In Kristen Veritas

My college friend Kristen of the food blog Give Me Some Food came to town recently with her mother and the two of them were kind enough to take me and our friend Ricky out to dine at a wine lover’s dream restaurant: Veritas.

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Here’s Kristen’s write-up of the meal, including an account of the rest of her trip. Since I wasn’t coming straight from lunch at the Modern, my appetite was much readier for the heavy food that was to come.

We were there on a Monday night and the restaurant was pretty dead. We asked our waiter about it and he said that most of their regular clients go away for the summer or spend three-day weekends at the beach. “Mondays are slow days for us,” he told us.

Better for us, we figured, since there were more people to dote on us. Kristen told me that she chose Veritas because of Anthony Bourdain’s praise of the restaurant in “Kitchen Confidential.” I remembered hearing about him saying, somewhere in his book, never to order fish on Monday. “Is that true?” I asked Kristen. “Yes,” she said. “Never order fish on Mondays because they don’t get fresh deliveries on Monday, it’s the leftovers from the weekend.”

Had this conversation happened immediately before I ordered, I may have remembered not to order fish on Monday. But as it happened, I forgot the rule and ordered for an appetizer Hamachi Tartare:

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It was a lovely presentation and the flavors were clean and well-coordinated. I enjoyed this with the white wine we all were drinking at the start of our meal.

Wine, I should note, is the reason Veritas exists. The owners, I am told, are wine collectors who wanted to build a restaurant to showcase their wine collection. So at Veritas the wine comes first, the food second.

The wine, then, informed my entree choice. Kristen ordered a nice bottle of red (and if I were a better food blogger, I would have written down what it was or merely remembered, at least, what kind of wine it was—I have no idea) so I ordered, for my entree, the Venison.

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The sauce was like a spicy BBQ sauce–it had a peppery kick. The corn salsa balanced it out nicely and the meat was perfectly cooked. The execution at Veritas was flawless—every plate was a work of art.

My dessert was Kristen’s favorite dish of the night (according to her blog.) It was a passion fruit meringue tart:

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Again, there’s nothing to critique here: it’s all perfect, from top to bottom. Here’s Ricky, Kristen and her mom showing off their desserts:

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We did a good job of all ordering different things and, as a consequence, got to sample from each other’s plates. Mine, I believe, was the most sampled and that made me feel good about myself.

So in conclusion, Veritas is a restaurant on the highest order, churning out exquisite, perfectly done food. What it lacks, I suppose, is more character: there’s nothing really to distinguish it from other high end restaurants except, for the vinophile, the wine list. If you love wine you’ll love Veritas, and even if you don’t love wine there’s enough to love that you can go with someone you love if they love wine and still love your meal. I love that Kristen and her mom took me there so lots of love to them both and many many thanks.

Graduation Feasting, Part Two: Come To See, Victory, in a Tavern called Gramercy

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I know that on Sunday night we ate dinner at the Gramercy Tavern. I know this to be true but as opposed to Daniel, which I wrote about below this, dinner memories aren’t flooding to the surface. Everything about the Gramercy Tavern was perfectly executed–the hostess was pleasant (and pregnant), the bar room was colorful and bright and full of flowers, and the food was all pretty flawless. But the experience as a whole sort of felt generic–and maybe that’s the point. It is, after all, a tavern.

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If I Only Ate A Brain (And I Thought I Did) At Craftbar

I had a song for you Thursday night. It was in response to a meal Lauren and I ate at Craftbar:

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Specifically, it was in response to my first course: Sweetbreads. The song started like this:

“When a person’s mostly meat-fed

they can’t avoid a sweetbread

but from sweetbreads I obstain.

Yet if I were not an objecter

I could be Hannibal Lecter

if I only ate a brain.”

The song was a charming ditty, all set to be recorded, and then I learned something most troubling…

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Journey To Chocolateland

Lauren, my beloved former roommate, was in town for one of her labor law cases (she’s a labor lawyer) and she called me Monday to go to dinner. I quickly whipped out my New York magazine and set upon the task of choosing a venue that would serve both our needs. My needs are very complex: Something new but not too trendy; something exciting but not too bizarre. Lauren’s needs are much simpler. They can be summed up in one word. Chocolate.

