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Posts from the ‘bring your parents’ Category

Ciano: Flatiron’s New Gold-Plated Italian

Ciano, a charming Italian restaurant, is a welcome addition to Flatiron’s extensive though tepid culinary scene, yet it lacks the finesse to make it a truly memorable dining experience. It must be tough to make it as an Italian restaurant in New York, given the vast amounts of competition in almost every discernible neighborhood. And while Ciano is well-run and serves good Italian cuisine, it can’t hold a candle to the truly soulful Italian fixins’ at Locanda Verde, the now defunct Convivio, Apizz, or even the far more casual West Village newbie Spasso. It just comes up a little bit short on personality.

The duplex space on East 22nd Street, just around the corner from the Flatiron building, is the epitome of faux rusticity. At first blush, it appears to be brimming with rustic charm; lush plants are just about everywhere you look, the furniture and floor are both made of warm wood, and remnants of countryside kitsch are found everywhere. However, when one looks a little closer, all this rusticity at Ciano is noticeably false; it doesn’t look real or believable with crisp white tablecloths, plants arranged into perfect neat bouquets, expensive modern light fixtures, and each design element so impeccably suited to another that it just comes off as matchy-matchy. Sure, it’s ‘elegant,’ but the half-way rustic vibe makes it seem like Ciano is trying to hard to be trendy. My advice? If you want to be a fine dining restaurant, don’t sell out to the rustic chic trend and confidently go hog-wild with formality.

The simple Italian food at Ciano is prepared by Chef Shea Gallante, the former chef at the much beloved and deceased Cru, and is generally very good. It’s technically excellent, based on fresh seasonal ingredients, and ‘the stuff you want to eat,’ but for whatever reason, it’s not so delicious or so exciting for it to be memorable. The menu is short, but not too short, with nine snacks and five or six each of appetizers, pastas, and entrees. Out of the snacks, the arancini are tasty – ideal little bites of fried cheesy rice. The chicken liver crostini is also good, though not remarkable. As starters go, the burrata di bufala is naturally scrumptious (it’s pretty difficult to mess up burrata), particularly when layered with the savory sweet onion jam and bitter and salty pesto on top of the charred thick slices of country bread. But, the burrata is $18, an astonishing number for a starter offered for less at the very pricey Hearth or Peasant.

The pastas are delicious – the best thing offered by Ciano as far as I can tell, both in terms of taste and of value. A ‘spring’ ravioli, stuffed with burrata and sweet peas, is earthy, bright, and buttery; for $15, it’s one of the best deals on the menu. The pappardelle is more substantial, heavier, and meatier with a duck bolognese dusted with hearty oregano; nutty pecorino shaved on top makes this dish fairly addictive. The saffron tagliatelle is luxurious with chunks of Dungeness crab, yet the strong flavor of saffron is a touch over-powering; a lighter hand would transform this dish into something marvelous. As entrees go, Ciano’s are fine. A steak is just a steak, and the lamb loin with lamb sausage is just a lamb loin. There is nothing so astonishing or memorable about either.

Everything at Ciano is neat, clean, refined, and ‘just so.’ Both the food and the atmosphere seem too precise for casual Italian dining, too sterile to incite exuberant passion. Dining at Ciano is ‘nice,’ but not wonderful or thrilling, not something to remember for weeks after or to leap at the chance to repeat. With such a respected pedigree (former Cru chef, former Cru sommelier, and former Per Se maitre’d), I had hoped Ciano would just be better than the ‘good’ it is. It’s just the place to take clients from out of town – the price point is right and the room is elegant enough to impress; but for those seeking romance or intimacy, something different, Ciano is not so special.

