Boston Restaurant Blog -- February, 2009
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
This has been about the longest stretch between trips to New York City in many years. The last time I was in the Big Apple was way back in March 2008, so I was overdue. Last week, I spent two full days in Manhattan (mostly in Midtown East, Greenwich Village, and the Upper West Side) and ended up making first-time trips to three restaurants, in addition to a couple of repeats.
I started out the trip having lunch at Viand Cafe, an Upper West Side diner that is one of the few places in the city that I have been to multiple times. (See the Mid-Winter Weekend in Manhattan blog from 2008 for more information on Viand Cafe.) We had a good, solid lunch there, including an unusual shiitake mushroom burger that I ordered, along with sweet potato fries. Service was friendly, prices were pretty reasonable, and the place was actually fairly quiet throughout our meal.
After spending some time in Rockefeller Center and a few other spots around Midtown East, we walked over to the corner of Lexington Avenue and E 51st Street to have dinner at a high-end Chinese restaurant called Mr. K's. Upscale, elegant, and beautifully decorated, Mr. K's is not your typical Chinese restaurant. From the pinks and pastels throughout the place to the white tablecloths, sconces, and carpeting to the porcelain vases, nearly everything about Mr. K's was classy and refined. One nice touch was that whenever I needed to stand up or sit down, one of the servers would actually pull my chair out (or push the chair in) for me--a nice touch. As for the food, well, it was nothing short of extraordinary, including steamed green vegetable dumplings, bean curd soup with watercress, sizzling black pepper filet mignon, and prawns. Even the sherbet that was served just before the main course was delicious. Perhaps the only misstep at Mr. K's was the rather bland tiramisu, but it was a misstep on my part, not the restaurants, because frankly, tiramisu is not exactly a Chinese delicacy. Overall, an outstanding experience at one of New York's true hidden gems.
After having a surprisingly tasteless bagel at H and H Bagels in the Upper West Side early the next morning (I usually like their bagels), I took a a walk through the neighborhood and parts of Central Park, then spent some time relaxing before heading to Pier 72 at the corner of West Side Avenue and W 72nd Street for a late breakfast. Like Mr. K's, Pier 72 is a little-known jewel, but the two places couldn't be more different; while Mr. K's is a dignified Chinese restaurant, Pier 72 is a neighborhood diner whose atmosphere comes solely from the characters who both work here and eat here. The food at this Upper West Side greasy spoon joint was very good, with both the banana walnut buckwheat pancakes and the oat bran waffles with chocolate chips being delicious and (relatively) healthy. The home fries were decent as well, as they had paprika and caramelized onions giving them a boost in the flavor department. And while the atmosphere at Pier 72 was pretty basic and straightforward, the photos of Manhattan on the walls, the attractive tile floor and brick beams, and the large picture windows looking out at the street added a nice overall feel to the place.
Because we had such a late breakfast, we decided to skip lunch and opt for an early dinner instead. So we spent part of the afternoon wandering around Greenwich Village (mostly the West Village), hitting some of my favorite spots, including McNulty's Tea and Coffee Company where I stocked up on more tea. Soon we found ourselves down near the water, where we had dinner at an Italian place called Gaetana's. Located at the corner of Christopher Street and Greenwich Street, Gaetana's is a bit out of the way and is indeed just far enough from busy Bleecker Street to keep the masses from finding it. We were quite impressed by the interior of the restaurant, as it was dimly lit and warm and cozy--a perfect spot for a chilly winter day. And this was another place that was full of characters, including our waiter who was inexplicably dressed in a hoodie, jeans, and sneakers. The food we ordered was mostly excellent, including some outstanding fire-roasted red peppers, a thick and hearty lentil soup; a serviceable pumpkin ravioli that came with a butter and sage sauce that I thought was too watery; and a tremendous chicken pomodoro that was served with some of the best sauce I've had in awhile. And the tiramisu, as you might expect, was much, much better than the one I had at Mr. K's. This is a restaurant that I fell in love with, and would like to return to sometime in the future. Aside from the slightly disappointing ravioli, I thought that everything about the place was really memorable.
Because of time constraints, I actually hit the road immediately after leaving Gaetano's and was back in Boston less than 4 hours after finishing my dinner in the West Village. Perhaps I'll be able to spend a bit more time in the city the next time I go, and if I do, I'll certainly hit more restaurants, so stay tuned...
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