03 June 2008

More Eastern Pennsylvania Dining and Wine Tasting

About 90 miles and 90-120 minutes by I-80/I-84 West of Manhattan is Milford, PA, located near the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania meeting point along the Delaware River. Milford has hosted New Yorkers since the mid-1800’s as a summer retreat. While not in the same league as the Hamptons, or even the Hudson River Valley, nonetheless this town and this far Eastern Region of the Poconos has the arts, shops and most importantly the dinning places to merit a visit. While there are many casual places in Milford and in adjacent villages, there is only one top place:

The Delmonico Room
Hotel Fauchere
401 Broad Street
Milford, PA 18337

Since 1852 the Hotel Fauchere has been a remote outpost of Manhattan. Louis Fauchere, the chef at Delmonico’s in New York, opened the hotel as a seasonal get away place for the rich and art savvy. The current hotel was built in 1880 and restored in recent years to exquisite standards when it reopened on 2006. In 2007 it was listed on the Hot List by Conde Nast Traveler.

The casual bar/café Bar Louis is in the basement has a contemporary Manhattan style, serving lighter dishes such a Sushi Pizza which get rave reviews.

On the main level is the beautiful Delmonico Room, the formal dining room is composed of two beautifully appointed main rooms and a light, bright and the equally delightful adjoining porch dinning room. Chef Michael Glatz is a James Beard Foundation honoree, and his menu is composed of contemporary classics featuring primarily local products.

Dinner is a fixed price three course meal, priced based upon the main course selected. We sampled a variety of dishes from contemporary antipasti, local greens salad and lightly breaded sweetbreads as starters. All were composed of the finest ingredients and most were well prepared. Mains included a wonderful Delmonico steak, rack of local lamb (both prepared as ordered) and regional bass. Again great products prepared to high, if perhaps not the highest standards. Desserts were well made and permitted a variety of choices.

The wine list was quite good for a Pennsylvania restaurant, and the prices were moderately high. We selected a wonderful Cambria Katherine’s Vineyard Chardonnay. Wine service was professional.

Overall all front desk and wait service was professional and friendly.

The Delmonico Room - Recommended

29 May 2008

Casual Dinning on the East End

One of the pleasures of summer on the East End is having lunch at a casual place, which offers interesting and occasionally outstanding meals. Here are notes from some places where we recently have had lunch.

Jamesport Country Kitchen
1601 Main Road
Jamesport, NY 11947

Located directly on Main Road in Jamesport, this buttercup yellow house/inn offers the informed diner a wonderful meal and an opportunity to sample local North Fork wine.

The simple dining rooms are crisp and clean and reflect the sparse but satisfying food served in a pleasant country environment. Service is not only pleasant, but quite professional.

The menu features American classics and modern American interpretations of international classic, all prepared with the best ingredients and with attention to details. Go simple and you will not be disappointed.

The Country Kitchen features all local wines at reasonable prices, maybe due in part to the fact that the table next to yours may be occupied by a local winemaker or winery owner. Go local, ask for a recommendation and you will be pleased.

Jamesport Country Kitchen – Highly Recommended

Dune Road
Hampton Bays, NY 11946

A large seafood restaurant located on a fishing marina, overlooking the inlet between the Atlantic Ocean and Shinnecock Bay shouts in flashing neon “Tourist Trap.”

But Oakland’s is anything but a tourist place. It is a excellent Seafood/American restaurant professionally managed with a kitchen that prepares first class American food.

In addition to the outstanding location, the New England Lighthouse designed restaurant features a large inviting bar area, a huge dining room, with panoramic windows on three sides, and a large outdoor deck and tiki bar.

The American/Seafood menu features local seafood. Frequent nightly specials include the Lobster Bash, a true New England clam/lobster bake of chowder, shrimp, clams or mussels, cob of corn and 1 ½ lb lobster.

The limited wine list is priced incredibly low. Many local wines are featured.

The wait service is surprisingly good despite many local high school students serving as the waiter/runners.

Oakland’s – Highly Recommended

Dockers Waterside Restaurant & Marina
94 Dune Road
East Quogue, NY 11942

The only East Quogue restaurant on the barrier island, Docker’s is a great place to sit outside, overlook the Shinnecock Bay and enjoy a simple American or Seafood lunch.

The beach shack décor is perfect for the location and the menu is perfect for what one seeks at such a place. Preparation by the kitchen varies between good/very good/excellent. Nonetheless, the food is always decent to very good, served in a polite and friendly manner.

A limited wine list is matched to the food and waterside environment.

Dockers – Recommended

Modern Snack Bar
628 Main Road
Aquebogue, NY 11931

The Modern Snack Bar is the iconic building featured recently in a Toyota television commercial. It is also a relic of a different era, which is played to the nines by the staff dressed in 50’s waitress outfits.

The menu is composed of American classic and a few German influence dishes such as sauerbraten. The food is prepared in a very 50’s style, over cooked and occasionally over sauced. While far from the highest level of quality or preparation, the food is very satisfying.

Wine is served, but this is not a food and wine place. Stick to soft drinks and beer.

Service is friendly and acceptable.

Modern Snack Bar - Acceptable

Cutchogue Diner
Main Road
Cutchogue, NY 11935

A historic landmark 1930's diner is located in the middle of Chutchogue, which is almost a museum in that it has more historical character than functionality.

While the architectural value is high the food value is marginal. The menu is traditional American. The kitchen, frequently one short order cook, prepares marginal food composed of quality local indigents. Prices are surprisingly high.

Local North Fork wine is served, but the selections limited.

Service is adequate.

Cutchogue Diner - Acceptable

23 Main Street
Sag Harbor, NY 11963

For years Sen in Sag Harbor was the place for sushi on the East End. The Japanese minimalist place located near the wharf area in lower Sag Harbor had the design, service and most importantly the fresh sushi that made is a destination location.

Apparently recent ownership and management changes have transformed Sen into at best a mediocre sushi place.

A recent lunch was composed of old and over cooked Endame, and some of the worst sashimi and sushi we have ever been served. The preparation was amateurish, the rice was not sticky rice and the overall composition was awful.

And as bad as the food was, the service was worst.

The limited wine list is grossly over priced.

Sen - Unacceptbale

More East End Long Island Fine Dinning

With the Summer Season here, we would like to provide our dinning notes on our most recent dinning experiences around the East End over the past few weeks.

The 1770 House Restaurant & Inn
143 Main Street
East Hampton, NY 11937

The name "The 1770 House" alone raises concerns this is one of those classical colonial American dinning places that populate New England and the Middle Atlantic states, and the appearance along Main Street in East Hampton re-enforces the stereotype that the dinning will be acceptable but not memorable.

However, once one steps inside the traditional/colonial architecture derived dinning room of The 1770 House, one realizes this is in fact one of the top restaurants one can experience anywhere.

The front staff is 100% professional, the dinning room is well laid out, the chairs and seating at the tables is comfortable. The lighting is perfect and sets a relaxed/romantic mood. The stemware, plate and silverware are first class, which sets a perfect mood for great food, wine and service. And that is exactly what one receives at The 1770 House.

The menu is composed of modern American/International cuisine, featuring local products whenever they are available. Salads use locally grown greens. Oysters on the half shell featured Peconic Pride oysters that can challenge the best world class oysters for flavor, meatiness, and texture. Main courses feature local fish, duck, and meats. The kitchen executes with near perfection. The combination of composition, ingredients, and preparation of the dishes result in a wonderful meal in a beautiful setting.

The wine list is comprehensive, featuring excellent examples of local, American, New World and European wines. Wine service is professional.

Overall the wait service is world class, and remarkable for an East End restaurant.

The 1770 House Restaurant & Inn - Highly Recommended

Plaza Cafe
61 Hill Street
Southampton, NY 11968

This hidden away restaurant with an entrance in the back of a nondescript building off a small street, is a truly a hidden gem.

The interior is somewhat neutral and nondescript with limited interior design features other than the height of the room which is impressive. The overall design is not offensive and perhaps even romantic due to a large and functional fireplace that warms the room on a cool or cold night.

The modern American menu feature local products, prepared in most satisfying ways. The menu is dominated by seafood, most of it local. While the prices tend towards the high end, during the week there are fixed priced menus that are great values, and allow a diner to sample some of the kitchen's more interesting dishes.

The wine list features American wines, including a limited number of Long Island wines. Prices are slightly higher than at comparable places, but overall the wine list is acceptable.

Service while earnest, it is not up to the high level of the food, and some management attention to service is warranted.

Plaza Cafe - Recommended

Inn Spot on the Bay
32 Lighthouse Road
Hampton Bays, NY 11946

The location of Inn Spot directly on the Shinnecock Bay just before the Ponoquogue Bridge from the mainland to the barrier island, makes it one of the most perfect places to enjoy the beauty of the East End.

