Friday, January 04, 2008

Too Good...
...for More Reviews!

At this point of my reviewing career, I have seen some awesome places and some scary places, some tasty places and some disgusting places. The New York culinary scene is just fantastic, and there are some places I cannot review anymore for various reasons -- such as it has become a "regular" it would be improper for me to keep reviewing. And here I will list restaurants I 101% recommend, ones I will quit reviewing (unless something truly extraordinary or horrible happens). And they are in alphabetical order...

Benjamin Steakhouse: My long quest to find a good steakhouse in Manhattan ended here. This place has the best cuts of meat, and its lamb chop is just heavenly. Solid environment and location, by far the best steakhouse in the city! (previous review 1) (previous review 2)

Esca: This Mario Batali wonder of Italian seafood is the best seafood place in New York. The freshness of the crudo is just wonderful, and it whips most sushi places. The spaghetti with urchin and crab is one of the best dishes, and the wine selection is just fantastic. Best fish, ever! (previous review 1) (previous review 2) (previous review 3)

Insieme: This amazing wonder of master chef Marco Canora is just perfect. Best wines and drinks in town, excellent staff, most attentive chef. Just the safest Italian place in town, never a bad meal or experience. Marco is the chef of the year 2007 in my book! (previous review 1) (previous review 2) (previous review 3)

Villa Berulia: This awesome place is close to where I live and is my "hiding place" really. Always assured of a fantastic Italian/Croatian meal and wines, the best veal chop in town. The menu is fantastically long and the specials even longer. Engaging and friendly staff. It's like a home away from home! (previous review 1) (previous review 2) (previous review 3)

Irving Mill
116 East 16th Street (between Irving & Union Square East)

We have been trying to get a booking at Irving Mill for weeks, as this new restaurant has been receiving good press. As the chef/owner is an alum of the Gramercy/Collicchio empire, I had high hopes for the place.

The space is larger than one may think, but the layout of tables is not very smart. This place seem to be designed for corporate events instead of being a true restaurant, with bad use of space for middle tables. And they squeezed us into a very small middle table next to 2 other parties in a rather empty dining room...a practice I despise. Not a good start.

The service was utterly confused. I counted about 7 major mistakes the service staff made, from wrong utensils to taking away things prematurely, from forgetting orders to suggesting items not on the day's menu (which they have no power to create). Very bad sign. After the poor service in London, I didn't need this for the new year...

The starters were quite good, and me and my friend shared two. The scallops were very tasty, while the baby octopus (nearly in whole) was a pleasant surprise. The portions were a little unbalanced, as the scallops had a small set while there were 5 baby octopi.

The main course I enjoyed the braised lamb shoulder. This was a small piece, but very tender and flavourful. The mushroom and cabbage base was also very good. Excellent, though the piece of meat was too heavily sculpted (they told me the pork chop was like a there's too much trimming and extracurriculars done to the food for my taste). But it was excellent.

I passed on the dessert and had a pretty lame grappa and espresso. It was hard to talk as the adjacent tables were so close and the acoustics were dreadful. So we left. I left with a mixed feeling...good food, but mediocre restaurant. I wish this excellent chef and his team would find a more appropriate space...and front room team...

Food: B++
Atmosphere: C
For Lone Diners: C (*)

Theo Randall
1 Hamilton Place, Park Lane (at the InterContinental Park Lane Hotel)

I treated myself a stay at the InterContinental Park Lane in London for 2 nights around Christmas. I figured a big place would be better than a small place for the holidays to get food and drink. I managed a booking at the hotel's top restaurant for the evening of Christmas Eve. Theo Randall is a rather celebrated chef in the UK, and his namesake restaurant has a good reputation, so I was more than eager to see what they can do -- even during this holiday period.

The restaurant is like a hotel restaurant with a big space, but it has a feel of a very modern and trendy location. I wasn't too impressed, but you have to do with what you have in a hotel. My corner table was fine and I had to cope with a dodgy-tasting bottle of usual favourite red, but perhaps too much scotch during the afternoon!

The service was excellent, which is rather rare in London -- even in posh places. That's the shocking thing about London these days, the poor service -- whether it is just indifference or lack of training/knowledge, this city is just poor on service all around.

