Tuesday, November 07, 2006


I have returned to this url, just because it's the one I like best. Soon, janelerner.com will get developed (thanks Anthony, for the url!), but in the meantime, let's stay here for a while. It's nice.

Full reviews, comments, information tk, but for now, a little something:

- Cafe Cluny - Great duck confit served with sweet, teeny tiny brussel sprouts. I also had the exact same frisee salad as I'd had at Odeon a week before (duh, I guess. but eh. it's a classic but boring), cute waitresses looking vaguely french and very sexy, the whole place was buzzing and fab, but not pretentious.

- Mermaid Inn - Always reliable, though my undercooked mussels were disgusting.

- BLT Prime - Enough food to have fed five and there were just two of us, thick, golden onion rings stacked like a child's ring toy, and I finally understood the overrated concept of kobe/wagyu beef.

- Stinky's - I heard that Tullers closed, so I am thrilled that a new gourmet cheese place opened up. They are very nice there and they carry Applewood restaurant's line of goodies. The lavender shortbread is ridiculous, and so right up my alley.

- St. Helen Cafe - Best damn coffee I have had in ages and a sticky honeyed croissant that was delicious. wow. Thanks Bayard, for taking us there.

- Max Brenner - I refuse to call this place by its full name because the marketing factor at this place is nauseating. The banana split latte shake frappe whatever the hell they called it was absolutely great; the hot chocolates we tried were woefully disappointing. Amateur staff and a decor closely resembling the Cheescake Factory turned me off, but still, we ate dessert for dinner and had a really great time.

- Finally learning how to master my own sage brown butter sauce. It's not hard, I know, but I seem to be on a roll where it's so good that I want to drink it by the spoonful, forget the pasta or fish. I also cooked a piece of black cod last night that had such a soft and rich flesh that it felt strangely obscene as I flaked away the layers with my fork. Stupid expensive, though, from Wild Edibles in Grand Central - not the most inexpensive shopping outlet, by any means - I think I paid over twenty bucks for this one piece of fich. That would be a nice piece of fish, as my family would say...

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Name change

This name is taken.
I just entered www.butterandsalt.com into my browser by mistake. I came upon another New York writer who writes about food! I think I will have to change the title of this here blog, so hold on for future url updates. Bummer.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Breakfast salad

It is rare to see a menu item that is so original I can honestly say, "I have never heard of that before!" It is rare, also, to see a tiny neighborhood gourmet to-go type place push the boundaries of breakfast to such a degree that my breakfast, lunch and brunch eating habits have been transformed. The breakfast salad at Chicory Brooklyn on Degraw Street is my favorite dish in the world right now, the foundation of a concept that deserves further exploration. Salad for breakfast, you ask? This is like the best Israeli salad ever – grape tomatoes, little diced bits of cucumber and radish, with just enough feta cheese – combined with gently scrambled eggs, perfect cubes of fried potato and a combination of chopped romaine and frisee, all tossed in a light shallot vinaigrette. When I asked Gavin, the owner, if I could crumble an order of bacon into the dish, he agreed and also suggested sausage as another meaty, greasy addition to the absurb deliciousness of the breakfast salad. It's a dish that brings vegetables to the breakfast table in a way that I often crave but don't know how to fulfill.

Chicory was reviewed in today's New York Times Dining section. I'm sure the owners are thrilled but terrified: they seem overworked already – it's super hot in the space and the guys are always sweating it out and looking like they are working their asses off – and I am sure that this review will send business up even higher.

But I am dismayed that the reviewer overlooked my beloved breakfast salad! Yes, the fried chicken is good, the salads in the deli case are consistently great, the sweet potato fries are almost perfect, but that salad is an elevated dish. I have turned several people on to this salad already; my friend Aimee from San Francisco had four of them, I think, during her few days in the neighborhood.

I do have criticisms of the place, sure. I agree that the mac & cheese is too brick-like and thick, and often gets that strange off-kilter burnt flavor when put under the broiler or salamander. Also, I am very disappointed in the regular sandwiches there: the use of crap supermarket bread depresses me, and what really infuriates me is that a place of that calibre uses shredded iceberg lettuce on most of the sandwiches. A few leaves of green leaf or even a bit of cress or arugula would do wonders. Pardon the heated sandwich criticism there, but I find it baffling that a kitchen that can turn out something as sublime as the breakfast salad falls so short on making a basic turkey sandwich.

