A Little Bit of Heaven

Okay bear with me people, while I digress for a moment.   This blog is mostly about my adventures in Manhattan and it’s immediate surroundings (hey, I’m a Texan so that means a pretty wide swath of the northeast).  But recently, I was called back to Austin for a flying trip to attend a dear friend’s funeral.  (See www.whinesisters.com for more on that).

Anyway, besides seeing old friends and celebrating the life we had lost.   I also had the opportunity to have a meal on Sunday at my favorite restaurant in the whole world.  And I mean that literally as I’ve eaten at some pretty amazing places around the planet.  Hyde Park Grill, in central Austin was first introduced to me in 1988, by my soon to be (okay he didn’t know it yet) husband.  And I’ve been in love ever since (with both of them).  A draw for all of Austin, I once stood in line waiting for a table behind Lyle Lovett.   And I’m sure over the years there have been many other famous people as enamored of the food as I am.  

Created in 1982 by owner Bick Brown, HPG occupied an old house in Hyde Park (a fabulous older neighborhood in Austin) across from Mother’s (another Austin institution).  Formerly an Armenian Restaurant, according to the HPG website, Brown gutted the then pink house and returned it to its former glory.  Indeed, the ship-lap walls and rooms turned to alcoves provides the perfect habitat for the art the restaurant showcases in exhibits that change every six weeks.  We’ve even got a few pieces we bought from those same artists over the years.

And out front, serving to mark this fabulous eatery is a large silver fork—festooned as befits the season and/or the owners whims.  That fork has held a hamburger, some french fries, a heart, what looked to be Bevo’s horns, a flower, and on occasion the whole wide world.  A friend of ours once lived in a rental house owned by Brown and the various toppers were stored in the backyard.

But as with all restaurants the showpiece is of course the food!  Although the menu is more diverse than when I first started going the mainstay is still the amazing french fries.   Hyde Park fries are so good, that when we moved to Austria for a time, they were one of two recipes I desperately wanted to take with me.  (And I have indeed made them several times—though they’re never quite as good as the ones on site).  Dredged in seasoned flour and then dipped in buttermilk, the resulting crispy bits of heaven are then dipped into their famous sauce (mayo with jalapenos gives you a vague idea of what we’re talking about).   I always ask for extra sauce.

The menu, full of comfort food items like mac and cheese and chicken fried steak, also has a full array of burgers and salads, fabulous sandwiches and some pretty serious entrees including potato crusted tilapia and New York strip (see you know I’d get the words New York in here somehow).   But being a creature of habit I always order the same thing:  the turkey muffaletta and fries.

Just to make your mouth water, here’s the restaurant’s description:  Smoked turkey breast meat, mozzarella cheese and olive/garlic tapenade nestled in a Romano and parsley foccacia bun, then seared until crispy on both sides. Served with Creole mustard and a Kosher dill spear.  O.M.G.  Heaven.   And Sunday did not disappoint.

Hyde Park promotes everything that is good about Austin.  A little bit funky, a little bit artsy, the perfect place for good food and good friends.

4206 Duval St
Austin, TX 78751



Dinner and Chili Lights

Had a fabulous dinner with family recently.  A place in the East Village called Panna II Indian Restaurant.   According to the scuttle, the place is owned by brothers who were cooks on a freighter who abandoned ship and never looked back.  No idea if it’s true, but it makes the place even more fun, don’t you think?

First thing you see upon arriving at 93 First Ave, is three restaurants in the space of well…one.  One is downstairs and the other two are upstairs.  They all immediately try to get you to choose theirs, but we stuck with the one on the right upstairs as that’s where our group was meeting.  (I also heard that most people believe that there’s really only one kitchen for all three restaurants and like the brothers’ story, it makes for conversation.)

Inside it’s like entering a dimly lit cave festooned with literally hundreds of chili pepper and
twinkling lights.  Very cool, but definitely requiring a bit of ducking for those of us over 5’5”.  Tables are crammed together, as is often the case in Manhattan restaurants, so if you sit next to the wall, once you’re in—you’re in.   Which meant I couldn’t rise to greet folks when they arrived, but no matter, it was well worth being landlocked, so to speak.

There’s no liquor license so those in the know, not me—but fortunately I was eating with people who were regulars—bring their own beer and wine.  There’s apparently a great store next door, although I never actually saw it.  (Another three doors down is supposedly one of the best Indian markets in town).  Anyway, once everyone arrived and drinks had been poured it was time to study the menu.

I learned to eat Indian food when I was living in Vienna and have loved it ever since.  And I not only eat it out, I cook it in.  So I know my way around a menu, but I’ll have to say that this place had some fabulous new entrees I hadn’t seen as well as the old familiars.   We started with poppadoms and then ordered a round of samosas which arrived hot and perfectly fried (meaning once you’re finished you don’t feel like you’d dunked your head in a vat of grease).   The pastry was tender and the potatoes and peas spiced perfectly.

