Stepping into Minetta Tavern, you can’t help but feel reminded that this is New York City you’re in. The bar is packed for Sunday brunch, with fortysomething women turned backward on their barstools to flirt with fiftysomething men. The floor is that classic checkered black-and-white, the ceiling is hammered tin, and the walls are covered in a mural that looks like it’s been there since the 1800s. Only the Minetta Tavern of today opened in 2009. It was opened by Keith McNally of Frenchy favourites Balthazar and Pastis, though, so you can bet it’s the perfect mix of the used up Minetta Tavern of the 1930s and sparkling new, classic and newly-conceived. And nearly impossible to get a reservation at.
My boyfriend and I went solely for the Black Label Burger, which is mostly talked about because of its $26 price tag. And also because it’s really, really good.
A mix of different meats from famed purveyor Pat LaFrieda, this thing is dry-aged for weeks like a fine steak is. The New York Times review that gave Minetta Tavern three stars said, “It’s without question a riveting experience, because burgers seldom pack the discernible tang and funk of aged beef. But for that same reason, it’s unsettling and arguably too intense.” MAYBE FOR A PANSY. For me, biting into this thing with its caramelized onion topping was like sipping a cup of French onion soup. Beefy French onion soup. Except better, because it was on a bun. The meat was so dark and had such deep, rich flavors that it tasted expensive, gentlemanly, and refined. Served with a side of slightly crispy, slightly curly fries to soak up all of those beef juices.
Neither fried nor green, these tomatoes were a big broiled disappointment when they arrived at our table. But once we got over the menu lying to us, we found that these were perfect to spread over our burgers like natural ketchup. Of course the burger was perfection on its own and didn’t need them, but at least we found something to do with them aside from throwing them onto the floor in anger.
The bacon was your steakhouse staple, with that just-right chewy-melty combination of meat and fat.
The bloody mary list is five-deep and ingredient-thick here, and this one had green tomatoes, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and Southwestern spices. Tex-Mex in a glass.
With fresh coconut in the cream and toasted coconut on top to make it extra coconutty, and a nice, balanced amount of sweetness. There are rumors of rum being added to the cake, which would explain how moist it was.
Living in a city so crowded, I have a preference for sparse, modern, clean-lined dining rooms, but I have to admit that I was charmed by the hubbub and ballyhoo of Minetta Tavern. It felt like half of NYC was crammed into the restaurant that afternoon, all of us sipping cocktails and listening to the conversations of the people next to us.
Despite being a hick from the heartland, I’ve never cared a lick for fried chicken. We didn’t eat it when I was growing up on the farm, because we were too busy enjoying the beef and pork we raised, and then I became a princess who liked all of her meat already off the bone. But after visiting California a few years ago and forcing myself to order the eponymous dish at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, I realized that maybe it was worth a little bone to have a juicier, more flavorful chicken.
And then I became blogfriends with Han of Handi-Eats, whose every other blog post is about fried chicken in NYC. She recommended the year-old Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter most recently, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the pecan pie bread pudding the menu promised, so I fought against my natural desire to not leave the house before 8 p.m. on Saturdays and met my boyfriend and our friend Nik there for brunch.
My first impression of the place was all about relief. The reviews online had made it seem like some divey place with no tables and a wait that would make lesser women gnaw on their hands for nourishment. Instead, it was this rustic-looking open room with white walls, dark floors, plenty of sunlight, five or six tables lining one wall, and a counter for eight or ten diners in front of a bar on the other wall. And people, the bathroom smelled good. I was immediately in love and daydreamed about myself living in Alphabet City and coming every Saturday morning to sit by myself at the counter, eat some bird, and chat with the super-friendly waitress.
The three of us ordered the fried chicken supper for four with ginger ales and sweet teas all around, and here’s what we got:
Twelve pieces of white and dark meat spread across two platters that sort of overwhelmed us when they arrived at the table. The skin was so well-seasoned and crisp, and the meat underneath juiced all over my hands. The huge, perfect pieces of breast were my favourite; peeling the skin back and revealing the smooth white meat felt like unwrapping a gift, and even the very centers of them, so far from the bone, were still succulent.