All that aside...
Congratulations to Chicory! They deserve it, and I wish them well.

Monday, July 24, 2006


I might have overdone it this weekend. Three ridiculous meals over three days, a lot of rich food and good experiences.

The quick run-down: Friday special birthday lunch at Bouley (lovely and delightful but hardly mind-blowing), Saturday night late dinner at Little Owl (unpretentious and delicious, moments of pure joy), and dinner last night at East Village newcomer Barbone (serious Italian in a gorgeous back garden - pictured, albeit abstractly - super fun, since I was with a friend who knew the owner).

More detailed reviews of each to come, but in the meantime I would wholeheartedly recommend both Little Owl and Barbone as two new spots that deserve attention. Little Owl, I imagine, is about to explode. We overheard them say something about an upcoming Times review while we were eating, so I am glad I got in while I could. Barbone will more likely build by word of mouth and neighborhood devotion, though I do hope that they get widely reviewed and become a destination place. The owner was incredibly nice, and I loved getting to sit with him and chat restaurant business stuff. He's a wine guy primarily, and he served us a fantastic red sparkling wine that sent me over the edge of drunkeness.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The endless picnic

Last night was about as beautiful as it gets in the world of free New York summertime events. I went to a showing of Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train at the Brooklyn Bridge Park, or the Empire Fulton Ferry park or whatever it is technically called there, that astonishing slope of green grass along the river between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. The weather was cool, the group of friends was stellar and there was lots of good picnic food brought to the blanket. I was especially impressed by the two women who brought their homemade pate. Wow, I went to Whole Foods and bought the smoked bluefish pate on special for $2.99 and thought I was bein' all super fancy. Stepahnie made amazing gooey chocolate cupcakes, which looking back, was really the bulk of my dinner last night. Cupcakes and pate, there's a girl who knows how to live! (Oh wait - I have a few of the leftover cupcakes in my refridgerator, maybe that will be my birthday afternoon snack.) I did bring the Crazy Creek chair though, so at least my camping gear was a hit.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Craft x2 and steak

Last night I had a nice dinner out with my friend Ashley, one of my favorite dining/cooking companions from way back. After a brief attempt at Cookshop (way too crowded, and then the last-minute realization that the bartender was a friend's ex-girlfriend sent us out of the restaurant fast), we ended up at the brand new Craftsteak on Tenth Avenue, which is lined up with the other disturbingly oversized eateries over there. It's like an upscale disneyland now, and it scares me a bit. But I digress.

The main dining room is impressive, and (unusually for a restaurant) the art is striking. We sat in the very comfortable lounge area -- big tables, rounded red leather chairs, giant picture windows with a fab view of the chelsea car wash and the clusterfuck of cabs and limos outside -- but man, it was COLD. Like freezing your ass off, iced air blowing onto the food cold. Everyone in the front area had their coats on, and it was warmer outside the restaurant than in.

Thrill of the night - a real live, honest-to-God Tom Colicchio spotting! He came up front for a minute to check in with the hosts, looking terribly sexy in his whites. That Top Chef gig did wonders for his sex appeal.

But the food: the weirdest thing. It all tasted very much like, umm... water. It was the strangest sensation, one I've never had from a Craft(bar) meal; I felt like could taste the nothingness of the water used in the polenta, the empty flavor of a watery hen of the woods, and even the NY strip steak ($42!) after its initial satisfying saltiness and tenderness just kind of flavored out into nothing. Nothing lingered or moved me, which was disappointing given that Craft has thrilled me before. The prices of the steaks are just ridiculous, and I didn't feel like the staff was particularly helpful at explaining the differences between the cuts and styles of beef. Good ginger rum cocktail though, and we had a great night regardless of the overall lingering taste of NOTHING.

But the real star of this Craft post is the private dining experience I had last weekend at the main Craft on 19th Street. Amazing food, incredible service, smart dining room; just an excellent experience all around. Which is why I am especially disappointed in the off-kilter Craftsteak food.

