Last week Randall Lane of Time Out New York declared his meal at Apiary “one of the most wildly inconsistent meals” he’d ever had. Our recent meal at the French restaurant Allegretti had the same problem of unpredictability, with dishes being served up that were excellent to inedible. Allegretti opened in August on 22nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues.The area is mainly retail; it’s the closest Manhattan gets to the suburban strip mall. Big box stores like Old Navy, Bed Bath & Beyond and The Container Store drive traffic to the area – not very appetizing.
Perhaps the proprietors believed the only way to get people to travel there was to make it a fine-dining destination restaurant. They went for the grand slam and in doing so cut the legs out from under a restaurant that has the potential to be a winner. They put so much effort into unnecessary offerings like three choices of bread, amuse bouche and petit four that they neglected the basics, serving three consistent, solid courses.
We invited our dear friends, a French couple, to join us for dinner. We met a little early to have a cocktail at the bar. After Dijon Sidecars, Allegretti Summer Teas and addictive blanched almonds with sea salt, we were hyped up to love this meal.
But the game got off to a rough start with the aforementioned choice of three breads – plain, olive or pesto – and an amuse bouche that was so under whelming we don’t even remember what it was. And that wasn’t because of the alcohol (for once). Our deflated spirits discussed moving back to the bar for more almonds.
Then the first courses arrived. We had a soup that warmed our spirits right back up; it was stocked full of brightly colored tiny cubes of vegetables, layered with an aromatic basil pistou, and topped with a soft poached egg. The Frenchies had a salad of heirloom tomatoes and burrata and the vegetable farcis, which Madame Frenchie said tasted exactly like Provence, where she’s from.
Then came the second half, and bad caught up with good. Our heads were spinning. And again, it wasn’t because of the alcohol. (Though we were drinking a very nice 2003 Chateau Lagrezette Malbec.) All of the dishes were presented beautifully. However, the “chef’s specialty,” halibut, with a risotto paella cake and pancetta, was bland, the cake overcooked, and the pancetta burned. The veal rumstek, served with gorgonzola and rosemary veal jus, was better; the veal jus amplified the gamey taste of the meat. But the tower of eggplant and tomato served alongside it was a salt lick. My dinner dates being French, we discussed the serious philosophical and political topics of our time – Carla Bruni’s singing career. We all agreed that the halibut and veal were like Bruni’s performances: attractive but unpalatable.
Madame Frenchie ordered best. Her lamb was tender and juicy, and the anise flavor of the fennel grantiné and the tomato coulis were harmonious companions for the lamb.
Dessert was a split.The lavender and honey crème brulée, more pudding than custard, was extraordinary. The semifredo was innocuous by itself and tasted like a mint leaf when eaten with the side dusting of overwhelming mint powder. As a final unnecessary flourish the restaurant gave us petit four of mini biscuits and meringues with our coffee.
If you order well at Allegretti (soup, lamb, crème brulée), you will have an amazing meal. Order incorrectly, and you’ve just paid a lot of money for bad seats.
Review – Allegretti –
-$300 we spent at Bed Bath & Beyond after dinner – 1 olive – We don’t even remember why we walked into this store. Yes – this time it was the alcohol.
-Inconsistency on the menu – 2 olives – At least it makes dinner a bit more interesting. It’s like the restaurant version of musical chairs. When the music stops - who will get a seat and a pass to the next round and who will have to pretend to like the risotto paella cake?
-Dinner with the Frenchies – 4 olives – We think they had a good time – we just hope we didn’t over do it with the jokes about frog’s legs. We suspect we went a bit too far – after all the waiter did come up to us and say “ahem, please stop making such disgusting jokes about frog legs, you’re offending these French people that are sitting with you”.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is as if Barfly is losing a member of our beloved, drunken family. Yogi’s bar on Broadway is packing up the big wooden bear and calling it quits. This Upper West Side dive holds a special place in our heart. We usually prefer a martini, but it was always a pleasure to stop here for the cheap pitchers of beer and the peanut shells all over the floor. Yee-haw!
Our plan for the week? Sit at the glorious and disgusting Bar until it finally closes out on October 4th. Oh the memories. It was here that a roach the size of an armadillo crawled up our pant leg. It was here that we saw drunken/overweight teenagers dance on the bar with such grace (i.e. without bras). Where else in the city does every song on the juke box have to do with the devil, a fiddle match, and people sitting on hay?
Much like that fiddle match (we should know - they play the song 13 times a night), the closing of Yogi’s represents an epic struggle between good and evil. Rumor has it that the entire building is to be demolished. One less drunken dive in our glorious city, and one more point for the nefarious forces that fiddle away as the city’s nightlife crumbles.
