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Eating without the din near Columbia University?

Hi,

I'm spending the summer not far from Columbia Univeristy. The good news is I have a gorgeous neighborhood! The bad news is I've got to eat out two or three times a week, and I've got to be able to converse during dinner. Plus, what would really be nice is to find some restaurants where whoever is cooking food understands food or cooking -- or something!!! I have the feeling if I looked into most of the kitchens around here I'd find literature majors or law students with summer jobs, indifferently following a cheat sheet.

Anyway, the priorites are:

ELBOW ROOM

ABILITY TO CONVERSE PRIVATELY

FOOD I CAN EAT A COUPLE OF TIMES A WEEK. (I can't eat foie gras, or fried chicken, incendiary sauces three times a week, for example.)

Some places that have been recommended that I'd like your opinion about:

Turkuaz
La Mirabelle
Metisse

Some places I've already tried and don't want to go back

Havana Central
Community Food & Grill
Campo

I ate at Henry's, and while it's a nice space, at those prices I need some menu guidance. The mezza plate I had combined too many flavors that clashed. The hamburger was overdone. What do they prepare well? No point in ordering the pistachio-crusted something if nobody in the kitchen understands making a pistachio crust. (Ditto Community Food & Juice, which I take it is really a brunch place, and I was there for dinner. But the place is just too jammed up.)

Any other ideas beyond what I've mentioned? I'm not afraid to go to Harlem, but soul food is not everyday cooking for me. I already like the grilled tapas and salads (dressing on the side) at Floridita's Tapas on 125th, and Pisticci on La Salle has some nice items -- but both get crowded and noisy on weekends, so i'm looking for more.

Can you recommend civilized dining spots near Columbia? . I'm curious to know if there are any old neighborhood haunts around that I'm missing. I'll pass on mediocre Chinese, but I can do Chino-Cubano if the seating isn't cramped and the noise is low. I think what I'm really looking for is a nice, quiet owner-run place that can cook for me and a companion when I can't cook at home.

Thanks!

PS: Do you know if Terrace in the Sky is okay with weeknight drop-ins who order a couple of appetizers or just an entree? Can you eat at the bar there?

PPS: I sometimes long longingly into Tom's -- not because I've ever been a Seinfeld fan, but because of all those empty booths at dinnertime. Is there anything edible in there?

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  1. I'm also looking for opinions about

    Acqua
    Alouette
    Bello Sguardo
    Bistro Ten 18
    China de Puebla
    Indian Cafe
    Lemongrass Grill
    Luzia's
    Metisse
    Native
    North-west
    Ozu
    Savann

    I pulled this list off a Time Out search for "quiet, conversation friendly.'" Any opinions?

    I realize the food may not be exciting, but if it's fundamentally fresh and prepared with some care, and served in a peaceful space, great.

    I left Toast off the list because I assume it's just a sandwich place, and when I passed it, it looked like a beer hangout. Did I get the wrong impression?

    Hope somebody can help. Maybe I'll try a search for "romantic" restaurants on the UWS and see what that turns up.

    Thanks!

    5 Replies
    1. re: summerUWS2008

      Acqua--can get pretty loud when it is crowded, though during the summer the sidewalk seating actually keeps the inside pretty quiet. The food is definitely not exciting, but it is a pretty solid neighborhood option.
      Alouette--pretty quiet, especially if you get a table upstairs. And the food is lovely, though again, not earth-shattering.

      Luzia's--I tend to find this place is always quieter than I expect, but only because it is never very crowded. I cannot entirely speak to the food, since I have only eaten the vegetarian/fish dishes, which have been pretty greasy, though I do enjoy the sangria. And they serve this bacalao spread for bread that is delicious.

      Regional on 99th and Bway is usually pretty quiet, as I recall. I have been disappointed the last few times I have gone, foodwise, but I still enjoy a glass of wine and some appetizers. And while I have never been to PicNic for dinner, I imagine it would fit the bill also--I think it is around 103 and Bway.

      1. re: PetiteSyrah

        Thanks very much for those detailed responses. I'll put Alouette on the short list, and i'll look up the other places.

        If a Portugese place can't make good fish dishes, I think I better skip it.

      2. re: summerUWS2008

        Definitely try out La Mirabelle. It's not exciting but the food is basically good (putting aside the side vegetables on any dish). There are a couple of newer bistros, with some outdoor space, on Columbus in the 80's (Citron and Cassis) which I haven't tried. Zeytin, though the prices have risen sharply in the past year or so, might also work for you.

        1. re: amstrgy

          I have always been curious about La Mirabelle - I actually lived in that building before it was there - but we never seem to remember to go there. Any dishes that they do particularly well?

          1. re: amstrgy

            go in with low expectations to BISTRO CASSIS -- it was entirely mediocre back when it first opened for a brief time near me on w14th st. maybe they got their act together?

        2. I hated Metisse, not good food or service and kind of small for conversing. There is a thread here on that area with lots of recommendations. There is an Italian place on Bway very near Metisse. I don't remember the name but the space is large and comfortable.
          I used to like Cafe Pertutti on 113th for brunch. It seem to have changed hands so I don't know now. Bistro 1018 was good the few times I was there.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Hobsonby

            Thanks! Do you have a link to that thread or know what search terms might work? I tried "columbia' but not much turned up. I'll try Morningside Heights.