If I were a selfish person, I would ignore Lauren’s ridiculous need and focus on my superior need for serious food. But I’m a better friend than that. And so by the end of the evening, Lauren found herself face to face with this piece of heaven:

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But where was she? Where were we? Find out as you click ahead and learn the location of our night out in Chocolateland.

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Do You Like American Cuisine? I Like American Cuisine: Eisenberg’s Sandwich & Philly Slim’s

My brain and I have a healthy relationship. I give him books and avoid drugs more serious than Flinstone vitamins and he rewards me with pretty constant inspiration. Take the idea I had today: what if I had cultural weeks here at the Amateur Gourmet? Like on different weeks I’d be like: “It’s Korean Week!” and then I’d cook Korean food and eat at Korean restaurants for a week. See: isn’t my brain generous? My brain likes Koreans.

So let’s say today was the first day of American Week. It’s not, but play along. Then the two meals I ate today would be in complete conformity with American Week. Let’s begin with Eisenberg’s Sandwich:

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Eisenberg’s is located right close to me on 5th Ave. I’ve walked past it many times. I’ve read the blurbs on the window. I read about it in Robert Sietsema’s book. It’s listed under Sandwiches and Comfort Food (but could very well be filed under American.) He writes: “Step into the past, when sandwiches weren’t made with faddish ingredients like arugula, pesto and ciabattas. In 1929 when Eisenberg’s was founded, New York City was paved with these places. A lonely presence on this stretch of 5th Avenue among fast-food emporia and pita palaces, it steadfastly retains the standard lunch menu of soups, sandwiches and sour pickles. Their egg salad is creamy and clean tasting and only slightly salty. Order it on rye, and strike a blow for heirloom eating. Add bacon and find nirvana.”

Strong advice! So how could I not heed it?

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Nirvana? I’m not sure about that. But deeply comforting, yes. And a terrific fusion of all America has to offer. From purple mountains majesty to bacon crisped on eggs—these are the foods of the farmer on the bread of the Jew. (Did Jews invent rye? Probably not. But we sure make good use of it in our delis.) And Eisenberg (who must be Jewish, with a name like that) makes good use of it with his egg salad. The best way to describe the sandwich is subtle with hitns of aggression: the egg salad, as Sietsema says, is “only slightly salty” and therefore doesn’t bop you over the head. Instead it’s a creamy base for that crunchy salty piggy bacon. Ah bacon. On the bread of the Jew. The Talmud might not approve, but the Constitution says it’s A-OK. And this sandwich makes me proud to be an American.

Wow: that last paragraph is an embarassing mess. But that’s my new philosophy as a writer: spectacular messes are better than drab perfection. Don’t you agree? [The ghost of E.B. White says: “Get a broom and clean up this pigsty!” “Pigsty, did someone say pigsty?” “Quiet Wilbur.”]

Anyhoo, a write-up of Eisenberg’s would not be complete without a description of the environment. So behold the environment:

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It’s like a movie set, isn’t it? An old time diner with the swivel stools and the hanging lamps and the paper hats and the old lady with her mouth open. This is what America is: a cramped room with narrow passageways and diverse groups of people eating egg salad near the Flatiron building. “I hear America singing,” wrote Whitman, but perhaps he meant eating. Egg salad with bacon makes a distinct crunch that might inspire epic poetry. Aren’t you enjoying America week?

Let us segue, for a moment then, to another token of the American experience: corporate greed!

My friend John–Generous John, we shall now call him, for his intense generosity–invited me to join him tonight for not one but two theatrical events. The first was a preview of the new musical “Lestat” based on the Anne Rice books with music by Elton John and lyrics by Bernie Taupin. The preview took place in the Winter Garden theater and Warner Brothers, which is producing the show, gave out little gift bags with Lestat diaries and copies of “The Vampire Lestat.” When the lights dimmed, out came a Warner Brothers executive, the show’s director (I forget his name), Elton John, Bernie Taupin, Anne Rice, the costume designer and the set designer. Here they all are leaving the stage in an impossible to see picture:

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If you look REALLY close you can see Anne Rice by herself exiting and in front of her is Elton and then Bernie. The music from the show (they played five songs) was pretty catchy but all in all it felt like a corporate endeavor: a paint-by-numbers assemblage of crowd-pleasing content that had less depth than the heel on Elton John’s shoe.

