Monday, October 29, 2012

AOKI

212-956-2356
234 W. 48th St
New York, NY 10036
www.aokinyc.com

Aoki on Urbanspoon


With our second visit to New York City marked, as always, with Broadway shows, great restaurants, world class museums, and more of the same, Watson and I  were caught in a post-show period of hunger that demanded our immediate attention.

A quick survey of the facts of the case (hunger, timing, impending rain, and sidewalks soon to be teeming with more like minded theatergoers) it was quickly decided that rather than chance our fate on an untested, unplanned visit to a shoppe in the area, perhaps a second visit to a previously visited sushi den that we had NOT yet documented might be more in order.

And thus it was that we circled the block from 'Peter and The Star Catcher' on W. 47th St. and found ourselves in a wonderful little booth near the window at AOKI, which we attended to pre-Hugh Jackman in December 2011.

With only two other tables hosting anyone at all, it was easily seen that the hostess chose to seat us near the window so as to draw the attention of those walking by thw window and wondering....'Is THIS PLACE' good at all? For as much as one would like to believe that a visit to NYC is rife with carefully detailed plans in chronological order, it is more one of happenstance and poor planning. So with literally hundreds of people emptied  out into the streets after the evenings performances on Broadway it is fascinating to watch the scurry of all towards satisfying their most base instincts - hunger and thirst!

Aoki, which was being marketed this particular evening very loudly on the corner of 48th and 8th by a burly, placard toting man wielding paper menu's for both AOKI and it's nearby Thai neighbor Saigon 48, offers the tired, weary, famished and parched, a wonderfully calm respite from the hustle and bustle of the big city.

One of my most cherished treats in any restaurant is to experience those brews and alcohols native to the food being served so as is customary I chose a Sapporo to Watson's tea (tea indeed!)

As only a quick stop-in and not a planned endeavor, we chose only two rolls: A Dragon Roll of eel, cucumber, and avocado topped with crab 'stick' and a Wasabi roll concocted of Tuna / Salmon / Yellowtail with avocado and topped with a wasabi caviar. Both simple items for a sushi-domo and when delivered we were not disappointed.




If ever in need of a sure thing without disappointment, AOKI does deliver what is needed.

One surprising development occurred just prior to our decision to attend AOKI as we espied Bill and Melinda Gates of Microsoft fortune and fame standing next to us outside the theater with the tourists and theater mavens as if this was just as simple an exercise to attend the theater for the uber-rich as it is for those looking for the 50% off bargains at the TKTS booth (we do not recall seeing him on line that  afternoon.) And perhaps it IS as easy as that! The theater treats us all one in the same and allows us to suspend reality for just a bit and, if we're truly lucky, to be transported entirely out of our senses.

In this case also, and to the credit of both the native new Yorkers and the tourists inhabiting the theater that evening, not a commotion or fuss was made during the performance or outside the theater once over. The Gates' were allowed to simply enjoy themselves, as they should be....... to be traveling in cognito as the tourists that we all are in NYC......... an ELEMENTARY disguise, I must say!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Trattoria Tre Colori - Delightful Elegance Amidst the Bedlam

Trattoria Trecolori on Urbanspoon








A second visit to the fine city of New York gave Watson and I reason to further investigate whether our first instincts on this Trattoria, neatly hidden away in plain view on 47th St. between Broadway and 8th, were correct. Our first drop in,  before a simply astounding performance of 'Venus in Fur', had shocked us with delight and we were determined to discover this an aberration or set pattern. 

So with our sudden call by Scotland Yard to study and advise on the Security Detail at MOMA, what with their showing of Edvard Munch's 'The Scream' for the first time in New York, we had a bit of time on our hands and prepared to mix with the tourists and enterprising NY'ers alike at the TKTS line. (This gem of an attraction is one of the best things about the theater in NY...and a must for anyone attempting to get a true New York experience.) 

However, with the ticket window not scheduled to open until 3 PM this fine afternoon, we sidled into 'Trattoria Tre Colori' (and just one half block from Times Square no less!) at 12:30 on a Friday afternoon for a hopefully effortless and yet sustaining meal.


 Quickly seated I noted there were perhaps 20 or so patrons inside…… an intriguing development which seemed a tad peculiar at what would normally be considered a robust lunch trade hour. Yet it was a clue from the Cabbie on our way over from Paddington Station (er, Penn Station) about it being a type of holiday in this fine city.....what type of holiday was not offered but one which may have explained this ripple in scheduling normality.

Olive Assortment 


Pimm's Cup #1
A basket of bread delivered, two types - both crusty and soft, was served with butter tabs and a knife along with a colorful assortment of olives in a dish with oil and garlic which was procured from a large cistern near the bar (and a festive jar at that, approximately the size of a large pumpkin.)

With drink and lunch entree's decided among us, Watson chose a rich and robust Malbec ($10) while my melancholy for an old favorite brought to mind a Pimm's Cup #1 ($10). 

