Best of Manhattan 2001:Eats & Drinks

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Best Quietly
Retracted Zagat Review

Tomoe
Sushi



The Words
(or Something) Get Stuck in Our Throat.
When a friend first pointed this
out to us, we couldn’t believe it. How could the Zagat’s people
have let this one slip into their 2000 Survey of New York Restaurants? For those
who didn’t catch it, here’s last year’s review of Tomoe Sushi:


Tomoe Sushi


172 Thompson
St. (bet. Bleecker & Houston Sts.), 212-777-9346


“Heaven
on rice”, “an orgasm in your mouth” are how surveyors describe
the sensational sushi that draws “masses” to this “zero”
ambiance Village Japanese; it would be “a bargain at twice the price.”



“An orgasm
in your mouth”?


We’re
not even going to touch that one. Suffice it to say, however, that that little
analogy was pointed out to the editors. Here’s their 2001 Tomoe review:


“Join
the street party” outside this Village Japanese joint where the “lines
can be murder” but are worth enduring for sushi that’s sheer “poetry”,
“arguably the best in the city.”



Best Pre-Broadway
Restaurant

Above
234 W. 42nd St., 21st
fl. (betw. 7th & 8th Aves.)
642-2626



And I’m
Gonna Be a Star.
Above, Larry Forgione’s quixotic but successful attempt
to bring a classy restaurant to 42nd St., is hard to find the first time you
go. It’s hidden in the Times Square Hilton, which is itself almost invisible
in the visual overload of the south side of 42nd St. between 7th and 8th Aves.,
near Madame Tussaud’s and the mammoth AMC Empire multiplex. Once you’ve
found your way into the hotel’s street-level lobby, it’s a ride in
a rather subtly marked elevator 21 floors up from the street. Considering that
its trade must be almost entirely made up of tourists, we think the place should
be a little easier to locate.


When you actually
get there, though, the space is a very pleasant surprise–open, airy, casually
elegant and moderne, with evening’s last light (or, in winter, twinkling
city lights) blasting through expansive window views north to 21st-floor midtown
Manhattan. You can’t even see the bustle of 42nd St. from up there. It’s
downright peaceful. You feel the preshow Broadway jitters sinking away from
you as you stroll toward your table (which is nicely placed for plenty of elbow
room and privacy).


The food is
classic Forgione: high-class American with a few sort-of-Asian hints, mildly
inventive without startling you with its genius, served in American portions.
Forgione leans toward fish and seafood–roasted oysters, softshells, a clever
salmon pizza, big fishes like striped sea bass. But the kitchen also knows when
to turn a black-and-blue steak. Sensible wine list. Simple desserts like key
lime pie or sorbet, light enough for a pretheater crowd. As always at a Forgione
establishment, the young waitstaff is well trained, flawlessly polite–and
largely minority, a nice added touch.


With its understated
class and uplifted location, Above seems blithely unaware that it’s on
the 42nd St. strip. And as the name suggests, it floats well above most of the
tourist shovel-food joints in the area. The only concession it makes to its
location is the brisk and efficient way the staff gets you out in time for your
8 o’clock curtain.



Best Bar in
Which to Flout the Laws of the Sabbath

Teddy’s
96 Berry St. (N. 8th
St.)
Brooklyn, 718-384-9787



Getting
Mitzvah Tanked.
We were in Teddy’s one recent Saturday afternoon–Saturday,
aka the Sabbath, aka Shabbat–enjoying the high pressed-tin ceiling and
the light and the friendly servers, the last a pleasant change from the slow,
surly, sometimes downright bitchy folk who plague the trendy Bedford Ave. strip…


Anyway, we
were sitting there, recovering from the night before, when two Hasidic men in
their early 20s walk in. They’re decked out in Sabbath finery–white
socks, satin robes, big round fur hat, the works. They go right over to the
long wooden bar and started asking the bartender, a tall, tattooed lass wearing
a tanktop, about the game–baseball, we guess, since we heard her explain
that it was football on one tv, the U.S. Open on the other. After some more
conversation the two belly up to the bar and settle in. They take off their
hats and one of them dangles his stockinged feet out of his black shoes as the
bartender brings them two bottles of–what else?–Budweiser.



Best Indication
of the Tiredness of Foodie Culture

Artisanal
2 Park Ave. (32nd
St.)
725-8585



Blew Cheese.
A restaurant that’s thronged to the manic bursting point, that approximates
a train station during the evacuation of Lodz, except instead of shabby mid-century
Europeans in stale woolens fleeing the wehrmacht, you’ve got the
rabid local variety of bourgeois bohemian, with her Palm Pilot shoved up her
ass, engaged in the gratuitous, and thus vaguely dishonorable, pursuit of–of
all the things on God’s green earth–artisanal cheeses.


You could almost
see the wheels turning in the minds of the braintrust up at Picholine, which
is the overrated Upper West Side restaurant of which Artisanal is the spinoff.
Fingers scratching pates, deep philosophical musings: how can we push an already
absurdly precious foodie culture in a new direction? How can we do a few things
more? What remains? Thus, a restaurant that fetishizes deeply special
cheeses, to assume its position in the pantheon of silliness next to the eateries
that already fetishize wine, beef, fashion models, desserts, overworked pizza
pies, lesbians and guys with jobs in media.