Perfect For: taking clients out, treating your parents, indulging in ricotta cheese, third or fourth dates, having a ‘mature’ dinner out

Ciano on Urbanspoon

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Tamarind Tribeca: Ethereal Indian, Moved 30 Blocks Downtown

‘Fancy’ Indian food isn’t for everyone – sometimes, a take-out tub of chicken tikka masala and a thick round of naan to dip messily into everything is just the best way to eat Indian – however, the second location of Flatiron favorite Tamarind does everything in its power to convince its diners that eating Indian in a fine dining environment instead of on your couch is a marvelous idea. And Tamarind-Tribeca resoundingly succeeds in transforming what could be an overly formal interpretation of soulful Indian cuisine into something delicious, elegant, and pleasant.

courtesy of Evan Sung for the New York Times

The new location, on Tribeca’s Hudson Street ‘restaurant row’, is, in one word, colossal. The corner space has soaring ceilings and more than 10,000 square feet of space. The front is glassy and sparkling new; the seamless floor-level ‘retail’ space of an office building. From the outside, it oozes corporate gloss; if you didn’t know a restaurant lay within, it could be a bank. Inside, dining room upon dining room unfolds as you wander further back into the cavern. The design is modern, sleek, and clean – almost impersonal and definitely suited for the slick business clientele that crowds this place after work hours. However, for non-corporate diners, despite the gargantuan size, it’s remarkably easy to fold into one of the comfortable booths and to forget, at least momentarily, the numbers of tables being turned around you. Warm neutral tones envelop the space and a combination of contemporary chandeliers and recessed lighting bathe patrons in an elegant amber glow; surfaces are swathed in smooth teak wood, cool marble, and luxurious fabrics. All in all, dining at Tamarind Tribeca is a well-oiled machine, a peaceful, and pleasant experience.

The food at Tamarind Tribeca is wonderful. Is there anything better than rich, fragrant, and perfectly-executed Indian food? The curries are flavorful, aromatic, textural, and not in the least bit greasy. Particularly marvelous is a ‘fiery’ hot lamb vindaloo that delights, despite inevitably causing sweats and scalding the tongue, and a mellow ‘murgh badami’ or almond-based chicken dish with saffron and sweet golden raisins. The classic chicken tikka masala is one of the best – thick, with a not unsubstantial kick, and fragrant of fenugreek and Indian spices – perfect for sopping up with the ideally crispy and chewy pockets of naan.

Where Tamarind Tribeca really shines though are in the traditional Tandoor dishes. The chicken tikka is moist, tender, and packed with complex flavor; the ‘peshwari boti kabab,’ essentially tandoori marinated lamb is just ridiculously good – spicy, juicy, so tender that you don’t need a knife to cut it apart, and packed with aromatic ginger, chili and garlic – it’s perfect. Other highlights include the special Manchurian cauliflower appetizer in a crusty slick ginger coating, the zesty and texturally-playful Aloo Papri, with crunchy wheat crisps, earthy chickpeas, and zingy tamarind sauce, and the ‘kolambi pola,’ tender cooked shrimp coated in a thick lemongrass and coconut sauce.

In a time when restaurants seem to be getting smaller, noisier, and more casual, Tamarind Tribeca is a wonder – a busy, massive, sophisticated, and expensive temple worshipping classic regional Indian cuisine. It seems to intentionally eschew the trend of kitschy rusticity that’s taking over Manhattan neighborhood-by-neighborhood; instead, it fully embraces the grand moneyed elegance characteristic of the Tribeca area in which it has set up shop. The ideal restaurant to make a splash with clients or to treat out-of-towners to a distinctly New York fine dining experience, Tamarind Tribeca wows with flavorful and not prissy Indian food, gold star service, and a serene sophisticated atmosphere.

Perfect For: taking clients out, fat wallets, Indian food lovers, big groups, showing out-of-towners ‘New York’-y ethnic food, graduation get-togethers

Tamarind Tribeca on Urbanspoon

Ed’s Chowder House: New York Does New England

I’m from Boston. I bleed New England. My mother’s family is from Cape Cod, and I grew up surrounded by quality seafood (even though I didn’t actually eat it until I entered adulthood). In short, lobster rolls and chowdah are their own food group and considered sacred where I’m from. And as a result, I have some pretty high expectations for all such things. Ed’s Chowder House, the brainchild of chef Ed Brown and restauranteur Jeffrey Chodorow, certainly takes its liberties with classic New England fare, ‘New York-ifying it,’ and the result is not half bad!

