Jules eats world.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Broadway East

'Localvore' comes to the deep L.E.S.

Localvore (or locavore) is a new buzzword for a phenomenon that's been around for a while: the focus on seasonal, local food. Locals on the Lower East Side -- not known for its indigenous edible produce -- have been eagerly awaiting Broadway East, a restaurant long in the making that specializes in food and drink of the Northeast, and New York state especially. After a long construction and a chef change before it even opened, the restaurant finally raised its curtain last Friday. Mr. H and I went on Wednesday.

If you happen to be mired in the thinking that vegetarian cuisine is simple, bland, beloved only by dreadlocked-topped tree-huggers -- Broadway East's decor is the first element to shoot that down. The restaurant has three rooms, all sleek and modern. The front, done in wood and white, greets diners (and drinkers) with a long bar and several tables. Pass through a short hallway to the main dining room, with space-age hanging lamps, red plush booths and long wood planks on the ceiling. At the back is what looks like an outdoor garden; it's actually enclosed, and the greenery is revealed as plants covering the top 10 feet or so of a two-story wall. At the bottom, on the lower level, a rectangular lounge.

All of the beer and wine is local (there's sake but no liquor), and I had a good Cabernet Franc from Long Island. Mr. H and I had a hard time choosing, since the menu has lots of intriguing-sounding options, spanning different types of cuisines. It's not totally vegetarian; there are a couple of fish choices, and a chicken. To start, I settled on the fennel and blood orange salad, which like all of the dishes, arrived in a healthy portion. It was accented with seitan chorizo, which was delicious but a little too salty. Mr. H chose the beet salad, a deconstructed dish with a golden beet tartare; sliced red beets dressed in miso; wasabi cream; and "mountain caviar," which a google search reveals to be a seed called tonburi.

For mains, he had the Mysore thali, a sampling of Indian dishes. I tasted the fingerling potato masala and smoked tofu tikka: both had delicate and complex spices. I had the crispy coconut tempeh, one of those dishes that shows vegan food doesn't have to be austere: it was hearty, coated in coconut and presumably fried, and served on a bed of whipped sweet potato, sauteed greens, and curried lentils.

We finished with a chocolate cake with (vegan) black sesame seed ice cream. The cake wasn't as chocolately as I would have expected, but did have a pleasant lightness. The ice cream was great, like frozen tahini.

The service was efficient and friendly, and I was also a fan of the servers' outfits: white linen shirts with gray vests.

Hooray! Our 'hood continues to evolve as a culinary destination.

Broadway East
171 East Broadway between Jefferson & Rutgers Sts.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Restaurant Week(s)

The Upside of the Early Shift

Every weekday morning my alarm goes off at 3:15, and my brain belches out a wordless exhalation, profound and complex in its misery and resignation, but if forced to boil it down and render it into a simple phrase, that phrase would be: Shit, not again.

One of the few compensations for my daily awakening, followed by gropings in the dark and a near-unconscious shower, is what happens when my working day is done. It's midday, and I'm free. Sometimes free to be exhausted and immobile, but free nonetheless. So I was resolved to take advantage of the two weeks dubbed Restaurant Week, which offer prix-fixe, three-course lunches at fancy spots around town for the bargain price of $24.07 (and at one of these restaurants, inexplicably, $24.08). Here's the rundown:

A Voce

I love the high ceilings and the window that runs the height and length of the front of the restaurant. The decor is very Scandinavian, down to the Eames chairs, and quite elegant.
Since my ears were still thawing on this chilly day, I began with the artichoke soup, accented with cubes of what tasted like Jerusalem artichoke; swirls of mint pesto and yogurt; and lamb raviollini. A delicious combination. My main course, sauteed scallops with pumpkin puree, apple froth and sauteed wild mushrooms, was just this side of too sweet. But I liked the unusual mixing of flavors. My dessert, a riff on tiramisu, wasn't as rich as I would have liked.

The service was excellent, and this restaurant gets high marks for not skimping on adventurousness or ingredients on its RW menu. That means I'll be going back to pay full price.

Cafe Boulud

I expected classic, and classic is what I got, from service to food. The name "cafe" is pretty amusing; there's nothing casual about this place, from its low ceilings and clubby feel to the white tablecloths and changing of silver to reflect one's order.

I started with a green salad with grapefruit and an orange-shallot vinaigrette, which I foolishly expected to be more exciting than it was. My main, skate with pearl onions, carrots and swiss chard, was one of the best pieces of that fish I've had, very tender and rich. (Presumably a heavy hand with the butter, in the classic French style, was partly responsible). I finished with a peanut-butter-caramel-chocolate cake, and tasted my friends' molton chocolate cake and lemon tart. All were decadent.

