Sunday
May302004

Bond Street

A few years ago, Bond Street was the Japanese restaurant of the rich and famous. Every review mentioned the celebrities and fashion models one encountered there. It is still doing a healthy business, but you can land a reservation easily on OpenTable, and you score a 1,000-point bonus for requesting an off-peak time, which we did.

BondSt has a suave décor of cool earthtones. My brother said it’s the kind of restaurant that the chicks on Sex and the City frequent, but which he always assumed didn’t really exist. From the unassuming frontage of a townhouse on the eponymous street in NoHo, you don’t imagine that such an oasis lies waiting for you inside. An elevator took us to our table on the second floor, emphasizing the feeling of being transported to another world.

I ordered the $60 tasting menu for me and my two guests. (Tasting menus are also available at $40, $80, and $100.) We were served eight courses, as follows:

1. Steamed, salted edamame.

2. Vegetable tower in a preparation so fancy it seemed a crime to bite into it.

3. Small squares of tuna tartare, with a respberry sauce and szechuan peppercorns.

4. BBQ quail wings with a beehive of fried soba noodles. The crispy quail wings were a highlight, although gone all too quickly, but the soba noodles were ruined by an overly salty soy sauce.

5. Scallop and shrimp over a sweet potato puree. This was the hit of the evening.

6. A sushi plate, six or seven pieces, with a mixture of salmon, whitefish, yellowtail, tuna roll, and others.

7. Noodle soup with seafood tempura.

8. Dessert – each of us received something different, which we shared, and all of which were wonderful. One was a bento box of mixed sorbets and ices; another was a heavenly preparation resembling strawberry shortcake with heavy cream, served in a sundae bowl; and third, a vanilla custard.

We ordered from the lower end of the sake menu, a $45 bottle that was smooth and fruity to the taste – one of the best sakes I’ve experienced, which may just tell you that I am not a true connoisseur. Service was friendly, attentive, and unpretentious. I can’t say that Bond Street equaled the amazing lunch I had at Nobu a few weeks ago, but it was a great meal nevertheless, which I’d be happy to recommend to anybody.

Bond Street (6 Bond Street between Broadway and Lafayette Street, NoHo)

Food: **
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: **

Friday
May282004

Movin' Out

The musical Movin' Out is all about Twyla Tharp's dances. It takes its title from the famous Billy Joel song, and in fact the whole score is by him. People of a certain age will know most of these songs by heart. It's to the cast's credit that you almost forget that it's not Joel singing, but another guy doing his damndest to sound like him. But since we've grown up hearing these songs sung by the man who sings them better than anybody, it's for the choreography that you should go to Movin' Out.

And indeed, the dances are a real trip. So energetic, clever, and brilliantly conceived are they, that it scarcely matters that they're set to Billy Joel's songs. As my brother observed, you could have done these dances to anybody's songs. It really doesn't matter. Tharp developed a slender plot knitting her dances together, which the ensemble cast play out in mime. It involves three pairs of couples who meet in high school, break up when the boys go off to the Vietnam war, and reconnect afterwards. This doesn't matter either. Often the Joel songs go with the story; sometimes, they don't seem to. Movin' Out is all about the dances, which are riveting.

Friday
May282004

Le Madeleine

Note: After 28 years, Le Madeleine closed in March 2007, when they lost their lease.

*

My brother and his wife are visiting from California. They bought tickets the other night for Movin’ Out, and on short notice we needed a restaurant reservation. We’re dropping some major dough on food this weekend, so I wanted to keep things on the inexpensive side. It’s here that OpenTable.com came to the rescue. I chose Le Madeleine, a French bistro slightly to the left of the Theater District.

Entrées are generally in the $15-20 range, with an entrecote steak priced at $25. Appetizers are from $6-11, and side dishes all at $4. However, as all of the entrées come with appropriate vegetables I really see no need for the side dishes unless you want to load up on such things as braised red cabbage, Israeli couscous, or creamed cannellini beans. You can read the menu at Le Madeleine’s website, although the at present it’s showing the winter menu; what we saw was a bit different.

My sister-in-law chose the Spice Crusted Duck “Aigre Doux,” which is served with creamy polenta, braised red cabbage, and caper-currant-cranberry sauce - a clever preparation that was full of diverse flavors. My brother chose the braised Berkshire pork (I didn’t know the Berkshires were known for that), which he described as wonderfully tender. I had the grilled marlin, an off-the-menu special, which tasted a lot like swordfish. It was served in a sweet lemon butter sauce.

