A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Mar. 12.

Lunch -

Route 66 Cafe - 858 9th Ave., Hell's Kitchen
Apple cinnamon pancakes with two eggs sunny side up, lemon tea, fresh-squeezed orange juice

Stephanie and I planned to meet at Kashkaval, whose menu looked very promising. Derailed by a baby shower, we ended next door instead at Route 66, a more conventional restaurant marked by its gimmick of road signs on the walls. The menu was straight from a diner, but alas, man cannot live on lobster tail alone.

Ordering from the brunch specials, I went with the apple cinnamon pancakes. It had been a while since I'd had pancakes and I thought they did a good job. They were moist, soft and tasty., although the apple cinnamon flavor was almost undetectable. I also couldn't find too many pieces of apple in the pancakes. But between the maple syrup and the rivulets of yolk winding down the plate, there were other flavors willing to stand in.

The fresh-squeezed orange juice though, replete with seeds, was a pleasant change from the fresh-from-the-carton pour. The service was also very attentive. With this in mind, Route 66 did its job. It was a nice place to linger despite the franchisesque decor and it served good preparations of standards. Next time though, I may still have to go to Kashkaval. 6/10

Dinner -

Pearl Oyster Bar - 18 Cornelia St., West Village
Jumbo Lump Crab Cake, Pan Roasted Sea Scallops, some of Vince's Lobster Roll with shoestring fries, apple pie a la mode, a glass of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

Fusion usually means a marriage of East and West, but at Pearl Oyster Bar, the relationship is less long-distance. Bringing together New York and New England, chef Rebecca Charles has managed to fuse urban energy with coastal casualness. The seafood-based menu, starring shellfish galore, fish, and of course the world-famous lobster roll, is cuts above what you’d find in a Maine lobster shack, but the inspiration of and devotion to carefree beachfront summers is still very much apparent.

Nestled in the heart of the Village, the restaurant is a small two rooms, one of which is exclusively made up of bar seating and counter seating against the wall. Vince and I arrived to a packed house at seven-fifteen and the wait, the manic hostess informed us, would be about forty-five minutes. After getting some very trendy and incredible cocktails at the new hotspot, Employees Only, we came back to snag seats at the bar. Meanwhile, behind us, the frenetic pace of traffic never let up.

Vince started with the clam chowder and got the signature lobster roll. Turned off by the celery in the roll, I went my own way with a jumbo lump crabcake and the scallops. The lobster roll, market-priced but $22 that day, looked phenomenal and made me jealous. From the sample of it I got, I fell in love at first taste. The bun was buttery and toasted (Vince likened it to a Fenway Park bun), but the star was unquestionably the crustacean. Despite very minimal celery and some mayo and seasonings, its flavor was pure lobster. It was no wonder that everyone at the long bar had ordered it (although some people got it in addition to another entree). It not only lived up to the hype but somehow exceeded it.

Back to my meal, the oversized crabcake was a great start, full of terrific, fresh flavor and packed to the brim with crabmeat. It was a perfect appetizer, opening up the meal with a flourish but also piquing my interest for the main course. After sampling the lobster roll and the crabcake, I was convinced I’d be disappointed by the pan-roasted scallops.

Not in the least. The scallops may have been the best I’ve ever had, perfectly roasted and bursting with flavor. Flanked by mushroom caps and asparagus, both also expertly roasted, this is the kind of dish I dream about. And especially after having so many mediocre or just good scallops, it was particularly nice to see this great ingredient given its due. Also nice was seeing a restaurant that is so well-known for its lobster rolls and fried oysters succeeding beyond its specialties.

The one downside to Pearl Oyster Bar is, with the New York upscaling of the seafood, comes the New York crunch. The place was too small and crowded for my taste, which made the friendly service of our bartender-cum-waitress somewhat haphazard. Twice she gave Vince the wrong beer (out of a choice of three drafts). Also, the constant noise level, which felt vivacious at first, got to be tiring after a while. Still, that is a tiny price to pay for an amazing dinner like this. It isn’t too often you see two disparate regions brought together so organically and tastily, but at Pearl Oyster Bar, it’s a union well worth celebrating. 9/10


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