Saturday, February 14, 2015


I thought Dirty French was going to be a francophilic Carbone, and to that end, I have to admit to a scintilla of disappointment.  A new addition to Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi's  unstoppable Major Food Group, Dirty French is a solid restaurant: it has all the fundamentals for staying power, especially benefitting from its location within the Ludlow Hotel.  In fact, I don't know who will benefit more... perhaps actually, the hotel.  But  it's just not as theatrical (nor as "dirty") as I anticipated it to be.
 The snazzy, cheeky hot pink neon signage at the door hinted in the direction of my expectations, and the room, dark and swanky, reinforced an air of edge and grit.  Even a row of disturbing, drippy-eyed smoking clowns gave an impression of drama.  But throughout the evening, the restaurant takes on a much more normal vibe- and despite price points that rival Carbone's, the "show" part of dinner-and-a-show that makes Carbone so exceptional does not seem to manifest itself at Dirty French.

The bread course, however, could qualify as a show in itself.  It was easily the most memorable and exciting component of the meal- arriving on its own silver pedestal, sided with a creamy whipped cow's milk cheese sprinkled with fresh herbs.  The flatbread was piping hot, chewy and pliant, salty and buttery.  These were the attributes I was expecting from Dirty French across the board- sort of classy and slutty at the same time.  Like the tagline for the Cosmopolitan Hotel: just the right amount of wrong.  It felt a little taboo to eat it.. it was little too rich, too many carbs, and just too delicious to keep your teeth out of.

From that point on, the restaurant became a more expected, typical eatery.  The prices are not listed on the website, which almost always implies steep tags.  If I recall correctly, they were marked on the stiff, cardboard menus, however, and in any case, they mirror the prices at Carbone, only at Carbone the portions are Olympic, and the atmosphere much more entertaining.  That said, we were sitting next to an annoyingly shrill pair of ladies that couldn't have been more distracting and shrieky.  It definitely didn't help our experience.  But here, you're paying simply for the cuisine (and a bumpin' 80'd soundtrack), which is admittedly solid, but I think somewhat unjustified.  That said, there is a bit of pomp: oysters are presented ceremoniously, with intricate detail of their provenance and flavor profiles.  Meaty dishes abound, classics like boudin and terrine and carpaccio fortify the h'ors d'oeuvres, all lovingly tweaked into modernity.  A Roquefort salad focused on flavorful roasted beets instead of the cheese itself, which punched up the sweet vegetable alongside crisp triangles of Asian pear and crunchy candied cashews.  Not so divergent from any typical
 beets/cheese/nuts salad we might have seen before, but the flavors were alive and robust, and at least it wasn't chevre and walnuts.  If anything, the food here might be a little too flavorful, bordering on overwhelming . Perhaps that accounts for the portion size as well: one could not eat too, too much of most plates.

For entrees there are two shareable options of chicken and cote de boeuf, and then a selection of rotisserie proteins, from which we tried the lamb saddle.   Taking the French affinity for Moroccan spices, the lamb is rubbed in cumin, then served over firm, toothsome slices of potato, enriched with lamby juices and crisp of edge.   From the
  Poissons, I chose the Provencale, which were four seared Vadouvan-spiced scallops (in English) paired with artichauts (in French).  I couldn't quite get why some terms were Frenchified, and others left en anglais: had I chosen, I would used the lovely French term of Coquilles St. Jacques rather than scallops, but then again, the whole dish was titled Provencale, which to me denotes a preparation with tomatoes and garlic, sometimes olives, none of which appeared in the dish, so what do I know.  The scallops were fresh and well-prepared, although I could've done with less of the abundant flurry of whatever flavorless herb
 was amply strewn atop.  Those artichauts, however, were earthy and tender, a fine counterpart for the curry-esque spice.  And while the scallops had those artichokes, the lamb had but potatoes, so some vegetable Accompagnements were in order.  I needed to try the mushrooms if only but to compare them to Carbone's memorably marvelous ones, and these were great... but not as great.  Or maybe I was just not enjoying myself to same extent that I did there, and the food was reflecting that.  How I'd love to compare both mushrooms side by side.. in any case it would be a win-win, because I know Carbone's were exceptional, and these were delicious, too.  Less impressive were the Haricots Asiatique, which our waiter recommended.  They were unevenly cooked, with most a little on the raw
 side, which made their excessive dressing more pronounced.   I wish I would've gone with my intial inclination, a parsleyed cabbage braise, that sounded both delicious and certainly less commonplace.

