Augustine: Just as we sat down at our smallish table in the barroom at Augustine, my companion exclaimed, "I feel like I’m visiting Balthazar for the first time!" And indeed, the tulip chandeliers, decorated ceramic tiles, distressed mirrors, and Disneyfied Gallic glitz could only have come from English restaurateur Keith McNally. We’d pranced reservation-less early on a Saturday evening into the lobby of the Beekman Hotel, which has been retrofitted into Temple Court, an 1882 structure with twin spires intended as offices for the legal profession. And we nearly got misdirected to Tom Colicchio’s Fowler and Wells, on the other side of a lobby crowded with cocktail drinkers, before we were finally pointed through a wee anonymous door on the side.
The menu tries to lure you with a few high-priced entrees, including a porterhouse for two ($145), but choose judiciously and you can have your typical $75 bistro meal. We feasted on a chunky steak tartare jiggling a raw quail egg on top, and a Waldorf salad that was delicate and delicious, but meager in size. Nevertheless, it was our favorite dish of the evening. The entrees were large, of the "big and greasy" school of Anglo-French cooking, including a Calvados-flavored pork chop bedded on polenta with mushrooms and apples; and a perfectly cooked duck a l’orange of sliced breast (with leg meat in a "beggar’s purse"), the citrus flavor partly provided by orange marmalade.
"Nice to be in the restaurant of the moment," my friend noted as we threaded our way through the crowded barroom afterwards, "but I hear Fowler and Wells is better."
Momofuku Noodle Bar vs Momofuku Ssäm Bar: I ate at both Noodle Bar and Ssäm bar for brunch and dinner respectively over the weekend. To be able to do so is one of the luxuries of living in NYC. The experience reinforced my love for these places, and my continued feeling about their relevance to dining in NYC in the late 20-teens. There where clear distinctions between the experiences but my quick takeaway is that Noodle Bar is important on the national scale — it is reflective broadly of what got NYC to where it is today, and its influence can be felt throughout the city and indeed the nation. Eating at Ssäm Bar by comparison is a more avant garde exercise, perhaps divining where dining is going. Noodle Bar tells us how we got here, and Ssam Bar tells us where we are going.
That is not to say that there aren’t constant innovations at Noodle Bar. The al pastor tacos, a relatively new addition, look like Spam and taste quite the opposite. The pressed pork patty has a picante kick and full mouthfeel, spiked with the twang of a pineapple and the creamy deluge of avocado. There was also a chicken pho and a Momofuku ramen at play, both pleasing.
Over at Ssäm Bar I had a wonderfully mineral-rich chicken liver mouse served with earthy hen of the woods mushrooms and spiked with tart currants followed by a grilled flatiron served rare and sliced into delicate slivers. The flatiron is a steak cut from the chuck primal and has a tenderness that rivals filet but with a much beefier flavor. Paired with a dense mole and dusted with queso fresco, it was not as evocative of Mexico as one might have imagined. It tasted like New York cooking. Or possibly the New York cooking of the near future. — Nick Solares
Barano: Would you like to eat a weekend lunch (or as some would prefer to call it, brunch) at a restaurant that is not very crowded, not very loud? A restaurant that's easy on the eyes, with food made in a wood burning oven? How about one with highly excellent, somewhat unusual, not at all pandering-to-bruncher dishes like a basket of fried rabbit with biscuits or a giant cast iron pot of grains and vegetables and eggs and preserved tuna? Also: pasta, pizza, good wine, and mortadella hash. Go to Barano. It is very wonderful. — Amanda Kludt
Ando: An editor was in the office from out of town, so we decided to do a big group order of Ando for lunch. When you come to town, you gotta try the new David Chang stuff, right? We ambitiously ordered cheesesteak egg rolls, regular egg rolls, chicken curry, a green bowl, and four boxes of chicken tenders. Unlike Ryan Sutton, I’ve enjoyed many of my Ando experiences, but I had to agree with him on this round.
First, I couldn’t order at all, and the app didn’t give me an ETA on when they’d start taking orders again. Then when I could log in, I couldn’t order everything I wanted, and the app once again wouldn’t tell me know how long it would be before certain dishes would be available. (I get it, it’s cooking, but how long will it take? Maybe I’d wait!) Once the food arrived, the chicken tenders and the curry were at a tepid, unappealing temperature. It made the meal feel sad. The only bright spot was the cheesesteak egg rolls, an experimental dish that was surprisingly delightful. Still, overall, Ando obviously still has kinks to work out. I complained about the temperature in my review and got a $10 credit, but to be honest, I’m not clamoring to use it. — Serena Dai
The Wild Son: I was sad to see Seamus Mullen’s El Colmado Butchery close, but am heartened that the space will live on as The Wild Son from the team behind East Village cocktail lounges here The Wayland and Goodnight Sonny. At least we have some local restaurateurs operating the space, rather than a Starbucks or some such thing moving in. The conceit at The Wild Son is food with a healthy bent, but I deftly managed to navigate the menu to avoid too much veg, and managed to get my fill of meat. To start, a carb heavy dose of excellent home-baked breads and butter. Everyone was in an uproar when David Chang started charging for bread at Momofuku Ssäm Bar years ago, but it turns out that if you treat bread with the same deference as the rest of the meal it elevates the experience. To wit, you get what you pay for.
