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King is a restaurant run by three young women from London that seems like it ought to be adorable and lives up to that promise. It should be a very good neighborhood spot but, because there aren't that many restaurants that pretty much nail their proffer, it is sort of a destination lite. Chefs Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt worked at River Cafe (and it shows). FOH person Annie Shi was at Clove Club (and it doesn't show so much). The place is a typical West Village* type nice/charming/comfortable but not chi chi space (where Mekong was for a long time, as joethefoodie points out -- but they made it nicer and airier). You walk into the bar area (where the full menu is also served); the dining room is behind. The menu changes daily (although maybe the change isn't complete every night). The food is kind of light, refreshing Mediterranean; it might be cliched if it weren't so well and freshly done. Based on my one meal here, the food is pretty consistently delicious, which is the important thing. Maybe I looked hard-boiled in my Fedora, or maybe my bulk suggests need, but as soon as I sat down the bartender warned me that the cocktails on their list are "light" and said he could make me a classic if I preferred. I figured I would go with the flow, and had two from the list. I like the "light" cocktail trend in theory: as with low-ABV wines, I like that you can drink these cocktails without worrying too much about consequences. But I wish they weren't so "light" in flavor as well. I wonder what they'll do in the winter -- maybe go heavier on oloroso sherries. For an appetizer, I had whipped salt cod on a thick piece of oily toast, with some nice tomatoes and mache on the side. A simple dish, but a very very tasty one. (The kind of thing you take for granted at River Cafe.) My main dish turned out to be exactly what I was in the mood for: a whole lobster roasted in vermouth. Now lobster (especially roasted) can be dry, it can be chewy, or conversely it can be mushy. This wasn't any of those things. This was nice, flavorful lobster, the vermouth contributing a subtle but discernible tang. This seemed so up-their-alley that I couldn't help but wonder (as with the cocktails) what they'll do when the weather calls for more rib-sticking dishes. Dessert was a concord granita in prosecco: light as a feather, but full of that foxy flavor that we Northeasterners love (I'm happy that these London chefs can appreciate it). This is a very easy place to like -- in fact, to love. It's already a favorite of a lot of people -- and as the next few weeks go by it will only become a favorite of more people. There should be many more places like this, throughout the City, because a restaurant like this shouldn't seem at all exciting. And I guess, really, it doesn't. Only exceptionally charming. And, of course, delicious. ______________________________________________________ * Neighborhood boundary fanatics will recall that the Village used to extend down to Spring Street before SoHo was invented -- and the blocks around King Street look more like the West Village than any other neighborhood.
Admittedly, that's kind of a cheap shot considering I haven't really eaten there, but we have to sell papers somehow and snarky nastiness seems as good a way as any. Last night though, before heading to Infernal Affairs at the Angelika, we ducked in to the former Canteen, now Lure, for a couple drinks and a few tiny plates at the raw bar. Though beautifully presented, compared to the incredibly well-appointed place itself, the food seemed a relative afterthought. Yet if you're a sucker for the understated elegance of the teak, navy and white leather of luxury yachts, as I unreservedly am, then you'll agree that this is simply a stunning space. Feels as if they funneled about $30M into the decor. Really would be a shame if this goes the way of all the other places that have been in this space over the last decade. Our wee bites: Five cubes of arctic char on a checkerboard of dill puree with dollops of creamy horseradish topped by trout roe and specks of crispy-fried char skin. Though perfectly fresh and a fine melange of textures, the horseradish cream all but drowned the fish. That would proove a consistent theme in our rawbar tastes: wonderful fish in gorgeous presentations overwhelmed by gobs of too-creamy or sweet goo. Second: five yellowtail slices with half-domes of a lemon and jalapeno jam and baby mint leaf. Fish again, lovely once liberated from the sweet jam, which was reasonably interesting, yes, but far too plentiful as served. A quarter of the amount would have sufficed: a half-grape's worth on what would be a small piece of sashimi made the fish all but imperceptible. Chef sent out tastes (2) of yellowfin tuna cubes with slivers of hot chili peppers under olive oil brulee. Again: fairly smothered in all that creamy nonsense, but the chili and tuna were indeed tasty without quite such imposing slabs of whatever it is 'olive oil brulee' actually consists. Most favored of our little bites: three slices of lobster bruschetta. Toasted sourdough rubbed with roast garlic under seemingly close to raw, incredibly tasty lobster with chili dust. This one won us over. As mentioned, the tuna was a gift; we each had 2 drinks - me a Huber Gruner and my friend (and fellow MFer) beer - and when came the bill: $100. Very pretty, though.