None of which
would be as much of a problem if the establishment weren’t less pleasant
than it should be at these prices. Talk about obnoxious advance publicity–we
were hearing about the place last winter. And yet there we were, like sheep,
on a hot night not long after Artisanal’s spring opening, eating improved
bistro food not noticeably superior to that at Balthazar or 10 other places,
while dodging errant elbows from patrons who were waiting for tables, weaving
through the aisles, scanning the humid air for illustrious faces. All the while,
a ripe stench emanated from the cheese counter. Yeah, we know–it’s
the funky foodie stench of artisanal fromage. Well, to hell with it.


Plus, the guy
at the maitre d’s station was a bit of a dick. Plus you need a signal flare
to attract a waiter. Plus, if you like cheese–which you probably should–we
can name a handful of other restaurants where you can learn about, and eat,
cheese in something other than a panicked, humid, stinking, overdetermined 125-decibel
murk, din, hurlyburly, mosh and brawl.



Best Tribeca
Takeout

Il Mattone
413 Greenwich St.
(betw. Laight & Hubert Sts.)
343-0030



Western
Tribeca’s Jewel.
Takeout’s a dicey proposition in any neighborhood.
We suppose there’s solace to be taken in the fact that it exists at all,
unlike in the vast majority of American cities, but when you wake up with a
poisoned gut from Thai or Chinese grub that’s been fried in month-old oil,
that’s a sign to get out the cooking utensils.


Il Mattone,
a perennial winner in “Best of” annuals, is another story altogether.
We prefer the thin-crust pizzas, well-done, either plain or topped with excellent
sausage, pepperoni or onions. There’s also the hungry-guy special, a Sicilian
number that can feed four. A pie with a Caesar salad is fine dinner. When we
want variety, it’s a switch to the Napoli sandwich, an enormous concoction
stuffed with prosciutto, sopressata, capocolla, mozzarella, tomatoes and olives.
Another good bet is the fusilli Calabria, a sensibly sized portion of pasta
with plum tomato sauce, sweet sausage and mushrooms.


Best yet, instead
of the often gruff or impersonal clerks who take orders at restaurants, the
Il Mattone staff is friendly, even when harried. When you’re greeted with
a “Hey guy, what’s shakin’?” it might seem kind of jocular
to the effete, but it’s vintage New York bonhomie that’s a mini-opera
to our ears.



Best Surprising
and Economical Tapas

Riazor
245 W. 16th St. (betw.
7th & 8th Aves.)
727-2132



Spanish
Ayes.
This is a close genetic and culinary relative of Rio Mar on Little
W. 12th St., a colloquial Spanish bistro in danger of being hullabalooed by
the Pastisization of the immediate neighborhood. Riazor is safe, for about a
decade, even taking into account they’ve generated a tapas menu. They also
have a stuffed tomato for about seven and a quarter bucks, which is virtually
a full meal for a normal prudent human, and is abounding in aggressive taste.
You can also have the shrimps ajillo, and if you ask for extra garlic or maybe
even if you don’t you will have a pageant of gorgeosity. But the tomatillo
is the first choice. Just drink the plonk or the sangria, though the staff has
enthusiasms about the Spanish bottles.


Best Dish for
Reform Jews

Herring
in Cream
Blue Ribbon Brooklyn
280 5th Ave. (1st.
St.)
Brooklyn, 718-840-0404



Beats Russ
& Daughters.
What’s the story with the Blue Ribbon restaurants’
thing for serving tarted-up versions of serious old Jewish dishes? Okay, so
it’s not exactly epidemic–it doesn’t define the places–but
still: here’s the Blue Ribbon Bakery in the West Village, serving up an
excellent matzoh ball soup; and here’s the newish Blue Ribbon Brooklyn,
in Park Slope, offering great herring in cream. Oh yes, just like our Uncle
Isaac and our Aunt Edna used to eat up at Grossinger’s, when the world
was theirs, and in the afternoons there were swim races and in the evenings
there was a buffet, and Fyvush Finkel, and the next day you could take the bus
back to Port Authority. Those were the golden days. (Isaac was such a card then,
always kidding. He sold suit-pants wholesale, 45 years, right off New Utrecht
Ave. Now he slobbers in a home in Fresh Meadows, and screams at the nurses about
Pee Wee Reese.)


Actually, we
doubt Grossinger’s served herring in cream anywhere near as good as Blue
Ribbon’s. You’ve got your heavy bowl filled with onion pieces and
big, soft, sweet slabs of good herring, and it’s all held together by dollops
of sour cream so that you’re eating a soulfully and pungently fragrant
bowl of peasant food that goes down easy and pads the gut in a satisfying way.
You’ve also got your beer near to hand, and hopefully some friends around
you–here with you at this smart, casual, excellent restaurant. Or maybe
you’re alone, sitting all sleek at the bar, dreaming of the timeless glamour
and sophistication of the Catskills in days of yore.



