As many meals as I eat in a week, that is how many times I eat out. An occasional journal of a habitual restaurant diner; or, Not Eating at Home in New York.
I had it in for cattle this week. And the chickens didn't escape unscathed either; nor the pizza. I am off to Italy, and I had a hectic week of dining out with dear friends and trying to eat some things I may miss if I decide to go native and stay over there for good. To this end, I finally made it to legendary DiFara's pizza in Brooklyn, as well as trying out Momofuku Noodle Bar's Fried Chicken Dinner. And the rest, after the jump.
Porter House New York
I had a wonderful time at Michael Lomonaco's Porter House New York, gleefully consuming the quintessential steakhouse meal—dry-aged steak, hash browns, and creamed spinach. It is a meal that, perhaps more than any other, has become ritualized in American restaurant dining. Appropriate, then, that it was in aid of another deeply ritualized event—a birthday for a dear friend. We had both dined at Porter House a few years back, and while we found the room lovely (with a majestic view of Columbus Circle), the service effusive, and most of the cuisine delicious, the steaks fell behind the competition. Not so this week. While all the positive traits remain, the steak is (almost) as good as it gets.
The New York strip I had, a masterful hunk of 28-day dry aged prime beef sourced from Nebraska, was simply sensational. While it did not have the over the top dry aged funk of some of my favorite steaks (such as those served at Minetta Tavern and Primehouse) it did have that prized mineral-rich tang, and the flesh was ethereally tender. My only complaint was that while I ordered it black and blue (charred outside, cool, practically raw inside), the exterior could have used more of a crust; the underside was a pale brown rather than a dense black.
The sides were uniformly excellent. Truth be told, the salty hunks of bacon were probably unnecessary, as the creamed spinach had plenty of flavor and seasoning. The crisp disk of hash brown potato, burnished to a golden hue, was so buttery that it almost matched the steak in richness. Dessert? No room! But I am sure that it would have been as rewarding as the rest of the meal. I doubted Ed Levine when he called Porter House New York one of the top steakhouses in the city. I cannot argue against the notion these days.
Porter House New York
Momofuku Ssam Bar
I hope that my exhaustive coverage of all things Momofuku retains some level of objectivity, although I admit that that is hard to do. You might say I have drunk the Momofuku Kool Aid (or cereal milk, as the case may be). I eat at Ssam Bar and Milk Bar several times a month, and it is one of my favorite restaurants anywhere.
What I like so much about all of the restaurants in the Momofuku empire, and Ssam Bar in particular, is that they perfectly satisfy two seemingly contradictory notions—my bourgeoisie palate and my punk rock aesthetic. Ssam offers exalted, high minded food but does so in a casual, T-shirt-and-jeans environment, with a steady soundtrack of The Clash, AC/DC, and Blur (amongst others). I feel at home at Ssam and dine here with the frequency and abandon the way those with mortgage or tuition or car payments (or children) might at do at a local diner. I have eaten almost everything on the menu, but this week I tried two dishes that were new to me, and I liked them both very much:
A buttery American "wagyu" from Imperial Beef in Nebraska had an intense, voluptuous mouth feel and came served with cucumber and ponzu.
Corn fried chicken, pickled chanterelles, vadouvan.
Momofuku Ssam Bar
Al Di La
I had an enjoyable meal at Al Di La, although perhaps more for the company than for what I ordered. (Or perhaps more for what they ordered!) I started with a carpaccio of grass fed beef with anchovies, capers and parmigiano. A cold surf-and-turf of sorts. I found it too oily, and the taste of the beef itself a bit lost in the deluge of other flavors. I much preferred the seppia and oxtail over polenta, or tripe, that my neighbors had.
And I wasn't wild about the undistinguished grilled chicken I ordered, but absolutely loved the calf liver alla Veneziana my friend had. It came perfectly rare in a rich wine sauce and had a delicate texture and steely taste. I also loved the ricotta fritters Kathy YL Chan told us about a few weeks back.
Al Di La
I met Serious Eater Tam Ngo for lunch and as is always the case with such meetings, we collectively spent more time deciding where to eat than actually eating. We eventually settled on Arirang, deep in the heart of Koreatown. Robyn Lee had ventured forth before us and Tam was eager to try the seafood pancake and a bowl of noodles with chicken. She was getting over a cold, so perhaps the yearning was driven by that as much as Robyn's exhortations.
She found the pancake a tad oily, but I wasn't complaining, devouring it before the steaming bowl of noodles appeared. We both agreed that the noodles were a bit underseasoned, and indistinct enough to be universally appealing. But despite our pedantic complaints, we ate a fair amount of the hearty broth and dense noodles.
32 West 32nd Street, 3rd Floor, New York NY 10001 (map) 212-967-5088
I had a thoroughly disappointing slice of pizza at Veloce when went for the lunch special there. It was soggy and bland, although the tart arugula salad that came with it was quite pleasing, as was the choice of either a beer or a glass of wine. Take Adam's advice: eat this pizza right from the oven. (Which pretty much rules out the lunch special as an option, unless you are very lucky with the timing.) I will be sure to order a whole pie whence I return.