Sunday, September 30, 2012


 Unless the kitchen has been entirely overhauled in the past 192 hours, Pete Wells is entirely off his rocker.  But I won't have this review be rebuttal to his New York Times critique: absurd and spurious rants fade with time.   I assume that his cry for attention will swiftly wither away.  The Maccioni family's Le Cirque, helmed now by chef Olivier Reginensi, continues strong in its game.  Now, if Pete prefers Nintendo to Yahtzee, that is his own defect.  But this place is doing exactly what it wants to be doing, and it is doing it exceptionally well.

Sirio himself was sitting aside the maitre d's podium as I arrived, with a pleasant smirk - perhaps concealing some of the pain of last week's review, but at the same time, including a characteristic content as the dining room filled up, even during this typically slow period of the Jewish high holidays.  My guest and I were seated side by side, in order to admire the grand and lofty dining room- it's arching ceilings swathed in a warm light that will make you better looking than you are.  The waitstaff, too... or perhaps the Maccioni brothers really are that good looking.  We began with a complimentary amuse-bouche: a translucent swath of pristine hamachi spiked with an aromatic spritz of tart lemon and thinly sliced radishes, small pungent peppercorns and a tiny sprig of profoundly aromatic basil.  It was not revolutionary.  There was no gastronomic sleight of hand.  It was, however, exemplary.  And this set the stage for the meal at Le Cirque.  They are not striving to challenge your palate, but to satisfy it, with a mantra of luxury and voluptuous grace.  That's not to say that there might not involve some tweezers or foams: the platings are as gorgeous as the setting.  But you'll not be served molecular minutia.  This is Le Cirque, and abundance is part of the glamour.

A supremely fresh dice of unctuous tuna tartare sat atop creamy crushed avocados, molded into a dense, squat column that made it easy to incorporate the cool layers into each bite, garnished with a julienne of crisp hearts of palm.  Even the little dots of creme fraiche garnishing the periphery showed love: the sauce verte formed into tiny hearts atop the white buttons of cream.  From the special section
 of seasonal appetizers, a sunchoke veloute seemed a pointed affront to any former assertions about "lacking flavor" with its heady shroud of parmesan foam.  In fact, it was (if anything) a bit too salty.  But salty suits me just fine, and by the by the time its heat dissipated from its searingly hot arrival, the umami-rich foam had incorporated itself into the earthy puree for a harmonious liaison.

Entrees are formidable in size, in part a statement of bounty, but also a justification of the price tags.  Le Cirque bucks the bird-food trend with voluptuous portions, such that delicate appetites might enjoy leftovers the next day, and the suits and expense accounts will appreciate each substantial course.  They could, in fact, even downsize the entrees a tad and shave off a few dollars too, but sometimes abundance adds to the decadence.  And nothing says decadent like lobster, this one roasted from Maine, sweet, meaty knuckles piled atop tender baby artichokes and chewy, nutty chanterelles.  Its luxuriously buttery sauce is enriched with lobster coral (roe) and tomatoes: a lusty classic.  Again, lacking flavor..?  This lobster was good enough to just sit on a paper plate with a wedge of lemon... but the dish as whole could have illustrated "flavorful" in the dictionary.
 Wild halibut was a verdant contrast, perhaps a touch less decadent but just as noteworthy.  Pooled in an herby emerald broth, the meaty filet sluiced with a cippoline marmalade and surrounded by a robust selection of roasted shellfish: big clams, tiny squid and a gratineed razor clam speared atop.   Firm, oven-crisped peanut potatoes in golden and purple nudged between the collops of calamari and open-shelled clams.  We ordered a side dish of seasonal mixed vegetables, which was not only wholly unnecessary, but the only dish that underwhelmed.  Sweet snow peas and carrots, and mildly bitter turnips with onions arrived in a gleaming silver crock, but unless you're such a regular at restaurants such as these and simply need vegetable augmentation, they were superfluous at best, generic at worst.  We might've been better off with a sautee of mushrooms, but that seemed redundant given the chanterelles in the lobster.

