Friday, November 12, 2010

Recent Eats

Perhaps it was the increasing chilliness of the season, perhaps it was just a temporary need for a break from my constant hunt for restaurants that fit the criteria of the moment. It was a week of turning to convenience and comfort, to places where I could confidently chow down. And it was all gratifying.

Good Restaurant

I've sung praise for brunch at this West Village eatery; a meal that seems to bring out the crowds. But on a weekday at midday, Good is relaxed and allows for a leisurely lunch.

The classic grilled cheddar cheese sandwich (you can also choose pepperjack cheese if you prefer) served with tomatoes and a side of mixed greens is large and filling. You're likely to take half of it home.

The harvest salad is a healthy enough portion of mixed greens tossed with aged cheddar, roasted pears, pecans and dressed in apple cider vinaigrette. I added roasted turkey for an additional $4, which seemed a bit steep for three very thin, though tasty, slices of meat.


By now, anyone keeping track should know that Maialino vaulted to the top of my list of favorites from the start and has continued to have a hold on me. No other place manages to produce the consistently flawless service and standout food that this place does. The tables are far enough from each other that it feels intimate even though the restaurant can get quite noisy.

The mixed salumi plate makes a good, light starter. The combination of mortadella, speck and soppressata was the same as last time, which leads me to believe they don't change the combination, though there are other meats offered on the menu. 

The escarole salad is a plate of finely chopped greens tossed with hazelnuts, grapes and pecorino cheese. It was perfectly seasoned. And a patron at the next table inquired about which salad it was as he was seated because it looked so good.

Bucatini all’Amatriciana is one of my favorite Italian dishes. A hollow, tubular pasta that produces a precisely desired chewiness when cooked to to the right degree. Then, bathed in a mixture of spicy tomato, guanciale and pecorino. Maialino's version will make you want to lick your plate.

The waitress steered us right when she suggested we choose the pumpkin agnolotti rather than another tomato-based pasta. These little packets were slightly sweet but the brown butter helped to bring the balance back to savory. And the ricotta salata and pumpkin seeds completed the amazing plate.

We also ordered a side that was a special for the night: mushroom-potato gratin. The mushrooms were layered across the bottom and covered in chunky potatoes and cheese that crisped up in the oven. Terrific cold weather food that only encourages hibernation.

This tart was a lovely dessert — an eggy, lemony slice topped with one of my favorite, underused ingredients, pine nuts. A swirl of lemon caramel added just a touch of sweetness. There wasn't a crumb left.

This is food that makes me swoon. And the portions are just right; no leftovers, but still full and dreaming of the next meal.


Artisanal is probably one of the most convenient restaurants for me, but there are many times I pass over Artisanal because the prices for this classic French spot lean toward the high side. But this time I  made a reservation through a fairly new service, Village Vines, which offered a 25% discount on the meal (you normally pay $10 to make the reservation, but I had a $10 credit in my account).

Cheese is a big player at Artisanal and there are many different ways to sample the offerings. But the gougeres are a simple, light way to do so. These little puffs are cheesy bites of dough that go down easily.

The soup of the day was butternut squash, sprinkled with a bit of blue cheese and walnuts. The squash was blended well and the texture was smooth; the cheese and walnuts were needed to keep the soup from being monotonous, but I would have preferred something a little less strong.

The chicken under a brick is tender and juicy and served with a thin gravy, buttery mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables. A dish that shows the kitchen knows how to do the basic dishes well.

The Heritage pork "cassoulet" is served in a heavy cast iron skillet carpeted by Gigante beans and topped with persillade, a mixture of bread crumbs, parsley and garlic. A fatty chunk of pork is on display, which I thought was the only meat in the dish. In fact, the fun lies under the persillade. Many smaller hunks of pork are baked in with the mixture of beans, which made for delightful surprises and a very filling dish. But I wish the pork had been slightly less fatty.

I can't leave Artisanal without having the signature cheesecake. It seems, though, that the restaurant has disappointingly added a scoop of whipped cream but done away with the pecan pralines that used to dot the plate.

Although our Village Vines reservation gave us a discount, we were unable to receive a discount on our full meal because one of us had ordered the prix-fixe dinner menu. The discount can't be applied to any other specials or offers, but I would not have thought that that included the set menu that is offered on the menu everyday. We did receive a discount on all other things we ordered, but it was disappointing to find out at the end of our meal.

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