The world didn’t end. We know that because you’re reading this after October 28, 1992. The Rapture. Judgment Day. With life continuing on, I, for one, am breathing heartfelt sighs of relief. It’s dinner time.
Where to venture, knowing that we just barely squeaked by my final reward? We immediately eliminate any place where the clientele think a budget is something for Congress to play with rather than a personal amusement. Even at the end of the world we have principles. Our favorite cuisines come to mind. French, Japanese, and Italian. All three will have to do.
French restaurants in New York are often so stuffy you just want to yell “Fire” to see if anyone reacts. We prefer somewhere with a little life. Just off Sheridan Square, its awning enclosed by a gaggle of geese or brood of ducks (I’ve never been quite sure which), is La Metairie.
The name translates to something like “sharecropper farm,” which definitely fits the look. The rustic farmhouse guise is encouraging from moment one. The tables are packed a trifle close, which can turn an intimate dinner into a group affair. If you don’t mind sharing airspace with your neighbors, you’ll love it.
There is something to be said for haute cuisine with delicate portions and dainty sauces. Admittedly, I’m generally not the one to say it. I like food with flavor and substance, and La Metairie’s kitchen delivers. Whether you want a galantine of duck with a bright fruity sauce, tuna and salmon carpaccio with garden herbs, or seafood sausage, start with anything from the appetizer list. If you’re like me, you’ll order the garlic flan with wild mushrooms. Heaven on earth.
For your main course, I always find it difficult to decide. There’s a grilled poussin (young chicken), roast chicken breast, salmon with ginger and star anise, or provençale style rack of lamb. My personal favorite is the duck breast, which is served with a different sauce each day. Raspberry takes the top of my list.
Desserts vary from time to time. I’m not a big creme brulee fan, but for those who are, my friends tell me La Metairie’s is exceptional. When they have it, the pommes glace is topnotch. If you love French food, don’t pass up an opportunity to savor the moment here.
La Metairie, 189 West 10th Street (at West 4th), 212-989-0343. Open for dinner 7 days a week. All major credit cards. Reservations a must. Dinner $35-40 per person.
Down in that Triangle Below Canal (you did know TriBeCa was an acronym, didn’t you?) is the first place where I first sunk my eyeteeth into a sliver of shimmering fish on sweet vinegared rice. Zutto. The best sushi bar in New York City. Every time I say this, someone is sure to ask, “How can you tell?” I can’t, it’s just a gut feeling. The sushi is always wonderfully fresh, perfectly prepared, and simply yet elegantly presented. Maybe it’s like your first love, the one you never forget and no one every compares with.
There is a modest reserve to the decor, with exposed brick, polished wood, a casual scattering of plants, and Japanese art works. A glass case displays traditional tea service and pottery. The shiny hardwood sushi bar beckons from the back. We traipse our way over and settle down to splurge. Initially formal and correct, the sushi chef loosens up when he realizes we know what we’re looking for.
Everyone has their favorite selection of sushi. While you’re certainly welcome to sample a preset combination plate, I recommend selecting from what looks good right in front of your eyes. Start with a steaming bowl of clear soup, a flavorful dashi (bonito broth) decorated with sea vegetables and crab meat. Green tea or a flask of sake on one side, and it’s time to choose from the array of glistening fish fillets mere inches away.
My personal selection can be counted on to include rich and unctuous hamachi (yellowtail), toasty, seasoned unagi (eel), crunchy and tangy kappa-maki (cucumber and plum roll), and the true test of the sushi aficionado, that quivering bubble of uni (sea urchin roe). Take your chances, and ask the chef to include a few of his own favorites. You won’t be disappointed.
If you simply mush have something besides sushi, Zutto also has a wonderful kitchen. The nega-maki (rolled beef and scallions), the shumai (shrimp dumplings), and hijiki (dark seaweed) with sake sauce are without peer. The broiled salmon teriyaki is one of the finest fillets you’ll find.
For dessert, there is the ubiquitous selection of ice creams; ginger, green tea, and red bean. For something a bit more traditional, try the yokan, sweet red bean cakes.
Zutto, 77 Hudson Street (at Harrison), 212-233-3287. Open for dinner 7 days a week. All major credit cards. Dinner, depending on your appetite for sushi – $20-50 per person.
For those who’ve never ventured into Alphabet City at the far fringe of the East Village, it’s time to check it out. For a first trip, you may want to penetrate just barely over the line, to Avenue A and 6th Street. Ci Vediamo bills itself as “an Italian eatery underground.” And it is. Underground.
New York has more Italian restaurants than we need. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out it has more Italian restaurants than Italy. Yet few of them are worth the trip. When a friend told me about Ci Vediamo, I promptly forgot about it. When a patrol officer on her scooter told me, I went. It was worth the trip.
We walked down the steps into a gleaming space in bold black, white, and red. A wall of mirrors doubles the visual space. The kitchen, which is one of the cleanest I’ve ever seen in a restaurant, is framed by shelves of Italian goodies like pasta, vinegar, and olive oil. The hyperkinetic staff is friendly and cheerful.
Try the garlic sautéed wild mushrooms, a decent mozzarella and plum tomato salad, or mussels simmered in a tasty marinara sauce. Pass on the Antipasto Rustico, lackluster at best. The polenta was topped with a great mushroom sauce, but could have used a little seasoning itself. The top choice has got be the toasted Italian bread in basil pesto. Richly mingled flavors of garlic, parmesan, and basil had us mopping up every last drop.
For our secondi piatti, or second and main course, we had the chance to sample from ricotta and spinach stuffed canelloni in fresh tomato sauce, zucchini and asparagus ravioli with artichoke purée, risotto primavera, bowtie pasta in vodka cream sauce, grilled salmon. The linguini with a rich puttanesca sauce; capers, anchovies, green and black olives is outstanding. The waiters regularly recommend against the individual pizzas. Surprisingly, everything a Ci Vediamo is inexpensive, with no item on the menu over $10.
Desserts are a trifle overly sweet, though acceptable, and change regularly. The ricotta cheesecake is my personal favorite, and the chocolate mousse cake is pretty tasty. The tiramisu, which would classically by filled with a marsala tinged mascarpone, is filled with whipped cream. The fruit tart is delicious, though the puff pastry is a little heavy. On the other hand, the espresso was among the better cups I’ve had in New York. The complimentary glass of port is a nice touch. Time to check out the far reaches of the East Village. Wonder what’s happening at the Pyramid…
Ci Vediamo, 85 Avenue A (at 6th Street), 212-995-5300. No reservations. Open for dinner 7 days a week. Cash only. Dinner $20-25 per person.
CaB magazine was one of the first publications I ever wrote for. Published by my dear friend Andrew Martin, it covered the Cabaret, Theater, Music and Dining scene in New York City, long before slick publications like Time Out NY and Where NY became popular. We had great fun writing it, and some wonderful writers contributed to its pages. When the magazine folded in the mid-90s, Andrew disappeared from the scene, and rumors had it that he departed from this existence not long after. I was thrilled to find out in mid-October 2005, a decade later, that the rumors were just that. Andrew contacted me after finding my site via that omnipresent force, Google. He’s alive and well and a member of a comedy troupe called Meet the Mistake. Somehow quite fitting!