Even with the lack of fireworks through the course of the meal, we wanted to give the desserts a try, even though at this point I was disappointingly underwhelmed.  Serves me right for going in with such elevated, Carbone-esque, expectations.  Maybe I just like Mario's cooking better than Rich's, who is apparently the toque in charge here.  So we tried the Tarte, which is basically a dense bar cookie of a slice of lemon meringue pie.  It's meringue was sweet and pillowy, by far the best part of the sweet.  The curd was pleasantly sweet with a zippy tart bite, but it was a little gummy and dense atop a crust requiring a bit too much muscle to break.

In the end, Dirty French exhibits a swanky atmosphere and deft service that I might rave about in any other restaurant.  It's only that Major Food Group has set their own bar so very, very high, and the only thing that rivals that elevation here are the prices.   If Dirty French really is supposed to be an francophilic Carbone, les francaises have some catching up to do.

 180 Ludlow St, LES

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Nothing I could write here will be of surprise to anybody who knows anything about New York's dining scene.  Esca has remained a solid, reliable, iconic destination for a decade and a half.    Its pedigreed owners, the Batali-Batianich clan, must be as proud of Esca as any of its restaurants, as Chef Dave Pasternack continues the impeccable quality and responsible stewardship of the ocean's bounty like no other.  As The New York Times so eloquently stated,

Service is effortlessly suave, the room just the same.  A subdued elegance pervades- even the silverware is comfortable in hand.  Keeping it in the family, I chose a full-bodied Bastianich friuliano from the expansive tome of a wine list, which held up well with all the dishes we tried.  The menu options change substantially on a daily basis, due to seasonality, sustainability and fishmermen's luck, but it is vast enough that even picky eaters will easily find treasures.  

In fact, we were welcomed with a little amuse-bouche crostino, topped with creamy slurry of garlicky white beans- a hearty, flavorful mouthful, with nary a morsel from the sea at all.   That said, the focus is fish, and their menu opens with a expertly curated array of oysters and crudo, from which we chose a precious white salmon, naked but for a drizzle of heady olive oil and a solitary pink peppercorns.  A masterpiece of simplicity.  For my own part, however, I was lured back to land by the Verdure Miste, not your typical array of grilled veg, but a lusty compilation of meltingly, devastatingly
 tender organic carrots and beets, sunchokes and artichokes, potatoes and turnip, each more delicious than the next.  They were robustly salty, slathered with an unctuous sheep's milk ricotta and a tangle of bitter greens atop.   Strangely, the "salad" was more decadent and substantial on the palate than the fish, but each sang their own unique songs of  luxury.  

Entrees continued on the same successful path.   Our empties were dextrously whisked away and warm plates of more glorious delicacies from the sea arrived.  I don't mean that dismissively: there is a simultaneous simplicity and depth to the cooking at Esca.  A pristine filet  of flaky, snowy cod, its skin-side sauteed to a thin crisp of gold, like how a tiny silver of burgeoning crescent illumination coddles the soft, glowy whole of the moon.   It came with a pile of tender braised sunchokes, which lose some of their nuttiness in such thorough cooking, but take on a distinct sweetness and uncommon softness.  It was balanced by an engaging agro-dolce, which also enhanced the gentle sweetness of the cod.  Two primary components turned into a combination much greater than the sum of their 
parts.  Sgombro (Spanish mackerel) achieved a meaty firmness seared on the grill, its signature fishiness countered with a savory mix of earthy wild mushrooms and leeks.  Our only misstep may have been following our server's recommendation of a side dish of roasted broccoli instead of a less common option of braised artichokes... the broccoli was (again) over-cooked to edge of mushiness: perfectly fine, in and of itself, but somewhat repetitive after its two vegetable predecessors, and also, broccoli
 is significantly more common than artichokes on local menus... as well as in my own kitchen, so it seemed less special than the 'chokes.

