Writing about restaurants and books, wine and theater, art galleries and museums

Category Archives: Restaurants

It is Restaurant Week in New York (from July 25-August 19,2016) so it was time to figure out which restaurants were offering nice prix fixe menus ($29 lunch or $42 dinner)–ones that are not normally available outside of restaurant week.  I had lunch at The Clocktower shortly after they opened some months back.  It is a beautiful restaurant and I was happy to see that they were doing a restaurant week lunch. Their normal lunch prix fixe is $39.  

The restaurant week menu offers a choice of three appetizers, three mains and two desserts. I went pescatarian, ordering the fluke crudo to start followed by fish and chips. 

I enjoyed my lunch, but I was very surprised by the fluke crudo. Rather than being cold and raw, it was hot. At first I thought the waiter had delivered the wrong dish. I asked and was told it was “lightly poached.”  The dish was tasty but not what I expected and even a little well done.   It ended up being too similar to my main course–both were cooked fish over something deep green. 
The fish over mushy peas and chips (not in the photo) were a delicious reflection of Chef Jason Atherton’s British roots. 


My lunch companion ordered the burger:


Dessert was cherry cheesecake and compote with cocoa whip cream and bits of chocolate sponge cake. 



Pan fried chicken, okra, mac and cheese, collard greens, smothered chicken. These are some of the things you can get at Charles Country Pan Fried Chicken in Harlem. We headed up there for lunch because we heard Charles’ chicken is legendary.


The place is mostly a take-out spot, but they have three or four tables where you can enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet. At lunchtime it is $13.00 a person. You can pick anything you want from the hot food tables, including the famous fried chicken. Not a typical help yourself buffet. Here, you point, they serve.


I started with some fried chicken, smothered chicken and BBQ chicken. I specified how many pieces of each I wanted (one) and which type (drumstick). Plus macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes and an okra and corn stew. Everything was delicious. The fried chicken was crunchy and not greasy. The BBQ is much better than it looks. It is in a thin sauce that is thick with flavor. The sweet potatoes weren’t overly sweet–just how I like them.  I had seconds of everything on the plate–I liked them so much, I didn’t try the other items.

My plate  of food

My plate of food

While we were eating, I could watch a soap opera on TV or chef and owner Charles Gabriel cooking up some more chicken in a big skillet at the stove behind the food counter.

Fried chicken

Fried chicken

BBQ chicken and mac n cheese and

BBQ chicken and mac n cheese and

You also had your choice of smothered turkey leg or stewed pig’s foot.  I passed up the rice, corn, collard greens, and beans, but I tasted the greens and beans on Lee’s plate–yummy.

Some of the side dishes

Some of the side dishes


Main course choices

The New York Times agreed that the chicken and the experience are superb.

The New Yorker magazine profiled Charles this week here

The Lee Brothers call Charles Gabriel a legend

Charles Country Pan Fried Chicken is on Frederick Douglass Boulevard between 151st and 152 Streets–just a couple of blocks from the 155th Street stop on the B and D subway lines. It is one subway stop (or about a 15 minute walk) from Yankee Stadium.

Yesterday I had a fabulous meal at M. Wells. A couple days earlier the M. Wells folks sent out an email saying that they were having a Labor Day party. There would be a DJ, food for a fixed price of $30 and a cash bar. As is usually the case with M. Wells’ special events, there were no details about the food. The email only stated they would “celebrate the best of our summer specials and take a peak at our upcoming fall menu”.  You have to be prepared to jump in without any details.  You have to ignore the press who usually get it wrong (Time Out said the menu would include fish quenelle and lobster, veal kidney with sea beans and salt-crusted squab–none of which were served). With M. Wells, you have to put yourself in their hands, go in blind and trust in Hugue. Whatever it is, it is bound to be surprising, generous and wonderful. Yesterday was a case in point.

We got our wristbands and a couple of drinks from the bar, sat down at a table and over the next couple of hours, the following dishes were brought out to the two of us:

Seafood platter

Seafood platter

The seafood platter had 6 oysters and 4 little jars which contained geoduck, mussels, clams, and roe. What a way to start! (Later we saw that king crab legs were being added to the platter)

Baked potato

Baked potato

A baked potato was served with the seafood platter. The roe with creamy horseradish sauce from one of the jars was a perfect topping.



We shared a juicy hamburger and fries.



Pan con tomate

Pan con tomate

The pan con tomate was loaded with flavor.

Stuffed guinea hen

Stuffed guinea hen

The guinea hen roulade was stuffed with something sausagey (foie gras was mentioned) and topped with a mushroom sauce.  The best part with the exterior–it was wrapped in a thin french toast.

Pork chops w/anchovy butter

Pork chops w/anchovy butter

One of the regular items on the M. Wells Steakhouse menu is a “stack of pork chops.” We got a beautiful stack of two delicious chops.



The cauliflower was roasted, topped with puffed rice and served with a sauce with a little heat and Indian flavors.

Fried chicken

Fried chicken

Fried chicken with a yummy gravy for dipping.

Foie gras gnocchi

Foie gras gnocchi

Much more a croquette, than gnocchi, this was oozing foie gras. OMG!

Wild hare in civet

Wild hare in civet

A special meal at M. Wells has to include wild hare.



We were stuffed by this point, but managed to eat all of our dessert-maple pie, something like a chess pie and a chocolate icebox type cake.

Oh, and the music was terrific–it started out with New Orleans music and built up to dance music.  A lovely way to spend Labor Day.  Thanks M Wells!



About a week ago, I had my fourth and final dinner in Amsterdam at Wilde Zwijnen restaurant at Javaplein 23.  When I arrived, there was a lively scene outside, the temperature was pleasant, and that is where I asked to sit. I was directly inside —  I was told that the outside would be emptying up and that the inside would fill up.