Up above street level and discreetly a part of Lincoln Square’s The Empire Hotel, Ed’s Chowder House is a visually appealing restaurant. The theme is nautical, and the sensation of being near the ocean is successfully achieved without over-doing it and while maintaining a certain Manhattan sheen. First, the restaurant is big. In fact, its so big that it just never seems full, for better or for worse. Up front is the bar area, followed by connecting dining rooms, and at the back, a private dining area. Second, the look is elegant beachy – more Hamptons than Cape Cod, more uptown luxury than sandy oceanfront casual. Expect: rich dark wood paneling, soaring windows, luxurious white leather banquettes, simple photographs of harbors and beachscapes, white chairs with little handles on the back reminiscent of those seen on swanky sailing yachts, touches of seersucker and pale nautical stripes, and plenty of bright white light. All of this is really quite lovely, more refined and restrained than some of Chodorow’s other creations (hello crazy Japanese pop art at Tanuki Tavern).

Perhaps the most surprising element of Ed’s Chowder House is how good the food is. It’s not classic New England fare, it’s not transcendent seafood, and it’s not even the best spot for good food in the neighborhood (I’m looking at you Time Warner Center). However, it’s satisfying, fresh-tasting, and the stuff you want to eat. The menu is extensive, featuring everything from a raw bar to a chowder ‘menu’ to sandwiches, ‘composed’ mains (read: fancy food) and ‘simple’ mains (read: straight-up uncomplicated food). And the kitchen executes everything from fluke crudo to seasoned crispy french fries, crispy clam rolls, fish n’ chips, risotto, and sea scallops well. Perhaps the best thing on the menu though is the lobster roll. While it’s not as wonderful as that served at Luke’s Lobster, it is pretty damn delicious for New York. The roll is buttery and soft; the lobster does have bits of celery and some mayo, but it’s so little that even a lobster roll fanatic like me wasn’t bothered; the roll is stuffed full with thick pieces of flavorful lobster. It’s just a good, rich, and hearty rendition of a New England favorite.

Frankly, I expected Ed’s Chowder House to be terrible – an over-wrought and poor interpretation of my beloved New England ‘cuisine.’ However, it pleasantly surprised with an accessible elegance and food good enough that you’d want to eat it again and again and then again. It’s not the best meal you’ll have in Manhattan, but it’s the type of food you could eat regularly (if you can afford it). With a please-all menu and a certain swankiness, Ed’s Chowder House is a bang-up option for business lunches and treating your out-of-town parents to a modern yet uncomplicated New York-y meal.

Perfect For: pre-Lincoln Center eats, lobster roll lunches, treating business clients

Ed's Chowder House on Urbanspoon

Spasso: A Dime a Dozen and No Less Enjoyable

In Italian, Spasso means amusement, and the West Village newcomer from the team behind the now defunct Choptank seems to be meant just for that sort of thing: amusement. Replacing neighborhood favorite Alfama, Spasso is rustic and charming, bustling, buzzing, and cheerful. Set on the corner of Perry Street and Hudson, Spasso is almost impossibly scenic: fresh white paint, big bright windows, exposed brick, a long and crowded bar, glinting mirrors, an attractive staff…it’s quintessential West Village – the sort of place the locals will fawn over adoringly.

