Saturday, April 20, 2013


This address used to by Lyon, a wonderful location for a now-shuttered csual French restaurant with which I wasn't at all impressed.  So when it closed and reopened as a New American bistro called Cole's, I was intrigued.  Plus, a reader board outside the menu touted a Pat LaFrieda (my butler: long story) burger, AND still had brussels sprouts available as a side dish even though spring is pushing its way in...  both appealing factors.   Anyways, I figured better sooner than later, because the chefs here are certainly on the seasonal bandwagon.

The exec chef harkens from the laudable Chestnut in Brooklyn, and teamed up with Jimmy Bradley of The Red Cat and The Harrison to create a fresh take on American classics- something both of these guys are VERY good at.  The rest of the team has The Lambs Club, Jimmy at the James and The Waverly Inn on their resumes, so we're of good pedigree.  The room itself transitioned from Lyon's standard French bistro decor to moody shades of dusky blue and black.  Somehow, the demonic exit signs that haunted the prior locale here seemed less ubiquitous.  Our waiter seemed a little surly at first, although he warmed up a smidge with coaxing~ but that shouldn't need to happen.  A place like Cole's needs to be welcoming and neighborhoody.  It's food is good, but not good enough for attitude.  Anyways, he provided us eventually with menus, and scrolling down there is a lot to choose from.

We began with a hearty chopped root vegetable salad that was substantial and sizable enough to split.  Tufts of frisee teamed up with crunchy caramelized pumpkin seeds and crumbles of goat cheese, along with delicately sliced radishes, chunks of tender roasted squash and turnips, chewy discs of baked carrot and a flurry of tender sunflower shoots atop.  Other notable appetizers are a spicy hot flashed squid with chorizo and shishito peppers, and harbinger of spring featuring artichokes and arugula with lemon under a chickpea panisse.  One could make a balanced and interesting meal out of the appetizers alone.

But big plates are appealing as well.  Amongst these, of course, is that LaFrieda burger, which on the printed menu was egregiously misspelled "LaFreida" (hopefully now corrected), served with cheddar and fries.  There also four  other meats, a poultry, two fishes and a pasta.  Atlantic salmon was aptly grilled and served with a creamy puree of great northern beans enriched with pancetta, sturdy enough for a persistent winter with a sautee of swiss chard in a nod forward to spring.  Sunflower sprouts again found their way in as a garnish here, as well.

    Another fish was a sturdy filet of cod, seared golden and seasoned generously with black pepper, and topped with a flounce of chervil.   Creamy celery root puree contrasted with a smooth salsa verde beneath, dotted with lentils that performed a subtle caviaresque trompe l'oeil.   The food here is beautifully plated, colorful and balanced, without too much finicky precision: no spherification or foams.  And there there were those brussels sprouts, which needn't rely on their beauty:  vigorously charred with chewy hunks of diced thick-cut slab bacon, and sweetened with a touch of maple syrup.

Dessert menus were never offered, and neither does their website list any of their after-dinner options.  I saw a chocolate concoction of some sort saunter past our table, though, and read of a lemon curd dessert noted in the press.  Instead, we were given our check, and sought out Empire Cake just up 8th Avenue after the fact to finish the evening on a sweet note.  But I like Cole's... certainly I like it much more than I did Lyon.  The quality of the food is excellent, and there is an easy, comfortable vibe here.  So a return visit to Sherlock Holmes that dessert menu... well, no one's going to have to twist my arm.

118 Greenwich Ave
New York NY 10011
212 242 5966


Finally, off the New American beat.  Not only is ethnic just inherently delicious, it also refreshes a palate jaded from her favorite standbys.  Mandangsui serves exactly that purpose, and coincidentally, the name actually translates as "servant" in Korean.  A slightly-north-of-K-town Korean BBQ, the dining room is typical spartan, bare-bones cafeteria looking.  But not to worry: their energies are concentrated on your food.