Funny that I picked these two without remembering the chef at A Voce used to be at Cafe Boulud. You'd never know it from the restaurants.

A Voce
41 Madison Ave. at 26th St.

Cafe Boulud
20 E. 76th St. at Madison Ave.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Polyphonic Spree

Most indie-rock shows in New York are competitions in looking the most blase. Who has their arms folded the most nonchalantly? Whose head is cocked back at just the right, disinterested angle? Who keeps a running commentary to friends at the best stream-of-consciousness pace about what other show/restaurant/club/party would be so much more interesting at the moment?

Try the contest a Polyphonic Spree show. Let's see...the girl next to you is singing along, her face shining in rapt attention. The guy in front of you has his hands held high, thrusting in rhythm to the music. Hmm...the girl next to him is swaying, sometimes jumping up and down.

Ironic postures are difficult to maintain in the face of the joy-blast that is a Polyphonic Spree concert. Friday night at Terminal 5 (a new venue that was a dance club called Club Exit in its previous incarnation) was a typical love-fest.

A large red banner was stretched across the stage before the show began, blocking any view. Then, a pair of scissors appeared at the center, eventually cutting out a giant heart. Finally, frontman-cum-cult leader Tim DeLaughter stepped forth and cut the last piece away, revealing the 20-something-piece ensemble in all their glory. DeLaughter demands, and gets, concertgoers' attention with his blend of love and neediness, constantly exorting the crowd to participate. His charisma -- and the band's militaristic uniforms -- always lead Mr. H and I to wonder if there are vials of Kool-Aid hidden in the bass drum. The music is tough to describe specifically, but one can say it's anthemic, epic, orchestral, uplifting. The spiritual feel was reinforced when halfway though, the band exited the stage and reappeared wearing white choir robes. Cannons periodically shot confetti over the crowd.

One of Mr. H's favorite stories:
He saw Polyphonic Spree play a few years ago at Central Park Summerstage. It was a gray, blustery day. The band began performing the song, "Sun." DeLaughter sang, pointing his finger straight up to the heavens. Then, the clouds parted as he sang, "Hey it's the sun and it makes me shine/Hey now it's the sun and it makes me smile." The 5,000-strong crowd, including Mr. H, went crazy. Then DeLaughter took his finger down and the clouds rolled back in. "Pretty neat trick, huh?" he said.

Dream double-bill: Polyphonic Spree and Flaming Lips.

Monday, October 01, 2007


Fresh...Except for the 10th Avenue Exhaust

You may be wondering what's become of me lately. Jules, you may ask me in your head, where have you been? Can you even still call this a blog if you only post every 6 months? I am going to go ahead and say yes, because happily there seem to be no rules in the blogosphere. If people can post videos of their cats every day and call it a blog (and I have no evidence this exists, just a hunch), then why not these infrequent ramblings?

With no further ado, I'd like to tell you about a lovely restaurant called Cookshop. The fashion among restaurants for some time has been to cook what's "seasonal," what's "at the greenmarket today," what "the chef found when he went shopping." This philosophy is rarely executed as well as it is at Cookshop. Mr. H and I ate there on a recently Friday evening, unfortunately opting for the seating outside. While the seating area itself is pleasant, the traffic rumbling by and the frequent exhaust belchings by delivery/FreshDirect trucks is not. The restaurant is more comfortable inside, with a healthy-sized bar area, and the main dining room done in light wood and cream. I believe the chairs are bamboo, and I always welcome a little sustainability.

The dishes at Cookshop change daily, so I'll try to conjure up our meal without my typical crutch of the online menu. I started with an eggplant puree with green olives and parsley, listed as a side on the menu. The eggplant itself was slightly bland, could have used perhaps some garlic. But the olives -- I usually don't like the green -- were large and flavorful, and the parsley (some special "greenmarket" variety?) was particularly sharp. Mr. H had a purslane salad with hazelnuts and a delicious honey-pepper vinaigrette. This was my first introduction to the crunchy, stemmy purslane, which I've read was considered a weed in North America until some enterprising chef realized her Asian neighbors were eating it.

My main course was cumin-crusted wahoo, a toothsome white fish, with a garlic-yogurt sauce. Yogurt doesn't spring to mind with fish, but here it worked to great effect. But my blogger spidey-sense fails me: I forget what my vegetable accompaniment was. Mr. H had a steak with chimichurri, which he enjoyed. Each of the ingredients tasted freshly prepared and were thrown together in sometimes unexpected ways.

