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Best Mouthfuls: Flatiron


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West 29th, just east of 7th Avenue. Sign outside says "Authentic Halal Food" and there's a big, bold "A" in the window for hygiene. I expected Indian, in the broadest sense, but the people eating there were French-speaking African, and there were posters about Fouta Djallon on the walls.

 

I liked the food, but you have to be in the mood for dark little bits of goat and offal. I think there was a fish, but I didn't have any. No camera, sadly.

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This was my second attempt to eat in the new Israeli restaurant, Nur.

 

The first try was a Sunday evening. I walked down after a late matinee at Lincoln Center. I walked in the front door to see a bunch of stacks of cartons, and the staff sitting at the bar and at some tables.

 

"I deduce you're not open," I said.

 

A managerial type sprung up. "We decided we needed a breather," she said.

 

"I don't want to sound argumentative, but how was I to know you weren't open? It wasn't on your website. I just walked 40 blocks to get here."

 

"No, it wasn't on our website," the manager mused. "We posted it on social media."

 

"Social media is useless to Old People," I snarled.

 

To mollify me, she sent me out with some baked goods to take home, which turned out to be excellent.

 

It was hard to stay annoyed, since right next door is Le Coq Rico. So I ended up having a fine dinner.

 

This second try was Friday night. I had a performance way uptown that ended fairly early, and was meeting friends for after-dinner drinks in Midtown. I needed a dinner to fill in in-between, so I decided to give Nur another try.

 

Now this time, I had few illusions that I'd be able to be seated mid-dinner-time at the restaurant that had just been awarded the Number 2 spot in Grub Street's Power Rankings. And so it turned out to be. Le Coq Rico was possible, but even those of us who love it don't think it's the kind of place you could eat in twice in one week. But beyond that, there I was on Lower Park Avenue on a Friday night. Where I could snag a seat was a poser.

 

"I'm a sophisticated and experienced New York diner," I thought to myself. "I should be able to know where the good but not trendy places are."

 

I thought for a while and realized I was a block away from Via Emilia.

 

Via Emilia was awful.

 

I get two takeaways from this.

 

First, notwithstanding the "what's on the plate is all that counts" school, the crowd is important -- at least if you're dining solo. It was depressing to walk into a restaurant on a Friday night to see an empty dining room, with one party at the bar. That party was a group of women from Queens, who talked, loudly and depressingly and at great length, about (a) how they lived in Queens (and whether they should have bought in Manhattan all those years ago), and (b) the depredations of being financially dependent on men whose politics they were coming to consider suspect. On the first subject, I was tempted to lean over and tell them that my experience has been that, if you give it enough time, the world will come to you. But I was afraid that one of those politically suspect men would then come in and beat the shit out of me.

 

This was not how I wanted to spend my Friday night.

 

Second, the presumed existence of a welter of excellent unrecognized places might, in this day of instant communications, be a myth. I hadn't eaten in Via Emilia since the early 2000s. It seemed fine then -- but there's been a lot of water under the bridge since 2002. This food was just substandard. The gnocchetti were cardboardy (and the accompanying charcuterie undistinguished). The cream sauce on the tortellini alla panna was pastey. And the polenta with sausages and rib tips . . . well, the less said, the better. Except for a good lambrusco, the wine was execrable.

 

Yet, this is the kind of restaurant that's always thrown up as a corrective to places like A Di La that are considered too, I don't know, twee. But Al Di La is on, like, another plane of achievement. And Osteria Morini might have been too annoyingly fashionable, but its rendition of this cuisine simply blew the stuff I had at Via Emilia last Friday away. (Sure, Morini was a lot more expensive -- but the food at Via Emila wasn't cheap enough to be this bad.) (Of course, there's little reason to believe that Osteria Morini -- now easy to get into, I'll bet -- is still good, either -- but that kind of proves my point.) Pretension isn't a bad thing if it leads to accomplishment.

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I don't make reservations when I'm eating by myself because I don't like -- make that refuse to, at least in New York -- eat at a table alone, and few places reserve at the bar (nor should they). So that remains a problem.

 

I wouldn't dream of going out to dinner with another person or people without a reservation.

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You should have gone across the street from Nur and Le Coq Rico to Fusco, Scott Conant's new restaurant in the former Veritas/élan space. We had a wonderful dinner there two weeks ago. Photos

 

After finishing dinner, we went over to take a look at Nur through the front window. It was after 11:30 p.m., so Nur was empty except for a few staff members cleaning up. The place looked really small, i.e., not that many tables. (Of course, since you've been inside, you can correct me if I'm wrong.) They're on Resy. The first available reservation for 2 is on June 13th at 5 p.m.

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Yeah, Nur is small. (It's the kind of place where you think there must be a dining room extension off to the side -- but there isn't.)

 

You know, I was thinking of Fusco, but I thought, "Scott Conant? Need I?"

 

I guess I was wrong.

 

Well, next time I don't get into Nur!

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First, notwithstanding the "what's on the plate is all that counts" school, the crowd is important -- at least if you're dining solo. It was depressing to walk into a restaurant on a Friday night to see an empty dining room, with one party at the bar.

 

First, at this point, why didn't you fucking leave?

 

Second - re: the gnoccho frito:

 

Yes indeed. I've had it 2 or 3 times and had to fight myself to avoid ordering it again and choose something else.

 

Sometimes we don't go to the place for a year and when we return we're surprised we waited so long.

 

That's the thing to have there, right? You can't not order it.

 

 

 

 

 

Yes indeed. I've had it 2 or 3 times and had to fight myself to avoid ordering it again and choose something else.

 

Sometimes we don't go to the place for a year and when we return we're surprised we waited so long.

 

That's the thing to have there, right? You can't not order it.

 

Oh yeah - with mortadella.

 

Did you order the gnoccho frito?

 

Third: If no, you ordered wrong (but should have left before ordering when you saw the place).

 

Fourth: I agree with you 100% otherwise. Our last time there, and it will be the last time, the gnoccho frito was just fine. Everything else was less than good.

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Oh, and as for, why didn't I fucking leave when I saw how depressingly empty it was: where was I supposed to go? (Other than Fusco, as I now know.)

 

Other options close by: Gramercy Tavern's Tavern Room (a few doors up from Nur). Union Square Café, now a block away on the corner of PAS & 19th St., has two bar areas, on street level and on the balcony. Craft, on E.19th off PAS has bar seating.

 

A bit further away: The front room Taverna at italienne (E. 24th off 5th) has a capacious bar, and the food's delicious. Dog & Bone has opened in the space formerly occupied by Rocky Slims (Corner of 3rd & 25th), focusing on various types of hot dogs. We've been twice and loved the food. (Photos) Oh, and they're open until 2 a.m.!

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Isn't Cosme right down the street? And the Gander is a few blocks south, Italienne the same in the opposite direction. Of course I hope you actually get to try Nur next time instead.

 

I forgot about Cosme (E. 21st) and The Gander (W. 18th). There's also Aldea (W. 17th).

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