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Posts from the ‘meatpacking district’ Category

Scarpetta: A Sexy Meatpacking Italian Dream

Scarpetta has a lot of hype working for it; Scott Conant is generally regarded as a very skilled chef, the tomato & basil pasta has been called one of Manhattan’s best pasta dishes, and it has received three stars for excellence from both the New York Times and New York Magazine. The buzz is so loud you could be living in a beehive. And trust me, after a 2 hour long dinner last night, there is reason for it.

Despite the less than ideal location between Comix and The Diner on 14th Street, I knew Scarpetta was going to be right up my alley from the get-go. Set in a white stucco Greek Revival townhouse with a small outdoor patio, the restaurant, set on the first floor, is simultaneously expansive and intimate. Soaring ceilings give the illusion of space, while luxurious brown distressed leather boothes keep things cozy. Separated into two rooms, the restaurant features a no-reservations front bar & cafe with wood-paneled and exposed brick walls, tables for two, and a wide marble bar as well as a cavernous back dining room with mirrors, edison-light chandeliers, a separated wine ‘cellar’, and stark brown contemporary furniture. The resulting look is a modern, sleek, and endlessly elegant.

Scott Conant’s soulful Italian cuisine is at once classic and inventive. His menu features surprising twists on traditional dishes, completely unique ingredients and flavor pairings, and oftentimes beautifully simplistic creations. For example, the tomato & basil pasta is nothing but simple with house-made spaghetti and a creamy tomato sauce; yet, it transcends your typical noodle dish with perfect execution and an ultimately refreshing flavor you’d be hard-pressed to replicate. The moist-roasted capretto with peas and fingerling potatoes is dripping with unusual marinated goat flavor; however, though it certainly needed a bit more salt, the dish had an uncomplicated and satisfying traditional meat & potatoes feel. Other superior highlights include the impossibly creamy polenta served with a pot of truffled mushrooms – both elements seemed to just melt in your mouth with a soulful and nostalgic richness, the short ribs agnolotti with hazelnuts and horseradish – a complicated blend of nutty, spicy, and meaty flavors that hit you in complex waves, and the addictive banana budino dessert with pecan gelato imbued with a rare and cherished moistness. Even something so simple as fried mozzarella becomes tantalizing when served lightly breaded with savory stewed baby tomatoes.

The night’s only bobbles include a too-fishy black cod in desperate need of more salt, more flavor, and better accoutrements and the olive oil cake that was appropriately moist yet completely over-powered by the tangerine gelato and muddy marscapone. From beginning to end, Scott Conant’s gourmet story told through dishes that challenge you is far above average and worth many re-tellings.
All in all, Scarpetta is a special place that strikes the ideal balance between buzzy hotspot and intimate restaurant; it has both sex appeal and a peaceful sophistication. Charming and professional service adds the cherry on top, rounding out a truly enjoyable dining experience. Two thumbs up, and more if I could.

Perfect For: an anniversary dinner or special occasion date, after-work drinks at the bar, a birthday celebration, pasta-lovers, dinner out with the parents, indulging in decadence

Scarpetta on Urbanspoon

POP Burger: Pop and Drop

Pop Burger is a lot like Pringles potato chips – either you pop and you can’t stop or you desperately crave the traditional chip. The whole gimmick revolves around sliders instead of full-size burgers. For $5, you get a set of two mini-burgers, complete with toppings.

Why you would go here for anything other than burgers is beyond me, but the short menu offers not just the burger and cheeseburgers expected but also hot dogs, a crispy fried shrimp sandwich, salads, a grilled chicken sandwich, and a turkey burger. The cheeseburgers are what to get – little mini rounds of seasoned beef, gooey melted cheese, and thousand island dressing on crispy buns. No matter how you spin it though – eating sliders is an acquired taste. You either love the bird-like portions or you yearn for a big spillover patty on a soft full-size bun, loaded with long crispy slabs of bacon and huge tomato rounds.

Personally? I find sliders agonizing – too easy to eat and seemingly less food than a proper burger. Pop Burgers’ variety are frustratingly small, the size of a golf ball when it comes down to it. They get points in flavor and are painstakingly cooked to the right temperature (as evidenced by the extraordinary wait time for a fast food joint), yet I always leave unsatisfied, seeking more.

