Thursday
Oct252012

Christos Steakhouse

It’s not often that I’m wowed at a steakhouse — there are so many, and they’re mostly interchangeable.

Christos Steak House in Astoria, Queens, commands attention. It serves a porterhouse very near the best specimens available in Manhattan. Appetizers and side dishes are also first-rate, and go well beyond steakhouse clichées.

As always, full disclosure: we dined here at the restaurant’s invitation and didn’t pay for our meal. But my endorsement of comped meals is no guarantee, as a few dismayed publicists will attest. My rave for Christos is genuine.

The restaurant was Christos Hasapo-Taverna originally; the name changed in 2006, after a remodeling job. Its Greek roots are still apparent in the appetizers, while the entrées and sides resemble those of a traditional steakhouse. Mina Newman is executive chef, sharing time with the Edison Ballroom in Manhattan. She has also worked at Layla and Dylan Prime, and won an episode of the cable series Chopped in 2009.

You’ll find all of the traditional cuts of prime beef (aged in-house for 21 days), along with the usual backup entrées (chicken, rack of lamb, salmon, etc.). In February, the restaurant added a number of lower-priced dishes to the menu, including—as the chef put it—“long forgotten cuts that butchers once reserved for themselves.”

So there’s a Callotte Steak (the deckle of the ribeye) at $22, a Bavette D’Aloyau (“where the t-bone ends and the sirloin begins”) at $21, skirt steak at $28 (or $52 for two), and “the Wedge” (a cross-section of filet, culotte, and tri-tip) at $25 per person — all aged prime.

For the more popular cuts, you’ll pay Manhattan prices, but you’ll get the Queens pricing curve on the rest of the menu. Salads and appetizers are $11–19 (most below $15). There’s a wide selection of side dishes, almost all $8. A few of the non-steak entrées look like notably good deals, such as the chicken ($19) and the pork chop ($22), but we didn’t sample them.

The wine list is not especially deep. You won’t leave thirsty, but you won’t find pages and pages of trophy Cabs and Bordeaux, as you do at some of the better-known Manhattan steakhouses.

 

I wish we could have tried more, but we loved both of the appetizers we sampled. The Lamb Cigar ($12; above left) is wrapped in fillo and served with a zesty roasted pepper yogurt sauce. The Lamb Bacon “Cobb” Salad ($12; above right) was delightful: tomato, bleu cheese, red onion, and avocado, topped with a soft poached egg.

We probably should have been less selfish, and tried the unusual cuts of beef. Instead, we went straight for the porterhouse ($94). We loved the husky crust and the dry-aged taste. The textural contrast between the strip side (bottom of the photo) and the filet side was more pronounced than I recall from other porterhouses, but none the worse for that.

Lobster mashed potatoes were offered as a special. It’s one of the more remarkable side dishes I’ve encountered: potatoes whipped with hefty chunks of lobster.

One might argue philosophically whether a good lobster ought to be camouflaged in such humble clothing. I mean, would you whip potatoes with Beluga caviar? All I can say is, it worked.

But it’s a $28 side dish, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for calling it extravagant.

Obviously, since we were known to the management we got excellent service, but as far as we could tell our server paid similar attention to the other tables. The space is comfortable, decked out in dark wood paneling, like many other steakhouses. Near the entrance, raw steaks are on display in glass cases, and I believe you can buy them to take home.

For city-dwellers, the only drawback of Christos is getting there: the closest subway stop is about a 15-minute walk away (the Astoria–Ditmars Boulevard stop, served by the N and Q trains). By car, it’s only a few minutes from the Queens side of the RFK (Triboro) Bridge, and valet parking is free.

Christos Steak House (41–08 23rd Avenue at 41st Street, Astoria, Queens)

Monday
Oct222012

The Goodwin

 

Note: The Goodwin closed in April 2013. The space is now Piora.

*

The Goodwin is one of those cute West Village places that you find on every third block. Eater joked that it’s all of “2012’s dining trends wrapped into one new restaurant.” A few of those trends have been toned down — I didn’t spot market-price beef jerky or a “water program” — but most are as Eater described it.

The name, like so many new restaurants monikers these days, is obscure: it refers to the Goodwin family, who once operated a farm on the site, back when the Dutch still owned Manhattan. The building is a landmarked brownstone that was once a flophouse for visiting sailors.