For the three sides included in the meal, we (I) chose macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and cheddar grits. Each of them was better than expected, with little extras like the crunchy topping on the mac & cheese and the scallions on the grits that made them special. We all loved the potato salad with its chopped peppers, agreed that the tangy cole slaw was too good not to be mentioned on the menu itself, and couldn’t get enough of the warm biscuits with honey.
We were way too full for dessert (and had enough leftover chicken to feed a fourth person), but we bravely forged ahead and ordered the pecan pie bread pudding and the banana pudding. The bread pudding truly was reminiscent of pecan pie, right down to the nuts that don’t get stuck in your teeth and the sweet, sweet caramel drizzle. But truthfully, I liked the banana pudding even more. My boyfriend thought it was too thin and soupy, but even he couldn’t deny how delicious it was. Even the whipped cream on top was something special.
From what I saw of its uncrowded tables at prime brunchtime on a Saturday, Bobwhite Counter is one of those rare New York City restaurants that’s doing everything right without anyone noticing. Maybe it’s the Avenue C location far from the subway, or maybe it’s just that East Village kids can only go out at night, but whatever it is, I’m sorry for Bobwhite and happy for me. I’m going to take all of my friends here in groups of four until I’ve had every combination of fried chicken, sandwiches, sides, and desserts that exists. Your invitation is in the mail.
When my friend Kim saw a four-person dinner at DBGB pop up on GiltCity for $150, the first thing she thought was, “SUNDAE!!” And the second thing she thought was, “Can I eat four sundaes by myself?” And the third thing she thought was, “Guess I have to invite Katie.”
I’d had a very so-so experience the first time around at DBGB, but my subsequent tasting menu at Chef Boulud’s flagship restaurant, Daniel, was so outstanding it changed the way I rate all other restaurants; naturally, I was interested in a second try at DBGB. So Dr. Boyfriend and I met Kim and her friend Kelly on Friday night to share what we’d read wouldn’t be enough food but turned out to be so much we couldn’t finish it all. Nor did we want to, in the case of the final course, but more on that later.
Shrimp, mussels, clams, oysters, snails, tuna tartare and a whole crab claw. All things I was completely terrified by a mere couple of years ago. And it’s not that I exactly salivate over any of them now, like my boyfriend does, but I was perfectly willing to try everything on this platter. Luckily, the fact that there were only two of some of the items meant that I only had to try a few.
The mussels were perfectly cleaned, which is a major issue for me, because eww, please don’t try to feed me sand and stomach leftovers if I’m already going out on a limb by eating seafood at all. The fact that they were covered in a cool, creamy sauce with herbs didn’t hurt anything, either. The tuna tartare was well-appointed with fresh herbs, and the crab claw looked so fresh I didn’t even bother dressing it with lemon. Wait, no, that was because the server took the lemon away before I could dress the crab. Anyway.
I tried one of the larger and one of the smaller oysters, but Dr. Boyfriend and Kim handled the apparently veeeery-oceany-tasting clams and the giant snails, a process which began with excited faces,
quickly switched to determined faces when the snails refused to let go of their shells,
and ended with whatever you call this face once they actually tasted the things:
I’m still not entirely swearing off trying snails drenched in butter sometime in my life, but I’m a little less sure after this.
Very classic, and an excellent palate-cleanser. The iceberg wedge is one of the only salads I actually enjoy, because:
a) it has bacon,
b) it has cheese, and
c) iceberg lettuce is basically water.
I like to think of it as a vehicle for moving fatty things to my mouth.
I think we all agreed that though this was a rich, hearty sausage, the lentils were really the star. Which is good, since we ordered lentils, glazed carrots (undercooked for my taste and not nearly sugary enough), and ham and crayfish gumbo (flavorful but too thin) as our sides without anyone telling us we were already getting lentils.
This one was too sweet for me. When I see beer-braised, I want the lingering stench of Guinness on my breath for days; I think this might have been soaked in O’Doul’s.
This was the most complete of the sausage plates in that there was a lot going on but that the theme was so evident. I loved the homogenous texture of the sausage, more like bologna than ground meat, and the crunchy pickle that was such a divergence from the cooked-until-mushy accompaniments on the other plates.
Easily my favourite, just because it had the most flavor. I was in need of some spice, and I might have liked the peppers more than the sausage itself because of that.
