Monday, December 28, 2015


George Mendes strikes again with a second location, not far from his wildly successful first venture, Aldea.  Lupulo is more casual- boisterous in fact, with an energetic bar scene... the name is Portuguese for "hops", after all.  And had I know that before ordering a clear, crisp Vinho Verde to accompany the small plates of the rustic, Portuguese comfort food, I would've opted for one of their
 cervesas, mostly like the Solid! American Wheat beer from my hometown, Portland, Oregon.  But the list is vast of both beer, wine and cocktails: Lupulo's food is meant to be drunk with.  Not to BE drunk with, although as long as that wasn't taken to the extreme, the restaurant is casual and lively enough that this probably wouldn't be entirely frowned upon.

The bar curves around the middle of the dining room, and serves as the focus of the menu and the space. Bartenders are busy taking orders and blending drinks- it might take a second to get your order in.  But no rush; the vibe is animated enough to make Lupulo feel a bit like a party.  

Befittingly, we started off with some wonderfully crisp salt croquettes with piri piri mayonnaise, which would've made for excellent party food.  They came from the Petisco section of the menu, but these  three voluptuous fritters were not so petisco, delicately cloaked in crunchy golden shells that broke to release the fragrant steam of pillowy tufts of chive-flecked bacalhau within.  Tiny daubs of the zippy piri piri mayo offered tang and spice, which were unfortunately two elements of the cuisine at Lupulo that were otherwise underutilized.
The menu is unreliably sized, but the prices are a pretty good indication, as a $15 plate of brussels (also a Petisco)  sprouts endured for the duration of the meal.  They were good, tossed with crisp bits of country ham and roasted apple for a touch of sweetness, and while I'm not sure where these fall along the scope of Portuguese authenticity, I'm not one to argue with a generous serving of brussels sprouts.   They could've also qualified for the section of Hortas, although perhaps these
 are all strictly vegetarian so the ham bumped
 them out.  From here, we chose a small plate of smoky roasted beets, blitzed with cilantro and a mild sluice of foamy coconut.  The intensity of the smoke was a brilliant counter to the natural sugars of the beet and the sweetness imparted by the coconut.  In fact, this may have the the most successful dish all night.

An intriguing sounding Acorda di Camarau was a sort of sophisticated pabulum of tomato and onion, but mild and a bit dull.  The potential for aggressive seasoning and bold, punchy flavors seems absent at Lupulo, whereas the setting and the philosophy of the restaurant seem to just be crying out for just that  The shrimp atop were fresh and briny, spoon-tender and fat, but there wasn't much to make them stand out from the porridge, or vice-versa.  Same goes for a main course of grilled octopus, which failed to achieve much char, although the chickpea and black eyed peas underneath made a zestier  contribution.  Tart turnips, assertively pickled stood out a little too blatantly, although the did their part to brighten the pumpkin seed romesco.   Maybe we would've been better off with another version of the eight-legged marvel that the Portguese usually do so well, a squid cooked a la plancha with clams, blood sausage and paella-esque squid ink rice.  And a side dish of mushrooms was equally ho-hum; a palatable dish of fungus, I guess, but if anything a bit damp and listless, serving more as filler than feature. 

Desserts are simple and starchy for the most part, tasty little sweetnesses to finish off with.  The honeyed cheesecake we chose was just that, deftly composed and but not exactly earthshaking.  This is basically my take on Lupulo as a whole... it's a very striking and happy place to be, but the surroundings are more memorable than the food.  Which maybe the opposite case of Aldea.  Which THEN makes me wonder, perhaps, if I shouldn't learn how to say "repeat visit" in Portuguese. 

 835 6th Ave
(212) 290-7600

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


They always say you can tell the best Chinese restaurants because they are full of Chinese people.  Why the same isn't applied to other nationalities I know not, but it certainly does for the French, here at Rebelle.  Deep in Bowery, next to its (commensurately excellent) sister restaurant Pearl & Ash, Rebelle is firing on all cylinders.  The initial draw was the chef, Daniel Eddy, who not only worked at Spring in Paris, which drew global appeal, but also alongside one of my absolute favorite chefs in the city, Michael Psilakis.  And while his tact at Rebelle diverges from both of these influences, the quality is easily on par.  They call it Rebelle because the say they are trying to do things a little differently, and while I didn't detect much rebellion,  there was much to relish.

