BACK TO NEW YORK

AFTER TWO MONTHS IN A HOUSE ON A LAKE IN WESTERN MAINE, WE DROVE DOWN TO NYC AFTER LABOR DAY TO CELEBRATE MY SISTER AND BROTHER-IN-LAW’S 50TH WEDDING ANNIVERSARY ON SEPTEMBER 26TH.  THIS LEFT US WITH SIXTEEN DAYS TO KILL.

THE MUSEUMS AND RESTAURANTS HAD RE-OPENED.  THERE WERE CEZANNE DRAWINGS AT M.O.M.A, ALICE NEAL AND THE MEDICIS AT THE MET, PAINTINGS FROM THE OLD FRICK IN THE NEW FRICK (FORMERLY THE MET/BREUER), STOLEN ART AT THE JEWISH MUSEUM,   E. McKNIGHT KAUFER AT THE COOPER HEWITT, ROBERT LONGO AT PACE, AND JASPER JOHNS AT THE WHITNEY. WE STROLLED THROUGH CENTRAL PARK AND ALONG THE HUDSON IN RIVERSIDE PARK. WE SHOPPED HALF-ASSEDLY, LOOKING FOR THINGS WE DIDN’T NEED.  BUT A MAN’S GOTTA EAT, RIGHT?  SO WE REVISITED OLD FAVORITES (ESTELA, CASA MONO, RED FARM, BARNEY’S, L’ARTUSI) , THE NEW UNION SQUARE CAFÉ, REZDÔRA, AND CERVO’S).

ESTELA ON EAST HOUSTON

ESTELA, WHERE WE ATE A DINNER AND TWO LUNCHES,  IS IGNACIO MATTA’S FLAGSHIP RESTAURANT.  LOCATED IN A FUNKY SHOTGUN-SHAPED SPACE ON EAST HOUSTON WITH A BAR UP FRONT.  BOOTHS AND TABLES LINE THE NARROW RESTAURANT.  MATTA, WHO’S FROM URUGUAY, CREATES DISHES WHICH ARE INVENTIVE, BUT MAXIMIZE THE ESSENCE OF THE MAIN INGREDIENT.  SO SKATE WING IS WRAPPED IN GRAPE LEAVES AND ROASTED WITH THE BONE IN AND NAPPED IN BUERRE NOIR.  DEEP-FRIED CRISPY SWEETBREADS ARE SET OFF BY UMEBOSHI (JAPANESE SOUR PLUMS) AND ROMAINE.  THERE IS CURED FLUKE WITH MELON, SQUASH BLOSSOMS STUFFED WITH RAW SCALLOPS, AN ENDIVE SALAD WITH WALNUTS AND UMBRIACO ROSSO, A HARD CHEESE SIMILAR TO PARMESAN.  MATTA MAKES THE BEST CHOCOLATE DESSERT I’VE EVER EATEN AND A SUBLIME PANNA COTTA WITH VINEGAR-LACED HONEY AND BEE POLLEN FOR CRUNCH.

CHOCOLATE CAKE

SERVICE IS FRIENDLY AND EFFICIENT.  THE WINE LIST IS ECLECTIC AND REASONABLE.  THE NOISE LEVEL, AT LEAST AT DINNER, IS PUNISHING, SO IF YOU LIKE TO TALK, I’D HIGHLY RECOMMEND LUNCH.

UNION SQUARE CAFE, PRICED OUT OF THEIR ORIGINAL LOCATION IN UNION SQUARE, FOUND A NEW HOME ON 19TH STREET, WITH A BAR UP FRONT AND A SPACIOUS DINING AREA.  DANNY MEYER’S RESTAURANTS  ARE AMONG THE DWINDLING FEW WHICH DON’T PLAY MUSIC, SO YOU CAN HAVE A CIVILIZED CONVERSATION WHILE CONSUMING VERY CIVILIZED DISHES AND  ENJOYING COURTEOUS AND EFFICIENT SERVICE.

UNION SQUARE CAFE

HAMACHI CRUDO COMES WITH ORANGE SLICES AND A KICK OF BIRD CHILIS.  BIBB LETTUCES ARE DRESSED WITH A SUBTLE MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE AND GARLIC CROUTONS.  PASTAS ARE EXCELLENT.  ONE OF US ORDERED A LEMON PASTA WITH TOASTED BREADCRUMBS. THE PERFECTLY-COOKED SCALLOPS IN THE LINGUINE ALLE CAPESANTE WERE ENHANCED WITH GARLIC, LEMON AND CHILIS.  UNION SQUARE IS NOT AS GOOD AS THE MODERN, BUT THE WHOLE EXPERIENCE IS COMFORTING.  NO BIG SURPRISES, BUT WELL-CONCEIVED, WELL-EXECUTED DISHES, AND A SERIOUS WINE LIST IN FORMAL BUT RELAXING ROOM.

