Broadway Stars Eat at Joe Allen

Once I went to see a musical with my friend Ricky. Afterwards, we were looking for a place in the theater district to have coffee and dessert and I suggested Joe Allen.

“Oh Adam,” he said, “What are you? An old man? Nobody eats at Joe Allen.”

But I persisted and we sat and had coffee and dessert and who walks in? CHITA RIVERA. Ricky was stunned. (Ok, this story is really gay.) I felt vindicated.

Then, this past Friday, I went with Jason and Lisa to see an adorable musical: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” A musical about a spelling bee—and it was a riot. Book by William Finn, Directed by James Lapine. Oh, and who was there that night? William Finn and James Lapine. (We saw them sitting in the back row). (My first stage appearance in college was in William Finn’s “Falsettos”: I played Jason, a precocious Jewish boy about to get Bar Mitzvahed. I think I was typecast).

Afterwards, Jason, Lisa and I settled on Joe Allen’s, of course.

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Now, I’m not going to lie—Joe Allen’s is good for one thing and one thing only: Broadway star gazing.

So go after a show, preferably on a Friday or Saturday night. (This was Friday night).

See, because the host was a little snippety. We told him we only wanted dessert and he was like: “Well we don’t NORMALLY seat for dessert only, but we’ll make an exception.”

And the dessert itself was pretty crummy. We shared chocolate bread pudding (which tasted like a soulless brownie) and apple crumb cake which was a depressing affair. Here’s Lisa and Jason presenting their failed desserts: (posing, incidentally, in front of a wall filled with posters of failed musicals):

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Seems disspiriting, no?

But look over Jason’s shoulder. What’s that? You can’t see over Jason’s shoulder? Oh, because if you could you would see William Finn (who came in straight from his show, which we saw) sitting next to Wendy Wasserstein! Oh, and two tables over is Bruce Vilanch (of Hollywood Squres and “Get Bruce” and “Hairspray”) beaming around the room.

So there you have it. If you’re into Broadway shows (and who isn’t? 90% of America? Psssh.) now you know where to stargaze after. It’s a guranteed success..or my name isn’t Chita Rivera. (If you have to ask “Who’s Chita Rivera?” definitely don’t go there.)

Leffing New York: Lunch at Sapporo

Categories collide in this post. Yesterday, I went to see Michael Frayn’s “Democracy” with Kirk, and James Felder (he of his own category) decided to meet us. We deferred to Jim Leff’s “Gourmet Guide” (that of the present category) and decided to lunch at Sapporo. Here’s James, Kirk and some stranger standing beneath the sign. (If the stranger’s name were T, they’d be James, T, Kirk.) (Nerd alert! Nerd alert!)

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Here’s Leff’s take: “Sapporo is neither a fast-food noodle joint nor an elegant Asian Cuisine Experience. Rather, imagine a beloved Japanese truck stop serving good, honest, unpretentious chow slung (if indeed Japanese food can be slung) fast and cheap. Westerners expecting the standard sleek decor and prissy presentation will be disappointed, but those who crave unaffectedly plebian Japanese flavors will return again and again, as do multitudes of homesick Japanese.”

Here’s James Felder’s take: “Sapporo’s ramen is more authentic, but Momofuku’s* tastes better.”

*Ok, I have a confession to make. A couple of months ago–well, not that many–I went to Momofuku with my friend Jason and I didn’t tell you about it. And, by God, it was delicious. I really want to go back. In fact, I will and next time I promise, Tina, I swear girl, I won’t be bad to you anymore, ok? I’ll take pictures, all right? You know I love you baby. You just make me act crazy, girl.

Now then, as for Sapporo, I think James is right-on. This ramen seems highly authentic:

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I enjoyed, for example, the fish cakes tucked beneath the noodles. I’ve never, in fact, had fish cakes and these were exciting to eat—more textually and visually than flavorfully, but exciting nonetheless. The broth had a nice kick to it and the noodles were what the Italians would call “al dente.” The corn studded throughout threw me off a bit, but I regained my composure and proceeded to enjoy it.

But, I must say, I know Momofuku’s ramen and you sir are no Momofuku.

