Thursday, March 20, 2008

Frankie and Johnnie's: Old School In Midtown Still Works

Quit over-thinking your pre-theatre dinner, and make the rezo

If you are a steak snob, you may not want to read this.

There are good steak houses in NYC, and they don’t have to start with LU and end with GAR’S.

Case in point, my recent trip to the old tried and true “Frankie and Johnnie’s” on W. 45th, right smack dab in the middle of the theatre district.

Why? Well, curiosity I guess. The place has history you know…. the legend has it that it was a speakeasy that used the passwords “Frankie” and “Johnnie”. That’s good enough for me.

Truth be told the steaks are delicious and the space is old New York. Cramped and, well cramped. But you know, on a cold NYC night… it can wind up being just the ticket. Romantic and old school.

First, when you visit, don’t flip out that you have to climb a set of steep-ass stairs. When you open the door of the place, you climb up, check your coat and open the door… to realize that you are now standing in the kitchen. I thought to myself… “I like this place”.

We crawled into our tiny booth space and ordered a perfect martini, and average glass of wine, and two spectacular lump crabmeat cocktails. Being from South Louisiana, I am picky when it comes to shrimp and crab, and this was good stuff. One splash of fresh lemon and I was off.

My steak choice for the evening was the filet mignon with the lobster tail. The steak was cooked perfectly and melted in my mouth. The meat here is dusted in a house spice of salt and pepper (and a few others that don’t intrude) so you don’t need to do much. It was a great cut, cooked perfectly and went down easy.

The lobster tail I could have passed on… as it was of the frozen variety and was overcooked… but the crab was so good, I took a shot. Maybe not next time. I’ll never learn.

My companion had the ribeye and equally enjoyed. With a mountain of lyonnaise potatoes and a platter of average at best broiled mushrooms, we had enough to keep us happy until post-theatre coffee and dessert. There is a decent wine list, but the cocktail and glass of wine seemed to do the trick.

The verdict? Well, I like it. Is there a bigger, better steakhouse in the area?... sure. Could we have walked to another place in the freezing cold?... sure. Is there a better place to eat in the theatre district in relation to the Imperial Theatre? Likely not.

Go and enjoy old New York… get a crabmeat cocktail and a juicy steak… and for the hell of it, knock on the door and say “Frankie”.

You never know… someone just might open it and say “Johnnie”.

Frankie & Johnnie's ($$$$$)

269 W 45th St, New York 10036
Btwn Bway & 8th Ave

Phone: 212-997-9494
Fax: 212-997-6851

Friday, March 14, 2008

KOI: An LA Concept Continues to Wow NYC

But How Much Are You Willing To Spend On Sushi?

There has been a long standing argument between foodies in Los Angeles and New York over sushi. Sure, New York is the steak and Italian food capital of North America, and yes, Los Angeles has simply the best Mexican mom and pop joints on the planet…. but sushi?

Well, the argument can use Nobu as a measure, but truth be told, both cities have outstanding sushi options. The difference is in what the offering is….

As NYC has tried and true sushi and sashimi houses (and newer fusion-type stores, thanks Morimoto), our friends in LA were ahead of the fusion curve a long time ago. I credit much of it to the incredible strip-mall pioneer Katsu-ya in Studio City… and of course, Nobu… but honestly, there are numerous spots in LA that were on this bandwagon a long time ago.

This point is what makes my review of Koi an interesting one. Plain and simple, Koi is an LA sushi house, dressed in hip black clothes, making music in midtown Manhattan. Yes, I know...Koi IS STILL an sushi joint in Los Angeles today... but you must admit, it takes serious guts to open an LA joint in NYC without changing.... well anything.

The dead giveaway?

Well, without question, it’s LA’s most famous sushi dish, the Crispy Tuna Roll. By the way, if you haven’t had a Crispy Tuna Roll, stop reading this review and get your ass down there now. It’s that good.

Where did it come from?? Well, the famous roll is in fact a product of the previously mentioned “Katsu-ya”. What is it?

Well, first you combine fresh minced tuna with fine scallions and mix it in a creamy hot sauce to create a thick tuna mixture you can form into fingers.

Next, you take a same-sized finger of sushi rice, and actually “grill” it on an open fire BBQ, giving the rice a crispy, smoky flavor. You place the tuna on top of the rice and finish with a thin slice of jalapeno… and presto… you have the most popular sushi dish on the west coast.

So, true to form, before I even opened the Koi menu, I quickly ordered 2 orders (8 pieces total)… next time I’ll peek at the menu, since I had no idea that Koi charges $16.00 per order…. holy crap.

I’m being help hostage. But I need my Crispy Tuna Roll so badly, I’ll pay anything… and I did. Are they as good as Katsu-ya?... well, I think so. At $4 per bite? Uh, yea. What can I do?

As far as the other items of the menu, they are solid and expensive. As a matter of fact, it’s all expensive. And let me remind you, I’m not usually the guy who frowns on expensive meals… but there is expensive, and also “damn, that’s expensive”. I think it’s a perceived value thing. None the less, it’s easy to drop a few hundred dollars here for dinner and drinks for two.

So now that you’ve tried your Crispy Tuna Rolls, here is what you need.

The Creamy Rock Shrimp.
Also a dish from LA in origin, it’s one of my favorites. Again, a creamy hot sauce coating hot, crispy tempura rock shrimp. Good stuff.

Tuna Tartare Avocado.
Nice and light, with wonton crackers on the side. Nicey nice.

Sautéed Shrimp on California Roll. Spectacular. Exactly what you think it is, and to make it even better, order it on soy paper instead of nori.

Baked Lobster Roll. Also delish. Pace yourself at this point, there is more.

Cucumber Sunomono. Highly recommended as a meal and palate refresher as you travel from dish to dish. Sweet and sour bites of fresh sliced yumness.

Warm Baby Spinach and Mushrooms. A popular dish everywhere, this one is delicate and well done. Easy to share.

Spicy Seared Albacore with crispy red onions. Another Katsu-ya dish, that gets to shine here at Koi. Love these flavors, and the onions are the bomb.

And last but not least… dessert.

Order what you want, but I am partial to the Warm Asian Pear Bread Pudding with Maple Ice Cream, pomegranate and caramel sauce. Hell yea.


One thing I guess I should mention at this point is that you may need an attitude adjustment before you hop on over to Koi.

The place is ssss-wanky…. and you are reminded constantly. Arrive early with a reservation and avoid the jet setters, and you’ll thank me later. If you want to wait outside in line with a grumpy doorman while others eat your Crispy Tuna Rolls, well that’s up to you. Remember, I told you so. (Rezo’s are available through Open Table).

The verdict… I love it. How can I not? They have my Crispy Tuna Roll. But the truth is they really do all of it well, and it a hip and sleek dining room to boot. Just make sure your Visa or MC has some room on it, your gonna need it.


Cross Street Btwn 5th & 6th Ave
Visa, MC, AmEx, Disc

Daily: 7am-11am
Mon-Fri: 12pm-2:30pm
Mon-Wed: 5:30pm-11pm
Thu-Sat: 5:30pm-12am
Sun: 6pm-10pm

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner