Monday, July 18, 2011


People always say it is easier to criticize a place than applaud it.  I differ in that I think it's easier to comment when you're definitively for or against... it's the non-commital grey-area ones that are more of a struggle to write up.  And so it is at Lyon.  It isn't all bad, it isn't all great.  It just sort of is.

There are myriad joints that follow the standard French bisto-decor schema, and here they do it pretty well, despite the bouchon nomenclature that tries to differentiate itself from the others. The room is frenchified with aged blonde wood and paper-covered tables, plenty of affiches francaises and (that French standard) scribbled-on mirrors that reflect a jarring abundance of exit signs (apparently the French need a lot of direction?). Thing is, the room is more transporting than the food.

We started off with a signature Salad du Bouchon, a perfectly respectable beet and haricots verts salad, novel with a lush horseradish dressing over golden and ruby beets.  Unfortunately, this was the best dish all night.  The much lauded truffle-infused hotdog was a very lean, too smooth (almost bologna-like) wiener which wasn't pronouncedly truffly.  The chewy pretzel bun was tasty, though, and the sauerkraut and pungent, stinky mustard below were some of the best I've ever had.  Ditch the dog and enjoy the pretzel and kraut, or else grab it and a nice cold beer, and don't expect anything more from it.  A nice, juicy sausage would've stood in more honorably.

Quality-wise, entrees followed the dog.  Skate was a little more fried than it needed to be, ending up a chewy and a tad greasy. This could have been more easily overlooked had it not arrived swathed by three reclining anchovies, brilliantly silver and skanky as all get out. I'm not a huge anchovy fan, and for three interlopers to appear unannounced as the menu gave no warning was nothing but criminal.  (A straight-out lambaste!  There now, wasn't that easy?)  It left two bad tastes in my mouth: the taste, literally, but also the misinformation. But even as the offenders themselves were carefully removed and disposed of by an understanding waitress, their memory remained. To boot, the accompanying couscous and favas tasted a bit sour... as in rancid, not from the scant capers dispersed throughout. So too was the side of poached asparagus: woody spears past their prime that the light slick of butter couldn't even begin to mask.

A roast chicken, however, was pretty spot-on. The flesh was juicy and tender, almost as if it had been stewed rather than roasted, but the skin remained firm but pliant. A lovely array of scallions, turnips, kale and fennel absorbed some of the rich broth and green garlic jus, and I wished I had that pretzel roll back to soak up the rest. At this point,  though, dessert seemed moot.   While  the menu offered some traditional stalwarts and innovative riffs upon them, nothing looked unmissable. Not like those prolific exit signs, which will finally be appreciated as soon as you can get your check.

118 Greenwich Ave Tel: 212 242 5966

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


I didn't follow the chef here. I didn't even know who the chef was (or they were, retrospectively: Wolfgang Ban and Eduard Frauneder). Instead, I followed blindly the instruction of my most trusted chef who is now a critic, so I I think that's reasonably close enough. Plus, it was for my birthday dinner, a refection that necessitates some premeditation. I had narrowed my choices down to three, and Mike Colameco told me to forgo the other two and beeline to Seasonal. And he was right.

A beautifully subdued room, if anything a bit too austere, but cool in cucumber tones and stretched long, giving it an vast, tunnel-like feel. A bit like an airy cocoon. Quaint bunches of humble sunflowers and alstroemeria bedecked each table in glass tumblers, a harbinger not to take things too seriously. The food is sculpted, meticulous, and nuanced, but there are playful elements as well. An exquisite amuse was sent out immediately, sparking a twinkle of doubt in me as the ingredients were described: mackerel is not my favorite thing. But this specimen was not fishy- it simply whispered of an ocean breeze. There was fun to be had relishing this delicious tidbit while perusing the menu: there is no foreign language more amusing to bumble through than German (perhaps because I don't speak it, but I can mimic the accent).
Thus, a Gartensalat was fun even before it arrived, and even lovelier after it did. The menu stated perfunctorily mixed greens with onion, radish, tomato and peach, but lurking amongst them were crunchy nuggets of pumpkin seed brittle (a joyous surprise in each bite) and a tangy sweet dehydrated tomato slice perched atop, which was best divvied up to enjoy anointed by the saucy, mustardy dressing beneath.
The crowd-stopper was the Pochiertes Ei (even I couldn't try to pronounce that one): tender chunks of pristinely white lobster meat waiting to be smothered by a soft poached egg whose yolk was more orange than yellow. A delicate foam flavored of mushroom augmented the shards of hen of the woods that mingled with buttery pumpernickel crunchies that anchored the dish. There was an unusually perfect balance of lightness and richness, freshness and indulgence in this dish that is rarely achieved. The plate was licked.