The inside is bright and shiny and new, though with the ubiquitous ‘lightly distressed’ look popular with trendy rusticity these days. The bar, which runs down almost the entirety of the restaurant, is marble and set for dinner. On a quiet night, its a lovely place to eat alone or with a friend; on a busy night, it’s mobbed and better for glasses of wine and socializing. In the rest of the awkwardly-shaped restaurant, the tables line the walls and windows with comfortable banquettes and modern funky orange chairs or are stuffed into odd corners and quirky nooks. Perhaps the prime table though is pushed up against the window up front, near the door. A four-top, it’s isolated from the hub-bub in the back and commotion at the bar.
The food at Spasso is both traditional and contemporary ‘artisanal’ Italian – the most remarkable thing about it is the quality of the ingredients, which you can taste in every bite. Cured meats and sausages, unusual cheeses, fresh-baked bread, luxury olive oils, fresh and seasonal vegetables, homemade and hand-rolled pastas – it’s a verifiable cornucopia of luxe products. The starters are presented more like small plates and divided into pesce, verdure, formaggi, and carne casalinga; the options are dizzying. I ask, how is one to choose between such things as coppa and scallion, lardo and smoked mozzarella, pools of homemade stracciatella served with crusty bread, delicate cuts of robiola and taleggio, slender cured sardines with pickled radicchio, tendrils of charred octopus with creamy yogurt and mint, eggplant arancini with fluffy whipped housemade ricotta, or a simple tricolore salad with a zesty lemon vinaigrette? And those represent only half of the options you have to pick from to start a meal…
The primi and secondi courses are fairly traditional and hearty interpretations of Italian cuisine. The pastas are wonderful – cooked perfectly, tender, savory, and heart-warming. The spaghetti al pomodoro is simple and satisfying – it’s a classic red ‘gravy’-soaked dish and great if you’re craving something uncomplicated. The maccheroni di busa is just plain addictive with a pork ragu that I want to sop up with bread and lick out of the bowl before they take it from me – additions of fennel and goat cheese don’t hurt either, adding depth to an already delicious dish. With such soul satisfying pastas, it’s hard to imagine why you would order anything else, but, if you must, the entrees at Spasso are pretty good also. In particular, the grilled lamb chops are cooked perfectly to a pinky-red and served with a fresh and bright tomato marmelleta and sweet pools of vincotto – the flavors are unusual yet combine beautifully for an overall earthy taste.

Spasso is an immensely enjoyable addition to a neighborhood known for its charming restaurants. It’s hard to imagine how an immediate area that’s home to The New French, Cafe Cluny, Paris Commune, The Place, L’Artusi, August, and The Spotted Pig, amongst many others, can support another casual and cozy eatery; and yet, early on a Wednesday night, Spasso was packed to the gills with fashionable types, emerging for a relaxed yet stylish meal from their nearby brownstones. While it is ‘just another West Village restaurant’, with a similar vibe, price point, and clientele to many of those listed above, it’s also a lovely Italian option in a neighborhood heavy on French and New American and a wonderful alternative for desserts and wine.

Perfect For: West Village locals, solo eating at the bar, bustling sunday brunch, double-dating, pasta fanatics, hearty family dinners out, early in the night eats
Spasso on Urbanspoon

Riverpark: Very Colicchio, But Not Colicchio’s Best

Riverpark, Chef Tom Colicchio’s newest fine dining spot in Manhattan, is a strange sort of place. First off, it’s in a completely wacky location for a restaurant, tucked behind Bellevue Hospital and close to cantilevered over the FDR. If you’re not familiar with the neighborhood, it’s hard to find, especially in the dark. Second, although it seems to cater to the neighboring hospital crowd, it’s as sleek and slinky as a Meatpacking District restaurant frequented by models and their men. Third, despite the Colicchio pedigree and interesting menu, the food is not particularly far above mediocre. For all these reasons, Riverpark is a confusing place, with a whole lot of swagger and not a whole lot to back it up.

The restaurant looks oh-so-Colicchio. In fact, it’s a dead-ringer for Colicchio & Sons, with the same high ceilings, massive windows, sleek industrial-chic aesthetic, and a comfortable modernism. The spacious room is split into a bar/cafe area and a dining room. While I understand the conceptual difference between the two, the separation is so indistinct that it’s almost not worth thinking about. To it’s credit, Riverpark has a few visually stunning elements. The ceiling above the bar casts modern magic, emulating the twinkling luminosity of a rural night sky; giant window upon giant window in the dining room look at over the East River, and while the panorama of industrial Williamsburg may not be the most charming, a view of anything ‘nature’ in New York is appreciated; and the outdoor patio, opening during clement weather, is a slick and comfortable spot to lounge with cocktails on modern couches with the woosh of the FDR in the not-so-distant background.

The menu at Riverpark is similar to that at Craft and Colicchio & Sons, a Tom Colicchio standard blend of modern and innovative ‘American’ cuisine with seasonal and, when possible, local ingredients. The options are diverse, ranging from a brothy mushroom consomme to an Italian-inspired ramp & ricotta ravioli to the updated English favorite leg of lamb with potatoes, mint, and peas. Unfortunately, while each dish seems intricately constructed to strike the perfect balance between dressed-up comfort food and gourmet creativity, the actual execution is only average.

