EATING IN THE ECLECTIC BIG APPLE
By Martin B. Deutsch
April 30, 2009 --Dining out in New York these days an eclectic experience and it hardly seems to matter what neighborhood you're discussing. And while all of the city's boroughs have strong dining scenes now, Manhattan still rules the roost, especially for business travelers.
The restaurants below are as diverse as they come. One is the reincarnation of what was once the city's most authentic Jewish deli. Another is a Greek place with a rustic and tantalizing menu that has moved to a new location. And a third is a low-priced Asian fusion place that has branches on both sides of the city.
THE GHOST OF GREAT DELIS PAST
Until a few years ago, I dined regularly at the 2nd Ave Deli, when it was actually on Second Avenue in Manhattan's East Village. The setting was hardly luxurious, but it was certainly comfortable. And it had a loyal clientele, a healthy mix of locals, tourists and business travelers who appreciated well-prepared and moderately priced Jewish soul food. But the original owner, Abe Lebewohl, died in 1996 in a senseless, shocking and still unsolved murder. A family member ran the place for a while, but the deli eventually closed during a rent dispute in 2005.
About 18 months ago, however, the 2nd Ave Deli was reopened by Lebewohl's nephew, Jeremy. The new location, on East 33rd Street between Lexington and Third avenues, brought it close to Midtown, if nothing else. The crowds and enthusiasm for the second generation of the deli were so great in the early days that I was unable to get in. In fact, I didn't catch up with the place until the day after last Thanksgiving.
After a wait of a few minutes, we were seated at the counter, which was fine, and drew an energetic young waiter. He was bright and personable, belying the stereotype of the surly service provided in classic New York delis. My companion and I both decided to try the soup with half a sandwich. He went with the noodle soup and roast beef on rye, I ordered matzoh ball soup with noodles and the knackwurst on rye. The waiter informed me that they were out of knackwurst, so I opted for a bialy with smoked salmon (or lox, as it's called in these joints) with nondairy cream cheese. Of course, there was not a bialy in site, so I switched to the bagel. It was a little doughy for my taste, but the lox was ok and the matzoh balls passed muster. My companion liked his noodle soup and described the roast beef as "excellent."
Without breaking down the prices, the tab with tax and tip came to a pricey $54 and change. Oy vay! Neither the high prices, nor the state of the economy, has kept away the crowds, which were spilling onto East 33rd Street as we departed. The restaurant, incidentally, seemed narrow and cramped and they were running the air conditioning full-blast despite the fact that was practically winter outside. It's an experience--but beware if you harbor fond memories of the original.
A GREEK FIND IN A NEW LOCATION
For the past few years I'd heard about a Greek restaurant called Kefi, on 79th Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side. The comments about the food were more than favorable, but many considered the menu pricey. Before I could catch up with the place, however, it moved literally around the corner to new digs on Columbus Avenue.
The new Kefi is roomy, if not plain, or, as described by management, rustic. It has an easy-to-comprehend menu, simple but well-done dishes, and reasonable prices. When a companion and I entered the premises, the restaurant was almost full (unusual for lunch in a residential neighborhood) and we were greeted by the happy hum of hungry and satisfied patrons.
My companion ordered an entrée-sized salad of arugula, chicory and embellishments such as dates and nuts ($8.95). I went with the tubular pasta, Greek sausage, peppers and other enhancements ($10.95). Both dishes were excellent--as was the crusty bread that accompanied these main courses. Our request for tap water was enhanced by the fact that it was served nicely chilled in a large water bottle. We ended with chamomile tea and shared a renowned Greek dessert called galaktabouriko, which comprises phyllo dough, custard and other goodies. (It cost $5.95.) I could have easily eaten a whole portion by myself.
Our waiter was pleasant, attentive and knew every dish down to the last ingredient. The menu includes meat, poultry and fish dishes, as well as a generous selection of side orders, including one entry I'll try the next time: stewed cauliflower. (Dinner prices are equally reasonable.) Kefi takes reservations for both lunch and dinner and is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday. There's brunch on Sunday, and dinner every night except Sunday. This place is quite a find, especially if you want to dine where New Yorkers eat when they aren't flaunting an expense account.
ASIAN FUSION ON TWO SIDES OF TOWN
In the desperate scramble to find and retain a dining audience, new restaurants in Manhattan have invented all kinds of menu innovations. A companion and I recently had lunch at Fusha, which serves an eclectic menu of Pacific Rim cuisines with the main emphasis on Japanese and Thai. Hence, I speculate, it explains the name Fusha, which implies a kind of Asian fusion.
The restaurant's original location is in Midtown Manhattan and a new branch has recently opened on the Upper West Side. The Upper West Side place is large, with roomy seating and a friendly, young staff. The food was quite good and the price was certainly right. It's reasonably priced for dinner, too.
For example, I had the classic Pad Thai noodles with shrimp and it was priced at $9.50. It included rich miso soup and a small portion of salad with ginger dressing. Everything was very well prepared and the entrée was generous, both with noodles and with shrimp. My companion had flounder with rice, also starting with miso soup and salad. He praised its quality and the price: $9.50 Both lunches came with green tea. We were not quite as lucky with the dessert, however. We split a crepe, which represented the entire dessert menu. It turned out to be ice cold and far too creamy, at least from my vantage point. It was also overpriced at $8, extremely high for a place with $9.50 full-course lunches. By the way, the soup and salad with entrées are a recent concession to economic realities.
The West Side branch of Fusha is located at 311 Amsterdam Avenue between 74th and 75th Street (telephone: 212-877-9300). The East Side original is located at 1065 First Avenue just off East 58th Street (telephone: 212-752-8883).
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.
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