Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Sometimes a restaurant is more enjoyable while you are there than maybe it is in retrospect.  Such is the power of the brain, psychologically, so in that respect, Freud is befittingly named. They call it that because of Freud's theory that pleasure is most easily attained by oral gratification- i.e. stuffing your gob with delicious munchies.  It's really a lovely little restaurant in which to do so, dark, polished wood finishings and big plate glass windows at the entrance offer a nice balance of light and dark.  When the daylight ebbs, but still shines enough light in through the panes, it creates a magical
 effect.  Marble tabletops and glossy white tiles reflect flickery candle light, giving a touch of refinement humbled by mossy plants
and wobbly, elemental, and somewhat uncomfortable seating.  Which for some reason isn't off-putting- it just seems unfussy and simple.

Which is in large part the framework of the menu as well, Austrian, but lightened with a seasonal modernity.  Many of the dishes aren't quite what they'd seem, however- perhaps this is an intentional psychological ploy, but it doesn't always lead the diner to a satisfactory conclusion.  For example, crushed beets with whipped liptauer cheese is actually primarily just a cheesy spread tinged with a beet puree and a few more diced atop.  The crackers are thick, buttery rusks, salty and perfect with the creamy dip.  But if you wanted beets, you're basically getting crackers and cheese.  Similar situation with the Roasted Root Vegetable Salad, comprised mostly of winter squash that was either roasted skin-on so all its roastiness was peeled away, or else, the gourd
 was steamed, but it was that that was the prominent component of the salad, anyways, which isn't even a root.  Not the turnips that were furled into cones as garnish, or the few carrots stretched beneath.  Too bad, because those were the best part.  The squash itself was pasty, and the peanut vinaigrette far too acerbic: it almost stung in its bite.  Albacore tuna crudo, perhaps not particularly Austrian, was nudged in that direction with toasty pumpkin seeds and crispy wisps of sunchoke, the basil oil pooling beneath had such a touch of zesty heat.  Crunchy crystals of salt heightened the oceanic freshness of the plush slabs of fish.

 Scallops were a lovely choice as well, and at least their butternut squash was designated. The scallops were excellently browned, assertively enough to stand up to the meaty, lean morsels of
dense blood sausage, just gently minerally but not metallic.  By far the best part of the dish, however, were the buttery oak wood shittake mushrooms, halved and chewy.  I don't know if it
was this specific varietal  that they've found to be such an exceptional fungus, or how it was cooked, but a whole dish of these as a side would've bumped up my star rating of the whole restaurant... if I were one to dole out stars.   Speaking of stars, the best entree was luscious skirt steak with charred alliums and celeriac.  The savory meat jus pooled beneath would've improved every dish we had,
 and justly benefited this tender cut as well.  Plate-licking justified.  There's a Hemlock Hen on the menu that was tempting, but turns out it's just a roasted chicken: not there's anything wrong with that, especially well done as it appeared, but I was looking for a little more danger.

Luckily, even though we were headed to show nearby afterwards, there was time for dessert, and after gipping myself the caramel apple one at Gabriel Kreuther, I was NOT going to miss out on it this time, as apple strudel was one of the choices.  And it was wonderful, plump with thickly cut, caramelly sweet apples and chunky roasted walnuts ensconced in a delicate crust of buttery, flaky pate feuilletee dusted in powdered sugar.   Don't forget a coffee to pair with it- it's brewed rich and strong like the Viennese do so well,
and is an excellent complement to strudel.  With such a lovely entrance and a strong finish, Freud left me loving it a little more immediately than I did looking back at it in retrospect, but my overall impression still would lead me to recommend the restaurant.  So maybe I'm just overthinking things.

506 LaGuardia Place
New York, NY, US
Tel  212.777.0327

Saturday, March 26, 2016


In my experience, Mr. Donahue's wins the prize for smallest, full-service restaurant in New York.  (This is completely unverified.)  There are six available stools at the bar, and a tiny table near the front window that should seat two, is set to seat four, but has been used to accommodate five.  This is a stretch.  Or a squish, rather, but it's all part of the charm.  Those tables are set with paper doilies and vintage silverware, the shiny butter knives sharpened to steak-knife precision to serve double-duty, another unique way of adapting to the close
 quarters.  Mr. Donahue's doesn't take reservations, but Little Miss Follow the Chef doesn't wait in lines; she will, however, pull a blue hair, which is precisely the recommended plan of action if you want to partake of this little nook.  And you do, in fact, want to partake.  Basically a store front, I would guess the whole dining area is probably less than 200 square feet.  And like I stated above, maximum capacity is ten stomachs, so getting there for a five or five-thirty supper not only almost guarantees your seat, it guarantees that this succinct little gem might turn a few more tables, which is going to be crucial, conceivably, to keep it up and running.

