August 1, 2016 | BITE: My Journal

Where I’m Eating Now

 I just rediscovered the Red Farm chicken salad with fried lotus root and blueberries at lunch, recently.
I just rediscovered the Red Farm chicken salad with fried lotus root and blueberries at lunch, recently.

          If you follow my BITES every week, you might worry that I’m on a rash spending spree: $338 for the premium omakase at O Ya, $185 paid in advance at Günter Seeger for ten courses of dazzle, the $172 tasting of Scandinavian exotica at Agern. That’s me at work. It’s not how I eat when I take a night off.

          Here’s where you’ll find me when dinner is just to fit my mood, or I want a special place to indulge friends or family in town from far away. 


Raise the Red Lanterns

Ordering at Red Farm, I focus on Chef Joe Ng’s remarkable dim sum, like these lamb shooters.

          Red Farm on the Upper West Side is crowded and noisy, but you’ll forget you minded when the dim sum parade begins. Extra sidewalk tables have made the wait a bit shorter this summer. Not that I wait. I’ve known Red Farm’s managing partner Eddie Schoenfeld since the 70s, when he was the only Caucasian waiter in a Chinese restaurant at Uncle Tai’s Hunan Yuan. “All customers are created equal, except some are more equal than others,” he has confided.  

          I start with creamy smoked salmon on eggplant bruschetta, shrimp and snow pea dumplings, Shanghai soup dumplings and lamb potstickers. I’ve been ordering the super crunchy soft shell crab since it came in season. Usually, I follow too many dim sum with the crusty shrimp-stuffed chicken and a vegetable dish. (Always trying to make Mom happy). If we’re four or five, I might add the wide rice noodles with barbecued duck. Recently at lunch I rediscovered an old favorite -- the fabulous Chinese chicken salad tucked into a crispy nest. How lucky I am that this miracle on “inauthentic Chinese food” is just four blocks from my pad. 2170 Broadway between 76 and 77th Streets, 212 724 9700


L’Amico: It takes a Frenchman

Do we really need garlic toast after sharing Laurent’s mushroom pizza at L’Amico? Yes, we do.

          I should probably take a room at the Eventi Hotel. It would be cheaper than the taxis I subsidize in my obsessed devotion to L’Amico. It’s where I take everyone who’s never been and myself, again and again, just because I love Laurent Tourondel’s inspired take on Italian cooking.

          The noise level can be cruel, and it’s even more painful since they threw open the windows to service sidewalk tables and let in the full brunt of Sixth Avenue chaos. But once I bite into the singed blisters of the fontina-and-mushroom pizzas with Taleggio, I forget the cacophony. I divvy up the three delicious meatballs in a swamp of excellent tomato sauce (which I order strictly for the sensational garlic bread propped alongside), and dip into the salad of the season.  

A trio of salads like zucchini noodles with pine nuts, followed by wood-roasted chicken, is dinner at L’Amico.

          Last week, I found myself with a duo of careful eaters. You can’t wear a size 2 if you must have peekytoe crab crostini, and then follow the last triangle of pizza with a hill of the evening’s special pasta. (I usually choose an inventive homemade noodle or gnocchi for the table to share). My pals were game for pizza, as long as a trio of salads followed. They actually seemed excited by mâche salad with avocado and kale crisps. I didn’t expect much from zucchini noodles, but I had to admit Parmesan shards, mint, and pignoli in a lemon-garlic vinaigrette added unusual zest. A summery gathering of tomatoes and peaches was sent by the kitchen. That was me finishing off my favorite: escarole with trevisano and Castelfranco olives.

          The ladies wanted to cancel the chicken, but I resisted. I always follow whatever excess precedes with  L’Amico’s juicy wood-oven roasted bird. And if anyone groans at the mention of dessert, I pretend not to hear and order the stylish ice cream in a goblet anyway. A duo of flavors -- salted caramel and chocolate gianduja, maybe. It looks like a Follies showgirl with its pastry hat. Groaners discover that one spoonful leads to another. 849 Sixth Avenue between 29th and 30th Streets. 212 201 4065


You Tarzan, Me Jane: Rediscovering The Vine

Savory little Wagyu sliders are an excellent starter for a table of salad-eaters at The Vine.

          Last summer, I spent uncounted summer evenings at The Vine, where Laurent Tourondel was trying out dishes for the restaurant he planned to open after Labor Day. That would be L’Amico. When it landed, I moved right in. But this week I joined friends who are regulars in The Vine Lounge. It’s cheaper than L’Amico and, if anything, noisier, with a different menu but still distinctly Tourondel channeled by his chef de cuisine Amy Eubanks.

Sharing everyone’s passion for the fine chopped salad at my rediscovery of The Vine last week.

