OK, I promised a report on my New York City dining last weekend.
It was a sweltering Saturday night in Manhattan, so I decided to get on the commuter train and head up to Westport, Conn., (Martha Stewart’s old haunt) for dinner at Paul Newman’s restaurant Dressing Room. Paul was not in sight, but I soldiered on. The restaurant is attached to wife Joanne Woodward’s labor of love, the Westport Country Playhouse. It’s set in a semi-pastoral setting in the uber-tony suburb. Chef Michel Nischan has had carte blanche to create a restaurant that hits all the current hot buttons (sustainable, local, organic), and the place is a winner. From amazing dry-cooked grilled baby back ribs (no sauce, no smoke, sounds dull, tastes great) with peach slaw to a wonderful striped bass with fava beans and baby beets in a rosé butter to a killer pig plate containing braised shoulder, crisped pork belly, and roasted loin meat—all over a pile of grits and fiddlehead ferns. It was simple but very satisfying fare. I sat at the bar in the warm and informal dining room and watched Big Brown spoil everyone’s evening while I awaited my food. Chef Nischan is typically on the scene and loves to talk food and his local purveyors with diners. Dressing Room is open for lunch and dinner and is a straight shot on the twice-hourly train service from Grand Central.
I had Sunday brunch at Five Points, a charming barrel-vaulted neighborhood restaurant in the Village by the proprietors of the acclaimed Cookshop. If you want to understand how popular brunch is in Manhattan, imagine an SRO crowd standing around for hour-long waits in a restaurant only slightly cooler than the 90 degrees outdoors. I had a tasty asparagus/goat cheese frittata and house-cured pork sausage but was sweatier when I left than when I arrived. I’d go for dinner next time.
Monday I did a two-phase lunch, early at Bar Stuzzichini on Broadway near 21st. It’s an authentic Italian small-plates restaurant that feels very Roman inside, in a designer sort of way. If you go, try the Stuzzichini Misti, a value-priced sampling of small dishes. I can vouch for a competent caponata, incredible scamorza (seared smoked mozzarella in chili oil), wonderful polpette (breaded fried meatballs), and creamy involtini (eggplant stuffed with goat’s cheese).
Later it was on to Resto, the decadent Belgian-influenced restaurant at 29th and Park, where I lunched with the Star Tribune’s Rick Nelson. We started with a daily special that was sort of a spicy pig’s head pulled pork on grilled bread where the heat came from a chilied mayonnaise. I’d have another anytime, but it was a little too hot for Rick’s sensibility, and he grunted something about Paul Peterson’s Edina Restaurant. A deviled egg slice over a fried pocket of ground pork and green onion was rich and intriguing. Even better was a signature grilled cheese with Vermont cheddar, Gruyere, bacon, and pork belly. Decadent doesn’t come close to describing it. I was disappointed with Resto’s acclaimed cheeseburger with a fried egg, pickle, and more Gruyere—even in NYC they overcook the burgers, sheesh. Rick was worried about a blood clot on the flight home, so we stayed away from the beef cheek carbonade (stew) over fries and mustard spiced carrots though everyone says it’s to die for (or from). Resto is a lovely storefront space with an attractive bar and a modern vibe, and the service is great. We need one here. Now.
Photo courtesy of Resto. (Alexandra Solmssen)