Monday, October 24, 2016


A very well-respected entity in the food industry told me that Momofuku Nishi was a different restaurant every week.  I'm not sure if he meant that it was intended to be so, or if it was just still sorting out  a massive identity crisis due to an onslaught of initial negative reviews.  I mean, David Chang is usually pretty impervious to criticism, and so it is that his new Chelsea venture, which began as a Korean-Italian hybrid, is still one of the toughest tables in town to procure.  It's one of those go super early or late spots, but at least it does now take reservations, another thing that has changed from its original policy.   Still, it does get packed, and the uncomfortable seating and tight quarters are some of the things that DO remain constant.  That, and a staff of somewhat unappealing surly waiters, more emblematic of a Chinatown hole-in-the-wall than somewhere charging $23 (with an optional $60 supplement for white Alba truflles) for a plate of noodles.

And those noodles can be worth putting up with the anti-luxe conditions: the ceci e pepe  that are now dubbed simple "Butter noodles" are a savory tangle of al dente spaghetti  swathed in a savory chickpea hozon to mimic the classic cacio cheese treatment, and a hefty grind of fragrant black pepper.  Less worth your while is Chili Squid, shreds of cabbage and squid tossed with a thinner lo mein and a decidedly fishy sauce.  The noodles actually tasted fishier than the scant strips of squid, and it was unclear whether a funky fish sauce was making that contribution or
 whether the squid just wasn't a la momente, but regardless it left a bad taste in my mouth, and on my mind.  A better choice might be the spicy beef that I was eyeing enviously in front of diners all around me: oversize spinach elbow macaroni mingled with fragrant shreds of tender beef scented with mint and topped with a crunchy frizzle of fried shallots.   I was happy to pick my mood back up with a stellar plate of jewel-like heirloom tomatoes wallowing in in a vibrant green basil oil strongly tinged with cumin.  It was a glorious tribute to close
 out tomato season with the exceptional fruits really starring in a sauce that enhanced their  lusciousness.  Just as good were the roasted beets, generously portioned and festooned with chopped chervil.  A meaty walnut bagna cauda referenced again the Italian influence, but the overall impression of the dish just celebrated the great roots, regardless of their.... roots.  Both vegetable dishes were obvious shares, for two or even three people.    As are most of the dishes, like a soft shell salt-and-pepper shrimp, the whole thing edible although you'll end up picking the little twiggy legs out of your teeth.  I preferred ridding the crustacean of his appendages and noggin', although consuming the outer shell was kind of nice, crunchy counterpart: like an all-inclusive fish 'n chips, no potatoes required. 

 Another eye-catcher on a neighboring table was a behemoth marrow bone served with tender rectangles of toasted milk bread to scoop out its creamy interior.  This was about as ubiquitous as
 the spicy beef pasta dish, again reiterating the fact that I probably did not order that well.  That was illustrated by the roast pork that came next, which tasted more like ham than "the other white meat", incredibly fatty even aside from the thick fat cap that encircled each slice.  The flat, fat broad beans that stretched across the meat were probably the high point, as the pickly shards of onion tried their best to cut the fattiness of the pork.  The only other entree was an Ocean Trout, though, and in that it's a similar species to char, not my favorite even though I'd normally opt for fish.

To close out, I have no fault to find with the moist pistachio bundt cake, its crisp edges nutty and buttery, and the whipped ricotta with which it was served completely redefining this often gritty and maligned cheese.  Nishi's version was ethereal, densely creamy yet light, and luscious to pair with bites of cake.  That said, it was a fairly heavy finish to a fairly heavy meal, and if I could have yet another do-over for the night, I'd head a couple store fronts down the block and splurge on a cup of soft serve from Milk Bar, Cristina Tosi's associated dessert mecca conveniently nearby.  But anyways, if my friend was right, I can come back again in a week or two, and run no risk of repeating my missteps.

