Friday, November 30, 2012


QUALITY ALERTS!!!  The following review is probably unreliable at best:  the chef has changed at the hands of the management, and the food has apparently taken a drastic turn for the worse.  I'm sure the service remains consistent as I described, so I'm not heartily recommending a visit to this joint.

Bypassing the hype over re-opening buzz, celebrity sightings and it's proprietor's notoriety, I wanted to visit The Beatrice Inn's new incarnation strictly for the pedigree of its new chef, Per Se alum Brian Nasworthy.   I wanted to see what he could do juggling a Kellerian background with a steakhouse-esque format in a trendy, celeb-attracting restaurant on the outskirts of the clubby Meatpacking District.  Open just a few weeks, it's a tough table to procure.  And maybe even tougher to enter once you get there: the door to the west that would appear to be the entrance, underneath the bright neon sign,  is a non-working locked mirage of a door.  The actual entrance to the right, poorly lit, leads down the cement stairs to a cramped vestibule.  Opening that door (by yourself, and it's a bit heavy), however, reveals a smiling maitre d', a comely bar and low ceilings reminiscent of its sister, The Waverly Inn nearby.

Like The Waverly, The Beatrice feigns to be a little full of herself, but at the heart of it all is a pretty solid neighborhood restaurant.  The suspendered waitstaff is charming and affable, but they do enforce their "no photography" disclosure printed squarely on the menu... so I'm making due with some images stolen from Nasworthy's iPhone  posts- other than that, you'll have to use your imagination.  Or else, come for a visit yourself.   You shouldn't be disappointed with your meal, as long as you can afford it and like what's printed on the menu.  Portions are a little skimpy: meat-heavy, to be sure, in true steakhouse form.  And you can't change
Duck pastrami for a salad
 around things on that menu, either.  Chef has them as he wants them, so extra this-or-that or sans-something will be frowned upon.  But he has the plates pretty well thought out, and they are pleasant.  A crunchy wedge salad is fortified with toasty crouton thins and a heavy flurry of Oregon blue.  Surprisingly sweet cherry tomato "raisins" and  thin rings of pickled onion brighten an herby cumin-spiked dressing studded with miniscule baby radishes.  It's a pretty and tasty salad (now Romaine, not iceberg as pictured).   Duck pastrami features in another salad of frisee and mache.  Rich duck breast is spice-rubbed and sliced thick, bedded in a zesty caper-studded sauce gribiche hidden beneath a tumble of greens and crispy fried shallots.

A little like The Waverly's mac 'n cheese (without that exorbitant price tag), The Beatrice isn't too fancy to offer up a burger, and it's a tasty one at that.  The very convex patty and rounded bun demand a good squish to compress it to the constaints of one's jaw, but then the cushiony meat and pillowy bun acquiesce agreeably.  A thin layer of melted white cheddar and the flavorful Prime dry-aged burger blend make up for the thick slice of mealy tomato, but given that it's November, I wouldn't consider that a major flaw.  A landslide of hot, crisp and salty fries cover the remainder of the plate.  On the cheffier side, two delicate lamb chops balance against each other atop a smoky eggplant puree, braised artichokes and cubes of grilled eggplant rounding things out.  Three hulking scallops were richly seared but just this side of rare inside.  Poised amongst a smattering of baby brussels sprouts and shreds of matsutake mushroom, there weren't enough sprouts to share, really, and no side dishes are offered.  Which may have inspired the ordering that burger after our entrees.  Yes, there were just two of us, but half of that us had a voraciously insatiable appetite.  (We did not, however, finish all of the fries.  There was some dignity upheld.)

Not enough, however, to keep from ordering dessert.  And I'm glad I did, because the salted caramel apple creme brulee was excellent.  Tiny nuggets of crisp apple studded the delicate creme, a tactic I've never experienced before.  It was a nice touch to the rich pudding, which was unfortunately a bit weighed down with its thick brulee crust, but the crumbles of salt crystals atop gave the coating a bit of grown-up appeal.    A strong, hearty coffee would have helped melt the sticky sweet, but the joe on hand was a generic-tasting brew.   There is a sundae on hand as well, described as a classic rendition, as well as an assortment of sorbets and cookies.

Lucky for us, Beatrice isn't the snob she could have been.  At least the telephone number is listed and somebody actually picks up.  The exclusivity of The Waverly only shows up here in fits and starts, and is mostly forgiveable.  You might not be able to construct the meal exactly as you want it, but thoes leave you with a little less visual excitement, but maybe my words will inspire you to see what she looks like in person.

