Thursday, July 26, 2012


I wasn't as adventurous as I should have been, dining at Toloache.  I had it on good word that chef Julian Medina knows his stuff, but it certainly isn't a hot-spot of the moment, and most discouragingly, it is located in Times Square.  But this was a pre-theatre necessity, and given other local options, by far the least risky.  So after fibbing our way in despite a never-made reservation, we nestled into a cramped back table in view of the flashy flat screens above the bar, and the rest of the SRO dining room.  And it turns out, packed for good reason.  Although by the looks of the crowd, most were simply at Toloache simply for convenience's sake: either pre-theatre imports or Times Square overflow.  Lots of socks and sneakers, jeans shorts, polo-shirted pot bellies and other notable hallmarks of the not-Manhattanite crowd.

Our server was definitely a melting-pot native, however, and her thick accent, while typical of the city's waitstaff demographic, contributed a note of Hispanic authenticity to the noisy din.   A smattering of specials she slowly described, repeatedly, in order to intel details hard to discern given her Spanish pronunciation and the surrounding bruit.   The most intriguing things, however, might be on the set menu: tacos di chapulines (grasshoppers) and campechanos (veal brain) are ready any time you are.  (Un?)fortunately, we were not.  After a hefty crock of (mild) traditional guacamole served with perfect, corny tortilla triangles, we did enter taco territory... just somewhat more conservatively.  Hongos e nopales were my favorite: plump with maitake and huitalacoche mushrooms and deep green chunks of cactus sprinkled with a pungent queso fresco.  Fresh flour tortillas were pliant and chewy, warmed to coddle their flavorful fillings.  Suadero (a Julian Medina signature dish, initialed on the menu) was a stewy braise of brisket with tomatillo salsa and a squiggle of horseradish crema,  nudging the authentic Mexican flavors with a little wink from a Jewish grandma.   The latter benefitted from the wedges of lime served with both; the former's flavors balanced themselves boldly without.  Served in pairs, a trio or quartet of taco options with a side or salad could amount to a fine shared meal.

For entrees we went with the Pescado Sarendeado, a generous filet of wild striper smothered in a zesty Oaxacan pasilla chile salsa, and bedded in a saucy puree of thickened cauliflower.  While not a main component of the dish, I appreciated (as I always do) the token quartered brussels sprouts that adorned the dish- despite that fact the June calendar put them far out of reach of seasonality.  Toloache doesn't focus so much on farmer-friendly as it does on flavor, but there weren't any "red flag" items on the menu, either, such as Chilean seabass or that Mexican restaurant favorite, red snapper (both on Monterey Bay Aquarium's "Avoid" list).  Seasonal ingredients will pop up on the daily specials, though, so do make an effort to decipher your server's descriptions.  And don't think that Medina doesn't  heed his vegetables: there is an entire vegetarian menu on hand, and despite the fact that "vegeterian" is spelled incorrectly and the offerings are all available from the regular menu, it should hopefully assuage most veg-heads concerns as to cross-contimination.

Luckily we had just enough time to sample one of the dessert offerings prior to showtime, because I had recently missed out on a mille-feuille opportunity at Prima that I was still regretting, so the crepas mil hojos was an easy choice.  While there weren't a thousand, the layers alternated dense crepes with a banana puree steeped in a bronzed goat's milk caramel, strewn with toasty cinnamon-dusted almond slices.   A perfectly round orb of smooth Mexican vanilla ice cream sat beneath, like a pale hombre underneath his sturdy sombrero.   Not quite good enough to make up for the original, it still held up to dinner's robust flavors.   And for the neighborhood, it passed with flying colors.  

251 West 50th street
Tel.  1(212)581-1818

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Aside from two miniature ones in the crudite snack plate, there wasn't a carrot on the menu.  Which is one indication that Daniel Humm has mixed things up from Eleven Madison Park in his latest creation, The NoMad, located in the eponymous hotel just a block south of its distant cousin, The Ace.  The address, which used to be office space, has been transformed into a swanky, seductive locale, lamp-lit and black-lacquered, with red velvet chaises and tapestry curtains.  The blight of the ratty neighborhood streets are shielded by gauzy ivory drapes, and from the walls hang dried herbs and plants, mounted and framed, hinting at exactly what NoMad is all about.  It's produce-driven, to be sure, but not without its share of pomp and braggadocio.

