New York Report - May 1998

Our most recent visit to New York City was in the middle of a two week rainy stretch, but this did not keep us indoors. Despite rain and Giuliani anti-pedestrian barriers, we managed to get around.

Like most armies,we travel on our stomachs, and this trip was no exception, so here are some of our opinions on places to eat and places to buy food along with a few places to buy other stuff and some neat things to see and do.

Places to Eat

Rosa Mexicano (58th St & 1st Ave)
This is our favorite Mexican restaurant in the city and may have the best guacamole in the world. They make it up at your table in a big black lava mortar, using avocadoes from their own avocado cellar. We always order the cuitlacoche (sometimes called huitlacoche) which is a black, murky tasting Mexican corn fungus, the mixiote de cordero, which is a lamb shank cooked in chili powder and beer, and many margaritas. Their corn tortillas, served with the guacamole and with other dishes are to die for. We used to always order their tablas, beef short ribs, until they took them off the menu and we have tried other dishes, which are excellent, but with Rosa Mexicano, we are creatures of habit.
O Padeiro (1?th St & 6th Ave aka Avenue of the Americas)
This is a marvelous little Portuguese bistro with grilled vegetables, meats, sausages, sandwiches, and their own breads and pastries. Our favorite was the grilled broccoli rabe with roasted garlic and linguica. Eric Asimov of the New York Times hated it, but, as they, de omnibus non est disputandum. We tried a few of the many dishes and all of them had that slow cooked, high intensity flavor one associates with good ethnic food. We also had some of their very hot, very strong coffee, and so fortified were able to face the rain.
Mad 29 (not sure)
We didn't try this place, we just looked at the menu in the window and were amused to see yet another non-standard menu category - carpaccios, that is dishes based on some thinly sliced meat such as lobster, tuna or the more traditional beef. More and more restaurants are getting away from the old Appetizer, Meat, Fish, Vegetables sort of paradigm and grouping foods by category. My favorite category, at a JCHillarys, was On A Stick, which says something about JCHillarys. Mad 29 looked a whole lot better.
Quilty's (Prince St, near Sullivan)
Restaurants in this part of town tend to have table problems. At Aquagrill, the table was too small to fit two plates so we lost part of our delicious fish when one of us bumped the plate rim. At Quilty's we didn't get this far. The tables were low and the chairs so high that we couldn't get our legs under the table. Our waitress, who lacked a grasp of basic physics and anatomy, complained about our inability to bend space and time to our will so we left and ate at Follonico.
Follonico (24th St, off 5th Ave)
This is our favorite Italian Restaurant in the city. They have no particular area of greatness, everything is great. We love their fried seafood, fritti misti or calamare. We love the pasta dishes, included a superb penne with rabbit and tomato sauce. The sea bass cooked with fennel, for two, is wonderful and you can't go wrong with the soft shell crabs. Or try the bagna caulde, or the salmon filets cooked on a hot stone, or the roast pork with real cracklings. We could go on, but you should get the idea by now. We love this place.
Payard (Lexington Ave, twixt 73rd & 74th St)
This is a bustling, bubbling establishment out of the Belle Epoque. We haven't tried the bistro in the back, but we have tried the pastry place up front and were quite impressed. We had a meringue, a cream puff, an eclair and a raspberry cake, which was the weakest entry in the lot. The pastry portions of each confection were excellent, with a good, dry texture and buttery flavor, but the coffee and chocolate fillings were much better and more intense than the raspberry, which was understated. Despite this minor flaw, we washed everything down with a glass or two of champagne and came away with a better understanding of how women kept their hourglass figures in the latter part of the last century.
Across the Street (91st St & York Ave)
Across the Street is across the street from The Vinegar Factory, the new Zabar outpost on the upper east side. It is an airy, casual place that serves pure, authentic California cuisine with an emphasis on seasonal flavors and fresh ingredients from across the street at The Vinegar Factory. The menu is small, but always features an excellent lamb dish, a shank or leg cooked to perfection. In fact, all the meats here are excellent, especially the aged shell steak served with horseradish slaw. The polenta gratin with fava beans welcomed the spring as the baby eggplants heralded the fall. The desserts are down home American, like the gingerbread pudding that reminds one of what chocoholics are missing.
Wu Liang Ye (55th St, twixt 5th & 6th Aves)
This is one of a chain of restaurants and we think it is the best of them. It is an elegant place with high ceilings and chandeliers and people at half the tables will be speaking Chinese, despite its midtown location. If you like spicy Chinese food, you will love the beef tendon cut into prosciutto grade slices in hot sauce and the equally spicy tripe and tongue combination. If you need a break from the burn, try the tea smoked camphor duck, the stir fried baby bok choy, and some jasmine tea, then get back to the spicy bean curd or the wonderful twice cooked bacon and other great stuff on their menu.
La Caravelle (55th St, twixt 5th & 6th Aves)
La Caravelle is one of the city's classics, and is still one of the city's great restaurants. We dropped by for lunch and tried out the fois gras appetizers, one with a raisin-green tomato sauce and the other cooked as a confit with a layer of dates in the middle. These reminded us of the Hotel d'France in Auch. The main courses were not quite as good as the appetizers. The hangar steak was excellent with baby vegetables, but this is usually a bistro sort of dish and served as haute cuisine was overly finessed. The monkfish with artichokes, olives and tomatoes was perfection. Since we were dining in a classic restaurant, we finished our meals with good old fashioned souffles and left, quite satisfied.

