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Fat and Happy Food Slut's Profile

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Stellar Stems

Which Manhattan restaurant has the best stemware these days? I'm mainly interested in places with rare, exotic and beautiful glasses--the kind I won't see at Michael C. Fina or Williams-Sonoma--but I'm also interested in places that simply take extra care to match vessel to varietal.

What the Spanish Vanguard Thinks of Us: Spain's Top Food Guide Gives Alinea Its Second Highest Score

After reading a recent editorial by the famed Spanish food critic Rafael García Santos (only available in Spanish) on the twilight of the Spanish Culinary Vanguard, I decided to browse his restaurant guide, Lo mejor de la gastronomía, to see who still makes the cut. I was particularly keen to see how American chefs made out.

Thomas Keller—at Per Se not the French Laundry—was up pretty high, alongside Pierre Gagnaire in fact, with an 8.5 on a 10 point scale. Wylie Dufresne’s WD~50 also had a solid finish at 8.0.

Most notable was Grant Achatz’s Alinea, which had the second highest score, a 9.5. He was but one spot behind Ferrán Adrià’s El Bulli, which received a perfect 10. If this is the autumn of the patriarch, is Chicago soon to be the new Roses?

Addendum: 1) The order within a particular score level tends to vary a bit, so Alinea won’t always come up second on the screen. 2) New York restaurant Masa ranks quite high with a 9.25—clearly García Santos hit the Time Warner center when last in New York—and is an exception to the Vanguard-centric approach. I don’t include it above because the chef is Japanese.

Links to reviews and Guide:
Lo mejor de la gastronomía:
Per Se:
El Bulli:

New York diners retrofitting as Latin American restaurants

Has anyone noticed the trend of Manhattan lunch counters adding Latin American fare and/or becoming Latin American restaurants? I've watched Burger One on Lexington between 79th and 80th morph from a burger shop with tacos on the side to a taqueria with burgers available upon request. They used to have a little cardboard sign out front listing their taco and burrito fillings. Now they have an illuminated sign out front reading "burgers/burritos/tacos," and half the menu is Mexican food. It's been a great success and a wonderful addition to the neighborhood. Here's to hoping the trend continues.

NYC Wine Shoppes

My favorites:

1) Crush Wine: Some great wine tastings. Fine dining wine served in fine dining setting with great stemware, though the space is often taken over by people processing internet orders. When you buy here, there’s little fear of bringing the same bottle to a party as your buddy from across town (Prom Night nightmare for the wine fan set). Search for these wines, and they’ll only come up on Crush’s site. Strong for small producers and values on collector quality wine. Best for French, German, interesting California. Not much Pacific Northwest (a lot of those wineries work with direct sales). Organization of store by grape is a bold and valid choice. As a bonus, staff look and act like something out of “High Fidelity.” Grand Cru wine geeks.

2) Le Dû’s Wines: Owner has best palate in the Village. No duds, no Yellow Tail. Wonderfully deep in French. Great price range. Surprisingly strong bargain Italian wines are a plus.

3) Sherry-Lehmann: Greatest depth and breadth in fine wine, especially Grand and Premier Cru French. Where to go for Margaux, futures, big names and to run into really rich people. If you happen to need a bottle of white Port for ten bucks, they have that too.

4) PJ’s Wine: Some exceptional values and rarities. Once found an obscure Muller Thurgau here at a steep discount over one other place in town that carried it. Same wine served in Alto. Delivery at 100 dollar mark (versus 150 most places), so remote location isn’t a problem. Wonderful selection of Spanish wine that surpasses the expensive East Siders. Go to place for Sherry.

5) Union Square Wines: USQ has a pretty amazing marketing device in its tasting machines plus some blowout festive tasting events. Good for the under 15 dollar never offensive wine purchase. Also pretty cool that you can get much of their stuff from Fresh Direct. I prefer to order directly, however, since the selection and pricing work out a bit better.