The sparse New England decor matches the panoramic views from both the dinning room and porch areas, and adds to the nautical feel.

Like many East End places the service is marginal at best and sometimes far worse than that, at least based upon a recent dinning experience. While well meaning the service execution at our last meal was amateurish and occasionally down right infuriating.

The menu is modern American, with emphasis on seafood and local products. Unfortunately not all the products seem to be of the highest quality or freshness. And the execution of kitchen under the direction of a co-owner and chef is spotty. Not all preparations are first class. The recent meal had a number of lows; poor selection of oysters on the half -shell, over sauced local duck, and a very over sauced fillet Mignon.

Wine selection is limited, eclectic, fairly priced and quite acceptable.

Inn Spot on the Bay - Acceptable

755 Montauk Highway
Water Mill, NY 11976

Other than its yellow paint, Robert's would be a somewhat undistinguished saltbox located on the Eastside of Water Mill directly on Montauk Highway. The charming decor of this country inn type restaurant and garden makes an inviting environment.

The front desk was professional and willing to accommodate our reservation request.

Unfortunately based upon a very recent meal, the kitchen has lost not one recipe but all recipes. The Italian influenced menu promises far more than we experienced. Salads were sad affairs unceremoniously dropped on bowls. Pasta dishes were composed of ill prepared pasta mismatched with other ingredients and sauces that defy recognition.

Even more unfortunate is the fact that the Hamptons’ crowd that dines at the latest trendy places keeps Robert’s alive, whereas in Manhattan it would not survive a month.

The high priced wine list was acceptable.

Service while friendly, perhaps too friendly, was marginally acceptable.

We rarely have dined at a place we would not return to for at least one more opportunity for it to redeem itself, but Robert’s is not worth a return visit.

Robert's - Unacceptable

23 April 2008

Adour - Alain Ducasse

St. Regis Hotel
2 E 55th Street
New York, NY 10022

After less than memorable (actually memorable but not in a positive way) earlier meals at Alain Ducasse restaurants in Europe, Hong Kong and in New York, but after we read the positive critics reviews of Adour we decided to give it a try. Having been the previous week at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon we had a perfect point of comparison.

The David Rockwell designed room is neither overly attractive nor unattractive. It is just neutral and makes the best of a somewhat awkward space at the St. Regis Hotel. The wine storage cabinets throughout the dining area are impressive, but do they really make this a premier dining space? The close rectangular table arrangements for twos is also more mainstream restaurant rather than the well placed and well suited round tables at fine dining places such as Daniel or Jean-George

The start was shaky as our reservation request was not honored, but after a polite reminder, we were seated at an acceptable table. The wait service was professional, but far short of expectations of a top restaurant.

Wine service was at best odd. First the sommelier seemed confused when we asked for a recommendation of a Pouilly Fuisse and he recommended a Pouilly Fume. Then when we selected a well priced Chassagne-Montrechet after briefly showing the bottle, the sommelier did not open the bottle within visible sight, did not show the cork, and then put the wine in a decanter – the first time in my life a French white was placed in a decanter. It was weird at best. But when the wine was not routinely served during dinner and the sommelier later tipped the decanter to get the last drop of the wine as he cleared the decanter, the wine service went from weird to just plain bad service.

And service did not improve when the wrong first courses were placed in front of us. After we started sliding the plates across the table the head waiter chastised the busser but never apologized for this major fault. Not anything one expects at a top restaurant.

So the setting for the food was strained before we had our first taste (we will discount the bread sticks presented as some weird pseudo amuse-bouche). Our first courses of sweetbreads and gnocchi while acceptable paled in comparison to comparable dishes at L'Atelier. Same for our mains of chicken and pork, both of which lacked any fine cuisine sizzle.

While some may find the food at Adour fine and some may even accept the food as finest French gourmet cuisine, to us it is merely acceptable.

Adour - Alain Ducasse – Acceptable.

15 April 2008

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon

The Four Seasons Hotel
57 E 57th Street
New York , NY

Having dined at various Joel Rubuchon places in Paris over the years, when L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon opened nearly two years ago at The Four Seasons Hotel we were first in line to get a reservation. But given the initial hype and way too much attitude it had at that time, it took a long time to really want to dine there for a meal to savor.

When we learned Rubuchon would be in New York for a week in April, which he does at least twice a year, we booked a reservation at the counter. And while there are tables, the counter is really the only place to sit to really experience the L'Atelier experience, be it in Manhattan or Paris. The 20 counter seats surround three sides of the open kitchen area, and provide an intimate insight into French haute cuisine preparations. While the remainder of the dining area is pleasant the grand scale of the I M Pei designed hotel open space is a bit overwhelming, as is the sameness of the dining area to the entrance area to the dining room and the adjacent bar.

While food is the reason to come to L'Atelier, the service makes it all that more enjoyable. General Manager and chief sommelier Stephane Colling runs a tight ship. At the counter the waiters are always within close proximity and they provide outstanding service, as do the bussers who make each course presentation a special event, multiple times per meal.

The outstanding modern cuisine is best enjoyed via ordering the small plates, which diners can mix and match to create the meal of their own design. There are so many highlights it is difficult to recommend any one over the others. Rouchon's signature langoustine dish is prepared to perfection, sweetbreads are heavenly and the steak tartare is memorable.

We were fortunate that not only Joel Robuchon was in the kitchen and the dining area during our latest meal, but his two top Parisian chefs (Philippe Braun and Eric Bouchenoire) were overseeing the kitchen. Braun who oversees L’Atelier in Paris is lively and spontaneous as is his cooking, while Bouchenoire is intense and committed to the finest preparations as he demonstrates at La Table Joel Robuchon. With these three top chefs in the kitchen, the New York kitchen was performing at its absolute best.

The wine list developed by Colling is first class containing hidden treasures, including wines from small boutique French wineries that are unknown outside France. If you are unsure, check with Colling and he will guide you to a perfect wine. Further his wine pairings are well selected and served.

L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon - Highly Recommended

05 April 2008


236 Fifth Avenue
New York , NY 10001

After being open almost six months, the modern Lebanese restaurant Ilili is demonstrating it is one of the finer places in all of Manhattan.

Located in a dismal part of Fifth Avenue between 27th and 28th Street north of Madison Park and Flatiron, Ilili is as much an oasis as any place in the Middle East. The large restaurant is on two levels, with the main level being the preferred location, although all dining areas are acceptable. The main dining area is divided by wooden panels between the lower bar area, and high ceiling large table section in the center and a more intimate two top table section. The overall decor is composed of rich wood, candle lighting which in an unexpected way creates a certain Arabian Nights feel.

The menu appears to be traditional Lebanese cuisine, but on close examination the ingredients indicate a modern twist to classical dishes. By encouraging diners to select small dishes (tapas style) two diners can compose a wonderful meal by combining six small dishes. Selections are varied including vegetable dishes, seafood dishes, and meat dishes. Terrific dishes include incredible Brussels sprouts, octopus cru, perfect black cod with incredible seasoning, spicy shrimp, lamb chops, lamb kabobs and duck or lamb shawarma.

The service staff is excellent, knowledgeable and efficient. While some early reviews of the service may have been accurate, the current service staff is outstanding.

The wine list while small is perfectly matched to the Lebanese cuisine. In part because the owner/chef is related to the Massoud's of Paumanok Vineyards of Long Island, both Long Island and Californian wines are featured. We had the excellent Paumanok Chardonnay which was perfectly matched to our most recent meal. Wine service was professional.

This is truly an outstanding restaurant, doing for Lebanese food what Anthos is trying to do for Greek cuisine, but doing it far better and much loser prices.

Ilili - Highly Recommended

04 April 2008

Eastern Pennsylvania Dining and Wine Tasting

We travel to eastern Pennsylvania frequently to visit family, go outlet shopping and attend events at the colleges. Until recently, the area was not a fine dining destination by Manhattan standards. But with the recent migration of greater numbers of New York City region people to the area, and at least until recently improving economic growth, the area is developing a few fine places that stand up to highest quality and performance standards. The Bethlehem area seems particularly strong and here are two of our favorites:

Bolete - Resturant and Inn
1740 Seidersville Road
Bethlehem, PA 18015

On the south side of the Lehigh mountain range just outside Bethlehem is one of the most attractive sections of the Lehigh Valley. Seiderville road which runs east to west from Hellertown to Allentown for the most part is a beautiful winding country road. At a rather unfortunate and non-scenic intersection of the road is the charming old stone house/country inn recently renamed Bolete (Latin for wild mushroom). Owned and operated by Lee Chizmar and Erin Shea, this young couple has brought a fine sense of dining and style to what otherwise would be a rather ordinary place.

