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Aug 30, 2008 08:38 AM

Just back from 4 solo nights - (will be long)

What a time I had! If I had any concerns about being a solo diner, they have now vanished. I love New York, and am very familiar with the city. I'm 57, married, usually travel with my husband, but I wanted to go see the Yankees play in Yankee Stadium before it was torn down, and my husband did not, so we decided I would take the trip myself.

This is my first post on this board that's not a question, so I'm a little intimidated because I know some of you eat/post with a very sharp eye, and I'm not sure my reviews will be up to very high journalistic standards. I'm an excellent, varied cook (my standing joke is I make the same hundred things over and over), we dine a lot, travel a lot, eat at very high end restaurants maybe just once or twice a year, usually on a big vacation (for a NY reference, our trip 2 years ago we ate at J-G, 4 years ago at The Modern).

Anyway, I'll plunge right in...and I hope the moderators will allow me some leeway in referencing where I was sightseeing at the time (which is relevant to some of my choices) and my observations about the restaurants themselves (which is relevant since I was a solo diner and therefore had more time to observe these things, rather than being engrossed by my companions' conversation).

Day One: Arrived at my hotel around 7pm, and had originally planned just to grab a slice of pizza that night. Instead opted to take advantage of the extended RW menu and go to Brasserie Ruhlmann, just a few blocks from my hotel.

I did not want to sit outside because I wanted to "see" the art deco interior. This was a mistake on 2 counts...first of all, inside was a little stuffy because even though the a/c was on, the doors were open to the patio so it was diminished, and inside had an odd odor - maybe cabbage-like?

I ordered, from the RW menu, beef carpaccio, curried short rib, and rhubarb panna cotta.

Started with a glass of Sancerre (this is a wine I had never tried because you don't ever see it offered by the glass where I live). I thought it was ok - a little too tart and astringent for my taste, but it was fine.

Had not had beef carpaccio in years, and what I was served was a little different from my was a small bed of arugula, topped with a few thin slices of beef, topped with a few thin slices of parmesan cheese. The portion size was more than adequate, but I didn't care for the dressing - it was much too vinegary (and this is from someone who loves vinegar and always has 8 or 9 varieties in my pantry). Too tart.

Curried short rib was really wonderful. I love humble cuts, cook them all the time, this was perfect - all fat rendered away to leave a meltingly tender rib, loved the curry sauce with the little chunks of (was it mango?) in it, some basmati rice under. Very good.

Had my first experience with panna cotta for dessert - liked the panna cotta, but thought the rhubarb topping needed more sugar - again, too tart. The whole meal was just on the sour side.

Service can best be described as way too hovering. There were only a handful of us dining inside, so the staff had nothing to do but wait to pounce on our every need (this might sound like a good thing but sometimes it's not). I had about one bite left of one of my courses, but saw him standing nearby watching me, so I deliberately put down my knife and fork and took a sip of water - I swear he was visibly disappointed that he couldn't whisk the dish away that instant!

I wasn't sure what the solo dining aspect would be like here, since this was my first meal, but I did not bring anything to read, and really did just spend my time looking around and (inadvertently) listening to nearby conversations. While I wouldn't say it was awkward, in hindsight it was probably my least interesting experience.

I'm very glad I went, because I wanted to, but I'm also very glad this was my first meal in New York so it did not really serve as a disappointment, just a bar set.

I'm going to go take a break now before starting on day two - please let me know if this is too long...there's lots more to come.

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  1. Just thought I would do a pre-cap of where I went so people can decide if they want to read any further.

    In chronological order:

    Brasserie Ruhlmann

    Cafe Boulud
    Second Avenue Deli

    Roberto Passon

    Cafe Sabarsky (in the Neue Gallerie)
    Bobby Van's Grill

    Day Two: Continental breakfast was included at my hotel, so that's where I ate every morning (nothing special, but good enough).

    Got to The Frick right at opening, then afterwards wandered through Central Park on my way up to my noon reservation at Cafe Boulud. Again, they had extended their RW menu.

