Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Come for the beer, stay for at Manny's on Second

Last Saturday night, I found myself at Manny's on Second (formerly the UES location of wings powerhouse Blondies) for the big UFC fight taking place that evening. AV's a fan, and we convened with DP, friend and guest star for the evening, for a night of ass kicking, beer drinking, and appetizer eating.

The ass kicking (on-screen, at least) certainly did take place. A few beers were consumed successfully as well. But the appetizer eating? Ahh, that's where things hit a rough spot.

AV and DP started with an order of mozzarella sticks. Pretty much every bar in NYC serves the same mozzarella sticks-- they come frozen, you pop 'em in the deep fryer until they're hot, you serve 'em with some marinara, everybody wins. Except us, at Manny's. Instead of frying them until they're hot, Manny's chose to take the unusual tactic of serving their sticks at none other than room temperature. There wasn't a wisp of steam in the vicinity. The six sad, sorry sticks sat on the plate wallowing in their tepidness; one bite from AV confirmed that the cheese inside wasn't even close to melted. Everybody knows there's no point to mozzarella sticks unless the cheese has melted to that perfect molten point where every bite produces a classic Caramello moment (yeah, you know what I'm talkin' about). So basically, epic fail, and while we're at at, if you're going to serve awful mozzarella sticks, at least serve a lot of them. Six to an order? Really?


Slightly more successful were the wings. An order of ten wings, medium-spicy, came bathed in sauce and accompanied by some clearly fresh carrot and celery sticks. The tiny, tiny little cup of blue cheese sauce wasn't even close to cutting it, but repeated requests for more brought out some more tiny cups. As the wings dwindled, the pile of balled-up napkins on the table grew. DP ruled that Manny's puts out a "solid wing," and AV confirmed that Manny's wings aren't quite as good as Blondies' were, but they're still not bad.


Rest assured a fine time was had by all, regardless of certain food failures. The fights blared on the many flat screens, and during the downtime we were entertained by a group of post-grads who had clearly been playing beirut since around noon that day and were thus, at 10PM, in rare form, as well as a thirty-something couple and their infant in a large stroller (really). So we'll probably be back to Manny's at some point, but it'll be for the drinks and the company, not for the food.

Manny's on Second
1770 Second Avenue, between 92nd and 93rd Streets

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Momofuku Milk Bar disappoints

One of the large gaps in my collective NYC food experience is a meal at any part of the Momofuku empire. Given that pretty much all of Dave Chang's food has pork in it, I've found it hard to psych myself up to go to a restaurant where I'd eat...nothing. But all that changed when he opened Momofuku Milk Bar, a dessert destination in the East Village. It opened a while ago and I hadn't yet been-- shameful. This weekend, I was determined to change all that.

I dragged AV there on a dispiritingly chilly Saturday afternoon, and we purchased a couple treats for later. While we were there, we tasted two of their soft serve flavors: cream cheese frosting and red velvet cake. The cream cheese tasted pretty much like innocuous vanilla, with a bit of a cream cheese bite on the aftertaste. The red velvet cake was stronger in all sense of the world-- tastier, chocolatey, spiced somehow.

The lucky peach box is promising...

Fast forward a few hours to after dinner. AV dove into the compost cookie, and it was-- okay. A relatively large cookie, it was impossibly rich, and the tiny bite I took tasted much like any competent chocolate chip cookie. Not worth the trip or the copious stomach space.

Heavy, heavy cookie

My slice of candy bar pie was far less successful. It sounds great: chocolate cookie crust, caramel, Reese's-esque peanut butter filling, and a layer of chocolate on top. But pretty much none of those components succeeded. The cookie crust was alarmingly salty with no sweet chocolate taste-- it tasted, on balance, like salty sand. The caramel was gelatinous and thin, with a slightly chemical flavor. The peanut butter/chocolate glaze layer was the best element of the pie, but it was still nowhere near the level of Reese's mastery. After making it through about 3/4 of the slice, I felt sick. The pie was well conceived but surprisingly poorly executed.