The menu might be just every-so-slightly larger than the restaurant itself, but your choices are still relegated to five "Mains", that come with a choice of sauce and side.  Vegetarians, be damned: they are all animal protein.  That said, the sides offer a lot of interest (I suppose you could make up a meal of them if necessary), so cough up the extra $7 and try more than your allotted accompaniment: you're eating dinner at five o'clock, after all- you have plenty of time to digest.  Pickled beets are better as a starter, anyways.  They are assertively pickley and require both the generous dollop of milky goat cheese to cut the bite, as well as a little time before your main arrives to relax the pucker of your palate.  They get things off to a great start, though.  Another easy choice to make is your beverage.  The wine list consists of an entire four options: bubbly, white, red and beer.  So my white (Domaine Agnes et Renee Mosse Magic of Juju '14), as alluringly as it was named and described, didn't quite live up, making me wish I'd gone with the fizzy Gruner (Szigeti Gruner Veltliner Brut "11).  The red John Paul Dubost Gamay Brouilly '14 was smooth and drinkable. 

Lilliputian as this space is, I saw pretty much all the Main options even if I didn't get to taste them.  The Swedish meatballs smelled heavenly.  A repeat visit might be elicited by them.  Roast beef "Served Medium" looks rare to me, but is a significant piece of meat.  The Rotisserie Chicken was so magnificently tender it barely held on to the bones that supported it, rich and juicy.  Loved it with the Classic Gravy, but the Mushroom Marsala would be awesome with it as well... much better than with the Broiled Porgy,
 which got really sogged out by the brothy sauce.  Porgy isn't that sturdy to begin with, and the thin Marsala gave great flavor but basically dissolved it.  A thicker sauce, like Spicy Avocado, might be of a more cooperative consistency.  Regardless of what you order, though, don't skip the Jerk Mushrooms, tender buttons kissed with warming Jamaican spices- a little sweet, a little peppery, and a lot good.  The vegetable medley tripped me up a bit, because on the website that very same day, it featured chard, brussels and squash, but in practice it was chard, asparagus and purple
carrots.  With the brussels sprout carrot pulled out from under me, they set themselves up for disappointment, but these vegs still held a lot of appeal.  Each uniquely seasoned, a bit pickly or a bit spicy, all justly salty and worked in great synergy with any of the Mains and their Sauces.

And don't you dare leave without dessert.  While the root beer float is delightful in its nostalgia, it is the Banana Rum Pudding that Mr. Donahue would not let you escape without trying.   Mr. Donahue, by the way, is the owner's grandfather, or was, rather.  A New York city cop, Irish-born and married to Rose, whose namesake flowers adorn the restaurant.  Maybe it was her recipe, or a family favorite, but in any case, a simple little retro dessert I would normally look over is almost baffling wonderful.  The pudding itself is blissfully cool, dreamily creamy and profoundly fruity, better than any banana I've ever tasted.  And the banana slices that flank the glass coupe are just as good, bruleed with brown sugar and capped with a fluffy spiral of freshly whipped cream.  There is even a cherry on top, as if all of Mr. Donahue's itself wasn't already the cherry on top.

 203 Mott Street
tel  1.646.850.9480

Friday, March 18, 2016


Back Forty West's name  might be a little confusing if you're not familiar with the history.  Peter Hoffman, when he still had Savoy, opened a rustic little farm-to-table over in Alphabet City called Back Forty.  When he shuttered Savoy, he decided to create a sister for Back Forty in its location, technically west of the original but still on the east side of Manhattan's grid.  But the Back Forty part refers to the acreage of a farm that lays fallow or unused: it implies a little rural wildness.  It's a good name for a chef that is most notorious for peddling his bike through the Greenmarket, foraging for produce and inspiration.  But at Back Forty West, while the Greenmarket's influence is palpable,  I wish the food had been a little more inspired.

The dining room is very similar to how it was as Savoy.  Exposed brick and reclaimed wood prevail, and a hodge-podge of ingredient-centric photographs, painting and illustrations bedeck the walls.  The servers are dressed casually; you would not know them from the guests.  This is occasionally the case with the service itself, as they sometimes go a little absent when you might need something, although there are few problems to address in a restaurant that prides itself on being this simple.