The starter I chose the squid, which was not bad. Nothing exciting. The main was a rather indifferent lamb chop. I'm giving little description because there's little to add. Very bland, something that I could have received from any hotel's room service it seems, cooking school stuff.

I was very disappointed. The food had little real Italian vigour to it, despite Mr Randall's pronouncements. Perhaps it was the holiday season, but I left this place rather disappointed... I honestly think a lot of London's top chefs are overrated. Despite having such a wonderful selection of fresh ingredients (it's easier to get stuff from Italy to London than to New York), chefs like Theo Randall chose not to use the best of Italy -- instead, they use what they think is best for Italian food. And that is a huge mistake.

Food: B--
Atmosphere: B--
For Lone Diners: C+

Royal China
13 Queensway (W2; between Queensway and Bayswater Tube)

As many of my readers know, I am not a great fan of Chinese food -- and when I eat Chinese food, I am horribly critical and always seek out the very best or unique. And there is only one Chinese restaurant I seek whenever I can, and that's Royal China at its busy Queensway location. It is by far the best Chinese restaurant in the Western world.

I wandered in on a very long evening, not feeling too well due to excessive lager intake... And this meal was supposed to ready me for more? Nope...I quit after the meal, but the food was fantastic!

The huge place with millions of diners is always an adventure...but it is a terrible reminder of how tourist-invaded Bayswater is. The amount of stupidity uttered from adjacent tables is just dreadful sometimes. But the one change is the clean air...thank goodness for the smoking ban, as that was one of the worst aspects of this restaurant in the past.

I chose the preserved egg as the starter. Most people find the taste of this funny, but it's something I've not had for over a decade so it was rather enjoyable. I wish there was more, but it's not healthy to eat more of this...and it's best not to think how it is preserved traditionally (I'm sure these weren't, or else Health & Safety would interfere!). Finishing a glass of red wine, I was ready for the main.

The hotpot came out with spectacular display...oh, before I forget, the starter came out in an elaborate dish display as well. This restaurant always makes a good job in dish presentation, showing it as a top-class location rather than your local ch***ie (I'm not allowed to use that word in publication, it seems...). This hotpot was a combination of minced pork and dried abalone with tofu. Absolutely rich and excellent, and I polished it off very quickly with zeal. Fantastic, from the base to the mushrooms. They know how to make these hotpots.

As I finished, I knew I would be hungry, so I took the roasted pork and roasted duck with jellyfish away with me. And hours later, after a scotch-drinking session, I finished the night with the roasted meats and jellyfish. Excellent...still enjoying the food from Royal China hours after... This place is always a must.

Food: A
Atmosphere: B--
For Lone Diners: B

Matsuri -- St James's
15 Bury Street (SW1Y; off Jermyn Streen between Green Park and Pic Circus Tube)

It was Christmas Eve and everything was shut. I tried several places around Green Park but had little luck...why am I here during the holidays? Anyway, I lucked out to find that one of my favourites, Matsuri, was open. I quickly wandered into this excellent Japanese eatery.

As I wrote in my previous review of Matsuri, it is a good place to eat for lunch or dinner -- and the teppanyaki is exceptional. This time it was quite empty, with the holiday and the late hour. I nevertheless enjoyed a very nice meal.

The downstairs area is a large, teppanyaki room -- itself bigger than most restaurants. This place can be manic when it's full, with all the grills on and active... Today was a great way to relax. I chose the winter lunch special, and it was an inspired choice.

The starter was a tempura soft-shell crab. Excellent flavour...I almost wished for more! I love this dish, the delicate flavours needing no dipping sauce. The main course came as the chef prepared the teppanyaki grill -- the steak. I opted for the garlic fried rice, and that was aromatic and tasty. The chef did a quick but excellent job with the meat, serving it at correct temperature (medium rare).

The food was tasty and the vegetables done well. I was very impressed -- and I wasn't hit by any flying food! And it being Christmas Eve, I left more than happy...this was more I could have expected on this day!

