NYC Stephen Pollard's $890 Ducasse Disaster. "As we picked our way through the foie gras, the meal began to turn into something to be endured. Our stomachs could barely cope with the food, our bodies with the heat and our tempers with the superior service."
Today's review roundup includes: Eleven Madison Park, Picket Fence, Bond 45, Bistro du Vent, Zabb.
NYTimes Franki Bruni gives Eleven Madison Park two stars (11 Madison Avenue; 212-889-0905):
Eleven Madison, which opened in October 1998, was and is a born crowd pleaser, starting with its dramatic situation: an expansive space in the old Metropolitan Life Building with marble floors, marble walls and ceilings that soar straight to heaven. Its grandeur is crucially tempered by the coziness of the seating arrangement, which puts nearly every table along a banquette.
The menu, long without being unwieldy, has something for everyone, assiduously balancing adventurousness and accessibility. Rather than choose between trendy Arctic char and tired salmon, Eleven Madison offers and does right by both, especially the char, its succulent flesh tucked beneath a thin, crispy layer of skin.
Mr. Heffernan seems to have a special gift for flanlike textures, shared by that goat cheese parfait and a cauliflower royale that is part of a seared squid appetizer. As a reflection of the seasons, the squash flan will be replaced soon by an English pea flan. I bet it will be terrific.
Even when nothing goes wrong, it's possible to glide through a meal at Eleven Madison Park and not be stopped short by the taste of something truly wonderful. As with many mass-appeal mega-hits, there's a fetching melody but an absent jazz.
At least until the end. The desserts by the restaurant's immensely talented pastry chef, Nicole Kaplan, continue the theme of geometrically appealing compositions, but they crank up the volume of pure pleasure. A white chocolate and passion fruit tart and a raspberry mille-feuille with ice wine granité were divine. So were a chocolate, peanut butter and banana medley and a chocolate and caramel meditation.
NYTimes $25 and Under reviews Picket Fence (1310 Cortelyou Rd., Brooklyn, 718-282-6661):
If you're allergic to cute, stay away. It oozes from this place like cream from a profiterole. But if you can stand it or, better yet, delight in it, you're in for some good eating.
Except for the hot popcorn servers bring to the table in ceramic flowerpots, the menu doesn't play it too precious, running instead to seasonal American standards that are carefully prepared. Graham Meyerson, who worked at Union Square Cafe and was recently the chef at Riverdale Yacht Club, won me over on my first visit with a nicely charred cheeseburger ($8) on a feathery brioche bun. It came with homemade pickles and excellent skin-on fries, and with a Brooklyn lager on tap, was as good a meal as I've had all winter. (On Tuesdays and Wednesday the beer-burger duo is $10.)
The chef tinkers with tradition, but not too much. Crab cakes ($9) have a crunchy coating of cornmeal and homemade mayo spiced with smoked chili and lime. A knish was filled with mashed Yukon Golds and succulent duck ($8). The ruffled fried-to-order potato chips ($5), drenched with garlic butter and sprinkled with chives and sea salt, got my mouth watering every time.
Take note of the specials: I would have ordered seconds of Mr. Meyerson's pear-gorgonzola bread pudding ($8) had my friends allowed me.
NYPost Steve Cuozzo reviews Bond 45 (154 W. 45th Street; 212-869-4545):
Some artful antiquing by owner Shelly Fireman (Trattoria dell'Arte, Redeye Grill) transmutes the long-ago Bond clothing store site into a loving but not too literal replication of the neon-lit past. And its Italian food is likely better than anything they served in the 1940s.
The eye-popping retro façade beckons you like an Italian-steakhouse reincarnation of the old Jack Dempsey's. An open kitchen and vegetarian antipasti bar at the front whet appetites; thirsts are seen to at a knockout, 1930s-vintage wood bar with deco sconces.
The sprawling menu, with a zoo of 13 categories like those in trendy new Asian places, keeps the wait staff on its toes with near-daily changes.
"It's a living thing, like the Constitution," our server declared. When I said our "bass" looked and tasted remarkably like cod, he scurried off to investigate.
"You have some amazing palate," he said, having learned the kitchen had switched fishes without warning.
Chef Brando De Oliveira's menu emphasizes honest flavors, lots of herbs and simple preparation. It offers something for everyone in Times Square's crazy-quilt crush of executives, showgoers and sightseeing farmers off the bus. Red-sauce cravers might be happier at Carmine's; Bond 45 has more in the way of garlic, rosemary and olive oil.
NYMag Adam Platt reviews Bistro du Vent (411 W. 42nd Street; 212-239-3060):
The captain of this drafty little ship is another talented non-Frenchman, David Pasternack, who is also the chef at the much-praised Bastianich-Batali seafood restaurant, Esca. Before that he worked at another much-praised restaurant, Picholine, on the Upper West Side, an experience that reportedly left him with a passion for the simple dishes of southern France. But for such an innovative chef (we can thank Mr. Pasternack for the current crudo craze), his cooking at Bistro du Vent is resolutely, even doggedly, by the book. The appetizers include the requisite boudins, two kinds of pâté, and a decent, though beefy-tasting onion soup, served in a polished white tureen. There are huitres (oysters), of course, and plates of salmon fumé sprinkled with pomegranates. There are salads made with chopped beets (shaped in a colorful little turret and drizzled with a tangy sauce gribiche), salads hiding barely palatable helpings of duck leg and gizzard, and, of course, a fine salad frisée graced with a generous, Batali-size allotment of pork lardons.
