Tuesday, May 29, 2018


This new outpost of Happy Cooking's group was named after the owner, Gabe Stulman's, youngest son. Apparently he is not thrilled with the eponym (how can one ever predict what a toddler might approve of), but if it weren't probably a fairly convoluted procedure, they'd be welcome to call it Deborah and The Whale, for I was and am absolutely smitten with the joint.

The dining room itself is an interesting conglomeration of subdivisions by bookcase and banquette, creating myriad novelties to admire while waiting to order, or after you have.  Dining at the bar, our server most certainly needed a little warming up (bad day, perhaps?) but as soon as he did there really wasn't a single blip throughout the evening's course of events.  Sitting at the bar affords you a great view of the kitchen, as it's just right off the the left of it.  You will not, however, be able to appreciate as much the hodgepodge of action figures, miniature cacti, books and other tchotchkes that fill the cubicles.  If you're smart enough to order too much food, apparently one of these toys might serve as a reminder and receipt that your leftovers are waiting for you in coatcheck.

As to the too much food you should order, starting off with the smoked mussels are a good way to start killing that appetite.  They're especially cute, too, served in a small glass jar alongside a dollop of creme fraiche and a quartet of sturdy wheaten crackers.  They're too small in portion to do much damage, but they are meaty ones and robustly flavorful, so a nice punchy way to start things off.
  Heftier options would be a mini-sandwich of ham and cheese served with gribiche, or country-fried liver and onions.  On the lighter side there a couple of salads, but more interesting is an ultimately springy bowl of English peas, studded with sweet poached red shrimp and chewy nuggets of lard, and apparently a kiss of mint but I don't really much recall detecting much of that.  It's wonderfully green enough, though, without it.  Big enough, almost, to serve as a main, too, if you're not tremendously hungry.  But as good as that is, and the dish I'll be remembering for some time is the grilled asparagus with rye crumbles, farm egg and choron sauce.
  I don't know why restaurants use "farm egg," as if there were some other source, but I here I would trust that the farm is reputable and the egg pure and clean, 'cause that's how these boys roll.  If I could nitpick anything about this dish, it would be that there might have been a little too much of the rye crumbs, or that they were a little coarse.  And the yolk of that farm egg was cooked a little too firm to runneth over the spears. but the sauce below swooped in to to provide some lubrication, and the combination of elements was absolutely superb - enough to re-order even with the (very, very negligible) flaws.

c/o Mike T. on Yelp
There were a bunch of fish sandwiches coming and going through the pass- this is probably the most ordered item, and for good reason.  It's a crunchy filet of fresh, mild fish slathered with dijonaise and a messy wad of coleslaw, probably not really sophisticated enough for a dinner entree but Simon is playing by its own rules.  And plus, its more than delicious enough to qualify.  I was a little less impressed with the seafood option I chose: a kind of
puny filet of sea bream sided with a platter full of cannelloni beans.  While the braised octopus and artichokes were listed before the beans on the menu, they were definitely NOT a larger portion of the dish, and the most prominent flavor was that of olives.  Any artichoke at all was absolutely obfuscated by the saucy beans, and the fish and octopus ended up seeming like an
c/o Molly C. on Yelp
afterthought.  Shell steak was better, strewn with delectable charred ramps, and a rich Yorkshire pudding pungent with Stilton.  This might've been a better winter entree, though, so from what we ordered and what you should order, there's a reason the fish sandwich, pork collar Milanese and the roast chicken are getting all the press.  A side of broccoli rabe was too anchovy-y for my tastes, too, but if those briny little devils are your thing- knock yourself out. Plus, the pickled rings of red onion atop help knock some of that out.

