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Manhattan Trip Report

Trip Report -- Lupa, Kittichai, Balthazar and More

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Trip Report -- Lupa, Kittichai, Balthazar and More

Meemster | Jun 4, 2005 06:59 PM

*Warning* -- this is very long.

Hubby and I drove up from DC with our 2-year-old son to Manhattan for Memorial Day weekend. We had a great time eating, shopping, walking around.

We arrived Fri afternoon in Soho (stayed at 60 Thompson). I decided early on that we should eat at the hotel's restaurant (Kittichai) that night since we would all be a little weary from the drive up. So we made dinner reservations at the same time we made our hotel arrangements (about a month ago). We all love Thai food, and while this place was more nouveau than traditional, it’s still very good. The atmosphere was hip and trendy.

While it wouldn't seem like the first choice to bring a toddler, it actually was great for our situation. Whenever we needed to, we could just pop right up to our room in between courses. And they had booths so we didn’t need to have a high-chair or booster. The restaurant was crowded and noisy, which worked out well because no one could really hear our son. Also, the décor is rather striking so there was lots for him to see.

The food and drinks were very good. I had the lychee martini which was wonderful, and my husband had the mango martini which he enjoyed but I thought wasn't as good as the lychee. He also had the ginger lemongrass highball which I didn't taste, but he said was very good. They even made a non-alcoholic fruit punch cocktail for our son that was really tasty.

For starters we had the beef salad, crispy rock shrimp with grilled eggplant, and seared foie gras on top of seared diver scallops. All of these were yummy. The beef was exceptionally tender and marinated perfectly. Instead of the usual lettuce and tomatoes, it was served with crisp Chinese long green beans which added a nice contrast to the tender beef. The dish wasn’t overly spicy, and our son enjoyed it very much. The rock shrimp and eggplant appetizer was probably our favorite. The shrimp was lightly coated in a tempura-like batter, and the eggplant was tender without being overly mushy. The accompanying lime chili dipping sauce complimented the fried morsels perfectly. The foie gras was a bit overcooked and over-seasoned, but the scallops were perfectly seared and tender. However, I didn’t really care for the condiment (don’t remember what it was even) on which the scallops were placed. Not bad, just didn’t add much to the dish.

For the main course, we ordered the chocolate back ribs (actually an appetizer), the wok-fried chicken with cashews, and a side order of the pineapple fried rice with spring peas and shredded egg. We liked the wok-fried chicken with its tangy, slightly sweet and spicy sauce, but the chocolate back ribs were a disappointment. They were very tender, however, we thought the chocolate sauce and Thai spices just didn’t work together and made the dish too cloying. The pineapple fried rice was fine as a side dish, but nothing exceptional. We didn’t get dessert, as my son was starting to get restless, but they did look interesting. Overall it was a very enjoyable dinner, and I would recommend Kittichai to those wanting both very good food and a trendy, happening atmosphere.

Saturday morning we went to The Cupping Room for breakfast. It’s just around the corner from our hotel, and a fun place for a weekend breakfast. The décor is quaint and charming with exposed brick walls and high tin ceilings. Our waiter was very friendly and attentive, going out of his way to make our son feel welcomed. The prices were a bit high, and the food was good not great. We ordered a strawberry smoothie for our son that he enjoyed, and each had fresh squeezed orange juice. I also had the café mocha, and my husband had the café latte. Both came in huge cups and were quite good. My husband had the brioche French toast with a side of fruit salad and sausage, and I had the traditional eggs benedict with a side of French fries. Both were large helpings. The hollandaise sauce on my eggs was a bit bland for my taste, but the rest of the meal was quite good. We enjoyed having a leisurely breakfast at this place, and because of the convenient location, cute atmosphere, and friendly service I would recommend this place.

Because we had a large breakfast, my husband and I didn’t eat lunch. But we did get a snack for our son at Country Café which is right across from 60 Thompson. It’s a cute little place with a mostly French-inspired menu. Believe it or not my son loves liver dishes, so we ordered him the country pate with onion and fruit chutney which was pretty good.