Best Inappropriately
Named Restaurant

Barrio
99 Stanton St. (betw.
Orchard & Ludlow Sts.)
533-9212



And Such
Funny Bathrooms.
Cantankerous throwbacks that we are, we sometimes pine
for that long-ago time when words actually meant something, when names were
not just signifiers pressed into the service of so much empty pandering. Look,
you can call a restaurant anything you want. Wanna call your new Texas barbecue
grill Nez de la Gamine or Happy Charisma! or Katelyn’s Sushi? Fine, do
as your muse guides you.


But in the
case of Barrio, whose appellation is presumably a nod to the former L.E.S. slum
that it has recently come to inhabit, the name manages not only to confound,
but to pander and insult as well. For starters, we doubt there’s anything
about Stanton’s bodegaville era that Barrio’s proprietors (or the
bohemian gentry who patronize it) would ever care to see replicated in their
dining experience. Dogshit stew, perhaps? Baking diaper chowder? A DJ to distract
you with obstreperous, bone-rattling crack-merengue while monster rats make
off with your seared tuna and taro roots? It’d be quite another thing if
Barrio actually served Mexican or Dominican food or Hispanic anything food:
high-end pan-Latino, beans ’n’ rice, whatever. But we can only gather
that the name is a sort of cute homage whose meaning must somehow point to the
physical space.


Is Barrio’s
interior some kind of loving evocation of regions Chicano? Of the dusty, forlorn,
dilapidated quarters of say, East Los Angeles, or Mexico City? Not that we can
tell. Take the dining area, accented mainly by a tin ceiling, abundant brasswork
and exposed brick. It most recalls the vast interiors of middlebrow yuppie chow
halls from the early 90s, Ernie’s and that kind of thing. The tiki lounge
on the second floor is robust with extravagant Polynesian/Thai furniture. No,
the only Hispanic architectural nod in the entire place is the rather cartoonish
pyramid structure that sits atop the kitchen and upon which rest some artifacts
vaguely suggestive of pre-Columbian Oaxaca: quite fitting if the descendants
of Zapotec should one day descend the misty cliffs of Monte Alban and hobble
up to New York City for an evening of pan-Euro fusion.


In the end
the only thing Barrio, this odd farrago of unremarkable cuisine and mixed architectural
metaphors, really pays homage to is cluelessness.



Best Bar in
Which to Save an Acquaintance from Pulling a Bon Scott

The
Village Underground
130 W. 3rd St. (betw.
6th Ave. & MacDougal St.)
777-7745



Uncle Henry?
Auntie Em? Is that You?
After killing three Turkeys the band onstage has
cleaned and gutted your buzz. It’s unusual to see a stinker here, but you
figure you can’t win them all, then wonder, well, why the hell not, and
go back to the bar for more of the same.


Toward the
last stool, amongst the 90-pound record geeks and 6-foot-7 bikers, you notice
a young lad in a state of extreme repose–laid out flat on the floor, his
feet propped up against the bottom rail and his eyes rolled back in his head–sleeping
it off? Pushing through the nonchalant loiterers, you bend down, grab his shoulders
and yell (name has been changed from something beginning with “C”
and ending in “L”), “Pete? Pete is that you?”


After a few
good shakes he comes around long enough to ask for a pint glass from the barman.
So he can puke in it.


“Pete!
Pete, look, I’m not going to ask for an empty glass so you can…sweet
Mary Mother of Christ, Pete! The purse! Watch the purse!”


And with that,
an 8:15 p.m. Thai dinner is at your feet, practically good enough to return
to the buffet table. Twenty minutes later Pete is outside having his picture
taken by Jon Weiss with a 250-pound African-American bride–not his own,
blushing and still in her veil–like a champ. And that is what they
call a New York City moment. In Iowa they call it pathetic, incontinent and
possibly vagrancy, but not here.



Best Salad
Under $10 (East Village)

Veselka
144 2nd Ave. (9th
St.)
228-9682



Veggie Tales.
Time was when salad was the last thing we’d think of ordering at Veselka.
It’s tough to say whether our newfound devotion reflects some sort of personal
growth or just recognition of an item more consistent with the Ukranian eatery’s
relatively recent renovation and scrubbed sleekness. Whatever. At $7.50, Veselka’s
East Village Spinach Salad is one mother of a meal. It does what any honest
salad should, balancing the sweet-sharp savor of feta and bacon against a base
of crisp, hearty roughage. (Add $1.45 and they throw on a generous portion of
grilled chicken strips.) With a foundation of fresh spinach, chopped raw carrots,
feta, mushrooms and hard-boiled egg, it’s a dream for anyone who’s
into the carbohydrate temperance craze, providing a solid charge of protein,
while nodding to a more healthy notion of nutrition vis-a-vis the raw veggies
and leafy greens. But heck, that’s health talk. As a friend of ours says:
Health talk, dumb; big green salad, good! Our only regret is that with all that
heaping spinach, it becomes a little hard to manage, distracting us and requiring
that we unbury our head from our reading material. So do as we do and ask the
chef to chop up the spinach for you. It’s a small but helpful accommodation
he’s usually more than happy to make.


