Life is Sveet at Aquavit

Great artists reveal their art gradually, never slamming their audience with multiple restaurant posts all at once–they ease them into it, carefully gliding them into the cool waters of the shared dining experience. I, the superior blogger that I am, will now share with you a meal that happened over a week ago with my parents. This is the last meal from that weekend that I will be sharing so if you regard these posts sentimentally, you may want to grab a tissue. And the soundtrack to Ms. Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were.”

Look, what’s that in the distance? Is it a kebob stand? Is it a fire truck? No, it’s a Scandinavian restaurant in midtown Manhattan!

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Welcome to Aquavit, the much lauded restaurant home of chef Marcus Samuelsson.

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Do you know who Marcus Samuelsson is? You don’t? What kind of sick freak ARE you?

Wikipedia tells us that Marcus was born in 1970 in Ethiopia, his parents both died of TB when he was three, after which he was adopted by a Swedish couple. “He studied at the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, where he grew up, apprenticed in Switzerland and Austria, and came to the United States in 1991 as an apprentice at Aquavit. At twenty-four, Marcus became executive chef of Aquavit, and soon after that also the youngest ever to receive a three-star restaurant review from The New York Times. In 2003 he was named ‘Best Chef: New York City’ by the James Beard Foundation.”

Obviously, Chef Samuelsson is a force to be reckoned with. But how did his force reckon with the force of my fussy forceful family at lunch? I will force you to click below to learn the answer.

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Don’t Look Back in Hunger: A Return to Da Silvano and Eli’s E.A.T.

The family was in town this weekend for a wedding. They came a little earlier than usual (Wednesday instead of Friday) because dad’s office has no power still (after Hurricane Wilma) and Michael’s college is similarly out of commision. Usually when the family comes I use my powers of manipulation to ensure that we eat at places beneficial to my website: interesting foodie havens that I can’t afford on my own, that I haven’t yet reviewed and that would be of interest to my large reading public.

But my parents like their comfort food. And nothing says comfort food more than “big Italian lunch.” Their favorite lunch spot in Florida is in Bal Harbor, a place called Carpaccio’s where they share Caesar salad, dad gets pounded veal and mom has a pasta with seafood in it. Thus, after taking them to Pearl Oyster Bar on Thursday (they loved the lobster rolls (“this bread is sick it’s so good,” said mom about the brioche bun); dad thought the clam chowder wasn’t as good as the one he had recently at L&N Seafood in Boston) we passed Da Silvano on the way to SoHo and mom made a reservation for the next day.

“But we’ve already been here,” I pleaded.

But it was no use. And so I set upon the idea of re-reviewing Da Silvano. Let me find the old review.

***Pause while Adam finds the old review.***

***Oh no! Adam realizes that he did write about Da Silvano the last time he went, but he didn’t document it—he simply told the story of a waiter who refused to give us balsamic vinegar for the mozzarella. Adam feels like a fool.***

I feel like a fool. So this is the first time I’ve reviewed Da Silvano. Look how pretty the outside seating is:

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The weather this weekend was mind-alteringly gorgoues. Nicer days have never been invented. So sitting outside was a real treat.

The menu wasn’t outrageously expensive (at least for lunch) and the items on it were varied and interesting. My new favorite game is to order things that make my mother gasp and say, “Oh Adam, don’t order that.” So I started with octopus and pumpkin salad with radicchio.

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Lovely presentation, no? And it tasted really good, really interesting. The octopus was tender, slightly salty; the pumpkin was cut in squares and roasted so it was sweet. The radicchio gave it all a bitter base for the other flavors to react to. I enjoyed it.

Dad and Michael each got a salad (dad had mozarella and tomato; Michael had mesclun) and they were presented with a spray bottle of balsamic vinegar, which I thought was a funny touch. Here’s Michael spraying vinegar on his salad:

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He then sprayed some under his arms and went about his day.