6. Chambers Street Wines: Lyle Fass has been in and out there, but he was certainly the best thing about Crush, and I think he's also the best think about Chambers Street Wines. Their mixed cases are almost always a good deal and guaranteed to contain some rarities. I'm a big fan of their Loire Valley selections, an area they seem to know better than any other New York player.

One Day, One Restaurant Empire

David, David, Danny, Daniel or Drew: It seems the D's have it. Let's say you could bring the owner along. I'd go Chang or Batali if I could get a pass on the hangover and food coma, Bouley or Meyer if I couldn't. Of course, let's not forget Zarela and Lidia while we're talking of restaurant emperors and empresses.

One Day, One Restaurant Empire

Trenchermen and women of Manhattan:

If you could eat in all the restaurants of one top NYC restaurateur in a day who would it be? Meyer, Nieporent, Vongerichten, Boulud, Batali, McNally, Hanson? Assume budget and appetite are not limiting factors.

C-CAP Benefit 2008: A Taster’s Digest

Revolution and Sterno were in the air at the tenth annual C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Program) benefit at Chelsea Piers as sweet beat out savory for the first time in half a decade. In another surprise turn, the once ubiquitous soup shooter was nowhere to be seen. Tuna and lemon (from Meyer to regular to -grass) were the new favorite ingredients, while pork bellies, truffles and foie took a well deserved rest from center stage. Below are a few highlights from this year’s offerings.

1. Blue Hill: Pork Part Petits Fours

A ganache of pork offal purée rolled in cocoa nibs and sandwiched between Mexican-spiced chocolate crisps. Sounded awful, tasted great. Reminiscent but not derivative of Wylie Dufresne’s now classic foie, anchovy, cocoa nib creation from a few years back. Added points for creating a single-serving portable portion on a night when so many chefs favored plates better suited to sharing amongst a seated threesome.

2. Dovetail: Rabbit terrine and kumquat skewers

After Fraser’s 2007 foie and Rice Krispy masterpiece, I knew his stars (had two, has three) were on the rise. This year’s rabbit terrine on a skewer confirmed it. Loved witty allusion to 2006 C-CAP (Year of the Kumquat) in fruit accompaniment. Kudoes as well for producing plateless dish easy to carry and fun to eat. Skewers also good for poking people dithering in front of Craft dessert station.

3. Craft: Caramelized banana tatin and malted milk ice cream

Butter, sugar, banana, milk alchemy. Everything elevated comfort food is supposed to be, especially on a typically cold C-CAP benefit night. Speed and consistency with which DeMasco turned out toaster tatins were a reproach to all of us with small kitchens: It’s not the equipment; it’s the cook. For the record, I only “doubled down” the first time chef offered…and the second time her back was turned.

4. Four Seasons NY: Lobster saltimbocca

“Saltimbocca” was taken literally at this highly interactive station: They just about put the generous chunk of lobster in your mouth while ladling the sauce with it. Souvenir chin drips of sage-infused brown butter were delicious and blotted from face only after spousal reprimand.

5. Town: Squash parfait

Kabocha squash interleaved with goose mousse and set against blood orange emulsion renewed my faith in foam and kept the foie for fatty liver’s amazing versatility. John Johnson makes the best composed cheese plate in New York. Little did I know he could produce similar wonders with an unsung winter vegetable.


Felidia: Burrata and asparagus

I love the burrata’s delicacy and the spike of spring flavors from the delicate asparagus spears. On a side note, Chef Fortunata Nicotra should win a chef’s award for trying the most dishes by his colleagues. I was in line with him at half a dozen stations and saw him at a dozen more.

Aretsky’s Patroon: Steak tartare

Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide with steak tartare. Everything must be right and everything was. Peet pulled it off again this year in a perfect bite size (canapé, mezze, tapa, you name it) portion. Went well with the night’s red wine selection.

Aureole: Lemongrass yogurt and passion fruit tapioca

C-CAP superstars Rachel Lansang and Amar Santana delivered again this year. Sweet-sour balance was pitch-perfect on the palate. Tastier and less baroque than the tapioca pearl masterpieces by Claudia Fleming at the North Fork Table & Inn and Pichet Ong at Spice Market, this tightly edited creation left my tongue so perked up that I made another run at the savories.