None of this food is very original, but none of it is very bad, either. The best, predictably, are the earthy dishes: the terrines, the boudins, and the simmering meat dishes. The country pâté is dotted with prunes. The Francophile gave his benediction to the chicken-liver terrine (it’s smooth as whipped butter, and twice as rich), and to a sizzling brochette of kidneys, lamb hearts, and bacon. My favorite sausage was the shiny boudin blanc (stuffed with mashed chicken and sweetbreads), and if it’s pork you like, order the fatty Lyon sausage, laid over a bed of lentils. The pork loin was too thick and too dry, but the big, leviathan lamb shank fell off the bone in a pleasing way, and the excellent beef daube was moist enough to eat with a fork, and tasted nicely of oranges. The steak-frites was very fine, especially the frites, and the giant côte de boeuf (which we asked to have cooked medium rare) was charred on its exterior in a professional way, but rare to the point of rawness in the middle.
Ideal Meal: Boudin blanc, beef daube or roast chicken, profiteroles.
Village Voice Robert Sietsema reviews Zabb (71-28 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights, Queens; 718-651-4354):
Zabb is a newcomer to the long, dark ribbon of Roosevelt Avenue under the No. 7 tracks on the western frontier of Jackson Heights. The plain facade sports a pair of crossed red chiles and the word Esan, referring to northeastern Thailand. More often transliterated as Isaan, this region is the country's poorest, composed mainly of an arid sandstone plateau incapable of sustaining much agriculture. Paradoxically, Isaan is also the holy grail of Thai cuisine. It's what Los Angeles foodies could righteously claim they had and we didn't. But gradually, Isaan cooking has been creeping into Queens.
Ask a dozen experts what Isaan is, and you'll get 12 different answers. All agree that the food is more fiery and less fussy, favoring ground-meat salads, Chinese-leaning noodles, Mekong River catfish, grilled chicken, and dishes showing Laotian and Cambodian influences. Salads and noodles occupy half of Zabb's menu. Loaded with finely minced meat or fish, the salads strain our idea of what a salad is. Laab ($10) arrives tepid, an enormous mess of brownish-gray catfish laced with all sorts of flavorings, including mint leaves, chiles, garlic, lemongrass, lime juice, and galangal, a more subtle variant of ginger. The first forkful explodes in your mouth, and as we passed it among our table of seven, each face lit up. Yum ped ($8) is less complicated, boneless pieces of duck tossed with deep-green long beans and an apple julienne in a lively citrus dressing. As at all Thai restaurants in town, there's a pleasing salad of shredded green papaya. But in contrast to other Siamese restaurants, which keep it simple and sweet-tart, Zaab improves its rendition with salt-cured crab, and crunchy pork skins add to the excitement.
There's the skin hanging off the roof of your mouth, tears coming to your eyes, ohmygod I just took a bite of a hot slice of cheese pizza burn, and that's a one. And then there's what happens to the inside of your mouth when you dare eat a fresh out of the steamer New Green Bo soup dumpling as soon as it finds its way to your table, and that's a ten.
The kitchen at New Green Bo didn't just content themselves with their explorations of the temperature boundary between gas and plasma, even in the days of the apocryphal million-dollar McDonald's coffee. No, they've even left the consumption of these delicacies to the experience (or ignorance) of the diner. In case you don't know: Lift the dumpling to your spoon, take a bite and then suck out the soup. Finish by greedily devouring the pork and its wrapper from your spoon. Heaven help those who try to eat the entire soup dumpling intact.
The service at New Green Bo is as perfunctory as the decor, in the grand tradition of most great Chinatown restaurants. But you're not there to eat clean tables or friendly waitstaff; You're there for white-hot pork simmering in its own juices within an al dente, but not too chewy, dumpling wrapper. And, though they probably can't take credit for it, the owners were thoughtful enough to be located across the street from the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, leaving you with a cool and delicious dessert option once you've had your fill.
My advice: don't miss New Green Bo's soup dumplings, as they are worth the risk of injury, and the winner of the Independent Food Award: Food Worth the Risk of Injury. Be sure to wait a moment before taking your first bite. Just don't wait too long!
New Green Bo, 66 Bayard Street (between Elizabeth and Mott Streets), New York, New York, 212-625-2359.
Related to Jeremy's post, from Rescue Magazine's Family Food blog's Acts of Love post:
"We need to eat together as friends and as family. If you consider that three of our most basic human needs – love, food, and security – are intermingled at the dinner table, then it is not difficult to understand why breaking bread together is a sacrament and part of what keeps the human family together."
Be sure to check out the comments for readers' fondest food memories, and the rest of Rescue Mag's excellent blogs.