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3 days in Manhattan (report back)

b
Brit on a Trip Oct 8, 2007 07:14 AM

My thanks to folk who replied to my posts many weeks ago. You helped to make the last three days of our tour an eating high-spot. This is how we did:

Dinner Day 1 – Marseille – Nice room, clearly modelled on an old-style French brasserie. Having spent most of our trip in “the south”, it was a little odd that when water was served it was not iced – in fact it was warm and unpleasant. Not a good start. My wife had an unremarkable mixed salad, followed by steak frites which was fine. I had the Mediterranean salad – which we would call a Greek salad with its feta and olives. I followed this with a lamb cous cous. The “stew” of lamb, merguez and chickpeas was served in a tagine which I presume was for presentation only, rather than the actual cooking vessel. The cous cous itself came in a separate bowl. It was a good dish but would have benefited from being a little spicier. We both had sorbet as a dessert – one blob each of elderflower, blood orange and mango. Great sorbets. A pleasant enough meal.

Lunch Day 2 - Parts of RGR’s (in) famous Lower East Side walking tour. Our starter was the recommended potato knish – a new experience for us and one I’d hope to repeat on a future trip. Our main was Katz’s pastrami on rye.. We’ve been to the Stage Deli before and enjoyed the sandwich there. This was tastier and better proportioned in having less meat. A great sandwich and a great experience – and a good thing too, as $18 for a sandwich and soda is not a cheap lunch. Although not a Saturday, we must have picked a day when religious observance meant a couple of places were closed. So we may never know what the bialys at Kossars are like. Or, even, what they are! Nor could we try Gus’ pickles. After the Tenement Museum tour, dessert was next door at the Laboratorio del Gelato. Fab sorbet. Fab ice cream. Thanks, RGR – great stroll round the neighbourhood.

Dinner Day 2 – Il Cortile. It was a “must” that we had dinner in Little Italy (we were tourists, after all) and we not disappointed. Mrs Brit started with Calzone alla Barese. Stuffed with mozzarella, tomato and basil, it was very tasty but quite a dry filling. I had the Antipasto Freddo Speciali - caprese, proscuitto, aubergine parmigiano, roasted peppers and olives. Excellent mix and quality and a fine starter. We’d then ordered a pasta dish to be shared between us – Capellini piselli & proscuitto – tomato & meat sauce, mushroom, proscuitto and peas. It came as something of a surprise that it arrived with our main courses, rather than being served as a separate course. Is this usual in the US? In either event, it was a good dish with the sauce clinging perfectly to the pasta. For main, Mrs Brit had a “special” – halibut topped with tomato and basil. This fish was perfectly cooked and with a flavoursome topping. I had veal scallopine recommended by the waiter. It came with a sauce incorporating aubergine, mushroom, tomato and slightly spicy peppers. Delish! I managed a dessert of zabaglione topped with raspberries, which was only OK. We finished with coffee. Great experience, made more so by the arrival of an “interesting” character who was greeted extremely warmly by the management and who all the servers seemed to want to shake hands with. No doubt just a good tipper, but us tourists have seen the Godfather and can invent our own theory.

Lunch Day 3 – Big Wong. I am a great fan of the Kinky Friedman books and, having reached Chinatown at lunchtime, it had to be this place which often features on the pages. And, for similar reasons, it had to be roast pork over rice. Most of the clientele was Chinese so it seemed very familiar to eating in Chinatown in our home city. Food was OK; realising an ambition to eat there was better.

Dinner Day 3 – Benjamin’s SteakHouse. I’d wanted to make reservations well in advance and, due to the time differences, wanted to do it online. This brought it down to Benjamins or Wolfgangs. Other review websites consistently mention rude or abrupt service at Wolfgangs which is a guarantee of a place getting crossed off my shortlist. No surprises in what we ordered “steak for two”, German potatoes, creamed spinach. Steak was a very good flavour and, in our view, well on par with the best of UK restaurant steak. We were a little unsure what German potatoes would turn out to be – they are what we’d call sauté potatoes and are a classic accompaniement to steak in the UK. We asked “why German” and the waiter said it was because Peter Luger first called them that and he’s German. Any truth in this? Creamed spinach was, erm, creamed spinach. I’d still room for dessert and had to have cheesecake to finish the “New York experience”. Fabulous ….and the homemade schlag…..better than fabulous. Service was outstanding – attentive, friendly and respectful, all at the same time. Nice welcoming space as well. A rare “absolutely faultless” meal.

