Category Archives: Misc.

Pies n’ Thighs

June 24, 2010 | By Adam Roberts | 0 Comments

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It took two trains to meet my friend Cole for lunch in Williamsburg–a D to Grand Street and then a J to Marcy Ave.–and for some, that might be a long way to go for a lunch time meal. Not me: especially when that lunch time meal is comprised of fried chicken and pie.

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Baked

April 22, 2009 | By Adam Roberts | 11 Comments

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Ok, class, we’re about to take a field trip: does everyone have a trip buddy? Find a buddy now. David Lebovitz, no, you can’t be buddies with Perez Hilton: he’s not in our class. This is a food class, not a gossip class, ok? Now then, I hope you’re all hungry because we’re about to visit one of the best bakeries not only in Brooklyn, but all of New York; it’s a bakery with an awesome cookbook from which I made that easy homemade granola and also those oatmeal cookies with cardamom. Remember those? Well then you should be excited because here we are: welcome to Baked!

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Get Saved at Di Fara

May 10, 2007 | By Adam Roberts | 34 Comments

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When people talk about food in religious terms, I often feel like a documentary filmmaker interviewing a member of a cult. Their eyes bug out of their heads, their hands gesticulate wildly: “I saw the face of God in the Pearl Oyster Bar lobster roll.”

Granted, I’ve been guilty of the same thing. I get a little spiritual when it comes to fantastic food. But I draw the line at missionary-style zeal: I don’t proselytize at dinner parties about why such-and-such a burger is the Jesus of hamburgers and why eating any other kind of burger makes you a sinner. I’m more of a Jewish mother than a Baptist minister when it comes to food: I may needle you and urge you to “put some more meat on your bones,” but I won’t baptize you in a bowl of Momofuku ramen.

In the pantheon of proselytizing foodies, none are worse, in my opinion, than the Di Fara-philes. The Katz’s Deli-ites may bully you a bit, but soon they leave you alone. The Ssam Bar cronies shoot you menacing looks as you walk past, but you can ignore them. Not so Di Fara-philes. They’re the Jim Bakers of the food world: verbally slapping you around until you relent and admit that Di Fara pizza is not only the greatest pizza that’s ever happened, but the greatest contribution mankind has made to the universe next to fire and the wheel.

I have felt the wrath of Di Fara-philes first hand, mostly because I’ve lived in New York for three years and–up until last week–I had never been there. “You’ve never been to Di Fara?!” they’d say as if they’d seen into the core of my soul and found a huge, festering wound. “What kind of food blogger are you?”

Like a 13-year old Jewish atheist forced to have a Bar Mitzvah, I consulted the Rabbi–in this case, Adam Kuban who told me how to get there and what to order (“Just a plain cheese pie”)–invited my friend Patty, who also hadn’t been sanctified in the waters of Di Fara, and boarded the Q train to Ave. J, ready to save our souls.

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What New York Magazine Calls The Best Cheap Eat In New York: Dinner at Tanoreen

April 4, 2007 | By Adam Roberts | 12 Comments

Ok, get this straight: The New York Times gives out a maximum of four stars, most of which go to expensive uptown restaurants, the cheaper restaurants relegated to the “$25 and Under” column. New York Magazine, on the other hand, gives out a maximum of five stars, most of which go to expensive restaurants, though not necessarily uptown, and the cheaper restaurants aren’t relegated to a separate column, they’re relegated to a separate star system–a HOLLOW star system–so if you look in the back of New York Magazine and see five black stars next to a restaurant, you know it’s an expensive five-star restaurant, and if you see five hollow stars next to a restaurant, you know it’s a cheaper five-star restaurant. At least when I last subscribed. Did you follow all that?

Don’t worry. All you need to know is that when New York Magazine did it’s Cheap Eats issue, last year, they gave this restaurant–Tanoreen–five stars (hollow stars) and ranked it the #1 best cheap eat in New York:

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Said New York Magazine: “We’re not unreasonable people. We wouldn’t send you to the ends of the earth (not the earth, maybe, just the R line; it’s the third-to-last stop) without good reason. That reason is spice alchemist Rawia Bishara, whose métier is the cuisine of the Middle East, as her mother cooked it in Nazareth and as Bishara brilliantly reinterprets it. The modest storefront’s display case contains treasures untold, garlic-amped parsley-ringed platters that challenge long-held perceptions about the true nature of things as pedestrian as hummus and baba ghannouj.”

A description like this sticks in ones craw, and a full year later, while chatting with Patty online, I convinced her to join me and Craig for a journey out to Bay Ridge to eat at the Per Se of cheap food. This is the story of our dinner at Tanoreen.

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

June 20, 2005 | By Adam Roberts | 18 Comments

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

“What’s Il Mulino?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How’s the bread?” asked my mom.

“MYOAHAHYAUH,” I heard.

“What?” I replied.

“HOW’S THE BREAD?”

“THE BREAD’S GOOD HOW’S YOUR BREAD.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For my lunch entree I had a duck BLT:

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

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

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

“What’s that!” I fumed.

“Nothing,” she said, hiding the packet.

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

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

***

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

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

Now—back to the food. Focus, focus…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 16, 2005 | By Adam Roberts | 16 Comments

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.

Take Me To The River (Cafe)

August 15, 2004 | By Adam Roberts | 4 Comments

Months ago, mom talked about our River Cafe reservation.

“The weekend after you move to New York, we’re going to the River Cafe for my birthday,” she said. “It’s very special: you should be very excited.”

