Saturday, January 27, 2018


Le Turtle.... not La Tortue, or The Turtle, but Le Turtle, is a vivacious little "French New Wave" bistro deep in the Bowery, although the frenchiest thing about it is probably it's .fr url.  That website is simultaneously mystifying and mesmerizing.... it changes frequently, but it seems always to include something a bit shocking, a little sexy, always quirky, artsy, intriguing.   Such can be said for the restaurant itself, at times trying too hard, but at others actually achieving it.
Large modernist turtle shell
We arrived to an empty dining room for a 7pm reservation, but within a half hour it was packed, with a cacophonous volume to prove it, and it stayed that way 'til we left.

The cocktail list included a very seasonal roster from which we choose hot toddy-type cider concoction, strong on its own with additional potency that comes with heated alcohol: it always seems to hit much harder.  Delicious, though, tart and boozy.  The cocktails are pricey, though, at $17 across the board, as is the wine list: the cheapest white was $19, spanning on up to $28.  It seems mean-spirited (no pun intended), or lazy not to include more reasonably priced varietals, because great ones are out there.  The food menus, millennial pink, have only about fifteen items on them, which your waiter will describe as if they are somehow formatted differently than any other menu in the city, but they are in fact, rather straightforward.   I got the feeling they were trying too hard on several counts, both in the kitchen and the servers themselves, who might detail a few additional specials,  and after doing so, ask if there are any questions.  There were: one she answered with a response that clarified nothing, and on the other she was just
Fennel salad
 inaccurate.  So that fennel salad, despite the fact that she said it combined both raw and cooked fennel, had only gently wilted, thin slices beflecked with toasty sunflower seeds. The most delicious component was robustly sweet chunks of roasted pineapple that made up for the disappointing fennel presentation,  subtly kissed with Meyer lemon vinaigrette.  Had her description been more accurate, I probably would've order the charred broccolini instead- it looked pretty divine with really incinerated florets and vibrant green stalks dusted with pistachio (I eyed this upon my neighbor's table... talk about green being the color of envy).  But better yet, order both.  Portions here are not particularly ample, so what we ended up with felt a little skimpy.  To that end, bread is not included, so if you are going to want a little loaf to mop
Bone Marrow
 up sauces (which are probably the restaurant's greatest asset), do order them for the six dollars they charge, and let me know what "Le Turtle butters" turn out to be.  A special, a froufrou marrow bone composition, completely lost the marrow to everything else it had going on. Which was delicious, but probably pretty overwrought for someone who actually wanted to taste the marrow and not the tasty bread-and-butter pickle relish and luscious bacon marmalade that I actually found a lot more appealing.

The ravioli pillows on the adjacent table didn't look very pillowy..... I actually thought they were the sunchoke appetizer in the dim light, but then again they licked that plate clean.   There were two large format options: a whole Sasso chicken ($69)  with Brussels sprouts and a Flintstonian Cote de Boeuf ($115), both of which got ordered multiple times throughout the evening, but with just the two of us we went for individual entrees.  Very rare medallions of venison were nestled into a mild, creamy celeriac puree brightened with popping pickled mustard seeds and a lip-smacking reduction of its maple/dry aged glaze.  I like the sauce better than the meat, which was little bland and mushy.  The monkfish was cooked similarly rare... which doesn't bode well
 for monkfish.  Much like squid, or chicken, under cooking verges on revolting, its texture sort of rubbery and gelatinous rather than tender.  The kitchen took it back for a little more attention, but maybe gave it a bit too much, although it was really quite delicious anyways.  Salty, its sunrise-hued sauce of ...... studded with favas.  There were only about four or five of those, however, so definitely fulfill your vegetable quota in the small plates that start, as the entrees include virtually none.

Caramelized fennel and cinnamon ice cream
On that note, I decided to try to get more of my five-a-day from dessert, but the caramelized fennel with cinnamon ice cream was really more candied, tooth-achingly sweet.  It would have made a fantastic garnish for a neutral cake or even poached fruit, but on its own it was overwhelmingly saccharine.  Our other options were rattled off by our server rather than printed out, so I recall a cardamom-spiced rice pudding and a chocolate option, plus one other one that escapes me.  We shared a French press coffee from La Colombe, though, and it was duly strong,  pairing well with the cinnamon ice cream and even countering some of the fennel's sugariness.