            Too bad about Metisse! I hope the Italian you're referring to isn't Campo at 111th or so -- where I took one bite of an overcooked linguine bathed in pancetta-lard and could not eat it. I left the whole plate of it sitting there. It has a very large back room, and had I found the food edible, I would have asked them to turn the music down, or at least switch to something other than disco. Some people appear to like the thin-crust pizza there, however, which I didn't try.

            I don't need brunch. Any menu recommendations for dinner at Bistro 1018?

          2. A recent wave of improvements to the UWS dining scene has been slow to creep northward. I recently closed the book on three years as a Columbia grad student during which I struggled painfully to find decent chow (let alone chow which meets your parameters).

            But:
            -Thai Market is a nice exception. I recommend it unequivocally.
            -Indus Valley and Max are good for the neighborhood.
            -Bistro Ten 18 is competent but seriously overpriced.
            -Cafe Swish has great service and is acceptable in a pinch if not a tad uninspired.
            -The Columbia Faculty House (just east of and behind the Law School, ask for directions as it's hard to find) serves cheap and decent buffet lunches on weekdays in a nice old townhouse dining room. No CUID required. Not sure what their summer hours are, though.
            -Trusted friends recommend "A" (aka A Restuarant and Wine Room or something) on Columbus, but I never made it over there. BYOB.
            -Walk down Morningside Park (caveat: park closed after dark) for CH Lower Harlem faves. I used to enjoy strolls to Amy Ruth's and Africa Kine.

            Skip Terrace in the Sky unless you are AARP-eligible and enjoy cooking techniques and ambience from the era of your birth. Lemongrass Grill is a consistently horrible chain (again, in this category, Thai Market is the move). You will not be able to converse privately, nor eat proper food, at Amsterdam Cafe, Radio Perfecto, Hamilton Deli, Strokos, the Heights, or really anywhere within a three-block radius of campus (with Cafe Swish possibly excepted).

            Good luck. You'll need it!

            6 Replies
            1. re: D...DF

              Thank you for the copious information -- and the wish for luck! I do feel I need it.

              I've heard Thai Market is good but cramped and noisy. Wrong? I can converse there?

              I've also heard "A" is tiny. I'll walk by.

              I do enjoy cooking techniques from the era of my birth--actually from BEFORE my birth (I spend most of my time in Europe,) Even outside the UWS, I've had so much bad "imaginatively combined flavors" in NYC over the past few weeks, I'll never complain about a so-called boring menu again.

              I've mostly used Swish for simple take out, like noodle soup, because when I pick in the window, it looks like people are racing through their dinners, and the staff is racing around, too. Also, a lot of the offerings looked sugary.

              Thanks again!

              1. re: D...DF

                faculty house is closed until fall 2009

                1. re: lauralb

                  And even if it was open, as someone who has had to eat dinner at Faculty House a couple of times a week during some stretches, it can get a bit tiresome, even though the dinner buffet is basically good. I thought its best years in recent history were when Joe Ciampi was managing it in the late 1990s (we had our wedding in Faculty House while he was there), but he quickly moved on to bigger and better things.

                  1. re: lauralb

                    lauralb,

                    Thanks very much for digging up that recent thread. Very helpful.

                  2. re: D...DF

                    The Columbia Faculty House was closed for rennovations all this year. I don't think that they are open now.

                  3. I wholeheartedly second Thai Market. Ouest (French) is great, Spiga (Italian) is very good, tho seating can be cramped. Africa Kine is good for Senegalese home cooking. Cafe du Soleil is good for outdoor seating, an ok wine list, and good roast chicken and frites, ok coq au vin. Flor de Mayo has decent roast chicken.

                    Terrace is fine with weeknight drop ins. It's always empty. (I think the food is completely mediocre.) Don't know about eating at the bar; haven't seen one.

                    Others:

                    Turkuaz -- decent. good bread, doner, and mucver; everything else is just ok.
                    Metisse -- not as good as cafe du soleil
                    Lemongrass Grill -- bad
                    Luzia's -- some items decent, others bad
                    North-west -- lovely wine list, good food, not at all loud
                    Savanna -- mediocre

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: cimui

                      Faculty house has been closed for months and will be closed for probably another year. All of that above is true about the Terrace (unless it is graduation time and then it is mobbed and you can't get in.) That being said, I can't believe that if you are nice and good natured, the staff wouldn't welcome you and your dinner partner just for a quite drink and something to sustain yourself -- plus a lovely view. It is certainly quiet.

                      1. re: elizabeth2929

                        Thanks, elizabeth. I have a dim recollections of being taken to Terrace in the Sky on 3 separate occasions in my life, and can't remember what I ate, although the last time (which was last summer, come to think of it), I remember thinking it wasn't as boring as I expected it be -- but I still can't remember what i ate.

                        I'm good natured! I want to be loved by a restaurant and taken care of.

                      2. re: cimui

                        cimul, I had heard Thai Market was good but too noisy and cramped for conversation. I'll take a look at those other menus.