The crowd seemed to like it though. Well, mostly. The girl in front of us fell asleep. Afterwards, at a Starbucks, a woman approached us with a cane and spied our gift bags.

“I gave away my book,” she told us. “Because I’ve already been a victim of the dark arts.”

“Oh ya? What happened?” asked John. I skidded my chair away from the looney.

“Someone psychically attacked me,” she told us matter-of-factly. “I knew a secret about him and so he told me I knew too much and when I was walking up the aisle of a theater he waved his hand over my head and I fell and had extreme pain in my leg. The muscles are all in knots now. Even the doctors say someone must have attacked me.”

Where am I going with this? It’s a slice of life. American life. You love it.

But let’s get to the food. The second theatrical event of the evening was one I was truly looking forward to: the first preview of “The Color Purple.” So John and I made our way over to 9th Avenue to grab something fast. We spotted a place selling cheesesteaks–Philly Slim’s–and decided to go in.

The menu at Philly Slim’s is very straightforward. To wit: it’s cheesesteak, with few permutations. And so John and I both ordered cheesesteaks with few permutations.

Here’s John with his:

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And here’s mine up close:

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It looks like greasy heaven. And that’s what America is for many people: a greasy heaven. (Boy I’m stretching this America thing way too far, aren’t I.)

Here’s what New York magazine says about Philly Slim’s: “Despite this joint’s spirited devotion to the City of Brotherly Love and its various foodstuffs—Hank’s sodas and Tastykakes are on display—the cheesesteak came up short: bland meat, flavorless onions, and a stingy hand with the Whiz.”

I don’t fully agree with that. I didn’t think the meat was bland and I didn’t find the onions flavorless. But I would agree that it wasn’t spectacular: it was just a happy greasefest on a bun. Our arteries were properly clogged and that’s what we wanted. The fries, though, truly sucked.

“The Color Purple” (and I should disclose that the book of the musical is written by my masters thesis teacher) is truly awesome. I hope it’s a big hit—the crowd seemed to love it. And I’ve had the title song stuck in my head since I left the theater

Boy, this was quite a journey we took in this post. I included peripheral non-food information to provide joyous content for your day at work tomorrow. I have a theory: most people read me because they’re bored at work. That theory comes from my brain and my brain thanks you for indulging the first cultural week experiment. Should this experiment yield a bonafide concept, you’ll be the first to know. In the meantime: God bless America.

The Second Most Momentous Meeting of Food Bloggers EVER: Derrick “An Obsession With Food” [plus wife!] & Adam “Amateur Gourmet” Dine at Craft

Those reading since June will remember the first most momentous meeting of food bloggers ever when I dined with Clotilde “Chocolate & Zucchini” at Babbo. Before that I met Danny “A Year In Food” at The Bar Room at The Modern. So that was kind of momentous too. But at the time I didn’t think to call it “momentous” so Danny doesn’t get momentous status, but he’s in Europe so he’ll barely notice. And so the meal I had last night with Derrick “An Obsession with Food” and his lovely wife Melissa will henceforth be known as the Second Most Momentous Meeting of Food Bloggers Ever. Here we are at the end of our meal, aren’t we cute?

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But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. How did this meal come about? Why Derrick? Why Melissa? Why now?

Well a few weeks ago Derrick wrote me to say: “So you may remember we’re going to be in New York in October. Any chance of meeting up with you for lunch or dinner on one of the days? We’d love to meet the famous AG in person.”

Pandering to my delusional sense of fame is the perfect way to get me to say “yes” to any dinner invitation. Plus, I’ve been a big fan of Derrick’s site for a long while now. He really knows his stuff. So I quickly said–or, typed: “Yes!” and then obliged his request for “any places you’d really suggest as don’t-miss?” by sending him the link to my list of all the restaurants I ate in in 2005, adding: “As for places I’ve yet to try that may be fun for us—I’ve always wanted to check out Craft (though I know it’s expensive), Gramercy Tavern, Aquavit, and a few others.”

