Yes, We Really Ate All This Food: Family Meals at Campagnola, Grimaldi’s, Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, Bar Americain, Pastis, and a return to The River Cafe

I need a glass case in my apartment with a stomach pump inside and the words “BREAK IN CASE OF PARENTAL VISITATION” printed on the outside. After leaving the car that dropped me off last night after dinner at the River Cafe, I kissed my parents goodbye, made my way into my building, rode the elevator up and sprawled out on my couch and didn’t move for three hours. I was that winded. Eating is hard work!

Last you heard, my brother and I ate Little Italy on Wednesday night and Sarabeth’s for Thursday brunch. After that, I took him to the Central Park Zoo where we hadn’t been since we were kids. I loved it! It’s my new favorite zoo—it has the perfect amount of zoo to sate your desire to see animals. Just when you’re getting bored of sea lions and monkeys, it’s time to go.

But that’s not what you’re here to read about. You came for the food—fine then, let’s get to it.

Campagnola

Our first stop on the Family Feasting Highway is one I feel funny telling you about. Let’s be honest here: we’re all human. As Tolstoy said, “all happy families are alike, all unhappy families are unhappy at dinner especially when the oldest son has a bad attitude because he didn’t get to pick the restaurant and the scene is a little too trendy and crowded and yuppy businessman for his tastes.”

The place, it just so happens, is Campagnola—located on the upper very east side: 1st Ave. and 74th St. What I just discovered, after Googling it, is that people love it. On Menupages the food gets 5 stars and people write effusive things like: “Words do not attempt to reveal how amazing this restaraunt is until you try it” and “This is the pinnacle of eating in NY, wonderful food, exceptional service and a great atmosphere.” Campagnola has its fans.

So maybe I came in with a chip on my shoulder and I was being bratty and not a very admirable gourmet, that I’ll concede. But I need to be honest: I’m not in love with Campagnola. I did love how it started—look at dad with this plate of free antipasto:

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That yellowish cheese you see is a huge chunk of Parmesan-Reggiano. I’ve never just bit into Parmesan before, but here I did and it was delicious—especially with a salami chaser. The olives were great as was the bread and olive oil and the white stuff, dried feta.

The table next to us had a huge party—about 15 people—as did the table behind us. The room was buzzing with energy: a youngish/oldish woman played the piano. Waiters bounced in and out of the room with sizzling platters of meat and trays of drinks. We ordered a bottle of wine for the table which was kept in an ice bucket table side. Every gesture was theatrical: big personalities, big plates, big laughs echoing around the room. Campagnola is definitely a scene.

It’s not my kind of scene, but you get that already. For my appetizer I had prosciutto with melon:

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It was fine. Melon’s not really in season, I guess, so it wasn’t particularly sweet. The prosciutto was tough, though flavorful. Dad and Michael were more enthusiastic about their Caesar salads: “it has great flavor,” said dad.

For my entree I had veal marsala:

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The sauce was fantastic, the veal was very good. I guess when you flatten veal and cook it the way veal is cooked for veal marsala, it’s always going to have a certain lumpy texture. I didn’t love that texture. Mom, dad, and Michael all had lobster fra diavalo and they were all happy.

For dessert, we sang happy birthday to dad (it’s dad’s birthday Tuesday—and as you’ll see, when my family celebrates a birthday it’s a weeklong celebration), paid the check and left. Mom and dad LOVED Campagnola; I merely liked it. So if this sounds like your cup of tea, I say go eat the tea bag!

We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it…

I had a great idea for Friday. Mom was eating lunch with her best friend from childhood, Robin, and I was left coordinating the day for dad, Michael and I. The great idea was to cross the Brooklyn bridge and eat lunch at Grimaldi’s. This was easy enough. Dad came to my apartment (where Michael was staying) and we took the N/R train down to City Hall, exited, walked around City Hall Park until we came to the bridge and began the crossing.

What a gorgeous day it was! Seriously: if my superpower were weather control, I couldn’t have made it any nicer. Here’s dad and Michael at the start of the bridge:

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And here they are at the other side–you can see Manhattan behind them:

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Crossing the bridge is a great experience, something every New Yorker should do. You get great views of New York, the Statute of Liberty, the cars passing beneath. Halfway across, you see plaques dedicated to Mrs. Roebling, the wife of the bridge’s designer–a pioneer in the world of suspension bridges (and beyond). And when you get to the end, it’s a simple walk on a path that winds around and splits in two: yield left, go down the stars, exit, turn left, make another left, go to Fulton Ave. (I think that’s it, go double check that) make a right and you’ll see Grimaldi’s green awning up ahead.

My Grimaldi’s pitch made me feel a bit like a used car salesman. I told dad and Michael it was the oldest pizza place in New York, that the coal oven inside is 100 years old. Here they are posing outside:

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Actually, though, once inside the menu revealed that this Grimaldi’s opened in 1990. Not quite so old! What is old is the methodology and ideas behind the pizza. It’s the pizza created by Patsy Grimaldi—that’s Patsy of Patsy’s fame—and this coal oven gets up to 800 degrees and makes a pizza frequently voted New York’s best. Here’s the coal oven that makes it:

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And here’s the pizza itself:

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Check out that crust! It’s such a perfect pizza. We had half mushrooms (dad) and half onions (Michael): I ate from both halves, making me the Great Pizza Unifier. I loved this pizza: a perfect ratio of crust, sauce, cheese and toppings. And that coal-charred crust is better than any crust I’ve ever had. 4 stars!

Of course, afterwards I walked Michael and dad over to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. I say “of course” as if I’ve done that before and truth be told, I haven’t. But all the Chowhound posts and eGullet posts I read say after eating pizza at Grimaldi’s, you go to the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. So here it is—it’s in a lighthouse, right beneath the bridge (and right next to the River Cafe, where we returned to last night):

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The ice cream here is of course homemade (I keep saying “of course”! Stop doing that, Adam!) Take a look:

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Let’s see: that’s my butter pecan on the bottom, Michael’s chocolate chip at the top and dad’s coffee on the right. It’s certainly very fresh tasting: there’s a very high fat content. I don’t think it’s as strong as contender as the gelato at Cones in terms of freshness (that Cones stuff is hand-cranked) but it’s definitely very good and worth checking out.

