Jay Fox's Dining Guide

The taxi business thrives in the Big Apple

“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.” — Voltaire

NEW YORK UNIVERSITY HAS A REPUTATION as one of the premier institutions for graduate tax education, next to the University of Denver of course, in the nation. So when I received the summer program for continuing education, I was anxious to return to New York for that, and perhaps a meal or two or ten. I decided to take G along. And of course G invited two guests. After all, we’ve only been four times in the past three years, and there are restaurants to try that we haven’t been to.

Georgia and I have taken our two eldest granddaughters on “fine dining” trips before. We take all our grandchildren when they reach age five somewhere nice and by themselves. Emma went to New York, Harper to Chicago and Bryce to San Diego. This fall we’ll take Carter (and his brother, mom and dad) on a Disney cruise. Our youngest, Claire, will probably have to wait until she’s 37. Hopefully by then, someone else will pay the tab.

I registered for the section on partnership taxation, arranged for a larger hotel room, and booked dinner at five great eateries for the five nites we were going to be in the city.

As it turned out, I was not very mobile due to that fella, Arthur Itiss visiting one knee, so we didn’t do the walking that we usually do on these excursions. The taxi gross revenue in NYC is up about 15 percent from last year solely thanks to us. There was one subway trip to the Bronx Zoo, a pedicab ride back from Magnolia Bakery (1240 Ave of the Americas, 212/767-1123; www.magnoliacupcakes.com). There are almost 13,000 medallion cabs in NYC and we rode in half of them. But that’s ok cuz cabs are very convenient and relatively cheap. My only complaint is that I had to sit in the front seat and see what the driver saw. Most of the time I was petrified; the rest of the time I was just scared. I think pedestrians and personal autos should be banned from Manhattan streets. The girls luved the cab rides. New York taxis now have entertainment for the passengers. It’s called Taxi TV. Suddenly, banks and credit card companies (“Your morning mocha could be on us”), an almost endless supply of health tips and features about family-run bagel factories and cookie drives to cure cancer, and even, in some cases, movie times and restaurant reviews, are all part of the Manhattan cab ride experience. The girls stayed mesmerized the entire trip. If you’re interested, go to http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/15/arts/television/15watc.html

While I was napping, er being educated in class, G and the girls did the usual touristy things, and then we all had dinner together. They visited the Bronx Zoo and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, took the Gray Line Bus tour (lower downtown), shopped at American Girl store, and spent lotsa time in Times Square and Toys R Us and their indoor Ferris wheel, and did lots of strolling and people-watching. And we ate. Quite well, actually.

I need to tell you about the girls. Emma is eight years old. She has dined with G and me at the finest restaurants since she was 18 months old. There is nothing this girl won’t eat. When I work late during tax season, G takes her to Le Central French Restaurant for Caesar salad (extra anchovies, please) and mussels. On a previous visit to New York, Emma was five. She ate everything from escargot to filet mignon, from salami sangies at the Stage Deli to Sabrett hotdogs from the pushcarts. Harper, on the other hand, eats pasta, calamari and steak. Period. So this trip was an experiment in dining for Harper. She wanted to try new things and where else is there is a better place to try new foods? When G and I go out to dinner in a new restaurant, or in a city other than Denver, we order appetizers, entrees, salad and dessert, just to have a flavor of what the eatery has to offer. Most of the time we don’t finish any of the dishes cuz there is too much food. So to take both girls was at little extra cost because the four of us would share two or three dinners, shared two appetizers and two desserts, and we all got to try new foods and still had leftovers.

There is no greater city in which to dine than New York. Here I refer to the borough of Manhattan. Space is so expensive, that if a restaurant doesn’t serve good food consistently, they’re gone in short order. Every street in mid-town is filled with everything from grungy coffee shops that bake everything in house, to the finest eateries. You can walk up 9th Avenue between 40th and 50th streets, a mere half-mile, and dine on cuisine from every country in the world and not spend more than $20 for dinner. There are almost 19,000 food establishments in NYC and for the most part, they all serve very good food. Now service can be another story, but in our three recent visits we had great service in some dingy diners and lousy service in the finest restaurants. But let’s talk about this trip. All are in Manhattan, except Peter Luger which is in Brooklyn, sorta. It’s just across the Williamsburg Bridge.

