Category Archives: Wine

The $1,000. Steak

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New York is renowned as a premier destination for a classic steakhouse. Whenever foreign winemakers come to visit the Big Apple on wine business, I usually field requests for the best beef restaurants. While it is true that the home cook now has access to a variety of top pedigree beef, ranging from naturally grass fed to dry aged, the options at restaurants are much more problematic. Aside from the exorbitant costs, especially comparing what you can get for the home kitchen versus what you are actually paying for at a steakhouse, there are other pitfalls to consider as well.

Wine lists are generally unimaginative and rocket juice oriented. If there are gems on the list, they are too far and few between, creating a dilemma of agony over the correct wine pairings and strategy. Stylistically there is little imagination or variation, often a who’s who of cult cabernets or expensive super Tuscans, Burgundy or Bordeaux wines that are nowhere near ready to drink.

Continue reading The $1,000. Steak

Low Country

Charleston, SC

If you are a foodie, or just get regular Eater blasts, it is hard to ignore all the hype Charleston has been getting with their food and wine festivals and James Beard accolades and restaurant kudos.  The same praise is bestowed on New Orleans, and is justified.  I decided to see what all of the fuss is about, and sought advice from a food critic in Charleston as to the great places to experience what I learned to be “low country” cuisine.

After a very pleasant and short two hour flight from JFK, my partner in all things wonderful and delicious, Michelle, and I headed over to Cru Café (a tip from one of my clients, Kevin), and arrived just as they opened their doors for service. From the hotel on King Street (King’s Courtyard Inn), the trail led us through the market for some shopping and by two carriage houses (of which there are many) to a charming house with a porch.  Many restos are housed in charming houses, and the word charming cannot be too redundant in describing Charleston.  Just walk through the Battery and around the southern peninsula and it will feel like an extended version of NOLA’s Garden district, with great trees and lots of peace and quiet.

The menu at Cru Café is American bistroish with a bit of the south.  We split a poblano and bell pepper soup, duck confit and onion ring arugula salad, and a play on General Tso’s chicken in a wrap with a side of creamy mashed potatoes.  The wine list is short and sweet, an international medley but all reasonably priced. We chose a 2012 Richter Riesling from the Mosel that paired well for the entire meal.   Honest cooking in a nice setting with friendly service sums it up.  Great start.

We walked through Market Street to find dessert, and ended up at Kaminsky’s for coffee and pecan pie.  The place looks like a bar save for all the baked pies and cakes in the display cake as you enter.  The slice was generous and dense, the coffee sub-par.  No off for walk-about to work it off.

There are several establishments that promote a happy hour, and it is wise to do a little research as to what is the best deal.  As we are oyster fiends, Charleston is a good place to be.  Gulf oysters can be had many places for under ten bucks a dozen.  All other coastal oysters can be as high as two bucks apiece, but still reasonable as compared to NYC.  We walked into a jam packed Pearlz a little to late, anh had to settle for some oysters and clams at Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar.  The drinks were average and the shellfish fine, but overall the atmosphere was lacking and we hurried over for a serious cocktail at the Gin Joint.

Aside from being a bit too bright for a cocktail bar, the Gin Joint was a solid hit.  Pimm’s Cup, Mint Julep, Manhattan, the classics were executed well.  The house cocktails were also creative and well balanced. We could tell the patrons expected good cocktails too.  A very good sign for things to come indeed.  Patrons were not well dressed, and that was unfortunate.  Something is wrong with ladies dressed well and gentlemen in shorts, polos and tivas. We then headed to the rooftop Library bar, which yielded some lovely breezes, a must to offset the slight humidity even in late October.  The view was lovely, what with all of the low buildings, but the drinks were weak.  It started to rain, and that was our cue to exit.

We hid in the Gin Joint again until the rain died down, and made it to a 9:30 reservation at Husk unscathed.  Husk is also housed in a townhouse, but of a much larger scale.  The porch is long, and the resto sports high ceilings and different rooms.

