Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bouchon Bakery... Hauté Mall Cusine?

This Is No Mall, It’s The Time Warner Center

Not long ago, I made my first trip to the Time Warner Center… excited to experience for myself the spectacular space, shops and restaurants that get the pleasure of calling the glamorous building home. I figured I’d shop a while, eat some high class mall grub, browse the book store and sit on a bench. Mall stuff.

Well, I quickly learned the Time Warner Center is no mall. There is no Sbarro, no Orange Julius, no Spencer’s Gifts and no movie theatre. I couldn’t find the lost and found, the arcade, Hot-Dog-On-A-Stick or Wet Seal.

This destination has a gathering of off-the-chart-expensive restaurants... including a Japanese restaurant called Masa ($400 per person), a Coach and Hugo Boss store, a Davidoff Cigar shop and Jazz at Lincoln Center, one of the finest jazz destinations in the United States, if not the world (if you haven’t been inside the Allen Room, you simply won’t believe your eyes). Oh yea, there are rare Botero statues in the lobby, too.

So, finding a light, inexpensive lunch on a visit to this building can be a challenge.

The easy answer lies underneath the chrome and glass structure, inside the Whole Foods Market. This gourmet epiphany has darn near everything you can imagine and more… including a pizza counter, a sushi bar, fresh bakery, sandwich deli, coffee bar and Jamba Juice. It’s a good option, if you don’t mind getting knocked down by an old lady from the Upper West Side pushing a cart as if she‘s on the pole at the Indy 500. There is a cramped space (too many people usually) to eat your pickings as well.

Alas, there is another option.

The gem of affordable eating at the Time Warner Center lies underneath the “Samsung” sign on the 3rd floor, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery.

First, this is not a low budget joint… but you can get in and out for under $15 to $20 without wine… not a bad deal considering your neighbors in this swanky joint.

That said, a nice glass of wine and plate of quality cheese is a nice way to start or end any day of shopping.

The menu at Bouchon is small and focused on mainly gourmet salad and sandwich offerings… which is just fine with me. Who needs a heavy meal when dropping $175 on a pair of shoes?

Salads are carefully picked and light. Don’t look for a four pound Taco Bell tostada salad here, you won’t find it. What you will find is a lovely Hearts of Romaine selection with botarga cheese, a classic watercress salad with candied walnuts and your obligatory beet and goat cheese variety (although done very well).

Sandwiches seem to be the choice… and range from a classic French ham and cheese baguette to a tartine of tuna nicoise to a roast turkey with brie… as well as a roast beef with melted fontina.

The roast beef was pressed crispy and was an excellent choice… especially if you like your beef rare. The garlic aioli sets this sandwich off… and the bread is just like you like it… crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside.

The turkey is also a great choice… and included a nice slaw on the sandwich. You should note that all of the breads here at Bouchon are exceptional, and are of boutique bakery quality. Each sandwich comes on it’s own signature roll.

One disappointment was the Cashew Butter and Apricot jam on toasted brioche. While this all sounds great, and the cashew butter and jam were terrific, the sandwich is prepared like a grilled cheese sandwich, and is just too greasy for my taste. Perhaps I compared this dish to one of my favorites across town at ‘inoteca… but even as a dessert, I wish I had opted for a pastry instead.

The kitchen does serve a few simple entrée-like selections… a quiche of the day, assorted patés, a cheese plate (overpriced and smallish), smoked salmon and a terrine of foie gras. Additionally, there is quality soup… although for 11.25 a bowl, your money is better spent on pure carbs.

Bouchon Bakery does carry a nice coffee menu as well as a quality wine list of hand picked selections… available by the glass. These are solid wines that may be a notch above what you might expect in a café like this one across town.

So the verdict?

I like it. There was something special about spending a Sunday afternoon perched high above the Time Warner Center atrium, people watching… munching on foie gras… sipping a fruity sauvignon blanc. Yes, it is a hair pretentious, and yes, slightly overpriced.

But at least you are getting quality goods from folks who know their stuff.

For a mall, you can’t do much better. Unless you walk upstairs and drop $300 at Per Sé, that is. Meanwhile, I’ll see you at Bouchon Bakery.

Bouchon Bakery

10 Columbus Circle, 3rd Floor,
New York 10019

At 60th St

Phone: 212-823-9366

Monday, June 26, 2006

Old School on Second Ave

Steak and Lobster Is Still Fancy, Even in 2006

Sometimes, you need to get old school.

