Champagne Shopping Binge

"The champagne shopping binge/ is over/ The check is about to arrive/ and nobody knows how much it will be/ I know I don't give a shit not now" -From "FROM A DISCARDED IMAGE" by Franz Wright

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Like a white zinfandel, you know?

1486 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10021
Between 77th and 78th Streets
(212) 472-4552

Last weekend, N and I had plans to hang out on Friday. She suggested that we re-live our early twenties by partying on the Upper East Side. "Excellent," I enthused. "Nachos and beer at Brother Jimmy's?"

N paused. I could tell that she was wondering if I would ever outgrow my penchant for tallboys and frat boys. "Um, I was thinking perhaps someplace a little more , well, adult?"

So on Friday at 7:30, with no reservation, we walked into Uva. There are a few tables on the sidewalk outside, but in the sweltering heat, we couldn't take it. The friendly hostess suggested a table in the back garden, which had a bit of a breeze. Perfect.

N and I perused the menu while we waited for L to arrive. Our server came over, and asked us, in a manner that can only be described as surly, if we wanted anything to drink. I asked about the Lambrusco, which I had loved last year in Bologna (yes, I love anything with bubbles). "It's a red wine, slightly carbonated." Yes, I know, I smiled, but is this particular one any good? "Yes." our waiter spat. It was only listed on the wines by the glass page. Was it possible to order it by the bottle? Affirmative, as our waiter huffed away.

L called, she was on her way, we should feel free to order. Rather than commit to an entree, we decided on a succession of appetizers. First out came the vegetable antipasto and the robiola and truffle chisolino. The antipasto was a fair selection of roasted veggies, accompanied by fresh mozzarella cheese. The chisolino was similar to focaccia. Scrumptiously filled with the earthy cheese and truffle, I would return for this snack alone.

L arrived just as these first dishes were being served. As she often gets terrible headaches from red wine, she passed on the lambrusco. "How is the rose?" she asked.

"It's sweet, pink, like a white zinfandel, you know?" our waiter replied.

Um, what? OK, so I am well aware that rose is still working to erase the white trash reputation caused by too many years of Sutter Home. But every major wine column in the last year has at some point done an article on the increasing trendiness of rose, and how some very good ones are currently being turned out at excellent prices. Our unofficial lobster roll and rose tasting last year revealed some terrific wines being poured throughout the city.

At this point, it was clear that our waiter knew nothing about wines. Which could possibly have been forgiven if Uva hadn't billed itself as a wine bar. Or if our waiter had offered to go get someone who actually did have a clue. Or if he had been the slightest bit friendly, or interested in ensuring that we had a pleasant dining experience. But none of the above happened. Liz decided to risk the rose (which turned out to be acceptable, though not good, and slightly on the drier side) and at that point we just decided to accept that we would receive sub-par service that evening.

This service misstep was confusing. Our hostess could not have been friendlier - she didn't even bat an eye when we explained that we were "two for dinner, but might me three" - she simply smiled and said that she would keep the table next to us open in case L was able to get out of work and join us. The young, dark, good-looking owner (?) was charming and welcoming in that way that only young, dark, good-looking men can be. The restaurant, with its red brick, sparking chandeliers, and tucked-away garden, even looks inviting. So what happened with our particular waiter???

The rest of the food was quite good. Tuna carpaccio was perfectly OK. The mozzarella in the burrata burese was a bit creamier than I prefer, but the fava beans and yellow tomato were excellent. Salad with chicken, apples, and grapes was not particularly unique, but the flavors were lovely on the hot summer night. Stuffed sardines were fantastic. The chocolate salami dessert (we had another dessert as well, which was also quite good, but as it did not feature chocolate it did not register on my radar screen) was decadent and delicious and oddly reminiscent of a Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookie.

Dinner (6 primi, 1 bottle Lambrusco, 1 glass rose, 1 glass dessert wine, 2 desserts) came to $50 per person, including tax and gratuity. A fair value for good food, an interesting wine list, and an inviting space on the UES. For now, I will give Uva another chance and write off the poor service as a bad night. Once more, I will return. And if it happens again, that will be the end of my relationship with Uva. Instead, you'll find me in my apartment, on the deck, with a bottle of Sutter Home.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Cool Down

Park Bistro
414 Park Ave S, New York 10016
Btwn 28th & 29th St
Phone: 212-689-1360

It was a sweltering, humid night, and H’s plane had been delayed three times. Finally she called just as I boarded the ferry to head home, “Hi, it’s me. I can’t get a flight. Are you free for dinner?”

Of course I was. I hadn’t seen H in weeks, and with the sudden news of R’s passing, nothing sounded better than a night of bonding over too much wine. I told her to get the next cab from LaGuardia, and meet me at my apartment.

Where to go? It had been a rough week, and neither of us felt up for challenging food. We didn’t want ethnic, or complicated, and we didn’t want to take a taxi to the other side of the island. We wanted a calm, air conditioned room, where we could have a civilized dinner and pretend that the world hadn’t gone spiraling out of control.

I had read some positive reviews of Park Bistro, and French food sounded about right. There’s nothing like a little beef and butter to sooth an aching soul. So we walked over, sweating in the heat, and stood outside, trying to decide if the menu was pricier than we had budgeted for the evening. At that point, a middle-aged couple came out, radiating satisfaction and pleasure. “Go on in,” the woman encouraged, “it’s fantastic.” We were hot and hungry and desperately needed wine, so we decided to ignore economics (not that PB is particularly expensive, but I hadn’t had budgeted a dinner out at all) and entered the restaurant.

We ordered an inexpensive bottle of Cote de Rhone, which was uncomplicated but drinkable and exactly what we needed. Bread was served warm, with herbed butter, and delicious. The room was cool and calm, the service friendly, and life suddenly seemed a bit more manageable.

To start we split an order of the garlic sausage. Two extremely generous portions were served with goat cheese and frisee. (If that truly is the normal portion size, it is more than enough for one entrée.) Simply great, although next time we also want to try the mussels with curry sauce.

For our main courses, we decided to pretend that calories and cholesterol were frivolous concerns. I had the filet with béarnaise sauce, which came with a side of haricot vert and potato gratin. The filet was fantastic, the sides were good. H ordered the hangar steak, which came with a side of perfectly cut fries. The steak itself was only OK – it was tough even for a hangar steak and tasted oddly of pastrami. But those fries made up for it. (On future, decadent, nights I may see if they will serve me a filet with fries.)

Pleasantly stuffed, we declined dessert. Instead we lingered over after-dinner drinks (Muscat for H, Lillet for me) and relaxed, for the first time that week.