Monday, April 6, 2015

Return to New York+

Hello, patient readers, you few, you special.  We just returned from two weeks in New York and several people have asked for suggestions for their upcoming trips and so I oblige:

OLD FAVORITES: Our trips do not seem complete with a visit to the bar at Keen's Steakhouse. On our last visit, we went to the main restaurant which was fabulous and had leftover mutton chop for another meal.  The bar has a smaller cut, but the meat is perfect, juicy, pink, and loaded with flavor. Simply served with braised escarole, but all meals are accompanied by terrific small rolls and most splendid sweet butter (I asked about the brand--Grand President). The buvette steak salad had a perfectly cooked 5-6 oz. steak with a romaine salad. The added treat at the bar this time were plump chicken wings.  Good wines by the glass.
The BBQ brisket sandwich at Mighty Quinn is mighty delicious and the baked beans with burnt ends is one the world's great dishes. The pulled pork is pretty good too.  They now have several locations, including Battery Park City's Hudson Eats with a spectacular view of the Hudson.  We love the croissants, pain au chocolat and small quiches at Patisserie Claude on W. 4th Street.  Prices are amazingly low for such high quality-- each would be at least $1 more uptown. And the word is definitely out about the cookies at Levain on W. 74th St.  They're still $4 per, which seemed a lot last year. Nice to see they're holding steady. The rustic baguette was also good.
Motorino on E. 10th is one of my favorite pizzas.  We went for brunch and had the brunch pizza with pancetta and eggs on top and the always delicious sopresseta.  Salads are great and a nice surprise was the octopus appetizer--tender and flavorful. If you can get there for lunch, they have  a salad/pizza combo for $12.  Always dependable is a slice from Joe's on Carmine, busy so right out of the oven.  I also tried a slice from Bleecker Street Pizza down the block and it was quite good too. Crust was fair but toppings and sauce very good.
A wondrous 5-course lunch for $55 at Bouley was to me a very good deal.  We got the wine pairings which were also a good deal but the total tab was quite wondrous too. The restaurant moved since our last visit and it is a beautiful French country room, but pretty formal. Reminded me of Taillevant in Paris, if I may drop a name. The coolest part was a bread cart with 10 different breads.  Each of had a pile of brioche, levain, and savory loaves. Highlights: the porcini flan with crab and the forager's mushroom treasure, and the hot carmelized Anjou pear (one of the best desserts I have ever had and that's saying a lot).  The highlight of the wines was a 1999 dry Vouvray, unctuous and rich almost like a sauterne.
Our deli choice this time was Carnegie Deli.  Our trick is to get the food to go-- no wait and no split charges.  One corned beef sandwich and one matza ball soup to go.  Enough for dinner for 2 and lunch the next day. Both were incredible. It may be a tourist trap but easy to see why. 

NEW FAVORITES: Russ and Daughters Cafe is a brilliant idea. A hip LES comfortable cafe featuring the great smoked meats from the mother ship. Our brunch consisted of a classic Gaspe lox on bagel with cream cheese and capers and a platter with the best potato latkes, Gaspe lox, and sunnyside up eggs.
A truly special dinner was happily consumed at NoMad, in-chef Daniel Humm's new and packed restaurant. Prices were reasonable for such great food.  The chicken for 2 was the best chicken dish we've ever had. Stuffed with foie gras, truffle and brioche, every bite was heaven.  The suckling pig was pretty wonderful too.  The pear salad and beets first courses were perfect and the rooms are beautiful.  Service was very helpful and good wines by the glass. Quite a schlep to the restrooms.
The Dutch is a fairly new Soho restaurant famous for the fried chicken which it turns out is not served at dinner.  I settled for the skate wings which was perfectly cooked and adorned with crab. The foie gras terrine was scrumptious and the apple pie served 4 nicely (at $18 it should). Nice room and good service on a cold, snowy evening. All wines are American! I did get my fried chicken fix at Hill Country Chicken's branch in Brooklyn.  Nicely fried but the crust is a little crackery.
Our new pizza experience was at Franny's in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I've read about it for years and the pizza is truly wonderful.  A classic margherita is the test for me and it more than passed.  Appetizers are very good and an interesting all-Italian wine list helps.
We chanced into 44&X for an after-theater meal. Food and wine were quite good, especially the scallops appetizer which made a good meal with a lovely arugula salad. Salmon tartare was delicious and a very fine wines by the glass selection made it a place worth a return visit.  Another good find fairly close to the theater district is Taboon, a Mediterranean-Mid-eastern delight of a restaurant. Good cocktails, great bread, and an assortment of outstanding mezes made a really good meal.  A standout was the teramasaleta.
I think that's it.  So many more to try and so many to return to. Always hard to decide but all around  a stomachful of delight. And, of course, I had to get my dozens of Ess-a-bagel pumpernickel bagels to bring home.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