    I loved the atmosphere here. It was the perfect combination of quiet and buzz. It filled up right away and again, I didn't need to read anything, just loved watching the choreography of the excellent staff and had a perfect vantage point (center of the far wall) to discreetly observe the very varied clientele - business people, dates, families, solos, a large party of UES regulars (think Joan Rivers on a bad day) - very interesting show in front of me.

    Started again with a glass of Sancerre - wanted to see if last night was an anomaly, or if this was what Sancerre was really like. It was a little better, not quite as dry, but still a little too astringent for me. Now I know.

    Ordered the salmon tartare, the cod, and the chocolate pecan dessert. Everything was perfect.

    The salmon was not too smoked or salty, just right. Mixed in with little chunks of cucumber, radish, and other crisp vegetables... and the best part, crispy fried capers. I love capers but this brought them to a new level. The whole thing attractively defined on the plate by a rectangle of cream cheese.

    Next was the black cod, with small carmelized cippoline onions, baby roasted potatoes, broccoli rabe, all in a delicous sauce topped with a green foam.

    Dessert was wonderful. It was a layer of choclate cookie, topped with a dense caramel mousse, topped with walnuts. Accompanied by a small scoop of chocolate ice cream on another chocolate cookie, with caramel sauce on the side. Oh my.

    Bread was also excellent - the best of the trip.

    This was a more satisfying lunch than dinner was at Brasserie Ruhlmann the night before.

    I was then going to go to the Met, but the entrance lines were snaking through the ropes Disneyland-style, and I was tired, my feet hurt, so I just hopped on the bus home.

    I switched around some plans for later in the week and after a short rest I headed in the direction of Grand Central Terminal to check that out. It was now about 4 pm so I thought I might go to the Campbell Apt. for a drink - but after walking up the stairs, I just didn't want to - it was almost empty, and I got a chance to "see" it, but I'm not really one to sit at a bar alone. Went and checked out the Chrysler Building, and then decided to have a pre-theatre dinner at the Second Avenue Deli.

    It was an odd hour (about 4:30 - I can't believe I was eating again so soon after lunch, but jet lag does strange things to you). I figured I would just eat half a sandwich and be done with it. Ha.

    First the pickles - I really didn't like either of them. I've never been much for Kosher pickles, and I didn't like the sours, either - they just had an off taste to me. But I did like very much the cabbage that came with - that was just right.

    Ordered my pastrami, and let me tell you it was just divine. I've been, in this order, to Carnegie, Katz and now SAD. Pastrami evokes such strong opinions in people, so I'm not even going to defend my choices, but so far I would have to say SAD is my favorite, then Carnegie, and surprisingly Katz is last. I like the EXPERIENCE of going to Katz the best, but the pastrami was just not my favorite.

    So, my plan to eat half a sandwich? Forget it. There was NOTHING left on my plate except a couple of crusts of bread.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Eujeanie

      "This is my first post on this board that's not a question, so I'm a little intimidated...."


      Absolutely no need for you to feel intimidated. These posts with all their vivid details are wonderful! :-)

      As you may recall, during your q&a posts, I suggested Cafe Boulud. So, of course, I'm thrilled that you found the food as superb as we always do. We've been seated a number of times where you sat, and it does provide a great view of the "scene."

      While I'm glad you were pleased with the pastrami at the 2nd Ave. Deli, I found it very disappointing. For me, it's Katz's or Sarge's. As the expression (sort of) goes, "Chacun a son gout de pastrami."

      Looking forward to reading about the rest of your dining adventures.

      1. re: RGR

        Yes, do keep posting ... we love hearing back from those who post with queries. I'm on vacation in the North Woods of Wisconsin, and am doing v. little perusing of CH, but clicked on your thread to see how it went. Looking forward to the Sabarsky report!

        1. re: MMRuth

          Thanks, it's been really busy with the holiday weekend and just getting home but I'll try to get the rest done.