That said, that crudite plate was as minimalist as it comes.  White porcelain bowl with a lot more ice than vegetables, but the beautiful little florets and spears and roots were exquisite examples of their respective taxa, and an herby dip of creme fraiche was probably from what America based ranch dressing.  There are other simple snacks, like breakfast radishes with chilled butter, or something heartier as the fried sweetbreads with parsley.  The wait staff is superlatively helpful and appealing: I would've befriended any of them under more social circumstances.  But do their job they did, which is why I think that my chiffonade of sugar snaps peas with prosciutto and pecorino must have suffered a devolution since it's introduction: I had heard only raves about it from others and now them.  Instead, I found it a disappointing haystack of raw, sliced pods, excessively oiled and partnered with an unfortunately pallid mince of prosciutto.  This is one of those instances when the ingredients actually reached a sum lesser than all if its parts.  Tagliatelle with king crab went great length to make up for that, though.  While the portion looks small, the taste was regal. with big knuckles of pristine crabmeat nestled with slippery lemon-tinged noodles, gently buttered and blitzed with heady pepper.

If I were to return (which would probably take  little convincing) I would try one of the vegetarian options- still a rarity in New York fine dining, and these were obviously created with care and inspiration.  If I was in a bigger party, I definitely would've taken a gander at the much lauded roast chicken for two, but I wanted to sample a little more diversity.  The scallops volunteered themselves enthusiastically, richly seared with maitake mushrooms and refreshed with lemon and sorrel.  I quickly forgot the chiffonade.  While only three scallops made up the plate, they were rich of sauce and big enough to share.  Each bite dipped in the crisp streusel performed as a sandy crust and made it fun to eat as well as delicious.  Meaty maitakes fanned out underneath curled strips of julienned sorrel, which added a distinct brightness.  A lobster "minestrone" was like no minestrone I've ever seen: the shelled crustacean lurked in a foamy bog of lemony creamy studded with fava beans and fresh garbanzos, which are (prior unbeknownst to me) just as green as the fave, and more flavorful and vibrant than their dried version.  Although the menu is a la carte, there were no vegetables sides on offer, which I would've enjoyed since I bypassed the veggie entree, and mushrooms are only controversially vegetative.

At any rate, this left ample room for dessert, which were ample in and of themselves.  The Milk & Honey was recommended un-missable, so we took one of those and a strawberry shortcake as well.  I was fearful, momentarily, of the shortcake having been described as "poundcake", which has the potential to be spongey and insipid, but this version was biscuity and baked to crunchy crust littered with sugar crystals and softened by a chamomile cream.  Greenmarket strawberry halves were their Platonic ideal, and the accompanying strawberry sorbet's flavor was even more concentrated.  It was enough for two, and definitely rendered unnecessary the second dessert, although I wouldn't have missed it for anything after my first bite.  Creamy, milky orbs of ice cream striated with caramel hovered atop a crumble of buttery honey brittle and light, crisp wafers that conjured up a hint of Cap'n Crunch (a Tosi influence?) before melting in your mouth.  Coffee (Intelligentsia) is a sound collaborator, if not quite on par with its rival Stumptown.

Overall, I thought NoMad was really good, with glimmers of excellence.  I guess the only thing missing was the same problem I'm having wrapping up this entry.  The crowd was hip, the room slick, the staff en pointe and the food memorable.  At the same time, nothing stood out to differentiate it from myriad other solid joints, many of which are nearby.  Daniel Humm is a chef that can astound, and I wasn't astounded.  But you'll eat very well at The NoMad, and the bragging rights for actually having been able to get a table, well.. that's not nothing.


The guys of Little Wisco come from good gene stock.  Joseph Leonard (the names of the owner's grandfathers) is a favorite, I've heard only raves of Jeffrey's Grocery, and now Perla (the grandma) enters the scene.  (Fedora must be the hip cousin, perhaps stemming from  Joseph, Leonard, Jeffrey or Pearl wearing fedoras?).  At any rate, Pearl's picture (Perla's Pearl's Italian version) is among the many vintage black-and-white adorning the walls of the dining room.  She's hung just above the open kitchen, keeping a watchful eye over the wonderful things chef Michael Toscano is doing inside.