The psychodelic modern space suits its neighborhood, the Meatpacking District, well – attracting club-going hot young things, curious tourists, and hip locals. The open storefront is all white, with a walk-up counter for ordering, sparse contemporary tables, and tastefully applied neon lighting. From the street, everything purely glows a fresh bright white.

If you’re into the slider phenomenon, Pop Burger churns out a decent specimen quickly and cheaply – it’s a reformed White Castle without the sketchy atmosphere. The ample space makes it a good bet for late-night food binges with a big group and the cheap prices keep it in the running for an el-cheapo meal after work. Order a side of fries and a black & white shake to complete the scene.

Pop Burger on Urbanspoon

Del Posto: The Archway to a Grander Age

Del Posto harkens back to a grander age, where elegant dining and formal service were the appreciated norm. Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich, and Lidia Bastianich eschew the casual comfort food trend with this massive bastion of fine dining and sophistication on the edge of the Meatpacking District. The cavernous room is regal, imposing, and bold with creamy red and mahogany leather, marble tables, plumes of fresh flowers, a gorgeous parquet-style floor, a central marble staircase to the wrap-around upper level, and smooth dark wood accents everywhere. Everything about the space is grand, with no expense spared on details.

The hallmark of the entire experience was the service. Warm, knowledgeable and discreet, everyone from the busboys to the hostess to the head waiter to the sommelier impressed me with their dignity and politesse. The enormous staff was always nearby, yet never hovering nor interrupting.

The food is remarkably original, both traditional in technique and highly innovative in flavor. The extensive menu is daunting in that many words are unfamiliar to those not fluent in Italian foodstuffs, yet the food itself is accessibly tasty. Expect fresh and unusual vegetables, complex sauces, homemade pasta, and both classic and unusual cuts of meat. The cuisine is described as ‘trans-generational Italian’ and will blow your mind with its sophisticated complexity.

My party of 5 made the most of the diverse menu, ordering the roast autumn vegetables, carne crudo, and the vongole marinate to start, the pumpkin cappellaci, orecchiette, seared duck breast, roasted lamb rack, and grilled pork as mains, and the chocolate ricotta tortino, butterscotch semifreddo, and sorbet selection for dessert. The roast vegetables were flavorful, but not particularly memorable, occupying just a few small spaces on an abnormally large plate. The carne crudo was a shining star – presented like steak tartare but fresher and cleaner with truffled salsa and parmigiano-reggiano.

The main courses were simply and cleanly presented – no pomp and circumstance. The pumpkin cappellaci was hand molded and stuffed with pumpkin, truffles and dried sage. A sweet almond milk topped the dish, completing the decadent offering. The orrecchiette was the table’s favorite – fresh and doughy with savory lumps of seasoned lamb neck sausage and slightly bitter complementary strips of broccoli rabe. It definitely had the makings of a heart-warming favorite that I would love to replicate on my own time. The seared duck breast, spiced and aromatic, was perfectly cooked with a crispy fatty skin skimming the surface, creating a beautiful texture. The roasted lamb, paired with tail ragu, puttanesca sauce, and sauteed basil, was unusually flavored and complex, yet also cooked an ideal temperature so that it melted in your mouth. Lastly, the grilled pork was exactly how pork should be – tender yet slightly resistant, juicy, and paired with creamy savory sunchoke puree.

As in any proper Italian restaurant, the desserts were to die for. The chocolate ricotta tort defined decadence with alternating layers of moist chocolate cake and ricotta cheese and a generous dollop of creamy mild olive oil sorbet (don’t judge – this unusual concoction is absolutely marvelous). The butterscotch semifreddo was, well, very butterscotchy – and if you like butterscotch, you will love this, guaranteed. The sorbets were vibrantly colored and remarkably fresh and refreshing.

All in all, the food IS something to write home about – simple, elegant, unusual, surprising, accessible, tasty. Batali and Bastianich have produced here what could be called the pinnacle of Italian cuisine, as dressy as traditional French cuisine and as comfortable as traditional Italian dishes. Not to mention, the unbelievably generous kitchen kept sending out little gifts for the table to savor! Included were a trio of amuse bouches, cream-stuffed doughnut holes, chocolate treats, a full overstuffed bread and pastry basket, and boxed truffles to go.