The space is handsomely built-out in reclaimed wood, and the main dining room (called “The Grange”) looks out on a lovely outdoor garden. None of these ideas are original, but at least they’re tastefully carried out.

The Goodwin doubles as a restaurant and wine bar. The wine list isn’t long and it has no particular focus, but it’s affordable: of forty bottles, most are under $50, and about three-fourths of them are available by the glass. (The 2007 Sangiovese blend, above left, was $48 for the bottle.)

The chef is Jesse Olguin, who previously was the executive sous chef at Benoit, and prior to that, chef de cuisine at Robert at the Museum of Art & Design. His menu here is in three categories, two of which are Starters ($8–14) and Appetizers ($9–16), which at most restaurants are synonymous. Entrées are priced in a wide range, $16 (the burger) to $32 (the steak). In this neighborhood, you’d call that mid-priced. I wouldn’t mind paying a dollar or two more for a better bread service than just a plate of flatbreads (above right).


We shared “The Vegetable Experience” ($15; above), a strange appetizer that could also serve as a vegan’s entrée. It’s a bounty of smoked, roasted, pickled, steamed, salt-baked and sautéed local organic vegetables. Though well prepared, it’s too much of a good thing: we didn’t finish it.

 

The roasted half-chicken ($25; above left) and the pork chop ($31; above right) are typical dishes at such an establishment. Both were pretty good, but I’d give the nod to the chicken.

We reserved an early Saturday evening table the same day, but later on it was full. The crowd had a slice of every demographic. With business still brisk four months after opening, you have to figure that people in the neighborhood are coming back, as they should. I’d prefer the earlier times, before it gets loud and the server a bit harder to flag down. But I’d certainly come back if I were nearby.

The Goodwin (430 Hudson Street between Morton & Leroy Streets, West Village)

Food: Mid-priced American seasonal bistro cuisine
Wine: Not a long list, but 30 wines by the glass, and many bottles below $50
Service: Good, but less attentive as the place fills up
Ambiance: A reclaimed wood dining room backed by a lush garden

Rating:
Why? Not special enough to be a destination, but nice for what it is 

Sunday
Oct212012

Auden

Auden is the new restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Central Park South, in the space that used to be BLT Market, and before that Atelier. The name is Old English for “old friend,” and has nothing to do with the poet W. H. Auden.

The new décor, from starchitect David Rockwell, is in the muscular, country club style that he has deployed all over town. It’s a comfortable, upscale but not fancy space, more suited to a business meeting than a romantic night out.

The chef, Mark Arnao, comes from a career of hotel gigs. The menu trumpets a commitment to local produce, in a fashion that is now so commonplace that it’s old hat.

This is the Ritz, and you’re going to pay a premium for the privilege of dining here. Appetizers are $18–23, entrees $32–46, side dishes $10–12. Cocktails are $18, and you’ll pay north of $60 for most bottles of wine.

What you’ll get is standard American bistro cuisine. Though not at all inventive or adventurous, the food is well prepared, as it ought to be at these prices. But in other neighborhoods, without the Central Park premium, you can find similar quality for $20–30 less per person.

The meal begins with an excellent bread service, a tray of warm rolls (above left).

 

The Flatbread ($22; above left) is made with heirloom tomatoes, Buffalo mozzarella, crushed olives, and fried capers. It’s an enjoyable dish that two could easily share. I didn’t try my friend’s Duck Confit and Chicory Salad ($23; above right), but he wasn’t especially impressed with it.

 

We both had the barbecue beef short ribs ($36; above left) in a roasted shallot sauce, a good enough dish if only you can forget how expensive it is. For reference, Il Buco Alimentari offers a better short rib dish for $38, and theirs serves two. However, Il Buco doesn’t serve it with the Auden Frites (above right), which are excellent.

Little pieces of chocolate on lollipop sticks (right) are what pass for petits fours.

The service was polite, friendly and efficient—as it ought to be. Really, there’s nothing much to complain of at Auden. There’s a steep price premium for dining on Central Park South, but you’ll pay that at any of the various hotels in the area.

Auden (The Ritz-Carlton Hotel, 50 Central Park South at Sixth Ave., West Midtown)

Food: Expensive American bistro cuisine
Service: Crisp, efficient, competent
Ambiance: A masculine, clubby hotel setting

Rating:
Why? If you must spend Central Park prices, you might as well do so here

Monday
Oct152012

Gaonnuri

You might think of Manhattan’s Koreatown as one nondescript low-class barbecue place after another. That would be unjust to one, at least: Gaonnuri, a new upscale spot with a $5+ million opening budget.

