Friday, March 31, 2017


Queens is so far.   (I might be being lazy.)  But Greek food... great Greek food- has been elusive to me in Manhattan.  Milos is a price gouge, totally overrated even taking price out of the equation.  My meal at Pylos was just plain bad, and Periyali was ho-hum at best.  My finest experiences had been via Michael Psilakis, but the one I loved the best (Anthos, now closed) was more upscale Greek-influenced, and his Tavernas now are just as far as the lauded places in the bastion of Greek dining, the aforementioned Queens.  So when I learned that the esteemed Taverna Kyclades had a location in the East Village (and has, for three years now!  Where have I been?), a visit was paid that very night, 'cause like I said, Queens is FAR.  (Or whatever.)

The E.V. location is small - small, crowded and noisy.  Simple design and a white-washed color scheme function to open up the space as much as possible, but they are packing up as many diners per square foot as they possibly can, which makes for a somewhat obstreperous atmosphere.  But even in cramped quarters, the quality lacks for nothing, and when the food is good enough, a lack of elbow room imparts a family-style appeal that is conducive to the simple, sincere menu.

Starting off with a Greek salad is a great decision, chunky, crisp cukes and surprisingly flavorful tomatoes for March features a honking slab of creamy, crumbly herb-flecked feta, doused with a slug of grassy olive oil and a few grinds of salt and pepper was all it needed.  Oh, it's plonked with just enough briny black olives to add a little funk, but I'm not an olive fan to my tablemate capitalized on both of our shares.

Do not miss the octopus, two fat tentacles tender and juicy, with a robustly smoky char.  A liberal squeeze of lemon unleashes the fest flavor, and although plates here are primarily intended for spring, I honestly wonder if I couldn't have finished the whole thing solo had I not been anticipating sampling some more of the menu still to come.  Like a side of Horta, deemed dandelion greens by the menu, server, and my dining companion, but girl knows her greens!!  And that was chard.  Which is really neither here nor there , but one should get their veggies straight.  (Plus, I like being right.). It's a big plate of roughage, though, probably enough for three or four, even as voraciously as I consume plant matter.  Sauteed tender waith and allium punch and just a subtle brace of acidity, they actually paired
 swimmingly with some leftover feta from the salad.   Couple of slices of the soft grilled bread provided with some Horta plus feta would make a fine lunch.

Just a curiosity more than a hunger inspired one more dish, which is pretty phenomenal considering that octopus was an appetizer, plus the Horta a side: you're getting a lot of bang for your buck.  I mean, it's not cheap: that octo-ppetizer is almost $25.  But with the enormity of the dishes, we could've easily gotten out of there at just over sixty bucks for the two us, with a nice little glass of house wine to boot.  But explorers are we, and the recommended stuffed clams were a great addition. Don't dive right into this when served or you'll take off a layer from the roof of your mouth, but sprit with lemon and enjoy the buttery, garlicky oceanic perfume before indulging in the sumptuous little bite-on-the-half-shell.  They're stuffed generously enough to almost require two bites, but there's no need for daintiness here: go ahead and wolf it.  There are all
 the fresh fish of the day options as well, priced in that typical by-the-pound whole-fish method, which can get pricier.  But you needn't go that route to have a fantastic repast, although the fish is as fresh as this city could ever provide and the kitchen cooks it expertly to your specifications, served with a choice of horta, beets, french fries, rice, or lemon potatoes.

The menu doesn't mention dessert, but order a coffee or ouzo to finish, and out comes a cinnamon-dusted custard, delicately crusted in a gossamer layer of filo.  It's creamy and cool, reminiscent of a light flan or rice-less rice pudding, and not too sweet.

If the original Kyclades in Queens is any better, I'd be happy, now in the know, to make the cross-borough commute.  But if they're comparable as I'm thinking they probably are, I'm happy to save my next swipe to go visit chef Psilakis.

