Part Three Best Place to Dine with Your Dog ...
Best Place to Dine with Your Dog Downtown
145 W. Broadway (Thomas St.)
See Spot Drool. Let's face it, in a city that is supposed to be very accepting of different races, religions and Republicans, there's one group that's always left out: our four-footed friends. And we don't mean rats, cats or other mammals.
We mean dogs.
Sure, the city may act like they enjoy our tail-wagging, water-lapping friends, but when it comes down to it, they're as discriminated against as a black man at a Klan rally, or a yuppie on St. Marks.
That's why we're so happy to have found that the venerable Odeon allows not only us and our egos to dine within their nicely decorated walls, but also affords our pawed pals nearly the same luxury. When we visit Odeon and inform them we have a canine, they seat us at a charming table outside. Waiters take our order, but also ask if our love muffin would like a bowl of cold water. They even ask our dog's name, and use it while serving us and our animal. You better believe our pumpkin perks up his ears and goes into a licking frenzy when he hears his name.
The food at Odeon is wonderful. And reasonably priced. For Tribeca. We really enjoy their hamburgers, with the huge side of fries. As does our pooch. We slip him little pinches off our plate, and he gobbles them down while anchored to our chair by his leash. Toward the end of the meal, after we've had our fill of fine food, we let muffin-head lick our plates clean. When done with the meat, potatoes, bread, butter, lettuce, onions and Diet Coke, he just looks at us, smiles and licks his chops.
Our waiter tells us how good we all are for "cleaning our plates" and asks what we want for dessert. We look at our salivating friend, then order anything but chocolate. We hear it's bad for Spot.
Best Place to Drive Drunk
151 8th Ave. (betw. 17th & 18th Sts.)
Off-Road Warrior. We like speed. We made it from NYC to Chicago last year in just under 12 hours. We have never received a traffic ticket. The only way to get away with this act is to make sure that the sensorium is raw and sharp: no booze, no drugs. Recently we rode with a friend who was driving under the influence of the psych med cocktail du jour, a combination of Prozac, Clonapin and Xanax. We know at least four women strung out on this combination, courtesy of their shrinks. They shouldn't be allowed to drive on this shit. This woman we were riding with hit the curb no fewer than three times, hard. It was scary.
When we're roaming around Chelsea, we periodically like to drop in at Flight 151 for a quick beer or two. Sometimes we actually get drunk there. Lately we've taken a strong fondness to a video game they've got, Cruising the World, from Nintendo. It's one of those sit-down things where you get to select a track, in this case in an urban center like Moscow or Paris, and you pick a car, anything from a hot little two-seater sports car to a Hummer.
We always pick the Hummer, and we always pick Moscow, one of the easy tracks. The object for us is to keep the pedal to the metal and do as much damage to the other cars on the road as we can. That's not how you win the game, but that's how we like to play it. The Hummer is the heaviest car in the game, so we can sidle up alongside the fancy little sports cars and tap 'em in the ass, sending them tumbling and crashing into the scenery. Sometimes they explode. The only improvement we could suggest is that it would be nice to see the other drivers, the panic on their faces as we slam them into the trees, their body parts flying all over the highway as their fancy little cars disintegrate. That would be outstanding.
This is a great game, and it's the only way to drive drunk. Driving drunk is actually a lot of fun, as long as you don't actually do it on the road. This game has brought us hours of fulfillment and joy in the last few months. It has triggered interesting insights. We think we should live life the way we drive.
Best L.A. Transplant
Next Door Nobu
105 Hudson St. (Franklin St.)
Tribeca Del Rey. They should hand out open-collar sport shirts at the door of this annex to the original Nobu, for those who fail to meet the restaurant's de facto dress code. Next Door Nobu actualizes the L.A. dining experience in a way that even the original Nobu fails to, thanks to its no-reservations policy and whacked-out decor (a lacquered nori wall being the prime example).
