Monday, July 12, 2010

Don't Serve Him Banal Greens and Pasta, Please

A variety of hands, above, make the daily bread at Hot Bread Kitchen. Below, an image of the original Palm, and Hot Bread Kitchen's soup truck bread, lavash. Photos courtesy of Hot Bread Kitchen and The Palm.

OVER beers Saturday at a charming dive bar near both of our respective apartments, a new acquaintance, Paul Daniel Quatrochi, asks how one can determine which top-shelf restaurants serve subpar fare during restaurant week. Today (through 25 July), NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2010 is open for business.

In other words, PDQ wonders, how does a diner get approximaely the same meal during restaurant week that’s available when the $$$$$ prices are in effect. PDQ, an art dealer (mostly European classics with a smattering of the American variety) and retired man about town, has been a regular at some of these high-toned spots. He knows the score, and it leaves a bad taste in his mouth when his palate is being played for a fool. In his mind, Le Cirque is a prime offender. “Nobody’s interested in mesclun and farfalle … and paillard poulet,” he fairly spits as if he does have a bad taste in his mouth. “You can get that anywhere.”

I suggested allowing the restaurant week menu to be a guide. First, compare it to the regular menu. Second, if a Le Cirque or 21 Club were only serving up salad and pasta then there might be something fishy. Something exotic-sounding could imply an authentic dining experience.

As a test, PDQ and Yours Truly perused the restaurant week menus of 21 Club and Le Cirque. While Le Cirque’s menu is inaccessible online today, on Saturday we were able to look it over. PDQ is placated. I’ll share our findings when it becomes available again (I reported the malfunctioning link).

Among 21’s appetizers are Romaine and Radicchio Salad (cherry tomatoes, celery, shaved Parmesan, pomery mustard vinaigrette), Cured Mahi Mahi (watermelon, mizuna, radish and citrus dressing, and Grilled Calamari (olive purée, pickled cucumber salad). Unanimous agreement that the grilled calamari is nothing special and that the salad is passable. However, the Mahi Mahi is a keeper. For dinner, we like the Horseradish-Crusted Salmon (warm summer bean salad, smoked bacon, red spring onions, lemon emulsion, but not the pedestrian Grilled Organic Chicken Breast (hominy, sautéed spinach, lemon, natural jus). Dessert is Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée, (chewy chocolate brownie), Blueberry Upside-down Cake, (lemon cream sauce), Milk Chocolate Tart, (toasted raspberry meringue.) I like the cake, to which JDQ gives grudging acceptance. The rest … yawn.

Why not serve the good stuff “because you can make your money on the drinks,” PDQ asserts.

He’s very bullish on Palm One and swears by its business summer lunch menu. “You can eat well for cheap and by the time you buy a couple of drinks, you’ve spent $60 with tax and tip. It’s a good deal for you, and they make some money.”

At Palm One, start with a Mixed Green Salad, Soup du Jour or Caesar salad. An alternate start is a One Palm Signature Side. On the side now is Half & Half – that is cottage fries and fried onions. Proceed to the entrée round and Twin Tenderloined Filets, Blackened steak salad, Chicken Parmigiana or Chef’s fresh fish of the day. The closer is a choice of two destination sweets, New York cheesecake or Key lime pie. That’s three courses for $18.95 to $23.95, excluding, say, two martinis ...

Neither The Palm or any of the eateries participating in the week will be using focaccia, m’smen or multigrain loaves or any of the product from It nonprofit social enterprise, Hot Bread Kitchen (HBK). Yet diners can enjoy the Brooklyn bakery’s lavash and whole wheat bread sticks, both made from whole wheat flour ground and milled in the New York’s Finger Lakes region.

The two breads are served with the soups from the NYC Restaurant Week Truck. Yes, the truck is back for an encore after making its debut during winter’s restaurant week. It is open this week (12 July-16 July) from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Today through Wednesday, aka Bastille Day, the truck is parked in Midtown at Broadway and 50th street. The soups “on” today are A Voce’s chilled tomato soup with whipped ricotta and extra-virgin olive oil; chilled corn soup with fricassee of corn, chanterelle and a drizzle of oil brought to the street by db Bistro Moderne, and from Ze Café a spot of blistered Ze farm zucchini soup with chive flatbread. All served with HBK’s lavash cracker.

The rest of the week (Thursday and Friday), the truck will be standing at Fifth Avenue and 18th street in the Flatiron District. On those days soups will be paired with HBK's whole wheat bread stick. Visit the restaurant week truck page each morning to get a menu of the day’s soups. (

Do note that $1 from every $6 spent at the truck will benefit HBK, a restaurant week newbie. Its mission is to use bread to empower low-income immigrant women; to help them rise far above largely low-wage, downwardly mobile child care work, for instance.

“We provide paid, professional training and business support,” Operations Manager Katrina Schultz Richter gives me to know. “We hope to successfully place them in career-track jobs in the food service industry.”

HBK will have more elbow room to do all it does, including bake daily bread –sometimes from the women’s birth countries – once it is installed in a larger space at city-owned La Marqueta in East Harlam. This move on up to the East Side is made possible by a $1.5 million grant from the New York City Council.

Meanwhile, more than 270 eateries are offering that old familiar restaurant week deal: $24.07 three-course prix-fixe lunches and $35 three-course prix-fixe dinners (excluding Saturdays, beverage, tax and gratuity).

Learn more about NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2010, including menus and reservation policies, at Learn more about Hot Bread Kitchen at


  1. Vevlyn: Thought I already posted a comment, but I guess it has to pass comment moderation vetting- I will resubmit if it was fouled in the works.

  2. Well I will resubmit- given the topicality of the story. JA Brillat-Savarin, the gastronome and raconteur of the early 19th C (who authored La Physiologie du Gout in 1825- a masterwork, I add), attended a formal dinner party in Paris, and to his surprise was cut off by his host due to his being overserved, his abject drunkenness, and his extreme abrasiveness. As was the tradition of a proper French repast, a silver tray of grapes was served after the course of cheese and desserts, to which Brillat-Savarin snarled to his host: "I am not habituated to taking my wines in capsules...!"


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