The strategy was two glasses of white wine and a bottle of red, having felt the effects of the Gin Joint.  I found a gem, Roagna Rosso 2005 for fewer than eighty dollars, and felt that the light nebbiolo would holdup for all the dishes we planned to order. Kentuckyaki glazed Pig ears lettuce wraps with salt fermented cucumbers and peppers were crunchy and addicting.  Wood fired clams could have used a kick but were smoky and good.  More Hog Island Bay oysters with sorrel berry mignonette and preserved honey ginger please.  Then cornmeal dusted NC catfish with smoky bean Hop-n-John and Bean lacquered NC duck leg with Napa cabbage and English Peas for main courses.  There is no jealousy or animosity between NC and SC; they share their best ingredients alike.  The duck shredded like pulled pork and the catfish was cooked perfectly.  Both dishes more southern by their accompaniments, southern home cooking done at a higher level with better-sourced ingredients.  We squeezed in one desert, a buttermilk pie, and then I tapped out. No mas.

After breakfast at the inn, lunch at S.N.O.B., Slightly North of Broad.  The wine list was extensive, and we found a 1991 Richter Riesling for $74.00,  drinking fabulously.  We split two soups, butternut squash bisque and white clam chowder, both creamy and proper and excellent with the Riesling.  Then came the Maverick shrimp and grits.  The grits on most menus was Geechie Boy yellow, and this was the first exposure and wouldn’t be the last by a long shot.  The dish was accented by Tasso ham, sausage, tomatoes, green onion and garlic broth, yet somehow the grits stayed firm and true to form.  I went for the local drum fish which was seared nicely on the skin side, moist and flaky on the inside.  Before the trip I had set my mind to taste much of the local fish to get a sense of the types of fish and the respective cooking techniques.  We finished with a banana cream pie.  Who can resist?

After an extensive peregrination through the Battery, we made it back to East Bay Street for happy hour at Pearlz, which was too crowded the night before.  The bar was bustling, and we ordered many oysters and clams, but I kept returning to the peel and eat shrimp, jumbo sized and dusted with Old Bay seasoning.  After a medley of pretty decent cocktails it was time for a siesta, which I try to plan on every trip between happy hours and late dinner reservations.

This time we took a cab to The Grocery as it is located just off Upper King Street.  We had been walking to every place, but did not want to run past 10 pm, and in addition it was raining again, and Charleston streets do not hold up well in the rain.  The Grocery was the kind of place you would find in NOLA, with lots of space, a separate bar area, open kitchen, reclaimed wood and interspersed with metal etc.  When you enter an old used vault safe greets you, and you like the vibe instantly.   The Firehouse is located just across the street, but it was the police who gave us a disco show pulling over a cab going the wrong way on a one-way street.

We had some fried oysters on top of deviled egg cream.  I asked our server Walt for some bread to sop up the remnants.  He told me that was the “country” thing to do.

The two cocktails we ordered were delicious, mine a dirty tomato martini, zingy and tangy, the other all rhubarb and herb like.  I found a nice bottle of dry furmint form Heidi Schlock, a female winemaker, and I do adore a feminine touch in my wines.  My partner Michelle was feeling a bit stuffed, (Why?), and barely got through her scallops and pork belly (clean-up hitter to the rescue), and I went out on a limb and ordered the market fish whole snapper for two for myself.  The fish was wood roasted and so fat and fleshy I thought it was an oversized puffer fish.  I put that dish down inspiring awe form Walt, who said I was “low country” having completed that feat.  No dessert, onto Upper King Street, where we found out is where the hip bars and college kids hang out, a sort of mixed blessing.  Nothing against south of the market and East bay St. restaurant row, but the clientele is a lot of old money, and the average age is the NY state speed limit.

Upper King was crowded as forecasted, even with the rain keeping the masses at bay.  We stopped into the Cocktail Club, which was more nightclub than cocktail, and promptly walked out.  We caught a drink at the Belmont Lounge with a sleek Miami sort of vibe.  The drinks were proper but the clients were University, so we moved the party to Rarebit, straight out of Williamsburg. It too was a bit clubby, but the music was groovy and the drinks were rolling.  We ended up at brunch here the next day for chicken and waffles.