285 West 12th Street  New York, NY 10014
(646) 896-1804

Sunday, November 18, 2012


It is no surprise that whenever imported chefs visit New York, they choose Le Bernardin for a meal.  There are few other restaurants that function at this level, this consistently, continuing to please, inspire, surprise and satisfy each and every guest that can afford the experience.   It is nothing but wonderful, as well, that this success comes to a chef and gentlemen, Eric Ripert, that is quite simply the Platonic ideal of both.  His Chef de Cuisine at Le Bernardin, Chris Muller, prevails the same culinary acumen, as Ripert's empire gently expands.  And now with the recent renovation of the dining room, the impressive decor lives up to the overall experience.

The spectacular painting of a tumultuous sea threatens to crash from the wall, and is prescient of the seafood-centric menu.   Like the ocean, dishes can be powerful and surprising, or calm and tranquil, but always boundless in depth and soul.   Likewise, the global influences are as expansive as the vastness of the sea.  The technique and finesse is inarguably French, but there are Asian, Latin, Mediterranean, African flavors- you name it.   And while the kitchen would graciously acquiesce requests for meats or vegetables, the most heightened experience will occur succumbing to the whim of the chef's tasting menu.  A la carte wouldn't disappoint though, either: you would have to order items to which you had an established aversion in order to even approximate disappointment at Le Bernardin (and even then, you might decide you actually ended up liking just those things you thought you did not).

Single, pure-white orchids decorate each table, as elemental and exotic as the courses to be had.  Seated at the glowing, white linened table, the pearlescent chargers glimmer under a warm spotlit beam. We enjoyed a smooth, creamy potted salmon flecked with chives atop crusty rolls from a
selection of artisanal breads by the hottest oven of the moment, Maison Kayser in nearby Yorkville.  The chargers themselves are admirable conversation pieces, with rims beaded like droplets of seaspray.  These are soon whisked away as your first course arrives.  I began with Barely Touched (preceding this is the Almost Raw section which I tend to circumvent) sea scallops, sliced into coins and warmed to firm their texture just
slightly.  They floated atop a buttery lime-shiso broth, anointed with dots of shiitake-miso jus and precious shards of crisp snow pea.

While wine pairing was offered, I chose to to restrain myself to one glass, and was bequeathed a crisp Austrian Gruner Veltliner that exquisitely accompanied each course, and somehow magically retained its gentle coolness throughout the meal (which lasted a solid three hours).  That was a welcome attribute for the second dish, octopus charred "a la plancha" with a piquante tomato sauce vierge and a fan of crisp fennel, emulsions of vegetal green olive and pungent black garlic daubed into a paisley underneath.   From Lightly Cooked arrived a
 roasted black bass, a generous hunk of pristine skin-crisped fish amidst a golden pool of Peruvian chicha sauce, inspired by Ripert's recent trip to Peru.  The slight funk of fermented corn was spliced with lime, and then joined by buttery chunks of acorn squash ceviche garnished with shishito pepper. 

Our final savory course was a spectacular grand finale: a Dover sole in its glorious winter fattiness that it dons seasonally as the local waters cool.  Chef Muller was almost as rhapsodic about the quality of that fish alone as I was about its preparation.  The filets were sauteed to a deep golden brown, resulting a crisped edge that seemed to hold together its meltingly tender flesh.  It stretched languidly in an exquisite tamarind brown
 butter, one of those sauces that will resonate in my memory with no foreseeable terminus.  It was a dish so grand, so sumptuous, that its accompaniment of beautifully perfumed basmati rice was served aside so as not to distract from the exalted fish, adorned with rich pistachios and almonds, onyx currants and ruby-toned barberry, and a crinkle of gold leaf to appear worthy of its companion.