What did all that money buy? A stunning space on the 39th floor of a midtown office building, where Koreatown meets Herald Square. It’s the brainchild of architect Andy Sung, a native Korean, who saw the potential in a formerly windowless top-floor that once held ventilation and mechanical equipment.

Sung needs to sell a lot of barbecue to get that money back. Gaonnuri seats 250, and it was no more than 10 percent full on a recent evening, although the Post’s Steve Cuozzo found it busy at lunch.

It isn’t easily found. From the outside, there’s no indication that the building houses a restaurant. When you go in, a hostess checks your name on a reservation list, and only then allows you past the skyscraper’s security system, and onto the elevator.

It makes SHO Shaun Hergatt seem positively easy to get to, and we know how that turned out. Once you’re in, the décor is spectacular, but to some it may feel like a generic upscale Asian hotel restaurant (another charge unfairly leveled at Hergatt).

No one will complain about the unobstructed panoramas of the Empire State Building and the Hudson River. Cuozzo says that these are the best restaurant views since the Rainbow Room closed, and I’ve no reason to doubt him.

Prices are higher than the Koreatown average, but certainly not extortionate, as they tend to be at restaurants with views. The menu is lengthy and a bit confusing. There’s a list of cold and hot dishes that seem to be appetizers, but most of them come in small ($8–15) and large ($15–26) sizes.

Entrées, found on another page, are $15–28. Korean Barbecue is a separate listing, with individual portions $25–34 and platters for two at $60, $90, or $120. Hotpots are $50 for two people.

Cocktails ($10–13) and beers ($7–8) are comparatively inexpensive, and the wine list has plenty of bottles below $50. However, I chose an imported Korean bottled beverage, the Chamisul Fresh ($16; above right), which I can’t begin to describe.

We started with the Sanchae Bibimbap ($18), one of eight varieties of the dish offered here: a serving of mixed vegetables, shown in the photo (above) before it was mixed into a bowl of rice. It appears on the menu as an entrée, though we shared it as a starter.

Yes, I said it’s a bit confusing.

 

We ordered the $60 barbecue platter, which starts with a salad that resembles cole slaw (above left) and a spicy soup (above right).

 

There’s a wide variety of condiments and sauces (above left), and I didn’t photograph all of them, along with three meats (above right): beef brisket, pork belly, and galbi, a marinated beef short rib.

 

As at other Korean barbecue spots, there’s a grill built into every table. As the restaurant was fairly empty, the server cooked the food for us, although when it’s busy I assume this is left up to the customer. The food was excellent, with high-quality ingredients, well prepared.

Gaonnuri is only about a month old. Service is extremely attentive, but the kinks haven’t been worked out. Some of the servers can’t quite explain the menu—or at least, not in English. Bar tabs aren’t transferred to the table.

Is Gaonnuri for you? I didn’t mind spending $120 for two (before tip) for a comfortable, quiet dinner in a gorgeous space, with the best views in town. But you can go down the block, eat in a low-class space, with the food not as good, and spend a lot less. This is a Korean barbecue I’d go back to; the others aren’t.

How they expect to fill 250 seats every night is a good question.

Gaonnuri (1250 Broadway at 32nd Street, 39th Floor, Koreatown)

Food: Very good classic Korean cuisine, highlighted by the barbecue
Service: Attentive and doting, though still learning the rops
Ambiance: A stunning multi-million-dollar space with the best views in town

Rating:
Why? Probably the best Korean barbecue in town, though you’ll pay up for it 

Tuesday
Oct092012

Salumeria Rosi (Upper West Side)

I don’t know if it was luck or prescience, but when chef Cesare Casella opened Salumeria Rosi four years ago, his sense of the moment was pitch-perfect.

Casella copied a number of then-popular trends: the restaurant that doubles as a market; casual, tapas-style dining; and plates delivered randomly, “as and when they’re ready.” Those trends feel less worn-out here than they do at many other places.

In its early days, Salumeria Rosi often wasn’t available at the times we wanted to go (mainly pre-Lincoln Center). It dropped down, and then completely off our radar.

I’ve only lately noticed open tables at times I wanted to go. The recent opening of a new, considerably more upscale Salumeria Rosi on the Upper East Side, reignited my interest in the original spot.