For our entrees, mom picked a winner with this clam spaghetti:

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And I picked a loser with this taggliatelle (sp?) and porcini mushrooms:

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It looks tasty, yes, but looks are deceiving. It just tasted like a big fat oily noodle with some oily mushrooms alongside it. I really didn’t enjoy it.

But dessert was nice. I switched seats with mom because the sun was in my face and I didn’t have sunglasses (she did.) (Isn’t she a nice mom?) Here’s my cappuchino (which you’re not supposed to drink after a heavy meal but I like to have a substantive coffee drink at lunch and an espresso shot wouldn’t really give me the umph I needed) with the obligatory Tiramasu for the table:

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Of course this was good: moist, rich, ladyfingers and fluffy marscapone. Those Italians: they know their dessert.

And so in conclusion, the last time I went to Da Silvano I thought it was just ok. That’s probably why I didn’t write about it. And this time I think it’s a little better than ok but still pretty much ok. It’s a scene. It’s good for a nice day. “It’s the closest thing New York has to The Ivy,” said mom, referencing the famous L.A. place to see and be seen. And if being seen is your scene then glean what I mean and order something lean.

***

Last time I went to Eli’s E.A.T. (I can’t find the link since Google dropped me), I thought it was way overpriced and only mildly worthwhile. This time I went with mom and she referred to it afterwards as: “A crummy lunch.”

We started with soup. She had chicken noodle. I had carrot:

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I liked my carrot soup. It tasted like something you might make out of a Barefoot Contessa cookbook. [And notice the mostly eaten raisin bread. The raisin bread is probably the best part about eating at E.A.T.]

Mom didn’t rave over her chicken noodle.

For our entrees, I had a swordfish salad Nicoisse:

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This looks like it might be an interesting salad but it really wasn’t. It felt like something I could do at home. I suppose the ingredients were really fresh, but if you don’t use them in a worthwhile way what’s the point of fresh ingredients?

But mom’s salad was really the worst. She ordered the roast chicken salad. All she got was a bowl of mesclun greens, pieces of chicken, and some dressing. That’s it.

She tried to be nice about it. “It’s just a little boring,” she said.

It was really boring. We barely finished what was on our plates.

Which, though, was lucky because our hunger allowed us to order not one but two desserts. Observe mom with her brownie:

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And observe my coconut cake:

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The brownie was rich and moist and the coconut cake was soaked in some kind of liquid that gave it lots of flavor. We enjoyed this part of the meal. “Let’s just come here for dessert next time,” said mom.

I think she has the right idea.

Hearting New York at The Lexington Candy Shop

I once heard a terrific quote about New York that goes something like this, though I don’t remember who said it or where I heard it or if it’s a quote at all and not something I’m just making up. Here it is: “If you live in New York and you don’t love it it’s your fault.”

There is truth in this quote, I believe. You have to understand that I come from a family of New York defectors (their defection was mostly weather-related) and that my love for New York is like some sort of spiritual rebirth. What Harriet Miers is to Christianity, I am to New York. I’m a born-again New Yorker.

Now the quote I may have misquoted above puts the obligation on the New York resident to go seek out the wonder that is the Big Apple. And so the other day (Friday to be exact) when I should have been working I decided I’d ride the 6 train uptown to 86th street to sample Austrian delights at Cafe Sabarsky and then see the Van Gogh drawing exhibit at the Met.

All went to plan except when I entered Cafe Sabarsky it was a mob scene (not literally, figuratively) and I had to enact a Plan B. This involved whipping out Robert Sietsema’s “Food Lover’s Guide to the Best Ethnic Eating in New York City” which I keep handily in my bag. I quickly flipped through the index. What was near this spot on 83rd and 5th? Where could I go? Aha! The Lexington Candy Shop!

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Says Sietsema: “For an unforgettable taste of the indigenous haute cuisine of the Upper East Side, including foamy chocolate egg creams and oozing grape-jelly omelets, there’s no better place than the handsomely retrograde Lexington Candy Shop. Swivel on a bar stool or sprawl in a booth and ponder, Why is this place still here? (Hint: frequent movie and fashion shoots.)”