The cavatelli with braised lamb, sweet peas, mint and horseradish is muddy and confusing; it was almost delightful with perfectly cooked and toothsome cavatelli in a blend of tender lamb, peas and fresh mint, yet the overpowering horseradish threw in a wrench in the whole production. The diver sea scallops were over-cooked and rubbery, strangely fishy, and lacking in that silky texture and meaty flavor that make scallops dishes so wonderful – an overall failure, despite the very tasty bacon-ramp vinaigrette. The smoked flour gnocchetti sardi starter is one of the more unusual dishes I’ve tasted in while, with a crispy smoky gnocchi with nutty parmesan, lemon, and crisp spring asparagus. Unfortunately, all this ‘creativity’ backfires – once again, the flavors are muddy and confused; there is just too much going on.

Riverpark is not the best of Colicchio’s New York restaurants, despite it’s truly gorgeous decor and unusual location. The most important part of the restaurant, the food, is unimpressive. However, if you’re looking for elegant bar snacks, fancy cocktails, and a sleek atmosphere, Riverpark is an excellent pick, especially for after-work festivities, client events, and treating your visiting parents to a uniquely New York experience.

Perfect For: the east side hospital industry, after-work drinks, power lunches, Colicchio fans, dining with a view, outdoor cocktails in the summer

Riverpark on Urbanspoon

David Burke Kitchen: Every Neighborhood Could Use a Little Burke-ian Whimsy

I haven’t been to a David Burke restaurant in a long time, and before last year, he seemed to have fallen off the ‘famous chef’ radar. Yet, with an appearance on Top Chef All-Stars recently and the opening of his new restaurant, David Burke Kitchen, it appears as though Burke has decided to re-enter the spotlight. And what a delight this is, for Burke’s whimsical and passionate approach to food, regardless of how successful his creations are, is truly a thrill for diners.

David Burke Kitchen is in the basement of the new James Hotel on Grand Street in Soho. Yes, it’s in the basement, of a hotel. To many, this would be a recipe for disaster. Hotel restaurants get a bad rep for uninspired cuisine and cookie-cutter atmospheres, yet David Burke is joining the ranks of famous chefs looking to change this image by opening their new culinary hotspots in hotels all over Manhattan (others: Michael White’s Ai Fiori in The Setai Fifth Avenue, Geoffrey Zakarian’s The Lambs Club in The Chatwal, Sam Talbot’s Imperial No. 9 in the Mondrian Soho, and April Bloomfield’s The Breslin in The Ace Hotel, and so forth). David Burke Kitchen is, well, nice. It’s certainly got a fabricated feel, with modern wooden furniture and a funky undulating wooden ceiling, all tried to be made up as ‘rustic’ with blue-and-white checkered napkins. Yet, all the same, despite a certain “been there, done that” decor, David Burke Kitchen is warm and welcoming, friendly to all, and, most importantly, comfortable.

David Burke’s quirky and whimsical interpretations of traditional American dishes are the real reason to visit David Burke Kitchen. And, in general, the kitchen executes Burke’s visions very well. A pork chop entree is hefty, enough to feed two, yet wonderfully complicated with a large bone-in chop cooked to the perfect temperature and marinated in something wasabi-like, tasty nuggets of tender braised cheek, and an addictive salty-sweet marmalade made from bacon and apple. It is completely in-your-face flavor. The appetizers are a treasure trove of inventive bites: ‘ants on a log’ are reinterpreted from a popular childhood snack to include sophisticated bits of bone marrow and snails soaked in garlic, crab cakes bound with pretzel and filled with green peppercorns and white beer, a succulent duo of juicy seared scallops perched on a tangled mess of ultra rich braised oxtail, all topped with a dainty quail’s egg. The menu virtually overflows with Burke’s imagination – nothing is left alone. Fries are not just fries, they’re ‘fancy fries’ cooked in smoked beef fat and topped with sliced jalapeno; a baked potato comes topped with classic English rarebit; jars of chicken liver with prunes and pistachios are offered for adventurous eaters as a tempting (and heart attack-inducing) bar snack. The options are endless and diverse, often thrilling, and always complicated.
For some, David Burke’s ebullient enthusiasm may be overwhelming or, even worse, tiresome. However, if you’re prepared for the sometimes unusual outpouring of creative flavor combinations, your meal at David Burke Kitchen can be exciting and adventurous, a break from ‘the norm.’ Burke sets customers at ease with a refreshingly friendly and competent staff; our waiter was exuberant and respectful, informative and clearly inspired by David Burke. All in all, though not perfect and with a few kitchen kinks to work out, David Burke Kitchen is a fun new addition to an otherwise barren corner in Soho.
Perfect For: fashionable foodies, first dates, adventurous eaters, non-hipster carnivores, giving visitors a thoroughly ‘New York’ dining experience, drinks and dessert

