A Year In Food

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

May 17.

Special Feature -

Dine Around Downtown - Chase Manhattan Plaza, Financial District

The stockbrokers swarm. The lawyers show up in packs. The secretaries assemble. It sounds like every painful lunch hour in the Financial District, but when the scents of duck and date confit, paella and creme brulee are in the air, you know something special is happening. And so I showed up too, to the second Annual Dine Around Downtown, ready to brave the crowds to see what the fifty Financial District and Tribeca restaurants had to offer.

After being wowed by Bouley’s Young Garlic Soup at last year’s inaugural event, I was determined to get there as my first stop. It turned out the only thing that Bouley and Danube were jointly offering was a dessert. I momentarily considered coming back later, but it looked too good to pass by without trying. It turned out to be even better than it looked, easily the best thing I’d have that day. The granite added a refreshing and novel element, the mousse was decadent and delicious and the strawberries were superbly soft and flavorful. It only renewed my love for Bouley, which still remains one of the best meals I’ve had in New York. 8/10

Next, I had to indulge my craving for risotto, with a stop at The Grill Room’s outpost. I’d never heard of this restaurant, but the combination of artichoke and asparagus convinced me to give it a try. The risotto was good, with bits of both vegetables popping up through the rice. Still, it was far from the best risotto I’ve had, and for someone who appreciates this dish as much as me, The Grill Room’s preparation left me surprisingly ambivalent. 6/10

After two vegetarian offerings, I decided it was time for some meat. Dario alerted me to Ancora’s Kobe Beef Ravioli, which I was excited to try. On menu after menu, I’ve seen this extra-rich Japanese beef appear, but I’ve never gotten a chance to try it. I now had a chance, although I was puzzled by and suspicious of the $5 price tag for a generous serving of the ravioli. I reasoned the Kobe must be mixed with other beef. Whatever the explanation, the preparation sabotaged the pasta. The ravioli was topped with a weirdly sweet red wine sauce, which clashed with the heavy meatiness of the beef. Also, the filling was very finely ground, obscuring the Kobe’s flavor. Still, the mushrooms on top were a nice touch and the flavor that did manage to come through the poorly chosen sauce was delicious. 5/10

I was thinking about dessert at this point, but then I caught the golden-brown sight of Peekytoe crabcake. I’ve always had great experiences with Peekytoe crab, and wanted to see what Battery Gardens, a restaurant I’ve been to numerous times, would do with it. The crabcake was delicious, well-seasoned and not too greasy. Interestingly, it also came squiggled with peanut sauce, a curious addition I surprisingly enjoyed. The cabbage slaw was another welcome side. Battery Gardens, which is underrated for their often great seafood dishes, had done it again. 7/10

Finally, after discovering Ciao Bello’s incredible Blood Orange Sorbet at last year’s Dine Around Downtown, I elected to end at their station again. This time, I went with gelato, picking Malted Milk Ball and Tahitian Vanilla. The former was on top, so I tried it first. It did a good job of reproducing the flavor of a Whopper, but the cream was too overloaded with the actual milk balls. In one spoonful, I might get five or six milk balls, which was too prominent and distracting from the gelato. On the other hand, the Tahitian Vanilla, that I’d gotten on a whim, was uniformly wonderful. The taste was subtle but strong, with the vanilla bean specks testifying to Ciao Bello’s high quality. 7/10

Walking back to my office, I reflected on the event, enumerating the pros and cons. From a pessimistic point of view, the crowds and lines can be overwhelming, the prices for the foods you sample can quickly add up, and the misses can outnumber the hits. But it’s also a break from work, a chance to try new restaurants at a minimal cost, and a staggering variety of options. Best of all, it’s an opportunity to seek out something that’ll stay with you long after all the briefs have been filed and the market closes for the day.


Anonymous Yvonne said...

Wow. I suddenly feel silly for only trying a few things (a seafood roll and Shepherd's pie). Oddly enough, I found your page while sitting at one of the S&C terminals in the library. Well, this is getting bookmarked on my laptop.

5:49 PM  

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