Wednesday, March 15, 2017


As if we needed additional proof that FiDi is the new MePa, a reasonable-hour table at Augustine is as hard to get as buzzy openings in more trafficked names.  Procuring a 7:30pm for two required a little help from a friend, but even with that connection we weren't seated 'til nearly eight, apologetic as the host was.  At first, it wasn't an issue: the front room is decorated in typical McNally brasserie style, big chandeliers and warm-hued lighting.  And pretty as they are, those flower-motif tiled walls bounce your noise and everyone else's around like a forcibly thrown
 Superball in confined quarters.  Which didn't make the half an hour long wait for our table any more pleasant, but the complimentary champagne we received upon finally being seated certainly did... although it would've been more appreciated had it been offered to sip on as we anxiously hawk-eyed which table might possibly be ours, once our dallying predecessors decided to finally pack up.  Additionally, this was not the only service snafu: lapses are pretty long between courses, and I was on the verge of canceling the coffee that was served well after dessert (which I actually wished they hadn't brought, because it was unpleasant and watery, and most of the tarte with which I had planned to enjoy it was already gone).

That said, the staff is very attractive and restaurant is absolutely lovely.  Each tile panel is etched with a different botanical specimen... I was having fun identifying peonies and poppies, snapdragons and delphinium until our food arrived (which didn't take long since we basically pre-ordered waiting for our table).  The wait staff is charming and efficient- they don ankle-length white aprons, which end a certain formality, and even though the tablecloths are white they are covered in sheets of white butcher paper, mitigating any excessive formality.

After a delightfully dainty gougere stuffed with caviar and ham, we started with appetizers on opposite ends of the spectrum, one which was hard to even really qualify as an appetizer.  The roasted bone marrow features a Jolly Roger arrangement of two enormous split
 bones and surfboard-sized grilled toast upon which to spread it.  Squeeze cloves from the whole head of soft, often-roasted garlic to amplify that savoriness even more, and then finish off daubs of oxtail ragout which accompany it in its own little crock.  How this is not a main course I'm not sure, but perhaps it is simply because of the traditional categorization of marrow.  The price and the caloric impact certainly vault it into main course territory, at $31 and who knows how many gazillion kilocalories.  That said, if that oxtail ragout DOES evolve into a main course, a return visit to Augustine will be timed accordingly.  Alternatively, a simple salad of Boston lettuce looks almost
undressed, but harbors an unexpected complexity, the crispy, silky leaves magically salty and flavorful, and trounced with supremely nutty sunflower seeds, their dark green sprouts and a delicate julienne of mild radish.  If you're lucky enough to visit Augustine with a group, Le Petit Aioli is a ultimate treat, although it is in no way petit.  A tower of lobster, mussels and tiger shrimp is accompanied by colorful crudités and a rich garlic aioli for dipping.

Speaking of dipping, don't miss daubing morsels from the excellently fresh bread basket in the verdant, saline olive oil zipped with potent bits of chili flake (I need to find out what the olive oil is!). This was that elusive kind of wonderful fragrant evo that they serve in restaurants and I can never find retail.  It's extraordinary, as if the bread wasn't good enough on its own.  Onto main courses, the excellence continues.  The menu is rather large, offering seven Entrees plus a simply grilled fish of the day, plus Rotisserie and Grillade options, and Plat du Jour, which ends up being a lot to choose from.     I went for Atlantic cod although I prefer Alaskan,  but this pillowy filet was wonderful, atop a pile of meltingly tender cabbage and leeks perfumed with winter truffle.  Small, halved marbled potatoes were roasted so deeply that their exterior achieved a buttery, crusty chew, adding a hearty decadence to the dish.
  My tablemate had had his heart set on  duck a l'orange for oh, like, a year now, so that one was similarly a no-brainer.  The duck, a breast and leg, was rich and tender, gently sweet with marmalade,  but the best part was a saucy jus pooled beneath that I couldn't keep my spoon out of even though it happened to not be on my plate.  It was studded with tender-crisp turnips, which were slightly bitter and earthy, a perfect foil for the meat.  A small parcel of confited duck meat came wrapped up in pate feuilletee, like an edible added-value gift, as if the duck itself was not fine enough on its own.  My only
 disparagement was with a side of grilled broccolini, which despite its attractive emerald color, tasted repellently of propane.  It was edible, but just barely, and if I wasn't such a vegetable fanatic I would have left it untouched.  It was pretty miserable, and so not in keeping with the rest of the evening.