I’ve always been scared of but interested in blood sausage, and after having tried it, I can’t believe I ever even considered it exotic. The texture was crumbly and dry, the taste earthy and rich. It was like eating fake meat, or textured vegetable protein, which I did for four years as a vegetarian. I wouldn’t say I liked or disliked it; it was boring enough that I was just sort of neutral about it. And that’s the last thing I ever thought I’d say about sausage made of blood.
We were there for the sundaes, and once again, they were so good they’d make me come back to DBGB again despite the otherwise just-okay food. I went for the blueberry-mint after my first wonderful mint-chocolate experience and again found the mint flavor so fresh and herbaceous. Dr. Boyfriend and Kim said it was like eating ice cream salad, but I loved the savoriness of the mint coupled with the olive oil cake. The candied brioche added crunch and sugar to the very natural-tasting berries.
I would’ve been equally happy with either of the other sundaes, though. Kim and my boyfriend both got the caramel-pear, which had the most flavorful marshmallows and pears that tasted like they’d just come out of a pie, while I almost got drunk on Kelly’s beer-soaked cherries. These were adult sundaes.
I had another soufflé this bad once. The server asked us how we were enjoying it, and I said we weren’t, and he brought us another dessert. This time, the server was basically absent for all of our meal, so we just left it sitting.
I was the first to poke my spoon into it to make a hole for the creme anglaise, and I described the bite as “exactly on the edge of egginess”. Well, of course, the farther we got down into the soufflé, the eggier it became, so once everyone had a bite, the rest was inedible. It was the very opposite of the Grand Marnier soufflé we had at The Mark by Jean-Georges. Egg when you want cake is disconcerting.
As with my last visit, this was a mixed bag. The sausages–which are of course supposed to be the focus of the restaurant–are good, but none of them had me mmming in disbelief like so many of the dishes at Daniel did, and for $13 to $15 per sausage, I should’ve been. The place is borderline hip (what we could hear of the soundtrack was all indie rock), but the noise level is obtrusive, and the service suffers because the servers can’t interact with diners. Not that they’d want to, apparently: our server seemed like the classic NYC wannabe-actor who’s annoyed by customers, and the waiter at the door who looked like a greeter was actually just waiting for us to move so he could leave. Luckily, the sundaes were incredible at $9, and I can see myself popping in just for dessert some night if I’m in the Bowery.
As a fairly new food blogger originally from three states away, I sometimes feel out of the food-blogging loop. And as a pig farmer’s daughter, I really love me a good pork roast. So it was a delight to be invited to eat a whole suckling pig at The Breslin Bar & Dining Room with one of my favourite food bloggers, Chubby Chinese Girl, and her pals Henry from Ramblings and Gamblings, Tia from Bionic Bites, Addie from Gypsy-Addie’s Food Diary, and other friends who actually eat things without blogging about them.
The first thing you notice about The Breslin is just how gastropubby it is. It’s a bar, but it’s the kind of bar where the bartender’s serving more burgers than beers. Every inch of wall space is covered in something farm-related–mostly ceramic animals in all shapes and sizes–and all of the fixtures are old-timey. The place is dark but for the bright light coming from the sparkling white open kitchen in the back. And we especially loved the use of what appears to be the original ceiling, which was cracked and peeling and beautiful.
I’m really not an appreciator of salad. I get that some people like light, fresh foods, but I’m going to chase my oysters with a big buttered steak every time. Our first course was a salad even I could’ve eaten as a meal, though. The Caesar dressing was just so flavorful, the dried herbs so crunchy. The anchovies weren’t fishy at all, really, but just added some salty depth. I would order this again in a second.
And then the pig arrived as the entire restaurant spontaneously broke into applause.
Its little piggy face was right in front of me, its eyeless sockets staring at me and its puffed ears floating alongside its head, begging to be popped like balloons at a county fair dart game. It was much smaller than I’d expected, but I guess we were feeding a table of nine and not a whole neighborhood of smalltown Ohio hillbillies.
Our pig-carver deftly removed the legs from each side and then tonged shoulder, belly, loin, and butt onto our plates.
My plate of crispy skin and shoulder was heavenly. The forkfuls alternated between completely falling apart and so crunchy I couldn’t cut them. It was all of the best things about pork with the benefit that I could sample all of the cuts in one dish.
