Knowledge is Power: Dinners at Wondee Siam II and Osteria del Sole

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.

Usher in a taste of the South with brunch at The Pink Teacup

The title of this post features a play on words. You won’t be able to know yet what that play on words entails, but I’ll give you a clue:


Ok, I’ve given it all away but first the doorway:


Welcome to The Pink Teacup. Located on Grove St. between Bleeker and Bedford in The West Village, The Pink Teacup (I’m taking this from its website): “Brings the best in Southern cuisine to this side of the Eastern US border.” (I’m not sure I understand that geographically, but I do understand it thematically.)

To test the validity of their claim, though, I brought along with me two Southern food experts: Stella R. and Mark B. both from Tennessee.


We waited outside about 15 minutes for a table. The people in line were pretty jovial and good-spirited. During this period, we studied the menu (this was Sunday, by the way, so we were there for Sunday brunch) and made some significant choices regarding what we would order.

I decided, then and there, that no matter what I was going to order a sweet tea. It’s been a long time since I had sweet tea. So when we were sat (SEATED SEATED, ok, I’m working on it) I ordered a glass.


It was terrific. So far, so good.

My big choice, as far as food went, was between blueberry pancakes and bacon OR fried chicken with apple fritters. Since you can get pancakes anywhere, really, I settled on fried chicken and apple fritters, as did Mark. Stella, the vegetarian, stayed vegetarian and ordered pecan pancakes for herself.

Then we waited a long time and this is where we can usher in the Usher reference. Mark said rather casually to Stella: “Do you know the singer Usher?”

“Yes,” said Stella.

“He’s sitting right there.”

I swivelled around and sure enough, there he was, in a booth in the back. I mean, I’ll confess, I don’t know anything about Usher but I did sort of recognize him. At one point, they turned on Usher music and Mark was embarassed for him. Coincidentally (or because of it?) Usher left while his song was playing. We saw the waitress pick up the cash and the check and follow him outside but I’m not sure what their exchange was like. I do know a little girl ran out after him and she came back, beaming, holding an autograph.

As for our food, it took a long time to come. When it did come, Stella’s pancakes had a fried chicken sitting on top of them. The waiter thought she’d ordered pancakes with fried chicken and she had to ask them to make the pancakes again because the pancakes were contaminated. It’s an unfortuante situation, but what are you going to do?

But here’s my fried chicken and apple fritters:


Ah, health. Who says fried food’s bad for you? Everyone. Ok, well if fried food’s bad I don’t want to be good!

This chicken was terrif. Our waiter had asked us if we wanted white meat or dark meat and I initially ordered white meat but when he explained that dark meat is leg and thigh, I quickly switched to dark. I like a chicken leg more than any other part, really. It’s the most fun to eat.

Mark, Southern expert #1, agreed with my assessment of “terrif” and said, “This chicken IS really good.” As were the apple fritters.

Stella really liked her pancakes, even if they took a long time to come out. We also ordered a side of biscuits:


Stella and Mark believed that these came from a can and I put up a fight, defending the Pink Tea Cup’s honor. If anything, the biscuits were really buttery. Tasting them, there was a slight hint of coming-from-a-canness but that’s a rough thing to accuse them of, and we don’t really know, do we? Or maybe that’s why Usher left?

I really like that The Pink Teacup exists and especially that it’s in Greenwich Village. As I make my way around New York for this site, I keep coming back to The Village and falling in love. I think all of my favorite restaurants are in the same 5 mile radius. Babbo, Spotted Pig, Blue Ribbon, Magnolia Bakery, Pearl Oyster Bar, Mary’s Fish Camp, Snack Taverna, Shopsin’s, Joe’s pizza, Joe coffee, Cones, John’s (more pizza), and still so many places I haven’t tried like August and this paella place that looks pricey but great. Why do I live in Chelsea again?

Cheating on Pearl with Mary: Lunch at Mary’s Fish Camp

From Amanda Hesser’s “Cooking for Mr. Latte” (pg. 60):

“I listened as the regulars [at Pearl Oyster Bar] who stole my seat begged the chef to let them eat at Mary’s Fish Camp, which is owned by her former girlfriend. When they split, one kept Pearl, and the other, in one of the great defiant acts of New York restaurant life, opened a restaurant with nearly the same menu just blocks away.

The chef was not pleased with this idea. ‘Come on,’ said the regular. ‘We just want to check it out and report back.’ ‘For what?’ cried the owner. They do the same thing as we do, only here it’s done better.”

I love Pearl Oyster Bar and yet, like a nervous weekend lover, it refuses to meet my family. The first time it closed its doors to us, Michael was in town and I told him, “We’re going to have the best lobster roll in New York.” Our plane had just landed (we flew back together after I surprised mom on Mother’s Day) and after dropping our bags off at my apt, we showed up at Pearl close to 3 pm. It was closed. Chairs on tables, a discouraging site.

This weekend’s rejection was far worse. It being mom’s 50th, this weekend was planned meticulously, like a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah or a combination of both. (“But you’re only 13!” “I don’t care, I love you!”) Every meal had been accounted for except Saturday lunch. “Where should we go?” asked my mom with a hint of warning: none of your weirdo super-gourmet wacko-food fests.

“Pearl Oyster Bar!” I responded joyously. “They have the best lobster rolls in the city.”

My family showed up at my apartment at 12:15 on Saturday. They inspected the rooms for cleanliness and signs of healthy living. “You have a coffee maker now, good,” said my mom. (Making coffee in the morning is the sanest thing a person can do, according to my family.)

“We better get going,” I said, “Pearl’s going to get crowded.”

Controversy arose when I made my mom take the subway.

“I am not taking the subway,” she said huffily.

“Mom,” I pleaded, “there’s nothing dangerous about it. We’re going two stops and it’s right there. It would be ridiculous to take a cab.”

“Brad, tell him I’m not taking a subway.”

Brad is my dad. There was some arguing but finally my persistence won out. We descended the subway stairs on 23rd street and I scanned my cash card 4 times so everyone could pass through. My train karma is such that I usually only wait a few minutes and a train comes. But, of course, this being the hottest day in New York history (it hit 100 that day, I believe) the train took forever to come. The family was none to happy.

When we finally ascended the stairs on Bleeker street we were all sweaty, angry and ready for food. And it was in this condition that Pearl greeted us with its shiny ass in the air: chairs on the tables yet again and a sign in the window with the hours. Saturday it’s only open at night.

The death glare my family gave me would have melted steel.

And yet I had an idea. I recalled that Amanda Hesser passage I opened with. “Hey!” I said, “There’s a spin-off restaurant called Mary’s Fish Camp that’s owned by the ex-lover of the woman who owns this place. They have the same food! Let me call 411 and see where it is.”

