Several of us flew in Friday for a whirlwind food tour. Here's my thoughts:
Friday Lunch #1: Honmura An
What a perfect way to get started. Understated, beautiful room, genuinely kind service. Pure, clean food. Homemade pickles, Marinated Wild Greens, Prawns rolled in soba and nori and fried (less impressive than I figured they'd be), Chicken meatballs with mustard were delicious, Soba with duck and scallions was sublime. I could basically eat every meal here.
Friday Lunch #2: Balthazar
Jeez, it's gotta suck to be that guy. 2:45 on a weekday afternoon and you can barely get in the door. Lucked out on some seats at the bar and enjoyed glasses of Deibolt Vallois Champagne with perfect Kumamoto Oysters, a nice, but rather eggy goat cheese tart and some very good frites.
Friday Pre-Dinner: Aquavit
Just wanted to pop in and check the new space and drink cool infusions out of groovy little glasses. Our flight included one with Horseradish, Pumpkin/Espresso, and Grapefruit/lemongrass. All very tasty indeed. The design is beautiful, but the menu seems bizarre. At least 1/3 of the apps sound like they came straight from the movie "American Psycho". Sorry, just not sure I can get down with oysters, mango curry sorbet, and caviar.
Friday Dinner: BLT Steak
For starters, I've got to prop up the wine list. It is good to see someone build a list that allows you to spend as much as you want, but not make you feel like you're bottom feeding at the $50 range. We did a 2002 Verget Chablis and a Vaqueras (I forget who) both of which were great alone and with the food and neither cost a fortune. As for the food: Those cheese rolls are freaking amazing! The Duck confit was fine if not inspired, the Mache with Parm and Black Truffles was saved by the dressing. Enough truffle oil covered the fact that the large shavings of truffles were basically flavorless. The chopped salad was rather brutish, but I suppose it's supposed to be, and the tuna tartare was beautiful (though I'd just as soon as places like this leave the soy sauce on the shelf). My Beef Cheek was succulent, but honestly the sauce was a bit too reduced and intense. Maybe I'm just a wimp. My wife's Hanger Steak was the winner of the table but the Poterhouse for two was sort of a let down. As the person who ordered it said, "This should be the flagship, and it's really not knocking me over" Though cooked medium rare as we requested, it somehow rather dry and chewy. The sides were very forgettable. The onion rings were OK, the hash browns were good, and the swiss chard gratin had way too much cheese. We only had one dessert, choclate tart which was fine enough indeed. All in all, a fine meal indeed, but nothing amazing.
Friday Late Snack: Bar Jamon
Cold and tired, we popped in because it looked so inviting. I really wanted some ham sliced off those cool hand crank slicers, but we were drinking PX, so we just had some blue cheese and honey. This is the kind of place I wish we had in my town. Perhaps it's up to me to do it.
Saturday Lunch: Li Hua
I love to see small asian spots step up the decor and feel just a bit which is exactly what these guys did. As far as the food, it was wonderful. I had to practically beg my party to go there and everyone had to give it up once the food came. I wanted to show them the tofu stew (Soon Doobu), which was the highlight, but a mixture of rices and grains cooked in an stone crock was very intriguing as well. An enormously satisfying meal.
Saturday Dinner #1: Kittichai
Ginger lemon grass Highball was great. Not sickly sweet with a strong ginger bite. Muddled grapes and coconut was nice enough but too sweet. Nice dark exotic feel in the dining room, but the tables themselves seemed rather cheap. Apps were all very good to great. My favorite being the fish cakes, the assertive beef salad, and the chicken lolipops. The crispy rock shrimp and marinated monkfish were just a step behind the rest. Shared entrees of Fried whole fish and Braised short ribs in green curry were both delicious and the watercress in yellow bean sauce had plenty of that bean funk that you're looking for. For dessert we had kafir lime tart, mango and sweet rice, and a flourless chocolate concoction. The chocolate dish had this interesting snow-like texture which I think I liked. Mangos were subtle (and probably my favorite), and the lime tart tasted pretty much as expected.
Saturday Dinner #2: En
I really liked this place a lot. Our helpful waiter guided us through some nice flights of sake and shochu and the food was very exotic in a clean and simple way. I was way more into the warm scooped tofu than anyone else at my table, but I just loved the texture. The tuna and avocado salad was as advertised. Daikon braised in miso with chicken reminded me how much I like cooked daikon. The beef tongue hot pot was nice enough, though the tongue itself cooked have been cooked more. For some strange reason, my dining mates started running out of steam, so my attempts to order more got vetoed. That's a shame, because I bet the entrees and sushi would have been great here.
Saturday Late Snack: Cafe Mono
Ditched my intial dining team and met some friends across town in time to poach on their table at Mono. Absolute highlight was the truffled poached egg over fingerling potatoes and grilled lomo (I think, just guessing here since I didn't see a menu). The quail was good, the duck oversalted, and the fried fish was OK.
Sunday lunch: John's Pizza
What can I say, it's a great pie. I loved to watch the two guys working the kitchen. They certainly weren't standing around, but they weren't pulling their hair out either. Just jugging along making great pies.
Random thoughts and pop-ins:
Megu is an unreal space that I'm not sure I'd want to eat in. I think I'd rather eat at Craftbar than Craft. Grammercy might be the single most inviting place to eat anywhere. Considering that they're basically a champagne bar, Flute has about the worst champagne list I've seen. Dude, how 'bout a grower section? Itoen tea store on Madison is outstanding and the women working there are enormously helpful. I wish we could have grabbed lunch upstairs but we were there too early. Spice Market doesn't seem to interested in serving you which is fine because it seems sort of lame anyway. The menu seemed totally vanilla. We just ate wasabi nuts at the bar for about ten minutes (in the afternoon, mind you, so they weren't busy) watching countless too-cool emplpyees walk past us before we just walked out. One might have thought the host (who had to have noticed us walk in) would have said something as we left, but she didn't. Pastis, much like Balthazar is a freaking machine. Hats off once again. I don't know why my friend who lives there likes the Grammercy Hotel bar so much. It's a total dump and has no business charging $12 for drinks. I guess they're closing as of today to remodel and that's likely a good thing, providing they don't start charging $18.
I guess that's about it. After all, there's only so much time in the day.