These potsticker thingies (ok, I know they aren’t called potstickers but they’re potstickeresque) were tasty:

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And the lunch scene, incidentally, was wild–I forgot to mention that. We got there just in time: soon enough there was a line out the door. People really dig this place. It’s a bustling authentic Japanese noodle joint. If you’re in midtown and crave noodles, Jim (Leff), James, T, Kirk, Spock and I highly recommend it.

The $18 Salad at Soba Nippon

Here is a story.

Lisa, long ago, told me a tale of her mother and her going to lunch near her office. Her mother wanted to go somewhere with a waiter, so they stumbled into an Asian restaurant that served an $18 salad.

“An $18 salad!” declared Lisa. “That is outrageous!”

But her mother persisted. They both ordered one. Lisa was nervous.

Afterwards, Lisa contacted me and told me it was “the best salad ever.” Or something on that order. She loved that salad. She worshipped that salad. She spent nights quivering with sorrow and sadness that she’d never eat that salad again.

Ok, I’m exaggerating. But she did speak very highly of that salad. And yesterday, I decided to meet Lisa for lunch near her office.

“Well,” she said, “we can go to this sandwich place or go to this salad place. They’re not fancy but they’re warm and they have seating.”

I processed this information and responded thusly: “What about that salad place you went to with your mom?”

“ADAM!” screamed Lisa. “THOSE SALADS COST $18!!!”

There was a pause.

“Well, I know,” I said. “That is very expensive. But I run an internationally renowned food website called The Amateur Gourmet and I’m sure my readers would love to hear about this $18 salad. Plus, grandma gave me Hannukah money and I can treat.”

She processed this information.

“Well,” she said, but appeared nervous. What if I take him there and he doesn’t like the salad, her thoughts seemed to read.

But there we went. It was called Soba Nippon. Here’s a picture:

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In we went and got our menus. There, smack in the middle on the left side, was the $18 salad. There was $18 salad with tofu and $18 salad with chicken. Lisa ordered the former and I ordered the latter.

The waitress brought us “free” Miso soup. (Well, “free” except that the salad cost $18, so it evened out.)

Here is Lisa enjoying her soup:

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I enjoyed the soup too, it being -8000 degrees yesterday. And the bowl was deceptive—it looked like it held just a little soup, but there was lots and lots of soup in it.

“Save room for your $18 salad,” warned Lisa. (Ok, she didn’t really say that—but I’m building dramatic tension.)

Then a large cymbal crash and our bowls were taken away and a gong sounded and our $18 salads were placed down before us.

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Looks terrific, no? But worth $18?

I tasted. It was terrific. The dressing had a gingery mustardy kick. The balance of flavors was awesome: carrots, lettuce, chicken, some black dried substance and then beneath it all soba noodles. The soba noodles are made in-house and are what Soba Nippon is famous for.

“So? So?” begged Lisa.

“Well,” I said, “I am really enjoying this salad.”

I was really enjoying this salad.

I kept eating and eating as the time wiled away. So did she.

“You have to finish it,” she pushed. “It’s an $18 salad.”

So I kept eating untnil it was gone. Then the check came. Both salads cost–GASP!–$18.

“Lisa,” I said confidentially, “you and I are friends, right?”

“Yes,” she said nervously.

“So I can be honest with you?”

“Yes,” she said, thoughtfully. “Yes you can.”

“I really enjyoed that salad–” I started.

“But it’s not worth $18,” she finished.

“No, I don’t think it is.”

A pause for reflection.

“Are you sad you came here?” she sniffled.

“No, no!” I said, “I am really glad I came here! I mean I really enjoyed my salad and this whole experience. I’ll never forget it. I just don’t think I’ll come here again.”

Lisa nodded. “I agree, Adam,” she said. “No salad is worth $18.”

And that sentiment, my friends, concludes our narrative.

The Best Breakfast in New York? Possible, at Norma’s

Lauren’s sporadic visits to New York are great excuses to eat places where I would not otherwise eat. One such place is Norma’s in the Parker Meridian Hotel. It is an outrageously expensive breakfast ($7 for a glass of orange juice!) but apparently the best in New York. Instead of opting for a fancy dinner, I suggested we do Norma’s for a fancy Friday brunch. Lauren ascented.

So Norma’s is in Midtown in the Parker Meridian, where Ashton Kuthcer goes for hamburgers. We ascended the marble steps and were greeted by the prepubescent host. He offered to take our jackets. We said, “No thanks.” He showed us to our table.