So I made my way from 5th Ave. over to Lexington and parked myself in a booth. I observed the kitschy counter:

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And ordered an egg cream and a sandwich from a very motherly waitress. Actually our exchange was very funny.

Me: I’ll have the sliced egg club and an egg cream.

Waitress: You want mayo on the sandwich?

Me: Sure.

Waitress: You want that on white toast?

Me: Sure.

Waitress: You want chocolate in that egg cream?

Me: Sure.

Waitress: Ok, that was easy!

And so she swiftly returned with my egg cream.

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Now those of you with keen memories may remember that I shot a film a few months ago (or weeks ago) for some other website where they videotaped me eating my way around SoHo. Did I tell you about that? Well it hasn’t gone up yet (it was supposed to be up in September) and on one part of the video I talk about why an egg cream is called an egg cream. If I were a good showman, I’d make you wait for the explanation on video (or let you Google it) but I’ll tell it to you anyway; this is the theory I’ve heard. The theory goes like this: during the Depression, when times were hard in America, people couldn’t afford ice cream in their ice cream sodas. So they’d say “ice cream soda, neg cream.” Like: negative on the ice cream. And thus the egg cream (or neg’ cream) was born. [It’s chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer.]

And as far as egg creams go, this was right up there. Supposedly the best in New York is at Gem Spa in the East Village. I was there a long long time ago and I can still remember how that egg cream used to make me smile. The key to a good egg cream is the seltzer: it’s gotta come from a compressed bottle or it just ain’t right. Dean N Deluca sells egg creams in SoHo at a little booth and they pour the seltzer from little plastic bottles. No! No! No! End rant.

As for my sandwich:

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It really hit the spot. I was too timid to try the grape-jelly omelet (sorry, that just sounds gross) and I was glad I stuck with the basics: bacon, egg, mayo, lettuce and tomato on white toast. Very American, very dinery, very Lexington Candy Shop.

Afterwards, I made my way to the Met and saw both the Van Gogh exhibit and an exhibit on occult photography. I was actually disappointed with both. My favorite discovery was in the sculpture gallery, a Rodin sculpture called “The Hand of God.” It’s a giant marble hand and between the thumb and forefinger are two bodies intertwined. Here’s a pic I found on Google:

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No one was really looking at it, but I was really taken with it. In what other city could you wake up, unsure of your day, and find yourself illuminated, several hours later, by a classic sculpture from a French master after eating a sliced egg club and drinking an egg cream at a Candy Shop? Not many, I tell you. As the t-shirt says: I heart NY.

Big Time Burgers and Broadway Legends: SoupBurg and Elaine Stritch

My friend John is the type of person who will say, “Hey, Elaine Stritch is playing at the Cafe Carlyle. Do you want to go?” And I’m the type of person who will say: “Yes.”

And so it was that John made the reservation (it’s pricey, like a full-priced theater ticket) and it was I who met him there last night at 8:15 to claim our table. But first I needed to eat and John was having none of that because he wanted to nap. So I did some research online and concluded that the best place for me to eat alone near the Cafe Carlyle was Soup Burg—a place renowned for it’s excellent hamburger. Here’s the exterior:

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My dad and brother have been to SoupBurg before without me. It’s comfort food on the fancy Upper East Side. This is the famous hamburger:

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Shake Shack and Burger Joint have the city’s best hamburgers, but this is, perhaps, the city’s best diner burger. It’s big and beefy and the fries that come with it are airy and crispy and just right. I was tempted to get the bacon cheeseburger but it was Rosh Hoshana and I don’t want to wind up in Jewish Hell. But the burger worked fine on its own. I was very happy with it. So when your Titanic is going to see Elaine Stritch, do yourself a service and yell: “SoupBurg, dead ahead!”