232 Eighth Avenue
Between 21st + 22nd Streets
tell  646-518-1919

Saturday, October 22, 2016


Maneuvering through what is almost inarguably the dodgiest area of town to approach China Xiang, my expectations for the restaurant just about imploded. Needless to say it was quite heartening when the food began to arrive to squelch this misperception. The room itself is pretty bare-bones, although a step up from what you normally find in Chinatown. Charcoal grey stonework comprises one wall, and there are some attractive
modern lanterns suspended from the ceiling, but the windowed facade looking out onto a shoddy stretch of 42nd street doesn't do
 much to improve the ambiance.

Saute Mix Vegetables
So shift your focus to the voluminous menu, spanning from an innocuous but respectable saute of mixed vegetables, to more audaciously authentic Hunan fare like chili-spiked frog or baked corn with a salted egg.
 While the former is a laudable, if somewhat uninspired, melange of crisp-tender broccoli, enoki and straw mushrooms, plus the requisite water chestnuts and bamboo shoots, the hacked-up frog jumps in (no pun intended) to
Saute Frog with Green Pepper
Shanghai Style Thick Noodles with Shrimp
sate more ambitious palates. It boasts an incendiary duet of chilies, red as an engine and green as… well, frog. It is the scarlet ones to which one should pay deference, although the frog-hued ones too are not just there for decoration. Pay attention to the bones, too, as this meat will need to be sucked off of them. If that's a little much for you, there is the American Chinese section of the menu, as well as numerous soups, rice dishes and noodles, of course, skinny lo mein or fat, hand shaved ones slicked with a subtly sweet, umami-rich glaze best teamed up with meaty pork of beef. The more delicate shrimp we ordered didn't add much, and the heft of the noodles sort of overwhelmed them. 
The ingredients utilized are all
exceedingly fresh, from garlicky flaps of slippery, floppy woodear mushroom accompanying a sauté of tender chicken with sweet red peppers to fat bulbs of brilliant jade bok choy steamed juicy and crisp. To quaff is beer and wine only, and while the pinot grigio they have on hand works well enough with the cuisine, it's not a particularly admirable bottle: better off with suds.
Chicken with Black Mushrooms

The service is basically what one has come to expect in a casual Chinese restaurant, but glasses of ice water are efficiently refilled and a server will readily come to your assistance when beckoned. As far as desserts go, you don't get to choose. There's one option, a funny, somewhat pasty puree of purple potato piped into, weirdly enough, miniature Tostitos Scoops, and to add to the hilarity, spritzed with a sprinkle of turquoise Pop Rocks. Get these just for the novelty if you're inclined, because although consuming one is an amusement, it's hard to imagine anyone wanting more than a taste, let alone the six of which arrive. Otherwise, grab a fortune cookie from the deep bowl at reception and ponder your fate on a white slip of paper as you exit, hopefully with a great enough satisfaction from dinner to distract you through the unsavory sidewalks of Port Authority on your way home.

 360 West 42nd Street
Tel: 212.967.6088/6085

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Some of the buzz may have worn off at High Street on Hudson, a cozy West Village eatery that was all the rage when it opened up almost a year ago, but that only makes a table that much easier to procure.  Because the quality has held the line if not superceded it, from what I discerned from a late summer night's meal.  The space is a little dark, but not at all dreary.  An open kitchen illuminates the from the west, which is a busy hub of activity, starkly white-aproned chefs busy at their tasks, creating all the delicacies your are soon bound to enjoy.

Aside from the plates we ordered, I got a good glimpse of a handful of others given the tight proximity of tables, as well as a very friendly couple sitting next to me.  They approved of everything they ordered as enthusiastically as I do, and I got a preview of what was to come.  A hefty, oval slice of bread was heaped generously with mashed up bluefish salad, dotted with onions and radishes.  Actually, this does introduce a sort of strange phenomenon for a place that prides itself on its bakery, whose homepage is a food porn centerfold of crusty loaves and moist teacakes: there was no bread provided throughout the course of the meal, and only available as "Breads and Spreads" from the Lighter Fare section of the menu for eight bucks, so you gotta have dip. too.  Perhaps the "Leave it To Us" prix fixe at $65 a head provides a sampling of the boulangerie, but it would've been nice to have a few slices alongside our entrees, for sure.