You'll also get to do your share of ogling good-looking human beings while downing excellent new-style sushi and sashimi, not to mention familiar old Nobu dishes: miso-marinated cod, toro tartare, and so on. It's possible to get in and out for under $20, thanks to a selection of soba and udon preparations at around 12 bucks a bowl; more prodigious diners, on the other hand, can easily rack up $100-a-head tickets here by ordering sushi and entrees a la carte. Where Next Door Nobu appealingly differs from restaurants on the West Coast is in the late hours it keeps; it doesn't even begin to get hopping until after 9.
Best Swedish Restaurant in Chinatown
Good World Bar & Grill
3 Orchard St. (betw. Division & Canal Sts.)
Calling Chen Chensson. All right, so this Swede goes down to Chinatown, walks into a chop suey joint, sez... Christ, this place sounds like a joke, doesn't it? But what doesn't in New York in 1999, when Sunset Park's suddenly considered a neighborhood worthy of human habitation, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani are your ghastly and offensive Senate candidates, Hideki Irabu's more fun to watch than Roger Clemens and even your eternally patient friends at NYPress won't take Chris Brodeur's phone calls anymore? A Swedish restaurant on the edge of Chinatown's the very least of it.
And a good Swedish restaurant, no less?and, for that matter, in a cool part of Chinatown: those ghostly Riis-era-looking blocks around Canal St. where the Asian ghetto merges into the Hispanic Lower East Side, but where, instead of there having occurred some typically New York phenomenon of Chinese-Dominican miscegenation complete with crowded streets, cultural ferment and Latin soul men capable of doing calculus....nothing's happened. No one's in the streets except the odd Chinese man drowsing in a lawn chair; a hydrogen bomb might as well have fallen. Orchard between Canal and Division's a cityscape that Edward Hopper might have painted, if he were alive today and if he were stupid enough to try to create good art in the City of New York.
Good World's neighborhood's sweet, moody emptiness seems to inform its stark, soothing, high-ceilinged ambience. In front: a fine bar with more different beers than any reasonable human being needs, and with friendly rocker types kicking back on the high stools and smiling at each other. In back, a gracious garden, and a comfortable little dining space, in which you're privileged to consume Annika Sundvik's fine Scandinavian food. What have we enjoyed here? Oh hell, it's all good?the herring plate, which ought to be washed down with Elephant beer, is worth the trip down to the ghetto in itself. But stick with only that and you'll miss out on a fine fish soup and potato pancakes. One of the best things about Scandinavian food is that it makes you feel virtuous and healthy?all that pure protein and wholesome carbohydrate?and so you'll feel light on your feet as you stroll out of Good World into the empty, melancholy autumn streets of an older?a much older?city.
Warning: Beware the DJs who perform at Good World some nights. Call ahead.
Best Southwestern Above 14th St.
102 5th Ave. (betw. 15th & 16th Sts.)
We're Talkin' Yooge. Bobby Flay's got huge balls to charge the prices he does for glamorous Tex-Mex. Appetizers run $7.50-$13, entrees $18-$29, and the only thing saving him from a "Best Exorbitant Pricing" award is the fact that his creations are commensurably good. It's no overstatement to say that he's never had a miss in the dozens of times we've visited Mesa Grill.
Hence the problem with this kind of award: figuring out different ways to say "delicious," "fantastic" and the like. So we'll stipulate at the outset that every dish is great and simply highlight a few of our favorites. Most of the time we start with the blue-corn pancake filled with sweet barbecued duck perfectly offset by a zesty habanero sauce, though occasionally we'll have the shrimp and roasted garlic tamale whose garlicky, corny vapors warm your face as you open the enveloping husks. On more primal nights we start with barbecued ribs, each tender meaty mouthful a jumble of sweet from the onion and molasses; smoke, spice and crunch from the peanut-flecked chipotle sauce.
