Category Archives: Restaurants

The Upper West Side: OK, It’s Not All Bad

big nick inside

Even though I’m thinking of moving all my restaurant reviews to Yelp, I figure I at least owe you this post. And by “you” I mean both my readers (are you still here?) and my neighborhood.

Ready? Let’s do this.

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The Upper West Side: A Vast Culinary Wasteland

Citrus

It really saddens me to say this, but my new neighborhood is a vast culinary wasteland.

Sure, I haven’t eaten out nearly as much as I used to. The economy and the fabled NYC cost of living increase has certainly taken their toll. However, the wife and I have tried several eateries in the past month and a half, and we were not impressed.

To wit:

Citrus (photo above)

This restaurant is only a few block from my apartment and boasts “Latin fare with Asian flair.” It’s a fun motto, which is matched by the almost clubby atmosphere of the interior. It’s a modern place, very glossy looking, with the patronage to match.

Unfortunately, the food’s not very good.

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Random Meal Roundup

bistro2

As you may have noticed, my posting frequency has taken a nosedive over the past few months. I won’t go into all the excuses, but I think this once-a-weekend schedule is probably going to be sticking around for a while.

Since I’m now doing a lot of quick hits on Twitter, I’m going to try to give you longer, more in-depth reads for the main site. That’s why I’m smushing together three separate meals into one amazing article (amazingness not guaranteed).

Let’s get started…

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Nisi Estiatorio (Englewood, NJ)

New Jersey Monthly

(thanks to New Jersey Monthly)

First, an apology. I once again have to rely on the photos of others to do the visual work for me. But this time, it’s not my fault. My wife and I were late in arriving and it was raining, which prohibited any good outside shots of the new restaurant, Nisi Estiatorio.

However, if pictures are your thing, I highly recommend a visit to Nisi’s site, which features a beautiful rolling photo gallery of interior, exterior and food shots. I refer to it often, and you should too.

While I don’t want to get too bogged down in the online world, the website does provide a good lead-in to the restaurant’s impressive design sense. Neither too stuffy, nor over-the-top gaudy (always a risk with New Jersey “fine dining”), the dining room is invitingly simple and open. It’s rare that my wife and I notice the decor, but it is to Nisi’s credit that we both complimented the physical design as sophisticated and not overly-showy.

But enough with the prologue… let’s talk about the eats!

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Aigre Doux (Chicago)

aigre-doux-interior-candle_north-edited

One of the things I rarely get to do on business trips is eat out. That’s because most of my meals are part of the conferences I attend, and those that aren’t usually involve a telephone and my hotel room.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve actually had some really good food during these trips. But I really love when my schedule affords me the opportunity to get out of the hotel and find a restaurant slightly off the beaten path.

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A Little Slice of Chicago

deep-dish

That headline’s more than a mite misleading.

See, when it comes to deep-dish Chicago pizza, “little” and “slices” don’t really fit the equation. A “fat wedge,” yes. A “mountainous piece,” sure. But a little slice? Nuh-uh, that ain’t Chicago.

unoEspecially when you order a personal pizza at the original deep-dish pizzeria, Uno. In this case, the 2-inch tall pizza is dislodged from its pan before it even makes it to the table. And slicing the thing? Not going to happen.

But let’s back up a minute. Why was I in Chicago and why did I pick Uno over the plethora of “original” deep-dish pizza joints scattered around the Windy City? The easy explanation is 1) work and 2) Uno was only a few blocks from my hotel. When it comes to seeing the sites on a business trip, I’m nothing if not lazy.

Because of the popularity of the place and its inverse relationship to the amount of seating inside, you make your order (at least anything pizza-related) when you put down your name. Since the pizza takes 45 minutes to make and the wait is usually under that, it means less time at the table watching the early birds already devouring their meals.

I ordered my personal pie with mushrooms, spinach and sausage, which seemed like the right combo… despite how much the menu pushed pepperoni on everything.

As it has probably been written elsewhere and in far greater detail, the Chicago pie switches the traditional sauce/cheese relationship, relegating the cheese to a crust-sealer position on the bottom. This definitely makes sense on paper, but I also can’t argue with the taste. Once I finally breached the outer wall of the crust (which is an extreme sport all in itself), the stew of cheese, sauce and toppings could not be contained.

end-of-pizzaThe best analogy I can give about eating this thing was that it was like eating soup out of a bread bowl, except with a super-hearty soup and an impervious-to-moisture and not-very-bowl-shaped bowl.

It was a thing of beauty, this deep-dish pizza. And one that my belly will remember fondly.

Friend of a Farmer

2friendofafarmer

The one word I would use to describe Friend of a Farmer, a country restaurant in the middle of Manhattan’s Gramercy neighborhood, is “oasis.”

This is not a restaurant one would expect in the New York suburbs, let alone in the city itself. The closest thing I can compare it to – although it’s painful to do so – is Cracker Barrel. There’s the creaky, natural wood floors, the rural decor and homey, comfort food.

But unlike that bastion of roadside diversion, Friend of a Farmer has the advantage of being one little place within the controlled chaos that is New York City. As a stand-alone shop, the place is not trafficking in mass food in a faux setting with questionable service. Our server was extremely friendly (although with a punkish vibe that would be unwelcome in Kansas) and the cozy atmosphere seemed stripped wholesale from a real country house.

And the food was mmm-mmm good! I honestly can’t remember the appetizers, but it’s hard to forget the entrees, especially when three of the four of our party ordered the same thing. This was the Fresh Roasted Turkey (cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, fresh cranberry sauce & giblet gravy), a Thanksgiving meal on a plate. Enjoyed by my wife, my friend and his fiance, the food captured the quintessential family feel, with succulent pieces of turkey and accouterments worthy of any hard-cooking mom (or dad).

I, of course, picked the least country item on the menu: Honey Glazed Shrimp (mixed greens, mandarin oranges, pears, maytag blue cheese & grapes with a sesame ginger mandarin dressing). This was because 1. I had a big, heavy lunch and 2. my stomach was bothering me, probably because of 1. The salad was extremely tasty, with the tang of the various fruit playing off the sweetness of the shrimp and creaminess of the cheese. It was certainly well-balanced, but I could have used a few more shrimp and definitely more pear.

For dessert… PIE! I would have been extremely disappointed if a place like this didn’t offer at least one homemade pie. Luckily, the restaurant has a mini-bakery in its kitchen, offering a bunch of warm, carby goodies.  Both couples went with the delicious apple crumb pie, a la mode. At first they had run out of vanilla ice cream, but managed to find some tucked away in the back. Between the gooeyness of the pie and the lightness of the ice cream, this was the perfect capper to a country meal.

Since Friend of a Farmer is now a friend of mine, I think I’ll return for breakfast… and brunch… and lunch… and more dinner. Care to join me?