That was NOT the case with our grand finale, an apple Tarte Tatin that was anything but classic but perhaps the best rendition of this dessert I have ever had.  The apple was sliced into ribbons and tightly furled into a chewy, caramelized crust, so rich and buttery that in comparison the salted caramel ice cream seemed light and refreshing.  The apple was rich and fruity, tender yet slightly chewy: whoever is doing pastry is a master of caramelization, and they have me under their spell.  While all the dishes here were outstanding (aside from that noxious broccolini), this tarte was unforgettable.  Which is a nice finale for this post, since the night I met Augustine's chef, Shane McBride, was similarly unprecedented and indelible, and one of the crucial moments that sparked my passion for the industry.  It's great to see he still has his touch.... and then some.

5 Beeckman Street
tel.  1.212.375.0010

Monday, March 6, 2017


Parm started out as a storefront sandwich shop on Mulberry Street, taking over the original (now defunct) Torrisi Italian Specialties address with a shiny deli case of day’s-worth-of-calories kind of sandwiches on your choice of sweet semolina or sesame roll.  It has since expanded to include two other locations in the city, approximately equidistant from the original, as well as rounding the menu out with platters, sides and dessert, all with the signature hearty, Italian-American theme.  The two newer outposts have broader menus, but offer the impressive sandwich selection as well.  There are no red-checked tablecloths, but the tables are linoleum, the soundtrack from the 80’s and decor from the late 50’s. 
 Bring a serious appetite but a casual attitude…. and some mints.  Garlic pervades and olive oil in anointed with wild abandon.  Some of the most popular dishes are an enormous Chicken Dinner, featuring chicken parm and spicy rotini: enough for three.  Baked ziti is another favorite, as are their San Gennaro-style Chinese ribs, showing there’s no attempt to play this off as “authentic” Italian- like their sister restaurants, Major Food Group is never afraid to show off a little kitsch.

A good shareable starter are the Artichokes Casino, which are a distant relative to clams of a similar preparation.  Here, four plump bottoms are stuffed with pork sausage a bacon, a riot of garlic and a good kick of heat.  Two are ample per person, unlike Mario's recipe meatballs, which I can't imagine downing more than one as an appetizer, so the three that arrive might leave at least one to sandwich for lunch the next day.  There are salads, too: a pretty classic Classic Caesar, or more popular, the Arugula salad with sweet chewy figs and a hefty grating of parmesan.  

Pastas are more Italian in nomenclature than size... this are no primi-portioned penne.  Good thing noodles make great leftovers, or else a very economical meal to split one, adding a side or salad.   'Cause despite it's very low-key sensibility, dinner at Parm can still get spendy if you're not at least a little cautious.  Caution, an action that is thrown to the wind in the preparation of of a hearty Fusilli Bolognese, featuring massive corkscrewed pasta and a meaty-tasting sauce (although not that much actual meat).  A cool plop of milky ricotta tamps the subtle heat of the sugo, making the best bites dug deep from below to get more of the bolognese which can get a little lost in all that cheese.

If you do want to go lighter on a main course, there is a respectable roasted half chicken, or a whole orata, grilled and sluiced with an herby salsa verde.  For even more green, add a super garlicky side of lightly sautéed broccoli.  Alternatively, hearty renditions of Italian-ish dishes like pork Milanese or a magnificent eggplant parm stratified into ten luscious layers.  At this location as well as the Battery Park City one, the only sandwich offering is the Randy Levine, a seeded roll stuffed with char-siu-style pork served with a haystack of Italian-herbed fries, skinny as the trousers on a well-dressed uomo.  But there is a full array of sandwich options in a retro glass deli case at the entry, the equivalent selection at the Parm on Mulberry that started it all.  They can make these to serve to your table upon request, or else pick one up for lunch tomorrow, if you're not already overburdened with leftovers.