As a general comment, at Marseille, Cortile and a small place we had breakfast one day, the tip came already added to the check, in the same way that we are used to with “service charges” in the UK and the rest of Europe. Is this a developing thing in New York? Certainly, it’s something to be welcomed, in my opinion.

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  1. financialdistrictresident Oct 8, 2007 07:24 AM

    Interesting. Based on my experience in NYC the tip is only added for large parties. Some restaurants now add a "tipping guideline" to the check that shows what an appropriate $ tip would be at 15%, 18% and 20%. It is easier overseas where the gratuity is added to the check.

    Thanks for reporting back and glad you had a good time while here.

    1. SweetPea914 Oct 8, 2007 07:25 AM

      Happy to see you liked Il Cortile, it's the only place in Little italy I'll eat at!
      For small parties (under 6) I have never seen the tip added onto the bill, what was the %, do you remember? Maybe it's something done only to "visitors". However, I'm surprised that anyone would "welcome" being told what to tip. To each his own I guess. Glad you had a good trip!

      1. n
        nyebaby37 Oct 8, 2007 07:25 AM

        Thanks for your reviews, glad you enjoyed your meals esp Littly Italy. MOST hounds bash L I but I find it amusing, and there are def some good restaurants left. W/o giving too much info away, a cousin of mine's godfather is a regular there. Mangia!

        5 Replies
        1. re: nyebaby37
          i
          idia Oct 8, 2007 08:02 AM

          I had a good laugh from your fine post.
          My mate is one of those people who rarely actually peruses a check (grrrrr!) so I have no doubt whatsoever that he added a substantial tip each time we dined at Marseille because he would never have noticed that the tip was included.
          This practice being, basically, a European and Caribbean thing to do, I wonder how many New Yorkers might not even notice the added tip and leave an extra one.
          Wouldn't surprise me in the least.

          1. re: idia
            b
            Brit on a Trip Oct 8, 2007 08:21 AM

            Idia

            My thoughts exactly. The two restaurants were very "up front" about describing it as a tip and making the calculation (at, I think, 18%). However, in the way of less reputable places in the UK, the credit card slip was still left open so it would be easy to miss it and double tip if you're not used to this. In the diner type place (I can't recall its name but it was on 6th Avenue between 57th and 58th), it was just listed as "SC" and I'm pretty sure that there was an intent NOT to be "up front" in the hope of a double tip.

            1. re: Brit on a Trip
              zuriga1 Oct 8, 2007 01:59 PM

              Good tips for my next trip, 'home.' Thanks. Would you believe my grandmother sent my dad salamis from Katz's during his days in the Philippines during WWII? I love that place. And I met Kinky Friedman a few times (long story). He is as strange as you'd imagine, but clever, clever.

              1. re: zuriga1
                financialdistrictresident Oct 8, 2007 02:06 PM

                "Send a salami to your boy in the army" or something like that. . .I hope Second Avenue Deli opens before Katz closes (temporarily). Both places are one of a kind and take you back in time.

                1. re: financialdistrictresident
                  zuriga1 Oct 8, 2007 11:42 PM

                  I still miss the Madison Deli (86th and Madison) which was my aunt's favorite hangouts for many years... also mine when I first came to the NYC area. They had the best seven-layer cake I've ever tasted. Those places do take one back.. and I have a long way to go back. :-) I long for a Katz's here near London.

        2. r
          RGR Oct 9, 2007 08:21 AM

          Hi Brit,

          Thanks so much for you excellent report. I'm especially pleased that you enjoyed the part of my tour that you were able to take. :-)

          Yes, you did manage to do it on one of the Jewish holidays which are observed this time of year. Starting with Rosh Hashanah, this year, they were very early and, with the exception of Yom Kippur, which fell on a Saturday, all of them occurred on Thursday and Friday. Unfortunately, there is no way I can list them with specific dates because they are based on the Jewish calendar and so, each year, they occur on different dates, even during different months, i.e., Sept. vs Oct.

          Re: the tip being added to your bill. That situation really surprised me because I have never heard of that being done for parties of fewer than 6.

