Social Diner

I’ve eaten out alot recently, albeit too much (at least according to the scale at my gym). I can’t help it, I’m a social diner and come fall the restaurant circuit revs up.  Autumn is one of my favorite times to be out and about in the city, not only because the air turns crisp and the farmer’s markets overflow with 76 types of squash, sunflowers the size of my head and mountains of apples, but because everyone is back. We spend three months escaping the city, yet when the calendar flips to September, we come rushing home.  There’s a palpable energy and a serious communal appetite.  

Dinner at Apiary

Dinner at Apiary

So here’s where I’ve been eating…

Allen and Delancey, a small, cozy restaurant in the Lower East Side (extra IQ points if you guess exact address), charms you with exposed brick, bookshelves, old, old photographs, and lots of candles.  Then it wins you over with awesome cocktails and good food.  I was there for a big press dinner hosted by a successful denim line whose designers like to have a good time. It was like having a rockin’ party at Great Aunt Matilda’s dark and mysterious mansion.  I drank many glasses of a fruity red, ate risotto dotted with chanterelles and corn, tossed back warm bougeres filled with cheese,  and devoured a chocolate dessert that was a delicious, quirky plate of salty pretzels, cupcakes, caramel, cashews, and a gooey cake doing a snickers impersonation.  The whole dinner was raucous, made more so by the motley crew of fashion editors and jeans enthusiasts, some of whom found it amusing to sneak cigarettes between courses at the deep leather corner banquettes.  I would totally go back to have drinks with a friend at the bar (great for out-of-town friends) and maybe a nice meal in the back room with those inviting half-circle booths.

Inside at Allen and Delancey

Inside at Allen and Delancey

***

Oh, but if this were the only story of the week.  Tuesday night you would have found me at Apiary, a surprising little gem in the East Village, located across Third Avenue from The Smith.  The Smith is a sort of cool spot, like a grungy french bistro, with mediocre food and a hip crowd that still isn’t quite hip enough.  Apiary is the exact opposite, thank God ( I can say this because I’ve eaten at the Smith).  Apiary is so modern you think you’ve wandered into a Ligne Roset showroom, only to learn Ligne Roset is in fact one of the main investors.  I like the idea of furniture designer/chef collaborations, especially when the chef is down-to-earth Manhattan restaurant veteran Neil Manacle (Bar Americain, Bolo).  Still, what is modern doing in the stubbornly bohemian grungeville that is East Village?  I was troubled as the kind hostess led me to my sleek table with a fancy pants chair, which I sat in, and realized said fancy pants chair was So. Comfortable. I let go of my contemporary furni-phobia.  It was kind of nice knowing everything in this restaurant was new, and thus clean, and thus NOT GRUNGY.

courtesy of nymag.com

courtesy of nymag.com

Still, my fear, spurred by the spare and sleek decor, was that the food could be fussy, layered haute-y French things served on plates the size of Carr’s water crackers.   Forget it.  I had the most succulent crab cake, little more than rich, fresh crab meat, lightly fried until the barely crisp, so loosely packed it falls apart at the barest touch of the fork.  I scooped up every bite and loved the clean citrusy cole slaw that came with it.  There was spicy Moroccan chicken so moist you want to cry because too often when you order chicken it is never as juicy, or as tasty, and scallops and prawns in a heady broth filled with cannelloni beans.  We tried sides of apricot couscous and spicy eggplant.  For dessert, a good old American peach crisp with a dollop of ice cream and a chocolate cashew brownie tart that was pretty fantastic.  I have to say Apiary was my sweet surprise, and I hope it does great.  I’d also like to order one of those chairs…

***

Monday, I went for cheap eats, attending a dinner arranged by my new and super cool friend Arlyn Blake. Arlyn is the publisher of the FOODcalendar.  If you are a foodie living in Manhattan, it’s the only calendar you need as it lists every single food-related event happening in and around the city.  Arlyn is the type of person who talks so fast, and in so many circles, of so many things, that I wasn’t sure if I was having a paella dinner for six or attending a United Nations meeting.  She arranged for a diverse group of women to bond over paella, and so we did.  The dinner was at El Nacional, a tucked away spot on the ground floor of the Spanish Benevolent Society on hectic 14th street.  The Spanish Benevolent Society looks like the inside of an VFW hall for Spaniards with futbol on the TV and good food at the tiny restaurant.

