Since there seem to be plenty of sources to help one find great food in NYC, I thought it might be useful to maintain a running log of bad meals. In part, coming from London, one often arrives with an inferiority complex, so I thought I’d test the assumption that food here is generally better than back home. I mostly avoided the NYT’s higher-rated places, therefore this post focuses on more humble local joints (not necessarily cheap, especially when you include the 23.875-28.875% tax & tip wedge).
I started this 9 December with 3 entries, let’s see how many times I need update it…
Rego Pita (Rego Park): what was advertised as chicken breast sandwich, was nothing like. Slimy pieces of thigh, possibly under-cooked (or juicy depending on whether you’re making it or fated to eat it), in a lumpen white doughy pita. A steal at $10 apparently.
Boulevard Bistrot (Harlem): so I asked the waiter what the turkey meatloaf was made of – white meat or dark meat. He answered, as if to say ‘you’re an idiot for asking such a stupid question’, that ‘well it comes as ground, how do I know whether its white or dark meat?’. Or maybe he thought I was asking a politically incorrect question. Anyway, I went ahead and ordered it, and got 2 rather dessicated slabs back, none of the touted wild mushroom gravy in evidence. The meat itself, whatever went into it, was about 10% gristle, so I guess it was mostly dark meat – from the claw. Or perhaps, this was soul food interpreted by a Japanese chef – tsukune (chicken meatballs) intentionally have cartilage in them to give them crunch – and they’re delicious. The beans, peas, and ‘tatoes were good, so maybe I was unlucky as the place looked promising and was recommended. Total cost: $18
Shalimar Diner (Rego Park): this is a bit unfair, as the place is sweet, and I will return. But, again, the poultry was the culprit: instead of gristly meat, this was zero-texture turkey. Really quite remarkable, 6 or 7 giant slabs of what could be reconstituted soy protein, on a rather good stuffing, all slathered in some unrecognisable flour paste garnished with liquified turkey-fat – I wouldn’t insult the venerable British white sauce by calling it that. Again, to be fair, that is pretty much what American turkeys taste like, when I remember back to Thanksgivings as a child – and to some extent I’ve been spoiled by excellent free-range poultry in London – turkey, guinea fowl, and chicken. Good martinis. Cost: $18 (?)
Arunee Thai (Jackson Heights): Elmhurst/JH/Woodside are full of Thai places, and this place is a trendy take on the cuisine (flat long stone bar, nice lights, cocktails). Lunch specials are $8-8.5, and include soup or salad. I had a rice noodle with chicken and basil, and it wasn’t bad (though with enough fish sauce, soy sauce, garlic and grease, anything can taste passable). My main issue was that both the noodles and the soup had chicken with a funky smell, like it had been cooked the day before or maybe two, and was slowly being warmed up for the lunchtime punters by (what looked like a non-Thai) quick-order chef in the back. On the whole, then, I thought style had trumped the food; instead, go to the lovely Khao Kang canteen on Woodside Ave instead – much more authentic, just as clean, and 100% Thai staff and mostly Thai clients.
Mission Chinese (LES): My basic gripe with Mission is that, for all the hype and queues, it just wasn’t that impressive, and more specifically, smothered with enough salt for the passage to hell and back. It was perhaps unfortunate that I had eaten at the Mission pop-up on Bond Street a couple years back, and thus had something to compare to. And perhaps lunch for one isn’t where the menu shines. But still, you gotta have standards: I ordered the fried rice, beef dumplings, mapodofu, and celery dish. The fried rice was fine, but unexceptional – for all the artisanal smoked bluefish in it, it was a refined Chinese takeaway staple. Pock-marked Mother’s Chen’s tofu was pretty decent, but lacking in the Sichuan peppercorns which is, somewhat the raison d’etre of Sichuan food – and if the late lamented Grand Sichuan (on the Northern approach to the Manhattan Bridge) used far too much, this had practically none. No notable trace of chili either – so perhaps it was toned-down for the Midwestern palate that famously is part of Danny Bowien’s shtick. The beef dumplings were mush – so whatever shin, tail or ear they used, they definitely cooked it to the consistency of gelatin. The broth had a scent of dill, which I suppose is a conceptual nod to Ashkenazi-Jewish dumplings, but let’s just say no one, other than third-tier New York food writers, rushes to acclaim that food as a culinary paragon – and this version wasn’t particularly nice. The celery with hazelnuts sounded interesting, and wasn’t a bad start. Then, somewhere between the rice and the celery, I started hitting clusters of salt, and nothing was the same after. Overall – Bowien had, at one time, a good concept, and remains a great showman. Most importantly, the food was good when it was a scrappy, small, cult operation. Now, with copious financial backing, and the pressures of being on the painfully trendy LES with its hordes of identikit entry-level office workers in Canada Goose coats, seem to have sapped quality and invention in his kitchen.
Oh I forgot to mention the idiotic website: a screenshot of a 1st gen web-browser that is ‘oh so..like retro…awesome!‘. Any click, say on the ‘Girl Skateboards’ link takes the hapless viewer to something called Reserve. Reserve is an app, seemingly entirely in champagne for the inhibited rapper in you, that has to be downloaded. It is the only way to book at the restaurant. It might even require the bill to be settled on the app, and only Bowien the God knows what data it collects. I wandered in off the street, as did the next table, but I’m sure the Canada Goose crowd has Reserve downloaded to their Fitbits, so no trouble there.
One good thing – the white wine – a Portuguese Moscatel was fab.