The menu is pretty brief, and sometimes a featured seasonal ingredient makes multiple appearances, giving a sense of redundancy.  Winter squash currently performs as soup, salad and crostino, but 'tis the season for gourds, I suppose.  A beet salad sounded fresher, but in reality it was practically bereft of any beets whatsoever, sporting perhaps a tablespoon of golden variety in a tiny dice, completely obfuscated by a slew of grapefruit segments and few errant sprigs of mache.  I didn't want fruit salad for dinner: I never do.  It was doubly unfortunate because the salad was dressed in an alluring piney flavored vinaigrette which would've paired really nicely with  a good, deeply roasted beet... those that didn't exist.  I should've gone for a side dish of cauliflower caponata as a starter, which I wanted to try, anyways, but I ordered poorly.

As is de riguer for menus nowadays, the descriptions are minimal at best, but here at Back Forty they are not a simplistic ruse to belie the complexity of the actual dish: the actually illustrate exactly what you get.  Thus, an MP steak ($38) with mushrooms was simply that, a hulking hunk of beef over  slightly watery sauteed white buttons, tufted with a daub of pesto.  The meat actually lost a lot of its heft, however, when you lopped up the sizable fat cap flanking the cut, leaving the edible portion rather modest.  Plus, there're no starches on hand unless you order them aside, so plates can seem somewhat stark.  No bread on the table nor to order, either, which makes getting something from the For the Table section much more appealing, given its primarily starchy and/or snacky characteristics.  The size of the protein on the plate is large enough to fill you up, however, although I see an vicious brawl between Dan Barber and Chef Hoffman brewing
 imminently: these platings are not sustainable in a larger, eco-agricultural model.  But I consoled myself somewhat ordering Kentucky carp, both for my bravery in trying carp and also for helping contain the onslaught of the invasive species that is overcoming its new non-native habitat.  It's a nice fish- mild and meaty, leaving me to feel not nearly as daring as I initially imagined,  and it also appears a starter in the form of za'atar spiced Fish Ribs, which are very popular.... and perhaps more daring.  The waiter's description of their bony fattiness was slightly off-putting, however.   So I went with it as a main,  squiggled with a zesty mustard and stretched over a pile of salad greens seasoned with a small daub of caramelized sweet onion, and a lot of random, whole toasted walnut lying about.  I'm not sure what the nuts were meant to do, but they were freshly toasty and tasty as good walnuts are.  Aside from the walnuts, just a little lettuce and few confit
 onions adorned the plate, and they don't really qualify as adequate vegetable for me, so an excellent side dish of brussels sprouts, toasted with housemade BFW mustard and shallot, were more than welcome.  They were by far the best things we ate that night, and although I was the one who order them, my sticky-fingered tablemate couldn't keep her mitts off of them until they were gone, gone.

We weren't necessarily hungry for dessert so much as curious, and with three of us it was a good opportunity to share one just for tastes.  We agreed on the Tarte Tatin, which was ample enough for three beyond just tasting.  Back Forty's version uses quince and apple, which seemed appealing in concept but the quince was so starchy and riddles with offending bit of seed that it sucked all the life out of the apple, which was far superior- juicier, sweeter.  Sometimes it does not pay to mess with the original.  The crust was magnificent, though, a free-form disk that tasted just like my mom's stellar pie crusts (I regret to note of yore, as she rarely bakes anymore, much to my disdain), so it was a little tragic that they didn't just stick with apples and the milky lashings of cream.

Overall, I found Back Forty West just so-so.  I read better things about their brunch, which seems about right given the fundamentals of brunch, so if you're game for $17 eggs it might be a better choice.  Given the elemental nature of the food, it actually kind of seems like a farmer might be back there cooking, up from his own back forty. Surely Hoffman's presence is intermittent at best.   Good ingredients and seasonality?  Check.  Nuance and finesse?  Not so much.   Here, the name really does tell the story.

70 Prince St. @ Crosby St.
Telephone: (212) 219-8570

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


I guess I assumed the Gabriel Kreuther's uber-elegant dining establishment just north of Bryant Park would would be, given his roots, more Alsatian than it turns out.  Not that there's anything wrong with the upscale French cuisine that it features, but the luxury of the eponymous restaurant depends on typical, expensive ingredients: we're talking caviar, truffles, lobster- the usual suspects.  Preparations are indisputably solid, and the proportions of the menu, which is a four course prix-fixe for $115 or the Carte Blanche Chef's Menu at $195, perfectly executed, even as the four course turns out to be quite a bit more, what with the amuses and friandises bookending the meal.