And as for Elaine Stritch, her cabaret act was lots of fun. For those who don’t know who she is–and that may be many of you–she’s best known for being in the original cast of Stephen Sondheim’s “Company,” laying claim to the classic song “The Ladies Who Lunch.” But that’s just the tip of the iceberg (hey! iceberg! SoupBurg! Brilliant!). She was buddy buddy with Noel Coward, starred in his musical “Sail Away,” won awards for her work in “Bus Stop,” sang the song “Zip” in the original “Pal Joey.” All this comes thrillingly to life in her masterpiece one-woman show that won her her first Tony: “Elaine Stritch Live At Liberty.” You can watch it on DVD or listen to it on CD. It’s co-written with John Lahr, the New Yorker’s theater critic and one of my favorite writers. And it’s directed by George C. Wolfe. It’s a brilliant work, you should really check it out. But meanwhile check out this pic of me, John and Stritchy after the show:

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She’s my new best friend! Well, maybe not, but she was really gracious after the show. She hung around and asked people what they wanted from her. We wanted a picture and she took it. Then she rode the elevator up to her room because she lives at the Carlyle Hotel. And the Carlyle Hotel, by the way, is the most beautiful hotel I’ve ever seen. It just oozes wealth and privilege and class. Which is why John and I left promptly and made our way to the East Village. We had fun there too.

An Upper East Side Day: Eli Zabar’s E.A.T., The Guggenheim and Lady M’s

My summer’s almost at a close. I start school again one week from Tuesday (whoah!) and all the goals I had for myself this summer (a) get in shape, (b) write a masterpiece, (c) star in a one-man show exploring the life of Suzanne Somers (damn! she beat me to it!) shall remain goals for years to come. Ah well. I won’t go feeling sorry for myself. No sirree. Would Suzanne Somers do that? Well, after reading her reviews she might.

One thing I can say for myself, though, is I have met the goal of eating my way across the city this summer. Sure, I stayed 99% of the time in Manhattan, but Manhattan has a lot of ground to cover. There was uptown when the parents were here and downtown when they weren’t. Yesterday I broke that rule and journeyed uptown alone after reading an article about Eli Zabar. Having lived in New York for a year now, I hadn’t yet been to a Zabar’s establishment. Why shouldn’t I hop on the 6 train and eat lunch at E.A.T.? And that I did.

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E.A.T. is on Madison between 80th and 81st street. [It has its own website.] The area up there is pristine and lovely in an old New York way. I felt that if New York is enchanted, some of the enchantment lingers here in these parts. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it was Monday and the streets were pretty deserted.

As it was, I made my way into E.A.T. and asked for a table. I got one next to two business men having a very intense meeting. The waitress presented me with this bread basket:

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Eli Zabar is famous for his bread and this bread did not disappoint. Well, the raisin bread didn’t disappoint. The multigrain bread was a little too healthy for me. I slathered it with butter to make up the difference.

As for the menu, prepare yourself: E.A.T. is WAYYYY expensive for what you’re getting. Check out the prices at the site I linked above. A grilled cheese sandwich is (gulp!) $14.50. Yowza.

But I knew that going in. And it’s appropriate for the area. E.A.T. can afford to charge that much because Uppper East Siders can afford to pay that much. It’s a symbiosis sort of thing. Don’t question it, just accept it.

I ordered the scrambled eggs and salmon ($14.50) because I was (a) in the mood for breakfast food; and (b) I figured it was a good test of how E.A.T. revs up a pretty standard dish. Here’s the result:

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I had a strange epiphany while eating this. The epiphany was: these may be the best eggs I’ve ever had, but I don’t like them this good.

I know that’s a strange epiphany, but let me explain. From all the literature I’ve read on scrambled eggs (I have an entire collection (just kidding (did I need to say just kidding?))) I’ve learned that the best way to cook them is on a very low heat, sometimes in a double boiler, to produce a custard like quality. That’s what happened here and these eggs were smooth and custardy. Also, there was a lot of butter involved and that contributed to the richness.