There is one dessert to close out with.  Well, two flavors of one dessert: ice cream cake comes in either S'Mores or Neopolitan, iced with a sugary frosting and a festive shroud of rainbow sprinkles.  These aren't printed on the menu, so their $16 dollar price tag might come as a surprise.  Granted, it's a slice big enough to share between two or three people, but at the same time, you can buy a whole ice cream cake for that same amount, and this one, despite its celebratory appeal, isn't much, if any, better.  Probably you won't need-need dessert anyways, if you experienced Parm the same way I didn't, so snag a melty mint from the register on the way out and save the $16 better spent on an excellent meatball sammy for a later day when your fullness dissipates, and you need a little reminder of how yummy was Parm.

 235 Columbus
 tel.  1.212.776.4921

Sunday, February 19, 2017


On a block in Chelsea better know for furnishings than feasts, the New York off-shoot of the original Belgian Rouge Tomate inconspicuously nestles itself in, an unassuming storefront with large, plate glass  frontage and a heavy wooden door the right.  Thick lumber planks inspire much of the decor, giving the room a sylvan feel, which also informs the very veg-centric, super-seasonal menu.  The first attempt at a Rouge Tomate in the city opened on the Upper East side and earned a Michelin star, but "economics" forced them to shift elsewhere, and the new Chelsea locations, while adhering to salubrious, wine-informed cuisine, is less formal and more intimate.  The decor is minimalist: an
 open kitchen looks stark and industrial in contrast with the cabin-like feel of the dining room.  But the  plates coming out of it masterfully combine the elements of sophisticated and soulfulness, ever an eye for the appeal on the plate as well as the palate.

Servers circulate throughout the dining room in attractive, custom-made leather aprons, their heft not slowing them down a bit, and with a pleasant countenance as they do so.  The menu is full of greenmarket-friendly goodies and cycles with the season, so don't play favorites- they probably won't last long.  But that provides an easy excuse to return frequently, as cauliflower and Brussels sprouts shift out in favor of fiddleheads and ramps.  But execution,
regardless the season, is en pointe: a Small Plate of mushroom tartare may have looked sightly
 diminutive on its plate, but it's savory richness made it just the perfect amount.  The mushrooms were minced and molded into a brick, rife with umami, spiked with garlic, and crowned with lilliputian potato chips for crunch.
It's a small serving, like you would want for something so powerfully flavorful: consider it a vegetarian's take on fois.  Not a mock meat-there would be nothing so silly here- but a vegetable concoction commensurately rich and luscious.    Snacks could precede this, like icy-fresh oysters with a gingery apple mignonette embellishing
 each, although depending on how many you order at three dollars each, you could determine the dent they make on your appetite.

Vegetables are stars here, main courses can be had of broccoli or acorn squash, but not to the extent of disparaging any carnivore.  Rustic beasts like wild boar can be found roasted with cabbage, spaetzle and, less traditionally, avocado, or thick medallions of venison with a inky, savory jus.  A skate fish entree   perfumed with vadouvan and a flurry of nutty bulgar lounges over a puree of sweet carrot, with vibrant radicchio, braised but retaining its signature bitter kick, bookending the main components.  And vegetables on their own shine, too:  roasted Brussels get a subtle sweet and
 sour glaze, but mostly they are just expertly roasted nuggets, tender until the centers where they resist with just a hint of vegetality.  Whatever is in season might grace the menu, though, depending on when you visit.  So radishes, that can be so sharp and fiery raw are roasted into submission, cooled with lime and pear and zipped back up again with peppery cress.

Desserts are equally modern, a carrot pie riffing on traditional pumpkin, creating a looser, pudding-like filling in a gingered crust, imbedded with toothsome bits of pineapple and topped with daubs of creamy yogurt.  Lemongrass parfait skirts the locavore theme, but capitalizes on the peak of the tropics in a lightly sweet, fruity mousse topped with a zesty mango sorbet and a chunky fruit salad of kiwis and banana.

If Pascaline Lepeltier is wandering the floor, flag her down and take her recommendations.  A sweeter soul could not be found, and as a Master Sommelier, her wine expertise is beyond compare.  She pretty much embodies the integrity and charm of the restaurant itself, which even bereft of her immediate presence, is a place that defines what restaurants are intrinsically for: nourishment, both of the body and the spirit.  Rouge Tomate has a way of restoring both.