Erin Shea runs the front of the house and is a friendly and charming hostess. Erin also handles the promotion and maintains a lively restaurant website. The decor is country modern, and it is clear there was more inspiration here than money in the interior design and redecorating budget. Nonetheless, the atmosphere of the dining rooms is simple, clean and perfectly well suited with the building's architectural bones. The dining room is bright for lunch and seductively illuminated for evening dining.

Chizmar is the chef and runs a kitchen that uses local produce when available, changes the menu daily and executes contemporary American meals that are overall outstanding. As is the case in many places, the simpler the dish the better the execution and performance. Chizmar has a weakness to over complicate some dishes and the results are mixed. While the seafood dishes are very good, our experience has indicated the kitchen does meats and fowl better than fish.

The wine list suffers as do all Pennsylvania restaurants from restrictions placed upon them to obtain wine through the state wine distribution system. Nonetheless, the list is acceptable, but surprisingly the wines are priced quite high.

Service is very friendly and mostly very good. Professional and competent waiters make the experience enjoyable and the limited support staff are especially good.

We are pleased to see that a young couple can elevate the dining standards of the area and that the local diners as well as out-of-towners can enjoy a wonderful meal in a pleasant setting.

Update: Bolete has been selected by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the top new spots in the world for 2008. Wow that is a major accomplishment.

Bolete - Recommended

Blue Grillhouse - Wine Bar
4431 Easton Avenue
Bethlehem PA 18020

On the eastern side of Bethlehem on one of the nondescript roads leading towards Easton, is a large dining facility with a formal restaurant which for the last five years has been named the Blue Grillhouse - Wine Bar, which it shares with the catering/event facility Candlelight (the original name had been Candleight Inn for both places). While the place has all the warning signals of a very commercial dining business that serves mediocre food, the Blue Grillhouse is in fact a top notch steakhouse/chophouse with one of finer wine collections in Pennsylvania.

The large restaurant is inviting despite the dark wood decor and the various partitioned dining areas. Always illuminated by candles, the place has a much more inviting appeal than most steakhouse and chophouses. Reception and wait service is consistently very good.

This is a place to go for meat - steaks and chops, but it also does a very good job on simply prepared seafood. Dishes are large and while expensive, represent very good value. Any simply prepared steak, chop of fish will be 100% satisfying.

What really separates Blue Grillhouse is the wine list containing over 200 bottles of well selected wines. With severe restrictions in Pennsylvania for restaurants to develop a top caliber wine list and cellar, Blue Grillhouse does an outstanding job. Prices are also good values.

Blue Grillhouse - Wine bar - Recommended

A Voce

41 Madison Avenue
New York , NY 10010

The Gramercy/Flatiron area has an abundant number of top restaurants. And the block between 24th and 26th on Madison has three top places; Eleven Madison Park, Tabla and A Voce.

A Voce is a modern Italian/American place that provides fine dining in a modern environment. The relatively large dining room with a wall of glass facing 26th Street is pure Italian modern design. The simple stark design while stylish imparts zero warmth and comfort. Tables are lined in rigid rows which adds to the style but results in a cafeteria like feeling.

Fortunately the menu and execution of the of Chef Andrew Carmellini's kitchen is so excellent the environment is secondary. Based upon classic Italian cuisine, the kitchen transforms the dishes into contemporary cuisine that reflects its Italian origins, but also has modern American and fresh local ingredients that transforms the food into a very high level of modern cuisine. Appetizers are generous, pasta course are light and satisfying and mains - particularly seafood - are spectacular. Expect to pay premium prices for such excellently prepared meals.

The wine list is first class, featuring a full array of Italian selections, priced fairly. The Wine Spectator Award of Excellence is richly deserved.

The only failing at A Voce is the service. Reception while honoring reservations has a bit of an attitude, the wait staff is disinterested in serving and runners/busboys are not nearly as professional at other top places. This is an area that needs immediate attention and in our mind lowers our overall appreciation of the dining experience.

A Voce - Recommended

27 March 2008

East End Long Island Spring Dining and Wine Tasting

Spring arrives late in the East End of Long Island. To stimulate dining interest, the Hamptons Restaurant Week that starts 30 March allows diners to select tasting menus at reduced prices. We reported on a number our East End favorites in January, and below we provide a few more excellent choices and one acceptable choice:

North Fork Table & Inn
57225 Main Road
Southold, NY 11971

Executive Chef Gerry Hayden, formerly of Aureole, and his wife, Claudia Fleming, formerly of Gramercy Tavern and their partners, Mike and Mary Mraz (also of Gramercy Tavern) have turned this Southold country inn into a fine dining destination.

The contemporary update of the inn provides an open dining area, which has traditional links in wood details and lighting, but provides a comfortable contemporary dining experience.

The menu is also contemporary American, composed of many local ingredients and all of the highest quality. Chef Hayden has taken lessons learned in earlier kitchens and transformed them into his own style which earns rave reviews from both diners and critics.

The relatively short wine list is excellent and composed of interesting domestic and international choices at all price points. Many local Long Island wines are featured and complement the local food products. We selected the Clovis Point Merlot, an excellent example of what can be accomplished in making a high quality wine from the local merlot varietal.

Overall the North Fork Table & Inn is a great choice and worth the drive to Southold regardless of the time of year.

North Fork Table & Inn - Highly Recommended

Stone Creek Inn
405 Montauk Highway
East Quogue, NY 11942

Located on a large lot on a relatively nondescript section of the Montauk Highway between East Quogue and Hampton Bays, this country inn provides exactly the right balance of comfort and style. The entertaining bar area greets diners before being seated in either the smaller front room/porch area or in the larger main dining room which is further along the entrance hallway. While quite different, both rooms have advantages, and both are perfect places to enjoy a wonderful meal.

Chef/Owner Christian Mir's menu is composed of both American and Mediterranean influenced cuisines, executed to nearly perfection by a talented kitchen. Choices include local seafood and Long Island duck, quality meats, as well as local produce when in season.

The wine list is comprehensive with excellent domestic choices and many Long Island winery top tier wines. We tend to go with the Wolffer Chardonnay or Merlot, both of which are quality wines made in the Long Island style (less oak) and both being very good values.

Service tends to change with the season, due to the changes in staff as well as the number of diners. Nonetheless, service is always professional and never really bad as some places unfortunately are on the East End.

We have never had a bad meal and/or bad service after many visits. Rather, we have many memorable meals and some outstanding service. We look forward to each return visit.

Stone Creek Inn - Highly Recommended

Olde Speonk Inn
190 Montauk Highway
Speonk, NY 11972

Just west of Westhampton is the hamlet of Speonk, one of the last locations that may be considered a part of the Hamptons. A roadside inn was renovated within the last two years and is now the Olde Speonk Inn. While the interior design is not nearly as stylish as either the North Fork Table & Inn or the Stone Creek Inn, nonetheless the interior is comfortable in a non-threatening way. Windows on two sides of the essentially one main dining room make it light and airy during the day and sparkling at night.

While the restaurant promotes itself as featuring classic American cuisine, it is only so if classic American cuisine consists of largely Italian and other European influenced dishes. The bigger problem is the chef/kitchen seem to have no focus on what is either on the menu or how it is prepared. While the food itself is made from high quality, fresh and frequently local ingredients, the execution is muddled. Stick to simple steaks, poultry or seafood, and avoid any special preparations as they are far from special.

The service by both waiters and runner/busboys is real amateurish and not even close to the better dining places on the East End. Further the managers, many from Tiderunners in Hampton Bays, seem to care less about the dining room than the bar, which appears to be the profit center.

The wine list is mostly composed of unknown Italian and other European wines and an odd collection of domestic and local wines. Selections of poor varietals, poor wineries and poor vintages are the hallmark of the wine list.

Olde Speonk Inn - Acceptable


34 E 61st Street
New York, NY, 10065

Aureole has become a Manhattan institution over the past twenty years. This Upper East Side townhouse restaurant burst upon the scene when Charlie Palmer elevated American cuisine to the levels previously reserved for French and occasionally Italian cuisine. This elegant place has evolved and after a period of "attitude", it has reclaimed its hold on both a high level of service, and very friendly service. Reservations are honored and special requests become an opportunity for the staff to excel.

The prix fixed menu is expensive, but the value is well worth the steep fee. Menu choices are varied and interesting, including seafood, poultry and meats (and vegetarian if you ask). The execution by the kitchen is outstanding. First courses are as large as most mains. And mains are also somewhat over sized, but nonetheless totally satisfying. Desserts are equally large and equally outstanding.