Del Posto represents a rare and dying breed of culinary establishments in New York. The unabashed focus on luxe details, the fine art of tableside service, and sophisticated inventive cuisine sets Del Posto out from the crowd. Expect fancy; expect luxury; and most of all, expect pampering. A special occasions type of place or just somewhere to indulge in the grander things in life, Del Posto shines without being flashy and wows without spectacle.

Del Posto on Urbanspoon

Tanuki Tavern: Very Kooky

Tonight, I had a bizarre experience in a pink-hued funhouse, otherwise known as Tanuki Tavern. Tanuki, the replacement for Ono in the Gansevoort Hotel, is pretty much nothing like I expected. While the downstairs bar is dimly lit and sufficiently trendy, the rest of the bi-level space looks like it was decorated by a schizophrenic Anime character from the retro 70s. As one of my dining companions remarked, it’s like you’ve stepped into the That ’70s Show. Very low to the ground dining tables of flimsy light wood and similarly low benches of polyester orange pop out against a strange background of stylized pink flowers. As the night wore on, I found the strange wallpaper dizzying and off-putting.

Despite my dislike of the decor, the food was surprisingly good. My initial worry was that it was going to be over-priced, under-seasoned ‘club-restaurant’ food with poor execution. While there were a few bobbles, most of the 8 dishes were very tasty. The concept of the menu is essentially Japanese small-plates or tapas (a fact that was never adequately explained to us by our waiter and that I only knew from my prior reading on the place). My party of 4 ordered 2 plates each and found that number to be just right. Between us, we opted for the King Crab Dynamite, the Lobster Dynamite, the Wagyu Tartare Roll, the Spider Roll, the Clam Linguine, the Oxtail Fried Rice, the Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna, and the Lobster, Avocado and Fried Tofu.
The Oxtail Fried Rice, Wagyu Tartare Roll, the Little Neck Clam Linguine, and Lobster Dynamite were by far the highlights of the meal. The Fried Rice was addictive – I could eat it every day. The Wagyu Tartare roll was unlike any sushi roll I’ve ever had (probably because it wasn’t based on seafood) and absolutely worth the obscene $21 price tag. The Lobster Dynamite defined decadence: a Maine lobster shell stuffed with steamed lobster meat, rice, and spicy sauce. The Clam Linguine, while a strange menu item for a Japanese tavern, was pure garlicky goodness – sensuous and savory.
The King Crab Dynamite wasn’t as successful, being much sloppier than its lobster cousin. I couldn’t enjoy the crab because it was just too fishy and doused in a thick spicy sauce. The Lobster, Avocado and Fried Tofu lacked a flavor boost – it fell flat when combined with all of the other savory dishes on the table. Each part of the dish muddled together to create an entirely unforgettable dish. The Spider Roll was similarly unforgettable – good but not good enough to truly stand-out. I didn’t enjoy the Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna – mostly because the rice was MUCH too sweet. It entirely over-powered the tuna.

Unfortunately, it was the service that really sunk this ship. I don’t know what I expected from a notoriously snooty location, but the general treatment of our party was really deplorable. To begin with, both the host and hostess had serious attitude problems (what is with that? no need to be rude.) Our waiter a) barely spoke English, b) neglected to explain the concept of an izakaya which every other waiter around us seemed to do, c) failed to offer us a dessert menu, and d), most ridiculously, asked us to leave immediately after we paid our bill, cocktails unfinished, because another party was waiting. This entire situation was offensive, rude, and irritating. Despite protests from the General Manager that he had no idea this was happening, I am shocked that a restaurant as new as Tanuki Tavern and from such a seasoned restauranteur as Jeffery Chodorow would treat diners that way.

Our fellow diners ranged from curious foodies checking out Chodorow’s new trendy endeavor to gaggles of girls who clearly haunt the Meatpacking Distrcit regularly. Older couples, after-work imbibers, and even families were also in the mix. I definitely expected the scene to be snootier and trendier than it was. Disappointing, I (shamelessly) love people-watching.

