Sadly, truth in advertising doesn’t apply to venues.
Or the Great Northern Food Hall would be in danger of being busted.
It’s not great.
It’s actually at the southern end of Grand Central.
There is food. It appears to be Scandinavian inspired.
There are drinks (and cocktails). They come in bottles and are (mostly) not Scandinavian.
There are Danishes and croissants, neither of which originated from where you think they did and Denmark (where Claus Meyer the entrepreneur behind GNH hailed from) never comes into the story.
There is a porridge bar, because you never know when you’ll be on 42nd Street craving porridge. And not to be kvetching too much, but once again is Denmark the first country that comes to mind when you hear the word porridge?
Didn’t think so.
There are smørrebrødens, which, phew, are Danish open-faced sandwiches and each is a little work of art (and priced accordingly). Maybe it was my imagination but as I passed a pre-made smørrebrød it seemed to me that the corners of the bread were curling up as it’s prone to do when you make smaller versions (hors d’œuvres) before a party. Because they’re topless it may not be the best on-the-run or balancing on your lap snack.
Tide stick anyone?
There is coffee. Known to be a big cash crop in Scandinavia.
This is from Brownsville Coffee in Brownsville Brooklyn (which isn’t even in the northern part of Brooklyn).
There is a bar. You might need a drink.
This is a project seven months in construction. Like Vanderbilt Hall, a food hall highly anticipated by those of us who pass through Grand Central, hungry and on the move.
Like Vanderbilt Hall, a letdown.
The Accidental Locavore isn’t sure why the owners of Grand Central (and no, you can’t blame this on Metro North, tempting as it might be) thought that turning it into a Nordic theme park was a brilliant idea.
Besides Great Northern, there’s a hot dog sausage bar and a very fancy restaurant with $100-$125 tasting menus. If spending that much on sunflower seeds and more of that porridge seems like a better deal than a cheap seat to Hamilton, be my guest.
My bet is that Hamilton will be around much longer than smørrebrød at Grand Central.
The Accidental Locavore thinks that what goes on in the city should stay in the city, especially when it comes to the useless policy of not seating “incomplete” parties at restaurants. A recent trip to a Westchester restaurant, Farmer and the Fish, highlighted the inanity of this policy. We got there early, had drinks and oysters at the bar and were enjoying ourselves. The hostess came up to us and told us that our friends had called and said they were stuck in traffic and would be there as soon as they could.
As the bar was filling up and getting noisy, we asked to be seated and were told she’d have to check with the manager as it was against policy. Now, she knows that we’re there and our friends are obviously on their way, so it’s not like there’s going to be a no-show. Tim, the manager, refused her and then after a long conversation/disagreement refused us.
Besides being the worst sort of customer service, it’s a big revenue loser. Instead of sitting at the table increasing our check by enjoying a drink and maybe something to nibble, we were in the car fuming and trying to get a cell phone signal to find out how far away our friends were. And the table that they didn’t want to partially fill sat empty for a half an hour. Who does that benefit?
On top of that you know dinner is going to have to be spectacular to appease us. Why make the waitstaff and chefs bear the brunt of a stupid management decision? You only have one chance to make a first impression and my attitude was so abysmal that at this point it would take something like the escargots and chicken from L’Ami Louis (back in the day) to begin to make me smile. But of course, we’re not in Paris, and this is not L’Ami Louis.
I had a pork chop, which was weirdly salty throughout (probably brined and not rinsed well). Frank had a tuna burger which was much larger than its English muffin bun. Someone had a lobster roll, someone else scallops and there were more oysters for starters. For dessert there was a serviceable apple crisp/tart and an interesting-looking take on a bread pudding that everyone said was good.
The waitstaff was fine, friendly and helpful, but throughout the meal, Tim, the manager, was jovial with our host while subsequently managing to completely ignore us – hard to do, but he’s had practice.
Farmer & the Fish grow a lot of their own produce and source as much as they can locally, which is why our friends thought we would enjoy it and we might have, but sadly, an awful policy led to an evening best forgotten. Interestingly, on CBS This Morning, Saturday, Chef Mike Price was the guest and he said something that made me stop in my tracks. “You can look at people two ways when they walk in the door—like they’re lucky to be there or you’re lucky to have them.” Anyone at Farmer & the Fish listening?
Do you notice when restaurants start to cut corners? The Accidental Locavore and my editor started talking about things restaurants do to cut corners, thinking that patrons won’t notice or won’t care. But I don’t think they’ll ever really know, because people simply stop going. It really doesn’t just have to be cutting corners – ask any chef what happens when you change a menu item and you’ll get a quick reaction!
