Friday, July 15, 2016


I'm having trouble thinking about how to start a review of Lincoln.  It's one of those places where there is nothing technically wrong, but somehow it lacks inspiration.  Situated in Lincoln Center, the hub of culture, ballet, art and performance in New York, it's an impressive address that wishes some of that creativity inspiration would translate over into the restaurant.  The price points are similarly impressive, and after having experienced the restaurant itself, I'm not sure it has quite enough bells and whistles to substantiate the cost on its own.  In conjunction with an outing to the ballet or opera, it could make for quite an iconically memorable New York City
night.  Chef Jonathan Benno certainly creates a worthy menu, and it is solidly executed.  But the service tends a bit scripted and contrived, leading to a sense of insincerity, even though they have every reason to be proud of their place of work.

The dining room features a enormous glass wall bolted with steel fixtures that overlooks the plaza, a dark wooden ceiling slopes from the opposite wall to meet it.  Seating is comfortable and plentiful: this is a very large restaurant, and it has a spacious and airy feel which adds to the luxury: ample elbow room is a precious commodity in this city.   The menu is vehemently seasonal: we began with the Insalata del
 Mercato, featuring many early summer garden headliners, bolstered with fat grains of chewy, nutty farro drizzled in an herby sesame puree.  It was neatly divided to share between me and my tablemate, although its diminutive portion made the halved plate look a little skimpy.  Bolder was the Sarde alla Griglia,
proportionately heavy on the summer squash, which was folded into thick, fat ribbons, but sardine was the main flavor component (as sardines tend to be), although even it was almost obliterated by a pungent smear of Calabrian chilis and garlicky olives.   Gamberetti Fritti wouldn't have been out of place at Red Lobster, their seasoned breading  too heavy, overwhelming the preciously fresh, fat shrimp ensconced within.  Lemony leaves of purslane and sweet slabs of pickled yellow
 tomato elevated the dish beyond chain restaurant territory, however, imparting a summery, modern element.

There are several Primi on offer, ranging from $26-$38, which is a lot of coin for pasta.  But many feature precious ingredients, so some of that might be justified.  I was a little put off that the "ravioli" we ordered wasn't technically ravioli but another pillowy pasta shape.  Actually, sort of a compartmentalized ravioli, I suppose, with a deuce of filling separated like quilting: half sweet Jersey corn and half rich summer truffle.  The rectangles were thickly doused in salty, rich brown butter enriched further with straciattella, and a smattering of brilliant emerald peas, which added a pleasant pop.  Bonus were several sauteed morel mushrooms, not mentioned on the menu, but highly appreciated.

For a main course, we both went seaward, choosing Ippoglosso (halibut) and Orata (daurade) from the six Secondi offered.  The halibut was actually the most expensive menu item, a whopping $46 for the fish, which might have been a touch overcooked.  It was suppose to be served with sugar snap peas, but actually arrived with green and yellow string beans, but true to description a plethora of nutty golden chanterelles as well.  The buttery almond-chamomile broth added an element of richness, which another might find it overly saline, but I like salty.  I consider it an indulgence at restaurants, sodium
 restrictions be damned.  The Orata was less impressive, a bit limpid in its somewhat generic white wine and lemon, but the fish itself was more deftly prepared, and I'm never going to complain much when there tender bulbs of poached fennel and earthy artichokes floating about.  There is also an ample selection of Verdure on the menu, creatively prepared and overzealously portioned.  I suppose they have to be, given the prices, but they aren't quite substantial enough (except maybe the Melanzane alla Parmigiana), I wouldn't think, to be treated as entrees (although at $18 to $22 apiece they nearly cost as much).  They're big enough to
serve as such, however.  The Funghi Trifolati was the best thing I ate all night, the edges of each impeccable 'shroom, from fluttery maitake to stately king oysters to to nutty shiitake, crisped and buttery.  I honestly could have subsisted on these as an entree had I expected such a generous allotment, and they were so wonderful so as to impart absolute satisfaction.