As our reservation was relatively early, the hordes kept funneling throughout the course of the evening.  So even as we were anticipating our check, more of the whole roasted chickens kept parading through the dining room, torched upon arrival for a bit of fireworks to close out the evening.    I hadn't read the New York Times' review beforehand, so when I turned to my dining companion and asked "Do you smell pot?" I didn't even know I was borrowing from Pete Well's script.  But I guess it is legal (-ish?) now, so not to worry. And whether it is that or just a well-run establishment with happy diners, Le Turtle sports a pretty chill vibe.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


A Jackrabbit seems like on of the animals with just enough quirk and outdoorsiness to live up to Portland standards.  But while this Jackrabbit isn't all that weird, it has loosely modernized surf 'n turfed up menu with a fair share of cheffy oddities, like pig's ears and heads, along with "S&M"..... Shells and Meats, in this case, showcasing daily oyster specials and charcuterie complete with "untraditional garnishes."  So there is a palpable cheekiness in circulation, but a sense of normality stems from two difference factors: it is located in a hotel (The Duniway), which is usually grounding, and the chef is a familiar name- Chris Cosentino, from San Francisco.  And while my sister says he has
 diminished some of NorCal presence, he wasn't in the kitchen the night of my visit, either, nor (according to our chipper server) is he very often, if ever.

Jackrabbit is dark and kind of barny inside, fairly simply laid out but for a few rabbit tchotchkes here and about, and a large, handsome iron sculpture of heavy twists of vines and roses that was suspended above our table. A vast bar dominates the front room, with more real estate than the dining room, reflecting the heavy influence of local beers, wines and gin-centric cocktail menu.  No open kitchen here; in fact, I couldn't even tell you from where the food arrived, but when it did, nothing wasn't really, really solid.

Service is casual, the whole atmosphere is a little hush-hushed and calm, but we were there on what was probably a pretty not-busy night.  Even so, service lapsed somewhat throughout the evening, but the informality allowed to occur fairly inoffensively.  And as long as I'm criticizing, I'll put it out there here that I'm not a huge fan of "How is everything tasting?" but that inquiry presented itself a minimum of three times .  "How is everything?" is absolutely sufficient.  But at least they were checking, and the answer was always a sincere thumbs-up.

We started with a simple frisée salad over fanned-out slices of roasted delicata squash, dripped with a richly reduced, sticky balsamic.   There was one other salad option (a simple lettuce and herb combo with a lemon vinaigrette), but otherwise starters tended towards the weightier side, like a beef tartare or grilled cheese, or else a selection from the Pastas & Grains that could be shared as a first course or easily substantial enough for mains. A section of the menu dubbed Daily Requirements offers just that, which works well as starters or sides.   Roasted cauliflower certainly had enough going on to hold its own, tender, nutty nubs of the brassica nestled into a lively smudge of
 harissa, then studded with meaty pistachios and  zippy rings of pickled onion.  Not reinventing the wheel here, but certainly ensuring a smooth ride.

The menu is fairly large, so it's maybe a little unfortunate that both my dining companion and I arrived upon the grilled halibut with the same level of enthusiasm, and in a rare blitz of holiday generosity, acquiesced to us both ordering the same entree.  While a  local stuffed trout with brown butter or roasted duck breast with celery root are other attractive options, nothing else sufficiently rivaled the halibut with its braised kale and kabocha, and big, sweet hunks of
 divinely mellowed shallot.  We took another Daily Requirement in the form at sautéed mushrooms, wild ones featuring an array of chanterelles, oysters and other species of fancier fungi.

The dessert menu made good on another Portland trend I recognized of late- the prevalence of carrot cake.  Jackrabbit's iteration came in the form of an accoutrement for the panna cotta, along with crumbles of black walnut and a novel carrot cider sorbet.  We tried the mascarpone cheesecake, a dense puck of ivory topped with cool, cider-poached apples and delightful shards of buttery puff pastry caramelized to a toffee-like crispness.  A grasshopper ganache featured fresh mint in its fudgy chocolate mint combo, and a cheese plate paired warm sticky fig cake with Beemster's gouda.