Best Brooklyn
Thai Restaurant

Joya
215 Court St. (betw.
Wyckoff & Warren Sts.)
Brooklyn, 718-222-3484



Thai Without
Strings.
Man, but this place kicks ass. And if there’s better Thai
food in Brooklyn (we’ve heard tell of a certain well-established Thai hipster
destination restaurant in West Bushwick–sorry, we mean Williamsburg),
we’ll eat our hat. Summer rolls as fresh, ah, as daisies–and curries
as soft, silky and smooth as the insides of a Swedish virgin’s thighs (you’re
right, that was gross). Wash whatever good food you’ve ordered down with
measures of Sierra Nevada in frosty glasses, or else with that glorious mixture
of strong joe and super-sweet condensed milk known as Thai iced coffee, and
you’ll be all right.


But it’s
not only the food. What we like about this place is the handsome, monochromatic
concrete-floored ambience, which we find reassuring. There’s none of that
crappy tikki-tacky Asian decor that always bums us out when we encounter it
in Thai joints–Joya vibes like a regular restaurant that just happens to
serve good Thai food, rather than like an orientalist theme park. There’s
a wonderful little garden out back when the weather’s nice, cool art on
the walls, the usual well-dressed young semi-bohemian clientele and what appears
to be a relatively fecund pick-up scene at the bar up front.



Best Jukebox
Bellevue
548 9th Ave. (40th
St.)
760-0660



We’re
Mental over Bellevue.
The Mars Bar has the best local jukebox, and the Library
has the one on which we’re most likely to find that favorite song that
no one else knows, but only Bellevue’s musical selections can light up
our life for an entire evening. Over at this Hell’s Kitchen spot it isn’t
unusual to hear Nirvana’s “In Bloom” followed by Halford’s
“Made in Hell” and AC/DC’s “It Ain’t No Fun (Waitin’
Round to Be a Millionaire).” If that doesn’t do it for us, we put
in Guns ’N Roses. It doesn’t hurt that Bellevue has a fascinating
selection of behind-the-bar paraphernalia (old monster masks, weird bottles,
Elvises), one extremely hot bartender, Pac-Man and a copious back area used
for infrequent but rocking parties. The bottom line is that we used to love
Q104.3 before it went classic rock, and this is the only place in the city that
approximates its old playlists. We’re always on alert at the bar, however,
for women named “Mimi,” former “record executives” and liquor
spilled on us by drunk barmaids (the hot one is never drunk).


Best Fried
Oysters

The Golden
Unicorn
18 E. Broadway, 2nd
fl. (betw. Catherine & Market Sts.)
941-0911



Pearly Bites.
If your job description is comparative friedoysterologist, the adventure is
quite demanding. We’ve sampled and sampled with a generous spirit, and
finally concluded that the most satisfying is the version produced at the Golden
Unicorn. The globes are lushly big, first of all, then surrounded with fat batter
rather like big hair on a country singer. And they’re served with what
is unhelpfully called “special sauce” that is a heated mix of sweet,
sour, Chinese five spice, who knows what else. But the whole show is satisfying,
the essential work of fried oysters.


Best Breakfast
Joint (Brooklyn)

Dizzy’s
511 9th St. (8th Ave.)
Brooklyn, 718-499-1966



Lucky Seven.
Okay, this is going to take a little bit of explaining, because if you’ve
been around the block, you might have noticed that this cutesy Brooklyn corner
diner–with the preciously named menu items and the waiters who call you
“Bud”–is a little much. “Eggs and Other Good Things,”
our ass. And whoever the namesake is of “Mary’s Favorite Oatmeal”
can shove off.


But here’s
the thing: show up here on a weekday morning, right after the place opens, and
a different, and appealing, reality unfolds around you. The tables are mostly
empty, so you can spread out while you drink your very good coffee, peer out
the window at the quiet and leafy street and ease yourself into the new day.
Here’s a bunch of regulars, coming in for takeout coffee, for a happy word
with the waitress and to throw their coins on the counter and grab the newspapers
off the rack on their way out. At the next table down, there’s a cop in
uniform, eating breakfast and talking about the Mets with the guy working the
griddle across the room. In other words, you’re watching a community come
to life and conduct itself in a way that transcends the diner’s twee ambience.
And especially when the autumn light’s right, and the sun’s coming
up over Prospect Park, it’s a beautiful thing.


The food’s
all right, too. The coffee, like we said, is great, and Mary’s Favorite
Oatmeal? Come to think of it, it’s good.



