Friday, May 26, 2017

Eleven Reasons You Want the Met Dining Room to Open to the Public

1.  One might not think that the chef at a museum dining room would be the prime impetus to go, but at the Member's Only Dining Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Chef Fred Sabo inarguably is.  He is a hyper-talented Long Island native with an impressive global resume, which reflects the menu here.  My hopes is that soon enough everyone will be able to enjoy his food.

2.  The view:  the room itself is strikingly unnattractive, especially compared to the wealth of beauty housed beneath it.  But the view is spectacular, regardless of the weather, with large windows slanted skyward skirted by the plentiful treetops of Central Park.

3.  And then the most important bits, the food.   Grilled carrots with a granola of cashews, dukkah, and amaranth, zipped up with a verdant ramp relish for a crown of seasonality.

4.  A vegan leek potato soup so pretty it belonged downstairs.  

5.  A luscious frisbee of lemony tuna carpaccio which gets a spark from pickled fresno pepper.

6.  Mild spears of jumbo white asparagus with just a hint of char from the grill amplified by a smoked egg yolk in a creamy flounce beneath, and dotted with fresh, briny orbs of vibrant orange trout roe.

7.  Pan-seared local skate achieving an immaculate crispy bronze, plated with a salty herbed risotto loaded with meaty shrimp, summer squash and zesty green garlic.

8.  Blackened swordfish, meaty and dense with a bright lemon jam and those Russian roulette of peppers, the capricious shishitos.

9.  A meaty halibut filet (or scallops, or King salmon), seared golden a la plancha and served with farro and spaghetti squash, along with a trio of sauces to daub amongst as you fancy.

10.  A refreshingly sweet and savory tomato-watermelon gazpacho palate cleanser, simultaneously bright and robust.

11.  Any and all of the spectacular desserts by Randy Eastman, which fight for the honor of being more gorgeous or more delicious.  A strawberry-rhubarb tartlet sits aside a small scoop of milky gelato with an eggy custard below that marries the components like a trifle not to be trifled with.  A tangy lemon pudding sprinkled with lovely borage blossoms featured plumps saucy blueberries, bursting with jammy sweetness.  

So while my heart breaks that an institution so fundamental to this city should even have to consider opening up its doors to the public as a result of apparent financial duress, the fact that it might would
make its dining scene all that more glorious.

1000 Fifth Avenue                                                                 At this point, the phone number is irrelevant.

Friday, May 19, 2017


Lure may not be the see-and-be-seen hotspot it was when it first opened, but those who were drawn to it initially have become loyal customers, and the appeal of the outstanding seasonally seafood-centric cuisine and comfortably classy room still entice a savvy crowd.  Even with what must be some of the priciest real estate in the city, owner John MacDonald and chef Josh Capon have maintained Lure as a totally destination-worthy restaurant.

The stately room successfully channels the luxury and calm of a posh cruise liner, seductively moody and with more than a hint of swank.  For those of us who luxury travel is still a bit elusive, the transporting interior offers a fancy escape- at least as long as dinner lasts.   And that dinner will be excellent, the sea-centric menu includes all the expected classics of utmost quality, but ebbs seamlessly with modern tastes
and seasonal shifts.  Begin simply with a luscious deviled egg
with crunchy bits of onion in the creamy whipped yolk, crowned with a dollop of caviar for some seaworthy finesse.  Warm shrimp glazed with a tangy barbecue sauce flecked with a chiffonade of allium were so zesty and delicious I would've ordered them as an entree, if that would've presented itself as an option.

A lengthy portfolio of sushi, sashimi, oysters and rolls concede to purists, and three iterations of decadent Shellfish Plateaux (from $65 to $195) cater to the expense accounts.  There are creative salads, like a springy celebration of mixed greens with pickled rhubarb, its tang constrained with snowy goat cheese and a subtly sweet poppy seed vinaigrette.   Velvety leaves of butter lettuce and smooth avocado are  tossed with crunchy cucumber and radishes in a classic, smooth green goddess.  The requisite clam chowder is prepared  in the creamy New England style, lobster bisque is spiked with cognac, and the landlubber option
of white asparagus soup coddles green spears within the ivory puree, and a spritz of toasted garlic atop to enliven the gentle pabulum.

Entrees get more interesting in my opinion; I was having a seriously difficult time deciding, and it didn't help that my table mate decided on salmon, which is probably my least favorite fish.  But even it looked magnificent.  A thick filet's (they cook it according to your preference) rich coral color is bolstered by a bronze glaze of miso smattered with sesame, both black and white.  The accoutrements continue with the Asian theme, sugar snaps and shoots and chewy little mushrooms nestled beneath.  Most plate are noticeably starch-free- concessions to either the gluten averse or carbophobes, but
 scalloped potatoes or an excellent lobster mac and cheese are available as sides, along with an expansive selection of seasonally appropriate veggies like grilled asparagus with roasted shallots or more durable suspects like the requisite roasted cauliflower, here dusted with parmesan and chili, or king trumpets, crisp-edged and chewy.   More mushrooms find there way into an regallly bronzed filet of meaty halibut, these ones shiitake, and springy favas and spinach rival each other's greenness.  Pickly rhubarb atop confirm the season and add a nice snap against the mild beurre blanc pooling below.