 228 First Avenue
tel. (212)432-0011

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


As if we needed additional proof that FiDi is the new MePa, a reasonable-hour table at Augustine is as hard to get as buzzy openings in more trafficked names.  Procuring a 7:30pm for two required a little help from a friend, but even with that connection we weren't seated 'til nearly eight, apologetic as the host was.  At first, it wasn't an issue: the front room is decorated in typical McNally brasserie style, big chandeliers and warm-hued lighting.  And pretty as they are, those flower-motif tiled walls bounce your noise and everyone else's around like a forcibly thrown
 Superball in confined quarters.  Which didn't make the half an hour long wait for our table any more pleasant, but the complimentary champagne we received upon finally being seated certainly did... although it would've been more appreciated had it been offered to sip on as we anxiously hawk-eyed which table might possibly be ours, once our dallying predecessors decided to finally pack up.  Additionally, this was not the only service snafu: lapses are pretty long between courses, and I was on the verge of canceling the coffee that was served well after dessert (which I actually wished they hadn't brought, because it was unpleasant and watery, and most of the tarte with which I had planned to enjoy it was already gone).

That said, the staff is very attractive and restaurant is absolutely lovely.  Each tile panel is etched with a different botanical specimen... I was having fun identifying peonies and poppies, snapdragons and delphinium until our food arrived (which didn't take long since we basically pre-ordered waiting for our table).  The wait staff is charming and efficient- they don ankle-length white aprons, which end a certain formality, and even though the tablecloths are white they are covered in sheets of white butcher paper, mitigating any excessive formality.

After a delightfully dainty gougere stuffed with caviar and ham, we started with appetizers on opposite ends of the spectrum, one which was hard to even really qualify as an appetizer.  The roasted bone marrow features a Jolly Roger arrangement of two enormous split
 bones and surfboard-sized grilled toast upon which to spread it.  Squeeze cloves from the whole head of soft, often-roasted garlic to amplify that savoriness even more, and then finish off daubs of oxtail ragout which accompany it in its own little crock.  How this is not a main course I'm not sure, but perhaps it is simply because of the traditional categorization of marrow.  The price and the caloric impact certainly vault it into main course territory, at $31 and who knows how many gazillion kilocalories.  That said, if that oxtail ragout DOES evolve into a main course, a return visit to Augustine will be timed accordingly.  Alternatively, a simple salad of Boston lettuce looks almost
undressed, but harbors an unexpected complexity, the crispy, silky leaves magically salty and flavorful, and trounced with supremely nutty sunflower seeds, their dark green sprouts and a delicate julienne of mild radish.  If you're lucky enough to visit Augustine with a group, Le Petit Aioli is a ultimate treat, although it is in no way petit.  A tower of lobster, mussels and tiger shrimp is accompanied by colorful crudités and a rich garlic aioli for dipping.

Speaking of dipping, don't miss daubing morsels from the excellently fresh bread basket in the verdant, saline olive oil zipped with potent bits of chili flake (I need to find out what the olive oil is!). This was that elusive kind of wonderful fragrant evo that they serve in restaurants and I can never find retail.  It's extraordinary, as if the bread wasn't good enough on its own.  Onto main courses, the excellence continues.  The menu is rather large, offering seven Entrees plus a simply grilled fish of the day, plus Rotisserie and Grillade options, and Plat du Jour, which ends up being a lot to choose from.     I went for Atlantic cod although I prefer Alaskan,  but this pillowy filet was wonderful, atop a pile of meltingly tender cabbage and leeks perfumed with winter truffle.  Small, halved marbled potatoes were roasted so deeply that their exterior achieved a buttery, crusty chew, adding a hearty decadence to the dish.
  My tablemate had had his heart set on  duck a l'orange for oh, like, a year now, so that one was similarly a no-brainer.  The duck, a breast and leg, was rich and tender, gently sweet with marmalade,  but the best part was a saucy jus pooled beneath that I couldn't keep my spoon out of even though it happened to not be on my plate.  It was studded with tender-crisp turnips, which were slightly bitter and earthy, a perfect foil for the meat.  A small parcel of confited duck meat came wrapped up in pate feuilletee, like an edible added-value gift, as if the duck itself was not fine enough on its own.  My only
 disparagement was with a side of grilled broccolini, which despite its attractive emerald color, tasted repellently of propane.  It was edible, but just barely, and if I wasn't such a vegetable fanatic I would have left it untouched.  It was pretty miserable, and so not in keeping with the rest of the evening.

