Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eating "The City"

Last month when The Boss Man and VB visited "The City" we stayed "downtown" adjacent to Ground Zero, and within a few blocks of Wall Street. While downtown we ate at Brasserie Les Halles, and Adrienne's Pizzabar. Anyone who knows about or has watched No Reservations, knows that Anthony Bourdain, was the executive chef of Les Halles for years before he became famous. Both restaurants were great. Les Halles offers a few wines under $20.00, while Adrienne's is a bit more expensive, offering some wines under $40.00. Les Halles is a place where you will scarf down your food and leave sated. It's noisy, tables are close together, but still gives you a feel of coziness. The portions are just about right. Adrienne's, meanwhile, is a restaurant, that will have you walking out with leftover pizza, interact with your neighboring tables (they are that close - you can overhear whisper level conversations). You'll be plenty full before you even finish your appetizer. We had a wonderful time at both places. Les Halles - just a bit of snootiness, whereas Adrienne's Pizzabar is a more jovial spot.

Let VB add, that this is not the first time we've been to "The City." We usually get up here, at least once a year, usually twice for several days at a time. So we've eaten at a few of the thousands of restaurants.

Wednesday night, our first night back in "The City," we ate at a Turkish Restaurant called Akdeniz. The food was close to what we used to get at Manti Evi, in Baku, Azerbaijan (can you imagine, Manti doesn't even have a website - that's how good they are.) Akdeniz even offers Yakut Wine, for $27.00, which we used to buy in Baku for $4.00. All in all, even though it cost us about five times more to eat Turkish in New York City, it was worth the while. VB's "Skewered Ground Meat" consisted of two huge, hand rolled, skewer grilled Adana kebabs, which were just like the ones from Manti, Evi, which, BTW, was VB's favorite restaurant in Baku. It's the best deal in Baku (appetizers, huge plates of grilled meat and veges, with bread and a bottle of wine for $20.00!) VB recommends Akdeniz for anyone looking to eat Turkish, and not go way over budget. Apparently, in "The City" it's hard to get a good meal, bottle of wine, and a full belly without paying abundant amounts of money.

We like to try new places, particularly Greek, since VB is of Greek descent. We've eaten at numerous Greek restaurants in Manhattan, including Avra, Molyvos, and Periyali, among others. Even though we've had minor differences of opinion (such as with Molyvos - we don't like dolmades without meat) we will return, as they offer good food, good service, and decent prices. Unfortunately, we're usually required to be in Manhattan so we don't get around to other areas of the city (meaning, we probably miss out on some amazing food, just because it's not in Manhattan.)

Nothing can describe the feeling of going to a restaurant, where you fell you're being taken advantage of, some tom-foolery is going on, or you think that they think, you have "chump" imprinted on your forehead. In other words, a restaurant that's just too good for you, better than you, snobbier than hell, and thinks they know better than you, too.

About a month or so ago, VB saw a video of Roving Chef: Michael Psilakis Buys Greek in Astoria. She was impressed. She had read about him and his restaurants, and when she was looking for a place to eat, not far from the hotel, since it was so damn (30 degrees with an insane windchill level) cold outside, and since The Boss Man had Anthos on his list, we decided to pay it a visit. Strangely enough, VB read reviews about Adrienne's Pizzabar before booking, but not Anthos. Let's just say, Anthos had such a wonderfully positive spin going, that we figured "what the hell."

Ha! Check out the menu on the website and see all the offerings, which are about half as many when you get the actual menu in your hands. No wine is less than $60.00 (we should have walked out right then and there.) The food is described as (yes, VB read this after-the fact,) "And now comes Anthos, a new expense-account restaurant on 52nd Street, where hordes of businessfolk can contemplate silvery rows of sardines escabèche, crispy pieces of John Dory floating in ramp broth, and grilled octopus garnished with the slightest hint of orange purée.

The architect of the menu at Anthos is Michael Psilakis, a talented, kinetic chef who is fast becoming the poster boy of this unlikely Greek revival, the Mario Batali of “New Aegean” cuisine. " (New York Magazine)

Really? VB has cooked some Batali from his books, and the comparison is an insult to Mario.