The wine list is long, interesting and while priced high, also has some outstanding values. Interestingly the list is dominated by European wines and not nearly as many American wine choices as we would like to see from such a great American restaurant. We discussed the lack of quality American wines with the wine director and he expressed an interest to strengthen the domestic content of the list.

Aureole will relocate to the new Bank of America building across from Bryant Park, and will have three separate sections; fine dining room, casual dining room and private dining room, to address the fact that a high level of fine American dining is becoming more and more challenging. So if you want to experience true elegance, reserve soon and be prepared for a wonderful dining experience.

Aureole - Highly Recommended

20 March 2008

Accademia di Vino

1081 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10021

Being huge fans of ‘Cesca on the Upper West Side, we looked forward to dining at its Upper East Side family member, Accademia di Vino. The transformation of the former Chinese restaurant into an Italian wine bar on the ground level and a subterranean vaulted wine cellar as the main dining room has be outstanding. While not as warm and inviting as ‘Cesca, the design is clearly a strong point.

The menu has many current and former 'Cesca items, perhaps too many for the kitchen to do an excellent job on all of them. Sampling a number of dishes, while none were bad, our clear winners are the pasta dishes, each prepared to perfection. Nonetheless, none of the food here seemed as satisfying as the food served at ‘Cesca.

While to food was very good, just not up to 'Cesca standards, the wait service is another matter. Whereas at ‘Cesca the service always shines, here it barely exists. From rude front desk staff, incompetent waiters, to lost bus boys and runners, this clearly is the Accademie of un-trainable wait staff. In addition, the audio soundtrack seemed more suited for a Lower East Side bar than what tries to be taken as a serious Italian restaurant. So to us it is all about the limited skills, or lack thereof, by this restaurant’s management.

As note by its name, Accademia di Vino has an outstanding and comprehensive Italian wine list and cellar. The list includes many relatively unknown but outstanding wines priced at reasonable levels. Wine service unfortunately is as bad as the overall service.

Accademia di Vino - Acceptable

Bistro Milano

1350 Sixth Avenue (entrance on 55th Street)
New York, NY 10019

A modern Northern Italian trattoria has established itself in mid-town. This new place is from the management team at BICE and Remi, but here they have selected lower priced fare, while retaining the same focus on service and friendliness.

Bistro Milano’s clear glass French door facade gives it an open and inviting appeal. As soon as good weather arrives a large outdoor eating area will bloom just outside the doorways. The interior decor is somewhat nondescript Italian modern, but not in an offensive way (other than the glaring big flat panel screen above the bar that needs to GO). The simple square room has the potential of being cafeteria like, except that the wait staff assures that while it is busy it is remains an orderly room.

The evolving menu is pure Northern Italian, featuring pure simple Italian dishes. This is a place to go for Italian comfort food, not any experimental food. The kitchen has been executing the Milanese cuisine with excellent preparations from day one. In addition to all these Milanese standards, the kitchen also offers a small pizza menu.

Currently the service crew is all Italian from the front desk, waiters through the managers which provides a sense of stability and customer commitment that is increasingly rare.

The wine list is short and not memorable.

Bistro Milano - Recommended

08 March 2008


72 W. 69th Street
New York, NY, 10023

Continuing our sampling of Upper West Side restaurants, we recently dined at Telepan.

When Bill Telepan opened his eponymous place it became the top dining place on the UWS, and it was impossible to get in, suffered from overbooking and perhaps an unwarranted reputation of having an attitude.

Fortunately now nearly three years later, the place while still popular is accessible, reservations are honored and the only attitude is one of welcoming friendliness and warmth.

The room has both a modern edge coupled with a country style that reflects the dedication to local products. As we had earlier at BLT Market, we were seated next to one of Telepan's purveyors. In this case, it was the pork and ham suppliers Jennifer Small and Michael Yezzi from The Flying Pig Farm (they referred to themselves as the pig farmers) from Shushan, NY near Sarotoga. When they are in Manhattan (they are frequently at the Union Square farmer's market) they stop in, chat with Bill, and have a wonderful meal featuring their ham and pork products prepared in a multitude of ways.

Telepan's menu is composed of three sections; starters, middle and mains (plus desserts). You can dine ala carte or select one of a few different menus (with or without wine pairings). The menu is American modern cuisine, executed to near perfection. In addition to the pork derived dishes there is organic chicken, fresh fish, pasture fed veal (like tender beef), etc.

Service was very good with one exception noted below.

The wine list is comprehensive, grouping wines by styles and regions. Our first disappointment is that excellent local and regional American wines are not featured. We are continually puzzled why a restaurateur features local produce and has virtually no local wines given New York state has some outstanding wines.

Our second disappointment was that wine service apparently is limited to opening the wine and pouring the first serving. No tables in our section during our recent visit had additional pouring of empty glasses of wine. Not what we expect at a top Manhattan restaurant. Very strange.

Overall this is a wonderful dining place and we look forward to many future visits, even if we have to pour our own wine.

Telepan - Highly Recommended

06 March 2008

Lever House Restaurant

390 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10022

When it opened five years ago, Lever House was one of those immediate trendy places that was the favorite of both foodies and social trendies. Then it seemed to evolve to attracting expense account business types for lunch and too many want-to-bes in the evening.

Well now after the opening of many new places the social moths have moved on, and Lever House in the evening is now in fact a comfortable and enjoyable dining place.

Of course the design and decor of Lever House has been one of its calling cards. The entrance via a Star Trek like tunnel permits the guest to transition from the streets of Manhattan to something that is either the future, or what the future was to look like in the 1950's. The David Rockefeller design does grow on you as the wonderful wood interior and Jetson-like lighting actually works. Clearly the tables/booths along the left side and at the rear are the preferred seating. The endless row of two-tops along the right side is depressing and clearly discriminatory against diners arriving as twos.

The contemporary American menu presents the diner a small but interesting selection of choices which are far more appetizing than the descriptions. There are prix fix menus in addition to the ala cart menu.The execution of Executive Chef - Dan Silverman's kitchen is outstanding, and rivals the best in Manhattan.

The wine list while comprehensive is priced very high. And it was not only our experience but that of the adjoining table that our choice(s) for wine, some of the better value selections, were not available. Never a good sign when they are out of selections at any place and totally unacceptable at a top place. And when the sommelier tried to foist an overpriced mediocre wine on what he suspected was an uneducated diner, it was a clear sign that this side of the house is still desiring expense accounts types and not real food and wine lovers.

So if you love interesting and well prepared modern American cuisine in a unique environment go to Lever House. However, if you are a wine lover, go elsewhere.

Lever House - Recommended

01 March 2008


164 West 75th St.,
New York, NY, 10023

Even though we live in Midtown, we are negligent in dining on the Upper Westside, which continues a recent trend to be the destination location for interesting new places. Over the next few months we will hopefully report on a number of the newer places.

One fine restaurant that has been around a while that has the combination of excellent food, good service and a wonderful ambiance is ‘Cesca. Unfortunately many people know that fact, and therefore it remains a difficult reservation to obtain. But either with advanced planning or willingness to sit in the more casual open front section, it is worth the effort to dine at ‘Cesca.

'Cesca is an outstanding restaurant. The menu is extensive and the food captures Italian cuisine without trying to exactly duplicate what you would eat in Italy. Rather it incorporates local regional ingredients, flavors and recipes to achieve what we consider a perfect balance of American and Italian cuisines.

As an example on a recent visit we started with two excellent salads, both with fresh ingredients; arugula, radicchio, Gorgonzola, pecans, etc,, and dressed to perfection. For mains we had a perfectly prepared duck and one of the best pork chops each accompanied by Italian inspired sides.

The wine list is an outstanding of excellent Italian wines, moderately priced, featuring lesser known but outstanding examples of the various regions. Wine service is casual and could be improved.

Apart from the wine service, the service at all levels is outstanding. Reservations are honored. The wait staff is knowledgeable and helpful.

The decor is comforting and promotes a relaxed and friendly dinning experience. The front bar area has casual communal seating, but in a very pleasant environment. There are private dinning nooks along the aisle past the open kitchen, and a large, comfortable and perfectly illuminated main dining area. The seating is a series of groupings that provides intimacy despite the large area.

In summary, if 'Cesca was in any place other than Manhattan, it would likely be the best in town.

‘Cesca – Highly Recommended

24 February 2008


72 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Initial Notes:

We went to Olana on Saturday night, the first night that it was opened for the general public. The place is huge, with a large and very popular circular bar area in the front of the house. The large main dinning room was less popular, probably in part due to some weird lighting resulting from a back lighted winter scene which casts a weird florescent lighting pall to the room. The smaller back room was packed, as it is much more intimate, comfortable and far more appropriate for a nice dinner. The banquettes and chairs are bordello red, and much of the décor has a combination of red tones and wood. In additional to the seasonal scenes in the main dining room, there is a large mural of the Hudson River that you will either love or really hate.

