July 8, 2019 | BITE: My Journal
Playing Favorites: Best So Far 2019
A New York snow day by FreddyDo.
I don’t think I’m imagining it. So far 2019 has been a cruel year. Blizzards, black ice, thunderstorms and torrential rain, street closings and traffic tie-ups. In earlier days, I would have ignored these challenges, determined to get to newly opened restaurants first.
Giacomo on West 72nd Street does a great Havana Hero for one of those rare evenings at home.
Now if there’s a big freeze or a threatened squall, I’ll get a salad and cheese from Épicerie Boulud, bring home a Havana Hero and brownie from Giacomo, or scramble eggs. That laziness explains why I tend to grace neighborhood favorites, like Red Farm and Café Fiorello.
Not that I haven’t been on the prowl. Here are several places I discovered in 2019 where I’m sending my pals. In no particular order…
Play it Again at the Terrace
I feel transported to Casablanca under the palm tree reflections on the ceiling at the Terrace.
First I fell for the aura of Casablanca in the reflections of palms on the ceiling. The waiters in black pajamas remind my niece Dana of Steve Jobs. And then I became a captive of the menu by Chef John Fraser who’s in charge of all the kitchens in Ian Schrager’s smart new Times Square Edition Hotel.
Even if I weren’t a penny pincher I’d go for the $12 cofit duck leg at the Terrace. It’s that good.
I’d eaten at the Terrace four or five times before I discovered the roast confit duck leg with pink peppercorns listed among the sides for just $12. Add a salad -- watercress with crab cake croutons or escarole hearts with Greek yogurt and heirloom seeds -- or the king crab tagliatelle that two can share. Want dessert? The seasonal fruit cookpot crumble. That’s dinner. The good-looking crowd and the black-and-white photos at the door are the floorshow. 701 Seventh Avenue, Entrance on West 47th just west of Times Square. Ninth floor. 212 398 7017.
701 West: Seduction in Blue Velvet
I’m avoiding tasting dinners but I loved the food and the serenity at 701 West in the Times Square Edition.
Two stories above The Terrace, I discovered a velvet-swathed cocoon for friends who long for a little serenity at dinner. We decided to try Chef Fraser’s $98 three-course tasting. It begins with aristocratic foreplay like the small cauliflower mille-feuille with mezcal cream and Black Diamond caviar, and the sunflower custard with white asparagus.
I’ve sworn off extended tastings that drag on and on. Tonight the drama is partly my fault because I arrive late and got caught up in catching up. And of course not everyone will insist on trading plates as we do.
Trading plates so everyone tastes everything does take time but my friends indulge me.
I sample my Hokkaido sea urchin risotto on a squid ink-blot with sea beans and hand it to Dana who passes along her broiled sea scallops in charred fennel butter. Philip sends his chicken and truffle boudin with crawfish and fennel to Erica in exchange for her Mitten crab with daikon in Chablis-citrus butter.
Two exotic middle dishes and then the entrée exchange: duck, salmon, filet mignon. Tamarind sorbet with cucumber and ginger cream for the palate cleanser. Vanilla cheesecake with hibiscus verbena jam. Apricot sorbet with chocolate pecan ganache. Fruit gels and white chocolate bon bons to finish.
Outside, waiting for a taxi, we collide with a congregation of female impersonators exiting too. No surprise. This is New York. 701 Seventh Avenue. 212 396 7017.
Not By Bread Alone
Adam Leonti has brought a new look and a fine menu to where Dovetail used to be on West 77th Street.
Chef Adam Leonti and his partners made a major commitment to Leonti, the upgrade of what had been Dovetail, a pocket of fine dining that won Chef John Fraser a Michelin star and three huzzahs from the Times. Leonti’s bread doesn’t look particularly special, but it is a house obsession, and justly so, made from heritage wheat milled in the cellar and served warm, with cultured butter alongside.
One evening we’re three sharing the antipasto service, “a seasonal collection of savory treats.” Dozens of small plates cover the tablecloth: salmon crudo with crescenza cheese, yogurt sformato with cumin, tripe salad, and more. That could easily be dinner but we’ve ordered bay scallop and spaghetti before entrées too.
Our perfect third dinner at Leonti begins with chicory salad: radicchio, hazelnuts and gorgonzola.
Our perfect third dinner starts with chicory salad, a vivid tumble of radicchio with chopped hazelnuts and gorgonzola. The Roman artichoke lasagna with mint, my favorite of the primi, looks like a couturier dreamed it up. The tortellini pie is a riot of meatballs, béchamel, and ragu Bolognese seasoned with aged balsamic. The homey little goat cheese on crumbly cake, decked out with cranberry sorbetto, is wonderful. 103 West 77th Street just west of Columbus Avenue. 212 362 3800.
Mercado Little Spain: Mar, Leña and the Diner
Little Spain at Hudson Yards offers several dining options: table, counter, standup.