Anyways, at that point, we were ready for desserts, and deciding between the array of French classics went more smoothly with a Maccioni's suggestion, so we opted for a pear William souffle and a traditional Iles Flottante.  The sugar-dusted souffle rose majestically from the bounds of its ramekin, big enough for three, and so feathery-light its small scoop of vanilla gelato might have been its earthly anchor.  Freshly diced pears in a tart compote brought a refreshing tang.
The "Floating Islands" are three marshmallowy meringues striated in caramel, afloat in a pool of soupy creme anglaise, studded with ripe berries of the blue, black and rasp- varieties.  Of course, sweets needn't stop there, as a full battery of friandises arrived: perfumey fruit gelees, various chocolates, tiny raspberry mille-feuilles that taste like how you wish the original Pop-Tarts ever would have, and those swoon-worthy homemade caramels, individually wrapped and just waiting to be stealthfully stashed in your pockets or purse- there simply is not capacity enough to do justice to them all.

As I left Le Cirque, giddy with wine and nostalgia and content, I felt much more important than I actually am.  And then, I wondered how Wells could possibly have had such a conflicting experience.  I too, have had my share of restaurant disappointments: when I blindly segued the buzz about some trendy place in Brooklyn, or jumped prematurely to some celebrity chef's new hot spot.  Not living up to one's expectations is one thing.  These places I wanted to be better than they were... not something completely different than what they are.  I feel Mr. Wells wanted to make this restaurant into something it doesn't want to be: some new-fangled Atera-esque destination.  Le Cirque established itself almost forty years ago, and while of course its food has been updated and modernized, it has always specialized in fine French cuisine (with a bit a playfulness, of course... it is "the circus" after all).  And, according to the Maccionis, it will continue to do exactly that.  Because, simply, it does it.  And it does it very, very well.

One Beacon Court
151 East 58th Street
tel.  (212)644-0202

Thursday, September 27, 2012


I was somewhat deluded, heading to Cesare Casella's new east side incarnation of his Salumeria Rosi on Amsterdam, thinking it was just a lateral doppleganger of the intimate, affordable westside cafe.  No, Il Ristorante is called this for a reason: it is not just a restaurant, it is THE restaurant, and it lives up to its name in each and every imaginable aspect.

The dining room appears like an after-hours benefit gala at The Museum of Natural History, ivory frescoes on wine-tinted backdrops, dimmed lighting and the typical, coiffed and monied upper East side clientele.  Here, Cesare is catering to his new address, and not only accomodating it, but embracing it.  The price points are triple what they are at Rosi, but it's a completely different format.

The decor is still inspired its predecessor, but gussied up and polished.  White tablecloths, crystal chargers and dashing, chivalrous hosts in immaculately fitted Italian suits and snazzy wingtips, Il Ristorante is going to give Del Posto a run for its money.  And the food is just as magnificent.

We admittedly ordered judiciously, being prepared more for Rosi's price points than these, but it in no way hindered the experience.   Luxury abounds.  A squid ink risotto spanned the plate with nubby kernels of inky carnaroli rice, black as sin and glistening.  A whole, small octopod loomed atop, tender as a ripe pear and delicately oceanic.

It sided well with an impeccable saute of broccoli rape: it wasn't pooled in oil as is so often the case, nary a mushy floret amongst them. Each stalk was gently slicked and flecked with spicy peperoncini, robustly vegetal with their slight bitter edge.

A lovely dish of seared sea bream  showcased two pristine collops against an emerald pool of  pureed green vegetables dotted with ceci beans and fragrant, verdant oil.   We also tried a contorno of funghi fritti.  We erroneously thought we would have preferred them simply sauteed, until they arrived-  tiny shiitake caps fairy-dusted in cornmeal, and passed ephemerally though hot oil so as to emerge greaseless, gently crisped, their characteristic umami enhanced by a brilliant green salsa verde, rife with fresh herbs.