Now for a funny story. At the back of the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory is a pier where you can wait for a water taxi to take you back to Manhattan. Here’s dad and Michael waiting for it:

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We waited, in fact, for 15 minutes. Finally, just when we were about to give up (“Let’s just walk back across the bridge, it’ll be faster”) the water taxi arrived. There was a docking ritual and then a man came down the plank and said: “Anyone for the water taxi?”

“Where does it stop?” we asked and he pointed to a map nailed to a pole. “It stops at all the places on that map.”

Dad and I began reviewing the map.

“It stops on 34th street,” I said, “We could get out there.”

“It also stops at the South Street Seaport,” said dad, “we could go there.”

“Umm,” said Michael, “the boat’s pulling away.”

And sure enough, as we were talking the boat pulled away! We found this very funny. That’s our funny water taxi story.

The best meal of the weekend with a special celebrity guest…

On Friday night, we met my parents’ friends the Reingolds and their children (you met them before at Wolfgang’s) at Bobby Flay’s new restaurant, Bar Americain. Here we are at the table:

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Bar Americain is located on 52nd street between 6th and 7th. In Andrea Strong’s rave review last week, she described the “three-deep zinc bar” (complete with an exhibitionist couple); but on our night–a Friday night!–the place was surprisingly not crowded. “What’s going on, it’s a Friday night?” we wondered.

Maybe it’s because it just opened? I’m sure when Frank Bruni comes and gives it two stars (that’s my prediction, two stars) the scene will be buzzing. As it was, there was–we believe–Harry Smith from the CBS Early Show. This seems likely because Bobby Flay makes guest appearances on that show, so why shouldn’t Harry Smith be there?

For my cocktail (and I knew I had to have a cocktail, because Andrea Strong totally sold me on them) I had a dark and stormy:

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That’s: Gosling’s black seal rum, fresh lime juice, ginger and a sugared rim. It was a great drink: very strong but very flavorful and fun. Stephanie (Mrs. R) had a Gooseberry drink that was equally outrageous and enjoyable. We were the big cocktail drinkers of the night.

For my first course I (again!) took Ms. Strong’s advice and ordered the (let me consult the web so I get these dishes described correctly)–Crawfish & Dungeness Crab Griddle Cake with basil and red pepper relish:

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I’m not sure I shared Andrea’s sentiments exactly (she writes: “This “Griddle Cake” was unreal. I knew I wanted another one after one bite of the first.”) but I really enjoyed it. It was like a really dense, really fresh, really flavorful crabcake with big chunks of crab instead of everything ground up. And the presentation, as you can see, was lovely.

Mom–who still managed to diet at all these meals (she kept her portions small and her dressing on the side) gave me the rest of her appetizer—the raw bar tasting with crab-coconut, shrimp-tomatillo and lobster-avocado:

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Who wouldn’t want to gobble all that up? It’s got everything you could want: sweet, savory, crisp, bitter, spicy, fishy, salty, plus complex textures and fantastic presentation. Go Bobby Flay!

Or should I say “Come, Bobby Flay!” That is: Come to our table!

As I was sitting with my back to the kitchen, everyone facing me grew suddenly tense and whispered “Adam, shhh, look” and there was Bobby Flay! He came STRAIGHT to our table from the kitchen. What was going on!?

“Hello,” he said, standing behind my mom.

“Everything is delicious so far,” said my mom.

“Would you mind taking a picture?” I said.

“Sure,” he said, leaning down next to my mom. Here they are!

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“That’s my son,” said my mom, “He’s the Amateur Gourmet.”

Ugh! Aggressive Jewish mothers on attack!

“Oh yeah?” said Bobby, “What’s that?”

“It’s a web site, he writes about food,” explained my mom.

“No kidding,” he said, coming over and shaking my hand. “You write about food?”

“Yes I do,” I said nervously, recalling a time I wrote something not so nice about him, although I couldn’t remember exactly what it was.

“That’s great,” he said. There was an awkward pause.

“I’ve been watching Iron Chef America,” I said, “How’s that going?”

“Good good,” he said, “we just finished a bunch of tapings.” He turned back towards the kitchen. “Well, enjoy your meal,” he said and exited.

What was that! Why did Bobby Flay come straight to our table, linger, and leave? What was going on?!

That answer will come momentarily. But alas, our lamb has arrived:

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That’s Lamb Porterhouse Chops with green peas and mint, double baked sweet potatoes. Let me tell you right now: those sweet potatoes were outrageous. Buttery, sweet and rich and everything I could want in a side dish. I love sweet potatoes and these did sweet potatoes proud.

As for the lamb, it was also terrific. It’s a great study in the different cooking techniques of Flay and Batali (who went up against each other on an Iron Chef America recently; Flay winning, I believe); especially because I had lamb last time I went to Babbo. Between the two, I feel like Batali’s was more tender but that Flay’s was more flavorful. And Flay’s overall presentation–with the mint and the peas and the sweet potatoes–has a slight edge on Batali. HOWEVER, if I were to only eat one dish again for the rest of my life it might be Batali’s because even though Flay’s was more flavorful, the tenderness of Batali’s was extraordinary and in many ways heaven on a plate.

Finally, there was dessert. Another Happy Birthday song for dad:

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Happy Birthday Dad! And then some more desserts:

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That’s a pineapple carrot cake on the bottom and whiskey eclairs in the middle and deep dish chocolate cake with the candle in it. I have to say, I’m something of a dessert maven and I didn’t kvell over these desserts. The whiskey eclairs were the ones I most looked forward to (again, it’s Andrea’s fault!) but no one at the table seemed to love them. The big winner was the deep dish chocolate cake: mom and Stephanie guiltily scraped the bowl clean (though mom swears this was her only transgression in a weekend of Weight Watcheriffic eating).

And that was our meal. We all loved it: “That was a great meal!” said mom and Stephanie. Dad, though, doesn’t like unfamiliar food so this wasn’t his favorite meal; but dad aside, Bar Americain was a big winner. Two stars, I tell you, two stars!