The drinks at Cookshop are also worth mentioning, especially the quartino of a 2005 cabernet sauvignon from Panacea Wine Co. And the service stood out as well: our waiter was pleasant and chatty (appropriately so), and helpful with some special menu requests.

I'd been to Cookshop once before, and I'll be back again. Like its neighbor Red Cat up the street, it provides a homey experience that at the same time elevates the food above the mundane.

156 10th Ave.
At 20th St.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Music Detour: Bonnaroo (Belated)

Everything You Need to Know About Bonnaroo 2007

BEST BAND YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF: Mute Math. Imagine you walk into This Tent at Bonnaroo, for the first band you see at the festival, and the band is fantastic. Imagine the band is playing energetic rock with dancey beats. Now imagine that the drummer has his snare drum on top of the lead singer's keyboard at the front of the stage, and he's perched on that keyboard, hammering away, and then he falls, and the drum falls...A few minutes later the band members are all jumping around like cooking popcorn, and the same drummer crashes into a wall of lights behind them, then when it falls, jumps up and down on it, breaking bulbs. Then they all stagger off the stage.I magine you have just had a great beginning to Bonnaroo.

MOST OVERHYPED BAND THAT DIDN'T DELIVER: Rodrigo y Gabriela. Ok, maybe you've never heard of them either, but this duo from MexicoCity had been talked up by friends and other people at the festival. They play sort of hard-rock acoustic guitar with a Latin flavor. Maybe after Mute Math I just wanted the rock. Despite Gabriela's raised fist or bullhorn sign in the air after every song (the universal gesture of metalheads, I guess), this wasn't it.

MOST OVERHYPED BAND THAT DID DELIVER: The Hold Steady. Sure, they sound a lot like Bruce Springsteen. But this was probably the most psyched band to play Bonnaroo, and they had a great energy that made you want to dance, or jump up and down, or hug them, or all of the above. And you had to love it when lead singer Craig Finn said, "There's so much joy in what we do up here." Awww!

BEST REUNION: The Police, but of course. They could have been tearing each other's hair out backstage for all I know (and apparently they did trash their trailer), but who doesn't love to hear "Roxanne" or "So Lonely" or any of the other hits live? These guys are amazing musicians, and any rancor between them didn't prevent them from playing well. Sting did solicit "ow-wee-oh" singalongs a little too frequently from the crowd, but we were in an indulgent mood. Line of the night: Copeland saying, "Sting will now take off his clothes and dance among you." (He didn't, much to some ladies' (not my) chagrin). Extra points to Copeland for being a Bonnaroo vet and the most pumped of the three.

He saw them at the Bowery Ballroom and liked 'em: it was a good call. These guys, from Raleigh, NC, have a nice alterna-rock sound with good percussion. I'm a sucker for good percussion.

If you haven't, go see them. Now. I don't want to give too much away, but there are laser pointers and Santa Clauses and a spaceship involved.

HOTTEST SORT-OF AUSSIE: John Butler (of the John Butler Trio).
Apparently he's big Down Under, where he relocated when he was 11. And he's talented: the Trio's sound is bluesy roots rock, with a dash of social consciousness.

I was excited to see both of these acts, but they left me a little cold. Wilco was very mellow, Specktor too talky. As I discussed with indie-rock maven and co-worker Mark B, at a festival like Bonnaroo the pressure is on to keep spirits high and momentum flowing.

JACK OF ALL TRADES: John Paul Jones.
Yes, THAT John Paul Jones. He played with Uncle Earl, the great all-girl bluegrass band whose album he produced; he played the "Superjam" of Zepp tunes with Ben Harper and ?uestlove of The Roots; he played with country folker Gillian Welch.

SHYEST ROCK STAR: Caleb Followill of Kings of Leon.
They played a fun set (I was a fan already), and though they rocked I gotta say he seemed a little freaked. The next day, I saw him walking to see The Police, and said, "great show." He turned bright red (maybe it was the heat) and said softly, "thank you." He was wearing the tightest jeans I have ever seen on a man (and I lived in the East Village!)

I first saw this band from Philly in a sort of shack at South by Southwest last year. The little blond singer/guitarist was wearing a busted straw hat. His button-down was soaked in sweat. There was a really drunk friend of theirs right in front of the band who looked at any moment as though he'd topple onto the guitarist (or me, for that matter). Their music was a catchy Beatles-Beach Boys-influenced rock. I bought their latest album, and lo, it was good. At Bonnaroo, the blond guy had a shaggy beard & sunglasses instead of a hat, but he was still sweat-soaked, and he and his bandmates were still jumping around unsteadily, and they still were awesome. Yes, I said awesome!

This is another album I've been listening to recently, and Ms. Leslie Feist of Canada is just as good live.

