Friday, May 19, 2017

LURE FISHBAR

Lure may not be the see-and-be-seen hotspot it was when it first opened, but those who were drawn to it initially have become loyal customers, and the appeal of the outstanding seasonally seafood-centric cuisine and comfortably classy room still entice a savvy crowd.  Even with what must be some of the priciest real estate in the city, owner John MacDonald and chef Josh Capon have maintained Lure as a totally destination-worthy restaurant.






The stately room successfully channels the luxury and calm of a posh cruise liner, seductively moody and with more than a hint of swank.  For those of us who luxury travel is still a bit elusive, the transporting interior offers a fancy escape- at least as long as dinner lasts.   And that dinner will be excellent, the sea-centric menu includes all the expected classics of utmost quality, but ebbs seamlessly with modern tastes
and seasonal shifts.  Begin simply with a luscious deviled egg
with crunchy bits of onion in the creamy whipped yolk, crowned with a dollop of caviar for some seaworthy finesse.  Warm shrimp glazed with a tangy barbecue sauce flecked with a chiffonade of allium were so zesty and delicious I would've ordered them as an entree, if that would've presented itself as an option.










A lengthy portfolio of sushi, sashimi, oysters and rolls concede to purists, and three iterations of decadent Shellfish Plateaux (from $65 to $195) cater to the expense accounts.  There are creative salads, like a springy celebration of mixed greens with pickled rhubarb, its tang constrained with snowy goat cheese and a subtly sweet poppy seed vinaigrette.   Velvety leaves of butter lettuce and smooth avocado are  tossed with crunchy cucumber and radishes in a classic, smooth green goddess.  The requisite clam chowder is prepared  in the creamy New England style, lobster bisque is spiked with cognac, and the landlubber option
of white asparagus soup coddles green spears within the ivory puree, and a spritz of toasted garlic atop to enliven the gentle pabulum.



Entrees get more interesting in my opinion; I was having a seriously difficult time deciding, and it didn't help that my table mate decided on salmon, which is probably my least favorite fish.  But even it looked magnificent.  A thick filet's (they cook it according to your preference) rich coral color is bolstered by a bronze glaze of miso smattered with sesame, both black and white.  The accoutrements continue with the Asian theme, sugar snaps and shoots and chewy little mushrooms nestled beneath.  Most plate are noticeably starch-free- concessions to either the gluten averse or carbophobes, but
 scalloped potatoes or an excellent lobster mac and cheese are available as sides, along with an expansive selection of seasonally appropriate veggies like grilled asparagus with roasted shallots or more durable suspects like the requisite roasted cauliflower, here dusted with parmesan and chili, or king trumpets, crisp-edged and chewy.   More mushrooms find there way into an regallly bronzed filet of meaty halibut, these ones shiitake, and springy favas and spinach rival each other's greenness.  Pickly rhubarb atop confirm the season and add a nice snap against the mild beurre blanc pooling below.


My only misstep of the night was dining with a lovely, amiable, charming companion who, however, is not a dessert fan.  I was so close to ordering one to devour solo but none of the ones that were tempting me were very shelf-stable, and I didn't want any remainder to go to waste. But I should've  gotten that pineapple upside down cake, because I'm still thinking about: a hazelnut sponge with passionfruit sauce, or even less durable an Imperial Chai creme brûlée.  In a very uncharascteric moment  I decided to go with her uncondonable restraint and forewent dessert.... and still regret it.  Just another aspect of Lure's allure.... the desire to return.





142 Mercer st 
tel 1.212.431.7676 


Monday, May 8, 2017

Diversion/New Jersey: ANTIQUE BAR & BAKERY



Rocco Ancarola has attempted myriad New York City restaurants with varying degrees of success, but he seems to have finally found a formula that works, and perhaps the location has something to do with it.  In the heart of Hoboken, who's "Hobroken" nickname
 hardly holds any water anymore, he took over a 100 year old commercial bakery and spiffed it up into what has become a super popular eatery, with food good enough to hold up even in the city.  That comes from the chef: Paul Gerard, a native Broolynite that cut his teeth in New Orleans, an influence who's lustiness shows up throughout the mood and the food at Antique Bakery.