If we nix the specials, we may move on to crispy white-corn brook trout. The corn crust gives some heft to the flaky fish while also sealing in moisture, and the papaya and tomatillo sauce guards against potential trout blandness. We'd sell our firstborn for the perfect chile relleno?luckily, or not, the tot's safe at Mesa Grill because while the yellow-corn-crusted relleno is marvelous, it's not the basic batter-dipped stuffed chile we prefer. Flay's giant pepper holds roasted eggplant and goat cheese and comes with grilled vegetable salad, and is a delectable, if somewhat frou frou, version of the real Mexican thing. More basic are grilled, crunchy-outside black angus steak served with a horseradish-infused double-baked potato (again, cooked perfectly every time we've ordered it) and the 16-spiced grilled chicken?which actually tastes like chicken?accompanied by a plantain tamale and served with a heady mango-garlic sauce.
We never order dessert at Mesa because we're always too satisfied with what's come before. The sweets look delicious passing by on the waiters' trays, but we just have another one of Mesa's kick-ass margaritas, on the rocks, no salt, and ruminate on the splendor that just transpired.
Best Coffee Cart Proprietor
7th Ave. & 28th St.
Too Much Coffee Man. Over the years, we've frequented coffee carts from the financial district to Harlem. We've dealt with nice proprietors, angry proprietors, silent ones, chatty ones, funny ones, con men, scoundrels and saints?but never have we had the good fortune of dealing with a coffee cart man who does his job quite as well as the one at 7th Ave. and 28th.
Sometimes he'll talk about the weather, or soccer, or what the Mayor is trying to do to street vendors. Sometimes, he won't say much of anything beyond, "Thank you, have a nice day." But he keeps the line moving.
The thing we found most remarkable about him is that, in short order, he comes to know all his regulars. Now, that's one thing at a restaurant or a bar?people spend a lot of time in those places?but getting to know several hundred people who stop in front of you for only seconds at a time, that's something. Yet whenever we stop by his cart every morning, he has the coffee bagged up and waiting. He does the same for the people in line in front of us. He may not know all the names, but he knows all the orders. And if you miss a day, or show up a little later than usual, he'll ask, "Where were you? I tried to call!"
It's nice to know, first thing in the morning, that someone cares a little bit?especially since chances are no one else will for the rest of the day.
Best Restaurant that Didn't Make It
Victim of Society. The recent closing of Normand Laprise's remarkable New American restaurant Cena is a testament to how ridiculously great top-end cuisine has become in New York; or perhaps to how ridiculously overcrowded with upscale restaurants the greater Park Ave. South area has become; or maybe to how ridiculously capricious the loyalties of New York's dining elite can be; or to Zagat-addicted Park South residents' abiding inability to discriminate between restaurants that are truly great (Cena) and those that persist on looks and reputation (The Globe, to mention one egregious example) alone.
Whatever it's a testament to, we'll always regret not making that second trip back to what?for about a year by our count?was one of the great unsung restaurants in New York.
Best Nascent Drinking Trend
Kaliber Non-Alcoholic Beer
In TONY By Fall. Kaliber, made by the folks who brew Guinness, isn't as well-known as that other non-alcoholic beer, O'Doul's?which is so bad that it's turned reformed sots back to the real thing. But in a field that's admittedly full of minor competitors, Kaliber shines like the aurora borealis. You'll find it in most good Irish bars, and if you don't, you should complain until they stock it.
Kaliber, which has got the bite of a decent real ale, has made not drinking while you hang out in a pub almost enjoyable. And what's more, we're seeing more and more smokes in dives from Riverdale on down swilling it when they're trying to pretend they're on the wagon. For something different, make like the Irish and mix it with a bit of 7-Up. That's called a shandy and the Oberlin College kids on Ave. B will be swilling them like lemmings within months.
Best Grand Reopening That Never Was
169 E. Broadway (Rutgers St.)
Never Trust a Bohunk. It's a tale of woe that'd make any entrepreneur's dick go limp. It started around the time that every defunct Orchard St. shoestore was being turned into a club. The bridge-and-tunnel riffraff had become unbearable. So we set out to find a dive away from it all, a dive we could call home. A friend of ours who'd dabbled in the bar business in the past suggested the 169, just off of E. Broadway. Why not? we thought.
