As life was ending in the Catskills, my life was just beginning. I was only a kid when my parents drove my brother and me upstate to experience the splendor (or former splendor) of the great bastions of Jewish entertainment. We stayed in hotels like The Concord and Kutsher’s where the carpeting was well-worn and the smell was a pungent mixture of mothballs and boiled eggs. I remember a lunch in a sunny dining room with faded pink tablecloths and a plate of refrigerated gefilte fish plopped down in front of us, my dad teaching me how to cover it extravagantly with spicy horseradish to mask its nothingness. We saw Frankie Valli perform. We saw The Turtles. An artist named Morris Katz painted landscapes in the lobby. These memories circled around a vague mist in my head as I joined my parents for dinner this past Monday night to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) at Manhattan’s resurrection of this time and place: Kutsher’s Tribeca.
Last night was supposed to be Fatty Crab night. There were six of us, and when Craig and I arrived we were informed by the rest that Fatty Crab wouldn’t seat all six of us together–they wanted to split us into three and three–and that the wait would be 1.5 hours. “1.5 hours!” everyone yelled. They were outraged. So James Felder led the charge to Florent. I didn’t argue–I’ve wanted to try Florent since reading Andy Towle’s piece on it last year—a highly commendable, incredibly thorough examination of the restaurant, its owner and its importance. I recommend you read that to learn The Florent Story; here, I’ll focus on our experience eating there.
The inside of Florent is fun and lively:
They squeezed us in at two circular tables which were pretty uncomfortable but, admittedly, the only option for a group as large as ours. (Can’t a party of six get any love in this city?)
Our waiter was fun and funny and he handled our group expertly. We would have tipped him expertly too but gratuity was already included. (I realize some people get upset when gratuity is included, but I think it makes it easier. Unless, of course, you don’t know gratuity is already included and you tip on top of the tip and then it makes things much more expensive.)
The menu at Florent looks like a diner menu but the food is very Paris bistro. Because I’m always reading about mussels and frites at other places, I tried to give the mussels and frites here a shot—especially because the day’s special was a mussels special that came with frites. Here are my special mussels with ginger, roasted plum tomatoes, adobo, cilantro and cream:
And here’s a crazy red evil communist picture of my frites:
I liked the mussels ok–I’ve never been a huge fan of mussels–but the sauce was killer and I loved dipping my frites and the very crusty, very enjoyable bread into the bowl of creamy, cilnatro-ey, mussels sauce. (I offered some to Diana and she rejected it saying it was like offering someone milk from the bottom of a bowl of cereal. I found this statement to be ridiculous and said I wasn’t eating the mussels over the bowl like someone eats cereal. She then agreed to try the sauce and she liked it. I was the victor in that exchange.)
Here’s Kirk of The Daily Kirk photographing his chicken:
He and others were less than wowed by the food. “It was just ok,” seemed to be the consensus, but at the same time I was appreciative of eating Francolicious food in a diner-like environment. And I bet it’s a fun place to go late at night/early in the morning, when drunk people are stomping around and someone’s singing on the bar.
It’s a New York experience worth experiencing. I’m glad I experienced it. I hope you’re glad too.
Ok, enough with the excitement–redesign and book deals be damned–we need to get back to our roots: my name is Kunta Kinte. I take pictures of my food.
I had lunch last week with a professor who told me that if my mom likes trendy and my dad likes red meat, we must make our way to TriBeCa and dine at Megu. “They cook kobe beef on a lava rock,” he said, “your dad will love it.” So, because they were here this weekend for a wedding, a reservation was made for Friday night. My brother, who was staying with me, and I made our way down by subway. It took 10 minutes. Mom and dad took a cab and it took 45 minutes. I love the subway.
So here’s the evocative exterior:
Since I get complaints that all these pictures make the site hard to load, to read the rest of this review: click below.
Just when you thought you’d seen the last of my family in Rome–at least for a while–here they are again, back in New York, to celebrate my mom’s big 5-0 (never tell a woman’s age!) by which I mean she’s turning 30. Because dad had to work and Michael had some other goings-on through Thursday night, mom came by herself a day early–Wednesday morning–and she and I ate three big, exciting meals together. Usually I do these as big, massive posts but after doing that list of my first year restaurants I realized it’s nicer to have individual posts for individual places. At least for now, we’ll see how I feel by the end of the weekend.