But Adam, tell us about Bobby Flay…why did he come to your table?

Well yesterday (Saturday) I went with mom to the West Village and we were walking around and shopping. “That was strange,” I said, “How Bobby Flay came straight to our table, as if he knew one of us or something?”

“Well,” said mom, “I didn’t tell you this, but when we came in I asked the hostess if Bobby Flay was cooking tonight and she said yes. And I may have told her that someone VERY important was at our table and that he should come say hello. I guess it worked!”

Look out Mama Rose, Mama Gourmet’s in town! (“And if it wasn’t for me / then where would you be / Mister Amateur G?”)

God, Adam, this post is so long…are you really going to write about your other meals?

I’m getting a little burnt out myself. For lunch yesterday, before the big Flay revelation, mom and I went to Pasti’s in the meatpacking district. (Michael and dad snuck off to Katz’s deli, even though you can’t spell pastrami without Pastis (or at least Pasti).)

If I started this review complaining about the scene at Campagnola, it’s fitting to end it complaining about the scene at Pasti’s. What a circus! It’s like everything I hate about L.A. crammed into one little restaurant. Tables are teeming with celebrities and wannabe celebrities and those who want to sit near wannabe celebrities. We wanted a table outside, they said it would take 30 minutes, so we accepted a dingy table in the corner.

And the food? The food was great, in many ways exemplary. Like check out this French Onion soup which you can click to make larger:

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And check out this steak frites which you can also click to make larger:

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They were both terrific. The soup was robust and fruity, fun and flavorful; the steak was seasoned and cooked perfectly, the Bernaise sauce a wickedly sinful accompaniment. Mom had a seared tuna salad that was presented beautifully, though dressingless (as per mom’s request). [Sidenote: Last week mom grossed me out by sprinkling Splenda on her salad. So yesterday when she offered me a bite of her salad, which she’d dressed herself with just balsamic vinegar, I did so and said, “Mmm, it’s very good.” “See!” she said, “I tricked you! There was Splenda sprinkled on it!” “BLECH!”]

So anyway, in conclusion, Pastis has great food but the scene is tough, if unbearable, and I’m not sure it’s worth the effort or the money to eat there. Those are my thoughts.

Oh, and the River Cafe? My parents love this place and I can’t complain: the food is pretty great and the view is tremendous. (Read my review from last time!) This time I tried, for the first time in my life, steak tartare which had me at hello, with its quail egg broken on top and perfectly arrayed condiments like mustard, olives, capers, etc. For my entree I had the duck and it was very good.

As you can see by the length of this post and sheer volume of pictures and food, I must fast this week and spend 80 hours at the gym. No, just kidding, I’m not like that (like I had to tell you!) I already went with friends to the Burger Joint where I pigged out on burgers and fries and then afterwards we went to Cafe Europa and had Tarte Tatin. Does the eating ever end?! Perhaps I’ll break that glass case now…

Until next time,

A very important person.

The City of Brotherly Eating: Cornelia Street Cafe, Little Charlie’s Clam Bar, Ferrara, The New Sarabeth’s

After surprising my mom on Mother’s Day (see video!), I have returned to New York along with my co-conspirator and fraternal non-twin, brother Michael. He is staying at my apartment on the pull-out couch–complaining, already, of a torn sheet. Here is an account of our eating adventures thus far.

Yesterday, our plane landed around 2. Michael’s was one of the first suitcases off (mine was a carry-on) so we hopped in a cab and made our way to my apartment. We were starving. All I’d eaten was Rice Krispies. I was intent on taking Michael to Pearl Oyster Bar so he could have a $22 lobster roll. We dropped our bags off at my apartment, said hi to the kitty, and hopped on the subway down to West 4th. We ran as fast as we could to Cornelia Street. “Here it is!” I declared, excitedly. And then I saw the upside down chairs on the bar. I stepped inside and asked a distant barman if they were open: “We close at 2:30 and reopen at 6,” he said cooly.

Crushed, I assured Michael there were many other fine dining options on Cornelia Street. (He doubted me after I sprung Home on him last time.) “Why look,” I said, “There’s the Cornelia Street Cafe.”

Now’s a good time to mention just how beautiful the weather’s been today and yesterday. Honestly, these were two of the nicest days I’ve ever experienced. So the Cornelia Street Cafe was perfect: you could eat outside. I chose a table that straddled the inside and the outside. A waitress brought us menus. I told her we were starved, could we have some bread? “After you order, yes,” she replied. I suppose that’s their policy in case homeless people pretend they’re ordering food and just eat bread. Perhaps I shouldn’t have worn my garbage bag hat.

I ordered a delicious chicken baguette sandwich and Michael had the black sesame-crusted salmon. Here he is modeling the food:

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See the outside next to him? Indeed, it’s a lovely place to eat on a nice day. But also notice the iced tea. I had one, so did he. We asked for refills and they brought us two new glasses. That means they’re going to charge you. $2.50 each. I hate it when they do that: when I order iced tea, I expect that refills are free. That’s my only main bone to pick.

Moving on, then, we returned to my apartment where I did laundry and cleaned and made the place welcoming to my brotherly guest, and Michael watched TV and acquainted himself with the cat. Soon it came time for dinner.

“Well,” I began, “We could go to the Spotted Pig…they have this amazing dish, gnuddi…or we can go to Hearth…or try something new like Prune…”

“I’m sick of you picking everything,” Michael said, “Why can’t we go somewhere I want to go?”

A stunned silence.

“Fine then,” I responded, “Where do you want to go?”

“Little Italy!” he declared with conviction.

“Oh Michael,” I began in full snob-mode, “Nobody goes to Little Italy: it’s for tourists. The real Little Italy’s on Arthur Avenue. The Little Italy you’re thinking of is like Olive Garden Village.”

“That’s where I want to go,” he insisted.

So I went on Chowhound and typed in Little Italy. Sure enough my sentiments were echoed on their pages: the words “Olive Garden” and “tourists” showed up frequently.

“See,” I beamed, “I told you…”

“I don’t care, let’s just go there and walk around.”

