Gael Greene’s West Side Haunts
My Nights Off: In the Mood for a Treat
I think about you often, reader. Where are you eating? I’m always searching and weighing what’s good enough to tell you about. Most of my evenings are spent exploring what’s new or venturing a second visit to be sure a restaurant is worth a BITE. Often, after a series of misadventures, I simply need a treat. Maybe you do too. This week wasn’t remarkable for finds, so I’ll share my collection of havens.
Ideally the place you go for a guaranteed treat should be in your neighborhood. I live on West 73rd Street. You may have noticed that I’m often at Red Farm. I was delirious over my good luck when I learned Red Farm on Hudson would plant a seed in my territory. I can’t resist the richly dressed smoked salmon on fried eggplant bruschetta. To me, Red Farm has always been about about dim sum first. I have the shrimp and snow pea dumplings and the Shanghai buns filled with fragrant broth of crab and pork. Then if we’re three or four, my usual move is to share the crisp fried shrimp-stuffed chicken.2170 Broadway between 66th and 67th Street. 212 724 9700.
Café Fiorello is another familiar neighborhood slide for me, and not just because my guy and I used to pal around with Shelly and Marilyn Fireman in Tuscany. My fidelity here began long before that friendship. When Steven was alive, we ate at Fiorello before or after a movie, sometimes two or three times a week, and in the end, it seemed we always ate the same thing: Caesar salad and bucatini all’Amatriciana.
Recently the dining space has been expanded with new art, but I love seeing one of Steven’s Italian photographs still hanging near the rear. These days, movie or no movie, I order the Italian wedding soup – a rich chicken elixir with the classic veggies, chunks of mostly white meat, homey meatballs, and a crusty slab of toasted country bread. Sometimes we share the fried artichokes or a choice of three vegetables from the antipasto table. The straw-hatted wranglers there know us, and usually one of them throws on a fourth choice, and I slip him a tip.
At some point one of the managers will come by with chocolate chip cookies on a baking tray. It’s such a homey Shelly-touch, like the chocolate shards in silver bowl at the door that melt instantly on your fingers even as you bite. 1900 Broadway between 63rd and 64th Streets. 212 595 5330.
When I feel the need for a change of style and ambiance, we might take a table for two at the window in Boulud Sud. I cannot resist the mezze – baba ganoush, hummus, and a pair of falafel, plus a side of taramasalata, all with a collection of breads, crisps and pastry sticks.
If we’re still hungry, we might move on to a duo of soups: the seafood porridge and Moroccan Harira, a deep brew of lentils, chickpeas and meat. Once we shared a voluptuous carbonara. 20 West 64th Street between Broadway and Central Park West. 212 595 1313.When we were bingeing on Grace and Frankie at home, we often bought takeout salads from Épicerie Boulud with a crackling baguette or pretzel bread and goat cheese. 1900 Broadway, SE corner of 64th Street. 212 595 9606.
Where did we go before Lincoln Ristorante arrived? My husband and I used to splurge at Le Pavillon. But those were the ‘60s, another century. One New Year’s Eve we couldn’t get a taxi in the snow so we hired a horse and buggy to bring us home. Lincoln Center didn’t exist then.
Now Lincoln, sedate and elegant, with its glassed-in kitchen and magical view of the pool outside on the nighttime campus, is perfect for dinners of seduction, romantic or corporate or philanthropic – and it’s not forbidding as Le Pavillon used to be if Henri Soulé didn’t like your style.
I’m not just saving money when I order the eggplant Parmesan as an entrée at Lincoln. It’s a craving. I ask for extra bread sticks and almost always finish my share of the savory focaccia. If we’re going off to the theater, I will order an espresso — “lungo,” I say, so I get more than soot. They send colorful cookies, and some nights cellophane-wrapped caramels that I never dare eat since I invested the equivalent of a year’s tuition at Harvard in the perfection of my smile. 142 West 65th Street between Broadway and 10th Avenue. 212 359 6500.
On Wednesday I dodged the traffic to visit Ethos Gallery 51, my friend Zarela’s Greek local on First Avenue and 51st Street. It’s a bright whitewashed space with blue-and-white placemats and pillows, a local bar crowd, an insanely coiffed bartender and, refreshingly, no attitude.
Zarela wanted the upholstered booth in the back with a handsome model ship sailing the divider. No problem. We didn’t taste many options but I’ll risk sending you there if you live nearby based on the excellence of her martini and the pikilia platter of boldly flavored spreads: tarama, melitzanosalata, spicy feta, hummus and tzatziki. The commercial pita here are nothing to rave about compared to the just-warmed bubbly rounds at Seven’s Turkish Grill, another of my reliable locals on West 72nd Street. But that’s not fatal. 158 West 72nd Street. 212 724 4700
We each had one of Zarela’s small lamb chops, pink inside as requested, and the runner packed the rest to take home, then brought a gift of desserts. I left her to join a friend at another table for a nightcap. I flagged my $18 taxi crosstown. We’re talking local treats after all. Ethos is hers. It might become mine if it were on the pulsating, demanding West Side, but then, it might not have that same sweetness that flourishes now. 905 First Avenue corner of East 51st Street. 212 888 4060.