My friend Lisa recently moved to her own apartment on the Upper West Side and before I left for my trip, I went uptown to see the place, to give it my blessing (I smashed a bottle of Bartles & James on the door), and to join her for dinner.
“Where should we go?” asked Lisa, smartly deferring to me because of my strong opinions regarding food and restaurants.
“I don’t know,” I replied coyly, wanting to appear open-minded and non-domineering.
“We could go to–”
“FAIRWAY CAFE,” I shouted, creating an awkward moment that took a few minutes to dissipate.
“Regina Schrambling always writes about The Fairway Cafe on her blog,” I explained. “It’s upstairs at Fairway.”
“I know,” Lisa replied, a bit irritated at my know-it-all-ness. “I’ve been there for brunch.”
“How was it?”
“Awesome,” I said. “So let’s go there.”
As stated in the previous dialogue, The Fairway Cafe is upstairs at the Fairway supermarket. It’s a surprising space: there above the yellow-tinted store, with fluorescent lights and super-packed aisles, is a cozy restaurant that is rather elegant, especially for a store in a supermarket.
Here is Lisa holding her menu:
That picture gives you a great sense of the space. Isn’t that a surprisingly elegant space for a supermarket restaurant?
Wait ’til you see the food. To quote my grandmother, “What a bargain!”
Actually, my grandmother might not consider $31 for three courses a bargain, but I do. Especially when the food is of such a high caliber.
To start, they bring out wonderfully moist rosemary focaccia and an unctuous eggplant dip:
Lisa and I ordered a bottle of wine that was surprisingly cheap, though, since this happened two weeks ago, I don’t remember the kind of wine or the cost. I do remember it was white and that it came in a bottle.
Now here’s where things get sexy; check out the heirloom tomato salad Lisa and I both had at the start of our meals:
If there’s one dish that’s overdone in summer, it’s the heirloom tomato/mozzarella salad that’s practically a requirement on restaurant menus. Yet, this one brought a huge smile to both of our faces; doesn’t it bring a smile to yours? And the vinegar drizzled on top was aged 10 years so it was extra sticky, extra sweet and extra flavorful. And the balance of everything was terrific; it’s a showstopper.
I had skate for my entree and somehow this plate reminds me of Batman’s Two-Face or The Phantom of The Opera:
On the left side of the plate you have this awesomely attractive piece of skate, cooked with generous amounts of butter, sprinkled with parsley and paprika and lemon juice and then, on the right side of the plate, you have two potatoes sliced haphazardly in half and thrown, rather clumsily, on to the plate.
“The left side of this plate is so pretty,” I remarked to Lisa, “but the right side is sort of weird.”
Lisa nodded her head, “Yeah, it’s weird how they just gave you two small potatoes.”
I didn’t take a picture of Lisa’s entree but I know it was vegetarian because Lisa is a vegetarian. Ah yes, it was some kind of pasta with tomatoes and basil. Lisa enjoyed it.
“Mmmm,” said Lisa. “This is tasty.”
Now it’s time to introduce another delightful factor into the mix: the jolly man/manager who was sitting at a table behind us managing the phone and the papers. I assume he runs the Fairway Cafe and he took a liking to us. He teased Lisa for being a vegetarian and then he asked her if she liked cupcakes. When the entrees were cleared, before we ordered our dessert, he brought out a cupcake for us to share:
Wasn’t that generous? And isn’t that a nice-looking cupcake? It was nice-tasting too.
The two desserts we ordered (which were included in our meals) included one big winner and one moderate let-down. Let’s start with the letdown, this plum cobbler:
The inside was a bit flavorless and the outside a bit overdone. “Meh,” said Lisa. “It’s ok.”
My dessert was flawless and memorable; meet lemon meringue pie:
That picture, like the picture of the tomato salad, should be on Fairway Cafe billboards because the image alone speaks so powerfully. I mean, isn’t that a gorgeous piece of lemon meringue pie? Could you imagine a better looking piece? And the taste was superbly tart and tangy and totally righteous. (The last part of that sentence was written by a surfer.)
In conclusion, sometimes you must bully your friends who move into new apartments to eat where you want them to eat. And Lisa, I hope, was very happy she was bullied into The Fairway Cafe. It was a relaxing, stress-free meal with food that you’d find at more intimidating, stress-inducing restaurants. That, alone, makes The Fairway Cafe a place to keep on your short list the next time you visit a friend on The Upper West side.