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Eaters’ Journal 10/15/16: Tad’s Steaks, Mimi, Emilio’s Ballato, Balaboosta, and More

Field notes from Eater editors about recent meals around New York City

Mimi: Everyone and their mom has been going nuts about Mimi, and I finally made it a point to go last week. French food is not my favorite kind of cuisine, which works out, because Mimi is not really that French. Every dish seems to embody a genre of its own, with a mixture of tropical fruits and butter and raw fish in combinations that I’ve never tried them before. It’s easy to see why this place has attracted the likes of critics — nearly everything I tried was interesting, creative, and incredibly ambitious. It’s here where I note that the chef is a 25-year-old woman, a fact that increased my enjoyment of the meal. (So sue me. I like ambitious women.)

I’ve heard that Mimi’s not consistent yet, but luckily, execution was on point when I went. Scallops were the stand out, a delight from the very first bite. They were perfectly cooked, and the flavors wrapped around the inside of my mouth, exploring and filling each corner until I swallowed. A moist chocolate tart similarly enveloped my mouth without weighing it down the way undercooked brownies sometimes do. Rich, not heavy.

But sometimes the unusualness went over the edge just a bit. A dish with paw paw and uni did not need to be as big as it was. Each bite introduced flavors and textures that I felt like I’d never experienced before — and by the third or fourth bite, I did not need to experience them ever again. It was too much, interesting but not delicious. Serena Dai

Emilio’s Ballato: Six things that went wrong during my dinner at Emilio's Ballato earlier this week:

1. I'll forgive them for offering a 7 p.m. walk-in party of two the cramped table by the door, but not for ultimately seating us next to storage boxes and under an active AC vent on a 55F night.

2. When my friend ordered a very good bottle of wine they brought out dirty wine glasses to serve it in. And when we asked for new glasses the server argued that the glasses weren't dirty, that the spots were "just the glue from the stickers."

3. The bread here is inedible. The focaccia tastes like wonder bread with ketchup and salt on top.

4. The service continued to be atrocious throughout the night but hit a low when, in the midst of refilling our wine glasses, our server turned to look at something else and managed to tip over the water carafe, which knocked over the white wine and water glasses and, on their way to crashing onto the floor, soaked the appetizers, the table, our laps, and the floor.

5. We were offered extra napkins for the trouble, and moved to a table adjacent to the one now covered in shards of broken glass and liquid. Management frowned at the situation from a far corner but didn't say anything.

6. Our server brought out a (cloyingly sweet, almost gelatinous) square of tiramisu as an apology. We did not 1) complain to a manager, or 2) ask for anything to be taken off the bill, but I was very, very surprised when the check came and nothing had been taken off, not the spilled white wine, not the soaked and inedible appetizers.

At least the spaghetti and meatballs were good?— Daniela Galarza

Tad’s Broiled Steaks: To visit Tad’s is to wallow in both my own nostalgia and that of a proletarian Manhattan. At one time there where a string of these cafeteria-style steak joints — specializing in flame grilled steaks served with a salad, a baked potato, a glorious slab of garlic bread, and lashings of a watery "gravy"— all for bargain basement price. Onions, mushrooms, and sour cream all costs extra. Same for the wedges of pie and cups of jello in frosted goblets hermetically sealed in plastic wrap. Now only one Tad’s remains, shunted off on a Midtown side street where once the chain had prime perches on Broadway, 42nd, 34th, and 14th Streets. The neon "steak" sign that hung in the window of the latter location survived the closure of the restaurant by two decades —the pizzeria Cafe Amore that replaced it in 1990 kept it lit — even though they sold no steak — until it too was replaced a few years back by a bank.

The real estate locations were the only prime things to be found at Tad’s — the steaks themselves, then, as now, are wafer thin, and exhibit about as much marbling as chicken breast. There are prime cuts on offer, like a T-bone, and a NY strip, but it is decidedly not Prime grade beef. The only fat to be found is gristly variety that forms a tight band around the chop. "Flame" grilled on a gas powered device, Tad’s steaks exhibit little in the way of sizzle — heck, they exhibit little in the way of steak either, so svelte are the chops. But they do at least put a decent enough set of hatch marks on the exterior and cook the interior to about medium rare.

The meat, while clearly far from Prime, is still tender enough to easily pull from the bone with a fork. But don’t mistake this for a measure of quality — this is low grade beef. Slicing it thinly obviously helps. But so does culling animals young after pumping them full of corn to soften them up. From a flavor perspective, the steaks at Tad’s have an indistinct beefiness to them, a sort of waning sense of the animal, before the salt and au jus take over. But once that happens, things are thrown into sharp relief. This might not be the greatest steak ever. It might not even rightly be considered a good steak. But it is steak. And that still counts for something.

