BEST NOSE OF ANY EAST VILLAGE BARTENDRESS Part One Best Nose …

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We mean the
nose not of the head bartendress proper, but rather of the younger blonde woman
who seemed to be performing the bar-back duties of a barkeep trainee. Don’t
get us wrong. Her nose ain’t big, and it certainly pulls off the trick
of augmenting a good-looking face. But man, if that isn’t a good, strong,
imposing nose you could match up with an equally strong jaw and bring home to
Mother; show off to the neighbors; highlight in a slideshow; dedicate oneself
to with the great and humble respect of the acolyte, seeing in its firm, bony
rigor and assertion a vision of an eternal summer. This was truly a nose with
which to move to a house in the country and raise children and start over.


By the fourth
round, we were cataloguing–for comparative purposes, in order properly
to contextualize the young woman’s physiognomy–other great noses throughout
history. The legendary Dutchman Anthony the Trumpeter, for whom the craggy Hudson
Valley mountain Anthony’s Nose is named. Didn’t John Singer Sargent’s
Madame X carry one hell of a nose on her, too? By the sixth beer we’d
recalled that the Roman poet Catullus had a strong nose, which he liked to stick
up boys’ asses. Then there was the Russkie poetess Anna Akhmatova. And
so on.


But we figured
that not one of them had anything over the blonde bartendress/bar-back girl
of Doc Holliday’s. Her nose is truly something special. Arrive respectfully,
hat in hand, and commune with it in piety and reverence.



Best Chelsea
Italian

Le Zie

172 7th Ave. (betw. 20th & 21st Sts.)

206-8686

Auguri!
We’re delighted to see how well this friendly trattoria has
done over the last year–even though that means fighting for a table on
Friday and Saturday nights. As a casual, affordable alternative to nearby Le
Madri, it’s tops in the neighborhood. Chef Roberto Passon works a Venetian
angle, with great results. His variation on classic spaghetti and meatballs
won a “Best of” last year; add to that a long list of winners from
our many trips there this year: the outstanding macaroni and cheese (Parmesan
and Fontina) with black truffles; the pungent pasta bottarga (pressed tuna roe,
shaved into Parmesan-like flakes); the risottos (one with black squid ink, one
with radicchio and shrimp); the salt-baked red snapper. For appetizers, skip
the Italian pu-pu platter novelty item and go with the bresaola, the steamed
asparagus and crabmeat or the artichokes. For dessert, there’s an excellent
choice of sorbets and granitas. Good wine list and warm service.


As noted, it
gets too packed on weekends now, a situation exacerbated by two policies we
find baffling: they take no reservations, and they take no plastic. That’s
a bit retarded in this day and age, but the food and atmosphere absolutely make
up for it.



Best Midtown
Wine Store

Grand Harvest Wines

Grand Central Terminal

42nd St. (Lexington Ave.)

682-5855

Location, Location.
We remember well the days when Grand Central was a sooty,
mungy hulk, the urban equivalent of an abandoned Balkan castle or a decayed
antebellum manse. Jackie O. put her heart and soul and considerable pull
into saving this?
we thought as we dodged yet another shambling tatterdemalion
human shadow, circa 1987. Meanwhile, skeptical and vaguely contemptuous and
certainly neither smiling nor whistling-while-they-loitered porters looked on,
and commuters undertook their grim, slope-shouldered trundles to trains idling
in malignant tunnels. And always it seemed as if hunks of the edifice were precariously
teetering, dangling from a mold spore or a strip of frayed wiring.


Now the place
looks good–and we approve. We especially approve of Grand Harvest Wines,
a tidy little shop lodged behind glass, under a vaulted ceiling. We like to
drop in just to stand in the middle of it all and feel deeply pleasant and reassured
of the essential civility that has been restored to our so recently blighted
metropolis. The stock is heavy on California and France (some spectacular California
bottlings at that, Joseph Phelps “Insignia” and Far Niente and all
manner of widely coveted Napa vintages still on the shelves), but there are
reasonable selections of German, Italian and Australian goodies, too. Also an
admirable lineup of premium-octane harder libations, your single malts and highfalutin
bourbons and rums and grappas and cognacs and whatnot.



Best Smith
St. Skirt Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

Sur

232 Smith St. (betw. Butler & Douglas Sts.)

Brooklyn, 718-875-1716

Who Else?
What makes Sur one of the best places in Brooklyn for steak-eating
is the conservatism of the portions, the reliable freshness of the superb chimichurri
sauce and the splendid wine list, which is heavy on Argentine and Chilean selections–just
fine with us, as Argentina and Chile make some of the best high-quality bargain
wines currently available. Sur’s skirt steak, a beautifully crusted branch
of beef that gives us that healthy chew we like in our beef without skimping
on the juice, matches very well with, for example, a Chilean cabernet sauvignon,
or an Argentine malbec.


Because that’s
what steak is all about, to us, at a level: eating it while drinking a really
terrific but not too expensive red wine with depth of flavor and an emphatic
sturdiness that makes the beef taste better, that cuts right though the sinew
and does something magical in the process. A magical combination, and, in Brooklyn,
we need look no farther than Sur to find it.



 Best
Dessert   to Avoid

Indian Pudding

Noho Star

330 Lafayette St. (Bleecker St.)

925-0070

The Code is Almighty Zero-Niner-Two-Six-Four-Seven-One-Two.
We’d just
finished another fine meal at Noho–which, at the time, had become a fairly
regular stop for us. It was a frigid January night outside, and we weren’t
particularly looking forward to the walk to the subway, and then home. So to
delay the inevitable, we decided to order dessert. We normally got one of Noho’s
great hot-fudge sundaes, but that didn’t seem appropriate on a night like
this. Instead, we decided to try the Indian pudding. Had no idea what was involved–we’d
never had it before–but it was on the dessert menu, and were told that
it was served warm, which sounded just fine.


