Boston Restaurant Blog -- February, 2008
Friday, February 22, 2008
When all is said and done, this winter will have included no fewer than three trips to New York City by me, all of which shape up to be different in many ways, but with at least one common thread: The search for interesting restaurants. And on the second of three trips that I took a few days ago, we found some real gems both in Connecticut and in Manhattan, as well as a couple of famous spots.
My second New York trip began Saturday morning on Route 15, which we took through Connecticut on our way to the Big Apple. On the way, we stopped at a place called Katz's Restaurant and Deli in Woodbridge (right next to the tunnel through the mountain, a few miles from New Haven). Katz's looked much like a real New York deli, with a black and white tiled floor, tables with bench seats, and lots of retirees dining on huge sandwiches. And the place turned out to be nearly as good as some of the New York delis I have been to; the matzo ball soup had a terrific broth and a good-sized matzo ball, the hot corned beef sandwich had some really high-quality meat, the homemade potato pancake was tasty and not too greasy, and the French dip had lots of lean, tender roast beef along with a delicious cup of beef juice to go with it. Indeed, Katz's will probably replace Rein's in Vernon, CT as my stopping place for deli food on future trips to New York.
We arrived in Manhattan in the middle of the afternoon and relaxed for a few hours before taking the subway down to Lower Manhattan, where we had dinner at a charming old restaurant at Broadway and Cedar called Trinity Place. Situated in an old bank vault below street level, the atmosphere is cozy and romantic, with lots of mahogany, leather, and steel (including a huge bank vault door that sits at the entrance to the dining room). The food at Trinity Place, as least based on our one meal there, was a very nice mix of upscale pub grub and New American entrees. We tried the Kobe burger with cheese and red onion chutney (a bit dry, but very tasty) and the gorgonzola and hazelnut ravioli with brown butter and sage (delicious, though the portion was rather small). We washed down our meals with Chimay Blue and Chimay Red, which are two of my favorite beers and capped off a fun, memorable dining experience.
After a late-night round of tea and cappuccino at Cafe Angelique in Greenwich Village, we headed back to Midtown East (also known as Turtle Bay) for the night. Sunday morning came around, and we stopped at Cafe Metro at 51st and Lexington for a quick breakfast, then headed to Rockefeller Center for awhile before returning to Midtown East for a late lunch at P.J. Clarke's on 3rd Avenue. P.J. Clarke's is a classic old restaurant and pub with dark wood everywhere, old photos on the walls, and a vibe that you only seem to get in historic New York pubs such as this one. We had some pretty decent food there, including a big bowl of chili that was overflowing with beef and beans, and a buffalo chicken sandwich that had an interesting (in a good way!) marinade. I also ordered something called bubble and squeak, which was a rectangular patty made out of potatoes, bacon, and cabbage. I loved P.J. Clarke's, as it felt like every square inch of this well-worn, historic place had a story to tell.
After leaving P.J. Clarke's, we took a short trip to Canal Street to look for bargains on various items, then headed back to Midtown East, where I took a long walk along 2nd and 3rd Avenues, taking mental notes of the many Irish pubs in the neighborhood (perhaps for my next trip to the city in early March). Then it was off to Hell's Kitchen where three of us had quite a special meal at Cascina, a Northern Italian restaurant on 9th Avenue near 45th Street. The atmosphere of Cascina made us felt like we were in Tuscany or Piemonte, with beautiful chandeliers, lots of dark wood and exposed brick, a raised section in the back that was cozy and inviting, and a wood-burning oven in the middle of the place. We started with a couple of excellent wines (Salvalai Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Barbera d'Asti Caminata), moved on to a Caesar salad that was good but had an unusually strong fish taste, then started in on our entrees. Two of us tried the tagliatelle al ragu (homemade fettuccini with Bolognese sauce) while one of us went for the risotto del giorno (risotto with arborio rice). Both dishes were out of this world, with the tagliatelle's bolognese sauce being about the best I have had anywhere. For dessert, we had the tiramisu and biscotti, both of which were very nice, and very filling. We soon left Cascina, pledging that someday we would be back to this outstanding little restaurant.
It was time to leave New York on Monday morning, so we grabbed another quick bite at Cafe Metro, then headed out through Queens. While we were there, we stopped at Main Street Bagels in Flushing to get many bagels to bring back to Boston, then jumped onto the Hutchinson River Parkway and soon, the Merritt Parkway, all the way to New Haven. We couldn't pass by New Haven without stopping at Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (also known as Pepe's). I had been to the original Pepe's next door (also known as The Spot), but had not been inside the main Pepe's, so we waited in line, eventually grabbing a table there. We ordered a large half pepperoni/half mushroom pizza, and it was just about as good as the pizza I had eaten at The Spot two years earlier, which is to say it was about the best pizza I have ever had. Their coal-fired thin-crust pizzas are works of art, and might only be surpassed by Grimaldi's in Brooklyn, in my opinion.
Just like that, another New York trip is behind me; but in a few days, I will be back in the Big Apple, this time probably hitting restaurants in Brooklyn and/or Queens, so keep checking back, as there will soon be another blog entry on restaurants in the New York City area.
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