So there you have it. Both of us were truly disappointed, me especially so given all the glowing reviews I've seen of the place. Did we come on an off night? Is it worth another try? Given that our two relatively small treats approached $8 together, I don't think I'm going to spend the money to find out. While some people may return time and again for the soft serve, I'd counsel you to skip Momofuku Milk Bar altogether.

Momofuku Milk Bar
207 2nd Avenue, at 13th Street

Monday, March 29, 2010

Small plates and big wine at L'Artusi

Usually those miserably rainy, truly soaking days like the ones we had last week encourage me to stay inside, even if there are tempting things to do out in the world. But even last Monday's Noah's-ark-style deluge couldn't keep me from venturing down to the West Village to meet my former employers, M and W, for a long-overdue celebratory dinner at L'Artusi.

My soggy self found them sitting at the bar (at really comfortable chairs, mind you, extra points there) having a drink; we were soon shown to our table right opposite the bar to get the food started. We didn't get to venture very far into the deceptively large space-- there were more tables on the main level opposite the open kitchen, as well as a whole upper level packed with diners. The decor was modern but unobtrusive, and the place was buzzing but not deafening. Truly comfortable overall.

After a relatively involved ordering process, we began to taste the fruits of our labor, beginning with the bread. We had already started on the wine, a delicious crisp and full white from J. Hofstatter in the Alto Adige region of Italy, so I needed at least something to start sopping it up in my empty stomach. The bread, a relatively unobtrusive flour-dusted white loaf, did nicely, primarily as a vehicle for the intensely herbal and spicy olive oil.

Bread to begin

And then a round of small plates began to land. The crudo started things off-- I believe M and W had gone with the scallops. I abstained, but they devoured the delicate slices of fish.

Almost translucent

Then we were on to some vegetables. First up: sweet, rustic beets with a surprisingly rich and creamy yogurt sauce, all offset by peppery watercress.

Buried beets

Then, my main attraction: butter lettuce with an assertive dressing, accompanied by hazelnuts and bits of olives. This was truly, truly delicious and about as hearty as a plate of mostly lettuce can get.

Usually topped with gorgonzola, but I declined-- it was plenty rich anyway!

On to the pastas. M and W shared the delectable pici, a tangle of thick noodles bound with a lamb ragu and showered with pecorino.

This portion was actually smaller than it looks here

They also dove into the grilled octopus, which came German-potato-salad-style with potatoes, olives, and pancetta. When the runner placed the dish on our table, he stated that "the chef recommends you squeeze the lemon on top." Oh really? Then we shall! (Ahem.)

Tentacles 'n' taters

We then attached the dutiful green veggie, a side of vibrant broccoli rabe flavored with garlic and chiles.


And finally, perhaps the sleeper hit of the evening: the unassumingly titled "Mushroom Ragu." This was an almost stew-like concoction of creamy polenta topped with lovingly caramelized mushrooms, which themselves bore a jaunty dollop of robiolina cheese. Take a scoop of polenta and mushrooms, swirl in the cheese, and you have yourself a bite of the most decadent, stomach-filling Cream of Wheat possible. If you're a vegetarian in search of comfort food, you've found your holy grail.


Phew. You'd think by this point we would have been slumped over, clutching our stomachs, but no! We were ready for dessert. (Note: This go-get-'em attitude was aided by a second bottle of wine, a robust ruby-colored red that I completely forget the name of.) M chose the olive oil cake with raisin marmaletta, vin santo, and creme fraiche mousse. I stole a tiny bite when he was distracted, and the cake was incredibly delicate and tightly-crumbed in the manner only olive oil cakes truly achieve. The wine-soaked raisins were a boozy treat.

A generous wedge

W and I went straight for the caramelized pineapple sundae, anchored with coconut gelato, topped with coconut mousse, and studded with chunks of almond cake and a piece of almond brittle. This was a hot (cold?) mess in the best way possible. I love coconut sorbet or ice cream, and this coconut gelato was mild and silky-smooth. The coconut mousse sat like a marshmallow beret on top of the ice cream, pierced with a triangle of almond brittle. The chunks of stewed pineapple and the pieces of delectable almond cake provided necessary textural contrast. And needless to say the whole thing was gone in under 2 minutes.