                        Is the outdoor seating at Cafe du Soleil on B'way? I can't take those trucks when I'm trying to eat.

                        Otherwise, this looks like a bleak summer for eating out!

                        Thanks again!

                        1. re: summerUWS2008

                          thai market is not cramped -- esp. not on a week night. when it first opened, you had to wait 1/2 an hr or more for a table, but no longer. most of the time, when i drop in with friends (generally around 8ish), it's empty enough for us to pick our table and far from loud. weekends probably still get busy.

                          outdoor seating at cafe du soleil is on b'way. there's a decent amount of space between you and the street. don't think there are too many garden patio dining areas around these parts.

                          i'm curious where you're moving to the uws from.

                          1. re: cimui

                            cimui,

                            I spend almost all my time in Europe, around the Mediterranean, mainly in Italy. I'm not moving here. I'm subletting for the summer. I used to live in Manhattan, but i lived on the East Side (in the same hundreds!) and spent almost all my time midtown. My recollections were that is was not this tough to find nice places to have nice meals when you needed it -- although I have to say that since living along the mediterranean, where fresh, seasonal-only food is the norm, classically prepared, it's tough for me to warm up to what New Yorkers are chasing in terms of chow. It reminds me of a kinda wannabe Barcelona, without the access to really great ingredients. And even in Spain, I find that Barcelona seems to be ripping people off with a reputation for "creative" when the food in places like San Sebastian, Andalucia and the best of Madrid will knock your socks off for flavor. If you've had perfect gazpacho, watermelon gazpacho just tastes like a failed experiment.

                            Also, outside of London -- which still has terrible food! Don't fall for the press releases! -- I can't think of anyplace else where people judge a restaurant because of the decor, or avoid a restaurant because the other patrons aren't their demographic. Where I've been living, people only go out to enjoy the company of their friends and/or family and eat well. When they sit down, they're there for the night. There is no second seating.

                            I've heard so many good things about Thai Market, I'll try to head there on an early weekday sometime soon.

                            I think there is a garden behind Symposium. (See my note below about dandelion greens.)

                            Thanks again!

                        2. re: cimui

                          Just wanted to add a couple more recs. (I was doing a speed posting, before, and should've thought it out, more--sorry!)

                          gabriella's (mexican, lovely outdoor patio and excellent tequilla list)
                          cafe con leche (dominican / cuban)
                          miss mamie's spoonbread (southern food -- but might be too heavy for everyday and the decor is pretty much cafeteria style, if that bothers you)
                          charm thai is also not bad for grilled dishes, though not nearly as good as thai market
                          zeytin is about as good as turkuaz, but is strong on different items

                          1. re: cimui

                            Thanks for the extra recs! Decor is unimportant. I love good tequilas and outdoor patios. I also really like Turkish food (the one place on the Med I never get to!). I'll track down Thai Charm.

                            I saw cafe con leche from across the street, but it looked so tiny, I didn't look any closer. I'll check it out.

                            1. re: summerUWS2008

                              on second thought, cafe con leche will probably be too greasy for you to eat everyday. they sometimes have good mofongo (it depends on how recently it was made), and good cubanos, but a lot of the menu is probably not what you're looking for. (i.e. the paella is terrible.)

                              kefi (greek) is loud and cramped, but it has excellent food (lovely, tender grilled octopus, veggie-heavy small plates made with good ingredients). if you happen to dine during off hours for new york city, you may want to drop in. it sounds like your kind of thing.

                              skip the appetizers at charm thai. but order all the appetizers (and skewers) at thai market -- esp. the daikon radish cake appetizer and grilled calamari.

                              since you mentioned northwest and terrace in the sky, and a need for 'civilized' dining places, i'll throw out a couple of recs in this category. none of these places is right by columbia, but they are all within walking distance or a short subway ride -- about as far from columbia at northwest:

                              1. ouest (which i've already mentioned) consistently serves some of the best food in the city, most seats have lots of elbow room (try to get a banquette). the space and service are friendly, bistro-relaxed, and fine for either everyday dining if you can handle the price point or a special occasion. i think they do sweetbreads and red meats exceptionally well. the fresh baguette served wtih dinner comes to you hot out of the oven.

                              2. dovetail (new american, continental influenced) also has pretty good food, impeccable service. it's a bit more staid of a dining room. portions are smallish, desserts are good (sometimes a bit weird).

                              3. 81 (new american / continental influenced... we should come up with a new term for places like these... euroamerican?) -- i like this place, but you should know that it gets mixed reviews, esp. from people who say the food is overpriced. if you're coming from europe, you may be less worried about that, given the weak dollar. food is sometimes oversalted, but overall, preparations are consistent, the dishes use good ingredients, and the chef knows how to keep things flavorful, but simple. i recently had wonderful dayboat scallops there.

                              4. telepan (euroamerican greenmarket). a lot of people love this restaurant and find it inventive. i'm not sure why, but i just don't love this restaurant in the same way others seem to. i like the chickpea pancakes and found the house smoked brook trout pretty good, but in general, think the food is less interesting than reading the menu would suggest. i think i also hold the dowdy dining room and indifferent service against them, unfortunately. desserts are weak.