In New York, that means a place that opened in... well, 1926.

Yes, your dearly beloved foodie turned 40 this gloomy June weekend, and to celebrate I decided to depart from the frilly and trendy to seek out the crusty, long-standing old timer. You heard it. No pomegranate martini. No cucumber spritzer. I’m talking old school.

After a bit of snooping around, I found not 5 or 10, but dozens of NYC spots that could fit into this category. I settled on a spot that opened in 1926, an annex of the famed “Palm” restaurant…. better known as “The Palm, Too”.

Palm Too is one of those places you would swear you saw a mafia boss. Through the front door reveals a severely undersized bar with no stools, and a smallish cramped dining room. Not knowing the size of the place, I thought that was it! But when we were seated, we realized, there is a maze of rooms in this cave of culinary history.

History abounds as the walls of the Palm Too are a living cartoon. Drawings of patrons, celebs, politicians, you name it…. they all live here. There is simply too much to look at.

Let’s talk food.

Truthfully, if a restaurant has been open for over 75 years, you would think that they are doing something right.

Palm Too does a lot right, but my guess is that the main reason they are still in the mix, is that there isn’t much that has changed.

The specialty of the house here is Nova Scotia lobster. Big ones. No, I mean huge ones. The smallest weighs in at 4 pounds. The largest, a little over 6. We got the 5 pounder.

This breed of lobster is different from the Maine variety, as the tails are a bit smaller… making the claws monstrous. I’m talking the size of your hand. Like steak big. Really.

You can get it boiled if you wish, but you’ll need to talk the waiter into this option, as nearly every lobster here is split in half and broiled. This style is done artfully, as the lobster was still moist and buttery, not too dry. Important.

As we were celebrating, we didn’t want to leave out our friend the Filet Mignon, so we also ordered a filet, butterflied and broiled perfectly. This is a good idea when splitting a lobster.

The sides at Palm Too are yummy. Even though the cottage fries and friend onions are standard, we opted for the pan of crispy hash browns, that came from a skillet in the kitchen. They were formed into a massive, 2 inch pancake and pan fried crispy golden brown. We killed these.

Also at the table were the asparagus fritti, lightly breaded and fried, topped with a buttered sauce and grated cheese. Nice.

The deal of the summer at Palm too is the lobster. A 5 pound lobster for 2, with salads, 2 sides and coffee or tea will set you back $85. Think about it… not bad. We added a steak and a bottle of wine and escaped for a reasonable amount. There is some value on this menu.

As for dessert, you'll be tempted. I must confess, the carrot cake may be the best I have ever out in my mouth. Served in an 8 inch high wedge, it was so moist it melted in my mouth... and the cream chesse frostings were top notch. Someone really knows what they're doing back there.

Can it get better? Sure. Our service was superb. Friendly, helpful and attentive… we had everything we needed, and then some. When you dine there, ask for Dominick.

Overall, we felt as if we had discovered a slice of NYC that few new existed…then of course realized that it was in fact us that had come late to the party. 75 years late.

Palm Too. Step back in time and enjoy. Decades of history can never be a bad thing.

And the lobsters are the real deal.

Palm Too

840 2nd Ave, New York 10017

Btwn 44th & 45th St

Phone: 212-697-5198

AmEx, MC, Visa


Mon-Fri: 12pm-3pm
Mon-Fri: 3pm-11pm
Saturday: 5pm-11pm
Sunday: 4pm-10pm

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

An Italian Wonder in Murray Hill

It’s All About Friends and Family at DaCiro

I keep looking for a run of the mill, mediocre Italian joint in Manhattan… and keep falling short.

Not that finding one will be a bad thing… I mean how many terrific Italian places can there be?

Obviously, a whole bunch.

My gastronomic journey through New York lead me to the Murray Hill area of Manhattan a short while ago, to a spot that has graced Lexington Avenue for 10 years. A wonderful ristorante named DaCiro.

Entering the cozy first floor, you immediately get the fact that most everyone in the place had been there before. It’s that kinda spot. As the two women in front of me strolled through the door, they were both kissed and sat at their favorite spot. I like this place.