And before I knew it, Derrick had made a reservation for three people at 8:30, October 25th at Craft.

So you know how in some movies there’s a raggedy woman who walks by a fancy clothing store and peers in the windows pining desperately for the mink stoll or the diamond earrings that she’ll never have? Sometimes I felt that way walking past Craft on 19th Street. The inside looked so forbidding, so wooden and brassy, that I could never imagine myself inside with the chic looking crowd. Plus the only chance I had—going with my parents—was shot because my parents once went there with another couple, saw the menu, found it too confusing and left.

But here I was—having braved the freezing cold winds and aggressive drizzle on the walk over—sitting in the lobby of Craft waiting for Derrick and Melissa to arrive. (I’m perpetually early for things.) I enjoyed overhearing many of the entryway conversations while I waited. Like there were these four women, three of whom looked like business women and one who looked like a model. The three businesswomen insisted on paying for the model’s cab. “Rob really gets upset, though, when I let people pay for me,” she said. I found that very interesting. Who’s Rob? Why does he get upset?

Before I could solve that mystery, Derrick and Melissa arrived. I recognized Derrick from his long hair—I’d done my research on his wife’s Flickr page before our meeting. It’s weird meeting food bloggers for meals: it’s sort of like a blind foodie date. Except here I was meeting a couple, so it had even more suspect swinging spousal undertones. Were they auditioning me to join them in some kind of Californian marital foodie triangle? What role would I play: houseboy? I found the prospect humiliating and told them, right away, that I had a terrible rash all over my body in the hopes they’d let go of that idea. [Though Craft did encourage us slightly with its food-sharing policies.]

What tangent was I just on? I have no idea. Anyway, let’s get to the food. We have a lot to write about.

Craft is famous for its notoriously “difficult” menu. Actually, the menu’s not difficult at all. (You can study it here). It’s divided up between “first courses” and “main courses.” The “first course” menu is divided between raw shellfish, cured/marinated shellfish, charcuterie, roasted meat, and salads. Easy! And the main courses are divided between fish and meat and within those categories it’s divided between braised and roasted. The vegetables are either roasted, sauteed, or braised. Are you confused? Ok, maybe it’s a tad bit confusing.

So let’s enjoy our amuse bouche:

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Lord, you’re going to buy me a pad and a pen when you see how bad my recall is when it comes to what we ate and drank last night. On that spoon, I know, is some kind of fish. I want to say it’s white fish. Then there’s daikon radish, I remember that. Is that cucumber I see? Whatever it was, it was all bright on the palate and quite refreshing.

Derrick took to studying the wine list as Melissa and I discussed the menu. One thing that I loved about our meal last night was that Derrick and Melissa knew so much—I had a very edifying experience. So for example, Melissa turned me on to oysters. Since it’s a sharing restaurant, we ordered three of each kind of oyster to start. Here’s our big oyster platter:

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Now from the menupages menu, I know for a fact three of these oysters are Kumamoto oysters. These are Melissa’s favorite. They’re small and sweet and creamy. We ate these last but I’ll write about them first because even though they’re Melissa’s favorite, I had some bits of shell get into my slurp and it detracted from the experience. But I could see why she enjoyed them. Our other oysters may have been Beau Soleil and Glidden Point (again, from menupages). Regardless of what they were, I felt like my oyster-eyes were opened: it’s been said that what makes oysters so enjoyable is that they taste completely of the sea. Is it Ruth Reichl who writes in her book about being on a boat with her parents, shucking fresh oysters out of the water and slurping them down? It’s a very romantic idea and I loved how the salty slimyness of the oysters was so evocative of the ocean. Plus they went great with the wine…

That’s right: there was wine for the oysters that Derrick selected. Derrick knows his wine and I really really don’t. I told him I would do my best to recall the wines we drank (there were two) and he can correct them later when he blogs about it on his site. The wine we drank with the oysters, if I remember correctly, was a mix of three whites: Chardonnay, Riesling, and _____ (Sauvignon Blanc?). It came from the _____ region in Italy. I really enjoyed it but I enjoy white wine. We drank most of it down with the oysters, but saved a drop for the scallops that came with our entrees.