Upon being seated, we were provided multi-page, plasticized menus with vivid, easy(-ier) to identify pictures along with the Korean names and minimalist English descriptions.  But go with your gut, or be guided with recommendations from your "servant": they are knowledgeable and helpful... if a little deficient in the mother land's tongue.  Pointing always works wonders.  Seated at the rectangular table, a metal cover was lifted off the center to reveal an electric grill... you'll cook your own dinner to taste if you order the right things.  We did not, however, order the right beverage: a syrupy plum wine that might have passed as potable for a dessert wine was less than ideal paired with funky kimchee and vinegary pickles.  And those are not to be missed.

A vast array of complimentary salads, pickles and sauces are spread out like a rainbow around the circumference of the grill.  Once your food arrives, make use of them.  There was a nutty, sesame-oil tinged water spinach that made for a lively vegetable, a zippy red harissa-like dipping sauce, earthy rounds of purply lotus root, and that strange adoptee in Asian cuisine, a saccharine macaroni salad for who knows what purpose.  Certainly not to pair with a dumpling appetizer: we chose beef, fried which came off much lighter than they might sound, but still rather filling.

Beosut Modeum Gui
For the grill, a bountiful array of enoki, king oyster, shiitake and trumpets met their fiery demise as our server flipped and poked at them 'til doneness.

Each bite could be vastly altered with a touch of soy or kimchee or a bite of spicy shredded turnips.  Probably the condiments team up better with a carnivorous selection for the grill (note to you), but I do love me my mushrooms.

Yook-Hwe Bibimbob
At any rate, they came in handy once again once our bibimbob arrived, because despite its multi-component structure, once our server homogenized it into submission it was, in appearance, a porridge hardly differentiable to chop suey, fried rice or even a dry risotto.  But the flavor was pronouncedly Asian, the rice tender and chewy with an umami punch from soy and richness from the beef and egg.  It had little spice, though, so here the kimchee was put to good use.  Still, there wasn't a tremendous amount of heat in any of the dishes except for sliced jalapenos which could be meted out to amp up the Scoville (recommended).

Although the menu has a section titled "Dessert & Drinks", it is really only a list of tipples.  But refreshing slices of juicy orange are post-prandially provided: probably all you'd want given the absent prestige of Korean pastry in the U.S.  And even if you got the accidentally got the plum wine to drink with dinner, hopefully there's a swig left in the bottle to perform as its only redemptive function.

35 West 35th St New York

Tel: (212) 564-9333

Monday, April 15, 2013


Quaint, humble, cozy, charming: these all can be used to describe Petite Abeille ("little bee" in French).  Although the mini-chain of small, very cute, tres Belges bistros began in 1995, this was my first visit.  I visited the location nearest me on West 17th street, neighboring the historic Chelsea Inn (a rustic little hotel that might be New York's best little-known lodging deal).  I had made a seven pm reservation that was unnecessary given the sparsely populated room.  But it filled up quickly, quickly and by eight there wasn't a table to be had.  Our waitress noted that brunch conjures up formidable lines and often it's a matter of gently nudging customers out in order to close up at night.  This might be in part due to the special nightly deals offered by Abeille: Wednesday night offers Moules a Go Go - all you can eat mussels for $27, and Thursday's 1 1/4 lb. lobster costs the same, both beer-inclusive.  But we went on a Tuesday, where it's half-priced bottles of wine, and we weren't drinking.  That said, the little bee is fairly moderately priced.

Our waitress was not French, but described the menu and the day's specials jubilantly, and the general manager, who was very French (de Lyon, en fait) supervises the room approvingly.  We order a beet salad to begin, which was just plentiful enough to share, although on a hungrier night I might have handled it solo.  It boasted a lovely, lemony vinaigrette over tangled watercress and crumbles of goat cheese.  The greens were so fresh and the hearty beets roasted tender that they held they're own in spite of a slightly heavy hand with the dressing.  I would've liked to have tried the wild mushroom ragout on toast, but didn't think I quite had the appetite that night, so might have to entertain a return visit.