Gotham: Alaskan king crab risotto with assorted delicious things

Hard to get texture and temp right with risotto in a crowded room over Sterno. Portale’s team nailed it. Only gripe was horizontal nature of plate. I had high hopes for a signature vertical creation. Pleasure wasn’t lacking, just more gustatory than visual.

Thumbs up to The Smith

The Smith: Dull Name, Duller Food

If Candace Bushnell is your preferred author of erotica and Miracle Whip your favorite condiment, then by all means, crunch on through the Smith’s hipster candy coating and sink your Redi-Brite teeth into its kindergarten comfort food. Cisco on the stereo and Sysco on the plate are the orders of the day at this low cost high calorie TGIFriday’s wannabe. Below are five of the high and low lights

1) Convivial packed house: Fun to visit a winner, sad to see that this wins

When every table is full, and every seat at the bar is taken, and everyone has had a drink or three, it’s hard to argue that a restaurant isn’t on to something. Then again, by that logic the Olive Garden managers in Paramus and Natick should be tenured professors at Cornell’s hotel school.

2) Mac and Cheese: A greasy smear of textureless pap

The overheated hype surrounding the Smith’s flavorless fat bomb smacks of lazy food writing swiped from press releases. Nothing for mind or mouth to chew on.

3) Tasty Potato chips and Blue Cheese Sauce: Thanks Blue Smoke

A step up on airplane snack food, a step down from Blue Smoke’s far superior version.

4) Dumbed down desserts are dumb: Saccharine isn’t sweet

The peanut brittle, caramel and ice cream sundae proves sometimes too much is too much. A chocolatey pint of stout is a better option in dessert fare and a deal at five dollars.

5) Bargains at the Bar: Reasonable Draught and Wine List

The wine list is spartanly described—grapes only, no producers or vintages—but well selected for by the glass ordering. Familiar pinots (blanc, noir, etc) are balanced by marginally exotic malbec and almost interesting torrontés and riesling. Same idea for beer.

Conclusion: If Disney made a Brooklyn hipster restaurant for Epcot, this would be the Universal Studios knockoff.

The Harrison Between Chefs: Worth It?

My last meal at the Harrison before the transition. No need to click on a link.

The Harrison at the Crossroads: Last Supper Before Freitag Takes the Toque

Sometimes I fear I was born too late for a good meal in New York. I arrived at Country as Doug Psaltis headed out, at Parea as Michael Symon closed shop and at Gramercy Tavern as Tom Colicchio was selling his interest. That said, Michael Anthony reinvigorated Gramercy’s dated menu and proved a restaurant need not lose its soul in a shift from rustic to refined cuisine. So I hold out hope as I watch the Harrison go in the opposite direction, with hearty Italian to be the new idiom under Amanda Freitag and the refined French-American of Brian Bistrong to be a thing of the past. For curiosity’s sake, I took in one last supper before the transition. Here are a few high and low points of my visit.

1) Warm Service: They have you at hello and cradle you through to the outsized tip you can’t help but leave. Good hosts, better servers. Highly trained in the hard skills of waiting, they also have the emotional antennae for the subtle stuff, like when to talk up a table and when to fade into the background. A couple of key adjustments to right the meal, including reconceiving a dish on the fly when the sauce proved unappealing, and pacing the dessert and after-dinner drinks just right, closed out the night as well as it was opened.

2) Warm Space: On a recent snowy night, the interior of rustic wood floors and cabinets, artful food displays and visible cooking flames pulled me into the room and made me want to stay until spring time, especially when cabs were so hard to come by. Only thing missing from haute tavern look was an haute tavern smell. Great feel, great light.

3) Warm Wine: Warmth is great in servers and decor; it’s no fun at all in a bottle of red. The wine stored on shelves in the main dining room is precisely the temperature of the room—and that’s no good for white, pink or red. Either throw in mulling spices or cool the bottles down ten degrees.