My kind of food town, Chicago is.  Going a few days early for a family wedding,  we walked and ate our way through town. Our best meal was brunch at cousin-recommended Little Goat, a sister restaurant to the Girl and the Goat, run by Stephanie Izard of Top Chef fame.  We feasted on the  best corned beef hash, bulls-eye French toast (egg cooked in a hole in the center of the toast) with fried chicken, kim chee bacon and eggs, oatmeal, and a terrific gluten-free pineapple muffin  and a fresh and rich cinnabun.  This is a fantastic informal cafe in the West Loop (820 W. Randolph).
Another wonderful dinner was an old stand-by in Greektown, Santorini (Halsted), featuring large portions, freshly made, good service, and a happy vibe.  Excellent appetizers of grilled octopus and a mixed mezes plate whet our appetites for "authentic Greek chicken", shrimp Santorini, pastichio, and fresh fish.  Unfortunately they were out of the daily lamb specials. Must go back.
The best pizza we had was from Lou Malnati's (439 North Wells Street, but many locations) delivered to our room, but still so good.  Great as leftovers too.  My new Chicago pizza favorite was the Chicago Classic with marvelous sausage and a butter crust, rich tomato sauce and a large amount of cheese.  We were also lucky enough to have the rehearsal dinner at a Gino's East, which used to be my favorite Chicago pizza. Their crust has more cornmeal than Lou's but the sausage is less thrilling.
Another old-time Chicago favorite we got to enjoy was Portillo's, sort of a high-class fast food place at 100 W. Ontario.  We had classic Chicago hot dogs and fries and strawberry shortcake.  Also got to try their great Italian beef sandwich.  We had breakfast at the also classic (85 years) Lou Mitchell's (565 W Jackson) which is great to be in, but the food is really not that special. I do appreciate the gratis donut hole as a starter. Eggs and potatoes and corned beef hash, decent but no desire to return.  I did have a great old-fashioned donut at what I guess is an in-spot at 939 W. Armitage and elsewhere, Glazed and Infused.  $2.50 which I think is pretty high for a donut.  The incomparable Stan's in Santa Clara is still under $1.
On a recommendation, we went to Twin Anchors (1655 N. Sedgwick), another 80+ yearer,  for ribs and they were great.  A neighborhood bar visited by Frank Sinatra, which they never let you forget.  Ribs were very tender, sauces very tasty, onion rings and baked beans superb, and service was very special.  A journey from the Loop but well worth it.
Right in the heart of the Loop and very close to the spectacular Millenium Park and the ever-wonderful Chicago Cultural Center (you must go see the Tiffany ceiling), we found Heaven on 7 (111 N. Wabash), a Creole joint with a delicious soft shell crab po'boy, excellent beans and cole slaw, and an amazing variety of hot sauces.  Seemingly hidden on the 7th floor of a small office building, it's definitely worth discovering.
And a classic always worth rediscovering is Frontera Grill, (445 N. Clark) where Rick Bayless offers fabulous Mexican food made with the finest ingredients.  Our brunch included beef and pork tacos, huevos Motulenos (a Yucatan dish), and tortilla soup. I also stopped by XOCO, Bayless's informal branch around the corner for an excellent Mexican hot chocolate and chilaquiles.
Paying homage to Frank Lloyd Wright with a visit to Oak Park, we stopped for lunch at the very decent Delia's Kitchen (1034 W. Lake St) a block and a half from both Unity Temple and the Wright homes on Forest Ave. Great soups of the day (fluffy matza ball and Mideastern lentil), a very generous Cobb salad and turkey sandwich, friendly servers who make you feel welcome, and convenience to the sights make this a great find.
I left Chicago 5 pounds heavier, well-sated, and toddlin' home. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

