NYC: Torrisi, the Breslin, ABC Kitchen & More

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Per Se, Jean Georges, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns have been visited, and a couple of them left me wishing I’d spent my money elsewhere (though one did indeed take the prize). But now to the fun stuff: Dining at critics’ darlings like Torrisi and the Breslin, eyeing up Veritas’s new chef (will he prove his three stars from the New York Times?), and debating Thai chicken wings at the Las Vegas import Lotus of Siam (you might want to stick to Vegas).

April Bloomfield, the acclaimed and understated British chef who’s already made her mark at the Spotted Pig gastropub, opened the Breslin in 2009. It’s connected to the Ace Hotel, which naturally brings mobs of hipsters with one eye on their aged rye whiskey and one eye on Bloomfield’s pig’s trotter. Luckily, we only had to nurse one drink at the bar before getting a table in the dark-wooded pub-like restaurant. At left, “scrumpets,” or breaded and fried lamb with mint vinegar. Top right, a delicate seafood sausage with beurre blanc and chives. Bottom right, the beloved lamb burger with feta, cumin mayo, and exceptional “thrice cooked chips.” Verdict? Comfort food that delivers on its promises.

I’d been curious about Lincoln, the newish pasta-centric eatery at Lincoln Center, particularly since it was opened by Per Se alum Jonathan Benno. First of all, the design is pleasing, nicely streamlined into the existing arts complex, making it an excellent option for pre-theater dining, and the floor-to-ceiling glass that surrounds the kitchen provides some mid-meal entertainment.

Had I realized we’d be eating from the brunch menu, which is very abbreviated compared to the dinner menu, I probably would have rescheduled. Top left, Andrew ordered his favorite salad, beet and goat cheese (it was delicious, and an obvious crowd-pleaser, but is anyone else tired of this salad plunked on every menu?). Top right, anchovies and escarole (this is usually right up my flavor alley but I was surprised at how salty it was, and I could probably survive on a salt lick). Bottom left, grilled chicken salad with oranges (clearly for the matinée ladies, and apparently Andrew who was feeling full from last night). Bottom right, I just had to get linguine with clams (razor and little neck) and shisito peppers. Unfortunately, it was the most disappointing dish: there must have been a stick of butter melted into it. I lived in Italy for three years. No one puts butter in the clam linguine! Extra virgin olive oil, yes, and keep it coming, but butter just made me feel like diving into a weeklong nap followed by a juice fast. Verdict? Despite some seasoning issues and service missteps (they didn’t have our reservation and they accidentally charged us extra on the bill), I would give it another shot at dinner.

It would not be stretching the truth to say I was a Veritas groupie in the early 2000’s, my friends and I huddled around the bar ordering an appetizer or two to last the night. Back then, Chef Scott Bryan was at the burners, my friend from high school was a sommelier, and we were highly entertained by Wall Street big shots opening $20,000 bottles of wine. Of course, those big shots are long gone now (with all our money, I think), and Veritas has gone though a few chefs and a few concepts since Bryan left. The latest, Sam Hazen, was recently given three stars by the New York Times and I was curious to see how my old hangout was, well, hanging.

If you ask me, not so well. At left, baby spinach salad with fried pancetta disks and Point Reyes blue cheese deviled eggs. Fun presentation, but back in the day I could have gotten something similar at Hale and Hearty on my lunch break in Midtown. At right, a beautiful and admittedly delicious roasted chicken with “potato pillows” and greens. Not pictured are the absolutely tasteless seafood crudo I ordered to start and the filet mignon with about a pound of Port-braised cipollini onions. To be fair, Andrew thoroughly enjoyed his salad and steak, but I think it’s because he’d been eating turkey wraps for the last week while I was gone.

Further issues: the service was somewhat stilted—not the professional yet easygoing staff I remembered, who knew what you needed three seconds before you needed it. Putting diners at ease was their strong point, and it’s gone now. Next, the chef spent about half his time schmoozing in the main dining room. I don’t know about you, but I like to know that the chef is working hard on my meal in the kitchen, and in fact want to see him stumble out with a stubbly beard toward the end of his shift looking like he gave it all he’s got; not like he’s about to pull up a chair with his buds and have a cocktail. Finally, Veritas has always been known for its illustrious wine list, and despite my many questions about a Pinot Noir I was ordering not being too much on the light side, it was essentially a $70 bottle of water, and I didn’t feel like fighting the fight that night. Verdict? I’ll be reminiscing about the good old days and dining elsewhere.

