Wednesday, September 12, 2007

East Village Eats

Recent eatings:
1. Balthazar Bakery
80 Spring St @ Crosby St

Roasted Peach Pastry Tart

When it comes to Balthazar,  there are basically three types. For one, there are the tourists and New York Mag disciples that go wherever the all-knowing "Critics Pick" check is. They come for the big names, look for the "recommended" dish, then leave feeling satisfied and genuinely New-Yorky.

Then there are the pseudo-foodies. The ones who want to think they live in Soho, can only consume the finest of foods, and thus result in stroking McNally's ego. They prefer to be known as "cultured", find satisfaction in ordering expensive dishes and at times pretend to appreciate all that goes into the dish.

Lastly, there are those who go just because of what it has to offer. Good food, bloated prices, and a respectable interior. It's good food, looks pretty, yet at the same time you're paying solely for the name.

My tart was delightful. It was complex, had a dark and rich syrupy taste to the peach and a wonderful crust. Mind the fact it was gone in about four bites, I'd say they were quite cherished.

There really is only so much one can explain about the tart, so I'll leave it be.

2. Westville East
173 Avenue A @ E 11th St

8 oz. burger w/ Gouda Cheese
Served on Portuguese Muffin (English)
Side vinaigrette salad

As a disclaimer to all, the chaotic interior of Westville may be a tad bit frenetic for the faint at heart. But if you can get over the fact that you're sacrificing square inches for a pleasurable meal, you might end up enjoying the place.

From what I've heard, service at times can be a bit unprofessional and forgetful. Our server of the night was neither an embodiment of such said traits, but at the same time, if compared on the street to a passerby, one might be unable to indicate the employee.

My burger was large and hearty, juicy and flavorful. Though there wasn't much in terms of a char-grilled taste, it was refreshingly light in comparison to the all-too-common clump-of-shit patty.

Though 70% of the plate consisted of a sparingly dressed mesclun salad, I have little room to complain in value. Unlike the art-deco inspired plates of haute couture dining, the entire meal was both filling and satisfying. 

The bun, less bun and more English muffin, is what Westville likes to call a Portugese Muffin. How it differs from an English one, I have yet to decipher.

Overall, the scene is friendly and quite East Village. On a blackboard in the back, hand-scribbled in a somewhat intelligible typeface, are a list of the day's specials. Generally consisting of what they refer to as "The Market" (a handful of playful vegetable dishes), run between $4-7.

Some of the more popular dishes I saw on tables around me included the Niman Ranch weiners along with homestyle dishes of Mac-n-Cheese, corn on the cob and the timeless grilled cheese sandwich. 

If friendly service and homestyle food is what you want, this is your place. Save the grumpy attitude at home, and enjoy all that you can, of this fine little space.

3. Hearth Restaurant
403 E 12th St @ 1st Avenue

$9.50 Rogue Amber Ale (Oregon)
$3.25 Corsica Blend Coffee
$11 Upside-Down Plum Cake
w/ Lemon Sabayon & Candied Pistachios

In order to celebrate my birthday as best as possible, I opted for a nearby restaurant worthy of at least a couple stars of Critic's checks of approval. Thankfully, Hearth didn't let me down.

As much as I hate to do it, on this fine evening my meal consumption sadly was to only involve dessert. After mulling over the wonderfully enticing regular menu, giving in to the dessert menu at the meal's start is a crime all in its own. Luckily, it was my birthday. Almost like a get out of jail free card.

From the attentive service to the dashing decor, the desserts and coffee trip was quite enjoyable. My only complaint in regards to the service though, was the lack of attention at times when a mug or cup needed refilling. Though one should not expect a constant 30-second, cyclic waiter's lap around my table, at times a little attention would've gone a long way.

The punctuality of the desserts weren't exactly the most impressive, but if a slowed-down, relaxing atmosphere is what they're going for, they've surely achieved it.

On first glance, the upside-down cake looks that of a mini-bundt cake stacked with glistening fruit slices. Rather uncomplicated to construct, and surrounded with mildly candied pistachios, the presentation is not necessarily top notch.

But the soft spongyness of the cake and softness of the sweet fruit proved to be a marriage worth approving. Matched with the pea-sized bits of pistachio and a lick of the sabayon, the melded mixture was quite marvelous. 

Not exactly nirvana-inducing, but surely the best at the table (in comparison to some sorbets, a peanut butter tart and a panna cotta), the dessert held its own. Whether or not it's worth going back to for, I'm learning more towards the "No".

But they did remember to greet me a Happy Birthday and I did enjoy the company of friends. If only their desserts could be a tad more succulent, I might be more inclined to believe their pastry chef came from Gramercy Tavern.

Until then, I think I'll stick to the always dependable $3 carton of ice cream sitting in the freezer. And that I can access anytime, any day and definitely more than once. Ok, maybe only three or four times before it's finished.

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