                              5. Compass (new american) -- haven't been recently. liked it in the past, but should let others who go more frequently than i do review it.

                              6. Sushi of Gari -- I have never had good fish, here, but i have also never sat in front of gari-san, himself. there are chowhounds whose opinions i trust, who say that the fish is actually excellent if you're seated in front of gari-san and do a true omakase (not a set menu). s. of g might be worth your time.

                              1. re: cimui

                                cimui,

                                Thanks so much!

                                Ouest gets sterling reviews from everyone that i have talked to. I suspect I would need a reservation, even on weekday nights, but there are sometimes that I need to plan for eating out, and thus do make reservations.

                                Coming from europe, not only do prices look cheaper, everything tastes undersalted! Dayboat scallops are great when they're left alone.

                                Thanks again for these copious descriptions. They really do help.

                        3. Dinosaur BBQ is not a couple times a week place and it can get very crowded and noisy, but the tables are spaced enough that you can converse. But most important, the food is quite good and reasonably priced. Don't miss their gigantic meaty wings. Great beer and bourbon selections as well.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: bobjbkln

                            Thanks for the info on Dinsaur BBQ. You're right: It's not a couple of times a week place. I really need a decent bistro, although I am so fond of eating non-European food when I'm not in Europe-- I just wish more of those restaurants were in bigger spaces.

                          2. Maybe I should ask this:

                            Do you have any recommendations for rotisserie chicken, pre-made foods in the nabe?

                            Morton Williams is a disaster, I'm wary of "Rack and Soul" and too much of Milano Market looks tired or over-refrigerated, although I like some of their bread and imported oils, etc. Any way to put together an decent cold meal to go with a bottle of wine and head for the park and a view of the Hudson? I saw a Middle Eastern deli. Any hope there for the olives?

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: summerUWS2008

                              Fairway uptown. Get the "Latin Chicken." Other prepared foods like the pot pies are pretty good, and also some almost-prepared foods like the stuffed sole (bake about 20 min at 350 F with some garlic butter).

                              The ribs aren't bad at Rack and Soul. Also just a few doors East of Rack and Soul on 109th St. there's a little sushi place called "Saji's" that looks like a hole in the wall, but is actually pretty good, and Saji is actually back there making sushi and other bento type dishes.

                              1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                                I forgot about Fairway! Thanks for the tip about Saji. I'll get some sushi to take to the park, and see if I can work up an appetite for ribs.

                              2. re: summerUWS2008

                                Go to Citarella on 125th, for almost any quality product it's the best in the neighborhood. Great fresh seafood, meat, produce and lots of little things that you probably can't get elsewhere uptown. Fairway is good for stocking up on basics (and if you want to cook for large dinner parties etc).

                                In general, I would suggest venturing further south for what you're looking for as far as "bistro" etc food is concerned. Honestly, with a few exceptions of "lunch" or "casual" places there really isn't much. However, between Citarella and fairway you can cook at home very well and for a good price.

                                1. re: progressivenewamerican

                                  Thanks for the tip on citarella. The only one I knew about is (was?) further down b'way, in the 80s? I am already skedded for one dinner party where I promised to cook mussels, and I was wondering where i was going to get them. But as much I'd rather eat my own cooking every night, I just can't do it. Sometimes, I have to entertain elsewhere or I don't have time to shop.

                                  I just feel like my options will be worse the further down I go on the UWS -- less space, more noise, too much theater. I'm hoping I can piece together a short list of passable, quiet places up here that won't upset my stomach.

                                  1. re: summerUWS2008

                                    I meant, really downtown (the food gets better around the 20s, although there are a few good places in hells kitchen). In particular, Casaluella is a great seasonal/cheese-centric small plates place with a nice atmosphere, it can be quiet or loud depending on when you go. Because there are a lot of businesses near there,it's loud after work but come like 9pm it's quiets down.

                                2. re: summerUWS2008

                                  on the corner is 110th is Westside Market which is the closest decent market to Columbia. Excellent prepared foods, solid baked products, and i don't feel like they're charging as much as Morton Williams and the like.

                                  1. re: qwertyu

                                    Right. They are certainly better than Morton Williams, whose prepared foods I won't even touch. I've had mixed results with their prepared foods. I'm all right with their rotisserie chickens; they package up and sell the odds and ends of their smoked salmon, and that's good and cheap, their produce is generally OK -- although I ended up with a chest of mixed organic greens that had gone slimy. I was OK with their taramasalata (and then never saw it in the store again) but have been disappointed in their gazpacho and some other beany-veggie couscous-y salads in tubs. Sort of liked some of their muffins. Still prefer the bread at Milano Market.

                                    But when i go shopping, I go there, and poke around the Farmer's market in front of Columbia. O where are the tomatoes of yesteryear?

                                3. Ahh. Just looked an menupages and discovered North-West is temporarily closed.

                                  1. When Dinosaur BBQ is really crowded, you can get served food at the tables in the bar--no problem at all when you're just one or two people. There's a lot of new development in this area. Keep walking north on 12th Ave. past Fairway (one of the best markets in the city, by the way), and on your left you'll find Hudson River Cafe (I've heard positive things, but haven't been yet), Talay (new Thai-Latin place, sounds interesting, haven't tried it yet), and Covo (owned by the owners of Max Soha, similarly good food but not as cramped, and a nice lounge/bar upstairs).