The bad mood I arrived with (completely unrelated to the restaurant) dissipated quickly upon arrival, almost as quickly as four fat arancini arrived to our table- bursting with molten mozzarella that stretched into salty, oozy strings from the chewy rice and bright green peas popping with vegetality.  Now unless you're sticking with a snacks-n-booze approach to the evening, one of these is more than enough to start things off with.  Since there are four, divide and conquer ,or risk killing your appetite.  Which is something you definitely don't want to do.  Really, the food is good enough here not to have to be in Hoboken- although the bawdy clientele might betray the address, and I could certainly do without the wolf-pack howls that erupt intermittently from the kitchen.  I'm assuming the latter is an energizing technique to keep up the staffs' enthusiasm, but it's not only alarming but a little silly.









Keep going though, and the menu has enough deliciousness to appease the cacophony.   Not above utilizing a spiralizer in kind, long, steam-tender ribbons of summer squash are given the carbonara treatment and piled into a mouth-watering heap of veggie "noodles" thick with a garlicky, pancetta-spiked, egg-enriched cheesy sauce.   Charred spears of asparagus loll across an oiled plank of toast slathered in creamy ricotta, brightened with delicate curls of lemon rind.  Dishes like these illustrate that vegetables are certainly not just an afterthought: even more

manageably-portioned side dishes like blackened beets with goat cheese topped with a verdant thatch of green onion, or richly roasted Brussels sprouts apples with bulwarks of pickled apple slices, are meticulously considered.







But thing are certainly not exclusively vegecentric.  A platter of Hot Oil shrimp can be order as an appetizer ($14) or entree ($27), depending on your party size, but just make sure your order enough that you get at least two or
 three for yourself: they're that good.  Herculean juicy specimens wallow in oil hot both in temperature and piquancy, the latter to which you can augment by adding more of the spicy rounds of chili festooned upon them.  Do not resist squeezing the charred lemons atop- they add both a wanted acidity and a smoky sweetness.  If you didn't already top out on toast, a crusty half baguette deftly sops up the oily juices to great effect.  Hundred years old or not, that old coal-fired oven certainly didn't age itself out, bringing a superlative char to herb-rubbed hangar steak, lusciously juicy and flavorful-
although if you're a sauce-ophile, you can add your choice of herb puree, bordelaise, green peppercorn, bread & butter, samoriglio, or romesco for an extra five bucks.  Good as those are, though, that meat doesnt really need 'em.









Desserts held the vibe of the kitchen: they are big, party-size, indulgent concoctions.  No way could one, or two, maybe even three sane people finish any one of these alone.  They'd be shareable amongst five or six, so in that respect, their $12-$20 price tags are justified.  Actually,
 their quality almost does that alone- these are some seriously yummy sweets.  A pan-sized blondie spans a good six inch diameter beneath a sort of dwarfed knob of vanilla ice cream drizzled in a fudgy, Magic Shell-ish coat.  It's richly brown-sugary, honestly one of the best
 brownie/blondies I've ever had, but it's just laughably too big unless you've enlisted the troops.   A creamy spumoni sundae riffs on the classic Italian flavors, showered in tiny chocolate chips and candied orange peel, and seemingly as bottomless as it is delicious. The real show-stopped might be the banana split, though, featuring the eponymous fruit just this side of ripe,  candied on the split side

with a caramelly glaze that emphasized the fruitiness a banana can exhibit when captured before any freckling occurs.  That freshness thrived against rich scoops of peanut butter ice cream, dense and nutty, impaled with crisp chocolate wafers. But the crowning glory was the swaths of gold leaf and edible rainbow-glitter that gave this childhood classic a bit of bling and swagger, not quite vaulting it into Unicorn territory but definitely taunting Instagrammability, gilding a lily that didn't need gilding but is all the more fun as a result.