The article goes on, "The culinary focus at Anthos is Greece, of course, though whether Psilakis’s grandmother (he grew up in a Greek-American family on Long Island) would recognize anything on her plate is doubtful. Psilakis is a self-taught cook, unencumbered by traditions and orthodoxies."

Did they get that quote from, He Says It’s Greek. Will Mother Agree?
"Much of the cooking process seems to take place in his mind."

"Mr. Psilakis said that expectations about his “modern Greek” food are different, and more exacting, than those faced by chefs in French, Italian, and Asian restaurants. “The Greeks and the Greek-Americans tend to be culinary conservatives, let’s be honest,” he said. “Those are my toughest critics.”"

Precisely. As The Boss Man said, while we were there for dinner, VB's mom would've waved her hand, wiggled her finger and said (with a thick New Bedford / Boston accent), "get me the chook!" Someone promptly would have informed her he was a chef, at which point she would most likely say, "Oh yeaaah? Who the hell taught him how to chook! You call this chookin'!?" (She cooked in, owned, and ran three restaurants with my dad.)

From: Q and A: Michael Psilakis
"In its October issue, Bon Appetit magazine calls Michael Psilakis the chef of the year. Months earlier Food & Wine magazine named him one of its best new chefs of 2008."

"Which book has had the biggest impact?

In the preface of André Soltner’s Lutèce cookbook he makes reference to two specific concepts: one, that all true chefs are gift-givers by nature; and two, his inability to answer, “How do you know that this dish would taste good?,” beyond his response of, “I just know.”"

How esoteric. VB can answer that. Taste your food before you plate it!

The food at Anthos was just not so Greek. It's suppose to be a "take off" (as "the manager" said when we complained later) on Greek food. Something akin to fusion, but not quite, or possible a Nouvelle Greek? One of the problems, in the States, which VB has noted (mostly privately to her family), is the fact that Greek food has never been presented as it should be, to begin with. It's always been homogenized - spiced down. Perhaps too spicy, too full of flavor, yet a staple of Cincinnati cuisine, Skyline Chili is a copy of Kima, which is a Greek meat sauce similar to Bolognese, but includes cinnamon, as an ingredient. How odd, because it's a money maker in Cincinnati. Greek food in the States has never been cooked as it would be in Greece, or even in London (Cypriot restaurants carry no restraint - they are almost as good as Indian restaurants.) Greek food in America has been pretty flavorless, but that does not deter VB from trying new restaurants. She's always in search of that one meal that "hits the spot."

Anthos' "take" on Greek food, is totally different. To describe the various "takes" would require knowledge of the dishes. To even say it's a "take off" on Greek cooking is an exaggeration. Just because you wrap something in a grape (or cabbage) leaf, does not make it a "dolma"; just because you have a piece of Phyllo on a plate, does not make the dish Baklava, Galaktoboureko, or a Pita unless it at least, tastes similar or is an adaptation. Let's just say, some semblance of the original dish, would go a long way. Suffice it to say, this may be a place for an expense account dinner, but not a place where you really expect to fill your belly, and say, "that hit the spot."

The red wine we ordered was served cold. I touched the bottle and said, "this bottle is cold." The Boss Man added, "just like Cairo." (What did VB say wine started at? We do tend to splurge when we visit "The City," but....)

We put up with all the patronizing behavior, like when VB ordered the salmon.
Waiter: "Would you like that medium-rare?"
VB: "Not really. I prefer my fish done through." (Which doesn't mean totally dry, if you know WTF you're doing. Go to The Grist Mill in Farmington, CT and order their pan roasted salmon ( just wonderful,) and you'll understand.)
Waiter: "Well, the chef says, blah,blah, blah...." (Basically, the chef would really prefer not to cook at all, and hand VB a plate of raw fish.)
VB: "I don't care. Just bring me the salmon."

VB's appetizer was called "Pastitio". VB is a pastitio lover. In her book, The Boss Man makes the best pastitio ever. What VB got was two fried patties of pastitio flavored meat, a dapple (not even a tablespoon worth) of bechamel sauce, and one buccatini swirled around the small plate. The patties were delicious, but VB wanted something a bit more substantial - like at least a tiny terrine. She tried to put a good face on it.

While we waited for a long time between the appetizers and main course, we were served a small port size glass of white liquid topped with dill. Even though it tasted of potato, it reminded VB of one of her favorite Azeri drinks, called Dovga.