I ordered chicken Kashmir, which also arrived fragrant and hot.  And I must say I savored every bite.  In addition, I’d asked for it mild and it did in fact arrive without the spices that make my lips tingle.  I love Indian food, but what can I say, if it’s too spicy it doesn’t love me.  Everyone else was oohing and ahhing their entrees as well.  Not to mention sharing bites.  And the festive atmosphere made for a perfect evening.

And one of the best parts of the meal—in a crazy NY way—was the moment when the hundreds of chili peppers dimmed and a disco version of “Happy Birthday” broke out over the loud speakers.  The twinkling lights went on over-drive and I wanted to break into Saturday Night Fever mode.

The moment passed however, and it was back to good food and great company.  A perfect evening.

I’ve heard that it’s crowded on weekends so reservations are a must!

Panna II Indian Restaurant

93 First Ave.  (Between 5th and 6th Streets)



(all photos from Panna’s website)

A Lovely Night

Okay, one of my favorite things about living in Manhattan is being able to come out of a late running play or movie and still be able to find a great place for a drink or bite to eat.   Recently, after seeing the fabulous Million Dollar Quartet, my husband and I stopped by a restaurant on west 44th called Osteria al Doge.   Billed as featuring Venetian cuisine, the restaurant offers a quiet, spacious ambiance that’s perfect for winding down after a night at the theatre.

We opted for space at the bar and initially were planning only to have a late-night drink but after being seated and seeing other couples around us with mouthwatering food, we decided to give the food a try.   The people next to us had some fabulous looking bruschetta, and there were other delicious sounding appetizers like rosemary focaccia,  carpaccio, and a spinach salad with goat cheese and walnuts.  But in the end we opted for the Pizza Margarita.  Now one would think that pizza with basil, fresh mozzarella and tomatoes would be a no brainer for any chef, but I have to say that I find that often times it’s not as good as it should or could be.

So you can imagine our delight to find that the pizza delivered to up was to quote Mary Poppins “Practically perfect in every way.”   The crust was both crisp and tender, a must for me.  The cheese freshly melted, with the basil and tomatoes adding bright, fresh flavor.  To complement the food, I had a glass of excellent cabernet and my husband had an Italian beer.  And the service was superb!  When we came in they cleared a place for us at the bar,  offered our drinks immediately, and then when the pizza came, divided it ahead of time onto two plates to make eating at the bar easier (and to keep my husband from eating more than his fair share.)

And then as the perfect topper for the evening, the bartender brought us a plate of biscotti, sugared nuts and little meringues.  The biscotti—almond vanilla—was amazingly delicious, and my husband made short work of the meringues.  It was a delightful surprise.

All in all it was a lovely night.  Million Dollar Quartet was great fun.  The renditions of songs by Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Cark Perkins were spot on, and the thinly woven plot was fresh and interesting.  And then the food and charm of Osteria al Doge provided the perfect setting for a little after theatre magic.

If you’re over on 44th check out Osteria al Doge:

142 w 44th street between 6th Ave. & Broadway, 212 944-3643

I promise you won’t regret it!  What’s your idea of a perfect evening out?

A Maze of Italian Goodness

So last weekend, in the mood for a little adventure, we boarded the N train and headed for Mario Baltali’s Eataly.  Located in the Toy Building at 200 Fifth Ave. between 23rd and 24th streets, Eataly is a sprawling 50,000 square foot market hall style emporium where Italian food lovers can shop for imported ingredients.  Owned by Batali and partners Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich and Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti, the market is modeled after the original in Tuscany.

Now I’m a big fan of food halls.  Or at least one in particular.  Harrods in London.  A mecca for all things epicurean, I can think of nothing more delightful than spending a morning picking out delicacies to make a picnic of.

Eataly is a bit more congested and certainly not laid out in as linear a fashion as Harrods Food Hall, but it is every bit as entrancing. Especially if you’re fond of Italian food.  The space is arranged sort of wheel like, with the five restaurants forming the inner part of the wheel and the various food departments at the end of the spokes.  While finding your way around can be a bit of a challenge.   It’s worth the effort, with an end result of some pretty spectacular food options.

Departments include pasta (fresh and dried), bread (organic), cheese, meat, seafood,  produce, olive oil along with sauce and condiments, wine, coffee,  beer and housewares.   Boasting over 700 regional Italian wines, and over 400 diverse varieties of cheese, the market also offers Felipe Saint-Martin, head chef pastaio, from Piedmont and Organic stone-ground flour from Don Lewis’ Wild Hive Farm in Clinton Corner.

We decided on a simple menu for our first time out.   For our main course we chose agnoletti stuffed with pork and veal, as well as some quattro formagi agnoletti to mix in for variation.  On the advice of a friendly patron in line, we also bought some of the butternut squash ravioli, topping them all with a brown butter and sage sauce.

To accompany our pasta, we bought lovely heirloom tomatoes and fresh bufala mozzarella to make a caprese salad.  We already had olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but had we needed either we would have had a plethora to choose from.   A little pan rustica finished off the meal.  And I have to tell you everything was amazingly delicious.

