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The New York Diner (and Drinker)


I don’t know whether to be proud or, frankly, embarrassed that I can fit quite so much in to my brief trips down to New York City. Does it make a difference that I live an almost monastic lifestyle during the average working week in the Catskills? I think it does. Herewith some short reports on my latest New York haunts for food and drink and general social engaging:

Abigail Café and Wine Bar, Classon Street, Brooklyn
This Prospect Heights symbol of gentrification has understandably mixed reviews. Décor is welcoming. Wine list looks better than it is. (Well-priced Crozes-Hermitage was negociant, not estate.) Some food came in minutes, some after half an hour. Veggie bean-burger was okay, nothing special, same could be said for service, yet singer-songwriter in corner was wonderful. Abigail probably wouldn’t last 10 minutes in a more demanding neighborhood; as is, it’s a pleasant option after visiting the nearby Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Cafe Abigail by daylight.

Flatbush Farm Bar(n), Flatbush Avenue and Prospect Place, Brooklyn
This be my old neck of the woods, except that it wasn’t here back when I was there. (But I wish it was.) From the extensive wine list, a glass of extraordinarily bright Californian Syrah came in a tall, thin tumbler. (I guess that’s one way of drinking it.) Beer includes Coney Island Lager, which has been around for over a decade though I’ve never seen it before to my knowledge, and Six Points, which by contrast is brand new but seems to be everywhere. (They use the correct glasses for these.) No shortage of bar food, as well as sit-down menus. The joint was hopping at 11pm on a Thursday night, perhaps because the bartender was friendly and engaging. The place felt warm. The kind of place that makes me miss Brooklyn.

Sotto Vocce, Seventh Avenue and Fourth Street, Brooklyn
You think you can’t argue with a prix fixe lunch for $11? I can. It was sub-zero outside, yet the heating wasn’t on and brick walls and poorly insulated French windows don’t exactly keep you warm. When I asked about the vegetable soup, I was told it had dairy; my friend ordered it and it clearly didn’t, leaving me stuck with cold salad on a cold day. My fusilli primavera had undercooked fusilli still stuck together. I was given a bent fork and my friend was lacking a knife. When I asked for a spoon, I was treated like an alien. I take back what I said about Abigail… it would be a welcome replacement for this under-achieving landmark.

IMG_3866 Looks like the wines of the Côtes du Rhône have made a concerted effort to promote themselves in New York. (I like the way Tavel is thrown in there too.) I want to believe that people already know that a good Côtes du Rhône suits anywhere, anytime, but in a world of Yellowtail and box Malbec, perhaps they don’t. Read more about the best value for money wines in the world, starting here. Read about Tavel here.

Hallo Berlin, 50th Street and Ninth Avenue, Manhattan.
It’s the size of a falafel bar, it serves multiple German beers, on tap and in bottles, and it proclaims to also offer “soul food” – though a German’s idea of soul food is still, essentially, wurst, schnitzels and pretzels. A Stein of Hefeweizen yeast beer offered a zesty start to a Friday night, until I realized that the glass (which, much like a pint, appears to vary according to country; I suspect this one was no bigger than 16 ounces) cost me $9. I can drink cocktails for that price, can’t I? Ah well, we shared a vegetarian combo while we were at it, which included some excellent fries, for a much more reasonable $5.

Zen Palate, 46th Street and Ninth Avenue, Manhattan.
Sadly, the former vegan chain (I have such fond memories of its original Union Square location, both the downstairs café and the rather haughty upstairs dining room) has been reduced to this one Hells Kitchen outpost, both decorated and serviced without much attention to detail. Fortunately, the food still thrives: Zen Palate pretty much wrote Manhattan’s book on creative Asian vegan culinary delights, and with a prix fixe lunch for under $10, an a la carte menu topping out at $11.95 with the delightful Mango Halo, lots of other choices of fake meats and fresh veg in a variety of healthy sauces or with interesting but never unsettling accoutrements, an abundance of vegan desserts, and healthy hot tea tonics that prove just the thing for a freezing cold winter’s day, it is my number one fall-back when I want to eat close to Port Authority. It also happens to remain unlicensed, which is why I went there on a Friday night (as well as a recent lunch) to hook up with a buddy who had a couple of fiery Californian Cabs and didn’t mind dousing them with (relatively) spicy food. Long may Zen Palate survive.