Everyone was suspicious but I pressed on. And sure enough I got through to someone at Mary’s who kindly directed me to their not-too-distant location on Charles and West 4th. My sweaty family made its way down Bleeker—really, it was awfully hot out–until we turned on Charles and saw these glass windows with its welcoming graphic:


Once inside, you’d think my family would breath a sigh of relief, but the A/C was barely working and fans were spinning rapidly.

“Oh Adam,” said my mom, “The AC’s no good.”

“Once you come inside,” said the woman behind the counter, “You’ll feel it.”

There were no tables available so we all sat at the counter and with the AC right behind us we began to cool off. We all ordered iced teas and drank them quickly down.

The menu was examined and mom made the executive decision that we’d share two tomato cucumber salads and each get a lobster roll. “Sounds good to me,” I said.

So in the game of Mary’s vs. Pearl, I’ll tell you now that Mary’s wins round one and Pearl wins round two. Round one is the salad contest. Amanda Hesser rhapsodizes over the Pearl Caesar Salad, “The tender romaine leaves sagged a little under a salty, tangy dressing and a cloud of garlic. Every few bites I got dabs of anchovy and tough little croutons.” After having followed her recipe for it and then eaten the real thing, that salad’s not for me. It’s too deconstructed: the garlic, anchovy and olive oil are never emulsified together, they each exist separately and that to me is not a Caesar.

I much prefer this tomato cucumber feta salad at Mary’s:


Essentially this is a Greek salad in the exact same spirit as the ones we ate in Greece and the one I made at home upon my return. This was even better in many ways. The dressing was richer in vinegar and had nice bright herbs in there too. I loved the kalamata olives and the freshness of the tomatoes and cucumbers. On a hot summer day, you couldn’t ask for a better salad.

As for the lobster roll…


This was indeed very good, but the trophy goes to Pearl still because Mary’s was too mayonaissey for my taste. Though, in its defense, when I look at the picture of my Pearl lobster roll:


It looks like it has a similar ratio of mayonnaise to lobster. The fries were equally good at both places. Mom subbed her fries for grilled corn and she LOVED her corn on the cob.

“This is too good,” she said, gobbling her corn. I tried a bite and it was indeed delicious. We asked the woman behind the bar what they put on it and she was evasive but eventually revealed a combination of cayenne pepper and celery salt.

I don’t think my family loved their Mary’s Fish Camp experience—they much prefer the ritzier uptown spots with solid air conditioning and plenty of tables for the having. “I liked the food,” said mom, “I just didn’t like the ambience.”

This is a matter of taste because I much prefer the ambience of Mary’s Fish Camp to anywhere uptown. Same goes for Pearl which is equally cozy and equally charming. In the battle of Mary’s vs. Pearl, it’s not really a battle but two expressions of the same idea. If one’s closed when you arrive, by all means try the other. Or–and this is a revolutionary idea–you might call ahead and avoid the painful site of chairs on tables when you arrive. But it’s more fun to take the chance, isn’t it?

Ground Meat Thursday: Lunch at Kitchenette and Dinner at La Palette (Featuring the Thursday Night Dinner Song “Grind Your Meat”)

A long time ago in a land far away my friend Annette took me to lunch at Kitchenette near the World Trade Center. This was after September 11th but before I moved to New York and I remembered the place as a very cute, very cozy family type joint with breakfast food and biscuits and lovely looking home baked goods. Today I invited Lisa to escape her office for a bit and join me on the 1/9 train for a ride down to Chambers street and West Broadway where Kitchenette is located. Here’s the view upon our arrival:


People really love Kitchenette. I just Googled it and raves appeared from Chowhound and The Girl Who Ate Everything. I raved about it a few years ago but let me tell you right off the bat today’s experience was pretty sucky.

First of all the service sa-HUCKED. This guy (he seemed nice enough) was the waiter for the entire restaurant and it took forever to get his attention at every point in the meal: to get our menus, to get water, to order our food, to get our food, to have our food cleared and to pay the check. Each time I tried to catch his eye and when I did he looked flustered. It’s never fun when your very busy waiter makes you feel guilty for wanting him to be more attentive; it’s like going to therapy while your therapist is giving birth to triplets. (Ha, ok that’s a stretch but I enjoy it.)

Now if we’d ordered breakfast food maybe we would have loved the Kitcenette experience and longed for a return visit. As it stood, I ordered turkey meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy for $9.50:


(Take note: this constitutes the FIRST ground meat of the day. It’s ground meat Thursday and there’s a song so you really have to pay attention.)

This dish was fine. I liked it fine. Considering it was turkey, I suppose it was better than fine because it tasted worse for me than it was. But at the same time it also tasted like cafeteria food. It’s like you pay a lot of money to eat the same dishes they eat in prison or high school or a high school prison.

But Lisa’s dish. Ugh. Now Lisa ordered a veggie burger and when it came I think I was more grossed out than she was even though she was, as you can see by this picture, a bit grossed out:


On the bread was a mushy mound of lentils, rice and carrots.

“This is not a burger,” said Lisa, sadly.

It surely wasn’t. I appreciate the fact they were trying to assemble something new or different or maybe even (in their minds) texturally interesting, but if you advertise a veggie burger people are going to want a veggie burger.

Lisa made her way through it and as I kept shaking my head and saying “I can’t believe that’s their veggie burger” she said: “I think you’re more bothered by it than I am.” She wasn’t grossed out but she was in no way impressed. “It’s just really bland,” she said, “it doesn’t taste like anything.”

After spending 10 minutes to flag down our waiter for a check, we went to the pastry counter and ordered what Kitchenette’s best known for: pastries. We took these outside and snapped photos. Here’s Lisa’s cupcake: (haha, imagine if I REALLY showed you Lisa’s cupcake)


And here’s my Linzer cookie:


I don’t know if Lisa liked her cupcake because she took it back to work. My cookie was very good but I’m not rushing back there to have another.


Now then: part two in our Ground Meat Thursday. Tonight I joined Patty and Kirk for dinner. We whipped out or Sietsema guide and meandered around Greenwich Village looking for a place to eat. This exercise can either be really fun or really frustrating. Tonight started out fun but then grew frustrating. On the way we saw Natalie Portman, shaved head, eating at The Spotted Pig. We ended up on Greenwich Avenue and ate dinner at a Franco-Brazilian fusion joint called La Palette:


The menu had the weirdest mix of food. There were crepes, there was steak, there was pasta, there was beef stroganoff. When the waitress came I asked her what was her favorite thing on the menu and without a beat she said: “The burger.” When I asked her why she said: “We grind our own meat here” (**Ground Meat Thursday!) “and they put all kinds of flavors in and they put an egg on it and it’s just really good.”

Indeed she was right. Check out my burger, yo:


It was mighty tasty with the egg and the fries and the salad. A nice conclusion to a ground meat Thursday that had a bumpy start.