The food is rich, decadent and pretty much everything you would expect from a restaurant of this caliber.  Which is perhaps my problem with it: my expectations for elevated Alsatian were obviated by modern, fancy French.  Lacking was the element of surprise, whereas even the broths and foams and accoutrements added a table seemed predictable.  Too, the fact that I keep writing using French terms reflects Kreuther's history with staging in France, and his debut in New York at La Caravelle and then working with Jean-Georges.  This food spoke little of Alsace, instead it boasts an obvious decadence, de riguer menu options requisite of "fine dining", such as those I stated above.  The first sections of the menu are raw fish and caviar, obviously little related to the rustic cuisine of Alsace.  I'd say I was projecting too much chef's
Cobia Sashimi
Sunchoke Veloute
 background onto my expectations of the restaurant except for the website reiterates my perception.
 That said, the execution of each thing we tried was truly stellar.  Perhaps the one cross-over attribute was the richness I would associate with the region.  One amuse floated a tiny balloon of robust cheese in a tiny pool of salty consomme, rich as any fondue minus the crouton.  But a cobia sashimi
sang a more lilting tune, bright with herbs and a touch of chili.   Perhaps a more Teutonic influence presents itself in the sunchoke veloute, its creamy earthiness augmented with the crunch of nutty puffed grains.  The truffles within were not profoundly flavored, but the hedgehog mushrooms picked up a bit of their slack.

Similarly, a course titled Perigord Black Truffle ($45 supplement) tasted more of butter and beans than truffles, although the thick black slices were visually evident.  Giant Tarbais beans anchored the bottom of a small glass vessel filled a table with a kohlrabi espuma that tasted little of the earthy turnip but almost exclusively of buttery fois gras.  For two dishes touting truffles, the iconic fungus had more impact on the bill than it did on the
flavors.  Alaskan King Crab legs also boasted a light dusting, but its predominant flavor was the fresh crustacean and its uni coulis, gently oceanic but rich with butter.  Celery root was ribboned out beneath to recall wide fettucine noodles, but the effect of raw root vegetables, even thinly sliced, clashed with the the rest.

Main courses are modestly portioned, in good keeping with a multi-course menu: not to big nor too small, just Goldilocks-right.   The ultra-premium 7X Colorado Wagyu defines decadence: the beef is almost preternaturally tender, although these ranchers pride themselves on sustainable husbandry.  It may be the cabernet jus that puts it over the top, anointing the meat and the accompanying steamed carrots with its lip-smacking richness, inky with umami and just a kiss of acidity.  A halibut entree featured a pillowy thick-cut filet, its snowy whiteness shrouded in a buttery riesling-cockle sauce.  Tiny shrimp flanked a creamy puree of celery root (SO much better cooked and mashed!) with two
welcome tufts of woodsy hen-of-the-woods mushrooms.  I say welcome because vegetables are in scarce company at Gabriel Kreuther: our menu choices basically maxed out the options from the garden, and still then only one of those could technically be considered vegetarian (and it may and probably did have a chicken stock component).  Vegetarians, never mind vegans, would have a tough if not impossible time here, unless the kitchen makes concessions upon request, as they do for food allergies and intolerances.  I would think that there could be a greater selection of vegetable options given the size of the menu, but in this sense, too, the format is classic and perhaps a little fusty.   Some of this is reflected in the clientele: the median age of the guests on the evening of my visit was probably around 65.  One thing that withstands the test of time, however, is the deftness of service.  It

is both gracious and accommodating, most every detail thought through thoroughly in advance, from a small hat rack upon which to hang my bag and coat (as I decided not to check them) to left-hand and right-hand specific silverware.  Nothing that I noticed was left to chance, and it imbues the experience with a true sense of pampering.

And speaking of pampering, desserts left nothing to be desired in that realm.   A diaphanous palate cleanser of refreshing citrus whisked the focus from savory to sweet, and as the four course format includes dessert, we each chose our own (rather than my normal m.o. of a shared finale).  They are playfully named: I chose Ethereal upon the recommendation of our
 server, although in retrospect I wish I would've chosen Classic, just to sate my ongoing longing for a hint of the German and Swiss influence on the region.  Caramelized apples with a cream seemed to fit that bill a little more than a slightly incongruous tropical panna cotta, or the Ethereal that I chose, comprised of a delicate tuile filled with almond mousseline, brightened with citrus sorbet and a tender ribbon of grapefruit leather.   To finish a decadent evening, the Decadent seemed an apt choice for a chocolate option, an architecturally appealing spike of chocolate, annihilated a table by a warm molten stream of fudginess poured with a sniper's precision from above. 