The thing is: eggs are comfort food and part of their comfort comes from how reliably bad they often are. My mom cooks them until they’re brown on top and so does the diner near where I go to school. In fact, most of the eggs I’ve eaten in my life are overcooked–not custardy at all. Dry, brittle, harsh. Just the way I like it.

But E.A.T. was definitely an experience. And if you’re still reeling from the price description, check out this display case on the way out:

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You can see in that picture: roast chickens are $18 each. They had a roast turkey there for $40! My how the other half lives.

After lunching at E.A.T. I made my way over to my favorite museum in New York: The Guggenheim.

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(I took that picture, isn’t it cool?)

The thing I love about the Guggenheim is that you never know what to expect when you go. One time I went with Lisa and they were showing the Matthew Barney Cremaster Cycle and Lisa thought it was gross. There was wax everywhere. Yesterday’s exhibit was Mapplethorpe who was obsessed with the human body. His pictures made me feel fat and worthless. I loved it!

The other thing I love about the Guggenheim is that, like the people in Mapplethorpe’s pictures, it’s very doable. You just spiral up that ramp and look at everything and you’re done in an hour, tops. Plus you know you’ve seen everything as opposed to The Met which I’ve been to 8000 times and I really think I’ve only seen like 2% of it. Ok, that’s a lie, but you get the idea.

After leaving The Guggenheim, I removed notes from my pocket. See I take notes before going somewhere unfamiliar. My notecard, which I have in front of me now, says:

GUGGENHEIM

89th & 5th

E.A.T.

Madison btwn 80th & 81st

LADY M’S

78th & Madison

That last part–Lady M’s–came from a last burst of inspiration. As I was leaving, I remembered Amanda Hesser wrote an article in the NYT Magazine section a while back about one of the best cakes in New York made entirely of crepes and I seemed to remember it was on the Upper East Side. Aha! Here’s the article!

Since I’d worked off all my lunch food climbing the Guggenheim, I felt I was entitled to cake. I made my way down to 78th street and tried every corner (SE, NE, NW) until I realized Lady M’s was on the NEst corner. It’s very easy to miss. Do you see this picture below?

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It’s a little stuffy and scary in there. I snapped this picture of the crepe cake:

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And then I asked permission to sit at a table. Permission was granted. I ordered a glass of water (tap!) and a slice of crepe cake. It was brought promptly:

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Amanda Hesser, on this cake:

“Here’s what it is: 20 (as opposed to 1,000) lacy crepes layered with clouds of whipped-cream-lightened pastry cream. The top crepe is spread with sugar and caramelized like creme brulee. A fork plunged into a slice slides like a shovel through fresh snow. You get a whiff of smoky sugar, then layer after silky-sweet layer.”

It’s true. You get all those things. I must say, though, for better or for worse, it tastes EXACTLY like what you’d expect it to taste like. Meaning: a lot of crepes stacked on top of each other with pastry cream in between them. The smoky top part had the most flavor. I enjoyed the uniqueness of the experience but I wasn’t huzzah-ing.

Yet, the cake was so subtle and so (for lack of a better word) special (ugh!) that I feel it’s worth revisiting. I watched the woman behind the counter take a cloth and polish the exposed part of the cake stand from where they’d just cut my slice. That’s passion for you.

And that’s a chocolate turtle.

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I snapped the pic on the way out. I don’t think anyone minded. All the other desserts looked terrific too and the place reminded me a little of Chickalicious in the East Village. Both places have this white and glass modernistic feel and both have a slight whiff of the science lab. Between the two I choose Lady M because you get whole slices of cake and everything looks absolutely drop dead gorgeous. Like the people in the Mapplethorpe prints which I’ll never look like if I keep eating cake! Where’s Marie Antoinette when you need her?

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.

Doing Daniel

This website has served me well regarding the sway I hold over my parents in determining where it is we are going to eat. Pre-website, our conversations went something like this:

Mom: Where should we go to dinner?

