Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dinner and a Show: Thalia Shines In Midtown

Steps to Broadway, And A World of Choice

There is something magical about a pre-show dinner in New York’s Theatre District.

Having served up about a 20 million of these, most of the restaurants have the thing down to a science. They know how many drinks you can have, when you should be ordering, and how much time you might have for desert... to get you into your seats on time.

I’ve had many a pre-show meal down there… including the solid Orso, the mostly disappointing Ruby Foo’s (great martinis can bring you back) and the touristy Osteria al Doge.

But one of my true favorites happens to be Thalia.

Thalia is the quintessential date place. What’s that mean? Well, there is a lot of eye candy in the hip, midtown design… and the food is even better.

My first trip to Thalia was last year, and I had no date. Working in NYC I found myself yearning for a bachelor theatre night, and had scored a front row ticket to Spelling Bee, one of the more fun evenings on Broadway.

With an hour to curtain and a cigar in my pocket, I landed steps away from the theatre at Thalia on the patio… sipped a martini, lit my cigar, and munched on a duet of yellow fin tuna sashimi and tuna tartare. For a quick entrée I had two delish crabcakes (more crab than crumbs to my surprise) and for desert, a terrific banana tart.


A few months later I was back, this time with my lovely wife at my side, and those same Spelling Bee tickets. Yes, I like the show that much.

This trip to Thalia had spanned the season and seen the chilly patio close, exposing the cozy, classic interior space as the true star of the show.

With reservation in hand, we were seated in less than a minute. Once at the table, I began to remember just how much I had enjoyed my last visit.

Having enjoyed my patio visit, this meal also started with the tuna and crabcake apps I remembered… but also included dinner choices as I planned my time a bit more diligently.

Cheese selections are a great albeit pricy option at Thalia, but the entrees shine.

The pastas are simple, well rounded… and flavorful. The spaghetti is a basic tomato and basil dish… wile the Mushroom Ravioli a more complex creation with asparagus and porcini truffles.

Meats are wonderfully prepared and include a fine double cut pork chop that I found filling. Also available is a Seared Duck Breast, Braised Lamb Shank and a Grilled Filet of Beef, with a black truffle sauce. All solid.

Fish lovers won’t be disappointed, as the traditional bistro salmon and halibut make an appearance… but even better is the broad choice of fresh oysters from the raw bar. Littleneck clams shine here… and the jumbo shrimp cocktail can hang with most in the city. I have found all of the seafood here to be very fresh.

Yes, the food is good and can occasionally be very good. But the vote of confidence here is for the night.

A classic place, a good menu and a great bar.

Followed by a great show, and I think you have the recipe for a near perfect theatre evening in NYC.

Enjoy Thalia. And oh yea, if you haven’t seen Spelling Bee, do yourself a favor and get a ticket while nearly the entire original cast remains on Broadway. This is a charming night of theatre, appropriate for just about all audiences.

See you in the Theatre District!


828 8th Ave, New York 10019
At 50th St

Phone: 212-399-4444

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

SushiSamba 7 - Funky In The Village

Rock Solid For West Village Hipsters, But Still Worth The $$ ?

I love trekking down to the West Village for eats. My 15 minute subway ride feels like a world apart from the sleepier Upper West Side.

I always tell people that my heart lives in the Village, and my wallet lives on the Upper West Side. So, trips downtown are essential for me… and I love to venture down and chow.

I have several favorites…. German grub at Leiderhosen, cheese shopping at Murray’s, a grandma slice at Bleeker Street Pizza, free range chicken fingers from Dirty Bird… you get the picture…..

Recently, a friend suggested we meet in the neighborhood, and I tossed out a joint that has always intrigued me. I’ve had several quality meals there… but the items can be hit or miss… so I thought I’d take a moment to set you straight on the colorful sushi hang, Sushi Samba 7.

First, the place is full of good looking folks. Nearly any night of the week there is a crowd, and for good reason. The drinks are great, the food solid and the atmosphere a little stuffy look at me-me. Ah, New York.

I’ve certainly had better sushi and Brazilian and South American food in NYC… but with a rooftop patio and sliding walls in the main dining room, the place feels connected with the city…. which is always a good thing.