I’m on the fence about Tanuki Tavern. The food was above average and very creative, but the general scene rubbed me the wrong way. All in all, the downstairs bar is great for after-work drinks, first-date cocktails, and boozing with buddies, and the food is great for sharing with large groups. However, don’t go here with someone you’re looking to impress or with those finicky about service. Hopefully, the service issues will improve once all the starter kinks are out.

Tanuki Tavern on Urbanspoon

Oh Paradou, I Heart You

Finally, a good place to eat in the Meatpacking District. Paradou, a small restaurant crammed between 5 Ninth and Revel, gets high scores on both atmosphere and food. This isn’t just a stopover destination for clubbers seeking a place to eat; this is a real culinary establishment, a diamond in the rough.

Just off 9th Ave on Little West 12th, this charming French restaurant stole my heart and the hearts of my dining companions, even despite the 20 minute wait to sit down. Comprised of a cramped front room with tables for two and four and a more spacious back ‘garden’ with larger tables for groups, Paradou brings the essence of Provence to downtown Manhattan. Paradou is the type of quaint that fashionable New Yorkers love – cozy while still being luxurious and elegant. White-washed brick walls, high airy ceilings, French countryside knick-knacks, and furniture made from vintage wine crates transport you from clubbing central to the center of a French provencal village – almost, if it weren’t for the pounding beat next door.

The main event here though is the food. Seasonal, classic, and delicious, the provencal cuisine has something for everyone. My party of 6 really run the gamut, sampling a variety of plates off the relatively limited menu. For appetizers, we had the salmon tartare, the herb salad with roasted tomatoes, and the arugula and poached pear salad. For entrees, we tried out the daily special of walnut-stuffed quail, the wild boar tenderloin, the bay scallops, the duck duo, and the rack of lamb. The menu was varied and surprising. I had expected traditional roast chicken, steak tartare, and soup. While these were on the menu, they were joined by innovative and refreshing dishes from the South of France. Each dish was beautifully presented and fragrant with herbs and spices.

The service at Paradou was the only downside. Very authentically French, things moved slowly. We had to wait 20 minutes for our table, despite having a reservation, and then another 25 minutes at the end of the meal for our check. Our waiter was not exactly warm or welcoming and the bus boys kept pouring water in our beer glasses.

However, despite the table service difficulties, the meal was still very pleasant. The food and irresistable charm satisfied the whole party, leaving all satiated and smiling. Paradou is ideal for a romantic date (request the front room!) or a larger party (request the garden!) looking for a lowkey good time. It’s uncomplicated and hearty while still maintaining a level of sophistication. Sweet and authentic, avoid the throngs outside nearby French bistro Pastis and sneak off to this hidden riff on bucolic Provencal cuisine.

Paradou on Urbanspoon

Los Dados: ‘Comfort Food’ Meatpacking Style

While it can be ferociously debated whether or not you can actually have true ‘made-in-my-momma’s-kitchen’ style comfort food in the Meatpacking District, chef Sue Torres does her best to churn out tasty Mexican ‘comfort food’ that is still fashionable enough for the ‘hood.

Los Dados is hoppin’ on a Thursday night – packed with the ritzy downtown set, gaggles of well-dressed gay men, girls in platform high heels, and the occasional ‘normal’ family party. This is definitely a place to go with a group. The music is bumping, the crowds are crowding, the margheritas are flowing.

Situated on the corner of Gansevoort and Washington, Los Dados is slightly off to the side of Meatpacking’s core at Gansevoort and Hudson, yet it attracts the same chi-chi crowd and has the same scene-y look. Decorated (perhaps over-decorated), Los Dados embodies how New Yorkers would design a tiled ‘taqueria,’ over-flowing with spiky plants, expensive Mexican kitsch, and rust red tiles. The inside bar almost mimics a sort of Mexican tiki bar while the restaurant feels as though you’re stepping into a dressed-up hut, the type you would find on a 5-star resort – faux proletarian with all the top-notch amenities. In all honesty, Los Dados walks the fine line between tacky and fun.

