Boston Restaurant Blog -- February, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
I was overdue for a trip to New York City, as I typically go four or five times a year. But the last trip was during the summer, and that was mainly Brooklyn and Queens; the last Manhattan trip was about nine months ago. But we finally did get back to the Big Apple, spending about half of the time in Brooklyn and half in Manhattan, stopping at a number of restaurants along the way.
Our first stop on the trip was to a neighborhood breakfast and lunch spot in the pleasant town of Clinton, CT (between New London and New Haven) called The Coffee Break. The place was a little more cheery and comfortable than your typical diner, with carpeting, bright (but not too bright) lighting, a three-season porch, and a large dining area complete with a counter section with seating. One interesting thing about The Coffee Break is that it had no less than ten clocks in the dining room, many of which chimed in different fashions on the hour. Our food was basic diner fare, including a tasty egg salad club (not on the menu, but they made it for us), a huge griddled burger that didn't have much in the way of flavor, crispy but otherwise average fries, outstanding beer-battered onion rings (perhaps the best item of the meal), a deliciously sinful caramel apple pie, and rice pudding that was just ok. Service was friendly and efficient, and the prices were certainly more than fair. All in all, The Coffee Break wasn't a bad place to stop at, and it was certainly a lot less stressful to get to than many restaurants between New Haven and the New York border.
We made it to Brooklyn by late afternoon and immediately headed to Burp Castle on E 7th Street in the East Village where several of us spent some time enjoying the high-quality beers that this quiet place has. Then it was off to yet another great dinner at Focacceria on MacDougal Street in the Village (won't bore you with details here, as I've been to this favorite spot so many times). After dinner we headed back to the East Village, where eight of us had some truly outstanding desserts at the legendary Veniero's on E 11th Street before heading back to Brooklyn for the night.
We had a quick continental breakfast where we were staying in Brooklyn on Sunday morning, then spent some time in the Upper West Side of Manhattan before heading back to Greenwich Village for lunch. We stopped at a quiet and unassuming Irish pub on Carmine Street called Mr. Dennehy's, which is just far enough off the beaten path to avoid some of the huge crowds that restaurants and bars on nearby Bleecker Street get. The pub was long and narrow, with a bar and a few tables in the front area and a small dining area in the back. We grabbed a table toward the back and had some macaroni and cheese and a couple of pints of Guinness and Harp. The mac and cheese was made with four cheeses (cheddar, gouda, gruyere, and parmesan) and had bread crumbs on top, but honestly, it wasn't all that impressive, as it was a bit on the thin and watery side. I did like the atmosphere at Mr. Dennehy's, however, as it felt like a place that locals might go to rather than tourists, and I had the feeling that it is probably a good place to watch sporting events (soccer is a good bet!) on TV.
Much of the rest of Sunday afternoon was spent walking around the beautiful Boerum Hill and Carroll Gardens sections of Brooklyn, and it was indeed Carroll Gardens that was to be our destination for dinner that night. And what a dinner it was, as the place we went to -- Fragole on Court Street -- was easily one of the best Italian restaurants I have been to in either Boston or New York. The atmosphere was charming (a cozy bar, wooden beams and a wood s floor, exposed brick walls), the service was polite, professional, and low key, and the food? Well, everything, from the antipasto (the dry aged meat was out of this world) to the freshly made pappardelle with sweet-tasting honey-braised short rib ragu to the hearty and rich rigatoni with bolognese, was about as good as it gets. Even the fresh bread with creamy tomato dipping sauce that we received at the start of the meal was unforgettable, and the Sardinian and Sicilian wines were wonderful. This was perhaps the best meal I've had in 2010 (so far), though as mentioned in an earlier blog entry, Metropolis in the South End of Boston may vie for that spot as well. But what a meal it was, and I cannot recommend this place enough if you happen to be near Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn.
After our incredible meal at Fragole, we knew it would be tough to match that for the rest of the trip, and we were right (though we did get to another very good restaurant--more to come on that later). After a late-night stop for drinks at the quirky and offbeat Zombie Hut on Smith Street in Brooklyn, Monday morning quickly came around and it was time to leave the city. But we did make a quick stop for breakfast in Boerum Hill at a clean and brightly-lit diner at the corner of Atlantic Street and Smith Street called The New St. Clair Restaurant. It was a fairly large place with two dining rooms as well as a counter area. We mostly ordered basic breakfast food and it was decent enough overall, though the home fries were dry and not seasoned very well and the coffee was just plain bad. But the hand-rolled water bagels were really quite good (though they had huge bricks of cream cheese squeezed into them) and the turkey bacon was crisp and tasty. Prices were rather high for what we ordered, but that is not all that uncommon in both Manhattan and Brooklyn. Service was very quick, which is definitely what you want in a diner that caters to the nearby business crowd.
After breakfast, we stopped at Chelsea Market in Manhattan (a requirement for anyone who is into cooking, in my opinion), then headed north, winding our way toward Route 84. But before getting onto the highway that would eventually take us back to Massachusetts, we stopped in the peaceful and charming town of Katonah for lunch, where we checked out an interesting place called the Blue Dolphin Restaurant. The Blue Dolphin is housed in a classic diner space, complete with an arched wooden ceiling, window booths, a counter area with some seating, and a tiny side room. This was anything but a typical diner, however, as the menu featured more in the way of Northern and Southern Italian cuisine than classic American comfort food. After being served some bread with garlic oil, we dined on a fresh-tasting Caesar salad and a flavorful minestrone soup with all kinds of veggies, then moved onto our entrees, which included a savory plate of veal-stuffed ravioli in a tomato and basil sauce, and an orecchiette (ear pasta) plate that had a garlicky pesto sauce. It was all very good, and nothing like what you would expect from a diner, and in a sense, the Blue Dolphin isn't really a diner at all--it's really a borderline upscale restaurant that happens to be housed in a diner, making it a rather unique spot.
I may be heading back to Manhattan in a few weeks, so expect another entry that focuses on some more restaurants. And there is talk that at least a couple of us may do a pizza-based food trip to New York soon, so definitely stay tuned, as that could be a fun one!
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