That said I can’t recommend Tad’s unless you have been there in decades past. At least then it will evoke some nostalgia. There is nothing to be gleaned otherwise. No truth about the way we used to dine, or any sort of cultural emersion. Just a relic of a distant age, a cultural oddity. Extra garlic bread, please. — Nick Solares

TsuruTonTan The crazy line and wait has apparently died down at this Japanese udon chain — perhaps because they’re finally making use of the huge amount of space they have. I went around 7:30 and immediately got a seat for one at the bar. My friend had recommended the curry noodles, so I ordered them even though I wasn’t super hungry. It was a mistake. The curry was extremely thick and heavy, and eating the dish felt kind of like a chore. I couldn’t finish. I figured I’d take it home for my friend, who’s a leftover fiend, but it turns out, the restaurant does not believe in leftovers. Feeling somewhat defeated, I paid my bill and left, half a bowl of curry udon noodles headed for the garbage.Serena Dai

Balaboosta: I’d never been to Einat Admony’s first restaurant, Balaboosta ("Perfect Hostess"), until I dropped by with a couple of friends this last weekend, one visiting from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I’d long admired the jars of pickled vegetables displayed in the windows, and the interior proved to have a familiar, homely feel about it. The menu and its arrangement suggested the dishes would be small, but that was belied by the apps when they began to arrive. A plate of fried cauliflower was reminiscent of tempura with a slightly sweetish lemon glaze, entirely satisfying, while a patatas bravas came with a nice garlic aioli, though there was nothing "bravas" about it — doesn’t that signify hot paprika?

One of the biggest treats of the evening was a ball of burrata that came pooled in tomato marmalade, but we didn’t much like a special of grilled eggplant that, though nicely darkened by flame, lay passively on the plate without much flavor. We decided to order just two entrees, which was a good idea. Both were voluminous and delectable, including a lamb burger with feta cheese inside the patty, served on a bun with caramelized onions and homemade potato chips, and a Tuscan-style chicken under a brick with Israeli couscous. The meal was enjoyable, and we vowed to come back. Robert Sietsema

Carma: So here’s what I knew before coming in: This West Village restaurant claims that its menu is a collaboration between some of the people behind Tao and the executive chef of acclaimed Taiwanese soup dumpling restaurant Din Tai Fung. (Which, huh?) It’s offered lots of coupons on sites like Groupon and Gilt City, another eyebrow raising thing. Also the phrase "Asian tapas" makes my eyes roll to the back of my head. I was skeptical. But actually, it was…. good? Two of us spent the whole meal saying "not bad! not bad," while the friend who invited us said "I told you so." We avoided the more fusion-y items and stuck with traditionally Taiwanese dishes, like the beef noodle soup, the soup dumplings, and the five spice beef appetizer. They were all delicious. The drinks were terrible and sweet, but the backyard was a lovely place to dine, and overall, it was an extremely pleasant experience. Not bad, not bad — maybe even good.Serena Dai

Shake Shack: I paid a long overdue visit to the original location of Shake Shack on a cool weekend evening. Now that the tourists have abated and the lines are more manageable (let the nifty Shackcam guide you!) the Shack is a viable option for a quick bite. I grabbed my standard order of a cheeseburger with pickles and onions and then foolishly also ordered the chicken sandwich, when I should have had another burger instead. Call it intellectual curiosity overcoming common sense. It had been almost exactly one year since Robert Sietsema and I went on mad fried chicken sandwich crawl, which was also the last time I had the Shack version.

Don’t get me wrong, the Shake Shack chicken sandwich is a perfectly fine example of a chicken sandwich (it came in sixth place in Robert and my ranking). I may prefer the one at Fuku, but chicken sandwiches are the reason I go to Fuku. I go to Shake Shack for the burger, which I still contend gives you the most value for your dollar, even more than In-N-Out Burger, the vaunted California chain against which shake Shack is now directly competing in several markets.

Speaking of Shake Shack’s rapid expansion — I can’t begin to fathom the tensions and stresses of answering to shareholders, managing over a hundred outlets across four continents, trying to keep up with consumer demands, all the while maintaining quality. I just know that I don’t want Shake Shack selling chicken sandwiches — it is a dilution of the purity of form. So let’s end on a positive note: The burger that I did eat, aside from being rather sloppily constructed — semi circles of onions jutting out, pickles folded in half, bun top askew — was nonetheless exquisite. The sort of hamburger that I marvel at while eating. — Nick Solares

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Top photo: Emilio's Ballato by Nick Solares

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