Grilled salmon was offered as a special, served atop a generous wad of garlicky sauteed and mushrooms on a bed of fluffy, creamy mashed potatoes.  This was by far the better of the two entrees we tried, for while my Codfish Flemish Style was cooked delicately enough to make Ripert proud, its berbed broth had a harsh, sharp
 sharp bite that imbued the too-lightly steamed brussels sprouts below, compounding their bitter, acrid flavor.  The cod perched high enough atop to avoid contamination, although it required removing a prickly thatch of dried bay laurel and thyme riddled with lemon zest that might have contributed to some of the bitterness.
The roasted brussels sprouts that come as a side dish are exponentially better: in fact, they are quite great- at least in comparison.

Desserts keep with the theme: classics such as chocolate mousse, fondue and cheese are to be had, but poffertjes, tiny Flemish doughnuts heavily dusted in powdered sugar, or try a waffle... there's are scrumptious.  Crisp-edged, light and golden, I would normally have gone for strawberries but for that it's March, so instead opted for a plain gaufre, doused in powdered sugar and a topped with a swirly cap of dense chantilly.  These would (and do) make a fine breakfast, snack or dessert.

Petite Abeille isn't going to change your life or rock your world.  But if you have one nearby as a local haunt, you'd be smart to become a regular.  It's one of those places where it's very easy to do so.

44 West 17th Street 
New York, NY 10010 
Between 5th Avenue & 6th Ave. 
Phone: (212) 727-2989 

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi have achieved the trifecta.  It all began with Torrisi Italian Specialties on Mulberry Street, and then the more casual Parm in the same neighborhood.  Now Mario's name finally hits the marquis with Carbone.  The name, in fact, is simply a neon sign placed over the top of the address's prior inhabitant, Rocco, who had thrived in that space for nearly a century.  Carbone not only salvaged the old signage, but a lot of the allure and mystique of the old red sauce joint.  But, of course, with this duo at the helm, it is spiffed up and refined to meet the standards of this unstoppable pair.

While I'd never visited the restaurant as Rocco's, they carried over its retro appeal.  The current decor exudes the swanky glamour of a 1950's era supper club.  From the red and black tiled floor to crystal chandeliers and grinning waiters in ill-fitting tuxedos, an old school charm abounds.  And leave your thinking cap at the door, because Carbone does not aim to challenge you (except if you don't know any Italian at all, because then you might miss some of the cheeky translations and plays-on-words throughout the restaurant).  While your at it,  check your coat as well, because even if you naturally tend cool, there is an welcoming warmth that immediately toasts things right up.

It feels like Carbone has a big heart.  It also has big menus, big portions and big prices.  Not that they might not be justified, but it's the kind of place you gotta know what you're getting into.  The ticket will be steep.  If you order an antipasti plate at $45 a head, there's no way you're getting out on the cheap (you're paying for really supreme quality here, so factor that in).  Luckily, you're bequeathed with an abundance of freebies soon after the menus arrive: nubbly hunks of pungent parmesan, a bountiful bread basket full of
 focaccia, slices of nutty semolina, long, spindly grissini, and a charming little dish of surprisingly spicy giardiniera.  Consider these sustenance for navigating the
enormous menus, both in shape and scope.  You'll entirely lose your dining companion during the ordering procedure, so you'll have to make up your mind on your own or play curtain-call raising and lowering the comically large scripts to coordinate your orders: you certainly won't need two of anything.   Of the vast array of starters, I couldn't not try the Vegetable Supremo, only to find (much to my chagrin) that, actually, I couldn't.  They had been toying around with a few different configurations of it which never finalized, and then decided to scrap it entirely (menus that big get printed early and there was no going back).  Apparently I was, in fact, the absolute FIRST person to request it!  Granted,
 they've only been open three weeks, but to that I added amazement to my disappointment.  Sticking vegetal, I perused the salads.  There is a Caesar alla ZZ is prepared tableside, but the "House Chopped" is totally d.i.y.  Not only is the "salad" left off the description, so is the fact that you'll be doing your own chopping.  It's big leaves of stripey radicchio, frisee, crisp spears of treviso , julienned green beans, marinated mushrooms and ceci beans generously dressed are worthy of the effort.  It did cross my mind to request Louis (our server) to prepare IT tableside, but it was a delicious enough salad to forgive the oversight.