The front of the house staff, managers and waiters were very professional, and seemingly well versed. However, the servers and busboys were totally confused and were dressed in mismatched white tops and black pants that seemed more appropriate at an inexpensive Latin American than at a more upscale restaurant.

Hopefully they will quickly fix the main room lighting, and get some training and uniforms for the servers and runners.

What may take longer to fix is a menu and kitchen that seems to have no direction. Part of the menu is Hudson Valley local regional cuisine, and the other part is an interpretation of Italian cuisine. Clearly Chef Al Di Meglio is searching for his own style and while some may like this fusion of two styles, it just didn’t wow us. We sampled both types of dishes and found the duck, rabbit and pork loin dishes not nearly as good as at other top regional places. And the Italian dishes; including burnt orange and duck ravioli, cavatelli with mushrooms, and a Brodetto seafood stew with bulgur (not couscous as listed on the menu), missed the mark and were not up to par with other top Italians. It clear Di Meglio has talent and hopefully he will evolve into a menu that can be executed to perfection by the kitchen staff.

The wine list is being developed according to the sommelier and at the moment is both eclectic and a little weird. It is also very high priced, starting at around $60 a bottle and climbing rapidly into the hundreds of dollars.

We will give Olana a few weeks to iron out the kinks and hopefully allow Di Meglio and the kitchen to find their direction.

Olana - Too Early to Judge

22 February 2008

Strada 57

315 West 57th Street
New York, NY 10019

There are hundreds of little neighborhood Italian restaurants in Manhattan, and Midtown has its fair share. But finding a very good Italian in the area of 57th Street west of 8th Avenue is a challenge. Fortunately Strada 57 is just the kind of neighborhood place you can stop in without a reservation, be greeted, seated at a nice table, and be served a nice meal.

The restaurant has a nice windowed front seating area, a bar area which occasionally has live jazz music, and then two rooms in the back that have comfortable seating. The décor is somewhat provincial, and clearly not Manhattan interior design.

Service is generally professional and always enthusiastic.

The menu is filled with typical Italian-American choices. The kitchen’s execution is inconsistent; occasionally producing fine versions of classics and occasionally serving up very nice dishes which only have a distant relationship to the Italian originals. Regardless, the food is always satisfying be it home made pastas, meat, poultry or seafood.

The wine list is limited but does have fairly priced Italian reds and whites, and other regional wines. We have always found an interesting bottle that we had not previously tried and frequently been impressed with the quality of the wine.

Strada 57 - Recommended

21 February 2008

Bistro Chat Noir

22 East 66th Street
New York, NY 10021

Having had a less than memorable dinner at Bar Boulud, we thought we would sample a traditional French Bistro right in Daniel Boulud’s neighborhood. Bistro Chat Noir is owner Suzanne Latapie’s homage to all the little bistros we all love in France. And she has done a great job as we love Chat Noir.

The step down restaurant just off Madison Avenue immediately feels like you have been teleported to Paris. The small bar reception area is like hundreds of places we have visited. And with Suzanne holding down the reception desk, you not only have your reservation honored, you become a Guest at her place.

The room is a long alley with two top and four top tables on the sides, and in a clever move a train of two tops are located down the center of the alley, giving dinning couples an unexpected sense of privacy in the middle of a bustling bistro.

The service staff, always being watched over by Suzanne, is professional and as good as at far more pricey places. We were served promptly, accurately and with a wonderful playful French attitude.

The menu is classic interpretations of French Bistro fare, and there must be a French chef in the kitchen. And while not always as authentic as we may have desired, nonetheless a wonderful collection of classics. Our soups, salads, hot and cold appetizers were just that – appetizing. Classic main courses such as moules frites and steak frites, made with Hereford beef were outstanding.

The wine list is relatively short and composed of primarily French wines. We enjoy seeing wines like Chinons that are frequently not included on Manhattan wine lists. The selections were fine, but unfortunately they were out of a few of our choices, which is a major demerit for any place. However, when we chose a Washington State Colombia Valley merlot, it was surprising good after it had a chance to breath.

As usual we skipped dessert, so we have no notes.

Bistro Chat Noir - Highly Recommended

17 February 2008


25 W. 56th Street
New York, NY, 10019

Having enjoyed BLT Market we decided to return to Beacon, a favorite that was one of the first Midtown restaurants to feature local, in this case Hudson Valley, American regional cuisine.

The décor of Beacon has always been a satisfying blend of Frank Lloyd Wright and Adirondack natural wood styles meeting Manhattan sophisticated interior design. The dining room is multilevel, with a comfortable main dining area, a wood oven/stove open kitchen lower seating area and a wrap around upper balcony seating area including private party dining spaces.

The menu is a wonderful blend of American comfort food. The wood grilled meat, fowl, fish and vegetables have distinctive and appealing flavors. The daily prix fixed menu provides ample choices and great value.

The staff, while perhaps not the best in town, is friendly and helpful.

The wine list that has depth and variety, but unfortunately is not is keeping with the local and regional theme. While there are a few Hudson Valley selections, the wine list would benefit by the addition of more Finger Lakes and Long Island east end New York regional wines. We selected a Washington state Colombia Valley Merlot from Sagelands which was perfect to accompany our filet mignon.

We can summarize by simply stating that the entire dinning experience was one of warmth and comfort.

Beacon – Highly Recommended

10 February 2008

BLT Market

Ritz-Carlton Hotel
1430 Sixth Avenue
New York, NY 10019

The corner of Central Park South (59th Street) and Sixth Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) that has been the home of many international dining places is now home to an outstanding Regional American run by French owner/chef, Laurent Tourondel, his kitchen staff and his excellent restaurant management team. While we have not been fans of other BLT restaurants around Manhattan, we love BLT Market.

BLT Market is the latest and perhaps the best of the Manhattan artisanal and the locally grown farm produce restaurants featuring the best of the Hudson River Valley and Long Island agricultural purveyors. In fact we were seated next to a large table hosted by BLT Market’s meat purveyor who enjoyed celebrity status with the restaurant management and the executive chef. Yes, this is truly a restaurant that benefits from and takes advantage of the best of local food products, including mounting photos of the purveyors on the walls of the restaurant.

The restaurant’s style is definitely the best of the turn of the century; that is 1900. Plenty of natural wood, zinc buckets, canned vegetables, bottles of honey, fresh cut flowers and wired wound incandescent lamps. The house tap water is served in real milk bottles.

There are three dining areas, the prime room facing Central Park, the entrance room which has a bit of coffee shop feel and a more quiet room off to the right of the entrance. And being directly across the street from the Central Park horse carriages taxi stand, there can occasionally be a faint smell of the horses throughout the rooms, which adds to the country feelings.

We have had excellent service throughout our dining visits. The front desk has always honored our reservation and reservation request for a special table. Our frequent waiter, Sergio, is excellent. Wine service is very professional.

We received wonderful updated versions of pigs in a blanket as our chef’s tasting along with a wonderful fresh, hot garlic and pesto infused baguette. The menu is seasonal featuring produce and other ingredients available at the time. During a recent winter visits, salads were accompanied with winter seasonal produce such as beets and Brussels sprouts and winter seafood. All were outstanding. Our main courses of Amish chicken, Long Island Duck and Berkshire pork chop were very good, both a reflection of a slow cooking approach. A recent northern Halibut dinner was outstanding with a cauliflower puree. And while slow cooking has advocates, it our personal opinion that we prefer our pork chops and chickens roasted in a hot oven which produces crisper and more seared results.

We are not dessert fans so we have passed, but the desserts at adjoining tables looked old fashion and wonderful.

The wine list was comprehensive with an excellent collection of New York, American and European wines. The prices were on the high side, when compared to other comparable restaurants. We have selected the excellent Wolffer Estate Chardonnay, which was well balance with rich fruits and citrus, which complemented our seasonal dishes.

BLT Market – Highly Recommended

03 February 2008


303 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10017

We are split on Middle Eastern/Mediterranean/Greek/Turkish dining. One of us is a big fan of virtually any place that is not a greasy spoon, while one of us can barely eat another stuffed grape leaf for the rest of our life.

Pera, the stylish Mediterranean featuring Turkish influenced cuisine near Grand Central Station is a recent favorite of both of us. The clean modern design of this large restaurant gives the dinner a Manhattan adult dining experience. The menu while dominated by Mediterranean influences dishes, does offer a few options to satisfy those who want alternatives.

Service is good, but not nearly as professional as one would expect at a place with high end prices.