STEFANO SECCHI HAILS FROM TEXAS BUT LEARNED ABOUT PASTA IN MODENA, THE HEART OF EMIGLIA-ROMAGNA, ARGUABLY THE MOST SERIOUS FOOD REGION IN ITALY, AT THE MICHELIN-STARRED OSTERIA FRANCESCANA UNDER MASSIMO BOTTURA AND ITS MORE TRADITIONAL NEIGHBOR HOSTERIA GIUISTI.  SECCHIO HIMSELF HAS EARNED ONE MICHELIN STAR AND THREE FROM THE NY TIMES AT REZDÔRA.  THE STAR OF THE SHOW IS THE PASTA AND DESERVEDLY SO .  TENDER LITTLE ANOLINI STUFFED WITH TRADITIONAL MEAT FILLING SWIM IN A PARMESAN-FLAVORED BROTH.  SPAGHETTONI IS RICH WITH CRAB, GARLIC AND PARSLEY. EGG RAVIOLI WITH CHANTERELLES AND BLACK TRUFFLES WAS WORTH A DETOUR.  BUT FIRST-COURSE SALADS WERE EQUALLY GOOD.  THE SPACE IS SMALL; ONE-STEP DOWN ON 20th STREET.  EXCELLENT WINE LIST.  ATTENTIVE SERVICE AND BEARABLY LOUD.

TAGLIATELLE BOLOGNESE
REZDORA

BABY ARTICHOKE SALAD

IT WAS A RELIEF TO RETURN TO CASA MONO,A TINY SPANISH RESTAURANT ON IRVING PLACE, WHERE, UNDER CHEF ANDY NUSSER, WHO GREW UP CADAQUÉS ON THE COSTA BRAVA, THE GRILLED RAZOR CLAMS  WITH GARLIC, MARROW BONE WITH SMOKED TROUT ROE, FOIE GRAS WITH ONIONS, BACALAO CROQUETAS WITH ORANGE AIOLI, AND SKIRT STEAK WITH ROMESCO ARE JUST AS GOOD AS THEY WERE THIRTY YEARS AGO.

CASA MONO
RAZOR CLAMS
BABY ARTICHOKE SALAD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BUT THE BIG SURPRISE OF THE TRIP WAS RESTAURANT I’D NEVER HEARD OF CALLED CERVO’S ON CANAL STREET.  OUR FRIENDS JOHN AND JANET WARREN HAD PICKED THIS SPOT A) BECAUSE THEY THOUGHT WE’D LIKE IT AND B) BECAUSE THEIR DAUGHTER IS AN INVESTOR AND COULD GET US A RESERVATION.  WE ARRIVED BY CAB AND DISCOVERED THAT THIS END OF CANAL STREET, A STONE’S THROW FROM THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE, WAS CLOSED TO VEHICULAR TRAFFIC.  THE WARRENS WERE ALREADY SEATED AT A TABLE ON THE STREET.

CERVO’S ON CANAL

IT WAS A BALMY EVENING.  CERVO’S SPECIALIZES IN SPANISH AND PORTUGUESE SEAFOOD, SMALL PLATES AND AN INTRIGUING COLLECTION OF WINES BY THE GLASS.  MANILA CLAMS WITH GARLIC AND VINHO VERDE, WHITE PRAWNS A LA PLANCHA, FLUKE CRUDO, TUNA CONSERVA WITH CUCUMBER AND GREEN CHILI, FRIED SKATE WING WITH CILANTRO SALSA — EVERYTHING WAS DELICIOUS.

WHITE LOUISIANA SHRIMP

GABRIEL, OUR COMELY AND WELL-INFORMED WAITRESS KEPT RECOMMENDING WINES AND WE KEPT DRINKING THEM.  WE SOPPED UP THE SALSAS AND OLIVE OIL WITH HOUSE-MADE BREAD.

THE RESTAURANTS, AT LEAST AT DINNER, WERE  FULL.  EVERYONE WAS GIDDY TO BE OUT WITH FRIENDS AMONG FRIENDLY STRANGERS.  EVEN MASKED, THE WAITERS WERE JOLLY AND WELCOMING.  VAXXED AND RELAXED EVERYONE WAS HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME.

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