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Eaters’ Journal, 10/29/16: Harold’s Meat + Three, Flora Bar, Blanca, Otto, and More

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

Harold’s Meat + Three: Anyone who’s traveled in the rural Deep South will remember the type of dining institution fondly: a "meat and three" is a cheap ma-and-pa cafe usually located on the town square, providing one-plate meals that include a main dish with three generous sides, so that a typical meal might be meatloaf or fried chicken with mashed potatoes, cole slaw, and blackeyed peas. Pie is extra. Harold’s is the second place in New York City to evoke this sainted Southern institution (the first was Mr. Donahue’s). Despite misgivings about the luxury trappings of the place and the effete-for-the genre menu, a friend and I had a very good first meal there.

The dining room is jumbled on a couple of levels, and there’s an outdoor space that will swing into action come next summer. An open kitchen with a wood-burning oven is visible at the end of the room, and tables of varying sizes are scattered in several semi-private nooks. In form if not in price, Harold’s manages to stay true to the meat and three, providing a choice of three sides to go with every entrée. The chicken and dumplings was superb, a low flat bowl of pulled chicken, cubed carrots, and fleecy dumplings; the prime rib carved tableside was good, too, though this cut of meat generally falls outside the genre’s territory. The choice of sides ran to 22; some were down-home Southern (grits), while others were distinctively French (green beans almondine). My friend and I finished up with a generous piece of coconut cake and left very full and happy. Dinner for two, with tax and tip: $163. — Robert Sietsema

Dizengoff Dinner: As a fan of Michael Solomonov's Philly restaurant Zahav, I figured the food would be solid at his new prix fixe dinner at Chelsea Market hummus counter Dizengoff. But I was skeptical about how enjoyable a nice dinner could be (especially one that involved me paying a babysitter) in that setting — a counter in a corner of a tourist-laden mall. As is often the case, I was wrong to doubt. Not only is the food fantastic and very reminiscent of Zahav (Philly I'm never coming back), but it's a crazy deal at $45 (including tax and tip) for all the salatim plus a hunk of lamb plus hummus plus Turkish coffee panna cotta plus pâte de fruit to take home plus $25 pairings. I am rarely a fan of a chef importing another city's concept into New York, but I'll take all the Solomonov concepts I can get. Amanda Kludt

Otto: Otto's one of those totally serviceable, surprisingly accommodating, and actually affordable Italian restaurants that perhaps I should be suggesting more often for group dinners. The wine list is long and priced well, and the healthily portioned pastas seem like a bargain at $12 a pop. (But, you know, maybe I'm used to only going to places where pastas cost like $18 to $25 for tiny, tasting sizes. This is the scourge of the NYC dining scene.) The food's certainly not perfect — my bucatini was overly sauced, and two at my table had pasta that was way undercooked — but it didn't reach the level of offensive. I ate it all. For a chill group dinner with a few friends, it's not a bad pick, especially since you can easily nab a primetime reservation. It's easy; it's fun. And even if it's a night when there are a few more misses than hits for food, at least you can end the meal on a positive note — the olive oil gelato will always be outstanding. Serena Dai

Flora Bar: On a rainy night earlier this week I landed a late reservation at Flora Bar, the new Upper East Side restaurant that took over a cafe inside what is now the Met Breuer. Though it's in the basement of the museum, the restaurant occupies a grand space with double high ceilings and windows that reflect the light from the foyer's iconic overhead lamps. Get a bottle of wine. Get the stracciatella di bufala, which lies atop crunchy bits of fennel and meyer lemon zest, and under a small puddle of grassy olive oil. Get the Caesar, even though (sacrilegiously!) it contains no anchovy. Get the steak, with its holy slick of bernaise and side of beets that have been roasted for so long they taste candied. Bring a good friend, a colleague, or a hot date. Finally — and I never, ever say this — but after trying all of the desserts on the menu, until the kitchen changes the dessert offerings, skip dessert. It's the only course at Flora that Thomas Carter and Ignacio Mattos have not yet perfected. If history is any indication, I trust they'll get it right soon enough. — Daniela Galarza