José Andrés and the Adria brothers, Ferran and Albert, helped put together the menus, the eating barra and the restaurants here. Explore the seafood dishes at a table in Mar: cod fritters on a platter with honey aioli, fried baby hake, peel-and-eat shrimp in a garlicky sauce, tiny bay scallops with chopped cucumber, peppers and tomato, crispy fideo noodles with seafood.
Expect to see wonderful toast and pan tomate at the restaurants in Little Spain.
At Leña we share a big bowl of gazpacho, platters of tomato bread, artichokes with romesco sauce, roasted leeks with fire ash dressing, quail, and lamb chops. For dessert, rum-soaked pineapple, super rich crema catalane, and goat cheese with chocolate chips.
Individual glasses filled two-thirds full of less-than-thrilling gazpacho, and ensaladilla rusa (potato salad with tuna, carrots and peas in mayonnaise) arrive first, with platters of toasted tomato bread, to our circle banquette in the Diner. Creamy little fried logs – Granny’s wonderful Spanish chicken fritters – follow.
We asked for paella but the fideos were ready first so we ate fideos instead.
The escalivada catalana combines slices of fire-roasted red pepper, eggplant and onion with sherry dressing – five slivers of each, a wonderful collection of textures. Soon enough, larger plates of fine Spanish comfort food cover the table – lentil stew with chorizo and blood sausage, macaroni with bits of pork and tomato sauce, and plump rolls of cannelloni filled with chicken, pork and duck liver, smothered by béchamel sauce and melted cheese.
The cheese plate, delivered as a gift, features soft, creamy slices of the powerful Rey Silo Magaya Massimo with little squares of candied quince and breadsticks. I dispatch Dana with my credit card to buy half a pound of Rey Silo to go from the cheese kiosk. 10 Hudson Yards on West 30th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues. 646 495 1242.
A Ferocious Good Time at Feroce
The design of Feroce in the Moxy Hotel is by the Rockwell Group.
Francesco Panella of Antica Pesa (in Rome and Brooklyn) designed the menu here at Feroce in the Moxy Chelsea. Three kinds of wood on the floor and pleated red lampshades reflect the Rockwell Team touch. The house salad is a colorful toss of white and red endive with poached pears, spicy walnuts, and gorgonzola in a deliciously odd rosemary and honey dressing. There’s an artichoke insalata too, with arugula, pecorino Romano and crisp herbed breadcrumbs.
It was soon after opening. Feroce was almost empty so the manager whipped up limoncello granite for us.
Gnocco Fritto, traditional fried dough from Emilia Romagna, is capped with a fold of pistachio mortadella and a cloud of Parmesan grated at the table. Eggplant comes in a tower of fried rounds with imported Fior di latte mozzarella, tomatoes and quivers of basil. Homemade fettuccine is tossed with lobster, Martini Bianco and tomatoes. The risotto of aged carnaroli rice is golden from butternut squash and rich with taleggio. The corn-fed, roasted galletto is served with rosemary roasted potatoes. Get the house to make limoncello granita for a finale. 105 West 28th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. 212 888 1092.
Not Quite Indonesian, But Close.
We’re in a large corner booth pressed against the kitchen of Wayan with these Indonesian figures above.
It wasn’t totally clear how Asian or how French-inflected the satays and sambals would be at Wayan, the new venture of Cédric Vongerichten and his Indonesian wife Ochi. We’re seven so we double up on the tamarind-glazed pork ribs and the peekytoe crab cake with cucumber acar and sweet chili sauce.
Wayan does this exotic-looking sundae with ube fruit ice cream.
I sip my Greater Galanga Sour as runners from the kitchen rush us hearts of palm with mango and passion fruit, along with coconut and kaffir-scented clams plus various sauces and condiments. There are elongated spring rolls too hot to bite to first, a collection of satays on skewers, and avocado gado gado with quail eggs and peanut relish. Everywhere, the tingle of lemongrass, ginger, coconut, and kaffir surprises. The corn cake could become addictive.
Vongerichten uses French technique to play with dishes he and Ochi fell for in their travels to Bali and Komodo Island. It’s less about rigid authenticity and more about what New Yorkers will like. I don’t mind that at all. 20 Spring Street between Mott and Elizabeth. 917 261 4388.
Catching Up with Jones Wood Foundry
If it’s your first time at Jones Wood Factory, you should definitely try the Scottish egg.
Jones Wood Foundry has been around a while, but I only discovered it when the publicist, my friend Shelley Clark, suggested we try the haggis to celebrate Robert Burns’ birthday. The boozy front room is often crowded but charm awaits out back overlooking the yard under the skylight.
We went to taste haggis in honor of Robert Burns birthday and started the evening with the house popovers.
I can live my life without haggis, but I will be going back for the grilled cheese sandwich with Stilton and cheddar, the braised oxtail pappardelle, the savory meat pie and the warm plum pudding. Agreed, it’s not proper to celebrate poets or pappardelle with press agents, but I’ve been around too long to corrupt. I hope. 401 East 76th Street between First and York Avenues. 212 249 2700.
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