So does Rocco finally have a keeper on his hands?  Oh, time will tell.  Even in Jersey there's the fickleness of landlords and the tempestuous loyalties of the foodie set.  But if Hoboken was my backyard, I'd definitely make myself a regular at Antique Bakery.



122 Willow Avenue
TEL.  (201) 683-7029 


Friday, April 28, 2017

OMAR'S

On a warmish spring evening, descending into the subterranean darkness of Omar's might seem a bit blasphemous.  A hostess brightened things immensely with a welcoming smile, but the only other light sources are dim, moody lamps and flickering votives, making this swanky supper club a better choice in the winter months, perhaps, than on one of the few nice-weather days New York offers from
 portfolio.  An earlier reservation on any given day will find a rather vacant dining room: the scene here picks up after nine pm.  You'll be ushered into a shadowy "Library", with all of a single shelf of books, and none of which looked like they have ever been touched.  A better bet might be to ponder the cocktail list, divided in Nouveau offerings like the tropical L'Exotique  or Classique, although those, too, have been tweaked into modernism, a Negroni of tequila spiked with strawberry and hibiscus, or an Old Fashioned sweetened with "rich" syrup rather than simple.

Once you've found your table, the menu doesn't challenge much, but it reads like a very appealing list of contemporary favorites, and some ingredients, like truffles and aioli, makes several cameos.  Mushrooms croquettes are an excellent way to start: encased in a crisp bronze crust just substantial enough to maintain their spherical form, four of them sit atop a zesty sweep of ramp aioli, lighter and fresher than a
 croquette might normally present. If you want really light and fresh, a crab and avocado salad fenced in by columnar hearts of palm deftly fills that bill, although it could have used used a spritz more salt.  At first there it seemed bereft of crabmeat, but it was just that the sweet morsels were masquerading as pale avocado, and in the end there was plenty of both.

A fat tentacle of octopus furled over a garlicky mash of potatoes, and a smudge of unfortunately bitter black olive aioli, although it was thankfully scarce and far enough to the side to avoid.  The cephalopod could have been more assertively seasoned, but it was tender itself if a bit diminutive for a $16 appetizer.









We didn't have to, but after that we went all veggie.  By far the most intriguing -sounding entrees are PETA-friendly , although in the thick of winter short ribs with pistachio gremolata or organic chicken fricasseed with mushrooms would have more draw.  And as we could've tricked ourselves into negating the imminent vernal transition given the lack of windows, but the veggies jumped higher to entice.  A deliciously roasty hen-of-the-woods mushroom
 bedded in charred broccoli got a kick of dijon in the beurre blanc below it, and it was hearty for purely vegetal option.  So too a sassy head of cauliflower, nestled into a nutty porridge riddled with black garlic to up the umami- a prominent flavor feature throughout the menu.  It florets were burnished buttery, and big, whole Marcona almonds clinging to them added crunch and heft.


Wrapping up, Roasted Pineapple with coconut pound cake seemed perfectly winter-into-spring transitional, as well as keeping that sexy, seductive vibe that fuels the menu.  Drizzled with a lip-smacking lime caramel, it flipped the coconutty richness of cake with fruit to keep things buoyant.   If I could've fit more in, though, all the desserts really had their own appeal- from a cheesecake with chocolate pretzels to a toasted marshmallow gelato.  

Omar's certainly has it's appeal.  It's not the cheffiest destination ever, but it's pretty much nailed the clubby swank vibe, and the food is really seductively satisfying.  It would be kind of a see-and-be-seen kinda joint if the place weren't so dark, but as it is it allows for a good bit of privacy.  It calls itself a "Private Dining Club", although it appears to accept reservations via its website and phone, so I'm not sure how private it is in actuality, although maybe they are discerning in who they accept.  At any rate, as it is and how it  is promoted, Omar's seems to be attracting exactly the kind of clientele is seems like it wants to.