Or even the appetizers we chose, two of which sported magnificent saucy components that would have appreciated a crust or two for swabbing purposes.  A smart grilled eggplant showed none of its oil-philic properties, leaving it light and tender under a thick drizzle of salty miso paste, freckled with toasty sunflower seeds and pickly rings of okra that left their mucilaginous trail across the plate like sticky spider-web threads in a not unappealing way.  Sizeable nebrodini mushrooms (a cousin of Trumpet Royales) were roughly chopped and grilled, crowned with two oblong green peppers that were deceptively NOT shishitos- spicy as all get-out, leaving me in further want of that non-existent bread basket.  The rinded puck of tangy goat cheese helped douse its piquancy in a starch's absence, and although the cheese itself wasn't soft as described on the menu, it was much tastier than typical chevres to which I am accustomed, with more body and verve and less farmy funk.

The best dish of night was a super coarse fresh corn polenta served with soft shell shrimp for consuming cannibalistically in their entirety.  But even with the enjoyable novelty of devouring the whole crustacean, head to tail, the polenta was the scene-stealer.  It was shockingly corny, its tender, pebbly granules of corn grits melded together in a creaminess, green onion adding a pronounced allium bite and a verdant freshness.  Fun to eat the shrimp whole-hog, even thought the taily end and the spiny, long-whiskered head were less enjoyable to masticate in practice than in theory.  The meaty body in between was exquisite, though, and listed at just $15 as an appetizer, it could act as a reasonable entree for a cheapskate (no shame!) and was far more interesting than the tilefish main I did order, even though our server steered me toward the latter.

The tilefish itself was flavorful, although the texture was a bit mushy; roasted sun-gold tomatoes helped perk it up decidedly, but the best part of the dish were the smashed potatoes, salty of skin and in a rainbow variety of colors, purple to gold.  The Grilled 1/2 Young Chicken was tender in its youth, juicy-fleshed under a nicely burnished skin.  Corn succotash underneath had its sweetness augmented with chow-chow, compounding the dish's summery classic American appeal.  There is a "Leave it To Us"
 option at just $65, a prix fixe of the chef's choise which might be a great way to experience High Street, for if anything, I was certainly left with a curiosity to experience more of what there was to offer.

Onto desserts, I'll forgive them their paucity of peaches in the snickerdoodle concoction, but I cannot entirely forgive the un-snickerdoodliness of the affair.  It was great, the buttermilk ice cream sublime, but really quite misnomer-ed.   Softly crumbly biscuit studded with seeds didn't taste at all like snickerdoodles: in fact, any cinnamon sugar component was quite absent aside from a pleasantly gritty smear beneath the ice cream.  The peaches were slightly dried, giving them an unexpected chew (I wonder if this wasn't to mask the un-juiciness of subprime peaches, but in any case, it totally worked).  The overall dish was great- I'd order it again.  But it should be called something else. Snickerdoodles impart a distinct nostalgia, and while this dessert had all the yumminess going for it, it had none of the snickerdoodliness.  Other than that, I was so glad none of the quality implied from the initial hype as worn off.  High Street's ratings come in as high as ever.

 637 Hudson Street
tel.  1.917.388.3944

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Jams was THE place in its hey-day, back in the '80's, introducing California cuisine to the New York dining scene as a novel genre, celebrating market-fresh ingredients and lighter, breezier cooking techniques.  Although Jams closed before the nineties began, Chef Jonathan Waxman never faded from the scene, cooking in or consulting for twenty some-odd restaurants and fathering the ever-popular Barbuto in the West Village.  Perhaps on the coattails of its success, and a bit of nostalgia for the good old times, he resurrected Jams, this time in midtown occupying the ground level of  1 Central Park Hotel.  While in the eighties, the idea of cooking on a wood-fired grill, minimalist preparations of organic, seasonal ingredients and celebratory vegetables was enough to draw crowds, today it is basically a given.  So while the bar of expectations is a much higher today for type of food, the seasoning and innovations of the menu seems somewhat tamped to placate its midtown clientele.