Went down like water

Phew. By the time we had finished and stepped out into the world, it was pouring in earnest, but I didn't quite feel the drenching rain as I walked to and from the subway-- I was too absorbed in my food and wine coma. I had been meaning to go to L'Artusi for quite a while, and golly I'm glad I finally went. The food and wine are incredibly thoughtful, and the ingredients are impeccably fresh. The space is appealing, and the service is solicitous if a bordering on a bit pretentious. However, it's worth noting that a blowout meal at L'Artusi can get quite expensive-- for the most part the portions are truly small, and that's coming from someone who eats tiny portions as a matter of course. If you're a hearty eater or you're coming with a group, ordering a number of small plates will cause the bill to add up rather quickly. Even with that caveat, though, L'Artusi is a solid four Offset Spatula restaurant and a fantastic destination for any lover of Italian food and wine.

228 W. 10th Street, between Bleecker and Hudson

Friday, March 26, 2010

A quick bite at le Pain Quotidien

Early afternoon on Monday found me at Le Pain Quotidien in Bryant Park, grabbing a bite with my mentor at work. As usual, the place was bustling-- loud and a bit warm and humid inside. Also as usual, the treats all looked tempting, but we managed to make some choices. A tartine with black bean hummus, avocado, and spicy tahini spread for her; a cup of berries for me. Both were fresh, tasty, and delicious.

Open faced sandwich with delightful garnishes

Berries were admirably fresh and tasty

Le Pain Quotidien

70 W. 40th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Follow me on!

Dear readers,

A bit of exciting news to report: I am now officially the Manhattan Dessert Examiner on That means I'll be reporting all the best local dessert-related news and reviews for locals and tourists visiting the site. Don't worry, I'll still be blogging on LWF&D just as often, only now you have another chance to read my sage, sage words. Dessert-related words.

Anyway, click here to visit my page. Come early and often, and as always, email me at if you have any questions or suggestions!

Yours truly,


New-restaurant jitters at Print

Here at LWF&D, as you may know, we don't do brunch very often. But AV is a fan, and so occasionally we do venture out to an eating establishment around midday on a Saturday or Sunday to see what all the fuss is about. This Sunday, we decided to check out the offerings at the newest brunch contender in town, Print at Ink48.

At least from our perspective, Print has location going for it- it's incredibly close to my place, so it's perfect for a roll-out-of-bed brunch. It's also a serene place to be: the designers of the restaurant did a great job with the furnishings, from a large wooden communal table to live floral accents to chic metal chain-link curtains. Low leather banquettes dividing the room were comfortable; wicker chairs were adequately spacious and supportive. Oh, and the ceramics-- mentioned by name on Print's menu-- were actually quite beautiful.

Service-wise, Print is still getting its sea legs. The place was fairly empty when we ate, so there seemed to be too many runners for their own good-- a water-filler came by approximately once every five minutes; one runner came by with an extra serving of toast just as AV had received his first (ample) plate, looking determined to wedge it onto our crowded table before AV suggested it might not be destined for our table.

But how was the food? Well, the meal started out with two tiny baguettes accompanied by a small block of butter decorated with grains of sea salt. AV approved the bread, which is always a good way to start a Sunday morning.

Bread in a bed

For an entree, AV chose the two eggs any style with roasted potatoes, toast, and sausage. The aforementioned toast was ample and multi-grain, so extra points are awarded for that. The remainder of the food, AV said, was serviceable-- not blow-me-away delicious, but not bad. He did have to request ketchup, salt, and pepper, but once asked for, they were all brought over promptly.

A hearty breakfast

Needless to say, we didn't need four MORE pieces of toast...

I decided to go straight for the liquid lunch and order a green tea. What arrived was a Bodum french press full of perhaps the most delicious tea I've ever had. It was delicate and fragrant and decidedly lovely. Upon inquiry, it was revealed that it was Mighty Leaf tropical green, which may well be my new favorite tea.