4) Cool Wine List: Lovely stemware, thoughtful selection advice and intuitive wine service—no aggressive topping off, no empties either—made me want to return for further explorations. Particularly strong in rare, reasonable and spicy Austrians—yes, they exist. It’s hard to blow more than 100 dollars on a bottle and it’s even harder to make a bad choice. I used to take Shake Shack’s list as a starting point for summer wine buying for picnic fare; I think the Harrison’s will work equally well for dressed up winter dinner parties.

5) Uncool Bathroom Behavior: I love a booze-soaked bacchanalia as much as the next self-indulgent sybarite, but is anyone ever really so drunk at a deal dinner as to need to pee in the sink when a urinal is, literally, steps away? A hard-partying bespoke type staggered in ahead of me from the basement’s private event space and let fly with a jeroboam of indescribables. Fortunately, a small batch bourbon restored my spirits before I headed out into the night. Let’s hope Freitag’s rustic Italian fare adds some refinement to the downstairs guests, and keeps some refinement on the upstairs tables.

Coda: I don’t comment much on the food in this entry as it’s not likely to be around much longer. My experience on this night was that conception outstripped execution from start to finish. Dishes often sounded better than they tasted, particularly the biscuits with razor clams, chorizo and gravy. I’d had a wonderful razor clam-chorizo dish at the Slanted Door a few months earlier and perhaps came into the Harrison with overly high hopes. The expected contrast of flavors and textures was lost under the taste-deadening glutinous gravy. Similar problems afflicted the unbalanced funk of the spaetzle. In sum, at the end of an era and start of a brief but cold winter, the back—but not the front—of house team might benefit from some new blood.

Luxurious and leisurely weekday breakfast spot?

Looking for a luxurious breakfast out tomorrow morning. Seeking recommendations for a leisurely and delicious dining experience.

The Harrison Between Chefs: Worth It?

Thanks for the review! To anwer your question, I did end up going. Food was adequate; atmosphere and service were excellent. Glad to know the New Year's feast was so exceptional. Your night sounds like the one I wish I'd had. Here's the link to a run-down on my dinner experience.

New Top Taco on the Upper East Side

Mexican cokes also available in glass bottles. So much better than the corn syrup sweetened domestic swill.

New Top Taco on the Upper East Side

(212) 737-0095 is the most recent number I have. They definitely take orders by phone for pickup. I'm not sure about delivery.

The Harrison Between Chefs: Worth It?

I'm slated to go the the Harrison this weekend, but I've just read about a new chef and new menu coming in January. I remember a dicey night at Gramercy Tavern during a similar transition phase, i.e., before Michael Anthony had implemented his menu and after he'd been hired, so I'm wondering if I should hold off until Amanda Freitag is settled in.

Delicious Digestifs: Where to Go?

More entries on post-prandial libations. Oddly enough, Michael Jordan's at Grand Central pours a good and generous Calvados. Obviously the Lexington Bar&Books and Brandy Libraries of the world have a broader and deeper selection, but I'm interested less in where you would go for after dinner drinks than where you would stay for after dinner drinks.

Delicious Digestifs: Where to Go?

Here's my modest attempt at a Manhattan list. Suggestions would be much appreciated.

"Fave 5 Happy Endings: When more and more intense alcohol seems like a good idea"

1) Marc (Daniel): Hard to find Marc at all, especially this good and well-priced. Great light for lingering in the afterglow. Gracious service may help nudge you over the abyss, i.e. a second. See M.F.K. Fisher on what happens if you order the third!

2) High-end Grappa (Alto): Best 25 dollars I’ve spent on liquor. The oak-aged grappa was profound and complex and memorable and worth sharing. I’d take the oaked grappa over añejo or aged rum any day.

3) House-made hooch grappa (Otto): Fun flavors, relatively cheap and served with Señor Frog’s Cancún flair. This is a digestivo that doesn’t take itself seriously.