Remembering my old friend James Pimm from Kent who came up with this wonderful gin-derived and herb distilled elixir while at his oyster bar near the Bank of England, this short and squat refresher was an amalgam here of Pimm's #1, Limonata, mint, and cucumber…..and while not served here in it's original and customary tankard as it is back in London, it was a splendid and vitalizing mid-afternoon digestif nevertheless.

Entrees of Cappelini Puttanesca ($16), a fine pasta of Angel Hair mixed with tomato, garlic, anchovy, capers, and Gaeta Olives as well as the day's special: Ravioli Giorno - a Lobster Ravioli with Jumbo Shrimp in a creme sauce ($22.50), both arrived very quickly to sate our famished dispositions. The Cappelini was tasty and tart with an airy lightness that was delicious if not subtly twinged by the Gaeta Olives (which both Watson and I found numerous on the plate after the meal...a small but telling sign.)
Cappelini Puttanesca - Angel Hair Pasta with tomato, capers, anchovy, garlic, and olives


Lobster Giorno - Lobster stuffed Ravioli with Jumbo Shrimp
The Ravioli Giorno, the day's special, came with only 5 fairly large Ravioli but it was what they did WITH these that stirred the soul and was made evident upon the first bite...... Oh! Deliciousness Incarnate!! A melange of flavor enveloping the palate……… I was quite taken with the creamy goodness and the taste of fresh lobster, however limiting they felt in this group of five, that I nearly swooned and surely would have denied it had it happened, blame it on jet lag I always say! 
Brooklyn Brewery Point Amber 

Pimm's cup depleted, a Brooklyn Brewery Six Point Amber Ale ($7) was proffered and used to help wash down the Lobster Ravioli wonderfully while Watson ordered a decaf coffee and we left soon after completely satisfied and ready for our stint in Times Square and its half priced Broadway tickets for that evenings performance. 

(And as an interesting aside - we attended a show that evening of 'Peter and the Star Catcher', winner of 5 Tony Awards with a surprising take on the pre-Peter Pan story told with melodrama and humor. However, just AS surprising was seeing both Bill and Melinda Gates, they of stupendous Microsoft fame (and fortune), simply standing next to Watson and I at shows intermission...... just a couple of regular blokes out for an evenings show. 

Brooks Atkinson Theater
As Watson and I are not inclined to be particularly taken with celebrity OR with the wealth of others, I was thusly impressed by the restraint exercised by all in the theater, both tourist and resident NY'er alike. Space and privacy was afforded freely with nary more than a nod and a handshake. 

Afterwards, in the process of capturing the attached pic of the Brooks Atkinson Theater placed above, the world's richest couple remarkably appeared again before us, and with just a walk across the street towards us they quickly just blended back into the sidewalk crowd of New Yorks theatergoers. Not a blacksuited guard nor livery driver in sight. It would have been such an easy picture to take but as is our preference, the lens was dropped as they passed further allowing them their normalcy and as they approached I offered not so much as a visual acknowledgement of their presence. 

However, once removed I made a mental note to discover the head of their security detail for SURELY they were either completely inept or surreptitiously successful beyond all for their presence was impossible to detect!!

Now Come Quick! The Game's Afoot!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Lucky Dill Deli - An Early Dinner, Palm Harbor, FL

The Sandwich That Ate Brooklyn INDEED!

With several cases put under wraps and a new docket of intrigue from Scotland Yard rumored to be coming in short order, Watson and I ambled over to one of our stalwart favorites: The Lucky Dill Deli of Palm Harbor, which we have been frequenting now for all the 20+ years since we retired here from London oh so long ago.

 The discovery of The Lucky Dill was quite unremarkable at first when we chanced upon it with our first visit to the tiniest sliver of a Grille in the early 1890's, it then being housed in a then robust Alderman Plaza in Palm Harbor. What with it's 12 tiny matchbox-sized tables and the few roomier booths in back (all of which seemed to have come delivered to The Dill pre-built with satisfied patrons already in them for they never, ever seemed to be empty and the sidewalk outside perpetually festooned with more!) it very well may have been this very establishment that led my compatriot of conviviality Mr. Yogi Berra to exclaim "No one ever goes to that restaurant anymore, it's too crowded!" Indeed!

 Soon enough an expansion appeared to be in order and Dill ownership espied a new location on Alternate 19 and Alderman Rd., which more than doubled their space and seating (taking over from a Cafe Alfresco, which in turn took over from a great VHS Rental shoppe where Watson and I would rent old Benny Hill and Monty Python episodes! Oh, that Benny Hill was such a timorous poltroon!) 

Yet despite the doubling of their space, crowds at the Dill continued to come.....30-45 minute waits at peak times were not unheard of. Old women in walkers, old men in loud pants, the large and rotund, the small and petite, dogs, cats, even the occasional Blue Heron, ALL anxious to participate in the newly appointed Dill digs. And still it was not enough! For it was and always has been about the FOOD served here at the Dill. The Food , Watson, THAT'S the CLUE! The menu was far ranging from Soup and Salads to Sandwiches and Burgers.... but it was food served in such dizzying proportions that like cat nip to a feline it drew patrons from far and wide.....and from far and wide did they come!