So yeah, our smaller plates were exponentially more successful than our entrees, but this was all erased from the slate as soon as dessert arrived.  I haven't been more impressed with two desserts on one occasion in a LONG time, if ever.  First, there was a Rhubarb and Camomile Cake, something full of components I would typically order.  Loving rhubarb as I do, it's astounding to avow that the most compelling aspect of this dessert was not the sweet-tangy fruit (okay okay I know it's not a fruit) compote but the spectacular, dense and luscious beeswax ice cream.   But the real show-stopper was the humbly titled Brown Butter and Rye Pudding, a dish I had seen on the website and mistakenly took for uni on a bed of ice.  Instead it turned out to be a louche fried pear, halved and lolling atop a spiced rye pudding surrounded by a haunting pine-scented ice, fluffy as clouds and rife with the perfume of fragrant pine
 needles on a damp forest floor, dappled with sunshine.  This was a brilliant culmination of imagination, nostalgia, and modernity and an absolute must for as long as it stays on the menu, which should maybe be forever- which is as long as I hope Simon and The Whale sticks around.   They say once you become a recognizable regular at a Happy Cooking resto, they might greet you with applause.  I look forward to that day.

 The Freehand New York  
23 Lexington Avenue

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


My hopes were high, both for Chef Riad Nasr's reputation and the recommendation from a very trustworthy source, but Frenchette failed me, for the most part.   That's not too say it's not very good: it is.   It's good, but not extraordinary.  I suppose I came in with expectations too high, in conjunction with less of a Francophilic passion for traditional French bistro cuisine: sue me, but I really do like some tweaks of modernity in with the classics.  And for sure, there are a few, but for the most part, Frenchette isn't French-ish..... it is trés francais.  And solidly done, so if that's what you are looking for, most signs point to go.

The room is pretty dull, although I very much enjoyed the oversized peonies stretching across the pale, buff colored walls.  There are the requisite vintage looming above ruddy leather banquettes (which imho would've been much more attractive in a deep cerulean or logan green).  The service was superb, however, genuinely happy to welcome us and efficient and friendly throughout the meal. They were, for the most part, the high point.
A peek into the kitchen.

That's not to say Frenchette is bad.... at ALL.  It's just not exciting. And there were some technical errors throughout the meal- actually in almost every dish- that really need addressing.  Friends more knowledgeable and invested in wine than am I voiced adamant disapproval of the strictly natural wine list.  Now, this is a growing trend and I don't have a vehement opinion on it, but I do have thoughts about their pricing.  The by-the-glass list isn't online, but if I recall correctly they started around seventeen and skyrocketed upwards.  I feel like there should be $12-14 options in the very least.  That said, perhaps (counter-intuitively, like un-pasteurized juice) natural wines are pricier.  At any rate, we enjoyed a very civil rosé, not enough to remember the varietal or producer, but it drank very well with our meal.

And onto that, we began with Asperges Vinaigrette, which maybe should've been Vinaigrette Asperges, because it was drowned in
 so much mustard-pungent sauce, the bi-colored spears were almost irrelevant.   I scraped off probably 60% of the sauce and it was still overwhelming.  And worse than not being able to taste the asparagus was not being able to sense even a hint of the generous shavings of truffle blanketing the dish, especially since they were probably the primary reason these three spears cost $18.  They might as well have been Crayola's
 Timberwolf for as much flavor as they imparted- that being none. Better were some really fat, Belon oysters pooled with warm butter, giving them just a slight toothsomeness before they slid pleasantly down the hatch.  

The most successful dish, though, might have been a side of za'atar roasted carrots, their meatier ends achieving a decadent sweetness and softness, while the tapered point of the root end got blessedly crispy, as crunchy as a French fry.  They weren't the best roasted carrots I've ever had- their seasoning could've been a little more assertive, loving za'atar as I do- but the carrots
 themselves were flavorful enough not to depend on the enhancement.  Benne (sesame) seeds added nuttiness and the smooth, thick bed of labneh a cool counterpart.  I enjoyed my roasted cod with sweet little cockles in the shell in a verdant sauce of parsley, but the
 chanterelles mentioned were not noticeably present.  And it wasn't one to write home about, it didn't elicit any complaints, either.
The Duck Frites was, as is Anything Frites, a few slices of the waterfowl and a mountain of fries, which is why I never order Anything Frites.  The duck looked to be mostly skin and fat, but its order-er reveled in the juicy flesh, gently perfumed with anise and pleaded its skin's crispy case.  The fries themselves were 50-50, some were quite good (especially those consumed upon arrival), but by the end there seemed to be more mealy, wan ones, perhaps an effect of both temperature and humidity at the bottom of the stack.