Perhaps the best of the seafood places was The Ordinary, also on Upper King, which looked like it used o be an old bank.  High vaulted ceilings and a tasteful maritime design splits the restaurant in two, with replica game fish, wooden mermaids and underwater diorama.  The bar yields twice as much room as is necessary, and yet when all of the thoughtfully crafted seafood plates pile up you become grateful.  A battery of pristine oysters at NYC prices makes me feel at home.  A civilized dirty Plymouth Martini with extra olives made me feel like it was Saturday night.  The selection included Blackberry Point, meaty Belons, fab Honeysuckles, Beach Blondes, Otter Island, and Caper Blades, the elixirs of the ocean.  The local little necks were no second fiddle either.  P & E Gulf shrimp was meaty and addicting. But the show stopped when the razor clams hit the bar, lightly poached and plucked from its shell, presented in a glass bowl above decorative seaweed and ice, mixed to be a ceviche with fennel, cilantro, green apple, jalapeno and lime.  We ordered it twice and became the dish’s spokesperson for the bar.  We topped it all with an oyster slider, cornmeal crusted with deviled egg cream, a perfect bite.  All the while the bartender was concocting the perfect daiquiri, the straight up version with three simple ingredients of Angostura rum, fresh lime juice, and simple syrup.  What a revelation.  We would have stayed if it were not for a 9:30 res at FIG, who happens to be partners with The Ordinary.

After another siesta and a quick change, we walked to FIG (very close to inn).  It is housed in a regular setting rather than a house.  The bar was bustling and the room very contemporary with warm earthy tones.  However, the artwork seemed out of place, and the light fixtures gaudy.  Only SNOB was more disjointly designed, and we were afraid the food might be dated.  Au contraire, with excellent service and advice from our server Ashley, we had two great cocktails from the make your own Negroni list, and went to town. Painted Hills Beef carne cruda, razor clams, Keegan-Fillion Farms chicken liver pate to open things up.  Then the oft ordered ethereal ricotta gnocchi and Appalachian Highlands Lamb Bolognese and a John’s Island tomato tarte tatin.   An enormous portion of Eden Farms pork schnitzel with heirloom tomato farotto was demolished.  All washed down with a Vajra Rosso, which was being given away for sub forty dollars.  Again we wish we had room for more.  We squeezed in a Meyer Lemon Pudding with NC blackberries and aged balsamic for sweets, and glad that we did.

Pre-flight the next day we hiked out to the Butcher and Bee, a sandwich shop that is worth any trek.  Housed in a garage, the lovely ladies just serve finely crafted sandwiches.  I was upset not to be able to try the banh mi, as it is a nighttime option (they are open until 3 am), but was extremely pleased with the roast beef sandwich and the BBQ beef and cheddar.  No Po boys here, but it the quality and creativity gives Nola’s Parkway tavern a run for its money.

Overall, I was impressed with the dining scene in Charleston.  I would like to explore the outer Island for some down low country cuisine, some more BBQ and fried chicken, and some island fishing.  It was great to see the quality of the cocktails, the composition and selections offered on the wine lists, and the local sourcing for ingredients.  I did find it strange that almost no one dressed up to go out, ala Seattle.  Most men wore the standard uniform of a plaid or checked shirt (gingham) and a pair of jeans.  The ladies’ fashion was all department store driven.  Come on, with cooking this good, show some class.

The only other comment I will make is a social one.  There was a definite division of patrons as it refers to age from Upper King to Lower King Street.  I witnessed a much older crowd on Lower King and a mixed and often university crowd on Upper King.  And, as a person of color, I rarely saw any person of color dining out or in the cocktail clubs I visited.  Even the kitchen staffs were primarily Caucasian, at least on appearance.  I did not feel segregated, and received great service by all accounted, but coming form New York it felt a bit strange to me.  I just wondered where all the people of color were dining and why they hadn’t been spotted at these places where I thought there was some solid cooking going down.

Ultimately what I take from Charleston, are people who are passionate about food and beverage as a way of life, and when you ask for extra biscuits to sop up the sauce, that is downright low country.

 

Live, but can’t eat or drink – Perils of living on the UWS.

The other night I was pinned down and decided to try to have a decent dining experience on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, my neighborhood for most of my life.  Fresh off the information from a top ten list from critic Robert Sietsema of The Village Voice, I gave Cotta, an Italian trattoria/wine bar, a try.  I should have walked out the door as soon as the noise level registered inaudible, but stuck it out for what amounted to some very mediocre food.  I ordered a bottle of valpolicella.  The server did not present the bottle and tried to pass another bottle off.  When I asked about it, she informed that they were out (of it) and so she brought one that was available.