                                    For bistro, there's Le Monde on Broadway. The food is decent bistro food, and it's not as crowded as the other places usually.

                                    A nice rustic Italian place that's tucked away on LaSalle between Claremont and Broadway is Pisticci. When we lived in the neighborhood, it was one of our favorites, and I liked taking faculty guests there after talks, and it was also a good spot to bring a visiting job candidate for a lunch interview. They have jazz one or two nights a week, and it gets busy those nights.

                                    Toast is a bar, but a fairly civilized one, and the food isn't too bad. They attract a lot of students from Manhattan School of Music. I recommend the Mesquite BBQ Pork sandwich.

                                    One place not mentioned here I don't think is The Heights on Broadway. It can get crowded, but not as much in the summer, because there are fewer students and they open up their rooftop patio for additional seating. I recommend the Mexican Timpano.

                                    Over on Amsterdam look at Sez Medi (Italian, thin brick oven pizza and other good things), Max Soha (another rustic-style Italian place, no brick oven), and Kitchenette (American style comfort food, but done well and never very crowded or loud--I don't know how they stay in business, but they have a successful restaurant downtown).

                                    Floridita Tapas is okay and usually quiet. The main Floridita restaurant next door makes a decent Cuban sandwich.

                                    I don't know why anyone would eat at Tom's. I've never cared for it.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                                      Great tips. I too have heard pleasant things about Hudson River Cafe. Le Monde is too noisy for me (those tile floors), but their coffee is the best I've tasted up here so far.

                                      Pisticci has been jammed thus far, and I've only been successful once feeling comfortably seated outside. (At first I thought I was going to fall into the well of the basement). I best liked their artichokes, but the pasta sauce of swordfish was nice, although the pasta was overcooked (seems to be a national hazard in America).

                                      Someone did mention the Heights. What is Mexican Timpano? A burrito in a pie plate?

                                      Last year I was taken to Max Soho and had a nice special of grilled sardines and then a perfectly miserable pasta. We were in a really cramped space outside, so I hadn't thought to go back.

                                      I like Floridita's for grilled sardines and salads (I get the dressing on the side, though). I'm still in the process of figuring out what else they do well. I like some of their wine list. I have to say that people eating at Floridita's seem happier to me than any single other place I've eaten around here, with the possible exception of Pisticci. It feels like such a relief to walk in there.

                                      Okay! Thanks again! I feel better now. I hope some of these places pan out for me. If I have some happy dinners out, I'll let you know.

                                      Which reminds me: I'll bet everybody hates Symposium, but I ate skordalia and a plate of sauteed dandelion greens there, drank red wine from Crete, and it all tasted way more "market" than the refrigerated grape tomatoes that ended up in my supposedly "heirloom tomato" salad at Community Food & Juice, or the truffle oil they pour onto ravioli there (absolutely ruining what otherwise would have been a lovely pasta filled with fresh favas and peas). I didn't see much that appealed in the meat kebabs and rice plates headed for other tables at Symposium, but my companion, an octopus addict, forgave that his octopus had once been frozen, and liked that it was so simply cooked with fresh lemon.

                                      1. re: summerUWS2008

                                        The Mexican timpano is kind of like a burrito stacked in layers. A friend of mine from Mexico City said, "everything in this is Mexican and is good, but we don't have this in Mexico," which I took to be a positive recommendation, and it's what I usually order there.

                                        Symposium is not a bad place. I usually like the mezedes plate, and the kebabs are pretty standard fare for similar Greek restaurants around town. Some of the vegetable dishes are overcooked for my taste, but that's also pretty standard at mid-priced Greek restaurants around town. The main attraction is the atmosphere, since it's been a Columbia hangout since at least the 1960s.

                                        Le Monde's coffee is good, but also try Oren's across the street, particularly for beans to brew at home.

                                        1. re: David A. Goldfarb

                                          I do like Oren's, and have bought beans there.

                                          With the students gone, Symposium is just drafty -- without the beer! But th owner is very sweet, and so is the rest of the staff. I think I'd dread being in there when a whole crowd fills that long table, but I haven't seen that yet. Although I have seem some flaming dish that is apparently to wow the young at heart. I think they do a closure in summer, so I wasn't counting on it being there for me.

                                          I grew up in California so I grew up eating Mexican food Mexicans never heard of. Having been hanging out a lot in Italy this past year, however, I tend to cringe when I read the menus of highly-touted Italian restaurants and see items -- especially pasta sauces -- you would never see anywhere in the boot. I'm stunned so many people have toured Italy and then come back and rave about the authenticity of Batali's regional cooking -- with jalapenos! (Bet they have that in Mexico!)

                                          1. re: summerUWS2008

                                            I have always liked Symposium--so there!

                                            I have tried Meridiana twice and never had a decent meal there.
                                            Saji's is great--use it a lot.