Dinner that night was at Lupa. We had 7:30 pm reservations which we made around the same time we booked our hotel. I knew from reading this board that advance reservations were a must especially for a weekend night. There’s so much buzz around this restaurant that my expectations were very high – perhaps too high. We enjoyed the meal and atmosphere, but I guess I was expecting it to rival some of the better trattorias and osterias we’ve been to in Italy. By this standard, Lupa fell short. However, it is one of the better Italian restaurants in its class that we’ve been to in the U.S. And the prices were quite reasonable. Also, it was fun and kid-friendly with plenty of young families there on a Sat night.

The focaccia that came at the beginning of the meal was excellent – nice and spongy with just the right amount of olive oil, sea salt and rosemary. For the antipasti, we had the hot & cold spinach and the affetati piccolo which was a small sampler of all the cured meats available. The spinach was good, but nothing fabulous. The cured meats were very good, especially the proscuitto di Parma, salumi and testa (head cheese). I personally didn’t care for the lingua (tongue), but my husband thought it was good.

For our main course, we opted for 2 pastas. Several Chowhounds had indicated that these would be large enough to serve as entrees, and I agree as long as you also have some antipasti and dessert or cheese afterwards. I ordered the bucatini all' Amatriciana and my husband had the ricotta gnocchi with sausage & fennel. The bucatini which so many rave about on this board was actually the biggest off-note of the meal. I like my pasta slightly al dente, but this was too undercooked for my taste. Also, the sauce wasn’t anything special. However, the gnocchi was excellent – fresh and tender but not too mushy. And the ragu was a tasty accompaniment. But the portion size of this dish was actually quite small compared to my bucatini. We asked our waitress for recommendations of wines by the glass that would compliment our pasta dishes. She recommended wines I’d never heard of before, and we were pleased with her choices but, unfortunately, I don’t remember what they were.

Dessert was the best part of meal for us. We had the tartufo and lemon sorbetto. Both were outstanding especially the tartufo. My son loves lemon and devoured the sorbetto. But when he tried the tartufo, he wouldn’t even touch the sorbetto again. All he wanted was the tartufo, and we were lucky to get a few good bites in.

We spent most of Sunday visiting with friends who live in NYC, and just grabbed some yummy baked goods from Once Upon a Tart for breakfast. Then we took the subway to Central Park for a picnic. It was a lovely day to be outdoors, and a great way to catch up with some old friends we hadn’t seen in quite some time. Afterwards, we just hung out at their place and had dinner there.

On Memorial Day Monday, we were scheduled to leave in the afternoon so we were able to grab lunch before heading back to DC. The hotel concierge was able to get us last minute reservations at Balthazar. This ended up being our favorite restaurant of the trip – excellent food, good service and fun atmosphere. We arrived there 15 minutes earlier than our reservations but they were able to seat us right away, even though the place was packed. And it’s quite a kid-friendly place. They gave our son crayons, and the table was covered with white paper so he could draw all he wanted. And they sat us at a table that had a bench on one side and room for our stroller on the other.

The cappuccinos and the fresh squeezed orange juice were great. The fruit salad for our son was quite good with nice ripe pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, and melon. I started with the French onion soup, and was impressed by their version. The Gruyere cheese was perfectly melted, the broth was flavorful but not over-powering, and the bread was soft but didn’t break up in the soup. It was one of the best I’ve had in a long time. My husband started with the goat cheese and caramelized onion tart which came with a nice side salad. It was also excellent, and could’ve been enough for a lunch by itself (at least for me).

But my husband certainly had enough room left for his moules frites. The mussels were good, but probably the least impressive part of the meal. The fries were great, and my son devoured most of them himself. For my main course, I had the macaroni au gratin with bacon – not very French perhaps, but delicious nonetheless. For dessert, we ordered a glass of Sauternes and the Pavlova. The Sauternes’ honey and fruit notes complimented the Pavlova very well. And after a rather rich meal, the lightness of the Pavlova was just right. It was the perfect end to a wonderful meal, and a fabulous weekend!

Thanks for reading along on this very long dining report. And thanks very much to those who responded to my earlier posts. We love NYC and will definitely come back for more weekend getaways.

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