Maybe the first
clue that something was wrong was the fact that the scoop of ice cream plopped
on top of the large bowl of pudding was actually screaming.


We aren’t
exactly sure what’s all involved in the Indian pudding. In theory, it’s
some sort of spiced grain suspension with a quicksand consistency. But in reality,
it’s like ordering yourself a big bowl of napalm. That first, unsuspecting
spoonful left us with a scorched mouth and tongue. So scorched, in fact, that
we could no longer taste anything. Ice water may have cooled the burning, but
it did nothing to restore the sense of taste (which didn’t come back for
more than a day, sometime after the blisters left).


At first, we
thought it was simple foolishness on our part. We’ve done similar things
with soup and coffee–but in this case, we waited and waited, but the pudding
never cooled down. It was like some sort of party gag, or a Candid
Camera
routine. The scoop of ice cream, which we imagine was there to help
cool things down, did nothing. It screamed, then evaporated. To this day we
wonder why, exactly–and how–we finished it.


We don’t
know what sort of cruel revenge the Indians were after when they concocted this
savage and diabolical dessert, what we had done to deserve this, but whatever
it was, we apologize.



Best Sommelier

David Singer

Peacock Alley

Waldorf-Astoria

301 Park Ave. (betw. 49th & 50th Sts.)

872-4895

Die Meister Singer.
Much of the time, we feel that chefs and sommeliers
are on slightly different pages. Sometimes, completely different pages. It’s
as if the wine list were composed in a cellar a far distance from the establishment’s
kitchen. Well, we feel that way. Sometimes. Where’s the organizing intelligence?
we ask. Where’s the dialogue?


At Peacock
Alley, by contrast, an intricate dynamic reigns between youthful sommelier David
Singer and chef Laurent Gras, whose gustatory coup has been to transform a sleepy
room for wealthy blue hairs into perhaps the most vigorous and adventurous place
to eat dinner in all Manhattan. What he’s done is dispense with entrees,
asking diners instead to assemble their meals out of an ever-changing assortment
of appetizer-size portions–quantities of food that seem small, but that
are in fact huge with provocative flavors. Gras’ “Tete a Tete”
menu has really compelled Singer to raise his game to a high level, providing
wine matches for numerous exotic courses. He’s all over the wine-and-spirits
map, but somehow makes it work, shifting agilely from Chilean sauvignon blanc
to overlooked Burgundian reds. Genius. An embattled word. But Singer deserves
it.



Best Garlic
Delivery System Apart from the Bulb Itself

Karnatzlach at Sammy’s Roumanian

157 Chrystie St. (Delancey St.)

673-0330

A Zest for Living.
Sammy’s is a raucous purveyor of traditional Yiddish
cuisine run along the lines of a training ground for smart-ass waiters with
the kind brusqueness of Borscht Belt regulars. The food is copious, the music
amusing and, when the thin girl sings, altogether wonderful. Among the appetizer
selections is “karnatzlach,” which is essentially a cylinder of beef,
veal and onions apparently held together solely by garlic or vice versa. Nearly
all restaurants fail to use enough garlic (who do they think they are cooking
for–dead people?). Those wan chefs should go to Sammy’s. It’ll
set them right.


Best Gourmet
Foods

Grand Central Market

Grand Central Terminal

42nd St. (Park Ave.)

Almost Makes Us Wish We Were Commuters.
With Balducci’s and Dean &
DeLuca virtually unnavigable (D&D must be in every Eurotrash guidebook printed),
the Grand Central Market has been a godsend when we need to purchase classy,
gourmet goods. (And that’s not even mentioning the stunning building in
which it’s housed.)


For your sea
needs, there’s Pescatore’s wide array of fin and shellfish, plus prepared
meals, too (blackened catfish with shrimp, saffron rice and grilled vegetables,
e.g.). There’s 20 feet of cheeses, and about as much poultry (chicken,
Cornish hens, duck breasts and legs, and prepared bird dishes too, plus about
15 different salads), while Greenwich Produce can satisfy your fresh fruit and
vegetable needs. Wonderful Ronnybrook Dairy’s got a slot, along with Wild
Edibles for more fish, Oren’s Daily Roast for coffee beans and teas, Zaro’s
and Corrado’s breads, and–take note–the unbeatable Li-Lac chocolates
(remember this during holiday season). Go further upscale at La Truffe du Perigord,
where you can stock up on pates, truffle-infused oils, olives, cornichons and
capers, and a nice selection of French saucissons. Come back down to Earth at
Ceriello butchers (the classics: beef, lamb, pork, sausage) and their line of
pastas and sauces.


Two special
finds: First, Adriana’s Caravan, which boasts “Every ingredient for
every recipe you’ve ever read.” When we ran out of urfa biber last
week, Adriana’s had it. Dozens and dozens of other herbs and spices as
well, and an impressive collection of dried mushrooms. They’ve got a back
wall devoted to sauces and oils and the like, subdivided into regions: remoulade
and jarred muffaletta from New Orleans; Vidalia onion relish and spirited peaches
from the South. Italy, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Mexico have shelf
space, alongside a section for the intriguing “American Exotics,”
wherein lie mustards, flavored oils and more.


And second,
Koglin German Royal Hams, serving up 14 types of salamis (cervelat to Westfaelian
to tea sausage), seven bacons, numerous liver sausages and wursts (Thuringia
bratwurst, Ucrain kolbassa, Swabian gourmet), ox tongue, blood tongue sausage
and the elusive Holsteiner katenschinken and herb-cured lachsschinken. Haven’t
seen a selection like that since we were in lederhosen.