A perfect cuppa

On balance, it was an exceedingly pleasant brunch. Everyone was polite and friendly, if still a little sure of themselves. The food was neither astonishingly good nor prohibitively bad. But there are two gripes worth mentioning: first, AV and I found not one but two hairs decorating our plates (one on the toast plate, one in my teacup), which doesn't gross us out disproportionately but should be a red flag to the non-headcovering-wearers in the kitchen and service staff. Secondly, when the bill arrived, my tea was $7. Yes, you read that right, SEVEN DOLLARS. That may well be the most expensive tea I've yet encountered in the city. I know that Mighty Leaf is on the expensive side, but $7 was more than the fruit salad I was considering ordering; I had naively assumed the tea would be less expensive. Especially for brunch, where hot beverages like coffee and tea are de rigeur, it's unfair to price gouge like that. Print, you're still young, so there's time to make amends. Lower your prices-- on tea and on food-- and you'll stand a chance of upgrading your current status from a shaky three Offset Spatula spot to a four spat destination.

653 11th Avenue, at 48th Street

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Keste continues the pizza perfection

An unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon last weekend found AV and me wandering around the West Village like two caged prisoners recently given parole. Sunshine? Warmth? What IS this? We walked around just soaking up the New York-ness of the scene and enjoying the day until, finally, we got hungry. Coincidentally, we were just in the neighborhood of Keste, another of the city's new guard of extraordinary pizza establishments. In the interest of continuing AV's pizza education, we slipped in early enough to avoid a line and prepared ourselves for some delicious pie.

The restaurant itself is pretty nondescript, with no real decor scheme to speak of other than "small." The tables are squeezed together, but the front windows of the space were open to the delightful elements, lending a bit of a sense of roominess to the whole affair. Also worth noting is the fact that the bathroom is surprisingly clean and modern, for what it's worth.

We placed our order with the incredibly affable server (who potentially could have been a manager or owner-- he just seemed to have that way about him), and very shortly our food began to land. I chose the arugula, tomato, and parmesan salad, and it was pretty much as good a version as one could ask for. There were cherry tomatoes of three colors cut into small disks, a light vinaigrette, and a shower of thick parmesan shavings drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette. The whole thing was simple, fresh, and a pure delight.

Delicious, delicious parm

AV's pizza arrived straight from the oven, bubbling hot and blistered. He had ordered the quattro formaggi, which he hadn't realized didn't have tomato sauce. Once he adjusted to the concept, however, he was incredibly happy with his choice. The four cheeses--buffalo mozz, gran cru, caciocavello, and parmesan-- actually had distinct tastes, especially the parmesan. And the crust was a dream, chewy and light despite being a bit over-charred in places. On the plus side, the char did enable AV to have a bit of bubble-wrap fun in poking out the brittle carbony bits before putting the leftover slices in a thoughtfully-provided small take-home box.

See that? Char.

Upskirt-- also char

After our meal, we took a leisurely walk to the Hudson River and then doubled back to grab some frozen yogurt next door from Keste, which I didn't photograph because I gobbled it down too quickly. But back to pizza-- Keste was spectacular. Perhaps not QUITE as incredible as Motorino, but that's splitting hairs. Keste is a four Offset Spatula destination worth waiting in line for. For a relatively inexpensive dinner ($30 for both of us together, including tip), among the best you can get.

271 Bleecker Street

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

At Nolita House, enjoy the soundtrack but skip the food

Friday night was the long-awaited moment when the girls and I finally got together with KVK, a friend from our office's LA location. I chose Nolita House for the scene of the crime, since it was relatively convenient to the apartments of my three downtown companions

I arrived first and immediately noted that this place was LOUD. And I mean you-know-you're-going-to-be-yelling-the-entire-night loud. And rest assured we were-- once we had finally convinced the hostesses that our party of three (soon to be four) was worthy of being seated before our fourth arrived (yes we'd order! Yes we'd start eating!). We were seated in a table in the back, wedged in so tightly with the other tables in the tiny space that we all kept elbowing people at other tables throughout the evening.