                                            1. re: summerUWS2008

                                              well that is likely because the mexican food mexicans never heard of that you grew up with doesnt exist in mexico as it is a californian take on mexican food. ditto the italian food you find here in ny, it is italian-american. this is distinct from the food you would find italian restaurants and what you would find today in italy.

                                              no question the restaurants and the distinctions on both coasts on these topics can often be confusing, but nevertheless the distinctions exist.

                                              also, i dk about jalapenos, but in his defense batali makes very clear that he is making and promoting italian food as interpreted via america and local ingredients (ie., famously the salumi).

                                        2. re: David A. Goldfarb

                                          Covo (701 w 135th street)was somewhat hilarious the time three of us went and the wrong order of grilled calamari kept coming to us. There is outside seating that can be quite pleasant because there is no street traffic. There is an upstairs bar/lounge that i haven't been yet, but the main dining room can get noisy at night. The wrong order of fried (instead of grilled) calamari was delicious, the grilled was slightly bitter, but somewhat addictive. by the time the pizza came i was too full to taste properly. So, i would go back and try again before fully recommending the food. If it's space you want though, covo and the hudson river cafe are less claustrophobic than the rest in the 100's. good luck!

                                          1. re: HLing

                                            Thank you very much for the space comparisons. One of my eating partners is a big fan of wiggly undersea creatures, preferably grilled. I'll let you know if I have any luck north.

                                        3. Nobody is mentioning Meridiana. I don't believe they're open for lunch, but at dinner they offer very good pastas and mains. It's a quiet place because they are usually not crowded--you can also eat outside, which is really pleasant in the summer. Highly recommended.

                                          Thai Market, as I'm sure you've found by now, has great food but it is often NOISY. And, as you've noticed, it's hard to find places that aren't. Try Meridiana, and maybe the Mill (Korean). And good luck! I eat lunch out everyday in the area, as I work up here, so we'll probably rub elbows sometime.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: crinkle11

                                            Okay. I'll add Meridiana to the list of ones to try. How is their pasta with peas? Anything particularly good? I could probably live off their antipasta choices of cured meats, arugula, a little cheese. But a simple pasta would be nice.

                                            I did try the Mill. I could barely squeeze into the table they gave me -- maybe that was you I was rubbing elbows with!

                                            1. re: summerUWS2008

                                              favorites:

                                              calamari del diavolo, penne alla vodka, spaghetti con polpettine, salsiccie alla giacomino, the vegetables in padella

                                              don't order pollo all' argentina

                                              1. re: crinkle11

                                                Vegetables in padella! Sounds best to me. I'll keep it in mind. Thanks!

                                          2. Update:

                                            I've already got my dinner partner for tonight to agree to try Saji for sushi to take to the park. It's so beautiful outside today!

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: summerUWS2008

                                              This is a very thorough discussion -- I can't think of anything you haven't thought of but one: Fresh Direct has prepared foods that I used last year during a foot injury when I couldn't travel. Haven't used them this year -- for several reasons, one of which is that I know how high the profit margins are on their prepared foods. But they have lowered the minimum delivery and they are advertising Tabla entrees. You could do worse than food delivered and eating at home.

                                              1. re: elizabeth2929

                                                elizabeth,

                                                right. This really does cover the waterfront. If I could eat home all the time, I would. I'd cook! But I can't. And I'm a little concerned that the doormen where I'm subletting won't know what to do with deliveries for me. But I may experiment on a trip to Fairway next week.

                                            2. A place I like that nobody has mentioned is Calcutta Cafe on Broadway between 104-105 Sts. Its ambience is serene, it is owner run (the owner actually lives in my bldg!), and the food is good. I like it better than Indian Cafe and Indus Valley. Good food and service and quiet--you can have conversations there.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: originalfoodie

                                                Originalfoodie,

                                                okay! Great. Fantastic!

                                                Any other votes for Calcutta Cafe over Indian Cafe or Indus Valley?

                                              2. Update. Sunday night:

                                                So on Friday night, I sailed out the door to head for Saji's to pick up some sushi for a picnic, confident I'd fixed the location in my head, but somewhere around 109th and Amsterdam, I realized I must have misremembered something. I wandered around a bit, looking for signs of Saji, and found myself standing in front of Thai Market. Stuck my head in -- it was jammed and roaring! (But people looked happy.)

                                                Backing out the door of Thai Market, I found myself standing in front of a teensy sushi place called Sumo. Utterly empty. (Bad sign.) Stuck my head anyway, and it was spotlessly clean. (Good sign.) Smiling Japanese sushi makers standing behind a row of very pink and vibrant looking fish. Best sign of all.

                                                So I figured I screwed up finding Saji's and ordered some sushi and sashmi to go. Took it with my friend to Riverside Park, sat down on a quiet bench facing a beautiful sunset overlooking the glorious river and ----?

                                                Sushi and sashimi was tasteless! Not funky. Not flat. A miracle of no taste at all.

                                                I wondered if they'd washed it.

                                                Usually my problem with cheap sushi (and this was cheap) is too much sugar in the rice. But this was just white rice. Finito. Their little side salad was crispy and fresh.