Desserts, for me, were wildly less gratifying.  We ordered what looked to be the most interesting options, but what arrived was both not interesting and certainly different than what I inferred from the menu descriptions.  I love a semifreddo for its diaphanous frothiness, but Lincoln's blood orange version verged on leaden, the plentiful pistachios within weighing it down even further, and the white chocolate yogurt drizzle presented a table hardened into waxy, saccharine castings atop.  The Bocca Nera didn't provide much appeal either.  Centered around a shiny parapet of glazed chocolate cake, it shared the plate with poached sour cherries, a scoop of
 chocolate-mint ice cream and walnuts both candied and creamed.  There was just too much going on- you can have chocolate and fruit, chocolate and mint, or chocolate and nuts... but not all three, all at once.  You'd be better off with a housemade gelati or sorbetti, or the savviest of all: just order a post-prandial coffee or digestivo, and enjoy the complimentary rainbow cake that accompanies, moist and fudgy.  Here, the diverse combination of flavors work.  Even the coffee
comes with its own pasticcino, a chewy layered caramelly almond bar far more pleasant than the composed desserts we tried.   Cut thirty dollars off your bill and walk away feeling a little less taxed and just as pampered.

142 West 65th Street at Lincoln Center

  Tel. 212.359.6500



Finding your way to Agern, tucked elusively behind a Nordic food court (also orchestrated by chef Claus Meyer), might be as esoteric as the menu itself.  Not to dissuade you, I wholly recommend this restaurant.  It's just that the new influx of Scandinavians on the culinary scene seem vigorously more interested in titillating and intriguing you than feeding you.  And in most cases, at no small fee.  The menu is accessible from three approaches: two tasting menus (an omnivoric Land + Sea or vegetarian Field + Forest), or a la carte.  Strangely, however, the prices to order in the latter manner are not listed (at least not on the lunch menu).  Our server, perhaps encouraging us towards a tasting menu, said he could bring the other menu, which included the prices, creating a situation both awkward and conspicuous.  Agern likes to do things its own way, so when I ordered an iced tea on that muggy summer afternoon, what arrived looked like a bloody mary, but was their special hibiscus-agave mocktail... which is NOT an iced tea.  Service here definitely needs some buffing, as sincerely as they do seem to be trying.  Also, while explaining the menu, he stated that he would inquire about any food allergies and aversions if we chose a tasting, but he never did.  Thus, when our first course arrived, a trio of Snacks, included was a raw oyster to which one of us (that would be me) at the table were averse.  To
 no tragic end, however, as an extra glistening raw oyster decorated with a tiny borage blossom was well appreciated by my tablemate.  I should've traded him for the little toadstool-shaped turnip concoction, its cap fashioned out of a thin slice of the vegetable and conjoined with a dollop of a remoulade-heavy turnip slaw, crisp and lusciously creamy.  The
 other was a tiny "taco" of raw kohlrabi filled with ever-so-gently cured fluke, delicate and decadent at the same time.  The flavors are superlative- there is a balance of sensations: of lightness and depth, complimentary textures, sweetness and bite that are simply magical.  But the Ikea aesthetic of simplicity and minimalism is running full throttle, where the complexity lies in the ideation and composition, but the finished product is pure and elemental.  So to is the decor; the tables are of pale wood, their imperfections highlighted as part of the design.  Spindly-legged chairs flank the bar, and more substantial ones of deeply stained wood surround the dining tables.

