Solo Dining at the Bar

March 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

I’m a huge fan of solo bar dining when I get a lazy and quiet Saturday or Sunday. Some people are tentative about dining alone but it can be really enjoyable to take some time to oneself with a good book or even your phone. Usually, I try to go to a restaurant during off hours, around 3pm (assuming the restaurant remains open between lunch and dinner service), so I can take up my little slice of the bar and chat with the bartender or other patrons without having to yell. Below are some places I’ve gone to recently where I really enjoyed my experience:

Via Carota: Spicy shrimp pomodoro atop a super flavorful, slightly cheesy polenta. I also always start with the fried olives wrapped in pork sausage…the perfect bar food.

Aquagrill: Oysters and littlenecks with house cocktail sauce, horseradish and mignonette. This place has been open for 20+ years and tends to get pretty packed during prime lunch, brunch and dinner hours but around 3pm, you can usually snag a seat. My usual approach is ordering 6 west coast and 6 east oysters – I leave the particular details to the awesome shuckers – and then some sparkling white wine and maybe french fries on the side.

Union Square Cafe 2.0: The new space is gorgeous and definitely evocative of the original. Service was, as expected, incredibly friendly, and I really enjoyed my spontaneous lunch here when I took a day off. There’s a small bar on one of the upper levels as well so will definitely want to go back and get a seat there next time.

Fried calamari with peppers and anchovy mayonnaise

Rainbow trout with roe, rye, leafy greens, buttermilk and fingerling potatoes

Babbo: I came here for an early dinner after skipping lunch. Vibe at the bar is super casual and low-key even though the food is a bit more high end than Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s more casual places in the neighborhood like Lupa and OTTO. Here, a fantastic roasted butternut squash with goat cheese and black truffle honey that was the right balance of sweet and savory.

Chianti-stained pappardelle with wild boar ragu. Excellent for the early cold evening.

Augustine: There’s been a lot of hype surrounding this place (it’s Keith McNally’s most recent restaurant) but have to say the food and the ambiance lived up to expectations. It really does feel like you’re in an old school Parisian bistro (also…the way to the bathroom takes you through the incredibly beautiful Beekman Hotel lobby that’s perfect Instagram fodder) and my cheese souffle with cave-aged gruyere and parmesan and horseradish fondue was absolutely insane. Rich and cloud light at the same time.

I also ordered the sea urchin spaghettini with king crab and pickled jalapenos with my main and they did not skimp on the ingredients. So damned good, and at 3:30p on a Wednesday, so quiet compared to what I’m sure is a madhouse on a Friday night!

The lobby inside the Beekman Hotel

Finally, the NoMad Hotel: Excellent cocktails and a sandwich version of their famous roasted chicken dish, with black truffle and foie gras on brioche and a side salad (because I guess you need some green every once in a while). The cocktail was called the Start Me Up, a super tasty concoction of bourbon, rum, strega, honey, ginger, lemon bitters. A great Saturday afternoon.

So even if you’re tentative about dining alone at the bar, I really do think it’s one of the most relaxing and stress-releasing things you can do for yourself. It’s probably easiest to go to a restaurant you’re already familiar with so you feel comfortable and just remember to bring a good book (or your iPad) and open yourself up to conversation with the bartenders or other customers. Sometimes you meeting really fascinating people!

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The Clocktower

November 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

Sometime in August, Cindy and I had a date at newly opened restaurant, The Clocktower, by Stephen Starr.  It’s located in EDITION Hotel right by Madison Square Park and helmed by Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton, who leans toward seasonally-inspired (though it seems like no one intentionally does out-of-season cooking these days anyway) contemporary food with British influences.  You enter the dimly lit hotel lobby and then go up a flight of stairs, leading to three different dining rooms, a billiards room and a room with a bar, all sumptuously decorated with works of art covering almost every inch of the walls. This is definitely a great place to bring a date – it looks super fancy and might seem a bit stuffy at first, but the service is warm and very helpful when you ask them for recommendations (food or wine).

We started with some bread, right out of the oven, and cultured butter, a hand chopped steak tartare au poivre with roasted bone marrow, sourdough, pickled artichokes and mustard leaves (nicely balanced with fattiness from the marrow and zing from the pickles) and finally, uni risotto with peekytoe carb and bottarga. The dishes were all well executed and I fell in love with the uni risotto – comforting and luxurious but not too heavy for a starter. I could have maybe used a different textural element (some crunch on top?) and slightly more seasoning but that’s mainly me just being a little nitpicky.

For her main, Cindy ordered the beef wellington with carrots and potatoes gratin, which looked absolutely amazing and a nice medium-rare, and I got the classic Long Island duck with sauce l’ orange, fennel, endive and salt baked turnips. These were pretty substantial portions and I liked that the sauce in my dish was not overly sweet, which can often happen with orange sauce, and the breast pieces were perfectly cooked for my taste. All of this washed down with a round of cocktails and then a bottle of smoky red wine, and Cindy and I were happy campers, ready to walk all the back to the Village from Madison Square Park.

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