BEST TUBA: The Roots' sousaphone player.
The Roots were great at getting the crowd going, and despite Jon Parales of the NY Times saying the band's "Masters of War" was too long, Mr. H & I ate it up. It's a Dylan song, and their version starts with the lyrics being sung to the tune of the "Star-Spangled Banner." By the end, the guitarist had rolled off the stage, still playing madly, to run down a walkway into the crowd -- and the tuba player had followed him.

This show got one of the largest crowds of Bonnaroo. They were dressed in their traditional red, and Jack White was running around the stage like crazy, while Meg sat demurely (and without much talent, some around me would opine) behind the drum set. There's something fierce and sweet about this band at the same time, with Jack's voice sometimes quavering as it rose, sometimes screeching.

SPEAKING OF CROWDS: You may wonder what it's like to be at a festival with 80,000 people, most of whom are camping, in 90-degree heat in Manchester, Tennessee.
There is indeed a funk -- I'm sure some of it was coming from me. People are indeed bombed out of their minds. There was indeed nakedness, most notably for me the guy without a stitch on-- except for his hat -- his body dyed entirely red, and dancing his ass off. But for a festival of this size, it was incredibly well-run, just as I found last year. The toilets were kept in reasonably good shape, there weren't terrible lines for food (though the prices seemed to have gone up from last year), people seemed in good spirits and were non-violent as far as I could tell, and bands played on time. The worst thing by far was the dust. When it doesn't rain on a huge festival grounds for four days, and there are many shuffling feet, a haze of kicked-up dirt hangs everywhere. That said, bring on Bonnaroo 2008!

Belle de Jour

She's no Catherine Deneuve...but she'll do.

Call-girl by day, bourgeoise housewife by night, the Catherine Deneuve of "Belle de Jour" was no doubt shocking to audiences in 1967, with the main character's sexual fantasies of humiliation. It's a provocative name, then, to choose for a French bistro in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, a few blocks north of the bustling South Street Seaport. When I told a Frenchman, presumably the owner, that I knew the movie, he tossed his head and said dramatically, "Je suis Belle de Jour!"

Belying the name, however, the ambiance at the restaurant is much less apres-le-scandale than comfortable and classic, much like Deneuve's evening identity. Despite its proximity to the bridge, the location on a quiet corner of a cobblestone-lined street gives the impression of a calm neighborhood place that the nearby tourist hordes haven't yet discovered. It has pretty textbook bistro decor, with brick-colored tile floors, wood chairs and furnishings, and the requisite tables on the sidewalk.

The menu fits the classic bistro mold as well: moules frites, salad with goat cheese, tuna tartare. On one visit, a filet of bass was moist and delicious, served with a casserole of turnips, fennel and carrot. The endive salad was dressed with a refreshing orange vinaigrette. On the second, the food remained solid, but there were some sour notes: my friend found the addition of mustard to a pate toast a little odd. And the choice of keeping shrimps' heads intact with a risotto was a dubious -- and messy -- one in such a saucy dish, especially since said dish was oilier than it should have been. All was redeemed, however, by a warm creme brulee with candied lemon peel. The kitchen may need a little fine-tuning, and perhaps a trip to the motherland? But I'll give this belle the benefit of the doubt, since the first visit was the better one, and make another trip to her boudoir.

Belle de Jour
259 Front St.
At Dover St.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


Le vrai francais? Close enough

I've had a couple of disappointing eating experiences in the area TimeOut has goofily dubbed "BelDel" -- below Delancey. I just like to call it "my neighborhood." As I've discussed before, restaurants here have proliferated like ticks on a hound dog, as Dan Rather might say. And the odds would say that not every newcomer will be up to snuff. More on the laggards later: first, let's talk French bistro.

Casanis looks like many of the other faux-francais places around town: black-and-white tile floors, unmarked wine bottles lining the walls, mirrors. It feels convivial, except it's usually half-full at best. That's a shame, since the food is solid. This isn't a destination restaurant, but it's just what I like in "my neighborhood" and you probably like in yours: a reliable, not ridiculously expensive, cozy spot.

I've visited Casanis a few times, most recently on a Saturday night around 7:30 p.m. My friend the acupuncturist and I wanted a low-key place. We both commented appreciatively on the music selection, the sort of lounge-y soundtrack you hear on Buddha Bar compilations. The waiter was familiar from a previous visit -- a young, shy Frenchman who smiled when I ordered in his native language (he wasn't laughing at my pronounciation, I hope). He promptly brought us serviceable bread and the glasses of wine we'd ordered: a pinot grigio and a nice, fruity malbec.