That said, there is still a pleasant meal to be had at Jams... but it might take you awhile to get through it.  Service is a bit lackadaisical, and not particularly engaging even when you have their attention.  The menu is of standard format- there are few, if any, quirks that need explaining.  No real surprises in most of the dishes, either; the cooking here is rather straightforward.  A chilled corn soup with charred scallions was creamy and smoky, a nice late summer starter.  A kale salad could've held up pretty much any time of year, but the heirloom tomato with cucumber and melon certainly spoke of the bounties of August's
 market.  Peter's Point (MA) oysters were served a half-dozen, on the half shell, but almost double too much money, at $21.  They were good for the time of year, although notably briny.  For a restaurant priding themselves on market seasonality, the Starters seemed a little heavy, and lacking in vegetable/vegetarian options, so I took an offering from the side dishes, a whole roast tomato.  It was flavored like pizza with garlic, fennel and oregano, and baked 'til it succumbed to the ovens heat, releasing its plentiful juices that would've been wonderful soaked up by some slice of a chewy loaf, but continuing in true California-style
 (365 days a year bikini-season) no bread was offered, nor do recall any for purchase on the menu, so most of those fragrant drippings remained in the bottom of the bowl.    Snackier options consist
 of small bowls of nuts ($7) or olives ($6), or a cheesy toast with tomatoes and herbs.

The one pasta we tried was basically the white clam sauce classic, snazzed up with spicy breadcrumbs whose spice really of infiltrated the whole dish, making for quite a piquant little plate of noodles.  Clams were small but numberous, impeccably fresh and plump.  Gnocchi with corn and tomato, a seafood risotto and a hearty gemelli with braised pork shoulder joined its ranks.

The menu included five options for main courses, plus an evening's special pork chop served with lightly braised, leafy kale and spiced, charred carrots.   The kale was a little sour eaten on its own, but cut up in little bites to pair with the robust pork it made a nice condiment-type accompaniment.  Olive oil poached cod shared the plate with whole, miniature patty pan squash and slices of grilled eggplant.  The cod, too, might've worked better had it been thrown on the grill as well, the delicacy and softness achieved by this method of cooking less complimentary to the hearty smear of rugged romesco, with its chunky bits of almond, and abundant smattering of intense olives with which it was served.  It would've been better off with less aggressive bedfellows, or else grilled along with them to attain more continuity.
 And again, without any bread, I used the
 remaining romesco to pep up a rather lackluster side dish of fairly un-garlicky garlic sauteed green beans.

The best part of the meal came to close it out, which is always nice- ending on a high note.  And I actually thought that virtuoso would be the peach and blackberry cobbler, with is oaty, buttery crust, but in the end,  the stage-stealer was a moist, juice-steeped blackberry upside down cake with sweet corn ice cream.  Its ice cream could've been more intensely corny, but it was enhanced by the golden polenta cake, stained with the inky juices of the berries like sticky fingers after a day of picking.  The coffee that I got with it was just as outstanding, a rare occasion where the lack of caffeine seemed to be made up for by the depth of flavor.  After such a successful dish, I wondered had I ordered better, like going for that signature roasted chicken he made so famous here, and lives on at Barbuto, perhaps I could've experienced a more satisfying Jams.  Those who have fond recollections of the original might benefit from the nostalgia they could to apply to this new version, but more likely Jams will thrive on hotel guests, the restaurant desert of the area,  and midtown foot-traffic familiar with Waxman's celebrity.  And they won't be disappointed, but a native might find themselves a lot happier heading downtown where his talent  never needed reintroduction.

1414 Avenue of the Americas tel.  212.703.2007

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Since it's a cross-continental flight to Portland anyways, I can't be too upset that I hit Plaza de Toro's final summer party of the Ruta del Toro series, "culinary experiences where we share food and explore Spain"....  and have a really good time doing it.  The Ibiza-themed fete called for white apparel and a predilection for dancing, encouraged by Barcelonian DJ Bruno Homedes.   The chefs were imported from Spain as well, dazzlingly handsome
 ones with tanned skin and tousled hair.  At the helm was chef Juanjo Canals teaming with Toro's executive chef, John Gorham, who took it upon himself to manage enough of the cooking to liberate these guapos to circulate the crowd so I could at least introduce myself.

