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Eaters' Journal 4/15/16: Oyster Bar, Talde, High Street, Noodle Bar, Wildair, and More

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

Grand Central Oyster Bar: It’s been 13 years since William Grimes, reviewing in the New York Times, called Grand Central Terminal’s Oyster Bar "the most infuriating restaurant in New York," which he went on to describe as a "mediocre fish restaurant with poor service." And that is still partly true, though, as some friends and I found out after a long and fruitless wait at Momosan Ramen, it can be a source of great seafood, especially if you’re willing to carefully scan the hopelessly humongous menu, and search for the simplest preparations.

Going late is one way to avoid the service issues, when the dining room is half empty. Sitting under Gustavino’s magnificent vaulted ceiling can be a relaxing experience around 9 o’clock or so (orders are taken till 9:30), as the last commuters run for their trains. The range of raw oysters is unparalleled, with east and west coast varieties well-represented. The hit of that evening was some wild Belons from Maine (when was the last time you tried a non-farmed oyster?), with a briny flavor so intense that one of our party exclaimed, "I feel like I’ve just drunk a glass of ocean water."

Stick with the standards, and you’ll eat well: the perfectly fried, flaky cod in fish and chips, the simply broiled branzino or lemon sole, or even the artic char cooked with caper berries — even though you may choose to pick the blood orange segments off the top before you eat it. And don’t forget a bowl of the transcendent New England clam chowder.— Sietsema

Talde: Since the advent of Caviar, I've been ordering Talde for delivery a lot, but haven't actually been to the restaurant in ages. I broke my no-show streak on Saturday, where three of us demolished some pretzel pork dumplings, great as ever, some slightly fussy samosas, and an Instagram-bait plate of speck-topped corn pancakes that did not, sadly, taste as phenomenal as they looked. But the centerpiece of the whole thing was that crazy, incredible buttered toast ramen — Dale Talde's built his restaurant's entire menu around mad-libs-style food mashups, with varying levels of success, but holy lord the buttered toast ramen is worth the price of admission. Smoky, fatty bacon, a perfect poached egg, and a tangle of chewy egg noodles swirl around in a tonkotsu broth that's been infused with real, honest-to-goodness buttered toast. It's almost worth getting a hangover, so you can use a bowl of this ramen to chase it away. — Rosner

David's Cafe: I had a most pleasant meal at David’s Cafe on St. Mark's Place. This is the new French / American bistro from chef David Malbequi. The menu is hardly boundary stretching — based on genre and geography alone, you can probably divine that there is a kale salad, cheeseburger, and steak frites on the menu. But you’ll also find a lovely little plate of homemade chipolata and chicken sausages, a verbal special that is worth your time.

I was particularly taken by the hefty pork rib chop set on a bed of buttery mash drizzled in a viscous, glistening veal reduction. The chop was wonderfully burnished to a golden brown while the interior was a rosy pink and tender to the bite. Also, this pork chop actually tasted like pork, which is not alway a foregone conclusion.

Dessert was the only weak link: a plate of churros was not as good as those sold on the subway by little old ladies (I happen to love subway churros for the record), and while the strawberry shortcake parfait was inoffensive, it wasn’t exactly inspiring, either. This is one area where I would like to see the menu here be a little more French and a little less American.

Still, the quibbles are minor. The room is predictably comfortable in the affected farmhouse rustic look of a typical urban bistro, the service is friendly and familiar, and the food would be worth eating even if these things weren’t so. — Solares

Egg: I’ve been here dozens of times over the years and I love how nothing ever changes. The farm-to-table diner food is always correctly cooked and served piping hot. Every guest still gets a fresh beignet to kick things off. The service is friendly and remarkably efficient during a breakfast/brunch rush. I wanted to order the daily special last Saturday, an egg sandwich with ramps and duck bacon, but it sold out during the first 90 minutes of service, so I got my go-to order: grits and eggs with a side of kale. — Morabito

Moe's Southwestern Grill: Like any good anxious millennial with an Instagram account, I am a big fan of nostalgia eating. Chick-fil-A is 30 percent better because it reminds of sneaking sandwiches in my car after school. Chinese hand-pulled noodle soup is 70 percent better because it reminds of the better times around the kitchen table at home. Firehouse Subs will always be the best, because strangely enough, it’s the Southern suburban chain where I learned to love sandwiches.

But I found out this week that nostalgia can only take you so far. I used to eat at Moe’s Southwestern Grill at least once a week when I worked in downtown Knoxville, TN — a time when I would take more than hourlong lunch breaks that were filled with rich conversation with a mentor. I had Moe's for lunch this week for the first time since then, and it was tragically terrible. The unlimited salsas were blander than I remembered, and the chicken lacked the punch that I once craved. Textures were off; spices were missing. Maybe it’s because I started eating at Moe’s tastier competitor Chipotle, but the food missed the mark. It was the last time I will walk down that culinary memory lane, as Moe’s came really close to sullying their good vibes. —Dai

Momofuku Noodle Bar: Noodle Bar is one of my favorite places to take visitors because it's classic but completely unfussy. Sure, you have to wait and the people taking your name down can be a little surly, but the food is great and fun and consistent, and there are slushies! On this week's visit, a coworker and I had ordered my standard intro-to-Momomfuku meal — soy sauce egg, shiitake buns, two noodle bowls — and were talking partnerships when the group next to us received a dish that looked like something listed on the day's dinner menu (smoked trout roe, truffle cream, fuji apple, potato chips) — except that it was served with a few gorgeous, rumpled pieces of what must have been roti canai.