Food: B+
Atmosphere: B-
For Lone Diners: B+

Myung Ga
1 Kingly Street (in SoHo; near Piccadilly Circus Tube)

On Boxing Day (that's the day after Christmas to many of you), me and the friend from the previous review wandered around looking for places to eat and drink. Despite the amount of shoppers devastating the area (it was a zoo!), many pubs shut by 6pm. We were disturbed until we found a safe place for a few. Then it was food...everything was shut!

We had a good meal at a Korean BBQ in the area, and we found it again -- Myung Ga. A very inspired choice, a place good even if everything else was open. With a bottle of red plonk, we embarked on our very wonderful and meaty journey...

We split two starters -- the mandoo (beef-filled dumplings) and the fried oysters. Excellent both of them, and that got us excited for the main BBQ session. We also had a side of kimchee to savour. My friend ordered the peppered sliced tenderloin while I got my usual kalbi (beef ribs) for the BBQ session. Smelled great, and it was very tasty.

With a second bottle of wine moving and the night still young-ish, we added a pork BBQ to it and enjoyed more. That was a good choice, and both of us were stuffed as we finished the second bottle of wine.

Myung Ga is an unpretentious place in the middle of SoHo, very popular with Koreans and non-Koreans alike. You will smell like BBQ as you find your way home by Tube (and hungry drunks may sniff at you with a smile!), but it is good fun and solid food. Not bad for Boxing Day!

Food: A--
Atmosphere: B
For Lone Diners: B (*)

Le Café Anglais
8 Porchester Gardens (W2; near Bayswater Tube; at Whiteley's)

I headed back to my old stomping grounds of London between Christmas and the new year, but was aghast that most of my favourite restaurants were closed for the holidays. So me and a good friend had to do some advanced planning, and the one we booked was for Café Anglais. I was shocked to find that they created this much-hyped place in Whiteley's -- an awful shopping centre around the corner from where I used to live...

However, going there it reminded me of New York's Time-Warner Center -- and when I stepped into the restaurant the familiarity continued. This place has so many similar touches to the aforementioned centre's Cafe Gray it was uncanny...or deliberate. So how did it compare to the similar-named, similar-themed, similar-looking place across the pond?

Well, the food was certainly better, though that is little praise (read my review of Cafe Gray if you are wondering). The service was borderline shambolic with the staff confused and falling over each other, obviously untrained on items on the food or the drinks menus. We were squeezed into a small table next to various bits of pompous and self-important people that have made Café Anglais one of the most popular places in town in a short time...does it live up to the hype?

This place is pretty big (having been a fast-food joint before its transformation) and the space is rather nice for a restaurant; the old decor of Whiteley's from a bygone age adds a nice touch. The semi-open prep area (like Cafe Gray) and the visible roasting area is the trend these days, but it looks way, way too much like Cafe Gray.

After being completely confused by questions of gin and vermouth, the waiter finally brought us our drinks. After awhile the food came. We split several hors d'oeuvres from across the spectrum. They were pretty good, and I like the variety and ability to share many items. But to be honest, it wasn't good enough for me to remember the specifics so long after dining it wasn't particularly memorable...

The main course I opted for the roast veal. It was done well, but rather bland -- something I can find in better quality at a good pub on Sunday. The chicken legs that my friend enjoyed was a bit better, but I suddenly miss Bavaria...

As the service was shambolic and the crowds thinning out, we decided to pass on the dessert and headed on out. Overall it is a good place -- but perhaps overrated and overhyped. But for that part of town, it is certainly about time a place like this appeared. With the Notting Hill set so close, this place can only get better -- if they train the staff better!!!

Food: B
Atmosphere: B-
For Lone Diners: C (*)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

2 Harrison Street (at Hudson)

It wasn't easy getting a booking here, but me and a friend managed this one evening and went for it. I had always wanted to eat here, and the menus here always looked both adventurious but solid. So I went into this place with extremely high expectations. Unfortunately, a good amount of it wasn't met...

The place is beautiful and would be great for a romantic evening. It has the obligatory high ceilings and open spacing, the look of a classic restaurant's dining room. Very posh and polished. But that was it really...

We had a good table, but it was annoying as the waiters kept bumping into me due to bad placement of tables and chairs in the middle vein of the space. Plus, the floorboards seemed weak, so my chair was rocking a bit when people walked. It's like an old house's dining room...