The room is industrial, subdued greys of cement and muted brick, with little adornment but some minimalist dried flowers and glowy orbs suspended overhead.  The focused attention concentrates on the food, and it is pinpoint-precise.

 The price-points are white-tablecloth, but the vibe is not.  Perhaps the "R" (preserved from R Bar of yore) should stand for relaxed, because Rebelle is notably comfortable given the elegance of its cuisine.  Our server was attentive and amicable, and although his preferences on the menu might have steered us away from some of the dishes I prized the most.  The menu is formatted into four section, simply numbered, and it is recommended one choose a selection
 from each, a little like a set menu but with a little flexibility.  Veering away from raw meats (which are not my forte), we were left with two choices: Leek Vinaigrette and an eggplant composition.  The leeks were cool and fresh, steamed tender and tempered with
fluffy curds of soft boiled egg.  Incinerated shards of smoky leek showed a modern, Nordic influence, and a light dijon sauce retained the classic flavor profile.  The eggplant dish was  less colligated: a heavily fried, unidentifiable mass of the frittered nightshade tasted mostly of buttery breadcrumbs: not that there's much wrong with that, but it required the brightness of some pickled beets that accompanied to lessen the blow.  Similarly, a pungent quenelle of roasted eggplant jam recalled an intensified baba ghanoush, and it felt like the dish was lacking some simply grilled planks of the vegetable to justify its title, as well as round out the plate.

Moving onto SECOND base, things improved exponentially, even improving the dishes we already consumed retroactively.   Squash with treviso and espelette just sang of autumn: the roasted squash buttery and dense, its heady sweetness reverberating off
the spears of sharply bitter radicchio.  Lobster with cabbage and fine herbes recalled Michael White's butter-poached lobster at Ai Fiori.  Here it is less buttery, lighter and cleaner, with the low-brow contrast of humble cabbage ironically modernizing, and compellingly so.

 THIRDs comprise our entree-esque plates, none entering $30 territory.  The FIRSTs and SECONDs are what might add up, on the high end of appetizer prices and doubled-up, to boot.  But the halibut, a small ivory filet of ultimate tenderness floating in a delicate "ocean broth" is elegant in its simplicity, though nothing rebellious, and perhaps a bit plain.   The baby bok choy leaves aside made for an attractive contrast of color, but added nothing to this dish aside from roughage.  A vegetarian composition of carrots and mushrooms stole the show, though, the showy roots achieving the kind of mushy softness California cuisine had attempted to steal away, their caramelized edges  pepper-dusted to augment their sweetness.  Meaty chanterelles, shiitakes and black trumpets punked the carrots' natural sugars with umami, all shrouded in crisp pea shoots... I could've eaten this dish a thousand times.  So too a lusty pork with romesco, the "other white meat" not white at all.  In fact, its robust hue was almost shockingly rosy, its tender flesh, I'm sure cooked sous-vide, as startling tender so as to yield to the knife like a rich, soft cheese.   You could barely tell where the piperade ended and the romesco began, so befittingly did they colligate amongst a handful of tender white beans, a fanciful spear of charred leek lancing the ruddy color scheme.. 

Desserts comprise the final FOURTH section, and are coincidentally four in number from which to choose.  The minimalist descriptions, as is the case with all the categories, might make it a little troublesome to make an informed selection, but our waiter was more effusive with more elaborate descriptions.  The grape clafoutis would have been my preference but it is a designated share, and really at that point only a single dessert between the two of us was feasible.
   Funny enough, the highlight of the one we choose didn't even intimate the best part of the dessert- a moist, rich and densely tender disc of buttery cake underneath cool, crisp pears cut into planks and orbs.  Naked and raw, the fruit sort of sat about the cake rather than complementing it, but a creamy sheep's milk sorbet helped the components coalesce: ice cream heals many woes.   Overall, I wonder if Eddy couldn't amp up the rebellious quotient a bit, but the pleasure factor is en pointe.