It looked great and we tried to order it, thinking it was the dish up on the chalkboard. Turns out it was an off-menu special that our server would not let us add on to our meal. Here's a question: Is that a service flaw, since it was openly presented to a party at a communal table full of people watching everyone around them eat? Or: If you make a dish for VIPs and a regular diner asks for it, do you make it for them too? It's interesting. The rest of our food was great, as always, but I was pretty disgruntled by the experience — right up until my coworker dragged me into nearby ice cream shop Davey's for a double-scoop nightcap. — Chopra

High Street on Hudson: Feeling full from spending the entire weekend eating ice cream in San Francisco, I played it relatively safe during breakfast here Tuesday morning. That is: I willingly shared the assorted pastries with the table. The coffee almond date cake and the carrot cake were easily my favorites, and the red eye danish is salty, flaky perfection. Now I know ordering yogurt at a restaurant can be lame, but the ginger yogurt with pistachios and cardamom honey is delicious and delightful. — Diez

[Wildair by Krieger]

Wildair —I don’t think there is a restaurant that I find more inspiring than Wildair these days. The bistro for the new century strips away much of the pomp and circumstance of the traditional service model, and instead focuses its energy on creativity and hospitality. The open kitchen, visible from the street, and pulsing soundtrack create a lovely buzz in the room, and you’ll be impressed by the food and beverage knowledge of the staff. But it is the concise menu that will captivate you.

To start things off, the house-made bread is dense and foamy like a good beer, with a yeasty tang and cracker-crisp crust. Just like David Chang before them, von Hauske and Stone treat bread with enough respect to devote menu space to it, rather than as a throwaway. It is more than worth the price of admission, especially if you get the rather stark looking plate of irregularly cut disks of toothsome charcuterie, to which it makes a perfect complement.

Up nextm the greatest beet dish I have ever had: quartered hunks of beet, the bark dense and craggy, the pulp soft and smooth, in a shallow bath of beef tallow, redolent with an intensely meaty flavor. Even when things don’t quite hit this high mark, you will still marvel at the ingenuity of the cooking at Wildair. Take the uni on the Darphin potato, for example. It is not really a substitute for a good crème fraîche, lacking the requisite body, but it is a clever idea.

The pork Milanese, for all its technical accomplishment — a crisp, undulating, bronzed, breading yielding to succulent pork shoulder — is the most pedestrian and thus accessible option on the menu, the equivalent of a hamburger at a less avant garde restaurant. But if you have the numbers, go for the steak for two, that will feed more if you order well. It bucks the dry aged ribsteak trend of the last half decade, reverting to the porterhouse, which has historically been the most popular cut for two thanks to Peter Luger.

But this is not that kind of porterhouse — it is served off the bone and rather than the intense searing and slap-dash plating of a steakhouse, this one is coddled during cooking and its slices laid gently atop each other under a crown of ramps. The beef is creamy in texture, and it has a cleanliness and purity of flavor that is captivating. In terms of tenderness, the NY strip side was as tender as many filets. Eater critic Ryan Sutton was right when he declared it one of the "finest new steaks in the city." I might even be inclined to remove the term "new" from the statement. The dessert doesn’t disappoint either. The dense chocolate tart, rife with peanuts and as salty as it was sweet makes the perfect complement to the last of a nice bottle of Gamay and a meal that just made Wildair my restaurant of the moment. — Solares

Taqueria Izucar: Much has been written about Taqueria Izucar, but for some reason, I didn't start frequenting this Bushwick taco place for the first year and a half that I lived in the neighborhood. I was angry at myself when I first tried their suadero tacos because it felt like I had wasted so much time not eating them. They are so, so good — just perfect, juicy morsels of taco heaven. I can get full on three, but in a recent bout of hunger, my boyfriend and I bought a dozen. They ended up being very meaty, and it was difficult to get through them all, but we did it. No regrets.— Dai

Maison Kayser Columbus Circle: Went this morning. And honestly I can't even. I really can't. The humans of the city do not know how to behave in bakeries, and bakery staffers do not know how to serve humans. You know how people walk into McFadden's or The Joshua Tree or some fratty bar in Murray Hill and they're all like "This is not the New York I want to live in." That's how I feel when I walk into 99 percent of bakeries, except instead of begging the bartender for Miller Lite, the masses are clamoring for a cashier to slice their bread. These are not magical places. Being in line at a bakery in New York is like being on hold with a customer service rep for a cable company. Your turn never seems to come, but when it does you're too aggravated to purchase something that will theoretically bring you joy.

I feel in particular this way about the Kayser on Columbus Circle if for no other reason than it's bakery I live closest to. And you can never just walk in and buy a stupid pain au chocolat in under two minutes because someone's always holding up the line. Either it's a cashier having a nice leisurely conversation with a patron ("these are you kids!!!!"), or a patron asking for three stupid baguettes and three stupid croissants but in three separate bags with one croissant and one baguette in each bag (that's a real order I witnessed). So there needs to be an express line at Maison Kayser, for people who have no questions and no absurd requests. And Danny Meyer needs to buy up all the bakeries in New York so he make bakeries happy places like his restaurants are. — Sutton

New Asha: Sri Lankan café New Asha, across the street from the Albanian mosque on Victory Boulevard, was the first dining establishments to attract citywide interest in Ceylonese cooking. And, as a friend and I discovered last weekend, the food there is still excellent. The heated pastry case still holds tasty, pipe-shaped lamb and fish fritters, the steam table remains a reservoir of fascinating curries. The counter attendant will put together a fine sampler platter, which will likely include jackfruit curry, black lamb curry, a dal, and perhaps a piece of chicken or boiled egg, with a wadded roti on the side something like that found with Malaysian roti canai. Afterwards, a quick hike in nearby Silver Lake Park is in order. — Sietsema

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