Go somewhere and just walk around? Try to eat without a pre-determined dining destination? Never! So I investigated further and finally found a Little Italy post on Chowhound that suggested an actual good eating spot: Little Charlie’s Clam Bar.

Here’s the post. It says: “Consider Little Charlie’s Clam Bar at 19 Kenmare Street. This is NOT a tourist place and serves excellent Italian Seafood such as Calamari, Linguine with Clam Sauce (white, of course), Scungilli and many other excellent dishes.”

“Ok, Michael,” I said with delight, “To Little Italy we go.”

Finding Little Charlie’s wasn’t that hard. We just took the N/R down to Prince, walked down to Spring, walked over to the Bowery and walked down one block. It was on the right. Here’s Michael buzzing with Little Italy excitement: (we were actually North of Little Italy proper)

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Once inside, I immediately warmed up to the idea of this place. Red and white checked table cloths, two bustling waiters/hosts, and a clientele that looked discerning and definitely non-touristy. We were presented with bread and spicy tomato sauce. After dipping the bread in, my mouth caught on fire and I chugged some water. “Spicy!” I said. “It’s nothing,” bragged Michael.

“Ok,” I said, “Let’s have a contest. Let’s both eat a small spoonful and the first to take a drink afterwards loses.”

“You’re on,” he said, posing for a spoony picture.

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We took our spoons, our scoops, and slurps. Moments passed. My eyes began to tear; Michael cracked his knuckles. I tore at the table cloth, Michael whistled. After 13 seconds, I could bare it no longer and sucked down some water, bread and wine. (That’s Chianti we’re drinking, by the way.)

Now for the menu. I kept in mind the Chowhound post and stuck with seafood. Michael longed for Chicken Parmesan so he ordered that. The prices, I should say, were surprisingly high. So this isn’t a good place if you’re wearing your homeless hat.

We ordered a clam appetizer to start (after all, it’s a clam bar). Here’s our baked clams oreganato:

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The primary substance on that plate is cheese—paremesan cheese.* There’s also oil, garlic, and bread crumbs. The clams were small but incredibly fresh. We had three clams each then mopped up the rest with bread. A nice overture to our meal.

(*I now wonder if that is indeed Parmesan cheese because it occurred to me that Italians don’t mix fish and cheese. It felt like Paremsan cheese but maybe it was just really fine bread crumbs? Please forgive my ignorance.)

Then for the entrees. Have you ever seen one of my all-time-favorite movies, “Defending Your Life”? Remember that scene in the Judgment City Italian restaurant where the portions are huge and they force upon Albert Brooks nine pies? Take a look at this picture:

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In your wildest imagination, I don’t think you could conjure up more food heaped upon a plate. My linguine with white clam sauce photographed really well, didn’t it? Look how it’s studded with fresh clams and garlic and parsley and sauce. Michael’s, on the other hand, looks like a heap of tomato sauce, chicken, and cheese. Actually, it just looks like a plate of cheese.

“Good luck!” said the waiter, winking. Who could eat all this?!

I actually got pretty far with mine. It really was one of the best linguine with white clam sauces I ever had. The clams were SO fresh—I knew they were because they were all of different sizes and consistences. And not a grain of sand to be had which I was SO grateful for: that’s the worst thing ever, when you bite into a clam and there’s sand…it’s awful. But that didn’t happen.

Michael devoured his as best he could—he actually got pretty far too. When I went to wake him up this morning, I pulled the covers back only to find a huge pile of melted mozzarella. “Noooo!” I screamed as Italian opera music played.

Now, after imbibing a meal such as this, what’s the logical next step? Rush to the hospital for a stomach pump? Not us! No, we went for a dessert chaser at Ferrara’s.

Let me tell you about Ferrara’s. When I lived in New York four summers ago, my friend Dana and I went to the original Ferrara’s which was small and cute and had great coffee. Now it’s changed location and become like a flourescent light drawing in mothloads of tourists who goggle at the prepackaged Ferrara chocolates and biscottis. But we thought we’d give it a shot and, I have to say, despite the feel in there (it’s like EPCOT Italy) the desserts were pretty good. I had a ricotta cheesecake and Michael had a chocolate truffle cake: (you can click this picture and make it larger, if you want)

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I first learned of ricotta cheesecake from the Chez Panisse cookbook. I made a miniature version once in a coffee mug (remember that?), but I’ve never had the real deal. I’m actually not sure this WAS the real deal: it felt like it had a good deal of regular cream cheese in it too. (It was so smooth.) But I enjoyed it, and Michael enjoyed his cake. Maybe Ferrara’s hasn’t fallen too deep into the caverns of commercialism.

Finally, what better way to wake up after a night of heavy eating, than to a decadent breakfast at Sarabeth’s Kitchen? I realize I’ve reviewed Sarabeth’s before, but this time I’m reviewing a new location. They just opened up (and I mean just–they opened last week!) on Central Park South, right near where my parents stay. Here’s the new location and a lady looking at the menu:

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More importantly, here’s what I ate: a pumpkin waffle! (I may have had this last time, but I didn’t have my fancy camera then, so now you get to enjoy this zesty picture):

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Fun Waffle Fact 1: That’s not whipped cream, that’s sour cream!

Fun Waffle Fact 2: That’s not syrup, that’s honey!

Also: it’s studded with raisins and pumpkin seeds. Not your every day waffle!

I loved it. It’s sophisticated yet savory, smart yet silly, country yet western. Michael, dumbly, ordered LUNCH food, even though they’re known for their breakfast.

But actually, he liked his Caesar salad and club sandwich. A woman next to us had tomato soup and said it was the best tomato soup she ever had.

The ultimate glory moment brings our story full circle. Remember how they charged us for four iced teas at Cornelia Street Cafe? Well here Michael ordered a coffee to start ($2.50), changed his mind (after drinking the cup) and asked for an iced tea ($3), and then asked for a refill after which they brought him a new glass (presumably, 3 more $). He potentially drank $8.50 in beverages, yet when the check came they only charged him for the coffee! That’s my kind of restaurant.

