Tag Archives: Lower East Side

New York, New Year, 3 Restaurants

What am I saying? I had a pleasant, imaginative, moderately priced lunch in a major urban museum’s cafe? An oxymoran….0r lack of oxygen….?

Petrie Court Cafe & Wine Bar

Just off the multi-storey glass atrium of the striking American Wing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, is the airy, glass walled dining space occupied by the Petrie Court Cafe & Wine Bar. My experience in most museum cafes is to forgo the over priced, microwaved offerings in favor of a coffee, but the menu at Petrie is neither overpriced nor nuked.

Petrie Court Cafe & Wine Bar, the MET, New York City

Perhaps the Pennsylvania Dutch were Italian, because Petrie’s pappardelle noodles (top left) are as rich as anything eaten in a Lancaster farmhouse. Tossed with a light buttery cream sauce, earthy sautéed wild mushrooms and spinach with a garnish of spinach puree, it was an inspired pasta dish ($17.95.) The Cream of Pumpkin soup (bottom left)was velvety and light – not the thick vegetable puree served in so many restaurants. A flavorful stock underpinned the soup, but the aroma of the roasted pumpkin seed oil garnish raised this common dish to a new level of flavor ($8.95). Salads should delight the eye and the taste buds. (bottom right) Spicy arugula and mixed greens tossed in a light citrus vinaigrette with slightly salty manchego cheese, pears, bright fresh pomegranate seeds and deep red pomegranate puree garnish accomplished the task nicely ($9.95). Fresh sourdough rolls accompanied the meal. Most wines were in the $8 – $9.00/glass range. Despite a busy lunch time, service was smooth and professional. Interestingly, there are few restaurants of any type within walking distance of the MET in its wealthy Upper East Side location, making the Petrie Cafe & Wine Bar a welcome, and much-needed, addition to the neighborhood.

Lower East Side, near Orchard Street, (left) Katzs Deli, since 1888

Little Giant cafe, on the corner of Broome and Orchard Streets, certainly would not have existed in 1870’s Lower East Side New York –  or even 1970’s. Not that eating establishments didn’t exist back then. Taverns and street vendors have flourished from the city’s founding nearly 400 years ago. In the picture above, left side, you can see the sign for famous Katzs Deli serving the (then immigrant) Jewish community since 1888. Now an institution, but still terrific, its 21st century clientele is an ever-increasing affluent population of “post-immigrant” residents. Just a block down from the Tenement Museum, Little Giant is a laid back cafe in a renovated, exposed brick store front in an early 20th century Lower East Side building. In earlier days maybe it was a cloth store? It’s small space – seats 20/25 –  is filled even at 3:00 pm on a weekday and keeps the small staff busy. The menu is brief but items are freshly made so be patient. The Angus Beef burger was fresh ground and grilled medium rare as requested ($9.95).  A “little giant” portion of their own Mac and Cheese was excellent. Like Petrie’s Pumpkin Soup, Little Giant’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese eschewed thickeners and relied on a well seasoned, but medium, cheese sauce to bind the macaroni and garnished with a nice crust of browned bread crumbs for texture ($7.00/$14.00). A well seasoned “salad” of sautéed kale with oyster mushrooms was tasty and nutritious for anyone wondering about all that red meat ($9.95). The bar served a nice selection of micro beers on tap and bottle, wines by the glass and a great Bloody Mary with horseradish-infused vodka ($10.00). With its large store front windows, it was pleasant leisurely having lunch while watching the bustle which is always New York.

Sante Fe Restaurant

Finding imaginative Southwest American cuisine in New York is as difficult as in Albuquerque. Face it, real Southwest/Tex-Mex/Mexican-American is comfort food – like pasta with red sauce for Italians. To find chefs that create new dishes using old techniques is always nice and not common in the commercial world of the food industry.

Sante Fe, 73, West 71st Street, in the leafy but happening Upper West Side of New York, serves recognizable southwest dishes yet tweak the recipes giving them new life. Citrus and herb marinated thin-sliced grilled skirt steak is wrapped in a tortilla and served with a micro green salad ($12.95). A fresh lump-meat crab cake topped with a poached egg and covered with a roasted smoky tomato sauce is a flavorful variation on a brunch standard, with a green salad and rice pilaf ($14.95). Excellent house salsa accompanied corn chips and the house Margarita ($8.00 or $11.00) was citrus fresh and tequilla rich – not a mix. The restaurant itself is a relaxing space in light airy southwest peach, art, a fireplace and good acoustics (quiet!)

New York can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s easy to find great food in this “world capital” at prices most people tolerate at their local shopping mall’s food court!

Upper West Side, 70's, looking downtown, New York City

New York, New Year

Wall Street (1916) photo by Paul Strand (1890-1976) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Commerce has been the purpose of New York since its founding a mere 400 years ago. Because of its vast wealth, the world has settled within the city. In some cases pieces of the world have been purchased to reside in New York – from Egyptian temples to Chicago staircases. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tenement Museum bookcase the spectrum of forces that shape this world metropolis.

The MET - "Grand Central Station" of the art world

The MET was co-founded in 1870 by four men whose backgrounds were as varied as the city. John Taylor Johnston, from a prominent New York family, made a fortune in railroads, was an avid art collector and fulfilled a life-long dream in creating the MET. Eastman Johnston was an acclaimed artist from well-connected New England stock. George Palmer Putnam, founder of G. P. Putnam’s Sons, was a leading publisher of art books. All three men were intellectually curious and well-traveled.

from the Luigi Palma di Cesnola collection of ancient art

Yet I personally find it fascinating that an Italian military officer, immigrant, American Civil War hero and diplomat, General Luigi Palma di Cesnola, served as the Museum’s first director (1879-1904). Not only had General di Cesnola a noted military career both in Europe and America, but as a “gentleman archeologist” – the only type in the 19th century – he had amassed a stunning collection of ancient Mediterranean art and artifacts. His collection became the genesis of the Met, and during his 25 year tenure the MET achieved  international patronage and stature. Like all great art institutions, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is meant to be absorbed in stages through many visits as its collection span the ages.

New York City Tenement Museum

A shorter, but no less significant,  spectrum of  life is represented in the unique New York City Tenement Museum on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. Without the influx of hundreds of thousands of immigrants between 1870 and the 1930’s, the American economic engine would have been severely hampered. Yet these seekers of a better life lived, worked and loved in small, dark rooms in row upon row of brick walk-ups built on narrow streets and created the 20th century.

Well-trained, professional tour guides immerse the visitor in the everyday life of actual tenants who lived in the buildings on Orchard Street that comprise the museum. You’re in their cramped quarters. You see, or rather don’t see, how these families from Eastern Europe, and elsewhere, could accomplish their piece-work in the dim light of a gray winter afternoon, no less work 18 hours a day. From the memories of family members, we understand that many of the dreams of these immigrants were realized by future generations.

Perhaps some in the current post-immigrant generation are now exercising in that health club off Orchard Street above the Duane Reade drug store and living in renovated $1,400/month 3 room “tenement” apartments now renting on the Lower East Side!

The ancestors certainly didn’t have lunch at Giant (stay tuned).

 

Staircase from Chicago Stock Exchange Building, 1893, Louis Sullivan, architect (now part of the MET)