Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Slow Start to 2010

As a result of both limited time and a limited budget, I find myself increasingly reluctant to try any new restaurants and instead splurging only to visit my favorite restaurants in the area. The few times I ventured away from the places I knew would provide a good ROI, my expectations were rapidly shot down, with unpleasant reminders in the form of credit card statements that still glow in the dark.

A prime rib craving sent me to House of Prime Rib. Anthony Bourdain, experienced eater and self-professed king of no BS, espoused the place, so how bad could it be?

The place felt like Cheesecake Factory for meat. Worse, I do not recall any of the staff at The Cheesecake Factory looking as beaten-up and demoralized as all of the servers and "chefs" (someone must have decided that having all of the carvers introduced as "chef" and come over to each table would create the impression of fine dining) at House of Prime Rib. Unlike Bourdain, I have no particular aversion to or snobbery against chains or fast food; cheap and generally reliable-- what's not to like?

The only memorable item was the Yorkshire pudding, which was warm and perfectly seasoned, with toasty-crackly top and edges and a souffle-like interior. The salad, with canned shredded beets and Russian dressing spun-in tableside, was quaintly retro, as was the sourdough roll with a small bread knife stuck through it. But the star of the meal, the House of Prime Rib cut of meat, although carved expertly from the requested medium-rare portion in the silver bullet cart, was chewy and flavorless. Hardly the buttery, sweet, melty meat I was craving.

The next less than successful adventure was RN74. First of all, I am way too old to deal with the posing that goes on at the bar at this place. Reminds me of Bix or Spago in the early 9o's. As expected, the wine list was lovely, filled with extensive Burgundy selections, but even that fell short on the older vintages as well as bottles priced under $200. (I enjoy wine porn as much as the next guy, but does anyone actually spend that much on wine when dining out? I have always wondered about that, even when the economy was not in the toilet.) As for the food, I thought small plates calculated to match with wine should have been better articulated, but the combinations were clunky, such as mushy chickpeas with too-large chunks of undercooked chorizo, and everything tasted like a salt lick. Perhaps the intent is to make people drink more, but all it accomplished was to make me drain my water glass repeatedly. Thankfully service was perfectly attentive without being overbearing.

I have had some better luck on the non-fine dining end. Naked Lunch, the sandwich outpost of the former chef of Cafe Majestic, Ian Begg, offers truly spectactular sandwiches, and not just because they always have the foie gras duck prosciutto sandwich on the menu (fortunately they have replaced the truffle oil with truffle salt). Any roasted fish sandwich they offer, and I do mean "any," should not be missed. Before Naked Lunch, my love was Kitchenette, particularly anything described as "Korean" on the menu. Surprisingly, fried chicken sandwiches are not among the best offerings at either place.

Which brings me to Little Skillet. I could eat the 8-piece chicken box with potato salad, cole slaw, and biscuits every day (with a bottle of rose). Cash only, but this decadent meal will only set you back $18 (before the wine, which they do not serve). This place is dangerous to my existence, although if I die of heart failure and/or excessive cholesterol, I will no longer have to deal with discovery fights or firm management . . . .

Ambivalent About Momofuku

First, am I the only person who thinks "Momofuku" does not mean Lucky Peach or refer to the name of some obscure ramen person from...