And what better way might one memorialize a day of ground meat than through the magic of music? I made the following track on Garageband. It’s 55 seconds long and has me singing in a high falsetto and rapping. (Actually, it’s not much different than my second burrito song, except this one’s got a 70s Boogie Nights vibe.) Hope you enjoy it!

Listen to “GRIND YOUR MEAT.”

The Most Momentous Meeting of Food Bloggers EVER: Clotilde “Chocolate & Zucchini” & Adam “Amateur Gourmet” Dine at Babbo (PLUS wine at Cru)

Helicopters circled overhead, newsvans hugged the curb as I made my way down 6th Avenue to meet Clotilde at her hotel for our 8:30 dinner date. Clotilde, that beloved Parisian, had descended upon New York a few days earlier, making her first appearance at Otto where her fans (myself included) came to greet her and her charming boyfriend, Maxence. Here we are all posed in a picture provided courtesy of Lulu’s Manhattan whose proprietor, Lulu, was one of the many people I was lucky enough to meet that night.


(I’m sure you can spot me in that pic (the hottie with white wine) and in the middle you’ll see Clotilde with Maxence; in the turquoise next to me is Lulu and next to her in front is Samantha of The Samantha Files who frequently comments on this here site; she was great to meet too. She and her husband, Dave, went to culinary school so some day they’re going to teach me knife skills. Watch out, Uma Thurman!)

Secretly, this night was just a sneak preview. Clotilde e-mailed me before her arrival and we planned a dinner together for Wednesday night. She asked me to suggest some places and among my suggestions, of course, was Babbo which I boldly described as “the opposite of French cooking.” Clotilde responded: “You have me violently tempted with your description–the opposite of French cooking!” With that we settled on Babbo and I was assigned the task of making the reservation.

Babbo, I’ll be the first to admit, is difficult to penetrate: especially if you’re using a phone. (Haha, that sentence is filthy but only to the filthy-minded.) There are several recorded messages you have to sit through before you can push buttons which lead you to more recorded messages. Since Babbo is near my school and my frequent coffee-shop haunts, I decided to go in during the day to see if I could make the reservation in person.

Sure enough, the door swung open and the daytime Babbo scene unfolded before me: tables missing, floors getting scrubbed, men with binders and calculators doing Babbo business at the front bar. “Can we help you?” one them asked and I said I wanted to make a reservation. They pointed me to a woman sitting at a table behind the podium; she was surrounded by phones and paper and she had the expected job-weariness of a Babbo reservationist. When she concluded a phone call she asked if she could help me and I told her I wanted to make a reservation for Wednesday the 22nd. She opened a large dusty book and dragged her finger down the page. “I only have a 10:30 left, will that do?” I paused and considered my options. There were no options. “10:30 it is!”

When Clotilde and I discussed the lateness of this reservation at Otto we decided to meet at 8:30 at her hotel and go for drinks first. That’s just what we did: I walked in at 8:30 as Clotilde strode off the elevator in her Paris finest. She went for a hug and I went for a practiced French hello: kiss on either cheek. Her hug won out as I unpursed my lips. We made for the door and I told her I’d done my research for our pre-dinner drinks and that Cru, only a few blocks from her hotel, had a spectacular wine list. “However,” I warned, “I know nothing about wine.”

“Neither do I really!” laughed Clotilde. We walked past Washington Square Park where a screen was erected for a showing of Bob Dylan’s “Look Back in Anger.” Clotilde told me her father loves Bob Dylan.

At Cru, we waited a while for a seat at the bar and when the seats finally came we perused the wine list. Surprisingly, the wines by the glass were most reasonable and Clotilde chose a Beaujolais because she prefers reds. She explained that Beaujolais is a very young wine that comes out in the Autumn; I remembered a post I’d read on Frost Street about it and tried to contribute to the conversation. “I like the color red,” I said.

The waiter poured my glass first and then Clotilde’s. “I thought the waiter was going to be sexist,” I said, “and offer me a taste first before serving us.” In my mind the woman is always offered the wine to taste first.

“You’d call it sexist, but I’d call it traditional,” Clotilde countered with a smile. In France, she said, it’s an honor to taste the wine first and it’s usually reserved for the head of a family or for the one with the most wine expertise. I marveled at how lucky she was to come from a place where food was such an embedded part of the culture. She didn’t argue.

So we chatted away, time trickled by, and soon it was time for Babbo. We paid the check and walked back along the park–Bob Dylan was on screen with his nasal voice and harmonica–and soon Babbo’s red and black letters greeted us as we swung the door open and prepared for a night of feasting.

The host immediately led us upstairs to our table. We were sat close to the staircase and quickly presented water, menus and chickpea bruscetta. We asked a hostess to take a picture and here we are!


Historical meetings don’t get more photogenic! Nixon and Elvis watch out!

Now then. The food. I explained our choices–we could go a la carte or we could order the pasta tasting menu which I’d done with Lisa, but only the vegetarian version, or we could get the traditional tasting menu which has a little of everything. Clotilde confessed that she’d already investigated and settled upon the traditional tasting menu if that was ok. “Ok by me!” I said. This would be my first time doing the traditional tasting menu at Babbo and I was psyched.

We ordered two bellinis to start–cactus pear–which I urged Clotilde to try because I felt they were part of the Babbo experience. We toasted to the meal ahead and devoured some bruscetta.


“Mmmm,” said Clotilde, “what flavors are in here?” We dissected a bit but came to very few conclusions.

When we ordered the tasting menus for ourselves, Clotilde asked me if I wanted to do the wine pairing. “I dunno,” I confessed, “that’s a lot of wine.”

“How much wine is it a person?” we asked the waiter.

“By the end it’s like a bottle each,” said the waiter.

“Wow,” said Clotilde, “that is a lot.”

So we asked if he could pair two courses with wine for us and he agreed. “Lots of people do that,” he said as if to say: “good idea!”

But soon, our bellinis barely sipped, the first course arrived along with the first glass of wine.

“In France they would wait for us to finish our drinks first,” she said staring at the beautiful first course: “Cool Pecorino Flan” with Fava and La Mozza Oil.


“Well it’s not getting cold so let’s finish our drinks first,” she suggested. We drank our bellinis and I worried that the waiter was going to rush us out. So when the waiter walked past I asked if we could slow down the pace a bit. “Don’t worry,” he said, “it’ll be a long meal.”

He didn’t say it in a nice way and I wondered if I offended him. Clotilde said not to worry and I channeled my worries into hunger which led me to the first bite. Clotilde followed suit and she “mmm”ed her reaction.

“It’s a great combination of flavors,” she said. “What’s this!” she asked pointing the strange beige mini-squash-shaped object you see on the right side of the plate.

“I think it’s a ramp,” I guessed and we asked the waiter.