The wine list disappoints and is not commensurate with fine dining and needs attention immediately,

Pare - Acceptable

BBQ Places

Having lived in Europe, California and the Northeast, it is difficult for us to know what real barbecue should be like given it’s a Southern and South Central US cuisine. All we know is what tastes great to us. And while we have been to BBQ places across the Southwest, Texas, in the Carolinas up to Virginia and sampled all types of BBQ, we believe New York is blessed with some great BBQ places. Here are a few of our favorites:

Blue Smoke
116 E. 27th Street
New York, NY 10016

Danny Meyer’s Gramercy place is a stylish down home road house serving very good to excellent barbecue in a large converted warehouse like building. The industrial design is simple but stylish at the same time.

The menu includes all forms of BBQ, and the results are pretty darn good. I’m a big fan of pulled pork BBQ and have tried it virtually everywhere across America. Blue Smoke’s pulled pork BBQ is at the moment the best I have every eaten. The smoked beef brisket is equally outstanding. And surprisingly the spiced “you peel them shrimp” were great.

Service is roadhouse good, friendly and depending upon your server very good to great.

This is more a long drink and beer place than a wine place, even though there is a decent wine list featuring Long Island and other US regional wines. The Mint Juleps are to die for.

Blue Smoke – Recommended to Highly Recommended

Wildwood BBQ
225 Park Avenue South
New York , NY


Gramercy is blessed with excellent BBQ places and the newest, Wildwood BBQ is at the top of the list. Being from B R Guests group, there is a natural hesitation, but our experiences have been totally positive.

The pleasant roadhouse/barn decor serves as a perfect place to indulge one into BBQ. Service has been very good, with plenty of people making sure you had a great experience.

While people will always argue over what type of BBQ is best, Wildwood serves up some very decent ribs, briskets and pulled pork more in the Carolina tradition than others. The vinegar and salt chips served with sandwiches are an acquired taste, and the accompanying sweet pickles may remind you of your grandmother.

This is a beer and long drinks place, so don't look for a decent wine here. Great beer list and good drinks make this a place to come to drink and eat on the side.

Wildwood BBQ - Recommended

Dinosaur Bar B Que
646 W. 131st Street
New York , NY 10027

Reviewers and dining critics have raved about Dinosaur for the past few years. That fact that a BBQ place, particularly one in Harlem, has become a destination dining place gives evidence that this restaurant has been an important part of Manhattan dining.

The former warehouse/factory has all the raw architectural bones to create a fantastic roadhouse decor. While a little rough at the edges, this is a comfortable place to sit down and eat barbecue. Service is friendly and if not completely professional, the wait staff makes it for lapses with good spirits and rapid service.

The menu is composed primarily of barbecue as one would expect. And it is good very good BBQ. Be it pulled pork, brisket or ribs, the preparations are first class. The none BBQ items fall fall short; weak cole slaw, cold and not really spicy shrimp, flabby french fries, etc. These failures make the overall barbecue experience a little less spectacular.

This is a beer place, although the menu does contain a few selections of wine by the glass, which were OK.

Dinosaur - Recommended

Virgil's Real Barbecue
152 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036

Many people consider Virgil’s off Times Square the real thing when it comes to BBQ. It definitely has the rural Southern roadhouse look and feel. Many Southern customers flock to this place when they come to Manhattan. The place is filled with all the beer signs, tacky trappings and awards for the best BBQ.

We tried our BBQ favorites; pulled pork BBQ and BBQ’d beef brisket. The savory pork BBQ was darn good, but not the best. The brisket fell well short of the best, as did the hand cut fries, cold slaw and pickles.

Service was typical of a roadhouse, more friendly than capable.

Barbecue wine lists are a bit of an oxymoron and while the Pinot Noir was drinkable, this is a far better beer and Southern cocktail place.

Virgil’s - Acceptable


11 E. 53rd Street
New York, NY, 10022

Alto is a restaurant we have come to love.

When Scott Conant opened this sleek designed Italian in 2005 with a menu that reads like a visit to Trentino-Alto Adige, that northern Italian region bordering Austria, it had all the basic ingredients for success. The problem was Alto had too many little disappointments. We wrote then “the food from Trentino-Alto Adige is robust, not delicate in flavors or composition. So one ends up longing as much after the meal as before the meal despite knowing all the attention and effort undertaken in Scott Conant's kitchen”

However now with Chef Michael White in charge of the kitchen, the food explodes off the plate, not with over the top culinary glitz, but rather from outstandingly wonderful preparation and execution of subtle flavoring of the overwhelming perfect ingredients. During a recent samplings of dishes from the four course prix fixed menu, we enjoyed a wonderful tuna carpaccio, a wonderful rich soup, two outstanding pasta second courses, wonderful Guinea hen and a to die for lamb chops. The four courses were equally outstanding; perfectly ripe cheese course and a trio of apple desserts including an apple bread pudding.

Alto is composed of multiple rooms, glass panels and is not inherently a great space with narrow corridors and nooks and crannies, which we did not find spectacular, just somewhat cramped.

The service has improved over that past two plus years, and at the moment the service is as fine as we have experienced at any place other than the absolute top places in Manhattan.

The wine list is incredible with a spectacular collection of outstanding and unique Italian, European and new world wines. The selection of Northern Italian red and white wines presents to the adventurous customer an opportunity to taste wines that are highly influenced by Austria and Germany.

Alto – Highly Recommend

01 February 2008

Park Avenue (Summer/Autumn/Winter)

Park Avenue (Summer/Autumn/Winter)
100 E. 63rd Street
New York, NY, 10021

Overall Park Avenue (Summer/Autumn/Winter) has been a pleasant surprise, since the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group in the summer of 2007 replaced the long in the tooth Park Avenue Café, which had been running on fumes for years, with this sleek seasonal dining place.

The new decor is inviting, changing four times during the year with the seasons. We appreciated the minimalist Summer décor, viewed the warmth of the Autumn décor and saw positives during a recent evening in the Winter décor.

Chef Craig Koketsu’s menu is intriguing. The execution in the kitchen has been uneven, resulting in an American menu with an Asian/Middle Eastern exotic approach to classics that in our opinion is all over the map. Some dishes are great, some far from it. A king prawns appetizer in Summer was great, and mediocre in Winter. John Dory and Halibut main courses were very good to outstanding. The lack of consistency is troubling.

The overall acceptable food is diminished by a staff that is can be so bad that they are almost humorous. The highly publicized South Asian servers and busboys that were so bad that they were humorous this summer are far better six months later. Unfortunately over the same six months the front desk hosts and mangers have developed an attitude. Despite the recent departure of the GM, the overall restaurant management is very uneven. When a specific type of seating was not available when we arrived we were seated at another table. Fair. But when our requested table freed prior to our appetizers arriving and we requested a floor manager to move us, we were first given the slow roll and then denied the move due to “confusing the waiters according to the chef. “ Give me a break. For the next forty minutes the table was unoccupied. Remember when the customer was always right.

The wine list is long and featured many interesting off-beat wines. Great. But pricing them like they were well known premium wines is a weird and unacceptable pricing approach. The wine service was a joke. After getting the wine list, within five minutes I was accosted by not one, not two, not three but four servers that “offered their assistance to make a selection.” Were they trying to get the wine list back? Were they trying to push certain wines? What gives?

We want to like Park Avenue (Summer/Autumn/Winter) but the restaurant does so many little things to irritate us that we are unlikely to return in the near future.

Park Avenue (Summer/Autumn/Winter) - Acceptable to Not Acceptable

28 January 2008

East End Long Island Winter Dining and Wine Tasting

January is the cruelest time for restaurants on the East End of Long Island. Be it the Hamptons on the South Fork, or the more rural and agricultural North Fork the few “open all year” places are rare with even many of them “closed for vacation” in January. The customers are even rarer, as locals surprisingly fail to take advantage of some really great dining places that have open bookings and special prix fixed winter menus. Unfortunately far too few weekenders and tourists come out to Eastern Long Island, as the tourist promotion people have failed to make it a winter destination location and therefore the few open restaurants are struggling to get customers.

We spend the last weekend in January at our Southampton house and took to advantage of great dining and some great wines.

Q Restaurant
47 Quogue St
Quogue, NY 11959

In its brief less than two years history Q Restaurant has become a destination place on the South Fork / Hamptons located in tiny conservative Quogue. In fact Q is the only restaurant in the village that is know for stately homes, wide tree lined streets, and an overly aggressive police traffic enforcement force (beware of the 25 mph speed limit, the zero tolerance drink drive, and even having your fog lights on if its not foggy because you WILL be pulled over).