Everything we tried, which was admittedly not comprehensive, was write-home-ably outstanding.  Dessert was no different, an Italian riff on classic apple pie and cheddar Americana.  Here, a buttery-crumbed crostata redolent with spiced apples was accompanied by a vibrant fuji apple sorbet with little jujubes of steamed apple sporting jaunty herb-leaf caps.   A mild cheese flavored the cream that stretched languidly across the plate, like a smooth strait beneath an archipelago of appley treasures.

Il Ristorante is Cesare himself.  It is gracious and elegant, with glimmers of fancy and debonair insouciance.  There is love and passion in this food, but never such seriousness as to warrant a somber formality.  The consistency of excellence is as predictable as the sprig of rosemary in his pocket: absolutely guaranteed.

903 Madison Avenue
tel.  (212)517-7700


Sometimes I doubt my palate when I have a mediocre meal at somewhere I know is better than that.  Such was the case with Prune.  But it was not my first visit (although it has been quite a while): and fundamentally, I know that chef Gabrielle Hamilton can cook: with the pen, the men, the women, the blood, the bones and the butter.  And our meal started off strong, so I'm going to write the lackluster entrees off as a blip on the radar (accompanied by the fact that Gabby herself was not in the kitchen) and continue accordingly.

The menu is simply a long list of plates, virtually uncategorized, with only small breaks to differentiate between large and small dishes.  With this, you are able to sort of eat as you choose, which I believe is the intent.  Prices, though,  are fairly indicative of portion-size, so it's easy to create a meal with various components as you desire.  The first plate conjured up recollections of Ned Ludd and its superlative oven-roasted bean dish.  Here, mild yellow wax and traditional green beans tumbled together underneath a luscious puree of smoky eggplant, thinned to saucy consistency and studded with toasted pignoli.  It made a wonderful end-of-summer starter, celebrating those seasonal vegetables with bold enough flavors to stand up to fall's ebbing temperatures.  They would work equally well as a substantial side dish.   Artichokes and fennel
 Barigoule reminded me of my mom's wonderful chicken soup: she makes her own stock, too, and the depth of chicken flavor in the braising liquid amplified the earthy vegetables without masking their personalities at all (a tragic fate so common with braising artichokes and subsequently losing them to an acid).  Bump up the broth ratio in this dish and you'd have a soup fine enough to rival Mom's.  There was an impressive offering of marrow bones enjoyed by many tables that we did not try, but were obviously excellent; I watched flanking tables delve their tiny silver spoons into the upright cylinders down the the last drops.  Happy were we with our beans and 'chokes, however, and they left ample appetite for mains.

Unfortunately, these were less stellar.  My choice, grilled shrimp on Cayuga beans: four behemoth head-on beauties perched into a pyramid that would put Egypt to shame, spanned across a bed of the dark legumes.  The shrimp were excellent: maybe some of the most flavorful I've had, meaty but still tender.  All the four of them had a substantial "fat cap" (can you call it that with shrimp?), or row sac, so I'm not sure if that's what accounted for their tremendous flavor, or if females are just the obvious superior gender in shrimp, as well?  (Ha.)  The beans below, however, foiled the dish.  They weren't quite stewed nor salad, and were inconsistently cooked: some crudely tough and a few tender, but all of them aggressively over-salted and tasting of little more.  Some were so raw as to crumble like clay under the pressure of a fork tine, or split plain in half.  The shrimp almost made up for them, but just eating shrimp alone (there was no other adornment on the plate) leaves one wanting.  I should have saved a some artichoke.  The other entree we tried was swordfish with caponata.  Two generous hunks stacked atop the eggplant, onion and raisins, were

 either steamed or cooked sous-vide, which, with swordfish, sort of misses the point.  It is one fish that can stand up to bold grill marks, and takes on such a unique, meaty flavor that way, but cooked like this just waned generic.  The chilled caponata was a bit too sweet- something that could've been countered by a salty, charred filet, but the mild flesh assimilated the saccharine conserve and just lost its personality.

