Monday, December 28, 2009

NYC Restaurants: Momofuku, Spotted Pig, Prime Meats, Calexico

The Christmas of Everyone Being Supposed to be Somewhere Else is behind us now, in all its craziness, and I will report on my successes and failures as a last-minute hostess to two friends from Moscow and their 18-month-old baby. Our friends were supposed to be connecting through New York to Miami--the Ritz Carlton Palm Beach was left to languish without them--and were one of the last flights to land at JFK, thanks to Saturday's big snowstorm. Imagine their surprise when they discovered that not only was the connecting flight canceled, they were stuck in NYC through Thursday. Well, the Ritz Carlton Palm Beach's loss was my gain.....

These friends are something of bon vivants (clearly!) and we've never hung out extensively in NYC, so I was inspired to provide them with the latest in terms of dining.

Arrival night, in the strange lavender swirl of snow, we ordered Mexican from Calexico, that new place on Union St in Red Hook. Sadly, Viva, the much better Mexican on Sullivan St., has closed. Calexico is ridiculously overpriced for what you get, the menu is very limited, and it's really more of a lunch place. Edible but disappointing. (Oh, and if you're thinking Bon Vivant? Ordered Mexican? Really? Be aware that neither delivery nor Mexican is available in Moscow at all, and we have many friends from all backgrounds who (used to) beg us to order Viva when they came over. R.I.P. )

Day two, after sledding in Prospect Park we took the babies in their snowsuits and stopped at Prime Meats, which I expected to be trendy and unfriendly. Well.... maybe it was the holidays, but they were great. We got a booth right away, the hostess produced two booster seats, and the food was fantastic. The little girls stuffed themselves with spaetzle mac-and-cheese; the sides--sweet, melting braised cabbage; soft pretzel with mustard were delicious, simple, original. In both atmosphere and food it was a great, mellow, casual New York bohemian-type dining experience. As the Russians would say, 'democratic.'

Day three, it worked out that we were by the Spotted Pig shopping right at noon, so I thought I would ride the wave of trendy places being friendly and pleasant. Also had good memories from the Spotted Pig from years ago. Big mistake! Have since heard, and agree, that the kitchen has fallen off dramatically. The liver crostini was still delicious and the Bloody Mary perfectly bitter, but some fish chowder was grossly rich and overly salted, and the artichoke heart salad overdressed and misconceived. Also, the service really irritated my friend by not having mayo for the fries and *refusing* to bring onions for his burger. Just not ok guys, no matter how important you think your chef's opinon is. Tacky.

However, New York City and I redeemed ourselves splendidly Monday night at Momofuku Saam Bar. Ah, Momofuku. Your hype is deserved. We ate oysters. We ate crispy brussel sprouts in a delicate ricey broth. We had pork buns and pickled honeycrisp apples and drank rose wine and then had some duck. We were jammed across from each other at a big communal table and still managed to have a wonderful conversation and everyone's bag was hanging on everyone else's hook and no one minded. My friend was thrilled, and I was thrilled too, that we'd managed to pull off something really special and only in NYC. Even if we were all supposed to be somewhere else.

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