And, harboring no expectations about the place either way, we took a gander one late summer evening. What we found was encouraging: an empty, despairing pit with windows covered by cardboard and with one blurry, big-screen tv in the back. The joint reeked of sweat and beer and a splash or two of urine. A not-so-subtle kennel scent teased our nostrils. The proprietress, an older woman with an Eastern European accent, lorded over the bar in the company of her Doberman pinscher. Our instant assessment was that the 169 might take a little practice?a bit of getting used to?but that, as dives went, it showed potential.
And then we asked for a beer. The woman served us a lukewarm Budweiser the expiration date of which only hinted at the funky taste that lay beneath its cap. We didn't make an issue of it, but our discomfiture must have been apparent, because for the next two hours after that the woman served us grudgingly?scowling at us and shooting us a hairy eyeball the likes of which we hadn't absorbed in a bar room since we were underage. We beat it.
Cut to late February, when our pal calls to invite us to a party he's throwing at the 169. Apparently he'd invested in the place?his goal was to retain the Ike-era Cleveland-tavern feel of the place, while losing the dungeon rattiness. The point: an old man's bar for young men in training. The deal: Our pal had arranged with the owners to run the place for three months, after which period everyone could decide whether to continue doing business together.
Sure enough, the place looked amazing. Gleaming new windows replaced the chicken-wire mesh/safety-glass enclosures that had previously blocked out the accusing world. Freshly painted off-white walls; new felt on the eightball table; an excellent jukebox. Gone were the harsh, naked lightbulbs designed more for interrogation than inebriation. There was warm pastel lighting and?hell?even the new toilets were nothing to sneeze at. Our friend really had covered all the bases. (Booze is good business, as the old saying goes, and boozeness promised to be good.) Best of all, it would still be a good six to 12 months before the meatheads from uptown started invading.
Two weeks went by before we made our next trip down to E. Broadway. And found the place padlocked at 9:30 on a Saturday night. We peeked through a crack in the door. The Doberman reclined on the bar; the big-screen's cathode glow reflected against the Eastern European proprietress' wrinkled maw.
What happened? Turned out that on the morning after the grand opening party the locks had been changed and the owners?two sisters of mysterious Eastern European descent?declared their original deal null and void. Like a nightmarish version of Natasha and Boris come to life, they'd wasted no time in declaring the new order. Eeet ees new ball game! When our friend asked them why they'd welshed on the deal, the sisters suffered a sudden, convenient case of amnesia. Parrt-ner!? Vot parrt-ner!?
As of this writing, the infernal women are somewhere between New York and Chechnya. Talk about getting taken: only now is our friend hearing all the randy tales about the prostitution, Chinese gang schemery, gambling and illegal immigration scamming (not to mention the occasional polka dance contest) that purportedly went down on the other side of 169's cardboard shutters. Meanwhile, when we walk by the 169 site?as we do occasionally?we experience a melancholy twinge. A good bar, stillborn: Financial hustles by gangster dirtbags aside, there's really little on this planet that's sadder than that.
Make My Cake
103 W. 110th St. (Lenox Ave.)
Sugar Sugar. At $2.50 for a slice of cake, it better be good. That's how we rationalized a slow sampling of each and every variety in Make My Cake's well-kept fridge. From pineapple upside-down to red velvet to sweet potato cheesecake to the heavenly peach cobbler, not a Saturday went by when we didn't stop in to sample the next sweet.
Some weekdays we'd get a cinnamon roll to go with our commuter's coffee. The saucer-sized roll was a diabetic's nightmare, with white glaze collected in the folds of the roll, nearly an inch think toward the center or where it had pooled and hardened when the roll dried on wax paper. The bread was just sweet enough, and flecked with cinnamon and perhaps clove. The peach cobbler, which we never had the opportunity to eat warm, was a symphony of fresh peach, flour, butter and spices. We bought sweet potato pie if we were feeling guilty. Its not-too-sweetness was the perfect foil to our shame. Chocolate cupcakes with white frosting; golden cupcakes with chocolate frosting; chocolate chip cookies; lemon cookies; butter cake with pineapple filling and white icing flecked with coconut; banana pudding with vanilla wafers; carrot cake with cream cheese icing and studded with walnuts; simple yellow cake with devil's food frosting?we tried to try each variety but moved before we could.
