Thursday, September 28, 2006

good eats

I have been on a restaurant tear the last few weeks. (It's one of the best perks about living in NYC!) Like most New Yorkers, I've been keeping a mental, and sometimes hand-written, list of my must-eat-at restaurants around the city. They range from the five-star special occasion places (I know someone wants to treat me to a meal at Masa!) to the small neighborhood joints that friends have glowingly recommended. And now, I can happily check three more yummy accomplishments off the list.

Last week, we made the delicious decision to go to Cookshop on Tenth Ave. in Chelsea. Not only was the food very good, but chef and owner Marc Meyer only uses humanely raised, growth-hormone-free products from local farmers and artisans, that somehow makes the dishes taste even better! Or maybe I just felt better eating it. (For the record, get the spit-roasted rabbit with sage and garlic. It's cooked on a wood-burning rotisserie that you can see from your table and it's to die-for.) But aside from the tasty grub, I really loved the casual design of the space -- a spare but cozy, comfy place to hang out for a couple of hours, where as much thought was placed on the integrity of the interior as in the quality of their food. The tables, for example, are made of a type of oak that were chosen over less expensive woods because the cheaper ones come from endangered forests. The menus, tawny and matte, are made from recycled paper.

If you're a cheese head, then the Upper West Side's Picholine is like the mother ship calling you home. It was cheese, cheese and more cheese at our table that night! And even though I'm usually not the first one to attack a cheese plate at a party (I'm more likely to be the punk plucking the grapes off the tray), I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed tasting all the different types, on their own and incorporated into interesting French dishes. My favorite was a blue cheese terrine appetizer made with pungent blue cheese, sour cream, walnuts and apples. Mmm ... Our waiter told us that the space was recently renovated and redesigned. Looking at the main dining room, it's no surprise that opera fans make up the bulk of their customers (the Metropolitan Opera House is a few steps away) but they've done a nice job of livening up the joint by decorating with graceful lavender, silver and gray, without turning off their core audience.

And this week, I had the pleasure of having dinner at chef Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak with a new friend. Holy cow (cough, cough), this place is amazing! They got everything right, from the great interior design to the we-are-the-ultimate-kings-of-beef menu. (And for the record, men outnumber women in this restaurant by at least four to one. I'm just saying ...) When you look at the menu for the first time, prepare to be initially overwhelmed by the choices because the steaks are divided into "aged" categories, including those sitting around for 28, 35, 42, 49 and 56 days. (Can anyone really tell the different between a 35 and 42 day steak? Not I. We went with the 35 day-old buddy.) Plus, all the steaks have gone through "beef provenance," which means they know the lineage of each piece of beef that ends up on your plate, based on breed, where the cow grew up, how it's been fed, and its family lineage. Our waiter said that cow family trees are provided upon request -- wonder how many people actually ask for those family details. By time we got around to eating, I probably knew more about my steak than I did about my last boyfriend.

The space design is as impressive as the food. When you walk in, you immediately notice the striking, two-story glass wine tower which divides the front lounge from the dining area (a huge, high-ceilinged room with chocolate wood walls, butter-colored banquettes and a large wall mural of Manhattan). I especially loved the modern, masculine hanging lamps which created a soft, romantic glow all around the room.


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