In the end, we skipped dessert: although the options were all estimable, I'm sure.  Exemplary  renditions of traditional Italian desserts, although I actually don't mind going a little chi-chi on the sweet end of things, which is not at all what Esca is about.  Thus, a classic tiramisu, sheep's milk cheesecake, a chocolate-hazelnut torte- I'm sure all were exquisite sweets.  They did, in fact, look quite tempting as they made their way to other tables.   Actually, I felt a little loss after we decided against them, but then, fully sated by ever other aspect of our meal, that feeling evaporated quickly.  To that end, it's hard to leave Esca without feeling anything but completely and utterly satisfied.

402 W 43RD STREET, 
Tel: 212 564 7272

Thursday, February 5, 2015


You're probably pronouncing it wrong.  Tuome is the attempt to phonetically spell how Chef Thomas Chen's childhood nickname sounded to him: Tommy, in his parents heavily accented Chinese.  Tuome plays this out in real time, exhibiting the whimsical playfulness of a wide-eyed child brought up with equal influences Chinese and American by an extremely talented and capable chef.

The restaurant is pretty tiny; it will benefit from having GG's and Death & Co. right down the street, in terms of procuring foot traffic, since it's pushed pretty remotely over into Alphabet City.  But the raves it's been garnering on its own- and the fact that it backs them up with backflips and somersaults- should be enough to float it on its own.  They make use of every square inch of space: deep window sills are cushioned for seating and tables are... well, let's just say eavesdropping on your neighbor is a no-brainer.  But Tuome is attracting a respectable crowd, so hopefully their conversation is interesting.  If it's not, no matter.  Everything else has been paid so much attention, even the simple, matte-finish silverware is beautiful.  Rustic and uncluttered, the decor is simple as the food is complex
and profound.  The menu is contemporary American with dynamic Asian flourishes.  It's a perfect purgatory between low-brow and hi' falutin'; we began with a complimentary amuse of a warm squash soup, just several sips deep, but a luscious and soothing welcome.  It could have been a touch warmer, which was my only qualm with many of the dishes here.  My tablemate deduced that in working with such a small kitchen, most of the dishes were probably pre-fired, and then finished to order.  But they might kick up the re-fire a few notches, becaue some added heat could definitely improve many of the plates we tried.  Beets with quinoa and yogurt, cool on purpose, didn't require additional BTUs: it read like a spartan vegan cafe option, but tasted anything but.  Five-spice kicks up the yogurt, and the quinoa is toasted to such a nutty, roasty
 crunch you could mistake it for crushed almonds.  A sumptuous plate of savory, saucy mushrooms revel in sumptuous, umami-rich sauce enriched with by a wobbly poached egg.  Pierced, its golden yolk lubricates the wide, floppy ribbons of thin yubu that add dimension and chew, and amalgamate into the thick gravy over an abundance of diverse fungi- this is one of those dishes you'd go back for alone.

Actually, there's nothing I wouldn't go back for.  There're ballsier dishes on the menu like chicken liver mousse with maple and milk bread, and lots of potentially mysterious ingredients (karee, ong choi, something simply dubbed "porridge"), but that which we tried were prepared with such a deft hand, balancing oddity with convention to an a absolutely delicious end.  A delicately fried skate wing is by far the best plate I've had yet this year.  The crisp, golden exterior that Chen achieves is diaphanously light- it feels like a halo just encompassing the tender, ropey fish, making it even lighter with its addition.  That ong choi (apparently a  bok relative) gets sauteed and strewn across the top, but little nubs of roasted cauliflower fleck the periphery stole my attention, and my fork wanted to spend more time there.  I didn't need the marconas that jumped in there with rest, but it's also hard ever to argue with that lovely little nut.

Braised short ribs are precisely the way I would eat my meat always if I had my druthers.  Fork-tender, black as sin and rich as is bovinely possible, the shishito peppers which accompanied not quite making a ton of sense with the overly sweet mash of sweet potato, but the meat was distractingly good.   And I love shishitos, so I just  nibbled them as "appetizers", pairing bites of the meat, instead, with a few of the token mushrooms that were tucked in beside.