But all that could be forgiven for a good menu and good food...and that's what I hoped for. For the starter I had the seafood sausage. Interesting, but the middle was cold. Cooking mistake? My friend had the assortment of raw seafood. Looks nice and he said it was nice, but I passed because of the boring selection. Can people get away from salmon and tuna? They've been done to death, and tuna is bloody endangered because of this overuse...

This was not a great start. And for a pricey bottle of red that turned out a bit "table-ish" I was getting disappointed. I usually would go with venison if I see it on a menu, but I was not a big fan of the saddle -- so I went with the roast sturgeon for the main. Mistake. It was sliced and cooked in a way not condusive for sturgeon. This is an oily fish, and nothing here accentuated it. And it seemed it was roasted in a low temperature oven, so it tasted like bland whitefish. My friend had the scallops...which looked like the little ones you buy at...ugh...Gristedes or D'Agostino... Plus the sauce was like a cheap, wannabe fra diavolo. Pathetic.

The desserts were nice, as we both had big ones. The "maple tasting" was not bad, but did not save the meal. Plus, they didn't bring our after dinner drinks for nearly 10 minutes. Unacceptable in a restaurant of this class.

I left Chanterelle very disappointed. It was all talk, no substance. And the service failed too, as did the menu. Every aspect failed. Plus, they didn't feature their namesake! How can you name a restaurant Chanterelle when there was hardly a mushroom to be found on the menu? Ugh...

Food: C
Atmosphere: B
For Lone Diners: C-- (*)

358 3rd Avenue (at 26th Street)

After a long day of meetings and more post-meeting wine consumption, me and a friend stumbled into Bamiyan for a quick dinner. I've walked past this place so many times but never tried it. I remember having good Afghan food in the DC area, so why not? Plus, having not had lunch and drinking tons of wine, I was hungry.

The place is bigger than you think, with an interesting design -- almost faux exotic. We were in the back room and it was a chilled environment -- which we needed. We ordered quickly and the food came pretty quickly, a plus.

We split two starters -- the kadu (pumpkin-filled turnovers) and the kachaloo (pea-filled turnovers). Not bad, especially the sweeter one. The main course I went with a safe bet, the koobideh (minced meat skewers grilled). It's as good as any other Persian restaurant, although the portion was smaller than most.

It was a good meal, but we were both wiped so we got out of there. I took an order of mantoo (dumplings) to go and had it later in the night. It wasn't that great, and the sauce didn't work. Oh was cold anyway...

Food: B
Atmosphere: B-
For Lone Diners: B (*)

246 East 51st Street (between 2nd & 3rd)

I do apologise for the lack of updates, but it's been a pretty nutty time recently. Anyway, I'm here to catch up on a few reviews. The first is a quick weekend lunch at the relatively new Indian place of Amma. As you know I've been critical of most Indian places in Manhattan (especially Devi).

The place was nearly empty which worried me. But we had an okay meal -- nothing special, but it was satisfactory. The place had a fusion-y feel, non-traditional -- which always concerned me. The decor was nothing special either, but as you know, I'm not big on that. What annoyed me was that it was an empty restaurant, and when another diner came in, they put him right next to us. Why????? Ugh...

The starters we shared -- one was a the saffron chicken (pretty bland) and the other Goan shrimp (pretty boring too). The spices were under-emphasised, as I feared. But it was okay. The main course I had the "Parsi halibut" -- which was a bit undercooked and under-spiced. I wonder why they "dumb down" the flavours so much.

We dragged out the meal for awhile but it was out of momentum. It was just a bit too boring after awhile. The only amusing thing was the nice background music (of which the waiters could give us no useful info...). Satisfactory, but I doubt I'll return.

Food: C
Atmosphere: B--
For Lone Diners: C+ (*)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hill Country
30 West 26th Street (between Broadway & 6th)

It's been awhile since I've had good barbeque, and when my friend suggested this place I thought why not. It is a busy, raucous place with live country music -- and they don't take reservations. It was packed and I was having a crap day, so was not thrilled about the wait. I had the first of many double Jack's then...