Joe’s Pizza versus Artichoke Basille: My go-to neighborhood slice is Joe’s Pizza in the East Village. It is a study in simplicity — a thin, pliant crust with just the right amount of crunch, a vibrant, slightly sweet sauce, a blanket of molten low moisture mozzarella. Everything is in proportion and balance. And it costs $2.75. Certainly more than $1 pizza, but Joe’s Pizza is the genuine article, reflecting a long tradition of from-scratch pizza making. Recently I ate a slice that was so completely satisfying that it made me wonder why anyone would eat at any other pizzeria in the immediate area. To find out I marched down to Artichoke Basille Pizza and ordered a slice of their Margarita. It cost $4.75, but to be fair it probably weight almost as much as two slices of Joe’s Pizza.

The slice is clearly inspired by DiFara, the vaunted Brooklyn pizzeria. But it comes off as more of a parody, so bloated and inelegant are the proportions. The crust, which seems designed to bear the soupy, goopy mass of the pizzeria's signature slice (it is seemingly inspired by artichoke-spinach dip), is dense and unyielding. The bottom becomes so burnished that it adds an unwelcome acridity. This trait actually works on Artichoke’s Sicilian slice that basically fries in oil in the pan and evokes pepperoni in its richness. But the regular pie, which is thinner, comes off as leaden.

And the deluge of topping is almost comical, although it must be said that they are all of a high quality: the aged mozzarella is buttressed with hunks of Parmigiano Reggiano during cooking and the pies are finished with a flurry of Pecorino Romano when they emerge from the oven. The chunky sauce has good bite and acidity, with just a hint of sweetness, but it gets overshadowed by the slurry of cheese and sourness frpm the char. Everything about the slice is over the top — it is too tangy, too acidic, and just too unwieldy to handle comfortably. It would not pass the Tony Manero test. It is the sort of thing you regret eating while you are eating it. I left Artichoke no closer to answering why anyone would eat somewhere other than Joe’s, at least for a regular slice of pizza, and also too full to continue my research. Nick Solares

Blanca: I was expecting Blanca to have its own brand of hip pretentiousness... and I was totally wrong. The 20 course tasting menu restaurant, tucked behind Roberta's, is really really fun and doesn't take itself too seriously. The food I had was all great, especially the pastas. A perfect plate of tagliatelle came with a big piece of sea urchin, refreshingly stashed underneath the noodles, as if to hide from Instagram. To nitpick: the desserts were not as consistent as the rest of the food, and what I thought would be the climax of the meal (a massive slab of wagyu that I watched being basted from the moment I sat down), ended up being only the size of a single row of a Rubik's cube, by the time it made it to my plate. Also, the bread course is just Roberts's pizza dough and sour butter and it's simple and the best. — Daniel Geneen, Eater Upsell Associate Producer/Editor

Olmsted: Olmsted has been praised enough around these parts, so I'll keep it brief. TL;DR is everyone is right. It's wonderful. It's Blue Hill Lite. It's magic in a tiny box. The service, the food, the garden for starting and ending your meal, the crayfish in the bathtub by the garden entrance and the quails in the back corner cage, the super affordable wine, the plates. I looked up apartments on Trulia nearby when I got home. Amanda Kludt

Fifty: Fifty is a neighborhood restaurant. It sits on the curve of the very lovely Commerce Street, capturing the street's peacefulness. The staff is so kind, and excited about any dish you inquire about. I was excited about the mini lobster rolls on a recent night, which are served on housemade brioche. It's a butter bomb, but in a glorious way. The flan for dessert is nearly as good as my abuela's, who, luckily, does not read Eater. Patty Diez

Hail Mary: I went to Hail Mary for a friend's birthday last weekend and had what might be the best birthday cake of my life. Buttery vanilla, great sprinkles, perfect icing. The restaurant (in Greenpoint) also does a grilled cheese sandwich with housemade American cheese that approximates the processed real deal but also actually tastes good. Really good.Sonia Chopra