My only misstep of the night was dining with a lovely, amiable, charming companion who, however, is not a dessert fan.  I was so close to ordering one to devour solo but none of the ones that were tempting me were very shelf-stable, and I didn't want any remainder to go to waste. But I should've  gotten that pineapple upside down cake, because I'm still thinking about: a hazelnut sponge with passionfruit sauce, or even less durable an Imperial Chai creme brûlée.  In a very uncharascteric moment  I decided to go with her uncondonable restraint and forewent dessert.... and still regret it.  Just another aspect of Lure's allure.... the desire to return.

142 Mercer st 
tel 1.212.431.7676 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Diversion/New Jersey: ANTIQUE BAR & BAKERY

Rocco Ancarola has attempted myriad New York City restaurants with varying degrees of success, but he seems to have finally found a formula that works, and perhaps the location has something to do with it.  In the heart of Hoboken, who's "Hobroken" nickname
 hardly holds any water anymore, he took over a 100 year old commercial bakery and spiffed it up into what has become a super popular eatery, with food good enough to hold up even in the city.  That comes from the chef: Paul Gerard, a native Broolynite that cut his teeth in New Orleans, an influence who's lustiness shows up throughout the mood and the food at Antique Bakery.

The bad mood I arrived with (completely unrelated to the restaurant) dissipated quickly upon arrival, almost as quickly as four fat arancini arrived to our table- bursting with molten mozzarella that stretched into salty, oozy strings from the chewy rice and bright green peas popping with vegetality.  Now unless you're sticking with a snacks-n-booze approach to the evening, one of these is more than enough to start things off with.  Since there are four, divide and conquer ,or risk killing your appetite.  Which is something you definitely don't want to do.  Really, the food is good enough here not to have to be in Hoboken- although the bawdy clientele might betray the address, and I could certainly do without the wolf-pack howls that erupt intermittently from the kitchen.  I'm assuming the latter is an energizing technique to keep up the staffs' enthusiasm, but it's not only alarming but a little silly.

Keep going though, and the menu has enough deliciousness to appease the cacophony.   Not above utilizing a spiralizer in kind, long, steam-tender ribbons of summer squash are given the carbonara treatment and piled into a mouth-watering heap of veggie "noodles" thick with a garlicky, pancetta-spiked, egg-enriched cheesy sauce.   Charred spears of asparagus loll across an oiled plank of toast slathered in creamy ricotta, brightened with delicate curls of lemon rind.  Dishes like these illustrate that vegetables are certainly not just an afterthought: even more

manageably-portioned side dishes like blackened beets with goat cheese topped with a verdant thatch of green onion, or richly roasted Brussels sprouts apples with bulwarks of pickled apple slices, are meticulously considered.

But thing are certainly not exclusively vegecentric.  A platter of Hot Oil shrimp can be order as an appetizer ($14) or entree ($27), depending on your party size, but just make sure your order enough that you get at least two or
 three for yourself: they're that good.  Herculean juicy specimens wallow in oil hot both in temperature and piquancy, the latter to which you can augment by adding more of the spicy rounds of chili festooned upon them.  Do not resist squeezing the charred lemons atop- they add both a wanted acidity and a smoky sweetness.  If you didn't already top out on toast, a crusty half baguette deftly sops up the oily juices to great effect.  Hundred years old or not, that old coal-fired oven certainly didn't age itself out, bringing a superlative char to herb-rubbed hangar steak, lusciously juicy and flavorful-
although if you're a sauce-ophile, you can add your choice of herb puree, bordelaise, green peppercorn, bread & butter, samoriglio, or romesco for an extra five bucks.  Good as those are, though, that meat doesnt really need 'em.

Desserts held the vibe of the kitchen: they are big, party-size, indulgent concoctions.  No way could one, or two, maybe even three sane people finish any one of these alone.  They'd be shareable amongst five or six, so in that respect, their $12-$20 price tags are justified.  Actually,
 their quality almost does that alone- these are some seriously yummy sweets.  A pan-sized blondie spans a good six inch diameter beneath a sort of dwarfed knob of vanilla ice cream drizzled in a fudgy, Magic Shell-ish coat.  It's richly brown-sugary, honestly one of the best
 brownie/blondies I've ever had, but it's just laughably too big unless you've enlisted the troops.   A creamy spumoni sundae riffs on the classic Italian flavors, showered in tiny chocolate chips and candied orange peel, and seemingly as bottomless as it is delicious. The real show-stopped might be the banana split, though, featuring the eponymous fruit just this side of ripe,  candied on the split side

with a caramelly glaze that emphasized the fruitiness a banana can exhibit when captured before any freckling occurs.  That freshness thrived against rich scoops of peanut butter ice cream, dense and nutty, impaled with crisp chocolate wafers. But the crowning glory was the swaths of gold leaf and edible rainbow-glitter that gave this childhood classic a bit of bling and swagger, not quite vaulting it into Unicorn territory but definitely taunting Instagrammability, gilding a lily that didn't need gilding but is all the more fun as a result.

So does Rocco finally have a keeper on his hands?  Oh, time will tell.  Even in Jersey there's the fickleness of landlords and the tempestuous loyalties of the foodie set.  But if Hoboken was my backyard, I'd definitely make myself a regular at Antique Bakery.

122 Willow Avenue
TEL.  (201) 683-7029