Sunday, July 30, 2006

I ♥ Cheap Eats – FB2B, part 23

Once a year, the local city magazines in most metropolitan areas do an issue about the least expensive places to get a good, quality meal. I always find them to be great reads. They are also a means to discover the range and variety of what a town has to offer in the way of ethnic and creative cuisine.
This week’s (July 31-August 7) issue of New York Magazine, which arrived in my mailbox last week, is their annual “Cheap Eats” review. In it, they look at places to get a meal for under $25.00. From the outside, that might not sound like anything close to a possibility price-wise in a city like New York, what with the highest of the high-end dining establishments located here like Per Se, Masa, Alain Ducasse, etc.

Because, however, this is a large, diverse community, with many different incomes, there is a plenty of room for producing interesting and tasty meals that don’t make too large of a dent in one’s checkbook or require sacrificing rent for a night out on the town. The profiles of these restaurants are usually filled with interesting tidbits, and I often find some leads on places to mentally add to my “to be tried” list or am reminded of places that I’d eaten at once upon a time to which I really should return.

This year, I was thrilled and pleasantly surprised to see quite a few of my stand-by, Go To restaurants featured. If you can get your hands on the issue, the food photography is mouth-watering, at least to my eyes, or maybe I was just really, really hungry at the time I was reading the magazine. As with anything else in New York opinions as to what should have made the list will vary, and this is not something to be tackled on an empty stomach! The magazine provides their evaluation criteria in the article. Here are some of my thoughts on their choices (rankings ran from 1-101):

Shake Shack (#17)
Ranked among the 4 Star restaurants and snagging the number 1 slot in the burger category, I have no argument with this one. I would have liked to see it a bit higher, but think that maybe it was demoted a little for its infamous line. As with many popular NYC attractions (Shakespeare in the Park, movie night at Bryant Park, anything at Central Park) faithful patrons have devised all sorts of elaborate strategies for how to avoid waiting in what seems like an interminable queue just for an addictive Shack Burger, fries, and the frozen custard flavor of the day. There’s now even a camera installed so that hungry devotees can check online to schedule their arrival so as to avoid the crowds.

Thanks very much to them for having their 2006 opening day preview on my birthday this year. It was so worth it, and I even have the card to prove that I was there among the early-birds.
Otto Enoteca Pizzeria (#24)
I visited this ristorante a few months ago and wrote a review about the food and drink that we had on that excursion. I still haven’t managed to make it back to try the pizza, but it is on my list of things to do when I can round up some folks who’d like to try it with me.
Via Emilia (#41)
My heart skipped a beat and I started to hyperventilate when I thought that this Northern Italian gem had been lost forever. The part of the block on Park Avenue South where it was located has been cleared to make way for some new building – my money is on the usual condos. Turns out, they managed to relocate about a few blocks away and while I haven’t had a chance to visit their new digs yet, I’m just waiting for the first cold snap so that I can indulge in their luscious tortellini con panna or ravoli di zucca and maybe wash it all down w/ some Lambrusco. Although the owner is from Modena, it wraps me in warm memories of my years in Bologna and the food is nearly as good as being there in person.
Rickshaw Dumpling Bar (#71)
When the line at Shake Shack is really just too long and my patience too short, this other neighborhood joint is my backup dining destination for the Madison Square Park area. Dumplings are a great meal in my book. These come in all sorts of interesting flavors (the standard Pork, Peking Duck, and Chicken & Lemongrass are among some of the options) with matching dipping sauces (like plum and peanut). Paired with a side salad or soup, they make a wonderful, inexpensive, filling lunch break. While their chocolate ones got lots of press, I wasn’t really a fan.
Sip Sak (#78)
Meze are another sure-fire way to tame an appetite. I had eaten Turkish food when I lived in London, but had to wait several years until it followed me back here to the States. It was worth the wait. A drink with friends at the rooftop café at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, followed by a group dinner sharing the meze sampler plus a few other dishes at Beyoglu (the original uptown restaurant by the same owner as Sip Sak), and Saturday night out in Manhattan comes in at the bargain price of about $35.00 per person (depending upon how much one drank at the Met).
Republic (#97)
On one side of Union Square, is this delicious noodle bar with all sorts of flavorful, Asian-spiced menu choices. Although inside the restaurant, the long communal tables and deafening acoustics make it difficult to have intimate conversations, the noodles more than make up for it. Besides, when your bowls arrive, you’ll be too busy slurping up the long beauties to talk to your companions anyway. A meal and some locally-grown organic veggies bought at the Greenmarket will make up for everything else you put into your body during the workweek.
Buon appetito!

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