, snail sauce or wild boar sauce. It’s all about the bread.]

For my entree, I had the signature dish. “Le Gigot” I seem to recall refers to the leg of the lamb and that’s what I had, leg of lamb:

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Bright, saucy, packed with herbs: this really hit the spot. Julie’s poulet and Lauren’s bouillabaisse also won some raves.

For dessert, we shared (of course, since we were with chocolate-loving Lauren) this chocolate souffle type cake in creme anglaise with strawberries and figs:

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This dish gives you a good idea, visually, of what Le Gigot is about: simple, unpretentious, elegant. And fork-fight worthy. (I won the “Who Gets The Last Bite” contest.)

And so here we bid Lauren and Julie adieu and end our weekend with an exotic voyage to the great beyond: Brooklyn!

My friend Mark lives in Brooklyn–Park Slope, to be exact–and so does my friend Patty. These two don’t know each other, so I took it upon myself to introduce them. Throw our friend Ricky into the mix (who knows Mark and I from college, and Patty from Tisch where Ricky’s an actor with the First Look theater company) and you have a table of champions.

Mark, ever prepared for my camera-toting arrival, selected Beet. Which is near his street. And looks neat. To an aesthete.

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At Beet, the food is Asian-inspired. There are blurbs from Time Out New York and New York on the window. Here’s Ricky, Mark and Patty at the table:

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Beet has a BYOB policy, and so we started out across the street at a Deli where we bought several beers to our particular tastes. Mark had a taste for cherry beer and so I thought: “Why not?” And got one too. I later determined that it tasted like the frat boy’s Shirley Temple.

For our appetizer, we elected to share calamari with “avocado massaman curry dipping sauce” (this time I was smart and took a take-out menu):

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The calamari itself was slightly peculiar: the pieces were cut in shapes I’d never experienced and the batter wasn’t crispy enough for my taste. But the dipping sauce was a novelty I enjoyed: when it comes to dipping your calamari, one should never rule out avocado massaman curry.

We also shared Potato-Corn Croquettes:

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These tasted like potato pancakes with corn in them. I liked them better than the “real” potato pancakes we ate a few days earlier at Mo Pitkin’s.

For my entree, I settled upon a dish recommended by the New York Magazine blurb taped to the window: “Filet Red Snapper with Champagne-Vanilla Butter Sauce” described as: “Fried red snapper with crispy spinach and champagne vanilla butter sauce.”

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The blurriness of the picture is a function of the tears streaming down my face as I wrestle with my inner-food critic angel. On one hand, the champagne vanilla butter sauce was unlike any sauce I’ve ever had on a fish in my lifetime. Sweet, creamy, bright—it could almost be a dessert sauce, yet it paired really well with the nicely crisped fish.

On the other hand, though, this fish had lots of tiny bones in it. As I ate, I kept pulling small bones out of my mouth. At one point I felt a large bone go down and I coughed loudly and made a dramatic gesture which caused Ricky to say, “Are you okay?” and for a moment I wasn’t sure that I was. I drank a huge gulp of water and felt the bone go down. (Don’t you hate that feeling when you swallow something hard or sharp or bulky and you feel it going down your throat?) At this point, I was 3/4ths done with the fish, but I thought I’d tell the waitress just so she knew there were large bones in the food they were serving.

“Let me get the manager,” she said and the manager came over.

“Just you know,” I said, “there are lots of little bones in here” (and I pointed to the little bones at the corner of my plate) “and I almost choked on a larger one.”

She studied my face and then looked down at the plate and began to lift it.

“No, no,” I said, “That’s ok. I don’t want another one.”

“You sure?” she said.

“Yes,” I said and she walked away.

The fish was on the bill and I suppose that’s fair (I did eat most of it and all the sides) but it goes to show you that a restaurant may dazzle with its sauces and sides, but if they can’t do basic things like filet a fish then nothing else is really worthwhile.

As it was, though, I was having such a good time with Ricky, Patty and Mark that I forgave the restaurant its transgressions and focused on the conversation at hand.

“I’m obsessed with the song ‘My Humps’ by the Black Eyed Peas,” said Patty.

“Oh my God, I love that song,” said Mark. He began singing: “My humps my humps my lovely lady lumps.”

“My lovely lady lumps?” I queried.

“Yes,” laughed Patty.

“And there’s a part that goes ‘mix your milk with my cocoa puff’” added Mark.

“What does that even mean?” I asked.

“Think about it,” said Ricky.

“I am thinking about it and I still don’t know what that means.”

And with a conversation like that, there’s no reason to let the bone in your throat put a chip on your shoulder. In fact, I’d even go back to “Beet,” I just wouldn’t order fish.

I’d order milk and a cocoa puff.

AND THUS OUR MARATHON CELEBRATION WEEKEND OF EATING COMES TO A CLOSE. That was exhausting.

Categories: Brooklyn, East Village, Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York, Park Slope, Restaurant Reviews

  • Eric W.

    There’s really only one reason to point out a negative comment like that, and that’s so that readers will go to that site and post positive reviews. If you want people to make you feel better, just be honest about it and say, “I need some back patting and reassuring.”

  • Alisa

    Joe Dassin, now dead, sings/sang “Oh Champs Élysée”, that should help you track it down.

  • emily

    Are you still friends with Lisa? Why doesn’t she eat with you anymore?

  • e

    juban has been an expression for a looong time. Miami is filled with jubans and one of the more popular temples for jewish weddings is the juban (er, hebrew-cuban) temple on Miami Beach.

  • Jess

    The chocolat souffle cake looks so good I want to puch myself in the face – don’t judge, it’s just how I deal.

  • m

    I misread “teleplay class” as “telepathy class.” Now that would be an awesome course.

  • http://www.sugoodsweets.com/blog Jessica “Su Good Eats”

    Hey Adam, today I ate some of Jean George’s food and I thought of you because you review lots of fancy places, and I first heard of him through your blog.

    The Sur la Table store in Soho had a celebrity chef reception today, where Jean Georges, Todd English, Laurent Tourondel and Cedric Tovar prepared food in Staub cookware. Tourondel made mussels with cream sauce-it tasted standard. Todd English made pumpkin lasagna. It was better, but it just seemed frou frou and there was too much going on. Buttery pumpkin filling, ricotta cheese, parmesan on top, and toasted pumpkin seeds and a fried sage leaf. The best thing about it was the sage leaf. Tovar made braised pork and lamb. Very satisfying, especially on a rainy day like today. But nothing tasted like celebrity chef food until I tried Jean George’s chicken and potatoes. Yes, it was the simplest ingredients but it was AMAZING. The potatoes were super crispy yet juicy. Crispy like Pommes Frites french fries, but with a thicker skin. As Jean Georges said, the potatoes were better than the chicken. So here’s his recipe: take a seasoned 2 lb chicken and brown each side in a cast iron pot for 16 minutes/side. You also add cubed potatoes at some point and grape seed oil and then cover till it’s done. That’s it. The potatoes absorb all the chicken drippings. You must try it! Best potatoes I’ve ever had in my life.