Village eats help
Depending on what your point of view is on reasonably priced, Cornelia Street is the place to be.
There's Home(American Food), Le Gigot(French) and Po(Italian). All exceptionally good non-pretentious places to eat. I've found that they are less expensive compared to some of the old Village stalwarts like Da Silvano or Cent 'Anni which was mentioned in the previous post.
I like Grange Hall a lot. It's on the nicest block in
the village, in a little cul de sac. It's elegant but
not oppressively so, it has the smartest/funniest
waiters and bartenders of any place I know, and the
food's real good (midwestern farm food).
Robert Sietsema, who's FROM the Midwest, insists that
it's not authentic. But whatever...I like it. don't
miss the salads and the potato pancakes.
Expect to spend $20-30 if careful ordering, or else
re: Jim Leff
My husband and I ate at Grange Hall for the
first time last night, and, in all honesty,
found it to be a mixed bag. The atmosphere
was lovely, the minty pork chops delicious,
and the dill-infused Farmer Martini with
green tomato "olives" a real stand-out treat
(I was skeptical at first...), but the bread
was Wonder-bland and less than fresh (even
difficult to cut) and the special salad (while
certainly fresh and even satisfyingly seasonal)
was basically unexciting. Our server was nervous
and clueless (when I asked what a tomato olive
was she replied, with thinly-veiled panic,
"It's an...um...pickled olive"). Some of the
food was underseasoned to my taste, but the
biggest disappointment had to be the potato
pancakes (which, at the risk of offending the
Alfa-Hound, I'll admit we ordered at Jim L.'s
recommendation). With all due deference as a
ChowHound-in-training and newcomer to the
boards, I submit that we found the fritter-
shaped "pancakes" fairly flavorless, and worse
still, their soft interiors had an unpleasantly
gluey texture, as if the potatoes had been
pureed in a food processor. I'm curious why Jim
talks them up.
But we did enjoy ourselves enough to give it
another try (it's in the neighborhood, the price
is right, and the ambiance so appealing). Perhaps
for brunch next time. Or we might just stop into
the bar to get a Farmer Martini fix....
Well, I'm glad it wasn't a total disaster!
Pardon me while I riff at length here...I promise this
isn't a harangue; it's just that this is an interesting
point to discuss. Am interested in what others have to
Your posting struck a chord with me as a jazz
trombonist (my other career), strangely enough!
Whenever I play, each listener comes away with a
totally different "take" on how "good" I am. It's one
of the central confusing dilemmas of art: audience
members who are passionate about something tend to have
specific expectations regarding what they're looking
for from that thing. There are myriad such sets of
expectations, and they constitute a rocky reef on which
many an artist's efforts has caught and sunk.
Some people gauge jazz musicians by their firey
emotion, others judge by the beauty of a player's
sound. Some listen only to one musician at a time,
others focus on group interplay. Some like to be
impressed with virtuosic technique, others spurn all
but those with charmingly rough-hewn technique. Some
concentrate on the line a musician is playing and need
to be able to predict where he/she is going with that
line...and prefer players who are predictable but not
TOO predictable. Some are utterly disgusted and
distracted by a missed notes or occasional bad
intonation, others mistrust polished performance. Above
all, most have severe stylistic likes/dislikes and
write off any player who cross the line into a style
Now, all these preferences are quite proper...you pay
your money, you want to hear something that pleases
you. As a listener, you'd get more enjoyment from a
greater range of music if you could be more open, more
intuitive, and less bound by preconceptions, but,
again, it's your dime. It's confusing for the musician
to be lionized by some and despised by others--in both
cases often for factors they themselves don't give a
darn about (which is why many have a deep-seated
mistrust of applause!), but that's show biz. The awful
thing is that such artificial, narrow distinctions
drive most music critics, as well.
It's devilishly difficult for musicians; we get all
sorts of contradictory feedback in all sorts of ways.
Almost no one tries to listen deeply to what we're
TRYING to do and just come along for the ride with an
open mind. You try to get free, to open up and just
PLAY, letting the moment move you, but the audience
(and critics!) are frozen into these static patterns.