Reservations are a good idea here, and even with them, you’ll likely wait. We waited nearly an hour for changing our 4 top to a 3 top (are you kidding me?) and were rewarded with a plate of gratis calamari. It was average stuff, and all kidding aside, I’ll take getting seated on time.

The room was packed on this Tuesday evening, and the bar was hopping. Good news for those who must wait…. as the bar has some great signature drinks and a killer wine list. Maybe next time I’ll ask for a glass of pino while I wait....

At the table, the dishes come recommended by the wait staff. Having eaten there on a few occasions, I was curious what exactly would be recommended, and sure enough, it was all the stuff I had last time. Seems that the wait staff knows what people like, and would rather please for the nice tip then send anyone up the wrong road. Pity.

So, the solid stuff on the menu?


The great stuff: Tuna Sashimi Tiradito with green apple and red jalapeño. The Green Envy Roll encrusted with wasabi peas, filled with tuna, salmon, asparagus and key lime mayo. The miso Chilean Sea Bass, which seems to find it’s way onto every table in the place. And the basic Churrasco, with ribeye, pork and linguia sausage. Tasty, but by no means real Churrasco.

As mentioned above, the wine list is terrific. There is a wine cellar downstairs, next to what may be the swankiest bathrooms in the West Village. Complete with attendant.

If you are a sushi hound, you’ll find a good selection of stuff you really like, for a price. If sushi isn’t your thing, there are still items to choose (meats, rock shrimp, beef maki) but none of them will have you calling friends and family. Solid, unspectacular stuff.

Sushi Samba is still about the scene. Hip, urban, noisy. Good bar.

You can likely save some cash by dropping by before dinner down the street for a bowl of edamame and a Caipirinha. Or after, for a Choco Loco (trust me on this one) and the warm chocolate banana cake.

Oh yea, now we talkin baby.

SushiSamba 7
Japanese, Sushi, Brazilian, South American

87 7th Ave S, New York 10014
Btwn Grove & Barrow St

Phone: 212-691-7885

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Because It’s 3am, and You Need to Eat

Dress to Impress and Suggest One Of These Gems....

Greetings food lovers.

I write this email only 24 hours away from a quick blast to South Louisiana for a much needed 72 hour escape.

For me, it’s a trip home… but compared to the rest of you who have made this pilgrimage, it’s usually about the same thing… food.

Silly to think that I’ve already pegged most of my meals, calling ahead to confirm that my favorites are still there. But when you have soooo little time and so many things to gobble, I see nothing wrong with a little planning.


I’ll start my afternoon at Georges, the legendary lounge under the Perkins Road overpass in Baton Rouge. I’ll order the best fried shrimp poboy known to man, with a loaf of onion rings and an ice cold Miller Lite (The State Beer of Louisiana).

Two hours later, I’ll stop by Fleur De Leis for a Round The World pizza (maybe the best pizza in the US?) and another Miller Lite, served in a tiny chilled glass. Note: I am now pacing myself.

By 5:30, I’ll be at the bar at Mansuers, ordering a dozen Grilled Oysters, freshly shucked, swimming in butter, garlic, herbs and cheese, bubbling over an open grill until fully cooked, served with a hot loaf of French bread. Life is good.

By this time, I’m having a draft Abita.

Dinner at this point is a mystery, although I’m sure I’ll wind up at Coffee Call for beignets and café au lait.

Uh, that’s just Friday.

Anyway, my blog this week is in response to a NY Times piece that ran this week, joyously highlighting all night eateries in the city. As good as the piece was, it didn’t include reviews of these spots… so I thought I’d review their list, and fill you in on the places that would be worth staying up for.

Here we go.

Open Until 2am

Andre’s Pick

La Esquina (serving tacos until 5am)

The dining room may close at 2am, but the tacos are worth getting out of bed for. Try the biztec or the Cochinita (pulled pork)… and be amazed. The tortillas are homemade corn, and this may be the most authentic taco this side of Mexico City.

Second Choice:

Sure, it’s pretentious. And sure, you may wait for a table. But that said, there is nothing wrong with noshing on a Croque-Monsieur after midnight, especially if you can wash it down with a flute of Veuve-Clicquot.