126 W 18th Street 

Saturday, February 18, 2017


People love to ask me what my favorite restaurant is, and it's a question I cannot answer.  As a default, I used to say ABC Kitchen, which would actually have been in the running if I were to choose one upon which to award such laurels   But then Chef Dan Kluger left that building, and while I'm sure it is still a a fine destination, some of its cache certainly ebbed upon his departure. So I eagerly, eagerly awaited him opening his solo venture. And then I waited some more.  And some more, with the typical, inevitable New York-style delays and postponements, until finally in November it quietly swung open its doors.

Those doors are deceptively humble- there's really no evident signage, so it seems sort of clandestine and exclusive.  They open into vast space, double-wide and two floors deep,  taking advantage of what must be extremely expensive real estate.  The decor is just as simple: pale exposed brick upon which are hung some scenic black-and-white farmscapes, which make the illuminated picture windows showcasing glowing masses of frondy greens that comprise the back wall an alluring detail.  

There have been made myriad comparisons about ABC Kitchen and Loring Place, most of which are grounded in the fact that Kluger is a master of Greenmarket fancy, so the successes for which he became notable at ABC are also flourishing at L.P.  Perhaps even more so, in fact.  It deliciously showcases the region's finest seasonal bounty as well as his extraordinary talent.  Each dish we tried had some unexpected little sensation ... beyond how good they looked and sounded just from the menu descriptions.  That menu, as your server will inform you, is divided up into several categories, all of which are best enjoyed shared- mostly just because in that fashion you can try greater
 number of dishes.  And just because there is a celebration of produce here doesn't mean you can't find your fair share of decadence and substance.  Our server recommended the baked ricotta and kabocha squash, gooey and sweet on thick slabs of grilled sourdough and a decidedly filling was to start.  A bit of heft is given to an ample plate of scarlet and golden jewel-toned beets bedecked with chunky granola and interspersed with chewy nubs of sweet membrillo and tangy, crumbly ones of vivace cheese.  The granola, fashioned from quinoa, has intermittent sparks of novel spices and shreds of various herbs making each bite its own little unique adventure.  Brussels sprouts
 escape from their usual accoutrements, glazed with honey-mustard and joined by crunchy bits of apple and smooth chunks of cool avocado.   Leeks are woven into a raft fanned over with thinly sliced pears, toasted walnuts and subtly tangy vinaigrette of yogurt and sherry.  The symbiosis of fresh sweetness, earthy allium, tang and crunch is masterful.

But we can't just eat vegetables, not here.  I mean, you could, and quite well, and no-one would fault you, but Large Plates offer the same elements of ingenuity and playful flavor profiles, and frankly some of the most wonderful dishes.  An innocuous-looking filet of halibut with braised mushrooms and chiles harbored an incredible punch of sumptuous umami, and more than just a hint of smokiness from the wood-burning grill that is used to cook a majority of the food here.  It permeated the fish and fungus with its potent essence, seductively bound to the supple flakes of fish.  The broth alone was spoon-worthy.  From the wood-burning oven, on the other hand, came a hunk of roasted short ribs, less tender than those braised, but magnificently beefy and with a welcome bit of chew: the flavor of the meat is so pronouncedly bovine and hearty that the extra nanosecond of mastication gives you time to savor the excellent meat.  It's nestled into buttery pureed potatoes, and for a spark of vibrancy, a sward of horseradish-spiked gremolata brightens the homey dish, cutting the richness with just a smidge of zestiness.  There are three intriguing pastas as well, and novel pizzas such as one topped with Brussels and cheddar, or the Dates Pizza, a snacky devils-on-horseback version.

Dessert riff on classic American standards, from a chocolate "hostess cupcake" with tangerine sherbet  and a baked apple pied up in puff pastry, to a that Dairy Queen phenom, the Blizzard.  Rich with salty caramel and crunches of nutty toffee, it could be described as nothing short of delicious, but I suppose I prefer a cheffier dessert.  All the sweets seem to rely more on nostalgia rather than the ingenuity found in the previous courses, which is absolutely the only thing I could even begin to whimper about throughout the entire evening.  And as the menu changes so often anyways there are already some different selections currently that might have appealed to me more.  In fact,  I may have found my answer to that nagging question that started this post, after all.