VB's salmon came out totally raw in the center. She ate around it. (VB does not eat raw fish or meat. Now we get off topic. VB had Korean neighbors who were cooking for her, while her mom was in hospital during college. Korean mom, decided to be Rosemary, as in Rosemary's Baby, and eat raw liver in front of VB while she was cooking. She offered VB some. No thanks (euuw!) VB loves liver and onions with gravy, but thoroughly cooked.)

The Boss Man ordered "a saddle of lamb," which came out looking like a few slices of tenderloin. Not exactly enough to fill his belly. It was pretty raw too. VB's thinkin' with the "raw mezes" on menu here, maybe these people should just open a sushi joint, and we could have avoided all of this. The Boss Man, BTW, will eat anything.

Then for dessert, the Boss Man orders Galaktoboureko. Okay, anyone who has had it knows, it's a custard, wrapped in Phyllo, with a syrupy sauce. The Anthos dish is described as, "semolina pudding-ginger ice cream-Concorde grape sorbet-phyllo."

VB does not even recall seeing or tasting any "pudding" or "ice cream". Yes, there was some foamy goo on the plate, but in no way was that pudding or ice cream, except perhaps in some ouzo drenched chef's imagination. We did have a ring of Phyllo, and tasted the sorbet. Then VB did the bad thing. After tasting the sorbet, she said nonchalantly, "that tastes like soap." Whew! The Boss Man hit the roof - he said, "you're right! It does taste like soap - Proctor & Gambel as a matter of fact." (We grew up in Cincinnati where P&G reigns supreme.)

Well, while The Boss Man stewed, and kept saying how much the place reminded him of Nobu in London (you guys remember that place, don't you? That's where Boris Becker got a BJ in the boys bathroom, and ended up with a paternity lawsuit?) Meanwhile, VB was trying to figure out how she immediately recognized the taste of soap - Why would the taste of soap be so embedded in her taste buds? Did she eat it as a snack when she was a child? Did her mom wash her mouth out with it too often? "This is just so fucking odd," she thought.

Well, after complaining, they gave us the dessert for free. See, the portions are so small, that when you don't eat them all, it looks like you haven't even eaten anything. So, of course we commented when the waiter asked. We basically said, "the sorbet tastes like soap." Unless, we had been told by someone, or had seen bad critiques, we would not have known how our little trek to a new eatery would turn out.

Suffice it to say: If you are in "The City" don't eat at Anthos, unless your boss is paying for it; you want a pretentious night out; you like the taste of soap; you like seeing people who look like Morticia Addams, with collagen filled, old drooping lips, false eyelashes, big fake boobies, and a toy boy (and Morticia's been dead since 1983!); and you have sado-masochistic tendencies (you liked to be smacked around by the waiters and a chef who likes designing food on a plate more than actually cooking it.)

This is the last we speak of this. Needless to say, several debates ensued, and VB felt guilty for not doing her homework. The Boss Man kept saying, "I had it on my list."

The last day, we had lunch at The Beacon Restaurant & Bar, where we've been before. After lunch with Number one Son, VB was informed, "you need to learn how to make hamburgers like this." Um, yeah, that hit the spot!

(Below): Akdeniz Restaurant - almost a hole in the wall. Eat here!

(Below): A delivery guy at Akdeniz. They have a booming delivery business, which is conducted on bicycle. This guy's basket looks pretty empty, but while we were eating, bags and bags of food continued to pile up at the front door, waiting for the delivery guys.

(Below): The street where Adrienne's is located. Believe VB - it's down that street past the smoking hot tents.

(Below): Delmonico's - where VB did not get to eat.

(Below: Saks and St. Patrick's Cathedral, at night.

(Below): A (blurry) cow in The Beacon.

Next, what happened as we were on our way to the parking garage.


  1. Oh wow.. sounds like you are having a ball.. I sooooooo have a crush on Antony Bourdain... there is something so 'bad' about him.

    Loving these posts!

  2. Oh yeah - Anthony's the bad boy of chefdom. Totally hip and carefree. We were having a grand old time, until we hit Anthos. Actually, NYC was FREEZING! We had early cold weather with winds that just made trying to walk around crippling. We ended up walking through shops, just to thaw our toes.