The Grand Central
Market is smaller than those other stores, but there’s room to browse,
and the welcoming proprietors know what they’re shilling. And in the time
it takes to penetrate just the entrance of Dean & DeLuca, or make your way
to the cheese counter at Balducci’s, you could hop the 6 train and have
your shopping list nearly complete.



Best Mini-Cooperstown


Mickey Mantle’s

42 Central Park S. (betw. 5th & 6th Aves.)

688-7777

King of the Kids’ Sports Bars.
So, you’ve got a boy or girl under
the age of 12 who’s a baseball nut, a sponge ready to soak up everything
about the National Pastime. The Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, is a must, naturally:
but in the meantime, go to Mickey Mantle’s for fine pub grub, games on
the tube, and where every square inch of the joint’s adorned with baseball
memorabilia. You see the Mick on magazine covers when he was New York’s
golden boy in the 50s; Mick paired with Roger Maris from the incomparable season
of 1961; and also the poignant Daily News cover when Mantle decided to
quit in 1968, his career cut short by too many injuries and eye-openers.


But it’s
not just the Oklahoma superstar who’s celebrated at this sports shrine.
Original uniforms from members of the Brooklyn Dodgers are on display; tributes
to Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Yogi Berra can be found in
about a minute’s search. Souvenirs are for sale and the food won’t
disappoint your pre-sudsy sprout: Southern fried chicken fingers, fried waffle
potatoes, mac and cheese, burgers and spaghetti.


We took our
seven-year-old to Mickey Mantle’s one rainy night, when a game at Yankee
Stadium was postponed, and his jaw literally dropped upon entering the ultimate
Manhattan palace of All Things Baseball. Frankly, we had a ball as well, looking
at the famous Bill Gallo drawings on the wall, baseball cards of long-forgotten
Yankees (Tom Tresh, anyone?) and the collection of cleats, uniforms and gloves
of some of the game’s greats.



Best Un-Chicken
Buffalo Wings

Kate’s Joint

58 Ave. B (betw. 4th & 5th Sts.)

777-7059

And an Uncola, of Course.
Who would’ve thought that every beer-drinking/sports-watching
fool’s favorite winged snack could be made without meat? Much less made
into a tofu-based concoction that’s not only edible but scrumptious? This
East Village restaurant whips up plenty of fine vegetarian and vegan fare, with
the un-chicken buffalo wings being their best creation, even surpassing their
famed un-turkey club, which could feed two, or their appropriately named T.L.T.
(tofu, lettuce and tomato sandwich). Once we brought a carnivore friend here.
She refused to try an un-wing at first, but after some taunting she had one…then
another. We claim it’s the sauce that makes these un-buffalo wings so great,
while she swears it’s the un-dairy ranch dressing that accompanies the
carrot and celery sticks. The $5.95 six-wing portion can serve as an entire
meal or as a shared appetizer with friends. Where else can ya slop up some faux-chicken
wings and look so cool doing it?


Best Crabcakes

Oceana

55 E. 54th St. (betw. Madison & Park Aves.)

759-5941

Not One Iota of Crummy Laxity.
Oceana is an astonishingly fine restaurant
focusing on fish, and its chef, Rick Moonen, makes spectacular crabcakes. They’ve
none of the crummy laxity of many versions but are luxurious, crisp, light and
substantial at once, and just so tasty. They can form a highlight of a prix-fixe
lunch for about $45 or a dinner at about $65. The skill of the chef and kitchen
are extraordinary. Virtually every dish makes you glad to be a human.


Best Light
Lunch

O Padeiro

641 6th Ave. (betw. 19th & 20th Sts.)

414-9661

Green World.
There are those ethereal blue-sky-blasted spring days when
all we want for lunch is a tidy plate of greens, a sandwich served on wonderful
bread and a glass of refreshing wine. O Padeiro satisfies that desire, on all
fronts, from the gossamer low-alcohol sippage of the establishment’s vinhos
verdes to its broa of grilled sardines right on through any number of delectable
sides and salads. The Brazilian waitstaff is limber and pleasant. The decor
is all light and air and Portuguese tile mosaics and tall girls lingering over
coffees–and we like that, like the whole Euro-javabar vibe (get in, slam
an espresso, get out) so sorely lacking in this city.


Best Wine
Bar

Le Bateau Ivre

230 E. 51st St. (betw. 2nd & 3rd Aves.)

583-0579

Das Boot.
Wine bars are usually better in theory than in execution. This
is because, by and large, wine isn’t meant to be consumed as a cocktail
or an aperitif; it’s meant to wash down food. Wine bars, groovy as they
seem in concept, often leave us with a sour taste in our mouths, and hungry.
Plus, unless they adopt quartino service (quarter-bottle quantities served
in pour-in-yourself decanters), the pours are too generous.


But wine bars
do further the cause of wine education, and on that score Le Bateau Ivre does
an admirable job, particularly of boosting the stock of French wine in a Midtown
East neighborhood whose denizens (lawyers, p.r. types, assorted smegs) go for
that kind of cultural striving. The service is geologically slow, but there’s
a sprawling list of French wine, from all regions, and an attractive staff headed
by a maitre d’ whose Gallic-urbano look is second to none. It’s Balthazar
Jr., but for a more mature crowd.



Best Reason
to Punch Waiters in the Face

Use of the First Person Singular

Poke in the “I.”
Let’s be clear about this, waiters. It’s
not that you have–or do not have–the tuna carpaccio with the
summer truffles or the terrine of smoked fish. It’s rather that the culinary
concern that employs you is–or, conversely, isn’t–serving those
items on any given evening when we sit down to a meal within its walls. You,
as an individual who functions in the first person singular, have little
or nothing to do with it. Do us all a favor, then, and recuse yourself from
agency.


