Gael Greene’s Favorite Restaurants of 2019

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Little Spain was still in training mode when we first found our way to tables at Mar.

I emailed José Andrés asking if I could come to Mercado Little Spain for “Friends and Family.” Between flying off to feed storm victims and whipping his Hudson Yards venture into shape, Andrés was standing by our table at Mar, and later Leña, making sure we get paella, peel-and-eat shrimp and rings of fried baby hake.

A few days later we return to try Leña, and the menu has prices on it.

There are shrimp on the menu at both Mar and Leña. Some hot, some not so hot. Ready to shell.  

By the time we return to sample more of the evolving fare at Lena, the training has peaked and the menu has prices on it. Dinner starts with two or three different breads and ribbons of cured ham, and it ends with lemon sorbet under toasted meringue, and a rich egg yolk custard with oloroso cream and caramel.

At The Diner we share escabeche of eggplant, peppers and onions and short bread sticks.

It was late June when we entered through the flower market to claim a table at the newly launched Diner where the exterior wall is open to the mild night air. We sip gazpacho and share starters: pan de tomate and slivered peppers, eggplant and onions Catalana.

The chef of Diner sends out meatballs and excellent pasta for our table to share.

The chef in charge at Diner has clearly been coached to indulge us. Soon enough, plates of Spanish comfort food cover the table. I especially like “Granny’s Spanish chicken fritters,” creamy little fried logs, the macarrone gratinados, and short ribs cooked in red wine with olive oil-mashed potatoes.

The cheese plate features soft, creamy slices of  powerful Rey Silo Magaya Massimo with candied quince.

The cheese plate signals what’s great about dining in this Mercado. It features soft, creamy slices of the powerful Rey Silo Magaya Massimo with little squares of candied quince and breadsticks. It’s a cheese we are likely only to discover here. “Oh my, so good.” I dispatch Dana with my credit card to buy a pound-to-go from the cheese kiosk.

 Mercado Little Spain 10 Hudson Yards, enter on 30th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenue. 646 495 1242. Open seven days 7 am to 11 pm.

***

Capital Asset

 Asset has a smart architectural look with lots of black iron. 

The neighborhood loves Tessa on the Upper West Side but it never particularly seduced me. Certainly not like Asset, it’s ambitious sibling in a handsome and soaring industrial space on Columbus Avenue.

That first visit we shared little wagyu hotdogs wrapped in dough and a salad of ancient grains.

That first evening our quartet craved the wagyu pigs in a blanket with homemade ketchup. We share a toss of ancient grains and then the slightly chewy rare moulard duck with plum. Small side plates, are perfect for passing along cuts of steak, fries and not quite rare enough salmon with corn pudding.

While we debate whether or not to try a dessert, two or three arrive, like this rustic apple tart.

On another visit I order the $10 side of macaroni for my “main,” expecting it to be browned in a cake, instead of loose in a bowl. We never actually order dessert. It just comes. I especially like the rustic apple pie and the irresistible 15-layer chocolate cake. Asset has a disc jockey tucked up front somewhere, but as long as I’m getting this special care at a table in the faraway back room, I won’t complain.

329 Columbus Avenue between West 75th and 76th streets. 212 517 1987 Dinner daily 5 pm to 11 pm. Late night dining Thursday through Saturday 11 pm to I am. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 3 pm.

***

Play It Again, Sam

I love imagining myself in Casablanca at the Terrace in a room full of palms at the Times Square Edition Hotel.

First I fell for the aura of Casablanca in the reflections of palms on the ceiling at The Terrace. The waiters in black pajamas remind my niece Dana of Steve Jobs. And then I became a captive of the menu by Chef John Fraser who’s in charge of all the kitchens in Ian Schrager’s smart new Times Square Edition Hotel. I’ve been a Fraser fan since his debut at Dovetail in 2007.

I suggest we start with a trio of including watercress with fried crab cakes.

I’d eaten at the Terrace four or five times before I discovered the roast confit duck leg with pink peppercorns listed among the sides for just $12. Add a salad — watercress with crab cake croutons or escarole hearts with Greek yogurt and heirloom seeds — or the king crab tagliatelle that two can share. Dinner was a steal until somebody saw a run on duck legs and eighty-sixed it as a bargain side.

We might have shrimp-stuffed shishitos, the burrata, therye fried chicken or a billboard burger.

Never mind. Order the shrimp stuffed shishitos, the burrata, the rye-fried chicken or a billboard burger and share my fantasy that Bogart is waiting at the bar for us. Or Bergman, if you prefer. 