Q has been developed and nurtured by experienced owner/chef Frank Tramontano and co-owner/ manger Sean Kehlenbeack. Set in a stately farmhouse/inn the very large restaurant and expansive bar that is usually packed to maximum throughout the summer season, becomes smaller and more relaxed in the off season when the restaurant is only open during the weekend. From the moment one enters through the hallway and is greeted by Maria the outstanding professional host, you know you are in for a wonderful dining experience.

The winter menu is a short one page of Q favorites: roasted chicken, lamb chops, various fish, pasta with the homemade Q sauces, etc. Each is prepared with savory herbs and/or sauces, presented in very large portions.

While the service during the season is always professional despite the crowds, in the off season the entire staff is at your service. Maria may bring your water, Sean may bring your wine, Maria may clear the table after a course is completed, and while Dave the head waiter moves from table to table ensuring everyone is served properly.

The wine list is extensive with many local Long Island wines, US regional wines and international wines. We had bottle of North Fork Martha Clara Chardonnay which was crisp and clean and balanced well with our dinner.

Q Restaurant – Highly Recommend

Estia’s Little Kitchen
1615 Sag Harbor Bridgehampton Turnpike
Sag harbor, NY 11963

We were fortunate to attend a Wolffer Estate wine dinner at Estia’s Little Kitchen on the road from Bridgehampton to Sag Harbor. Colin Ambrose, formerly of Charlie Palmer’s Aureole restaurant in Manhattan has owned Estia’s for nearly 15 years and turned this simple roadhouse with a minimalist interior into a fine dining spot.

Chef Ambrose’s wine dinner featured a German influenced five course dinner in honor of both Christian Wolffer the owner of the vineyards and winery and Roman Roth the Wolffer winemaker, both from Germany. The meal’s four main courses used winter ingredients; squashes and mushrooms, pork and scallops combined into wonderful courses.

Each was matched with a Wolffer white or red. Highlights were the Estate Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and a pre-release Chardonnay based “ice wine” which matched perfectly with the apple strudel like desert.

Estia’s Little Kitchen – Recommended

Second Floor
112 Riverhead Road
Westhampton Beach, NY 11978

Named for the Roman goddess of the harvest, Annona is located (actually hidden) on the second floor of the Coachworks/Manhattan Motorcars of the Hamptons showroom in Westhampton Beach. This chic and modern restaurant with Manhattan like interior design is a hidden gem of the Western Hamptons region.

Serving excellent Italian influenced contemporary cuisine highlighted by local produce; Annona is a year-round special place. A highly professional staff of host, sommelier, waiters, and busboys, and clearly a first class kitchen staff produce outstanding results.

The incredible $28 prix fixed menu served on many nights during the week is one of the best values on the entire East End. Each course is composed of three choices, each a winner including; Prosciutto with figs or pears to die for, outstanding salads, main course of grilled chicken, duck or pasta dishes and wonderful desserts.

The wine list is comprehensive with many fine Italian, international, domestic and Long Island wines. We selected a 2004 Wolffer Merlot which after it opened up, was a perfect accompaniment to our hearty winter meal.

Annona – Highly Recommended

75 Main
75 Main Street
Southampton, NY 11968

Located on one of the two primary streets in Southampton Village, this storefront restaurant has gone through many recent owners, but has now seemed to have stabilized. With a rather large bar area and large dinning room, with summer crowds this can be a popular but somewhat disappointing place only in that the service can be painfully slow. In the winter off-season with no more than a handful of dinners, the service is professional and prompt.

The lunch menu is basic American fare, but a few items such as an ale beef stew served in a carved out bread boule is outstanding. And a veal meatloaf special was light, flavorful and satisfying.

The wine list is limited, but we enjoyed glasses of Pelligrini Merlot which had just the right about of chewiness to accompany our lunch.

75 Main – Acceptable

Preston's Wharf,
102 Main Street,
Greenport, New York 11944

Greenport which is located on the far southern part of the North Fork of Long Island has become a wonderful destination for day trippers, due to it being an authentic New England like old fishing and whaling port. With shops and galleries, it is crowed in the summer and lightly visited in the winter. The village has benefited by fine restaurants which make it also a dining destination. While the well recognized Fifth Season has closed permanently after the summer season due to inadequate seating to make the venture profitable, Greenport is still blessed with some top eateries.

Located at the far end of one of the two primary streets, directly on the pier extending out into the Peconic Bay, Scrimshaws is wonderful restaurant owned by top chef and author Rosa de Carvalho (Lo San) Ross. Rosa originally from Hong Kong, after years in Europe came to New York where she studied with James Beard, with Diana Kennedy and Jacques Pepin. She has also studied and worked with many leading chefs, including Bobby Flay, Daniel Boulud, Anne Rosensweig, Bradley Ogden, Jeremiah Tower, Jaspar White, Martin Yan. Rosa brings a wonderful Asian influence to American standards such as chowders and chili con carne, as well as to international dishes.

The long dinning room with opposing windows on the water is a minimalist traditional New England décor updated to modern sensibilities. In the summer an outdoor dinning area extends to the very tip of the wharf.

The lunch menu is a real value, featuring dim sum dumplings, local Greenport oysters that are crisp and refreshing as served with Rosa’s Asian mignonette. The chili con carne feature more Southeast Asian spice that southwest seasoning, and the pork and pancakes with hossein became a modern interpretation of the classic Chinese dish.

A rather small wine lists features Long Island wines as well as international wines. We had a simple Wolffer La Ferme Chardonnay which was perfect for lunch.

During the winter, Rosa is trying hard to get customers to travel to the far end of Preston Wharf. There is a multi-course Chinese New Year Duck dinner on 9 February and a Bedell/Corey Creek wine tasting dinner on Friday 15 February, which is an excellent alternative to overpriced Valentines’ Day dinners.

Scrimshaw – Recommended

PS –

One of the finest restaurants on the South fork, F.O.O.D. in Hampton Bays appears to have closed permanently, at least at the Montauk Highway location which is boarded up and for sale. A great loss for the area, and we can only hope it will relocate and reopen in the late spring.

24 January 2008

Five Guys

Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries
43 W 55th Street
New York, NY 10019

There have been many studies done showing that people crave foods that are connected with childhood memories or other positive experiences. To this day I crave for a Philly cheese steak of my childhood. I also have developed a craving for the soft tacos I loved when I lived in Southern California, particularly the fish tacos popular in San Diego.

But for most people who grew up in America, their primal craving is for the hamburger and fries of their youth. Manhattan is fortunate for the many places to get a good burger. But there is also the need to have the iconic place that serves up the burger and fries that reminds us of our memories. It needs to have the same look, feel and smell of the joints where we had our favorite burgers. The closest places I have experienced in my adult life are the IN-N-OUT Burger chain of Southern California. Unfortunately IN-N-OUT has yet to travel beyond California, Arizona and Nevada let alone to Manhattan. A reasonable alternative is Five Guys. Originally started in Alexandria Virginia, just South of Washington DC, Five Guys has expanded not only throughout the Mid-Atlantic States but also throughout the Eastern half of the US including Manhattan.

The Five Guys on West 55th Street is located in a mini-restaurant row. When one enters the brightly lighted white tile with red tile joint, one encounter tall stacks of Idaho potato bags stored and displayed to announce that there are no frozen reheated fries coming out of this place. There are also stacks of malt vinegar and pickle jars, announcing the basic ingredients.

In the rear of the space is the short order grill, the order and pick-up spots and smell of burgers and fries. The menu is short and to the point; burgers and accompaniments, fries, dogs and soft drinks.

The burgers are great and the fries are better than average. Are they the best burgers in Manhattan? No, but they are darn good, and a great value.

Does the place remind one of the burger joints of your youth (assuming you are 30+ years old)? Yes, undoubtedly.

Does it satisfy one’s craving for a burger and fries? Yes (at least until IN-N-OUT ever comes to Manhattan).

Five Guys Famous Burger and Fries - Acceptable

21 January 2008


Dream Hotel
204 West 55th Street
New York, NY 10019

Visit after visit one of our favorite dining places in midtown is Amalia, located adjacent to the Dream Hotel.

The overall decor is hip but at the same time emphasizing natural materials of brick and barn siding aged wood, combined with glass, a touch of Chinois wall paper and a pseudo-classic art gallery located on a ceiling.

The entrance bar area is large and inviting. Seating in the front of the house has a casual and contemporary feel. The first room in the back is small and slightly Oriental. Further back is the raised gallery that has views of the overall restaurant. A final room that is the least interesting is used for private parties and overflow diners.

The menu is primarily Mediterranean, with focus on foods of Spain and Middle Eastern cuisines. This combination is rare in Manhattan, actually in the United States, but common in Spain and parts of Mediterranean France. The menu while small has fantastic gems waiting to provide excellent savory and spicy flavors to the fortunate dinners. The lunch menu is short; however it provides a wonderful sampling of the cuisine.