“That’s a pickled ramp,” he said, “it comes into season in the spring in the Northeast. It’s a type of onion.”

Clotilde had never heard of it. “What’s that word?” she asked me. “Ramp,” I replied and she mentally processed it.

Next came for me what was the highlight of the meal: Pappardelle with Morels and Thyme.


I saw the “Glass Menagerie” tonight with Jessica Lange and during the performance my mind wandered to this dish. I remembered the exciting texture of those morels; the saltiness and the earthiness of the thyme. Then the pasta and the buttery sauce… for me, this was heaven. I think Clotilde loved it too. Plus the wine went great with it: on the bill it said it was a Vespa (“a little motorcycle?” joked Clotilde). For me, this dish represents everything I love about Babbo.

Then there was Duck Tortelli with “Sugo Finto.”


“What’s Sugo Finto?” asked Clotilde. We asked the waiter.

He explained that it was a thick sauce; the internet tells me it’s a meat sauce made without meat. Again, this was delicious. It came with a red wine: Rosso di Montalcino, Valdicava 2003. Our white wine was only half gone, so again we felt a bit rushed. Everytime we finished a dish it was immediately taken away and the next was brought out. Clotilde gently compared it to Paris where a meal is something you linger over, not something you rush through. I proffered the theory that they were rushing us because we were starting so late: the waiter probably wanted to go home. But really, if that was true, it’s lame: it’s not our fault they only had a 10:30 reservation.

Here, then, we have Guinea Hen with Ligurian Vegetables and Black Truffles:


This dish got me so excited because I’d never had truffles.

“Oooh,” I said, “these are my first truffles!”

I sniffed the plate. It gave off a nice aroma.

“I think you should try a truffle by itself before you eat it with everything else,” suggested Clotilde. I did and found myself–shock!–a bit disappointed. “Hmmm,” I said sadly, “it doesn’t taste like much.”

Clotilde tried hers and she agreed. “It’s not as strong as a normal truffle,” she agreed.

But the dish itself–with the hen and the apricot sauce and hen of the wood mushrooms–was, again, heavenly. Clotilde seemed pleased too–her dishes were scraped clean–so I secretly patted myself on the back. (Gossipy Clotilde Fact: she takes big bites! She always finished her plates before I finished mine. Oh those Frenchies…)

The second half of our meal was the desserty half. First a cheese course: Coach Farm’s Finest with Pink Peppercorn Honey.


I loved this. It came with little toasts and the peppercorns were hot but just hot enough. “These are my first pink peppercorns!” I said excitedly.

“Wow,” observed Clotilde, “you’ve been deflowered twice tonight: first the truffles and now the pink peppercorns!”

Then there was this Warm Fig with Honey and Yogurt:


“I’m surprised they’re serving fig,” said Clotilde, “because figs aren’t in season.” But, again, it was terrific: prepared on the grill so the bottom was charred a bit. “I wonder where they buy them?” I pondered thinking I could use some figs in my life.

Out came “Gelato di Bergamatto con Brioche”:


“What’s bergamatto?” I asked.

“It’s a type of citrus,” Clotilde said knowledgably.

I took a bite. “Whoah!” I exclaimed. This was a strong citrus flavor cut by little pieces of chocolate. But the citrus was way strong. “It tastes a little like perfume,” I observed. Clotilde agreed and yet we still both licked our plates clean.

Finally—yes this post has an end!—we were served our Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Hazelnut Gelato:


Yet Clotilde made a keen observation.

“Mon dieu!” she shrieked. (Just kidding, she doesn’t shriek in French.) “Why look: our desserts our different!” Here she is indicating:


And she was right. While hers was a chocolate hazelnut cake, mine was a pecan cake with cinnamon undertones. We tasted each others. “I like yours,” I said diplomatically, “but I like mine better.” She liked hers better too. After all, you can’t have Ms. Chocolate and Zucchini NOT prefer the chocolate!

At this point in the evening, I looked at my watch.

“Oh my,” I said, “you’ll never guess what time it is.”

“12? 12:15?” she guessed.

“12:45!” I responded.

Tables were clearing; we were among the last few diners in the joint. When I’d gone to the bathroom earlier, our waiter told Clotilde he was leaving for the night and that someone was taking over. This added a new component to the theory of why he was rushing us: he knew he had to leave at a certain time so he wanted his tip. Clotilde enjoyed this theory.

I didn’t have the presence of mind at this point–let’s see, wine at Cru, bellini and then two more glasses, I was toasted!–to ask Clotilde how she felt about my “opposite of French cooking” comment. Now that I look at it, that’s an unfair assessment of both Babbo and France. (Though Mario Batali does poke jabs at France on his show.) Both cuisines are the result of a deep, complicated, passionate relationship between culture and food; if France’s is more fussy, it’s also often more beautiful. But these matters didn’t concern us at this point: we were in that zen state you reach when you’ve been incredibly well fed.

Plus: we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company! Obviously, I can’t write out all our conversations–the intricacies of food blogging, the algorithm that makes us highly Googleable, her love for Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorcesse. But what a marvel it is that two people from such different backgrounds and lives and cultures; two people who would NEVER have met but for food blogging came together to enjoy such a fabulous meal. Clotilde is as successful as she is because of who she is: a sprightly, intelligent and enthusiastic person who cares deeply and passionately about what she does. And to eat with such a person in a place such as Babbo is a meal made in heaven. Who knew that angels read food blogs?!

Smothered in Food and Love–Another Family Weekend Eating Spree with Meals at Peter Luger, Blue Ribbon and Il Mulino PLUS special celebrity guests!

“I have very exciting news!” said my mom on the phone last week. “You’re not going to believe this! Are you sitting down?” I sat down. “Not only did I get us a reservation at Peter Luger Friday night, but I got us into Il Mulino on Saturday.”

“What’s Il Mulino?” I asked.

“Are you kidding? You haven’t heard of Il Mulino? It’s only the hardest restaurant to get into in New York. It’s the number one Italian restaurant according to Zagat’s. You’re going to love it.”

My mom is a very clever woman. The above dialogue may seem innocent and loving, but beneath the surface something very sneaky is going on. You see, my mom is something of a manipulator. Not in a bad way, but in a stereotypical Jewish mother kind of way. Like the time she and my grandmother began a conversation at dinner: “You know there’s nothing wrong with a BOY getting a nose job.” [I held on to my shnozz, thank you very much, and I’m proud of it.]

Dissecting the above exchange, the clever analyst will see that while my mom is generously sharing her enthusiasm for the two dinners we’ll share while she’s in New York, she’s also pre-empting any input I may give as to where we are going to dine. Peter Luger is not a problem: that’s something I can get excited about. But what’s this Il Mulino? I looked it up in Zagat’s:

“Fast for two days and break open the piggy bank, because there’s nothing else like this compact Village Italian king, a bacchanal with phenomenal service supplying endless ambrosial food till you beg them to stop and roll [you] out.”