After such grandiosity, our first dessert displayed a refreshing humility and simplicity.  A small garnet plum topped with sake sorbet was flanked by sastrugas of gingery foam with tiny leaflets of shiso, a dollop of zesty plum sorbet atop a small square of light, spongey cake.  Not to be outdone, however, a playful composition of chocolate and popcorn followed.  A bar a thick, smooth Madagascan ganache balanced crisp kernels of caramel corn,  candied peanuts and a crisp sugary tuile, its extravagance balanced by a small quenelle of creamy popcorn ice cream, reminding us there is still fun to be had amid all this luxury.  Finally... well, next-to-finally arrived more child's play: two squares of buttery, nutty sablee
hugging hazelnut gelato, but so as not to trivialize things too much, it is presented in a flourish of silver foil, somehow elevating a simple ice cream sandwich to something exceptional.  Needing not a morsel more, the actually-final dessert came as a trio of tiny dense pumpkin cakes, moist and spiced... although perhaps gilding the lily.  Or the orchid, as it were.  But if ever there were a restaurant to live up to a little pomp, this is the New York Times four-starred,  Michelin three-starred, highest-Zagat ranked candidate to do so.

155 West 51st Street
 tel.    212.554.1515

Friday, November 16, 2012


Casa Mono was on that fated list, nearly a decade ago, that ended up introducing me to this world below the salamander of which I have become so enamored.  Mike Colameco's Food Talk on WOR Radio hosted a contest rewarding the first caller to pronounce their top ten restaurants in New York.  Some way or another, Colameco
and I ended up sharing a meal at a short-lived steakhouse in Times Square, a day before Thanksgiving, with a pair of A-list chefs sharing a table for four.  And he is the one who began to nurture in me this passion for all things culinary.  At any rate, I hadn't been back to Casa Mono since it first qualified for that list, and I'm happy to report that this monkey is swinging as strong as ever.

And this is my assessment even having taken menu suggestions from a waiter whose palate I belatedly found to be diametrically opposed to mine.  (Note to self: if I'm going to take recommendations from a stranger, it would behoove me to ask  first what is their favorite food.  If the response is pork belly, or mackerel, or even macaroni and cheese, it should raise a red flag that our tastebuds might vibrate on different wavelengths.  I did not ask.  Let the orderer beware.)  Suffice it to say that the minimalist descriptions paired with the suggestions from our waiter culminated in presenting some dishes I would not have otherwise chosen to involve myself with.  This was not the case, however, with the blackened beet dish with which we
began.  They were charred and smokey, encrusted with a savory, seedy granola and paired with smooth curds of cana de cabra.  A side of brussels sprouts were halved, slicked with oil and simply roasted, retaining the vegetal splendor of their emerald green outer leaves but seared dark on their faces and tender inside.
The baby squid with local corn grits (a waiter-recommendation) had the little chunks of octopod breaded and fried like popcorn shrimp (an unexpected treatment) dotting the periphery of an exquisite bed of dense grits draped with a voluptuous poached egg.
 I would have preferred the squid grilled or sauteed, that way the pan juice would lend continuity with the rest of the dish, but it's sometimes a little difficult to know what is coming gauging from the stark menu listings: the longest entry has but nine words total.  The same scenario presented itself with the rabbit, which arrived as two deboned hunks of juicy meat, chicken-fried worthy of the Colonel,

with an anticucho of its gizzards spanning the divide.  Grilled spears of carrot straddled the rabbit, and a habanero-spiked cuajada (a yogurty smear of unctuous milk curd) cushioned structure and contributed a zesty brightness.  I was dissuaded from a cod cheek pil pil, which I'm pretty sure I would've been happier with: I like saucy and complex, and I think Waiter likes meaty and fried.  At any rate, we found common ground with the seared scallops with pumpernickel gazpacho, which was salty and
 bold, novel with its punch of caraway and rich, nutty crusted seafood.    Crisp little toasts of marbled rye and crisp, raw celery stalks slanted amongst the scallops and anchored in the 'gazpacho', which was really more of a caraway-inflected tomato and bread crumb puree, and bound with a ribbon of zesty pickled ***.  Deciding between a side of sauteed setas and a more innovative-sounding option of artichokes with mint, I listened again to  Waiter.  While the mushrooms were a lovely mix, perfectly
 cooked and flecked with herbs, I bet the artichokes would've been more interesting.  For some reason, I kept outsourcing the task I usually revel to undertake, and it was shooting me in the foot.  That said, even with suboptimal ordering, the meal at Casa Mono impressed again and again.  The room is simultaneously intimate and lively, reflecting the care and precision, yet rustic boldness of the food  And my menu mishaps might just inspire me to allow much less time to elapse before a return visit.  Because even after all these years, I'd still put Casa Mono on my Top Ten List.

52 Irving Place at 17th street
tel.  212.253.2773