David Burke Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Lambs Club: Midtown’s Minetta, Without the Burger

Every now and then, a gourmet restaurant comes along that is equal parts old world New York and fresh trendy style. The Lambs Club, a ‘hotel restaurant,’ is one of the newer additions to the big bucks midtown west dining scene. Sumptuously designed to evoke the glamorous Art Deco days of the 80’s, the Lambs Club comes replete with modern touches such as a Sasha Petraske designed cocktail menu and an oh-so-New York power brunch. The brainchild of famous restauranteur Geoffrey Zakarian (formerly of Le Cirque and Patroon, recently of Town and Country), The Lambs Club bids a lavish and jubilant ‘adieu’ to the recession.

Situated in the lobby of the Chatwal Hotel, just off the bright lights of Times Square, The Lambs Club does a fairly good job of eschewing the boring and pedestrian ‘hotel restaurant’ stereotype. The space is strangely-shaped and cramped, as all hotel restaurants inexplicably seem to be. Yet, all is not lost, for the restaurant makes up for space deprivation in all its lacquered and leathered glory. The floors and the walls are inky jet black, lending a lush and mysterious darkness to the dining room. Hugging the walls are deep red leather banquettes, buttery to the touch, and on one side, a massive 18th-century stone fireplace, lit at night to a roaring blaze. Classic art-deco lamps and black-and-white photographs of celebrities long-gone cover the dark paneled walls. The crowd is older, wealthier, paunchier than those downtown, settled comfortably into the plush chairs, unaffected by the pricey cocktails and pricier dishes. Every now and then, a famous thespian will stop in for a bite to eat, sure not to be bothered by the elegant clientele.

The food is occasionally inconsistent, but generally very good. Expect traditional high-roller American fare: crispy veal sweetbreads, beef tartare, oysters, shrimp cocktail, heritage pork chop, roasted lamb, a prime steak, and so forth. The flavors are bold and perhaps best described as expensive; this food just tastes like it was made for rich people. The grilled octopus is excellent: tender, well-seasoned with just enough char on the outside, and well-balanced with a bed of earthy turnips and potatoes. The heritage pork ravioli is also marvelous, cooked perfectly with a bold ‘meatiness,’ a treat for kings as a $19 appetizer. Seared scallops seduce diners unbeknown: succulent and juicy, caramelized beautifully for sweetness, enveloped by a silky Vadouvan spice sauce and peppered with earthy bits of porcini mushrooms. For big spenders, it’s hard to ignore the $39 roasted lamb saddle, a wonderful piece of meat served tender with a creamy polenta you should want to slather all over it.

The Lambs Club is really a marvelous surprise for Midtown West, a minefield of 5-star gourmet spots like Le Bernandin mixed with mediocre red sauce Italian joints and your run-of-the-mill steakhouses. There’s a lot of to like about Zakarian’s new spot: superstar cocktails that will get you buttered up real nice (the Strawberry Gimlet is just plain addictive), gold star service, and a menu of generally excellent American classics. At The Lambs Club, you tend to get what you pay for: a gourmet dining experienced steeped in the trappings of both modern and old-world luxury.

Perfect For: dealmaking power lunches, celebrity spotting, going out on the town in style, pre/post theater meals and libations, spending your bonus $$$, recreating Mad Men

The Lambs Club on Urbanspoon