          Day Three: Had the $13 lunch at Roberto Passon before my matinee. They start you with a very nice white bean dip and rustic bread. Many choices for each course - for my appetizer I got, again, beef carpaccio, because I wanted to see how it compared to BR, and to see if it was the way I remembered from years ago. While BR's serving was certainly adequate in size for an appetizer, this portion was ridiculously, over-the-top enormous. A huge dinner plate covered with very good, tender beef, topped I have a problem, it was definitely not arugula, it looked like watercress but didn't have it's peppery bite (rounded leaves, still attached to the stems, sorry I'm not sure what greens they were) - anyway, a huge pile of them, this time dressed with a lighter, creamier vinaigrette, more like a Caesar dressing, and MUCH better than the vinegar dousing at BR...topped with I swear a full quarter pound of thinly sliced parmesan. This could have been a meal in itself.

          For my entree I got fettuccine funghi, which would have been excellent except for 3 things - the fettuccine was too well done (I don't like really al dente but this was almost too soft), it was a little salty, and it had too much truffle oil (I like real truffles but I'm not crazy about truffle oil, I think it just adds a heaviness and odd taste to dishes). It wasn't horrible, and I ate it, but I wished I had chosen a different entree.

          Dessert was tiramisu, again a HUGE portion, very tender and creamy, one of the best I've ever had, but too big to finish more than half.

          Service was fine - had some communication problems with the bus boy but nothing that wasn't fixed by explaining what I wanted to the waiter. Would recommend it as a tremendous value for lunch in the theatre district.

          Ah, now this evening was my "big" dinner at Picholine. So far I hadn't brought anything to read to any restaurant, but I knew the tasting menu was going to take a long time to eat so I figured I better just in case. Of course I left the hotel forgetting to bring something, so I stopped at Borders in the T-W building only to see the check-out lines so long I was afraid of being late (I had planned on buying a magazine), so luckily as I was walking up CPW I passed a bank of newspaper machines and grabbed a free "Onion".

          Was graciously greeted and seated in the back room, along the wall on the right, again a great view of the room. Noticed there was another setting for one beside me.

          After the waiter briefly explained the format of the menu, I asked if it was unusual for a solo diner to order the Tasting Royale, and he said not at all. I said I wanted to pair 3 glasses of wine with my, the Menu is listed as such:

          Sea Urchin Panna Cotta
          Sauteed Foie Gras
          Sea Bass

          I was observing to the waiter that it was almost too bad that the first and fourth courses were more savory than the sweeter second and third, because it would make wine pairing easier, and he said, "well, why don't I just change the order we serve them to you? That way the Meursault will go nicely with the Panna Cotta and Bass, then the Muscat D'Alsace will pair nicely with the Foie Gras and Lobster (the lobster had fruit and vanilla), then the Ribera will be perfect with the Squab and carry you through your cheese course". Brilliant. Perfect. I opted for 3 "tastings", not glasses, he said each tasting was a 3 oz. pour, which turned out to be almost as generous as full glass pours in many other restaurants.

          I also asked for 2 other switches...It's just a crazy thing I have, but I love to end my meal on a savory note, so I asked if I could have dessert after my squab, and then my cheese very last. I also asked to change out the dessert for the Liquid Chocolate Tart instead of the Passion Fruit Cannoli - again, no problem at all.

          The amuses were great fun and very good - the big winner was the basil one, the cauliflower got the prize for artistic excellence, but they were all delicious.

          And I was so happy I got the Royale - every course sounded great on paper, but they were even better in person - the one that I liked the least, which really surpised me, was the foie gras - I adore foie gras, but I thought the plum chutney was just a little tart with it, I usually prefer a sweet accompaniment. But it was my first taste of sea urchin (of course it's emulsified into the panna cotta but I loved the fresh ocean taste of the whole dish), the squab was wonderful, I love anise flavor, sea bass in an olive oil bath is not olive oily at all (not that that would be a bad thing), but rather very light and fresh...I can't fault one of the tastes, they were all delicious.

          The dessert I chose was beyond decadent - a chocolate shell that breaks open to reveal the liquid chocolate center, with Earl Grey tea meringue (never met an egg white I didn't like) and leche ice cream on the side.