So we progressed to our first courses, again throwing our waiter a curveball and requesting a second course dish as an appetizer.  It seemed like and appetizer, anyways: a liquidy succotash of roasted and fermented corn studded with golden chantrelles and a puree of golden raspberries sounded extremely appealing, but hardly substantial enough for an entree.  Our waiter said he would ask the chef if this was possible, and in that he never returned with a denial of the request that was, in fact, approved .  So when it arrived, I had to wonder if the chef had downsized the dish in accordance with a demotion from a main, but he reassured us that no, that was the actual size of the dish regardless of when it was served.  Which was laughably small.  Ridiculously small/  Gorgeous as it was- a masterpiece in buttercup yellow glowing from a rough, gunmetal clay plate.  But if there was a half cup of food there I would be surprised, and as a main course, even a bird-like waif would have emerged hungry.  It was as delicious as it was tiny, though, each component of the dish sharing an attribute with another while retaining its own identity.
Sweetness, earthiness, a bit of tang, a nudge of butter: revolutionarily good.  A Salt and Ash baked beet played again with monochromatics, this time a study in crimson with huckleberries and beet juice staining the horseradish and frondy microgreens to a coordinating vermilion. Apparently there is a little more pomp at dinner, when the salty ashen crust is shattered a table and presented for two, but I was happy enough with the whole things for myself, superlatively beet-y, cool and earthy-sweet.  The compote of huckleberries and diced beet below imparted a bit of tang and the bite of horseradish, highlighting the humble attributes of the tuber itself.

In terms of size, I won again with my entree, a tender poached skate wing enshrouded in a thatch of julienned celery root and apple.  It created a nice fresh little topping but the treasure was the delicate skate below, pillowy in contrast to the crisp salad , smattered wioth  mild capers.   I think the leek component mentioned on the
 menu presented by enhancing the pleasantly saline broth beneath, swiftly elevating it beyond its spartan components.  A roasted guinea hen was a little spartan in its own right, although not at all in flavor but just its slightly meager portion.  There were translucent furls of nectarine for brightness and bold onions charred smoky to round out the plate, but the five small nuggets of poultry that anchor the dish seemed a bit skimpy.
  There are no side dishes offered, although one wonders if one could make another request to reformat any given dish as a supplementary course... or better, just come a little less hungry, and appreciate the masterful execution of Meyer's inspired creations, brought to life by Executive Head Chef Gunnar Gislasan, a robust and solid looking Icelander who has won that country's Restaurant of the Year for his innovative Dill every year since it opened in 2009.

One benefit of the modest portions at Agern is that you will easily have room for dessert(s).   The rhubarb with angelica and sorrel sorbet was disappointingly unrhubarby, but quite wonderful as a sweetly creamy deconstructed cake-and-ice-cream concoction.  The rhubarb was relegated to two raw shards as garnish, and a smidge of compote at the periphery of the creamy green orb of sorbet showered in a matching crumble of cake.  Another dessert, newly added to the menu, featured blueberries, fat and syrupy, coddled a scoop of lemon verbena ice cream- a very simply but refreshing little summer dessert.  They actually made nice
bedfellows, the two of them, where the rhubarb dessert benefited from the fruitiness of the blueberries, and the latter from the cakey crumbles and creamy ice cream.   These, and most everything, are adorned with precious little leaflets, sometimes adding a hint of lemon, or else mint, but always a thoughtful contribution to the overall flavor profile.  Attention to detail, in the food, is the overwhelming expertise of Agern.  One would hope that a little of this will translate over to the service as the restaurant matures, and that perhaps the attention to the fine points might expand to to include ensuring a greater sense of satisfaction overall.  And that might include filling the diner's belly along with his imagination.

Grand Central Terminal
89 East 42nd Street, New York, NY 10017
Telephone: 1-646-568-4018


For Parisians, "Paname" is the insider's nickname for their hometown, a telling indicator that this restaurant is intended for Francophiles in the know. Chef-owner Bernard Ros taps into the city’s casual bistro ethos, offering classic, reasonably-priced cuisine—
some traditional, and some invigorated with modern tweaks "pour le neighborhood,” he imparts on a recent night. Dinner is served in a white-clothed dining room trimmed with banquet tables, art deco mirrors and large, Erté-esque paintings. 