Moments later our waiter ambled over. He brought two shot glasses and two menus. In the shot glasses, he told us, were complimentary tastes of that day’s smoothie: cranberry and other berry smoothie. Lauren modelled her acquisitions:

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The cranberry smoothie was outrageously good. Honestly. I would saw off my left pinky for the recipe. Just perfect in everyway. Lauren, who is often hesitant to overpraise, called it “divine.” We both studied the menu eagerly in order to make good choices.

What we decided will shock you and amaze you with its ingenuity. We decided to each order something and SHARE it. That way, we could have something non-desserty (like eggs) and something desserty (liek waffles). The waiter came over and we told him what we wanted. That was the last we ever saw him (seriously).

The service at Norma’s sahuuuuuuuuuucks. Sucksucksucks. Sucks. We had to ask 8 times for them to give us water. We were so thirsty. And when we drank our water, they never refilled it. We had to ask 76 times for the check. By the 75th time, Lauren decided not to go on living and leaped out the window. And there aren’t any windows.

But the food. Mmmm, the food. Check out my fruit-stuffed waffle with creme brulee topping and more fruit:

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Check out Lauren’s Huevos Rancheros:

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Everything was tear-inducingly delicious. Just perfect and amazing.

But the service sucks. And it’s CRAZY expensive. Our dishes cost $17 each. Coffee cost $5 PER PERSON. And let me remind you about the orange juice: $7.

So, in conclusion, go once for the food, not for the service, then blog about it and be done. And bring someone rich.

The Burger Joint

‘Twas last night I had tickets to see “Opening Doors,” a celebration of Stephen Sondheim, at Carnegie Hall. Arrived there much earlier than necessary and ’twas at a loss for where to eat dinner. Then I stumbled into the Parker Meridian hotel and a light went off in my head:

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“Hey!” I realized. “Here’s the Burger Joint; that place where all the celebrities go to hang out and eat burgers. They say the burgers are among the best in the city! Let’s do this thing!”

The Burger Joint is sort of hidden behind a curtain near the front desk. You go in there and it’s like you are whooshed into another place and another time. It feels like a cross between Archie comics and a sordid room on a dilapidated cruise ship.

Naturally, the whole gang was there—Ashton, Paris, Tobey, Leo. They beckoned me over and suggested I order the hamburger with the works.

“Except I get mine without the meat and the bun,” explained Paris.

“Shut up, ho,” chastized Ashton.

“Who ya calling a ho?” shouted Tobey.

Leo played with the ice in his glass and kept whispering, “Rose…Rose…you’re gonna live Rose.”

I ordered the burger with the works:

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To quote the Scissor Sisters (who I’m listening to right now, they’re awesome!): “You’re filthy / but you’re gorgeous.”

I scarfed that baby down with a lemonade and a greasy bag of french fries. Literally they give you a brown lunch bag filled with fries. The whole thing totalled to $8 which isn’t wildly expensive for this sort of soul-satisfying food in Midtown.

So next time you’re with a gaggle of celebrities waiting to see a Sondheim show, I recommend the Burger Joint. It’s, to quote Paris, “mega-yum.”

Family Powerlunch at The Four Seasons, Or “I Can’t Believe Food That Mediocre Costs That Much!”

My parents and brother came in to town last night because it’s my mom’s birthday tomorrow (yikes! I better get a card) and, of course, to see my new apartment. We ate last night at Fresco’s which was decent and mostly tasty, but not worth blogging about since I blogged about it last time we were there. Actually last night’s dinner was just ok. I think I drank a little too much wine, which is always dangerous with my parents. I began lambasting them on political issues. My dad responded, “It’s a free country.”

Today mom called in the morning and told me to dress sharp because we were going to The Four Seasons for lunch. Now mom and dad had been there once before and had a fulfilling meal which, for them, means they saw their fair share of celebrities. Mario Cuomo, for example. Nowadays I pray that we won’t see celebrities when we go out because the process is so embarassing. (Case in point.) Alas, I had nothing to worry about—it may be summer, but inside the Four Seasons it was winter. Meaning: it was dead.

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Outside the Four Seasons, it was pouring:

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We came inside with wet umbrellas and checked them with the coat check. We made our way up a flight of stairs and we were greeted by a genial host. The space in the Four Seasons is two-tiered: the ground level is for VIPs, and the upper level is for people who like looking at VIPs. However, because it was so dead in there today we were seated in the VIP section.

