Sunday, July 25, 2010


Although it doesn't sound it, the word tartine can often be quite foreign and confusing for Americans. However, it is simply yet another example of a single French word that encompasses several American ones. While my all time favorite word like this is "flaner" (to wander aimlessly), tartine is right up there with it as it describes an excellent culinary concept - the open-faced sandwich. Leave it to the French to knock off that extra slice of bread, improving both presentation and calorie intake. Is it really still any wonder why French Women Don't Get Fat?

My love of sandwiches and anything French is no secret. And so the opening of Tartinery in Nolita caught my attention immediately. One aspect I liked most was knowing that this restaurant was set up for both lunch AND dinner. Too often my favorite sandwich spots pack up shop around 7 pm and would never dream of selling alcohol. Tartinery, as with most French establishments, encourages both lingering and the consumption of all kinds of wine and beer. While the setting has a more modern, New York feel, the waitstaff transport you immediately back to France. This is the kind of place that will drive many Americans nuts as they simply let you be. It is actually up to you to let your waiter know when you are ready to order - and when you do, it's almost as if you have interrupted them from their own night out. For those of you who have spent any time in France, you are nodding your head right now, remembering this strange sense of service - and hopefully smiling too as you had quickly learned to almost appreciate this idiosyncrasy. For the others, I do warn, this will be a true test of patience.

This kind of service is usually excusable as the food delivered to the table makes it well worth the attitude. However, Tartinery still has some work to do in its kitchen to really transport me back to France. While the sandwiches were indeed all open-faced, the large amount of food placed on top brought me right back to America. They do have a wonderful list of sandwich selections with very interesting flavor combinations, but I really do believe it would serve them well to offer them with French portions. All of the tartines are served on multi-grain or rustic sourdough Poilane (from the famous French boulanger) and accompanied with a house salad. They cut them up into four portions, so I highly recommend sharing several. My favorite was the roast farm chicken topped with homemade herbed mayo, shaved fennel, and olive oil. This was extremely comforting and nicely balanced. I also really enjoyed the goat cheese tartine topped with frisee, honey, olive oil, and fresh thyme. Besides overkill on the frisee, the portions actually were appropriate on this sandwich. I was a little disappointed by the Saint Marcellin cheese tartine with bayonne ham, arugula, and olive oil. It would have worked much better had the cheese not been melted into the sandwich (and, of course, with a little less ham).Be sure to ask about the daily specials since there are few other non-tartine items on the menu. We enjoyed a really nice shrimp risotto that was creamy and actually served in a French portion.

New York really does need more spots like this. Tartinery is a wonderful restaurant for groups as it is affordable, great for sharing, and actually fairly large once you head downstairs. It is just a shame that a French concept has been so Americanized already. While the waiters know exactly which side of the pond they represent, the kitchen still seems to be in the middle of an identity crisis. I am hopeful that as the chic upstairs bar draws in the crowds the French attitude will start to rule in the back as well. And so as the French say, "bon courage!"

Tartinery on Urbanspoon

209 Mulberry Street
New York, NY 10012
(212) 300-5838
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mermaid Oyster Bar

In recent years, lobster rolls have been the center of attention for seafood delicacies in New York City. And this trend has certainly not died down in the epic, hot summer of 2010. It was just last month that Tasting Table declared Luke's Lobster to be the best roll in town. While these delicious sandwiches definitely succeed in having the ocean meet the city, I can only have one every so often. Lobster will always be my favorite food, but probably because it is not an everyday affair. In the summer, I need and crave seafood - but lobster will only satisfy a portion of those needs. Oysters, on the other hand, could certainly become a more regular habit. I have recently found myself seeking out the best, freshest locations for my new favorite seafood delicacy.

The Mermaid Inn has always been known for it's amazing seafood selection - and actually, their lobster roll. Don't get me wrong, theirs continue to be delicious and one of my first stops for the famous sandwich. But, it's Mermaid Oyster Bar that recently opened in the west village that has now caught my attention. I have always been a fan of anything Mermaid Inn and hearing about the focal point of their new spot had me at oyster. Minus the outdoor space, the setting is similar (although smaller) to its other locations - a whitewashed, wooden interior creating a laid-back atmosphere. I have a feeling no matter the time of year you are sitting in here, you will actually always feel some sense of summer.

And their selection of raw oysters from both coasts is perfect for someone like me - a medium sized list with actual descriptions of the oysters. As much as I could try to pretend like I have already become an oyster connaisseur, I won't even begin. I do know it when I like them - and the ones at Mermaid Oyster Bar were all entirely fresh and delicious. I am a big fan of the Fanny Bays from Vancouver, described as "plump with cucumbery sweetness." Also from the west coast, the Kumamotos, "melony-sweet, plump, creamy," were so full of flavor that I didn't even touch the mignonette sauce. The crisp, refreshing Pemaquids from Maine, "bois salinity, icy waters," truly tasted as though they had just come out of the water. When oysters are this good, I have a hard time not ordering them in all shapes and forms. We also inhaled a delicious plate of fried oysters on a bed of sauteed spinach served with tartar sauce.