Can’t
quite say why–you’d think it would be an inconsequential thing–but
it drives us absolutely nuts when waiters try to pull that shit on us. “I’ve
got a nice plate of homemade mozzarella with zucchini blossoms and boiled tripe–”
Oh, you do, do you? Perhaps you and the busboys own the place.
You and the busboys and the mendicant and the beat cop outside on the corner.
Perhaps you’re buying the meat and vegetables, and cooking it. There’s
something ineffably and corrosively presumptuous about that rhetorical service-industry
gambit, and it’s as good a reason as any to carry sidearms–so that
the next time a waiter springs it on you, you can stick your barrel at his neck
and scream, “OH YOU DO, DO YOU, SONOFABITCH! PRODUCE IT THEN, EH? PRODUCE
IT!”


Now if only
we could get waiters to stop using the word “tonight”–as in the
needlessly stylized formulation, “Tonight, I’ve got a nice sodden
grouper”–we’d be talking turkey. Tonight? Or perhaps yesterday?
Or perhaps Wednesday next? Or maybe we thought you were referring to this coming
February. Buddy.



Best Astute
Public-Relations Initiative by a Chef

Alain Ducasse

Espèce d’Imbécile!
Alain Ducasse opened his new restaurant,
Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, which allows expense-accounters to improve
their standards with his meal bills of about $200 per as a modest beginning.
When press and other complainers noted that the great man was never there, and
that the place wasn’t that wonderful anyway, the p.r.-meister announced
that it was obvious New Yorkers didn’t know anything about good food and
had a lot to learn.


Best Morningside
Heights Bar

Night Cafe

938 Amsterdam Ave. (106th St.)

864-8889

Old, Old Amsterdam.
Haven’t yet figured this place out in almost a
decade of patronizing it; this scarred, ragged tavern flashes us a different
persona every time we walk in. A winter afternoon, and we’re alone at the
bar with a lachrymose Irishman who manages a building on West End Ave.; autumn
night and a night watchman from Westchester’s offering us a bump of cocaine;
midsummer midnight and we’re (badly) playing pool with a couple of Dominican
kids from the neighborhood while a pair of grad students play chess and the
smokes on the stools do their thing; a spring eve and the place roars with Columbia
kids in their college-kid rags, their clean faces lighting up this ghetto place.


What hasn’t
changed over time is the essential spirit of this woody hutch of a tavern. The
Night Cafe reminds us–and this is a good thing–of the sort of old
bar you find in the blue-collar neighborhoods of cities like Seattle and San
Francisco: defined by low turnover, full of the old men who anchor a neighborhood
bar, pleasantly grungy and as cozy as they come. (In fact, it feels like a different,
sweeter, shabbier city up in this ramshackle neighborhood; a neighborhood that
remains, too, a good place to purchase hard drugs.) The juke’s good, and
not too loud; the chess set’s kept behind the bar; the great Cuban cafeteria
La Rosita’s just over on Broadway and up a few blocks, for eggs, beans,
rice and coffee when your drinking’s done.



Best New
Italian Restaurant

Roc

190-A Duane St. (Greenwich St.)

625-3333

Giving Everything They Have.
This extraordinary restaurant is actually the
best new Italian spot that’s opened in the past five years. In a
neighborhood that’s already spilling over with topnotch establishments–Danube,
Layla, Rosemarie’s, Nobu, Odeon and El Teddy’s, to name just several–Roc
established itself as a Tribeca institution just months after its first dish
of gnocchi Sorrentina was served.


And it’s
no wonder. The staff is welcoming and helpful, and not just to the instant roster
of regular diners they’ve attracted. Seafood is the game here, even though
the veal Milanese or fettuccine Bolognese are excellent recommendations for
those not so inclined. We’ve ordered the marinated salmon, swordfish and
white anchovies about a dozen times; a competing starter is the fried calamari
and zucchini combo, so light that even a weight-watcher can dig in without feeling
excessively guilty.


As for pasta,
we like the fedelini with assorted shellfish, taglierini with lobster, linguine
with clams or the simple but perfectly turned-out spaghetti al pomodoro. Aside
from the specials of the day, which are numerous, we’d suggest the fish
and shellfish soup with leek and saffron as an entree; it’s an enormous
dish that you’ll feel compelled to finish. Other superb choices include:
tuna carpaccio with marinated eggplant, seafood salad with celery and olives
and the shrimp and asparagus salad.


Roc was reviewed
in The New York Times recently and received a lukewarm notice. The silly
man who took over from Ruth Reichl mainly ate meat on his several visits to
Roc, a miscue you wouldn’t expect from a person who eats for a living.
As a result, he gave the restaurant just one star, which to the sheep-like Times
clods uptown who don’t actually read the reviews but simply count the stars
means the place is a relative failure. Nonetheless, Roc is always crowded, so
reservations are a must, unless you’re like us, and go for an early-bird
6 o’clock seating.



Best Culinary
Harbinger of Gowanus-Area Rejuvenation

Tuscano’s Pizza

291 3rd Ave. (Carroll St.)