I'm a terrible joke-teller.  I have about three jokes in my repertoire, and only one of them really ever gets a laugh.  But it happens to be a silly little quip about cowboys, liquor, and the California Invasion into Oregon, a migration rabidly scorned by the natives in their rapidly overpopulating state.  But this interloper, Californian or not,  is welcome in my book.  As long as he doesn't bring all along too many friends.......


        830 SW 6th Ave
        Tel. 503-412-1800

Saturday, January 6, 2018

MP TAVERNA (Williamsburg)

I think I was more disappointed with my disappointment than I was actually disappointed by my experience at MP Taverna in Brooklyn.  The food we ordered left zero room for complaints- everything was unequivocally delicious and it lived up to my every expectation of chef Michael Psilakis, which are lofty.  But through a series of seriously unfortunate events (including disastrous guidance by Waze, an insultingly late arrival by my dining companion, and a party of sixteen dining concurrently that threw the kitchen so deep in the weeds they hadn't a chance of recovering) we had neither the boisterous fun that that large party was having, nor were we able to try enough of the dishes to have made the whole venture worthwhile, simply because of an overwhelmed crew.

Which shouldn't have been the case; the rest of the restaurant was sparsely populated.  It's a huge space, though, and the waiter imparted that for the most part, they are only really very busy when the adjacent music hall is hosting a show.  Makes sense that there's a music venue attached, 'cause Psilakis is a rock-star kinda guy.  But maybe he's spread himself a bit thin between three MP's spanning Irvington, NY way upstate, to Brooklyn, where we dined.  The former is where chef is spending most of his time, and I fear the Williamsburg address isn't getting quite enough love.

The dining room is super sparse, perhaps capitalizing on a current Athenian trend of minimalist decor, but aside from some simple, square columns and some frondy palms, you wouldn't  know this place was an more Greek than any other designation.... not until you get a menu.  Which I wish had happened about two hours earlier for us, but at least the luscious Greek salad we ordered arrived swiftly.  I wish some fluffy pita had arrived along with it, but instead we ordered it after the fact, because the salty, cheesy dressing pooling underneath was too good to let go to waste.  But the bread took another dose of forever to arrive, and by then I was already getting angsty.  We had ordered our entrees along with the salad, but a tremendous lapses occurred before we even saw our server to inquire what was going on.  Apparently, that sixteen-top had just incapacitated them, and as the minutes ticked by my patience ebbed.  When our entrees arrives almost an hour later, we all but had them packed up to go.  The few bites we did enjoy, however, were exceptionally good.  I ordered pretty light, as even before the delay we
were getting a late start.  But even a meze portion of roasted scallops was bountiful, enough for a main.  They sported an immaculate crust, deeply burnished and riddled with verdant slips of spinach and  nutty nubs of roasted cauliflower brightened with chewy dried cherries.

And I held off writing this review, that precisely per my assessment and prediction, the restaurant has now closed.  This saddens but does not surprise me, although I think and hope Psilakis' other locations are going strong.

And while the Brooklyn location is now closed, I FULLY trust and love Chef Psilakis to confidently recommend his other addresses, as well as Kefi and Fishtag:

1363 Old Northern Blvd.
Roslyn, NY 11576

One Bridge Street
Irvington, NY 10533

31-29 Ditmars Boulevard
Astoria, NY 11105

Friday, December 8, 2017


I had been recommended Mémé several times, but only by strangers with who I struck up restaurant convo.  And they were primarily neighborhooders, so I assumed that while it might be good with the qualification of proximity, I wasn't sure it would live up when held to a higher standard. But since
 this is the West Village, maybe that is the higher standard, and regardless, it's close enough to me that ruing the commute wasn't going to be in issue, like it or not.  And thankfully, Mémé turns out to be quite a little gem in its own right.

It is not, in fact, definitively "exciting", but it still imparts a festive quality and in every aspect of its execution, there exists a small bump of effort that raises it above the expected, whether it be the warm sincerity of the host's welcome or even a little extra drizzle of quality olive oil that makes a dish seem just that little bit more decadent. But there is no pomp or excess: simplicity is the key here.

