Boston Restaurant Blog -- February, 2011
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
This has been about the longest stretch between trips to New York City for me, as the last one I took was way back in the spring of 2010. Well, we finally made it back to The Big Apple over the past weekend, and we were able to try a few new restaurants along the way.
Our trip to New York began with a stop for lunch at an authentic Jewish deli in West Hartford called Reuben's. This little spot in the heart of the downtown area felt like the real deal the minute we walked in, as it was noisy and bustling, with people tackling huge sandwiches and large bowls of matzo ball soup while also snacking on plates of pickles. We moved past the busy front counter area and grabbed a seat toward the back of the place, squeezed in between several other groups of people. Our server brought out a plate of the aforementioned pickles, and they were excellent, with a mix of Kosher pickles and sour pickles (the Kosher pickles had more of a "snap" and tasted better overall). I then tried a bowl of their matzo ball soup, and while it had basically nothing in the way of chicken or vegetables, the matzo balls were about the best I've had, as they were somehow both fluffy and dense at the same time, and had a rich taste that really beat just about any other version I've tried of this Jewish staple. For our meals, we tried the pastrami sandwich (lean and delicious) and the corned beef sandwich (the corned beef looked more like ham, but it was tender and quite tasty). Service was just about perfect, and prices were a little high, though not quite at the level of the popular NYC delis. Looking back, I'd have to say that I have no need to return to Rein's in nearby Vernon while on trips to New York, as Reuben's seemed much better overall.
A couple of hours after leaving Reuben's Deli, we were settled into Manhattan, and soon three of us made our way to Union Square to eat at a place called City Tavern for dinner. Situated on a quiet stretch of E 13th Street maybe two blocks from the square itself, City Tavern almost looked like a sports bar at first glance, but once inside, it was much different. The ground floor did have a bit of a "drinking establishment" feel to it, but upstairs it felt being whisked away to a quiet trattoria somewhere in the Italian countryside. The rustic room featured a beamed ceiling, exposed brick, a wooden floor, and attractive art along the walls, with the front having windows looking out over the street and the back being a bit more cozy and serene. We started our meal with a round of drinks and a appetizer of prosciutto-wrapped figs with gorgonzola cheese in a balsamic reduction. This was a tremendous dish, with the saltiness of the meat and cheese complementing the sweetness of the figs perfectly. Soon after we finished the appetizer, our main dishes arrived, and all three were very impressive; the shrimp with penne was helped greatly by the creamy vodka sauce, while the risotto with sweet Italian sausage and earthy mushrooms was nearly perfect. The fettucine bolognese was a bit on the small side portion-wise, but the veal ragu had a rich and hearty goodness to it that made up for the slightly small size of the meal. The server that we had at City Tavern was friendly and efficient, and the prices were certainly reasonable, with our dishes averaging in the teens.
Over the past year or so, I had been thinking about going to a New York restaurant owned by a celebrity chef, but time constraints--and so many other places to try in the city--have kept me from doing so. But we did hit a celebrity chef's place on this trip, even if it wasn't one of the famous high-end spots. In retrospect, however, our experience to Mario Batali's Eataly in the Madison Square section of Manhattan will probably go down as being every bit as memorable as being at any top-tier restaurant, as this new-ish Italian food complex is a sight to behold--and a very, very special place for anyone who is into cooking. The enormous space is filled with all kinds of pasta, cured meats, cheeses, breads, olive oil, vinegar, sauces, seafood, and so much more. And within the space are little cafes and restaurants where folks can stop for lunch or dinner. We did just that, going to the section called La Pizza & Pasta, where we ordered a quattro formaggi pizza and a plate of spaghetti al pomodoro. The wood-fired pizza was outstanding, with the sharp-tasting gorgonzola really standing out (the other cheeses used were mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, and cacio cavallo), while the spaghetti was slightly bigger in diameter than I'm used to--and perfectly cooked--with the sauce completely addictive (rich, zesty, and slightly spicy). Service seemed a bit confusing, as I wasn't really sure who our main server was, but the people who waited on our table were all very helpful. Prices were a little on the high side, with the pizza being in the upper teens and the spaghetti being in the low to mid-teens. No complaints about the prices, though, as dining at Eataly was an amazing experience that I will not soon forget.
After lunch, we wandered through Eataly for awhile longer, picking up some ingredients for cooking, then we made our way back to Lower Manhattan before taking a cab to the West Village. Making stops at McNulty's tea shop, Murray's cheese shop, and Oliver's City Tavern, we eventually ended up at Sevilla at the corner of W 4th Street and Charles Street for dinner. Sevilla is a very old Spanish restaurant with well-dressed waiters, beautiful paintings on the wood-paneled walls, a low wooden ceiling, and attractive lanterns and hanging lights throughout. Other than the fact that we found it to be a bit loud on our visit, Sevilla's warm, cozy, and intimate atmosphere was nearly worth the trip alone, but the food was top-notch as well. The stuffed mushrooms greatly impressed, with lots of fresh crabmeat placed in the mushrooms. And the house-made red sangria (we ordered a pitcher to start, along with the mushrooms) may have been the best I have had anywhere, as it was both sweet and spicy, with a definite kick from the alcohol in it. Our meals couldn't have been better, with the seafood paella including a large helping of littlenecks, mussels, and shrimp, and the veal in almond sauce having a sweetness from the sauce that went nicely with the delicate taste of the meat. While we were eating, one of the waiters accidentally dropped a beer bottle near us, lightly spraying our jackets. A person who appeared to be the owner immediately came over and offered to have our coats cleaned with the bill being paid by them, and he also deducted the price of the pitcher of sangria, being both graceful and sympathetic the whole time. Between the atmosphere, the food, and the warmth of the people at Sevilla, this is a place that I would gladly go back to, especially since the prices are quite low here for the quality of the food and service.
Monday was a travel day, so we left Manhattan around mid-morning, making our way briefly through Park Slope in Brooklyn before getting onto the highway and reaching Connecticut just before noon. We decided to have a late lunch at Doogie's in Newington, which is a place I have been to a few times now. We had a couple of their delicious hot dogs (the regular-sized ones, not their 2-foot monsters), a cheeseburger (nothing special), and a cheesesteak (terrific as usual), along with decent but fairly basic fries. (To read more about Doogie's, check out our earlier review at http://www.hiddenboston.com/blogentries/connecticut-trip-0706.html.)
So it was another fun weekend in New York, and once again, we got to try some great eating spots. It's tough to choose between City Tavern, Eataly, and Sevilla, as there really wasn't a dud among them. I know I'll be going back to all three places at some point, and I definitely want to return to Eataly soon, especially since they are apparently building a rooftop beer garden, which I will surely want to check out.
Note: Comments have now been closed for this blog entry.