Places to Buy Food

Citarella (3rd Ave & 6?th St)
Like most New Yorkers, we are used to Citarella on the west side, but were pleased to see that they are on the east side as well. Since we have no kitchen in New York, not an uncommon problem, we can only say that the fish looked and smelled wonderful, as did the produce, meats and everything else. It all looked so good that we almost broke down and loaded up on fava beans.
Grace's Marketplace (1237 3rd Ave)
We also checked out Grace's marketplace, which is affiliated with Grace Trattoria (71st St and 3rd Ave), and were most impressed with the collection of meats and vegetables. They even had the best price we found on fresh morels, $19 a pound. As part of a growing trend towards restaurants linked to food stores (see Across the Street), we have to say "go for it".
Gourmet Garage (64th St, off ?? Ave)
This is yet another grocer we checked out on the east side. It is bigger than the others and some of the prices were better, but the morels cost more than at Grace's. It also lacked a certain sense of variety and abundance of merchandise, having more the ambience of a warehouse store. We suppose this was the point, but one still needs that 10% of inspiration to go with the 90% ingredients.
Eleni's Cookies (Chelsea Market)
This is a great cookie store, especially for children. It is the sort of place one might have found down in the Village back in the 60s with its brightly iced cookies in the shapes of elephants, bears, airplanes, buildings and other neat stuff. They even had new Volkswagen cookies in their bin with the taxicab ones. It is probably more fun with children, but we grownups love this kind of whimsy too.
Fat Witch (Chelsea Market)
This place was full of amazingly good brownies. The smell of chocolate alone was enough to drive one wild. Brownies may be a classic, but they also had a great product for the 90s, brownie cigars. These taste and smell better than tobacco based ones and there is no problem with second hand crumbs.
Sarabeth's (Chelsea Market)
This was the best smelling pastry place in Chelsea Market and it was only diminished capacity that kept us from doing more than smelling the rum soaked vanilla beans.
Greenmarket (Union Square)
The Greenmarket is a country market with a great selection of farm stands selling vegetables, fruits, meats, breads, cheeses and other goodies. Here you can get cat grass for your cat and admire the cat pix, choose from dozens of types of potatoes and not have to worry about where your next meal is coming from. We broke down and planned a ramp and baby turnip dinner. Now for that kitchen.
Walden Foods (Front Royal, VA)
This outfit is not located in New York. They sell the best smoked trout you can buy in a store. You can buy it at Grace's Marketplace or call 800 64 TROUT.
Maison du Chocolate (7?th St, off Madison Ave, moving to 78th St & Madison Ave)
Yes, this is the same outfit as the one in Paris and the chocolate is just as good. The pastries have a great bitter chocolate flavor that makes challenging the marabunta worthwhile. They are moving uptown, one hopes to bigger digs, so they may be able to serve hot cocoa like their Parisian counterpart. When they do, or if you get to Paris, check out their Guayaquil, even if you hate chocolate.
Aphrodisia (Bleeker St, near Carmine St)
This is a little store with every kind of spice, herb, medicinal, essential oil, tea, dried vegetable and folk pharmaceutical. We come here for the choice of chile powders, the herbal teas, the curries, the oils and the exotic herbs. We usually stay until our noses burn out and refuse to register anything other than amazing.
Balducci's (6th Ave & 9th St)
Everybody knows Balducci's with its green awning and crowded aisles. We come for the fresh ricotta, the truffles (black and white), the smoked fish and the ambience which is totally New York. Even if they don't have it in stock (try robiola or fresh pig skin), they have at least heard of it and will give it a try. Despite the competition, Balducci's is still the store to catch up with.
The Vinegar Factory (91st St, twixt 1st & York Aves)
This is Zabar's east side entry and is affiliated with the restaurant Across the Street which is across the street. We were here one Thanksgiving Eve shortly before closing and were seriously considering cancelling our Thanksgiving Day reservations and just getting take out. Only the diminuitive size of our hotel mini-bar fridge dissuaded us. Use your imagination. Even we can only gush so much about food.