In addition to the menu's cold and hot small plates and big mains, a smattering of sides are on hand.  Brussels sprouts were charred almost beyond recognition: tasty, but they'd be better off keeping a few sprouts more intact in addition to the incinerated leaves to impart some vegetal heft.  Especially with the zesty XO sauce, grapes and porky bits that intensified them even further.   Similarly, Rice had no lack of heft.  This might be the densest, stickiest rendition of sticky rice ever, rich with duck fat and chinese sausage, slippery, big leaves of kale making a valiant but somewhat futile attempt to keep things from going over the edge.  But the springy cushion of chewy rice will pillow that fall, safely and deliciously.

The only option for dessert, not printed on any menu, was described by our server as some sort of beignet, served with some d.i.y. sauces that you can apply to taste.  These seemed a bit heavy to follow the substantial meal we had just consumed, so instead we ducked out for cocktails at Death & Co.  Because even though Tuome is worth a visit in its own right, when you're in Alphabet City (coming from most of wherever) you might as well hit two excellent birds with one stone.


536 east 5th street (between avenue a & b) new york, ny 10009

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


I still haven't resolved whether David Burke is ACTUALLY a part of this restaurant anymore.  A trusted source at insists he has pulled an Elvis, but his name remains prominently on all signage and webbage.  Now, I didn't expect him himself to be slinging hash on a blustery weeknight, necessarily, anyways, so it didn't surprise me to see a foreign toque helming the kitchen.  Executive Chef Adin Langille seemed to be confidently holding down the fort, so at any rate, it's in good hands of A chef, whether it's necessarily Burke at all any more remains a mystery.

Regardless, he made his imprint whether he's stuck around or not.  As it's a hotel restaurant, you make do with some immutable fundamentals, but the primary, graphic design smacks of typical Burke.  Industrial and striking, enameled red metal, shiny fixtures and dark exposed brick stand out, especially from our cozy vantage point nestled into a nook with prime view of the open kitchen.  It's a pretty bustling joint, a bit unfortunately from the busy hotel reception area, but the lively bar and full tables are energetic in a good way.

We were running pre-theatre, so we skipped out on apps., but the menu isn't really broken down into such delineations, anyways.  Things are grouped by the prominent feature into categories such as Mostly Veg, Fish and Meat.  So you could approach that in a few different ways, and there are frankly quite a few attractive options in every category.   At any rate, my scallops had an abundant rainbow beets and carrots- enough to practically qualify as a  salad, plus four plump scallops, seared to a nice crusty bronze.    They were zipped up with a bitey hit of fresh horseradish, countering the intense natural sweetness of the roots, making for a tasty pairing.  Angry Tacos gives you an options of octopus or rock shrimp as your protein, or you can choose both, which seems the obvious preference.  I'm not sure why the tacos were angry: they seemed perfectly content to me.  And not too spicy, which might have
accounted for the nomenclature, not even after generous dousings of the pico di gallo and chipotle aioli, although they had a nicely seasoned kick to them.    To make up for the absence of a first course, we took two sides, which given the menu format I'm not sure why they weren't syphoned into their proper categories like the rest of the dishes, as their $9 each price tag would easily elucidate their position.  Brussels sprouts were roasted tender (and I mean tender!) whereas I do like my vegs properly cooked behind that toothsome al dente, prime-nutrient retention stage, but these might've been just a smidge too soft.  But they were tasty, teamed up with tender chunks of apple for a novel touch.  Sauteed mushrooms were
 even better, significantly oily but really delicious, and a wide assortment of species to keep things interesting.

Food came out so quickly and efficiently that in the end, we would've easily had time for an app-entree-dessert arrangement, but at least we had the opportunity to enjoy a sweet relaxedly.  The sweet itself was less gratifying, but only in that it didn't quite live up to its description as I inferred: a pavlova, to me, has nothing to do with a crisp meringue biscuit topped with a grapefruit-Campari sorbet, planked over a glass of bright grapefruit juice with floating sections.  A refreshing finale, and one of which they are obviously proud (it is featured on their website, and truthfully, it's of striking construction), but it did nothing Pavlova-y for me, blatantly missing the signature crisp-creamy, fruit softness of the original.  But this name was more misleading than Burke's on the marquis.  If he has, in fact, left the building, the menu and philosophy are soundly enough implemented to continue the legacy without him.

At Archer Hotel /47 West 38th Street
(between 5th and 6th Avenues)
Phone: 212-302-3838