Not normally one to dine on the Upper East Side, I wanted to pay a visit to an ex-San Diego chef and a young star in the culinary world, Gavin Kaysen, now the Chef de Cuisine at Café Boulud. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in the day we came for lunch but he graciously sent word to staff to give us the royal treatment, sending out a couple extra dishes and a lovely glass of Champagne that helped us recover from the torrential rainstorm we’d just survived (I forgot how awful getting a cab across town in the rain is. I still had mini-puddles in my sandals when I left two hours later. See, this is why I shouldn’t be allowed on the Upper East Side.) Our favorites were the butternut squash ravioli and two decadent desserts: at a loss for ingredients now, I’ll say one was a chocolate-liqueur dream and the other succeeded in making bananas a sin.

Some may have seen my rave about Jean Georges’s $38 prix fixe lunch, but his very popular farm-to-table concept, ABC Kitchen, left me disappointed. Of the five dishes we ordered, the Akaushi cheeseburger with herbed mayo and jalapeños is the only thing I’d come back for.

Lotus of Siam
has something of a cult status in Las Vegas, ordained “best Thai restaurant” by Jonathan Gold, who’s legendary for his Asian cuisine prowess on the streets of Los Angeles. But word is the owners abandoned ship at the New York outpost shortly after opening. According to our friend dining with us, it showed. He said the Vegas meal was one of the best of his life, whereas this felt like upscale takeout. On the bright side, huddling over Pad Thai hit the spot that night as it began pouring, yet again, outside.

I was lucky enough to have a home-cooked meal while I was there, visiting my friends Katie and Zoubir, the masterminds behind KT Collection handmade jewelry. We melted Raclette cheese to pour over grilled vegetables and meats while Zoubir took one for the team by pulling up to the table on his young son’s chair.

Katie and I met up the next week to go to Torrisi, the Italian-American obsession of most NYC food heads these days. I was initially put off by their reservation system of having to stand in line from 5-5:30pm, at which point a hostess unlocks the door and puts you on a list for 6pm, 8pm, or 10pm. Let’s fix that, shall we? Unfortunately, this photo is all you’re going to see since Torrisi has a strict no-camera policy. Overall, the experience was pretty adorable. For $50 (the pricing has changed, see below*), we received 4 (often changing) mini appetizers: an exquisite warm ball of mozzarella drizzled generously with milk thistle and extra virgin olive oil, a somewhat forgettable broccoli salad with mushrooms, melt-in-your-mouth scallops with coriander and radish, and enjoyable spicy charred spare ribs. We were then served pasta—linguine with little neck clams, Tabasco, and shisito peppers (much better than Lincoln’s butter-drenched version). And our only choice of the evening was our entrée: Striped bass with yellow tomato marinara or veal shoulder with bell peppers and potatoes. Dessert was an assortment of mini Italian-American pastries like cannoli, shortbread, and flag cake.

*Torrisi has recently changed its dining options to a $60 prix fixe at both lunch and dinner, as well as adding a $125 reservation-only prix fixe dinner that promises 12 to 15 courses. Parm, a deli-style eatery about to open next door, will offer more affordable sandwich fare that Torrisi’s lunch was previously known for.

After dipping into Italian food emporium Eataly, and getting my fill of the genuine buffalo mozzarella that never makes its way to the west coast, I wanted to hit up a street market that sells locally sourced eats. New Amsterdam Market hosts several rows of food vendors every Sunday 11am to 4pm where the Old Fulton Fish Market used to be, just under the arc of the Brooklyn Bridge. My friend Jen was nice enough to accompany me on a hot, sticky day that got stickier with maple-bacon buns (wow) from Print Restaurant, mini Dutch pancakes from the Poffertjes Man, and (yes!) a half lobster roll from Luke’s Lobster (excellent crisp buttered bun, not too much mayo).

One last thing: I couldn’t leave New York without a proper bagel and my friend Liz the Chef told me to make a bee-line for Zabar’s. Specifically, pumpernickel. It was chewy yet crispy—perfect consistency. Plus, Zabar’s cream cheese has sour cream in it. Is this a thing? ‘Cause it should be a thing.

Until next time, NYC! Someone get me salad, lots of salad…

Other NYC restaurant reviews from this trip:
Best meal: Jean Georges $38 prix fixe lunch
Per Se
Blue Hill at Stone Barns

NYC restaurant reviews from May 2010:
Minetta Tavern: I Don’t Get It

Colicchio & Sons: What’s New Is Old
Eleven Madison Park: French Laundry Wanna-Be
Peter Luger v. Strip House: The Steak-Off
Motorino v. Kesté: Neapolitan Pizza Pie-Off
Locanda Verde: Swing and a Miss
Maialino: Danny Meyer Does It Again
Marea: Do Your Homework
Great Jones Cafe: Best Wings In The City
Apiary: Hidden Gem
Seäsonal Restaurant & Weinbar: Who Knew?
Brooklyn’s Fatty ’Cue: Malaysian BBQ
La Esquina: VIP Mexican Food?

Nov. 01 2011 |
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