Partly, I suspect, because of the fun we had ‘forming the menu’ as we walked amidst the fabulous foods of Italy—at Eataly.

Eataly, 200 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10010

info@eataly.com, T: 212.229.2560

Food Glorious Food

Okay, I’ll admit that first of all I love to eat.  And second of all, I love to eat breakfast the most.  And this past week I had the chance to have the Best. Breakfast. Ever.   Seriously, and for me that’s saying a lot.   A dear friend of mine was in town and the only time we could get together was for a quick breakfast at her hotel.

Color me jaded, but I’m not that big on hotel restaurants.  I find they’re either over-the-top celebrity kinds of places or they’re just filling space and not meant to be anything but overpriced and inadequate culinarily speaking.  So I wasn’t expecting anything but a wonderful hour of chatting with my friend.

I was in for a big surprise.   The hotel, the Mondrian in Soho, is tucked away on Crosby Street behind a long and lovely arbor.   When my friend said look for the arbor I pictured a smallish arch, this was a long leafy walkway that made me feel like spring might actually arrive in New York after all.

At the end of the arbor was a very friendly doorman who pointed me in the direction of the restaurant.  Imperial No. Nine.   Chef Sam Talbot (of Top Chef fame) has created a 150-seat sustainable seafood restaurant.   And from what I’ve read it’s fabulous.  But I was there for breakfast, and except when I was in Japan, I sort of tend to avoid fish in the morning.   So I was curious to see what my options might be.

Having arrived first, I had the opportunity to survey the absolutely gorgeous dining room on my own.  As you can see from the picture, it’s a vision of glass.  The centerpiece, by acclaimed artist Beth Lipman, bisects the room with a  magnificent Alice-in -Wonderland-like rendering of crystal vases and glasses at all sorts of angles and heights and apparent abandon.   The soaring glass roof gives the feeling of an oversized Victorian garden room.  Quiet and lush, it’s the perfect setting for that first jolt of caffeine.

In my case, iced tea, that I think they made fresh just for me.  It was delightful.  And once my friend arrived it was time to order.  Although  I was tempted by the french toast with caramelized white pineapple and Tahitian vanilla cream cheese, I decided instead to go for the “perfectly poached” brown egg.  It was offered several ways, but I went the traditional route and ordered egg, biscuit and turkey sausage.  (The dish was actually designed to be served with gravy, but as much as I love the stuff, I’ve never liked it with breakfast—so I opted out and boy am I glad I did.)

Seriously people,  BEST POACHED EGG EVER.   The food came in a bowl, with the biscuit and sausages on the bottom and the egg gently laid over the top, the combination of the three flavors; the creamy egg, the slightly sweet and very tender biscuit and the salty sagey sausage was sublime.  And being a food in its own compartment kind of a person, I wasn’t certain how I’d feel about everything mixed in with everything else, but it was amazing.  The perfect combination.  And more importantly, the perfect amount.   Exactly what I needed to start my day.

My friend’s breakfast was also amazing.  Fresh granola with some sort of creamy concoction on top that was divine.

So two thumbs up from me for Imperial No. Nine at the Mondrian.   If breakfast is any kind of an example, then I’m guessing the seafood (which is Mr. Talbot’s specialty) must be incredible.   But for me, I’ll be heading back for the eggs.

So how do you like your eggs?

Imperial No. Nine, Mondrian Hotel, 9 Crosby  (btw Grand and Howard), 212-389-1000

Meat, Meat and more Meat!

So this is the new spot for all things Dee Davis. A. While I normally blog over at www.whinesisters.com and will be continuing to do so on a weekly basis, I thought it might be fun to have my own forum. Somewhere to talk about the incredible experience of living in Manhattan!

I’ve actually been here seven years now. And I’m still loving every second. So watch this space for my thoughts on what’s what in NYC. And the occasional news about what’s happening with my books! Which are often times set in and around the city!

In the meantime, check out my current favorite restaurant if you’re in the area. I came home from Japan in love with Japanese BBQ and have found the perfect place in Red and Black. Diners have the choice of BBQ (meat grilled at the table over a net), Shabu Shabu Grill (meat grilled on a plate over an open fire at the table), or Shabu Shabu — traditional Japanese soup/fondue. Great fun but Shabu Shabu 70 is the place to go if that’s your cuppa. My fav. And perfect for another post.

Red and Black is located on 52nd, downstairs, in a small but perfectly appointed dining room. The eating experience is relaxed. After starting with edamame, you can settle in for a delightful evening with friends over perfectly cooked bites of beef. There are more exotic flavors, tongue and stomach as examples, but I’m a fan of the short ribs skirt steak and rib eye. Divine. The meat can be marinated or plain. I like plain as the two sauces that come with it are divine! Accompanied with a bowl of rice, it’s lovely to just cook, dip and eat. Add a glass of wine or a bottle of beer and it’s sublime. They also feature noodle bowls and sushi, but I haven’t felt the need for variation!

So what about you? What’s your favorite Japanese food?

Red & Black
250 E. 52nd St. (bet. 2nd & 3rd Ave.)