It being my birthday dinner, you can imagine my thrill at skate listed amongst the entrees, and Seasonal's rendition did not disappoint. Steamed and furled atop a thin slick of a rich tomato jus, it sat flanked by small ramparts of artichoke and beech mushrooms that surrounded cylindrical plugs of the tenderest, most prodigious potato I have ever encountered. I couldn't even determine what it was... almost like parsley root or turnip, but denser. But juicier and more toothsome than any normal potato. Those Germans, though, they know their kartoffels. I wanted a bowl. Instead, as Seasonal is not too uptight to provide side dishes, I opted for a seasonal (of course) mix of veggies
to go along with my entree. Tooth-tender cauliflower, zucchini, radishes, kale and celery tumbled in a garlicky sautee with a sprinkle of mixed baby greens atop. This was also a good foil for the signature Wiener Schnitzel, a rosy scallop of veal with an ethereally crisp and light breading. How they get that much flavor into such thinly pounded veal I know not. A perfectly fresh and tart yogurt-cucumber salad along with the traditional lingonberries balanced luxuriously rich and buttery hand-mashed potatoes for a refined version of this classic dish.

It being my birthday, dessert was a must (although generally speaking, no occasion is necessary to sample the artistry of the pastry chef), and we opted for the Fruhling, a decision based solely on its components. What arrived was a thin, chilled broth of white asparagus afloat with tidbits of crunchy raw rhubarb, pooled around a luscious strawberry sorbet and sprinkled with a dusting of dark, chocolately tasmanian pepper. While wholly alluring and refreshingly delicious, it wasn't quite what I'd had
in mind. And absolutely nothing to stick a candle in. Luckily, our server had clandestinely gleaned that it was my birthday, and swooped in with a post-dessert dessert of an updated Sachertorte, light on chocolate and rich in brown sugar, with a thin layer of vibrant apricot marmalade between layers. Complete with a cute, green and white striped candle that spritzed enthusiastically like a sparkler until I blew it out with my wish. Which, after a meal like that, had already been granted.

132 West 58th Street between 6th & 7th Avenues
Tel: +1-212-957-5550

Monday, July 11, 2011


The meal began, appropriately, with a complimentary saucer of fat, mild radishes. Smeared with black olive paste and drizzled with a fruity olive oil, they needed only a dash of Maldon that sat graciously adjacent throughout the meal, and a fork. Simple, fresh, seasonal, delicious, and stealthfully healthy- and this is what The Fat Radish is all about.
Down in the dregs of the Lower East Side, this seasonal American charmer is solid enough to anchor what might become a new cluster of restaurant buzz; there's little else going on down there, and I'm sure rents are comparably reasonable given the gritty neighborhood. But inside, soft ivory painted bricks and shiny white tile transport you far from the stinky borders of Chinatown. Our table was ready before we were, my dining partner arriving slightly late due to the remote location. But the instant we sat, menus and water were provided and drink orders assessed, specials described, and off we went.

The bounty of the season, quite literally, was exquisitely captured in the Green Market plate: a cornucopia of late spring treats, which even included some last-chance fiddlehead ferns who's season is pretty much past. But they were perfect, soused in a salty, garlicky broth that allowed each individual vegetable sing its song but elevating it from a plain steam. The Spring Market salad was a huge tangle of purslane, cress, sunflower and salad
sprouts and baby arugula tossed with an intensely nutty sesame vinaigrette nestling a luxurious half avocado. Humble noshes like rillettes, pickles and cheese, and a tempting celery root pie with gruyere and black garlic cater to heartier appetites, and a daily special of handmade pasta tumbled aromatically with broccoli raab, haricots verts and tomato spiked with anchovy.

Although I've heard nothing of the bacon cheeseburger in the press, it was probably the most delicious looking burger I have ever seen, paired with potatoes cut so thick they deserved a fork and knife. The monkfish vindaloo won my attention, though. Morsels of monkfish, the most tender I have ever encountered, were smothered in an aromatic emerald green curry, only mildly spicy in the afterburn, but (with a spritz of that Maldon that remained throughout)
profoundly flavorful. A thoughtful crock of cucumber raita comes along to tame any fiery offense to more sensitive palates. It is served on a generous bed of what they dubbed wild rice, but seemed more a combination of brown and "forbidden", an earthy, chewy pilaf flecked with cashews that could've stood alone just as well, but complimented perfectly the saucy stew. Lacking vegetation, however, I ordered a side of braised fennel, which went so well it could easily have been added to the plate. The bulb came whole, braised in spiced stock to a melting tenderness. It's easily enough for two, maybe three... or just me (a fennel lover). A firm, meaty steak of striped bass slicked with miso was accompanied by buttery sweet squash and sauteed mustard greens, capped with a snazzy little julienne of trademark radishes for crunch and color.

We are very full at this point, we are, and given the extremely limited dessert menu (one panna cotta, a cookie plate or cheese), it would've been thinkable to skip out. Thankfully we did not make such a poor decision. The panna cotta takes its wobbly perch atop a tender round of sponge cake, which soaks up rhubarb-sauced strawberries incrementally as it sits, steeping itself in the tangy-sweet juices of marvelously market-fresh berries. It is a superlative finish to a meal with which I really could find no memorable flaw. And it is only in retrospect that I look back to recognize the healthfulness of the repast, something that never struck me while consuming each delicious mouthful. Food like this, so satisfying and soulful, but without gluttony, just might keep fat as an adjective for the radishes, and not to its diners.