Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Kellari Taverna: Superb Greek in Midtown

This Greek Is Really All That

If you are like me, several nights a week you stare at a stack of menus, or go online to figure out what’s for dinner.


Italian? Chinese? Thai? Sushi? What the hell.

For some reason, I often forget Greek food, or even Lebanese…. two of my favorites.

This leads me to this week’s review of Kellari… the place I almost forgot about.

My recent visit was on Valentine’s Day, a simply wonderful day to visit. Sure, the restaurant had a special menu for the special day, but also offered their regular daily menu for those of us who just want to eat the good stuff, without the obligatory “prix fixe” cuisine. The hand delivered roses were a nice touch by the management, too.

For me, Greek and Lebanese/Mediterranean food is all about the mezes. I usually load up on a table full of these treasures, and leave the entrees to others. Really. By the time I am finished nibbling on 8 small plates of food, I’m about done.

The good news here is that the meze are out of this world.

What can I recommend?

Before anything hits the table, you are presented with a tray of homemade hummus spread (terrific), pickles and cucumbers. Just right with that pre-wine cocktail you just ordered.

The rest?

The tzatziki, their version of the well know garlic/cucumber/yogurt dip… is outstanding. Creamy, cold and rich…. it is nearly a meal in itself, and is accompanied by a basket of fresh-out-of-the-oven pita bread. Crazy good.

The fava beans in roasted tomato reminded me of the same dish I enjoyed in Crete only a few years ago. Tangy tomato with just the right herb infusion, with perfectly cooked fava beans (with bite and no mush).

The house smoked feta with honey was also terrific, as were the dolma (vine leaves filled with lamb, rice and raisins)… but the show stealer was the katsikisio…. in Greek, that’s warm goat cheese baked with apricots and almonds. This dish convinced us that these guys really know their stuff.

The mistake of the night was ordering dinner. Already full at that point, our curiosity got the best of us, and the whole fish was begging to be roasted.

So, we ordered their house specialty… any whole fish (many to choose from), that are scaled and filleted to order, and grilled over charcoal.

Was the fish good? Yes. But I need to add an asterisk to this remark, as I had a slight problem with the fish.

Being from Louisiana can sometimes be a curse when it comes to seafood, as I was spoiled from a young age. This means that any… and I mean ANY piece of fish I eat, just can’t smell or taste like, well, fish.

So when the fresh roasted Red Snapper (not Gulf but imported) came to the table, I had a feeling it might have a slightly stronger fish taste that I prefer, and I was right. It did.

For most, this is a taste they know and don’t mind. The fish was expertly prepared and presented, and by the looks of others around us, enjoyed by all.

I passed.

Desserts looked astounding, but honestly I was still full from the meze… but I did indulge in a cup of Greek coffee… which I highly recommend. Sure, it’s sludge, but the stuff tastes great, and reminds me of Istanbul. Go for it.

So the verdict?

Aside from my fish experience, the place is absolutely wonderful. It’s a sleek, modern and tasteful room, with attentive staff and a generally good vibe. The food is excellent, and fairly priced. I’m still trying to figure out how I scored at table at 7pm here on Valentine’s Day.

My remedy for strong fish will be ordering on of the many tempting meat dishes on my next visit. This food is just too good to let one fish get in the way.

Kellari Taverna

19 W 44th St, New York 10036
Btwn 5th & 6th Ave

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ted's Montana Grill: Pretender?

Get Ready. There is Bison in Midtown.

Ted Turner has bison. And a ranch. And CNN.

So, last week when I visited Ted’s Montana Grill in Midtown, I expected the works. Antlers, stuffed heads, Indian-inspired rugs, big screen TV’s beaming Wolf Blitzer, you name it.

The place was, well, not what I expected.

So what did I find?

Well, at first glance the wood-clad room looked about like any other Bennigans-like establishment, smallish and without most of the kitsch, except for the singular, gratuitous bison head. The place was simple, and exuded nearly zero personality… which is just fine if you are making your statement in the kitchen (I hope this is the plan).

My visit to Ted’s was a hamburger mission, and I wasn’t going to be denied. It had been weeks since I had a good hamburger, and I had heard that Ted’s had a good thing happening with the bison burger…. so here I was.

First, getting a table at lunch is a problem. The prices are in that “it’s just a hair to expensive but what the hell” range, that spells trouble when it’s 10 degrees outside. That kind of weather is certainly worth another $5-$8 dollars of consideration. So, we wait.

Our midweek noon encounter was a packed one, with seemingly nobody in charge. We did receive the vibrating remote (thank you Olive Garden), but were later greeted in the bar by a wait person who told us to ditch it, as she would find us a table. Hmmm, I smell an employee meeting coming on.