Best $2 Lunch
Fried
Dumpling
99 Allen St. (betw.
Delancey & Broome Sts.)941-9975
106 Mosco St. (betw.
Mulberry & Mott Sts.)
693-1060



And a 20
Percent Tip Is Only 40¢.
When we worked in Chinatown, lunch was an ordeal
because, really, how many days a week can you eat Chinese food? Most of the
time we strolled over to Tribeca or Soho. But dining in the better-heeled districts
of Lower Manhattan can deplete your bank account faster than Internet gambling,
so every now and then we’d balance out the overpriced veggie wraps and
French-Malaysian joints and eat on the cheap. It doesn’t get any cheaper
than Fried Dumpling, where a greenback gets you five mouse-sized nuggets of
pork, vegetables and fried dough. In fact, for $2 you can bring a date–you’ll
get plenty of grub, and your frugal choice of restaurants is sure to wow prospects
from any economic strata.


We’ve
mostly been to the Fried Dumpling on Chinatown’s desolate Mosco St., but
the original on the Lower East Side is even better. As long as you’re not
too picky about fried foods, this is the place to go when funds are wanting.
It’s so cheap, we wonder why there’s never a line of homeless people
outside.



Best Koreatown
Restaurant

Kang Suh
1250 Broadway (32nd
St.)
564-6845



Seoul Survivor.
Kang Suh garnered 1996 New York Press honors for “Best Family Style
Korean Restaurant.” But with the arrival of hipper neighbors like dumpling-specialist
Mandoo, Kang Suh’s subway-station atmosphere looked worse every year, until
finally the restaurant just didn’t cut it except for postmidnight excursions
with one’s most intrepid friends. Now Kang Suh’s big upstairs room
has been remodeled, and though the results aren’t going to win any decor
awards, new life has been breathed into the space. Kang Suh serves Korean food
at its most unpretentiously salty and red-hot. The place was full and lively
every time we’ve visited this year, and all of the items on the book-length
menu were available.


Kang Suh is
just about the only restaurant in Koreatown with both a decent sushi bar and
real charcoal (never gas) table barbecues. We love grilling our own shrimp,
but the shortribs marinated in soy sauce tend to go over even better. (Be careful
not to put utensils that touched raw meat in your mouth!) You can do no better
than Kang Suh’s steamy miso and seaweed broths on a cold winter night.
And their bibimbop in a hot stone pot is so bold in its gooey, crusty deliciousness
that you’ll wonder why upscale Korean joints bother pretending that their
cuisine isn’t soul food.



Best New Neighborhood
Wine & Jazz Bar

Louis
649 E. 9th St. (Ave.
C)
673-1190



Louis L’Amour.
Everything about Andrew Rumpler’s Louis proceeds from an organizing principle
favoring simplicity and lack of pretension, and boy do we like that. It’s
a place of simple, delightful touches. Take the unglazed porcelain tile bar,
recalling saloons of the 20s and 30s. Or the long, smooth bolts of unvarnished
maple and birch that run through the single rectangular room, framing it like
an exoskeleton. Or the way the place shimmers with its own sere, honey-ish luminescence–at
once romantic and bright enough to read by.


Are these touches
actually there? They are. That we enjoy them while not really noticing them
is exactly what makes us so partial to Louis: like the most sublime of jazz
harmonies there’s no single element here calling out for attention. No
competition from superior bartenders either, or an overloud sound system, DJs,
cellphones or loud talkers. Even on Wednesdays, when there’s live jazz
(the place is named for Louis Armstrong), you can still have a conversation,
still hear yourself think. Because of this you’ll find a lot of twosomes–couples
or friends–coming in to nibble on cheese plates, sampling the grape (the
list is short, accessible, but still capable of pleasing most palates) and talking,
a primary activity this place is quite automatically conducive to. We hope Louis
continues to be the generous, understated place it’s established itself
as.



Best Pizza-Related
Shame

We Order from
Domino’s



Yeah, Domino’s,
and What of It?
There is alleged “New York” pizza within delivery
distance of our apartment, but, um, it really isn’t all that. There’s
a Ray’s, which blows, and Rosario’s, which after all the hubbub to
save it after it was displaced by the aforementioned Ray’s, really isn’t
all that happening either. Stromboli’s on 1st and St. Marks has gone way
downhill, same thing with Nino’s on Ave. A. We’d order from Stromboli’s
on University Pl. if they’d deliver to us, but we’re too far away.
Same thing with the Ray’s on 6th Ave. What are we supposed to do? It sucks
for us, but are we supposed to eat subpar pie out of principled distaste for
corporate pizza?


Best Place
to Meet for a Drink Around Carnegie Hall

Russian
Tea Room
150 W. 57th St. (betw.
6th & 7th Aves.), 974-2111



Tsarflies.
You had where in mind? Molyvos? The Hard Rock Cafe? The Irish place right
up 7th Ave. from 57th St., where we used to like to go, until we got tired of
lacrosse players in business rigs hyped up on after-work whiskeys, bellowing
about Jorge Posada and elbowing us in the jaw?