 Then, when the shopping center behind them completely disappeared one night and construction began on a new enterprise, The Lucky Dill survived and even thrived in spite of the sudden sectioning off and fencing of the parking lot by construction crews. So with golf cart service to the front door, TLDD continued to fight and prosper but quickly realized: This is STILL not enough room!

 What drew my keen eye however was the seeming disregard for profits for as any good proprietor knows it is profit that drives a business and allows any businessman to stay in business let alone grow an enterprise. Yet The Dill's lack of focus ON these profits by serving such obscenely large portions and ubiquitous side dishes and accompaniments that I needed to get to the bottom of this. Little did I know that this speculative endeavor would last over 20 years of investigation.

 Thus despite my keen gaze and intensive investigation, and with an eye for even more space, The Lucky Dill began renovating a snakebit restaurant spot on the west side of US 19 just north of Tampa Rd. and with this choice I thought for CERTAIN they had finally met their match! It would simply be a matter of time in my humble yet learned opinion that they would be calling themselves 'The UNLucky Dill Deli! Formerly the Italian "Jonny Primo's" which was formerly "Johnny Garlic's" which was formerly "Angelino's" which was formerly "Chateau France" which was....and that was formerly...etc.. The initial feeling was that the Dills' proprietors had finally bitten off more of a sandwich than they could chew for certainly this location would bring The Dill to it's knees; another busted Fish and Chippery high-hopeful to be crushed in this fickle hospitality industry of North Pinellas.

 But as if simply to confound me 'twas not to be.....for instead of wondering out loud whether the Lucky Dill could handle such a large space, with apparent seating of almost 5000 people at dinner (or so it would appear) the over/under bet on the West End was whether the planners actually counted the number of chairs inside and compared that figure with the number of parking spaces outside! At present there are certainly NOT 5000 spaces in the lot and on some days (and all lunch and dinner periods) it looks as if there are 5-6 motorcars perpetually circling the lot just waiting for someone with pastrami on their shoe heading for the car...... It might appear to also be in the used car business for some hardened patrons sometimes park their vehicles on the shoulder of the road and dangerously close to US19. The demand has seemingly INCREASED and their ability to draw continues to show no bounds!

 Observations once inside this throwback of a Deli/Diner/Restaurant/Bar&Grill are that it's hard to NOT be impressed with everything that they do here. A Take-Out Bakery continues to serve the delicacies of chocolate, rasberry, bagel, cookie, rugallah, and the memory inducing Black and White. The bar is Full Service and sports a healthy mix of recipes and Martini Specials at Happy Hour (although I'm more partial to Whiskey Soda, usually a double...) And the dining room, or dining ROOMS, recall something like The Columbia in Ybor City as every time I turn there is yet ANOTHER room of happy, feasting diners!

 Now perhaps the menu item that has drawn Watson and I like bee's to honey has been the Matzoh Ball Soup. One does not need to be Jewish to completely appreciate the deliciousness of this freshly made soup with it's dumplings the size of a baseball (ONE baseball - only one per bowl but it is PLENTY!) Fresh chicken, carrots, celery, and a broth like the manna that it is; 'tis surely an elixir from above and sure to cure many an ailment.

A visit to The Lucky Dill is not complete in my view without at least a taste of this wonderful bromide. And while many a past visit included incarnations of 'The Sandwich That Ate Brooklyn', these sandwiches are straight out of the Carnegie Deli in NY (and yes, we've eaten there and can attest The Lucky Dill is definitely a first generation descendent). The Rueben, The Rachael (Turkey Rueben), Pastrmi, Club Sandwiches.....these are enormous creations that clearly defy logic AND any balance sheet! How oh HOW can they serve so much food between two slices of bread and clear a profit? It's a mystery greater than The Hound of the Baskervilles! But that's not enough! They drop PASTRIES at the table BEFORE you order! And many a visit is punctuated with a free slice of Cheesecake when a sandwich and drink are ordered.....I am beginning to think this is merely a ploy when I VISIT to throw off my investigation! Exasperating!

 This visit had me ordering up a Flatbread Pizza while Watson, continuing his attention to his ever-expanding girth, had a Greek Salad (yes, with Potato Salad!) So with no less than 8 visits to this 'House of Food Fun' this year alone, including breakfast feasts, lunches of dizzying proportions, dinners with long waits and quick seatings, and weekend brunches that challenge even Disney World for the demand of patrons, this Lucky Dill has beaten me for I cannot use my fortitude and puck to discover this profitless secret! But I will not give up! I WILL CONTINUE to investigate this hotspot, MONTHLY if need be, in search of the elusive answer I seek!

Watson, come quickly! The game (and the pastrami) is afoot (or.....it's ON your foot!) Come quickly, there are cars circling!