We had a reservation for 4, and were promptly taken upstairs to a fair sized dining room overlooking Lexington Ave. Wine bottles lined the small stairwell up to relay the feeling of an authentic ristorante. It was enough to evoke a grin. I really like this place.

The meals at DaCiro mainly revolve around a terrific wood-burning oven. The pizzas are true to regional italy…. thin, earthy and remarkable. The homemade crusts were baked to perfection, topped with a thin layer of fresh tomato puree and slices of mozzarella cheese. With countless options including a robiola cheese sprinkled with truffle oil, you could order a bottle of wine and call it a night… but what would you miss out on?

Maybe the breaded clams or roasted octopus?.... or the casserole of eggplant stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella and goat cheese over their amazing tomato sauce?.... or the homemade fettuccine with duck ragu?.... or the orecchiette with sausage? I may never leave this place.

I did have the pasta at DaCiro, and was blown away by the simplistic greatness of their dishes. Having traveled throughout Italy, I am convinced that the greatness of their food isn’t what you taste… but what you don’t taste. I think most Americans that cook Italian food kill it by over seasoning most of the basic recipes. DaCiro recognizes this, and keeps it simple. No smoke and mirrors here, just down to earth good cooking.

We didn’t make it to a secondi piatti on that evening, but the table next to us was feasting on what looked to be a superb ribeye, a roasted chicken dish oozing with spinach and a grilled red snapper that almost prompted me to lean over and kindly ask for a bite. Hey, it's a southern thing.

Yes, there are 1000 of these spots in NYC, and yes, most all of them are spectacular in their own special way…. But if you are looking for a cozy, down-to-earth, neighborhoody joint, look no further. DaCiro won’t disappoint.

229 Lexington Ave.
New York , NY 10016
Phone: (212) 532-1636

Wine list : somewhat average and slightly overpriced
MC, Visa, Amex and Discover
Good desserts, save room.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Artie's Deli: NY's Corned Beef Champion

You Can't Love A Sandwich This Much And Not Be A Little Jewish

Not long ago I was discussing Mika family relatives with my Dad, who reminded me that my Polish grammy (his mom) and Russian Great-Grandmother were both Jewish. My polish grampy round out the side of New England based family, which married into my mother's french-acadian South Louisiana cajun side... making for a culinary miracle. Gumbo and pierogies. I knew their had to be some explanation for my love of jewish foods.

So, now as I rate all types of restaurants, I feel somewhat qualified to speak on corned beef.

I’ve got a vote for “Best Corned Beef Sandwich in New York” and guess what?.... it’s not Katz’s, Stage Deli or Carnegie.

It’s Artie’s, located on the Upper West Side.

Honest engine. Not that I don’t love Carnegie’s mile high sandwiches, or Katz’s tangy and sour pickles… but there is a greatness that Artie’s has achieved that the others just can’t claim. It’s a true neighborhood joint…. sans the tourists and crazy prices.

I fell in love with the deli life nearly 15 years ago, in Chicago. Growing up in Louisiana, the only deli I had ever heard of was on television, as real Jewish delis just didn’t exist. Sure, I ate my share of corned beef and pastrami, but it was usually in the way of a poboy or in a rueben sandwich at a bar.

In Chicago, I found Manny’s and Original Frances and discovered a love for the deli. Later in Los Angeles, I continued my quest and became a regular at spots like Art’s, Canter’s and Nate n’Al’s.

But is was New York that sealed the deal for me, and I’m here to profess my love for Artie’s.

First, let me say not every item on the large Artie’s menu is a winner. I have never been a fan of items at this or any deli that strayed too far from traditional. So at Artie’s, stick with the corned beef, soups, salads, knishes and platters. You can’t go wrong.

First, the corned beef.

I like mine with very little fat, warm, sliced thin, piled high… and melt in your mouth. That’s Artie’s. It’s not an insane amount of corned beef (like Carnegie, etc) but a huge amount…. so much I need to remove half of it to get the sandwich down the hatch. The fresh rye bread is on par with what you would expect and the mustard is robust. Simply put, it’s a perfect sandwich.

What else do I love? Love the mushroom barley soup. Chef salads are crisp and plentiful. Hot dogs are great, for those who love ‘em big and grilled. The omelette’s are good, as are the burgers, stuffed cabbage and potato pancakes.