San Diego Quick Trip

Went for a quick trip to visit my new great-nephew in San Diego.  A little over 2 days and hard decisions about where to eat.  It worked out pretty well.  I used Eater San Diego’s 38 Essential Restaurants as a guide and family recommendations to back them up. My nephew highly recommended Aqui es Texcoco in Chula Vista (1043 Broadway) where we had a lunch feast with out of the ordinary Mexican food.  The main ingredient is lamb, which I don’t see too often on menus at cheap Mexican places. Started with a marvelous lamb broth with hominy followed by 3 lamb tacos (rib meat, grilled,  and cabeza). They were joined by huitlocoche and squash blossom quesadillas and guacamole with cactus. Everything was delicious, altho in last place was the huitlocoche, of which I had very high expectations. The house-made sangria was great too and the service was so welcoming and friendly, I’d happily return any time. 

I managed to fit in one fish taco from Nine Seas/ German Mariscos  taco truck in South Park.  One good- sized piece of fish with just the right amount of coating and served with cabbage and sauce.  Everything is made fresh as you wait so you’ll probably have a little wait. Lime and more sauce are self-serve. And it’s only $1.75.  They have a famous marlin taco for $4 said to be quite large.  I had just finished a decent breakfast at Big Kitchen across the street (3003 Grape) so I could only handle the one taco.  Big Kitchen is a great old hippie place refreshingly un-San Diego with famous breakfasts and lunches.  Their old claim to fame was that Whoopi Goldberg once worked there, but it’s sustained itself on good food at good prices.  Eggs done just right, good bacon, good home fries.  A classic.

Another consistently good breakfast can be had at The Mission.  We had brunch at the Mission Beach original (3795 Mission Blvd.).  The Breakfast Rosemary is just a darn god breakfast, great rosemary potatoes, scrambled eggs, and rosemary toast.  Excellent cinnamon bread toast makes a pleasant meal served with fresh fruit, and the blueberry pancakes are huge and yummy.  Very good hot chocolate.  Close by, in Pacific Beach, we had one ofthe best seafood dinners ever at The Fishery (5040 Cass St). We took advantage of Tuesday Tastings and would go back any Tuesday I’m in San Diego. For $28 plus $12 for wine pairings, you get a 4 course beautifully prepared menu. We adored the first course of fried oysters, the salad of faro with fresh cherries, and the just caught white sea bass.  Each main ingredient has perfect accompaniment, such as tangerine slices with the oysters or a rich mayonnaise with the bass.  Perfect wine pairings, a fresh fruit dessert, and excellent service put this restaurant at the top of our favorites. 

I had high hopes for take-out food from Sab E Lee Thai in Linda Vista (2405 Ulric).  None of the 6 dishes thrilled, although the seafood salad had plenty of seafood and flavor and the papaya salad satisfied. The pad see ewe was mediocre and the catfish larb was mainly spicy.  Combination fried rice was a good foil, but the fried chicken was overcooked.  We had a more satisfying lunch downtown at Lotus Thai (909 Market), where I enjoyed the mas-su-mam beef. It’s pretty close to the new main library, so both are worth checking out once the library opens in September.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

New York Spring

Ah, Spring in New York, 40 degrees, no wait 80 degrees, sunny, no wait, rainy and cold.  But you can always find safe harbor in some great restaurants.  So here are my 2013 munchings:

Pizza: Always have to get a major pizza fix in NY. Best pizza had this trip was at Luzzo’s (211-13 1st Ave.).  I had never heard of it atho it uses a 100 year old coal oven so I think it's been around awhile.  2 of us shared a beautiful salad and a large margherita, Highly rated in Zagat and for good reason.  I returned to Motorino but this time at East Village site (349 E.12th). Their amazing lunch deal of a choice of 4 pizzas and a fresh salad for $12 cannot be beat.  The margherita was totally satisfying, with a nicely crisp crust  and the right proportions of sauce to cheese.  Only disappointment was their recommended pizza wine, which was lightly fruity but bland.  Another new delight was at Don Antonio (309 W. 50th) which has a mother restaurant in Neopolitan ??and known for their Montorano Starita, an individual-sized pie, lightly fried crust with sauce, smoked mozzarella cooked in  a wood-fired oven. A Pontina ?? salad with spring greens, fresh mozzarella and grape tomatoes made another perfect lunch.