The music, albeit not bad, reminding me of those odd nights in Virginia when I used to escape the refinement of DC for the hills, was way too loud during dining hours. No one can hear each other downstairs, too loud. Plus, we shared a table with an unnamed former cast member of that horrible TV show "Saved By The Bell" if you can believe our bad luck.

The barbeque was actually pretty bad. I had 2 pieces of beef ribs, which had a heavy, smoky flavour -- not a natural smoky flavour, but a "processed" one. It reminded me of the "barbeque" I used to buy back in Eastern Europe. How very unlike Texas!!! And they had the worst selection of sides.

Maybe it's just me, but when I eat ribs I want it with a side of greens. I guess they kept bringing me triple Jack's was a compensation. So that's that.

Good for music, and maybe a fun night out, but not good barbeque food. If you miss certain elements of live away from NYC, great. But if not, you'll cringe at the atmosphere and grumble about the food.

Food: C
Atmosphere: B/D
For Lone Diners: D (*)

Benjamin Steakhouse
52 East 41st Street (between Madison & Park; at the Dylan Hotel)

After a really bad day, I needed a good, solid meal. And once in awhile, I get this itching for a big piece of meat, so... Having found Benjamin Steakhouse a few months ago, it has become a "safe" bet for me, a local regular that I can depend on. Sadly, those are few and far in between here in New York...

This, again, will be my last review of this place -- just like my "other" regular Villa Berulia -- because they are places I frequent it would take up most of these pages. So for this last time, I have to applaud this place. Service is always a bit shaky and slow, but it's compensated by the food.

I once again ordered the huge lamb chops, which is a major treat. A side of broccoli and a nice bottle of Sicilian red, the night was perfect (albeit alone). The meat is cooked expertly and the cut is excellent. It is a place to really go fully into a meatfest, if you are inclined to have one.

Although it is a hotel restaurant, it is a popular place for all clientele. This time it was packed but the food was still excellent -- something that fails many busy steakhouses. Sad this is my last review of this wonderful steakhouse -- the best in New York -- but happy that I have this as a safety!

Food: A--
Atmosphere: B
For Lone Diners: B+

Monday, November 19, 2007

Eatery NYC
798 9th Avenue (at 53rd Street)

Sorry for going out of order, as I had lunch with another friend at Eatery a week earlier. Again, as my friend works in the area and I had to drop papers off at my lawyer's around Columbus Circle, so I said sure to this West Side eatery.

It was blazing hot inside the restaurant...why is it New Yorkers react so badly to cooler weather with this onslaught of heating? I barely survived, but it was a nice time. The place is obviously a popular lunch place, and it was relatively packed.

We had a simple lunch there. I had the steak wrap, which was rather good -- the meat cooked right, and the mix perfect. The plate was overrun by fries, which I can't stand, but I kept picking off at it.

It's a fast and simple lunch, so this place is good for that. A safe Midtown West place with quick turnaround.

Food: B
Atmosphere: B--
For Lone Diners: B (*)

777 7th Avenue (at 51st Street; at the Michelangelo Hotel)

Just like that wonderful dining experience at the always-reliable Esca, I needed another sure bet. One of my closest friends is moving across the country, and I wanted to give him one last great taste of New York dining. So I chose the other always-reliable place, Insieme.

The last time I needed this when my friends from London visited, and it was spectacular. And this time it was spectacular as well. We had an early booking as everyone was tired, so we went in before 6pm. With a nice bottle of Sicilian red, we embarked on a wonderful tasting journey.

The place was relatively empty when we came in but it filled up through the evening. We both started with a nice starter; he enjoyed the fish crudo (a sampler ranging from oyster to yellowtail, from scallop to branzino), I had the smoked back cod...oh, that was just fantastic in taste and texture. Mmm...even better than the previous night's Esca crudo feast!

The mains were as awesome as usual. I had my usual lesso misto, which had some excellent cuts of meat once more. Delicate and wonderful. It was so good I honestly don't remember what my friend was eating...mmm...

We were both spent, so we bypassed dessert. As we headed out, we ran into the chef and had a nice long chat with him. What a nice way for the evening to end... And as I said, Insieme is always a sure bet in New York -- as long as you can get a table at this ultra-popular place! Two in a row, wow!