To be honest, I wasn’t that excited. The only thing I knew about the River Cafe was that Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser eat there every New Year’s Day. Consequently, I attempted to manipulate mom into changing the reservation.

“As long as we’re going for fancy French food,” I’d say, “Why not Alain Ducasse? Daniel? Jean-Georges?”

But mom stayed firm. “Wait until you see the view,” she’d reply.

So we made our way across the Brooklyn Bridge last night (where The River Cafe is located, on the East River) and my arms were folded in skepticism.

“River Cafe,” I grumbled, “More like LIVER Cafe.”

(I like to grumble in non-sensical rhyme).

Soon we were there:

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Immediately, upon entering, my icy interior began to melt. The largest cluster of flowers I’d ever seen–literally, a forest of flowers–adorned the lobby. I’d never seen so many flowers in one place and the smell was like a punch of beauty.

We were led to the bar area where we were told to have a drink. Instead, we crept outside and soaked in the view. It was gorgeous.

Luckily, the food was equally gorgeous. We had a genial/helpful waiter who led us capably through the menu. First, though, dad surprised us by channeling a gangsta rapper and ordering a bottle of Cristal for the table. The waiter popped the cork enthusiastically:

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The money shot:

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Immediately, the taste conjured forth the poetry of our age:

“Cristal forever, play the crib when it’s mink weather / The M.A.F.I.A. keep canons in they Marc Buchanans.” – Notorious B.I.G.

“This fed time outta town pie flipper / Turn Cristal into a Crooked I sipper.” – P. Diddy

“Her name was Lola / She was a showgirl / Sipping Cristal at the bar, Jackie hit her with his car.” – B. Manilow.

Actually, label me unhip, but Cristal left me unimpressed. In a blind-folded taste-test I’d have trouble differentiating it from the stuff they give away for free on cruise ships. Unless they give out Cristal for free on cruise ships, in which case it was pretty good.

Moving on…

The meal started with an intense lobster consomme, served in a mini-mug:

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It made me think of a quote from Ruth Reichl’s “Tender At The Bone” concerning her first fancy chicken consomme: “It tasted like a million chickens died to make it.” Same goes for the lobster.

Next was my appetizer of choice: Terrine of Foie Gras with Port and ginger poached plum, spiced almond brittle, brioche melba toast:

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I figured since we were fine dining, foie gras was the way to go. And it was! Now I’m starting to really enjoy foie gras (not that it’s a habit I can keep up). I know how inhumane it is–the whole force-feeding ducks until their livers expand 10-fold leaves me feeling queasy, but I’ve yet to work out the ideological issues concerning foie gras so that I can still stuff my face with ethical immunity. The silky, smooth livery foie gras contrasted gorgeously with the plum and the almond brittle. Then the waiter was kind enough to bring out a glass of the suggested paired wine, 2001 Maison Nicolas Reserve Sauternes:

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Never before in my brief culinary career has a wine paired so wonderfully with a food: it was like Sauternes was born to chase foie gras down my gullet. I loved it.

Next, the waiter surprised us with a round of free appetizers. Mom had of course bragged that I was the Amateur Gourmet and so the waiter, perhaps, noticing my picture-taking attempted to seduce us with free food. What nerve! To think that I, a respected online food journalist, could be seduced by plates and plates of Buffalo steak tartare?

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Did he think I’d notice the quail egg, the Cognac gelee, the traditional garnish, the toast points? Ok, I noticed the quail egg:

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See how it’s holding salt? How adorable! What a salty quail that might have produced.

There was also a special appetizer of roast suckling pig ragu and foie gras ravioli:

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Look for me at the gym this week, strapped ceaselessly to a treadmill at 10-speed. Just the appetizers alone shortened my life by three years. (Though, despite the fact that she’s dead, isn’t it remarkable that Julia Child spent her life eating fatty buttery French food and lived to be 92? Perhaps I’ll skp that treadmill after all.)

For my entree I chose the duck. I love duck, it’s one of my favorite entrees.

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This was advertised as “Crispy Duck Breast” and I must confess that it wasn’t very crispy. However, it was tasty paired with fresh Bing cherry “agrodolce” (I don’t know what that means), white asparagus spears, duck confit-potato cake, and foie gras sauce. Wow, I ate a lot of foie gras last night. (Liver Cafe indeed!)

For dessert, of course another candle for mom whose actual birthday moment had come:

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Happy Birthday mom!

And look at her dessert: a chocolate Brooklyn Bridge.

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I went with a plum/apple tart that was indeed delicious:

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The waiter gilded the Lily with free summer berry pudding:

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Plus there were little treats at the end that I, the eternal treat-eater, couldn’t even stomach. I was stuffed to the gils. Thank God that was my last meal with my parents! I need this week to deflate.

As for the River Cafe, resistence is futile. It’s a beautiful–perhaps the most beautiful–New York dining spot. The only place my dad says came close is no longer there: the Windows on the World at the top of the World Trade Center. Actually, I must say that since I’ve arrived to New York the absence of the World Trade Center in the skyline is as present as any of the real buildings still there. I grew up drawing the twin towers in my juvenile attempts at a skyline, and staring at the lower tip of Manhattan from the River Cafe one does feel a sense of loss. But then one turns inside and sees the gleaming faces, the shimmering water reflected in the windows and one knows that New York–wounded so greatly three years ago–is still very much a live, magical city. Bravo, River Cafe.