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