Ok, how bad could that be? I accepted my mom’s authoritative stance on dinner and resigned myself to enjoy a meal that ranked 27 out of 30 for quality of food. (And, apparently, Il Mulino’s been voted Zagat’s best Italian restaurant for 19 years in a row.)

Even though Il Mulino was the last meal we had, let’s start with that.


Il Mulino is on West 3rd Street between Sullivan and Thompson: basically, the backyard of where I go to school. I must have walked past it many times without noticing it. I waited on the curb, having arrived early, for mom, dad and Michael (my brother) to show. Eventually they did and we went inside.

I liked it at first. The place has atmosphere. It’s cramped and against the bar area you see a giant table with lots of food covered in plastic—antipasto, desserts, a small stove for them to saute pasta. This place bursts with food energy. We put our name in and waited at the bar.

When we were sat, we were immediately treated to slivers of parmesan from a giant wheel:


(Sorry the pic’s a bit whack, I had the camera on the wrong setting.)

Plates of zucchini were passed, along with bread crisps, garlic bread, tomatoes, garlic, onions in olive oil, and lots of other free food. This part was fun.

The place was really tight, though. Waiters squeezed past customers and two ladies sitting behind me cackled in my ear.

“How’s the bread?” asked my mom.


“What?” I replied.



This was going from charming to uncomfortable. And then the menu came. I am going to go to the Il Mulino website so you can read the menu along with me. Here’s what some of it looks like:


Imagine trying to read that font in the dimmest light imaginable. It’s quite a chore. The ladies behind me fought over a candle so they could see the menu better.

As for the content, I found the menu to be disappointingly standard. See for yourself!


Haha, ok that’s a joke. You can’t read that. But it’s mostly veal scallopini or veal marsala; Caesar salad, clams oreganata. These aren’t bad things at all—it’s the trite Italian-American menu unadventurous eaters adore. What “Cinderella Man” is to movies, this menu is to Italian food.

I didn’t take pictures of my dishes because they were so standard. Michael and I shared a Caesar salad which was very good. For my entree I had the veal marsala, and I enjoyed that too. Mom had a lobster dish that looked a bit outrageous and dad ate pounded veal with salad on top, a dish he eats all the time when we go to Miami.

My parents love this kind of place and I can’t fault them for it. I realize I sound like a spoiled brat not to have loved it, but when you’ve been to Babbo it’s hard to look at Italian food the same way again. To me, Il Mulino is like the Olive Garden on a million dollar budget: you can get the same dishes at either place, and I’d be VERY interested to see a blind taste test between Olive Garden veal marsala and Il Mulino’s. I know that’s highly insulting: I have no doubt Il Mulino’s is fresher, more expertly prepared, more elegantly plated. But at the end of the day, it tastes like sauted veal in syrupy marsala sauce with mushrooms. That doesn’t excite me much.

But I did love certain touches at Il Mulino. Like at the end they gave us Grappa from a bucket:


I think it melted my insides, but it was a good kick in the pants. I think my Il Mulino experience demonstrates the remove between the Zagat’s crowd and the foodie crowd. Ruth Reichl lambasts a Zagat’s joint in her book, and William Grimes or Frank Bruni (I forget which) recently tackled “One If By Land, Two if By Sea” (a Zagat’s favorite.) Since Zagat’s is created by the people, it’s interesting to note that what flies is what’s familiar. People like to eat what they know. Those of us who prefer a challenge–something different, new and exciting–need find another food guide. (May I recommend Sietsema’s and the new Chowhound guide to start.)


Let’s put our Il Mulino bad feelings behind us and move on to two winning weekend food experiences. First, though, which star of stage and screen did dad, Michael and I spot in the Sharper Image Friday, while strolling along Madison Avenue? Why it’s Shirley Maclaine! Here she is posing with my dad:


I think she’s in town to promote the new Bewitched movie, but she’ll always be Ouisa in my heart. (“Hit Ouisa!”)

On Saturday (yesterday) mom and I had a lunch date. Dad and Michael were at the Yankee game so I set upon choosing a suitable place in the West Village, my mom’s new second favorite shopping destination. (Ok, maybe 30th favorite, but she enjoys the ambience.) I decided that Snack Taverna would be the perfect place: from the last time I was there, I felt like it was a perfect combination of good food and elegant surroundings.

Well, when we showed up there was no A/C–the tables were full and the maitre’d was preoccupied. My mom gave me a look like: “This is where you’re taking me?” so I quickly ushered her away and walked her down Bedford.

“Let’s go to Blue Ribbon,” I said, even though I haven’t been there before.

“Ooooh Blue Ribbon,” said my mom, “My friend P said it’s supposed to be terrific.”

Her friend P was right! Blue Ribbon quickly jumps to the premiere page of Adam’s Favorite New York eating joints. There’s an upstairs and a downstairs: they wanted to seat us downstairs (which is rather dungeonesque) so mom talked her way back upstairs. Up there, we enjoyed the sunshine, open windows and buzzing New York crowd. A basket of fresh bread was set down before us:


When I went to the bathroom later in the meal, I walked back downstairs (the dungeon area) and saw the giant oven the bread’s baked in. I love how they bake this bread on premises: it’s terrific, though many New Yorkers already know that. They put it to great use—I saw people eating what looked like fantastic French toast and, as you’ll see in a moment, my sandwich featured terrific toasted raisin bread.

But first allow me to introduce you to the best bowl of French onion soup I have ever enjoyed in my life:


Seriously: this is it. That broth is heavenly. I just watched Julia Child make French Onion soup on “The French Chef: Disc One” which I ordered from Netflix. The ultimate soup requires a two-step onion cooking process, homemade beef stock and then time under the broiler. What made this soup great was the stock: you could just tell they made it themselves and it was richer and more complex than any stock I’ve had before. Plus the onions and the garnishes—both mom and I were licking our bowls clean.

For my lunch entree I had a duck BLT:


It’s just a perfect sandwich. The bread is perfectly toasted, the duck is perfectly tender, and those waffle chips are scrumptious. I only ate half the sandwich because I was already tremendously full, the sandwich was huge and we were having a big meal that night. But if you’re in the mood for a duck BLT (and how many of you have HAD a duck BLT?) this sandwich is a winner.

Mom had a market salad which she ordered with dressing on the side. As you may remember, mom’s been doing Weight Watchers and she’s now lost close to 30 lbs on it! One of her secrets lies in this ziplock bag and I’m almost too embarassed to tell you about it:


Mom dressed her salad with just balsamic vinegar (no oil) and then, while I was distracted with something else, I heard mom tear a packet and begin to sprinkle something over her salad.

“What’s that!” I fumed.

“Nothing,” she said, hiding the packet.

