Calle Ocho

There’s no problem a little sangria can’t solve, and sangria is Calle Ocho’s answer to all of life’s challenges. The subway’s running late? Some homeless guy stole your last cigarette? DSW is closed? The moment you walk into Calle Ocho and name your (first) sangria selection, all of your issues melt away.

I’m not sure where Calle Ocho — Eighth Street — is, considering the restaurant calls the Upper West Side (and, specifically, The Excelsior Hotel) its home. Provenance aside, Calle Ocho is where to go for brunch — plain and simple.

One of the things I like best about Calle Ocho is its surreptitious bottomless brunch. That’s right — you order an entree and get all the sangria you want. Calle Ocho makes you read between the lines just a tad to know that you can order glass after glass (after glass), and won’t wind up with an $84+ bar bill tacked to the end of your tab.

So what about this infamous sangria?

Calle Ocho Sangria

calle ocho sangria

It’s bold, it’s fruity, it’s delicious — and, not to put too fine a point on it, it’s free. The Latin restaurant serves up eight varieties, four each of red and white. MDP and I tried three of the eight: Tropical, Spanish Harlem, and Fresas.

Let’s start with Fresas and work backwards. Designed with raspberry vodka as its base, the Fresas sangria is almost too fruity and sweet for my taste. MDP termed it “just like what red sangria tastes like,” which is true. I chose Fresas as my second glass, and ended up with a headache about an hour later. Coincidence? I think not.

MDP opted for the Spanish Harlem variety, which packs a punch with dark rum and cinnamon as the forward flavors. I enjoyed this one immensely, and so did MDP.

My first glass was of the Tropical white, and I was very pleased with this selection. It has three fruits — orange, mango, and pineapple — with a light rum mixer. Occasionally, I got a bit of mango in the straw, but it was an overall delightful drinking experience.

Amazing Bread Basket

calle ocho bread basket

On the way to Calle Ocho, I considered asking for a bread basket — thinking, of course, there would be a fee involved with receiving a robust, multifaceted bread basket such as what Calle Ocho offers. I was wrong — it’s completely complimentary.

The highlight of the bread basket was definitely the pandebono, which are little round rolls made with Yuca flour at Calle Ocho. Pandebono can be made with other flours, and usually have cheese as an ingredient. No typical butter should be served with such delicious little breads, so Calle Ocho provides a strawberry whipped butter, seemingly made with real strawberries. It’s slightly sweet and more than satisfying.

The Actual Food

calle ocho gallitos

On the brunch menu, you’ll find a list of beautiful dishes, such as eggs benedict and omelettes, all inflected with a Latin flair. If you’re with a friend, however, I implore you to order the gallitos.

The menu indicates it serves two, and, at first, I was skeptical. Is it really going to be enough for me and MDP? We ordered the plantains, as well, as back up, if the gallitos proved to be a too-small portion for our appetites.

Well, the gallitos platter was enormous. A giant serving dish held mini dishes filled with scrambled eggs, chorizo, home fries, condiments, and mini tortillas to wrap everything up in. It was amazing.

If you know me at all, you know I love to build tiny breakfast sandwiches at every chance I get. I stole a forkful of the chorizo and spooned some eggs onto my tortilla, with a bit of guacamole, sour cream, and salsa inside. I proceeded to methodically spoon-and-fold such taco-like creations for about 30 minutes, silently building and eating, building and eating, until all ingredients were gone.

I was in heaven.

The sweet and green plantains were very good, as well. I particularly enjoyed the green plantains, which were in patty form and not sweet at all. They were delicious.

If you end up opting for a different dish, I recommend avoiding the home fries as a side. For $8, you’re not getting much more than an expensive version of your local diner’s breakfast potato fare. They were flavorless, and an unimpressive part of the overall incredible gallitos dish.

I can’t say enough good things about Calle Ocho. The ambiance is pleasant and inviting, although the dining room’s acoustics do not make for extremely intimate conversation.

Do make a reservation, but don’t expect to get one for this upcoming weekend. I made a reservation in mid-February and got a table for two …. for yesterday, March 12.

I’d like to try their dinner menu, too, but I suspect it’s the brunch that is the big draw at this fine restaurant. Happy brunching.

Calle Ocho
45 W. 81st Street (between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West), in The Excelsior Hotel
Upper West Side, New York
Take the 1 to 79th Street and either take the 79th Street crosstown bus or walk a few avenues over to Columbus. Head up to 81st Street. I recommend this route over the closer subway stop (B/C Museum of Natural History) because the B does not run on the weekend, and, if you know anything about New York, you know the C is more elusive than Moby Dick.

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Shorty’s

When I worked in Flatiron, I visited just about every decent restaurant in the neighborhood. I can tell you where to get the best lunch special in New York City (Chote Nawab, obviously) and where to find the best Korean buffet (Woorijip, hands down). I can even tell you what the most optimal conditions are for snagging a ShackBurger in Madison Square Park, wait-free (when it’s raining, duh!). But, until this morning, I couldn’t tell you where to find a Taylor Ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on a fresh-baked bun in all of the big apple. All this time, pork roll was right around the corner — and I had no idea.