Reviews tend to read like a judgement as to whether
you've met a given set of narrow personal criteria, few
of which have anything to do with your actual musical
You use terms like "blandness", "unexciting", and
"under-seasoned", but Grange Hall isn't TRYING for
spicy, exciting, and well-seasoned. They serve comfort
food, but comfort food artfully well-prepared. The
bread is white bread, yes, but good white bread. If
you've been eating lots of provocative breads from
Amy's and Ecce Panis (both of which I love), simple
white breads can seem bland and boring by comparison
unless you're careful to recalibrate your perceptions.
Same for the salad...yes, nothing hits you over the
head, there's no dizzying catharsis of flavor, no
interesting or provocative elements. But for salad of
this type, it's admirably well-prepared. I don't
concentrate on what's NOT being done, because in any
given pursuit there must always be a plethora of roads
NOT taken. Deliciousness is deliciousness, and there
are many different forms it can take.
I'm not demanding you follow my lead; I'm a critic, and
I need to be fair, so I don't indulge my preferences. I
don't eat a well-made gentile potato pancake and harp
over its differences with the Eastern European Jewish
kind. You, on the other hand, CAN eat that way (I envy
you!), and I'm not trying to upbraid you, but to show
you why your evaluation differed from mine. A critic
has to try to faithfully judge and describe a place
based on the place's own intent.
But I do work hard to write evocatively enough so that
readers who seek creative spicy vibrant food won't be
attracted to, say, a Grange Hall. It sounds like you
have my book; I suspect you paid more attention to my
numerical ratings (which don't really say much...I was
very unhappy about having to assign them, in fact) than
to my prose. I think I painted an accurate picture of
the restaurant, and your disappointment could, I think,
have been anticipated from the review alone.
As for the potato pancakes (thanks, but NO deference is
due me, by the way...ich bin eine chowhound!), you're
probably looking for a coarse grind, the way I myself
prefer my latkes. But these are more shreddy fritter-
style German potato pancakes. For what they are,
they're delicious. I have a lot of trouble judging
things for what they're not. They're only "gluey" if
you're expecting coarse-grained. And only "bland" if
you're expecting spicy. I don't expect, I just eat,
trying to "reset" myself in each new place. Which is
something you--eating for fun, not as a job--needn't
worry about. Anyway, this has been a super long-winded
attempt to explain that this simply isn't your
I understand your mind-frame, I could easily eat at
Grange Hall with your perspective and see things
exactly your way. Nothing you wrote was "wrong"; it's
just a simple failure of the kitchen to meet your
personal expectations. Others have different
expectations (which is why it's a much-loved
restaurant). A very few eaters suspend their
expectations and eat on the restaurant's terms. Change
their internal makeup and allow themselves to be
inspired in different ways by different things, to
relish rather than to reject alternative routes to
deliciousness (and to know when there's no
deliciousness to be gleaned from any perspective, in
spite of clever attempts by a kitchen to fool you into
As for the waiter, sheesh, give 'em a break! One server
stumbling over one question on one night says nothing
about the restaurant...or about the waiter, either, for
Anyway, sorry to pontificate at you...welcome to
chowhound.com, and I hope you'll post more (and maybe
eat just a bit more open-mindedly!)
re: Jim Leff
Can I add one more point to the mix.
Have all Chowhounds read the NY Times article about
taste a few weeks back (I think it was in the science
section rather than in the food section, but it oculd
have been in either). Essentially, the article
indicated that scientists are convinced that there are
very real differences in the level of sensitivities of
tasters among normal folk (i.e., those without any
Roughly 1/4 of the population are called "super-
tasters." They experience taste more intensely.
Approximately another quarter of the population has
relatively dull taste buds. And half are "average."
There is more than a slight chance that what is
unbearably bland to one taster is perceived as
overpowering to another. What scientists don't seem
to know yet, though, is whether there is a difference
in PREFERENCE for seasoning or just a difference in
SENSATION. If it's the latter, then the person who is
pleased with one shake of the hot sauce bottle might
like his or her food as much as the one who pours a
I'm convinced I'm one of those in the middle-range.