Originally, our reservation was at Town for Wednesday night. I’d never been there and I knew mom liked it. But then she said, “Are you sure you want to go to Town? We can go anywhere you want, honestly Adam, think of something you really wanted to try but that dad wouldn’t like….”
Isn’t my mom cool? So I racked my brain and suddenly it dawned on me that I’d never been to Chanterelle. I’d read all about it—it’s always listed as a great dining destination—and yet I’d never seen it our seen pictures of it. I told my mom to ask the conceirge at her hotel about it and they responded, “It’s wonderful….a beautiful restaurant, you’re going to love it.” In Zagat’s the review is equally gushy. Mom gave a big thumb’s up and so we switched our reservation.
Chanterelle is in TriBeCa and we could only get in at 9:30, so I had the idea of arriving early (at 8:30) so we could walk around. Our cab dropped us off right there at the corner of Hudson and Harrison:
“Let’s just see if they can take us early,” suggested mom and in we went. A cute woman with glasses sat at a desky looking desk at the front. She looked suspiciously important and later we learned she was the co-owner, Karen Waltuck. (The other owner is her husband, David.) You can read the history of their restaurant here. [Wow, I just read that and it opened in 1979 and moved to TriBeCa in 1989. That’s a long time to run a successful restaurant!]
Our table was a pretty one in the corner. Actually, mom had this to say about the tables at Chanterelle: “I have to say this,” she said, “there’s not one bad table here.”
The room is a big, spacious rectangle that looks like you could be eating in a wing of the White House or a corridor of a museum. There are large chandeliers and pale walls and two rather green floral displays (skimpy on the flowers)–one at the far end, near the door, and one in the middle. On two of the sides are windows covered with sheer white curtains. Mom didn’t love the decor or the room itself but this encouraged us to focus on the food.
Focusing on the food got off to a rockin’ start with this amuse of a parmesan crisp and chilled cucumber soup:
The soup was heavy on dill and other flavors and I loved it. So did mom. “Mmmm,” she said in agreement.
Then we were presented with this hand-written menu, written–I believe–by Karen:
“I’m going to need help with this menu,” said mom. “I can’t read it.”
I helped her with a slight twist of manipulation. “Well,” I said, “We can order from the left side which is $95 for three courses or we can just get the tasting menu–and really, that would be easier–on the right side for $115.”
“Let’s do the tasting menu,” she said, “because I can’t read this and I don’t know what to order.”
Woohoo! A tasting menu! I am so devious!
[Oh, and by the way, about that menu—the Waltucks have a local artist design the cover every couple of weeks, which I think is pretty cool. This was the menu cover:
Kind of nifty, no?]
Our meal began with Beef Carpaccio with Mushrooms & Summer Truffles:
This was light and refreshing (even though it was beef) with the arugala pairing well with the beef and the truffles heightening the intensity of the ‘shrooms. I still don’t feel like I’ve experienced a real truffly truffle yet because even though I’ve eaten some meals now where truffles are shaved on top of things, those shavings rarely taste as pungent and miraculous as truffles are supposed to be. Anyone want to send me a white truffle so I can compare and contrast?
Next up was “Tomato-Lemongrass Consommé with Steamed Zucchini Blossoms filled with Lobster and Shrimp” except they were out of zucchini blossoms so they were replaced with won-ton dumplings:
This was really nice, with the dumplings truly stuffed with lobster meat–no skimping here–and the soup smacking of cool, citrusy lemongrass. We both liked this.
Then there was “Grilled New Zealand Pink Snapper with a Purée of Shell Beans; Vidalia Onions and Basil”:
The presentation here looks blander than everything tasted. The fish was perfectly grilled—just like those grilled fish we ate in Europe, especially Croatia. The onions gave it all a sweetness and the bean puree was like a healthier version of mashed potatoes. It was an interesting dish.
After that, lamb came on stage and did its litttle dance. That’s “Loin of Lamb with Rosemary & Polenta ‘Fries'”:
And yet, like the aging diva who does a cop movie with precocious child actor (“never work with kids or dogs!” we’re taught) this lamb was upstaged by the more boisterous polenta fries. These were the highlight of the meal for me—-they were crispy and oily with undertones of rosemary and yet they were made of polenta. I really want to learn how to make this. Anyone have the recipe?