I still had high hopes for dessert, assuming the mains were just kitchen missteps, so we went for a mixed berry pudding with lemon cream.  It was a darling berry-rich mould doused in cream.  The berries themselves had a fresh, bright tanginess, but they were somehow toughened, and the cakey English-style steamed pudding surrounding them was mealy and bland aside from their rich juices.  The lemon cream atop tasted nothing of lemon: alas, it tasted of nothing at all, but, to redeem itself,  it did smooth out the texture a bit.

 Wines by the glass are limited to only one or two choices in each division (I had a delightful moscofilero), making me wonder if it wouldn't have been a better plan to order a well-priced bottle and stuck to just appetizers.  But I know this isn't the case.  Prune has been open over twelve years, it's decor changing negligibly if at all, and its positive reviews just as consistent.  I regret hitting it on an off night, but I am writing it off as simply that.  And hoping I am right.

54 East 1st Street
tel. 212.677.6221

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


They don't take reservations.  It's a hike to get there (at least from Manhattan), so leaving the city around 6pm still took too long... we arrived to sign in for a two hour wait.  Luckily, (at least Pete Wells should appreciate this) they do coordinate to call you as soon as a table's available, so we wandered the sort of dismal, summer-muggy streets for a while, luckily happening on a sort of generic bar that had a good happy hour deal.  We whiled away our time nursing a $3 Hoegaarden and serviceable Chardonnay until we received that anticipated text... then rushed off to claim our coveted table.

Battersby is miniscule: I'd estimate, full (which it always seems to be) it can seat maybe 30, tops.  We edged into our cramped little table, happy to be in the air conditioning and anxiously awaiting to see what all the fuss is about... with a two-hour appetite development to boot.    We were welcomed with two small crostini, thin and crisp and heaped with an agro-dolce eggplant confit, perhaps one of the yummier bites of the evening.  A piping hot focaccia arrives in a white-napkined basket alongside a small tub of ethereally light whipped ricotta drizzled in olive oil: these morsels should tide you over after your long wait for a table.  Onto the menu, which is updated frequently on their blog/website, but still not up-to-the-minute accurate:  you'll get a good idea, but don't set your heart on something you see online, 'cause some of the dishes I'd spotlighted weren't actually available upon arrival.  There was, however, that much lauded kale salad, which, I guess, we had to try.
 I was excited for it... but not by it.  It seemed a little soggy and sweet, certainly not the best kale salad I've ever had (contrary to Bon Appetit and, oh, just about every foodblog): City Bakery's trumps it by a mile and it's right around the corner from me.  The fruity dressing was watery, which never works well with salad- especially not one with already-aqueous cucumbers, as well as peanuts that lose their crunch in dampness.  Overall, underwhelming.

 We tried a pasta dish as well, and it was most definitely starter sized- the zucchini ravioli consisted of three pieces of pasta (actually mezzelune, not ravioli), a couple of slices of tomatoes and a littering of basil leaves and briney Taggiasca olives.  The pockets were deliciously plump with their cheesy zucchini filling in a light, buttery sauce, but noticeably a meager serving.

Of entrees, a dourade with braised artichokes looked tempting, but so did the hake with piperade.  Our waiter persuaded us that the chicken was a chicken worthy of violating the don't-order-chicken-in-a-nice-restaurant law, so we went for that and the hake (personally preferring the texture of hake to dourade).  The chicken was, instead, a textbook definition of the regulation.  Perfectly serviceable breast, to be sure, pan-seared golden, juicy and tender with some peppery cress, seasonal peaches and cherries.  Chicken on greens.  With fruit.  Yawn.

The hake fared slightly better, although its somewhat lackluster piperade tasted a bit gummy, as if thickened with cornstarch, and hadn't much kick from the espelette it was supposed to include.  Plus, the filet wasn't immaculately cleaned,  hidden at first by fried sprigs of parsley, but underneath it had some innocuous-but-unsightly flecks of vein that distracted, too, from its appearance.  Three small shards of Mangalica ham were almost flavorless, and somewhat soddened by the broth, adding little texture, either.