The self-proclaimed purveyor of “NYC’s only authentic cheesesteak,” Shorty’s prides itself on serving up South Philly cuisine (at South Philly prices). I had been talking to MDP about heading over to Hoboken to get a Taylor Ham sandwich some Saturday morning, and, per usual, he got down to scouring the internet for the ever-elusive-outside-of-New-Jersey tried and true Taylor Ham, egg, and cheese sandwich. He found Shorty’s, so we gave it a go today. If you too are searching for the beloved Taylor Ham, put Shorty’s at the top of your brunch list.

When we got to the spot at five to 11, a sandwich board listing the Philly standards — roast pork, Italian fries, fresh-baked Philly bread, and, of course, cheeseteaks — greeted us, so we went inside. “Give us about five minutes,” called out the bartender, and we slid through the door as quickly as we had entered. Leaking air conditioners sprayed down on us for a good five until we decided it was okay to head back inside at 11:01.

The Flatiron space is narrow and deep, with a bar running the length of the restaurant. Shorty’s offers just about every bourbon — even Blanton’s, which isn’t your run-of-the-mill Maker’s Mark — and a diverse selection of beers on tap. We sat at a high table that faced roughly five TVs and pored over the menu that doubled as a placemat. I appreciated the efficiency, which felt more New York City than Philadelphia.

I had been planning to order the pork roll, egg, and American cheese on a roll since early last week. After much deliberation, MDP landed on the roast pork with provolone, and we opted for the Italian fries to share.

Italian fries

shorty's italian fries

italian fries

Let’s start with the fries. Crisp and crusty, they were covered with Italian seasoning — whatever that means/probably oregano — and Romano cheese. I found them to be quite delicious and even verging on addictive, as the placemat/menu/restaurant storyboard suggests. I highly recommend these fries!

Roast pork with cheese

shorty's roast pork with cheese

roast pork with cheese

Okay, so I was skeptical about the roast pork at first. Honestly, I don’t understand what it is. When I think about “roast pork,” I see something like a pork roast in my mind’s eye, but maybe I have it mixed up. I suppose, being from central/north Jersey, I’m not too familiar with some of the nuances of Philadelphia cuisine, including this particular sandwich.

MDP said he had tried it a couple of times, but he owned up to being something less than an expert on it. “Here, why don’t you try it,” he said, gesturing with the sandwich. “No, it’s okay,” I said, shaking my head. But then I went ahead and took a bite.

It was amaaaaazing. So tender, so flavorful. The texture of the bun was perfect, and the melted provolone brought the entire sandwich experience together. I highly recommend this sandwich at Shorty’s.

Fresh-baked Philadelphia bread

As a side note, I should mention that Shorty’s ships their bread directly from Philadelphia. It sounds like they get the dough from the city of brotherly love and bake it on the NYC premises. I could be wrong, but, given Turnpike traffic and the prohibitive cost of Amtrak, I can’t imagine it’s literally fresh-baked from Philly.

Pork roll, egg, and American cheese

shorty's pork roll taylor ham egg and cheese

pork roll, egg, and cheese

As you know, I’m a fan of Taylor Ham. It is this blog’s namesake and only brings back fond memories of sitting at the Mark Twain Diner from age 4 until well into my college years. So, I had high hopes for the pork roll, egg, and American cheese sandwich at Shorty’s.

I was surprised when I received a foil-covered sub-shaped sandwich. Shouldn’t Taylor Ham exclusively be on a kaiser roll? But then I bit into the fresh “hoagie” roll. And I realized this must be what heaven is like.

The compact feel of the sandwich delighted the senses. Though the pork roll was cut on the thicker side, it was delicious. I’m kind of down on eggs lately, but I liked them in this sandwich. As you can see, they were somewhere between scrambled and fried. And the melted cheese was a nice touch. I gobbled the whole thing down in about five minutes. And at $5, the sandwich couldn’t have had more value. Be aware that the Taylor Ham sandwich is only available at breakfast or brunch.

Head to Shorty’s for brunch, lunch, dinner, drinks, sports — whatever! You’ll enjoy it no matter the reason you’re there. With four locations around the city, you have your pick at your convenience. But do try the Taylor Ham if you’ve never had it. Eating Taylor Ham in New York City is like seeing a dog walking on its hind legs while juggling — a very rare thing. Take advantage; go to Shorty’s.

Shorty’s
66 Madison Avenue (near 27th Street)
Flatiron, New York
Check the website for other locations!
Take the 6 to 28th Street and Park Avenue South, or N/R to 28th Street and Broadway.