The wine list is an excellent compilation of moderately priced wines reflecting both the region and the cuisine. A moderately price Chardonnay from Spain is a knockout value displaying abundant fruit and finish.

Service is both casual and professional at both lunch and dinner. Wine service is above average.

Amalia - Highly Recommended

20 January 2008

Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill

6 Columbus Hotel
6 Columbus Circle
New York, NY 10019

The latest of Bruce and Eric Bromberg's Blue Ribbon restaurants is the Sushi Bar & Grill located across the street from the Time Warner Center in the lobby of the 6 Columbus Hotel, a new boutique hotel.

The trendy interior couples traditional Japanese architecture elements with contemporary Manhattan interior design. The feeling is warm and inviting as well as cool and chic. With a no reservations policy, one begins the journey in the bar area a dark but at the same time an inviting space. While the barkeepers can be overwhelmed by the thirsty customers, the drinks are excellent and well priced.

The dining area is composed of three areas, a series of wooden booths along the walk way to the main dining room, a back room niche ideal for a group dinner but not for individual two-somes and four-somes, and the large main dining room made up of a long sushi counter, a small single table niche, more wooden booths on the far wall, and the main multi-table dining area all with views of the sushi chefs.

The menu is very long filled with sunomono, osuimono and salad starters; fish, shellfish,meat, poultry and tempura main courses, and with sides of vegetables, yakimono and yasai. In addition there is Hakozusho, Maki, yasai, taiheiyo and taiseiyo sushi/sashimi/rolls.The ingredients are first class and the preparation is perfect. It is debatable, but the cooked dishes are somewhat superior to the raw dishes.

The service, while well meaning, is far from perfect, but the overall positive attitude of the service staff makes the food even more enjoyable.

The wine list includes various sakes, as well as a decent list of appropriate selected wines including excellent Rieslings which match up well with the sushi dishes.

While the current over popularity may ruin the place, right now Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill is nearly perfect despite the crowds.

Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Gill - Highly Recommended

16 January 2008

Home Restaurant

20 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10014

As the news came out that after ten years David Page and Barbara Shinn were selling and have now sold Home Restaurant to their former silent partner to focus on their Shinn Estate Vineyards winery and bed and breakfast in Mattituck on Long Island's North Fork, we decided to make one last visit before the closing for renovations scheduled for early 2008.

Home seemed as cozy as ever and the menu retained its comfort food base. We found the kitchen's preparation a little tired and apart from some wonderful fried onion rings, nothing was exceptional.

The service was problematic. Our waitress seemed upset by the pending sale and temporary closure and was less than attentive.

The wine list that has always featured Long Island and US regional wines remained comprehensive, although many listed wines were not available (as they used existing inventory prior to the now concluded sale).

While our memories will remain, it was clear that in this case you truly can never go Home again.

Home Restaurant - Closing

15 January 2008

Hacienda de Argentina

339 E. 75th Street
New York, NY, 10021

Having traveled twice to Argentina (and once to Uruguay which shares much dining style with Argentina), the one conclusion that can be made is that there is not one Argentinean dining experience. Sophisticated dining in Buenos Aires is nothing like country dining at an estancia or alpine dining in Patagonia.

Hacienda de Argentina is in fact close to the meal one would get at an estancia – a ranch in the pampas.

The décor is country eclectic dominated by candlelight.

The service is homey, if not perfect.

Grilled beef and other meats dominate the menu. The preparation is traditional country cooking, and can be very good. The owner’s wife is from Argentina and it shows in the small touches.

The wine list is small and reflects many of the fine wines from the Mendoza region of Argentina. If you have not tried a Malbec, this is a perfect place to sample a dine selection of Mendoza's best Malbec wines.

So if you want estancia dining experience on the East Side, here is the place.

Hacienda de Argentina - Recommended

Gordon Ramsay and Maze at the London

The London New York City Hotel
151 W. 54th Street
New York, NY, 10019

With major hotel renovations that resulted in the London NYC, there also emerged the restaurants of Gordon Ramsay. With his first restaurant project in the United States being in Manhattan, Ramsay took on a formidable task - convincing skeptical New Yorkers to partake in his contemporary versions of classic French cuisine.

The decor of the bar/cafe area is very contemporary with a bit of Austin Powers set design. The formal dining room is just that with Continental Classic decor.

Prior to booking at the formal dining room - Gordon Ramsay at the London, we tried Maze by Gordon Ramsay (previously called the Bar) at the London, after we read about the common kitchens and prep-chefs (see the New Yorker magazine article).

We were pleasantly surprised with the excellent tapas style menu with its excellent execution. We ordered 10 small plates that we shared, and each one was outstanding. It is clear Ramsay and company are using the Maze menu to test compositions, (very much like Nougatine does a Jean Georges) as well as provide lower priced teasers for customers. Our only problem was the waiter. The headwaiter, sommelier and the bus boys were great, but our waiter and the nearby waiter were both poor.

We then celebrated a special occasion at the formal Gordon Ramsay at the London restaurant. The menu was exceptional. Ingredients and sauces were outstanding. Everything was wonderful other than slightly over cooked fish main courses, which we find is typical of European preparation but is not what we expect at a top Manhattan restaurant.

Service was very professional as expected.

The restaurant's wine list, as at Maze, is excellent but very high priced.

Overall both venues were just short of exceptional. The more casual Maze offers good value and the formal restaurant offers a perfect place to celebrate a special occasion.

Gordon Ramsay and Maze at the London - Highly recommended

Fred's at Barneys New York

660 Madison Avenue
9th floor
New York, NY, 10021

Just like the Flintstones, Fred's restaurant goes perfectly with Barney's department store – in this case both being sophisticated and very Manhattan.

The atmosphere is casual elegance, sort of country club goes to the big city. Many locals and regulars exchange kisses, hugs and conversation. The odd out-of-towner must feel somewhat awkward not having anyone to schmooze with during the meal.

The menu and food is interesting and darn good, the service is more than adequate, and the views of Madison Avenue are great as well as the views of your fellow diners. Enjoy.

Fred's - Recommended

Cafe Boulud

20 E. 76th Street
New York, NY, 10021

Cafe Boulud provides a stylish, quality dining experience, executed by the guidance of Daniel Boulud, who periodically stops by to oversee the operation.

The room and decor are reflective of the original Daniel and presents a conservative Manhattan dining experience. However, the total experience is compromised by the tight seating, in which you are as likely to participate in the conversation of the neighboring table as with your companions and guests. I assume the demand for tables has caused management to “double up” the tables, which presents a formidable challenge to the wait staff.

After getting comfortable with the tight quarters, the dining experience is a pleasure, great menus, quality ingredients and preparation. Service is professional and first class.

A recent lunch proved again that this is an outstanding dining place and the prix fix menu yields a real value meal.

The wine list has selections that match well with the menus. Prices tend to be high.

Overall this is elegant cafe dining on the Eastside.

Cafe Boulud - Recommended

14 January 2008


15 W. 56th Street
New York, NY 10019

We live in Midtown and have frequently dined and enjoyed the cuisine of Geoffrey Zakarian's Town restaurant inside the Chambers Hotel. While the initial buzz has been lowered the restaurant continues to be a top Manhattan dining spot.

Dining at Town during the week is a dining pleasure from start to finish. However, going to Town on a weekend night can still be a challenge. On a Saturday night we had not been prepared for a long wait. Due to either overbooking, poor timing by the kitchen or the staff, a reservation after 8:30 pm resulted in a lengthy delay at the cramped bar.

This was eventually compensated for when we are finally seated and served by a first class wait staff, sitting in the amazing David Rockwell decor and dining on very good to excellent food which actually lives up to the menu.

The wine list is comprehensive but priced at the high end of current Manhattan wine pricing scale.

Save room for the outstanding desserts.

Town - Recommended

Brasserie 8 1/2

9 W. 57th Street
New York, NY, 10019

Brasseries are the mainstay of not only Parisians but also for Frenchman throughout the cities of France. New York has a few restaurants that serve as the American equivalent of these brasseries. Brasserie 8 1/2 is a real brasserie and a real New York restaurant.

This restaurant is all about NYC Class.

Walk in and be greeted, then walk down into a stylish subterranean décor and allow the professional staff to seat you and serve you promptly.

There is an excellent recently updated menu and the food prepared by an outstanding chef and his staff not only matches but also exceeds the promises.

The wine list is comprehensive and reasonably priced, and overall matches well with the menu.

Stop in the bar/lounge before or after to adjust your mood.

Exit up the spiral staircase and rejoin the real world of 57th Street and 5th Avenue with an improved attitude.

Brasserie 8 1/2 - Recommended