Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Recent Eats

Chennai Garden: Although this Indian spot in Curry Hill is vegetarian, the food is so good and so filling that I never even stop to think about that fact when I head here. It's a fun place to go with a group, the better to share with; the menu is dense, but the food is very affordable. The combination dinners are a good option for sampling several different items, though it'll take some work to figure out what's included in each because the dishes are listed by their Indian names. Or just go for it and be surprised. The Gujurati combination dinner was a hit for us. The dosas, long crispy crepes filled with some combination of potato and onion, are always a solid bet, especially the masala dosa. On this visit, I was introduced to malai kofta, a punjabi curry with vegetable fritters, and that's definitely one I'll have to have again. Iddly in sambar (rice and lentil flour cakes in a spicy soup) and channa masala (chickpeas, onions and cilantro) rounded out our meal (and us!).

A Voce Columbus: This is the younger sibling of the Madison Square Park original, which has gone downhill since the departure of chef Andrew Carmellini. He was replaced with Missy Robbins, a chef from Chicago's Spiaggia, and this branch opened under her watch last fall. Brunch here was a classy affair — the space is wide-open, with high ceilings and tall windows overlooking Central Park, and everything was bright and shiny. But you feel like you are paying for it.

The Uovo Fritto was a stack of fried egg, a gamey lamb sausage patty and a corncake garnished with arugula and pilacca, an Italian fried chili sauce that added a little kick. It was more filling than I anticipated it to be. The egg crepes with fontina and prosciutto were rolled like a stromboli, cut into three sections and turned on their side; by the time they reached the table, they were lukewarm.

As is often the case at most Italian restaurants, the pasta was the standout of the things we tried. The pappardelle with braised rabbit and hen of the woods mushroom was cooked well. Though generously portioned, I'm not sure it was worth the $25 price at brunch. The biggest ripoff seemed to be the sodas, poured from 8-ounce bottles. So, unless you're dining on someone else's dime, I'd follow Andrew Carmellini to Locanda Verde instead. 

Dun Huang Seafood Restaurant: After reading a review in the Village Voice in which critic Robert Sietsema declared this "the best dim sum in any borough," I had to put this on my list to try. When an opportunity for dim sum popped up this weekend, I suggested we venture here. Though busy, we were seated immediately. The waitresses kept up a steady movement of several different carts, offering a great variety of dim sum, including some items I have never seen before. The food wasn't bad, though a few things were on the bland side and others a little greasy. I appreciate having lots of choices, but it's important to do the standard things really well. Dun Huang won't be at the top of my list of places to return to but it might stay in the rotation and is a good option for dim sum newbies. 

Doughnut Plant: A cold, rainy afternoon couldn't keep people from their doughnuts. The line filled the store and never got any shorter while we were there because the fans just kept coming. Keeping my eyes and stomach in line, I ordered just one doughnut, a glazed hazelnut special. It was squishy, sweet and delicious. I wouldn't have minded, though, if it had been just a little meaner, screaming hazelnut at me.

Baden Baden: Now that Mad for Chicken née Bon Chon has lost its game and Kyochon has yet to hatch (though the plywood was coming down yesterday), I find myself turning more and more to Baden Baden, a Korean beer hall hidden among the upper levels of Koreatown. Though there are some Korean dishes on the menu, you don't come here for that. You come here to share the addictive fried rotisserie chicken with fries or onion rings (and the pickled radishes that come with it) and beer. It's a great casual dinner or a late-night snack and when it's right in your backyard, all the better.

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