Upland

I’m surprised I’ve never been to Upland before. For one, it’s the type of place I categorically love: clean, quasi-modern aesthetic with luxurious green leather booths and jars of fermenting lemons lining the walls. There’s something very charming about the interior, although the facade itself won’t tell you much about what’s inside. But, the other perplexing part of today being my first and only visit to Upland is simply that I worked down the street from it for three years.

Upland’s namesake comes from the California town that “laid the groundwork” for chef Justin Smillie’s love of cooking. Wherever Upland is, whatever it may have in store for discerning palates, I’m extremely pleased that chef Smillie brought his talents and affinity for California cooking to Flatiron, NYC. When I tell you this place is awesome, I surely hope you believe me.

Our smiling waitress brought over a complimentary bottle of sparkling water to us and handed us a few brunch menus. That Upland labels the menus with the current month speaks to its reliance on seasonal cooking–something I admire. Yet, chef Smillie doesn’t go overboard with his consultation of the seasons: there are dishes you’ll actually want to eat and seem “normal.”

upland pastry basket

pastry basket

We started with the pastry basket, which is chock full of sweet and savory treats. The lemon poppyseed muffin, grapefruit poundcake, baguette, and cheddar and bacon (!) scone were true standouts. It’s no error here that I’ve named the majority of what came in the pastry basket–everything was that good. MDP even commented that the grapefruit poundcake had just the right amount of lemon flair, unlike some confections we had recently sampled.

upland eggs in hell

eggs in hell

MDP opted for a dish called “eggs in hell” that tasted very fresh and enticing. The eggs were runny–not my cup of tea–but he was unfazed and gobbled them up. The sauce was rife with fresno chiles, oregano, and truly spectacular tomato. Grilled bread came on the side, the perfect accompaniment for sopping up the delicious tomato goodness.

upland cheeseburger

upland cheeseburger

I’ve been building up to the moment when I would tell you about this burger I had at Upland. Here’s the spoiler: it was one of the best I’ve ever had. New York magazine tipped me off to this gem, and boy am I glad they did. It’s like a Big Mac but oh so much better. Two cheese-topped patties sat upon a fantastic sesame roll whose crust was crisp and yet the body of the bun was soft. And true to California cooking, chef Smillie put delicately sliced avocado slivers on the burger. I didn’t even have to ask. I was in heaven. The combination of flavors–the unique peppers, the ideal bun, the perfect amount of grease, I could go on–made this a memorable dining experience. At $20, the burger costs a pretty penny but is well worth the fee, ounce for ounce. And the matchstick fries that come with the burger are plenty, offering enough bite to be satisfying.

Our lovely waitress asked if we’d like dessert at the end of the meal, but I was already so stuffed we had to decline. But, given my love for both the ambiance and food, I’m sure MDP and I will return to try dinner one night.

Now, be aware that the burger is only served for brunch and lunch. So plan accordingly.

Upland
345 Park Avenue South (at 26th Street)
Flatiron, New York
Take the 6 to 28th Street and walk south a few blocks.

Dirt Candy

As you know, I’m not a vegetarian. I tried that when I was in college and failed miserably. And that was before I became a burger aficionado. I remember scooping chick peas into a bowl then covering them with Italian dressing at the dining hall. Obviously, this mode of eating would never be sustainable. If I could eat at Dirt Candy every day, I’d happily be a vegetarian forever more.

dirt candy hush puppies

hush puppies

Situated down on Allen Street on the Lower East Side, Dirt Candy serves upscale vegetarian cuisine that is categorically artful. The spacious restaurant exudes a clean aesthetic, with a minimally designed interior and many right angles. The New York Times recently wrote a laudatory review of the place, so it’s nearly impossible to get a reservation these days. But don’t be deterred! Dirt Candy has a counter that overlooks skilled chefs creating masterpieces, which ends up being a more entertaining experience than sitting among the plebs.

Now, let’s get to what I ate.

My Lady Dining Partner (MLDP) and I sampled an array of menu items to get the full experience of Dirt Candy.

dirt candy broccoli dogs

broccoli dogs

After taking our order, a waiter brought over a small dish with bread bursting from it, much like muffins explode from the pan to form the exquisite tops. The breads were multicolored, and each portion tasted different, with the red conjuring beets and the green resembling chard or spinach. They were accompanied by a garlicky butter, which was fantastic. From the get-go, I knew this was going to be an incredible dining experience.

We began our meal in earnest with the jalapeno hush puppies, which were served with maple butter. In a word – YUM! MLDP observed that the hush puppies were more like corn fritters, but that’s not a knock against them. They were fried deliciousness, and served in ample portions, so do try this so-called “snack” when you go (and I’m sure you’ll go after reading this review).

dirt candy brussels sprouts tacos

brussels sprouts tacos

For our entrees, we opted for the broccoli dogs (two per order) and brussels sprouts tacos. Wow, both were amazing. The broccoli dogs sat upon housemade buns and were topped with a broccoli kraut, laced with mustard barbecue sauce. On the side, they gave us a generous portion of kale chips that tasted like sweet and sour pickles, and a small slaw made with microgreens. The dish was amazing.