As these kinds of meals go, the sugary treats kept coming, from a delightfully sweet cheesecake macaron to a real dried out cacoa pod carved into a serving vessel for creamy, intense
housemade chocolate truffles.  The macaron may have been even too sweet, except for that it it appeared at the same time as did my extra-strong shot of Toby's Estate espresso, so the two accomplished a perfect pas de deux.  

In the end, it really was an exquisite meal.  My disappointment that stemmed from the lack of Germanic influence may have been overwrought, although still, the most Alsatian part of the night was the beautiful glass stork mobile suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the dining room.  The stork is a feature in many Alsatian fairy tales, and its prominence throughout the restaurant gives me hope that maybe it will impart a a more profound effect on the menu as the birds migrate north again come springtime. 

Friday, March 4, 2016


Glass jar lamps.  Love these.
Not all sandwich shops have a chef.  But chef Walter Momente is what sets Alidoro, which means "golden wings" apart, creating not mere sandwiches but bread-bound showcases of Italian finery. They source impeccable ingredients: hand-selecting the best loaves from several bakeries or importing superior Italian products for authenticity, like the stellar grilled artichokes that crown the Enzo.  Otherwise, they make it themselves, such as the supple sundried tomatoes, bright with the tang of summer, a sweet, mild eggplant caponata, and best, the addictive marinated hot peppers.  The latter are not merely spicy, they add a tangy, zesty vegetal note whose heat is both latent and evanescent: it begins to dissipate just in time for the next bite, leaving you wanting more and more.  That's  a good thing, because these sandwiches are BIG.   The Gregorio is an incendiary compilation of hotness, from the soppressata to the peppers and hot spread, just barely tamed by a milky layer of mozzarella.  The Romeo will woo you with smoked chicken so rosy and flavorful it'll make you rethink categorizing the poultry as a generic filler. 
The Bosco (salad)
Vegetarians can find solace in a pizza-evoking Monica, featuring meaty portobellos and ripe gorgonzola along with those tender sundried tomatoes.  The menu is long and might appear redundant, but slight variations of ingredients create vastly different outcomes.There are salads and a daily soup, too, and even a delicious nutella-cannoli cream filled homemade doughnut…. but it is the sandwiches who are are stars.  Topping out around $13, it might sound pricey for a hero, but you will be sated with just half and have the remainder to look forward to the next day.  And trust me, you will want more later. 


 The Romeo:  This one lives up to its name.  The chicken is thinly sliced, smoky and sweet and moist.  The semolina bread works especially well with this one with its toasty coating of sesame seeds. 

 The Enzo: I loved the artichoke on this guy but the Sfilatino bread was a little too sturdy for my tastes.  Better off with the Stirato.  In fact, this is the case on most of the sandwiches, I feel. 

 The Pinocchio: For meat lovers.  With both sopressata and prosciutto, this is a hefty hero, although the sweet peppers and fresh  mozzarella a little light.  The olive paste adds a pungent funk, so make sure you like olives.  

 The Monica: The combination of tangy gorgonzola with the umami of grilled portobellas and the toothsome house-made sundried tomatoes definitely conjure up a pizza-esque connotation.  The texture of the bread is perfectly balanced with the filling so when you bite down, the sandwich remains intact.  

The Gregorio:  Lip-smacking, fiery intensity the just makes you keep wanting more.  Every element packs a punch, from the soppressata to the hot peppers to the arugula, but the mozzarella keeps things under control.  Again, best with the Stirato bread.

The Laura: Focaccia (which was a little dry) split and spread with nutella and hot spread.  After The Gregorio, I didn't even detect the heat.  It was only upon the occasion for leftovers did it's profound heat appear to me.  It's a pretty fun little treat.  Hopefully you'll get fresher bread.

Bombolino filled with nutella-flavored cream.  It's a cannoli-esque creation, the filling flecks with bits of canditi and chocolate chips, like a Sicilian cannolo.  The dough is sweet and soft, dusted with just a bit of powdered sugar.  It's great.. even if a bit much to top off a substantial sandwich meal.