Le Madeleine is clearly oriented to the pre-theater crowd, and service is organized to get patrons out to their shows on time. Service was friendly, if occasionally frantic. There is a lovely garden room with a skylight, as well as a more conventional indoor room that resembles a hundred other bistros.

This is a solid pre-theater restaurant off the beaten path of Restaurant Row. It offers inventive fare that, at its relatively low price point, is well worth a try.

Le Madeleine (403 W. 43rd Street, west of Ninth Avenue, Theater District)

Food: *
Service: Satisfactory
Ambiance: *
Overall: *

Sunday
May232004

Amuse (the restaurant)

Note: Amuse has since closed—I believe in 2007. The restaurant with more lives than a cat finally ran out of them. Some of the Amuse team has since landed at the North Fork Table & Inn.

*

Amuse has had as many lives as a cat. It was once Harvey’s Chelsea, and then it was The Tonic, and last year it became Amuse after Garry Heyden (formerly of Aureole) took over as chef. William Grimes of the New York Times reaffirmed its two-star status, while observing how improbable it was that a restaurant so often re-invented has managed to maintain its culinary standards.

It’s been about a year since Grimes’s review appeared, and Amuse has evidently changed its concept again. On May 21, 2003, Grimes wrote:

Amuse is short for amuse-bouche, the French term for the bite-size preappetizers intended to titillate the palate. They serve multiple functions. They help keep hunger at bay, but they also inspire the chef to create an eye-catching bit of whimsy that can serve as a preview of coming attractions. Mr. Hayden has elevated the status of the amuse-bouche and designed an entire menu around small tastes, doing away with the appetizer-entree dichotomy.

His menu offers a half dozen choices in four price categories, $5, $10, $15, and $20. With each increase in price, the preparations become more complex and the ingredients more expensive. The portion size increases, too, so the more expensive dishes look like abbreviated entrees. Five dollars buys a silver julep cup filled with herbed French fries. Twenty dollars earns an upgrade to peppered duck breast with endive marmalade and a sweet, syrupy reduction of black mission figs.

Other reviews I found on the web seemed to be based on the same menu Grimes saw, which you can still read on menupages.com. That menu is no more. Although many of the same dishes are still there, the menu is now organized in the more conventional appetizer-entee format. Amuse is no longer trying to be a tapas bar. It does retain some hints of the original idea — the appetizer section is labeled “Tastes for Sampling and Sharing.” One who didn’t know what the former menu looked like would simply conclude that this is a longer name for “appetizers,” and that indeed is how my friend and I took it.

Some of the dishes cry out to be shared. I ordered Crisp Cod and Yukon Gold Potato Cakes with Truffle Tartar Sauce to start. Out came four thick half-dollar sized fish cakes - a dish perfectly suited for sharing. Heyden’s preparation gave a crispy and spicy excitement to a dish that could otherwise seem an upscale version of Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks. My friend ordered Atlantic Salmon Two Ways (house smoked & tartare, with a chive potato cake). This dish was not quite as easy to divide, although I had a taste.

Every review has mentioned with approval the Five Hour Braised Short Rib of Beef with Carmelized Sea Scallops, so I had decided well in advance that this would be my main course if it was still available - which it was. The short rib was so tender that one hardly needed a knife, and it tasted like home-cooked brisket. The scallops were a hearty size, with a crisp exterior that led to a tender, beefy center.

My friend ordered the Grilled New York Strip Steak, which arrived pre-sliced. Some restaurants serve porterhouse this way, but I’ve never seen it done to a New York Strip. This, too, could be a vestige of the restaurant’s earlier tapas-style menu. The steak had a crispy charred exterior and and a wonderful tender flavor. I’m usually skeptical of ordering a NY Strip anywhere that doesn’t specialize in steak, but this dish is worth a try.

In sum, Amuse offers an inventive and eclectic menu, beautifully presented, and fairly priced given the overall standard in the city for fine dining restaurants. There are 28 appetizers (priced from $4-18) and 8 mains (priced from $20-30). We sampled but two of each, so your mileage may vary, but everything coming out of the kitchen certainly looked good. There is also a chef’s tasting menu (obligatory these days at any restaurant claiming to be serious about food): amuse bouche, four courses, and dessert for $55, or paired with wine $75. This looks to me to be a bargain.