The restaurant is a peculiar partnership with an Italian meat company called Parmacotto, operated by the Rosi family in Parma: hence, its full name, used by almost no one: Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto. It’s technically a chain, with outposts in Parma and Paris, but as far as I know, the cuisine here is entirely Casella’s.

The small-plates format often lends itself to over-ordering. You depend on the server to advise how much is enough, and they err to excess. That wasn’t the case here: the server suggested that we start with five items, which was exactly right for us; diners with larger appetites would probably need more.

The menu includes a large selection of cheeses ($6–8; selection $15), cured meets ($5–9; selections $17 or $26), salads and cooked items ($7–17), and desserts ($8). Just about all of it is available for take-out. If your table faces the market counter, you’ll see a steady stream of Upper West Siders all evening long, who buy meats and cheeses to carry home.

The wine list offers about fifty bottles (about 15–20 by the glass), many under $50, including the 2006 Negroamaro Vereto ($45; above right). I’ll leave the formal evaluation to others, but as far as price goes, this is the sort of wine list this restaurant should have.

 

After bread service (decent but nothing special), we started with Mortadella ($5; above right), a luscious pork sausage dappled with pork fat.

 

Insalata Misti ($9; above left) was routine, a phoned-in salad. Polpette (12; above right), were excellent. You know a restaurant is committed to a dish when it comes on a serving plate that couldn’t be used for anything else—here, plate shaped like a pair of goggles with a separate bowl for each meatball.

 

Farroto ($15; above left) — a risotto-like dish made with farro — was also very good, but the best dish of the evening was Pork Belly ($14; above right), with beautifully crisped skin and pork cracklings. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it with corn and spinach, an inspired pairing.

The Times never gave Salumeria Rosi a full review. In a dining brief, Frank Bruni praised the imported meats and cheeses, but found the space “cramped” and “[not] especially charming.” I suspect he might have a different view today: compared to other Italian market–restaurant places like Eataly and Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria, Salumeria Rosi is practically serene.

Still, it isn’t the spot for a leisurely or romantic meal. When you confirm your reservation, you’ll be told that there’s a 90-minute time limit on tables (a policy in place since early 2010). The restaurant lives up to its end of the bargain, sending out plates at a brisk pace.

One advantage of the kitchen’s speed, is that you needn’t decide up-front how much food you want to eat: start small and order more later if you need to (we didn’t). Still, there is a “wham-bam-thank you ma’am” feeling about dining here. It was fine for a pre-opera dinner, but if you want to linger, you should dine elsewhere.

The small dining room seats about 30. In good weather, there is also an outdoor café.

Salumeria Rosi (283 Amsterdam Avenue at 73rd Street, Upper West Side)

Food: Modern Italian, salumi, and cheeses, served tapas-style
Service: Friendly but very fast; perhaps too fast
Ambiance: A restaurant inside a market

Rating:
Why? Very good, clever Italian cuisine; some of the best salumi in town

Tuesday
Oct022012

Michelin New York 2013 Ratings 

The Michelin New York 2012 ratings were announced this afternoon. As always, we’re back with our tabular listing of the stars from 2006 (the first year) to the present. To summarize:

Promotions:

There were none.

Demotions (not counting closed restaurants):

I know of no specific changes at any of these restaurants, but Laut and Veritas (post-renovation) seemed like dubious stars anyway, so perhaps this is just the guide correcting itself.

Starred in First Eligible Year:

All of these places received favorable reviews from one or more major critics, with the curious exception of Hakkasan. That one’s a head-scratcher.

Older Restaurants Starred for the First Time:

Aquavit got a new chef in 2011 (Marcus Jernmark); Torrisi remodeled and launched a new tasting menu. Lan Sheng has been around since late 2009, but it’s an off-the radar spot, and perhaps the inspectors have only just now caught up to it. That leaves the deserving 15 East, which opened in 2007 and has been a favorite of sushi-hounds ever since.

As always, the Asian restaurants—those added (Hakkasan, Lan Sheng), those still there (Jewel Bako), and those still inexplicably missing (Ayada, SriPraPhai, Sushi Yasuda)—will spark the most controversy. The rest of the list makes some sense, even if you or I would choose different places.

The full list is below. See the end of the post for the color key.