4) Blue Smoke Bourbon (Blue Smoke): Helps settle the barbecue, but beware when you settle the tab–it’ll set you back 25 bucks or so.

5) Deli-coffee and Gramercy Tavern thank-you muffin at 3AM: Best way to fight off the cold-sweats after knocking back the seven-course menu with cheese supplement. A seltzer chaser helps as well.

And a recurring question of mine: Where can I get Orujo? Doesn't seem available anywhere in the City, even clandestinely.

Fun and Funky Wine List on UES?

I gues I'm looking for the kind of places where I had my first bottles of Gruner Veltliner, Pinotage or straight Cabernet Franc, back when they were obscure or unpopular. In each case, I had to trust a sommelier past the first sip, and even past the second. The idea was that the wine's flavors would come through and the risk would be rewarded. I'd love to do a bit more of this exploration without starting the meal with a subway or cab ride, or, in Daniel and Bottega del Vino's case, a second mortgage.

Best/most interesting cheese plate?

Add L'Impero to the list of winners. Great accompaniments, good all-Italian selection.

Best/most interesting cheese plate?

Artisanal has a bigger selection, Picholine has better cheese trolley theater, but Town's John Johnson simply has the best palate for cheese pairings in the city. Each offering is a miniature dessert composition consisting of three or so perfectly harmonized elements. Epoisses with apple compote and walnuts and an easygoing goat with blueberry and cured lemon were two recent favorites. The combinations vary with the seasons, the quality doesn't.

A few others: Gramercy Tavern's selection is generous and especially good if you like to try domestic cheeses--Connecticut and California selections are superb. Trestle on Tenth, unsurprisingly, is good for rare Swiss cheeses. Finally, Taste on the UES has a decent trolley, largely due to the Zabar buying power. Boqueria's Spanish cheese selection, logically, is good, but they could do more with it. If nothing else, it's perfect with Manzanilla at the bar. Plenty of others. Only one I must advise against: Gordon Ramsay. It's overrated, overpriced and undercurated...boring, boring, boring.

Fun and Funky Wine List on UES?

Yes, thanks. Uva's list is indeed "solid" and the atmosphere is convivial, but I've never wanted to go buy a bottle of anything I've drunk there. I also like Café Sabarsky's all-Austrian super committed approach, but they close too early. I guess I'm looking for the kind of surprises and obscure discoveries that I find when someone like Paul Grieco or Juliette Pope is making the calls. Perhaps that's too much to ask up here.

Fun and Funky Wine List on UES?

Hearth's, Trestle on Tenth's and Tia Pol's lists are a few of my favorites. Something along those lines would be great.

Restaurants everyone loves--except you

My all time list:

1) Grand Central Oyster Bar: Don’t buy the nostalgic mash note reviews!

Table service is mid-market museum quality; food to match.

The raw oysters are inconsistent at best, especially at the start of a long weekend when they get rid of what they should have already thrown away.

Even the no brainer pan roast is way too rich. It’s a dairy disaster, cream without a purpose, a flavorless heart attack waiting to finish off the job begun by the raw oysters.

In a city filled with wonderful seafood restaurants in tight competition for great ingredients (Pearl Oyster, Masa, Esca, etc.), Grand Central is a horrendous and potentially dangerous place to dine.

2) Sushi Seki: Sky-high prices, cramped tables, cheap decor and expensive wine and sake lists with no middle ground (like Starbucks starting with “tall” size and Domino’s with “medium”). The fish is fine but not for what it costs, nor for the rush to turn tables. You don’t feel like they’re on your side, except when they hold the door on the way out.

3) Tía Pol: Not Spanish enough for virtual gastro-travel, not tasty enough for a visit on its own merits. I know it’s hard to replicate a real tapas/pintxos experience in the States, i.e., toothpicks, honor system and a filthy napkin-strewn floor, but this place trades on an authenticity it doesn’t offer. Sherry list is impressive, but where’s the orujo for the digestivo crowd? Casa Mono and Bar Jamón get it right.