To backtrack: my friend Kevin celebrated his conversion to Judaism last week, a beautiful journey for him and his family, and I found the whole weekend very moving. Kevin had asked for my help many months ago in selecting a restaurant for a celebratory dinner, no expenses spared. Initally, the main concern was everyone's food issues: kosher, vegan, etc. Yikes. I led Kevin to Heirloom, a creative vegetarian restaurant on the Lower East Side that promptly closed a few weeks after he reserved their private back area. Not a good sign. Kevin asked again for help, and after a long conversation I hit upon Craft as a good idea, thinking that a restaurant with their philosophy and approach would be very accomodating to guests with special food needs.

My favorite development is that in the end, Kevin didn't have much input in the passed appetizers that we snacked on during the cocktail hour: foie gras mousse, steak tartare, chorizo eggrolls, caviar and creme fraiche on a potato chip. Basically the most un-vegan, anti-kosher food you could ever come up with. I loved every bite, though I think I was in the minority. The restaurant did a great job making everyone happy overall, and for the main courses, some of the people at our table thought that the vegan versions of the food were better than the "real" dishes!

The sit-down meal, served family style, was spectacular across the board. A raw tuna appetizer was a beautiful bright red color, giant slabs of tuna laid out geometrically on the plate. A huge platter of beets looked like gems in shades of pink and red and gold -- they were ridiculously delicious, prepared very simply, and I wish I had the recipe. The main course was in the form of roasted chicken, cut up into perfectly-sized pieces and sitting in an oval copper pan that i wish I owned. Crispy skin, tender meat and completely great. Roasted whole carrots (obviously grown just for them because the carrots were of a size that I have never seen sold in stores) came in severeal colors: yellow and orange and a darker pumpkin color. A dish of cavatelli with spring peas was phenomenally buttery and rich, I think it maybe had a little basil pesto in there too, all green and bright. Craft pulled out their mushroom mania for us too, with oversized platters of mushrooms on every table, a mixture of their fungal greatest hits. They were rich and intense, almost too much mushroom madness for me (and they were far better that the hen of the woods that we had last night at the steak place.) For dessert they placed two whole chocolate tarts on each table, brought out cute little copper servers of carmelized bananas and individual dishes of caramel ice cream, dolloped into quenelles. An extra hit at the end of the night was the caramel corn they placed on each table to snack on after all the dishes had been cleared away.

Every bite was delicious, and it was a fitting way to celebrate with Kevin and his family. Thanks to the lovely Doris and Lillman Dwarka for making it all happen.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Favorite dishes

There's a rotating cast of dishes that I call my "favorites" at any one time. Right now, the top of my list looks like this:

- The french toast at Frankie's 457 Spuntino. Huge, thick slices of Sullivan Street Bakery Italian bread, not too soaked in egg and milk, grilled til the surface gets carmelized and crisp. It's the best french toast I have had in New York. (The best french toast in my memory, though, is the deep fried FT at Nookie's in Chicago. It's like a giant triangular donut, masquerading as french toast. Gnarly.)

- The green tomato and cheese sandwich at City Bakery is elusive and wonderful; it's only there occasionally, sitting under the heat lamps on the right side of the buffet. They use a crumbly corn bread as the base, melt some sort of sharp white cheddar (I think that's the cheese), and and add on sliced green tomatoes (are they fried? I can't even remember, it has been so long since I had one of these treats), topped off with another slice of the toasted corn bread. Love how I don't even remember the details of this sandwich, but I still feel as if I have to praise it! It's almost dessert, but still savory and sharp.

- The fresh pita bread at Snack Taverna in the West Village is wonderful. Right when it is hot and puffed up, I could eat the entire basket and ask for more, before the taramosalata ever gets to the table.

- This is a dish sadly mourned: the seafood pasta at the Mermaid Inn on Second Ave. The dish still resides on their menu in some incarnation, but when they opened a few years ago they served a spaghetti with a spicy seafood tomato sauce and a handful of arugula or cress piled on top. It was fucking delectable. I still dream of it, and I was sad when they took it off the menu and reworked it into something far inferior.

- The pork bun at Momofuku is the most melt-in-your-mouth experience to be had in the world of pork. (And that's a big world.) I don't know how they make the dough for the steamed buns they use, but unlike traditional dim sum -- the baseball-esque pork buns of any Chinatown in America -- the Momofuku creations are pillow-like freeform ovals, loosely folded in half over slices of pork that are so succulent it is almost obscene. A not too sweet hoisin suace and green onions round out the flavors and textures, making it the best damn thing I've eaten all year.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

West Village ideas

Last week, my friend Raina emailed me, looking for restaurants in the West Village, since she was going to a play at a theatre on Barrow Street. I forgot to ask her where she ended up going, but this is what I recommended:


My favorite reliable spot in that area is a Greek place called Snack Taverna, right off Seventh Ave on Bedford. Nice but not too expensive, excellent food, intimate and comfortable atmosphere, I have had a number of great meals there. Definitely ask for extra pita bread -- they make their own and it is fluffy and warm and so very good. Decent vegetarian options, too.

