iconic nyc: l.i.e.



everything the traffic will allow



top 100: the dutch

Of all the noisy restaurants in this abominably loud city to Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch must go the dubious distinction of sporting the most inexplicably ear-splitting acoustics. While the decor is a pleasingly comfortable homespun ode to American earnestness, the decibel level makes it a little like dining on the verge of the BQE or trying to eat in the mosh pit of a rock concert: you live in fear of being bumped from all sides because honestly, there’s no way a group of ordinary humans could be THIS LOUD. I want to make the font larger, the bold bolder, the caps more capital to emphasize just how loud the hive is because even for a Saturday night in Soho it is VERY, VERY LOUD!  And that takes away from the food, I fear, which is pretty darn delicious from soup to nuts. As twilight gently envelope a momentarily quiet corner window table we start with Jersey asparagus because – smelly pee be damned – ’tis the season for asparagus. (In food fetish circles mid-May generally marks the time ramps relinquish their crown to the noble asparagi) Fragrant, toothsome, adorned with the slightest hint of tarragon and the buttery yolk of a fried – versus poached – egg, it’s like eating stalks of spring: verdant, earthy, and above all, vital. Steak tartare is equally alive, the beef tasting of its grassy diet and topped with white anchovy and a piquant dollop of caesar salad. A dozen New England oysters follow: meaty Massachusetts Peter’s Point and Rhody Matunucks thick with brine. Maybe it was the first round of cocktails – for me, The Last Oaxacan, a smoky mix of yellow Chartreuse and pineapple infused Mezcal; an aromatic blend of Thai basil, kaffir lime and vodka for my partner in crime, the Cassia Blossom – or the first bottle of Trimbach, but it’s at this point I notice we are speaking quite loudly while leaning in across the table to listen to each other. When main courses arrive we pay significantly more attention to our plates because it’s a losing battle trying converse at a sufficient volume while not shooting torpedos of food at the person across from you. It’s a taste-a-palooza, however, so we’re both happy to shut up and dig in. I’ve got five plump sea scallops glazed with bacon jam, jalapeno and kumquat. It’s a smoky-spicy-citrus trifecta that makes me want to shout “Yahtzee!” Across the table, my friend has a bowl of tarragon-roasted chicken with morels and charred leeks. The earthy smells perfume the table like narcotics and we happily pass plates back and forth in silence, like a joint shared at the beach – as oblivious to the noise as the crash of the surf. It’s a happy spell of satiety that’s cast, made even better by dessert – an ethereal banana cream pie that makes me yearn for summer. In fact everything this evening, save the noise, has been so seasonally focused that it has me looking forward to what might follow: summer corn, blueberries, and sea bass; autumn lamb, apples, and winter game. Chef Carmellini, you can cook for me anytime. But could you find a way to keep it down just a bit?


top 100: esca

I knew it was bound to happen sooner or later: a bust up, a blow out, the discovery of an out and out lemon undeserving of its place in the vaunted Top 100. For some reason, however, I never expected it to happen at Batali and Bastianich’s Esca. Mario and Joe, respectively, are the forces behind an impressive group of critically acclaimed restaurants, including Babbo, Del Posto, Lupa, Otto, and the Eataly megaplex. Together they’ve taken a cuisine which for generations dwelled in a red sauce ghetto and forged an authentic four-star Italian experience. These restauranteurs know what they are doing – which made my recent meal at Esca all the more disappointing. For starters, the rock ‘n’ roll is too loud by half and the lemon yellow walls are in need of a fresh coat of paint. (On the first day of spring – with the weather happily cooperating – could there be anything more off-putting than looking out a window and realizing that the Lincoln Tunnel traffic crawling down Ninth Avenue commands a more serene vista than the scuffed and shabby room where you’re about to dine?) Pressed for time, the reservationist forgave my late arrival yet things got off to a bumpy start when a few simple menu questions left my waiter befuddled. So without help I settled on the two-flight tasting of crudo for which the restaurant is famous. Arriving first, a trio of winners: a plump oyster, satisfying and briny, diver scallop in tangerine-pressed olive oil and peppercorns, and my favorite, local porgy with flaky sea salt. The second plate offered more mixed results: beautifully marbled Arctic char was oddly cut and improbably stringy, a Cherry Stone clam ceviche had all the unpleasant mouth-feel of a spicy rubber band, and yet razor clams with chilis, scallion and mint were delicious and invigorating. (I could easily pop back a dozen and not bat an eye.) The inconsistencies continued with the arrival of polipo, a perfectly charred – and for $17, entirely too small – piece of flavorful octopus on a bland bed of giant corona beans, which were themselves perched atop a flavorless mound of undressed frisée. House made fusilli with gulf shrimp and zucchini flowers was ultimately fine – yet the reality of a few wilted greens tossed into some pasta didn’t quite deliver on the promise inherent in those ethereal spring blossoms. Nobody seems to be in charge at Esca – the contrariety is evident not only between courses but often within a single dish. It’s all the more frustrating because you can sense the good intentions even if the follow-through never delivers. Dessert, alas, didn’t deliver either – though I must admit it never even got the chance. I mentioned to the waiter at the start of service how I needed to be firmly out the door by 7:30. At 7:40 she wandered over oblivious with a dessert menu in hand. That inability to sustain a thought, I’m afraid, explains the Esca experience in a nutshell.


gobble, gobble

The day before Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorites.  There’s something incredibly satisfying about a leisurely half-day at the office followed by a half-filled tumbler of whiskey.  More to the point, it is usually accompanied by a half-cocked smirk, which spreads across my face as I surf the news in befuddled amusement at the traffic snarls and airports descending into chaos.  Suckers!

This year, however, I am one of those poor schmucks braving the Lincoln Tunnel while preparing my junk to be unceremoniously cupped at Newark airport.  Feel free to enjoy a moment of schadenfreude, dear readers.


ashes to ashes

How ironic that I posted a video yesterday about the plane-choked skies right about the same time those skies were being shut down across Europe.  It seems that mother nature still has the power to put all of us in our place:  a volcanic eruption in Iceland sent plumes of ash into the air, creating a high-altitude cloud that’s now drifting towards Europe.  The ash, it turns out, contains silicates, which melt in the high heat of jet engines, causing them to flame out and stall.

If only this had happened next Thursday, April 22 – it would have made for a sardonic complement to Earth Day.

Check out video below of the erupting volcano, courtesy of ITN, as well as satellite imagery of the dark ash plume.


the busy skies

A cool little video courtesy of HuffPo that shows the crazy amount of air traffic criss-crossing the globe over the course of 24 hours.  I don’t know about you, but my carbon footprint suddenly feels massive.


live blog: the streets of buenos aires

Avenido 9 de Julio is the widest avenue in the world: an astonishing twenty lanes. Yet somehow the four meridians and copious tree plantings makes it eminently navigable, too. (Do yourself a favor and turn off the sound.)


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