Eating NYC! The excellent, the good and the “meh.”

A server at Marea offers a delightful — and aromatic — assortment of breads.

When we go to New York City with the Clarence Brown Theatre’s support group each year, of course the main attractions are the plays that Artistic Director Cal MacLean selects for us to attend. But, not far behind, are the fabulous eateries that we select for ourselves as part of the experience.

This year, we went to eight restaurants. Here I’m going to tell you which ones were excellent, which ones were very good, which ones were good, and which ones were just “meh” (meaning so-so).

Love to hear what you thought if you’ve been to any of them!

Excellent

Fortunately for us, two eateries we visited fall into this category.

La Grenouille is famous. Some say it is the most beautiful restaurant in New York. Some say it was Jackie Kennedy Onassis’s favorite. Thanks to Jacque and Cliff Hawks for the recommendation. And thanks to Jane and Kenneth Creed for going with us.

Some of Le Grenouille’s trademark flowers. The restaurant, which opened in 1962, is the last of New York’s legendary French haute cuisine eateries.

The martinis were not bad, either!

My lobster medallion salad with avocado, grapefruit and citrus dressing. Fantastic.

Delicious lobster tarragon ravioli with buerre blanc. (Yes, I had two lobster dishes! What the heck?)

Sorry about the lighting on these photos. La Grenouille is said to be famous for its lighting, which supposedly is very flattering to women. Unfortunately, it’s not so flattering for food photos!

Alan hit the jackpot with this dessert: warm apple tart with walnut ice cream.

I had a cheese course for dessert and had plenty to share.

Jane consulting with Jean Pierre, who has worked at La Grenouille for more than 30 years.

La Grenoille means “the frog” in French. (The signature dish is frog legs sauteed in garlic and butter for $45. Uh, no.)

I love the “official” description of how Le Grenouille was founded, according to the restaurant’s website. “In 1962, with a dream and a double bourbon Manhattan, Gisèle Masson sent a wire to her husband, Charles: ‘Congratulations! You are the owner of 3 East 52nd Street! Find a name!’ On December 19th,1962, during a blizzard and newspaper strike, La Grenouille was born.”

Here are Kenneth, Jane and Alan at 3 E. 52nd St.

The second dining spot of our trip to fall into the “excellent” category was Marea, an Italian seafood restaurant with two Michelin stars.

Margie Nichols did the research that uncovered this jewel and we are glad she did. Here she is with Alan and hubby, John Gill. Marea is located at 240 Central Park South, right across from the park.

As over-the-top extravagant as La Grenouille is, Marea is the opposite — calm and spare. (Of course, we were there the minute it opened because we had to catch a play. It’s probably not so calm later in the night.)

Here’s the amuse-bouche the chef sent out. Not sure what it was, but it had “spring” written all over it!

John had this dish as an appetizer and I selected it as a main course. It’s called pansotti, which is squid ink lobster ravioli with coral bottarga. (Bottarga is cured, salted fish roe.)

This pasta dish is “culorgiones:” roasted potato ravioli with ramps, morels and peas.

“Ippoglosso:” halibut, roasted beets, prosciutto, apples and spiced walnuts.

Delicious pinot grigio. It is an Italian restaurant, after all.

Very Good

Our two “very good” experiences were in a tried-and-true favorite and in a sweet little discovery that we just wandered into for lunch one day.

Marseille is our familiar spot. Located just a block or so from our hotel, the InterContinental New York Times Square, it has authentic French bistro fare. It is comfortable, and convenient and delicious. What more could you want?

The dining room at the usually bustling Marseille.

A sweet rose was on our table.

Fava bean hummus appetizer to share.

My go-to order at Marseille: monkfish bouillabaisse with saffron potatoes, leeks, fennel, tomatoes and mussels. Awesome.

Alan also opted for a classic French dish: trout grenobloise served over pureed potatoes.