After she sat us in a strangely covert way, we were greeted by a slightly insane server who quickly made sure we had enough beer to get through the wait of actually ordering and eating. Job well done.

Let’s hop to the food.

First, the bison. If you like good, meaty tasting burgers, you will like bison. It’s not a gamey taste (which I can’t tolerate), it’s a big, meaty one. My burger, cooked medium well (order on notch higher than usual says the waiter guy) was moist in the middle, and crunchy-charred on the outside. Yum.

The bun (nearly as important) was of the Kaiser roll variety, and also held its own. It came with a little grease on the bottom, but hey, who’s complaining. That’s flavor in the burger world.

The fries (extra $$) were cold and average, a disappointment when you consider that these guys try to take hamburgers seriously.

The rest of the menu features chicken grilled sandwiches, apps (we had an OK stack of onion rings) and steaks of the bison and regular beef variety. Daily specials look good, as did the soup of the day which we tasted… a yankee-styled gumbo that was good and hot, but not very authentic. A better bowl can be had at Cosi (no, really, Cosi).

Desserts fair much better, and the Apple Crisp looked downright yummy.

So the verdict?

It’s just OK, which can be the kiss of death in this city, where mediocrity can mean papering up the windows. But with the need of burger joints in Midtown, Ted’s will likely survive. I enjoyed my burger, and it hit the spot… just not the memorable one. I may be back from time to time, but I won’t be opting for the vibrating remote… I’ll be moving down the street where the wait isn’t quite as long.

Time to cab over to Hell's Kitchen for chicken and waffles.

Ted's Montana Grill
American (Traditional), Steakhouses, Wild Game

110 W 51st St, New York 10020
Btwn 6th & 7th Ave

Phone: 212-245-5220

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

In Case You Missed It: February 07

News and Notes You Need To Know

First, Happy Valentines Day!

If you thought the only folks happy about the holiday of love were the blokes at Hallmark, think again. Just about every reputable restaurant in NYC is taking reservations up the wazoo... wishing every month had a Feb. 14th!

That said, here is the latest from the plate, just in time to pick up the phone and find you'll be eating at 5:oopm, or 11:30pm.

Say It Ain't So
Word on the street is that Cité, my favorite wine dinner spot in NYC, and possibly one of the best deals on earth, is closing. Something about a lease, blah blah blah. This means, if you like to drink, I mean, really drink.... you'll need to get over there in the coming weeks and indulge.

I Like The View

Is there anything more romantic than watching ice skaters glide across the Rockefeller Plaza ice? Sure, but I gotta tell you, tables underground on the glass at The Sea Grill ain't bad. Valentine's Day provides a Prix Fixe dinner for $88. that includes Sevruga Caviar and a Lobster Risotto, as well as Veal Cheeks for my land lubbing friends. You could do worse.....

Surf and Turf for $75 Bones?

Sure. Nick and Stef's has the deal on the 14th, which also include raw oysters (I think this is good for the date) and a frozen Raspberry cake for dessert. Worth consideration.

Opt Out and Knock Her Socks Off
Why fight the crowds when you can order in? Fresh Direct will show up at the house with a sweetheart of a meal that includes a Double Cut Filet Mignon with twin Lobster Tails or a Gruyére Fondue, killer appetizer and Molten Chocolate Cake for between $69 and $99 bucks. When you consider the cab, flowers, etc... this and a netflix evening could lead to some real romance....

Because You Need It
If you are a coffee freak like me, you need the Capresso Team Plus S coffee maker. The machine, that grinds fresh beans and brews at the optimal temp (which nearly no other coffee maker does) delivers the hottest, best tasting cup of coffee on the home market. For those who own this machine like I do, time to upgrade to the Capresso Coffee Team Therm! Basically the same machine, with a thermal carafe to keep your joe in the 180 degree range for several hours. At $299., the machine is a steal, as the burr grinder in the baby is worth that price alone....

Forget The Diet and Eat King Cake
Since I was a kid, I've been eating King Cakes, and one of my favorites is now on the web... direct from New Orleans. Order the Pecan Praline filled with Cream Cheese and celebrate Mardi Gras with us coonasses.

It's Mardi Gras.... Eat Like You Mean It

I rarely pimp my cajun brothers and their food, but if you haven't had the Jalapeno Sausage Bread and Stuffed Chickens from Bourque's, you haven't lived. Click here, call Shannon and tell them that Andre at ForkNewYork sent ya. The ship it all, and the may be the best sausage makers in Louisiana. Really.