But what about the food? SL and KVK put in an order for a couple of apps while we sipped our drinks, SL a prosecco, KVK a beer, and me a glass of tempranillo/garnacha that was suitably light, fruity, and easy-drinking. AC arrived right when the apps did, and they dug in. The verdict was that the artichoke dip was a winner, but the mac and cheese spring rolls weren't worth a second bite. While the apps were passed around, we all dug into the complimentary mini-loaf pan packed full of tiny, addictive, and unabashedly greasy potato chips. Yum.

Toasted cheese crumbles on top?

Fried cheese and carbs. Healthy.

Have some chips!

We finally placed our entree order, and even though the place is a pretty tiny restaurant, it took a notably long time for the plates to arrive. When they did, the results were mixed. AC and SL were relatively happy with their tacos, which came with some generic-looking Mexican sides and condiments.

Chicken 'n' guac

Anemic rice & beans

But KVK wasn't thrilled with his Penne of Mulberry, which he chose with chicken (you can also get it with sausage). He took a few bites and left the rest.

Looks more interesting than it was

My choice was probably the stealth winner of the night-- I simply ordered one cheese from their cheese list. At only $5, my plate of brebirousse d'argental was a true bargain. It was a huge wedge of cheese accompanied by a few afterthought garnishes (undressed mesclun, three dried apricots, a half dozen dry craisins). The flatbread, the same vehicle that was supplied alongside the artichoke dip, was ample but surprisingly bad-- dry and crumbly and flavorless, somewhat stale-tasting, basically lacking any redeeming qualities whatsoever. But the cheese itself was deliciously creamy and soft. I was happy with that choice.

Chunk o' yummy cheese

So Nolita House presents a true Offset Spatula rating dilemma. Did we have fun? Yes. Was it reasonably priced? Quite. Was the food good? On balance, no. Was the service good? Definitely no. But-- and this is a big but-- what would keep me coming back to Nolita House was the music. Yes, I noted it was incredibly loud, but it had by far and away the best bar soundtrack I've ever heard. Let's just say they had me at Jesse's Girl. Turns out the mix was simply the bartender's iPod, and the place turns into a dance party after 11ish. That's certainly worth remembering. Which brings me to my final recommendation: Nolita House gets two Offset Spatulas, but if you go, don't go for dinner. Come after 11 for some reasonably priced drinks and some sick beats.

Nolita House
47 East Houston Street, between Mott and Mulberry

Monday, March 22, 2010

Pre-theater bites at Pigalle

On Tuesday, my lovely father treated me to a night on the town, which in NYC-speak involves dinner and a show. We had 7PM tickets to A Little Night Music, so we needed something light and quick beforehand. Around the corner from the Walter Kerr theater was Pigalle, and so off we went.

Neither of us was that hungry, but we were in for a 3-plus hour show, so we needed to fill our stomachs. I largely bypassed the bread basket, which is one of the charms of Pigalle, and settled instead for a caramelized pear salad, minus the forme d'ambert cheese. The base was a small pile of acceptably fresh mesclun; there were also two halves of poached pear, plus a handful of dried cherries and a few spiced walnuts, in the salad. The dressing was purportedly a walnut vinaigrette-- it was emulsified, which I appreciate, and it added a bit of welcome flavor. I knew what I was getting here, and I wasn't disappointed. It's a solid salad.

A tangle of colors

Dad went for the burger, no cheese. The patty came with impressive grill marks, some solid-looking rabbit food, and a tangle of thin crispy fries. The most surprising thing about the burger was that it was relatively thin-- perhaps three-quarters of an inch thick, with an even width from center to edge. Since the trend in burgers in this city is towards huge, thick, monster patties that are almost spherical, it was a startling change. But regardless, Dad thoroughly enjoyed it. And then off we went to the show.

The standard presentation

For what it's worth, the production was exceedingly well done, but the show itself isn't great. The principal attraction is surely seeing Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury in the flesh, and indeed that was quite a thrill. But let's just say that after we emerged bleary-eyed from the theater after 10PM, I was glad to have had dinner beforehand-- I wouldn't recommend attempting A Little Night Music on an empty stomach. For filling our bellies in perfectly standard fashion, Pigalle retains its two Offset Spatula rating. If you want a quick pre-theater meal, it'll do the trick.

790 Eighth Avenue, at 48th Street