The post in question mentioned that the bread came to the table and was slightly stale, appearing to have been cut before service, so that the waitstaff could just grab it and go. Which makes sense, especially since it was an extremely busy room. As the old saying goes, you only have one chance to make a good first impression and bread is usually that first impression. When your average check is in excess of $100 per person, don’t you think you could hire someone (at $15/hour, please) to slice bread during service? If you needed to monetize that, charge for the bread, like many places are doing. On second thought, don’t!
The restaurant at my golf club is another case in point. When the new owner came in, free refills on soda and iced tea became a thing of the past. Having done financial consulting for a bakery, I know what the costs (and margins) are on drinks, so having to pay an additional $2.00 for another hit of iced tea or soda is simply ridiculous.
That sort of mean-spiritedness really backfires and shows up in the food. We used to blow through our minimums by the beginning of July and be into the restaurant for a lot of money by the end of the season. Now, we struggle to use it up, because the food is mediocre, and what used to be a pleasant place to hang out loses its charm when the owner is standing around glowering.
A reason that places like Billy Joe’s Ribworks are so successful, is that Jonathan, one of the owners, is always on the prowl. His mission: to give everyone a great time, and his energy and enthusiasm are contagious. You’ll see his staff firing up grills and handing out hot dogs when the spirit moves them. Not that you’d have any room for them since you’ve probably stuffed your face with their great ribs and even better smoked wings! Want a refill on that soda? Not a problem.
Owning a restaurant is a tough business, so let’s support local eateries that go the extra mile and don’t try to put one over on their patrons just to save a couple of bucks. It costs them in the long run. What’s your pet peeve about a restaurant’s short cuts?
It started with the olives…small and green with garlic and herbs. Six, to be savored while sipping wine and waiting for the main course. Well worth searching out.
To be truthful, it actually started out the other day when the Accidental Locavore was walking around the port. In another year or two it will once again be spectacular, but for now, it’s a glorified construction zone, awaiting the continuance of the tram. I saw a cute place on the corner and the menu looked interesting, so I filed it away for a future lunch.
Le passe-plat is an open room, casual, with lamps perched on top of piles of wine boxes. There’s an open kitchen – rare for here, filled with copper pots, mason jars with spices and a handsome chef, Anthony Coppet, straight from central casting, dark hair, piercing blue eyes and two days’ stubble.
I went in, curious about the pot au feu with Thai spices, but ended up with the plat du jour. On this particular jour, it was a veal steak with a wild mushroom cream sauce and mashed potatoes.
The veal turned out to be grilled and had that great grilled taste. The cream sauce was wonderful, with lots of mushrooms and possibly just a hint of Roquefort. There were a couple of cherry tomatoes as garnish, roasted into sweetness. And what can you say about mashed potatoes? It’s France and they were great!
One of the things I always wonder about here is why most restaurant tables have four legs. It’s what French Morning NY would call a question bête, but here’s my answer – more room for dogs to stretch out. It struck me as amusing that the couple sitting by the window (with a dog) had risotto with scallops, which were served in a dish that had an uncanny resemblance to a dog’s bowl. Just saying.
Expanding on my vocabulary, I learned that the ardoise de fromages was what I was hoping for – a cheese plate, and since ardoise means slate, it arrived on a handsome slab. On the slate were a Brie, a chèvre rolled in herbs, a gooey vacherin and a semi-soft cheese like a mild Pont-l’Évêque. They were all good and worked well together and with the fig compote, but the chèvre was outstanding! Another thing to try to hunt down. I was happy and will be back to try the pot au feu soon.
Always on the prowl for good Mexican food, the Accidental Locavore was quick to pick up on the rumors that there was a good new one, Modern Taco, in nearby Red Hook (Rhinebeck’s shyer sister). An added bonus was that we knew the chef/owner Mark Brocchetti, the chef from our golf course dining room, back when the food was enjoyable, interesting and made by someone who cared.
With my friend Laura in tow, we arrived one Saturday night to check it out. It’s a charming room, with Mexican touches, that reflect Mark and his partner’s take on Mexican food. Luckily he has no fear of venturing off the taco, burrito and enchilada trail that is actually more TexMex than anything you might actually eat south of the border. No gloppy refried beans here. When beans appear they’re in a slightly spicy black bean soup with crema drizzled on the top that’s better than any other black bean soup I’ve had in a long time.
That night the special – a rabbit quesadilla with a mole sauce – was right up my alley. The rabbit was nice and tender and the mole sauce was good. A little bit more of the sauce would have been nice, and it could have taken a bit more heat (however, if you’re not a spicy person, this is one of the milder dishes).