There are no side dishes to round out your meals, either, which makes me think the tasting menu is the only way to go at Battersby.   The "Spontaneous" menu is available upon request, and perhaps the a la carte options (the First courses, at least) follow too much the tasting menu format in their diminutive size.  Otherwise, it is recommended to take them up on their numeric categorizations of the menu, selecting one each of a First, Second and Third instead of the traditional app/entree tactic.  It did, however, leave ample room for dessert, of which there were four or so options.  We wrangled between a bay leaf panna cotta with blueberries and a white chocolate concoction that had raspberries as well, and opted for the latter.  A cute little crock it was, berries bright, but the pudding-ish goo lacked any milky flavor. Instead, it tasted like a low-fat Jello pudding cup, where the sweetness was increased to catastrophic levels to compensate for the lack of cream, giving it a thin, gummy texture with a sledge-hammer whack of saccharine.   Like a cheap, caramel-flavored syrup instead of REAL milk caramel.  Even the buttery little croutons atop conjured up Cap'n Crunch, and didn't do anything to ameliorate the sweet.... none of these commercial grocery associations would Battersby appreciate.  Neither did I.  And I was hoping for great things from this little engine.  I wished it could've, but it didn't.

Battersby, it seems to me, is not what is has been made out to be.

No reservations

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Not two days after dining at Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria did I happen to meet a girl who worked as a waitress there.  Upon recounting my experience to her (including effusive accolades for our deft waiter), I realized that maybe I liked it better than I left thinking I had.  I was never wholly won over by the original Il Buco (and guys, anywhere that is rated as one of The Most Romantic Restaurants in New York City probably isn't), and I didn't feel like Alimentari fell so far from that tree.  But upon reconnaissance, I'm thinking I just had my expectations set far too high.  There was quite a bit of buzz about how great it was- that the food was so pure, sincere, elemental.  I should have paid more attention to those details rather than the hype, because while Alimentari might not stun you with its originality, it should embrace you in authenticity.

Playing off its marketplace sensibility, the dining room feels mercantile.  In fact, we sat just aside the market counter- a glass refrigerator cave showcasing their specialty cheeses and baskets of artisanal, organic grain breads for sale along with salumi, oils, and other Italian specialty products.   Better off buying a loaf here to take home, too.  They'll bequeath you a basket while dining here, requested or not, and then CHARGE you for it.  At least that's what happened to us.  We didn't ask for bread, but it ended up on the bill.  Not Cute.  Even though it was great bread.  You shouldn't pay for what you didn't request.  Next thing, they'll start charging for salt.  I'm sure they sell that from the Alimentari too.  They even sell their gelato... but we'll get to that later.

I started things off, once again (I promise I'll stop ordering these soon) the blistered padron peppers.  These had a nice lemony tang, and the classic salty crusty, but several of them had an elevated Scoville ranking: a covetous diner next to us ordered them because they looked so good, but almost fell off her chair after having bit into a particularly spicy one and incinerated her uvula.  I tried reassuring her that not all of them had the same level of punch, but she wasn't having it. 
The Lattuga salad was a much less risky choice, although the sizeable white anchovies slung over little gem lettuces certainly left their pungent imprint, though the marinated almonds and radishes were flavorful enough to counter some of their funk.  

Of the Primi (there were six to choose from) we chose a Sicilian Calamaretti, the pasta reminiscent of rounds of tentacles and sauced in a hearty swordfish ragout with golden raisins and crunchy green Castelvetrano olives.  Primi can easily double as main courses, too, slightly larger than a typical Italian serving but not Olive Garden-American huge, either.  You might be uncomfortably full if you had this along with any of the Secondi,   though.  The salt baked Branzino was a thoroughbred, this
 one.  He stretched languidly on a stark white platter all his own, but for some oven-crisped sprigs of thyme and fragrant halved lemons, poised to be sprinkled and spritzed over its pristinely white and unmatchedly juicy flesh.  A crumble of salt from its crust is all that is left to achieve what was the most perfect whole fish I've ever had- something I usually find disappointingly murky and underwhelming.
Alternatively, if you go with one of the Primi to begin, a savvy option might be to order one of the more substantial appetizers, like the Vongole or Cast Iron Sausage, or the exquisite Polpo a la plancha, a Spanish interloper swayed Italian with Umbrian chickpeas and an agro-dolce combo of marinated red onions and plump pickled currants, littered with a fresh toss of microgreens.