          On a mild night, eating outside is heaven, but not when it’s above 90. We settled at a table in the library, starting with pizza, of course, the cheese and shishito pie. I didn’t ask everyone to share and pass, but I did split the chopped salad with Beth. She said the mix of cucumber, tomatoes, baby beets, corn, avocado, radishes and asparagus with olive, scallion and feta was “the best salad I’ve ever tasted.” I had to agree. It was exceptional. Everyone in our gang of five had that same salad; one friend got a shrimp add-on.

          I liked the Kobe slider with blue cheese and peppered bacon (gift of the house but also on the menu, four minis for just $14). Those sweetly gooey bites were actually better than my giant, fully-loaded LT Backyard Burger. It could have been rarer – but I didn’t feel like sending it back. I was sorry I hadn’t asked for extra crisp fries. Beth’s roasted turkey “club house” with bacon, avocado and onion relish would definitely serve two at just $17 with fries. No one was interested in gelato at the end. Not even me. I’ll be going back now that I’m reminded why I loved it. In the rear of the Eventi Hotel. 851 Sixth Avenue between 29th and 30th 212 201 4065.


Amada Means Loved

I find myself drawn to Amada by the seemingly endless variety of tapas, like this octopus with potatoes.

          Even though Amada is at the opposite end of the island from me, it’s a straight-line dash down the West Side highway. I discovered Amada early on with friends who work across the street. I felt we barely made a dent in the options -- mostly $8 or $9 each -- even with our usual aggressive attack.

          Squid and celery salad with blood sausage and potato. Spanish octopus in small chunks with crisp potato chips standing up like banners. A shower of almond thins adding their nuttiness to small red peppers filled with crab. The essence of spring in the intense green pea soup. I was the one who nominated the Spanish flatbread. “Beef short ribs, horseradish, Parmesan and bacon.” The only bummer was a pricey $68 paella Valenciana with rabbit  -- listless and missing any hint of socarrat.

We shared the Serrano ham with figs, Cabrales cheese and tendrils of green before our suckling pig.

          Five of us were back a few weeks later for half a suckling pig. It was $250 (pre-ordered) with four huge casseroles of sides – chickpeas, garlicky white beans, roasted fingerlings and a string bean salad -- easily enough for 7 or even 8. We ordered cocktails and a couple of tapas so no one would faint from starvation while waiting for the pig to get trundled up for slicing. A glorious feast. 250 Vesey Street, between North End and West Street. 212 542 8947.


Surfing the Tacos at Playa Betty’s

At Playa Betty’s, we succumb to the wickedly over-the-top tater tots dressed up like nachos.

          “Where would you like to go?” I ask my pal Gary. “Playa Betty’s is good for me,” he says. And it’s good for me, too, even though we were at this same table last week. It feels like summer on a beach. Betty’s Rita on the rocks to start and two or three overstuffed tacos. I’m not the only one in the neighborhood to quickly become addicted. You have to be careful not to fall over the strollers if you arrive early as we do.

I might be back at Playa Betty’s twice in a week for these overflowing California tacos: Southern Girl is a fav. 

          We usually have a starter. I can live without the guacamole, I’ve decided. Tonight, we agree on the insanely decadent tater tots decked out nachos style. I don’t recall ordering the fluke ceviche tostada, but it suddenly appears. It’s very good and quickly disappears.  We’re not spending much either if we go easy on $12 margaritas and overflowing tacos, $4 and $5. We all like the fried chicken Southern Girl. I chose the baja – tempura battered mahi mahi with cabbage and avocado slaw. My friends go for the Mexican Coke shortribs, and the Vera Cruz – red snapper topped with fried jalapenos. We share an order of Mexican corn on the cob – 1000 calories of chili aioli, cotija cheese and crema Mexicana. The kitchen has been so speedy, we decide to order a few more margaritas so we can sit a while longer and gossip. 320 Amsterdam Avenue on the corner of 75th Street. 212 712 0777


Upland Pleasure Reclaimed

I’d been away from Upland too long, I decided after introducing newbie pals to this fine fried chicken.

          When it first opened I found myself at Upland every few weeks, just for fun, or to take someone who hadn’t been. Then I got distracted by a crush of new openings. Quite frankly, I hadn’t thought about Upland until I encountered its rarely absent chef Justin Smillie cooking at a celebration of the sugar snap pea at Lincoln. I thought of his mythic roasted short rib and a few days later, I was back with neighbors who’d never been. Normally, I’d have started with pizza, but my pal Nicole can’t eat gluten, and I didn’t want to torture her. Amazingly, when the waiter had the kitchen mark the menu with checks for what she could eat, the options almost covered the page.

Upland chef Justin Smillie surprises us by sending out a summer version of his signature roasted short rib.

          I got to have my favorite little gem salad again and a giant, fried duck wing. Upland’s signature whole crisp hen of the woods mushroom sitting on Cloumage cheese was the biggest I’d ever seen. I could have resisted the burrata (that was Nicole’s choice), but I tasted, of course. It was especially esculent, smartly paired with slices of pickled plum. The smoked Scattered Acres chicken made us all laugh because the leg still had its claw and it was pointing right at Nicole. I’d chosen the bucatini cacio e pepe for my entrée, but I left most of it unfinished, when the chef sent his signature charred bone-in short rib in a seasonal version with summer beans and chili butter. It reminded me why I need an Upland fix more often. 345 Park Avenue South, entrance on 26th Street just east of Park. 212 686 1066.