Friday, November 18, 2016


Upon entering Rotisserie Georgette, you might think you've come upon one of those classic, old school New York holdovers, one of the few that have stood the test of time.  And while Georgette very well may endure, advancing its tenure, it is actually much newer on the scene than its looks would imply.  Georgette Farkas opened up her long-awaited solo venture in 2014, but the grand dining room exudes a dusty luxury of an earlier era.  Graced with high ceilings and generous square footage, the decor doesn't really take the best advantage of the bones of the room.  Drab, musty colored valances and glowy sconces are hung too low, truncating the room.  The eclectic mix of mirrors are a nice touch, but you're better off facing the back wall, covered in a showy blue and white tile and a glimpse into the kitchen, than towards the
 front, which looks a little dated and, frankly,  morose.  The room might appeal to the moneyed Upper East siders which it mostly attracts, but actually the restaurant needn't necessarily be a splurge: an excellent meal could be made of a variety of of options using a little penny-conscious savvy.  Or, one can go all out, truffles and fois, to make up a repast quite fit for a very special occasion.... or even have the repast be a special occasion.

The staff and waiters were certainly comptent, Ms. Farkas herself gliding through the dining room, seating patrons and keeping her expert eye to assure all the cogs were operating seamlessly.   But there lacked much affection between server and servee, beyond just the inquiry of having finished a dish or not, and consistently refilling glasses of water.   This didn't seem to affect much the temperament of guests, however, who all seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely, in fact so much so that the noise level was surprisingly boisterous.  One would think the high ceilings and carpeted floors, as well as the proportionately mature clientele, might provide a more placid noise level, but I actually found myself leaning in on more than one occasion to hear my dining companion.    But most of the time, our mouths were too full to talk, happily full, as soon our food arrived.

The menu follows a steakhouse format: everything is quite strictly a la carte, so know that your roast half chicken with choice of sauces (I recommend the Grand Mere) is simply that.  All sides need to be commanded independently, which can make that $26 bird a little less economical as just a part of a meal, instead of comprising it.  Sizing is a bit inconsistent, too: salads are easily large enough to share, but a portion of roasted leeks was better off for an individual, although the chewy, meaty slice of rich slab bacon underneath the vertically propped
alliums made the dish all the more hefty, along with a creamy crushed egg vinaigrette.  The black truffles, which were the justification of its $18 price tag, weren't particularly flavorful, as slices of
cold truffles tend not to be.  It might be better to restrain your truffle budget to where it is employed with warm food stuffs, as that is where is really performs most gloriously.  For luxury, opt for the terrine of fois gras, its highlight a warming zesty apple chutney.  The fois itself plays its typical suave role, but with plain white toast as the co-star, the chutney definitely steals the show.

As for that chicken, its a plush and luxuriant bird, regardless of the chosen sauce.   Really, the chicken is so juicy and luscious it needs no augmentation, although I wholeheartedly recommend the sauce grand-mere with its mushrooms, red wine and bacon.  But all sauces sound like valiant counterparts, from the Provencal flecked with the classic herbs, Marocaine kicked with cumin and coriander, or a bright, verdant chimichurri.  That said, even the grand-mere has but a couple of errant floating mushrooms, so side dishes are pretty much a must, unless you consider the fat bulb of creamy, pungent garlic
 adequate roughage.  I cannot resist
roasted Brussels sprouts, a solid preparation with roasted apple and bacon so smoky it infiltrates the entire dish.  Even so, crispy
sunchoked or orange roasted
carrots might be a little more interesting.  And as the menu states, there are "Never Enough Potatoes" (most blatantly since the entrees come with NONE), so there are three versions to opt from: roasted, tarragon-inflected frites, or a hedonistic baked number stuffed with a Gruyere-laden mash.   Even fish is cooked on the rotisserie, and that $41 whole branzino, even though it's not listed
along with the other "Pour Deux", it is certainly sufficient for that many.  It's gleaming silvery skin can barely contain the flavorful tender flesh literally bursting through: I think this is the best simple whole roast fish I have ever had.  An herby tomato-fennel concasse atop was vibrant and flavorful, but I was afraid to use too much even to mask at all the wonderfully fresh fish.  But it was light enough just to enhance the flavors, and the whole dish was certainly the highlight of the menu.