 917 639 3880 

Monday, November 30, 2015


It was a good decision to put the "kitchen" after Chalk Point, because the food here feels a lot like something the well-practiced, very capable home chef could come close to replicating, with a little elbow grease, in their own abode.  It's grubbable, satisfying food- more pleasingly voluminous
than elegantly nuanced.  The decor merges barnyard-chic with dive-bar kitsch: Handy Bar downstairs is strikingly more sophisticated in mood, even with its raucous patrons, than the dining room above.  The bar program, coincidentally, is strong,
so the food upstairs might cooperative better with their inventive cocktails or beer rather than wine, although their list is certainly drinkable.

We started off strong, so strong perhaps, that it was a bit of a false start.  A grilled romaine and beet salad featured crunchy lettuce, a nuttiness and inherent juiciness coaxed out by the char.  The accompanying beets were tender and dense, again benefiting from an aggressive roast, and sprinkled with a sprightly crumble of blue cheese and toasted walnuts.  I do wish there would've been more of
 those stellar beets nestled into the romaine, but it was otherwise a memorably exceptional salad.  I took my starter from the the Sides, a cauliflower steak artfully carved to resemble a T-Bone in
shape and girth alike.  If it was meat, it certainly would've qualified as double-cut, and if they're gonna charge $14, I suppose the heft is necessitated.  Easily shareable, it was generously slathered in an oily tahini dressing, with a few too many sweet golden raisins and shockingly hot tidbits of pickled chili.... but yummy all the same, in a gluttonously un-virtuous vegetable way. 

There were two special entrees in addition to the menu which changes every Friday: easier to keep track of the offerings on Facebook than on its own website, for the most up-to-date information.  Chalk Point (and its chef, Joe Isidori) is paying good attention to what is in the market and where its fundamentals are coming from.  One was a glazed filet of salmon, stretched languidly across a wide, white plate and bedecked with oyster mushrooms and salsify, along with shreds of kombo and vibrant tobiko.   It's flesh looked suspiciously pale on the outside, but a fork broke into its more robustly hued interior, moist and rare.   Catfish, which can be
suspciously muddy or metallic, was farmed but well-sourced, its sweet flaky flesh even more sweetly glazed in misoyaki, broiled to a blistered char over a mountain of long beans and bean sprouts.  This amounts to a distinctly Asian profile, like most (if not all) of the dishes, tend.  So while the name and the website imply farmy New American, the cuisine really touts a lot of Oriental attitude.  A side of brussels sprouts didn't, however, and it didn't have a tremendous amount of personality either.  The sprouts are
 simply sauteed, missing out on the opportunity to
 roast them to their finest state.  They toasted the garlic instead, which amounted in crusty little allium crunchies amongst nubs of chewy house-smoked bacon.  If I'd my druthers, I'd saute the garlic and toast the sprouts: that would make for a successful side. 

Dessert kind of toed that line, although we strayed from either of our server's recommendations, which may have been a better tact.  The vanilla panna cotta was smooth and pleasant, if a little bland.  But the toasted coconut aside helped immensely, and the blueberries were surprisingly good considering it is November.

For all the accolades I'd been hearing for Chalk Point, it fell short of the bar I had raised for it.  But it was a satisfying enough meal for what it was, especially considering the doggie bag of unfinished morsels came close to providing dinner the night after as well.

527 Broome Street (near Thompson)

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Sometimes a stint of mediocre restaurants befalls me such that I start to question my palate and passion.  And then I hit a place like Kat and Theo that completely renews my spirit.  Perhaps nothing being done here at this new American Chelsea nook that is so wildly innovative or provocative, but it is attractive and comfortable in decor, swift and pleasant of service, and consistently, remarkably delicious in cuisine.  It is actually strikingly similar to Black Barn, the previous restaurant I reported on, but on a smaller scale, and superior on most all counts.  Rustic, heavy wooden beams, again,  criss-cross
 the ceiling over walls of crumbling, uneven exposed brick.  Even the tabletops are striking: imported wood is oxidized to a pewter hue striated with black lines, and deep purple velvet covers comfortably plush banquettes, their color mollified by flickery shadows cast from a real, live fireplace we were lucky enough to snuggle up right next to.