For dessert, of which there is but four options, we tried the millefeuille- you could almost say by default, because I previewed the tarte tatin at a table near us, and is was very thin and flat, which probably had a lovely buttery, caramelized crust, but was going to lack that lovely plushness of baked apples that I love in a tatin, so we opted against.  The millefeuille boasted an ethereally light cream filling, but the feuilles were a little on the sturdy side.  They were deeply baked, tasting of that almost-burnt pie crust nuttiness, while I would've preferred a pliant, flaky pastry that could melt into the cream.  Instead, the pressure of the fork made the filling squirt out all over the place.   But they DID manage to eke out a candle to recognize my tablemate's birthday, another nod to the capable service.

The one dish I regret not having tried is the Brouillade, a soft scramble of eggs and sea urchin, although not being a fan of the latter dissuaded me from ordering it at the time.  A return visit would definitely include that, but given the rest of the experience, as well as two other friends' assessments on different occasions that matched mine, that just probably is not going to happen.  Desolée, Frenchette... I know we were both hoping for better.

241 West Broadway
tel. 1.212.334.3883


Thursday, May 17, 2018


There are pretty much two associations people make with the word Ferris, both of which are fun and festive.  A Ferris wheel, with all its freedoms and nostalgia and jubilation, and Mr. Bueller, of course, who too shares those endearing attributes.  Our NYC Ferris opened up recently in the Flatiron district of midtown is a subterranean destination that embodies everything a good Ferris should.  You can enter this little subterranean nook either through The Made Hotel in which it is located, or via a sneaky staircase just to the right of the hotel entrance, which descends past a covered garden space which will be something else to look forward to, come summer.  For now, It's a pretty tiny space, though, and some of the design decisions and/or existing infrastructure doesn't help to open things up. Apparently the rest of the world really IS as exuberant about pillows as decorating magazines make them out to be.  I, personally, am NOT a fan, especially when they practically push you off the edge of the banquette and impede the already compromised elbow-room of closely tucked in tables.   But pushing as much as humanly possible into very circumspect surrounding is a theme that also carries over into the menu, most items which pack a lot of components into their makeup.

In order to get some of these on your table, your uber-friendy and vivacious server can fetch you cocktails, and these live up to the atmosphere.  Of course they come with clever names, but are just as artistically composed, seasonal and balanced.  There were a lot of special additions to the menu on my visit, probably too many and too complex, in fact, to be expected to consider on the fly.  They all sounded great from what I could retain, though, even as we did end up sticking with that which we had preselected.  The menu lists plates grouped mostly according to size: so a little guidance in terms of volume is necessary.  We ended up ordering too much, but not far too much, given my tablemate's voracity (and that we chosen the lighter dishes on the docket).    Because of the primarily small plate format, dishes come out as they may, which may or may not be in keeping with when you'd like them, but we started off strong. In fact, the first two dishes we tried may have been the best of the night:  a wonderful plate of beets,
sweet as dessert, were pushed as far to one edge of the plate as possible, so hopefully you are on that side, or have long arms or good plate-rotating skills.  'Cause these beets are amazeballs..... they are like dirty candy crack, and pretty as pretty can be.  Whimsical slices of raw chioggia decorate the cooked ones underneath, the latter's  sugars concentrated by an aggressive roast.  These are pillowed by a creamy whipped feta studded with nuggets of pistachio, and as pretty as it is, it's that much more delicious.

