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Eaters' Journal 4/1/16: Nix, Bar Omar, Maple, Beatrice Inn, Reynard, and More

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

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Nix: I admit I ate a little leftover mutton from Keens before heading out to John Fraser’s full-on vegetarian restaurant, Nix, but as it turned out I needn’t have bothered — there are more than enough options to satisfy those looking for a rich dining experience. Take the Yukon potato fry bread for example. It is the ungodly marriage of the steakhouse baked potato and a fried calzone, heaped as it is with sour cream and chives on a crusty, buttery base. Even the fried cauliflower steamed buns provided plenty of flavor despite their relative leanness compared to, say, pork belly. I must say that I was impressed at how packed the restaurant was on a Friday night, and at how adult said crowd was — there is clearly currency in upscale vegetarian. — Solares


Bar Omar: Inspired by a related Bar Omar on the Rue de Bretagne in Paris’ 3rd Arrondissement, the décor is the spitting image of a bistro in Paris, all cane-back chairs, old salvaged mirrors, and well-worn woods in a maze-like premises with plenty of hidden nooks. The night I visited, all the patrons seemed clustered in the remote back room and most were chattering in French.

The fare is Algerian, or perhaps we should call it Algerian-French, because it tastes as much of the bistro as of the Maghreb, which may be slightly disappointing if you’ve ever been to North Africa. The tajine tried might just as well have been a plain chicken stew but it was delicious nonetheless. The biggest triumph of the evening was a brik — a warka-wrapped empanada with a runny egg that bursts open when you bite into the pastry. You figure out how they do it! — Sietsema


Here is a Look at Missy Robbins' Lilia, Opening Tonight in Brooklyn

[Lilia by Nick Solares]

Lilia — Literally everybody I know who’s gone to Lilia has loved it. RAVED about it, even — and this was before the Pete Wells three-star review. I was thrilled when I nabbed a Friday night reservation. So I was extremely disappointed to find that my meal was…fine? It was okay, nothing exciting. My pappardelle wasn’t super flavorful, and the pasta was too soft and borderline mealy. The rigatoni was perfectly cooked, but it came off as just being regular pasta with red sauce, unfortunate since I’ve been told by others that it’s usually fiery dish. The only bright spot was the grilled squid, which was the perfect texture and the perfect level of smokey.

My suspicion that Lilia was having an off-night was somewhat confirmed when a well-dressed, older Upper West Side couple sitting next to me sent back their pancetta spaghetti. They’d been to the restaurant once before — and had a great meal — but the 68-year-old woman said she feared that they would get food poisoning due to the odd taste of their dish. A manager apologized and said pancetta sometimes has a unique funk before taking it away. The woman rolled her eyes. "I’ve had spaghetti with pancetta before," she whispered to me. They left to drive to their home in the Hamptons without ordering a replacement pasta, feeling unsure if they would visit again. As for me, I would love to give Lilia another shot, but who knows — with all the raves, maybe I won’t even be able to get in now. — Dai


Maple and UberEATS/No. 7 Sub: One of the weird things that I've been looking forward to this week—my first at Eater, and in its Midtown HQ—was availing myself of the new(ish) spread of venture-backed app delivery services only available to those fortunate enough to be in Manhattan, whether by the grace of god or industry. All of these promise variations on the same narrow thing: Reasonably healthy, reasonably un-bad bowls and salads and sandwiches, delivered in under thirty minutes, ideal for deskside consumption so that one can continue to engage in the task of #content production, uninterrupted by the nagging weakness of our meat prisons. Honestly, my ideal lunch.

Do you know the deal with MUJI brand and its relationship to nothingness? If MUJI were a hybrid salad-grain bowl (a growing sub-category of bowls) it would be Maple's roasted chicken, sweet potato, and black bean salad. It was like eating a MUJI down comforter— bland but not wholly unpleasant? But that Christina Tosi sugar cookie, petite and chewy and maple-y, now that is good taste in branding.

Then there's No. 7 Sub. Caving to the demands of the moment, through UberEATS (but not Caviar), it now offers its sandwich guts on a bed of grains, though I suspect it has secret contempt for anyone who orders that way. But it's good! The R.K. Maroon and the Broccoli Classic are exactly what one wants out of a bowl in the middle of a work day: nutritionally-dense and adequately filling but minimally soporific and thoroughly tasty, with heavy assistance from fermented acids and creamy fats. Also it didn't hurt that I had a coupon code for $10. — Buchanan


La Vara: So March is birthday month for The Sutton Family, and the official policy is that the three of us each get to pick a restaurant to dine at on the Saturday closest to our respective day of birth. Accordingly, my father went with Prime Meats earlier in March; my mom went with Roberta's (which I wrote about in last week's Eater Journal), and for my 37th, I went with one of my top five spots in New York: La Vara by Alex Raij. For birthdays and special occasions, you don't want to go somewhere new; you want to go somewhere you're at least a semi-regular, where you know what to get. The reason is simple: Birthdays are about the company and the conversation more than the food; you don't want to spend the first 10 minutes staring at a menu you've never seen before figuring out what to get, and you sure as shinola don't want to be all closing your eyes while contemplating the profound complexities of some eight-element tasting menu dish that a server spends two minutes describing (really you might as well be watching TV). In other words, I've been to La Vara a whole bunch, and while I could easily wax poetic about the outstanding food – the 'nduja on toast with honey foam, the chicken doused in sweet onion and cumin sauce – I was really just here to be with my folks. It was a fantastic meal. — Sutton