I do have a few rubs…. one is the pastrami which Artie’s love to hype as being the best. I’ve ordered the pastrami on several occasions, and find it just too fatty. I love the taste, but when I am spending more time maneuvering around the fat (too chewy to eat) than chomping, the distraction becomes a nuisance.

Next are the pickles. Yuch. Maybe it’s me, but these taste as if they were cured in formaldehyde. What ever happened to the straight ahead kosher dill?

Additionally, delivery can be an adventure. When ordering from home (which we usually find to be fast and reliable) make sure you repeat those items that are important (a side of this, and extra of that) as many times these don’t make the bag.

It may sound like a few gripes, but compared to the corned beef…. and eh. No big whoop.

All in all, yes, Artie’s is my reigning champion of Corned Beef. But knowing me, that could change next week… as the quest continues.

Meanwhile, I’ll see yall at Artie’s.

2290 Broadway, New York 10024
At 83rd St

Phone: 212-579-5959
Fax: 212-579-5958

Monday, June 12, 2006

Warm Pretzels, Hot Schnitzel and Cold Beer in the West Village

Can Germany Be As Close As Grove Street?

I can remember working in Berlin several years ago, and loving the neighborhood biergartens. Most everyone who entered was immediately recognized by the proprietor and menus were rarely distributed… only a chalkboard on the wall would inform patrons of what might have changed since yesterday… the last time they were there. It had the feel of someone’s living room rather than a restaurant.

What really amazed me was how these establishments were located deep into the quiet, green, tree-lined streets of the city. Even more astonishing was how at home each establishment felt in it’s suburban surroundings.

It wasn’t long before I moved to NYC that I stumbled across a real German biergarten… and as you might guess, it is located on a quiet, green, tree-lined street in the West Village.

Lederhosen is one of those places you visit once, and label “your secret find”. I had a feeling the place would be authentic when I spotted the HB sign hanging as if the place was in Frankfurt or Berlin. But as I scooted down the narrow entry I realized I may have hit the holy grail of beer and sausage. My instincts we correct.

It is a decidedly campy yet charming space… with a cramped wooden bar space that makes way to a larger, open room with picnic benches and four tops. The walls are painted with an enormous mural resembling something out of the Sound of Music, and on game days a giant projection screen hangs in the rear, with some type of sporting event… these days, it’s the World Cup. Following the formula of beer, sports and sausage, you can see how they have become one of the city’s better destinations.

Where to start? Well, first with the beer.

You won’t find Coors Light on tap here friends. Lederhosen carries one of the finest German beer collections in the city, available in three sizes: klein, gross, and mass, which is a mug the size of a hot tub. With beers like Weihenstephaner, Spaten, Jever, Dinckelacker, Dortmunder, Radeberger and HB München, you’ll likely find whatever you’re looking for. Add about 10 others and what you have is a veritable smorgasbord of suds. For those looking to tap and snack, you can order a 5-litre keg and a plate of sausages for about $50… an amazing deal considering you’ll need a group of friends to begin to put a dent in that much brew. Generally speaking, beer drinkers consider Lederhosen to be one of the best beer buys in the city, with beers ranging from $3-$7 bucks… in the big mugs.

As much as I love the beer, the food wins my heart. I always start with a hot pretzel (ask for no salt if you wish) accompanied by a side of creamy, sweet German zenf (or mustard).

The menu has so many options, many opt for combo plates, with numerous varieties of delicious goodies including knackwurst, bauernwurst, weisswurst, bratwurst, currywurst and kielbasa. They serve tangy snap skin wieners on crusty rolls (perfect with your cold beer on a Saturday afternoon) as well as fantastic cold cut sandwiches with string beans and cucumbers. Make no bones about it, the sausages are terrific and not your grocery store variety. It doesn’t take long to realize you’re eating authentic stuff.

The hot dishes continue to include a host of German favorites, like Koenigsberger Klopse (Beef and Pork) with potatoes, tart sauerkraut and lemon caper sauce, Rindergoulasch (beefstew), Kassler Rippchen (smoked pork chops), Schweinbraten (pork) served over brown gravy and my favorite…. Weiner Schnitzel (fried chicken, pork or veal) cutlet with a side order of spaetzle.

Let’s talk spaetzle a moment, shall we?

I love love love good spaetzle, and the variety at Lederhosen is different, but doesn’t disappoint. Those used to small, round drops of dough will do a double take when you see the longer, pasta like version severed here with great care. Tossed in a bit of brown butter, the dish is a perfect accompaniment and can also stand on it’s own as a great afternoon schnack.