The menu is not too big, not too small- just Goldilocks-right.   And it is formatted as such that you can sort of make of it what you will.  I chose a side as a starter, or a hodge-podge of small plates could make up your meal.  Certainly, regardless of your strategy, the charred octopus needs to be a component one way or another.  Deliciously bacony tentacles nuzzle into a puree of gigante beans, a few of which are left whole, but these are undercooked and chalky, performing only as leguminous decor rather something actually edible.  But that's okay: you'll
 be fully under the spell of the tender cephalopod, glazed in orange and oregano down to its crispy edges.  The cauliflower side that I upgraded to begin with is a winner as well, its florets roasted into submission and mounded under a sweetly tangy fig compote, a modern American take on the Sicilian classic.

Only open for months, the aggressively seasonal menu has already morphed through several iterations, the main dishes we tried cycled out in favor of new creations.  Thus it goes when your chef (Paras Shah) honed his craft at El Bulli, Per Se and Momofuku: good things will evolve from the  menu but there will be more good things to replace them.    As for the skate, however, it will be missed.  That wing was perfectly crisped, just accentuating the tender filaments of the fish with a delicate crust
 without overcoming them.  Dark leaves of sturdy kale lay gently across the top, anchored by toasted hazelnuts.  A sauce ahlinho beneath was viscous enough not to sog the skate, although we never got a very explanation of what this mysteriously delicious sauce is (although garlic and saffron were notable components, our waiter said it translated directly as "sauce", which is just.... not accurate).  But no harm no foul- it was just another attribute of the wildly successful dish.  So too was the halibut in bouillabaise, thickened with a creamy celery root puree and dotted with plump mussels.  Two ravioli crowned the affair, which seemed superfluous and sort of out
of place, but they cached the world's silkiest filet of halibut, pristine and snowy white, almost indecent in its moistness.   Veggies are a little scant in the main dishes, so I was happy to have commandeered a side of charred bitter greens,
although they were more braised than charred,
cooked down and stewy, with kicky flecks of chili much like calalloo.

Serena Chow is in charge of the sweet stuff, from which we settled on a concord grape panna cotta, after much wrangling between a chocolate mousse with lavender and lemon curd and a much-lauded carrot cake with white chocolate and espresso, all of which I'm sure were marvelous if our final choice was any parameter.   The grapes came in the form of an intensely flavored sorbet, perched over delicate panna cotta glazed with a a gently earthy fennel gelee, separating the sweetness from the tartness until a spoon broke its glossy surface, impaled with  crunchy shards of delicate maple brittle.  No decaf is on hand, but Toby's Estate provides their fine coffee to accompany if you can handle the buzz,  along with an assortment of teas and digestifs to choose from.  For once, I was okay with post-prandial caffeinated joe- I was happy to stay awake a little longer, ruminating on the delicacies of Kat and Theo. 

5 W 21st St
New York ,  NY  10010
+ 1-212-380-1950

Friday, November 6, 2015


The transformation from SD26 to Black Barn is absolutely astounding.  What was once a vacuous, beige rectangle with the feel of a corporate cafeteria is now a sexy, rustic haven.  Big wooden beams criss-cross the ceiling, casting provocative shadows from bright, suspended Edison bulbs.   The only vestiges of the prior incarnation are the chef and owner, Matteo Bergamini and John Doherty respectively, but they have swapped out Tony May's Italian for American creative, farm-to-tabling it
 and nose-to-tailing it as much as possible.  And on these counts, Black Barn is meritorious, but sometimes the execution falters to live all the way up to the concept and surroundings.