Fail.

The correct bottle couldn’t have saved the meal from brussel sprouts overwrought with cloying sauce, and the star vongole being watery and lacking punch (Sietsema’s rec).  The Italian disco-tech vibe became more unbearable at every bite, and only ordering dessert would have put the icing on the cake of a disastrous evening that one simply cannot recover from.

I am not trying to bash Cotta, or its kin, of which the Upper West Side landscape is plagued by, but getting a decent meal in my hood is next too impossible.

The big question is why, and here are ten arguable reasons:

1.  Upper West Siders have little to no palate.

A major reason why some of these restaurants stay in business is because people support them.  Unlike downtown, where bridge and tunnel clientele support restos because of the scene and atmosphere, the residents up north are interested in value, and the two shall never intertwine.  Fill in some old time diners (drab), and the kosher restaurants (flavorless), and what’s left is a wasteland.  Upper West Siders demand value and large portions, part of the family mentality, since a large section of diners just want to be out to brunch with their SUV size strollers and gangs of children.  Most cook at home, picnic in the two parks, or just order take-out from the legions of subpar Asian flecked restaurants that happen to have chicken with broccoli on the menu. UWSiders are used to this mediocre food, and their palates follow suit.

2.  Landlords Rule.

There has been a mallification of the Upper West Side going on for twenty years.  Mom and pop places have been kicked to the curb.  Our mayor has raised real estate taxes to astronomical heights, and so the only businesses that can afford the rents are big ones.  Duane Reade, Rite Aid, Starbucks, 7-11, and banks.  It might as well as be Cleveland over here. Despite the efforts of Gail Brewer to keep the megastores out, the damage has been done. Long gone are the Rosita’s, and you fill in your fav place that has been replaced by corporate America.  This isn’t exclusive to the UWS, but every week I take a walk and notice the turnover.  Just look at your ten block radius and note the changes yourself

3.   Bland Rules.

There is little to no authenticity to most of the restos on the UWS, but people fill the seats due to proximity, if the price is right, and the appearance of being ethnic.  Take Pio Pio for a perfect example.  The roast chicken is cheap, the sides are inedible, and the wine list is undrinkable, yet the place is packed.  Peruvian grandmothers are rolling in their graves.  Ever roast a proper chicken at home?

Take Screme, a kosher gelato kiosk.  Has any one ever been to Italy?  What Screme is passing off as gelato is a travesty.  Yet the kids yuck it up.  And what about the staples? A decent burger?  Don’t give me Big Nick’s.  Pizzeria? Dean’s?  Seriously?  Not even the Malecon can deliver on the roast chicken (it is tough and underseasoned).  The red sauce joints are everywhere, and I have a simple rule of thumb.  If I can make it better, I will not purchase an inferior product.  These pastas are lifeless, poorly executed bowls of $14.95. down the drain.

4.  Bars Suck.

Unless you are straight out of college, Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues are strips of wasteland for packs of young people fresh out of college trying to extend their adolescence and behavior.  From Brother Jimmy’s down to Bourbon Street, you couldn’t get a decently mixed drink one time out of a thousand.  And I am not even talking about a simple cocktail.  That simply cannot be found.  Prohibition? Please.  Simply Oliver?  Have you ever tasted a proper cocktail downtown

5.  Wine Bars Suck Too.

The lists on the wine bars on the UWS are wrought with poor selections, overpriced jammy bottles that have nothing to do with the food offered on the menu.  The servers are generally undereducated about the product, and the food is generally underwhelming and overpriced.  One may have a favorite, like Wine and Roses, Bin 71, Vai, or the Tangled Vine (to name a few), but that is only because of proximity.  Not one can stand in the same room with a wine bar like Ten Bells or even Terroir for that matter.  All I am saying is that we have to settle for mediocrity and like it.  There is no great cheese program like at Caselulla or Murray’s, no great Champagne list and deals like at Corkbuzz, and no ethnically correct representation of a regionally themed wine bar.  Please don’t tell me Buceo 95 is Spanish or that Barcebo is Italian.  That’s like saying the Red Rooster sells soul food.

