GOOD FOOD AND FAIR PRICES IN NEW YORK
By Martin B. Deutsch
June 26, 2008 -- With inflation now a serious threat and restaurant prices climbing, I've been searching for decent New York eateries that provide a pleasing dining experience without bank-breaking consequences.
I've recently found several such places, ranging from a chain of coffee shops to an above-average American eatery in a lavish complex to a Mexican restaurant that appears to be the best in its geographic area. But a word of caution: While tongue-in-cheek is not a dish that's offered on any menu I've ever seen, don't take me too seriously regarding New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's occasional breakfast preferences.
A Coffee Shop Goes Celebrity
As an insatiable celebrity voyeur, I get a big thrill when I discover that I've crossed paths, however peripherally, with someone whose name is in the headlines. So I got a charge recently when I read and heard that Mayor Bloomberg frequently has breakfast with his staff at the Viand Coffee Shop, located at East 78th Street and Madison Avenue. Although I recently dined at that location, I usually frequent another Viand (at West 75th Street and Broadway), which is domiciled in the Hotel Beacon. There are also Viand branches at East 86th Street and Second Avenue and East 61st Street and Madison.
These modest restaurants provide decent quality meals, good service and comfortable seating. And while they are not giving anything away, the prices are reasonable and the portions are generous. Weekend brunch at around $10 a person is particularly good and I am unabashedly partial to the Belgian waffle with fresh fruit ($9). When they are in season, I order the waffle with fresh blueberries, which I highly recommend. I also favor the silver-dollar pancakes and the scrambled eggs with home-fried potatoes.
For lunch or dinner, there are daily specials and the Oreganata chicken and the Athenian chicken are especially notable. Served with Greek-style, oven-roasted potatoes and a selection of vegetables, the $14.95 price also includes a choice of soup or salad. The soups are generally very good--and the shrimp bisque is outstanding. The beef stew with noodles or veal stew with rice or potatoes are both satisfying, both in quality and portion size. In fact, the main dishes on the menu often provide enough food for two sittings. There is also fresh fish on the menu each day and I often order either the Chilean sea bass ($24.95) or the filet of sole ($19.95).
Incidentally, the luncheon specials are usually priced lower than the dinner specials. And the Viand has long been hailed for the quality of its turkey sandwiches and burgers. And please note: The prices and menus may vary a bit at each of the four locations since they are independently owned.
As far as I know, reservations are not required, although there may be a short wait for brunch on the weekends. But I'll bet they don't make Hizzoner and his entourage wait.
Steaks in the Spotlight at the Casual Landmarc
The Time-Warner Center, a vast mixed-use complex on Manhattan's Columbus Circle, was built on the site of the New York Coliseum, the city's old convention center. These days, the complex at the southwest edge of Central Park sports a worldwide reputation for glamorous restaurants and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. It is also the home of Per Se, New York's most expensive dining experience. Rather than break the bank there, however, we dined at the sprawling, family-friendly Landmarc on the third floor of the complex.
I'm inclined to classify the cuisine here as American-Continental with steakhouse credentials. This judgment call is based on the fact that two adults in our party had steaks, which received high marks from the carnivores. The filet mignon was $38.00 and the skirt steak was $25.00, served with French fries and field greens. Another adult went for the burger with French fries ($13), which he devoured with relish. Yours truly went for the grilled chicken with mashed chickpeas and arugala ($26), which was tasty and well-prepared. Appetizers run from $10 to $15 and include fried calamari, French onion soup and warm goat cheese with profiteroles. There is also pasta, such as the Bucatini all'Amatriciana ($14) and Orecchiette alla Norcina ($20). The menu also includes diverse items such as oysters by the dozen and a selection of fresh fish. Wine is served by the half-bottle, carafe or full bottle, but there is no wine by the glass. (My wife thought highly of the house cabernet.) We were then treated to a desert sampler, a mouth-watering tray of goodies that included a chocolate cream puff, tiramisu, lemon tart and a blueberry crumble.
If you're looking for a relaxed meal with no pretensions, in a casual atmosphere with very good food and service, you'd do well to keep Landmarc in mind. It's something of a rarity in the overheated, overpriced atmosphere of the Midtown Manhattan scene. Smaller groups often face a wait and reservations only accepted for parties of six or more.
Above-Average Cuisine at West Side Mexican
The next time your peripatetic lifestyle brings you to Manhattan's Upper West Side, I can recommend Gabriela's, a better-than-average place that I've recently rediscovered. It serves brunch, lunch and dinner and makes much these days of its tequila bar.
Despite somewhat higher prices than you generally find in an ethnic eatery, there is quality and value coming from Gabriela's kitchen. We recently tried several appetizers, including the guacamole fresco ($9.95); nachos de la casa ($9.95); and a carne asada taco ($8.95, or $14.95 as an entrée). We enjoyed all of them. Among the large variety of main dishes, we tried the burrito norteno, a vegetarian offering for $14.95; chicken fajita for $17.95; and camarones en salsa verde, a shrimp specialty for $21.95. On the dessert side, we tried the traditional flan with fruit and the rice pudding with raisins and cinnamon ($5.95 each). Both were excellent, if a little skimpy in terms of the portions.
There are the usual Mexican beers, wine and, of course, the tequila bar. The restaurant is quite large and quite noisy, but the service convivial and professional. Gabriela's is open seven days a week and no reservations are necessary. And, as I said earlier, the cuisine es mui bueno.
ABOUT MARTIN B. DEUTSCH Martin B. Deutsch created Frequent Flyer magazine in 1980 and was editor-in-chief and publisher for 15 years. He also wrote a column called "Up Front" for Frequent Flyer during those years. In a 50-year career, he created, published and edited dozens of other travel publications. Deutsch is based in New York.
THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Martin B. Deutsch in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Mr. Deutsch. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the permission of Mr. Deutsch.
This column is Copyright © 2008 by Martin B. Deutsch. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.