          And lastly, the cheese - I told the fromagier (the young skinny fromagier who said he eats cheese all the time - hmmmm) that I like stinky semi-soft cheese, that some of my favorites have been Fleur de Maquis and Mourbier, so he recommended an Epoisses, a Caruchon, and a Tomme Crayeuse - all excellent. Loved all the fruits and chutneys that came with. Since I wanted to end with savory (and I was so full at this point I was about to burst) I asked that my mignardises be not even brought to the table, just packed to go - they got a little banged up on the plane ride home but my husband and I have been enjoying them tremendously). The service throughout the evening was just superb, all my needs met with humor and grace, just wonderful. And I did use the Picholine anniversary certificate with no problem - great deal, I'm sure I don't have to remind anyone here to tip on what the total WOULD have been.

          And it turned out I had a delightful dining "companion" - an elderly gentleman was seated next to me shortly after I arrived, and we ended up having a wonderful conversation for the entire meal, and by the end we were swapping cheeses like old friends.

          My "Onion" remained unread. A perfect night.

          1. re: Eujeanie

            Wonderful report. Glad you enjoyed Picholine.

            1. re: Eujeanie

              I ordered my Picholine gift card when I read the thread about it a couple of weeks back and received it within a week of ordering it. After reading your wonderful review Eujeanie, I think Picholine will be on my list for my next trip to NY which will probably be at the beginning of next year.

              I enjoyed reading your reviews and applaud you for traveling alone without your hubby. We often see posts where women wonder about going to NY alone and I always answer that it is as fun, and even more so sometimes, going to NY alone than with a companion. You eat where you want at the hour that you want. I went to the Modern last time I was in town and loved it!!

              By the way...which hotel were you staying at?

              1. re: cricri7

                Yes, traveling alone was actually great fun! But do check the expiration date on your Picholine card - I don't remember now since it's gone, but I'm pretty sure it expired long before the end of the year.

                On to my, sniff, last day...

                Day Four: Since I didn't get to the Met on Tuesday, I went early today - I don't want to say too much about sightseeing, but this was GREAT - I practically had the place to myself!

                After seeing the exhibits I came to see (and a lot more random wanderings), I was thrilled to be able to go to Cafe Sabarsky for lunch (it would have been closed on Tuesday - see how fate works?).

                After going through the Neue Gallerie security, I went right in, it was maybe only a third full at 11:30. I didn't know what I wanted, just something light and fresh, and for sure a decadent sweet.

                I chose the Red Cabbage salad with apples, pears and walnuts. I thought it would be raw red cabbage (a "salad"), but it was actually very thinly shredded, cooked, cold sweet & sour cabbage with a hint of caraway. Lots of sliced apples and pears around it, and sprinkled with walnuts. It was exactly, EXACTLY what I wanted and needed at that point in time.

                I loved the atmosphere in here, it was dark, I sat on the comfy banquette on the far end with a nice view out the window, classical music softly playing - oh, what a great place to rest your tired feet after trekking the hard marble halls of the Met.

                While I was waiting for my food I went and looked at all the different pastries, and settled on the Mozartorte, light chocolate, pistachio, and nougat. Not too sweet, but sweet enough. I couldn't quite finish it, the salad had been so huge (I didn't finish that either), but I left completely satisfied and happy.

                I then hopped on the subway and went to the Yankees game! It was GRREEAAATT!!! It was the reason for the trip, and everything I hoped it would be! Yankees won in the bottom of the 9th and I stood there with tears welling up while Frankie sang knowing it was my last day and my heart aching because I love New York so much!

                Loved being part of the throngs heading back down on the subway, showered and got ready for my last dinner.

                Again, and why not, I took advantage of RW and chose a steak for my last meal in NY - Bobby Van's Grill on 50th. I know it's not one of the top steakhouses (I love the Palm), but for dining solo it just made more sense than going to a top steakhouse where it's nice to share all the sides. I had called and asked about the steak on the RW menu, and was told it was a full, 16 oz NY strip, with mashed potatoes, appetizer, and dessert. For $35. How could I pass it up?

