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