My boyfriend’s experience wasn’t quite as good as mine, because the skin he got was floppy rather than crispy. I had to give him a piece of my skin before he understood why everyone was salivating over it. I guess that’s one of the side effects of EATING A WHOLE PIG.
It was served with sides of potatoes roasted in duck fat, roasted fennel, broccoli rabe, green sauce, and red sauce. The potatoes were the star with their extra crispy/extra fatty exteriors and soft insides, but really, all of the accoutrements held their own. The garlicky broccoli rabe and tender fennel were both spicy to accent the sweetness of the pork, while the chunky red sauce of peppers and tomatoes only added to its sweetness by tasting wildly of apple pie.
The apple that had been roasted in the pig’s mouth, on the other hand, was funky. My first bite was just nice, mushy apple, but my second bite was freaky, pig-saliva-flavored mushy apple. Lesson learned.
We spent an hour or so really ravaging that carcass, peeling back the cheeks and breaking off the ears, making excessive mentions of the butt meat and trying the doubly-flavoured neck meat.
Even my boyfriend, the salad-lover, found himself ravenous.
In the end, only this
and this remained.
And that’s when they brought the chocolate tarts
and ice cream.
The tart was very good, especially the parts with course salt sprinkled on top, but the ice cream was the really delicious part. I don’t want to pretend like I have any idea what to compare the flavor to, but the ice cream was extra sweet and just had a really wonderful smooth texture. I wondered if there was Marshmallow Fluff or something mixed in.
This was a difficult rating for me. On one hand, I really appreciate the novelty of being able to eat an entire pig in a fairly small NYC restaurant. I appreciate the work and care that had to go into preparing it. The side dishes were all better than expected and were flavorful enough not to become just afterthoughts next to the pig. I’m still thinking about that ice cream. But at the end of the day, if I’m going to spend $85 for a plate of food, I’d rather have it be an uncommon preparation made with ingredients I have to Google before I leave for the restaurant. Had this been anything but a whole pig, it would have been much less expensive, and there wouldn’t have been any floppy skin to deal with.
But my boyfriend said, “I mean, I just ask myself how much better they could have done with that, and it seems like, for what it was, that’s about as good as you could expect,” and I think that’s reasonable. It was a really neat experience, and I’m very glad I got to be a part of it. I found out that for me, eating an animal that still looks like itself isn’t weird at all! And I met some great people in the process.
My friend Meredith and I decided to go to Lodge in our Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg one night last week to celebrate a cool restaurant not being on the cool-saturated Bedford Ave. She’d been there once a year ago for brunch and wasn’t impressed, but she left deciding that she wanted to come back and try more of the dishes, so I’d say it was a success.
• I’m so into the fact that deviled eggs are a popular thing right now. These were probably the best I’ve had lately thanks to their extreme chiviness. The added texture was a welcome treat, too.
• This was less like pulled pork and more like pulled pork soup. I’m the kind of girl who likes a little Kansas City in her barbeque, so I wasn’t totally averse to the extra sauce, but this would’ve overwhelmed someone who prefers their sauce as a mop or a side. The meat was just the right amount of fatty, and there was still plenty of burnt-end flavor, but I’d probably tell them to make it not-so-sloppy next time.
• Why are there mushrooms in my Brussels sprouts?! And why are they not mentioned on the menu?! Neither Meredith nor I were very pleased with this, especially since little burned Brussels sprouts bits look like mushrooms, and I accidentally ate one. Not that it tasted bad or anything, because mushrooms are actually kind of delicious, but I don’t eat them because of their ugliness.
• Just look at that flaky topping. This more-mac-than-cheese tasted slightly bacony to me, but there was no bacon to be found in it, so maybe they used a smoked gouda that deceived me. This was meant to be a side dish but more than served as Meredith’s main, so A+ for value.
It’s a very neighborhoody kind of place, with a family at one table and a group of twentysomethings celebrating a birthday at another. It’s on a quiet but not uninhabited corner, and the people-watching–guessing whether a girl actually liked the rumbly 50s-era car her date was driving, a Satmar Jew looking completely lost for five minutes but unwilling to stop anyone for help–from walls of solid glass was top-notch. The service was totally unpretentious and even verging on friendly, my giant bottle of pear cider was only $10, and they were playing Spoon on the overhead speakers. Sold.
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)