A Voyage on the S.S. Italia: Lincoln

Expect a constant flow of new dishes like this tuna with tomato sorbetto from chef Jonathan Benno at Lincoln.

          Some menus rarely change, or cling to favorites, evolving minimally. But I know that everyone time I go to Lincoln Ristorante – often for lunch, just as often for dinner – I will discover a brilliant new pasta by Chef Jonathan Benno. He is always off invoking another region of Italy. A friend and I ordered two pastas at a recent lunch and they came already divided, a taste of each for each of us in double pasta bowls.

Chef Benno evokes one region after another with his dazzling riff on classic pastas.

          When I am pinching pennies, I might start with an antipasto – often something leafy – and then finish with a side of eggplant parm. Or I search for a new offering I can’t resist, like vitello tonnato or an octopus terrine and follow with a pasta. Lincoln regulars who don’t even think about price reserve ahead for a restaurant week table, amazing what Benno can do with a $25 prix fixe. Inspired by tasting the pastries of his Sicilian and Neapolitan family Pastry chef Richard Capizzi stands out too. Even though I almost always order a rainbow of gelatos and sorbettos, he often sends out a gift. And then come cookies, and caramel candies to stuff into my handbag for later.

          Don’t let me forget to note that the restaurant is handsome. I love all the views from each room. That helps me forgive that the server interrupts our conversation every time she comes near the table. I try to remember to note that Lincoln is an advertiser, but I hope it’s clear by my adjectives that I’d be entertaining friends and delivering Citymeals auction dinners there anyway. So much for this incestuous relationship. 142 West 65th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway. 212 359 6500.


Mediterranean Cruising with Daniel

Back at Boulud Sud with my niece Dana to share mezze and this riotously rich fettucine carbonara.

           I was definitely put off when Boulud Sud suddenly imposed a $60 pre-theater prix fixe on its Mediterranean-inspired kitchen. I like a light snack before theater or the movies and I’d been sharing favorite small plates at least once or twice a week. Three courses wouldn’t please this penny-pincher at all. But I’m seduced by the crisps and dividing the Mediterranean mezze – spicy Moroccan hummus, babaganoush and a duo of crunchy falafel -- that comes with more luscious breads. I just make sure I don’t cross the threshold before 7 pm. 

          Recently, my niece Dana from Montana and I followed that inevitable prologue with the Arabic lamb flatbread. Though it might easily have been the artichokes alla Romana. I invariably finish with the smoky harira -- the traditional lentil soup eaten to break the fast during Ramadan. Here, it comes filled with luscious Merguez sausage. That evening, we divided a creamily inauthentic fettuccine carbonara, too. Unlike me, Dana doesn’t crave sweets, so I didn’t insist we share the peach and nectarine crostata. 20 West 64th Street between Broadway and Central Park West   212 595 1313


All in the Family at Fiorello

I find it impossible to get bored with the changing array of mostly vegetable antipasti at Café Fiorello. 

          Would I be such a recidivist at Café Fiorello if it weren’t just a stroll from my neighborhood movie theater? Hard to say. It was a favorite of my guy. (There’s a small brass plaque with our names among a dozen others on the wall at the last booth.)  Invariably, the two of us would share a Caesar and bucatini amatriciana. I remember the manager laughing and reciting the order before I could utter the words.

          Now that he’s gone, I arrive with niece Dana and other movie companions, and we sign up for the $19 vegetable trio from the antipasto table, choosing different dishes to taste and trade. I order a red in a small carafe and break off a chunk of the house crisp. I might choose zucchini parm, eggplant caponata and roasted heirloom cauliflower. Sometimes I’ll have the sausage and peppers, charred Brussels sprouts with guanciale or broccoli rabe. Once, I got eggplant three ways. Since I’ve started tipping my favorite server in the straw boater, he sometimes throws in a fourth item.

I love Fiorello’s lemon sorbetto, but I save room for a few shards of chocolate in the farewell bowl at the door.

          Yes, The Fireman Group is my advertiser, but I was a fan of Brooklyn Diner and Trattoria dell’Arte before the internet. You’d find me at Shelly Fireman’s new Florian downtown if Fiorello weren’t so close. I appreciate that Fireman restaurants are staffed by grownups. I like it when a manager comes by with a baking tray of chocolate chip cookies just out of the oven. I prefer the sorbetti, super-tart limone or shockingly rich chocolate. But mostly I skip dessert, knowing there will be broken shards of chocolate in a silver bowl as a farewell at the door. 1900 Broadway between 64th and 63rd Streets. 212 595 533.


More BITES You Might Savor...


Providing a continuous lifeline to homebound elderly New Yorkers