November 21, 1988 | Vintage Insatiable

West Side Glory

           Builder Lewis Futterman is not just another victim of the must-own-a-restaurant virus: “I got tired of hearing myself complain about how difficult it is to find fine food on the West Side.”

           Just a hop uptown, veteran restaurateur Michael Weinstein has been trying for a decade, so why not try once again? Is the curse of the West Side cuisinary doldrums challenged?  You bet it is.


It’s Not Easy to Find Andiamo!

           Nothing about Andiamo! is promising. First, you have to run up and down Broadway trying to find it. Then you have to stroll through something called the Café Bel Canto -- at night, it looks about as romantic as a café in a subway station. Indeed, it’s a “public amenity,” as prescribed by a city that demands an inch for every mile it gives away, traded by Futterman for extra floors of condominiums. But he keeps the commercial space for the canteen of his dreams -- where operagoers can come in black tie and the neighbors in blue jeans.

           So follow the red neon through a narrow passage and…Andiamo! Enter a soaring loft space with an iron staircase climbing to a somewhat desolate balcony.

           You know what’s on the wall is art because a list of titles arrive with the menu. Nothing is for sale. This is Futterman’s collection, but like what you see and names of galleries are supplied. You may recognize that someone who loves Italian wines has gathered some unusual treasures at very gentle prices. That’s Futterman again. When French wine stopped being fun to buy, he turned to Italy and made himself an expert.

           But not till carpaccio, lush roasted peppers, splendid crabmeat tortellini, and rich spinach raviolini arrive does your mouth get the welcome news: something good is happening in Andiamo’s! kitchen. Chef Francis Crispo, a Culinary Institute graduate with stints under Jean-Jacques Rachou and Daniel Boulud, calls it “Italian inspired.” And inspired it can be, generous portions, lovingly arranged -- especially the evening I was recognized. And though both service and kitchen are still stuttering a bit, two can eat well at perhaps overly ambitious prices: three courses, with wine, tax, and tip, can easily hit $110 to $120.

           There will be new, more wintery dishes, on the menu beginning this week, but up till now, pastas have been my favorite starters: veal-stuffed raviolini in sage cream; those tortelli in an unusual carrot butter; pennelike garganelli with fresh tomato, basil, and mozzarella; pesto tossed capellini; an angel hair with an astonishment of deftly cooked sea critters -- shrimp, mussel, clam, scallops, calamari, even a lobster claw or two --but nary a hint of saffron. (Appetizer portions are $7 to $12; entrées, $13 to $21.)

           Warm salads -- veal-prosciutto-and-shiitake, or spinach-and-bacon with gorgonzola -- are good, too, as is a portion of baked eggplant beside a melt of mozzarella in a decent tomato sauce. Lamb here is not remarkable, but roasted monkfish with garlic chips is a triumph, as are six fat sea scallops with a caramelized edge in a bit too much tarragon-butter sauce. The veal chop arrives medium pink with Swiss chard in a sauce cooked down to a fine glaze, and good roast squab comes with braised peaches. Each dish gets its own garnish; some, like the cake of layered Japanese eggplant and zucchini with a confit of pepper and onion, are superb.

           An émigré from the ‘21’ pastry department does a custard that’s eccentric -- honey saffron -- but delicious. His zabaglione is thick and perfumed. The homemade gelati including excellent espresso, comes with three sauces divided by lines of meringue, a certifiable work of art. Ditto the layered chocolate-and-raspberry mousse frosted with black and white chocolate in the shape of a chic little hat.

1991 Broadway, near 67th Street



Couturier Notions at Poiret

           The pop-eats team that gave us Ernie’s, The Saloon, America, and the Ritz Café has been flashy, adventurous, prescient, hot, and successful. Now, at long last, Weinstein and company have finally put together a restaurant where the food is, believe it or not…really good. Poiret.

           Actually, it was designer Nancy Mah who dragged the imprint of turn-of-the-century couturier Paul Poiret into this plain-Jane little storefront. She drafted the refreshingly bombastic tile façade, the clever stenciled floor, and the floral arabesques on the walls after a Poiret design, never realizing that the influential designer has also cast himself as “le président honoraire” of a purists’ club (a coven of epicures) and the champion of a memorable herring dish --“a salad for the nouveaux pauvres.” For the newly poor, indeed.

           Our town’s Poiret is not exactly a sanctuary for the serious pauvre. Flush from the success of a brasserie in Boston, Weinstein wanted a bistro here but Chef Bill Lalor tossed in some upscale notions, making it easy for two to spend $85 to $115 for three courses and wine, tax and tip included.

           It’s early, and Poiret is uneven. There may be a chanteuse on the sound system screeching to be heard above the din. Even our most professional waiter can’t get four plates on the table all at once. The good, chewy rolls disappear, never to be replaced. But the ice-water carafe is devoutly refilled.  We’ve chosen a lusty Cahors from the friendly wine list. And the flicker of votive candles is kind to the crowd: real people of the west side, not a calamity or a costume in sight.

           Start almost anywhere on the menu or the long list of daily specials -- written (hooray), not recited. You won’t be unhappy. Good onion soup or homey puree of pea with a trail of mint, clams brushed with garlic butter, or mushrooms roasted to intensify their flavor. One evening’s special sausage en croûte is sturdy, the pastry thin and nicely cooked through. I must say $10 and $12 seem greedy even for salads as good as these: home-cured tomatoes with blue cheese from Bresse, a dab of tapenade, all touched with basil and balsamic vinaigrette; or ham with zestily marinated avocado and chicory; or four impeccably grilled shrimp with roasted red pepper on frisée.

           Huge portions are whimsically garnished -- here a tang of pickled onion, there a convoy of oils, everywhere a fusillade of tomato cubes; with entrées, couscous (once slightly dry), luscious peas and onions with a buttery chiffonade of romaine, crossed asparagus, thinnest haricots verts, and, often, chopped eggplant and peppers. That softens the financial blow.

           The simple roast chicken is a bit too simple -- not notably crisp or flavorful -- and I wish there were more bistro classics like the moist carbonnade of beef and delicious lamb stew. But striped bass baked in Pernod-spiked cream under a mantle of fennel is sublime. I didn’t like the concept of tuna a poivre in cognac and cream, but it works. Scallops in a pool of tarragon beurre blanc and sautéed beef medallions with chanterelles are good, too. And the sweetbreads, as a special, are ethereal clouds in a wonderfully tangy lemon sauce.

           If that is Poiret’s ghost in the kitchen, he should do something to cure the blandness of the seafood fry (calamari, shrimp, and baby eels), toss the pâté into the garbage when it gets this sour, and make sure the lamb shanks don’t overstew.

           For some reason that escapes me, no dessert chef has the courage to serve anything without a puddle of crème anglaise or raspberry coulis, and these desserts are mostly good enough to stand alone -- a fine apple tart, good chocolate-mousse cake, and, one evening, strawberries in pastry cream sandwiched between two lovely shortbread cookies in mango purée.

474 Columbus Avenue, near 82nd Street

Patina Restaurant Group