Our new discovery was the West Bank Cafe, located at 407 W. 42nd St. The eatery, featuring Continental cuisine, was founded in 1978, when, as the website says, the address was “as ‘far-west’ on 42nd Street as one would want to venture, at a time when Hell’s Kitchen lived up to its name.”

Apparently, members of a notorious Irish gang called “the Westies” were early clients of West Bank Cafe. But, not to worry. The neighborhood has changed for the better — and the safer. We loved the atmosphere of the establishment located above the Laurie Beechman Theatre, a 100-seat cabaret that the owner of West Bank Cafe opened some 30 years ago.

Alan outside the West Bank Cafe.

We selected this corner table next to the window because it was perfect for people-watching.

For lunch, I ordered the special, avocado toast with grilled shrimp.

Alan opted for a chopped salad topped with grilled Scottish salmon.

Good

Butter, which began as Food Network star Chef Alex Guarnaschelli’s first restaurant as executive chef, was great when we went there last year during the Clarence Brown trip. But it was having a bad night when we visited this year. Something about a party of 80 having to be moved to a different room due to some kind of leak, I think.

In any case, everyone’s food was late getting out and the staff was stressed, which showed. So, Butter moved down on my list from a “very good” to just “good.”

I’d say the martini was still “very good,” though!

We started by sharing crostini with ricotta, honey and grapes.

Alan’s pan-roasted chicken breast with broccoli rabe.

The roasted carrots were good.

Etcetera Etcetera was the location for our big gathering of everyone who was on the trip, more than 40 people. It’s hard for eateries to shine under these circumstances. Located at 352 W. 44th St., it was still good, though.

The bread at Etcetera Etcetera was delicious.

My buffalo mozzarella, tomato, basil and olive oil salad was good. But I’m sure it’s better when the tomatoes are in season.

Grilled Atlantic salmon with broccoli and carrot mashed potatoes. Yep. Carrot mashed potatoes. Hmm.

Chicken breast scaloppini with spinach, mashed potatoes and lemon-caper sauce.

Folks did rave about the tiramisu.

I enjoyed the trio of sorbets.

Meh

Wow, we had such high expectations for DaDong, located at 3 Bryant Park and said to be “the best of China in the heart of New York City.” Alan found it while researching places to go. It’s gotten tons of good press. The chef, known simply as DaDong, has nine restaurants in Beijing and two in Shanghai. This is his first U.S. restaurant.

When we walked in, we were very optimistic. The physical look of the place was stunningly beautiful. But, as we all know, looks can be deceiving.

Very interesting visuals in the bar area.

Restful ambience in the dining room.

Disaster on the table.

We ordered some dumplings stuffed with pork, shrimp and chives to share. You see how dull they look in this photo? That’s how they tasted. Just like nothing — just nothing.

Alan, trying to follow his heart-healthy diet, ordered the vegetarian main course. Cauliflower, left, asparagus and little vegetable bundles that, again, were basically tasteless.

My Kung Pao shrimp with peanuts, chilies and scallions did have some flavor. But not enough to make up for the rest of the meal.

The almond tofu with seasonal fruits that we had for dessert was just — I don’t know what else to say — disgusting.

On a positive note, the chopstick holders were adorable.

You have been warned.

The other disappointment was Bourbon Street Bar & Grille, the spot where our group earlier in the trip had met up with Clarence Brown alumni living in New York City. (See previous post.) Due to over-scheduling, Alan and I  had missed that meeting but we enjoy Louisiana food, so we stopped in.

No sooner had we ordered than we heard the biggest racket of hammering and drills and such. We figured the noise would only  last for a few minutes. Surely they wouldn’t undertake a major construction project while they were serving lunch to customers.

Unfortunately, we figured wrong. When we asked the waiter what was going on, he said workers were replacing a bathroom door. It was very unpleasant.

The food was OK, but not worth suffering through the chaos.

I had a crawfish quesadilla. I would have liked it very much under normal circumstances.

Alan had the halibut, which was the special of the day. Again, he would have liked it under normal (quiet) conditions.

Have you been to any of these places? Do you agree with these assessments?

 

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