Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Restaurant Hopping Around New York

To me there is nothing better than “restaurant hopping” around the City. I’d rather visit 3 or 4 places starting on a Saturday afternoon and work my way into the evening instead of sitting down at one restaurant for 2 or 3 hours–unless, of course, I’m dining at one of the four star establishments.

Last Saturday was my latest excursion around town. It started out by attending the Daniel Boulud book signing in Williams Sonoma at Columbus Circle. Of course, I purchased his book to add to my 150-plus collection and also spoke with Chef Boulud briefly about my culinary expertise in the kitchen as he signed the book. Later, a friend of mine caught up with me and it was off to get lunch.

Having been regular visitors to the Time Warner building, we knew of several places to consider. At first we thought about Café Grey but it wasn’t open for lunch that Saturday. Then we considered venturing to the Porter House, which is Michael Lomanico’s relatively new restaurant that now occupies the former Jean Georges’ V steakhouse space. As we started venturing toward that place, we noticed something we haven’t seen before (since we last visited the TW Building) in the center of the third floor—a French-looking cafe/patisserie and bar. We walked toward its reservation podium to see what it was about and, to our surprise, it was “Bouchon Bakery” – a Tom Keller establishment! Since we are both huge fans of Chef Keller, we put in our name for the “20” minute wait for lunch. Typically, I’m not one who likes to “wait” for anything, let alone a table at a restaurant; but to my surprise, we were seated in about twenty minutes.

We sat down and reviewed the menu, which had a nice selection of soups, salads, foie gras (yes, foie gras), sandwiches, and desserts. Also, there was a decent selection of reasonably priced wines. We ordered some wine, the foie gras to share, and we each ordered a sandwich (I know, “odd combo” foie gras and sandwiches). My friend ordered ham and cheese and I ordered the vegetable jardinière. I had to order the vegetable sandwich—what else would one order from one of the establishments whose chef consulted for, and had his vegetable dish replicated in, the movie Ratatouille. As we discussed this with our server, she told us that Chef Keller’s ratatouille dish was offered at Per Se, his flagship four-star restaurant upstairs. However, trying to get a reservation at that place is more difficult that booking a tee time at Pebble Beach with the President, adding on the fact that one would also have to mortgage their house to pay the bill. Consequently, this would suffice my craving for the Keller “ratatouille” dish for now.

Needless to say, the food was superb. The foie gras was warm. The vegetable sandwich was fresh and full with an abundance of distinct flavors that danced. My friend said that his ham and cheese sandwich was also excellent.

We left Bouchon and decided to go upstairs to the Porter House for a cocktail. Also, we were curious to see the restaurant’s new look. I had the pleasure of having lunch there when it was still Jean George’s V steakhouse before that closed down in December 2005. At that time, the restaurant’s décor looked more like a setting from a 1970’s porn movie rather than a steak house (which didn’t last too long). Now, after the renovations, Porter House looks like an authentic steakhouse with dark wooden banquettes and a soothing atmosphere well suited for the business crowd. They have a well-stocked bar with three flat-screened TVs. My friend ordered vodka, straight up, and I ordered a Manhattan—stirred—not shaken. At first, the bartender shook my drink and after realizing what she had done, poured it out and made a new stirred one.

As we sat sipping our drinks recalling the ambiance of the V Steak House, we noticed Michael Lomanico, the proprietor, was there speaking with the hostess. I waved at him, and he walked over to welcome us and say hello. We complemented him on the restaurant’s new look and said it is now an authentic steak house and not a cheesy bordello. He said that it has been opened exactly one year, and he was enjoying it. Chef Lomanico is an extremely nice and unpretentious person.

After we finished our drinks, we decided to leave the Time Warner and Columbus Circle circuit and start our journey back towards midtown. I wanted to stop by another one of my favorite places – Les Halles on 28th and Park. I call it “Tony’s Place” because Tony Bourdaine, the celebrity chef/traveler of "No Reservations," author of “Kitchen Confidential" and a judge on Top Chef, owns it. Les Halles has a quiet, subdue French-bistro-type atmosphere with very good food.

After a quick stop there, it was time to venture to another venue. “How about some oysters at Craft” (Tom Colliccio’s place), which wasn’t too far away from “Tony’s Place.” We arrived at Craft about 5:20 p.m. and it already had patrons seated at several tables. Having eaten there before, we fell in love with the food and the Kumomoto oysters, which were the best we’ve ever had anywhere (except the Pacific Northwest). To our disappointment, they didn’t have any Kumomotos (guess the Chef didn’t like the harvest that day) so we opted for the Wellfleet.

Next, let’s go to SoHo! We headed further down town towards Houston Street, this time for a cocktail at the Pegu Club. Again, a place that we’ve been to a number of times where we know the food and cocktails are always good. Of course, the Pegu mini martini is extremely well prepared. Although the drinks are quite small, they are all made with natural fruit juices and ingredients and the flavors are beyond reproach. As our appetites started to grow again, we decided to order the wild mushroom dumplings to go with our two-ounce drinks. After we finished our “appetizers” we left.

Then, while walking on Houston Street, we passed by one of the “new” hip restaurants in town, Centovini. “Let’s see if we can get a table,” said my friend. “Okay” and in we went. It was 8:15 p.m. and the hostess said that we “can sit” but she needed the table by 9:30 p.m. No problem.

I had heard that Centovini is known for its eclectic wine store, and there has been much hype about the restaurant that’s part of, or close to it. The entrees on the menu sounded very good, but the wine listing was somewhat limited and very over-priced. Wine servings are five-ounces and priced at $16 to $24 per glass. We each ordered a glass of wine. The server brought over two large cabernet glasses along with two miniature carafes, each holding our individual selections of wine. It was a bit pretentious, but I was enjoying it. I ordered the duck and my friend ordered the osso bucco special.

After a forty-minute wait and getting closer to the 9:30 p.m. “witching hour (or half-hour),” the food finally arrived. It looked very good and I was somewhat impressed. However, I started to realize that a major problem was surfacing as I started to try and cut the duck. The knife would not cut through the thinly sliced pieces of duck breast. Finally, after I was able to get a piece of duck on my fork, I placed it into my mouth and started to chew…and chew…and chew. Not only was it difficult to chew, it was extremely salty and had no taste. I could not attempt to eat another bite, so I sent it back and declined to order anything else. My friend finished the osso bucco, which, he said, was nothing to write home about. At that point, it was time to leave and call it a night. As we left the restaurant, my comment was, “Rubber duck belongs in the bathtub NOT on a dinner plate at a restaurant.”
Until next time.

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