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#196 Sneakeater

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 07:10 AM

On Sunday, there was a great (I mean, really great) all-day music program at PS1.
 
I had planned to go to M. Wells Steakhouse afterwards (now that they're open on Sundays again).  But when I got out of the show, I found I was really more in the mood for Red Sauce.  (Maybe the off-the-charts-good Coda alla Vaccinara -- not a Red Sauce dish, but a dish with red sauce -- that I'd had at somebody's house the night before had something to do with it.)  So, a few blocks down the street to Manducatis.
 
Manducatis is interesting because it encapsulates what's good and bad about the NYC Red Sauce Cult.
 
You get an amazingly warm welcome whenever you walk in there.  The longtime owners incorporate visitors into their family, and so does the waitstaff.  It's fun.
 
The wine program may not be what it was.  But it's still great.  They still don't mark up like normal places do.  I mean, name another restaurant (other than, say, Trestle on Tenth having a 30%-off promotion) where you can have a broad choice of PIemontese wines from the string of late-'90s miracle vintages for well less than $200.
 
My intention, in fact, was to have one of those late-'90s Piemontese wines with a veal chop.  But when they announced a roast baby pig special, I called an audible and moved to a 1999 Felsina Fontalloro, also for well less than $200.  It was sublime.
 
So the thing about these Great NYC Red Sauce Restaurants is that, except for Parkside, the cooking is always a little disappointing.  There was nothing I ate Sunday night that couldn't have been better prepared.  But if you're in the right mood -- and the Fontalloro soon got me there -- it's enormously enjoyable, even with the technical cooking flaws.  (Especially when the food bill turns out to be something like a quarter of what it would be at Carbone.)
 
Everything I ate was a special.  I started out with a plate of eggplant oreganato.  This set the stage for the dinner as a whole.  It was not pristinely prepared:  the fried eggplant was a little too charred.  But the flavors were lovely.  That would be how the rest of the meal would go.
 
For a primo, a half portion of the night's special cauliflower pasta (the cauliflower was in the pasta; not a filling -- this was a flat stringy unstuffed pasta -- but rather part of the dough) with a tomato-basil sauce.  This was lovely.  It would have been utterly lovely, except that it was just too greasy.  Perfectly prepared -- as it wasn't -- it would have been celestial.  Here, it was just nice.
 
Then, my roast baby pig.  Perfectly cooked, this would have been crispier on the outside, more melting on the inside.  So, not great food.  Just very enjoyable food.  (And fucking perfect with that wine.)
 
To put this all in perspective, the wine cost $150 -- which is pretty reasonable for a moderately fancy bottle from an excellent vintage nearly 20 years ago.  The total bill was around $200.  That's right, the food cost something like $50 (maybe they comped me something that I didn't notice:  that price seems impossible, even here).
 
So if anyone tells you that places like this (and again, I want to make clear that Parkside is different:  their cooking standards are higher) serve the ne plus ultra of food in New York, they're full-of-shit nostalgists who have an agenda not dependent on food quality.  But, on the other hand, if anyone tells you that a place like this isn't enormously enjoyable -- and a fine fine value as well -- they have a huge sprig of rosmarino up their ass.


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#197 Steve R.

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 12:34 PM

Excellent post.
I’d guess that the food breakdown was basically $10, $10, $30.

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#198 Steve R.

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 01:34 PM

And, just as an aside, let me say that this is exactly the type of place that I was talking about getting a totally enjoyable meal in without hitting the $100pp level.  I recognize that the math changes if/when you dine as a single, but Ginny & I can go there, get an app. or salad each (or a ½ order of pasta) for $25 or so, order our own entrees for $60 or so, get a side of vegetable to split for $10, eat a dessert for $10 or so and drink an above average bottle of wine for $50-60, leave a nice tip and go home satisfied without hitting $200 total.  And that's doing it without skimping.  These places are out there.  As you said: very enjoyable, but not high end NYC.


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#199 joethefoodie

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 01:57 PM

Great post.   I'll bet the pasta you had before the coda was pretty good too!



#200 Anthony Bonner

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 01:58 PM

Its also in Long Island City.  


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#201 Steve R.

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 02:31 PM

I know.  But I guess if Brooklyn people can travel there, maybe you outer borough Manhattanites can too.  Or maybe move to a more central location.