6.  NO Coffee to be Found Anywhere.

Starbucks is to blame for the poor quality in coffee, and UWS residents simply do not care to fork over the five bucks for over roasted, poorly sourced coffee beans.  What’s worse is that more sub-par chains like Coffee, Tea and Leaves, The Bean, and World Coffee have edged their way in too.  Joe’s Coffee is and Birch are not bad, but once again it is no Café Grumpy, Stumptown, or even a Blue Bottle.  Proximity acceptance skews the actual value of what we are consuming.

7.  Proximity Acceptance. –  You would rather be dining somewhere else.

Sometimes I am having a nice meal, and I can’t help but compare it to a similar place downtown.  Once that wheel starts turning, I would rather be someplace else.  Be it the clientele, ambience, or quality of the wine/food and the service, comparisons kill it for me.  For example, take Café du Soleil, a Provencal themed restaurant that I have tried a few times.  The wine selection is poor to terrible, simply no imagination.  The food is Provencal in name only (Go to Provence, and tell me that the food is the same).  Wouldn’t you rather be at Calliope in the EV?  Or Rouge Tomate?  Or even Balthazar?  Get my drift.  Proximity acceptance.

8.  Brunch is King.

Take two eggs and make them my way.  Slap some bacon or sausages on the side.  Oh and some French toast or pancakes with fruit.  Queue up a massive line, and offer me a watered down mimosa fashioned out of cheap Prosecco, or a bloody Mary that is pre-mixed.  Deal with massive crowds of crying children and a tetris of strollers.  Oh thanks and fork over eighty bucks please.  From Sarabeth’s, Isabella’s, Good Enough to Eat, to those awful, dreadful diners with processed food and junk for ingredients.  Check.  Give me that.  What a great experience.  People who put themselves through that and like it deserve what they get.  Just plan, get up, and make it yourself.  It will definitely taste better, and save lots of loot.

9.  The Proof is not in the Yogurt.

If I see another yogurt or dessert place take over an empty storefront, I am going to scream.  Tasty Delite is flavorless, and the dessert options are a joke.  Café Lalo is a necessary evil for the landscape, but the overpriced sweets cannot be the top choice.  What I would give for just one good Parisian bakery.  Just one.  With real bread and real pastries.  You’re gonna say Silver Moon, and once again proximity acceptance.  Pick any bakery from Paris that you want.  Compare.  Case Closed.

10.  Top Chefs are Afraid.

Upper West Siders are notorious complainers, and want every meal tailored after very specific needs.  Just listen to a brunch order next time.  “I want a two egg white omelette with spinach and goat cheese, no home fries, with one piece of multigrain toast, turkey sausage and a side of fat-free butter.  No wait make it three egg whites.  Oh yeah and the bread cannot have gluten in it.  Is the o.j. freshly squeezed?  Oh, and I have a nut allergy.  Are there any nuts in my eggs?”  Get the picture, and that’s just for a brunch order.  A talented chef wants to bring a certain a creativity which is killed by the countless requests for modification.  Not to mention paying the rent.  UWSiders are notoriously cheap.  Only if a chef dumbs down the food like in KEFI, can a resto survive.  Yes, I said Kefi, cafeteria Greek food that’s been slightly elevated to accommodate the palate of the UWS.

Recently, I tried to eat Westside again. After closing a Tribeca mainstay, Chef Aaron Sanchez has moved digs to Columbia on 112th St.  I was very excited, but should have known better.  No cooking going on here, just placating to the unsophisticated college palate.  What a disappointment.

I live on the UWS for many reasons: right apartment deal, family, friends, dojo, parks etc., but the major sacrifice is food and drink.

There you have it.  I am sure there are other reasons I have missed or didn’t make the cut.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t bright spots, but those are few and far between.  Also, I don’t consider fine establishments near Lincoln Center such as Telepan or The Boulud restaurants as part of the UWS.    Here is a list of places that I recommend and a brief commentary.

 

Barney Greengrass – old school lox and bagel joint, don’t miss nova egg scramble.