We weren't terribly hungry, so only ordered main courses: the risotto with wild mushrooms and scallops for her, and the special for me, which requires a bit of explanation. It obviously was something concocted by the kitchen with the ingredients on hand, and though on paper it sounds odd, it turned out well. On the plate were head-on shrimp, mussels and scallops, artfully arranged spoke-style, with creamed leeks, sauteed bok choy, and crispy bits of potatoes. Ex-shells, I cleaned the plate. My friend's risotto was as it should be: the sauce rich and creamy, the rice retaining some firmness.

In true French style, we lingered over our glasses of wine until we asked for the check. Surprised that we skipped a decadent French dessert? My restaurant knowledge in the area is sorely lacking in the dessert department for one reason alone: Babycakes. It's a vegan bakery (yes, you read right) on the same block as Casanis, that serves low- or no-sugar cupcakes, mini-brownies and other treats, along with my favorite -- the delicious chocolate-chip banana cake. Oh la la indeed.

81 Ludlow St.
At Broome St.

248 Broome St.
Between Ludlow and Orchard

Monday, January 01, 2007

Bar Americain

Holiday Gorging

In a long season of holiday eating, it's appropriate my feasting peaked on the final day of 2006. For almost a month I've been making like a grizzly bear and storing up for winter. I've seen many friends, raised many glasses, eaten many, many rich meals. Now is the traditional time when gym membership surges and we retreat to our couches, remotes in hand and Netflix queues packed, to wait out the cold weather -- even though it hasn't arrived yet this season.

So -- New Year's Eve. Within 10 blocks of Times Square. A meal at a restaurant run by a celebrity chef, Bobby Flay. A place popular with tourists. For which we need a letter, faxed by the restaurant, to access, since surrounding streets are blocked by barricades to control the festive crowds. Sounds like just the kind of intimate, hassle-free meal Jules loves, right?. Yet when I walked out of Bar Americain three hours later, I couldn't have been happier. Isn't it nice when a restaurant defies expectations?

We arrived and met our friends at the bar, where they were happily quaffing what they described as expertly-prepared Pimm's Cups. We were led to a round, comfortable booth under a large, ugly spool-like lighting fixture. The room is a long, high-ceilinged rectangle done in brown and cream. It wasn't until nearly the end of the meal that I realized Bar Americain actually paid attention to something increasingly left neglected in NYC restaurants: acoustics. That ugly fixture absorbed noise, and even though the room was packed with people, their conversations weren't obtrusive at all. The music was low enough we could talk comfortably, six around the table, without raising our voices.

Our server was a southern girl, and aspiring actress (shocker) who'd coached all the South Carolina drawl out of her voice but retained the charm. The service throughout the meal was excellent.

I started with a great cocktail with rosemary, vodka (which I switched from the gin advertised on the menu), grapefruit juice, and soda. Later we ordered an excellent bottle of red zinfandel called Starlite.

Mr. H and I shared a delicious, filler-free Dungeness crab and crawfish cake as a starter. Our friends also enjoyed their choices, including the johnny cake topped with barbecued duck. The girls -- sisters whose husbands also joined us -- preferred their asparagus chopped salad to their other appetizer, grilled pizza with bacon and caramelized onion.

The main courses were equally well-done. My red snapper, "Florida-style," was pan-sauteed, served over a chipotle-black bean sauce and spinach, and topped with an avocado-mango salsa. The first bite left me feeling I'd made the wrong choice; the fish wasn't terribly flavorful. But it grew on me as I took care to get a bit of each garnish, and I looked down at the end to find an empty plate. Mr. H's cioppino was decadent, with lobster, other shellfish and fish in a thick, creamy, garlicky tomato broth. After he devoured the fish, I kept reaching over with a spoon for more of the delectable sauce. The only glitch in the mains was our friend Dan's veal chop special, which had been cooked more than he'd requested. Our waitress promptly whisked it away and returned equally promptly with his nearly-raw chop, exactly how he wanted it.

Being a tourist-geared joint, the portions are not for the faint of heart or small of stomach, especially illustrated by the desserts. We got a handful to share for the table: the cheese plate, the German chocolate layer cake, the sticky toffee pudding sundae, the blackberry souffle and the caramelized apple tart. The last was my favorite, but none were bad. Somehow we finished almost every bite, and after tea and coffee rolled ourselves out of there and headed to Radio City Music Hall.

I'm not an extremes kind of girl -- I don't go in for the binge and purge of December vs. January, the cleanse, the carrot/cottage cheese/wheatgrass diet. But I wouldn't mind some milder eating for the next few weeks....

Bar Americain
152 W. 52nd St.
Between 6th Ave. & Broadway