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.

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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.

Sage General Store, Long Island City

With its cutesy decor and dishtowel napkins, Sage General Store is definitely aspiring to be something–perhaps a country general store, as their website claims. It isn’t clear. What’s evident, however, is that their food and service are aspiring to be something and falling just short of making it.

sage general store ranchero burrito

ranchero burrito

We started our brunch with some coffee, sweet tea, and cheddar biscuits. The coffee tasted bitter and required extra sugar. The sweet tea was okay–no complaints there. We accidentally ordered two cheddar biscuits. This turned out to be an accident because the biscuits arrived in the size of a baby’s head, with some butter on the side. We ate our way through one, wishing it was warmed by their brick oven that is obviously dedicated to pizzas-only, and took the other home. The biscuits had a crisp, crusty exterior and warm, cheesy interior. There was definitely a kick of cheddar in them.

For my entree, I ordered the Ranchero burrito, filled with organic eggs, caramelized onions, ham, tomato, and cheddar. The potatoes on the side came out cold and lacked flavor. The burrito tasted fine–perhaps too ham-heavy for my taste–but needed something to distinguish itself as a burrito, said my dining partner. Hidden Valley Ranch, of course, would have been the ideal condiment to accompany my lacking burrito. HVR! HVR! HVR! Too bad there wasn’t a Hidden Valley Ranch party in my mouth.

Sage General Store Wisconsin Pizza

wisconsin pizza

Sage General Store offers a bevy of pizzas as part of their brunch menu. My dining partner ordered the Wisconsin pizza, which was topped with Neuske’s bacon, caramelized onions, ricotta, and creme fraiche. To my surprise, the pizza was excellent. The crust was on the thin side and golden brown. The ricotta-creme fraiche combo definitely delighted the senses. It was delicious.

A word about the service: My burrito came out at least five minutes sooner than the pizza did. I noticed this trend at every other table in Sage General Store. As my dining partner said, “They just bring things out here”–without any order or synchronicity. I didn’t like this, and don’t think you would either.

Overall, Sage General Store is an okay brunch spot, but definitely do not go out of your way to get there. If you happen to be at MoMA PS1, you might try Sage afterward. Otherwise, stick to your trusted Manhattan reliables.

Sage General Store

24-20 Jackson Avenue

Long Island City, Queens

Take the 7 train to Court Square and walk a few blocks. 

Sapori d’Ischia, Woodside

To say Sapori d’Ischia is in the middle-of-nowhere is an understatement. Off the 61st Street subway station, one must walk several blocks north and several blocks east to find this restaurant. Is it worth the walk? Sure, the food’s good, but the service could be better.

Last time we went to Sapori d’Ischia, we had a Groupon. This time, we also had a Groupon. I had made a reservation for our table earlier in the day. When we arrived, the waiter referred to us as “regolare” but the owner (I think) offered us a non-regolare table fit for four. I put the Groupon on the booth next to me, buried next to my purse.

“Is that a coupon of some kind that you have there?” he asked, peering into my business.

“Oh, yes, it is,” handing him the Groupon.

He looked me dead in the eye. “You have to present this when you come in, before you are seated,” he informed me.

“Okay, we’ll do that next time,” I said, stunned by his reprimand.

Does the Groupon negate the reservation? I wondered.

Once the Groupon inquisition was put to rest, we ordered our food and had a fine time, though the waiter was brusque, at best, for the remainder of the evening.

For an appetizer, we got the Budino al Carciofi: pureed artichoke meat with roasted red peppers and chopped bits of pancetta. It was delicious. The green, very-artichoke flavor nicely complemented the texture of the roasted red peppers.

On the table, the waiter put bread and olive oil with olives. The olive oil was thick and flavorful. The bread was crusty on the outside and delicate on the inside–exactly as it should be.

For entrees, we ordered the Fettuccine al’Antonio and the Nonna Maria Gnocchi. Sapori d’Ischia is known for the fettuccine dish: a bowl full of noodles tossed in a light white sauce that are then smothered in a parmigiano-reggiano wheel. The result is creamy, cheesy, and divine. The gnocchi, small in portion, were accompanied by lobster and truffles. The cream base made the dish rich, but there could have been a few more gnocchi to absorb the sauce.

Dessert was extremely delicious, as well. We ordered the banana caramelized Nutella bruschetta. My dining partner and I envisioned bread as the base of this dish, but we were both wrong. A whole banana lay on a smudge of Nutella with caramelized sugar and chocolate sauce on top, paired with a dollop of vanilla gelato. Mmm.

During the day, Sapori d’Ischia is a wholesale market, purveying fine Italian goods. Once, we bought bread, cheese, and olive oil–all three delighted our senses.

Sapori d’Ischia

55-15 37th Avenue (near 56th Street)

Woodside, Queens

Take the 7 to 61st Street, then walk.