I reserved Amuse on opentable.com. The restaurant called me twice to confirm I was coming, which led me to think, “Wow, they really must have heavy demand for tables.” To the contrary, it was nearly empty when we arrived at 7:00pm, and only about half-full by the time we left at 8:30. The space is comfortable and the contemporary décor pleasant on the eye, with rooms called the apartment, the lounge, the salon, and the library. Both the bar and dining area are amply proportioned, and there appear to be private rooms upstairs, which we didn’t investigate.

Amuse (108-110 West 18th Street, between Sixth & Seventh Avenues, Chelsea)

Food: **
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: **

Thursday
May202004

The Trouble With Zagat

The Zagat Guide is a wonderful restaurant directory. It allows you to search on a wide variety of criteria (neighborhood, cuisine, etc.), and it provides just about all of the basic information you need (address, phone number, hours, map, price range). The comments provided, although brief, are often witty and scathingly accurate.

But the one area where Zagat falls down is the statistic most often quoted, and for which Zagat is best known: the numeric ratings of each restaurant. Zagat separately rates Food, Décor and Service on a 1-to-30 scale. If properly used, this scale would provide sufficient amplitude to distinguish the neighborhood taco stand from Alain Ducasse and Per Se. In practice, it does nothing of the kind. This is ironic, given that restaurants love to post their so-called “Zagat rating,” and some will say that they’re “Zagat rated.” What is this so-called “rating”?

For starters, Zagat is a raw popularity contest, with very little guidance given to the voters. Someone who thinks Olive Garden is a pretty good restaurant is going to rate all of Little Italy off-the-charts, while an experienced high-end diner will pooh-pooh anyplace that lacks a chef’s tasting menu. The upshot is you have a hot dog stand like Gray’s Papaya carrying a Zagat food rating of 20 out of 30, which (according to Zagat’s own definitions) is supposed to mean “very good to excellent,” when the highest rating in New York is just 28.

Zagat’s own voting mechanism is largely at fault. Individual voters are allowed to vote on a 0-to-3 scale. Zagat says that “1” is supposed to mean “good,” but psychologically a “1” vote feels like “below average.” People will realize that “3” must be pretty damned good, so there’s a tendency for almost everything to get rated “2”. For the final rating, Zagat multiplies the average by 10 and rounds off, resulting in the familiar 1-to-30 scale.

A look at the details shows that this is a serious problem. Of the 1,454 restaurants in Zagat’s 2003 New York guide, 74% of them carry a food rating between 18 and 23. What’s more, 97% of them carry a food rating of 16 or higher, and none carry a food rating worse than 9. The upshot is that what’s claimed to be a 1–30 scale is, for all practical purposes, a 16–28 scale. You can safely say that any restaurant with a Zagat rating of 25 or higher is very good. But ratings below 25, which is almost all of them, are in an undifferentiated scrum, and aren’t statistically significant.

Oddly, voters are considerably more discriminating in their Décor ratings: just 62% of New York restaurants have a Décor rating 16 or higher, and just 36% are clustered in the 18–23 range. When it comes to Service, Zagat voters rate about 80% of restaurants 16 or higher, and 54% are in the 18–23 range. So the Zagat Service ratings are nearly, but not quite, as useless as the Food ratings, while the Décor ratings actually do seem to mean something.

The pernicious tendency of the ratings to cluster around 20 is shown in the following graph:

I am not sure why voters are least discriminating about the one thing that should matter most at a restuarant - the food - but perhaps it’s because the qualities that make food great are awfully difficult to describe. Yet, everyone knows an ugly room when they see it.

I think Zagat would be considerably more reliable if they collected votes on the same scale they report, from 0 to 30. Voters would then tend to rate an average restaurant “15”, instead of “2”. The higher Zagat ratings would be harder to get, and the scale overall would be a lot more meaningful.

[Update: After I posted this, a colleague on eGullet observed that the Zagat food ratings are almost a proper bell curve, if you consider “average” to be 20 rather than 15. The problem is that the standard deviation is only about 2, which means that the scale simply fails to offer a meaningful spread between the best and the worst.]

Of course, there’s no chance of Tim and Nina actually changing anything, so the Zagat ratings will continue to be the least useful part of what is otherwise a very useful service.