A string of fairy lights adorns the (unfortunate) temporary scaffolding outside, and whether the server noticed my squint from its glare, or that it is a habitual nightly practice, the swath of aluminum foil in which he wrapped the bulb effectively turned it "off", and simultaneously amplified the flow of the string lights.  At Mémé, you feel like they care, and that's before any food even arrives, which is no small feat.

The first thing on your table will be a small complimentary dish of olives and pickles, snappy and fresh.  A  plate of roasted mushrooms arrives in salad form, and while it was described by our waiter as small, it was easily ample enough for my stablemate to
 steal more than just a few bites. And steal he did, 'cause they were really good... super garlicky but otherwise just left to their own excellent mushroominess. They were flavorful enough not to need any additional dressing or sauce, and I'd order them again.

A seafood grill made me wonder how to say "smorgasbord" in Israeli, but it had enough variety and flavor to quickly distract me from linguistics.  There was a kabob of firm salmon, rife with the flavor or the grill, and some nicely seasoned shrimp and scallops piled atop a refreshing chopped salad, crisp and plentiful. A zippy charmoula added extra pizzazz, and a small dish of creamy hummus made itself readily available for dips and smudges... as well as swipes from across the table.  Besides that, I was torn between the chicken tagine, a stew of rock shrimp and a simple grilled branzino, the latter which I was steered towards by our server. It was excellent advice (although I'm sure I might have said the same of either of the other two choices as well), having achieved a crisp skin tasty enough to prevent me from peeling it off to discard, my normal practice with fish skins.  My only complaint was that the Brussels sprouts, there being only two little halved ones included, weren't sufficient to sate my quota, and I rued not having ordered the roasted ones on the menu with their onions and manchego- as such, these would perhaps warrant a return visit.

That, and the apricot bread pudding.  I mean, really?  There was apricot bread pudding and I didn't get any?  I think the verdicchio was getting to my head...but also, the food is generously portioned and surprisingly filling, so I really had inadequate capacity left for dessert (such an unfortunate scenario...). But like I said, West Village isn't my neighborhood, exactly, but it's close enough.  And while Mémé has all the guises of a neighborhood joint, it far surpasses any limitations one might ascribe to such.  I get why people kept telling me to go there.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Just because The Flower Shop is located on the cusp of Chinatown doesn't mean it is at ALL Asian.  In fact, it is pretty much as American as American can get, sorta 1970's retro American at that.  At least in vibe and decor, this cute little joint way down on Eldridge Street seems pricey for the neighborhood, but reasonable given New York standards.  The food is very good, although not exceptional.  More along the lines of tasty and drink-friendly rather than cheffy.  It does have glimmers of finery, though, with black garlic fancifying the mayo on a hearty burger, and more exotic ingredients like burnt lime and togarashi.  But the theme here is more risqué and
retro than avant garde: the wallpaper has funny water-colored line drawings of whimsical characters, and the tchotchkes that clutter the funky little space exemplify the throwback soundtrack, complete with ceiling fan and leatherette banquettes.  It's like a cross between (unfortunately closed) Mr. Donahue's and The Eddy (who lost their magnificent chef, Brendan McHale).  So maybe it can swoop in to fill a niche.

It's no diner, though, quaint as it is: the food is much more refined than that.  For example, we started off with an English pea tostada smeared with whipped ricotta under a dollop of trout roe, and a Scotch egg slathered in whole grain mustard, so there are far-flung influences.  Our server explained that the menu was designed for sharing, 
which servers seem to love to say these days.  But nothing was conducive to such: either you'd have to cut things all apart to divide and conquer, or dole them out in portions, but neither were sharing plates nor communal utensils provided for any of the dishes.  So while the menu doesn't break down into any categories, it's pretty obvious which ones would work for apps or entrees, and it's really easier that order going that route.  

So the aforementioned egg and tostada can be "snacks", and then there are some salads to fulfill the appetizer quota.  There is a beet one chummed up with burrata, kumquats and pistachios, or a summer vegetable crudite plate, inexplicably described as "boiled in oil" (??) but still raw.  We didn't get it, so I don't know exactly what that meant.  But our heirloom tomato panzanella could've use a little more pane, as the super-ripe and juicy fruits released quite a pool of liquid to the bottom of the shallow cerulean bowl,
 with not enough croutons to soak it up, but a tasty concoction nonetheless, although not being a watercress fan I would've preferred it festooned with arugula or sorrel. 

