Boston Restaurant Blog -- May, 2009
Thursday, May 27, 2009
I typically go to Acadia National Park in Maine on Memorial Day Weekend, but two years ago I went to Brooklyn instead, and this year I spent the long weekend in Manhattan. And as is the case with all of the New York trips I've done, we had some great meals at a number of restaurants, including a couple while on the road in Connecticut.
We took Route 95 down from Boston, stopping in Fairfield for lunch at a classic snack shack called Rawley's Drive-In. Located just west of the center of this beautiful Southwest Connecticut community in a rather plain-looking, semi-industrial area, Rawley's is one of several roadside food joints in town. Deep-fried hot dogs are their specialty, though the burgers, fries, and shakes were all excellent as well. I won't get into too many details here, as Rawley's has actually gotten a featured review on Boston's Hidden Restaurants, so if you want to read more about this place, go to the link for Rawley's Drive-In within the site.
We soon arrived in Manhattan and spent some time wandering around Greenwich Village (including enjoying a happy hour drink at the dark and cozy 1849 on Bleecker Street) before having dinner at Focacceria, which is one of my personal favorites anywhere in the Northeast. And it didn't disappoint this time, as the minestrone soup, Caesar salad, montepulciano and pinot grigio wines, asparagus and mushroom risotto, and chicken ravello were all excellent. And since it was a nice night, we were able to dine outside, viewing the always-interesting street scene. There was easily enough food to keep me full until the next morning, at which point we had breakfast at George's in Lower Manhattan, which is another restaurant I've been to in the past. Unlike the last time I was there, the service was not slow at all, and the food (pancakes, bagel and lox, home fries) was as good as usual, though the potatoes were a bit dry.
After breakfast, we made our way up to Midtown for a couple of hours, eventually making our way over to Midtown East (Turtle Bay, specifically) to an Irish pub on Second Avenue called Jameson's Pub and Restaurant. One of countless Irish pubs in the Midtown East area (and one of many along this stretch of Second Avenue alone), Jameson's has the feel of an authentic Irish watering hole with lots of dark wood, exposed brick, a low ceiling, dim hanging lamps, pictures of Ireland, and a moody overall feel to it. To me, the atmosphere was the best part of the place, as the food was just middling to good--the turkey club was all right, and the fries were crispy and tasty, but the char-grilled burger had little flavor and was seriously in need of some seasoning. I would definitely consider returning to Jameson's, but probably more for the atmosphere and drinks (the beer selection is excellent, and includes Boddington's on tap).
Lunch was followed by a cab ride down to Lower Manhattan, where we stayed awhile before heading up to the West Village. We strolled around the charming tree-shaded streets for awhile before heading to dinner at a tremendous spot on Christopher Street called Havana Alma de Cuba. The restaurant was a bit more than half full when we arrived, and we were able to get a table within the enclosed back patio rather than the attractive though slightly small front dining room. The patio itself was nearly worth the price of admission alone, as it was a quiet, comfortable spot surrounded by residential and commercial structures, and we didn't hear a single car horn the entire time we were there. The three of us started off with traditional drinks (sangria, mojito, and old Havana, all outstanding) and appetizers (excellent lentil soup, tender and sweet plantains, tasty beef empanadas, and one of the most flavorful shredded pork empanadas I have had). The main dishes soon came and they were fantastic; the wonderful arroz con pollo included chicken still on the bone to give the dish more flavor, while the delicious pollo a la maggie came with a satisfyingly light white wine sauce. Desserts were decadent, including a tasty flan with coffee caramel custard and a dish of fresh churros with chocolate dipping sauce. Service was excellent from start to finish and the prices were pretty reasonable. Havana Alma de Cuba may ultimately go down as one of my favorite restaurants in all of Manhattan--it was that good.
It would certainly be tough to be such a meal as the one we had at Havana Alma de Cuba, but breakfast the following morning wasn't all that bad. We stopped by a deli in Battery Park City called Izzy and Nat's after enjoying the spectacular views of New Jersey from the parklands near the southern tip of Manhattan. The delicatessen (much like Battery Park City itself) seemed like a bit of a hidden gem, and was populated by locals, some of whom seemed to know the staff here. We had a variety of items, including a hand-rolled bagel that was just ok (not much flavor), some potato pancakes that were perfectly cooked (crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside), a kasha knish that was absolutely loaded with kasha, and some hash brown potatoes that were cooked golden brown but could have used more seasoning. Service was pretty good and prices were about what you expect for a New York breakfast. I've had better deli food in Manhattan, but this place was pretty good for the most part.
We hit the road after breakfast, stopping at the always-fun Chelsea Market to stock up on various food items. Then we drove through Brooklyn and Queens, soon making our way onto Route 95. Our lunch stop on the way back to Boston was a seafood restaurant in Branford that a friend had told me about called Lenny's. This place has apparently been around for more than 40 years and is a bit of an institution in the New Haven area. We didn't really get a true feel for the place, as we only had a light lunch and didn't stay very long, but what I did experience was quite impressive. The outdoor deck, for instance, has unforgettable views of marshlands out back, while the food seems to be the real deal (the clam chowder had a traditional thin broth and was delicious, while the filet of sole sandwich was breaded perfectly and had a nice, mild favor). The inside of Lenny's is quite pleasant as well, with a high ceiling giving the place a spacious, airy feel, and the stone fireplace looked like it might make for cozy evenings in the colder months. I do hope to get back to Lenny's to try one of their dinners at some point; when I do, I'll definitely write another entry about it.
So it was yet another fun trip to Manhattan, with perfect weather, lots of great walks around the city, and mostly excellent food. I may be heading back to the Big Apple during the summer, so expect another report on New York City eating places over the coming weeks.
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