My name was on the table so I was somewhat invested, but inside was hot and sitting there in an empty restaurant wishing I was outside colored my enjoyment of the meal.
The view of the restaurant from where I was sitting: 20140729-232654-84414659.jpg The restaurant had a beautiful a la carte menu. I immediately saw dishes I would have liked to have. However the menu also offered a secret chef’s menu with two options– a three-course or a four-course option. They don’t tell you what is on the chef’s menu–you have to order it blind. I went with the 4-course chef’s menu, assuming that the dishes would be a creative representation of the chef’s cooking.

The first course was plaice with squid and octopus over potatoes, cucumbers, frise lettuce and red onions with a black ink sauce
The second course was a garlic soup. It was delicious. But I thought the hazelnuts overpowered the soup so I pushed them aside.
In the meantime, people had shown up for their reservations and most of them had asked to sit outside. Inside was still hot and, except for a couple of tables, empty.

From where I was sitting I could see the kitchen at the opposite end of the restaurant. I noticed the chef was running dishes to a number of tables. I was surprised he never brought a dish to my table. People dining in groups are there for the company and the conversation (in addition to the food), but a solo diner is just there just for the food. So, I thought if he was spending time greeting the tables, it would have been nice if he had said hello.

The third course was sliced beef with a fennel sausage with steamed vegetables, a couple of cubes of beef and a schmear of red onion purée. This was the most disappointing dish. Disappointing not just because the meat was a little bland and slightly tough, but also because it was boring. It seemed more like a dish on a prix fixe menu–simple, common dishes–nothing too challenging. I thought the chef’s menu was supposed to be something else, something more unique and interesting. I wished I had chosen one of the interesting sounding dishes on the a la carte menu instead.
20140729-232655-84415545.jpgDessert was a yoghurt mousse, which marinated strawberries, almond crumble, a red sorbet, and an earl grey granita.

I spent the morning of the fourth day in Amsterdam doing my own walking tour of the Jordaan neighborhood, an old working class neighborhood that is now the equivalent to Amsterdam as what the Greenwich Village is to New York City.

I started out with breakfast of apple pie and coffee at Winkel’s:



There is a Saturday farmers market in the neighborhood. Much nicer things for sale as compared to the Albert Cuyps market I had been to the day before.



The neighborhood was mostly quiet residential streets with pretty old houses and some canals with nice houseboats.


One of the larger canals in the neighborhood:


A couple of houseboats:20140729-222131-80491376.jpg


Many houses have interesting carvings:






I learned that that you could push open certain doors and find common gardens behind them.









Lots of bikes and lace curtains:20140729-222435-80675754.jpg0


Night 3 in Amsterdam

I had one of those memorable meals that are so rare on my third night in Amsterdam. Gebr. Hartering restaurant offers a choice of a 6 or 9 course set menu. The extra 3 courses are a ribeye steak, a cheese course, and an extra dessert. I went with the six course option. I got there at 7:30 and didn’t leave until after 11. Three and a half hours of bliss.
Before the first course they brought me three mini pre-courses.

The first pre-course looks like someone had already eaten. It was a plate of fish bones–anchovy bones that have been fried and dusted with smoked pimenton. It tasted like whole anchovies.

The second pre-course was an Italian green pepper roasted with chive oil and flakes salt

The third pre-course was a red pepper roasted on a charcoal grill.

First course: salted cod with oil, leek ash and watercress.

Second course: lardo with arugula (from a nearby village), caramelized shallots, crispy capers, and peach infused oil.

Third course: shrimp croquette with lemon mayonnaise


The shrimp were the tiny Dutch ones I had the first night in the amuse bouche.

Fourth course: monkfish liver with wild mushrooms


The main course was a porchetta with leek coulis, endives, potatoes (also from a nearby village) and crispy pigs skin. It was a dish with some tang.


Dessert was a creme brûlée that was not too sweet and creamier than most.

This was truly a meal worth travelling for.

Dinner day 2 of Amsterdam

I decided I had to try some Rifsttafel while I was in Amsterdam. My second night I headed to Tempo Doeloe restaurant.


Rifsttafel is a style of eating and type of cuisine that developed out of the Dutch living in colonized Indonesia.

There were two Rifsttafel options on the menu (not counting a vegetarian option). One was euro 32.50 and the other was euro 37.50. The menu stated that a minimum of two people could order the more expensive one. I asked if I could order the large one. The waitress tried to dissuade me from ordering the larger one she said it would be too many dishes and too much food. I proved her wrong. Later in the evening she said I did an impressive job.

They brought out 24 different items and two types of rice.

A plate of 5 cold items/accompaniments.

One skewer of satay (no photo)

A plate of nine non-spicy items.

And a plate of nine spicier items.

This is what it looked like in front of me:

Here is a list of what I had:

It was a lot of fun trying everything and figuring out which I like the most.
Some of the meat dishes had some sweetness to them in addition to their spices and flavorings. I tended to like those the most. They reminded me of the type of dishes I loved in Malaysia. In addition, there was a chicken liver dish that was terrific, the satay was great, and the vegetables, especially the ones in peanut sauce, were great too. There were a lot of distinctive flavors and I liked that I found actual cardamom pods and stars of anise in my dishes. The dish that was the spiciest was truly spicy. One of the cold dishes was grated coconut and peanuts. That could be sprinkled on any dish to cool it down or to add a different flavor to it.

Everyone who worked there was very nice. The meal ended with a glass of a liqueur called Sayah. It was described as an anise type drink. I don’t love the flavor of anise, but I liked this drink. It was slightly sweet and more then anise, I noted flavors of spices like cardamom and cinnamon.