Absolutely everything on the menu is made in house except the crusty baguette, which comes from a trusted baker in Queens. You'll want it for the escargot ($10), which retain their signature garlicky punch but are ingeniously nuzzled into tiny hollowed-out potatoes, waxy and dense to amplify their buttery herbed pesto. Entrees are numerous, from pastas to proteins: a filet of market-price sole's light breading gives it a salty crunch of crust, with playful spritzes of sauce across white porcelains plates to add bright
flavors and colors alike. It reminded me instantaneously of my first meal in Paris: the nostalgia speaks volumes.  Scallopini swaps out the usual veal for slices of Niman Ranch pork ($22), tender enough to render a knife unnecessary and smothered in an umami-rich reduction of meat juices and mixed mushrooms.  A small bouquet of steamed vegetables accompany most dishes, but if you're vegephilic, you might want to start with a produce-centric option, such as the asparagus salad or the beets with chevre chantilly.  The asparagus are crisp and fresh, although the overall dish is a little lackluster.
 The beets, too, are fine examples, but their goat cheese could've been a little more chantilly-ed: it was basically just a little glob of goat cheese- a fairly ubiquitous combination.   Perhaps order a side dish of roughage... at only 4$!!! it's worth it even if they might not be anything to write home about.  Vegetables, perhaps, are not Paname's forte, but there are myriad other things on the menu that more than make up for this privation.

After the mains, a plate of pleasantly bitter little chocolates or a variety of biscuits might come complimentary, but don't let that dissuade you from ordering desserts ($10), all plated with flamboyant panache. There is just as much variety on the sweet end as in the savories: the molten chocolate cake and flourless chocolate torte are both classic, fudgy and decadent. A tarte tatin is the winner though, upending traditional proportions with a plump whole apple perched atop flaky pastry in a
 moat of rich, sugary-bronze housemade caramel. Even the seasonal sorbets are profoundly flavorful. It's a lucky spot to have if you're local to upper Midtown West, and even if not, well... it's a lot closer than Paris.


1068 2nd Avenue (bet. 56 & 57th Streets) 
tel  (212)207-3737

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Revisit: THE DUTCH

Five years later, there's been no lapse whatsoever in the quality of The Dutch.  If anything, I enjoyed this visit more than the last, which is a notable feat, especially given that Andrew Carmellini's expanding empire now includes nine eateries and has ventured into Miami, plus two cookbooks.  I was seated at a different table this time which gave me a prime vantage point into the open kitchen, where a very handsome set of chefs (none of them the boys noted at the bottom of the menu, A.C., Luke and Josh), but obviously a capable set of talent that flawlessly upholds their legacy.  Pretty easy on the yes, too... which never hurts.

But lest not handsome chefs distract from their handiwork: everything was as up to snuff as it ever was.  We sat down to a warm board of crusty sourdough and a mini-loaf of perfect cornbread... just sweet as summer corn but not sugary, a moist, knobby crumb and rampantly
corny. A simple crock of chilled snap peas played their textures in different forms: toothsome orbs, julienned shells and whole pods, their freshness emphasized by chewy, salty nubs of lamb bacon and
 a salty-sweet glaze.  Milky burrata paired with a relish of crushed cerignola olives so fresh they tasted not of olives but simply of green.  Kissed with lemon and spread on warm rusks make for simple, luscious open-faced delights.

Those appetizer courses are judiciously sized, fit for one plus a bite or two to share with a tablemate.  Entrees tend more generous: in fact, none of us could finish our, and certainly not for lack of enjoyment.  Roast chicken could have been listed "For Two".  Served in a cast-iron skillet and festooned with a thatch of dandelion leaves, the bird was deeply bronzed and lavished in a garlicky yogurt sauce studded with fava beans and kicked with Moroccan spices.  Black sea bass was a showcase of spring: gossamer
 furls of new rhubarb added the acidity normally imparted by decidedly non-locavore lemons, precious fiddleheads were abundantly strewn across a bed of lusciously waxy discs of brilliant purple potatoes, themselves alone worth ordering the dish for.   The menu is pretty big, there were two other fish entrees to choose from, another chicken preparation (their "famous" fried), a lamb and a pork, and three versions of beef, from which we choose a grilled hanger steak fashioned into a sort of deconstructed bibimbap, sided with a spicy kimchi fried rice crowned with a wobbly egg.   We got a side dish of "Bang
 bang" portabellos just for the fun of it, and they were well-grilled with a good zip of heat, a handsome flourish a microgreens atop,but not particularly exciting beyond that. 