The neighborhood loves Make My Cake as much as we do: A weekend visit always required at least a 10-minute wait. Make My Cake makes custom cakes too, with just about any decoration you can think of. It's a family-run business, with balloons, greeting cards and other party things for sale, as well as a day-old-bread basket where you can get those cinnamon rolls for half the price (with sweetness fully intact).
Bright Food Shop
216 8th Ave. (21st St.)
Heavy Crepes, Daddy. Subatomic flapjacks here: we're talking nuclear half-lives. Which?don't get us wrong?isn't a bad thing. Exactly the opposite. These pancakes are actually our favorite on the planet, and their cornmeal density, their stupefying, head-filling richness?like the heaviest cornbread you ever ate in a roadside joint an hour outside of Albuquerque, except without the jalapenos and littered with pecans and drowned in thin, hot maple syrup?soothes our spirits like a cashmere cloak on a cold December night. Which is probably why, although we respect the Bright Food Shop's imaginative Mexican-Asian fusion cooking, we're ordering these state-of-the-art pancakes (they come with fruit, also, most recently a handful of blueberries clustering at the edges of the plate and are available till 3:30 p.m.) every time we enter the restaurant. Now if only the Bright could serve a cup of coffee that measures up to the rest of their product, we'd be in business.
Best Restaurant Knockoff
1331 2nd Ave. (betw. 70th & 71st Sts.)
They Up and Nikoed It. Travel in culinary circles long enough, and you'll grow accustomed to hearing chefs complain about their stolen intellectual property?their recipes?particularly since credit's almost never given where credit is due. And since some of the greatest concepts in cuisine turn out to be some of the simplest (melting chocolate cake, grilled pizza, etc.), the temptation to thievery is all the greater.
Very rarely, though, does somebody steal an entire restaurant, which is what makes Trata such an interesting case. The place it flatters through imitation, Milos, certainly deserves to be knocked off?it's viciously overpriced. But Trata, like any bridge line, fails to live up to the original, featuring a smaller selection, slightly lower quality and inferior decor.
Still, since the basic concept amounts to just fresh fish displayed on ice, sold by weight and grilled to order, it's hard to nail Trata for culinary theft, particularly since they do such a terrific job with the charcoal grilling. In the end, the place makes good sense.
Best Reason to Avoid Moomba
127 4th Ave. (betw. 12th & 13th Sts.)
Better Food, Same Weasels. Eating at Pop, you have to wonder: Who's putting what over on whom? The place looks like it was constructed in shop class by an enterprising group of young techno-Europeans; it's decorated in Playskool colors, it's noisy and the waiters don't even pretend to give a damn. But you'll find the same fabulous crowd here that occupies the intricately interior-designed Moomba, the same high prices and the same bouncer at the door (who on a recent night turned out to be our buddy Reid. We recommend against trying to crash: Reid knows a special nerve-point karate technique that will deprive you of motor function).
Beyond that, the food leaves Moomba's fancy fare in the dust. Chef Brian Young is the real thing, a young chef with vision and chops; when he puts four or five ingredients together, it tends to be the best those ingredients have ever tasted. Wear Comme des GarÁons, bring a wad of cash and reserve, if they let you.