There is no word if there will be a replacement dive – but judging by the current climate – it will likely be replaced by a wine bar. Yes – it will be chic and well lit, but you could have had 4 pitchers of beer for the $22 you spent on that glass of Pinot Noir.
We will miss Yogi’s – it is now up to Rodeo Bar to carry on the “scummy country bar” torch. We plan on stopping by for some beer before it closes down (those baby roaches just add flavor) and you should to. We expect it to be a party right up until the closing on the 4th. Only a few more days to get those bra-less fat girls off the bar and go for one more romp in the hay.
As you might have assumed, Barfly does not usually enjoy chain restaurants. Yes – all the flair is adorable and the margaritas are, like, totally super-sized (dude!). Still - these places just give us the heebie-jeebies. Did that table next to us really just eat that entire bloomin-onion in 30 seconds flat? The horror.
On the flip side – Barfly does enjoy flames shooting into the air, food being chopped and tossed around, and a table full of drunken thirty-somethings attempting (and failing) to catch the morsels that are thrown their way. While walking through midtown on a recent rainy day, we were stunned to realize that New York has its very own “fun but only in an ironic way” Japanese steakhouse - a Benihana. While we were initially hesitant to saddle up to the hibachi – we browsed the menu and realized that they don’t serve anything that could be considered “bloomin’”. We figured we could give it a try (plus, since we were wet from the rain, we thought we should dry off/get wasted).
So, up the stairs we went. It turned out not to be the heart of darkness that we feared. (That hard earned title in chain-restaurant-hell belongs to Bubba Gump’s and their shrimp-like creations). Maybe it was the clinking of the knives, the plumes of smoke coming from the grills, or the “oooh”ing of the crowds, but we ended up having a not-so bad time. Actually, come to think of it, those five glasses of sake sangria probably had something to do with our “fun”.
As we ordered our sixth glass – we decided on two things. 1. Maybe chain restaurants aren’t all bad – we’ll be kinder to those that have Asian chefs twirling knifes in front of a crowd (and not just because we fear being stabbed). 2. The sake sangria would be our drink of the week. It’s not every cocktail that inspires you to go home and try some knife twirling yourself (note to friend whose cat we were sitting: it’s not our fault that your cat likes to walk under falling knives - who trained the stupid thing anyway?).
-Guest of a guest stands with us! They point out that the true scourge threatening New York Nightlife isn't douche-ism, but those dreaded community boards that are trying to shut our favorite haunts down. Let's call it loser-ism. We wish those people who complained about the noise had friends, poor lame heads.
-Goodnight Mr. Lewis interviewed a bouncer at Butter. Our favorite quote? This one about people waiting in line to get into the club: "The thing is that people try too hard. They're not dressing for themselves; everyone just looks the same to me. All these girls. I guess it's because, and I mean no disrespect, but they're not from New York. We still have people that come every week that don't get in, and they'll wait four hours. It's like they have no life, they have no fucking life." (via Grub Sreet). Sad - maybe they should try to be friends with the lame heads.
-Miller Light announced a new 16 oz aluminum can that apparently "enhances the Miller Light Taste experience." When we asked a spokesman to elaborate, he explained "Have you ever had a Miller Light? The new can gives a nice aluminum taste to the beer. That's a good thing."
-The economic ups and downs have caused a noticeable rise in alcohol. Some people told us to invest in things like "gold" or put our money in "the bank". We're so glad we bought all of those cases of Svedka instead!
-And, there are other signs the economy isn't totally in the toilet. A single bottle of Martha Wessington Colonial Rum fetched $20,000 at auction. We're not sure that this sort of buying streak will last, but Ben Bernake offered some reassurance "the country is sound until someone has a few sips and breaks the seal".
Barfly is so excited about the Stone Street Oyster Fest this Saturday that we just couldn’t wait. We took a trip to the South Street Seaport today - and waded into the East River to pluck some “oysters” from the bottom of a fake pirate ship. The downtown police looked at us funny. When we told them that we were simply trying to start a new business due to the turmoil on Wall Street, they seemed to understand (i.e. put away their weapons).
Little did they know that the joke was on them – we headed out of the water, and all the oysters were for us! Well – we’re not quite sure that our bounty consisted entirely of oysters. Let’s just call it 90% oyster-like material, 9% other, and 1% good god we didn’t know that fish could look like that.
But – what to drink? At the Stone Street Fest – they are pouring pints and champagne, so we figured we’d pair our catch with something a bit stronger to “warm-up”. We looked over our liquor shelf and decided on a sprightly martini poured with our newest pet - Bulldog Gin. It is airy enough to complement the delicate seafood, yet pungent enough to get rid of that slimy fish / gigantic metal waterfalls smell that we couldn’t shake after our dive into the river.