Food: A
Atmosphere: B+
For Lone Diners: A- (*)

402 West 43rd Street (at 9th Avenue)

My readers know how highly I rate Esca as a dining experience. The food is fantastic, the wine is amazing, and it is just a fun place for a night out. A bit loud and crazy at times, but all in good fun. My previous visit encompassed all a nightmare of a hangover...

This time I went with a friend of mine, hoping to break a trend of several bad meals (such as Five Points, Cafe Gray, Euzkadi and so forth...), and Esca was about as safe as it goes. We enjoyed a nice bottle of Lagrein, one of my favourite reds, and enjoyed a wonderful meal.

My friend went with the crudo tasting of various raw seafoods, from sea urchin to yellowtail. I chose two a la carte -- the razor clams (delicious) and the swordfish (absolutely dreamy). We were more than happy by then with the excellent starters, the definition of fresh and tasty.

My main was the usual maccheroni alla chittara -- with sea urchin and crab. Fabulous as usual, with ample crabmeat. It could have been a bit saltier (sea salt would have been great), but it was excellent I shared half of it with my friend as he gave me half his spaghetti neri -- with ink and cuttlefish. Excellent.

We were both happy and spent, but went with a dessert -- he had the gelati and I had the sorbetti. All very creative, from a cheese-based sorbetto to exotic fruits. Fantastic. And with a wine-glass of grappa (!!!) and espresso, we left this place full, happy and finally satisfied from this string of bad luck!

This place is always safe for a great meal. I always recommend this place. If you can get a table, do it. You won't regret it. The awesome selection of crudo is enough to bring anyone into this place. It does get noisy and boisterous (like the table next to us), but it's all in good fun.

Food: A--
Atmosphere: B
For Lone Diners: B (*)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Five Points
31 Great Jones [3rd] Street (between Lafayette & Bowery)

I was curious when my friend told me Five Points, a place he knows as a great weekend brunch place, didn't have a table until quite late. I looked at the menu and it was not very inspiring. But I went with it as I wanted a nice walk down there.

We had to wait quite a long time as we were early, but were finally seated. The service was confused and the waiter was completely lost when I asked him questions...not a good sign. There just seems to be utter staff confusion and sheer lack of staff...which made a busy brunch period rather annoying.

The menu was pretty lame and I ended up going for the burger...a total cop-out. But nothing really jumped out. The burger came and it was not very good, quite bland. Sad to say, McDonalds is better... My friend looked like he enjoyed his eggs and smoked salmon, but it looked like a mess to me.

It took ages to get coffee and they kept trying to take things was just annoying. I was not a happy camper as I left this place. Why is it popular? It sucked, badly. Just to show you how gullible diners can be...

Food: C
Atmosphere: C-
For Lone Diners: C- (*)

Villa Berulia
107 East 34th Street (between Lexington & Park)

Again, when I need a good meal, I have a few choices within a 10-minute walking radius. One sure bet is always Villa Berulia, the excellent Italian-Croatian place in Murray Hill. I always have good meals here, and feel totally comfortable chatting with the staff. It is probably a place I can call one of my "regulars" -- so this will be the last time I review it. After all, it'll always be a good review...

I had a terrible day and I needed this. After listening to the long list of specials, I went with my usual, the double veal chop. A nice bottle of Croatian red with it, a side of broccoli, I was in heaven. I dragged out a meal with nice chats with various waiters who know me, and it really felt like a home away from home.

I couldn't finish so had to take the extra large chop. This means no dessert, so a nice home-made after-dinner drink from the "specialty" part of the bar made this a wonderful dining that I truly needed.

If you need a good, solid meal in a friendly and happy atmosphere, Villa Berulia is your best choice. Even if you don't live nearby, this is perfect.

Food: A-
Atmosphere: A-
For Lone Diners: A-

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Megu - Midtown
845 UN Plaza (on 1st Avenue off 47th Street)

It was a Friday night and I wanted a good meal out with my girlfriend (yes, thank goodness we are happily back together, better than ever), and for safety reasons I chose Megu. It has a good reputation and I had a great meal here before (even if I was a bit inebriated...). Though I usually don't like going to busy restaurants on Friday evenings, we went for it.