Best Affordable Premium Belgian Chocolate
485 Madison Ave. (betw. 51st & 52nd Sts.) 980-2608; to order, call 1-800-900-CHOC
Hiya, Sweets. It's inconceivable to us that the uninformed are happy to shell out for half-assed Godiva chocolate that's made factory-style in Reading, PA, and peddled by the Campbell Soup folks under the guise of some European treasure. If those dull bulbs bothered to educate themselves they'd know about Leonidas, which asks a mere $22 a pound for premium chocolate that's flown in weekly from Belgium to ensure that the stock is always fresh. Leonidas has been crafting its chocolate since 1910, and we can attest that they know what they're doing. Their Madison Ave. store, despite its swanky address, is low-key, the staff is helpful and the shelves are always oozing hundreds of pounds of confection. Leonidas' selection features more than 80 different pieces, including favorites such as the Tosca (brandy truffle), the Buche Framboise (raspberry marzipan), the Noisette Masquee (hazelnut enrobed in praline) and Gianduja (an almond and hazelnut praline). They have free giftwrapping and chocolate can be shipped for an additional $3 for packing plus $8 for two-day delivery (up to 3 pounds).
Best Village Vegetarian Restaurant
88 W. 3rd St. (betw. Sullivan & Thompson Sts.)
Leap For Joy. The only way to maintain a youthful appearance and robust good health while engaging in a life of total debauchery is to make sure that the body is well-nourished. Genes are important, sure, but food is the most important thing. Food is the ultimate drug.
Quantum Leap is a bright, clean place with a very California menu of the very finest vegetarian and fish platters. Nothing caps off a truly toxic bender like a fresh carrot juice and their Macro Platter, consisting of perfect brown rice, beans, kale, hijiki seaweed and steamed vegetables served with a generous portion of bechamel sauce. Their eggless whole-wheat fettuccine is terrific, and the sauteed seitan steak will make you forget about eating that cow for at least a week. For a quick, light snack, their veggie burgers and sandwiches can't be beat by anything this side of Santa Monica. Your body will sing when you leave this place?you can feel the difference. It's well worth wading through the tourists on W. 3rd to give yourself this wonderful boost.
Next, We Tread Our Own Grapes for Moscato. We got all Martha Stewart a few years ago and started making our own pasta. It's a lot of work but it can be fun and sexy work, and it really does taste better. Then we decided we wanted to start making our own sorbet and ice cream. Our production of the latter has dropped off, but we've been churning up some great sorbets all this summer and fall. We use a Krups ice-cream maker. It's small enough to store in any Manhattan kitchen, as long as you have a freezer in your fridge where the machine's inner cylinder, the part that does the cooling and churning, can live year-round.
We go to the farmers' market and get the freshest fruit we see?lately we've made pineapple sorbet, peach, mango; berries are always good too. Cut up about 2.5 cups' worth and puree in the blender. Then you make a syrup that's just sugar and water?we usually do a half-cup of sugar to 1.5 cups of water, but vary it to accommodate the sweetness and ripeness of the fruit?boil it, let it cool, then mix in the fruit. Put that in the fridge for at least 6 hours.
Now it's time for dessert. At this point there's an optional move to whip up some heavy cream and mix it in with your fruit-and-syrup; it gives it a richer taste. Take your Krups mixing cylinder out of the freezer, stick it onto the machine, pour in your mixture, put the stirring blades in, turn it on. Go have another glass of wine. Come back in 15 minutes, and the Krups has magically churned you up the freshest, best-tasting sorbet you'll ever eat. No restaurant, no gelateria will ever make you better.
Best Place to Drink With a Dog
Brooklyn Ale House
103 Berry St. (N. 8th St.), Brooklyn
Warped and Woofed. Our crazy landlord is virulently anti-dog. Not surprising, as our neighbor once had one and it barked all damn day and night while she was out hobnobbing with her colleagues in the fashion world. Bitch. So we go to the Brooklyn Ale House. We can drink $2 pints of Checker Cab Blonde Ale there, and can satisfy our dog jones. We like to slink in there at 3 p.m., when the sun is bright and the place is quiet, so we can hang with Clio and Balto. They belong to Sean Connelly, the co-owner. Clio is an old, old black Lab who wanders lazily about the bar, his face slack, stopping in front of anyone who will give his back a scratching. Balto usually tries to leap in your lap, which evokes cries of, "Balto down!" from the centerfold barmaid, Virginia.
