New York

kyotofudessertOK fine. I'll admit it. I'm the person who studies the menu online before going out to eat. I devour every edible word and let the taste bud anticipation work its magic.

The moment I knew I would be meeting up with a friend at Kyotofu, a Japanese dessert bar in NYC, I quickly jumped over to their site to take a peek at their online menu of tea infused sweets. Within seconds the matcha green tea crème brûlée had my heart skipping a beat.

Although when the plate met the table, the ginger/pear sorbet seemed to steal the show. Let me just say that they were a harmonious pair. As I broke through the delicate, caramelized top layer, a vibrantly bright green mini pot of matcha creme stood before me.

The richness of the matcha creamy treat was balanced by the airy, refreshing bites of ginger, pear. Matcha crème brûlée was a down comforter on a chilly winter night, while the ginger/pear sorbet was linen on a summer afternoon.

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prunemenuDid I read Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood, Bones, and Butter? Yes. Is it why we went for dinner at Prune? Yes. Am I glad we did? Absolutely!

Our taxis slowed down on a narrow street in NYC’s East Village as our driver struggled in the darkness to find street numbers. All of a sudden car headlights appeared in back of us and laid on their horns breaking the peaceful silence of a short East Village street. Our driver assured us we were very close to Prune even though none of us could find the storefront. We exited the cab after ending our conversation on home cooking in his native Ghana and thanked him for our cab ride filled with stories. Once we were out of the cab finding Prune restaurant was simple. We could smell the aroma slipping through the multiple cracks in the painted black storefront. We followed our noses like rabid bloodhounds catching a scent.

Shabby chic? Most definitely! No, I don’t think a set decorator could fabricate the wornness of this restaurant nor would they want that on a resume. I think it earned its wornness over many decades. Maybe I am wrong and maybe it is faux but this place is a charmer and it is as comfortable as a pair of UGG slippers. It’s a place you dream of having in your neighborhood - but don’t.

The food isn’t perfect but it is just perfectly real. The salad greens we ordered were classically ‘too’ large but the olive oil that dripped from them was a luscious yellow green and I know that it was freshly pressed last month. So, if you go, pick up your knife and fork and focus on the realness. I loved the simplicity of the food and its surroundings.

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ImageWinter on the Upper West Side of New York is a strange time and place to open a lobster shack. Where’s the beach, for example? Where’s the sun? The seagulls? It’s hard to conjure up seafood by the seashore when you’re standing thigh-deep in slush. But open it did – Luke’s, that is – on Amsterdam, between 80th and 81st and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. I’m an actor; I can pretend it’s summer.

Luke’s first shack opened on the Lower East Side in 2009 and with its success, added two sister shacks uptown – Upper East Side and one smack in the middle of our Culinary Wasteland. Luke’s story has already been well documented: born and bred in Maine; working as an investment banker in New York; his father runs a seafood packing plant in his hometown in Maine; he decides to partner up with his dad and bring the true Maine lobster roll to New York City. The rest is history, which means to say that Luke’s lobster roll is considered if not the best in town, certainly one of the best.

There have been quibbles, of course. I read all the blogs:

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bacaroWe ate some wonderful Venetian bar food at Bacaro last week. Tucked away on adorable Division Street that runs on a slant between Chinatown and the Lower East Side, Bacaro unwinds down the stairway from the busy bar to the brick vaulted dining spaces below.

Dining in Venice can often be disappointing because so many of its restaurants are shamless tourist traps. It’s been that way since before the Renaissance. It’s the only town I’ve been to in Italy where there are more bad restaurants than good. But the crafty gourmand can eschew restaurants completely and eat and drink quite well in the many wine bars around town. They serve snacks on little plates — cichetti — along with a small glass of wine Venetians call un ombra, a shadow. I think the reference is to the art of taking the edge off the day.

Bacaro celebrates this particular style of Venetian eating and drinking — it’s bar food, but a bar with a very good kitchen in the back.

Sardines in saor is the classic cichetti. Bacaro’s version with its sweet and sour sauce napping the fried sardines and wine-soaked raisins makes your mouth immediately call for another glass of Verdicchio. The same with the spicy fried meatballs, which I mistook for fried olives on first taste. That shows what an educated palate I have.

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ImageI recently saw a new show on the Food Network called “Food Feuds”. I like it – I get it. It’s a simple premise: in towns all across the country there are passionate disagreements about “the best” – the best burger, the best fried chicken, the best barbecue ribs, the best ice cream. Disagreements of this kind can be fun, unlike political disagreements, which can be fraught with pain and suffering. On Food Feuds, chef Michael Symon heads to a town where rival food joints vie for supremacy; he listens to local fans make their case, samples the foods, and then declares a winner. But “the winner”, of course, is only that for some of the people, not all. And if Michael Symon came to LA and crowned In-N-Out Burger over Fatburger, I would think he was certifiable.

So let’s agree that good people can disagree.

My friend Dean, for example, is a very good person, a brilliant entrepreneur, patron of the arts and devoted family man, but when it comes to one of my favorite foods, Chinese soup dumplings, Dean and I are on opposite sides of the fence, not to mention the country.

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