But, the real stars of the show were the tacos. Charred brussels sprouts were laid upon a piping hot stone, and what seemed to be Bibb lettuce leaves took the place of your typical taco shells. I’ve never had brussels sprouts like this in my entire life. Their roasted exteriors were perfect yet belied a tender inside that delights the palate. A delicious guacamole, tortilla strips, a spicy and textured mole, and other fixings were alongside the main parts of the dish. This is billed as a dish to share, but I’d advise you to share everything you get at Dirt Candy so you can try many options.

dirt candy carrot meringue pie

carrot meringue pie

For dessert – and we had to get dessert given how amazing the other food was – we tried the carrot meringue pie with sour cream ice cream. OMG, this was AWESOME. The carrot filling was dense and flavorful, while the meringue that topped the carrot was expertly applied and toasted. I enjoyed the carrot crust, as well. I could take or leave the sour cream ice cream, but it was a nice complement to the carrot flavoring.

We got a second dessert from Babycakes, right around the corner, but, honestly, who’s counting?

So, in short, you have to go to Dirt Candy. Take this advice from the burger queen.

Dirt Candy
86 Allen Street (between Grand and Broome streets)
Lower East Side, New York
Take the B/D to Grand Street and walk a few blocks, or the F/M/Z to Delancey Street and walk a few blocks.

Sleater-Kinney at Terminal 5

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The venue was dark when the band entered from stage right. The energy at Terminal 5 was rising, and I could feel it seeping through the floorboards of the second tier where MDP and I were standing. One spectator commented that more than 1,000 people must have been present for the second night of a sold-out two-night appearance by the band that vanished into thin air eight years ago.

Sleater-Kinney is easily one of my favorite bands. Two guitars and a drum set comprise this trio, which could be one of the more unique aspects of the band if they weren’t also so exceptional in so many other ways. I once read that they tune the lower E of their guitars to C sharp, which, as a burgeoning guitar player, simply blows my mind. Don’t the chords sound different? I wondered, trying to comprehend how it must be writing with such a different sound.

Their feminist roots in the riot grrrl movement of the ’90s runs through their tunes, but their lyrics are much more sophisticated and thinkworthy than your run-of-the-mill Bikini Kill. And, of course, this is not an insult to BK as much as it’s a compliment to SK.

Last night, on February 27, the band took the stage and played through their catalog, album by album, speeding up certain songs and adding flourishes here and there in time-honored Sleater-Kinney standards, such as “Words + Guitar” and “One Beat,” a song that contains some of my favorite lyrics EVER:

Should I come outside and run your cars?
Should I run your rockets to the stars?
Could you invent a world for me?
I need to hear a symphony
If I’m to run the future,
You’ve got to let the old world go, oh oh

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More known for her appearances on Portlandia these days than for her guitar playing, Carrie Brownstein danced across the stage, kicking her long, lanky legs up toward the ceiling as she ripped through lines that only expert guitarists could dream of playing. Corin Tucker belted out number after number with her unique voice, penetrating even the most insulating ear plugs worn by novice SK attendees. And Janet Weiss, on the drums, back up vocals and harmonica, kept the beat plugging along with adroit playing.

The crowd was filled with three types of people, as far as I could tell: the long-suffering Sleater-Kinney fans who have been behind them since their noteworthy album Call the Doctor dropped (I’m in this group); the newbies who know No Cities to Love, their new record, with a sound that demonstrates the nearly 10 years of music that’s occurred since the band last wrote together; and the people who like Portlandia.

Although she’s the most famous band member today, Carrie didn’t ham it up by making funny remarks here and there. She kept it low-key and largely allowed Corin to speak to and rev up the crowd.

Their experience as seasoned musicians shone through on just about every song. Carrie’s masterful guitar lines exploded on songs like “Youth Decay,” which was way more uptempo than the album rendition, and “Dig Me Out” with its clarion call of punk-infused indie rock. Corin’s voice reverberated to the highest tiers of the massive venue, and sounded gorgeous on classic tracks like “Good Things,” a fan favorite.

I was reminded of the brilliance of their songwriting when Carrie began singing “Entertain” off their 2006 album The Woods:

So you wanna be en-en-tertained?
Please look away, don’t look away
We’re not here ’cause we want to entertain
Go away, don’t go away

In this song, Sleater-Kinney cuts right through to the heart of the matter when it comes to fame–could it be about their struggle with becoming a renowned rock band? Or even Carrie’s place on Rolling Stone’s list of “most underrated guitarists of all time”? Could be both these things, but they’re also talking more generally about society on a whole. That’s what I mean about Sleater-Kinney’s sophisticated lyrics–they’re incisive, bold, and brilliant. And don’t even get me started on the aural aesthetic of this song: Carrie’s muted, round articulation of the lyrics paired with Corin’s fiery vocals, and a militant drumbeat banging in the background plus the intricate guitar lines–it’s all spectacular!