By 6 p.m. the place fills with regulars like Steve the pastry chef and his artist wife, Annette; the local historian Gig Valinotti; Al the philosopher and occasional Ale House bartender. And dogs?they enter in droves. Weimaraners, collies, Michael and Naomi's Labs?they just keep coming. And this salty little pug who quivers but charges other pooches. It's a rare night when there are fewer than half a dozen dogs in there at any given moment. Some days we butt into the friendly conversation about the bar. Other days we sit in a corner and drink alone. Inevitably we spend time returning the affection of a few dogs and feeling the better for it.
Best Sandwich Shop
299 7th Ave. (27th St.)
Yo Quiero Manhattan Hero. When we first moved the NYPress offices to 333, there wasn't a lot about this Lower Madison Square Garden area that instantly recommended itself to us in the way of services. We'd gone soft from all those years in Soho, which, say what you will, was jam-packed with places to eat, to drink, to shop. Luckily, we didn't have to look too far to find Manhattan Hero?our heroes, several lunchtimes a week. This fine Cuban-American establishment is far and away our favorite lunch counter in the hood. At the back end they serve up mighty plates of beans and rice. Up front, an absolute sandwich maestro, a sandwich artist, builds heroes, cubans, ham-and-cheeses like he's dancing behind his cutting board. He never stints you on the fixings, either?lettuce, tomato, onion and pepper if you like, and, the perfect finish, a salt-n-pepper-n-oil-vinegar flourish. He's fun to watch, he's quick and he always has a nice word. Great guy?but they all are. We always come out smiling.
Best Special Appetizer of Fish & Chips
31 Great Jones St. (betw. Bowery & Lafayette St.)
Beats Arthur Treacher's! If it's on the specials menu at this ur-trendy and generally agreeable new Nohotspot, get the fish & chips. The skate fritters are extraordinary: tender, rich, friendly and, with the ample french fries, a hefty beginning to a meal?maybe enough of one for the models who perch there like apprehensive cranes.
Best Dessert Wines and After-Dinner Libations
70 Prince St. (Crosby St.)
Just Perch and Point. Okay, so they don't have any Chateau d'Yquem available. Or if they do, they're not fessing up. It's a cult, anyway, a sauternes cult. There are alternatives. And as far as we're concerned, a cozy setting in which to settle for an hour or so, after having eaten dinner elsewhere, is just as valuable as getting a (probably wildly) overpriced crack at the legendary end-result of Bordeaux's noble rot. Chateau d'Yquem is for suckers.
Over that (justified, we'll have to admit) hype, we'll take Savoy's mellow vibe any day, upstairs, sitting at the bar or sprawled in chairs, amid the Wakefield-meets-endless-autumn-harvest decor?all blond wood and mushroom-tone fabrics and curvy shapes clustered intimately around a fireplace. Another one of those quasi-hidden spaces that make us proud to inhabit a city that inspires this nakedly affluent but eminently dignified way of life. (Of course, we'll eat a full dinner at Savoy, too, and whenever possible, but it's heartening to know that the restaurant also functions as our standby dessert-wine and eau-de-vie destination.) If you ask us, the bar is the way to go: not many stools, but proximity to the bottles definitely adds an enjoyable visual aspect to our dessert-drinking experience. Often, we don't even consult the list; we just perch there and point, asking the reliably fetching bartenders to help us out. Two of our perpetual favorites include the '93 Chateau Pajoz "5 Puttonyos" Tokaji, a sweet Hungarian wine that goes for $10 a glass; and the three grades of Domaine Boingneres Bas Armagnac ($11 to $24), a heavenly form of hooch. Equally commendable are the Taylor Fladgate 20-year-old tawny port and the Talenti Grappa di Brunello, which is served in a stilletto-ish mini-flute and companions espresso about as well anything that isn't sugar.
And while we're talking about sugar, yes, Savoy has some tempting desserts that aren't liquid. But frankly, we'd rather keep on drinking.
Best NonDairy Desserts
Michael & ZoŽ's
101 2nd Ave. (betw. 5th & 6th Sts.)
