In related vehicular vending news, the Patty’s Tacos truck (86th St. at Lexington Ave.; 347-216-9362) has found some prime curbside real estate on the Upper East Side, where commuters emerging from the 4, 5, and 6 trains have been bellying up to the window for what Patty’s menu calls “autenticos antojitos Mexicanos,” packed to go with little cups of zingy red and green salsa. The truck had previously resided on East 110th Street, where tongue tacos ($3), cow’s-foot tostadas ($4), and the chipotle-stuffed sandwiches called cemitas ($8) don’t stand out as much as they do at this bustling intersection, where half the folks toddling by are clutching cups of Tasti D-Lite. The conversion, we imagine, is imminent.
Pomme de Terre (1301 Newkirk Ave., Ditmas Park; 718-284-0005) is the sort of Gallic stage set you’d expect to find on Barrow or Jane Street, not the Brooklyn corner where it pops up like a mirage on the not especially charming horizon. Smith Street pioneer Jim Mamary has lined the walls with vintage posters and found objets, and compiled a menu so classic it’s almost a bistro parody, with not only steak-frites but duck confit, mussels steamed in white wine, skate with lemon and capers, and even a croque monsieur. It deserves mention that that croque monsieur ($11) is a golden-brown thing of melting, oozy beauty, and that that steak-frites, at $21, is not only a bargain but quite tasty. The food, in fact, is as much of a draw as the lively ambience, and the shorts-and-sweatpants-clad locals that mob the place in amorous twosomes and chattering groups are lapping up every bit of it, from the homemade butter to the banana-caramel pot de crème.
In the bistro-besotted West Village, it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. The New French (522 Hudson St.; 212-807-7357) manages handily, with an offbeat menu and a rare multigenerational appeal that fills the faux-rattan chairs nightly with genteel locals, seemingly functional families, and couples in various stages of their relationships, from bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to mute. They’re here, we’d wager, for satisfying, just-inventive-enough food like the pizza bianca with toppings that change daily ($9), brisket pho ($16), and a pulled-pork appetizer slathered with a mustard raita ($10).
Cafe Katja (79 Orchard St.; 212-219-9545) wouldn’t call itself a bistro, and neither would Nizza (630 Ninth Ave.; 212-956-1800), but as far as we’re concerned they serve the same purpose: Both function as sane, cozy oases in the respective wilds of the Lower East Side and the theater district. With its wursts ($7 to $10) and its spaetzle ($13), its reassuring goulash ($16), and especially its hot, crusty pretzel ($3), Katja satisfies our periodic craving for homespun Austrian fare. Nizza bills itself a wine bar, but it’s really a full-fledged restaurant with a stylishly mod décor and a handy proximity to Broadway theaters that tends to obscure its other charms, like its accommodating hours and markedly gentle prices. The menu, a Ligurian-Provençal hybrid, is big on small plates like the signature socca, a sage-scented chickpea-flour pancake ($8), and broccoli bruschetta with avocado and walnuts ($6). But fresh pastas like the herb-stuffed pansotti ($13) are worth the trip, whether you’re rushing to make a curtain, live up the block, or happen to be a tourist with the good sense to wander in off the street.
City Full O’ Noodles
Among the starchy-food cognoscenti, it’s pretty much agreed that, with Ramen Setagaya, Rai Rai Ken, Soba-ya, and now the new Ippudo NY (65 Fourth Ave.; 212-388-0088) all clustered within a few short East Village blocks of each other, things on the noodle front couldn’t be rosier. It’s also generally agreed that what to get at Ippudo—the first U.S. branch of the Japanese chain—is either one of the two $13 bowls of super-porky ramens, the Shiromaru Classic (the joint’s original, pork-bone-enriched recipe) or the Akamaru Modern (the Shiromaru plus all the fixings, and a touch of the house “special secret sauce”). Where to sit is another matter: Some like the bar, where you get the best view of the pajama-clad cooks. Others prefer the spacious booths. But we’re partial to the cushy white chairs at the dining counter, which, when pushed together cozily, form what GQ’s Alan Richman, writing on his blog, recognized as a Japanese love seat having experienced the sensation firsthand on his date with David Chang. The Upper East Side isn’t exactly Ramenville. But who knows whether the downtown-style ramen bar Naruto (1596 Third Ave.; 212-289-7803) will spark a trend? Here you sit in the traditional ramen-bar manner—on a hard stool wedged in tightly next to your neighbors as if you were taking the No. 4 train uptown during rush hour. The best day to visit is on a Monday, also known here as “Ramen Day,” when they knock a couple of bucks off the usual $8.50 price of a bowl of the soy-sauce-based house ramen, which comes fortified with half a hard-boiled egg, a slab of roast pork, and a slice of the signature pink-and-white processed fish cake known as narutomaki. If you like to eat good soba noodles in suave settings, consider midtown’s Soba Totto (211 E. 43rd St.; 212-557-8200), the latest from the team behind Yakitori Totto, Aburiya Kinnosuke, and Yakitori Tory’s, as a comparatively cheap alternative to Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s new Matsugen. The dish to get here is the goma-dare cold soba ($13), but only after indulging in a parade of appetizers and yakitori including the signature chicken meatballs shaped like little torpedoes and cooked on skewers over hot bamboo charcoal. Our favorite new noodles, though, can be found in Chinatown at Food Sing 88 Corp. (2 E. Broadway; 212-219-8223), where, through a dusty window outside the shop, you can catch a glimpse of a Fujianese noodle slinger who dispatches his noodle-making duties with something like the advanced roping skills of an old Texas cowhand crossed with the acrobatic aplomb of a young Romanian gymnast. That a bowl of these remarkably chewy but tender noodles, enhanced by a rich broth and everything from pork bone to beef tendon, costs only $4 to $6.50 and takes exactly 90 seconds to arrive at your tiny communal table only enhances the experience.