Brooklyn, 718-624-0010

Roll On, Mighty Gowanus.
The tiny Italian neighborhood that centers around
Carroll St. and huddles on the Gowanus Canal’s eastern bank has always
struck us as one of Brooklyn’s most promising: a shady little region that’s
lived through its own particular variety of environmental apocalypse–must
have been great living alongside the despicable Gowanus these last few decades,
huh?–and seems to have come out alive. Since they began flushing out the
canal with seawater, the neighborhood doesn’t even smell so bad anymore.
On a recent morning jog we stopped on the lovely old Carroll St. bridge and
sat to rest above the water, conscious that we were engaged in an activity that
would have been unpleasant a few years ago, when the canal’s stagnant dead-green
filth percolated with surface-borne bubbles generated by sewage and trace elements
of benzene, and the Gowanus was best approached as a convenience for the disposal
of auto parts and bags of kittens. Not on the late-summer morning on which we
stopped, though. The water–though you still probably wouldn’t want
to touch it–smelled of ocean brine, looked fantastically clear.
There was even a guy down the shore a bit, hosing off a motorboat. Maybe there
was something to this rebirth-of-the-Gowanus stuff we’d been hearing about.
Quick, get us our realtor: it’s time for a little real-estate speculation,
and we might–heh heh–be looking to buy.


Correlation
doesn’t equal causation, but it occurred to us that the old women in their
lawn chairs and their housedresses in front of their Catholic postwar houses
on Carroll St. looked happier out there, cleaner somehow–which was
consistent with our sentimental theory that the vibrancy of urban places is
contingent upon their proximity to admirable bodies of water. (The Charles,
for instance, is a fey, passive-aggressively serpentine river clogged with Sunfish
and crew-teams. So much for Boston.) Even the aged Italian guys hanging in front
of that darkened candy store at the corner of Carroll and 3rd looked stronger,
more robust, like they could kick your ass faster. Two Toms, up on 4th, looked
tastier.


So it was nice
to see that, on the southeast corner of the 3rd and Carroll intersection, a
slice-joint called Tuscano’s was under construction. Just a little slice
joint, like any one of a thousand in New York with a street-service window and
a neon sign, right down the block from the tiny beauty shop in which a girl,
that morning, was trimming an old fella’s head. The point isn’t the
food, but rather that this embattled neighborhood is, it seems, rejuvenating
itself in a nice way. Tuscano’s isn’t a muffin shop, after all, or
a food co-op; it doesn’t whisper of the human dislocations that accompany
gentrification. Drop by Tuscano’s and let us know how the pizza tastes
since, as yet, we’re only in the neighborhood in order to move fast through
it. Maybe it’s open by now. Or don’t–how bad can slice-pizza
get? We wish the place luck.



Best Sports
Bar

Kawabae

974 Boulevard East

Weehawken, NJ, 201-867-5631

Pass That Wasabiburger.
There’s really no such thing as a “best”
sports bar. They all inherently suck. Especially in Manhattan, where you’re
at risk of getting stuck sitting next to some table full of morons with facial
hair who enjoy going on about the different uniform designs over the past few
years and the hairstyles of the best sportscasters of the 70s.


But step outside
of Manhattan, and you discover a truly fascinating sports bar experience. We’re
just not sure what to call the place. Officially, the sushi bar in the middle
is called Kawabae. The actual sports bar below is called Intercrew I. And the
top floor is Intercrew II, which seems to be some kind of Japanese nightclub.
Forget that part. Instead, let’s consider Kawabae and Intercrew I as the
main players here. Both restaurants seem to use the same kitchen. And both of
them seem to use the same decorator.


So ditch the
downstairs and watch the multiple televisions showing the ballgame at Kawabae.
The decor is pure rumpus room, and the menu is unique. For appetizers, choose
between Sunomono or Buffalo wings. Or make up your mind between oshinko or some
potato skins. And for your entree, may we suggest oyako don, or perhaps the
Philly cheese steak? There’s always the Sushi Regular Love Boat, or maybe
you’d prefer the Casa Fiesta burger.


That’s
what we call a cultural melting pot. But we wouldn’t make you take a ferry
just for some goofy interracial dining. There’s also the amazing view from
Kawabae. Look out at the magnificent Manhattan skyline whenever the game gets
slow. And don’t worry about jockeying for a table. We’ve yet to see
more than five other people in the place on a Saturday afternoon. Grab a bunch
of your idiot friends, commute on over and spoil the place for the rest of us.
What the hell. We’ve just been using it as the Best Romantic View of Manhattan,
and what does that mean in the face of needy fandom?



Best Bits
of New Insider Information from a New York Chef

Newton’s Fourth Law.
The importance of the runner is described by Anthony
Bourdain in his informative and lively book Kitchen Confidential. The
runner attends to the law of gravity and the fact that materials have to be
shifted from one place to another. Bourdain–executive chef of Les Halles–also
suggests maybe to not order fish on Monday, since it may have been sitting around
since Friday.


Best Williamsburg
Butcher

Lou’s “Model-T”

404 Graham Ave. (betw. Jackson and Withers Sts.)

Brooklyn, 718-389-1553

Here’s the Beef.
Ask Lou the name of his butcher shop, and he’s
curiously vague. “My father opened the place in 1935,” he’ll
start, “but he never really gave it a name.” Some people, he continues,
call it “the Model-T Place,” owing to Lou’s affinity for restoring
old wonders. He’s got a snapshot of one behind the counter and is happy
to tell you where the various parts came from: “The rear wheels came from
a ’26, but the fronts are from a…” That kind of thing. Our father
had a Model-T on the side of the house for years–its condition waxed and
waned as his interest in restoring it came and went–so we’re happy
to engage in Model-T talk, even when it trips into obsessive minutiae. Most
antique car guys are like that. Like Lou, they’re also often some of the
nicest guys you’ll meet.


But Lou’s
also a wicked good butcher. The meat’s as fresh as any we’ve found,
and inexpensive in the way that reminds you that a couple of steaks–cooked
at home, mind you, not by way of Peter Luger–needn’t cost a fortune.
Living in Manhattan for a few years, one often forgets that many families of
four survive just fine on a dual income that adds up to far less than yours.
They do it by buying their meat from guys like Lou.