The Dove Parlour, Thompson Street at Bleecker, Manhattan
Decked out like the parlour floor of a brownstone (a much nicer one than I ever called home), the Dove has the decency to pour interesting wines at reasonable prices: I had a Grüner Veltliner and a Sablet, both in proper glasses. Much like Flatbush Farms, it also serves beer, cocktails, and lots of variations on the theme of the cheese sandwich. I’m going to keep it in mind as a Happy Hour location, given that it professes to offer all its wines by the glass at even more sensible prices between 4 and 8pm. The Dove has been around since 2004; I’ve been gone since ’05. Delighted to finally make its acquaintance.

Cake Shop, Ludlow Street between Rivington and Stanton, Manhattan.
I know this place well enough for its second hand records, its performance schedule and its popularity as a Lower East Side slackers coffee shop hang-out. I can now add to that that its wines are to be avoided almost like the plague (box Malbec?), but that its beers are more than acceptable (Six Points, Brooklyn Brewery both on tap) and that the vegan cup-cakes offer an easy munch-them-and-run option for anyone in need of a healthy sugar rush.

The Ten Bells, Broome Street, Manhattan.
One of many fancy wine bars to have opened below Houston in recent years, Ten Bells was positively booming when I stopped in with a wine-loving friend after my Cake Shop reading. I’m willing to blame the holiday season for the fact that it felt appallingly yuppified, filled with the kind of people I’m not normally inclined to share my bar space with. Our pourer (who I presume to be an owner) was mildly patronizing, especially when we needed refreshing on the unfamiliar grape behind the Loire’s Cour-Cheverny appellation (the delicious Romarantin), though I suspect that might have been because he had us pegged as arrogant wine geeks who deserved taking down a peg or two. Anyway, the wine list is impressively deep and detailed, and not overly pricey: our glasses ranged from $8 for the Cour-Cheverny to $11 for a Dolcetto, and it’s not often you can find a sparkling Scheurebe among the offerings. (Mind you, it’s cash only.) Food appears in the form of copious cheeses and also, according to the web site, in the shape of a suckling pig. I guess I can’t wine them all.

A snapshot of The Ten Bells’ interior from its web site.

Eight Mile Creek, Mulberry Street between Prince and Spring.
Aussie-flavored Nolita newcomer offers plenty Down Under beers, of which I’m generally cautious (when in Sydney, I found them distasteful), and while there are also several Aussie wines on the list, not many were available by the glass. (To be fair, Eight Mile Creek does not advertise itself as a wine bar.) I settled for a Peter Lehman Semillon, my friend went for what was in fact a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc by way of Brooklyn, entitled Otto’s Constant Dream, the website to which will have you totally confused in seconds. Still, the bar’s authenticity was proven when some late-night carousers came in looking for the Test Match cricket; channels were quickly switched to reveal that yes, indeed, it was currently both summer and day time on the other side of the world. The food looked enticing, too, but the kitchen was closed, so from there, it was time for one more stop:

Bubby’s, Hudson Street and Hubert Street, Tribeca, Manhattan
If you think you might be in for a long night out, it’s always wise to prepare your late night dining options. Exploring round my Tribeca hotel earlier in the day, I’d clocked Bubby’s 24-hour brunch, and now it was time to take advantage, ordering up the veggie burger with fries and a coffee. Food often tastes good when it’s the holiday season, you’ve had a few glasses of wine, and you’re starving. But having said all that, let me still say this: this food was exceptional. Perfectly textured and flavored, and not heavy, it may well have been the best veggie burger – and fries – I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve had a few. The meal did not bring change from $20, but knowing that I can call on this item day or night makes it worth every penny. Bubby’s has been in Tribeca since 1990. With food like this, it’s not hard to understand why.

The Bagel Bar, 42nd and Ninth Avenue, Manhattan
Contrary to rumor, it is possible to get a bad bagel in New York: the garlic-with-tofu-cheese I picked up at D&D Deli on Spring Street on a Thursday morning was so dry, so utterly devoid of character that I determined to cleanse its lingering after-taste with a better example before returning to the Catskills. I found my revenge at what was once one of the seediest corners in Manhattan, 42nd and Ninth, where the Bagel Bar served up a fluffy, warm, freshly-made cinnamon-raisin with light-weight tofu scallion cream cheese for $3, the digestion of which not enabled me not only to avoid another meal that day, but to sleep soundly on the bus home, satisfied that New York may keep changing, may constantly find new trends, but that the perfect bagel remains a constant – if not a guarantee.

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