Like the rest of the Gabe Stulman's mini-empire, Perla is dark and loungey, with a distinct prohibition-era feel.  There are even some fedoras on the waitstaff, otherwise clad in their own button-downs and fitted jeans.  Perla is Italian, but not traditionally so, so you'll get a lot of seasonality and novel riffs, both keeping everything as fresh in concept as in execution.  Young field greens boasted plump, ebony blackberries and lots of crunchy pistachios, but a slight paucity of gorgonzola (although I thought it perfectly proportional and not overpowering the delicate lettuces, its orderer felt gipped).  An asparagus antipasto paired raw and roasted spears with quirky little mousseron mushrooms, pickly-sweet and somewhat reminiscent of rehydrated raisins.  Translucent petals of pecorino floated atop a smooth black pepper crema  that conducted all the flavors into a layered concerto of a salad.

  To a carnivorous end, more ambitious eaters might wager on the crispy pigs ear, and if it tastes as good as it looks, will pocket the ante.  The braised octopus featured tentacles akimbo atop fett'unta (an oily grilled crouton) smothered in a rich and tangy tomato and eggplant sugo: this with a side could be a wonderful small-but-hearty meal.
We had such good luck with the tagliatelle with crab at NoMad that we revisited Perla's version, this time with languid black squid ink noodles slithering with topaz kernels of sweet ripe corn and snowy chunks of peekytoe.  Okay, I liked NoMad's better, but this one was nothing to shake a stick at.  Spaghetti with rock shrimp, tomato and basil was just that and not much more.  It paled in comparison to the antipasti and the other pasta we tried, although in both cases the paste was cooked impeccably al dente.

On that note, the duck wasn't my favorite either- but what do I know?  I don't enjoy duck.  The saba glaze and apricot seemed too sweet, the savoy cabbage bitter, tough and wilty, and the duck meat I swear was still quacking in its rareness.  It looked like a huge pile of raw meat on the plate.  Piled, nonetheless, it was, so if you and your table like it as much as I didn't, you'll have ample tastes to share.  Anyways,  I'm gonna  plead ignorance and defer to Eater: , who I'll trust  has a much better grasp of the situation than do I.

  I DO know I liked my skate, although I didn't detect much truffle flavor amongst the gently vinegared baby artichokes.  The fish was perfectly cooked,  a golden crisped lacy edge gilding its mild, ropey flesh as it nestled into buttery sauce.   Another fish option was the whole roasted branzino, happily de-boned and de-headed for you if you prefer, sided with poached asparagus spears and smothered in a luscious yogurt brown butter zabaglione to enrich the simply roasted fish.  There a handful of contorni, from which we chose the funghi misti, which were chubby, chewy morsels of a wonderful variety of mushrooms, of which oysters, trumpets, beech and chanterelle were definitely among the mix, and I loved each and every one of them.

Things ended on a high note with dessert, not only for their ample pots of rich and sumptuous Stumptown coffee, but a sorbetto trio of cantaloupe, peach and mango, scoops that were more delicious than even the peak-season fruits themselves normally are.  By far the most memorable dish of the evening, however, was a big bowl of juicy ripe blackberries plonked into a creamy, sweet-tart, airy lime pudding flecked with zest,  and cubes of moist, dense polenta cake.  I'm sure Perla will switch up her menu as quickly as the summer always seems to fleet by, but if I can make it back there before that dessert out-seasons itself, I'll be a happy summer-camper.  Although, I'm sure if I'm not back in time, Perla will have conjured up something JUST as wonderful in its stead.

24 Minetta Lane
New York, NY 10014

Saturday, July 7, 2012


More than a few have recommended Buvette- critics and chefs, friends and locals.  And as it turns out, for good reason.  Despite the deceptively simplistic menu, the food ranges from austere to ambitious, and I can't imagine a palate that wouldn't be pleased by at least a few of the offerings at hand.  Buvette, "refreshments" en francais, offers... well, if not refreshment, exactly,  
profound satisfaction.

The menu is comprised of small plates, some larger and some less so, but all thoughtfully composed.  Aside from options on the printed menu with the delightful pop-up detail, there are a smattering of daily specials as well, exhibiting a stringent seasonality.  Asparagus, while still among the printed legumes, was considered past-peak according to Buvette's calendar.  Instead, a gorgeous heirloom salad studded with roasted corn kernels, fresh cucumber, mint and green onions steeped in the tomatoes abundant juice.  Two enormous head-on crevettes, served with a luscious garlicky aioli, were another special, and they arrived first.  I prefer to start with my veggies, but here the kitchen determines when you'll get what, and sometimes the "when" part includes painful waits.  But as Buvette channels Provence, so should you embrace the relaxed European vibe, and try not to heed your borborygmous- it will be assuaged shortly.