Chicken wings:
$1.09/pound. Breasts: $1.69/pound. Deli turkey: $3.49/pound. Five pounds of
chuck beef: $7.75. Splurge for sirloin, and walk out with two 1-pound steaks
for less than eight bucks. Grab some hot or sweet Italian sausage for $1.99/pound,
or try the parsley and cheese sausage at $2.79/pound. (These are the book prices–they’ll
change a little with availability. There’s also a price-break at five pounds,
at least in the case of the sausage.) The woman in front of us bought three
chicken legs (halved, skin removed), one plump chicken breast and a dozen eggs:
$6.35. That’s a couple affordable family meals that don’t revolve
around hotdogs and mac-and-cheese.


Stop thinking
about the butcher as the place to go only before you host a barbecue. Instead,
put Lou’s on your mental list alongside your favorite vegetable stand and
liquor store. There are some other butchers in this area of Williamsburg, but
none quite compare to the service and quality of Lou’s.



Best New
Neighborhood Bar

Fish Bar

237 E. 5th St. (betw. 2nd & 3rd Aves.)

475-4949

Catch of the Day.
Fish Bar isn’t the biggest place in town, or the
fanciest, or the hippest. They don’t have the largest selection of beers
and single-malt scotches on the East Coast, but that’s all part of it.
Fish Bar isn’t a place to meet and greet, to see and be seen–it’s
a place to go when you just want to relax and have a couple, or several, friendly
drinks. The red-and-white “Dive in Progress” flag hanging out front
tells you all you need to know. Walk through the front door and, with the exception
of the new, handmade bar, the place feels like it’s been there forever.


And in a couple
of ways, it has. It’s in the space once occupied by the Castro Lounge (they
even restored the old fish mural on the back wall, thus giving the bar its name).
And the owners, Paul, an Irishman, and J.R., who is Welsh, have generations
of tavernkeeping experience backing them up. Paul was always our favorite bartender
at 288, and he’s created a mighty fine hideout here again, with a mighty
fine crew working behind the bar. It’s quiet, it’s dark, it’s
extremely low-key and comfortable–and the walls are covered with fish memorabilia
of all kinds! There are no taps, unfortunately (the physical setup of the building
won’t allow it), but after that first bottle or two, it doesn’t matter
much. It’s the kind of place where–even if you’ve never done
such a thing before–you’ll find yourself talking to the strangers
sitting at the bar next to you. It just works out that way.


In a city where
quiet neighborhood bars are an increasingly rare commodity, displaced as they
are by theme taverns and boutique watering holes, the appearance of a new one–and
one with this much warmth and old-time charm–is cause for celebration.



Best Lunch
Spot Near the New York Press Offices

Manhattan Hero

168 W. 27th St. (7th Ave.)

741-3560

We Call Them Our Pals.
One of us flips for the “Banana Boat,”
a serving of the fruit filled with ground beef and topped with cheese and a
red sauce, with some yuca on the side, although the other savory hot dishes
(the chicken with olives, onion and potato fritatta, etc.) are no slouches;
another goes for the sandwiches–especially the salami and provolone with
“the fixin’s” or an egg salad–and wraps (maybe a shrimp
salad on Friday), while La Cubana Caliente can’t get enough of the beans
and rice, sweet plantains and avocado on the side, though she swears by the
spaghetti, too. In short, everything we order at Manahattan Hero hits the spot,
and not just because they have no competition for lunch in this godforsaken
neighborhood. The food is fresh and tasty, and the staff: did we mention the
staff? “Fuckin’ amazing,” is how the Cubana put it.


Best Spedino
alla Romano

Acappella

1 Hudson St. (Chambers St.)

240-0163

Where Are We?
Acappella is a well-appointed, old-style (but expensive) Italian
restaurant with dramatic waiters and a bartender with a wicked sense of humor.
That it’s situated near the epicenter of Tribeca seems a bit odd; at most
of that neighborhood’s kitchens, both fancy and casual, you’ll find
a mixture of residents as well as New Yorkers on a downtown field trip. Acappella
(like Bubby’s, which years after its inception still draws a weekend crowd
willing to brave any kind of weather to sample their so-so grub) is a horse
of a different color. For example, the disturbing dress-down trend that reached
Manhattan this year certainly isn’t in evidence there. Most of the men
wear suits, most of the gals are dressed to impress. And with a menu that still
features appetizers like clams posillipo and minestrone, there is a Time
Tunnel feel to the joint.


Which suits
us fine. After all, there aren’t many Italian restaurants left in the city
that offer spedino as a starter; it’s been discarded as a dining option
just as brutally as the humble but delicious grilled sausages with peppers.
Acappella’s spedino is splendid: a lightly fried loaf of cheese with a
simple but delicious sauce rich with anchovies and garlic. Move on to a veal
chop perhaps, saltimbocca or a special of lobster, eavesdrop on the wildly varying
conversations, and relax, knowing that for two hours you’re in a place
that could be located anywhere in New York, but nowhere else in the United States.



Best Place
to Get Drunk with Your Shirt Off

Doc Holliday’s

141 Ave. A (9th St.)

979-0312

Show! Us! Your!
Which also makes this the best place to drink under an alias
(ours is Staci), and the ideal spot for learning the two great rules of public
intoxication: (1) Don’t ever, ever interfere with someone else’s pool
game and (2) If you do interfere with someone else’s pool game, offer to
buy them a drink. It’s not only the best way, it’s the only
way to stop a bar fight. And who better to teach you these life lessons than
your elders, the proud men and women who served their country and were rewarded
with just enough money to keep them permanently cocked in a one-room closet
above the bar?