Emmett's (on the same block of MacDougal in Soho as Rouge et Blanc and whatever's where Provence used to be) presents an interesting case of NYC restaurant audience pathology. It also has enormous personal emotional resonance for me. First, the pathology. Emmett's is a bar-with-pizza, focusing on Chicago-style deep-dish. For some reason, when it opened in February, it became a hot spot. There were three-hour waits. For deep-dish pizza served in a bar. The owners claim to have been shocked by this immediate adulation and not to have particularly wanted it -- and I believe them. They claim to be relieved to have now calmed down to being normally busy (when I blew in at about 11 PM on a Saturday night, one single bar stool was the only available seat in the entire place) (luckily for me), allowing them to run a normal business and even work on expanding the menu to include further Chicago snack food. Why did this place take off like that? Who can tell? It's good -- but it's not THAT good. And then, like Hitchcock/de Maurier's birds, the crowd was gone, almost as suddenly as it descended. Who can make sense of this stuff? Now, the enormous personal emotional resonance. Emmett's is run by two brothers -- Emmett and Dillon Burke -- from a fancy North Shore suburb of Chicago. Emmett, I gather, is the money guy, and Dillon works the bar. Emmett went to Fordham, and got the idea of trying to recreate the nightlife of their town in NYC. My late wife came from one suburb down the lake shore from the Burkes'. I spent a lot of time in her hometown, and still socialize occasionally with my brothers-in-law, who still live there, and extensively with my wife's closeknit network of girlhood friends, many of whom live here. I feel ties to the North Shore. The night I was at Emmett's, most of the people at the bar were friends and family of the Burke brothers, visiting from home. This brought back memories. And also, the food. Except for her choice in spouses, my wife had fairly impeccable taste. BUT, coming from where she did, she was under the misapprehension that Chicago deep-dish pizza was a food that one would eat. She tried insistently over the 27 years of our relationship to impart that misapprehension to me. But even after having visited all of the "great" deep-dish emporia of Chicago, I never could see it. It struck me as soup in cardboard. Well, Emmett's is better. The topping is more substantial (and less bland). The crust is -- let me see if I can put this right -- more like a formed biscuit than a too-thick cracker. I'm not saying it's as good as real pizza. I'm just saying that, unlike all Chicago-style deep-dish pizza I've had before it, it's actually enjoyable. They're expanding their menu to include other Chicago snack foods. There are now Chicago-style hot dogs available (at least when the proprietors' mother is visiting), although they're not yet on the menu. I was too full to try one. But they insisted I try a slice of a new menu entry: the thin-crust Chicago (or I think it's more accurately Midwestern) style pizza. This is the kind of pizza that Michael White bombed with at Nicolleta, featuring the rectangular slices out of a round pizza that we all found so hilarious at Pulino's. The crust here is thin and crackery. It's more immediately appealing than deep-dish -- but being closer to pizza as we know it (and not quite as good), I'd say more disappointing to those of us who are not from that area. (I wonder how it compares to the Roman pizza at Marta's?) I'm looking forward to the planned future addition of an Italian beef sandwich to their menu. What's really good about this place is this. People from the Midwest are, at least superficially, very nice. (As I've learned in litigating against Chicago lawyers, they can be rat bastards underneath -- but they're really affable about it.) My in-laws on the North Shore -- not just my wife's immediate family, but her whole huge extended family -- were incredibly welcoming to me (and we still all consider each other family). Same for my in-laws' friends out there. And Emmett's is similarly welcoming like that. They want to have the atmosphere of a friendly neighborhood bar, and they work hard to successfully cultivate it. Dillon Burke acts like it's his dearest wish to have each customer as a regular. It's just a really nice place to hang out. Not exciting. Not worth a trip. Definitely worth a visit. For the atmosphere more than the food, I guess. COMP DISCLOSURE: A glass of Lambrusco, I have a feeling some more wine, a slice of thin-crust pizza. ETA: Because they billed me on a tablet that didn't itemize my check that I could see, I really have no idea WHAT I did and didn't pay for (although they made clear that the Lambrusco and the thin-crust pizza were complimentary).