Since it’s always important to try new Italian restaurants, we did our duty at Locanda Verde, very famous and hard to get in.  We went early and besides middling service, had some very good food.  The asparagus appetizer was superb with a poached duck? egg blessing the thick and luscious spears. The Locanda salad with dried cherries and speck was delightful. We went with pastas.  I had to order “My Grandmother’s ravioli” , which ended up being nothing that special besides the nostalgic naming. The daily pasta was a spinach noodle with a light pork ragu. A side of roasted carrots with olive, citrus, and yogurt was perfect.

The best dish of the trip was the crispy watercress salad with shrimp, squid, and chicken at SriPraPhai in Woodside, Queens (6413 39th Ave). I’ve never tasted anything like this spicy, flavorful, texturally magnificent dish.  I’ve been trying to find it on Thai menus in the Bay Area without success.  The other outstanding dish was fried soft shell crab topped with chili, garlic and basil. Noodle dishes and curries were fine too, but the first 2 are big winners and worth the long ride to Woodside.  Our other borough dining treat was at Walter’s in Fort Greene, Brooklyn (166 DeKalb), where we feasted on ceviche, fresh fish, excellent fried chicken, superb Brussels sprouts, and key lime pie.  A cool, neighborhood gathering spot.

A day spent at Grounds for Sculpture in southern New Jersey included a great lunch at Rat’s, which offers a 3 course lunch prix fixe for about $25 with good choices for each course.  I had a yummy onion soup and a barley risotto, a nice variation on grains. The hamburger is beautiful and they follow a farm-to-table philosophy. House made gelati were all excellent.  The sculpture park is a delight and worth the hour train trip from NYC.

More Manhattan dinner highlights were: A return trip to the bar at Keen’s (72W.36th) where we shared oysters and their unique and fantastic mutton chop. The Manhattans are nice and strong, the rolls and butter perfect, and it’s a fun scene, reasonably priced.  Modern Korean fare with especially good kimchi was enjoyed at Danji (346 W. 52), an in-spot where we got seated at the bar after a ½ hour wait among young marketing mavens. The excellent bartender with good wine and food advice made it all OK. Spicy yellowtail sashimi, cool and lovely fresh pea soup, chorizo paella were highlights, altho the well-known pork belly sliders have been eclipsed by other restaurants.  Everyone there seems to order them tho.  The best Greek meal I’ve ever had was our dinner at Pylos (128 E 7th)  where everything was prepared perfectly, service was excellent, wines were good, portions large, prices reasonable, and the pita was unbelievable.  The gigante beans  the grilled octopus, and the whole bronzino were of special note.  I wanted to try everything on the menu.

Lunches provided many memorable moments.  The 3-course lunch at Nougatine by Jean-Georges is a fantastic deal at $32.  I paid an $8 supplement for the best foie gras terrine I’ve ever had with a slightly spicy passionfruit meringue on top as my first course.  Sheila had a lovely tuna tartare. Our entrees of roasted black bass and crispy baked chicken showed off the cooking expertise with the main ingredient complemented by perfect preparation and side dishes. Each bite is a pleasure. The famous warm chocolate cake and the vanilla ice cream with rhubarb puree ended almost perfect meals.  We loved our wines by the glass featuring real treasures, especially a pinot gris from Alsace, even though at $17-18, they don’t come cheap.  And we saw Jean-Georges himself.

 A great pastrami sandwich at the classic Katz’s was the expected treat and our visit to the new location of 2nd Avenue Deli (162 E. 33rd) brought us  terrific pastrami and corned beef, as well as matza ball soup. The pickles were better than at Katz’s although I like Katz’s pastrami better. A gift of a small chocolate phosphate made this meal at one of the last full Kosher restaurants special. One of the oldest dim sum parlors in NYC is Nom Wah (13 Doyers St—a fascinating little street) was fun but Bay Area dim sum is better. This is  a no-cart  place where the shrimp dumplings shine.  I finally made it to Dinosaur BBQ in Harlem (700 W125th) but was mildly disappointed by the pulled pork and brisket lunch plate.  Less than I had hoped for. The cole slaw and beans were both very good.