Doc Holliday’s
is that place you think you’ll never get kicked out of. That’s why
when you do, it comes as such a shock, especially as you notice the bum (drinking
from a bottle he got at the liquor store down the street) sleeping in the corner.
How did it happen? Was it the moment you convinced your boyfriend that drinking
with a shirt on was too inhibiting? Was it when he tried to convince the woman
to his right of the same? Was it when you spilled so much alcohol on each other
that you had to switch to a drier table? Was it when your girlfriend fell on
the floor? Was it when she stayed there for 10 minutes? The truth is, it was
none of these things. And when you wake up the next morning, in jeans so stiff
from hardened margarita mix you can’t get out of bed, you realize it was
simply this: unlike the bum in the corner, you were obvious. Keep practicing.
Maybe someday you’ll get good enough at drinking to become a pro. Just
like him.



Best Place
to Commit Most of the Deadly Sins

Sparks Steak House

210 E. 46th St. (betw. 2nd & 3rd Aves.)

687-4855

Well-Fed and Hell-Bound.
Lust, Envy, Greed, Sloth, Gluttony, Pride, Anger–there’s
almost no way to sit down to a feast at Sparks and not find yourself committing
at least those first six. And, on special occasions (if you know your local
mob history), that last one, too–though that would have nothing to do with
Sparks itself.


Inside the
cavernous, elegantly lit, well-staffed Midtown extravaganza that is Sparks Steak
House, you’ll find a local Pleasure Dome, an East Coast Palace of Sin.
The Road of Excess and all that.


Even the menu
items that look so innocent at first–a shrimp cocktail or a tossed green
salad–are surprising (the cocktail sauce comes with horseradish and Tabasco
on the side, so you can make it as eye-watering as you like). When you finally
move on to the main courses, you soon realize that nothing will ever be the
same again.


Take the filet
mignon. Order it in most places–even other well-established steakhouses–and
chances are you’ll receive what amounts to a medallion, a hockey puck,
of meat, surrounded by sides of some sort to hide the fact that you’re
paying through the nose for something so tiny. At Sparks, it comes with no sides
unless you request them (from a choice of potatoes, hash browns, spinach or
broccoli). It’s just a piece of meat on a plate. But it’s a piece
of meat the size–it was pointed out to us–of a human brain. Boneless,
fatless, tender and well-seasoned. It may kill you, but you’ll smile all
the way to the Pit.


The wine list
goes on forever, the dessert menu is basic but still quite nice, the waiters
are friendly and attentive, the service remarkably fast. Still, last time we
were there, we killed three hours in what felt like no time at all. And stuffed
to bursting as we were when we were done, we still found ourselves pining over
what other people at other tables had ordered.


It’s best
to get to the restaurant early–it starts filling up pretty quickly by 6:30
on weeknights–and it’s imperative that you come hungry. By getting
there early, you’ll be able to take in the warm, aging ambience. It’s
got a class and a feel you don’t find much anymore, with the gold-framed
oil paintings on the walls and the crisp linen tablecloths.


Dinner at Sparks
ain’t cheap, not by a long shot (dinner for two, with a couple bottles
of wine, can easily cost $200 or more). But the way we figure it, we’d
rather pay for our sins up front, and feel satisfied afterward.



Best 19th
Hole

Markt

401 W. 14th St. (9th Ave.)

727-3314

And in the Afternoon, No Piggies.
Hitting balls at the Chelsea Piers Golf
Club is about as close to visiting Connecticut, sociologically–and Japan,
technologically–as you can get without departing, officially, the island
of Manhattan. (Symbolically, you hit your balls toward Jersey, the humming white
spheres expressing small velocities of westward escape.)


But once we’re
finished with our weekly ritual, we don’t much like to hang around, and
the last thing we want to do is heft brews at the facility’s bar, which
looks like it was imported from Cincinnati. No, we hump our clubs a few blocks
back in the direction of civilization and sidle up to the long, long bar at
Markt–nearly always empty at 3 on a weekday afternoon–suck down a
pair of Stellas and shoot the shit with whoever happens by to inquire about
our sticks. You’d be surprised. Scratch a hipster, find a linkster.



Best Williamsburg
Pizza

Brick Oven Gallery

33 Havemeyer St. (betw. N. 7th & N. 8th Sts.)

Brooklyn, 718-963-0200

Damn, That’s Old.
The last time a brick-oven pizza place opened in
Williamsburg we rushed up the street with as much joy as we’re capable
of mustering, only to find that the “brick oven” in question was actually
standard-issue metal Bari equipment that had been covered with brickfacing.


So we were
skeptical when we entered the Brick Oven Gallery, on an unassuming block of
Havemeyer St., with our pizza money in hand and a void in our gut. Lucky for
us, though, the Gallery’s the real deal, boasting what the owner maintains
is one of Brooklyn’s oldest brick ovens–112 years and counting. Brick
Oven Gallery bakes perfect, individually sized thin-crust pies slopped over
with any number of great toppings: goat cheese, arugula, roasted sausage, wild
mushrooms and on and on. Get a bottle of red, lay back at one of the outdoor
tables and mutter about all the hipsters skulking into and fouling up the neighborhood.
You’ll feel just like a native.



Best Incongruous
Game Dish

Quail at Manhattan Bistro

129 Spring St. (betw. Greene & Wooster Sts.)

966-3459

They Got the Varmints.
“Game season” occurs in autumn, and–we’ve
read–has to do with dudes tramping through the woods carrying ordnance,
trying to avoid Lyme disease and those irksome moments when, swinging your barrel
toward gamecocks, you in fact blast the skull off of your hunting partner, who
may or may not deserve it. To put it simply, we were brought up to believe that
you eat quail–and other gamy varmints–only when there’s frost
on the pumpkin.


