THE RUSSIAN TEA ROOM | New York
In New York magazine this week Adam Platt gives the new Russian Tea Room (150 West 57th Street, New York City; 212-581-7100) the gentle spanking it deserves. Best line: “…And I had to agree with the lady next to me when she declared that the buckwheat pilaf, which accompanied her decent portion of glazed duck, tasted like “my grandmother’s socks.” My question: Were those socks clean or dirty?
Rating: One star.
Conclusion: It’s a skip unless you feel like overspending to bathe in gilded nostalgia.
CAFÉ CLUNY | The New Yorker
In the New Yorker, the Table for Two this week is an elegant, pithy put-down of Café Cluny (284 West 12th Street, New York City; 212-255-6900). Kate Julian captured the essence of the place beautifully. Best lines: “The menu isn’t so much edited as abridged.” And how about this beaut on the food itself: “It’s all well-executed (with the exception of some soggy fries), but somehow it feels lazy” I had lunch there a couple of weeks ago, and that sums up my experience perfectly. I had a perfectly cooked Kobe burger that had absolutely no soul or beefy flavor. Julian and I agree about the killer profiteroles, and the chocolate pudding is mighty fine as well.
Rating: One (Wallace) Shawn out of five (my rating, not hers).
Conclusion (from the review itself): "The profiteroles ... are good enough to inspire momentary infatuation with the place. A pity, then, that your plate is whisked away before you’re finished . 'The next reservation has actually arrived,' the hostess explains, in a stage whisper. 'Didn’t they tell you that we’d need the table back?'
THE BAR ROOM and ELEVEN MADISON PARK | New York Times
Frank Bruni reviews Eleven Madison Park (11 Madison Avenue, New York City; 212-889-0905) and the Bar Room at the Modern (9 West 53rd Street, New York City; 212-333-1220) and concludes, rightfully so, I might add, that they are currently the crown jewels in the Danny Meyer restaurant empire. Isn’t it amazing how much we love a critic’s reviews when that critic agrees with us? Anyway, Bruni is probably America’s greatest restaurant critic prose stylist, and there is no shortage of elegantly turned phrases here. Swooning over Gabriel Kreuther’s tarte flambé at the Bar Room at the Modern, Bruni asks, “Who needs Picasso when you’ve got a pizza like this?” And, “Some small-plates menus make you feel that you’re being exiled to an island of sorry leftovers, asked to swoon over salumi, or subjected like gastronomic guinea pigs to experiments a chef would never try on an entrée-sized canvas. The Bar Room’s menu makes you feel that you’re eating in an easybut no less privilegedfashion.” Bruni loves the young Swiss-born chef Daniel Humm’s food at Eleven Madison Park, aptly saying his food is more French and more precious. He swoons over the “amazingabsolutely amazingsuckling pig,” and he should have. It’s as deliciously piggy a plate of food as I’ve had in years. And how can you not derive pleasure from reading a review that describes beef tenderloin in a bordelaise sauce dense with marrow as “druggy.”
Ratings (for both restaurants): 3 stars.
Conclusions (his and mine): The Bar Room at the Modern is a place to eat long, deep-flavored foods like homemade liverwurst, steak tartare with a quail egg, and tarte flambe in a lively but not manic setting. Avoid the crush that is going to accompany Bruni’s review by going at off hours. They serve food continuously here from 11:30 a.m. to at least 10:30 p.m. seven days a week. I have had a number of pleasurable business meetings at the Bar at the Modern at 3 p.m. on weekdays. I think they even have WiFi. And at Eleven Madison Park, go knowing you are in for an elegant, formal, and adventurous meal in handsome, slightly imposing surroundings. There is nothing casual about Humm’s food or Eleven Madison Park in general.
E. BALDI | Los Angeles Times
In the Los Angeles Times, S. Irene Virbila looks at E. Baldi (375 North Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills; 310-248-2633), the new Beverly Hills sister restaurant to Santa Monica's Ristorante Giorgio Baldi. While its progenitor has a "ramshackle charm," E. Baldi is decidedly minimalist and stark and draws the same A-list crowd, Virbila says. She remarks on the star service that celebrities receive yet notes the poor service at her table, including a mix-up regarding corkage fees and what seems like questionable up-sell tactics: "The shame is that if the management's attitude were a shade less haughty and the prices transparent you'd enjoy the meal more and wouldn't go away with the sinking feeling that you've been taken advantage of. Because the cooking, in fact, is better than it needs to be for a celebrity spot in Beverly Hills." Some of the dishes she liked were the antipasti salad of farro with cannellini beans, cherry tomatoes, and langoustine; the quadretti Portovenere pasta ("big squares of fresh pasta tossed in a pesto smoothed with a little cream and dropped onto the plate like handkerchiefs"); and a roast veal main course with sweet carrots and baby artichokes that "tastes like something your grandmother would make, the meat tender and succulent suffused with rosemary and sage."
Rating: 1.5 stars.
Conclusion: "What this newcomer lacks is a sense of generosity. If the Baldis would drop the hauteur and concentrate on warm-hearted, authentic Italian cooking, it could be a star on Cañon Drive."
FLAVOR BISTRO | San Francisco Chronicle
The newspaper's Amanda Gold visits Flavor Bistro (96 Old Courthouse Square, Santa Rosa, California; 707-573-9600), "where chef Charles Downing has assembled a menu he calls Californian, which includes international touches, like a bowl of tender pork and shrimp wontons ($7.50) or exciting spicy chile noodles laced with beef and shrimp ($15.95)" The place is often packed, Gold says, but that doesn't faze Flavor's versatile staff members, who exhibit patience, flexibility, and an easy familiarity with the menu and wine list, no matter if you're talking to a busser or server. Of that menu, which is extensive and varied, Gold found standouts among a quince and huckleberry free-form pie ("decadent"); the seasonal harvest salad ("a fruity melange of greens, apples, pears, dried currants and snowy feta cheese"); and a house-made butternut ravioli ("swimming in a nutty sage butter," it's "delightful"). Misses were the chicken and beans (the beans weren't as creamy as she'd like) and the short ribs (not salty enough).
Rating: 2.5 stars
Conclusion: With a kind and generous staff and "food to satisfy almost any palate, it's not hard to see why the restaurant is a Santa Rosa favorite."
LITTLE NEPAL | San Francisco Chronicle
Given its location, Nepal has a cuisine with elements of Chinese and Indian cooking yet maintains its own identity, the Chronicle's Bill Addison says. And Little Nepal (925 Cortland Avenue, San Francisco; 415-643-3881) stresses the most accessible parts of the country's culinary oeuvre while providing unexpected tastes and textures. Chhoila, for instancean appetizer of barbecued chicken, lamb, or pork marinated with garlic and gingeris rolled in dry puffed rice "to give the meat a crunchy, Corn Flakeslike coating." For Addison, mismas poleko masu was the night's highlight. A mixed platter of tandoori chicken, salmon, and lamb, each of the meats in his order "was astonishingly succulent, and the ginger-garlic marinade gave each bite a subtle snappiness." And that's despite the "food-grade dye, as is typical in many Indian restaurants."
Rating: 2 stars
Conclusion: "Solid execution," a comfortable space, and "gracious, patient service" all keep this neighborhood gem packed. Expect a wait, even on weeknights.