Today's review roundup includes: Donguri, Uminoie, Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, Bar Masa, Trippie's.
NYTimes Restaurants Frank Bruni gives Donguri two stars (309 East 83rd Street; 212-737-5656):
Donguri is an antihip Japanese restaurant, matter-of-fact and brightly lighted, with servers who briskly and almost wordlessly ferry dishes to and from the kitchen, their banter minimal as they strive to make sure your tabletop is never, ever barren.
It feels like a Japanese trattoria or bistro, to borrow terms from other dining traditions. It serves what some of its many longtime fans call Japanese home cooking or Japanese comfort food: lightly fried fish in addition to sashimi, simply grilled chicken with ponzu sauce as well as tempura. You do not come here to sit and pose. You come here to eat well.
Donguri was opened in 1998 by Shuji Fujita, who runs the kitchen, and his wife, Michiko, who presides over the dining room. Since then it has evolved into a Manhattan-restaurant oxymoron: the successful secret. It is not even listed in the current Zagat Survey. The people who know about it tend not to talk it up, lest they find themselves unable to get a seat.
. . . . You build a meal at Donguri through a succession of small and medium-size plates, proceeding in general from cold to hot and from fish to meat, and you throw in some vegetable sides and perhaps a bowl of noodles along the way.
All of this makes for a pleasantly paced experience in which the grazing almost never stops. But it also translates into a bill that can be higher than the generally restrained prices of individual items and the plainness of the atmosphere lead you to believe it will be. You can easily spend $60 a person on food, and much more if you order some wine, from an extremely short but judicious list, or sake, a much broader selection of which is available.
RECOMMENDED DISHES Kumamoto oysters; chutoro and otoro sashimi; kanpachi sashimi; shrimp tempura; boiled spinach with sesame sauce; broiled Chilean sea bass; grilled chicken with ponzu sauce.
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Today's review roundup includes: Per Se, Mas, Extra Virgin, La Bottega.
NYTimes Restaurants Frank Bruni gives Per Se fours stars (Time Warner Center, Columbus Circle; 212-823-9335):
Per Se hunts down superior ingredients — turning to Elysian Fields Farm for lamb, Snake River Farms for Kobe beef — and lets them express themselves as clearly as possible. This is cooking as diligence and even perfectionism, not sleight of hand, and little fillips go a long way. That Kobe beef comes topped with a sliver of sautéed marrow that deepens the richness of the meat tenfold.
But Per Se also dares to be different, and insists, sometimes to its slight detriment, on departing from favorites like grouper or Dover sole for something like cobia, a game fish that, at least at Per Se, was too chewy to warrant the trouble.
Per Se wants to dazzle and sometimes to challenge you. I recall in particular what I came to think of as a Wizard-of-Oz course of four different dishes of organ meats, including calf's brain (as delectably molten as foie gras) and calf's heart.
Those were part of an extended chef's tasting menu that Per Se presented to three friends and me as a special option, something it does for a few tables during every lunch and dinner. The usual options are a nine-course tasting menu for $150 and a five-course prix fixe for $125. Each of these proceeds from appetizer to seafood to meat and tacks on a reliably superior cheese course, with cheese being defined liberally enough to include, say, ravioli filled with it.
I recommend the nine courses, and I recommend that you let Per Se do wine pairings, which cost about $120 per person for a meal of that length. (Many bottles here cost more than that.) Per Se can be trusted with such decisions.
Also check out the audio slideshow.
Makor introduces a new monthy series beginning next week, the Food on Film Salon. Screenings are at the Steinhardt Building, 35 West 67th Street, and a 4-film subscription is available for $50. Definitely a series of films worth checking out, plus some interesting post screening discussions. More details from the press release:
Eat This New York (2003)
How many of us talk wistfully of opening our own restaurant? Billy Phelps and John McCormick try to realize this dream on a not yet trendy street corner in Williamsburg. As Billy and Jeff suffer through financial crisis, the loss of their chef, and a crumbling relationship, the camera turns on New York City's legendary restaurateurs (Daniel Boulud, Sirio Maccioni, Keith McNally, Drew Nieporent, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, and Danny Meyer) who prove that dreams really can come true.
Directors: Kate Novack and Andrew Rossi Runtime: 85 min
Featuring post screening discussion with Le Cirque owner Sirio Maccioni, and directors Andrew Rossi and Kate Novack, moderated by Peter Elliot of The Bloomberg Executive Dining Guide radio show.
Wed Sep 8 / 7:30PM / $15 (discussion)
Super Size Me (2004)
Morgan Spurlock boldly assesses McDonald's claim that their food can be good for you. A healthy 33 year old, Spurlock eats nothing but McDonald's food for thirty days, and as a result gains thirty pounds, loses his sex drive and faces liver failure. Astounding revelations about fast-food culture and America's obesity epidemic highlight this successful indie documentary.
Director: Morgan Spurlock Runtime: 96 min
Featuring post screening discussion with Alexandra Jamieson, vegan chef featured in Super Size Me, Anna Lappé author of Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet, and Bryant Terry, Executive Director of b-healthy! on September 14th.
Mon Sep 13 / 7 + 9PM/ $9
Tues Sep 14 / 7:30PM / $15 (discussion)
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)
A delightful troupe of self-important, hollow socialites attempt over and over to sit down for a meal together. Dinner, the social ritual of the middle class, is constantly interrupted by secrets that lurk beneath the surface of this decaying European aristocracy: witlessness, adultery, drug dealing, cheating, military coups, perversion and the paralysis of boredom. A hilarious satire of upper class values, pointing out the subtle absurdities that constitute bourgeois presumptions and behaviors. In French with English subtitles.
Director: Luis Bunuel Runtime: 102 min
Post screening discussion with acclaimed pastry chef Bill Yosses of Joseph's and culinary historian Alexandra Leaf, author of The Impressionist Table, moderated by freelance food writer and cookbook author Melissa Clark.
Tues Oct 12 / 7:30PM/ $15 (discussion)
Babette's Feast (1987)
In 1871 Babette fleas Paris to care for two aging sisters in a remote Danish village. For fourteen years she quietly tends to the sister's needs, cooking awful daily meals of reconstituted dried fish and a gruel made from bread and ale. Then, one day, she receives a letter from France announcing that she has won the lottery. Babette goes for broke, using the winnings to cook a feast. In this masterpiece of a meal, Babette confronts the uneducated palate, awakening interest, creating excitement and bringing the villagers together, color in their cheeks, for the first time. In Danish with English subtitles.
Director: Gabriel Axel Runtime: 102 min
Featuring post screening discussion with Rick Moonen, chef and owner of RM and Niloufar Motamed, Food Editor from Travel + Leisure Magazine.
Thurs Nov 4/ 7:30PM/ $15 (discussion)