701 Seventh Avenue, Entrance on West 47th just west of Times Square. Ninth Floor. 212 398 7017.Monday through Wednesday 6:30 am to 11 pm. Thursday and Friday 6:30 am to midnight. Saturday 7 am to midnight. Sunday 7 am to 10 pm.

***

Born-Again Pastis 

Fans of Balthazar and Minetta Tavern and the usual night crawlers are eager to try Pastis.

The smoked mirror in the corner and the room’s golden glow are  reminders of Balthazar.

The Meat Market is taking on new chic. The rebirth of Pastis that Keith McNally closed in 2014 to make way for new construction has sounded the tidings. Some backers bowed out when McNally suffered a stroke. Then Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr stepped in. McNally’s children may greet you at the door and Starr minions make the rounds recognizing the regulars.

Will I have calf’s liver or sweetbreads?  I like the classic bistro choices.

If you didn’t know Arnold Rossman at Minetta Tavern you might want to make nice now. The room has a golden glow and our booth faces a vintage mirror that gives the place a McNally touch. We share steak tartare. Fat sardines are served in the can with Bordier butter. My companion gives me a chunk of the rich eggy Croque Monsieur.

My friend orders the croque Monsieur with a bouquet of salad.

On another visit, we’re in the same house pets’ corner sharing rich ricotta-filled ravioli with tomato sauce, buttery pommes puree and perfectly cooked branzino with aioli and a garden of raw vegetables. It’s a treat to find a kitchen that serves calves liver topped with onions in a vinegar-etched sauce and also perfect sweetbreads with favas in a spill of lemon butter.

The beautifully cooked branzino comes surrounded with raw garden vegetables.

We share giant berries on a triangle of crust and sweet dark cherries with pistachio ice cream. I hear the Forgiones are moving in nearby. I can’t wait.

 52 Gansevoort Street between Ninth Avenue and Washington Street. 212 929 4844. Breakfast Monday to Friday 7:30 to 11 am. Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 4 pm. Dinner Monday through Wednesday 4 to 11 pm, Thursday and Friday 4 to midnight. Saturday 5 pm to midnight. Sunday 5 to 11 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 9 am to 4 pm.

***

A Ferocious Good Time at Feroce

A vintage advertising poster is the star of Feroce in a room designed by the Rockwell team.

Francesco Panella of Antica Pesa (in Rome and Brooklyn) designed the menu here at Feroce in the Moxy Chelsea in the Flower District. Three kinds of wood on the floor and pleated red lampshades reflect the Rockwell Team touch. There’s a glassed-in garden room next door and a vintage aperitif poster of a naked woman holding a gun and sipping mint amaro on the wall. The gun is pointed the other way.

Aged carnaroli rice in risotto is golden from butternut squash and rich with taleggio.

The house salad is a colorful toss of white and red endive with poached pears, spicy walnuts, and gorgonzola in a deliciously odd rosemary and honey dressing. There’s an artichoke insalata too, with arugula, pecorino Romano and crisp herbed breadcrumbs.

Feroce’s fritto is delivered in a wooden box for the table to share.

Gnocco Fritto, traditional fried dough from Emilia Romagna, is capped with a fold of pistachio mortadella and a cloud of Parmesan grated at the table. Eggplant comes in a tower of fried rounds with imported Fior di latte mozzarella, tomatoes and quivers of basil. Homemade fettuccine (graded DOP, made in Italy) is tossed with lobster, Martini Bianco and tomatoes.

The making of an aperitif or a farewell snifter is on the grappa cart.

The risotto of aged carnaroli rice is golden from butternut squash and rich with taleggio. The rosemary roasted potatoes accompanied the corn-fed galleto. Ask for the limoncella granita for a finale. The house uses pasta straws for the spritzes. Even if you don’t nibble your straw, it’s a positive move for the environment.

105 West 28th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. 212 888 1092. 1092. Dinner Monday through Wednesday and Sunday 5 pm to 11 pm, Thursday through Saturday 5 pm to midnight.

***

Zachary Has Three Jars

My grandson Zachary take $10 from his giving jar to send to Citymeals on Giving Tuesday.

It was “Giving Tuesday” and I was matching all donations to Citymeals. In California, his dad asked my grandson Zack, who is five-years-old, what charity he would choose for his gift. Zack has three jars for saving. They are marked Giving, Spending and Saving. “Grandma Gael’s,” he said.

 Nico hadn’t realized Zack knew about Citymeals. “I guess we must have discussed it,” he wrote. Zack took $10 from his Giving cache. Dad added $10 of his own money to match it, and sent the $20 to Citymeals-on-Wheels. So now it’s a $40 gift.

 Just like his grandma. Zack likes to save and likes to give.

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