For another extremely refreshing dish, I highly recommend the local fluke ceviche. The fish is marinated in ground chilis, ginger, and a 3 crab sauce. The flavors are excellent and between the heat and spices, create an extremely cleansing feeling on a hot mid-summer evening. I also had to try their fish tacos as I had not seen this option previously on a regular Mermaid Inn menu (although I am now certain they are a special on Tuesday nights in the east village). Three tacos are served with tilapia, cabbage, pico de gallo, and crema. They actually remind me of my favorite fish taco recipe that I have made twice in the last month - and that is definitely a great thing since I have only been able to make them when in easy access to a grill. A side of the cole slaw was a perfect complement to the tacos and the rest of the seafood. I cannot seem to ever get enough slaw in the summertime either - especially when it is prepared with the right balance of vinegar and mayonnaise as done here.

It is always a comfort when the new locations of your old favorites hold to their very own style and traditions. And, as with true Mermaid Inn tradition, the Oyster Bar offers no dessert menu. Never fear, sweet-toothers! Without even asking or paying, a mini pot de chocolat with homemade whipped cream will arrive at your place along with a fortune teller miracle fish. I'm not sure which complimentary gift excites me more! However, on my outing to Mermaid Oyster Bar last week, I was sure that oysters and delicious seafood bring out the passion in me - a little red fish told me so.

Mermaid Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

Mermaid Oyster Bar
79 MacDougal Street
New York, New York 10012
(212) 260-0100
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Day in Big Sur

Hi. I'm here! Well, mostly - here meaning, in California. Apologies to all as this has probably been the longest stretch I've had on The Hungry Roach without sharing my adventures with you. Summer is one of those bittersweet times in New York City. It's the time of year that the city simply clears out as most offices embrace some sort of summer hours policy or, if not, the heat is enough to drive you right out. So, here I sit - in cool, southern California, bracing for tonight's red-eye only to drop me off right in the middle of a typical, New York City summer heatwave. But, in all honesty, that's the fun of living in New York. The city keeps you on your toes, so much so that you just might be forced to get out and explore. And this summer, I have definitely taken advantage of escaping the heat.

One of my latest summer excursions landed me in Big Sur, California - en route from San Diego to San Francisco. I could have easily spent a week in this area, but we were only given one day to cover the grounds. But, let me tell you, we made the most of it. When Big Sur comes to mind, most people think of breathtaking views and amazing hikes. I would like to add "leading to food" at the end of the latter. One day in the Big Sur turned into taking in the landscape, sun, and delicious food. Our journey took us from the south in Morro Bay to an end destination of Carmel. Since there is only about 120 miles of road to cover in that stretch, the day actually never felt too rushed.

I'll let you find your own mini-hikes since those are certainly countless, and I am not going to begin to act as if they are my specialty. What you can start mapping out and basing them around, however, are the food destinations. If you only have one day in Big Sur, get ready to spread out your meals across several destinations. It will certainly be worth every stop as each one will make you gasp - and I mean from the views AND food. When heading north, Lucia Lodge is the perfect first stop after a short hike for lunch #1. The rustic lodge is on the west side of the highway with dining set up so that you are literally eating in the middle of a dramatic seaside cliff. The deck is a must as you can actually dine along the edge and face out as if you are sitting at a bar. I recommend sharing one order of the fish and chips served with malt vinegar and tartar sauce. The order is delicious and huge. And, if you order only one, it will be easier to convince yourself to head to lunch destination #2 in just a couple of hours.

After sneaking in another hike (I promise not to judge how far you go), you will be ready for another feeding in the northern end of Big Sur. And Nepenthe is the perfect next stop to truly take in the region's culture. This is the ultimate hippy destination that still draws crowds of all ages and all types. No matter what time of day you arrive, be prepared for a wait (which is never a bad thing when you have already eaten fish and chips and are staring into the ocean). Whether you are sitting on the exterior deck, the steps with cushions, or by the fire pits, your dining experience will be overlooking the Pacific in the middle of the mountains. The burgers are a must - and another great item to order just one of for two people. This will surely complete the lunch portion of your day.

But, feel free to linger, listening to music or checking out local artisans in order to digest, as just up the road, The Ventana Inn and Spa awaits. You can also pretend to take another mini-hike or just call it cocktail hour and head right up. While I will continue to dream of staying there, I did manage to make myself right at home on their back deck with a cheese plate and glass of wine. Even though the inn is located on the east side of the highway, the view makes you feel as if you are at sea. It is truly the ultimate escape. The full restaurant menu offers an excellent selection of California cuisine. Although, in all honesty, I recommend finding any way possible to claim one of their outside couches on the patio, grabbing a newspaper, and not moving for awhile. Before leaving, it took me a minute to remind myself I wasn't staying there. It was the perfect, relaxing end to what most should consider a packed, active day.

Hopefully, you still have some summer vacations lined up - taking you to cooler, dryer spots - allowing a nice balance of exploration and relaxation. And while the additional thirty-five degrees ahead of me sounds daunting, especially in my cozy fifth floor village apartment, I am trying to think of the good news ahead of me. As the city clears out, the chances of getting into some of the hottest spots gets easier. So, get ready for some NYC posts ahead. See you in the hot city!