The show was one of the best I’ve been to in a long time, but the band only played an hour-long set, which surprised me. I guess the ladies of Sleater-Kinney know how to end on a high note, leaving their fans from all walks of life “always wanting more,” as they sing in “I Wanna Be Yr Joey Ramone.”

So, you thought I only wrote about Taylor Swift and food on this blog. And I understand why you’d get that impression, given the header and the name. But, as stated in Taylor Ham’s tagline, this blog is about all kinds of music.

Below is a taste of what happened at the show. Enjoy!

Ruby’s

There’s something very special about Australia. I don’t say this only because a dear friend of mine hails from the land down under. And it’s not their divine accents, either, or Foster’s in the giant can, which is, apparently, an American thing and not how it’s actually served in Australia. I simply love their slang. “Dunny” for bathroom and “chat to you” instead of “chat with you” as a mode of conveying a brief, but intimate talk with someone. But, now I’ve found something else to love about Australia: their take on the hamburger. A thoroughly American dish, the hamburger is something I take very seriously here in NYC, and have a lot of opinions on what matters when it comes to crafting the perfect one. I’ll tell you something: Ruby’s, an adorable Australian cafe in NoLita, has hit the nail right on the head when it comes to serving up a delicious burger.

Bronte burger at Ruby's

bronte burger

I selected Ruby’s out of an array of choices Yelp offered me yesterday morning. I was looking for a good burger somewhere in the vicinity of MDP’s workplace, and came across the little Aussie place on Mulberry Street. In general, people seemed to favor the “Bronte” burger in the reviews, which left me feeling wary as I do not trust devotees of any restaurant on Yelp. One reviewer complained about the poor service at Ruby’s–after 10 p.m. one night. Anyone who thinks they’re going to get good service at a restaurant past 8 p.m. any night is out of their mind, in my humble opinion.

So, I hopped the N train and shuttled down to Prince Street, where I detrained and ambled over to Mulberry. Walking down any street in NoLita/SoHo is a treat, since the cute shops and boutiques take exacting care in articulating their brand in the great wide windows facing the sidewalk. Nestled among a Kiehl’s outlet and obscure clothing stores, Ruby’s sits close to Spring Street. Its welcoming exterior draws you in, and they even have several seats in the foyer for hungry “breakie” (as they call breakfast) patrons to use while waiting for a table in the tiny space.

fried chicken burger at Ruby's

fried chicken burger

The dinner menu is spare, with no appetizers to speak of, and short lists of pastas, salads and burgers to sample. In typical fashion, I ordered the Bronte burger with avocado, and felt very grateful that the fine chefs at Ruby’s elect to thinly slice the great green fruit before placing it on the sandwich. Often, adding the avocado is an afterthought, so it usually comes out in huge chunks or in halves, bulging out from under the bun. The Bronte burger comes with “premium” ground beef (which it clearly is, at first bite), tomato, lettuce, sweet chili, cheese and mayo, all compactly situated on a ciabatta roll. The combination of flavors left me speechless. I have to say, Ruby’s Bronte creation is one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Re-read the last sentence carefully and take into consideration the gravity of this statement.

MDP opted for the fried chicken burger, which has a misleading name. I wasn’t sure what to expect, honestly, but what came out was a hefty breast of buttermilk fried chicken on a sesame roll, with some coleslaw dripping off the sides. It was perfect, and I highly recommend this dish if you’re not into burgers.

Now, as for the fries that can optionally accompany the burgers: they are saturated in truffle oil and chopped parsley (I think?), and deliver a satisfying flavor. Although I ate all of the fries that were served to me, I felt the repetition of the truffle flavor overwhelmed my taste buds. But, for the truffle fanatic, this is the side to get.

salted caramel pots de creme at Ruby's

salted caramel pots de creme

Like the other menus, the dessert list is rather minimal, but I implore you–do get the salted caramel pots de creme. MDP observed that the split pea color of the substance seemed undesirable, but, after one bite, I was completely sold on their fine dessert. First, the buttery caramel sings as you savor its flavor. Second, the “salted” in the salted caramel description is not in name only; the dish actually has a salty taste, but not in a bad way. I loved this dessert, and suggest you order it when you (inevitably, after reading this review) go to Ruby’s.

You must try this place, and, though the space is small, don’t worry about having a large group–they have a table for six in the back corner. Aside from the fact that they sat our party of two at a table for four (which, as I’ve said before, signals an uncanny level of hospitality), another thing I like about Ruby’s is the authentically Australian waitstaff, who are attentive, cheerful and charming.

If you’re not yet an Aussie fan, you will be after trying Ruby’s.