No. If we want
to meet for a drink around 57th St., we’ll go upscale with it, and drop
by the Russian Tea Room. Why not? There’s a beautiful, sizable bar right
inside the door, the stools are comfortable enough that you can sleep on them
and any establishment on the planet that presumes to serve Russian cuisine is
obligated to know its way around cold, hard spirits. So pleasant is it to have
a drink here amidst the Tea Room’s famous red and green and aureate splendor,
in fact, that we’ve put a little effort into wondering why we didn’t
think of this years ago. Like many diners in New York, we’ve got a sentimental
attachment to the Tea Room, but we’re almost perversely hoping that the
disappointing reviews the restaurant’s attracted since its recent reopening
persist. If the notices get better, the place’ll get more crowded–foodies
will start flocking, in addition to the elderly loyalists and the tourists from
the sticks–and it will become that much more difficult to belly on up and
acquire a Stoli on the rocks.



Best Nachos
Mexican
Radio
19 Cleveland Pl. (betw.
Spring & Kenmare Sts.)
343-0140



Chase Them
with a Dos Equis Draft.
No idea why, but a month ago there was a nacho feeding
frenzy during the late innings of the Mets-Marlins game out at Shea. Maybe the
concession behind Loge 6 was having a (gastric) distress sale of some sort,
because all of a sudden a stream of nacho bearers came parading by. Every couple
of minutes there was some poor slob with a gigantic pile of soggy chips heaped
with steaming, Alpo-looking “meat” bathed in a reddish-orange sauce,
further slopped with liquid cheez and mounds of sour “cream.” We love
our junk food, but these piles were gross, and smelled as bad as they looked.


To erase that
horrid sight and smell from our mind, we went to Mexican Radio for some real
nachos. They’re great–nice, crunchy tortilla chips (sometimes red,
blue and yellow all at once) with solid black or pinto beans nestled on top,
accessorized by chewy muenster cheese, some potent fresh sauce and–here’s
the best part–pickled jalapeno rings. The rings add good texture along
with the heat, and the whole plate sets off that little mariachi band that lives
in our head, resting calmly until just such fantastic nacho occasions arise.



Best Killer
View with Fries

Tubby
Hook Cafe
348 Dyckman St. (Hudson
River)
567-8086



For Spectaters.
Though it’s a few blocks from the last stop on the A train at the western
tip of Dyckman St., the night we decide to go to Tubby Hook, Chudling, a 21-year-old
computer whiz from upstate, has driven into town in his Mercedes pimp wagon
so we ride up in style. When we arrive at 9:30, we are mildly surprised to see
a neon “Tubby Hook Cafe” sign illuminating the night. The Upper West
Side gal who told us about the place described it as the kind of dive where
one could expect to find cockfights at the river’s edge.


So we feel
as though we have erred upon the Fort Greene yacht club when we reach an orderly
arrangement of plastic tables and chairs under umbrellas on a boardwalk platform–a
sort of Latino Baby-O’s.


We order everything
on the menu: the chicken sandwich, the cheeseburger, the chicken fingers and
the shrimp basket. Our waitress (heart-of-gold cholita: black lycra skull cap
over blonde hair, French manicure, tight bluejeans, eyebrow piercing) carries
the order to the grill and returns with a handful of salt packets and ketchup
in a plastic squeeze bottle. “I love these things,” says Chudling,
“because you can individually ketchup each fry.” When our orders arrive
on styrofoam plates with plastic utensils he does precisely that. We all do.
The fries are good, apparently freshly cut. The chicken sandwich is another
story: three breaded, deep-fried, heavily salted chicken fingers on a standard
fast-food white bread bun upon a leaf of lettuce and an anemic slice of tomato.
The shrimp are large, disappointing, frozen, flavorless things–but come
with the same good fries.


The comedian
leaves the stage and the p.a. pumps out a few classic disco tunes before switching
to salsa. It’s close to 11. We cash out at $20 apiece–not bad for
a killer view with fries.



Best Party
Room for the Second Marriage of a Rich Duet

La
Grenouille
3 E. 52nd St. (betw.
5th & Madison Aves.)
752-1495



Makes the
Second Time a Charm.
Upstairs at La Grenouille is an utterly charming room
seating perhaps 50-70 people. It has both rustic charm and urbanity at once,
and of course the food and service are super. Mme. Masson hovers smoothly in
the wings, the initial pass-arounds are tasty, the food is what you’d expect
and the wedding cake whiter than white. No one will leave dissatisfied, except
perhaps the financial manager of whoever signs the check. But the guests will
love it. And it sure makes for happy weddings.


Best Brunch
Location

Indoors at
Casimir
103-105 Ave. B (betw.
6th & 7th Sts.)
358-9683



Rage Against
Les Copines in the Garden.
Word’s filtered back from our spies
in the demimonde that the East Village’s very good bistro Casimir in fact
does maintain a rear garden, which goes quite a distance toward eliminating
a mystery that has long troubled our sleep: heavens, where are all Casimir’s
accustomed Euro patrons on any given sunny weekend morning or early afternoon?


Okay, so we’re
being disingenuous. We actually were aware of Casimir’s garden, and that
it was precisely within it that, when the weather was fine, you could find the
many, many Bastiens, Thierrys, Françoises, Amelies and Pierres of this
world we live in, lolling in attitudes of exquisite dissolution, dribbling the
ashes from their Gauloises on their cashmere v-neck Helmut Langs.


