Sunday, February 24, 2008

August for Brunch

I had been to August once before for dinner, but had to leave since they did not have any vegetarian entrees. I went recently for brunch, however, and their selection was much better. August is located in the West Village, on Bleecker St., and has a pretty glass-enclosed backyard with faded walls and an air of faux-age about it.

Service was brisk but efficient. I ordered an egg dish, "eggs en cocette," with roman tomatoes and mozarella. It arrive din a small cast iron pan, as a kind of egg casserole with the above ingredients. Quite tasty. The toast used high-quality, thick Italian bread. I also ordered "swiss potatoes" -- oven-cooked hash browns, also in the cast iron. Tasty stuff.

None of this was mindblowing, but it was all competent, and in a nice setting. I wouldn't hesitate to come back.

Stars: 4/5

Lupa: Good But a Little Awkward

Lupa is one of those restaurants which i thought had generally well-executed food, but it wasn't food that really hit the spot for me. I could appreciate it as well-cooked, reasonably well-thought-out food, but I don't really have much of a craving to go back. The restaurant is distinguished by incadenscent lights in soft round spheres, brickwork, and a livelier "front half" contrasted to a more discerning and quiet back half, separated by a short corridor. I sat at the "communal table" near the front, and though I chose to sit at the end -- my own fault -- I found the chair quite cramped, as it was nearly pressed against the radiator behind it.

Lupa's bread- basket was unusual and likeable - it consisted of two tall squares of cakelike bread, slightly sweet, with a slightly bitter-earthy aftertaste, served with an extra-virgin olive oil.

I ordered an escarole salad to start, and one immediate problem cropped up when it got to me: its size. It looked clearly enough for two, and it was weighed down with cheese like cows were going out of style. That seemed kind of artless. The escarole itself was fresh, though some of its tastiest spices seemed trapped at the very bottom, and the whole thing did not seem well-mixed or well-blended.

My second course was a bavette pasta cacio e pepe -- with cheese and peppercorns. I've tried and enjoyed an outstanding version of this dish at the eponymous East Village restaurant. Lupa's version was homey and refined, a suave cousin of macaroni and cheese, and artistic looking in its simple cheesiness and its white bowl -- and it was quite good. But it was not as solidly satisfying as the other.

Lupa's "tartufo" dessert consists of a scoop of hazelnut gelato dipped in chocolate. From the makers of Otto's gelato, I'm not surprised that this was quite a successful dessert. The gelato was nutty and very flavorful, and the chocolate shell was high-quality ganache. It was a happy finish to my meal.

Service throughout was serviceable but not incredible. Lupa is a place that is reasonably priced and looks reasonably inviting and has reasonably good food. But I didn't find it outstanding or craveable.

Stars: 4/5

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Self Assured A Voce Meal Leaves an Impression

When you enter A Voce in the evening, you immediately get the sense that there is a deft mixture of several atmospheres here. On the one side is the warmth and hospitality of the traditional Italian restaurant, on another the buzz and chatter of a restaurant in vogue and with acoutrements to match, and on yet another the well-coiffed mannerisms of an elegant fine dining establishment.

The restaurant is warm, with tones of brown and grey, and strikingly long strands of wooden sticks hung on strands in alcoves along the restaurant's main wall. Warm incandescent light, soon to be banned, floods the atmosphere. The hostess took my coat and bag, and seemed friendly and confident. That's the tone of the whole restaurant.

I sat down, and ordered a glass of red wine. Service at A Voce is attentive, extremely so. I never had to wait more than a few moments before I got what I wanted, and an array of servers trained to watch you keeps it that way.

I ordered the sheep's milk ricotta appetizer, and a tortellini di zucca. The ricotta appetizer is a set of grilled italian bread served with a bowl brimming with a fresh, white, soft, mild, and spreadable cheese. The darkly grilled bread in contrast with the white cheese and the browns and grays of the bowl and table and the dramatic lighting all made for a very professional presentation. The bread itself was chewy and mild, and the cheese was subtle. The dish knew exactly what it wanted, and it got it -- it was striking and showed the elements perfect in simplicity. On the other hand, did I want a little salt, a little more spice? I did. So it was an excellent appetizer which accomplished its aim, but it's an aim that was just a little too bland for me. I still enjoyed it.

The tortellini was another piece of artistry. The color of the tiny bits of candied orange, the wistful flutterings of parmesan, and the clearly handcrafted pasta all came together. The earth-toned pasta seemed so natural to the environment around it. The zucca inside was sweet and soft and burst with natural freshness. This was a simple flavor, but the spices accented it and made it a great dish. I have to say this dish was slightly too sweet for me, but this is a subtle matter.

Finally, I ended with a baba rum. This rum-drenched cake came with a vanilla creme around the middle and top and was served with a citrus grapefruit salad on the side. This was a formidably complex array of flavors, and they went surprisingly well together. When the cake was served, my server poured aged rum over it. The sweetness of the moist cake, the slight aftertaste-edge of the rum, the soft comfort of the vanilla creme, and the light tartness of the citrus salad all danced against each other. This was a really great dessert. Again, artistry.

I left completely satisfied with A Voce. This is a restaurant that knows itself, what it wants to serve, how it wants to look and feel, and how it wants to treat its patrons. It is a high-end experience that is absolutely worth the money.

Stars: 5/5

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Maoz Falafel at Union Square

Maoz Falafel on Union Square East is apparently an offshoot of a European chain of the same name. The basic idea idea is that they give you the pita and falafel for a sandwich (assuming that's what you ordered, as I did), fill it up with one of three basic ingredients (hummus, feta, or eggplant), add in falafel, and then YOU add in the condiments. The condiments come in a little salad bar, and included pickle, sauteed carrots, a broccoli and cauliflower mixture, classic falafel-style purple cabbage, and a set of several "salsas" and yogurt and tahini sauces.

It's a fun way to put together a dish, although I made the rookie mistake of putting way too much into my sandwich and getting full about 2/3 of my way through the sandwich. Unfortunate, because this is a tasty sandwich. The falafel has a nice blend of spices and is not too dry. The place itself has a very small seating area and is a little drafty due to the door opening a lot. Other than that, though, it's great. I think it might be my second-favorite falafel after Taim at this point.

Stars: 4/5