But perhaps they were saving the exciting for the desserts, which I had been saving room for all evening.  Both prior visits  deprived me of pie: the first time, A.C. sent out a lemon tart and a piece of chocolate cake, leaving no room for pie (if there exists such a state), and the second time a prior postprandial engagement cut us off short.  So this time, there was no avoiding it: a gorgeous, fat slice of blueberry with a creamy ricotta ice cream drizzled with lemon-thyme syrup.  Blueberry is not my favorite pie, but this one was plump with big, juicy beauties, no hint of gumminess and an exceptionally thin, flaky buttery crust that showcased the buxom fruit.  A pie worth waiting for, for certain, and a restaurant that warrants repeat visits.


Okay, this is very subjective an non-comprehensive.  This massive show is so vast you could never sift your way through all the misos and matchas, salts and sausages, chocolates and challahs to even make a dent in assessing all those on display.   But here are some highlights from what I experienced, in no order.

1.  In addition to the charmingly clever name of the company ("We eat" in Italianglish, but also it sticks that little "ti amo" onto the end), these mild, sundried chilies are addictively good.  They are so light and crisp they basically dissolve on the tongue, snacky as a potato chip but virtuous without frying or salt, plus a font of vegetable goodness.  Strangely enough, however, I couldn't find them for purchase on their website, so maybe they're a good thing yet to come.  In the meantime, you could partake in one of their lovingly curated Italian food boxes delivered straight to your door.  You can go low-risk with just a one month box  ($59), or commit to six months at $54 per box).  So yeah, they're not cheap, but they're filled with premium goodies like an artisanal hazelnut cake, numerous varieties of Torrone Piemontese, and precious olive oils varietals.  And who knows?  Maybe in due time, those dried peppers will arrive in your subscription box.

2.  Perfect Pie.  Need I say more?  Made from The Crustmaster Bill Yosses (dubbed so by POTUS Obama himself when he was the pastry chef at the White House), these pies, both sweet and savory, are everything you have ever desired in pie.  Savory truffled chicken pot pie balances humility and decadence all baked in a buttery latticework crust.  Piefruit pie (otherwise known as rhubarb) is my absolute favorite, but I could nor would shake no stick at the homey apple, the fruit sweetened just to amplify it.  Presidential, indeed. 

2.  arteasan White Tea is flavored with mango, holy basil and chamomile, but it is the passion flower that comes through along with the smooth, mellowness of the tea.  Whether it actually reduces stress and anxiety medicinally is probably scientifically unproven, but a few sips of the tea itself had me lapsing into such a pleasant, comfortable ease that I wouldn't argue against the point.  Clean, pure and refreshing practically non-caloric beverage (just ten calories for the entire bottle).

3.  Off the Cob Chips are off-the-charts corny!!  Seriously amplified corn taste in a crunchy chip, because they use non-GMO sweet corn with just a sprinkle of sea salt, these would be excellent vehicle for just about any chip-friendly salsa or dip, but I can't imagine a better one for eating brand-shucked naked.  I mean the chip, naked.  I mean the chip without any adornment... it's up to you whether you want to wear clothes or not when you eat them.

3.  Somebody's Mother's Chocolate Sauce's caramel sauce is gonna make you wish that somebody was you.  This stuff is so good you could eat it like pudding.  Rich and caramelly, I could see dipping apple slices or pretzel sticks, or getting way fancier by layering it in a millefeuille or some sort of trifle.  Added bonus that the website mashes up the letters of the name so "smothers" comes into the conversation.  Smother pretty much anything in this and mothers all over world will be proud.  "Naturally rich.  Velvety.  Perfect as a topping.  Cold. Or hot.  Especially good in the middle of the night."  Precisely.

"Pop!" goes the Boba.
4.  Bossen Bursting Boba are delightfully buoyant little pearls of juice, encapsulated in a seaweed-extract bubble that keeps them afloat in juicy fruit syrup.  Like the tapioca beads in bubble tea, but much lighter and not at all chewy, they burst fruitiness into your mouth or whatever they're festooned upon.  Each "boba" has just a single calorie, the individual portion-sized cups are only 30 calories, so they're as guilt-free as they are fun to eat.  The kiwi and blueberry were my favorite flavors.