4) Etats-Unis: Guide Michelin and NY Times, the Upper East Side doesn’t need your charity. This place is fine but not fine dining. Please don’t tell us otherwise. Like its country cousin River Tavern, Etats-Unis is stuck in Northern California circa-1985. Perfectly adequate for a Tuesday dinner, it’s by no means a destination. Yes, the area lacks upper-mid dining depth, but please let’s not fake it by reviewing a reality we’d like to exist. Spigolo is a much better bet.

5) Atelier Joël Robuchon. There is no fine dining without fine service. This is gourmet takeout with dressed up delivery men.

New Top Taco on the Upper East Side

$2.45 a taco, including tax. Chicken, chorizo, beef and carnitas (pork) are all the same price and are all best as griddle to gullet counter fare, i.e., "para aca" not "para llevar." Not a huge bargain pricewise, but they each come with a meal's worth of meat. Two will leave you full, one will definitely spoil dinner--had a chicken taco on the way home last night and could barely down the family meal two hours later. Haven't checked torta prices yet.

New Top Taco on the Upper East Side

They'll also spice up your chicken soup to go with jalapenos upon request. I saw/heard a couple guys doing just that today. Tomorrow I'm going to test out the tortas.

New Top Taco on the Upper East Side

In the old Soup Burg space at 1150 Lexington (79/80), the Burger One is now serving unbelievable tacos and tortas. Yesterday, there was a placard out front to announce the offerings, so I stopped by. I've eaten their burgers, grilled cheese and other diner staples with some pleasure and little expense in the past, but it's always frustrated me that an entirely Hispanic staff , as it is at so many lunch counters, didn't get to put a bit of home onto the griddle. Now they are, and it seems to be a roaring success with a broad economic and cultural swath of the UES, from laborers to old ladies to me. Let's be clear, the cecina, carnitas, beef and chicken tacos and tortas aren't in the Sunnyside/Woodside league, but given the desert-like conditions for cheap quick relatively authentic and undeniably tasty Mexican on the UES, this is a find. Oh, they also have a selection of Jarritos sodas, including Tamarind.

Manhattan's most expensive cup of coffee?

I'd be curious to know what Per Se does or doesn't do to up the ante, given the restaurant's obsession with raising the bar for the little things but also the fact that coffee is included in the tasting menu price.

Manhattan's most expensive cup of coffee?

In three days I've dropped five dollars or more for a single serving of coffee at Sant Ambroeus, Lady M Cake Boutique and Cafe Sabarsky. I know Park to Madison in the Seventies is pricey, but is this the worst that it gets? That said, only Sabarsky was worth it--decent cup, beautiful room and warm service.

Anybody been to Gordon Ramsay in New York Yet?

Went this summer and it was clear that the lunatics had taken over the asylum. Ingredients, faciliites and cellar were top notch but service and preparation were not. In short, they were in a tough transition phase with front and back of house hiring and the meal suffered as a result. Comic highlights included being asked to pay our 1000-dollar tab in cash because the credit card machine was down and learning that "all the cheeses were interesting," even if the server couldn't recall their specific names (she did know that the blue cheese was "an American blue"). It'll take some real convincing to risk another meal at this price point when so many other good options dot the City.

barcelona: jean luc figueras

I've been for dinner. Did a long tasting menu and found the experience to be worthy of all the non-American media hype (I've noticed as well that Jean Luc Figueras doesn't get any coverage from the Times, Wine Spectator or the big three food mags). Great service, beautiful interior and exceptional French-Catalan food. Next tiime you're in town, go!

Perry Street: Wichel's Times article slams service

Yes, it's "Witchel." Sorry for the typo. The question stands: Does anyone recall such a detailed and explicit discussion of an individual writer's bad dining experience in a Times cooking article? It seems a bit out of place. I'm glad to have the insights, just surprised by where I found them. And I wonder what Bruni thinks of what amounts to a downgrade of his 3-star review.