But it was too late. I knew what she’d done: she’d sprinkled SPLENDA on her Market salad. Blech!!! These are fresh, beautifully prepared ingredients ruined with chemicals from a lab from a packet from a ziplock bag hidden in a trendy purse. It was too much for one foodie to handle.

After recovering, though, I pondered the meal we’d just consumed and decided it was among my favorite lunches in recent memory.


Now, on to the grandest, greatest meal of the weekend. But first: another celebrity photo. This one’s huge. It happened this morning. Mom called me from the hotel and said, “You’re never going to guess who I just got a picture with.” “Who?” I demanded. “Ben Affleck!” she cheered like a teenage girl. Here they are in the hotel, looks like Ben needs a razor:


I may pretend to deplore my parents’ celebrity hounding habits, but it is fun to look at the pictures once they’re done embarassing themselves.

Now—back to the food. Focus, focus…

On Friday night—the first big meal we ate together—we went to the temple of bovine cuisine, one of New York’s oldest restaurants and still one of its most popular: Peter Luger.


Established in 1887, Peter Luger is the authority on steak in New York and maybe the country. According to Alaina’s Full Belly entry, “[Jeffrey] Steingarten and his assistant, Gail, compiled a list of 78 steak houses across the country and telephoned them all and asked the restaurants’ managers or head chefs what grade beef they buy, how long it’s been aged, and by what method. Of the 78, only 2 met all 3 criteria (drying-aging USDA Prime beef for five weeks or longer): Peter Luger and Bern’s Steak House in Tampa.”

Needless to say, we approached our dinner with great anticipation. Here we are outside the restaurant:


Once inside, we feared the tremendous crowds and cruel treatment everyone warns you about. But actually we were sat quite quickly: and this was a Friday night. Soon, a bread basket arrived:


Look at those onion rolls, don’t you just want to grab one and chew your way to oblivion?

We were very lucky to have a most awesome waiter serving us at Peter Luger. It was only his third night on the job but he was enthusiastic and helpful, if a bit spotty in his English. His name’s Eric so if you go ask for him! (Not that they’ll give you a choice, but I just thought I’d give him a plug anyway.)

So, here’s mom and dad inside which I show you not because I want another gratiuitous photo of my parents on the site, but because you get a glimpse of the restaurant’s interior:


It really looks like a German beer hall. There’s no posh fancy shmancy shenanigans at Peter Luger: it’s all about the steak. But first tomato and onions:


Sure, they look plain, but they were soon treated with a generous wallop of Peter Luger sauce:


This sauce is da bomb. It’s like your favorite steak sauce only revved up with fresh horseradish and other secret ingreidents. (There are articles on the wall about what’s in it, but I forget now…it’s getting late!)

But wait a second. This is Peter Luger. We’re eating tomato and onion as our apppetizer? Shouldn’t we be eating meat? Ok, bring on the Canadian bacon:


Holy crap, was this good. I mean look at it. If you’re a meat eater and you love hot charred flavor packed cuts of meat, this bacon’s for you. Looking at it now, I recall it as one of the highlight’s of the evening. And that’s saying a lot because…BRING ON THE STEAK!


Can you believe how much meat is on those platters? That’s two Porterhouses for two. A Porterhouse consists of both tenderloin and sirloin and here both sides were, obviously, excellent. The rumor about Peter Luger steak is that you can cut it with a butter knife. I’m not sure if that’s true–some pieces were more tender than others. But let me say this: the best pieces were among the best pieces of steak I’ve eaten. The outsides were perfectly charred and the insides were as tender as could be.

For the sides, we had German potatoes and creamed spinach:


That picture gives you a better idea of what the steak was like. Truly a beautiful thing: look at that slice in the middle. Don’t you just want to lick the screen? That is, of course, presuming that you’re not a vegetarian. If you’re a vegetarian, lick the creamed spinach.

Now having a blog leaves one open to much scrutiny, so don’t judge us too poorly when I tell you that we ended our evening of horrendous gluttony with an ICE CREAM SUNDAE.


That whipped cream on top is schlagg which we ate for the first time at Wolfgang’s. The sundae itself was terrific—it even came with gold Peter Luger coins.

Too bloated to stand up, we all sat there staring into space buzzed from our meal. Eric Idle rolled on a cart and yelled “Bring out your dead!” and we knew it was time to go. This meal–though it was the first we ate together this weekend–was the highlight of our eating circus. If you haven’t gone to Peter Luger yet and you love meat, let this post inspire you. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.

Raise Your Sushi Consciousness at Tomoe Sushi

I am not the best candidate to spend $600 for dinner at Masa. My brief brush with Masa is the conversation I had with Danny of Year in Food in which he revealed he’d dined at Masa. “How was it?” I asked. “Was it worth it?”

“It is,” he said, “if you really like sushi.”

Well I’m not sure that I really like sushi. I like it the same way that most Americans seem to like it in that it’s a fun dinner playset: oooh fun sticks to eat with and green hot stuff and little packets of soy sauce. Sushi cravings creep up on me now and then, but I can satisfy them quite well at Whole Foods. Give me a pre-packaged spicy tuna roll or a salmon roll and I’m set.

James Felder, however, has set my sushi life on a new course. When Masa came up in conversation a few months ago, James balked and said: “The best sushi in New York is Tomoe Sushi.”

So yesterday when James and I were chatting online, I said: “Let’s eat lunch tomorrow. Let’s go to your favorite sushi place…what’s it called?”

“Tomoe,” he said, or wrote. “Let’s meet at 1—I’ll get there early because there’s usually a line.”

How right he was! I arrived before James (I am constantly early, it’s a real problem) and there was already a crowd of people waiting. James bumped into his friend Bobby who he invited to eat with us. Can you spot James in the crowd? Can you spot Kirk (of The Daily Kirk) coming to meet us too? It’s like Where’s Waldo in Sushi-land. Do you see the wizard with the cane?


Eventually a tall Japanese man with long hair came out and asked us how many there were in our party. Parties of six were asked to split into smaller groups. We were led in and sat at a table by the front. The place is very quaint, with two windows looking out on Thompson and three men behind a sushi counter slicing fish with great concentration.

James suggested we order the sushi lunch plate—you get a nice variety of sushi. In addition we ordered–are you ready for this?–shrimp head guacamole.

“Oooh this should be fun,” said James, “We’re adventurous eaters.”

After a little while, the shrimp head guacamole arrived. Here it is in all its glory:


Who among you would dare to eat these spiny critters? Eye balls and creepy crawly legs deep fried and then dipped into creamy guacamole… I hear the squeamish among you falling out of your chairs in shock. But be not shocked: these tasted quite good. They were salty and crisp and the texture, as you can imagine, is quite unusual.