Me: Let’s go to an elegant four-star restaurant!

Dad: Let’s go eat steak.

Mom: Steak it is.

Me: Fools! Unsophisticated oafs! I curse your jejune palates!

Now they go like this:

Mom: Were would you like to go when we come to town?

Me: Daniel.

Dad: Is it for your website?

Me: Yes. Thousands of readers are depending on me to eat well when you’re paying.

Mom: Ok, let’s go.

Dad: Fools! Let’s eat steak.

Tonight we scratched off the next in my list of 4-star New York restaurants I desire to eat at. Thus far we’ve sashayed our way through Per Se and shimmied our way through Jean-Georges. Here was Daniel and we were ready to cha-cha.

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(“That picture won’t come out,” said dad regarding the above picture.

“Yes it will,” I replied.

“You’ll see, the flash will bounce off the metal. It won’t come out.”

Ha! I guess he was…. right.)

We went through the revolving door and found ourselves in a stately pleasure dome. Alph, the sacred river, ran through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea. Or something like that. Anyway, there were flowers and gilded fixtures and lush fabrics and polished waiters, hosts and busboys regarding us with measured warmth. We gave our name to the hostess and she asked us kindly to wait at the bar for them to prepare our table.

At the bar, we watched incredibly distinguished-looking people come in and out. Honestly, I’ve never seen people look more distinguished. All the men were like Ben Kingsley characters (minus Ghandi) and the women Blythe Danners by way of Norma Desmond. The sparkling jewelry, the coiffed hair, the hankerchiefs in the suit pockets–we were in awe. Or at least I was. Mom and dad looked at their watches. What was taking so long?

Finally (about 15 minutes in) we were shown our table. Walking into that dining room is breath-taking. Gorgeous flower displays and the simultaneous vastness and intimacy of the room quickly overwhelm the senses. I felt like I was walking into a palace or the dining room from “Titanic” (minus Ghandi). Check out this picture of mom, dad and I at the table and notice the flowers behind us. Gorgeous, no?

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The wine you see before us was quite difficult to order. Difficult in the sense that the wine list came in two giant books that my dad displays for you now:

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The waiter steered us well though. I told mom to ask him to point out a reasonably priced white wine (since we all agreed on white wine). The waiter didn’t flinch or condescend. He chose a Pinot Grigio for us that was truly magnificent. If I were more wine-conscious I’d tell you the name of it. Instead I’ll make one up: Chateau Parerre Fantoinette with a twist of lemon.

Now for the food. In bold: The Food Truly wonderful.

In fact, I wondered if Daniel himself anticipated my arrival. This soup would suggest as much:

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Butternut squash soup with homemade marshmallows and sides of pumpkin seeds, some kind of croutons(?) and huckleberry puree. You know me and my sweet tooth. I was in heaven: sweet and savory and mature. (A little hot, though—I burnt my gullet.) (You burnt your gullet?) (Yes, I just said that. I burnt my gullet.)

The entree was the glorious waiter-recommended Venison.

“You’re eating Bambi,” said dad.

“No,” I corrected him. “I’m eating Bambi’s mom.”

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Truthfully, I chose this because of the sides: sweet potatoes and pears. A sweet red sauce with foie gras in it capped things off. An outstandingly accomplished dish. In fact, it occurred to me on my way to the bathroom what four-star dining is all about.

“Here’s what four-star dining is all about,” I said to myself while passing the maitre’d, “it’s about taking an ingredient (like Venison) and saying to everyone in the world, ‘What is the best possible way to prepare this Venison? What is the absolute most you can do with it?” The Rachel Rays come along and say, “Well we can stick it in a toaster and spritz it with butter and sprinkle it with cheese.” The Martha Stewarts uncuff themselves and say, “Well we can slice it with shaving razors and roll the product into rose-shapes which we attach to homemade bread sticks that we tie into a bouquet and present in a Lalique Vase.”