Restaurant
20
06
20
07
20
08
20
09
20
10
20
11
20
12
20
13
15 East               *
Adour       ** * * * *
Ai Fiori             * *
Alain Ducasse ***              
Aldea           * * *
Allen & Delancey       *        
Alto       * ** **    
Annisa * * * * * * * *
Anthos     * * * *    
Aquavit               *
Atera               **
Aureole * * * * * * * *
A Voce Columbus           * * *
A Voce Madison   * *   * * * *
Babbo * * *          
Blanca               *
BLT Fish *              
Blue Hill     * * * * * *
Bouley ** ** **   * * * *
Breslin, The           * * *
Brooklyn Fare           ** *** ***
Brushstroke             * *
Café Boulud * * * * * * * *
Café China               *
Café Gray * * *          
Casa Mono         * * * *
Convivio         * *    
Corton         ** ** ** **
Country   * *          
Craft * *            
Cru * * * *        
Daniel ** ** ** ** *** *** *** ***
Danji             * *
Danny Brown           * * *
Danube ** * *          
Del Posto   ** ** ** * * * *
Dévi   * *          
Dovetail           * * *
Dressler     * * * * * *
Eighty One       * *      
Eleven Madison Park         * * *** ***
Etats-Unis * * * * *      
Fiamma (Osteria) * *   *        
Fleur de Sel * * * *        
Gilt     * ** ** ** ** **
Gotham Bar & Grill * * * * * * * *
Gordon Ramsay     ** ** ** ** ** **
Gramercy Tavern * * * * * * * *
Hakkasan               *
Heartbreak             *  
Insieme       * *      
Jean Georges *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Jewel Bako * * * * * * * *
JoJo *   * *        
Jungsik               *
Junoon             * *
Kajitsu         * ** ** *
Kyo Ya       * * * * *
Kurumazushi   * *          
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon     * * * * **  
La Goulue * *            
Lan Sheng               *
Le Bernardin *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Laut           * *  
Lever House * *            
Lo Scalco *              
Marc Forgione         * * *  
March *              
Marea         * ** ** **
Masa ** ** ** *** *** *** *** ***
Minetta Tavern         * * * *
Modern, The * * * * * * * *
Momofuku Ko       ** ** ** ** **
Nobu *              
NoMad, The               *
Oceana * * * * * * * *
Perry St.   * * * *      
Per Se *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Peter Luger * * * * * * * *
Picholine * * ** ** ** ** * *
Public       * * * * *
Rhong-Tiam         *      
River Café         * * * *
Rosanjin             * *
Rouge Tomate         * * * *
Saul * * * * * * * *
Scalini Fedeli *              
Seäsonal         * * * *
Shalizar/Shalezeh         * *    
SHO Shaun Hergatt         * * **  
Soto         * ** ** **
Spotted Pig * * * * * * * *
Sushi Azabu         * * * *
Sushi of Gari   * * * * * * *
Tamarind Tribeca             * *
Tori Shin             * *
Torrisi Italian Specialties               *
Tulsi             * *
Veritas * * * * * * *  
Vong * * *          
Wallsé * * * * * * * *
WD~50 * * * * * * * *

 

Color Key:

Green: Restaurant promoted, or starred in first year of eligibility
Yellow: Restaurant demoted, but still has at least one star
Red: Restaurant demoted, and now unstarred
Gray: Restaurant closed, moved, or opened too late in year to be rated

Monday
Oct012012

83½

Note: The Skeen curse continues. 83½ closed (briefly) after just 4½ months in business. As noted in the comments (below), it has re-opened with a different chef, Will Foden, who is serving an Italian menu.

*

I’m gonna try to write this post without making a bunch of Ryan Skeen jokes. It’s not easy. The chef has been linked to ten projects since 2008, many of which failed quickly (either the restaurant or Skeen’s involvement). In early 2012, he sat for an interview with Grub Street, clearly aware of his reputation for job-hopping. Taken individually, each failure has a logical explanation. Taken together, there is a shitload of them.

Welcome to Skeen Project #11, 83½, named for the restaurant’s location, halfway along 83rd Street between First and Second Avenues. The place has been open less than a month. Skeen hasn’t quit yet.

No one who knows Skeen’s history would predict a long life for this place. But at least it’s a lot different than most of his recent projects: a brand new, small dining room with 42 seats, where he’s the executive chef, and no one else’s culinary ego is competing with his.