Another special was what Mark calls Mexican breakfast. If it’s not on the menu when you’re there, beg. It’s a great mix of chorizo, potatoes and caramelized onions with a fried egg on top, served in a cute little cast iron skillet.
Laura was thrilled with the stuffed poblano with quinoa, tomato and corn, resting in a great poblano cream sauce. It’s a great vegetarian option.
Working his way through the taco menu, Frank chose the fish taco and a fried avocado taco (because we were all curious about the fried avocado). These are soft tacos, crammed with filling, just like you would get in any taqueria in Mexico. The fish was really good, but the fried avocado wasn’t my favorite. In fairness to Mark, it may just be that I don’t love cooked avocado – I’ve grilled them and don’t think it’s worth the effort.
Even though we were stuffed to the gills, Frank and I happily worked our way through the chocolate pot de crème, spiked with habanero. If you’re not familiar with pot de crème, it’s essentially a cousin of chocolate mousse. Creamy and rich, this had a subtle kick from the habanero.
A week later, we were back with two other friends. Once again I opted for the special, that night a duck quesadilla. Our friends went for the steak and the chicken quesadillas so we got to taste all three. Everyone’s favorite was the spice-rubbed duck with the steak a close second.
Frank went for two other tacos, the pulled pork and the shrimp, both of which were really good. If I were choosing from the ones we’ve tried, it would probably be the pulled pork and the fish.
The guacamole is good, but might be weird for Americans used to a chunky version. This one is truer to its taqueria roots, smooth and creamy and good with the freshly fried chips. The roasted salsa is a great choice as is the pico de gallo – fresh with good (I don’t know where he got them in December) tomatoes, cilantro and a touch of lime.
Modern Taco is open Thursday through Monday for dinner only. Lunch is promised for the summer. Enjoy!
After looking at comfort food, the Accidental Locavore began thinking about the difference between memorable food and comfort food. We all have dishes we get nostalgic about, but to me, memorable food (or meals) have almost as much to do with the time, people and place as it does with the food.
And then there’s food that just is the absolute right dish at the right time. Such was the amazing duck dish I had at my last visit to Cafe Miranda. After a day that could only be described as ghastly, we managed to catch our breath and be just a bit late for our perch at the bar.
I’ve written a lot about Miranda, as it’s been a favorite of ours for years. Generally, a careful perusal of the menu will take at least twenty minutes – yes, there’s that much on it, and most of it has multiple ingredients. Somehow, that night, within 30 seconds of looking at the menu, “Let’s Get Dangerous” – a duck dish based on that 90’s cartoon Darkwing Duck – caught my eye and I was done.
It was a duck leg confit resting on a bed of noodles in a coconut curry sauce, with a cooling salad of cucumbers on the side. The leg had been cured in a blend of Szechuan peppercorns, tamarind paste and cloves. After having a nice, slow bath in its own fat, it was finished by tossing it into the wood-burning oven. Rich, dark spices, meltingly tender duck, great crispy skin – it was the absolute perfect dish!
Even Kerry, the chef/owner thought it was amazing. I’d offered him a small bite when he came in. Since it was a new dish, he hadn’t had a chance to taste it from the line and he was quick to praise his line chef, Andrew.
The only problem with dishes like the duck is that you’ll want to order them over and over again. Possibly they won’t be as good as you remember, or there may be something else on the menu equally delicious. We were recently back to our counter perch at Miranda and I had to make sure it was as good as I remembered it being (it was!), but that was the first time in many, many visits there when I didn’t order something different. What do you think? Do you go back to the “old reliables,” or do you live on the edge and try something new?
Recently the Accidental Locavore was invited to try out the (new to me) Seafire Grill. It’s a big room on East 48th Street. When you enter, there’s a large, active bar to your right and a long dining room behind that. We were warmly greeted by Aron the manager, sporting a good-looking pink tie.
Even though it was a Wednesday night in the summer, the bar and restaurant were packed, with large parties enjoying themselves. That didn’t keep the service from being perfectly attentive, a sign of a well-run restaurant.
When you sit down, a basket of flatbread crackers and focaccia arrive at the table with the house specialty – a very tasty whitefish spread. It had a nice smoky flavor, which distracted from the slightly stale focaccia.
The wine list is extensive and interesting, with plenty of selections, both red and white, at all price points. We decided on a lovely Sancerre from the list of half bottles.
What’s interesting about Seafire Grill is that it’s run like a steak house. Large, generally unadorned portions of seafood can be complimented by a host of side dishes and vegetables. While several of the dishes have an Asian flair, there’s nothing “weird” on the menu – it’s all pretty straight-forward.