Daniel Boulud comes along and with a magic wand points and explodes the Venison into uber-Venison; a Venison no one could have fathomed but that everyone stands in awe of. I can’t conceive of this meat prepared in a better way. This is perfection. This is four-star dining.

(End rant.)

Dessert was a simple understated riff on a pineapple theme:

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Whatever that frothy stuff is in the cup it’s miraculous. Like eating a cloud.

And of course these free fresh out of the oven madelines (<--corrected from "macaroons"--thanks Kim): IMG_10.JPG

Conclusion

So the food was, without a doubt, phenomenal. However, I’m going to give Jean-Georges a slight edge over Daniel. Here’s the reason: Daniel and Jean-Georges both serve equally brilliant food. At Jean-Georges, however, the room is smaller and more intimate. The waiters are attentive and unrushed. Here the waiters seemed overwhelmed. Daniel is a much bigger restaurant and it seemed there was much more to do. There was bustle behind the scenes. (We were near the kitchen entry-way.) Trays flew in and out. Our waiter often looked preoccupied.

But really, that previous paragraph is ridiculous. Daniel is wonderful. If you have the opportunity to eat there, do so. I insist.

The Hurricane Dining Sessions: BLT Steak

Seems that God (or whomever it is that controls the weather) (Al Roker?) must be a fan of this website. As my parents are propelled North to escape the mighty winds of a series of successive hurricanes, I get to eat out a lot and you get to read about it. Score!

Last night was a bit of a compromise. Dad likes steakhouses, I like gourmet food. Alas, there’s the new BLT Steakhouse—the perfect answer for our convoluted needs. (Mom has needs too, but they’re not so much content-based as context-based. BLT fit her trendy quotient).

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There are two ways to read our evening.

1) We are nice humble people and arriving 30 minutes early we were treated terribly by waitstaff who refused to seat us for 20 minutes despite the fact that we called first and they said its ok.

2) We are bad evil people who showed up 20 minutes early and demanded a table despite lack of availability.

Either way, we were sat by a freckly redhead and were soon greeted by a rather stiff waiter. We asked for help with the wine list and after mom asked, “How’s this?” pointing to a red that looked nice, he shrugged and said: “That’s a good one.”

We were served chicken liver mousse. (No picture taken, but this was nice. Foie gras-ish with a red wine layer on top.)

Then killer pop-overs:

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These were mighty filling but mighty enjoyable. Mom snatched dad’s away so he wouldn’t ruin his dinner. I exhibited self-control and only ate half.

My appetizer was the waiter-recommended figs wrapped in ham with goat cheese:

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Rich and delicious. Notice how the presentation echoes presentations at Jean-Georges and Per Se. This is a Frenchified steakhouse—very formal, very pristine. Dad ordered a lobster salad and mom tuna tartare. All of us were equally satisfied.

Then for the steak. Mine came out beautifully:

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Mom’s was a bit more problematic. She ordered it medium rare (“red center,” she told the waiter when she ordered) and, cutting into it, saw gray and pink. Not medium rare at all; not even medium.

She called a waiter over and she said, “This isn’t medium rare.” And he said, “It isn’t?” as if to challenge her. But he caught himself mid-argument and agreed to remove it to the kitchen since for the money we were spending we should get the food that we ordered. Soon he returned with a properly cooked steak. Mom was happy.

I’ll be honest, the steak was just fine. Not terrific. What upped the ante, though, was a series of dipping sauces that came with the meat. I ordered two: horseradish and red wine. Dad ordered peppercorn and mustard trio. Mom ordered Bernaise. The dipping sauces added a lot to the steak, but the steak itself could have been more flavorful.

As for sides there was creamed spinach, Hen of the Woods mushrooms, and onion rings:

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All expertly done but not as thrilling as the first course. Maybe because steakhouse food is so standard that even the most glorious preparation will always seem somewhat uneventful. I’m not sure. But there’s talent in the kitchen at BLT Steak, that’s for sure.

Next hurricane, we’ll have to try Peter Luger’s…