She liked the interior, and so do I. The high ceilings and modern design is nice, though what made things bad was the length of the 2-seat was so narrow (people adjacent were nearly on top of you) and long it was hard to talk. The high ceilings, although aesthetically nice, also made it horrible acoustically.

The night started badly as the hostess argued in Japanese with someone for several minutes while we waited. We were seated and out coats were not taken -- and I had to pull the heavy table out for my date (they didn't bother). That was really ridiculous. And of course, it took 10 minutes and much prodding for them to give us menus and take a drinks order. This was not starting off good at all.

It just got worse. The starters we split. The "special" asparagus looked good on skewer presentation, but was a cheap fry and pretty ridiculous. The spicy unagi (eel) was not bad, but nothing special.

At this point they also brought out my date's main course, her sushi roll, off-time. They are so confused. Then they bring out my wagyu chateaubriand...and it was a total insult. At a $180 they should know how to make it. I ordered it rare rare, and it came out medium well. I nearly vomited...I argued with them and they said they'll do another one.

If you know about wagyu, it is so marbled it really cannot be cooked much. It melts at such a low temperature it melts in your mouth. If you cook it beyond a very tiny sear, it turns into a crust and eventually sawdust. Disgusting. And they screwed up such a wonderful item. How can a place that specialises in this fare screw up so badly? Friday, of course. They had 1 waitress working an entire section (explaining the poor service) and the sommelier was just going around chatting and not doing his job. Then the busboys dump tap water into our glasses full of bottled water. This was just horrible.

My girlfriend told me to calm down. The new steak came and it was done really badly. One side was raw and the other side medium. I ate half of it and bitched them out. The adjacent tables were complaining too. This was turning ugly.

We shared a dessert and it was extensive, so that was nice. But we left pretty unhappily with this place, but happy we were with each other...that was the saving grace. But I will never come back to this sham of a restaurant again. Friday night or not, this is just unacceptable. Shameful.

Food: D
Atmosphere: D+
For Lone Diners: D-- (*)

8 East 18th Street (between 5th and Broadway)

I don't know what is going on, maybe it is an autumn funk, but I have been having really, really bad meals out. I was with a friend (the same one as the bad Cafe Gray meal and the horrible Euzkadi disaster) Sunday evening and we decided on Devi. As you know I have commented on the lack of a good Indian place in New York (being a London transplant, of course I complain...the only good one is Tamarind), so we risked this place.

I did not know this place was in the middle of a very odd transition...otherwise I would not have agreed. It was not a good meal. Mediocre at best. The staff was confused and really didn't know what they were doing. The place was dark and nicely decorated, but that's about it...

For starters we split two things -- the mushroom toast (boring) and seafood croquettes (also boring). When the complementary canapes came earlier, its blandness should have given some clue to this place...oh well.

The menu is too odd to have a good, normal Indian meal that can be shared. It just seemed so mixed up, and confused. I chose the tandoori venison...and goodness was it cooked badly. I think it wasn't a real tandoor in the back, but probably microwaved or badly broiled. It was cooked very unevenly, nearly raw at points. At least it was a good piece of venison...

We passed on the dessert as the adjacent table had some real odd we got the hell out of there. Transition or not, this was rubbish...

Food: C
Atmosphere: B-
For Lone Diners: B- (*)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

108 East 4th Street (between 1st & 2nd)

I had to apologise to my friend when we left this restaurant...this was how strange of an experience it was. I had found this place by accident online, and with my love of Basque cuisine, I thought -- why not? Wow, was this wrong...

From the really annoying (and hard to use) website to the strange atmosphere, this place was not a winner from the first moment. It was nearly empty and it seems like a one-man shop. The sangria was okay as was the house wine, but that's the best part of the evening.

We had some starters and they were mixed. The cheeses were pretty boring, but the spicy olives were nice (although they could have come from any on to see why this is significant).

We chose to go with the paella for two for the main. It looked nice and tasted nice, with mussels and calamari and shrimps, but the pan was very shallow. There really wasn't much food there. This is like a personal sized one. That was disappointing. So we both went with a dessert...which was a complete disaster...