I had a perfect and simple breakfast at Clinton Street Baking Co (4 Clinton) in the Lower East Side.  The buttermilk biscuit sandwich filled with light and fluffy eggs and cheddar with tomato jam accompanied by perfectly crisp hash browns left me so satisfied I gave my thanks to the chef.  Their muffins and cookies are good too. Great cookies were bought at Levain  (167 W. 74). $4 each but huge and even I think worth the price.  Sublime smoked sable and Gaspe nova lox on bagels came from the legendary Russ and Daughters,  and some great bagels from Bergen Bagels in Brooklyn.  We were disappointed in the “legendary” bagels from H&H Midtown Bagels East (1551 2nd Ave),.  Everything cannot be perfect but our 11 days in New York were all in all very fulfilling, enriching, and a little nutritious.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Tastes of Cuba

One doesn’t or shouldn’t go to Cuba for the food. There are too many shortages of great cooking ingredients.  But with the opportunities opening up to allow for private restaurants (paladors), many in converted homes, one can have some pretty wonderful dining experiences.  And it’s always an experience on top of the food.  We recently spent about a week in Santiago de Cuba and Havana and had some memorable meals, along with mediocre buffets and “group” meals. I’ll talk about the highlights.

Santiago is Cuba’s second largest city with 500,000 people but it feels like a small town.  Also, there was extensive damage from Hurricane Sandy so we did not see it as its best. But we had a great meal at Compay Gallo (San German 3), housed in a beautiful Art Deco home with terrazzo floors and a marvelous staircase with no banister, a la Baragan, leading up to the third floor where the restaurant  is.  Service, food, and presentation were great. The most spectacular dish was my appetizer of shrimp cocktail, a generous serving of shrimp and crab with homemade mayonnaise, served on top of a small fishbowl with 2 live goldfish in it. Pictures were taken! My main course of lamb stew was in a thick, rich dark sauce served with rice and malanga, a starchy tuber. Other entrees were well-executed with individual integrity, very Impressive as our group of 8 were the only customers besides 2 couples. I’d go back there.

A pizza and pasta dinner at the Ristorante Italiana la Fontana at the Melia Santiago Hotel (where 5 stars is a real stretch of the imagination) was just fine, nothing special.  The breakfast buffet at the hotel is very good, including a roast pig! A lunch at Restaurante Zunzun (Av. Mandulay 159), in a restored mansion, was like a Rotary banquet meal with satisfactory grilled fish. Although those who got the curry chicken were impressed.

Havana is a marvelous city just waiting for redevelopment to explode and fortunately the restaurant scene has some stars. Our best meal was at Café Laurent (Calle M 257), near the National Hotel, a civic treasure with plumbing that makes its 5-star rating questionable. The 5th floor of an apartment building reached by a temperamental but charming elevator has been turned into a wonderful restaurant. Our lovely and friendly server made us feel special and the fresh mahi mahi done a couple of different ways, salads with real lettuce, tasty ceviche, delicious gazpacho, and a decent albeit small wine list made our group of 7 very happy eaters.  We also had a very nice meal at Dona Eutimia (Callejon del Charro) on an alley near the Cathedral, with some superb appetizers like croquettas and fried fish bites with different sauces.  We expected the paella for 2  to have more varieties of seafood, but the lobster was nice and portion generous. Those who got lobster as an entree had plenty to share. Service and presentation were perfect and everyone had a good time, hoping to share cigars as we left but finding the wind coming through the alley greater than our lighting skills.

Our first tour meal in Havana was at the lovely La Ferminia (av. 5 # 18207), apparently a Castro favorite, where we ate in the beautiful garden next to the beautiful mansion with marble floors and several dining rooms. They feature brochettes with a very good chicken and a nicely flavored but tough beef. And tres leches cake for dessert, all accompanied by a music trio. I recommend it for its beauty. The group also had lunch at La Domenica (O’Reilly #108), a lovely Italian restaurant with decent pizza and spaghetti and accompanying live music. Our final tour celebratory dinner was held at the beautiful Café del Oriente appropriately on the Plaza de San Francisco. The formal dining rooms look like they should be in New Orleans or Charleston, so no reeking of local color.  A nice onion soup was followed by a decent steak and a good flan. We didn’t make it there, but those in our group who went to Palador La Guarida, featured in the film, Strawberries and Chocolate, thought it was fantastic.  So our number 1 choice for the return trip to fascinating, enigmatic, beautiful Cuba. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New York Tops East Coast Eats