For some serious amazing spicy fishiness, do not miss Fatty Crab, on Hudson at Horatio. So damn good -- between the fried duck and the pickles and the crab and the curries, I am developing a serious crush on the place. I saw one of the waiters at a show at the Bowery Ballroom recently, and I accosted him as if he was a rockstar, just so I could gush about the duck and pickles.

If you go early and feel like making the scene, Spotted Pig really is good, though not good enough to wait two hours on the sidewalk in the rain. Go for lunch some other time when the place is chill and the food is the same. The famous dish there is the gnudi, oversized ricotta gnocchi-esque dumplings, soaking in a brown butter sage sauce which is akin to drinking a butter soup. When I was there last week the bartender said he limits himself to one serving a week. Oh yeah, and the bartender's a total babe.

For more snack/cocktail mode try Employees Only, on Hudson. I haven't eaten there but the cocktails are dreamy. Lat time I was there I had a fig/honey vodka something-or-other, which was like an alcoholic mediterranean smoothie.

August, on Bleeker at Charles, is very good. But maybe too expensive for your purposes? Also can be hard to score a table at a prime time. Great backyard though, and I always mean to go back there more often.

Both Mary's Fish Camp and Pearl Oyster Bar are delicious, if you are feeling the seafood. At Pearl, I really dig the shrimp appetizer; I actually eat the shells. I haven't been there is a long time though, I wonder if that dish is even still on the menu...?

For cheap and easy, there's a new casual asian place on Carmine called Noodle Shop or something (Noodle Bar? it's right across the street from Grey Dog coffee), which is kind of dinery with a pan-asian menu. Quick and decent.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Big tables

In January, my pal Josh celebrated a birthday, and I volunteered some recommendations of places to go with a large group. We were focussing mainly on the East Village for some reason. Oh yeah... we had plans to go to Von for drinks afterwards, so we wanted to be convenient to the bar.

Check these out:
Banjara - excellent Indian spot, nicer than the usual joints on the block and especially good. 1st ave and 6th street
Pylos - greek food in a cool room with clay pots all over the ceiling, 7th st and 1st ave
Cafecito - casual, cuban food, cheap and good. ave c and 11th st
Mancora - surprisingly yummy peruvian food, I get delivery all the time from their BK outpost, inexpensive. 1st ave at 6th st
Euzkadi - spanish, tapas, very european vibe, I had a fun birthday here once, 4th and 1st
Mo Pitkins - new place on Ave. A with a kooky updated jewish/latin retro fusion comfort food menu. Or something.
Hasaki is the good Japanese place that everyone likes a lot, downstairs location, nice but not fancy. On 9th st at 4th ave.

We ended up at Mancora, one of my reliable Smith Street stand-bys now transplanted into the East Village. Two issues though -- the heating was all messed up, blasting burning gusts of recycled air right at our table. Unpleasant. Another strange misstep was that one of the ceviches was served in a bowl that was so unbalanced and precarious that Josh spilled the ceviche in his lap, twice! Why use dishware that literally topples over and dispenses its food in your customers' laps? The food was great, though, and we had a lovely evening, fish juice be damned...

Dinner with someone's mother in Union Square

I love it that people ask me for dinner ideas. My friend Sara's mom was visitng recently, and Sara needed somewhere to go with her mom and her mom's friend. The parameters were: Union Square area, not too crazy expensive, parent-friendly so not too annoyingly hip and sceney, but New Yorkish enough to give the midwestern ladies a thrill. My ideas were the following...

Basta Pasta - really cool spot, an Italian place run by Japanese. It's got this interesting cross-cultural approach, always lots of expat Japanese there, Italian food through an Asian lens. Not too expensive, on 17th at 5th ave.

BLT Fish is great, on 17th street, a casual (no res) fish shack downstairs, a more upscale and expensive dining room upstairs.