Ruby’s

219 Mulberry Street (between Prince and Spring streets)

NoLita/SoHo, New York

Take the N to Prince and walk along Prince to Mulberry, turn right and walk toward Spring. Or, take the 6 to Spring Street, walk toward Mulberry, turn left and you’ve arrived!

P.S. Below is what my view was of Times Square last night around 6 p.m. I know what you’re thinking: where’s Grover?

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Galli

Situated down on quaint, cobble-stoned Mercer Street in SoHo, Galli is an Italian restaurant that markets itself as the haven for Italian “comfort food,” whatever that means. According to its “About Us” page, the recipes for the dishes found on Galli’s menu have been passed down from Sicilian family members of yore to the Gallos, who are the restaurant’s founders. A menu filled with “typical” Italian dishes, such as penne a la vodka and meatball parmesan, does not scream “authentic Sicilian” to me, but perhaps I’m only quibbling over semantics.

Or not.

Galli’s website will have you believe that it’s a comfortable, casual environment. While the main dining room certainly is striking, with black-and-white photos adorning the exposed-brick walls, the seating arrangement is anything but cozy. The words “strangling” and “anxiety-inducing” come to mind, rather.

galli calamari

calamari

When we arrived at Galli for our 7 p.m. reservation, we were greeted and briskly whisked away to the large dining room in the back of the space. Of the 20 to 25 tables that were nearly touching each other, about three were occupied. Still, the hostess carelessly sat us in the corner, directly beside a couple of women. I requested to change our table, as I was already legitimately concerned for how I would escape from this setup, and the waiter informed me he had to ask the hostess if we could move. Instead of putting us somewhere else, the hostess sat another two women to our right. So now I was blocked in. Forever.

MDP and I were not amused.

With all this said, I should inform you that Galli’s food is pretty good. For those of you who have been reading this blog for some time, you are aware of my usual loathing for Italian restaurants. However, Galli served up delectable fare, which is probably the biggest compliment I could give it.

galli veal milanese

veal milanese

We started our meal with the “mad” calamari. Galli offers three types of calamari, and we went with the rather standard one, which was tossed in a spicy marinara sauce. The small dish that emerged from the kitchen was a plate, rather than a bowl, and it was covered with tiny fried rings (and things) that were drenched in the sauce. It was fantastic. The marinara sauce lived up to its spicy description, making each bite resonate like a ringing bell in my mouth.

Moving on, we each ordered off the mains section of the dinner menu, avoiding the 20 or so pasta dishes listed at the top. This was a wise move. I opted for the chicken parmesan, because, as I’ve said before, how can you screw up this dish? MDP got the veal milanese, which comes with an arugula salad on top. While the milanese was good, it did not compare to Palma’s whose intricately constructed arugula salad is mind-blowing and delicious. The veal was tender, though, so Galli gets points for that. My chicken was dressed with ample mozzarella and a too-sweet-for-my-liking marinara sauce, with a side of pasta that was overcooked (this is why I’m glad I didn’t order a pasta for the main dish). I can’t say I can forgive Galli for overcooked pasta – after all, isn’t pasta the very meal that Italians have perfected over the past millennium?

galli tiramisu

tiramisu

After the staff cleared our table, I promptly signaled for the waiter to come over and bring us a dessert menu. The space was filling up, and my level of anxiety about getting out of there was directly proportional to the number of bodies in the room. I was disappointed to see that Galli does not serve ricotta cheesecake, but “cheesecake a la Americano” instead. Why bother putting cheesecake on the menu at all, if it’s not going to be Italian? We ordered the tiramisu, and I was delightfully surprised both by the size of the portion and the creaminess of the dish. The whipped cream served on the side tasted like Reddi-wip, which is not a knock against Reddi-wip, but against the restaurant’s best judgment.

All in all, I was pleased with the food. Yet, I would not return to Galli and do not recommend that you bother with it. The only reason why I selected this restaurant was because it received high reviews on Yelp–always a mistake to trust this website. As you know by now, you should always consult Taylor’s Ham when making reservations.

Galli

45 Mercer Street (between Grand and Broome)

SoHo, New York

Take the N/Q/J/Z/6 to Canal Street and walk about six minutes.

Almond

To be honest with you, I’m not even sure how I heard about Almond, a French restaurant located on 22nd Street in Flatiron. Its name may have materialized out of nowhere and landed in my brain, urging me to make a reservation for Friday night. As anyone else would do, I followed my brain’s command and clicked on a 7:30 pm reservation in OpenTable.

Almond grilled thick-cut bacon

grilled thick-cut bacon

MDP and I arrived around 7:10 to Almond. I had been standing outside for about 25 minutes, awaiting his arrival, and I was eager to get inside the restaurant since the polar vortex is once again upon us; I felt a bit cold. We walked through the thick curtain that separates the vestibule from the restaurant’s interior, and a gentleman wearing a V-neck sweater with a button-down shirt underneath stood beside a non-descript female hostess behind a computer. I informed them–since I wasn’t sure who to talk to–that we had a 7:30 reservation. The man with the preppy dress shot back, “Well, you’re early for your reservation.” This was the beginning of the end of Almond in my book. He proceeded to tell us to get a drink at the bar until he summoned us for our table. We stood idly next to a fake display of mollusks on ice for about two minutes, and then, upon noticing that we weren’t inclined to order a drink, he ushered us to our table.