If in fact you can get to dessert, you’ll find a nice selection of homemade goodies, including black forest and German chocolate cakes… but in this joint, I’d almost rather order another helping of potato pancakes and a bucket of beer. Sweets are sweets, but good German food must be taken advantage of vigorously.

Tips? As you might guess, Lederhosen gets packed, so your first visit may want to be on a weekday afternoon, or Saturday or Sunday afternoon before the others roll out of bed. They keep very late hours (some nights until 4am) so the vibe midday is cool and laidback.

Sure there are great German biergartens in NYC, but for my money Lederhosen is winning my heart. I guess I’ll have to make a second visit to Zum Schneider, Loreley, and Heidelberg to solidify my findings. Cheers.

39 Grove St
New York, Ny 10014
(212) 206-7691
(212) 206-8562 (Fax)
Cross Street: Between Bedford Street and Bleecker Street
Directions: 1, 9 to Sheridan Square or the A, B, C, D, E, F, V to West 4th

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Cheap Eats In The Big Apple

These Noodles Are The Bomb... Take It From MEE

I’ve long wondered how New Yorkers can afford to eat out as much as they do.

I mean, restaurants in this city aren’t cheap by any means… reflected in the fact that many restaurants use $25 an entrée as an average. Add a salad or app, cocktail, dessert and tip… well that $100 bones per couple. Add a bottle of wine and… well, you can add it up.

It wasn’t long after I moved to NYC that I learned how they do it.

Most New Yorkers don’t eat out in an “upscale” manner nightly. They love their neighborhood dives… cheap eats. They do this several nights a week…so when the big night rolls around, they can splurge.

New Yorkers are passionate about cheap eats. They are known to take the subway to another borough, a 45 minute bus ride, you name it… just to spend $1.30 for a taco. Water cooler chat in my office centers around slices of pizza and chicken shwarma sandwiches. I love that!

That said, please welcome my first truly cheap eat entry…. MEE Noodle Shop.

It was nearly 10 years ago when I first found Mee. I was staying painfully close to Hell’s Kicthen where a recording studio I was working at was located. It was about 1:45 in the morning when I finally finished and met up with a friend who suggested we drop in for dumplings.

The rest is history.

Since that night, I’ve been frequenting Mee whenever I am in the neighborhood… or low on cash. And why not? Mee is a gem of a dive (although not a huge secret anymore) and can dish out the goods with the best of them. And you can get out of there for less than $10 bucks.

They take the noodle thing seriously at Mee. How many do they carry? Well, you can get the spinach noodles, the mandarin, lo mein, thin Cantonese, flat Cantonese, hand pulled, mee fun or chow fun. You can slurp down a variety of dumplings, including steamed meat, seafood and veggie… or get them pan fried. They offer 30 varieties of Cantonese style noodle soups (no charge to change noodle to wonton), and offer 25 varieties of various other soups (squid, fish cake, tofu, tomato beef, hot and sour, Chinese green vegetable, shanghai wonton, etc, etc) as well…. All for around $3.95., for a bucket full. This menu has over 500 items and reads like a trip to Jerry’s Deli. Fantastic.

As for me, I love the food food here. The shrimp toast is terrific, the egg rolls are crispy and contain not a drop of grease and the scallion pancakes ($1.95) may very well be worth the trip alone. You’ll find a few dim sum items here as well, including steam bread with sweet bean paste, pork buns, shrimp siu mai and the like… as well as sizzling platters. For those who are looking for standard grub, their menu reads like a gathering of every Chinese dish in NYC…. Sesame beef and chicken, beef and broccoli… well hell, they have everything. Most large dishes run less than $9 bucks.

I happen to love the subgum wonton here. Fried wonton over beef, chicken and shrimp stir fried with veggies in a spicy brown sauce. Monster dish.

So, the cat is out of the bag. Mee noodle is the kind of late night Chinese dives, and the food is flat out delish. Next time you find yourself drifting through midtown towards Hell’s Kitchen, stop by. For the price of a #3 value meal you can have some authentic dim sum and a bowl of noodles…. and still have change for the cream puff place in the west village.


795 9th Ave at 53rd
New York 10019


Phone: 212-765-2929