After that, it was the cheese course. A knowledgable waitress pushed over this cart and proceeded to describe all the cheeses on it:
We found ourselves overwhelmed and mom asked her to choose some cheeses for us, and this she gladly did: (the service at Chanterelle, by the way, was pretty great)
So if you study that plate, you can pretty much guess what things taste like–the cheeses on the bottom were subtle and “hard” and much like other cheeses you’re used to. But then there’s that gloopy stuff at the top, do you see it? I put a big heaping spoon of that in my mouth and oh my lord….
a new paragraph must start. Lauren, my old roommate, was a big fan of stinky cheese and this was the friggin’ stinkiest, strongest, most pungent thing I’ve ever put in my mouth… Not to be gross, but if this cheese had been extracted from between the toes of a sleeping football player or some kind of giant and then mixed with spoiled milk and left in the hot sun for a week I’d believe it. It made my stomach turn. And yet, I must say, I wasn’t completely 100% repulsed—there’s intrigue there. Maybe you have to build up a tolerance for this kind of stuff.
As for dessert, I had this plum sampler:
which was pretty great, but I was too full to appreciate it. Mom had chocolate creme brulee which she liked too. They brought us these little tasties to cap things off:
and these were also delicious.
Look, I’m not going to lie, we weren’t in love with our meal at Chanterelle but we really enjoyed ourselves. If you’re someone on a budget who’s saved up lots of money to eat at a nice restaurant, there are about five or six places I’d send you to spend that money before I’d send you to Chanterelle. Jean-Georges and Daniel and, as you’ll see with the next post, Le Bernadain are far superior restaurants and they’re in the same price range. However, if you’re a jaded fine-diner living in New York and you want a new experience, definitely check out Chanterelle. It’s quite an experience and I like the spirit of the place, the enthusiasm of the wait staff (who, apparently, get fed quite well because the Chanterelle cookbook is called “Staff Meals” so clearly they care what the waitstaff eats) and the dedication of the owner who writes the menu and leads you to your table. That’s all really sweet, and though Chanterelle isn’t my first choice to ask to the prom, if I saw it sitting in the corner I would dance with 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!
Long ago–maybe in August–I met my friend Dana for brunch at Buby’s in TriBeCa. She had heard good things about it and we both enjoyed our meal there. The basket of biscuits brought by our waiter had a passing intrigue–after all I had just left Atlanta, and biscuits weren’t a novelty. But they were good biscuits. Then life moved on.
Now, in January, with my friend Alex visiting and Lisa along for the ride, we were looking for a place to brunch on Friday. I suggested Buby’s—and the prospect of biscuits and brunch food excited everyone. We are all Atlanta emigres–Alex lives in Chicago, Lisa and I live here (New York). Back in our Atlanta days we brunched frequently and eagerly at brunchy bastions like The Flying Biscuit and The Crescent Moon. Here in New York, we haven’t brunched that much–and certainly there haven’t been biscuits. Off to Buby’s we went:
This place is a yuppy brunchy bastion. It’s sleek and metallic. Trendy music plays and the host regards with you with mock interest in your brunching experience. Soon you are seated. And then the magic happens. The biscuits arrive. Biscuits and jalapeno cornbread. And jam. Here’s Alex eagerly displaying them:
I was so happy to eat biscuits and cornbread I nearly yelled “Yeehaw!” but I didn’t because my mouth was full of biscuits and cornbread. We all devoured them greedily. They brought more. We devoured those.
It’s funny—I was so happy to eat biscuits as if they’re this rare exotic food you can’t eat north of the Mason Dixon. Of course I can always make them, like I did that time I made biscuits (if I were less lazy I’d make that statement a link to my biscuit post, but instead you can just type “amateur gourmet biscuits” into google and I’m sure something’ll come up). But, anyway, it doesn’t feel right to make biscuits in New York. That’s an Atlanta thing. It’s like making cheesecake and matzoh ball soup in Alabama. Ya know?
Anyway, the rest of the meal was pretty good. I had scrambled eggs and lox and home fries:
As a point of interest, a side of home fries at Buby’s costs $5.25. That seems outrageous for potatoes and onions and whatnot, but as it stood they came with my eggs.
We all agreed that the best part was the biscuits and the cornbread. Our waiter, as it happened, had a bad attitude. He seemed irritated when we ordered our food. I ordered coffee at the beginning and when Lisa ordered her dish–some kind of special that came with eggs, french toast and potatotes and coffee–he wouldn’t let my coffee count towards her free coffee, even though Lisa doesn’t drink coffee. “I already rang it in,” he said.
But that aside, Buby’s is a fun place to go for brunchy biscuit ***
I’m looking for a word here.
But I think you now what I mean. Yeehaw!