Another uber-winner was the octopus, to be found amongst the mid-sized plates, but it was pretty dang small.  What is lacked in heft it by far compensated for in flavor, though.  Tender nubs of tentacle sat atop a mesmerizing egg custard, greyed with ink (or so I think) (Ha.  'Dja see that, Dr Seuss?) and a smattering of crunchy, crispy, salty croutonettes of potato... which they say were confit, but that would imply.... well, several things.  None of which would result in what resulted, unless you just confited the HECK outta those things until they were virtually French's onions, potato-style.  But I'll upside-down-and-backward forgive the faulty description even just for the memory of how good that little plate was.

Charred broccolini balanced its healthy reputation with the incineration of its florets nuzzled into unctuous, Timur (a Szechuan-related pepper)-spiked yogurt and a dusting of pulverized cashews.  Delightfully crunchy elements complemented many of the dishes, imparting a lot of textural intrigue to go along with the barrage of interesting flavors that are already in play.      More veggies came in the form of braised bok choy, although these might've been my least favorite, the crisp bulb of veg left a little too crisp, and shrouded much too heavily with slightly fishy tasting breadcrumbs.

Your action-plan at Ferris should either be to do as we did, and order a bunch of small plates, or as the table next to us did, order a bunch of friends to accompany and go for some for he large format plates.  One of which is a Cote de Boeuf, which includes "all the fixings".... and they're not exaggerating. There were sauces and bowls and all sorts of good things that came along with the hulking cut of meat, maybe the most intriguing of which was a buttermilk-poached onion dip that made we want to ask these strangers for a taste.  The atmosphere here is so festive and
 communal, they probably would've said yes, but our table was pretty full as it was, so I restrained myself, and certainly wasn't going to starve as a result.

A simple filet of striped bass (now hake in a clam broth) retained its shatteringly crisp skin above an umami-packed dash, abut while its flavor was deep and complex, it was strikingly simple, especially in comparison to all the busier multi-faceted dishes on the menu.

In fact, the dishes might be so flavorful and intricate that to some extent, fewer of them is more.  By the time our one large-format dish arrived, I think my senses were somewhat numbed.  My casual-vegan tablemate kept us on a more plant-based regimen, otherwise I would've gone for the grilled lobster tail with hearts of palm.   Instead, we allowed Forbidden Rice to join our ranks, but frankly while the nutty attributes of the dense rice, roasty nubs of romanesco and deeply toasted almonds were nicely balanced by gently bitter chicories, my appetite had kind of topped out to justly appreciated this dish or anything else that would've come.

Thus, we went lighter than light for dessert..... basically a palate cleanser in my opinion, but suitably refreshing.  The dessert menu wasn't printed nor listed online, but to the best of my recollection it was a yuzu sorbet, and it was delightful.  Our next-table gluttons were waxing about the cardamom cake, however, so on a subsequent visit, or for yours, I might suggest that if you can retain the capacity, or better yet- get both.  So far as I can tell, as little elbow-room as there is inside the restaurant, so to is the very slim chance of ordering something at Ferris that isn't just excellent.

  • 44 W 29TH ST NYC
  • 212-213-4420
  • Monday, May 14, 2018


    John Fraser, our chef here at The Loyal, is one to follow, no doubt.  The excellence of Dovetail inspired just anticipation for the opening of Narcissa, and it lived up to every expectation (I think I even liked it better).  Not being a vegan, I was less chomping-at-the-bit when I found out about Nix, but even less excited when I actually dined there and was frankly disappointed, despite its Michelin star, the rave reviews and a seemingly current happy eatership.  Well, Fraser has rebounded leaps and bounds in my opinion with his newest venture, The Loyal.