5.  Admittedly partial to all things Oregon, this Honey Mustard Dressing from Pure Wild Oregon is profoundly good (as well as ANYTHING they do with marionberries).  Sweet and tangy with a kick of mustardy heat, it'd make fetching bedfellows with anything from crudites to a char-grilled frank.  Beaver Brand might be more famous for their horseradish mustards, but this one I find far superior.  Pure Wild Oregon

6.  Super yum for this flavor of Graeter's Ice Cream.  Personally, I like my ice cream with "stuff" in it... chunks and swirls and gobs- anything to contrast with the luscious creaminess of a good, custardy ice cream (as is Graeter's).  All their other flavors never wowed me.  The chips of chocolate too brittle, the others good, but plain.  But then in swoops Cheese Crown, a thick cheesecake ice cream tumbled with cinnamon-sugar hunks of danish and melting flakes of fondant icing.  Ben & Jerry, watch yer back.   Graeter's Ice Cream

7.  I try never to drink my calories: I'd much rather eat them.  So sugar-free sodas, unsweetened iced tea and coffee, flavored seltzer are my usually go-to (non-alcoholic) tipples of choice.  But I'll have to make an exception now for Cawston Press's Rhubarb soda.  It's ridiculously tangy and pert with 12% pure rhubarb juice, sweetened with fresh pressed apple juice and sugar.  I mean, since you can't drink pie, this the most refreshing and titillating rendition of rhubarb imaginable.  Cawston Press

8.  I'm not a big kombucha fan.  I usually find it either a little raw-alcohol tasting or too vinegary.  Revive Kombucha turns that on its head, though.  The Revive brand is almost annoyingly healthy: organic, vegan and raw to add to the the inherent healthfulness of kombucha to begin with.  The winner of their line, though, is Ascend, a Vitamin-C boosted white tea blend with added Lysine for its cleansing properties, probiotics to boost immunity and assist in digestion, and a sugar content that is ultra-low to boot.  It is remarkably
 smooth, less "zingy" than most kombuchas I've tried, and purely invigorating. They were serving it on tap a the Show, otherwise I would've shlepped home a case.  A case of their bottles, that is, which they reuse and recycle in a Bottle Exchange program that has salvaged 75% of their bottles distributed in the past five years.  Drink this and save the world.  Revive Kombucha

9.   Sue me for my passion for brussels sprouts, but these are the BOMB.  Spicy and pickly and downright addictive, Divina brand's Spicy Pickled Brussels Sprouts are a virtuous treat, perfect appetizer-type snacky vegs that would pair so well with a
 cheese or charcuterie board, and add a novel touch at the same time.  They are, unfortunately, only available wholesale by the case.  But maybe if word gets out, they start 'em up for retail.   Food Match/Divina

10.  Marco Canora isn't always there for you.  In case of an emergency (recipe- or cold-annihilating-wise), you're good with Nona Lim's Vietnamese Pho Bone Broth.  This stuff would make an excellent cooking base, but is delightfully nourishing and delicious on its own as a soup or beverage.  Like Marco's, there're no additives or preservatives- it's all made from homemade stocks of fresh and local produce and ingredients.  Nona Lim.

And as an honorable mention, I cannot leave out Big Fork Brands pork and uncured bacon sausages.  Problem is, I wasn't paying enough attention at the moment I sampled it, and I don't know which one I liked the best.... but I DEFinitely had a preference, and I kind of think it wasn't the Award Winning Hickory & Applewood smoked version (although it could've been), but the flavor profile made me think it might've been the Cracked Pepper one.  Regardless, I think I can pretty safely recommend any and all of these dogs.  Nitrate, nitrite, MSG, preservative, hormone and antibiotic free,  they leave out all the bad stuff and pack in as much porky goodness as absolutely possible.  Big Fork Brands