Next up, a platter of shredded lamb breast served in lettuce cups with a cilantro tinged radish slaw and za’atar yogurt for lubrication. I considered this a salad even though it was mostly delicious, tender ribbons of lamb. To finish, I went with a boneless beef short rib ($32) that was served sliced like a steak alongside a chicory slaw and crisp, fried fingerlings with a tallegio creme. It was worth the price of admission but I noticed that it is no longer on the menu so I won’t waste our time with further discussion. Suffice it to say that The Wild Son may be orientated toward healthy eating, but even I can enjoy a meal there. — Nick Solares
Taco Mahal: One wall is covered with a colorful mural depicting not only Gandhi and Ganesha, but Frida Kahlo and Pancho Villa. Taco Mahal is the latest attempt to repackage Indian cuisine for the fast-food market, using roti and naan in place of soft tortillas and taco shells to make Indian tacos. (The approach is similar to Goa Taco, only the wrapper is different.) The fillings tend to be northern Indian standards like chicken curry and lamb kebab, though a vegetarian choice or two is available. The roti tacos are the most satisfying, and the lowest priced, too, while the naan tacos are perhaps a bit too doughy. An interesting concept intended to give kati rolls a run for their money, near the corner of Bleecker and Seventh Avenue South. — Robert Sietsema
Augustine: The bar was completely mobbed, the space was absolutely gorgeous, and the food was totally … fine. I would go all the time if I lived and worked there but won’t be a McNally destination for me à la Minetta. — Amanda Kludt
Brooklyn Star: I paid a brunch time visit to Brooklyn Star, a restaurant I haven’t been to since it opened in 2009. I liked it back then, but for whatever reason never made it back. I found a restaurant that has matured nicely into a neighborhood standard, offering straightforward Southern inspired cooking with the requisite friendly hospitality. Highly competent fried chicken — crisp, tangy crust; supple, juicy innards — and citrus tinged waffles make for an easy recommendation. The dish comes with a half grapefruit brûlée, which I couldn’t stop eating, and I hate grapefruit. The biscuits and gravy were good enough — the gravy had a nice peppery punch, but could have used a little more sausage meat. The biscuits, redolent with buttermilk, have great flavor but are perhaps denser and less fluffy than I prefer. But they are small quibbles. The prices are reasonable by NYC standards and the service is pleasantly friendly. — Nick Solares
Boucherie: It’s a beautiful, charming restaurant, and with 320 seats, it’s a place where you can feel comfortable bringing a particularly large group. I went on the first night, so maybe they haven’t worked everything out yet, but man, the food was pretty mediocre. Besides an escargot appetizer, everything was only okay. A couple different cuts of steaks, of which I stole bites from fellow diners, needed to be chewed for far too long. A confit deg leg was cooked pretty well, but the potatoes it came with were labeled "truffle" and instead were bland. Also, I am not opposed to paying a premium for quality food, but you’re really charging $54 for a plate of like five very small slices of cheese and a smear of honey? It looked ludicrous. Anyway, who knows, maybe Boucherie will do a killing in the West Village. It looks romantic enough, even if the food’s not destination worthy. — Serena Dai
Live Bait: My recent trip to New Orleans included many new dishes but none more profound in my mind than char-grilled oysters at Felix Oyster House. For whatever reason, I had never sampled this delicacy before but found myself enthralled. This explains how I ended up at Live Bait looking for said dish on a blustery night, and how I came to order grilled oysters, which I hoped would be the same thing. To put my disappointment in perspective, let me describe the dish such as it exists at Felix and other points in NOLA: Fist-sized oysters on the half shell are served under a canopy of burnished breadcrumbs in a moat of molten, bubbling butter that sputters and hisses angrily. The flavor is at first that of garlic, toasted parmesan, and butter spiked with lemon, but then the brininess and smokiness of the oyster takes over. Here is what I was served at Live Bait: half a dozen smallish oysters that looked boiled rather than grilled, and on top was strewn diced scallions and chopped up bacon. There was no sizzle, just dull, grey oysters with little flavor and an unnecessary garnish that only heightened the disappointment. — Nick Solares
Top photo: Augustine by Solares