Wednesday
May192004

(The Mercer) Kitchen

I was invited to lunch yesterday at (The Mercer) Kitchen, one of the ubiquitous Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s many properties. (Its proper name is written out with parentheses around “The Mercer.”) The restaurant occupies part of the ground floor and basement of a hotel at the corner of Mercer & Prince Streets, in SoHo. It’s an impressive space. The ground floor is a bar, with comfortable chairs and small cocktail tables generously spaced. In the back of this area are floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, suggesting a library.

The restaurant proper is downstairs. Part of it is in the vault space below the sidewalk. Look up from your table, and you see (and sometimes hear) people walking over the grillework up above. There is glass in the interstices of the grille, but keep reading: evidently the seal isn’t quite perfect. Near the back are several long communal tables — evidently a staple of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants. These tables look on an open kitchen — yet another JGV staple. The décor is dark and sleek.

I ordered from the $20 prix fixe lunch menu. An appetizer of Wild Mushroom Bruschetta with Prosciutto failed to impress. I am the world’s worst cook, so when my reaction to a dish is, “I could easily do that,” it’s not a good sign. It seemed to be no more than mushrooms and ham on slightly soggy rye toast.

Things improved as we moved to the main course: Roast Duck Breast with Bok Choy, Ramps and Rhubarb. The rhubarb, a pale pink sauce framing thin duck slices, was what made the dish.

Dessert — Gianduja Parfait with Coconut Soup — was heavenly. One of my lunch companions speaks seven languages, and he explained that gianduja is a hazelnut chocolate. I wonder why the restaurant couldn’t tell us that on the menu. Is “gianduja” a common word? I don’t think so.

In the middle of the meal, we noticed a flurry of activity around the tables near us. It turned out the staff were hanging umbrellas on the sprinkler pipes just below the grillework that separates the restaurant from the sidewalk above. By the time they were done, the entire front section of the restaurant was ringed with a protective cocoon of upsidedown umbrellas, resembling the famous scene from Mary Poppins. What a bizarre sight! Rain was forecast, but none fell before we left, so I didn’t get to see what that was like.

It was a satisfactory meal, but I won’t be dying to go back.

(The Mercer) Kitchen (99 Prince Street at Mercer Street, SoHo)

Food: Satisfactory
Service: *
Ambiance: Satisfactory
Overall: Satisfactory

Tuesday
May182004

Olympics Plan Advances

New York City’s bid to host the 2012 Olympic Summer Games cleared a hurdle today, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) narrowed the field from nine cities to five. Paris, London, Madrid, and Moscow join New York in the final round, with a decision expected in July 2005. Havana, Istanbul, Leipzig and Havana fell out of contention.

The decision was not really in doubt, given the well publicized conclusions of an IOC technical committee, which found “a high level of confidence” that Paris, London, Madrid, and New York could stage the games successfully. It found Moscow’s capabilities just barely adequate, so the inclusion of Moscow in the final five is about the only surprise. The report found that the other four cities “do not have the requisite level of capability at this time.”

Bookmakers have installed Paris as an 11-10 favorite to land the 2012 games, with London at 5-4, Madrid 7-1, New York 8-1, and Moscow 20-1. Paris scored highly on all of the IOC’s criteria, it has already been through the bid process twice (1992 and 2008), and it hasn’t hosted an Olympics since 1924. New York suffers because Vancouver, B.C., has already been awarded the 2012 Winter Games, and the IOC doesn’t like to hold consecutive games on the same continent. New York’s bid has other problems. Significant infrastructure, much of it as yet unfunded, would need to be built between now and 2012. The Olympic bid has garnered at best lukewarm public support, and internationally there could well be an anti-American backlash among the highly politicized IOC voters, because of the Iraq invasion.

One major piece of unbuilt infrastructure is the Olympic Stadium, officially known as the “New York Sports and Convention Center.” Promoters chose that name to deflect attention from the fact that, should the Olympics bid fail, the facility will be primarily known as the new home of the New York Jets. The Jets are proposing to contribute $800 million of their own money, but they also expect about $600 million of public money, and some community leaders are skeptical about appropriating such a hefty sum so that a profitable football team can play eight home dates a year.

The stadium design was unveiled today. It’s a thing of beauty - at least in the artist’s renderings. The Jets and Deputy Mayor Doctoroff desperately hope to break ground before next July, both to demonstrate to the IOC that New York’s Olympics plans are real, and to give the stadium a raison d’etre other than hosting Jets football games.