Desserts are the Italian classics, missing only the tiramisu (which for me, is really hard to miss): Zabaione, Bicerin, Affogato, Crostata and a selection of biscotti sold individually for a buck twenty-five each.  We went for the seasonal fruit Crostata,  won over easily by its roasted peaches and blackberries.  Served with a homemade vanilla gelato, Its free-form crust wasn't quite fork-tender, and benefitted from a little softening as the vanilla gelato melted into it.  We ALL benefit from that gelato, though, home-made and creamy-smooth (next summer, an  Il Buco Gelato stand? and preferably closer to my house?)

Now see?  That was easy.  The Il Buco family is starting to win me over already.

  • 53 Great Jones Street
  • +1 (212) 837-2622


I waited a long time in coming to the Dory.  The menu at the outset was limited, but insider knowledge tipped me off that they would expand, so since I'm not a raw fish fan (and that's pretty much all it consisted of upon opening), I held off for the finished product.  Did I wait too long?  Is April's attention spread too thin amongst the Pig, her books, her fame, and two new projects I've heard whispers of?  Ah, the Dory.  It's in The Ace Hotel, so I kinda can't not love it even though I didn't.  IF I was a raw bar fan, I could have made it work a lot better, so that's definitely to be taken into consideration.  But without that, all the whining I've defended her against kind of rang true.  This very rich food, and these very steep prices, definite necessitate a certain occasion.

Don't get me wrong:  the stuff we had here was mad tasty.  The corn chowder boasted some of the plumpest, sweetest mussels I've ever encountered (granted, there were all of two) in a searingly hot soup that took finishing almost all the charred padron peppers 'til it cooled off enough to spoon without scalding.  But those peppers will have your full attention until they are gone.  Slicked with oil and speckled with big chunks of sea salt, these were superlative specimens, and not a spicy one in the bunch (not that I'd've minded, but I've been dining with more sensitive palates).  The chowder, on the other hand, couldn't be finished; even the small bowl proved too buttery, salty, and creamy-rich with its hearty chunks of potato and fat bivalves, although a few bites with a zesty 'nduja slathered crostini were inarguably delicious.  'Nduja, unbeknownst to me, is a sort of sausage paste, fiery with peppers, and certainly added to the heft of an already indulgent soup.  And all along I thought I was eating some type of harissa.  Huh.

Lobster is usually ordered as a decadence, but here it provided respite from the richness.  It is served simply, lounging in its shell with a tomalley vinaigrette and wedges of lemon.  And a good thing, too,
 because the next dish we order was so salty and sauced that with three bites, I'd had enough.  The crostini were were crisp with butter, and saturated cream gravy soused with garlic and heavily salted, studded with a truckload of tiny periwinkles and mushrooms, hard to determine one from the other.  One bite was heavenly.  Two, the burden of luxury.  And three... that's all I could do.   It was this, the Periwinkles and Chanterelles with garlic on Toast that sealed the Dory's fate: this is a place for a snack and cocktail, oysters and beers (they host happy hour from 5-7pm, six oysters and a brew for $15), even appetizers and champagne.  But making a meal here is trying.  Even so, we decided to sample a dessert since we were here, definitely opting for the lightest sounding option.  A lemon Bundt cake with huckleberries and buttermilk gelato magic-shelled with a brown butter glaze was as dietetic as we could go.  The cake was a little dry, but moistened up nicely once the ice cream melted into it, actually bringing out its
 mild lemony perfume.  We requested double huckleberries, and I'm not sure whether we got them, but if we did, even two-fold was barely enough, and if we didn't, the sparse quantity provided is insufficient to enjoy some berries with every bite.  There was quite a passel waiting for tables upon our departure, which was late in hour- although maybe not for here.  The Dory was, and is, still going strong.  The atmosphere is vivifying even if the meal induces a food coma, so I'm not deterring a visit here.  Just make sure you only have salad for lunch.