More power
to them. But our thinking, when we walk into Casimir for brunch, is that if
they’re out there, then we’re alone in here, which we’ve
found kind of nice. Imagine it: wake up on a Sunday morning, slouch over to
Casimir, cursing the summer sun, and when you get there with your newspapers,
the whole big beautiful bistro premises are (mostly) yours and yours alone,
and you can spread out in one of the banquettes, revivify yourself with eggs
and a bloody mary, and have absolutely no experience of the chattering, the
waiting, the low-level hysteria, that generally attends Manhattan brunching.
On sunny summer days at Casimir, they do you a favor, if you’re smart enough
to notice it: they keep humanity away from you, segregated out in back (where
most of it, after all, should be). That’s a nice thing.



Best Old-School
Sandwich in Brooklyn

Latticini
Barese
138 Union St. (betw.
Columbia & Hicks Sts.)
Brooklyn, 718-625-8694



…And the
Steeplechase Back to Coney.
Years ago, we didn’t live in Carroll Gardens,
Cobble Hill or Boerum Hill. We called it South Brooklyn. And we didn’t
have croque monsieurs, porcini panini or crepes filled with goat cheese, chocolate
pudding or whatever it is they put in those things. That was Manhattan food.
At home in Brooklyn, we stuffed a hard roll with salami and provolone or a few
meatballs.


Nowadays, as
former landmarks like the Cammareri Bros. Bakery (where Cher met Nicolas Cage)
become slick West Coast-style bruncheterias, the old standbys are increasingly
hard to come by. But on a good old Italian block of Union St. on the eastern
fringe of the neighborhood, the guys at Latticini Barese are serving up some
of the finest Italian sandwiches in town. While every ingredient shines alone
(and is available separately), the careful placement of the freshest mozzarella,
high-quality prosciutto, roasted red peppers and fancy balsamic vinegar onto
crusty, chewy Italian bread is magical.


Tears well
up as we think back to those good old days. We reckon that eating enough of
these Latticini Barese sandwiches may very well bring the Dodgers back home
to Brooklyn.



Best Place
to Get Drunk with Your Mother

Symposium
544 W. 113th St. (betw.
B’way & Amsterdam Ave.)
865-1011



Tipsy Mumsy.
We stop at Symposium so our mother can sample their taramosalata, which is probably
the best anywhere in the city. Slip down the stairs and under the strings of
white lights, into the dining room and then through the kitchen to the indoor
garden, a cozy back room with rickety tables, where we order two Symposium Salads
and two waters. Our waiter suggests we forgo the water and try the sangria,
and maybe because he’s tan and gorgeous and making our mother blush, she
agrees and we end up with a large pitcher sitting between our pita plates. The
ice clinks and chunks of fruit press against the glass. It’s sweet and
good enough to get us drunk without our really noticing–get one of us drunk,
at least.


Our waiter
circles the table and pours from the pitcher, spooning those pieces of orange
and apple and whatever else into our glass and splashing huge amounts of wine
into our mother’s glass, so that we finish the meal with our daily recommended
dose of vitamin C and our mother is giggling in her charming inebriation. She’s
telling us stories about the first time she was drunk and the first time she
was stoned and we know this is a good time to listen and nod and say nothing.


Out on the
street–after she’s managed to pay the bill and wave goodbye to the
waiter–she’s laughing hysterically and pushing us gently for no apparent
reason, but we’re getting on smashingly. Back at our apartment, she’ll
giggle up the stairs and take a nap.



Best Squid
Ink Pasta

Le Zie
172 7th Ave. (betw.
20th & 21st Sts.)
206-8686



Ink-Stained
Riches.
Again this year, Le Zie was our favorite affordable Italian in the
lower neighborhoods. Bright and friendly, it’s bustling most evenings and
packed on weekends (though pretty calm for weekday lunch, if you can). The addition
of the small back room has helped alleviate the crush a bit on Friday and Saturday
nights. (NB: It’s a smoking room.) We still wish they’d take plastic,
but like everyone else we put up with the cash-only policy because the atmosphere
is so inviting and the meals so satisfying.


Le Zie’s
regional specialty, Venetian, doesn’t always go over with us, even in Venice,
and in New York “Venetian” can sometimes mean just “bad Italian
seafood.” Not at Le Zie. Though it’s a largish menu for a smallish
kitchen, and there’s always a long list of additional specials, we’ve
ranged all over their offerings in the last two years with very rare disappointments.
Lately, we recommend the lobster risotto, the spaghetti bottarga, the giant
salt-baked whole red snapper and the best macaroni and cheese in town.


And we’re
loving the squid ink taglialini. We first had squid ink pasta not in Venice
but in Sicily. It was as black as printer’s ink and very pungent, almost
gamy, if you can say that of a seafood. Lots of Americans, even New Yorkers,
would probably be scared of it. Le Zie wisely offers a lighter, more laidback
squid ink sauce, with taglialini slipping around in it like pasta eels, and
a few mussels and baby shrimp tossed in, more or less as garnish to the main
event, the sauce itself. With a glass of the house Salice Salentino, it’s
a dish that fills both your stomach and your senses. Waiter, un po di piu,
per favore
!