There are certain New York foods that I must have each time I go. I have  a little me-conversation asking  if I'm denying myself a new treasure for the sake of a beloved favorite, but then convince myself having something every 1-2 years is not overdoing anything.  This trip, my return visits were to Patisserie Claude (pain au chocolat still marvelous), Gotham Bar and Grill (chocolate cake still the best in the world and the $25 2 course lunch unbeatable), Keens Chophouse (sat again at the bar delighting in the bistro mutton chop and the steak salad, both done perfectly  and well-priced, with terrific rolls and excellent sweet butter, and dynamite cocktails), Grimaldi's Pizza (running late so got a cheese to go and ate in the subway on the way to a play-- they moved next door to a bigger place, but the pizza is still terrific, John's Pizzeria (always reliable with a cheap but good house wine and  a big salad and a location in Times Square), Joe's Pizza for a right-out-of-the-oven slice, and Carnegie Deli (we got the meat platter with pastrami, corned beef, and brisket, enough for the 2 of us and sandwiches for our plane the next day.  I went to Katz's my last trip and I vote for Carnegie's pastrami.
I went on a mini Momofuku spree with lunch at Momufuku Ssam Bar and dinner at the Noodle Bar. I had the Ssam roast duck lunch plate with an added green onion pancake.  I got there soon after it opened so it was not crowded and very pleasant to sit at the bar eating excellent duck and sipping a nice Loire red.  Dinner at the Noodle Bar was more of  a challenge. Very good food but a noise level to cause nausea. The famous pork belly bun, a superb grilled octopus saute, and the momofuku ramen with pork, pork belly, and an egg were all great to eat.  I wanted to try the soft serve for dessert, but Sheila had had enough of the bruit, so we left.  The other new discovery was Coppelia, a Cuban place on 14th, with  a large, reasonable menu, like a good NY coffee shop. Great fried yucca, decent calamari, a perfect roast pork sandwich, and green plantains made for a satisfying meal before an ever-wonderful walk along the High Line.
Many years had passed since I went to a few old favorites I returned to this trip.  Junior's in Brooklyn features really incredible cheesecake.  We shared a pastrami sandwich with it, which was so so. Service was great tho and the place has  a real classic feel and very good cole slaw, pickles, and beets. Eating in the tavern area at Gramercy Tavern offers an excellent meal at half the price of the restaurant with superb service. The prix fixe is 4 courses at $48 and featured black bass with spring onions, a soft-shell crab sandwich, bavette steak with fingerling potatoes, and a delightful strawberry shortcake. You can get a drink pairing for $20, which in this case was 3 excellent ales and an Italian white for dessert. Their wine list is enormous with some fine choices by the glass, including the always exceptional Turley Zinfandel.
It had been probably 15 years since we ate at Le Bernardin, but they recently remodeled and it still is at the top of all ratings (recent 4*s in NY Times after we made our reservation) so we decided to go for the "more reasonable" $70 lunch.  Yevgeny Kissin was there too after he too received  a glowing review in the Times. The place is beautiful and service is excellent, a little but not too much hovering. Choices are many for each of the first 2 courses and desserts all sound good.  I would have preferred to forego dessert and have 3 courses of the seafood specialties. I had a wonderful fresh thinly pounded yellowtail served over a toasted baguette slice with fois gras, chives and olive oil--simple and perfect.  Sheila had marvelous raw fluke in a jalapeno-lime brroth, sublime.  Her entree of beautiful Arctic char with truffled peas was the best dish we had; my roasted monkfish was delicious but not as otherworldly as the char. Sorbets for dessert were lovely and  a raspberry melange with cake and ice cream was very nice.  Really wonderful butter cookies were a final treat. We had a delicious Montagny, at $65 about the cheapest wine on a formidable list.
And now for bagels.  NY bagels are just the best. I love the giant pumpernickel ones at Ess-a-Bagel especially filled with chive cream cheese and Nova lox.  Staying in Brooklyn, tried several there and decided Bergen Bagels on Flatbush and Bergen is the best. I tried their other store on Myrtle, for some reason not as good. Le Bagel Delight is fine, Fulton Bagels, fairly new on the scene but nicely chewy, and Brooklyn Bagel Works on DeKalb was OK. Amazing to be in a place where there are 5 bagel places within 3 blocks. Ahh, New York, what a wonderful town.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