Open Until 3 am

Andre’s Pick


Those who know me know that this is one of my favorite haunts in NYC. The fact that its on the Lower East makes it uber cool. The wines are terrific, the panini perfect and the polpette just like mama use to make. But lets be honest… is there a better dish on the Lower east than the Truffle Egg Toast with Bottarga? I think not.

Second Choice:
None… unless you need to spy on the beautiful people across the street at THOR.

Open Until 4 am

Andre’s Pick

Employees Only
My first trip here was in fact at 3:30 am, and it warmed my heart to see a joint packed from wall to wall… with people munching on crepes, sushi, fried oysters and fish tacos. Yup, its that kinda of place… few rules and a lot of fun. The fact that nearly every table featured a chain smoker who was using a salad plate as an ashtray should tell you of the kind of tension release that happens on a nightly basis.

Second Choice:

Blue Ribbon
Why? Because, Andre needs his collard greens at 4am. He also needs his salt and pepper shrimp, fried chicken, spicy catfish and roasted duck club sandwich. Leave room for a banana split... and be prepared to call in sick tomorrow, you’re gonna need to sleep this one off.

Have fun. Stay up late. Eat out. It’s New York.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

In Case You Missed It….. Again

You do your thing, and I'll Keep You Fed

Hi there friends… welcome to fall.

Not sure of the temps in your town, but here in NYC fall has arrived. The leaves in Central Park are gaining color, people are wearing heavier clothes, and coffee shops are thriving. It won't be long before the ice skates are coming out of storage in Rockefeller Plaza. I love this place.

Fall always means a shift in the restaurant scene here in NYC, as many of the outdoor patio locations transform themselves back into sidewalks… and the once romantic, crammed indoor spots return. Street vendors warm themselves over their grills and people have complete swearing fits as 10 degree wind chills cut through them like a knife. What joy.

Much happening here as always, and I'm on the beat keeping you in the game.

In case you missed it, here are a few items of note this week in the NYC food scene:

Still Da Bomb

You don’t have to feel like a total tourist to stop into Café Lalo on the UWS. Sure, it was the spot of a noteworthy scene from the sappy film “You’ve Got Mail”, and yes, the trees are adorned with Christmas lights… But truth be told, their steamed eggs are terrific, artisan breads and cheeses fresh… and desserts spectacular. Throw in top notch coffee (stay away from mixed drinks here, stick with wine or bubbly) and you’ve got a joint that you could steal a heart in. Until 4am. 83rd and Amsterdam

Call U-Haul
Word on the street is that Chef sensation Alain Ducasse is moving his restaurant from the Essex House… somewhere downtown. With the Time Warner Center down the street, I can’t say that the neighborhood will miss yet another $200 prix fixe joint, but as history shows, wherever Ducasse's restaurants land, people will follow. Location TBD

Waste of Time

I’m not one to slam restaurants, as this blog has always served as a celebration of food. But when I have a meal that is really very very poor and terribly overpriced, I must speak out. You’ll find this meal and others at the amazingly tired China Grill, located in midtown. The outrageous prices might be able to justify themselves if in fact the food was ok… but it is simply horrible. The $20 crabcakes contained no crab, the $36 skirt steak was chewy and cold, the noodle dishes mushy and overcooked and the bill, $60 too high. Do yourself a favor and opt for Wu Liang Ye on West 48th. The noodles are amazing, the dumplings the best north of Chinatown, and you won’t break the bank. Life is too short to eat crap like that served at China Grill (maybe they need a few Chinese people on the grill) 53rd btw 5th and 6th

Because You Need Your Weiner
After weeks of panic, I am happy to report the my German friends at the happening sausage cart HALLO BERLIN are back and in business at 54th and 5th street. If you haven’t had a homemade sausage off of this cart, you don’t know what you are missing…

The boys carry nearly 10 different types of sausages in a variety of offerings as well as meatballs. Oh yea, you also can get a real crusty roll, 2 types of kraut, amazing sautéed onions and homemade mustard. Yes, there is a line... but the good things come to those who wait. 54th at 5th Ave

Is The World Coming To An End?