The Jets are clearly eager to demonstrate that the stadium is more than just corporate welfare for a carpetbagging football team. They say:

The NYSCC will have something for everyone in the neighborhood. Beyond the projected schedule of 17 stadium events, 30 conventions, and two super-events per year, the Center will host daily events and activities for the members of the community and visitors.

Along 34th Street, the full city block will be dedicated to a grand public space, ceremoniously connecting the Hudson River and the Highline to 34th Street. The revitalized 34th Street corridor will feature a promenade transforming one of the city’s most overcrowded streets to provide pedestrians with a peaceful and stunning view of the stadium and river, amid trees, gardens and benches. The promenade will also conveniently provide street level access through a series of ramps and stairs around the Center and onto the Highline as it threads its way south.

I remain highly skeptical that the new stadium will really enjoy that much use, and with the Olympics bid remaining a long-shot, it’s a dubious investment.

Tuesday
May182004

Nobu

Note: Click here for a more recent review of Nobu.

A vendor invited me out to lunch at Nobu on Friday. That meant he was paying. We had no reservation, but we were waiting by the door when they opened at 11:45am, and we were seated immediately. My host had done this before, so apparently it’s a dependable way to get into Nobu without a rez. We only had to promise that we’d vacate our table by 1:30pm. It was my first visit.

For lunch, Nobo offers a wide variety of sushi and sashimi plates, soups and side dishes, several sushi/sashimi assortments in the $23-$28 range, a prix fixe package at $20.04, and the chef’s omakase at “$55 to $65 and up.” There’s also a two-column list running to a closely-spaced half-page, which the waiter called “Chef Nobu’s signature dishes.” The menu had another name for them, but the waiter’s term sticks in my memory.

The waiter advised us to skip the sushi, and to order 4 or 5 of the signature dishes, which he told us are served “Tapas style.” That means they come one at a time, to be shared by the table. We chose 5 of the signature dishes – basically the ones the waiter recommended – as well as the Spicy Seafood Soup, which my host had enjoyed on his previous visit. The waiter’s descriptions went by at blazing speed, and frankly I wasn’t entirely sure what we’d chosen. He told us about a few special dishes not on the menu, and we chose one of these, but I always wonder why a restaurant can’t be bothered to put the daily specials on a piece of paper. I think Nobu could manage it. At any rate, it all sounded good.

The Spicy Seafood Soup came first, and it reminded me of that old commercial about the soup so chunky you want to eat it with a fork. There was just an amazing amount of seafood packed into the soup bowl. Then came yellowtail with cilantro and jalapeno peppers; I thought the last two ingredients slightly overwhelmed the first. It was the only dish about which I had even the slightest reservations. Our second signature dish was kobe beef, thinly sliced, and prepared with two kinds of spices. A tuna sashimi salad was sheer perfection, with several large slices of rare tuna. Then came squid pasta (hard to explain), and finally a black sea bass so rich and flavorful that I can still taste it.

I can see why the waiter steered us away from sushi. My host, who had ordered sushi the last time he visited, confirmed this. The so-called signature dishes are extraordinary and without parallel. The sushi, he said, is of course among the best that can be had, but doesn’t stand out from what’s available elsewhere quite so conspicuously.

With five dishes shared among two of us, plus soup, I left Nobu quite full, and yet sorry that the meal was over. Every dish was creative, full of flavor, perfectly seasoned, and prepared with an obvious attention to every detail. While enjoying our own meal, my host and I watched the parade of plates arriving at adjoining tables. No matter what you order, every dish entertains the eye as much as the taste buds. They are all works of sculpture – “Art in Food,” as my host observed. He promised to invite me back again, this time for dinner, in a couple of months or so. I can hardly wait.

Nobu (105 Hudson Street at Franklin Street, TriBeCa)

Thursday
May132004

Port Authority Confronts Silverstein

The New York Post reports that the Port Authority has asked WTC developer Larry Silverstein to explain how he expects to pay his share of rebuilding costs. Now that Silverstein has lost a lawsuit against most of his insurers, the most he could receive is $4.6 billion, and it could be as little as $3.5 billion depending on how the remaining court battles play out (and he has lost all of them so far). That's a far cry from the $7.0 billion Silverstein would have received, had he persuaded a jury that the 9/11 attacks counted as two separate occurrences.

