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Eaters' Journal: Agern, Metrograph, Babu Ji, Raoul's, Joseph Leonard, and More

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

Raoul's: Dinner at Raoul's — which somehow, despite my passionate love for this city's elder-statesman restaurants, I had never been to — was pretty much exactly what I'd hoped for. I don't think anyone could call the food great, especially if you have standard expectations of what a forty-year-old French brasserie serves (a baffling steamed artichoke appetizer came with the vegetable filled with some kind of weird peas-and-microgreens salad, with a scoop of quinoa on the side), but the steak frites gets the job done, the wine pours are generous, and the restaurant itself — the room, the crowd, the staff, the mood — is amazing. I'll be back for sure, next time to sit at the bar so I can try that lowkey famous burger. Helen Rosner

Burgers by Honest Chops: What’s a halal burger taste like? I visited Burgers by Honest Chops to find out. It’s an offshoot of a butcher shop in the East Village specializing in local and organic meats slaughtered according to Islamic precepts. In addition to a beef burger, a merquez burger and a chicken burger are offered. Deposited on a brioche bun, and dressed with onions and very fresh lettuce and plum tomatoes, the burger tasted good, though the patty was a bit dry and crumbly. This was remedied with a lemon aioli, but I still wish there had been more fat in the meat. Nevertheless the burger was tasty enough that I plan to go back. Or maybe I’ll go for the excellent fries. Robert Sietsema

Oiji: Fun fact: The warm honey butter chips are better than everyone says they are. Served with ice cream, that dessert is hot and cold; sweet and salty; crunchy and creamy; perfect and something I will attempt to recreate at home. Everything else we had varied from good to really great. The buttered rice, beef tartare, and ssam platter were easy favorites. I sat at the bar with three friends and our bartender Ryan was an absolute pro, guiding us through the menu and even making a few off-the-menu cocktails. Oiji is such a special place, you can just tell the staff is pumped to be there. Patty Diez

Metrograph: Everyone is going to hate me for saying this, but the parts of Manhattan that I love are the parts that feel the most like California. Let me start with the Lower East Side. No, nothing about the architecture, infrastructure, pedestrian traffic, or gritty aesthetic of the neighborhood feels even remotely like the West Coast, but a growing number of the restaurants have that easy surfer-meets-Silicon Valley shine: The charm of El Rey and Dimes; the playfulness of Mission Chinese and Mission Cantina (which are actual CA imports!); the bright, vegetable forward menus of Contra and Wildair; the mid-century modern curves of Russ & Daughters Cafe. I could go on. But let's stop with the new cinema/restaurant/bar called Metrograph on Ludlow near Canal. It's like walking into a breezy cafe off Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, CA. The snack bar is full of adorable Japanese gummies, the burrata is dressed with green tomato salsa verde, and the Caesar salad is made with kale. Say what you will — this is where I want to eat this summer. Daniela Galarza

Babu Ji: I awarded two stars to Babu Ji last year and a recent visit convinced me that the Alphabet City Indian spot is still firing on all cylinders. In a city awash with super expensive tasting menus and walk-in only a la carte venues with two hours waits, it's pretty amazing that you can book a primetime Saturday night reservation at Babu Ji a week or so out (with no cancellation fee), and pay $62 for like ten courses – a pretty ridiculous deal (and really, a reservation is the right way to skip the epic wait). Went with a few Iowans who aren't used to spending a whole lot on food (or eating more than three courses), so this really was their entry-point in the world of tasting menus, and now they're leaving New York with the impression that you can get a long, curated culinary experience for a fair price, instead of getting fleeced, and that you can pair such a meal with beers that you pick out of a bodega-style fridge yourself, rather than having to negotiate with the oenophilic gatekeeper known as the sommelier. That’s the New York culinary scene I want out-of-towners to experience. Rock on, Babu Ji. Related: Y'all need to try the Sichuan onion fritters. Ryan Sutton

Agern: I walked into Agern, Claus Meyer's new Nordic temple inside Grand Central Terminal, sans reservation last week and sat at the bar in front of the open kitchen. I've never dined at Noma, but this felt like all of the photos René Redzepi posts on Instagram — lots of fish and herbs and pine needles. The most jarring thing about this place is entry into it: You walk off the street into a larger-than-life mostly marble Beaux-Arts structure and then, around a corner and through a single set of glass paned double doors, slip into an utterly zen, Scandinavian-style dining room decked out in pale wood slats and simple lines. The restaurant belongs downtown or in the lobby of a Midtown hotel, not inside a train station. The second most jarring thing about this otherwise comfortable restaurant is the cost: A la carte prices ($14 to $98 per plate) will make you want to order the 8-course ($120-$145) prix fixe. Then the food comes out and it's gorgeous and delicious and I immediately wished I had been wearing something slightly more elegant than my old black raincoat and Converse sneakers. [Note: prices are inclusive of service]— Daniela Galarza

Joseph Leonard: As I passed by Joseph Leonard on Sheridan Square, I couldn’t help but notice that it had received a C rating from the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and wondered what it would be like to dine in a restaurant with such a low grade. I also went partly out of pity, knowing that some diners would be deterred by the grade, and business at the restaurant would probably fall off. I went at lunch on a Tuesday, sat in the window, and had a splendid meal, even though the menu is quirky at breakfast and lunch, mainly consisting of dishes (priced between $9 and $19) of wildly variable size, making it difficult to tell how many you need to be satisfied.

I picked a chicken soup, which came in a broad shallow bowl rife with chicken, carrots, onions, and kale, tasting of olive oil in a dark, chive-shot broth. Next up was an omelet sandwich on a flaky croissant, sided with shaved and charred brussels sprouts dressed with sriracha. I assumed you were supposed to put the sprouts on the sandwich. There were lots and lots of them, so I took some home. In spite of the health department grade the place looked completely clean and well-managed. — Robert Sietsema

Ivan Ramen: I was a fan of this place when I first went -- exciting flavors, fun vibe -- but a recent meal here was just...okay? I got the triple garlic triple pork. The noodles were the best part, thick and tacky in the way I love noodles to be. The pork chashu accompanying it was tender enough, though certainly not a stand out and certainly not the best I've ever had. Bacon bits among the noodles also tasted good -- because when has bacon not tasted good? -- but ultimately it was just small pieces of bacon in a bowl of noodles. It tasted exactly how you expect it to taste, and it left me feeling full but uninspired.

Maybe I'm more of a traditionalist. Maybe I wasn't in the mood or mindset. Or maybe the novelty of Ivan noodles has a shelf life, and for me, the expiration date has arrived. — Serena Dai

Blue Ribbon Brasserie: Late on a Monday night, I sat at the bar at Blue Ribbon Brasserie, one of my very favorite restaurants in all the world, and had a gin & tonic and a strawberry ice cream sundae. It's hard for anything in life to be better than that. — Helen Rosner

Bar Omar: I agree with everything Robert mentioned in his two-star assessment of this unusual Williamsburg restaurant. The fries were excellent and I really liked the chicken crepe with powdered sugar on top. One weird thing about this place is that, at least during brunch (when it was empty), the stereo was bumping the greatest hits of late 90s pop-alternative, like Eagle Eye Cherry, New Radicals, Smashmouth, and Third Eye Blind. This, I think, is the absolute worst restaurant soundtrack because it doesn't fade into the background — it's familiar to the point of being distracting. Blech. This is a trend that I've noticed in other Williamsburg restaurants, specifically during lunch/brunch. Greg Morabito

Top photo: Agern

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