The Italian part of town

Posted by Anita on 06.30.06 9:03 PM

Greetings from Boston, where it's so freaking hot that we're barely hungry at all… I'm not usually a guided-tour type of girl, but Cameron and I had a great time on Michele Topor's North End Market Tour. The price — $48 for adults — was perhaps a bit high for a 3-hour tour, but our guide took us to a great selection of Italian-american food shops, arranging for tastes of their specialties along the way, and pointing out historic and non-food neighborhood sights in just the right proportion. At the end of the walk, he handed out a list of all the places we'd visited, with addresses and a map, as well as a sheet with North End restaurant recommendations.

North End Market Tours
6 Charter Street
Boston,MA 02113

Boston, shopping, travel
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Great expectations

Posted by Anita on 06.29.06 9:39 AM

We’ve talked about going to Chanterelle for years, ever since we bought David Waltuck’s Staff Meals cookbook and fell in love. Anyone who cooks this well for their own employees, we reasoned, must do truly amazing things for their diners.

We’ve been to NYC a few times over the years, but something always conspired to keep us from visiting Chanterelle. We were determined that this time, we’d go. And so, exactly a month before our arrival, I called and made a reservation.

And now we’re here. Since it’s about a gillion degrees outside — and probably a gillion and twenty in the subway — we sprung for taxi from the flat we’re renting with family, determined to arrive relaxed and cool. The driver dropped us at the corner, and we spent a few puzzled minutes trying to find the place. Surely it couldn’t be the unmarked place over there that looks like a gay banker’s boudoir?

But, indeed it is. The atmosphere is odd — the gauzy balloon shades covering the windows look like they haven’t gotten an update since the place opened in the 80s, and the wide-open room seems sparse, not elegant. No banquettes or booths… just a few tables, overly fragrant floral arrangements, acres of plush carpet, and deathly silence. Very much the old-school stuffy French restaurant vibe: I kept expecting John Belushi to pop up and ask “how much for your weemin? how much for the leetle girl?”

We opted for the tasting menu and wine pairings. I’ll try to find the copy of the menu that they gave us — unrequested, I might add — and report back. At the moment, though, nothing really stands out about the food, other than that the foie gras course was appropriately sized (unlike the usual trying-too-hard gigantic slabs that ruin your appetite for the rest of the meal), the cheese trolley selections were impressive, and the basil souffle for dessert was very strange. Service was good overall, with a few glitches: More than once, our wines didn’t make it to the table before the course they were supposed to accompany; we got served the same wine twice — once with the foie and once with dessert — by mistake; and we kept getting handed from server to server when our main waiter would disappear.

In short, it just wasn’t quite the impressive experience you’d expect at these high prices. And high prices they are: We spent almost $600 for two, after tax and tip. Nothing was bad, almost everything was quite good, but nothing was amazing, stunning, or otherwise impressive. And frankly, I’d rather have three $200 meals — or two trips to the French Laundry — than eat here again.

2 Harrison Street
New York, NY 10013

cookbooks, NYC, restaurants
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Posted by Anita on 06.04.06 9:52 AM

Where, oh where, to begin?

We arrived at Quince — one of SF’s newish hot tables — a few minutes before our 8pm reservation, and were asked to wait… in the doorway. The hostess apologized multiple times (to the point where I finally told her to stop) and brought us a wine list. But still, we’re standing in the doorway — there’s no bar, no waiting area, not even a chair to perch on. We ended up getting seated about 15 minutes after 8, and summarily ignored by our server for another 10 minutes. Adding to all the fun, we were seated millimeters away from a boistrous table of two couples in their late 40s, bragging about their European second homes and the new-college-grad offspring they were intent upon supporting because “there’s no need to torture them” with hourly-wage work. (roll eyes)

The food was… well, not up to the hype. There were a lot of pristine ingredients, and a lot of pretty plating techniques, but not a whole lot of interesting tastes happening.

First courses: The asparagus and deep-fried egg starter was lovely, but nothing that anyone with access to good produce couldn’t accomplish at home. And frankly, it needed salt. Cameron’s pig-foot salad was more like two mini crabcakes with a garnish of leaves around the band of the plate — it had nothing of the lip-smacking, porky, gelatinous beauty of the trotter about it, and the sauce was underwhelming. (And no, I don’t mean “subtle”.) And, I’m sorry — I appreciate the idea of variations on a theme — but something described as a “salad” on the menu should have some vegetable matter on the plate other than parsley.

Pasta course: My spaghetti amatriciana was my favorite part of the dinner, but it was so sloppily presented — especially compared to our first courses and other plates I’d seen go by — that I couldn’t help but wonder how it got smacked into the bowl. Served on a lukewarm plate, slightly undercooked and tepid spaghetti was topped with a lovely sauce of tomato, guanciale and red peppers… it made me want nothing more than a real bowl full of it, with a side of bread and a big jug of chianti. Cameron’s papardelle with quail was also too al dente, and oversalted to the point of being practically inedible (and we love salt, trust me).

For my main, I had a hard time choosing something that sounded appealing. There were no pork options, and no beef, either. Not wanting to wimp out and order the chicken, and not liking the sound of any of the seafood, I opted for the rack of veal. It arrived pre-sliced (arrrrgh!), slopped onto the plate looking like someone’s leftovers, and garnished with one raggedy bone from the rack! And, once again, cold plate, lukewarm food. It was also noticably -under- salted, just like my appetizer. (Can’t someone figure out how to season back there??) The accompanying potato “gratinata” was closer to the mark, but rather grainy and chalky. Cameron’s sweetbreads were overdone, and nothing to write home about.

By the time we got to dessert, there was a pileup of people waiting to be seated, at least a dozen people crammed into the doorway and hovering over the short glass partition in front of our table. Some of them had been waiting for 30-45 minutes by the time they took their seats, and were visibly peeved. Making people wait? OK. Making people wait without a place to sit or stay out of the way? Possible…but borderline. Making people wait for 45 minutes without a place to sit at a high-end place? Unforgivable!

Oh, and did I mention that it’s SO LOUD in there that we literally couldn’t hear one another across a very small two-top?

Not really satisfied by our dinners, we glanced at the dessert menu. I opted for the meyer lemon tartlet with raspberries, and my husband ordered the profiteroles. My dessert looked lovely, but featured an inedibly bitter and burnt crust, amatuerish lemon curd, and disgustigly underripe berries. (I spit out the first bite into my napkin, and nobody ever asked me if anything was amiss.) Cameron’s profiteroles came with a layered terrine slice of three gelati — a delightful cacao-nib flavor and two other forgettable riffs on chocolate. Unfortunately, the profiteroles themselves were no great shakes, and the cherries were so flacid that they weren’t worth eating.

Service was bizarre, starting with the hyper-apologetic hostess, and continuing through the nervous-tic rearranging of glasses and silver by the manager (stop touching my tableware!), and our server’s spokesmodel-like flourishes when presenting wine bottles for approval.

Price for all this was $320 (including tax and tip) for 4 courses, plus 2 stems of prosecco, a half bottle of french Rose and another half of Merry Edwards Pinot Noir.

The food was generally tasty, and the level of execution would have been fine — even remarkable — at a neighborhood restaurant. But at these prices, food should be uniformly lovely, interestingly prepared, and properly seasoned. We definitely won’t be going back for another round.

1701 Octavia Street
San Francisco, CA 94123

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