September 29, 2008 | BITE: My Journal

The Tiny World of Double Crown

We are mesmerized by lacey tattoos revealed by the hostess’s demure lace dress.  Photo: Steven Richter
We are mesmerized by lacey tattoos revealed by the hostess’s demure lace dress.  Photo: Steven Richter

        It’s scary enough watching the world of strut-and-brag Manhattan shrink. Now it’s the quail too. Half a quail…half a very small quail at Double Crown, where Chef Brad Farmerie, doubling from duties at Public, says the goal is to keep it interesting and prices low.  A righteous mission in these frazzled times. So the chef and the hot “Best Ugly” design team of AvroKO, owners of both, dreamed up this vintage pub with Scottish beers on draft and food inspired by Indo-Asian outposts of the former Empire. And he’s not even embarrassed that the “bread” course is six broken shards of red lentil flat bread – admittedly addictive - in a tall, narrow water glass to dip into three little parakeet cups, one each of yogurt raita, tamarind sauce and fabulous pickled lime mayonnaise.

Three tiny buns divided by four mouths is a social conundrum. Photo: Steven Richter

        Scan the menu. It is interesting indeed: streaky ham with fenugreek-glazed figs, coconut chicken salad with snow peas and shrimp floss, tandoori foie gras. Mostly small plates and smaller, even “mains,” can be measly at $20 or less (except for $28 Venison Wellington and the 36 oz. rib eye at $110 for two).  And what are these “Hawker Style Snacks” meant for the table to share that sadistically come three to a portion?

       “But we’re four,” I say.  “We need four pigs in a wet blanket.”

       “Well, you can always get two orders.”

        Didn’t I just go through this dialogue two weeks ago at Bloomingdale Road?  Is this a conspiracy to make us spend $12 for a $6 snack?

        I suppose we could just order whitebait - they wouldn’t dare serve just three.  Or a half pint of prawns. I’m getting so testy these days, watching prices go up and portions get smaller. And I’m always a little nervous about how grownups will be treated in the latest “fun, hipsta hangout.” But it’s the maelstrom of noise inside that has lead us to realize a table outdoors might be very nice, even on this chilly evening. “Of course,” agrees the hostess, a demure brunette, as decorative as any AvroKo designer touch with her mesmerizing collection of tattoos, framed by the deep V on her empire lace dress, the product of  “160 hours so far,” she confides proudly. She seems especially happy with Medusa on her right shoulder. “When I put on a sweater I look like a lovely angel,” she allows.

        The traffic is a floor show too: fire trucks, a spiffy Tiffany Garbage truck, Moishe’s Falafal van. If only he would park here for a few minutes.

Crab and tea noodles in a fragrant broth are deliciously abundant.  Photo: Steven Richter

        It’s not that some of this food isn’t good.  I do order the steamed duck buns after all – three savory peewees sitting on bits of scallion and red pepper. Singapore laksa with crab and bean sprouts on green tea noodles in a mildly curried soup is almost generous.  There is nothing wrong with the endive and stilton salad with pomegranate and pecan except that it’s half a cup trying not to look so meager on the plate. And our thoughtful friend Bob is fascinated by the luscious bits of quail. “How do you miniaturize a miniature quail? You tie its feet in cloth at birth,” he ventures. “Is this the way Scottish beer is supposed to be?” he asks the waiter, who stares at the headless murk that could be iced tea. He carts it off to the bar and returns with beer in a bottle. “Apparently there’s something wrong with the gas cylinder.”

         “I guess the bartender hoped I wouldn’t notice,” says Bob.

A pyramid of duck with red cabbage is enough to share. Photo: Steven Richter

        Well, it’s just the first week here at Double Crown.  We’re cutting them slack. Susan, who normally eats only the breast of the chicken, is shocked that her “twice cooked chicken” with water spinach is all dark meat. But she’s starving and eats it anyway.  “It’s actually good,” she confides.  “But we should go somewhere to eat after this.”