For someone seriously interested in food, I'm more
likely to complain that something is "tasteless"
rather than "overpowering," and more likely to
complain that something is "boring" rather than
And this might explain folks who don't seem to be at
all interested in food as aesthtic properties. If all
food tastes the same, how could you get excited about
re: Jim Leff
"It's devilishly difficult for musicians;
we get all sorts of contradictory feedback
in all sorts of ways. Almost no one tries
to listen deeply to what we're TRYING to do
and just come along for the ride with an
open mind.... I'm not demanding you follow
my lead; I'm a critic, and I need to be fair,
so I don't indulge my preferences.... You,
on the other hand, CAN eat that way (I envy
you!), and I'm not trying to upbraid you, but
to show you why your evaluation differed from
mine. A critic has to try to faithfully judge
and describe a place based on the place's own
intent.... It sounds like you have my book; I
suspect you paid more attention to my
numerical ratings (which don't really say
much...I was very unhappy about having to
assign them, in fact) than to my prose.... I
understand your mind-frame, I could easily eat
at Grange Hall with your perspective and see
things exactly your way.... A very few eaters
suspend their expectations and eat on the
restaurant's terms. Change their internal
makeup and allow themselves to be inspired in
different ways by different things, to relish
rather than to reject alternative routes to
Wow. There's something kinda heady about
enduring so presumptuous and unrelenting an
onslaught of condescension. Some endorphin
thing perhaps? Or maybe I'm just reeling from
the intensity of having my "mind-frame"
understood so completely.
I mean, if you consider the distinctions
between "stale" and "fresh" (and "gluey" and
"soft") to be "artificial," "narrow," and
"personal," then I'm chastened. And I'm
certain I may fairly be accused of "indulging
my preference" for the former in each case.
But as sorry as I am for the devilish
difficulties of your music career, and the
narrow-mindedness of jazz critics, I'm afraid
that unless the kitchen at Grange Hall INTENDED
stale and gluey, I don't think my problems with
my meal can be chalked up to a lack of
sensitivity to the artists' intentions, or a
poverty of "intuition."
I'm perfectly willing to accept the notion that
individual idiosycracies of taste and preference
play a role in anyone's enjoyment of any food,
and that I brought mine with me to Grange Hall,
but I submit that when I entered the restaurant
I was not at all expecting "spicy" or "creative"
(if, by the latter, you mean some foodie/fusion
standard of legitimacy). Flavorful, yes, fresh,
definitely. I was, in fact, expecting exactly
what you describe as "comfort food artfully
well-prepared." In some cases, that is most
assuredly and happily what I got, in others, not.
I never complained of the bread's whiteness (some
of my best friends are white bread), nor that it
was "simple," but, rather, that it was neither
very "good" nor very fresh. And by "good" (to use
your own term), I'm afraid I do mean flavorful,
and, I hasten to add, NOT rosemary-chipotle-
caraway flavorful, nor even salty, but flavorful
as white bread. How else do we determine any
bread's goodness if not by flavor and texture? I
can safely say that I've never entered a
restaurant in the hopes of being "hit over the
head," and I'm certain I don't harbor a
prejudicing desire to be provoked or made dizzy
by my bread. I do, however, take exception to the
suggestion that "simple" fare cannot be
interesting or even "exciting." In truth, what
excites me about food is precisely that it
succeeds on its own terms, which in most cases
my meal at Grange Hall did, and for that reason
(along with the fact of it's very charming
location) I can understand why Grange Hall is a
"much loved restaurant." A salad comprising
nothing but a single, simply dressed green can,
perhaps (if the greens themselves are fresh and
flavorful, and the dressing well-balanced) even
be fairly described as "cathartic." Mucilaginous
potatoes, however, cannot--no matter how
"careful[ly]" I "recalibrate my perceptions." I
appreciate your efforts to "show [me] why [your]
evaluation differed from [mine]," but I am quite
certain that I'm not confusing gluey with gentile
(though it's an amusing proposition). If it is
because I'm not a critic like yourself that I may
recklessly entertain my distaste for glue without
endangering my journalistic integrity, then I can
well understand your "envy." And, I'm sorry, but
it certainly does say something about a server if
they do not realize that there's nothing unusual
about an olive's being pickled, particularly when
it's a tomato. I'm no stranger to the strains of
waiting table (having done it myself), but if you
don't know what something is, you say so, and then
you find out. Incidentally, when I said I'd ordered
the pancakes on your recommendation, I was
referring only to your message posted on the
ChowHound boards; I'm afraid I don't have your
book and have been influenced neither by the
numerical ratings nor the prose contained therein.
Perhaps it was an off-night for bread and potatoes
in the Grange Hall kitchen, but I've eaten
deep-fried potatoes many ways in my life
(coarsely chopped, shredded, mashed, pureed) and
by many names (latkes, pancakes, fritters,
croquettes) and found them delicious in their
many incarnations (on their myriad "routes to
deliciousness"). These, I simply did not.