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#202 Anthony Bonner

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 03:18 PM

not my point. 


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#203 Steve R.

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 05:01 PM

Yeah, but it was worth taking the shot.

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#204 Wilfrid

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 05:49 PM

Mm, and this wasn't a costly opening with investors, staff, etc.  Do they even own the building?



#205 Sneakeater

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 05:57 PM

My assumption is they do.
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#206 Wilfrid

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 06:00 PM

Queen, as a random comparison, looks significantly pricier (going by Steve R., as I don't see Manducatis prices on line).



#207 Sneakeater

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 06:34 PM

Great post.   I'll bet the pasta you had before the coda was pretty good too!

 

Oh yeah!


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#208 Sneakeater

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 06:59 PM

Just to pontificate for a minute about meta aspects of points people have made above (and yeah I'm sure this is all obvious to everybody, so sorry).

 

Manducatis can't be held up as a "replacement" place, because it's so out of the way for most people.  Even if you have a car, you're not necessarily gonna decide to drive to LIC on a Wednesday night when you don't feel like cooking (and if you don't have a car, it's like impossible).  (I don't go to M. Wells Steakhouse very often -- and that's a place I consider a destination.)  So whatever it does or doesn't do, Manducatis doesn't solve the problem of the missing $50 "replacement" meal.  (I TOLD you this was going to be obvious.)

 

On the other hand, from a consumer perspective, I don't think you can hold it against Manducatis (as compared to new openings) that it has an old lease or a building it owns in what is still an out-of-the-way location.  As a consumer, I want to take advantage of those circumstances.  And if new openings with investors, staff, etc. are forced to charge considerably more for food that, even though objectively better, is probably less interesting . . . well, that's a problem with the current structure of the NYC restaurant industry, right?


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#209 Sneakeater

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 07:09 PM

Which brings us to the inevitable Manducatis/Fausto throwdown.

 

The food at Fausto is much much better prepared.  Like, much.  But on the other hand, I find the menu at Manducatis exciting and interesting (and yeah, this is Red Sauce I'm talking about), and the menu at Fausto really boring.  At Manducatis, it's hard to choose what to order; at Fausto, it's hard to convince myself I really want anything on offer.  And, of course, the food at Fausto is considerably more expensive.  The place would be a lot more appealing if it charged what Manducatis charges.  But it can't.  And, as I said above, that's a problem.  Cuz its food just isn't worth what it's forced to charge.

 

Then, there are the wine lists.  Fausto's much-vaunted natural wine list, while not as basic as the ones Bonner was talking about in the Ops Pizza thread, is still a very extensive round-up of the usual suspects.  Manducatis's list, while hewing to an Old Skool style that isn't what a lot of us drink, is, to me, again more interesting (maybe just cuz you don't see these things anymore).  And, while it's priced approximately like Fausto's list, it features much older bottles; as at restaurants of old but almost nowhere now (shoutout to Noreetuh) (except here, the wine actually goes with the food), you aren't compelled to drink too-young wine.

 

Of course, Fausto is within rolling distance of my apartment, and Manducatis is a schlep.  And it's hard for me to think that Manducatis is a destination.  But as far as I'm concerned, as against Fausto, Manducatis definitely gets the win.  (If you're in the neighborhood.)  Even if it isn't a fair fight.


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#210 Steve R.

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Posted 17 April 2018 - 08:16 PM

Look, I knew what Bonner was saying and he’s not wrong. And yes, I’m almost positive that they own the building and that their other costs are lower as well. But I don’t really agree with what Sneak is saying about the Wednesday night dilemma. First of all, as a car owner, it takes me less time to get to places like Manducatis than it takes someone from the West Village to get to Ave C or other non close by Manhattan neighborhoods regardless of how they do it. I don’t know of any area of the country where 20-30 minutes of commute time isn’t more than acceptable. And tell me that the wait time post reservation time at most $100pp mediocre places doesn’t figure into this since Manducatis & other non trendy places will take you to your table on time. Bottom line is that I get into my car and drive to these places & wind up at a table with less down time than walking from the LES to the Village & waiting for them to seat me. And Uber goes there too - add that cost to a good meal at Manducatis & my guess is that you’re still doing fine comparatively.

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