Todd Kliman Talks about NYC’s Dining Scene

The chat is on hiatus this week, as Todd travels to New York City, but it will return next Tuesday at 11:00 am.

Good morning, chatters!

Just wanted to let you know that the chat is on hiatus this week, as I head up to New York City on this raw, blustery morning to do some food scouting.

Of course, I couldn't in good faith leave you without the prospect of something mouth-watering for the next hour or so, so I've put together some highlights of my last trip north, a couple of weeks ago.

From time to time, I hope to share more of these eating adventures with you – and welcome your feedback.

See you back here next week. Same time, same bat channel.

Until then, feast on this first installment of:

Greetings from New York City

Fatty Crab is like a cross between – for those of you who know something of the contemporary dining scene in NY – Prune and Momofuku Noodle Bar: intimate, personal, with sometimes exquisite cooking, and oozing with self-conscious hipster cred. Or, to put it in DC terms, it’s like Malaysia Kopitiam ratched up a couple of notches on the scale of culinary sophistication, and outfitted with a young, in–the-know staff that could have come straight from the bar at the Black Cat. The tiny kitchen at this West Village cafe sends out big, bursting, often luscious riffs on Malaysian food, from the steamed buns stuffed with immoderate slabs of pork belly to the big, colorful rice-based platters, including a version of Nasi Lemak (curried chicken, poached egg, coconutty rice, fried shallots, and toasted peanuts) that’s so pumped full of flavor, it might have been engineered. Tip: The restaurant doesn't shut down between lunch and dinner, so if you want to focus more on the cooking, and less on the pulsating scene, swing by for a late-afternoon lunch.

643 Hudson St. (between Gansevoort and Horatio Sts.) New York, NY 10014; (212) 352-3590.

I get to New York quite a bit, and having had a taste – okay, many, many tastes – of Bouchon Bakery on my last outing, I plan on getting to the Time Warner Center as much as I can in the future. Why does the place belong in heavy rotation? Because of the chicken soup, a clear, consomme-like liquid the color of caramel that boasts soft, juicy strings of roasted chicken and an assortment of carved vegetables that would not be out of place upstairs at Per Se. (A luxurious tomato soup with a goldeny, gruyere-filled grilled cheese sandwich wasn’t too shabby either.) Because of the interesting, if tiny, wine list, which offers the sort of imaginative selections (and generous pours) you never find at a place that serves salads and sandwiches. And because of the fancified Nutter Butter. Dig it: two crispy, uber-buttery peanut cookies that banish all memories of Keebler and have you dreaming of Paris sandwiching a fantastically whipped peanut butter cream mousse. Two bites are all you will need – but not all you will take. All this semi-affordable luxury unspools in a dazzling setting that seems like both the nerve center of unchecked Western capitalism and a charming neighborhood cafe.

Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle, 3rd fl. New York, NY 10019; (212) 823-9366.

Megu isn’t for everybody. I’m not sure it’s for me. A melting ice sculpture of buddha (a new one is made fresh every day, the staff promises) squats in the middle of the cavernous below-ground dining room, a discomfiting blend of Western hubris and Eastern mythology, while an insistent techno beat spills out from the jumping club above. The sushi can be good, but not oh-my-God, close-your-eyes-good, and at these prices – a six piece order of mackerel sashimi approaches $20 – it ought to be. Megu wouldn’t welcome the comparison, but the place it most reminds me of is not the raw fish temples like Masa, Nobu, and Sushi Yasuda. No, the place it most reminds me of is Benihana. Until the sushi arrives, every course requires the intrusions of your server. If you’re not inclined to want to be told what you’re about to eat, how to eat it, and why you should eat it in the manner he’s about to suggest (“If you don’t mix it all up,” a waiter said of a tower of salmon tartare with caperberries, “it’s pretty disgusting”) then you might want to look elsewhere. Still, you would miss out on some genuine pleasures, including a wonderful soft tofu that’s scooped into tea cups and topped with an assortment of condiments, including shaved daikon radish, minced scallion, and a funky soy-based dipping sauce. Warm, custardy, and almost nutty, the tofu – made specially for the restaurant from a private supplier – is among the best I’ve ever sampled in a restaurant.

62 Thomas St. (between Church St. and W. Broadway) New York, NY 10013; (212) 964-7777.

People who live on the Upper West Side are famously defensive about their restaurants, insisting that their neighborhood is teeming with good, affordable options. What they mean, I think, is a place like the relative newcomer Spiga, an Italian café on 84th near Amsterdam Ave. It’s cozy, dark, cramped, and has some terrific wine deals, all of which leaves it swarming at night with models and wanna-be models quaffing big glasses of red and complaining about the soaring cost of rent and other maladies of living in NYC. (Some of the models wait tables, including a dark, hunky dude who curls his glossy black hair behind his ears and speaks intently to the women at the table about the soulfulness of the cooking.) The chef likes salt, and he also likes to play around in the kitchen, especially when it comes to – huh? – chocolate (cocoa gnocchi with duck ragu, a duck breast with chocolate sauce). When he eases up on the experimentation, the cooking can be good (a thick wedge of burrata with good olive oil, a dish of polenta with cuttlefish). Spiga is one of those quintessential New York restaurants, the kind that looks as though it’s been around forever, yet turns out to have been installed six months ago.

200 W. 84th St. (between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave.) New York, NY 10024; (212) 362-5506.

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