1196 Broadway @29th street / (212) 792-9000

Monday, September 3, 2012


Chef Post and owner Erika Chou (c/o New York Times)
Travis Post, the chef at Yunnan Kitchen, is doing what I've wanted someone to do for a long time: Chinese-esque food (sometimes strictly authentic, sometimes with a little hocus-pocus) with market produce, a seasonal menu, and some new approaches.  Bingo.  We ordered a ton of food here, so I think I got a really good feel for what this place is trying to do, but also the menu is big enough that I could (and would) happily return to discover other and different.

The room is boxy, sparse but boisterous.  We sat near the open-ish kitchen on the north side of the dining room, but you can't really see what's going on back there- only the dishes as they arrive.  First thing to hit the table was a marvelous charred eggplant, silky with soy underneath a hefty dose of crunchy peanuts and a chiffonade of sawtooth herb- a garnish I wish I'd paid better attention to.  Sawtooth is also commonly known as culantro, deemed a heartier cilantro, and I keep on hearing about it and wanting to try,

 but not knowing they were one in the same, I didn't isolate it for flavor detection.  (Another reason to go back.)  Cilantro was listed in the Tofu Ribbon Salad, but I think there was some culantro in there as well (I think you can see in the picture).  Regardless, it's a heaping tangle of wide, fettuccine-esque "noodles" of tofu skin, temperature-cool but heated up with chilies and red onion.  No one would ever deem this tofu bland.

Little balls of mashed potatoes were fried to an ethereal crispness, creamy smooth inside but scorching with the heat of the fryer: lay off of these for a few moments while you tackle another dish, or souse them throughly in their deeply flavorful herb-flecked soy vinegar sauce.  I couldn't wait to try the Scrambled Egg with Jasmine flower and tomatoes (I love eating flowers).  The jasmine buds had a distinct artichoke flavor and a pleasant pop when you bit into them, but the overall scramble was a little bland... it wanted for some of the Fried Potato Balls dipping sauce, or even just some plain salt.  The next dish needed nothing
 but the absence of anyone interfering with me eating it: King Trumpet mushrooms sliced into sturdy slabs and enlivened with fiery green chilies.  The menu listed ham in this, but unless it was part of the stock in which they were sauteed, I didn't detect any porcine morsels.  There was more Sawtooth- missed again.

Onto heartier comestibles, a quartet of Crispy Whole Shrimp sported incendiary crisp shells, relieved of them to reveal their immaculate white bodies, best consumed with broken shards of the crisp fried lime leaf hovering atop.  While not usually a lamb fan, the Shao Kao (skewered)
 meatballs were magnificent.  Profoundly meaty orbs that were dense yet loose, powdered with sumac (I think) and a zesty glaze that made them one of my favorite dishes of the

evening. Finally,  a more traditional looking stir-fry of lemongrass chicken appeared, tossed with copious amounts of spring onion and Chinese celery.  But just when you thought'd you gotten a more straightforward dish, a hunk of fried bun was chopsticked into a bite,
adding a buttery crouton that tasted decidedly un-Chinese but all the more delicious for it.  In fact, without these bready hunks the mix would have been a little rough- they sopped up the fragrant broth and added a certain decadence.

And these cubes of bun will have to suffice as dessert, too, because nothing but two sort of stale tasting almond squares that come with your bill are on offer as dessert.  You can, however, do what we did: just steps up the block is WD-50, and if the sampling of desserts we happened upon there are any indication of the changes currently under going here, my next venture down to Clinton Street will most definitely be a visit to Wylie's.

79 Clinton street
212 253 2527