Mom and dad are here now and we’ll be fine dining, as per usual, all over the city—though this time mom’s taken the upper hand–ignoring my highly informed where-to-eat input. Two places are new for us, one’s a repeat, plus lunches and food adventures to come. If anyone wants to lend me their stomach for the weekend, I’d be much obliged…mine’s about to hit red alert…

Fancy Omelette at NoHo Star

After class today, Patty, Alex and I were looking for a place to lunch.

“Breakfast, actually,” said Alex. “I’m in the mood for breakfast food.”

We asked our teacher Gary where to go and he said, “Have you been to NoHo star? It’s got the best breakfast. It’s right around the corner—Bleeker and Lafayette.”

So off we went and we arrived at 12 noon. Sadly, breakfast ended at 11:30. Discouraged, I asked the maitre’d if they had any breakfast food on the lunch menu and he said, “Yes, we have omelettes.”

“Perfect!” said Alex, and we were sat.

Upon opening the menus we observed that the omelettes were in the ballpark of $12 a pop.

“Wow,” said Patty, “these are expensive omelettes. They better come with some home fries.”

When the waiter came I asked if the omelettes came with home fries.

“No,” he said, shaking his head.

“Do they come with anything?” I pleaded.

He shook his head sadly.

“Well then, we need a moment.”

We studied further but all three of us were married to the idea of omelettes. And one omelette in particular sounded quite interesting: smoked salmon omelette with wasabi sour cream.

“Whoah, I’m getting that,” said Patty.

“Me too!” said I.

“I hate it when someone gets what I’m getting,” said Alex.

There was an awkard silence.

“This menu is so weird,” said Alex. “Let me read this to you” [and I wrote this down because I thought it was really funny] ” ‘Open faced toasted sandwich with scrambled eggs, stilton and VERY soft broccoli.”

Something about “very soft broccoli” is funny, don’t you think?

Anyway, we ordered our omelettes, waited, conversed, and soon they arrived. Here’s what Patty and I got:

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Fancy, no? What with the caviar piled up on top. (That’s caviar right? It’s the stuff you get on sushi…)

The best part about the omelette was the wasabi sour cream. It gave it an unusual flavor and went really well with the smoked salmon. The omelette was really filling. Alex’s had ricotta in it and she found hers filling too. “The filling is filling,” she said.

The bill came, we paid, and we left.

“Those omelettes were expensive,” said Patty. “Let’s make a mental note of that.”

More Than A Snack at Snack Taverna

Now that spring’s here, carrying my camera everywhere is getting less and less practical. See this new camera is big and bulky—in winter I put it in my puffy coat pocket and barely even noticed it. Now that it’s warm, my coat is becoming less and less necessary—where will I put my camera? I can put it in my backpack but then it gets banged up. It’s a TRUE and HORRIFYING dilemma.

This site’s content suffers accordingly. I could be spontaneous when my camera was in my pocket—now I have to plan everything out in advance. So on Friday I said to myself: “Yo, self, put your camera in your pocket and go somewhere interesting.” I headed down to the West Village and began exploring.

There is a fine line between exploring and getting lost. I started on Bleeker and Carmine—walked passed Shopsin’s (haven’t been yet), ‘Ino, Blue Ribbon, then over passed Amy’s Bread, down Cornelia passed Pearl Oyster Bar, then a sidetrack over to The Spotted Pig—which I couldn’t find—that led me to some green and leafy (and very pretty) neighborhood which let me out by the Cherry Lane Theater and by then I was starving. Luckily, there was Snack Taverna–practically empty—with a corner table calling my name.

Snack Taverna is a francophied Greek joint on the corner of Bedford and 7th Avenue. On a sunny day (like it was Friday) it’s light and springy inside. Let this picture set the mood for you:

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Aren’t those flowers pretty? And the brick walls and the layout… If this site were the Amateur Interior Decorator, we could go on for paragraphs. As it stands, we’re the Amateur Gourmet—let’s talk about the food.

Unfortunately, I thought I’d be able to find the menu online—I didn’t write down what I ordered. So look at it first and I’ll tell you what was in it:

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How pretty is that sandwich? There was lamb on a skewer, tzatziki (and lots of it so the sandwich was an oozy mess), lettuce, onions, tomato, all pressed in a pita that was way beyond fresh. Plus, look at that pretty foil presentation! (I think it was called Lamb Slavaka… Slavakova? Slantikiovinanaa?)

I gobbled this sandwich like a Greek god—Zeus? Pluto? Neptune? No, Bacchus of course—he’s my Greek god of choice. Music, food, wine and theater? Now that’s a religion I can get behind.

The side salad was so fresh and wonderful: it was a grain (barley?) with cucumbers, tomato, onion mixed in all dressed with oil and vinegar. Very light, very spring.

Oh, and not photographed is a lemonade—a mint lemonade—that puts all other mint lemonade to shame. (Especially the craptacular lemonade I had at Pain Quotidien.) Lemonade may be my new favorite drink, so watch out iced tea—you’re falling out of favor.

In conclusion, should you go a’wander in the West Village and wind up on the corner of 7th and Bedford why not snack at Snack Taverna? Put a little Bacchus bach into your life.

Back to BABBO

Babbo is located on Waverly between 6th Avenue and Washington Square West and I walk past it several times a week on my way back home from school. Every time I pass it my body tingles a little the way your body tingles when you see someone attractive through a train window pulling away from the station—oh how magical it might be, if only if only if only…

Don’t get me wrong. Unlike the mysterious person through the train window, I’ve done Babbo. I’ve done it twice. (Both times with Lisa: first reviewed on Chowhound, second time reviewed (by way of an epic poem) on here). I’ve declared Jean-Georges the best restaurant in New York, but I think Babbo’s my favorite. I love Babbo.

So Lauren came today. Hi Lauren! She’s here doing work on a case for her big new law job in DC. Lauren in Atlanta was always a bit reticent when it came to fine dining because we LIVED together and we ate many many meals together so it was hard to justify spending mucho dinero on just a Wednesday night meal. But now that we live THOUSANDS of MILES apart (ok it’s just a 3 hour train ride) random city visits merit special occassion meals. Tonight we had many options before us, but I had my heart set on Babbo–and since Lauren had never been there, I practically insisted on it. We were not disappointed.