Now, $4.6 billion isn't exactly chump change, but Silverstein has already blown $1.48 billion of it on legal fees, mortgage payments, and his $120 million-a-year lease with the Port Authority. It's estimated he'd owe another $630 million on lease payments before the 1,776-foot Freedom Tower, on which he's breaking ground this summer, could start generating income.

Silverstein estimates it will cost $1.6 billion to build the Freedom Tower, but the Port Authority believes he also owes a contribution to the sub-grade infrastructure, which could run to another billion. Add it all up, and it's more money than Silverstein is known to have. Banks are unlikely to lend Silverstein any more money when the Freedom Tower as yet has no principal tenant.

The bet here is that the Port Authority will have to find a way to buy Silverstein out of his lease.

Thursday
May132004

August (the restuarant)

Note: August closed in June 2014 after facing a 200% rent increase. My review below dates from a decade earlier, under Executive Chef Tony Liu, who left the restaurant in 2007 to take over Keith McNally’s Morandi, and later Pulino’s. Terrence Gallivan replaced Liu, before moving to the ill-fated Alto in 2011. Jordan Frosolone, the former chef de cuisine at Hearth, replaced Gallivan. In November 2011, Josh Eden (formerly of Shorty’s.32) replaced Frosolone. The restaurant has re-opened on the Upper East Side at 791 Lexington Avenue at 61st Street.

*

I had a very happy experience the other night at August. Eric Asimov was absolutely right about the heavenly smell.

Arriving at 6:30pm for a pre-theater dinner, I had my choice of tables. When I left an hour later, they had started to fill up but still had two tables free. By 8:30pm, you would definitely have a wait. An outdoor garden is to open within the next couple of weeks. It will have a retractable roof, allowing it to be used year-round. This will double the capacity of the restaurant.

I ordered a Ramp Vichysoisse soup to start, which misfired. It is supposed to be served cold. If this were a blind taste test, you’d have trouble deciding whether it was a hot soup that had been left at room temperature too long, or a cold soup that had been allowed to warm up.

Things improved markedly with Softshell Crabs Grenobloise, served over a bed of haricots verts. The crabs, served whole, were done to perfect crispness, and an explosion of flavor greeted the tongue as I bit inside. Incidentally, the dish appears on the menu as “Skate Grenobloise,” but for now softshell crabs have replaced the skate. (This was fully disclosed before I ordered.)

I finished with the daily selection of artisinal cheeses, a selection of three very flavorful and contrasting chesses that the manager informed me he had selected and purchased himself. He recommended a glass of Castilla y Lyon Rioja that perfectly complemented the cheeses without overwhelming them.

Service was friendly and prompt, although I thought it took a tad too long for the cheese course to arrive. However, I had left plenty of time to finish dinner, and the Rioja kept me amused. One minor complaint is that the dessert menu had no prices. Silly me, I assumed the desserts would be priced in proportion to the rest of the menu, and didn’t bother to ask. Turns out the cheese course was $15, which was only $2 less than my entrée. Although I’ve no regrets about the evening, I really had no clue that I was selecting a $15 dessert.

August doesn’t take reservations, but apparently there are exceptions if you get to know them. While I was there, a lady came in and booked a table for 8pm on Sunday for her mother’s 91st birthday. “We don’t take reservations, but call me at 6pm Sunday to remind me, and I’ll set aside a table for you.” It was obvious from the conversation that the lady had been in before. I overheard a couple of other conversations along similar lines.

It really is time to rename the Eric Asimov’s New York Times column, “$25 and Under.” The arrival of a new critic starting June 1st may provide the occasion to do so. My 3-course meal, with two glasses of wine, ran to $73 including tax and tip. By no rational definition can this be considered a “$25-and-under” restaurant, unless you eat a one-course meal and drink sodas, which is probably not what most people have in mind. Nor is August the first restaurant the Asimov column has covered that stretched the $25 ceiling way beyond plausibility. The name hasn’t changed for about 20 years. Thanks to inflation, restaurants that realistically fall within that range, and yet are still worth reviewing, are a vanishing breed. Perhaps “Informal Dining,” although less catchy, would be a more sensible title.

August (359 Bleecker Street, between W. Tenth & Charles Streets, West Village)

Food: ★½
Service: ★
Ambiance: ★½
Overall: ★½