        Pheasant and licorice pie is as disappointing as most chicken-pot pies in its kiddie-kitchen size baking dish. I can’t get worked up about just three lamb-and-cashew meatballs under rings of battered fried onions and they taste like ground cardboard anyway. That makes the towering pile of roast duck doubly surprising: not stingy at all and actually delicious. Warned by our waiter that we should order sides since “mains” come naked on the plate, we share a bowl of ginger cabbage with peas, chili and cilantro, and shredded green bean salad with red onion, both very good.

        “Let’s stop somewhere on the way home for a burger,” Susan presses.

         She cuts a chocolate in two from the $12 chocolate plate – three bon bons, a truffle and a housemade marshmallow. The miniature treacle pecan tart is cut in half and arranged on the saucer with a carefully rounded teaspoon of ice cream to look long if not wide.

         “Small bites are best appreciated when the morsel is a loved one’s ear,” Bob sums it up in his email the next morning.

         If you believe the drumbeaters of cyberspace, Double Crown is this week’s magnet for the fabulous who can’t stay away from the nouvelle Bowery. It’s not really about food. So the chef can fluff up the portions or not.  It won’t matter what I think.

316 Bowery at Bleecker 212 254 0350


Toto, We’re Home.

It’s early. The line is just forming for the counter at Pearl Oyster Bar. Photo: Steven Richter

          I’m not sure why we had to take three ferries and drive five hours to hit the clam shacks of Cape Ann in Massachusetts a few weeks ago in search of a great lobster roll, because it’s where I always knew it was: Pearl Oyster Bar on Cornelia Street.  (Actually, it was this computer I needed to escape).  Surely tasting six lobster rolls in two days would stifle any cravings for a while. But great sex makes you hungry for more.  So here I am with a pair of New Yorkers who have never been to Pearl. I didn’t discover it right away in 1997, but I fell hard when I got here and have written about it often. I haven’t been since owner Rebecca Charles (Pearl was her grandmother) took over the sliver of space next door, stretching her narrow Village seafood shack beyond the counter. There are tables now and the wait is not as long.  She sends out a gift, a deep fried oyster sitting in its shell on a marvelous excess of rich-as-Croesus tartar sauce, one for each of us.

         A blackboard lists the daily specials. “Just order whatever you want,” I tell my pals.

         “You mean we can really eat whatever we want?” cries Penny in amazement. “I’ll have a Caesar.”  Three of us order Caesar salad. Buttery croutons, a lot of green, not enough crisp white romaine for me but still my idea of a good starter. Smoked bacon cuts the richness of cream in the Road Food Warrior’s New England chowder but not that your arteries will necessarily notice. All four of us order lobster rolls.

Sometimes the quest for the holy grail ends with this lobster roll on Cornelia Street. Photo: Steven Richter

          How carefully sautéed the roll is, how massively heaped with giant chunks of lobster with possibly too much mayonnaise for some, but not for me. A few chunks are chewy. Most are sublimely tender. Is it possible Rebecca has slipped two or three extra perfect morsels into my roll?  I won’t say no.  That’s what can happen when a critic is not anonymous. I’m not weeping about it tonight.  In a fitful gesture of sanity I’ve ordered extra salad instead of fries.  So I have to snitch five or six shoestrings from my neighbor’s plate. They’re best hot. They cool quickly because they’re so skinny.

        “It’s the first time we’ve ever eaten with you that we got to order whatever we wanted,” Penny marvels. Have I been torturing my friends all these years? I wonder. Probably not since I don’t seem to lack for willing mouths.  Then dessert arrives – apple pie with an old fashioned slab of vanilla ice cream and an oval of splendid chocolate mousse, dense and intensely bitter, a gift from the chef.

Rebecca Charles drops a nest of shoestring fries atop a lobster roll, then serves it herself. Photo: Steven Richter

         Since no one but me is drinking, it’s a dinner for pinch-pennies, even though the $27 lobster roll is twice the price I paid for the blowsy beauty at the Clam Box in Ipswich. But we’re calloused New Yorkers and we’ll pay the price for the certainty of feeding lobster roll cravings on Cornelia Street.

18 Cornelia Street between Bleecker and West Fourth. 212  691 8211.


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