Here’s Kirk with shrimp legs sticking out his mouth. He’d already swallowed the shrimp head, but somehow it was trying to fight its way out his body:


It eventually crawled up his face and made a home in his hair.

After our shrimphead guac, we settled down for our lunch sushi platters. The sushi in front is the lunch sushi platter, the sushi behind it is a bunch of special rolls James and Bobby ordered:


Now here’s the part where I have a big breakthrough and I realize that sushi really is remarkable, that I really do like sushi. This sushi WAS reamarkable: it was so fresh, I’d never experienced sushi like it. The fish in particular was slick and tender–almost buttery. Kirk and I had trouble keeping the long strips of fish in our chopsticks, so we eventually settled upon using our fingers. I had that sticky sushi fishy flavor on my fingers all day and I didn’t mind. I’ve entered a new state of sushi consciousness, and I owe it all to James Felder, who you can visit at Snapshot Artifact. Maybe he’ll raise your consciousness too.

Sheparded to Shopsin’s, Mmmed at Magnolia, and Ignored and Imprisoned at The Spotted Pig

This post is a sensational post in three ways: (1) I will write about a secretive New York foodie sanctum, (2) I will praise a cupcake I formerly dismissed, and (3) I will remove from the shelf of my highest esteem a place that I fell in love with on my birthday.

Let’s start with (1) the secretive foodie sanctum.


Thursday was James Felder’s birthday and as I said, we took James out to brunch. (James took this picture so he is not pictured. If you’d like to see him in a kilt, you can do so here). James requested that we go to Shopsin’s and I was more than pleased to oblige. I’m a huge Calvin Trillin fan and Calvin Trillin’s essay on Shopsin’s–which you can read in his fantastic book “Feeding a Yen” (it was the first food book I ever read)–paints the place as a quirky, culinary anomaly. James Felder added to the mystique.

“They’re very strict in there,” he said as we stood outside with Diana, waiting for John to show. “No parties bigger than four.”

“Why?” asked Diana.

“Because they don’t want to have to deal with big tables,” he explained. “And they don’t allow cell phone use in the restaurant.”

I quickly turned my cell phone off.

“I once saw them call the police on this guy who was barking into his cell phone—he was a Wall Street type–and they took his food away and asked him to pay and leave. They don’t kid around.”

We went in and saw a large man sitting in the front booth. This was the owner and chef, Kenny, who said hi to James as we made our way to a table. Apparently, Kenny hates publicity—he and Calvin Trillin had a temporary falling out over the article he wrote in the New Yorker. I kept my camera in my pocket and proceeded with extreme caution.

That wasn’t really necessary. The place was pretty empty–it was a Thursday after all–and despite all the rules and regulations, I felt very much at home. The huge glass windows look out on Carmine and Bedford streets and on the windowsill is a collection of toys and Trivial Pursuit cards. Our waitress was, according to James, Kenny’s daughter and she talked to us so casually and calmly I felt like I was part of the family.

I have yet to mention the most extraordinary thing about Shopsin’s. It’s the menu. Let’s let Trillin explain it (although he’s explaning an older version): “[The] menu grew to include at least nine hundred items, some of them as unusual as Cotton Picker Gumbo Melt Soup or Hanoi Hoppin John with Shrimp or Bombay Turkey Cloud Sandwich or Bugaloo-Shrimp Tabbuleh & Corn Chips or Curried Rutabaga Cream Soup…” Jason Kottke posted a link a while back to the Shopsin’s menu which you can read here (it’s a PDF file).

[Having just skimmed through it, I love the Party of Five poem on the fourth page:

Part of Five by Robert Herson

you could put a chair at the end

or push the tables together

but don’t bother

This banged-up little restaurant

where you would expect no rules at all

has a firm policy against seating

parties of five

And you know who you are

a party of five

it doesn’t matter if one of you

offers to leave or if

you say you could split into

a party of three and a party of two

or if the five of you come back tomorrow

in Richard Nixon masks and try to pretend

that you don’t know each other

it won’t work: You’re a party of five

even if you’re a beloved regular

Even if the place is empty

Even if you bring logic to bear

Even if you’re a tackle for the Chicago Bears

it won’t work

You’re a party of five

You will always be a party of five

A hundred blocks from here

a hundred years from now

you will still be a party of five

and you will never savor the soup

or compare the coffee or

hear the wisdom of the cook

and the wit of the waitress or

get to hum the old-time tunes

among which you will find

no quintets.]

As for the food, it was terrific and the portions were huge. James ordered a morir sonando for us to drink. No that’s not a fancy wine, it’s OJ, cream, lime juice and vanilla all blended together into a frothy citrusy mixture. Diana ordered the Blisters on my Sisters which are “corn tortillas, bean, rice/vegetable mixture, covered with 2 fried eggs, broiled with cheese until it bubbles and browns.” James ordered an egg dish that had fried spinach and John and I both had… I’m searching through the menu now to find what it is we had, and I can’t find it, but I know it was fried eggs on fried potatoes with greens and other stuff and it was delicious and plentiful and I could hardly finish it.

Needless to say, Shopsin’s is an experience everyone should have. (Though Kenny Shopsin would prefer you didn’t. He hates this kind of publicity.)

As we were leaving, a couple walked in and sat down. I barely noticed them. When we got outside, James said: “Was that Bjork who came in at the end?”

We walked past the large glass window. It sure looked like Bjork. And I know Bjork’s married to Matthew Barney, the guy who did the Cremaster movies, and the guy at the table sure looked like Matthew Barney. After mulling it over for a bit, it was confirmed: all four of us believe it was Bjork at that table.

And that concludes my account of our meal at Shopsin’s.


Now we’re up to (2) where I praise a cupcake I formerly dismissed.

I don’t think I ever really dismissed the Magnolia Bakery, I simply found it absurd the way people waited in line there (when I walked past it with my mom a few weeks ago, the line was wrapped around the block—for cupcakes!) and the faint memory I had of a cupcake there wasn’t spectacular. So I came into this most recent Magnolia experience with a jaded world-view, expecting very little by way of deliciousness.

How wrong I was. You will find out momentarily that this cupcake happened after our meal at The Spotted Pig. I am telling the story out of order, but it’s for dramatic effect. Here’s Lisa picking out a cupcake in the Magnolia window:


In the looks department, the Magnolia cupcakes are certainly behind those at the Cupcake Cafe which are like works of art, but they win big points in the hominess department. Those look like cupcakes a super duper awesome grandma would make for you and leave out for you and your friends.

Magnolia works on an honor system. You load up on cupcakes first, then you wait in line and then you pay. Lisa was buying three: one for me, one for her, and one for Liz who she was meeting later.

Outside on the street, we unpacked our cupcakes and bit into them cautiously. I, of course, chose vanilla on vanilla because I’m a vanilla kind of guy. Lisa chose vanilla on chocolate.