Friday, April 7, 2017

ACME

The original Acme was a divey Southern/Cajun bar and grill that closed half a decade ago, which was then swept up in the New Nordic trend in 2013.  One year ago it reinvented itself once again, retaining only the the name and address which has proven versatile enough to function in accordance with its new identity, a contemporary bistro with global influence and a decidedly New York appeal.  It sadly lost the cool neon sign that had remained even into it's first reimagining, but apparently this new rendition was too cool for old school.  The dining room is shadowed and moody, with leather banquettes and an eclectic private collection of
 art adorning the walls.  Chef Brian Loiacono combines French technique with his Italian-American roots into a menu that basically results in spiffed-up comfort food, cooked with no fear of fat, salt and flavor, but mostly good effect.  The best dishes are vegecentric, although even those are not bikini-friendly fare.


Except for the little amuse sent out to whet our appetites: a tiny arrangement of crudités- one carrot, one cucumber plank, one spear of fennel for each of us- served with a lusciously garlicky aioli dusted with a kiss spicy cayenne.  A love it when a starter actually provokes your hunger and curiosity, and this one did just that.  



  

And a good whetting was needed, with what was to come.  We started with the crispy artichokes, which may have been the best dish of the night, but were perfect examples of assertive dirt candy.  Smashed into submission and decimated with the high heat of a hot-oiled skillet, they were then interred into a cool pillow of whipped lemon ricotta, until we ourselves did the decimating.  Certainly, they are listed as a House Specialty for a reason, but they are no dainty salad.  So too an appetizer of roasted carrots, shrouded in a tahini sauce flecked with crunchy pops of toasted quinoa.... who needs meat with
 vegetables this salacious?  That said, there is beef in the form of both tartare and marrow bones, a porky pate enriched with fois, and buttery Oysters Rockefeller updated with chives and nettles. 


There are a smattering of pastas to choose from, in hearty preparations like a cheesy risotto with black garlic and mushrooms, or pappardelle tangled into a ragu rich with lamb and rosemary ricotta.   Entrees showed three fishes, two poultries and a steak in the form a NY Strip, the priciest option at $45.   Grilled scallops, 
however, at notable $36 appeared voluminous on the plate, but mostly for the mountain of crispy fried Brussels sprouts rather than the three scallops it included.  Fat as they were, three scallops could be considered an appetizer portion, and at this price seemed skimpy.   As it were, the sprouts, rich as their frying rendered them  (in good keeping with fearless approach to vegetables), became too heavy atop the bizarre clod of cashew butter (for lack of a better term) beneath- a good quarter cup of dense nut puree is excessive.  I was counting on the elderberries noted on the menu to refresh the dish, but they were M.I.A. as far as I could tell.  It made for a strange counterpart to the scallops that were
 cooked rather delicately, still slightly translucent within and mildly seasoned.  True, anything else would have been overkill, but the dish failed to meld.   A roast chicken in comparison was positively spartan.  An adequately flavored breast, skin-on, was gently perfumed with orange, perched atop a sauté of mushrooms that tasted faintly musky, faintly....... past due.  They were well-cooked but in freshness definitely lacking, as if they were on their last legs before betrothed to the chicken.  Little frills of micro-greens decorated both entrees, adding an iota of freshness otherwise lacking.  I'm being severely critical here, though, because while both entrees were edible, the pedigree of the restaurant and those involved demands much more.   Were this the quality at the original Acme, I might probably have been relatively pleased.  