And here they are:

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I know these look outrageous, and I’ve heard the Craft scallops raved over before, but these weren’t the highlight of the meal for me. They were fine: I found them to be a bit rubbery and not that memorable. However, I was assigned the task of dividing up the fourth scallop (well–I assigned myself the task) and though I tried to cut it in thirds, it ended up in fourths. Who ate the extra fourth? I did. So I must have liked the scallops more than I let on.

For our entree food, Derrick consulted the sommelier for advice on an appropriate wine. The last time I’ve seen this done was in Monaco when we were at Joel Robuchon and mom and dad assigned me the task of choosing the wine. I chose a Riseling and the sommelier okayed it. It ended up being way too sweet and my family wrote me out of the will.

Derrick fared much better when he and the sommelier settled upon (and you’ll be proud of me that I remember this!) a Cab Franc from Australia. (Cab is wine lingo for Cabernet. I don’t know what “Franc” is wine lingo for.) This wine was really wonderful. Again, I don’t know my wine, but this wine was unusually distinct. I began describing it aloud: “I taste cherries…”

“Yes,” agreed Derrick.

“…and a hint of the forest.”

“Yes,” laughed Melissa.

“…a wolf howls in the distance. Small children frolick in a meadow.”

I could’ve gone on, but then came the greatest dish of the entire meal:

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This is one of our “sides” and Melissa gets the credit for spotting it. It’s bacon and egg risotto. That’s right, the risotto tastse like bacon and there’s a poached yolk on top that you break into the risotto. The end result is wildly rich and decadent and wonderful. We scraped this plate clean as quick as you can say “Clogged Artery.”

These pictures are quite unorderly, but bare with me. Here are the hen of the woods mushrooms:

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These were really enjoyable in a very simple, straightforward sort of way. In fact I think these Hen of the Woods embody what Craft stands for as a restaurant. It’s all in the name: Craft. Cooking is a craft before it’s an art. Like any other craft, the goal is to maximize the return with simplicity and grace. (I’m making this crap up but it sounds good.) That’s what these mushrooms are: simplicity and grace on a plate. (That’s the new NBC hit on the make: “Simplicity and Grace on a Plate.”)

Now for the meaty stuff. Here’s a braised short rib:

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This was quite lovely and soul-satisfying in a homey but impressive way. The meat fell apart so it was really easy to eat and the herbs (I think that’s thyme in there) really enhanced the experience.

And then there was Venison (that’s Bambi’s mother, for the unknowledgable):

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The Venison was prepared—(I just realized I don’t need to capitalize Venison, but instead of fixing it I thought I’d point out the mistake in a parenthetical aside)–in three ways, as you can see. But the venison chop was impossible to cut through because they kept the ____ bone intact (it was Derrick who made this comment, and I don’t remember the bone name.) So we sent it back for the chef to cut through it so we could share it.

Oh, the venison in the middle is bacon wrapped. I forgot to mention that. I really liked the venison presentation: it was earthy and smart and colorful but not over-the-top. Subtle with a hint of whimsy. (Wow, that sounds professional. But I mean it.)

I encouraged the group to try the cippolini onions beacuse I read they were in season in New York magazine:

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These were definitely a highlight for me. I loved the flavor and the texture–sweet and crunchy with a slightly bitter undertaste. If you have access to cippolini (sp?) onions and New York magazine, go buy some and make their recipe. (Maybe I’ll do that this weekend if I feel so inclined.)

Now then, it may seem like we pigged out but you have to remember there were THREE of us and all three of us LOVE FOOD so it’s really not that much. Now then, Melissa’s a big cheese platter person so she ordered cheese for the table from the dessert menu.

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She was impressively assertive with her cheese order. She knew which cheeses she wanted and so when the waiter offered to bring over the cart, Melissa said: “Well you can bring over the cart, but I still know which cheeses we want.” And if my memory were photographic, I’d tell you what they were. I do remember there was a goat (at 6 o’clock), a cow’s milk, a sheep’s milk (?) and then the waiter gave us a free one just to be nice.