paella at El Nacional, thanks to serious eats for photo

paella at El Nacional, thanks to serious eats for photo

The paella was excellent, with the quality of the rice being the standout (the only minus was the mussels were a bit dry, but at $18, no one was complaining.)  There’s a lengthy tapas list, and we tried a bunch: rich, meaty mushrooms, grilled octopus, meatballs, gambas, shrimp croquetas, and the most wondrous tapas dish ever.  Better than any tapas you have ever had.  It’s called tosta choricera , and it consists of a toasted piece of bread covered with a fried egg, sauteed sweet onions, and grilled chorizo.  It’s beautiful, and well worth $9.50.  We downed it all with copious pitchers of sangria and ended with an amazing almond cake.  My pictures came out blurry, so I’m directing you to this fantastic write-up from serious eats because the photos are incredible.

***

Finally, I had a great meal last week at The Harrison, in Tribeca.  It’s been around since 2001, a subtle cornerstone of Greenwich St. restaurant row. In January, Amanda Freitag joined the Harrison as chef, prompting a grudgingly nice two-star review from Bruni in May. I love the casual, homey sophistication of this place.  It’s a white tablecloth kind of experience, but one that is free of pretension.  I had a light lobster chowder (who knew chowder could be light?), clean roasted beet salad, and a roast chicken that was delicious.  For dessert, lemon blackberry tart and a s’mores parfait (why don’t more people do things with s’mores?) were memorable.  I also had the pleasure of drinking my first Bandol, a full-bodied, yet dry red wine from the Languedoc region of France.  This one was a Chateaux Pradeaux and I am now obsessed (Wine Therapy is bringing it in this week). The Harrison has a sister restaurant, the venerable Red Cat in Chelsea, and I have to say everything they do, they do right.

Outside the Harrison

Outside the Harrison

***

Allen and Delancey: 115 Allen St in LES.  Side note: they worked with the guy from Death and Co. to revise their cocktail list, and last week launched brunch.  Visit website here.

Apiary: 60 Third Ave, bet 10th and 11th st.  Visit their website and see current menu here.

El Nacional: 239 W. 14th St bet 7th and 8th Aves.  A little background on the society, and why it must be saved, can be found here.

The Harrison: 355 Greenwich St at Harrison St in Tribeca.  Get more info here.

Buy a bottle of Bandol from my favorite local wine shop, Wine Therapy on Elizabeth between Kenmare and Spring.  Check out how cool it is by clicking right HERE.

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2 Comments

Filed under Eating, Restaurants

2 responses to “Social Diner

  1. joan gallagher

    I have to stop. This is too addicting. I am sitting here on a Sun morning in my bathrobe for the past two hours salivating. I am pissed also. Why? Because in Boston, aside from no happy hour and 1 am curfews we have so little to explore without spending half ones paycheck. We have the “attitude food” places with the wonderous 36 hour boiled egg where you pray the bread basket comes around again so one can leave without having to make a pit stop at Buzzy’s Roast Beef. Then, we have the “order safe” spots where the “chefs” straight out of school think they are culinary cowboys ready to ride the range and think mole sauce is the new catsup. Then there are the “safe houses” where the food is great the wine delicious and the service outstanding. Maybe there are more but Bostons night life is dictated by its curfews. 50 hours of dinner sales in a week makes it difficult for the little guy (especially in this economy) to meet the food cost, cover the rent, pay the insurances, utilities and payroll. Why more Bostonians don’t question the “why” I will never understand. I guess they are all home with their Lean Cusines and Happy Meals watching the Sox.

  2. Peter Cella

    If my old friend Arlen Blake selected El Nacionale, hole in the wall orotherwise, its got to be good!
    Any pick of Arlen’s is a winner!

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