So it was nice
to wander into the Manhattan Bistro one sweltering evening this summer, take
a peek at the menu and see on it, remarkably, roast quail. You bet we ordered
it. And were satisfied with what we got: two of the little sons of bitches cooked
up nice and laid down on a big plate over a heap of rice and such, glazed and
rather tasty. Felt a little strange in midsummer, to be honest, as if there
was something missing. (Again, see the Encyclopedia Britannica
entry for “Autumn, Romance of.”) And it’s not the greatest quail
you’re ever going to eat; not the bird you’re accustomed to eating
when New York restaurants start rolling their game out in November, killed upstate
the day before and riddled with some hillbilly’s shot. But still, the dish
was a pleasure for how unusual, and easy, it was, for how it represented
a little tear in culinary reality’s continuum. We mean really, aren’t
we supposed to be eating melon balls this time of year? Game in July–and
the rest of the year, too, we suspect.



Best Yorkville
Dinner Offer

Marino’s

1582 York Ave. (betw. 83rd & 84th Sts.)

734-5556

Good God, Make Them Stop.
It seemed too good to be true: $19.99 for appetizer,
dinner and entree (no exceptions, either–they apparently weren’t into
underhanding you that way), plus unlimited wine with each course. The
problem drinker in us palpitated with joyous expectation. We made reservations
and invited a couple friends.


And Marino’s–a
small establishment with Italian family charm up the snoot, the sort of restaurant
you could probably once order in toto from the “Italian” section of
the Sears catalog, complete with smiling waiters who don’t seem to possess
two English words to rub together, a picturesque old woman and the proverbial
checked tablecloths–wasn’t lying. Two courses into the evening, and
too many bottles of wine–and no, it wasn’t Chateau Margaux, but who
cares?–littered the table like bowling pins; we ought to have set ‘em
up at one end of the room and hired a dwarf to chuck at ‘em. God knows
what the waiters were saying half the time, but they certainly were friendly;
our companions ended up with them later that night at Le Bar Bat. The food?
Good, basic red-sauce stuff. Honestly, we didn’t take too much note of
it.


Since then
we’ve been back to Marino’s a bunch of times. The price of the unlimited-wine
special was recently jacked up to $22.95, which still isn’t enough to prevent
you from subjecting the temple that is your body to this pleasant variety of
punishment. True, the waitstaff has become the slightest touch haggard and little
more cynical, which is forgivable in those who make their living off drunks,
whether we’re talking waiters, bartenders or whores. Still, if you live
on the Upper East Side, Marino’s can’t be topped for a careless night
of washing down good food with huge torrents of decent wine.



Best HeadCheese

Lupa

170 Thompson St. (betw. Bleecker & Houston Sts.)

982-5089

The Margins of the Swine.
Here’s what you get on the $13 “Affetati
Misti” board when you order that selection at Lupa. You get cold cuts,
sliced and folded atop a sheet of wax paper. You get some sopressata, some mortadella.
You get the best prosciutto you’re ever likely to eat. Velvet protein,
veined with fat.


And you get
headcheese. An amazing foodstuff, headcheese. Multi-textured. Delicate, firm
and sort of bony, all in the same mouthful. So greasy that it refuses to remain
folded and skewered on the tines of the fork. Headcheese. It has a life of its
own, is not a dead thing. The forgotten or neglected parts of the pig. Snouts
and shit. Scrumptious, and like eating tripe: thinking about it either ruins
the experience or enriches it. A measure of suspended revulsion is required,
and rewarded.



Best West
Village Brunch

Good

89 Greenwich Ave. (betw. 12th & Bank Sts.)

691-8080

Harm Reduction Restaurant.
We’ve resigned ourselves by now to the necessity
of brunch in New York City, but fuck if we’re going to muddle through dismal
omelets and confused pancakes and too many cups of coffee and mimosas and worse.
Why is it that people who claim to adore brunch always eat at such crappy restaurants,
and eat such wretched food?


And another
thing: When we’re in the West Village, we’re not standing in line
for an hour over at Tartine. It ain’t worth it. No, we’ll head for
Good. As brunches go, Good’s are superb. Give us hope. Ethereal egg-white
omelets, innovative sausage, digestible hash, the legendary lemon-ricotta pancakes,
a bevy of refreshing fruit drinks, many cocktails (if that’s your bag),
a vaguely Tex-Mex ethos hanging around from the restaurant’s previous incarnation.
Lovely, restrained decor. A sweet-tempered staff. Best of all, rarely overcrowded
on a Sunday at 11 in the morning, the unholy witching hour for brunch everywhere.



Best Bar
to Get Her in the Sack

Angel’s Share

8 Stuyvesant St. (betw. 9th St. & 3rd Ave.)

777-5415

Drinking with the Angels.
So you don’t have any inside information
about the “secret” lounges opening on the Lower East Side or under
the Manhattan Bridge? No way to impress your date with your encyclopedic knowledge
about New York’s underground nightlife? Bring her here. It’ll work.
As long as she isn’t, say, a writer for Time Out.


Angel’s
Share isn’t necessarily a secret, but it feels like one. To get to the
bar, you have to climb the stairs to the second floor and turn left, walking
through a Japanese restaurant. You’ll know the door to Angel’s Share
by the sign posted on the door: “No shouting. No standing. No more than
four people.”


It’s not
a place to bring your rowdy crew, that’s for sure. It’s Date Central,
and the bartenders know it. You’ll only see couples here: tasting each
other’s expertly mixed drinks, watching the passersby on 9th St., hoping
to get lucky.


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