My Top Ten NYC Restaurants: What I Ate This Summer, Part Two
See also My Top Ten NYC Restaurants, Part 1
What's not on this list are the fantastic places that might not necessarily exude ambiance, or those that deliver a specific product that lures fanatics. Like Porchetta, which does nothing but glorious roasted pork, offering it in plate or sandwich form (the "burnt ends" end up in a cup of crispy potatoes. Do not, repeat, do not, leave without ordering the potatoes.) It's miniscule though, decidedly un-fancy.
Don Antonio's pizza got a best pie nod from New York Magazine, but it's not in a cool area (Midtown, West 50th Street), and the restaurant itself is only moderately decorated. You won't care. I suggest the Vesuvio, stuffed with homemade mozzarella, ricotta and salami, then topped with tomato sauce, more mozzarella, ham, artichokes and mushrooms and fresh basil.
Can't forget The Meatball Shop; when you land on their homepage, you'll hear "ummm, balls." And from classic beef to pizza to bolognese style made with mortadella, these balls are damn good, and that's what you'll be saying too.
Now that I've paid homage, let's get back to the task at hand. What I ate this summer...
Why I love it: It's a scene in there right now, always fun people watching and the menu is designed by the extremely talented Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, who received 4 stars from The New York Times and was named the 'Best Chef" in NYC by James Beard in 2010. Since the historically influenced tasting menu at Eleven Madison has become, ahem, complicated, this is where you can eat his food without the element of surprise.
What to order: A chiffonade of snow peas arrives looking like a skinny nest of tendrils topped with pancetta, pecorino and mint ($15), and the gazpacho with duck proscuitto is a winner, although that's seasonal. Tagliatelle with chunks of crabmeat and Meyer lemon is simply delicious ($20), as is the whole roasted chicken with truffles for two ($79) and the bone marrow crusted beef with heirloom beans and tomato confit ($37).
What to skip: Sadly, the tasting menu upstairs on the roof did not quite live up to the $125 price tag. Numerous vegetable courses like a tomato salad and grilled fennel were definitely good, but left me wanting something more special; a bigger and better showing of the chef's skills.
Why I love it: It feels like a country home away from home, with red and white check printed banquettes, exposed wooden rafters, mismatched chairs and little flower pots abounding. Although the bankroll comes courtesy of restaurant glamour guy Jeffrey Chodorow (China Grill), it's small scale and relaxed, with a huge communal table that ensures you get to see what everyone else is eating before you order.
What to order: Start off with 'Pac Man' shrimp dumplings ($12.50) and an order of BBQ'd "black foot" Berkshire pork belly ($15.50). Mains are delivered in huge, easily shareable sizes, but the whole lobster is the star of the show here. It's served in the shell, glazed in something sweet and tangy resembling black bean sauce, and covered with little nuggets of chopped pork and egg ($38). It's one of those messy meals made better because you get to lick your fingers clean.
What to skip: The spicy crispy beef, which was too crispy, a bit chewy, and not nearly as spicy as anticipated.
35 E. 18th St., New York, NY