Back from four nights and days of eating (and don't forget all that drinking!) in New York City, my home for three years several years ago. Unlike many of the food-crazed, when I'm in New York, "the food thing" is only a part of what I want to experience. My old favorite walk--down Greenwich Street from the far West Village to Tribeca--and my favorite coffee shop--Joe. And my friends. I'm blessed to have some of the world's best (and most hedonistic) friends still living in the city, friends who used to benefit from my generous reviewing expense account on a weekly basis. These peope are eaters; they're game for my food hijinx. And did I mention the drinking?
I started Wednesday evening in the West Village at a newer place called Jeffrey; my husband and I were on our way to Employees Only for a cocktail before our reservations at Babbo, but Jeffrey is one of those truly charming corner bistros that New York has by the dozens, a sight for sore eyes when you've been away from the city, and your old neighborhood, too long. Plus, I saw the word "oysters," so... A dozen terribly shucked but otherwise delicious Maine oysters and one decent martini later, we found ourselves at...
Babbo, mostly for old times' sake. My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I lucked into an 8:30 Friday night bar table there seven years ago when we were first dating, and it was a meal we've spoken about ever since. We were going back again for the first time last Wednesday evening.
I'd gone through the ridiculous rigamorole to get a table: Call at 10am one month to the day in advance, and then confirm your reservation two days in advance (oh, they don't call you, you call them). And so it was we found ourselves with rock star seats at Babbo, where the food was not even close to as good as it was seven years ago. Dishes shot-through with vinegar that hadn't been cooked off or had been applied far too liberally; our noses were shot with hot, sharp vapors. I asked about two dishes, but our server didn't offer to make them right. Out of six dishes, three required us to rescue the main protein--the sweetbreads, the goose liver ravioli--from the pool of vinegary sauce. And adding to the bummer was the fact that this meal was the only one I'd get to share with my husband; we overlapped for just one night (two kids at home and all...). Chef/owner/daytime TV host Mario Batali was there. Not cooking, but hanging with friends at a table across the room.
Things got better the next day. I met a friend for lunch in Harlem at Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster, and what a place! Upbeat, colorful, airy and with an energy of pride and spirit--there was a group of probably 15 African American women in their 70s and 80s, spiffed up with hats and such, enjoying lunch to celebrate three birthdays--which made me want to come back even though our lunch wasn't outstanding. We ordered the dense, buttery corn bread which we slathered in more butter and honey: divine. Fried chicken and blackened catfish were...quite good. But great? Not quite. Chef/owner Marcus Samuelsson was there. Not cooking, but hob-nobbing and shaking hands with diners.
So far, New York's got some splainin' to do. But stay tuned for my report on Thursday's dinner at Jung Sik.