                                                So after our completely innocuous meal, it was turning dark, so we walked home and a thousand fireflies floated up from the grass to light our way. Nice touch!

                                                And tonight, I headed out to the north with a friend with a 3-step approach to finding a quiet meal. If Pisticci was too crowded, we'd look at the menu at Chino del Pueblo on B'way in the 120's, and if that frightened us, we'd head to Floridita's Tapas.

                                                But Pisticci had two dangerously rickety chairs just waiting for us. I had the steamed artichoke appetizer. Perfectly steamed! My friend at the fig-mango salad and both the figs and dandelion greens looked wonderfully fresh. I had pasta alla Norma, which was overcooked rigatoni covered with too much old ricotta salata. My friend had the special pasta, spaghetti di mare they called it -- and I tasted the spaghetti, and it wasn't overcooked. Good! No deserts. Fiano di Sicilia to drink, which isn't as good as Fiano d'Avellino, which they apparently don't have.

                                                My conclusion for Pisticci: Order the special pastas if you want pasta (that was true the last time I was there). Also: don't go dressed in a short skirt, since the only way I could get to my seat was to either climb across the lap of the bearded grad student dining at the other end of the table or climb over some flower pots and a low fence that defines the eating platform. He was cute, but he was eating, and I wouldn't have wanted to risk a short skirt swinging my leg over that fence.

                                                I have an obligatory dinner in two weeks with a Tibetan buddhist. I've made a reservation at Pure Food and Wine. Any recs other than the lasagne?

                                                Thanks again everybody!

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: summerUWS2008

                                                  PS: In the most recent thread about Morningside Heights that laura gave me a link to, I see more than one poster recommending Campo. I tried to eat a dish of linguine with clams there, which they made with pancetta, and it was an inedible mass of white fat. My dining partner actually ate his penne arribiata, but I tasted it and it was overcooked pasta and the tomato sauce just had burning pepper throw at it. Yeah, it was angry. But not tasty!

                                                  Anyway, what do people who like this place eat there? Better than Pisticci?

                                                2. Update for future reference when people do searches and call up this thread:

                                                  Ate three more dinners out at the UWS (maybe it should be dubbed UUWS?), all the restaurants repeats.

                                                  The very best meal was at Floridita's Tapas, in every way. Good wine, a surprisingly good tortilla espanola -- fresh with just the right mix of crunchy veg and nicely turned potatoes and simple spice, and an excellent cheese assortment that included mahon, unlisted on the the menu, but I think to make up for a shortage of cabrales (just a little bit of it). My dining partner had clams marinera, and it was better than previously I'd tried there. The only disappointment was empanadas with a tuna filling (pastry not good, filling sweet). Our server was marvelous, giving us good tips on wine choices and sharing with us at the end a bit of blueberry liquer from the basque region. I'm sure there are better tapas in other parts of NYC, but this remains the most pleasant dining I've been able to get my hands on in the UUWS.

                                                  Returned to Symposium and had dolmades (acceptable), tzatziki (flavorful fresh yogurt and delish cucumber overwhelmed by too-strong garlic), truly lackluster eggplant puree and perfectly satisfying steamed dandelion greens, dressed with olive oil, lemon and salt. My dining companion had lamb kebabs, with rice and potates. The meat looked nicely cooked. I didn't taste it. I recalled that the red Cretan wine wasn't bad, so I ordered a bottle. My memory was incorrect.

                                                  Campo -- I went back in desperation after i and a partner both got caught in overtime on work projects, and it was a boiling hot night, too hot to cook. Having heard thin-crust pizza is their specialty (having tasted their pasta, I wasn't going there!) We ordered pizza, which I now learned was grilled. I asked to have mine with nothing on it except proscuitto (no sauce, no cheese, no red onion, no cherry pepper) and my request was honored. I ordered the house arugula with shave pecorino salad, and asked them not to dress it -- a request also honored. When my order arrived, I dumped the salad on the pizza, and dressed it with olive oil and salt. (The salt turned out to be gratuitous, because their proscuitto is pretty salty.) My favorite pizza crust is thin Roman pizza crust. I've never had grilled pizza crust before, but this definitely wasn't a pizza crust. It was thin, but more like a Triscuit. Not a pizza dough. I didn't care for the crust, but the rest was ok. The arugula was absolutely fresh, the pecorino acceptiable, the olive oil fine and proscuitto was cheap proscuitto. My friend had a margherita pizza and didn't complain. We drank Primitivo by the glass. Fine.

                                                  10 Replies
                                                  1. re: summerUWS2008

                                                    All good summer sublets come to an end, and so I will be leaving the upper west side shortly. End of summer reviews:

                                                    Community Food & Juice serves a bruleed berries and yogurt for breakfast that is very good. Their French toast with lemon curd and fresh fruit is very good, but rather rich for breakfast. Granola is nothing, and insufficient for breakfast. They don't have good coffee! Pity. I think there burgers, apparently put through a food processor, not a grinder, are unpleasant. Most of their food in the evening is undistinguished. Their wines by the glass are pretty dreadful.

                                                    Campo: Two tries and it managed to be the worst meal I had that week (once for pasta, once for pizza).