I thank you for welcoming me to chowhound.com,
even if it did come with the admonition to "maybe
eat just a bit more open-mindedly!" I think the
site is fantastic, and an invaluable resource, and
I'll try therein always to give as good as I get.
Argh. Chimera, my point was that every one of your criticisms MIGHT be explained by a patterned way of viewing food. "Heavy and bland" can describe even good white bread (when described by someone who likes more interesting breads than old-fashioned white). "Unexciting" can describe even a good simple salad (when described by someone who dislikes simple salads). "Gluey" is a bit overboard, but can refer to a good non-coarse-ground potato pancake (when described by someone who likes 'em coarse). From my past experience at Grange Hall, I could see every one of your complaints (as stated in that first message...not your more strongly-worded complaints in this one!) applying to the food I know and love there.
It may be that you did encounter stale bread, cheap salad, and icky potato pancakes. Grange Hall might have become the worst restaurant in the world, and you might be the most open-minded of eaters. But there was a pattern to your comments; I'm surprised that you can't see that pattern and why it inspired me to go off on a digression about similar patterns in others, a digression that I tried to explain wasn't directed straight at you. Even if what I wrote totally doesn't apply to you or your eating habits, it's still a halfway interesting point, no? Remember, others are reading along...
I'm very sorry you took it as a personal dressing-down. I was just taking an opportunity to talk about some issues I find interesting; I can understand why the intensity of my writing (and, in some cases, my phrasing, I now see) may have made you interpret it as a personal attack. Again, I was just riffing. If we were speaking in person, and you interrupted to say "Nah, I LIKE simple food, I don't need everything to be cooked socko", I'd have shrugged and said "Oh, ok!", and we could have discussed those other issues without referring to you personally (and, less stung, you might have found the discussion more stimulating). I was just using webmaster perogative to talk to the bleachers on a guess.
Maybe I should have written it as an article elsewhere on the site. But I haven't posted to the boards in a while, and figured this might be an interesting discussion-starter. Oh, well!
In any case, I AM glad you got over your "deferential" phase!
I haven't been eating in the Village nearly as much as I used to do, so I can't offer many suggestions. Here are a few.
Andalusia (or whatever it happens to be called now), the Moroccan place on the south side of the middle of Cornelia St., roughly across from the Cornelia Street Cafe.
For that matter, the Cornelia Street Cafe.
An old favorite is the Gran Ticino, on Sullivan near 3rd St. The pasta dishes are wonderful and quite reasonably priced if you have them as main dishes.
A _wonderful_ Italian place is Cent'Anni at 50 Carmine. I don't know if $20-$30 per person is in your range, but if so, try it out.
re: Josh Mittleman
I happen to love Cent'anni, too (it's one of the closest restaurants in NYC to a real trattoria), but I'm afraid even $20-30 is too optimistic. A full meal is likely to cost a little more -- $40-50 is more like it for an appetizer, entree, dessert, and a glass of wine and coffee.
re: Dave Feldman
my favorite restaurants in the west village are:
Bar Pitti on 6th Ave. near Bleeker--great trattoria,
delicious pasta, sauteed spinach, and other trattoria
staples--plus their panna cotta is amazing for
dessert--very good people watching, too
try drover's on Jones St., opened by the couple who own
home. it's more spacious than Home, and has a great
bar where they serve local beers on tap and their own
mixed drinks, which are very good and not cloyingly
sweet. the fried chicken and macaroni in a skillet are
great; as is the dandelion green salad with beets and
maytag blue cheese.
john's pizza on bleecker is always good and cheap.
they use real mushrooms on their pizza. try extra
garlic on the pizza. it's subtle and delicious.
the Bistro Burger at The Corner Bistro at W. 4th and
Jane has the best hamburger in NYC. and cheap good beer
re: Dave Feldman
re: Josh Mittleman
I remember a great Moroccan meal at The Magic Carpet in
the Village, can't remember the street. I don't
remember what the dish was called, maybe "stuffed
chicken". It was sliced chicken breast over flavored
rice with raisins and pine nuts and cubed chicken all
turned out in a mound on the plate so the sliced
chicken was on the outside and the rest of the mixture
inside, so to speak.They even had a belly dancer.
Anyone know the address?