That was NOT the case with our grand finale, an apple Tarte Tatin that was anything but classic but perhaps the best rendition of this dessert I have ever had.  The apple was sliced into ribbons and tightly furled into a chewy, caramelized crust, so rich and buttery that in comparison the salted caramel ice cream seemed light and refreshing.  The apple was rich and fruity, tender yet slightly chewy: whoever is doing pastry is a master of caramelization, and they have me under their spell.  While all the dishes here were outstanding (aside from that noxious broccolini), this tarte was unforgettable.  Which is a nice finale for this post, since the night I met Augustine's chef, Shane McBride, was similarly unprecedented and indelible, and one of the crucial moments that sparked my passion for the industry.  It's great to see he still has his touch.... and then some.

5 Beeckman Street
tel.  1.212.375.0010

Monday, March 6, 2017


Parm started out as a storefront sandwich shop on Mulberry Street, taking over the original (now defunct) Torrisi Italian Specialties address with a shiny deli case of day’s-worth-of-calories kind of sandwiches on your choice of sweet semolina or sesame roll.  It has since expanded to include two other locations in the city, approximately equidistant from the original, as well as rounding the menu out with platters, sides and dessert, all with the signature hearty, Italian-American theme.  The two newer outposts have broader menus, but offer the impressive sandwich selection as well.  There are no red-checked tablecloths, but the tables are linoleum, the soundtrack from the 80’s and decor from the late 50’s. 
 Bring a serious appetite but a casual attitude…. and some mints.  Garlic pervades and olive oil in anointed with wild abandon.  Some of the most popular dishes are an enormous Chicken Dinner, featuring chicken parm and spicy rotini: enough for three.  Baked ziti is another favorite, as are their San Gennaro-style Chinese ribs, showing there’s no attempt to play this off as “authentic” Italian- like their sister restaurants, Major Food Group is never afraid to show off a little kitsch.

A good shareable starter are the Artichokes Casino, which are a distant relative to clams of a similar preparation.  Here, four plump bottoms are stuffed with pork sausage a bacon, a riot of garlic and a good kick of heat.  Two are ample per person, unlike Mario's recipe meatballs, which I can't imagine downing more than one as an appetizer, so the three that arrive might leave at least one to sandwich for lunch the next day.  There are salads, too: a pretty classic Classic Caesar, or more popular, the Arugula salad with sweet chewy figs and a hefty grating of parmesan.  

Pastas are more Italian in nomenclature than size... this are no primi-portioned penne.  Good thing noodles make great leftovers, or else a very economical meal to split one, adding a side or salad.   'Cause despite it's very low-key sensibility, dinner at Parm can still get spendy if you're not at least a little cautious.  Caution, an action that is thrown to the wind in the preparation of of a hearty Fusilli Bolognese, featuring massive corkscrewed pasta and a meaty-tasting sauce (although not that much actual meat).  A cool plop of milky ricotta tamps the subtle heat of the sugo, making the best bites dug deep from below to get more of the bolognese which can get a little lost in all that cheese.

If you do want to go lighter on a main course, there is a respectable roasted half chicken, or a whole orata, grilled and sluiced with an herby salsa verde.  For even more green, add a super garlicky side of lightly sautéed broccoli.  Alternatively, hearty renditions of Italian-ish dishes like pork Milanese or a magnificent eggplant parm stratified into ten luscious layers.  At this location as well as the Battery Park City one, the only sandwich offering is the Randy Levine, a seeded roll stuffed with char-siu-style pork served with a haystack of Italian-herbed fries, skinny as the trousers on a well-dressed uomo.  But there is a full array of sandwich options in a retro glass deli case at the entry, the equivalent selection at the Parm on Mulberry that started it all.  They can make these to serve to your table upon request, or else pick one up for lunch tomorrow, if you're not already overburdened with leftovers.

There is one dessert to close out with.  Well, two flavors of one dessert: ice cream cake comes in either S'Mores or Neopolitan, iced with a sugary frosting and a festive shroud of rainbow sprinkles.  These aren't printed on the menu, so their $16 dollar price tag might come as a surprise.  Granted, it's a slice big enough to share between two or three people, but at the same time, you can buy a whole ice cream cake for that same amount, and this one, despite its celebratory appeal, isn't much, if any, better.  Probably you won't need-need dessert anyways, if you experienced Parm the same way I didn't, so snag a melty mint from the register on the way out and save the $16 better spent on an excellent meatball sammy for a later day when your fullness dissipates, and you need a little reminder of how yummy was Parm.

 235 Columbus
 tel.  1.212.776.4921