Despite the hyper-seasonality, some dishes don't capitalize on the ingredient's freshness.  Artichauts a la Grecque , garnished with a rainbow of plump, whole olives and marinated luxuriously in their oil could've been put up from last summer, and were rich enough for November (delicious as they are).  So, too, was a salad of marinated beets, tangy and sweet and all but asphyxiated by a sastruga of horseradish creme fraiche.  Granted, it was wonderful enough to warrant eating by the spoonful, but there is a limit.  While plates might look small, the flavors most certainly are not.  Most illustrative of this was the potted rabbit, a bubbling hot crock of tender meat, falling off the bone into a buttery, salty cream gravy spiked with whole mustard seeds.  It might've been even too salty, if you are too greedy ladeling up the rich sauce, but meted out judiciously elevates the lean rabbit to nirvana, and the dense, crusty country bread served in stacks is a welcome tool to leave no sauce to waste.

Of desserts, there are but two options, plus a selection of sorbets and ice creams from Rita's across Bleecker.  A chocolate mousse challenged the tarte tatin for the vote, but the impressive pie won out, gloriously displayed countertop, just distant enough to protect it from any drooling admirers.  Glossy and untraditionally thick, it threatened saccharine, but quite contrarily only hinted at sweet: the tender apple verged on savory atop its crust of pate brisee.  I swear there was a hint of cardamom, or saffron, but the barista insisted the fruit was unadulterated but for the thin caramelized sugar glaze.  The sweetened creme fraiche was actually a welcome adjunct to confirm its placement in the dessert category.

Buvette sparkles with these kind of unexpected surprises- just a pinch off of standard.  I find that female chefs best offer this kind of creativity (hypothesize on your own for the rationale), and Jody Williams is a perfect example.  She was, in fact, there that night, doing something commensurately unique: calling up orders and relaying plates.  When was the last time you saw the chef (especially one that has a fan base and t.v. presence) actually do that?  She had a soft, lovely glow about her, friendly, but with a humility that belies her robust cooking style.  And if all of this wasn't wonderful enough, there are rumors that a backyard garden will be opening up shortly, quite possibly rendering Air France useless.  There is a reason their website is

42 Grove Street
No Reservations


"Brunch is for Assholes", as the t-shirts agree.  But sometimes there is no avoiding it (friends/family in town, unpredictable feeding schedules, etc.) and on these occasions, it's nice to have some reliable places to nosh.  You'll find a friend in Friend of a Farmer, practically a New York institution for this duly overrated meal.  I know they serve lunch and dinner, too, but certainly there's not much reason to eat at FOAF anytime after 2pm.  The decor is rustic and sweet, and hasn't changed in decades (if ever).  It's kind of like a Grandma's barn or a spiffed of version of Little House on the Prairie.

 The menu is not exceptional.  It is full of options, though, so whether you're in sweet or savory mood, healthy or gluttonous, you should be able to find something satisfactory.    A fruit plate is a safe option for lighter fare, with a nice chewy homemade granola and rich maple cream sauce to keep you sated as long as more indulgent table mates.  Three varieties of pancakes, a waffle and french toast keep the griddle busy.   Eggs arrive still in their cast iron skillets, a nice presentation that manages to keep their vittles warmer longer, too.  An egg  white scramble for the cholesterol verse jumbles mushrooms and spinach- and they threw in some dubious American cheese (ask if they could at least sub in cheddar, as the gummy processed wads not only pale in flavor, but sort of stick to the roof of your mouth.)  There's no toast to help scrape it off with, either, so make sure you mete out your home fries bite for bite.  The Country Omelette could sate Paul Bunyan, with bacon, onion, potatoes and cheddar, a dish only a few calories away from being a cardiological nightmare.   Coffee, perhaps the most important component of brunch, is served in super-sized French presses, and as strong and fresh as these devices always make it.  They may've serviced many a brunches, though, so it takes a little more elbow grease than you're used to to squeeze the press down adequately.

Everything at FOAF is "fresh baked" and "homemade", whether it actually is or isn't, it's probably close enough.    At least in New York, where nearby Gramercy Park is practically a botanical oasis.