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Mar 23, 2007 05:25 AM

The Good Life revisited, mercifully better

I visited the Good Life (no longer called Downtown, as it's the only one lelft) about a year ago after new owners took over, and left disgusted: that meal was gross. New chef Michael Scelfo, late of the Hound-beloved North Street Grill, is now in the kitchen, and his food is a huge improvement, mostly very, very good on its own terms.

First-floor bar is packed all night, downstairs vodka bar (200 selections) with DJ booth probably only fills up on weekends, presumably drawing a crowd that likes its booze watermelon- or caramel-flavored. Dining room stays mostly empty all night, so we get the server's rapt attention. We try a bunch of dishes, all of them very good and fairly priced:

* Pizza, one of several medium-crust, slightly fancy, 11" numbers, ours with shaved apple, carmelized onions, good smoked Cheddar, quite nice

* A appetizer-sized (but not tiny) pressed sandwich of duck, slaw studded with sour cherries, and Gruyere, very tasty

* An enormous deconstructed almost-Caesar salad with speck and pickled onions

* A beautiful spaghetti Carbonara described as having a "sparkling egg sauce"; the sparkle, from alleged Prosecco, isn't evident, but the intact yolk atop it, which we stir in, is, a delicious and authentic touch; there's lots of good Kurobuta bacon, too.

* A side of mac and cheese: a goodly portion of rich, creamy, sharp-cheesed elbows, very nice. There's an even bigger app-sized version with foie gras and mushrooms, but we're already overordering.

* Generous-sized sides of frites (good, clearly twice-fried, faintly rosemary-dusted) and roasted asparagus

* A not-very-pressed Cubano with the ham MIA, pretty respectable carnitas instead of roast pork loin, avocado (!) and sweet pickles; not quite Chez Henri good, but rather huge and pretty tasty (but $14)

* A banana bread pudding with caramel sauce that is good, but lacking the texture we seek in the best versions of this dessert.

While I'm not still dreaming about any of these a few days later, there is a consistency and minor note of creativity in these dishes that make us feel like it's a good deal, and worth returning to. Good prices for Downtown Crossing: apps in high single digits, pies around $12, entrees (including sandwiches) mostly mid-teens, sides and desserts around $6.

Cocktails are decent, though served in ugly, colored-stem cocktail glasses. A very short list of okay wines at okay prices.

I hope more folks find there way here to fill up that dining room. It's now one of the better Western dining options near Downtown Crossing.

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  1. Sounds good, MC. Thanks for the review.

    BTW, this may be a stupid question, but is there some sort of difference between frites and fries?

    5 Replies
      1. re: Bob Dobalina

        There's sometimes an element of pure marketing, but I also think the best frites are done in a fairly specific way: deep-fried briefly at a very high temperature to brown (almost like searing a hunk of meat), drained, then fried again in lower-temperature oil to cook through. This results in exceptional crispiness with fully-cooked centers. I believe it's the way all my favorites in town (Sel de la Terre, Aquitaine, Brasserie Jo) are done; I'm just guessing that this is how they're done at The Good Life.

        1. re: MC Slim JB

          To me, frites also tend to be cut really thin. Fries are all over the place in thickness.

        2. re: Bob Dobalina

          Real frites are made with Bintje potatoes and are soaked in water before frying. They are first fried at a lower temp and then again at a higher one. I am not sure how many places use the Bintje potato around here. I just know that in Belgium, they are amazing.

          1. re: Chrispy75

            Your ordering of frying is correct, and what I described above was wrong: it's lower temperature on the first fry, then higher on the second. I'd also agree with the notion that "frites" implies "skinny cut".

        3. I'm surprised you didn't squeeze in "speck is speck" somewhere in that review. HA!

          The carbonara sounds great ... I still have to get there to try Scelfo's food again.

          3 Replies
          1. re: yumyum

            Yes, in some respects, regular board habitues are like married couples: after a while, they start hearing the same old stories over and over again. I think I've told that Karl's Sauage Kitchen story at least four times here. (Some folks chant, "Shanti, Shanti, Shanti"; my mantra is "Speck is speck.")

            I certainly didn't leave The Good Life smelling like frying oil, a complaint I often heard here about the North Street Grill.

            1. re: yumyum

              I second both that carbonara, somehow both lighter and richer than most, and the mac-and-cheese--terrific. The latter definitely gives everyone's favorite versions a run for their money, yes, incl. Silvertone's.

              1. re: tatamagouche

                I've always loved any of Michael Scelfo's versions of mac and cheese. The one at Good Life with the foie and mushrooms was great, and I'm definitely going to have to try the carbonara the next time we go.

            2. I live in the neighborhood and go to the Good Life about once a week. The food is consistently good, especially the tuna tatare, the lobster roll sliders from the bar menu, and the mac and cheese.

              1 Reply
              1. re: DowntownChick

                I wish their vodka lounge were better in general---on every level. I live in the neighborhood and love the space and the concept. But the drinks are so poorly executed....

                OK, so maybe I did enjoy the Ciroc martini with the frozen-grape "olives." But that was a rare exception.