Superiority Burger

[Lilia by Nick Solares]

Superiority Burger: The day before I left for Texas for an extended barbecue tour and to shoot several episodes of The Meat Show, I figured I would pay a little lip service to the notion of the vegetables as food, packaged as burgers and sloppy Joes as they may be. I can give the namesake sandwich no greater compliment than declaring it the only veggie burger I have ordered more than once, and in fact, I have eaten it with some frequency. It is a great little sandwich — bundled tightly in wax paper, appearing as if it wants to burst out. The potato bun wraps around the buxom innards like a Chinatown steamed bun. The patty is no substitute for an actual hamburger, but it has its own virtues — a pleasing burnishing on the exterior revealing a supple and not at all mealy interior. The toppings are perfect — the lettuce, special sauce, and confit tomato colluding to imbue the meatless sandwich with umami.

But maybe what I like most about the place is that there is a real sense of community, of camaraderie even, amongst the staff and clientele of Superiority Burger. It reminds me of a couple of other East Village businesses of yore — the book and fanzine store See / Hear and the punk/mod clothing shop 99X — both of which are sadly closed. Superiority Burger carries the zeitgeist of the East Village of the 1980s and 1990s more than any place that has opened in the neighborhood in this century. Also, it has the best soundtrack of any restaurant ever. — Solares


[Reynard by Krieger]

Reynard: Like Luger, this restaurant is perhaps best enjoyed at lunch. The space looks amazing in the afternoon, there's plenty of open tables, and the midday menu is really fun. Yesterday, Reynard was serving a double-decker sandwich stuffed with country pâté that was out of this world. Another slam dunk: crispy Cornish hen leg and thigh with creamy polenta, greens, and braised mushrooms for $20. Diner will always have a special place in my heart, but I think this is Tarlow's best restuarant.— Morabito


Pearl Oyster Bar: One of the most exciting trends of the 90s was the emergence of small neighborhood seafood restaurants, countering a long tendency for such restaurants to be built big and impersonal, serving fish and crustaceans that were often remotely sourced and factory caught. Pearl and its ilk changed all that, emphasizing local Long Island and Eastern seaboard catches. The setting is intimate, like a beach cottage in Maine, with seating along a bar and at small tables. A friend and I recently revisited after seeing an Iranian film at Film Forum.

The place was loaded with regulars, sipping glasses of white wine. Pearl is not particularly comfortable, but you’re glad to be there. The cream-laced clam chowder is as good as ever, the French fries thicker than those at its competitor Mary’s Fish Camp. Its spare Caesar is another signature. But what really blew us away was a bouillabaisse, a difficult dish often attempted in New York restaurants but almost never successful. The amazing thing was not its fidelity to the Marseilles original, but the pure generosity of the seafood therein, so much of it in fact that two of us happily shared one entrée. — Sietsema


Famous Sichuan — If you need a go-to Sichuan restaurant in Chinatown, this is a good bet. The cumin lamb is tender and spicy but not overwhelmingly so. The boiled fish dish is one of the better renditions I’ve had in New York. The service is cheery, and nobody pushes you out if you’re having a long conversation with an old friend. Plus, if you ask, they’ll serve you a true Chinese-style dessert of rice balls with black sesame in a sweet soup. My mom used to serve this to me and claim it helped with digestion. I never looked into this, but it’s a nice ending to the meal nevertheless. — Dai


Mother's Ruin: Oh man, I've been here more times than I want to admit, or even care to count. Still, my visit last week was the first time I had food at my favorite bar. Turns out there's a killer kale salad with fried chicken, solid pork sliders, and Old Bay waffle fries I'm still thinking about. The cocktails are crushable, the staff is lovely, and the kitchen stays open until 4 a.m., just FYI. — Diez


Aurora Williamsburg: My last visit to this restaurant was at least 10 years ago. I'm pleased to report that it hasn't changed one bit over the last decade: Babbo-esque seasonal Italian fare in an airy dining room filled with reclaimed wood and old farmhouse ephemera. That look feels...slightly dated now but I still dig it, and the pastas were terrific, especially the fettuccine with rock shrimp. I also loved a spinach pastry draped with runny burrata. — Morabito


The Beatrice Inn by Kireger

The Beatrice Inn: I popped into The Beatrice Inn for a cocktail and ended up eating the dry aged burger. To my mind this is the "new" black label, building on the dry-aged foundation of the Minetta classic but adding a substantially more profound level of funk. Structurally, the two are quite similar — hefty eight ounce patties topped with caramelized onions and served on a brioche. Chef Angie Mar adds a hefty dollop of d’Affinois cheese to her burger, but the real difference is in the aging — she uses a 45-day dry aged beef that adds a substantial flavor component. In fact, I would argue that if you really love long term aging, a burger may be the way to go as the flavor will be apparent in every bite, versus a steak that will exhibit varying degrees as one works one's way to the center. This is my new favorite upscale burger. — Solares

[Top photo: Nix by Nick Solares]

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