I particularly enjoyed the condiments they served with the cheese:

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That’s almonds, plums and honey. I love pouring honey on cheese. Since I’m scared of cheese (see salad post below where I recall my Cheeseophobic childhood) pouring honey makes the experience more Adamable–since I like things that are sweet. (That’s why I like YOU reader! You’re sweet.)

What’s next? Why it’s a gift from the chef: a concord grape spritzer.

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Ah, refreshing!

Have we hit our limit?

We have not!

Naturally, a meal of this magnitude must end with donuts. (I kind of insisted on dessert since dessert is my favorite part of any meal.) Here they are:

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Aren’t they pretty? And they tasted as good as they look: nothing beats a fresh donut. I think we should end all our meals with donuts from now on.

But donuts didn’t end our meal. There was another gift from the chef: caramel corn!

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Ok, now they did it: I was stuffed into oblivion. And Derrick and Melissa, who’d been eating New York all day (they’d hit Mary’s Fish Camp, Sweet Sunshine Bakery, and Artisinal) they must’ve been busting at the seams. But we were all still in great spirits.

You know, a great meal is a confluence of many things. The food can be great, but if the company’s not it all goes to waste. And vice-versa. But when the two factors come together–great people and great food–there’s nothing like it. And that’s how it was on Tuesday night when the second most momentous meeting of food bloggers took place at Craft. I’d like to thank Derrick and Melissa for an amazing time and I really intend to come through on my promise to visit the Bay Area (where more momentous meetings await: Pim! Heidi! Alice Waters!) and we’ll eat Pacific oysters, drink wine, I’ll bring a pen and paper so I remember all the details for sure! Thanks, again, for a great night.

Hark! It’s 11 Madison Park!

We all have a list, somewhere in our brains, of things we mean to do–of places we want to eat, things we want to cook, people we want to kill. Sometimes we forget what’s on those lists so that when mom calls and says, “I’m coming to New York with dad for that cruise we booked” (they’re going on a Fall Foliage cruise) “where should we go to lunch?” I really have no idea what to suggest. But then mom says, “Have you heard of 11 Madison Park?” and suddenly the list illuminates in your brain and you say, “Oh yes! That’s on my list!” And mom says: “What list?” and she locks you up in an asylum.

And so it was that I met mom and dad on Friday for lunch at 11 Madison Park, right near my apartment:

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I arrived early and held my ears as men outside the restaurant jackhammered the sidewalk. Across the street a cell phone commercial was being shot. Once arrived, mom, dad and I made our way in and announced our arrival. Heads turned. “Maybe we should tell the maitre’d and not the entire restaurant,” I suggested.

The room was spacious and pretty:

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We were shown to a table in a crappy section on the third tier and mom, never one to accept a crappy table, asked for a table in the middle VIP section. “One second,” said the host, who slipped away and came back and reported we could have a middle VIP table. We did a VIP jig.

So 11 Madison Park is owned by Danny Meyer who owns The Union Square Cafe and Shake Shack and other well known dining institutions. In addition to being a great chef, Mr. Meyer is also a great business man: he creates brand identities with his restaurants that burrow their way into your brain so that unlike the generic Italian joint you visit in the theater district, a Danny Meyer restaurant stands singular and strong in your memory. Take, for example, the butter:

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The butter, as you can see, is shaped like a maple leaf. That same maple leaf design is reflected on the menu and, if you study the first picture at top, there’s a maple leaf over the menu display. These are subtle (or not so subtle?) business school tactics that seem to work. 11 Madison Park and The Union Square Cafe are two of the most popular restaurants in New York.

Well. For my money, 11 Madison Park doesn’t come anywhere near the Union Square Cafe. If you remember, we were at…

[Whoah, I just did my usual Google search “Amateur Gourmet Union Square Cafe” and nothing came up. Then I did a bunch of “Molly Union Square Cafe” because Molly’s name was in the title of that post and still nothing. And now I realize that my site isn’t Googleable any more. What’s happening? Why doesn’t my site come up at all when you do Google searches? Have I been ousted from Google?!?!?]

