Saturday, January 9, 2010

Three Restaurant Finds in NYC: Cafe Luxembourg, Momofuku Milk Bar, and Centolire

Another quick overnight jaunt to NYC has come and gone.  I write these lines as I travel on the BoltBus, our preferred method of transportation to and from Manhattan.  It's the most convenient and cheapest mode of travel that I know of for these short getaways from our modest stedtle to the big city.  In Boston, you catch it in the South Station Bus Terminal and it drops you off right near Penn Station in NYC between 8th and 9th on 34th.  Usually it's about a $40 round trip, but if you catch it early, you can book for far less.  Travel time is usually between 4 and 5 hours from beginning to end, but because of the electrical outlets and free wifi, your time isn't wasted.  In transit, I usually catch up on email, listen to music, surf the internet, and lately blogging. The time always passes very quickly and I manage to get a lot done.

Our trip this time around included two new restaurant finds and a return trip to a favorite.  Yesterday, I ate lunch at The Cafe Luxembourg on the Upper West Side on Friday, and later that evening, we capped the night off with tasty sweet treats from a trip to Momofuku's Milk Bar in the East Village. This evening, we had dinner after our glorious afternoon of opera at a great Italian place called Centolire near the Guggenheim on the Upper East Side.

Once we arrived in Manhattan, we began looking for a place to eat in the vicinity of the bus stop. We were starving for some lunch and Dan's quartet was in a bit of a rush to get to a coaching.  So I suggested a nearby spot that specializes in Macaroni and Cheese, only we couldn't find it!  I'm not sure if it's now closed or we just didn't look hard enough, but we separated because of the quartet's time constraint and my own tenacious desire to find the place.  I wandered around the area for a good fifteen minutes only to give up and decide to hop on the subway and make my way to the Upper West Side to see my friend and mentor, Bert Lucarelli.

I got off the train at 72nd, iPhone in hand. I used the good old map feature to locate nearby restaurants.  Cafe Luxembourg popped up, and since I had met Mr. Lucarelli in Luxembourg, I thought it must be kismet.  I was not disappointed with the restaurant.  It had an Art Deco feel to it and offered a nice assortment of standard European brasserie fare.  The braised rabbit ravioli with peas and sage that I had with a Schneider Edel-Weissen made for a wonderful lunch. As chance would have it, I bumped into Mr. Lucarelli before our scheduled meeting having lunch with another friend at the same place when I arrived.  I was immediately reminded of how small a world it really is.  He and I had a lovely time catching up over tea after lunch as we talked about wine, food, chefs, music, musicians, and our lives.  He is a true positive energy and a big reason that I have made a recent return to playing the oboe.

This was not our first visit to Momofuku's Milk Bar.  Dan and I had been there a year or two ago in another trip to NYC and so it was no surprise that everything we had was appetizingly subversive.  They have a habit of using sweet and salty elements together with the balance teetering between dessert and savory snack food.  The ingredient lists for many of their offerings includes things like potato chips, candy bars, and pretzels.  My slice of pie was a real treat oozing with salted caramel goodness. Their cookies are also worth the calories as are the soft serve ice creams. It was a nice way to end our evening after a long day of travel and rendez-vous with friends before heading to Brooklyn to stay overnight with our hosts, Akira and Patrick.

We were up until the wee hours of the morning catching up and drinking my favorite Eagle Rare Bourbon together. I slept very well with the help of a little brown liquor and, of course, from being so exhausted.  Patrick grandly rose to the occasion in the morning by cooking up a breakfast feast of scrambled eggs with two kinds of cheese, crispy strips of bacon, Italian bread purchased from the local bodega, and pork paté.  The boys really outdid themselves in terms of hospitality.  Dan and I are lucky to have such wonderful friends!  We left Brooklyn just before noon wishing our visit had been longer, but we had opera to see at The Met, the consolation being that we'll be back in March for another little sleepover when we'll have more time to catch up.

Dinner after The Met was a serendipitously delicious way to end our trip.  We stumbled upon Centolire on Madison Avenue after a disappointing attempt to see the Kandinsky Exhibit at the Guggenheim.  We ended up not seeing the exhibit because it was sold out, but our wonderful dinner managed to make the trip to the Upper East Side worth it.  Using my iPhone again, I searched for restaurants nearby the museum, and we decided to check Centolire out when it popped up on the search.  We were seated in what I gathered was the more casual part of the restaurant downstairs, while reservations went upstairs to the restaurant proper.  We ordered from what I think is the "upstairs" menu, though I didn't ask, and were really impressed at how fantastic the food was.  They also offer a cafe menu with more inexpensive and lighter fare, which I again assume is only available in the downstairs area.

We shared a creamy Carbonara Fettuccine with plenty of crispy bacon finished with loads of cream and tangy cheese.  We also chose a tuna steak that had some lovely char from the grill accompanied by tender baby artichokes and a lemony sauce with crunchy fried capers.  However, the braised osso buco was the showstopper, and I will probably return there because of it.  The veal was wonderfully and deeply flavorful and the marrow melted into the hot creamy polenta that it was served with. It wasn't cheap, but it didn't break the bank either, so I could see really living it up there and not dropping an entire pay check in the future - maybe on our next visit during my birthday month in March...  We opted against dessert, though they were tempting, because of all of the homemade molasses spice cookies that Akira sent us home with.

What a wonderful 36 hours it has been!  As always, we have eaten lots of excellent food on our New York adventure coupled with seeing good friends and having fabulous cultural experiences.  The only disappointment was not being able to see the Kandinsky Exhibit.  Dan suggested we get a plane ticket to Germany to see it over dinner as a joke, but with our lust for life and propensity for spur of the moment trips lately, who knows?  Dwayne and Elyse - if you are reading this, don't be surprised if we're knocking on your door in Ulm sometime soon!

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