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The first thing you should know is that we did not have a reservation. We simply walked in. This is good to know because Babbo has an intimidating reservation system. You call, you wait, you press buttons, you wait some more, you press more buttons, and finally you talk to someone. That person will most likely tell you they are booked for the entire month. You hang up and drop out of society, having lost your will to live.

When my brother came to town a few weeks ago, I wanted to take him to Babbo. I experienced everything described in the preceding paragraph, gave up, and took him to Home and Film Forum instead. We had fun.

But tonight I recalled something I read somewhere (perhaps by Steven Shaw at eGullet?) that the best way to get into a hard-to-get into restaurant is just to show up. There are cancellations, there are tables at the bar. And that was precisely the case tonight at Babbo. Lauren and I walked in at 8:50 (we came from a one-man show on the life of Tennessee Williams at school) and the host told us a table at the bar would only be 30 minutes. We said “woohoo!” and gave our name.

At the bar, I made Lauren have a bellini. Both times I’ve been to Babbo, we’ve had bellinis at the bar. Tonight’s bellini was prickly pear: it was red in color and sweet and tart and delicious. Lauren, I believe, enjoyed hers too.

The bar scene was crowded. I turned to Lauren and said: “How would you desribe the people here? Fancy? Yuppy?”

She stared at a weird looking couple and said: “Men cheating on their wives.”

I thought that was funny.

Soon (a little less than 30 minutes, actually) a hostess came and got us and sat us at a table right in front of the bar. A hard-to-please person (like my mom, for example) would have said “unacceptable!” because the table was in a throng of people waiting for their own fancier non-bar tables. But we took ours gladly and I actually enjoyed the hustle and the bustle and the people-watching.

Let’s talk about the music here because Babbo’s music is something of a sensitive subject for those who read Frank Bruni’s 3-star review a few months ago in the Times. Bruni marked Babbo down for the loud rock music that disrupted his meal. I had the completely opposite experience: I felt like the rock music enhanced the meal because it was so eclectic and unusual for such a highly lauded dining establishment. Radiohead blasted overhead–“Karma Police”–and I felt like this place wasn’t for my parents, it was for ME! Young people! Us!

Seriously, the music gives Babbo a mystical vibe. It’s spiritual rock: Radiohead, Coldplay (I’m not suggesting that Coldplay’s on par with Radiohead, but they did play some Coldplay tonight)—music that can be aggressive but also ponderous and magical. Like when the bells come on at the end of “OK, Computer”: that coincided with the arrival of our appetizer, and the feeling was that of an ancient food ritual carried out in a futeristic society. I asked Lauren if she agreed and she said, “I’d prefer Italian folk music.”

*****And now for the food…****

First we were presented with an amuse (as the French would say) or “a gift from the chef” (as our waiter said): chick pea bruschetta. Here’s Lauren modelling it for you all:

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She looks a little nervous. “I look scared,” she agreed, surveying the picture after taking it. But after tasting a chickpea her mind was set at ease. “Mmmm,” she said, “I like chickpeas.” The bruchetta had a great balance of textures and flavors—the crustiness of the toast, the bite and the creaminess of the chickpeas and the snap of the vinegar and oil. A great beginning.

Then for our first appetizer: Goat Cheese Truffles. I’ve asked this question before, but I’ll ask it again: how pretty is this picture?

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Seriously, it looks better than the picture in the Babbo cookbook.

The concept here is that balls of goat cheese are rolled in different coatings. The one on the upper right is smoked paprika, the one on the bottom is cracked black pepper and–most unusual–the one on the upper left is fennel pollen. Lauren tried that first, not knowing what it was and she seemed a bit nonplussed. “That’s fennel pollen,” I explained. That didn’t seem to help.

But she regained her composure with the other two flavors. “I like the smoked paprika and black pepper ones a lot,” she concluded. I was left with the fennel pollen which I gladly consumed. It tastes like mild powdery licorice. It’s not for everyone. But I do think it’s cool that it’s pollen.

Now then, the pasta course. You can’t go to Babbo and not get pasta. I made Lauren get the pumpkin lune because you have to have the pumpkin lune when you go there. She kvelled over it: “Mmmmm,” she moaned, “this is so good.” It is SO good. I dare you not to like it!

I took a bite of hers and snapped a terrible bleachy picture of the half-eaten lune on the fork so you could see the filling. Behold!

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[It just occurred to me: this is my first time to Babbo with my new camera. How lucky for you, then, right? In terms of vicarious eating, that is.]

For my pasta, I had the beef cheek ravioli. It’s not particularly photogenic, but it is beautiful to eat:

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It’s very rich and very dense. There’s liver in it, which gives it weight. I liked it—I think I’d like it more on a freezing cold winter’s night. It’s that sort of pasta. It ain’t heavy, it’s my pasta.

Now then, the main courses…

Lauren had the duck. I’ve had the duck before and you can see pictures if you click the link to my second Babbo post. She really enjoyed it. That’s understood.

I had the lamb. This lamb must have been sacrificed at a temple because it was the most succulent, delicious lamb I’ve ever tasted:

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The outside was charred perfectly and the inside melted in your mouth. It was so tender. There were hints of rosemary and other flavors. The pile in the middle featured peas and mushrooms and whole pieces of mint. This dish was a knock-out. 4 stars. A lamb for all seasons.

But hold on. We’re not done with our hyperbole yet. Our greatest Babbo moment has yet to arrive. Can you feel it? Can you sense it? Do you know what’s coming?

DESSERT

I was very stern with Lauren when it came to ordering dessert. “WE ARE ORDERING DESSERT,” I said definitively.

We were given our dessert menus and I yielded to her to make the decision.

“I’m so full, Adam,” she said, “you decide.”

I know Lauren likes chocolate. It was between pistachio semi-freddo with chocolate ganache and Italian donuts. The waiter steered us towards the former and oh.my.God.look:

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I am printing a picture of this dessert and putting it in my wallet. We were practically licking the plate by the end. How to describe it to you?