Our self-imposed ground rules were that we couldn’t order the same thing so we could taste as many different dishes as two people could. We started out with the tuna tartare and oysters Rockefeller. The tuna came on a bed of seaweed salad which was a little sweet, but the tuna was perfectly fresh and nicely prepared. Oysters Rockefeller are a pretty traditional dish, but every now and then they hit the spot and these certainly did! The addition of some pink peppercorns gave the well-prepared oysters a nice punch.
After a short debate as to whether swordfish was still on the do-not-eat list (if it’s American it’s okay) my friend had the Montauk swordfish. It came with two sauces, one an avocado, similar to a guacamole, and a Seafire version of a remoulade. Again, it was a perfectly cooked piece of fish, well-spiced and enhanced with the avocado sauce.
We were encouraged to order some vegetables and since kale always sounds too healthy, we went with the asparagus. It was billed as having black truffles and Parmesan (definitely not as virtuous as the kale). Five average-sized spears came to the table. Sadly there was no sense of either truffle or Parmesan – just some balsamic-colored sauce with no discernible flavor.
If you’re not a fish lover, there are plenty of meat options, including a good variety of steaks and surf & turf, if you’re really on the fence.
Desserts were tempting, with a good selection of the classics (cheesecake, crème brûlee, molten chocolate cake) to what looked like a nice trip of cheeses but we were way too full from the generous portions to indulge.
The night we were there it was pretty noisy, but there were two large tables behind us which probably created the din. We both remarked that the wait-staff was exactly attentive enough – a delicate balancing act, especially as it got busier and busier. Prices are what you would expect for midtown, with all the fish being pristine and perfectly cooked.
I’d like to thank both Aron and Alex, Seafire Grill’s managers, for a lovely dinner and Janet, for putting it all together.
When the Accidental Locavore singled out Billy Joe’s Ribworks as being my favorite chili (as well as Frank’s) in the recent Chili Cook-off, Jonathan Gatsik, one of the owners, sent me an invitation to come and have lunch, so the other day Frank and I set off for the Newburgh waterfront.
Billy Joe’s is a huge place perched on the edge of the Hudson. There’s a large patio with a stage for summer concerts and a beer garden for exploring their large selection of local craft beer. During the summer they serve over 3000 diners a week, which means their three smokers are going non-stop from May through the end of September. The smokers are immense, with a capacity of 13-1400 pounds of meat each.
And we sampled a good amount of that meat! Starting with some smoked chicken wings that they then toss on the grill to crisp up. They come to the table with your choice of dipping sauce and blue cheese dressing. Whether you choose “Devil’s Revenge” or their own barbecue sauce, everything is made in-house. Frank’s reaction (“the wings were a revelation”) pretty much sums it up—they were!
We tried not to stuff ourselves solely on the wings (although they would have been a fine lunch) because we knew Jonathan had ordered a lot more food for us to taste. There were three types of ribs: baby backs, St. Louis and beef. All were great, but my favorites were the beef ribs. Huge and naked except for a generous seasoning of salt and pepper, they were smoky and beefy and delicious! The baby backs were cut with the tenderloin, which made them super tender and both types of pork ribs were dusted with their special rub before the trip to the smoker.
Along with the ribs there were three types of smoked sausages, both sweet and hot Italian and some spicy andouille. Definitely one of Frank’s favorite foods, he was happily devouring all three types. Not to be overshadowed by the ribs and sausage – some really great pulled pork, wonderful brisket and smoked chicken! And if you’re not into meat but find yourself there, the “Good Ol’ Grilled Salmon” is perfectly prepared (I stole a bite of Jonathan’s) so you won’t be left out!
Side dishes included homemade corn bread, some wonderful smoked baked beans, very good coleslaw and exceptional mac & cheese! My favorite mac & cheese is always really cheesy and creamy and this fit the bill completely! From now on, if I’m craving it, I know a trip to Newburgh will be just what I need!
Jonathan calls Billy Joe’s a “very, very happy place” and it ‘s apparent the minute you walk in the door. His chef, Kevin, also deserves a shout-out for all the great food. Managing that kitchen has to be a herculean task and they both do it with a big smile! Jonathan says “I love it every single day of the week” and you can too!
Thanks to Jonathan and crew for a great lunch and to Frank for the photos!
Although the Accidental Locavore didn’t eat a single meal in Croatia that wasn’t wonderful, our lunch at Toklarija was easily my favorite. The restaurant is in a very old stone building that once was an olive oil mill. To the left, as you walk in, is a tiny room with a fireplace and a table for two. If you ever want the perfect setting for a romantic meal, this is it!