          Marseille is a restaurant we frequent, so I just called and asked if there had been a recent change in policy. The gentleman I spoke with said absolutely not. They only add the tip to parties of 6 or more. If, indeed, there was a tip on your bill, he theorized that whoever printed out your check must have accidentally hit the wrong button on the computer.

          I've never been to Il Cortile, but I called there as well, and the woman I spoke with said they definitely do not add the tip to checks for parties of fewer than 6. (She mentioned that other Little Italy restaurants do.) Their bills do show suggested tip amounts for various percentages at the bottom, as well as info related to exchange rates. She said if you feel there might be a discrepancy re: the tip amount, you can e-mail the restaurant ( ilcortile@aol.com ), they will pull up your bill, and if you are owed any money, they will make a refund.

          Edited to add: I just noticed your comment about service at Wolfgang's. We ate there for the first time last week, and I'm not sure why anyone thinks service is rude because our servers were extremely cordial and very efficient. The food was very good, and we loved space with its gorgeous landmarked Gustavino ceiling.

          3 Replies
          1. re: RGR
            b
            Brit on a Trip Oct 9, 2007 09:19 AM

            Thanks for making the phone calls. The Cortile check does, indeed, suggest tips based on 15,18 and 20%. However, as I indicated in the OP, the recommended amount had been added in to the check so I assume that someone there must also have "accidentally" hit the wrong button as at Marseille. Of course, if I am mistaken and the restaurant is right that it definately does not do this, then it means I walked away from a $200+ meal without leaving any tip.

            I have absolutely no problem with the tip being added in like this and am more than happy to see it dealt with in this way. After all, it is commonplace in the UK and many other European countries. It was only worthy of mention in that we hadnt experienced it in the US.

            And I certainly don't think I was overcharged by Il Cortile. If a country's custom dictates a tip is required, then I tip at the "going rate". Personally, I'm a great fan of the customs in those countries where tipping is not expected and the priced meal cost reflects the service (even better than adding a service charge) and ecent wages are paid to staff by their employer.

            John

            1. re: Brit on a Trip
              b
              Brit on a Trip Oct 9, 2007 09:24 AM

              Oh, and speaking of local customs, is anyone able to comment on my question about the pasta coming with the main course rather than as a separate one?

              John

              1. re: Brit on a Trip
                e
                ESNY Oct 9, 2007 10:47 AM

                Its a more Americanized thing. I'd garner to say, most Italian restaurants in the states serve pasta as a main course, rather than a primi. I think most Americans (non-Chowhounds) order pastas as a main course. Some restaurants also offer two distinct sizes of pasta course depending if you want it as a primi or as your main course. Since you ordered two main courses, plus a pasta, I would've assumed they would serve the pasta first. Most places I do that, ask if we wanted it served first.

          2. b
            bronwen Oct 9, 2007 08:34 AM

            I think the add-a-tip-to-your-bill thing is all over Little Italy as I had lunch at Caffe Napoli the other day (a very toothsome chicken piccata) and it was added on, but it could be because I have an English accent .......

            1. k
              kphilbin Oct 11, 2007 05:58 PM

              Next time I'd say go to Il Mulino for an old fashioned New York Little Italy italian rather than Il Cortile which I must say I found a little bland

              The fried chilli zucchini and parmesan and bruschetta they bring to keep you happy while you order is so delicious . The veal is so good that even though I try not to I can't resist.

              The one in Vegas is pretty good too though a little more form over substance and very pretentious

              As for the tipping I wholeheartedly agree. I tip in the UK at about 12-15% and in the US at 15-20% . What annoys me is that in the uK the staff often don't get the tip whilst in the US I suspect they'd shove a plate down the manager's trousers if they didn't

              omething I'd like to see would be a little amuse bouche and a little surprise like a limoncello after a meal as a "gift" to reciprocate the tip. It would cost about 1/2 % of the price of the meal and cements the relationship between diner and restaurant. Not just about money.

              1. t
                theannerska Oct 12, 2007 09:29 AM

                Thanks for a great report -- especially the Big Wong mention, which is usually not a dining destination for out-of-towners. I grew up eating there almost weekly, but I will freely admit that it is not the most exciting place, and some of the mixed reviews that it gets on this board are fair. But I am rather attached and know most of the staff, I still hold that it has the best roast pork in town, and it hits the spot every time...

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