Cafe Storico – good Italian spot for simple fare in a great setting near CPW

Cesca – run by a native who cares, good wine list and great cheeses

Saioguette – newcomer to take out with decent spring rolls and nice ribs and pho

Legend – finally good Szechuan fare

La Mirabelle – old school French with killer martinis

Sal & Carmine’s – best slice on UWS, now limited delivery

Jacques Torres – good chocolate

Pain d’Epice – proper pastires, don’t miss napoleon

Gastronomie 491 – properly run cheese dept., if not a tad expensive

Silver Moon Bakery – go for the different breads

Joe’s Coffee/Birch – good cup of joe

Nice Matin – decent French fare, nice wine list

Gazala Place – Druize fare, quite authentic

Taqueria y Fonda – take-out Veracuz cuisine, bang for the buck

Gennaro – a simple Italian meal is possible here, specials usually good

 

 

To Go Cup

On a brisk March Saturday morning I touched down in NOLA, a break from some long hours and nights at Pata Negra, a much needed short respite of food, wine, and song.

New Orleans is my go to destination for therapy, and I try to go at least once a year.  Part of the fun is researching where to eat and drink and what band to see.  Eater NOLA is a good source for new openings, and my native friend Brett fills in the real gems.  Despite my best planning, there is never quite enough time to do everything, and it is hard not to rely on old standbys like Parkway Tavern.

This trip was full of new discoveries, as New Orleans is not just the French Quarter.  It is a series of neighborhoods strung together by subtleties, according to topography and class, all tied to some force that is most certainly NOLA.

Touched down in Louis Armstrong Airport by 9 am and headed straight to Café Beignet for a fix.  Lunched at the Green Goddess and had an unusual Bloody Mary with kimchi.  The Vietnamese po’boy of shrimp and pork belly hit the spot, as well as the eggs.  Checked out a few cocktail spots before check-in at the Dauphine Hotel.  Sobou (trendy), St. Lawrence (divey), and blanking on others.

After a siesta, drinks at French 75 bar at Arnaud’s (always classy and great) with oysters and gougeres, and off to dinner at Boucherie, way out by cab in Jefferson Parish, resto set up in a quaint house with a porch. A Proper Pimm’s Cupp while waiting, and then some solid, bright cooking accompanied by a reasonably priced ’97 Stefano Barolo.  Highlight was definitely lamb ribs and lamb falafel.  Hospitality extraordinaire.  Off to Frenchman Street to the Spotted Cat.  Jazz Vipers were rocking it.  Frenchman Street was kickin’.

Sunday brunch by Magazine Street at La Fin du Monde, more bloody marys (a little thin, but good) and shrimp and grits (very good).  Caught the end of the Bulls game at The Bulldog (Mimi is a big fan) and then headed over to Luke’s for shrimp and oysters happy hour.  Siesta, and off to ROOT, a new resto with people who know what they are doing, from the front door to the table.  Best charcuterie I have had in ages, from face bacon to beef tongue to longanisa sausage on down, accompanied by pickled kumquats and meyer lemon compote, then followed by delicious rendition of aloo gobi with no sauce, but all the spice.  Duck heart salad, deviled eggs and shrimp, cornmeal crusted oysters  – I wish I had two stomachs. Washed down with a rose bottle of Beck NV.  Took two to go cups (just because you can), and then it was back to Frenchman Street to hear a new band, Big Easy Brawlers.  Lead was doing a great Busta Rhymes interpretation, lots of guests stopped in to play.  Abita all night.

Monday morning meant the Bywater, a new nabe for us, and tough to get to.  Lots of low houses with wild colors of purple and yellow.  You get the feeling real people live there and you are not quite sure how it’s gonna be when night falls.

The destination was The Joint, home to heavenly barbecue and pies and such.  What a dream brisket, pork rib, pulled pork combo. People’s BBQ joint for all sorts of people.

In an attempt to walk off the carnage, made several attempts to find art galleries, but all seemed closed or unavailable, so back to Bacchanal for a great wine experience.  Shop as in a regular store, order some cheese, and then sit outside the backyard and soak in some sun.  No mark up for the wine (unheard of in NY), and a riesling and red burg later, we moved on upstairs for cocktails.  Our bartender named a drink after me.  I forget what’s in it, but I saw her scribble the recipe in her notebook.  Forgive me, because five cocktails later it was tough to remember anything really.  Walked over to Maurepas for a bite, bold flavors and nice drinks, especially the shrimp hotpot, then double dipped over at Booty’s, street food from around the world done up, but the doomsday daiquiri finally put us out of our misery.