The whole operation is run by a father and son. The son rules the front of house, leaving his father to run the kitchen. Everything, including the wine, is locally sourced or grown in their garden and the menu is dependent on the whims of Mother Nature and Dad.
Our lunch started with two small slabs of fresh cow cheese and local sausage speared with a rosemary branch. Topping it were what looked like capers but turned out to be dandelion buds. They pick them before the plants flower, salt them for two days and then pickle them. Delicious, and a tasty way of keeping your lawn in shape! If it’s not too late, I’m going to try to make some of my own.
If you’re in Croatia and it’s April, it won’t be long before wild asparagus makes an appearance. Ours was served as a salad over baby lettuce with shaved Parmesan, garnished with bacon sticking out of what turned out to be a hardboiled egg. A great combination!
The main course was a roast suckling pig that had been slowly cooking all morning. Keeping up with the pig theme were two homemade raviolis stuffed with prosciutto and cheese, resting on a bed of braised herbs. Heaven! The pig was moist and tender and perfectly seasoned. We each got a piece of meat and a couple of ribs so you could enjoy two slightly different versions of this great dish. The ravioli gave a nicely salty note to it and the herbs offered a nice contrast to the richness of the pork.
Finally, we had a chocolate soufflé resting on a sauce that resembled crème Anglais, but tasted so much more sophisticated. It was made by beating local egg yolks with red wine, adding some sugar and cooking it over a double boiler. It was the perfect accompaniment to the chocolate soufflé cake and I ate every bite.
Toklarija is way off the beaten path, but it’s a beautiful drive and well worth it. Since it’s quite small, reservations are a must and probably need to be made well in advance. A meal there will run you between $50-70 depending on courses. Wines are additional and from a local vineyard, Roxanich. We started out with a sparkling rosé, moved to a Malvazija for the first two courses and ended up with a red, appropriately named Porco Rosso, all very good and well matched to the food.
Maybe the Accidental Locavore is being overly fussy, but don’t you think that food that is supposed to be hot, should in fact, be hot? And when menus describe something as “seared”, one assumes that it’s going to have residual warmth from the searing process. Such was not the case at a recent dinner at a new “hot” restaurant, Monte’s Kitchen.
Originally I wasn’t going to write about our dinner, preferring to just sit back and enjoy an evening with friends we hadn’t seen in a long time. But the dinner was so disappointing—not bad, mind you, just very sloppily executed, that the company was definitely the high point of the evening.
It’s a large open space, with nothing but hard surfaces, so as soon as it filled up it was impossible to hear anything. Along with kale, the other must-have for a trendy restaurant has to be the Edison light bulb, which looks great (or did the first fifty times you saw them), but isn’t terribly effective as far as illuminating a kraft paper menu on a clip board (another trendy conceit). In an effort to go against other long-standing traditions, there are weekly specials (a terrible idea at the end of the week…) of pasta (never thought of pierogis as pasta, dummy me), flatbread and dessert.
When the flatbread arrived, it was warm and soggy, weighed down by a nondescript cheese and the inevitable kale. Not special. My husband and one of our friends had the beet salad, which was certainly the most unusual-looking rendition of that dish I’ve ever seen. Small beets of various colors were halved and piled up on one side of the plate, opposite a same-sized ball of (wait for it) beet sorbet, with a slab of feta standing in for the usual goat cheese. Frank said the sorbet was interesting, but it was obvious that the salad wasn’t what they were expecting.
Main courses were a little more traditional. Frank had a steak, which was good, but not close to being rare. Ditto the lamb chops another one of our friends had—grey is not the color of medium-rare meat. The two of us at the end of the table (and minus points for turning a four-top into a six-top by adding chairs at the ends) had the chile-rubbed seared tuna on a bread salad. This is where things got interesting. The tuna was perfectly seared, a little spicy – and stone cold! It was served over a bread salad with a basil dressing, which was just kind of a green mush with lima beans being the dominate note.
Because the tuna was so cold, we gave them back to the busboy and told him they were cold. He look puzzled (but that was pretty much his only facial expression that evening) and went off with them. Not thirty seconds later, he returned saying that the chef said it was supposed to be that way. I get that salad is cold, seared tuna in the center is cold, but the outside (i.e. the seared part) was also cold. My guess is that it’s seared off in the morning and kept in the fridge until someone orders it, when it’s sliced and plated. None of this would have been a problem at all…except no one said that it was a cold dish.
The dessert menu was limited to three desserts, none of them memorable, and the weekly special—a key lime pie cut into rectangles so they could call it a bar…
I’m tempted to be like Monte’s website and not have any photos of the food (which should be a telling sign), but instead will leave you with this terrible shot of my tuna. Thanks to Frank for going back and taking the exterior photos!