Le Coucou: For the most part the breakfast offerings are a bit richer than I'd like (pastries, meats, clafoutis, egg dishes) and the avocado toast (also an egg dish) tastes overly vinegared. That said, I have very aggressively added the restaurant into my breakfast meeting rotation over the past three months because I can think of a no more glamorous a way start to the morning than having a bowl of fruit in coconut milk topped with lime zest in that dining room with its high ceilings, lush banquettes, and chandeliers. The servers are actually nice to you and want very much to get you coffee. The milk is steamed. Sugar comes in a china bowl with golden tongs. The Aesop soap with the pumice in the bathroom is so luxurious I went out and bought some for my apartment. Amanda Kludt

Honest Chops: This hamburger stand on MacDougal’s cheap eats strip is the outgrowth of a butcher shop in the East Village, offering the usual organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed ground product, but with one slight difference: the meat is also halal certified. Does this make any difference? Well, not really, except perhaps in price. A single burger is offered, about the size of 5 Guys’, and it costs $9.50, plus another 50 cents if you want cheese. The burger is fine, but the staff routinely cooks it to medium well-done, leaving the meat dry, though the assemblage is partly redeemed by the lettuce, tomato, and raw onion. Why doesn’t the place offer a medium rare option, especially with the pedigree of the beef? Not sure, but the burger would taste better if it did. The French fries, however, were fantastic. — Robert Sietsema

Rebelle: Rebelle on the Bowery has been serving brunch for a while now, but only recently have pastry chef Melissa Weller's standout sweets been a part of it. Weller is probably best known for her sticky buns (which are the legacy she left behind at Roberta's and Sadelle's), but her overall pastry prowess has always impressed me. And the four items on offer now at Rebelle do not disappoint. There's a deep, dark double chocolate croissant (chocolate dough is stuffed with chocolate!); a croque monsieur croissant; a double baked pistachio-cherry croissant; and an apple pie-like chausson aux pommes (apple turnover) that's filled with extremely fresh apples cooked with a small bit of sugar just to tease out the fruit's natural sweet-tart flavor. Get one of each (for $18) or you might regret it when Weller moves on to her next project. — Daniela Galarza

Perla Cafe: I had a lovely solo dinner at the bar at Perla on a blustery early fall evening. To start things off, a plate of paper-thin porchetta seasoned with thyme and mustard seed, along with delicate slivers of pickled onion, all doused in olive oil. It had a great porky flavor and a lush mouthfeel, nicely complemented by the sweetness from the onions and tang from the mustard. I would tell you more about the fettuccini all’ amatriciana I also enjoyed except that it has disappeared from the menu, replaced by a lamb ragu. Suffice it to say that the textbook sauce was spot on and the house-made pasta perfectly floppy with just a slight hint of firmness. I may or may not have also eaten a green salad. The meal was everything I could have hoped for. But perhaps what impressed me most was Gabe Stulman’s knack for hospitality. He was working the maitre d' station on the night and no one either came nor went from the restaurant without being engaged — guests entering the restaurant are warmly greeted, departing diners profusely thanked, belligerent drunks politely barred. Nick Solares

Flora Bar: Forg​e​t what you'd expect walking into a museum restaurant on the UES. Flora feels like a quiet downtown restaurant, just with incredibly high ceilings. The easy winner was the stracciatella, and this from someone who "doesn't eat cheese." It's served with Meyer lemon, fennel, and all the bread the staff can bring you (shoutout to Edwin). Other dishes I will be going back for are the Caesar salad (I know I know), ​a near-perfect steak, and the crème brûlée​. ​If you're in the area go here, and if you're not, too. Patty Diez

Dominique Ansel Kitchen: I had a disappointingly icy cone of burrata ice cream at the soft serve window at Dominique Ansel Kitchen. The burrata flavor failed to shine through, and the inclusion and placement of the microbasil was a little (a lot?) twee for my liking. I ate every last bit of it, so I could reach the hard chocolate at the bottom, which was a nice though ultimately sad consolation prize. It was $7. Amanda Kludt

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