Or was the Pavlova?  I loved this crispy meringue cocoon of  syrupy port-roasted plums bedecked with plump blackberries and a sprinkling of crunchy pistachio bits.  Supposedly there was a ginger granita lurking about somewhere in this little delight, but I'm not sure where it was hiding.  And while I'm not a chocolate person, the Souffle au Chocolat Amer was a marvelous chocolate option, the "amer" not to be mistaken for "American", it is unmistakably French for bitter, and an alluring subterfuge of fluffy cloud-like souffle relinquishing itself into a lusciously creamy bittersweet pudding beneath.  The extra three dark chocolate truffles aside may have been extraneous, but it would be silly to turn down extra truffles.
The coffee their using at Georgette is equally as lush and rich- even the decaf was wonderfully smooth and strong, an excellent counterpart to both desserts.   Its actually a good illustration of everything chez Rotisserie G.  She is using exemplary ingredients to their finest advantage.  There is little reinvention or modernism going on here, but sometimes if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

14 East 60th Street
tel.  1.212.390.8060

Saturday, November 5, 2016


San Carlo Osteria Piemonte is a big name for this tiny little West Village Italian gem.  I found my way here by good word from the trusted then-manager of Da Marcella nearby, and they suggestion was worthy.  The room is subtly lit, emphasizing its cozy, nook-like feel, and the congenial, welcoming staff compound this.  You are welcomed into their space, in Italian, and throughout the night the Italianness of the establishment just becomes more and more impactful.  The San Carlo team helms from the
 Piedmont region of Italy, and the menu is an inspired combination of traditional Northern Italian with a bit of modern whimsy.

They started us of with a lovely little bowl of chewy farro and diced market vegetables, fragrant with basil.  It's a dish that is also available on the menu as a primo, but it was offered as complimentary little nosh, in keeping with typical Italian generosity.  There are more little bites, labeled sfizi, such as a plush, ricotta filled squash blossom fried to a crisp, or crusty anchovy toasts whisked with herb butter.

Antipasti included a seasonal salad or one of grilled octopus, and a variety of crudi, some of which are nearly ample enough to either share or serve as entrees (or secondi, as the case may be), if you add a contorno, which is where I found my choice of appetizer.  While I was hesitant to get generic verdure grigliati for fear of just those generic verdure grigliati, these were anything but.  Robust, super-primo veggies- yes, the usual suspects, but seasoned to amplify their natural flavors to the ultimate degree, cooked just short of too much, toothsome yet tenderized.  Each veg was Noah's ark-style, two of each, so both of us at my two-top got a nice big sample of each specimen. Capesante con pure di rafano featured six fat little mollusks, buttery and sweet against a zippy puree of spunky horseradish smeared around the
 periphery.  A light eater could make a meal of these, and bigger appetites that go for the real secondi still might be challenged by their abundance.  

The primi, on the other hand, are classic first course portions, but regardless of how you fit theme into your meal, they are not to be missed.  Tajarin Superga live up to their braggadoccio, a dense spool of angel hair spun with brown butter infused with black truffles and safe, a decadent explosion of autumnal flavor.  On the lighter side is a fusilloni with shrimp and a lemony arugula pesto, or go heartier with the housemade agnolotti in a rich, meaty ragu.  The tajarin, however, pairs swimmingly with a contorno of sauteed wild mushrooms, salty with a truffled woodsiness.    Choosing a main course from the Secondi gets pricier... some of the items from this section approach the forty dollar mark.  But rest
 assured you'll get both quantity and quality for the price.    Unlike a classic secondo, bare on the plate, entrees here come with ample garnish: a vegetable and starch in every case.  Bone-in veal is pounded thin and breaded in the Milanese, joined by a zesty arugula salad and roasted potatoes, while a behemoth pan-seared split full chicken breast (free-range) shares a crowded platter with both fava and cannellini beans, and a thick tomato-pepper sauce called bagnet rosso, a classic Piedmont-style ragout.

Dinner might fill you up too much for dessert, which would be too bad, considering the options.  Pears poached in red wine and spices, or a minty semifreddo with spicy chocolate sauce await, or take the opportunity to try the Bönet, a traditional Piedmont pudding like a fudgy flan dusted with crumbled amaretti.  If you forgot to save room, however, finish your meal with an outstanding limoncello, tart and icy-fresh.  Reality always sets in inevitably, but for the moment you'll really believe in la bella vita, thanks to San Carlo.

Tel: 212.625.1212 / 212.625.1232