                I again got a great table - one in from the window, facing the window, so got to watch the parade of people walking down 50th. I have to say I was treated EXCELLENTLY everywhere I went.

                Anyway, I ordered a cocktail (a vodka gimlet, my steakhouse standard), and the waiter started going through all the specials and I stopped him, told him I was here for the RW menu...he said fine and brought it to me (they don't bring it to you unless you ask). Now, here's where it got interesting. The menu he brought me was $40 (not $35), and it listed fried onions with the steak, not mashed potatoes. I asked about that, and he said he never heard of what I was talking about, this was the RW menu. OK, I like onion rings. He then asked if I wanted any sides, and I said sides are usually so big and there's just me, but he said he could do a half order of several things - so I chose the creamed spinach, again my steakhouse standard. Now, on the menu the NY strip said it came with truffle butter - and we all now know how I feel about truffle butter - so when I wanted my steak plain he suddenly became so much nicer and more friendly to me - vodka gimlet, creamed spinach, plain steak, I'm a real "guy" girl when it comes to my steakhouses, and he really got in tune with me after that. Not that he wasn't nice before, he was the typical gruff old steakhouse waiter, but now he was my best friend, so he was asking me why I was in town, and when I told him I came JUST to see the Yankees, well now I was his very best friend forever - he was telling me he'd been to HUNDREDS of Yankees games (his aunt used to work for them)....anyway, on to the food...Caesar salad was good, not the best I've ever had, but nothing wrong with it. Steak was PERFECT - again, I know it's not a prime, dry-aged steak (they really don't mention on their menu exactly what pedigree their steaks have), but you know what? It tasted GOOD, and to me that's the bottom line. The creamed spinach was perfect - not too salty (a lot of places put bacon in theirs), not too white (sometimes there's too much cream sauce), just right. The fried onions were crisp and delicious, the breadbasket was huge and varied, and the cheesecake came drizzled with raspberry sauce and topped with a fresh raspberry. I even ordered another cocktail - the gimlet was one of the best I've ever had - just the right amount of lime. And hey, it was my last night, and I wanted to celebrate/be sad a little.

                And when I got the check, my meal was $35, not $40...go figure.

                I have to say I loved every place I chose (even BR, because it served to show me how much better things could be). I can't WAIT for my next trip, so many places I had to not choose which I hope to get to. Those of you who live there are so lucky you live in such a fabulous place - I DO love where I live, but part of my heart will always be in New York.

                1. re: Eujeanie

                  Terrific report. Thank you. I travel solo often and agree that it can be wonderful sometimes to eat what I want, when I want, and where I want, with no one other than me to please. Your prose conveyed your please.

                  One thing strikes me about your mentioning how sour/tart things tasted in your first few meals (the complaint seemed to disappear after that): could you have taken some medication or had something else that shifted your taste buds those first days?

                  1. re: elizabeth2929

                    No, I don't believe so (but it was a thought)...the carpaccio at BR really was doused in vinegar, rhubarb does need a lot of sugar (the panna cotta was nicely sweet) - I've got a very good palate, and I actually do like tart things, these were just too tart. And the reason the complaint went away was because the things I ordered after that were NOT too tart (I did say the plum chutney with the foie gras at Picholine was tart, because I thought it was). Of course different people do perceive things differently so anything is possible.

              2. re: Eujeanie

                This is so great to read, thank you for such detailed (and hungry-making) reports. I'm going to be coming to NYC for a solo long weekend myself soon, and have Picholine reserved. I'm feeling very good about it having read your post. Hadn't considered doing the Tasting (as you initially thought, it seemed slightly odd on ones own) but it sounds heavenly. And I really love that they were so willing to adjust to your tastes. Again, thank you so much for your post.

                1. re: LulusMom

                  I hope you also enjoy yourself and I look forward to reading your report!

        2. Thanks for a very enjoyable report. I'm glad everything worked out well.