Of course, there is still an owner to contend with, Vincenzo Mangiafridda Jr., who owns Gino’s Pizzeria next door. We weren’t sure if it was Vincenzo or his son who was perched at the bar on a recent Saturday evening, chatting with Ryan in the open kitchen and surveying the scene.

The one-page, focused menu is in four sections: Starting Course ($16), Sea Course ($17), Pasta Course ($18), and Large Courses ($27). But for one dish with a $5 supplement (the rack of lamb), every dish in a category costs the same.

This layout might prompt over-ordering. The server didn’t push that at all, though he did point out that some tables order a pastas—of which there are only two—as a mid-course to share. There are just five entrées, and the kitchen was no longer offering two of them when we arrived a shade early for our 10:30pm reservation.

Given Skeen’s reputation as a meat-hawking chef at Resto and Irving Mill, it may be a bit surprising that about half the menu is seafood, and most of the meat offerings are timid. Is Skeen channeling the Upper East Side, trying to prove he’s settled down, or something else?

The wine list isn’t long, but it’s fairly priced in relation to the food, and it featured a number of producers unfamiliar to me, many of them labeled as organic or biodynamic. At $50 (about 2½ times retail), the Torbreck 2009 Cuvée Juveniles (above right) had a rich, full-bodied flavor.

 

A Tea Beet & Goat Cheese Salad ($16; above left) was…well, a beet salad. A Liege Salad ($16; above right) was as close to the old Skeen as the menu got, a delightful soupy mix of escarole, arugula, chopped pig’s ears, and a poached egg.

 

If you’re going to offer just two pastas, there’s full credit for making one of them such a dandy as the Sepia Bucatini ($18; above left) with chili, sea urchin, lemon and basil.

But I was quite disappointed in the Rack of Lamb ($32; above right), the only dish on the menu that carries a supplement. Served off the bone, the lamb didn’t have much flavor, and it was swimming in a watery swamp of bitter greens.

The space doesn’t appear to be perversely designed to amplify the ambient noise, but noisy it was, until the crowd thinned out later in our meal. The dining room is modern, stylish, and attractive, although the tables are close together. The servers are smartly dressed and knowledgeable, a cut above what one often finds at new restaurants these days. This isn’t their first rodeo.

I’m sure 83½ will attract some of the Skeen curiosity seekers, the way it attracted us. The introductory menu doesn’t qualify as destination cuisine, but as Skeen finds his equilibrium perhaps it will become more adventurous. The advantage of a small space is that the menu doesn’t have to be full of crowd-pleasers, as long as he can keep 40-odd seats full.

Less than a month in, 83½ is promising, but perhaps not yet at its full potential. It will bear watching, along with the chef’s mercurial temper.

83½ (345 E. 83rd Street between First & Second Avenues, Upper East Side)

Food: Upscale American cuisine
Wine: A short but worthwhile list of wines, many organic or biodynamic
Service: A strong point, especially for a restaurant this new
Ambaince: A small, stylish dining room with an open kitchen; a bit too loud

Rating
Why? A promising menu with some soft spots, but well worth watching

Saturday
Sep292012

Del Frisco's Grille

A stripper once told me I ought to check out Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House.

I never got around to it: I avoid national chains (there are nine Del Frisco’s), and the reviews were mixed. The Robs at New York Magazine loved it; Bloomberg’s Ryan Sutton the opposite.

The steakhouse has a little brother, Del Frisco’s Grille, in four cities with a fifth on the way. You can order steaks there too, but the menu is broader, more casual, and less expensive. Full disclosure: we visited at the publicist’s invitation and did not pay for our meal.

In New York (one of two cities that has both a steakhouse and a grille), the two places are close by, on opposite sides of Rockefeller Center. From local businesses and business travelers, to Radio City, Top of the Rock, and holiday shoppers, there’s a steady flow of visitors with disposable income.

Del Frisco’s Grille isn’t, strictly speaking, a steakhouse, but it very well could be. It has a muscular, distinctly masculine décor. The space was bustling on a recent Thursday evening, with what looked like a mostly young, after-work crowd that skewed single and available, especially at the bar.

The menu is divided into nine categories, many of them with dumb names like “Food to Fight Over” (appetizers and bar food), “Ruffage” (the word “salads” wasn’t available?), “Knife & Fork” (as if we’d eat the rest with our hands?), or “Lil’ Somethin’ Somethin’” (side dishes).