                                                    DinosaurBBQ: Screwed up my order so I never go to taste the sausage but: Pulled pork was vile, baked beans were vile, corned bread was a step below Smiler's, etc, brisket was dry and tasteless, ribs were OK. Potato salad awful, chopped salad was bagged salad, cole slaw was tasty.

                                                    Fairway: Latin chicken to go was best rotisserie chicken around by a mile. Fresh mussels were incredibly cheap, as was some imported olive oil, and cheese selection was terrific (although the mozzerella just doesn't get there). Didn't think the produce was so great but the low prices stunned me.

                                                    Pisticci: Artichokes are great. Everything else is a crap shoot, but a roasted fig salad held up on repeat tries.

                                                    Floriditas Tapas: I remain a fan, and the only poor tapa I've had there have was tuna empanadas. These are not designer tapas, but it is the best inexpensive meal in the area, and I like the wine list.

                                                    Henry's -- hope it was just a bad night.

                                                    Indus Valley -- the oddest Indian food I've ever eaten: A kind of sweet and sour califlower? Kofta that tastes like tamales? Tasty breads!

                                                    Maya Mexico (is that the name?) -- canned sauce, microwaved, taste-free guacomole and it is loud.

                                                    Symposium -- pick the right items and you're OK. Skordalia, steamed greens, octopus. Eggplant not good.

                                                    Le Monde -- so uneven it's almost laughable. You just never know if you are going to get an OK or one you'd rather sail out over B'way like a Frisbee.

                                                    Absolute Bagels -- yeah, they're chewy but they lack heft. Scallion cream cheese is good.

                                                    Pinkberry's -- What is the point?

                                                    Westside Market -- never found anything they did well

                                                    Columbia Greenmarket -- two times, and I stopped going

                                                    Burritos from the church at 113th street -- Yay! On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the local church sets up a cardboard table in the lobby and serves up burritos as part of a charity project. If you have to eat mediocre food in this area, you might as well be doing somebody else some good while you do it. Burritos hold their own against anything being currently served in this neighborhood.

                                                    Hudson River Cafe -- spectacularly lousy American food and wine, but we all love the view, the dog park and the celebrity spotting.

                                                    M2M Mart -- the sushi sucks, but browsing in this market is a fascination.

                                                    Happy eating everybody!

                                                    1. re: summerUWS2008

                                                      > If you have to eat mediocre food in this area, you might as well be doing somebody else some good while you do it. Burritos hold their own against anything being currently served in this neighborhood.

                                                      Where on 113th is that church? And just to clarify: You're saying these burritos are mediocre but fine for the neighborhood?

                                                      1. re: squid kun

                                                        It's Broadway Presbyterian Church, on the west side of Broadway. I think it's actually at W 114 St.

                                                        1. re: flowergarden129

                                                          Thank you! Have you checked out the food? Wondering if it's just mediocre, as summerUWS suggests. Might be time for me to wander back uptown.

                                                          1. re: squid kun

                                                            Just noticed DaveCook checked this out last year (he didn't seem blown away) ... http://www.eatingintranslation.com/20...

                                                            -----
                                                            Local Flavor Burrito Shop
                                                            601 W 114th St, New York, NY 10025

                                                            1. re: squid kun

                                                              I've actually never eaten there. I've heard mixed reviews of it. It's on my list to check out.

                                                        2. re: summerUWS2008

                                                          Though your posts leave me discouraged, I'm forced to acknowledge you hit the mark in nearly every instance. (I've had some good meals at Dinosaur and have never had a good meal at Symposium.) Many thanks for your persistence and detailed reports. Occasionally we all need to be reminded that the emporer's wardrobe is...nonexistent.

                                                          1. re: burton

                                                            There's a lot to dislike at Symposium, but my daughter is absolutely addicted to their chicken kebob. I find it uninspired but innocuous. But, I love their cold dandelion greens, their taramasolata, and their eggplant appetizer (basically baba ghanooj--I can't remember what they call it). So, I order these three dishes. The dips are served with tasty warm flatbread. It's a simple but satisfying meal.

                                                          2. re: summerUWS2008

                                                            sorry you had so many bad meals, but honestly, you didn't take advantage of (m)any of the neighborhood's best. too bad!!

                                                            i disagree with you re: absolutely. I'm not sure how dense you like your bagels (like bricks?), but these bagels have as much 'heft' as a classically made bagel ought.

                                                            i might have to agree with you on some things re: dinosaur, tho. i went on labor day weekend after not having been in almost a year. my ribs were dry and not very meaty at all -- a drastic change from the last time i dined there! is it the season? is the place slipping? brisket, on the other hand, was more moist than i remember it being, and not at all boring to me. i think perhaps the trick is to not avoid the fat.

                                                            hope you come back to try some better restaurants. and thanks for your posts throughout the summer. i've enjoyed reading them.

                                                            1. re: summerUWS2008

                                                              Westside has the most delicious roasted chick peas! I'm sure there other salads are great too.

                                                          3. I really like Symposium; the two times I've been the ambiance has been really pleasant. The host is very sweet and it was certainly quiet enough for my companions and I to have conversations without shouting. We, too, like the octopus quite a bit.