The table itself was unsatisfactory, as well. We were seated against a short divider that separated the dining area from the bar folk and in the middle of a highly trafficked thoroughfare. At least the chairs were comfortable.

MDP considered ordering a bourbon. When the waiter finally came around to ask for our drink orders, he asked, “How much is the bourbon?” The waiter responded, “It’s about five ounces.” First of all, this estimate of drink volume is highly unlikely. Second, it was fairly obvious that MDP was asking for the price, which, after some back and forth, was discovered to be $14. MDP selected a beer off the back of the food menu instead. I ordered a glass of riesling, which is on tap, and it was decent.

almond le grand macaroni and cheese

“le grand” macaroni and cheese

When the waiter sauntered over to take our food order, we requested the grilled thick-cut bacon for an appetizer. I opted for the “le grand” macaroni and cheese and MDP asked for the croque madame for entrees.

Bread was brought over to our table, and we quickly devoured it. I have to say, the bread was excellent. And Almond’s food overall is very good. But, as you’re surely sensing, the service leaves something to be desired.

We waited about 30 minutes for our appetizer. The waiter assured us it was “on its way” and at least 10 minutes passed until it was presented to us. Two thick slabs of bacon sat beneath avocado, grilled red onions and a paprika white-bean stew. The bacon itself tasted fatty to me, but the combination of flavors from the avocado, onions and bean stew was delightful.

I lost track of time waiting for the entrees. The macaroni and cheese was delivered to me in a very hot dish, while MDP’s croque madame was situated in an oval-shaped cast iron pan. The macaroni and cheese is some of the best I’ve ever tried. The aroma of truffles wafted up from the dish and stimulated my taste buds before I even had the chance to take my first bite. Large bits of prosciutto dotted the dish, with the truffle flavor overpowering–in a good way–the entire experience.

The croque madame was okay, but Astoria Bake Shop still wins for best rendition. MDP also ordered french fries, and, as expected, they were very good. Crisp and delicious, the french fries were perfectly salted, as well.

almond french fries

french fries

I had already informed MDP that I wanted the chocolate pot de creme for dessert about an hour before the dessert menus were brought to us. Once the waiter reflexively asked us about dessert, fifteen minutes passed before we saw him again. I decided to pass on my beloved chocolate pot de creme. It was already past 9 pm.

MDP observed that Almond’s service may reflect its French roots. My response? We’re in America–and in New York City, no less. Get with the program and speed up the service, and be more accommodating while you’re at it. MDP also said that the somewhat expensive prices on Almond’s menus must be necessary to offset the lack of quick turnover of tables. I think he’s on to something.

Almond may have good food, but, if you’re looking to spend fewer than two hours on a meal, pass on this place.

Almond

12 E. 22nd Street (between Broadway and Park)

Flatiron, New York

Take the N/R to 23rd Street. Walk south one block and east on 22nd.

The Odeon

“Which neighborhood do you want to have dinner in?” asked my restaurant-savvy coworker as I pondered aloud about my Friday night plans.

I rattled off a few areas that might be convenient, considering MDP works in SoHo.

“What about The Odeon in TriBeCa?” she asked.

Together, we looked at the restaurant’s website and she continued to tell me all about the food and ambiance.

“Everything is good,” she explained. “And it’s got an old-time diner aesthetic. It’s a place where you can see beautiful people and feel very cool.”

It sounded like my kind of restaurant, so MDP and I decided to try it.

baby beet salad odeon

baby beet salad

When we arrived, the hostess informed us that there were several tables for “walk-ins” near the front. We mistakenly selected a table next to a pillar in the middle of the restaurant. Pro tip: Make a reservation at The Odeon if you’re interested in trying it, so that you can sit somewhere that’s not in the very center of a highly trafficked pathway.

After getting comfortable, we were greeted by a waiter who would prove to be extremely attentive and helpful over the course of the evening. He asked us for our drink orders, which were promptly delivered shortly thereafter, and what type of water we would like for the table. A few moments later, he brought us the tap water we had requested and asked if we would like some bread, which quickly came out of the kitchen.

The menu isn’t particularly large, but everything looks delicious. We ordered the baby beet salad as an appetizer to share. Before the salad was served, MDP inadvertently knocked the butter off the table. A staff member swooped in, picked up the butter and instantly brought us a replacement. In short, the service is impeccable at this restaurant.

croque monsieur odeon

croque “monsieur”

A table runner placed the baby beet salad—organized in a perfectly round circle on the plate—on the table and we dug in. It featured a bit of feta, fennel and arugula, but the best part about it was the blood orange vinaigrette that offered a citrusy essence to the salad. MDP and I were very pleased.