The semi-freddo itself was like a frozen, lush, creamy whipped cream without all the air. It’s dense but not so dense. It’s like a custard, but not so eggy. And it’s redolent, here, of pistachios–glorious pistachios–that go so well with the chocolate, it’s like heaven itself ordained this dish. I have no idea what’s on the outer rim of the plate (honey? syrup?) but all these flavors combined make this the best dessert I have experienced in the latter half of my life. Every dessert from the age of 13 onward has paled in comparison to this one. This is the dessert I want before I am executed for the murder of some-yet-to-be-determined innocent victim. In fact, I’m more likely to carry out a murder if it means this dessert will be my last meal. Oh, this dessert… sigh…

is the meal over? I guess it is. The check arrives. Lauren and I strike up an interesting conversation.

“You know,” says Lauren, “it’s amazing but for the price of this dinner we could have bought two iPod shuffles.”

Aha! A debate ensues! Temporal gratification vs. worldly goods; the intangible vs. the tangible. How do you quantify a meal at Babbo?

“You can’t put a price on experience,” I say, whimsically but perhaps profoundly.

Lauren agrees. We pay our bill–chat with the host (“Thank you for coming,” he says to us most kindly, as if we did HIM a favor by filling a much sought-after table) and walked 18 blocks back up to my apartment. Another perfect, priceless evening at Babbo.

More Bleecker Street Magic: Risotteria and Cones

This is Lisa’s last weekend as a Chelsea resident. When I moved to New York, I moved to Chelsea 10% because it’s a great area and 90% because Lisa lived here. Now she’s moving to Hell’s Kitchen, leaving me alone with Ethan Hawke (the only other Chelsea resident I see on a regular basis.) Whatever will I do?

Well, I’m sure I’ll pull through. And to celebrate her last weekend here I offered to take her to The Spotted Pig down in the Village. I wanted her to experience the pumpkin salad and the gnuddi. I have a feeling she will love them. Unfortunately, by the time we got there it was packed. So we went a’scrambling. Where did we end up?

My favorite food street in New York! Bleecker Street! See, I told you, I wasn’t kidding around—I love eating on Bleecker.

And tonight we tried two places I’ve passed many many times but never ate in. First: Risotteria.

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I can’t tell you how perfect this place was for Lisa and I. Usually, places I like aren’t so vegetarian friendly. But this place had a whole segment of vegetarian risotto options. Lisa was thrilled. We started with a beet walnut salad:

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Isn’t that beautiful?

I asked Lisa: “On a scale from 1 to 10 what would you give this salad?”

She paused and said: “A 7.9. You?”

I paused and thought and said: “8.”

She nodded. Because it’s not like so spectacular that it merits a 10, and it’s not quite a 9, but it’s surely an 8. Simple but delicious.

As for my risotto, I ordered the one featured in one of the blurbs on the door—chicken, porcini and pine nuts:

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In terms of quick risotto made to order it wsa really terrific. Compared to risotto I’ve made myself, it didn’t compare. The layers separated (liquid, solid) and the flavors were pleasant but not particularly memorable. Lisa enjoyed hers though. We had fun.

(The people sitting at the table next to us were this icy couple who didn’t say anything to each other so they spent the entire time staring at Lisa and I as we talked loudly–our usual boisterous selves. It was a strange dynamic.)

Afterwards, we went to Cones. It’s a brightly colored ice cream shop that makes homemade ice cream. To quote the Barefoot Contessa: how bad could that be?

Not bad at all, it turns out. Here’s what Lisa and I ordered:

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There’s lots of pressure when ordering because you can only sample two. I sampled Dulce De Leche and Tiramasu. I chose the Tiramasu which you can see on the right. It was awesome—it had all the good qualities of Tiramasu boiled down into a homemade ice cream. I give it an A+.

Lisa sampled pear sorbet and chai tea sorbet. She didn’t like them. She was in a bind. So she chose chocolate sorbet mixed with raspberry sorbet. The owner called her a genius–“That’s a great combination,” he said. You can see it pictured above. Lisa really liked it. But I liked mine better.

And thus concludes another successful night of eating on Bleecker Street.

I Cheat Because I Care: Pearl Oyster Bar, (Red Bamboo), Chikalicious

Oh you dastardly website. Were it not for you, would I have said “yes” to Kirk yesterday and broken my four days of healthy, nutrtious eating to enjoy a lavish, wildly expensive and mayonaissey lobster roll at Pearl Oyster Bar?

Ok, yes, I would have. And it wasn’t Kirk’s idea—it was mine. But we don’t change our lifestyles overnight do we? Baby steps, people, baby steps. Four days of healthy eating, then a little cheating, and back on it. I was so back on it today—all my sins are forgiven. Enjoy my sins.

So Pearl Oyster Bar. Funny, remember how I said Bleeker Street was my favorite food street in New York? And that Cornelia was my favorite side street off my favorite food street? Well it ends up that Pearl Oyster Bar is ON Cornelia right next to Home where I went with my brother. I’ve walked past it 1000 times and never noticed it. Even when it was our destination, Kirk and I walked past it and had to call to see where it was. It’s kind of invisible there on the street. Here’s the doorway:

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Amanda Hesser has a whole bit on Pearl Oyster Bar in “Cooking For Mr. Latte.” She has recipes for their Caesar salad and their lobster roll, I think. It’s supposed to be the best lobster roll in the city. I’ve read that other places too. Kirk heard that also. We anxiously anticipated the lobster roll.

On the menu it says: “Lobster Roll….MKT price.” On the chalkboard, it stated what that market price was: $22.

“Wow, that’s a mighty expensive lobster roll,” I said.

But Kirk and I were not dissuaded. We each ordered a lobster roll and pretty promptly they arrived:

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When I told my mom about it today and how much it cost she asked, rather logically: “Well, was it the best you ever had?”

I thought about it and answered: “Yes.” It really was. I think Kirk thought so too. He said, “Damn, this is a really good lobster roll.”