The menu reads pretty pricey, but portion sizes are legitimately large enough to share, whether it falls under the menu category of "To Share" or not.    Nothing small plates about Black Barn.  Our server talked up the Mangalitsa pork to such a degree that we went with a charcuterie board from that division of the menu, even though I'm not such a cold cuts kind of girl.  It's a bountiful and beautiful array, furls of thinly sliced variations of the pig: soppressata, salty prosciutto, zesty salame, hearty rillettes... all from the heritage breed from Mosefund Farm in Jersey.  Accompanied by hearty, chewy sourdough and a small crock of mild, tender house-pickled
 vegetables, there's enough meat here for five to enjoy a bite of each variety- if your appetite can take it.  A grilled corn salad from Appetizers was similarly plentiful, but the focus is on summer's grand finale of produce, showcasing sweet
kernels against bitey arugula in a cool buttermilk
dressing. A halved avocado bookends the greens in case you didn't get enough good fats with the charcuterie board (although trust me, you probably did).

The next four categories on the menu are meant as entrees (Garden, Ocean, Slow Cooked and Wood Grilled), but regardless of my passion for vegetables, I still have a tough time making my main course a plant, even if they call it a Cauliflower Steak.  But shared as a starter, it makes a shareable beginning, even if it is technically more stack than steak.  A glistening pile of curried florets, perhaps a touch over oiled, are toasted, roasted, and melted into submission, brightened with raw cucumber half-moons, chopped cherry tomatoes and sliced rainbow beets, it makes quite a picturesque pile.   Smooth daubs of cilantro raita anchor the elements, and in the end, it is hearty and satisfying enough to warrant its $24 dollar price tag.

For a protein fix, a striped bass with crispy skin lured me away from the waiter's recommendation of the grilled swordfish with caponata.  After the fact, however, I wish I would've listened to him, although the bass was harmless.  Sure, the skin was crispy-ish, but the nubs of tomato didn't do much to revitalize a milky potage of plain sorana beans and undercooked green ones, making the whole dish pretty lackluster. Which our server was not- he actually became an integral part of the enjoyment of the whole evening, faithfully attentive and pleasantly funny throughout the
 course of the meal.  Even if he did forget (or was it the kitchen?) the side order of brussels sprouts, that arrived tardy scorchingly hot; they expedited their arrival but somehow still managed to overcook them, and even the smoky hunks of bacon nestled within couldn't quite unmuddy their flavor.  An unlikely winner of the evening, however, was a slow cooked Vermont Shivanne Farm baby goat... or maybe it wasn't unlikely, given we are dining in a barn.
The hulking platter  included bone-in chops, a roasted loin, and (my favorite) a tender braised shoulder.  The meat was mildly gamey, but mostly just beefily rich and tender, and a rustic hash of rosemary potatoes and artichokes gave a humble, earthy balance.   Dishes came out in a very timely manner, but be wary of the up-pour.  Despite our table's drinking by the glass, our server was tip-toe ready to top off our wine glasses even before they were emptied-  a fine practice if you have ordered a bottle, but confusing if not.  An ever mounting tab can result if one isn't quick to moderate the refills, so let the drinker beware.

Now there's an apple pudding on the dessert menu that would've easily captured my fancy, but at the time, the  cremesicle appeal of an orange-vanilla eclair piqued my interest.  Although impressive in longitude, it wasn't at all the flavor profile I was expecting.  Candied orange peel and chocolate chip-studded vanilla creme is a long stretch from the tangy orange sherbet classic I inferred.  Pronouncedly elongated, the eclair was sort of a holdover from SD26, its flavor a solid
 adaptation of a Sicilian cannoli Frenchified into a delicately puffy choux....  well, at least the plate was a holdover.  Doherty retained these custom rectangular dishes from the old restaurant, and then came up with the dessert to put them to use, but either a tweak of ingredients or menu description is in order.  Brooklyn Roasting Company stepped up to compensate in part, though, with a smooth toasty brew that made a lovely pairing.

Overall, the setting and service, ambiance and bounty are the restaurant's strongest points.   The less fussy plates are the best, which is in good keeping with a place called Black Barn.  Any urban cowboy should be happy kicking off his boots here.

tel.  (212) 265-5959