For entrees, we ordered off the “brasserie” section of the menu: MDP got the croque madame (it is a “croque monsieur” on the menu, but he requested the egg on top, which made it a true croque madame), while I opted for the moules frites. A slender looking sandwich, MDP’s dish was a delectable combination of prosciutto, ham, gruyere and Mornay sauce with a distinct kick to it. I greatly enjoyed his croque madame, which also came with a hearty portion of matchstick french fries that were superb. Now, I implore you to order the mussels when you go to The Odeon—even if you’re unsure about whether you like mussels—because they are easily the best mussels I’ve ever had in my life. Drenched in a beautiful saffron cream broth, they were covered with sautéed leeks and tomatoes, and were incredibly flavorful. I kept telling MDP, “These are the best mussels I’ve ever had. Even better than Belgian Beer Café.” I love leeks and don’t see them used enough when I dine out. I was delighted that The Odeon embraces the leek and puts it front and center in the moules frites—a fantastic decision. Obviously, my mussels were accompanied by fries, which I gladly inhaled.

sundae odeon

The Odeon sundae

My coworker had noted that the desserts were top notch at The Odeon. She highlighted the profiteroles, which I always love, but we decided to go for The Odeon sundae. With some of the best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever had, the sundae had a dollop of housemade whipped cream on top and a small container of hot fudge on the side. MDP drizzled the not-too-sweet hot fudge all over the ice cream and whipped cream, and I even used my spoon to scoop out the lining of fudge on the bottom of the container, allowing us to savor every last bite of it.

The Odeon is fantastic and served up some of the best fare I’ve had in recent months. Do go there.

The Odeon

145 West Broadway (at Thomas Street)

TriBeCa, New York

Take the 1/2/3 to Chambers Street and walk north on West Broadway to Thomas.

1200 Miles

“You’d think the kitchen was 1,200 miles from our table,” said MGDP (My Guy Dining Partner) after he had returned from our lunch. In reality, the distance from the kitchen to our table was about 20 feet, but it felt like 1,200 miles since it took forever and a day to receive our food.

Restaurant Week is upon us in this great city of ours. Some of the fanciest places in all the land welcome plebeians into their four walls to sample three courses of delicacies—for a reasonable $25 for lunch and $38 for dinner. MGDP, MLDP (My Lady Dining Partner) and I decided to try 1200 Miles, located in Flatiron, for a deal meal.

The trouble started when the waiter came over about 10 minutes after our arrival to ask if we wanted sparkling or “De Blasio” water. “What’d he say?” asked MLDP. At the time, I laughed at this meagerly clever reference to New York City tap water, some of the finest in the country in fact. While the surly waiter retrieved our water, the three of us pored over the menu and selected our three courses.

Upon returning, waiter man asked for our orders, and I began. When I requested one of the dessert items on the list as my final course, he dismissed my request, saying, “We’ll get to that later.” In that instant, I knew we were heading into a two-hour lunch. And I was right.

I selected the gazpacho, which was green, had a definite kick and came with crunchy bits of croutons. It was delicious. MLDP opted for the tartine with summer tomatoes that tasted fresh and appetizing. MGDP got the wedge salad and he seemed delighted with his dish, although it didn’t look much like a true wedge salad to me (it was a few leaves of romaine [?] lettuce with some vegetables and a thick, murky sauce beneath the greens).

Fast forward 30 minutes later and our entrees finally arrived. I had already been routinely (and nervously) checking MGDP’s watch to see the time. By the time our second courses came, I had already informed them that I would be leaving after I finished my (very good) lasagna. The lasagna (not on their a la carte menu) did not feature sauce, but rather had an extremely dense ricotta flavor. It was served with baby vegetables (?) on the side. MLDP ordered the tuna salad and MGDP got the shaved lamb sandwich. Both dishes were met with satisfaction.

I’ll never know whether the 1200 Miles rendition of a chocolate-espresso parfait was worth trying because I didn’t stick around to have it. MGDP reported back that it was divine, adding insult to injury. But MLDP was rightfully upset with the 1.5 hours she had spent dining at 1200 Miles, and who could blame her?

You’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t included photos in this post. While the food was excellent, the service was so poor—we didn’t even get bread to start while everyone around us did, for example—that I wouldn’t recommend this place to anyone. I’m only writing about it because I wanted to warn you to never go here, especially if you’ve made plans for after your meal.

For the record, I’m not sure 1200 Miles should even be eligible as a Restaurant Week option since the menu isn’t that expensive and the confusing, off-putting decor surely doesn’t put it in the upper echelons of New York City fine dining.

1200 Miles

31 West 21st St., between 5th and 6th avenues

Flatiron, NY

Take the N/R to 23rd Street and walk south two blocks and turn right onto 21st. It’s halfway down the block, but, really, don’t go here.