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Restaurant Food Sampling Day

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Thanks to chowhound, Dena, who reassured me that today WAS the restaurant food sampling day, I sampled some spectacular dishes from four participating places, that, collectively, would have cost me about $250 to have dined at! (But why doesn't the NYT publish their ad on the actual date, as well as in the Wed. food section? I almost missed it!)

My samples?

1. First to Ben Benson (52nd St) to take back to work their $5 tender, sliced steak sandwich, served on a baguette-type roll with add-it-yourself steak sauce, pickles and a handful of potato chips.

Last year they automatically put the contents, which can be quite messy, in a silver-foil container with a plastic lid to carry back to your office, etc. (This was one huge sandwich--not for street consumption on a hot, sticky day.) THIS year, to discourage people from making Ben Benson their take-home dinner stop--they not only limited the sandwiches to two-per-person (fair enough)--BUT--they suddenly removed the containers' top lids from the table. Which meant you had no way to transport the sandwich, without it getting all over the paper bag they offered you. My protests to the servers got me the answer "they took the lids away to keep people from doing "take-out." Really angry at this point, I went up to the door to ask the head person "Do you mean we have to consume this on the spot?" "No, of course not," was this sensible employee's answer--and he walked right back into the restaurant--and placed all the lids back on the table, telling the servers to "for goodness sake, let people cover their sandwiches." It was a strange incident--but at least they did the right thing when the crowd turned ugly. And the steak was worth it.

2. Club 21's wonderful soft-shell crab sandwich (which included a bottle of Fuji mineral water) for $5.

3. Estiatorio Milo's (West 55th St) $5 portion of fresh Char in a light tomato sauce.

4. The Manhattan Ocean's Club's fantastic $5 monkfish in a light curry/coconut sauce on pineapple rice. (Not at all too sweet.)

5. San Domenico's (59th St) $3 portion of a Tuscan tomato dish (tomatoes crushed into a paste with soft chunks of bread.)

It was, as always, too hot and humid for me to truly enjoy the great outdoors--but I have to admit some things are worth suffering for! My sister and I shared all our portions and took the rest home. A lot of good food for very little money. And it went to a good cause. Maybe, tho--next year--the sponsor will hold the event in October??

Who else went out on the streets today? And what did you eat?

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  1. Checked out two places for RestaurantDay. First, Chicama for a Honduran ceviche - thinly sliced fluke in a mayonaissy sauce, which lurked at the bottom of a paper cone, while a coconut and fruity icey sorbet type of thing topped it off. I like experimental - I did not like this dish one bit and it left me wondering what all the fuss is about. Then, I walked up to Tabla for a different story altogether. Braised short ribs with a crushed chick pea pie and fresh cooked spinach were practically flawless. Plus, I was able to sit and enjoy it at their new outdoor adjunct of the Bread Bar along with several other samplers. It reminded me that I need to make another reservation there very soon.

    1. Well, I was a total pig on Restaurant Day and sampled the wares at SEVEN different places! I went to the Flatiron/Grammercy area since it seemed to have the most fine restaurants within a few blocks.

      The best of the day was the outstanding ceviche at Patria. Shrimp in a strong lime base, accented with mango, ginger and red onion. Then topped with corn nuts and popcorn -- a brilliantly whimsical touch that really added to the dish. The corn crunch with the sublime soup was something else. This was, hands down, the finest soup I have ever eaten. I ate the full mean at Patria today and the ceviche they served was not as good as this one.

      Patria's chef emeritus Douglas Rodriguez was also serving ceviche at his new digs Chicama. This one had fluke and was topped with cilantro sorbet, which was a cute touch. It wasn't nearly as good as Patria's, however.

      More soup: the second best thing I ate that day was an outrageously fresh gaspacho at Park Avalon. PA does not have the reputation of a "gourmet" place and was not on my hit list for that day, but the soup looked so good (and the servings so huge) that I had to try it, and I was mighty glad I did. A simple straightforward gaspacho, but the tomatoes tasted like they'd been on the vine 24 hours earlier. Truly superb, and a full bowl for only $4! Park Avalon will get my patronage at some point in the future because of that bowl of soup.

      To get some solid food, I had the crabcake sandwich at City Crab, which was merely okay (like the restaurant that served it, IMHO.)

      For dessert I had a pair of gelatos from Union Square Cafe, one excellent chocolate-orange (with a nicely bitter orange zest bite) and one interesting cheese gelato that I think was marscopone. I also had the buttermilk panna cotta at Grammercy Tavern but the serving was so tiny that it didn't make much of an impression.

      All in all a fun afternoon, although some joints were a lot more serious about the day than others. I wish I'd made it up to Tabla before they took theirs up, the menu looked great -- but no food left. :(