What would I order…easy…predictable…perfect. Gratinee des Halles, a nice burgendy, followed by steak au poivre & frites. Enough said, it was wonderful! Nothing flashy, just a relaxed atmosphere & tasty victuals. It really had the feeling of a neighborhood hang out. Actually, we couldn’t pin-point any other tourists while we were there…
A few weeks back, Jennifer had a weekend conference in NYC. I hadn’t been in quite a while, and Jen had never been…so we went! We were unable to secure any hotel for 3 consecutive nights, so we hotel hopped all over Manhattan (South of Central Park). Of course I viewed this as a perfect opportunity to eat myself nearly to death and after 3 days and about $1000, I almost succeeded.
First thing I did is purchase a Zagat guide from Habib. Habib was selling Zagats, falafals, and porn. I chose the 2008 NYC Zagat Restaurant Guide and started to scan any 26 and up joint in the neighborhood. Luckily (so I thought), Esca, a Batali/Bastianich Italian seafood joint was only a few blocks away. Zagat rated a 27… Usually you wouldn’t be able to get a reservation at such a place, but you’d be surprised with only 2 people how many openings are available…you will get the worst seat in the house, but hey, you’re sitting down.
Atmosphere was about what one would expect. Nice but not overdone. Curteous waitstaff, who actually weren’t that knowledgeable. We started with some supposedly fresh sardines. I nearly gagged on these. I don’t like sardines from a can, Jen loves them and thought these were OK. We’d had some nice ones in Baltimore that I really enjoyed. These were simple enough. Grilled with some olive oil…that’s it. 2 measley sardines grilled in olive oil for about $18. Things weren’t starting off well… Until, Jen’s second course. She ordered maccheroni alla chittara with lump crabmeat and sea urchin. I cannot begin to tell you how awesome this was! Homemade pasta pressed thru the chittara tossed in a rather robust buttery seafoody sauce. I’ve never tasted sea urchin before, and I’m not sure my description could do it justice, so I’ll just say it was scrumptous. I choked and ordered ricotta gnocchi, the description said light and ethereal…they were heavy and tasted like biscuit dough…they were served in cold tomato sauce that tasted like pureed canned tomatoes…I’m not joking, this was one of the worst Italian dishes I’ve ever had outside of my own kitchen (‘cept maybe Fazoli’s, sorry G). I told Jen that I could make these 1000 times better and did as soon as I got off the plane in Augusta, just to prove that gnocchi are good eats…Mario’s chef let me down. For our entree, we decided to split the “Ippoglosso” a Digby bay halibut with braised leeks and baby spinach. I was excited about this one, but again disappointed. Fish was pan-seared/pan-burnt on one side and dry as a chip. Totally overdone…should have sent it back, but it was so small, after Jen and I each had a bite the dish was nearly gone… Oh well. The only saving grace to the meal was a reasonable “wine by the glass” menu. Each “glass” came as a 1/2 caraffe. So after 2 each (probably about 3/4 bottle of wine), we didn’t care that the appetizer, my pasta, and our entree sucked. Didn’t order desert b/c the night was young. I’m thinking about emailed Batali and letting him know that his name is at risk if he doesn’t pay more attention to his growing number of restaurants…next thing you know, we’ll be ordering frozen/reheated pizzas from Mario Express in Hartsfield-Jackson.
Now for the good. I love Bistro food and Jen loves Tony Bourdain. So we had to drop into Les Halles for lunch the next day (BTW) it’s colder than it looks…
The remainder of our meals there were nondiscript. Most pretty good. Had a few meals in Little Italy…lunch on Saturday should be mentioned. Jennifer was in her conference and I had all day to screw around. Thought I would walk to the Time-Warner Center and check out Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. Doubt I’ll ever be able to eat at Per Se or The French Laundry, so what the hell, I’ll have the man make me a sandwich! Atmosphere total mall. Sitting at a community table with some very annoying locals who felt the need to lecture me on politics…they suspected I wasn’t from NYC…wonder what tipped them off? Sitting under a huge Samsung with a beautiful view of the escalators, I ordered lobster/black-truffle mac & cheese. This thing nearly killed me. Nova Scotian lobster, pasta, black-truffle, gruyere cream sauce…rich, rich, rich…loved it…couldn’t finish it…could barely walk back to Grand Central Station. BTW-$35 for mac & cheese…should have seen it coming.
Perhaps the coolest thing about NYC was the market at Grand Central Station. They have every ingredient that you could never find in your local mega-mart. Truffles, foi gras, zucchini blossoms, pea shoots, exotic meats, squab etc…they even had ramps! Should stop in if you’re ever there and check it out. Finally, the subway is clearly the way to get around Manhattan…sorry for rambling. I’ll do better next time.