East Coast Rapture
Just came back from a 3 city East Coast eating/viewing/walking tour.  I'll divide the blog into 2 parts: Washington D.C. and Philadelphia and then New York City.
Washington has become  a much finer food city than I remember.  We came for a fabulous wedding that we surrounded with some great meals. The 2 favorites were Obelisk and Thai Xing, both prix fixe but opposite dining experiences beyond the spectacular food at both.  Thai Xing is a true hole-in-the-wall with only a tiny sign way out on Florida Street. It's $30 for  6 courses of distinctive, homey Thai pleasures. Starting with  a stuffed cucumber soup, ending with fresh mango with sticky rice, each dish was a pleasure. Beef, fish, chicken, prawns, and squash and  pad see ew were the stars of the dishes in between. BYOB, which you should remember to do cuz a liquor store is not easy to find in this semi-dicey area.  The other great meal was at Obelisk in Dupont Circle. Another multi-course extravanganza at $75, which is  a pretty good deal. Wines are quite high but it's a good list of atypical Italian choices. Obelisk features 3 choices for primi, secondi, and desserts, but everybody gets the same feast of antipasti along with terrific homemade breadsticks.  Ours included garlicky prawns, eggplant crostini, burrata, canneli beans and prosciutto.  really got the taste buds working. For the next courses, the 4 of us picked the top-sounding one and ordered 2 of those and then 1 of each of the others. Very nice agnoletti in brodo, ravioli, and tagliatelle. Main courses included veal chop for 2 (done perfectly), quail, and sea bass, everything done nicely.  Entrees were followed by a cheese course, which I believe makes one feel less full, but others believe it's the theory of a fool. We then shared light desserts of chocolate, gelato, and fruit.  The place is not fancy or pretentious, the focus is on great eating and service was comfortable and responsive.
Other restaurants in DC were no slouches either.  Lunches at Zaytinya and Rasika were both delicious and reasonable. Rasika is one of the best Indian places I've ever been to and their fried spinach dish (palak chaat) is the best Indian dish ever. Sit in the bar area if you can't get a reservation-- same menu and very comfortable.  Very nice wines by the glass.  Zaytinya is also very popular and pretty loud, but the food is delicious.  We were there for Saturday brunch and enjoyed the Lebanese French toast soaked in orange blossom custard with dried cherries, perfect grilled octopus over smashed potatoes with turmeric making them very yellow, and giant beans with kale. The fried calamari was OK.

Philadelphia has also improved greatly in the food arena.  For our classic Philly treat, we had a brisket sandwich from Dinic's in the Reading Terminal Market. They were out of my chosen pulled pork but the brisket was tender and delicious and generously served with BBQ sauce. So many choices in the Market, it was not an easy decision, but ended up being  a good one. We had a decent French breakfast at Parc, a lovely Parisian-style brasserie looking out on Rittenhouse Square. When we first sat down at our window table, a large delivery truck pulled up to block the view and spew exhaust, but it left soon and all was pleasant afterwards, although my hot chocolate took a long time to come. My eggs and potatoes were done just right.  A very enjoyable dinner in spite of a very obnoxious server was had at Garces Trading Company on Locust Street, one of chef Jose Garces's well-regarded restaurants.  This one is also a market with many types of olive oils and vinegars and house-made charcuterie. Our server let us know that she has worked at all of his restaurants and is a very good friend.  Who cares? There is great care in the food, from olives through cheeses, charcuterie, pastas, an excellent pizza, scallops, duck, brussel sprouts, duck fat-fried frites, and desserts, all part of the $40 chef's tasting. We got the $20 wine pairings with 4 nice pours.
A higher level of Italian cuisine was enjoyed at Il Pittore on Sansom St, a fairly new star in the STARR group of restaurants, of which Parc is also part.  Fairly expensive but very good and serving wonderfully cold water.  Not sure why that impressed me so, but it did, as did my primo of poached lobster and entree of corzetti,  pasta coins with braised goat, mint and chili oil.  All pastas are made in-house. The arugula salad was nothing special, but the suckling pig as an entree was superb.  We shared a Pinot Noir from Northern Italy, which was perfect with all courses. Gilato for dessert was a perfect ending.