If you plan on heading down to the Oyster Fest, the fun starts at 12 noon at Stone Street and Hanover Square. You can find out more about it here. If you plan on heading into the East River to pursue your own delectable catch, you can find out more about it by watching every Gordon’s Fisherman commercial you can get your hands on (note from practical experience: if actually heading into the water, that handy yellow raincoat might as well be called a handy yellow drowning shroud.)
Here you are again. Sitting amongst the chattering, perfumed older women (not to mention the squealing children) on another obligatory Sunday afternoon of “joy”.
Everyone starts saying "SHHH!" because the bride-to-be is about to arrive and pretend to be surprised from all of her friends and family. Despite the fact that she has already noticed Aunt Mertha's walker sitting outside the ladies room and can hear everyone saying "SHHH!" as she approaches, they go on.
Your artificial smile is about to crack your face into a million pieces. The bride-to-be starts weeping because she is so 'surprised' and touched that all of these cackling females in her life have decided to throw her the traditional bridal shower.
How can you possibly survive the remainder of this afternoon?
Barfly has some handy dandy tips for surviving a Bridal Shower:
1) If you are at a restaurant, become friendly with the busboys. You don't want it to be clear you're the only one drinking the carafes of wine. Slip him a $20 to assure he'll keep them full and looking untouched.
If the party is in a home - well - you should have brought your flask.
2) Handling bridal shower game participation is a true challenge. Wait until you're about halfway through round 1 of bridal shower bingo before you set a small fire to distract everyone. In turn, this will end the game. B bakeware? B blazing is more like it. BINGO!
3) Aiding the bride-to-be in opening her gifts (this is your job bridesmaids...tips for surviving being a bridesmaid coming soon). We know how difficult it is to pretend to be excited over the 7th mixing bowl and 4th set of wine glasses. See Tip number 1. If you drink enough wine you may be industrious enough to open up the glasses and give everyone a lesson in proper wine and glass pairings. I.e. Grab a glass, put any wine in it, and drink away because you can’t stand another second of the “ooohs” and “aaahs”. It’s from Target people, get over it.
4) Be sure to help the others who are your family. Look at your mom's cousin Millie sitting there in the back with her sunglasses on drinking the red straight out of the carafe. As a true Barfly, you love her for this behavior but she needs to learn the basics. If she's going to go on trying to convince everyone that she's developed narcolepsy every time she passes out she needs to be less obvious about actually being a plain ol' drunk.
5) With all of those new appliances and the tremendous amount of “joy” – no one will notice if you walk out with a bread maker. Hell – why not take two? This way, next time you’re invited to one of these things, you can say “sorry, can’t make it, I’ve got to tend to the two loaves of bread I’ve got cooking, what with me being so lady-like and all.”
Invitations arrive daily in our mailbox. "Fall Foliage Cocktails in Central Park." "Global Beer Bash in the Burg." "Subway Grand Opening. Free 20 oz. Soda with Purchase of a 6 in sub". We usually decline these generous offers, but two weeks ago, an especially promising one arrived. "Join Les Cents Chevaliers at 1789. 5-courses, 6 wines, and one of Washington, DC's hottest chefs, twenty-four year old Daniel Giusti. This was a dinner worth six hours roundtrip on the Acela.
In case the name didn't already clue you in, "traditional" aptly describes this restaurant's aesthetic. Giusti's five courses, though, were inventive, fresh twists on traditional fare. There were emulsions and tonka beans, curries and pierogi, all to dress up, but not distract from, knowledgeably sourced lobster and lamb and blue fin tuna. Most striking about Giusti's menu was its balance. The chef clearly has the skill and imagination to create a buffet of intricate dishes, but he displayed wisdom by refraining from going over the top like so many chefs young and old (ahem Ramsey).
One diner remarked there must be two chefs in the kitchen, because the menu was like a split personality. But we appreciated the mix of austere, simple dishes with more complicated, robust ones. It was like an Indian summer – the clean fare of summer where fresh ingredients are king, with the rich, homey flavors of fall. The mix allowed us to walk, rather than roll, out the door. And judging from the accolades showered upon the chef when he appeared, most of the Les Cents Chevaliers agreed.
This wining and dining club was formed about thirty years ago around a simple mission – build a wine cellar and then plunder it. Eating with thirty highly educated people who love food and wine could end up in one of two ways: a night of pretentious boredom or a ball. Our night thankfully was the latter. These doctors, lawyers and business people boisterously debated everything from the proper temperature to serve white wines (take them out of the fridge twenty minutes before serving) to whether the 1994 Chateau Mouton Rothschild would hold up over the next five years better than the 1994 Chateau Pichon Lalande (the Mouton conquered).