Bigger plates were just as individualized; sure, you can share 'em, as pretty much anything is cut-in-halfable.  Like that hamburger with its black garlic mayo, zippy pickle, cheddar and fries.... the fries of which definitely got shared amongst us.  Especially since the rib eye steak frites came with more of them, pretty good ones too: straight-cut classics, golden and crispy.  They come with their own little crocks of ketchup, but the steak got a brown butter hollandaise, which was kind of gilding the lily in terms of richness, but a delicious sauce.    Fried chicken comes in a
 what would appear as a bucket, but it's a nifty ceramic vessel, stuffed at the bottom making it look like more chicken than you
 actually get, but still there is ample bird.  The burnt lime here makes sense with the intense curry sauce provided for dipping.   Line-caught cod provided a lighter sounding option, but when it arrived, cloaked in parmesan, I feared they were hiding something.  But not to worry:
 the cloud-like filaments soon dissolved into almost nothingness, although they did contribute so added salinity to an already saline dish.  Ribbons of summer squash wrapped around the plush hunk of fish, seasoned with togarashi to liven things up a bit.

"Desserts" (sic) are dessert: housemade soft-serve accompanied with fresh fruit  and honeycomb is your only option, but it is, finally, probably shareable.  And it's really besides the point.  The Flower Shop is a really fun appealing destination, with just the right balance of sophistication and quirk to give it personality.

107 Eldr107 Eldridge Street
(212)257-4072                                        .   
idge St.
New York, NY
212 257 4072

Monday, October 9, 2017

LIL' GEM (preview)

Still a little rough on the exterior...
My visit to Lil' Gem was for only a soft opening, but while they had only about half the menu up and running, the potential for greatness is maxed out.  This cozy lil' (sic) nook is the brainchild of Lesly Bernard and chef Melissa O'Donnell will feature the Lebanese delicacies of dips, flatbreads and small plates that they're starting off with now, eventually including more substantial offerings like a whole market fish, roasted lamb and various shawarmas.

The restaurant illustrates its name: it will seat but thirty or so at one time, but they will be well fed, and happily so.  Given Bernard's background in clubs and bars, the cocktails are a don't-miss- not-too-sweet concoctions that are not so middle inspired but go well with the food.  A gin-based Purple & Bubbles channels pink lemonade
 in the best possible way, a fresh summer closer, but there are boozy Grandpa-pleasing tipples as well, in addition to beer, wine, and a novel Spanish cider.

Cold and hot mezze open the menu.  Go for any or all of the dips, such as a savory muhammara, which is basically romesco swapping out almonds for walnuts. I wished the miso-fermented hummus would've been even miso-ier, but it's a luscious spread nonetheless.  All these come with chewy, crisp-edged flatbread, but if you're in the mood to totally carb-out, go for the za'atar one (ordered separately),
which arrives warm and is the size of a medium pizza.  True, it risks ruining your appetite if you're not in a largish party, but the zesty spice mix is worth it.  Plus, as I found, these flatbreads keep well,
 so any leftovers of, say, the version smeared with hummus, chunky mushrooms roasted with fragrant spices and sweetly caramelized onions can be successfully toasted right back up again in a warm skillet.  The plums being pickled in another one
 alongside figs and a goaty ricotta allow it to handle the same, as well is its fruity-cheesiness giving it double-duty potential for dessert as well, although the zippy leaves of arugula spritzed with crunchy salt crystals keep it in its place.

Lil' Gem does not negate the end of the harvest bounty currently in farmers' markets, showcasing thick discs of smoked eggplant languishing in a heady puree of black garlic, brightened with vibrant hillocks of minced beet tartare.    Fried cauliflower is done so ever-so-gently, served with juicy lemon wedges encrusted with pulverized sumac, both contributing a crucial acidity: one bracing and familiar, the other slightly musky and exotic.

Dessert will probably be an eventuality, but in the meantime I nursed the remainder of my Purple & Bubbles, not really sweet enough to qualify as dessert, but perfectly refreshing after such a feast.  As good as it was with only half its menu to explore, Lil' Gem's got big potential.


29 A Clinton Street
Phone forthcoming