Which was a highlight of the evening, but the true magic appeared on laden platters passed about by enlisted Toro staffers.  Refreshing shots of scallop ceviche were served in hollowed out limes and shrouded in a tangy, diaphanous foam.  Ceramic crocks of a lusty shrimp and lobster potage tasted of rich summer tomatoes and a warm ocean breeze, loaded with tender chunks of fresh seafood.  This made a nice little meal-ette with a zesty insalata russa, plump with potatoes and peas, propped up on a cracker-thin wheaten toast.   The prize-winner, however, was a super sexy squid ink risotto, its glass cup leaving nothing to the imagination.  The blackened rice was chewy, creamy and saline, crowned with a tiny, shatteringly crisp octopod, deep-fried to chip crispiness.  It was hard to flag this one down, as they seemed to disappear off the serving trays as soon as they departed the kitchen.  I think in that kitchen, they intended the whole roasted pig to be the star of the night (but only because they didn't realize how awesome the risotto was...)  And truly, that pig was

spectacular.  Its rich meaty juices trickled off the tender hunks of flesh and saturated the fragile toast below.  Topped with a rich crema and a tangy melted cherry tomato, the toast had no hope of survival, succumbing to the juices of the meat, fruit and cream and just creating a luscious finger-licking delight of a mess. 

And it didn't end there, because the DJ was still spinning, sangria kept flowing, and no dinner party is complete without dessert.  So, in accordance with the abundance of the tapas, there were also many of these.  A party-sized hero of brioche was filled with sweetened whipped cream and sliced into two-bite sammies.  Key lime tartlettes cupped the tangy curd in buttery pie shells, spritzed with tiny flounces of whipped cream.  The best was a dense bread pudding, drizzled in icing and moist as could be underneath an oven-baked crust that maximized everything Maillard every hoped to describe.  An array of house-made chocolates spilled out over the buffet table as well, their liquidy caramel centers spurting out from delicate dark chocolate shells like the jets of soapy foam from real Ibiza parties.... which was pretty much the only thing that was missing from our slightly tamer PDX version.  So, until next summer, Toro. 

Friday, August 26, 2016


I haven't been to a restaurant with this much vim in what feels like forever.  Greg Denton (of Ox acclaim) opened up this eclectic newbie just months ago, and has been rolling with a full house since Day 1.  No surprise, really, given the popularity of Ox and Kask, and also an easily accessible,  prime address smack dab in downtown Portland.

Superbite accentuates the ingenuity of the Portland dining scene, creating a menu sectioned into Bites, Plates and Platters, where the bites are truly one to two bite super-bombs of flavor, plates run in the tapas profile, and platters could be shared by three or four appetites whetted by a sampling of selections from the former.  The room is as bright as the restaurant's prospects, paved in stunning tiles whorled with cobalt and white and lit with glowy pendulous bulbs that come into effect after the sun sets, which was pretty late on a breezy, balmy summer night.  It is also as lively in its noise level, a boisterous din that seemed to elevate throughout the course of the night, as the atmosphere morphed even more festive and celebratory as the evening progressed.

Service is chipper and congenial, but significant lapses in attentiveness occurred on several occasions, where the staff seemed either distracted or lackadaisical, but in either case, inattentive.  We ordered a extraordinary wine (Loureiro-Quinto do Ameal- Vino Verde '14)  but it took an arduous, anticipation-heightening while to arrive.  Noticeable bouts of thumb-twiddling surpassed between courses, and flagging down a server for a question or even our check at the end verged on an animated display of acrobatics.  So to was the wait before our first Bites, although also well worth it.  The first
 thing to hit the table may have been the best dish of the night, an onion ring filled with artichoke custard and heaped with Dungeness crab.  If this was offered as a Platter, I would've taken it.... aye, a true Superbite, in every sense.  I couldn't decide between the mushroom offerings, but at just $3 and $6 dollars respectively, I got them both.  The cheaper one was kinetic: a single grilled shiitake glazed with sauternes hovered over a porcini-dusted
marshmallow.  Sweet and savory and salty, intensely umami, and thankfully, too tiny to share.  I wanted four.  But the guajillo-braised trumpet quickly stole my attentions, saucy and piquant, enriched with little dollops of avocado puree.  The flavor-
packed "gravy" from this bite was supreme swabbed up with the fresh, softly chewy Little T baguette, who's real highlight itself was the ur-butter butter with which it was served, flecked with crystalline shards of glittering salt.