This meant little for my brother and I, who were facing a wall. Mom and dad faced inward and scanned the room for familiar faces. There were none.

“Is that John Kerry’s daughter?” I offered, twisting my neck 180 degrees.

“No,” said my dad.

“Ok,” I said, twisting back. “I give up.”

The place was very woody and reminded me of a wing of a museum not often visited: stuffy, quaint. Over the bar was a giant wooden mobile that was pretty cool. Mom and dad sipped wine and enjoyed the ambience.

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Michael and I attempted to broker a deal. He was all smiles, I was dead serious:

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As you can see in the picture, I am holding a menu. When I finally set upon the task of reading its contents, my head unleashed itself and spun a full 360 degrees. My God! The prices!

“Holy expletive!” I said. “It’s so expensive!”

“Tell your mother,” grumbled my dad.

“Oh Brad stop,” she replied. “You won’t be complaining if a celebrity walks in.”

No celebrity walked in. And to be honest, it didn’t seem very likely they would. Instead, rich white men walked in with other rich white men and sat at tables with leather-bound books in front of them, calculators and Blackberries. Serious conversations ensued. I felt like I was back in law school.

As for the menu, I settled on what I thought sounded like tasty dishes. First, prosciutto and melon:

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It may look tasty, but considering how much it cost and how little flavor there was it wasn’t tasty: it was wasty. That’s the word to be coined for The Four Seasons: wasty food.

Like this $42 lobster salad. You heard me right. $42:

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The rare exception was my dad’s tomato and mozzarella salad which dad photographed poorly:

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Pretty presentation, indeed. But worth $25? I don’t think so.

Sometimes food IS worth that much money. William Grimes wrote a great piece a few months ago in the New York Times justifying the expense of great sums for great food. I agree—great food is worth great moolah. Great food can be the greatest of spiritual drugs—some forkfuls are worth weeks in Maui or years of therapy. But The Four Seasons is no such place. The Four Seasons is an outrage–a facade of fine dining with a heftier pricetag. Our lunch for four at The Four Seasons cost more than dinner for two at Charlie Trotter’s. As we all know, I was less than keen on my Charlie Trotter’s meal, but I’d sell my soul to Charlie Trotter to avoid another meal at The Four Seasons. At least Charlie has integrity: I’ll take my powerlunches in Chicago from now on, thank you.

Lunch at Fresco

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Fresco is a sprightly Italian joint on Madison Avenue where powerplayers and fans of the Today show come to dine. Fans of the Today Show because Fresco’s owner, Mrs. Scotto, and her family are frequently guests with Matt Lauer and Katy Couric. In fact, my parents just one week ago spotted Katy Couric while lunching at Fresco. It’s like the fine dining equivalent of standing outside the Today Show studio with a large piece of poster board that reads: “CARLOS IS MY BABY DADDY!”

Well, that’s not fair. The food is fantastic. When I spent a summer at NYU with my friend Dana, we went to Fresco during restaurant week and had a fabulous 3-course lunch for $19.99.

Alas, this week isn’t restaurant week but we had our fair share of terrific dining.

First we shared a mozarrella salad–my mom added the onions (she’s an onion maven)–and it tasted great, especially since the mozarrella is homemade!

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We also shared a crabcake which was very good, though not as great as the best crabcake ever at Bacchanalia (which has permanently ruined any other crab cake for me):

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For our entrees, mom and dad shared a pasta with rock shrimp (not pictured). And I had a big fat plate of risotto with duck confit:

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The risotto didn’t have a ton of flavor, but with the confit it became a delightful combination: the risoto saucy and savory and the duck salty and rich. I only ate half, though, because I felt my insides start to inflate.

For dessert we shared a decadent brownie concoction that sent spoons and hearts flying:

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And then we had a nice visit from Mrs. Scotto, who made the rounds and spent an exceptional amount of time at our table. She is a lovely woman with a humble air that would make it easy to forget she owns one of the most successful lunch spots in New York. Mom suggested that I get a recipe book which Mrs. Scotto brought over and autographed:

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She then posed for a picture with my dad:

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Their chemistry was so compelling, that they ran off together leaving my mother and I shocked and silent. We dabbed at the remaining brownie bits and left our table, directionless and alone.

Another successful meal at Fresco!