I mean the meat was so fresh. Sometimes I’ve had lobster rolls where the meat was stringy and hard to bite through. This wasn’t the case here. And the mayonaisse herb mixture had a perfect balanace. The brioche roll was the perfect vehicle for everything. And the french fries were my favorite sort of fries—skinny and salty. I love skinny, salty fries.

So I loved my cheating lunch at Pearl Oyster Bar. If you’re going to cheat, why not cheat in style?

Then it was off to do work. I’m trying to write the first acts of two separate plays for next week. That’s a lot of work. I’m going slightly batty over it.

When dinner came around, I had plans with John. You know John, you met him in Chinatown. John recently returned from Iceland and he’s going to do a write-up of what he ate there for this site. (Sneak preview: he ate whale!)

We went to this place near his dorm called Red Bamboo. Everything that Zen Palate did wrong, Red Bamboo did right. Their food was great vegan food. This is the best fake chicken I’ve ever had:

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Several times I said to John, “Are you sure this is fake chicken?”

“Yes,” he said, hitting me in the head with a fork.

The best things about this fake chicken are: (1) the marinade, and (2) how they cook it over coals. It says it on the menu. “Cooked over coals.” So you get all that magic of real chicken cooked over coals without all that chickeny evil vegans hate so much. I enjoyed it.

But now on to more cheating. That was a healthy dinner, you must admit. But then we were bored. We wanted dessert. We were walking to the East Village. A dark mischevious light bulb went off over my head: “Chikalicious!”

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Chickalicious is my dream restaurant. A dessert lover by trade, this place was made for me. It’s two pastry chefs who give you a three course dessert “dinner” for $12. The place is tiny and you can watch the women work as you sit and chat—they’re the ones who serve it to you too:

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When John and I arrived, there was no wait. We sat in a little booth and a friendly waiter man guided us through the menu.

Oh, so many choices! How to choose, how to choose. And the menu changes every three days. It’s not like you can come back and try the ones you rejected. So I made my choice (which you’ll see in a moment), John made his, and we were brought our amuse.

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This picture’s blurry and strange looking—-almost ethereal. Well that’s how it tasted: rosemary gelee and yogurt sorbet. What a weird combo but it totally worked. We both “mmmed” our way through it. The yogurt sorbet was creamy and luscious, the rosemary gelee subtle and only slightly perfumed with rosemary.

For my dessert choice I chose cinnamon baba au rum that came with cherries and some kind of cream:

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Of course, it was delicious. I loved it. And small enough and subtle enough not to make me feel TERRIBLY guitly.

John had an apple dessert:

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It was baked apple in some kind of pastry with creme fraiche and apple sorbet. His was tasty too.

I must tell you now, sadly, that the petit fors kind of sucked. Believe me, I wanted them to be delicious, but they weren’t:

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I know, I know, they LOOK pretty. The coconut marshmallows were ok. But the little poppy seed cream thingies with orange peel on them didn’t taste like much of anything, and the banana cake slices tasted like someone pushed the “mute” button on flavor.

But still, by the end I was enchanted—I love Chikalicious, I’m totally going to go back. And if you have to cheat on your healthy healthy plans, this is the way to do. My penance will be a week of tofu and yoga. These are the things we do for lobster rolls and dessert.

A Brotherly Bleecker Street Night: Home, Rocco’s and Film Forum

I love Bleecker Street nights.

Let me explain.

When a friend, loved one or acquaintance asks me: “Where should we go for I dinner?” I frequently reply: “Let’s just go down to Bleecker street and find something.”

I say that because there are SO many options on Bleecker Street and in that area. I’m talking, basically, about Greenwich Village—I love eating in the Village. I’m constantly stumbling upon new places and loving them. There are many treats to be had on Bleecker street–the cashew bar at Amy’s bread, the pizza at Joe’s or John’s. Bleecker Street is my favorite food street in New York.

So tonight with my brother, who is here visiting (my parents may follow tomorrow depending on whether my dad beats his cold), I took him down to Bleecker and we strolled in the cold cold cold. (I’ve been triplifying my prose, lately, I’m not sure why why why).

“Which place do you like, Michael?” I asked.

“I want Chinese,” he replied.

“Ummm,” I said, “There’s no real Chinese around here. But pick one of these places.”

We looked at Po.

“This is owned by Mario Batali,” I said, “It was his first restaurant. It’s supposed to be great.”

He studied the menu on the outside. “Quail? Sweetbreads? No thanks.”

We were on Cornelia St. (my favorite side street off Bleecker) and after wandering past a few more places, we discovered Home:

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“Look, Michael,” I said gleefully. “It’s Home! It’s like we’re eating at home! Let’s eat here!”

With a grumble, he ok-ed it.

Here is Michael:

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He’s sitting in Home. Our waitress came over and said: “Let me tell you about the specials…” It was weirdly done because usually you say: “Hi, how are you tonight?” Or something on that order. She just jumped right into the specials.

But that’s ok, we’ll forgive her. The food was great. We shared a fried cornmeal coated oyster appetizer:

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Michael ate his half bravely and seemed to enjoy it. I enjoyed mine.

Then, for my entree, I had the duck which had great accoutrements (quince sauce and a butternut squash side) but the duck itself was a little fatty:

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Michael had the roasted chicken with garlicky greens, onion rings and homemade ketchup:

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I thought his looked fannntastic and I confirmed that by eating some. It was. Even Michael thought so: “I don’t normally like American food,” he said, “but this is really good.”

So that was us at Home.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. We were on our way to Film Forum for a festival of Westerns, but first we stopped into Rocco’s pastry shop for some cannoli. Look at this display case!

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How can you NOT love Bleecker Street?

I’d like to say Michael and I shared this cannoli, but please forgive us and our gluttony when I say we each had our own:

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I don’t think I even need to tell you how good this was.

After that, it was a brisk walk down 6th Avenue to Houston where a big line already formed at Film Forum. We bought our tickets and went in to see Jimmy Stewart and Janet Leigh in The Naked Spur which was terrific. I took this picture going in:

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I think it’s my most artistic shot yet. Maybe because I was so inspired by our night on Bleecker Street?

I’m telling you–those Bleecker Street nights. They’re the best.