Don't Marginalize the Udder. Our favorite cheap delight: vanilla tofu yogurt mixed through with Hydrox cookie shards and blueberries. Or else a cafe latte bar. It's usually a toss-up.
Michael & ZoŽ's?it's that dainty storefront that seems overwhelmed by 2nd Ave.'s bustle and power, like the little red lighthouse of yore by the George Washington Bridge?is the East Village's low-key alternative to more high-energy dessert joints, like the Upper West Side's Cafe Lalo. The menu?cakes, cookies, brownies, both real and tofu yogurts, sorbet and smoothies?contains items suitable for vegans. We like to ease back with our sweets at one of the establishment's little tables on the sidewalk and, as the season fades into autumn, kick back and watch the East Village show.
Best Upper Chelsea Coffee Bar
Burke & Burke
339 7th Ave. (29th St.)
Multiculturalism at Its Best. As if you didn't know already, Starbucks is over. We don't know if it was the rapid expansion throughout the country, but the service generally sucks, the coffee is either too weak or too strong, and we've had it with that Seattle coffee lingo. A Starbucks is located about five minutes from our office; we haven't been there once, instead relying on Burke & Burke, where the ladies and gentlemen behind the counter are quick, willing to chat about their native countries, all while serving a delicious double espresso, cappuccino or plain cup of coffee. Burke & Burke is also a full-service upmarket deli, with a dozen tables in back where you can meet with clients or friends. The place is so inviting that we even overlook the manager's inexplicable devotion to Hillary Clinton; after all, any establishment that sells the British candy Maltesers has our vote.
Best Thing to Happen to Upper West Side Dining
Young White People
A Hold-Your-Nose Vote. The ceaseless young professional invasion of every halfway decent neighborhood in the city?and above all the Upper West Side?continues, sending nesting boomers fleeing for the hills. But the Upper West Side's misfortune is a gourmand's boon, because along with the Banana Republics and the Starbucks has arrived a raft of terrific new restaurants, replacing the tired "family-style" eateries on which UWS residents subsisted for so long.
In place of the kid-friendly Main Street, then, you'll now find the ultra-sophisticated (but in a fun way) Calle Ocho, serving up flavorful New Latin cuisine along with some of the best mojitos and caipirinhas in town; and the ultra-fun (but in a sophisticated way) Ruby Foo's, with its above-average pan-Asian menu (but stay far, far away from the dim sum).
Those with more refined tastes can walk up to Alouette for cultivated French fare (the restaurant is helmed by an able Vongerichten disciple), or over to Avenue Bistro for decent Parisian bistro cuisine.
Best Bar to Watch Men Drink Themselves to Death
The Holiday Cocktail Lounge
75 St. Marks Pl. (betw. 1st & 2nd Aves.)
What's Dipsomania? On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights the place is jammed with people drawn to the cheap Heinekens ($3), the very, very tall mixed drinks and kooky characters ranging from hipsters to chic Europeans and the occasional drag queen. Any other night of the week, though, the Holiday is the grimmest bar on Earth, empty except for the handful of alcoholics who seem to be there every day that they aren't strapped down in the detox ward at Bellevue. Seeing a woman among them is rare; the men range in age from 38 to 65 or so. All smoke heavily and drink whiskey, vodka or gin straight. For the most part, little is said. Each man has his mission. Ronnie drinks until his face swells to the size of a watermelon and then nods off. Don risks getting fired from his city job for getting blasted every afternoon on shift. One guy who never speaks does a half dozen or more glasses of whiskey and then ambles off, to see a junkie hooker, we're told. Without fail one or two guys take their belts in a hurry and then lay their heads on the bar to sleep for a time, cigarettes poking from their fingers and burning down to the filter.
We go there because the drinks are cheap and it's usually quiet enough to read. Except at 7 p.m., when Jeopardy! begins and patrons yell garbled answers at the tv over the bar, and growl at anyone who'll listen, "See? I knew that one, I fuckin' knew that one."
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