I asked myself this question when last week I saw something completely out of place… an organized menu at YIP’S, the midtown get-your-food-in-30-seconds Chinese joint. The boys in the back have drafted a new menu, and don’t make everything everyday, so plan accordingly. That said, the Garlic Chicken is still great, the egg rolls hot (and not greasy) and the noodles cheap and delish. It’s a load of food for only $5 bucks and remains one of the areas better deals. And I can get there from my desk in less than 3 minutes, depending on the elevator traffic. 52nd btw 5th and 6th

Monday, October 02, 2006

Konnichiwa from the Upper West

Matsu... close your eyes and imagine the Ginza

There are few places in the world that fascinate me more than Japan.

Observing their society became a sincere hobby of mine a few years ago when I was working their fairly regularly… and to this day, I marvel with the efficiency they manage the 12,369,000 people that live in Tokyo alone. It is a mixture of technology and tradition, where glass and chrome skyscrapers neighbor Shinto Shrines centuries old. It is pop culture on steroids… it is soft spoken women in hand made kimonos.

Imagine how popular my 6’2, 280 pound frame was walking down the streets of Shinjuku. In the land of sumo giants, I heard more than my share of gasps and giggles. They must have thought… “now that is one big ass American”.

I love that.

Truth be told, my first experience in Tokyo wasn’t different from the breakout movie “Lost in Translation”. I was a guest at the Park Hyatt (same hotel), marveled at the view (Mt. Fuji) and could never fall asleep. High atop the Park Hyatt is the New York Bar which really does host American entertainment, including jazz friends of mine from the west coast. I spent a lot of time there. Watching the film was eerie and the insomnia all too real.

That said, sleepless nights fed my hunger to learn the local cuisine… and I fell in love with many different styles of Japanese cooking (at all hours of the night)… including shabu-shabu and robato grilled meats.

But one “fast favorite” of mine became a dish known as katsu-don… or pork cutlet over rice.

The dish sounds simple, and it is… but the flavors are unique and addictive. First, you start with a bowl of hot steaming Japanese white rice. On top, you place a fried pork cutlet, sliced into strips, with an egg (scrambled into the cutlet after frying) and top it all with a sauce that is sweet and salty in nature. The dish now gets sprinkled with fresh chopped green onions and presto; the perfect katsu-don.

As far as origin, the dish takes its name from the Japanese words tonkatsu (for pork cutlet) and donburi (for rice bowl dish). It has become a modern ritual tradition for Japanese students to eat katsudon the night before taking a major test or school entrance exam… and for tourists like me who need to warm up to fairly familiar cuisine before jumping of the deep end and eating something I can name or recognize.
There is an art to making this stuff…. mainly in the skill of breading the cutlet in panko (japanese bread crumbs) and the addition of the egg. The sauces can also vary from a typical katsu-type sauce (imagine a worcestershire thing) to a demi-glace, to a soy based and even miso.

So, no two katsu-dons are alike.

In NYC, you can grab a bowl of this stuff nearly anywhere good Japanese food is sold, making the city pilgrimage a fun one. Where do I order my next katsu-don??

One place that gets it right (as well as all of their food) is Matsu… located on Columbus between 83 & 84 on NY’s Upper West Side.

Matsu is the quintessential NYC Japanese dive… and their food resonates in an authenticity unique to Tokyo. Sure you can find the things you expect… crispy Gyoza, Beef Negimaki, perfect sushi and sashimi…. but you’ll also find blue collar dishes like soba and udon noodle dishes, delicately fried oysters and a perfect Chilean Sea Bass.

I try not to mention Matsu to many people in an effort to not expose this gem of a find… as I can still get a table at 7:30 on a week night. But alas, ForkNY calls, and the cat is now out of the bag.

Matsu offers a pork and chicken version of katsu-don, and both are terrific. But if you can't get to Matsu, I highly recommend you look for the dish at your local dive. If it’s not on the menu, I can almost promise you they'll make a version for you… as when they take their meal breaks…. they're more often than not eating it.

Matsu ($$$)
Japanese, Sushi

483 Columbus Ave, New York 10024
Btwn 83rd & 84th St

Phone: 212-799-7922
Fax: 212-799-8597