Places to Buy Other Stuff

Just Bulbs (2?th St & Broadway)
As the name says, this place just sells bulbs, more or less. They have a great collection of bulbs for a broad variety of lamps and their salespeople know their merchandise. They also sell neat light sets for Christmas and other events. For example, they have Christmas lights shaped like holly (red bulbs and green leaves), hot dogs and hamburgers, pink flamingos and other such. Just the place for getting in the spirit of things.
Cambridge Chemists (7?th Ave, off Madison Ave)
This is an old fashioned pharmacy with dark wood paneling and glass cabinets. They sell the usual druggist things and have good prices on skin care products like Cellex-C. They also sell oddball things like a New York City nerve tonic and homeopathic jet lag cures.
Pasteur Pharmacy (Lexington Ave, near 6?th St)
This is one of a chain of jam packed little pharmacies with special emphasis on beauty and hair care products. Check out the Frizz-Ease, regular or super. Look over the candy colored lipsticks before they show up at Saks. Just be careful walking the narrow aisles. Some of the products just leap off the shelves.
Barnes & Noble (6th Ave & 18th St)
A lot of nasty things have been said about this chain, but they do have good stock and good prices. We particularly liked their record finder. They even had the CD we were looking forClosed on Account of Rabies. They also have coffee and bathrooms.
Store of Knowledge (1091 3rd Ave)
There are a lot of "stuff of science" stores selling science oriented and science suggested toys like chemistry sets, building kits, nature books, rubber snakes, puzzles, magic kits, and expanding sponge brains. This one is huge and has a great collection, but think twice before getting that inflatable triceratops if you have a small apartment.
Paragon Sports (16th St & Broadway)
This is one of those stores that started out with a single storefront and then metastatized to take over much of the interior of every nearby building. It is full of outdoor and sporting gear - Goretex, skis, parkas, kayaks, rackets, weights, GPS units, binoculars, sweats, and shoes. Back in the 60s they used to have a sign out front advertising Trojan and Ramses condoms, which used to be considered sporting goods. The sexual revolution is over, now, you have to go to a drug store, but Paragon is bigger and better than ever.

Stuff to See and Do

Central Park Zoo (SE corner Central Park)
This is a veritable gem of a zoo and conveniently located in midtown Manhattan. We are zoo fanatics. When we are in Sydney, we get to the Taronga Zoo to pet the echidnas and swim with the platypuses every day, at least when we are not visiting the aquarium, or, of course, eating. This zoo has a charming penguin house, some terrifying polar bears, river otters, ducks and a wonderful rain forest aviary complete with gibbons, snakes, bats and other neat critters. And birds. There is an admission fee, but it was a quiet refuge, perfect for a rainy day.
Pierpont Morgan Museum (36th St & Madison Ave)
We have passed this place numerous times, but this time we went in to see their exhibit of ancient cylinder seals. The artistic ups and downs over 1,500 years were fascinating, as was the repeated theme of various gods, goddesses and animals fighting over various carcasses. We spent most of our time poring over the seals, but we also looked over the main library and it looked just like one might expect, like a richly appointed library. We call this the "bucket of gin" effect, from the book Spy's Honor, which noted that though a man may never have seen a bucket of gin, when he gets it, it will look just the way he expected. Still, it is worth checking out the listings to see what's in the gallery.
Chelsea Market (14th St & 9th Ave)
Even if you aren't hungry it is worth dropping in to check out the space. We especially liked the fountain, suggested title, Leaky Water Main, and the salute of torches at the western entry ramp. Old brick, stone and exposed beams get old fast, but these touches take the space a bit beyond.


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