Some of this might have been exacerbated by a staff sporting even less enthusiasm than the kitchen.  But some of that energy might have siphoned off into a subterranean lounge below featuring excellent cocktails and a a succinct menu including some full menu items and a smattering of small plates, as well a nightly entertainment ranging from local djs to drag performances.  And the highlight of the evening might have been the magnificent wallpaper in the bathrooms.  I spent far too much time in there trying to decide which character I most associated with.   From this post, one might assume it was the Drudge, but it's not that I was entirely displeased with Acme.  I suppose I just really loved its prior incarnation, and the current one just did not live up to expectations.  Although we were dining early, the relatively empty dining room illustrated it might not be just me who harbors this opinion.  I do think they have the potential to improve, however: the menu is enticing, and those artichokes would be worth returning for.  More along those lines, and a little lightening of the hand, and maybe next time I might even stay for dessert.  





9 Great Jones Street

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

OCEANA

Oceana in the hands of chef Ben Pollinger was a laudable destination for seafood in midtown, not that it actually needed either of those qualifiers: it was simply a wonderful restaurant.  So who knows why whoever decided it was time to switch up the team, but with no warning I suddenly found my friend Bill Telepan at the helm, and the prior Bill has yet to bob his head up at another outpost.


Oceana knows its customer, though.  Seafood fresher than fresh is a given, as is its appropriate dominance of the menu.  We were welcomed with a divine little amuse of crabmeat simply perched on a salty, seeded wafer: a pure and elemental bite.  But a salad may have been even too much of an afterthought even seafood is the focus here, dressed heavily though flavorfully, a plain-jane mix of greens.  But as one of the scarce vegetable options on the menu, more thought should be put into it.   Another salad with roasted acorn squash was more interesting, plonked
 with daubs of fresh cheese.  The rounds of squash were roasted sweet, their nuttiness augmented with a sprinkling of crunchy pistachios.   The menu takes is real footing from the sea, however, so with a lobster fried rice things really start to get interesting.  Chewy fat grains of rice and nubs of roasted cauliflower, nutty and sweet, nuzzle together with sumptuous morsels of lobster meat and spears of green onion.  This is a heftier option though, and decidedly rich, so while it is listed as a side dish, it would make a better shared appetizer, or even
 an entree for someone looking for big flavors in a smaller portion.  But the flavors are a good indication of things to come, for while the fish is pristine enough to speak for itself, Telepan exhibits a good measure of cheffiness in its preparation.







For entrees, a glossy hunk of halibut perched over rich mushroom broth, studded with more wild mushrooms and deep green leaves of spinach.  Earthy sunchokes countered the salinity with their rooty charm, crushed as if by the weight of the hefty piece of fish, bronzed golden atop, flaky and moist beneath.  An even less traditional preparation is the monkfish,
roasted with hearty pastrami spices on knotty rye noodles slicked with mustard.  Smoky slips of cabbage further the parallel with a Jewish grandma, but it remains far more elegant than any bubbe's pickled beef ever was.   He doesn't funnel all his creativity into iterations of fish, though- a special of braised short ribs might
 sway even the most seaworthy.  But if it's not on the docket when you visit, a Flying Pigs pork chop could stand in nicely, and either of the beef options from Niman Ranch would be hard to criticize.



Desserts have always been a strong suit at Oceana.  I remember the dessert I had under Janssen Chan at the original location (am I showing my age!??), an apricot-almond souffle that turned me into a souffle lover.  Prior to that, I was never a fan.  But I have always loved apple and caramel desserts, and the warm apple cake at Oceana puts both of those components to good use.  The moist cake is plump with roasted lemon salted-caramel apples, smothered in a nutty, gooey caramel.  The apples retain a hint of tartness with the lemon, augmented by a cool apple cider gelato.  I didn't regret that choice one iota, but a Tropical Vacherin with lime meringue and pineapple granita gave it a run for its money, and as the souffle happened to be chocolate that ruled it out for me, but chocophiles would love it with its boozy armagnac scoop of ice cream.

Honestly, it's hard to mess up a meal at Oceana.  It's obviously a little silly not to go seaworthy with your order, but Chef Telepan's entire menu is ace, so salties and landlubbers alike can indulge.  In the restaurant desert of midtown Manhattan as well, Oceana is one welcome oasis.



120 West 49th Street
tel.  (212)759-5941