Assorted Baked Clams come nine to the plate: a triad of each, one featuring enormous globs of uni.  Underneath each topping are pristinely juicy little clams- they wouldn't have to be so good with all their accoutrements, but they are.  Despite the fantastic, graffiti-esque painting hung behind our table stating that "Pasta is what we are made of",
we didn't sample any of the myriad pastas on
offer, but the selection runs the gamut from a classic Spicy Rigatoni Vodka to a more modern adaptations like Lobster Black Ties.  A return visit would definitely test the painting's theory.   Louis advised us that Mario's grandma's recipe meatballs could be ordered separately or added to anything upon request, so adding those to a selection from the Macaroni could definitely be a main course if you thought it not hearty enough to begin with.

Main courses are divided into Carne and Pesce under A Piacere (Italian "to please", as if everything wasn't already doing just that).I was tempted by the Skate Francese, given how partial I am to that fish, but you know the Italo-Franco rivalry: I went for Bass Vino Rosso instead.  This was a no-fear preparation of fish, it's skin finally achieved that elusive crispness who's absence usually requires me to peel it back from the flesh to discard entirely.  Not this bass, and the meaty fish below flaked tender, white chunks into an umami-rich, lip-smacking bordelaise- a sauce so rich it's usually teamed with heartier meats, but Carbone achieves the impossible pairing a mild white fish with such an assertive sauce.  Like the clams, one could mask something of inferior quality with such robust flavor, but not here.  The fish is as impeccable as the sexy, burnished sauce is profound.  Lips will be licked.  Rivaling that for my favorite dish of the night was inarguably the Funghi Trifolati. 
 These are the Platonic Ideal of sauteed mushroom: not a hint of mush, edges crisped and centers dense.  Salty, chewy, tender, eyes-rolling back in your head delicious. And such an assortment: shiitake, matsutake, oysters, and trumpets mingled with garlic, onions and herbs.  Oh, I could've just had a bowl of these and called it a night (but for all the other delicacies I would've missed out on, of course).
  Veal Marsala is a behemoth shank, bone-in, smothered in a luxuriantly winey mushroom sauce, propped up by sauteed hen-of-the-woods mushrooms giving it a jaunty tilt on the plate.

Delicacies, literally, are on the cart of desserts- although delicate they are not.  Really displayed on a rolling cart, like in movies of yore.  Big and beautiful, once again, with a monstrous tiramisu, gargantuan cheesecake served with a blueberry compote, these sweets are displayed whole, but they don't seem much diminished in size when you receive your portion.  A thick, cake-cut wedge of tiramisu loses its decorative ladyfingers in plating, instead the heel is coated in a rich toffee crumb.

The housemade gelatos are

outstanding- a cucumber-mint was my favorite: simultaneously refreshing and indulgent, but equally good was a creamy, mild coconut version and a zesty blood orange sorbet.

I am not one that typically considers fruit dessert (unless it is cobbled or pied or otherwise decadently adulterated), but Mario's insanely juicy bruleed grapefruit took on an exotic note with savory whole fennel and caraway seeds studding its crunchy caramelized sugar crust, daubed with an herbal gelato and decorated with shreds of citrus zest.  Not that any of this is necessary: each table is provided complimentary sambuca, housemade limoncello and vin santo along with a small plate of

ethereally light crostoli that were hard to stop eating, or melting upon your tongue, as it were.  So delicate they were I'm sure the powdered sugar was the only thing keeping them from floating off the table.  If you paid attention to how full you were, these with a rich doppio from Intelligentsia would make a perfect finale, and more sane than the abbondanza in which we indulged.  Except for that that's the kind of place Carbone is.  Once in awhile, you just gotta do it up big.

181 Thompson Street
between Bleecker & Houston
New York, NY 10012