Tuesday lunch at Cochon, and we over-ordered (of course).  After all it was to be our last taste of NOLA.  Falling off bone pork ribs, roasted oysters in my favorite spicy sauce, oozing mac and cheese, fried alligator tots, rabbit livers with red pepper jelly, and some fine gumbo, washed down by nice half bottle of gruner and a pinot noir from New Zealand, with room for dessert, my fave, a pineapple upside down cake and chocolate pie.  Spent the rest of the time at Best Records, just grooving to bands new and old, stocking up on vinyl and t-shirts.  Alas there was a plane delay, and had I known, I would have spent my last moments at Parkway Tavern, but it was not meant to be.  I held on to my to go cup from ROOT.  Part cause I wish NYC had this open policy, and part because I wanna take NOLA in that cup back home with me.  Looking at that cup sure makes me smile.

 

 

EV Shuffle – HAPPY 5TH

Recently, Pata Negra had a five year anniversary.  It coincides closely with my own.  I thought about a celebratory party, but was so busy with business and life, I was just too tired to even plan it.  With some time to reflect on the birthday, I have come to realize a few things.

First, I am fortunate to have stayed in business for five years.  This is a statement of fact for several reasons.  New York City is ripe with people who work hard and open businesses every day.  In the restaurant industry, there are talented/celebrity chefs, savvy business people, and corporations with deep pockets who know how to play the game and survive in any economic climate.

Pata Negra opened in February 2008, and let’s just say that it was rough going for about three years.  As I look around me in the East Village, so many restaurants have come and gone, even long established ones with healthy reputations.  Pata Negra has survived real estate tax increases (+25% of the base rent), worker’s compensation fines (idiotic inspector/audit), unwarranted DOH fines, and stiff competition (Bar Veloce, Xunta now Nai,and Terroir to start).  When all the buzz is about David Chang or Motorino pizza or the populist Sarita’s Mac-n-Cheese, Pata Negra has survived despite these admittedly better business models for the demographic.

I am no celebrity chef, have no corporate backing, and certainly do not play/pay into the advertising game that exists (Yelp could blow up for all I care).  Frank Bruni has dined at Terroir and gave it a one star rating when he was chief critic for the New York Times.  The other night I saw him in the Duck’s Eatery (Leon’s replacement), two doors down from me.

I receive invitations to advertise weekly, from every deal site from GroupOn to Single Platform to you name it.  Every one of these firms claim they can get me more exposure on NY Magazine or Urbanspoon or whatever. And I am not even going to get into it about YELP.

My business is simple, Spanish Jamon, cheese, and wine, augmented by a few select tapas.  It is a European business model.  There is no paella (btw, there is no authentic paella in all of NY).  No croquetas or patatas bravas, in fact nothing fried (choice & kitchen limitation).  No take-out or delivery.  The point is to come in and experience Pata Negra, to be transported somewhere in Spain, with friendly, attentive service, great jamon y queso, and a nice glass of wine/sherry that I spend a lot of time and research choosing.

Pata Negra is not built for every one, every mood, or every occasion.  It is a civilized place for civilized people.  It functions pretty much the way I had envisioned it many, many years ago when I visited a bar in Barcelona just like it.

My staff and I are eager to please every one who steps through the door, and for 99% of those customers, we strive to make their experience memorable.  The other 1% may be rewarded with a sharp tongue from its owner, if they dare to post lies or refuse to follow house policies.  In these cases the customers are not always right.

I am still thinking of throwing a bash, with some artisanal beers and a pata negra jamon, but I would hate to leave any one of those who have supported me for so long out.  If you are reading this post, please forward me your e-mail address.

Pata Negra has made it through five topsy turvy years and to this I say, “Survival is the new success.”  The truth is that I wouldn’t have made it without the continuing patronage of many lovely, civilized people, friends and family who continue to visit and support Pata Negra, restoring faith in this project whose conception dates back to 1990, my first visit to Spain.  Of course, a huge thank you to my staff, some who have been with me through the whole ride, past and present, who allow me my jaunts to Europe, my siestas and wild moodswings, and my mom who minds the shop when I am ill.  Without them, I would be insane.

THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART.

The following is a rambling of the landscape change within the last five years, just within a block or two of Pata Negra,  to illustrate how hard it is to stay open in an ever changing landscape and economy.

There has been a lot of movement on First Avenue in the East Village lately. Since I rented the space on 12th street just off of First Avenue, storefronts have been transforming before you can decide to pay a visit.  On the corner of 14th street, there was a bagel shop, and they shuttered for a long time until Hot & Crusty moved in.  Next door, Tepito, a Mexican cantina opened.  Tepito shut its doors last Sunday.  Vinny’s pizzeria has been around for ten years, but recently a dollar pizza shop and new next door 2 Bros Pizza shop are putting the squeeze on Vinny, prompting him to counter with a dollar slice special of his own.  Michael Bao ran out of town after his Bao BBQ never caught on.  I still remember my first and last visit.  He gave me a free bottle of Red Boat fish sauce.  Too bad.  Subway moved in and has stuck around.  On the corner of 11th, the deli has changed hands twice, and Starbucks is officially planted on 11th street.  Two Indian restos and a Filipino joint were run off the block on 13th st. so that Lebanese Balade, Papa John’s and Tallgrass organic burger joint could open.  Significantly, the Red Head moved in to the former Detours space and is still thriving.  Jeepney has just moved in, adding to Maharlinka further down First Ave.  Kumo sushi has replaced a short lived barbecue spot as well catering to NYU sensibilities and budget.  Around the east side of 13th street, Ichibantei has changed hands and now is offering reggae music, frosty mugged Sapporo and great kara age, out went the octopus balls and strange marble floor.  On 12th street, Sara’s Mac n Cheese took the space to my left for a bustling take out business, a busted massage parlor for take out, and Motorino moved into Una Pizza Napoletana.  Thai terminal has changed hands twice as well, and Ducks Eatery is in the defunct Leon space, and seems to be here to stay.  The corner deli is being transformed into a restaurant now, hopefully a good addition to the block.  Of course Hearth and Terroir are still there, doing quite well (I imagine).  Up the street from me Angelika Kitchen and John’s are holding court, although I recently saw a sign stating that John’s is serving vegan and gluten free food, also posting a picture of Guy Fieri in an effort to keep up with the times.  Not a good sign if you ask me.  Shima rounds out the block and the tavern opposite corner.  Bar Veloce consumed Bar Carerra and is now open almost all day.  Milk bar has moved across the street to make room for Booker and Dax, a trendy nitrogen bar.  Further down first avenue, Polonia closed, Lasso took over a failed project by Veloce people called Solex, Ugly Kitchen saddled up next door, 1st avenue Pierogi has redone itself, and three sandwich shops opened, Little Piggy, Joedough, and Whitmans (burgers technically).   I prefer Porchetta. Yogurt shops have closed four times, as no one seems to understand that yogurt just doesn’t sell in the winter. There are three hookah bars, and two middle eastern halal spots, supported by the Muslim community associated with the Mosque and cab drivers.  The one Dominican spot on 12th still shines, as well as the last remnants of Italian joints hold on, Veneiro;s, Lanza’s, etc. The tapas bar on 11th , Xunta,  has become Nai, and Iggy replaced the beloved pizzeria Rosa’s.  Momofuku is there, lines and all. I can’t quite recall what The Bean replaced, but that is probably a good thing, Tarelucci y Vino is now surrounded by coffe competition.  Café Abraco is my choice, after a stop at Xian’s famous foods or South Brooklyn pizza (my go to lunch spots).   Coyote Ugly and Cheap Shots are still serving NYU drunks until the wee hours, better bars like Lunasa and the Irish pubs off St. Mark’s thankfully still around.  The only wine shop on First, Tinto Fino, sells a great list of Spanish jewels.

There are other shops on First Ave., thrift, technical, fast food and otherwise.  Check them out for yourself.  Obviously I will not mention those chain corporation that have come to replace defunct storefronts, the ATM’s and chain pharmacies that are so prevalent because only they can afford the rising rents and real estate taxes, the reason why neighborhoods are fast becoming non-descript and mall-like.