Mesa Grill might be good too - very parent-friendly, southwestern/mexican food, upscaled. The celebrity chef factor might have some appeal if she watches the food network. On 5th Ave. at 16th or so.

There's a newish tapas place, big and glam spot called Barca 18, on Park Ave. South at 18th St.

Beppe - I've heard great things about this place, mid-range Italian, 22nd street at Bway. [This is where they ended up going, and they LOVED it. They had to wait for their table for a while, and were comped free champagne and fries while they sat at the bar. I love it when a restaurant realizes they need to placate the paying customers. I mean, my friends won't remember the fact that they had to wait 40 miniutes for their table, but they will remember the free goodies and the fine treatment by way of apology.]

Also on the same block as Beppe is a prix fixe spot called Kitchen 22 - $25/3 courses, supposed to be really good. But I did hear that they recently had a change in chef, so no telling what it has become of late.

In the ABC Carpet & Home store are a couple good restaurants - Pipa, which is tapas (never been), and Lucy which is upscale Mexican (where I had a very good lunch once, though it may have been distorted by the fact that I had just come from the dentist and my entire mouth was numb.)

Some food ideas for my sister

My sister hosted a dinner party the other night, with a green curry as the centerpiece main dish. She was looking for appetizer and dessert ideas that might go well with the coconut curry, so here is what I recommended:

- a kind of salsa/dip with: smoked salmon, chopped, with green onions, crushed garlic, grated ginger, avocado, toasted sesame seeds, in a dressing of soy sauce and lime juice. with rice crackers for dipping.
- store bought peanut sauce in bowl, warmed (or not, maybe doctored with cilantro and whatever you want), with crudites like baby carrots, endive leaves, red pepper strips and green beans lightly steamed.
- really, those bags of frozen dumplings/potstickers are awesome, buy a couple packages and make a homemade dipping sauce.

- green tea ice cream and/or that yummy haagen dazs mango sorbet, with almond cookies crushed on top.
- bananas fried in butter and brown sugar (and cardamom/clove too), on top of vanilla ice cream.
- plate of pineapple and oranges (like in chinese restaurants!) with warm mochi.

In the end she went with the very easy peanut sauce served with lightly steamed green beans. The guests went wild! Well, maybe not wild, but she said it was a hit, and for that I am very pleased.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


A friend emailed me yesterday, and posed this question:
"can you recommend some really cool places in Soho/Tribeca etc for
dinner on Friday night? Not too flashy but really good food and a bit
of an insider place?"

Here was my reply:

- I have always wanted to go to 5 Ninth, address is, yes, 5 Ninth Ave, in the Meatpacking. Same guy who runs that amazing Malaysian restaurant (Fatty Crab), where I had the most extraordinary brined and fried duck, but 5 Ninth is more upscale and sceney, SE-Asian-influenced cuisine, really creative, cool chef.

- In Tribeca, the Harrison is a good standby, though not too super hip really.

- I love Barbuto, on Washington and 12th St in the West Village. Italian/mediterranean food in a great industrial space, very buzzing and fun. Every time I go there I seem to drink more wine than I possibly should.

- Blaue Gans is a brand new Austrian place in tribeca, owned by the famous Austrian chef from Wallse and Danube [wait, must fact-check this], but this spot is more casual, in the old le zinc space on Duane. supposed to be good. you can find some new reviews online.

- Bellavitae, on Minetta Lane, tiny little street off 6th ave in the Village. Great food, feels like a secret space, the menu is kind of an Italian small plates concept, it's owned by a guy who is an Italian specialty food importer, so the ingredients are ultra fine. (When i got a dish of nothing but fresh radishes and salt it came with a small bowl of olive oil that they described as "the Rolls Royce of olive oils" and it was fucking divine.)

Upon receipt of this list, my friend emailed me back and said:
"i sent my brother your list of places and he was really psyched.
thanks a lot! he just started to date some girl and, in a
flurry, is taking her to NYC for the weekend. crazy! so your
recommendation just may be helping him score this lady."

Least I can do.

Tips & Tricks

I want to compile my own list of tips and tricks, a guide to eating well and having fun in New York City. I made a funny, doodly, hand-drawn list for my friends Marisa and Ian when they were visiting last December; they were so happy with my recommendations that I think I should make a full-fledged NYC guide for prospective visitors! I will compile this bit by bit, we shall see how it goes...