Who are they’re impressing with such gimmickry? It just screams “suburbia,” and reinforces the perception of Del Frisco’s as not really serious.

Well, I’m not going to tell you that it’s destination cuisine—it’s not, and you wouldn’t believe me if I said otherwise. But for what it is, the ingredients at Del Frisco’s Grille are a cut above the norm at such places, and the food is prepared well.

The menu is a mix of items dictated by the corporate office and others adjusted to local custom. The chef, Scott Kroener, who has been here since the restaurant opened a year ago, serves the chain menu and introduces his own recipes, within the confines of a prescribed template.

Broadly: the salad and appetizer-like items are in the $9–18 range, entrées $19–44, sandwiches $16–19, and sides $9–12.

 

  

The Crabcake ($19; above left) is unorthodox: all lump crabmeat without breading, inside a moat of cajun lobster sauce. The Ahi Tacos ($18; above center) are made with tuna tartare, avocado, and a spicy citrus mayo. Cheesesteak Eggrolls ($15; above right), with chili sauce and honey mustard, are surprisingly good.

If I could order again, I’d choose the Cheesesteak Eggrolls, and yes, that surprises me. My girlfriend would probably choose the tacos.

  

Bacon-wrapped scallops (above left) in a vinaigrette dressing were an off-menu special. The chef said it’s one of his favorites, but it wasn’t one of mine. But I did very much like the Heirloom Tomato and Burrata salad ($18; above center). If that’s typical of the other salads, it could easily be a shared appetizer. Bread rolls (above right) were served warm, and the butter was soft, the way I prefer it.

  

Del Frisco’s wet-ages most of its steaks, which could explain why it’s not considered a top-tier steakhouse in this dry-aged town. The chef has added a dry-aged bone-in New York strip to the menu (above center). It won’t challenge Minetta Tavern, but it can give most other places a run for their money. We also sampled a wet-aged specimen, the filet ($44; above left), which like most filets was more tender but less flavorful than the strip.

Both steaks were a bit over-seasoned with salt and pepper, an objection the chef is aware of, and which has been mentioned in some online reviews. I am not sure why he keeps doing it. All three sides (above right) were capably done: the Truffled Mac & Cheese, the “Spinach Supreme”, and the Asparagus (all $12).

  

The desserts were top-notch. You’d need a big appetite to finish them. I couldn’t really choose between the Nutella bread pudding and coffee ice cream with caramel sauce (above left), the Crème brûlée cheesecake with apple cinnamon compote (above center), or the cocnut cream pie with white chocolate shavings (above right).

The space is a bit louder than I’d like, though I’m sure it’s to many people’s tastes: raucous restaurants exist for a reason. We received the white glove treatment, so I can’t comment on the typical service experience.

The cocktails, mostly vodka-based, are sweeter than my preference. I liked best the Del’s Derby (Maker’s Mark, muddled orange, mint leaves, simple syrup, soda). There’s also a 700-bottle wine list, which we didn’t explore.

Del Frisco’s Grille isn’t really part of New York food culture, and doesn’t really try to be. It’s a national chain, designed to deliver reproducible upscale comfort. The best indication of its potential is the dry-aged bone-in New York strip, which is the local chef’s idea, and is not on the corporate menu. Order that, and the heirloom tomato salad, and you could be happy here.

Del Frisco’s Grille (50 Rockefeller Plaza, 51st Street, between Fifth & Sixth Avenues)

Tuesday
Sep252012

The Pitch & Fork

Note: Pitch & Fork closed. The space is now a Mexican restaurant called Epazote.

*

On the Upper East Side, where the restaurant scene has been quietly improving, welcome to The Pitch & Fork. It’s not destination dining, but another solid option in a neighborhood that the media always considered dining-deficient.

In truth, the media perception of Upper East Side dining was always more myth than fact. East of Third Avenue, the residents are younger, edgier, and far more likely to be single. They’ve all gotta eat. Restaurants up here still struggle to pull crowds from outside the neighborhood, but many of them do solid local business.

That appeared to be the case on a recent Saturday evening at The Pitch & Fork, which opened in late June. There’s a small outdoor café, a dark tavern-like dining room, and a quiet outdoor garden (where we ate), which supposedly will be open year-round.