Saturday dinner — Remi (145 W. 53rd St, 212/581-4242, www.remi-ny.com). Our third visit. Two years ago we dined here with Emma. While I was chatting with the W about the menu, Emma devoured the appetizer I ordered for us: a large platter of Parma prosciutto and melon. This trip I sorta tricked her. I told her to try the crab cakes and I would get the prosciutto and melon. But then the W “forgot” to bring the latter.

With a huge menu, we had no difficulty in finding dishes for anyone, but when Harper saw calamari on the menu, that was her first choice. Unfortunately, it was a grilled Calamari salad, and not a fried dish. But these two girls are so adorable and so friendly and polite, and can wrap the finger of every server in the city around their little fingers there was no problem. Harper smiled at the W and politely asked if they had fried calamari. The W smiled, sed it was not on the menu, but would check with the chef, and slipped away to get our drinks. He came back to report that the chef would be delighted to prepare fried calamari for such a sweet young lady. And that was just the beginning. Emma had the aforementioned baked crab cakes ($20), and G ordered the classic Caesar salad ($11.50). I got a taste of the crab cake.

For dinner, G and E shared Fusilli alla Casareccia (cork screw pasta in a tomato sauce with diced chicken, asparagus tips and mixed mushrooms) ($24.50). I ordered Costoletta d’Agnello alla Griglia con stuff (lamb chops with roasted spuds and broccoli) ($39.50). We all ate everything, Harper being very pleased with herself and the fried calamari.

So now the girls are thinking of dessert — Harper explains that she shifts her stomach to her back to make room for dessert — and G and I are saying, maybe we’ll walk back to the hotel and have ice cream along the way. Alas, the chef has not forgotten the two young ladies, and he sends out an enormous platter of house-made dessert, complements of the chef, of course. There are two scoops of gelati, two scoops of sorbetti, and a plate of Venetian style cookies and sweets (that normally serve two). Now we had to walk back to the hotel.

Sunday dinner — Gramercy Tavern (42 E. 20th St, 212/477-0777; www.gramercytavern.com)

I think this is one of New York’s finest. G and I have eaten here four times. Co-owned by Danny Meyer, one of New York’s great restaurateurs, this is his flagship eatery.

The restaurant is physically divided between the tavern and the dining rooms, of which there are half dozen rooms. There are separate menus for the tavern and the dining room. They allow children to order off the tavern menu which is ala carte as opposed to the three-course price fixe dining menus. On our last visit, Emma ordered a filet from the tavern menu. This visit, much to my surprise, the only steak on the massive tavern menu was a hanger steak served with flat iron chili and black beans. I expected they would serve half dozen steaks.

Harper ordered the hanger steak that came a perfect medium rare as ordered. I had to fight to get a taste of it. It was stupendous. Emma ordered the best meal of all. Meatballs. Did I say meatballs? Oh but not just any meatball. These were two giant wondrous maaavelous fantastic meatballs. They were served with potato puree and red wine onions. They were so good I had to call the restaurant to find out about their meat.

Their beef comes from EcoFriendly Foods. It’s pasture-raised, “beyond organic” and generally dry aged for 60 days. Good stuff, eh? The cattle are raised on small family farms throughout the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. The beef is found in better restaurants in New York and Washington D.C., I guess none in Denver.

G ordered, for her first course, smoked trout with cippollini puree and pickled onions, and for her second course, rack of lamb with fennel, fava beans and chickpea fries.

I ordered for my first course, lamb pappardelle with olives, lemon confit and beet greens, and for my second course, beef sirloin & braised flat iron served with English peas and sucrine lettuce. Every bite of every dish was superb. The price fixe dinners here generally include two main dishes with very generous portions. The cost was $86 per person.

For desserts (included with all meals) the four of us shared: warm chocolate bread pudding with cacao nib ice cream, chocolate cherry fudge cake with cherry vanilla bean ice cream, strawberry cheesecake with mandarin grand marnier sorbet and a selection of cherry vanilla, ginger and milk chocolate coconut ice cream, all of course made on premises.

To be continued ...

Jay@coloradostatesman.com