Epstein's

There are few more satisfying things in life than being served mimosas and screwdrivers at 11 am in glasses the size of pitchers. And if that is, indeed, your modus operandi on any given Sunday, look no further than Epstein's, where $15.95 will get you a deep-fried burrito and unending brunch cocktails. 

Unfortunately, when I went a couple weeks ago, I was wearing a considerably greater number of layers, and was in no mood to traipse around outside. But still, the neighborhood feel of the venue exists independent of the weather (which was, for the record, very cold). 

It is my firm belief that any and all food is made at least six times more delicious by the presence of alcohol, and when it is as free-flowing and cheap as it is at Epstein's, it does not matter how (relatively) unremarkable the food is. It just needs to be heavy enough to soak up the copious amounts of booze that are simultaneously entering my system. And with a fried, cheesy, pico de gallo-y burrito and the staple home fries as my entree, I had no intentions of complaining or leaving.

And while Epstein's claims to have a time limit (and probably should have one, considering both the lines that form and the rapidity with which you can get very, very drunk), Kira and I almost certainly stayed for longer than the allotted time.

The only thing that ultimately drove me from the establishment was the almost unbelievably slow service (thank goodness the glasses were so large and could hold so much mimosa at once), and the paralyzing cold (I ended the morning huddled next to the space heater). But cold fingers were a small price to pay for a full bottle's worth of champagne (and orange juice for color). 

 

All'onda

Full disclosure: now that the date I had when I first visited this restaurant is no longer my date, I feel that my opinions of the restaurant may have also been (unfairly) colored. But then again, company aside, I think I can still provide a relatively unbiased recollection of my culinary experience.

After descending into the fine establishment (going downstairs is always the best way to begin a meal, no?) we were promptly shepherded to a quieter corner of the restaurant. It was the only thing that was prompt about that particular evening. 

To be perfectly honest, the sheer passage of time has dulled my impressions of All'onda, which is either an indication of an unremarkable meal or some serious memory suppression. Regardless, what I do remember of the food was pleasant. 

I began with a particularly delicate scallop, excellently prepared and incredibly light. A bit brash on the sea salt, but it seems that I've developed a distinct aversion to all salt in the last few months. Equally impressive was his chicken liver mousse, the texture of which was perfectly velvety. The ratio, however, of chicken liver to provided crostini was a bit alarming — do you intend for us to just eat chicken liver a la carte, chef? 

Alas, I did not try the famed bucatini (I legitimately enjoy sea urchin about once a year, and am thoroughly disappointed every other time, and having recently returned from Japan, I figured I'd try my luck elsewhere), and instead opted for a seafood stew. As with all great seafood stews, the broth was saffron-based, but this one (again!) I found to be over-seasoned. The highlight of the dish, however, was the wonderfully crispy skin that managed to withstand the liquid throughout the entirety of the course, and maintain its crunch to the last bite.

Dessert was slightly underwhelming, which was rather disappointing to me given my penchant for all things hazelnut and all things mousse. There was nothing wrong, per se, with my final course, but there was nothing especially right about it either. Which may serve as an allegory for my short-lived romance. 

Seagrill

A wise man once cautioned me against starting a blog that I had no intention of maintaining. Much to my chagrin, I have not heeded his words of warning as carefully as I should have. That wise man was Anthony Casalena, also known as Squarespace's CEO, also known as my boss. Sorry on many levels, AC.

But after perusing credit card statements to determine where I've been in the last month, I've managed to redeem myself, and will be giving my food criticism the attention it deserves. 

As Restaurant Week drew to a close, Sarah and I visited Rockefeller Center's Sea Grill to enjoy a view of struggling ice skaters and my favorite dessert — key lime pie. But the pie wasn't the only part of the meal to look forward to.

We were strategic in our ordering, making sure to take advantage of our sharing abilities and tackle as much of the menu as possible. I began with a somewhat over-salted but tender Montauk Calamari a la Plancha — the calamari itself was well-seasoned, but it was the patatas bravas that were rather unceremoniously doused with sodium.

I then moved on to a particularly delicious Maine Monkfish ‘Osso Buco,’ convincing me that pescetarianism was the single best decision I've ever made. I've always thought of swordfish as the closest substitute for meat, but after the, dare I say, succulence of this dish, I stand corrected. With its rich glaze and straightforward, yet refined flavor, the monkfish hid behind nothing, and played the leading role of the dish in a most commendable way.

The pairing of the polenta and mushrooms only added to the earthiness of the dish, again being more reminiscent of a land protein than one from the sea. Delicious all the same.

Ah key lime pie. There is simply nothing better. Sarah considered the panna cotta, but I corrected her. A particular standout of the dish came in the Angostura bitters glaze — the caramel, not overly sweet, played well with the tartness of the pie itself. Against the creaminess of the whipped cream topping (not usually fan, but I made an exception for The Sea Grill), I left the restaurant in a particularly good mood. Which may explain why I promptly went shopping. 

6 Above

Clearly a summer spot, 6 Above in the February cold is not as delightful as it could be, but it's cozy and intimate all the same. 

The drinks leave a little something to be desired — a less-than-extensive liquor collection and a bartender whose best friend is clearly Google when it comes to mixology don't exactly comprise a recipe for success, but despite its shortcomings, 6 Above is a surprisingly pleasant experience.

Maybe I should attribute the enjoyability factor to my date, but with only 20 to 30 seats max and an unhurried atmosphere, the little bar above 6 Columbus is a nook away from New York (with great views to boot). So while I wouldn't go back for the Moscow Mule (which was improvised due to a lack of ginger beer), I could see myself returning for the ambience. 

Fishtag

Seeing as I mentioned Chef Michael Psilakis' (seemingly) lesser known restaurant in my previous post, it feels only fair that I devote an entire post to the best smoked octopus I've ever had in my life at Fishtag

New York Times image

New York Times image

The brilliance of the menu is in its organization — the star of the establishment is its extensive wine list (though its food is by no means playing second fiddle). Wines range from light, sparkling selections to more robust — or as Fishtag says — "explosive" reds. Beers and liquors are cleverly interspersed throughout as well, creating a decidedly enjoyable food and wine pairing that is nearly foolproof. No more guessing what wine goes with what dish.

And while I could wax poetic about the strategic structure of the menu, it would all be for naught if the food were anything less than superb. But friends, the food

Each dish maintains its individual integrity, yet works beautifully well with everything else on the menu.  I sampled a number of appetizers, being unable to decide upon a single main course, and regretted nothing. The Catalan Shrimp, seasoned with zatar, is not overly spiced, and its acid content perfectly cuts through the richness of the protein and the starchiness of the potatoes. The Smoked Octopus, undoubtedly the (unsung?) star of the menu, derives both its incredible texture and flavor from a smoking process, making it considerably tenderer than the la plancha preparation, but maintaining the same charred taste. 

The Bacala & Skordalia "Melt" is a perfect visit to the Mediterranean — while fish and cheese seems like a culinary faux pas, there is nothing wrong with this combination of ingredients.

Really, there is nothing wrong with this restaurant. Intimate, cozy and remarkably reasonably priced, this is sure to be my favorite restaurant on the Upper West.