“Mmm,” I said, “This is really delicious.”

“I know,” said Lisa.

“No,” I said, “I mean it’s more delicious than I remembered. This is a really good cupcake.”

“It IS a really good cupcake,” she agreed.

Why did it taste so good? The cake was moist and flavorful and dense and rich and the icing was light and fluffy and sweet and gloppy. It was really a terrific cupcake eating experience. And this is coming from the guy who is #1 when it comes to Google search results for the term “cupcakes.”

We finished our cupcakes and went on our merry way, brightened after the negative experience we experienced at the meal I saved for last.


This is part (3) where I remove from the shelf of my highest esteem a place that I fell in love with on my birthday.

You may remember that on my birthday this year I went to The Spotted Pig. I wrote a post called “May My 26th Year Be Like Lunch at The Spotted Pig.” I was in love with the place and cherished that dining memory as one of the best I’d experienced since I moved to New York.

Since then, I’ve been harping on Lisa: “You have to go to The Spotted Pig! You’re going to die over the pumpkin salad I had there. And the gnuddi!”

It’s rare for me to share a passion for a dish that Lisa can also enjoy since Lisa is a vegetarian. So these were two dishes I felt like she had to try and on Thursday when she called me to go to dinner I said, “The time has come for us to go to the Spotted Pig!”

We made our way together to the 1/9 train and rode down to the Christopher Street station. We walked down Bleeker (though it would have been faster to go down one of those confusing West Village streets that connects everything. I think the West Village is the most confusing place in New York.) We arrived at The Spotted Pig and I should tell you here that I called ahead and asked if they were busy yet and they said “no” they don’t get busy ’til 7:30, and sure enough it was 7:05 and it wasn’t busy.

We were sat at a table in the front. This was the biggest factor that contributed to our downfall. There are only two tables in the front, then there’s the bar, and then there’s back where all the rest of the tables are. The problem is that as it gets crowded the space behind the bar fills and fills and suddenly the two tables in the front become invisible.

At the beginning, though, we were treated fairly well. Actually, no. The waiter came over–he looked like an extra from Melrose Place–and asked if we’d like anything to drink. We said, “Just water, please” and he asked “Sparkling or mineral?”‘ and we said “Just tap is fine” and he gave us a look that said: “Die.”

Then we met the busboy with an attitude who came with the water and a little cup of marinated olives. This was an exciting moment in the history of Lisa and I dining together because as you may or may not remember, Lisa hates olives. She even spawned her own category The Great Olive Campaign in which I tried to make a case for olives with little success. But this night at The Spotted Pig, Lisa tried not one but TWO olives. Here she is with that look that says, “All right, I know I said I won’t eat olives, but it looks like I’m gonna give them a try!”


I tried to pre-approve the olive before she ate an olive. I felt like this was too spontaneous to be a true edifying olive eating experience. In the cup were small little green olives and then large kalamata-like olives. I am of the belief that Lisa will like kalamatas before she will like any others. This belief was confirmed when she said the tiny green one “tasted like feet” and the kalamata-one tasted “better” but not to the point that she enjoyed it, but to the point where she felt like it “didn’t taste as much like feet.”

One small step for man, as they say.

Now, on to the food. The food is spectacular at The Spotted Pig. I am not recanting that notion by any means. I started with Eden Brook Smoked Trout with Beet Salad, Chives and Sour Cream:


It was truly delicious. All the flavors complimented each other in strange and exciting ways. Smoked trout and beets? Horseradish? Now that I think about it, it has a certain whiff of Judaica about it: beets are in borscht, horseradish is on the seder plate and Jews love smoked fish. And chives are ever-popular in cream cheese.

Because the pumpkin salad isn’t in season anymore (curses!), Lisa had the Jerusalem Artichoke Salad with Goat Cheese, Hazelnuts and Lemon (the picture came out blurry, so sorry that you can’t see it.) Lisa also loved her salad. I think she’ll agree that it was the strange combination of ingredients that made it great. “Plus,” she said, “I love nuts in salad.”

For our entrees we ordered more appetizers. I had this risotto that featured more smoked fish (haddock, I think) and a poached egg:


At first I was wary of the risotto because if you look at it, it looks a little separated out (moreso in life: the liquid layer and the solid layer parting). And if this risotto was a failure on a technical level, it surely made up for it in flavor. The pang of that smoked fish mixed in with the brightness of lemon and the greens and then the creaminess of the egg yolk was divine.

Lisa was less enthusiastic about the gnuddi, but fairly so, I suppose, because (a) I had built it up so much for her and (b) her plate of gnuddi wasn’t as pretty as the time I had it before. (If you follow the link to my birthday post, you’ll see how nice the gnuddi looked.)

Now if the service had been fantastic throughout the meal, I think we would have probably raved over our experience. Even if the service had been adequate. But the service sucked. We really felt like they hated us. Our water glasses were constantly empty and when we asked for more water the busboy with an attitude would walk away, take a long time, then return, fill our glasses, we’d say “thank you” and he’d walk away without responding. When we got our entrees we had no silverware so we waited thinking “they’ll bring silverware” but they didn’t bring it so we flagged down a waiter and asked for silverware and finally, after a long while, we were brought our silverware.

Even more hostile, when the busboy with an attitude did show up it would happen at inopportune times like when he took Lisa’s salad away while she was still finishing it. The worst part was at the end when we wanted a check and we sat there for what felt like 20 minutes trying to get the waiter’s attention while he commiserated at the other end of the bar and poured wine and tended to the tables in the “people we don’t hate” section.

You’ll notice in the title I use the word “imprisoned” because when I went to the bathroom, I used the door with the MAN icon on it and when I opened it there was a simple urinal inside. I did my business and when I went to push the door open, someone was blocking it. The sink was directly opposite this door and there was a big man at the sink. I couldn’t open the door more than a crack so after I hit the man with it I said, “Oh, sorry” expecting him to get out of the way. He didn’t. I stood there in this tiny urinal room. I pushed the door again and he didn’t budge. “Excuse me,” I said louder. Then I realized he was talking on his cell phone having a loud conversation. I felt like I was on Candid Camera. So, working up the courage and prepared for confrontation, I pushed the door really hard against the guy, squeezed my out way and gave him a death glare. He was too busy on the phone to notice.

Then I noticed the crowd by the bar, in the back. They were men just like him: men in suits on cell phones, a young Wall Street type crowd that probably threw lots of money around here. Were we treated like crap because we weren’t ordering drinks like these guys? Or was it my imagination?

It takes a lot for me not to want to dessert at a place where I love the food. And I love the food at The Spotted Pig, but both Lisa and I wanted to get out of there which is why we ended up at Magnolia, only a just a few streets away. At Magnolia, despite the crowds, there was warmth in the air and we felt welcome. At the Spotted Pig, we were treated like swine.