After 20 minutes they said they are still working on it. We notice one of the kitchen staff sneak out and back into the restaurant with a brown bag...and in a few minutes we had "almond cake" on our table. It was disgusting. It was half frozen. They had so obviously bought it from a corner store! We walked out pretty pissed off!

Sorry, sorry, sorry! This is just a shambolic restaurant! Avoid!!!

Food: C
Atmosphere: C
For Lone Diners: D (*)

360 Park Avenue South (at 26th Street)

When my London friend made it back to New York for a few days and looked for a good night out, I went through a lot of different options. Nothing looked perfect -- the good places booked, others were just inconvenient on a rainy evening. So we went with the safety of Porcão -- the volume and the volume...

I've explained in a previous post why I like Porcão so much more than other Brazilian places, partly because they have a more reckless abandon method to this already extreme eating process. And we ended up with 2 bottles of wine, a lot of meat, and a wonderful evening.

Some of the cuts of meat were wonderful, such as the bacon-wrapped filet mignon, as well as the sirloin and the lamb. I was a little disappointed with the limited sides, but the meats were fantastic. They were fatty, flavourful and dreamy...

After a few hours, a lot of food and wine, some more dessert wine and coffee, we wandered into the rain happy and extremely full...this place is always wonderful for a feast!

Food: A-
Atmosphere: B+
For Lone Diners: A- (*)

52 Vanderbilt Avenue (at 45th)

It's odd how I always end up at Ammos for lunch -- even though they boast a much, much better dinner menu. Perhaps it's the convenience as it is adjacent to Grand Central. Me and my friend wandered there as our first choice, the Grand Central Oyster Bar, was full and besieged by a crazy woman demanding a table...

I've described Ammos before, and it is night and day comparing lunch to dinner -- the lunch crowd is very much a "long office lunch" type of place. The movements are a lot faster, and the menu reflects the velocity. But the one thing that is less usual is the huge portions...and we were floored by it, frankly.

We both ordered a starter -- he had the grilled octopus, I had the smoked trout salad. It was quite good, with plenty of smoked fish and nice quail eggs. It was a healthy portion, and that worried me about the main...

The mains arrived and they were huge. The rib-eye sandwich was gigantic with a side of fries and salad...and I couldn't finish them. It was quite good and the entire lunch was actually quite nice. I can see why this place is popular for a long, liquid lunch by the business set in this area...

Food: B+
Atmosphere: B
For Lone Diners: B+ (*)

45 Tudor City Place (between 42nd & 43rd)

I had eated at L'Impero a few years ago and thought it was a very nice place -- unusual dishes with a flare. As this is my friend's last meal in New York before heading back to Blighty, I thought, why not this place. Tudor City, for those who have never been up to this oasis in the middle of Manhattan, is a lovely if not odd place -- great views are aplenty.

They took awhile to set the table up, as this restaurant is busy on a bad day. After a drink, we moved over into the dining room. With a nice bottle of red, we embarked on a nice dinner. I enjoyed the grilled octopus for a starter. It was done very well, and the uncut tentacles give it more texture than others who do it chopped. My friend enjoyed his order of sweetbreads.

For the main course, I stuck to a pasta -- the malloreddus with crab, tomatoes and sea urchin. I wanted a lighter dinner as I've been eating too much with my mate's visit, and this was lighter than I expected. It was not bad, but it was rather lacking in the main ingredients -- especially compared to how my Mario Batali personally lobbed into my dish at Esca once. My friend enjoyed the roast guinea hen, and from all indications it was nice.

We ended up ordering all the cheese for a long after-dinner session, as we had to polish off the second bottle of wine anyway. So a good evening ended up a nice note. By now, the restaurant was nearly empty -- so we took that as a sign to head out.

L'Impero is a nicely-designed restaurant using space quite effectively, with divisions that almost created separate rooms within the main dining area. The bar has a different feel as well, and it really created the feeling of an oasis within the oasis that is Tudor City. I like this place, it's safe and interesting in every aspect. L'Impero is certainly a better bet than their other Midtown offer, Alto.

And don't go directly there by cab, you lazy gits. Take the walk up the stairs, it's a refreshing way to get there and get the sense of how isolating this place is.

Food: B
Atmosphere: B
For Lone Diners: B- (*)