Friday, February 12, 2010

A Tasty Thursday

Thursday was made up of good eats that I share with you here.

Not in the mood for cafeteria salad, I decided to consider something new in the work neighborhood. I've often passed by an intriguing little black sandwich board sitting on the sidewalk outside a freight entrance on the corner of 39th Street and 7th Avenue. It lists specials in fluorescent colors for Nick's Place. I had seen it written up on Midtown Lunch and not long ago a coworker told me she had gotten some tacos from there that turned out to be quite tasty.

I warily pulled open the heavy metal doors to the freight entrance and walked to the back of the hallway where I found this tiny, quaint restaurant that even had a few tables. I was somewhat skeptical given that the menu consists mostly of generic deli food like wraps and paninis. But I was set on an order of chicken tacos — they come three to an order for $7.50. The other options were salmon, skirt steak or vegetarian, but if you wanted to mix your three tacos, it would cost more money. The people in the kitchen behind the counter were frantically whipping up lunch orders; it looks like they do a brisk takeout business. Unfortunately it meant that I waited about 15 to 20 minutes for my order.

When I got back to the office, famished, I tucked in to my hot lunch. These are not Americanized tacos, these are the real deal. I was surprised to find that the delicious shredded chicken covered in guacamole was wrapped in soft blue corn tortillas — all the better. I drizzled a little hot sauce on top for some spiciness and finished this off in minutes. This won't be a one-time visit, but next time I just may call ahead.

The evening brought me to The Meatball Shop in the Lower East Side. My friend had seen the write-up in The Times and couldn't wait to try it, so we did on its second day in business. The place was adorable with a long communal table down the middle and atmospheric lighting. We arrived early in the evening, but by the time we left every seat was filled and the bar was crowded with would-be diners. Michael Chernow, one of the friendly owners, explained the menu to us — you order by checking off boxes on the paper menu — and passed by several times during our meal to check on how we liked everything.

Now, the reason we came to this place: the meatballs. There are a few different ways you can order them, but we decided to go for the sliders ($3 each), one each of beef, pork and chicken. With each one, you also choose a sauce to match. Our lineup: chicken with parmesan cheese, pork with mushroom gravy and beef with tomato sauce. All the meatballs were pillowy soft, but only the chicken one really stood out for flavor. The meats in the other two were almost indistinguishable and because the sliders are so small, the sauces just barely make a difference. While I appreciated that the buns remained untoasted so the sliders were easier to bite into, the bread had little flavor.

We also added a few sides to our dinner and good thing, given that all the portions were on the small side (at least the food is priced accordingly).  We had the special salad of greens, beets, olives and pickled onions and the special roasted vegetables — roasted butternut squash, walnuts, cheese and saba. The salad was a bit plain, but the butternut squash was excellent. The nuts were a great crunchy contrast to the perfectly roasted sweet squash. I haven't had enough squash this winter.

There was also a side of risotto that was less risotto and more a dish of rice. The texture was good, but the risotto wasn't creamy enough and the flavor was too mild.

But we ended this meal with a big bang in the form of two terrific homemade cookie ice cream sandwiches. Chernow mentioned to us at the start that his wife makes these everyday. Just like the mix and match ordering of the meatballs and sauces, the cookie and ice cream flavors are up to you. We went for ginger snap with vanilla ice cream and brownie with mint. Wow! Both the cookies and the ice cream tasted homemade. The ginger snap had bits of real ginger and the brownie was a thick, chocolatey, chewy cookie studded with nuts; the vanilla had flecks of vanilla bean and the mint was not the sweet, bright green variety, but real mint, fresh like toothpaste. The portions were bigger than anything else we had eaten and at $4 were a great value.

I don't know if Chernow sensed our tepid approvals for dinner when he checked in with us, but when Chernow's wife came around to ask how we liked the ice cream, we were ebullient, and we seemed to have made her day. So, would I return to The Meatball Shop? Portions were small (including the wine pours) so I wouldn't necessarily make it a dinner destination, but if I were in the neighborhood in need of a snack or craving a great, simple dessert, sure.


Not feeling totally sated and with some time to kill before a movie, we decided to make this an evening food crawl. We headed east to see what we could find and rounded the corner from Stanton Street on to Clinton Street. My friend hoped we might steal a seat at Clinton Street Baking Company so we could indulge in pancake month, but from a distance we could see a heavy crowd outside the entrance, despite the biting wind of the frosty night. We stopped at Frankie's 17 Spuntino and after glancing over the menu in the window and noticing open tables inside, we decided to head in. 

Here, we ordered the Buffalo Mozzarella and Arugula appetizer. Although the greens overpowered the plate and engulfed the cheese, this was a simple appetizer; not much can go wrong with fresh cheese.

We then indulged in a savory plate of House-made Cavatelli with Faiccos Hot Sausage & Browned Sage Butter. This hit the spot and warmed us up. The cavatelli was delightfully squishy and the sausage added a spicy kick to the plate. The dish wasn't overly buttery as I worried it might be. The beautiful flavor of the sage made me wish I saw this herb more often. And with that thought, I concluded my tasty Thursday.

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