…The Union Square Cafe a few weeks ago and we had an awesome experience. Granted, my friend was our waitress but, still, the rest of the service was impeccable and the food was awesome. At 11 Madison Park we had a crappy waiter. He had very little to say when it came to what we should order. He rarely visited our table and we had to work very hard to get his attention for coffee. And it’s not like the room was wildly busy, it was only 3/4s full. So that was frustrating.

But some of the food was, indeed, fantastic. Check out this appetizer: “Heirloom Tomato Salad with Black Truffle Panna Cotta and Chianti-Basil Vinaigrette.”

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This is Danny Meyer at his best: fresh, seasonal ingredients (heirloom tomatoes) with a highly unusual and highly delicious complement (black truffle panna cotta) and a slightly familiar, slightly strange condiment (chianti-basil vinaigrette). With that picture above I can truly say it’s really as good as it looks.

But with our entrees, we felt a bit cheated. I had “one-side seared tuna tartare with avocado, fried capers and lemon vinaigrette”:

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It was tasty, yes, but guess how much it cost? Are you ready? $24!

That’s way too much money for this amount of food. This is an appetizer portion. It’s innovative, yes, but it’s barely an entree and certainly not worth the price. So that’s a mark-down for Mr. Meyer

And mom and dad really didn’t love their entrees.

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Mom had “Cripsy Cod Cakes with Linguica Sausage and Spicy Tomato Vinaigrette” and dad had “Cocoa-Spiced Atlantic Salmon with Parsnips, Yellow Chive and Fresh Bay Leaf Broth.”

“Why is this in a soup bowl?” dad inquired.

“Because of the fresh bay leaf broth?” I suggested.

“Oh, of course,” he replied.

To dad, this place had the credibility of a shrunken head museum or a Tom Cruise marriage. He wasn’t buying it. [Well, technically he WAS buying it, but you get what I mean.]

Mom had heard exciting things about the french fries, so we ordered those too:

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They were tasty. They came with marjoram aioli. They were $8.

Dessert resucitated our dying love affair with 11 Madison Park. Meet the Dark Chocolate Dome with Caramel Cream and Pistachio crunch Ice Cream:

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If you were a cartoon character, you might say: “GADZOOKS!”

And this was right up to par with the heirloom tomato salad we started with. It’s really only the entrees in between and the service that disappointed. But when you’re paying as much as you are at 11 Madison Park, stuff like that matters.

In conclusion, then, go for the heirloom, stay for the dome, but don’t let the Maple Leaf Butter pattern fool you. When it comes to Danny Meyer greatness, Union Square Cafe reigns supreme.

Homemade Pasta Near The Movies: Via Emilia

Going to see “Proof” the other night on 17th and Broadway, my companion and I were in the Tom Collichio district: Craft, Craftbar, the former home of ‘Wichcraft.* [*Hey! You know how I’m also raving about how much I love ‘Wichcraft? Well it’s not there anymore. Sure it’s in Bryant Park and somewhere else but no longer near me. I am mad!] [Hey, can someone teach me how to do HTML so that if someone clicked that initial * a tiny textbox would open with the text: “Hey! You know…”?] Anyway: Craft and Craftbar are way too expensive for a pre-movie dinner.

We wandered over to 5th Ave. and spotted a cute Italian joint, Via Emilia:

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Now I’m going to confess something to you. See those blurbs and articles taped to the glass outside the restaurant? I’m a sucker for those. If those weren’t up, I’d probably have insisted we go somewhere else. I need confirmation that a place is worth eating at. Either there are blurbs taped to the window or I’ve researched it online or I’ve heard about it by word of mouth. But I’d very very rarely just wander in somewhere without knowing anything about it unless the food looked amazing.

Luckily, these blurbs proved prescient. (Am I using prescient right?) The food here was very solid. The pasta’s homemade. Check it out: seafood spaghetti.

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This reminded me of a similar dish we ate in Sardinia only not quite as good. The mussels here were a bit gross and there was some sand near one of the scallops. But the spaghetti was homemade so I liked that. And for a cheap meal (this wasn’t expensive at all) near a movie theater, you could do a lot worse than Via Emilia. So check it out and go see “Proof.” It’s a solid interpretation of the play which most people didn’t have the chance to see. The Act One closer which comes halfway through the movie still gives me chills. Want proof? Go see it!