The oddest thing that happened all evening, however, was a gift: our server had, as is due protocol nowadays, inquired of allergies and aversions, to which I imparted that none of the table ate raw fish.   So when the kitchen sent out a Plate of albacore tataki, which was described as "seared" but if the fish felt the heat of the stove for more than a nanosecond I'd be surprised.  For all
 intents and purposes, it was the one thing we said we didn't want.  That said, carving off the done-est edges slathered with in a jammy blueberry kosho and superlatively crunchy frizzles of onion were
really most excellent.  And the third diner at our table decided it was cooked enough for him and cleaned the plate.  Peculiar blip, however, with such a vast menu to choose from, and although obviously you can't look a gift horse in the mouth, there were so many dishes on the menu I wanted to try (such as the saffron cuttlefish noodles or the halibut brandade fishstick) that it was harder to appreciate the generosity.

A Plate of snap peas and lobster mushrooms with corn was quick to soothe any woes, however, rich with dashi butter but freshened with all that produce and wisps of shiso.   This one is a must-order.    Corn and mushrooms featured 
prominently in a bibimbap-style polenta Plate, the nubby, hyper0corny porridge surrounded by an array of tasty condiments: salty petals of thinly sliced speck, gripping, rough-cut green olives, tangy roasted cherry tomatoes and pungent curds of parmesan.  Roasted cauliflower with sesame and tobiko was big, and more than flavorful enough to satisfy, but it was still just vegetable, maybe best as a shared side or compliment to some of the heartier Bites and Plates.  One of example of these were the BBQ beef shortribs, a bit fatty for my tastes, served with a dense Ecuadorian potato pancake studded with sharp
 Vermont cheddar and and flurry of cilantro-flecked greens atop.  We didn't venture upon any of the Platters, much more of a commitment at the $42-$78 dollar range, but of course these are shareable and actually pretty reasonably priced.

 A return visit (which now seems inevitable) would definitely include those, and perhaps as a concession to cost we might forgo dessert, none of which inspired the same excitement as the savory courses preceding them.  Actually, the Stout syrup egg cream accompanying three bite-sized raspberry turnovers was magnificent, and I would recommend this dessert just for that.  The jammy little berry pockets were intensely raspberry-y, but they tasted just as you thought they would, and the additional caramel corn drizzled with creme anglaise was amusing but superfluous.  Baked Cana de Oveja seeped out a little too greasily, slicking excellent blackberries with a coat they would've been better off without.  The interior of the puck of cheese was creamier, pairing better with the berries, but by the time I got to it I was too filled with grilled cheese to really appreciate it.
 Probably I would've been better off with the
Viridian peach sorbet float with prosecco, but with the lovely Vinho Verde from dinner it would've had stiff competition for sipping superiority.

Speaking of which, we selected that wine from a frugal standpoint, allowing the somm to guide us between two of the lower priced bottles, which were still not cheap.  Bottles in the $40+ range are sparse, and skyrocket into triple digits from there on.  Luckily, what we chose was really one of the highpoints, but there deserve to be more accessible bottles on such a quirky menu.  In retrospect, you might be better off going with the draft glasses, which look at least as if not more interesting. But this is a minor snafu in comparison to my enjoyment of Superbite as a whole.  It totally lives up to its name: pretty damned super in every sense.   So super, in fact, it seems to have knocked it's own dot off it's "i".

 527 S.W. 12th
tel.  (503)222-0979
Reservations for parties of six or more