And of course they discussed the food. "To die for," "could go home now," "spectacular," were just some of the words used to describe the favorite – butter poached lobster claw and tail meat, with tonka bean custard, curried Gala apples and lobster jus foam. Like being presented with an engagement ring at the grocery store, everyone was happily shocked with the combination. (Giusti explained later that the combination was actually quite natural, lobster goes with curry, curry goes with apple, engagement rings make people happy, just like food.) A 2004 Walter Hansel Slope Chardonnay was a toasty compliment to the lobster.
We particularly enjoyed the Roth Kase Private Reserve, a firm, Swiss-style cow’s milk cheese, served with apple butter and black walnut bread. The hint of cinnamon in the apple butter and black walnut bread reminded us again of the lobster dish; the meal came full circle.
Les Cents Chevaliers has dinners around the Washington, DC area about once a month. We hope we're invited again. The Acela is quite comfortable; we can easily sleep off the 5 courses and 6 wines on the ride back to the City.
Subway grand-opening deal – 4 olives - A complete meal for $3.99 and we get skinny like Jared. That Val-Pak thing really is one of mankind’s top three inventions.
Ride on the express train after an impeccable meal – 4 olives – The ride went by like a breeze – we barely even noticed that no one invited us to fly on their private jet (we were a little disappointed - we planned to bring the champagne!).
Chance to attend this month’s dinner – 5 olives – We think everyone involved truly cherishes this experience - and we’re not just saying that because we want an invite to next month’s (Note: please send invite to next month’s ASAP, it will take that long to weasel our way onto one of those jets).
Dark and broody downtown restaurant Allen and Delancey has unveiled their new cocktail menu, and they offer an interesting variation on the list. Each of their specialty drinks is provided in two forms - #1 and #2. Looking for a less alcoholic alternative built with citrus and fruit – go for choice #1. In the mood for something bit more pungent – then it's door number 2 for you.
Barfly is pleased to see a restaurant where teetotalers and heavy drinkers can finally come together (one big, happy drunken family!). Yes, those ordering the #2 will scoff at the fruity #1’s being carried to the table, but it won’t be so funny when they tipsily try to figure out how many they had and come up with “2+2+2+2=WTF, who needs stupid math anyway”.
We’ve cribbed two of our favorite cocktails from the list and present them below. Those who know Barfly surely realize that we went with #2 in both cases, so if you’re a #1 type of sophisticate, let us know how your juicy-juice was (and bless your heart for putting up with us).
~ Wormwood and Company ~
1 Old Tom Gin, Lemon, Egg White, Absinthe, Bitter Orange Foam, Seltzer
2 Reposado Tequila, Isly Whisky, Agave Nectar, Absinthe, Peychaud’s and Angostura Bitters, discarded Lemon Twist
WILLIAM AND MARY
~ Juniper, Spice, and Alchemy ~
1 Gin, Lime, Yellow Chartreuse, Maraschino, Rose and Lavender Bitters
2 Gin, Vermouth Bianco, Green Chartreuse, dash Cinnamon Bark Tincture
~ Agave, Pacific Winds, and the Jimadors ~
1 Blanco Tequila, Acacia Honey, Lime, Angostura Bitters, rinse Luxardo Bitter
2 Reposado Tequila, Antica, Green Chartreuse, Orange Bitters, rinse Campari, Orange Twist
We’re excited to see what new additions will come further down the road for the restaurant. Our vote is for a #11!
What’s better than a festival that lets you binge on oysters? One that lets you binge on oysters while drinking beer on the street! The Stone Street Oyster Festival is coming up this Saturday, and Barfly has our shucking hat on. What does a “shucking hat” look like you ask? You shouldn’t take things so literally – by “shucking hat” we simply mean “day-laborer we hired to shuck oysters for us”.
The festival – located on Stone Street and Hanover Square – is hosted by financial district stalwarts Ulysses Folk House and Harry’s Café and Steak. The two downtown drinking-dens have put together the party for six years running, and intend it to be a New York version of the Galaway International Oyster Fest (held in Ireland). We think that the Irish got nothing on New York's gathering, and plan on drinking plenty of the beer and champagne in order to prove our hypothesis.
Last year – over 5,000 people showed up and they shucked a whopping 23,000 oysters. This year – we think they can do better – and plan to do whatever it takes to help them beat their record. We’re not sure how many Blue Points we can down in one sitting, but think that a rough estimate of 2,346 is pretty reasonable. Oh – wait – we forgot we would be having champagne. Make that 2,347.
Check out Ulysses website for more info. If you happen to run into us as the festival, remember there is one thing that we truly love to receive as a gift: more beer and oysters.