The man in charge is Jacques Ouari, whose clutch of restaurants includes Jacques Brasserie at 85th & Third and Jacques 1534 in NoLIta. The menu here offers French-accented pub fare, where burgers, hot dogs and ribs could share the table with moules frites and steak au poivre.

Soups, salads and appetizers run $7–16, main courses $15–26, side dishes $6–7. The wine list is not much of a draw, but you’ll find something acceptable. The bottle of red Zinfandel pictured above was $53.

Not many restaurants serve a platter of Schaller & Weber choucroute these days, so we ordered that. It comes in two sizes ($16/$22), and the larger of these was more than we could finish, a bounty of bockwurst, weisswurst, frankfurt, pork belly, sauerkraut, and potatoes.

 

A very good poached Brook Trout ($22; above left) was stuffed with spinach, shallots, and wild mushrooms. But under-seasoned Roast Chicken ($21; above right) had a flat, mushy taste.

Some of the servers here are a bit shaky on the finer points (where to put silverware, how to pour wine), but they were attentive enough, and the outdoor garden is lovely. I’d like to hope that chicken was an anomaly, as otherwise the Pitch & Fork is a pleasant spot.

The Pitch & Fork (1606 First Avenue between 83rd & 84th Streets, Upper East Side)

Food: French-accented American pub fare
Service: Informal but sufficiently attentive
Ambiance: A bustling tavern with a quiet outdoor garden

Rating:
Why? Another solid option for the area, but not noteworthy enough to travel for

Tuesday
Sep182012

Angolo Soho

Note: Angolo Soho closed in November 2013 to make way for a branch of T-Bar Steakhouse.

*

Angolo Soho, yet another new Italian restaurant, feels like the last fifteen of them. Or the last fifteen dozen. You’ll have a pleasant and inoffensive meal there. I’ve no serious complaint about anything we were served. I’ve also no serious reason to go back, nor to recommend it.

Lusso, a similar place, already failed here, back when the address was known as 331 West Broadway. (It’s now 53 Grand Street.) The photo posted in my 2010 review is not far off from what Angolo Soho looks like now. The bones haven’t changed much, except the bar area (not pictured) is a bit brighter. In between, the space was a Southern spot called South Houston, which also quickly failed.

The name is not particularly helpful: Angolo is Italian for corner, though it might be confused with an African nation. Internet searches turn up a far better known restaurant, Piccolo Angolo (“little corner”) in the West Village, not far away. It is amazing how often people name their restaurants without google-testing them first.

Michael Bernardino, the chef, has decent Italian cred., having worked at Villa Pacri (executive chef), ’inoteca, and Dell’ anima (both chef de cuisine), but he didn’t stay long at any of them. His most recent assignments were at Resto and Cannibal (not long there either).

The menu is straightforward mid-priced Italian, with antipasti $10–17, primi $14–19, secondi $24–32 (not counting an out-of-place aged ribeye for two, $130), contorni $7, desserts $6–9. There’s also a selection of cheese $7 or a house-made stracciatella for $13, or charcuterie $9–18.

I didn’t take a copy of the cocktail list or take notes, but we had two pretty good cocktails at the bar. The mostly Italian wine list is not long, but it’s fairly priced in relation to the restaurant. A 2007 Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva was in the neighborhood of $50.

 

My girlfriend started with a straightforward Arugula Parmigiano Reggiano salad ($10; above left). Trippa alla Napoletana ($15; above right) had a faintly satisfying crunch, but it seemed to me that the chef was trying to conceal slightly rubbery tripe in a sea of tomato sauce.

 

You’d expect the former Cannibal chef to make a satisfying Pork Chop ($32; above left), and this double-cut specimen was beauty, though a hair less tender than I would have liked. Tagliatelle Bolognese ($18; above right) with parmigiano reggiano was competently done.

In only their second week, some of the staff are still feeling their way, but they were friendly and attentive. The bread service (pictured at the top of the page) is perfunctory and ought to be improved. The restaurant was about 2/3rds full on a Thursday evening, which isn’t bad at all for a new establishment. I just wonder whether the place is compelling enough to keep drawing that kind of crowd.

Angolo Soho (53 Grand Street at West Broadway, Soho)

Food: Modern Italian; good enough for what it is, but not distinctive
Ambiance: A bright Soho street corner, wooden tables, brick walls
Service: Friendly and attentive

Rating:
Why? Not well differentiated from the city’s many dozens of good Italian restaurants