As is to be expected for a Meatpacking restaurant swamped with oftentimes obnoxious New York eaters, Los Dados struggles on the service front. The hostess was supremely unhelpful and even tried to tell me that she couldn’t find my party when they called our name. We were at the bar…where she picks up everyone looking for a table…and where she asked us to sit originally. This ‘mishap’ led us to wait for another 15 minutes (on top of the 20 we already had, despite a reservation). Our waitress, while spritzy and fun, kept forgetting my margherita refill order. However, she did bring out the food and the check in rapid fashion.

The food was actually surprisingly good for a Mexican restaurant in a neighborhood starving for quality eats. The menu focuses on homestyle Mexican dishes such as tacos, enchiladas, and quesadillas. The guacamole was served in substantial portions and was a delicious start to the meal despite the absurd $10 price tag. In fact, each of these ‘comfort’ food dishes did not have comfortable prices. A steak quesadilla for $20? Fish tacos for $20? I’m used to mexican food sitting around the $10 price line. Regardless, if you’re willing to shell out, you won’t be disappointed. The ‘Al Pastor’ tacos with roasted pork and charred jalapeno-pineapple salsa were absolutely riveting. I couldn’t stop eating them, even when my soft taco shell disintegrated around me. The sweet pineapple and savory pork are a match made in heaven.

Los Dados is an ideal precursor to a night on the town – strong drinks, good and filling food, and hot music all come together in a vibrant and supremely fun setting. Fiesta Fiesta!

Los Dados on Urbanspoon

Nero: Italian Cuisine Meatpacking-Style

One night, a couple weeks back, my boyfriend John had a reason to celebrate. Tired yet looking for some time out on the town, we went looking for a spot that was hip and trendy, yet not pretentious or overdone. We wanted a young crowd in a hoppin’ neighborhood downtown. And thus, I found myself with the difficult task of finding tasty food in the Meatpacking District.

This is surprisingly difficult if you’re planning last minute and have no hope of sneaking into Spice Market, Pastis or Ono. After careful scoping of restaurants in the area (Cafe Cluny seemed too quiet, Fredericks too…steak, Bagatelle too Euro-techno, etc etc), I decided to give Nero, a slinky Italian restaurant, the green light.

In short, I think Nero is in the midst of having an extensive identity crisis – unclear on whether it should focus on food or atmosphere, couples or the clubby crowd, old-school authentic Italian or new school Mediterranean. In an effort to please all, Nero hovers in a gray area, good yet not excellent in any way.

Yet, to my surprise, it wasn’t horrible. Maybe I’m being unfair in assuming that all Meatpacking restaurants are built to shimmer and shine without any focus on the food, yet I have little experience to prove otherwise. The atmosphere at Nero was slightly ‘fabricated,’ with a cliche black-and-white movie screened on a large brick wall, flickering candles on every table, and a ‘plastic’ (yet attractive) wait staff. I mention the staff because I’m convinced they are meant to be part of the decor…

Yet, despite this unauthentic feel, the restaurant was actually very seductive. Large bowls of pasta with rich sauce and melted cheese, platters of meat and fish with heavy sauces, and classic italian antipasti all paired with bottles of red wine from the impressive wine list lent to the oozing romantic feel of the place. The food was rich and filling yet by no means innovative or mind-blowingly delicious. My pasta was over-cooked and I’m still convinced that my vodka sauce came out of a Prego container. It all tasted good because it was drowned in melted cheese, which conveniently masked the flavor of everything else. The whole time I was there, I got the sense that the kitchen was trying too hard to be ‘authentically Italian’ and just way overshot the mark.

For the meatpacking district, the crowd was incredibly normal. Very few pin-thin New York Barbies wandered in and most of the tables were taken up by well-dressed yuppie couples. Older couples with TOURIST stamped across their foreheads peppered the crowd and cougars perched at the bar. I only saw one girl in sequins the whole meal.

All-in-all, Nero was a beautiful (albeit cliche) restaurant with Meatpacking pizzazz and, unfortunately also, Meatpacking District-caliber cuisine. The crowd was unpretentious, the service was friendly and remarkably quick, and the wine list provided some real gems. This is a safe and comfortable standby in a neighborhood known for being a culinary minefield.

Nero on Urbanspoon