Best New Lounge
Abaya
244 E. Houston St.
(betw. Aves. A & B), 777-7467



Come on
in, Abaya One.
Lost amidst the closings of Coney Island High and Wetlands,
a little-known dive bar called the Spiral shut its doors last year. The Spiral
was the place to hear the worst rock music in New York City; it was where high
school kids played before their auditions at CBGB. Some great tunes were played
there, and we shed a tear for the Spiral when it closed, but we’re forgetting
quickly because its replacement, Abaya, is so damn good. With two bars, little
icons on the wall that look like they were taken from Blink 182’s Take
Off Your Pants
and Jacket and a ribbed couch carved out of the wall
stretching from floor to ceiling, the lounge’s decor is totally resplendent.
It’s a commendable attempt in 2001 to make a bar that actually looks like
it belongs in 2001. The crowd is developing nicely, with the initial collection
of East Village ruffians giving way to celebrities and MTV castoffs who know
how to dress. The drinks are expensive, yes, but on many nights you can catch
a break on certain brands of liquor; the music is listenable if you’re
alone, unintrusive if you’re on a date.


The door policy
is the only wrench in the works. Abaya’s staff will ask, “How did
you hear about this place?” when you try to enter; don’t freak, it
isn’t a spy trick. Owner Frank is simply trying to collect some marketing
information. So say where you heard about the best new spot in New York and
you’ll be let in, gingerly.



Best Martini
Trick

King Cole Bar
in the St. Regis Hotel
2 E. 55th St. (betw.
5th & Madison Aves.)
753-4500 x3756



Makes Us
Merry Old Souls.
The King Cole is fabulous anyway, because of the wonderful
Maxie Parish mural. The bartender makes a fine martini, and one reason must
surely be that if you have it with an olive, after he adds the olive he also
dribbles in a few drops of the brine within which the olive has been awaiting
you. It appears to make a natty difference. But don’t drink too many, because
they are remorsefully potent and very expensive. Put the fare home in a separate
pocket.


Best Fries

Pastis
9 9th Ave. (Little
W. 12th St.)
929-4844



Shut Up
and Eat.
On the strength of its fries alone, this is one of our favorite
restaurants. The fries are better than Thrasher’s fries. They’re better
than McDonald’s fries. Or Nathan’s. They’re better than the fries
our college roommate used to make with lard from her farm in Hershey. They’re
five dollars and oh God they are worth it.


Staff is super-nice
to a man, though they do have beverage transport problems. Our coffee cup went
away at one point, never to return. Wine shows up after entrees arrive. A tanned
once-broker told us, “Pastis, that’s a great scene.” Scene schmene,
it’s all about the fries. They come with mayo. Light golden batonettes
of exterior crunch encasing soft potato within. Stop talking to those foreign
hipsters and eat your fries before they get cold. And have faith–you and
your coffee may someday be reunited.



Best Cheap
Drunk Food/AA Meeting in Greenpoint

Palace
Fried Chicken
206 Nassau Ave. (Manhattan
Ave.)
Brooklyn, 718-383-0186



The Higher
Power that Is Fried Chicken.
Now that Enid’s serves cans of Pabst Blue
Ribbon for $2 we find ourselves hanging out in Greenpoint more than we should.
And usually later than we should. And since drunken stupors often start off
with happy hour instead of dinner, we find ourselves loaded and craving staple
foods at 2 in the morning. So before the train ride home we stop off at Palace
Fried Chicken for childhood favorites like macaroni and cheese. Open 8 a.m.-3
a.m., Palace serves up, well, chicken, and all the complementary sides like
mashed potatoes and gravy and biscuits. Try the “snack box,” which
for less than three bucks gets you two pieces of poultry, a side dish and a
biscuit.


For entertainment
we laugh at the locals drunkenly consuming their food and talking loudly about
something irrelevant like how drunk they are. Sometimes there’s a homeless
man looking inside with his face pressed to the glass or a tipsy couple trying
to give each other piggyback rides. And on more than one occasion the counter
guy has told us that we drink too much–then asked us out on a date that
doesn’t involve drinking.


Palace makes
for a head-shaking kind of stop-off, captured best by their sign out front:
Palace Fried Chicken–We ain’t just chicken. No, we thought,
they’re not.



Best Tribeca
Restaurant

Roc
190-A Duane St. (Greenwich
St.)
625-3333



Uptowners
Note: There Is Parking in Tribeca.
The small neighborhood of Tribeca
is disproportionately studded with first-caliber restaurants and pubs, so much
so that in the last year three have vanished: Spartina, Riverrun and Rosemarie’s.
Picking a winner in this category is bound to provoke arguments: there are fierce
partisans for Nobu, Layla, Chanterelle, Le Zinc, Odeon, Ecco and Pico, just
to name a few.

..