Quick Bites......
How amazing are the Garden of Eden stores in NYC?... The Chelsea store blew me away over the weekend, and sells the best tortilla chips I have ever eaten (in the brown paper bag with the window)..... Chelsea Papaya dogs are just as good as Gray's and a hair cheaper.... "Lupa" has expanded their hours, and are now open ALL DAY... so, forget the lines and go have a late late lunch without the crowds....why haven't I been throwing chicken wings in my convection oven my whole life?... the owners of ForkNewYork favorite "Bin 71" have opened a new joint "Barcibo Enoteca", a few blocks away on Broadway on the Upper West... similar menu, but a large, expanded Italian wine list awaits.... splurge on the Schaller and Weber Black Forest Bacon on your next Fresh Direct order, you won't be sorry.... does anyone do the Atkins Diet anymore?.... I understand the burgers at Ted's Montana Grill are tasty, and plan to see for myself next week.... did Whole Foods really stop selling lobsters because of cruelty?... has anyone visited their pork department?..... the "Dirty" Brand potato chips sold all over NYC are actually "Zapps" potato chips, made in Gramercy, Louisiana and marketed under the "Dirty" chip name.... watch for a future Tuesday profile of mine on "Midtown Lunch", one of NYC's better food blogs..... speaking of blogs, this blog was recently linked on Eater.com, and has been added to BlogSoop.com as well as Digesty and others..... when is the last time you had a bowl of Oh's! Cereal?....

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Bar Room at The Modern: Art in Motion

Great Food In A Great Setting.... Is There More?

There is something amazingly clever about eating at a museum.

For years, I have loved eating at museums… in Europe (where the food is just downright great) and in the US (where the food can sway between terrific and a sandwich shelf at 7-11).

Eating at European museums usually means that not only will the food be artful, tasteful and fun… but so will your surroundings. Like at the Café at the Louvre in Paris, or the Picasso Museum… or perhaps the wonderful café at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Of course half the fun is looking at the design of the plates, forks and glasses… but somehow these places also deliver delicious foodstuffs at reasonable prices.

MOMA in New York is no different, and has a charming café to have a salad or sandwich and a glass of white wine… but more tempting is The Modern, their fine dining destination on the ground floor.

Carved into two dining areas, The Modern brings museum dining to a new level. Chef Danny Meyer has made sure the food is terrific, and the setting does the rest.

My visit was on a Sunday evening, and my guest and I dined at a table in The Bar Room… the larger of the two dining rooms, as well as the more affordable.

The menu in The Bar Room is divided into 3 sections, the first two being starter plates (think tapas size) and the third being the entrée page (with the portions being more half entrée size).

If you are a big eater who lives for Chinese buffets and 2 pound Stouffer’s Lasagna, this may not be the spot for you.

Being a large guy myself and decent eater, I found the portions to be fine, and the flavors to be remarkable.

Off of the first page of our menu, my guest ordered a wonderful salad with triple cream goat cheese… and I had the grilled shrimp with green cabbage and gruyere.

Well I have to tell you, both dishes were spectacular. The salad was delicate and flavorful, but the shrimp dish was the standout. The shrimp were smoky and grilled perfectly, and the cabbage salad was superb. We both thought that if this was the level of taste we had arrived for the evening, this was going to be one heck of a night.

Unfortunately, the next course of homemade country sausage (for her) and wild mushroom soup with chorizo ravioli (for me) brought us back down to earth.

While the sausage was good, it was nothing spectacular, and honestly not as good as the homemade variety I might nab of the Halo Berlin Cart in midtown. The soup was a light, broth-like puree that was big on taste and very good… but was paired with a fried, dry chorizo stuffed ravioli… a complete and total mystery. Even on it’s own, the chorizo bites were not very good, and this is coming from a guy who eats sausage like I am expecting to have a heart attack any day.

The savior of the meal was the third course, which brought us back above the bar. The wild, horseradish-crusted salmon was incredible… resting in a foam of sweet Riesling. My sirloin au poive came with fluffy pan-fried spaetzle, tossed in a brown butter cream. Wow.

The wines are expensive and are available by the glass, and cocktails creative and well mixed. Deserts looked terrific with a nice selection including beignets, sorbets and cheesecakes… but alas, there was no room at the inn.

So final thoughts?

I like it. Lunch may present a smaller bill, but truth be told, this is fairly good value when you qualify this setting, at the world-renown MOMA. If you are looking for a wonderful meal at less-than-The Modern prices, The Bar Room is for you.

Just come early for a glimpse at a few Picasso’s. It makes for an exquisite evening.

The Bar Room at The Modern
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
French, American

9 W 53rd St, New York 10019
Btwn 5th & 6th Ave

Photo proudly swiped from Robert Presutti for The New York Times.