December 3, 2018 | BITE: My Journal
I’ve Been Meaning to Go Back. Maybe I Will. Maybe I Won’t.
A captain ignites the baked Alaska at Pomona under the Paris Movie Theater on West 58th Street.
I’ve heard that 90 percent of new restaurants close in their first year. I’ve also read that isn’t true; it’s closer to 30 percent. Whatever, clearly landing a new restaurant is a challenge. Going through the Vintage Insatiable pages on my website, I’m shocked to see how many restaurants I loved, or at least really liked, are gone.
Just when I succumbed to Oona Tempest’s sushi at Sushi by Bae, she left town.
Sushi by Bae had moved from a desolate stand in an abandoned market into a charming spot in the Jue Lan Club when I happily rediscovered it in February. Then the sushi whiz, Oona Tempest, left for Japan. Sayonara, it closed.
My pals and I had just fallen for the charcuterie at Charc on East 84th when it suddenly closed up.
I just reviewed Charc in July and four months later, it’s vanished. Clinton Street is spooked by ghostly comings and goings. #MeToo accusations helped shutter White Gold Butchers, Salvation Taco and Salvation Burger.
There’s an inch or so of bone broth in this charming covered cup at Leonti. Trendy, not thrilling.
There are restaurants I’ve liked and meant to revisit to taste more dishes. There are some I could warn you about but don’t want to judge harshly on just one outing. Others don’t call out to me but you might want to visit based on my early assessment. These are places I’ve been planning to revisit.
Elegance and Cookies at Leonti
Chef Adam Leonti stops by to get bravos from my enthusiastic pal Bob at our corner table that second visit.
Perhaps Leonti is too ambitious to be judged on just two dinners. Definitely the first was too early. The other was ruined for me by the $52 veal that was too tough to chew. I sent it back mostly untouched in hopes that chef Adam Leonti would see. Alas, the busser piled other dishes on top of the veal and I doubt anyone noticed.
We ask the server to split our spaghetti with scallops. It returns swirled in a trio of empty orange halves.
Never mind, I’ll try again. The new white-tablecloth look of what used to be Dovetail is smart and appealing. The welcome is warm and friendly. Aside from the obnoxious captain at that very early dinner who kept insisting we order a bottle of wine (we didn’t), the crew is charming and seems to be having fun.
Leonti’s branzino is presented, then returned to the kitchen for deboning and filetting.
The milk-braised lamb is scented with rosemary and served with tarbais beans.
My companions like the $39 assaggini in small dishes more than I do. I’m drawn by idea of cinnamon fettuccine but not the reality. I abandon it after one swirl of my fork. We ask to have the bay scallops divided for three and it returns mounded in a trio of empty range shells -- delicate scallops, cold noodles. Our fault. But the $50 salt-baked whole branzino is a triumph that could be an entrée enough for all of us.
A silver tree of petits fours and candy like this one at Leonti always leaves me in a good mood.
I steal a couple of oatmeal cookies from the bowl on the ledge of our booth (great on my yogurt and cereal next morning) and I can’t resist tasting each one of the gels and little pastries on the silver petits fours tower. Later sugar shock. I wish I’d been more circumspect.
My favorite pasta at Leonti is the chestnut gnocchi with chanterelles and castelmagno fonduta.
My friend Bob is eager to return. I’m less enthusiastic – that veal is a turnoff – but still I think the effort is worth another try. Recommended: artichoke lasagna, Maine lobster panzanella, chestnut gnocchi, milk-braised lamb with tarbais beans, tartufo. 103 West 77th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus. 212 362 3800.
Juku: We All Just Want to Have Fun
Juka’s izakaya on Mulberry Street deliveries dinner in a handsome room lavished with major art.
Executive chef Kazuo Yoshida’s Juku, on the edge of Chinatown, is separated into three parts - izakaya, omakase, and Straylight (a basement bar with lots of art). I’m looking forward to the omakase but it seems we hadn’t specifically mentioned sushi when we reserved and all the seats are spoken for.
A swirl of noodles with shitakes in a foie gras broth at Juku. What did we do to get that caviar?
Cindi Lauper sings and then Whitney Houston as we share the black cod at Juku.
My friend Lauren is upset as we settle into the dramatically lit, high-ceilinged, empty izakaya. “It’s fine,” I assure her. “I like the look of the menu.” A Bombay Gin martini soothes the transition. Cindi Lauper sings “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” on the sound system.
The three of us start the evening at Juku with Bombay Gin and live scallops on cherry wood.
It’s just an inexpensive side but the spicy cucumber with Ayu fish sauce is one of my favorites at Juku.
Dishes arrive, mostly one at a time: Live scallop with wasabi on cherry wood. Australian black label strip steak tartare with ponzu and sesame, with toast to pile it on. Spicy cucumber with fish sauce. Fried chicken and mushrooms with hot sauce. Black cod with sansho butter and shishito peppers. A Colorado lamb chop.
At the corner, we discover we’re on one-block Mosco Street, the final remnant of Five Points, long ago the most dangerous neighborhood in town. It feels desolate, without much traffic and I feel we are far from civilization. After a long time, an empty cab finally stops. 32 Mulberry Street at Mosco. 646 590 2111.
Pomona: Subterranean Hideaway
They mill their own flour and bake the bread at the new Pomona under the Paris movie house on West 58th.
I loved Michael Vignola’s cooking at Henry in the Life Hotel. He disappeared when Steve Hanson sold his share of that venture. But I’d kept his cell number and eventually found him redoing the space underneath the Paris Theater next to Bergdorf Goodman’s. At one time it was Jack’s Fifth and I remember seeing Suvir Saran in charge…was that where we met?
We share the house-made burrata with butternut squash in a spicy Calabrian chili vinaigrette.
I’m eager to see what Vignola is cooking up at Pomona, named for the goddess of fruit, the harvest and abundance. Chicken thighs, I hope. At the first word of opening, I’m there.
Pomona does a warm potato, hazelnut and mackerel terrine with crème friache.
Pomonoa serves chunks of king crab with green apple in a Dijon mustard sauce.
A tall stunner in skyscraper sandals leads us from her stand in the entry down the stairs, definitely too many stairs, and at the end, more stairs with no rail to grasp. The dining room is very beige and butterscotch with lanterns that cast somber light.
The kitchen sends out scallops with avocado in oyster shells as an amuse at Pomona.
It says chicken on the menu but it should say, white meat chicken, a warning for thigh-lovers.
I’m in too big a rush again. Next week they will install a rail but it could take more time than that to perfect the delivery. Meanwhile, there are variations of the Negroni and chef-baked bread. We share the house-made burrata with butternut squash in Calabrian chili vinaigrette with chips. I wish someone had warned me that the brined chicken with spicy chicory was all white meat. Especially from a chef known for cooking thighs.
I’ll be back for that duck leg confit burger with jam on an orange brioche. Never mind the steep descent.
But the confit duck-leg burger with jam on an orange brioche bun with fries -- great fries -- is my idea of fun. And so is the celery root apple crisp with walnut crumble and Calvados ice cream. The waiter overhears us discussing Diane’s birthday. The kitchen sends a cake with her name in frosting on the plate. I definitely plan to go back, maybe after a movie one evening soon. 8 West 58th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues. 212 753 1200
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