    For the most part, Fraser has a ballsy, lusty style: his flavors are less of the subtle, nuanced variety as the bold and decadent. Thus, the delicacy that can define scallops is tossed by the wayside with these fat beauties, a plush quartet seared to an intense bronze on one side, and wallowing in brown butter-enriched spaghetti squash, its nuttiness compounded by additional crushed filberts strewn atop.  Much to my delight, a quartered Brussels sprout was thrown in to the mix, but alas, one sprout is more like a tease than a treat, so I'm glad it wasn't included in the menu description: the paucity would've then been disappointing.  On my plate (as on this one), there can never be too many Brussels sprouts, and this dish could've also used quite a few more.  Aside from that, and overall, it was a repeat-worthy dish.

    Beet Salad

    Speaking of repeat-worthy, Fraser's beets at Narcissa earned national culinary renown, and his salad here pales not at all in comparison.  It is pillowed by whipped feta studded with crunchy nuggets of roasted pistachio, sprightly leaves of radicchio  propped up at attention.  Before that, you could roll out with the raw bar, or an assortment of bar snacks, which
    Roasted Shishitos
    could actually constitute a fairly balanced and really interesting meal if you ordered every item, feeding for three or four.  We sampled the roasted shishitos, here served with a little more panache than normal: furled scrolls of
     jicama, ever-so-lighty pickled, topped the pile of roasted peppers, then strewn with crunchy fried shallots.
    Their emerald color was retained vibrantly even as their vegetal crunch was decimated by an intense roasting.  I'm not sure what differentiated these categorically from a small dish of Four Radishes, four different varieties, specifically....
    Four Radishes
    not even a whole one of each, so for $16, I guess you're paying more for the luscious, salty smoked trout gribiche beneath that the humble roots, but so the titling goes.

    Do not think for a moment, however, that Fraser is all rabbit food- he has a laudable burger here at The Loyal, fashioned from Piemontese beef, that elite breed, and bedecked with pungent Comte cheese and the mysterious 22-step tomato, which has undergone a battery of treatments from compression to roasting and beyond, resulting in an ur-tomato of ultimate tomato-ness that would be especially impossible to find in nature, in April or really any month of the year.  But even better than the hefty patty and its preciously coddled nightshade are the square duck-fat tater tots that accompany it. I tend to avoid deep fried foods, in general, only partaking when they are well worth their caloric impact.  Well, these ARE.  They have me thinking about them days later.... weeks later, and I don't see myself forgetting about them anytime soon.  Their dense, creamy interior of super spudsiness are contained by an immaculate golden crust, a combination of crispy, creamy, salty, earthy, buttery and just pure,
     iconic deliciousness.  They are ostensibly the best thing I have eaten all year.  Like, I want them again right NOW, and it's ten a.m.  And I'm not hungry.  But I'm hungry for them, and I can't see myself ever not being.  Plus, the burger doesn't really pale in comparison.

    Not being a huge chocolate fan, and after the Wellsian rampage against the laziness of sundaes as restaurant desserts, we went with Brian's (our server's) Choice, as he had pretty much aced all his other suggestions throughout the evening.  The S'mores Baked Alaska, a soft toasted marshmallow igloo snuggled itself over a cool dome of ice cream, a buttery sweet caramel poured table side, drooling languidly over the meringue an into a luscious moat.  First bite was shockingly sweet, but it eased into the neutrally flavored gelato within, balancing the saccharine components with the creamy ones to the benefit of all- us included.  Only a small wafer beneath contributed the chocolate component, but it was rich enough to quell a choco-craving but didn't overwhelm us, either.

    The magic emanated from here:
    Peek into the kitchen....

    the heavy curtains parted just enough to glimpse a flurry of the action within, adding the the anticipation of the arrival of each dish.  Pretty much everything at The Loyal lives up to Fraser's reputation, as he continues his successful expansion.  Consider me a Loyalist.

    289 Bleecker Street NYC
    On the corner of Bleeker and 7th
    tel.  212-488-5800