Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bits & Morsels

Monument Lane mackerel carpaccio.

by Erin Frankel

It's 70 degrees which means only one thing for New Yorkers: it's time for some al fresco dining. Ignore the scent of garbage, congested sidewalks, or incessant honking and get outside and enjoy some refreshing cocktails, light, delicious fare, and great people watching. Here's a rundown of some of my favorite spots to dine under the sun, both new and old.

Da Silvano. Home to the city's fashion and media elite, Da Silvano has continued to serve as one of downtown's timeless outdoor gems. Situated right on Sixth Avenue and Houston Street, Da Silvano is the ideal spot for people watching and socializing. And, the food never disappoints.
Each night, chef and owner Silvano Marchetto offers a variety of specials that are almost always a must. On a recent warm weekday evening, after a long wait for our table, we were greeted by Mr. Marchetto numerous times throughout the evening, as he frequently checks on his customers to ensure their experience remains impeccable. On each and every visit, I go with my favorite chilled octopus, dressed in a refreshing lemon olive oil. On this night, I also opted to try three other specials on the menu, which included a grilled asparagus with goat cheese and aged balsamic vinaigrette, a light raw Tuscan kale salad with apples and beets, and a hearty spinach gnocchi; all of which were a delicious surprise.

Da Silvano
260 Avenue of the Americas # 2
Da Silvano kale salad.
Da Silvano grilled asparagus.
Da Silvano grilled octopus.
Da Silvano spinach gnocchi.
Bar Pitti. Another chic outdoor cafe right next door to Da Silvano, albeit a bit more on the casual side, sits Bar Pitti. Owner Giovanni Tognozzi was once Marchetto's business partner, but a dispute over a meatball recipe theft left them combatant neighbors, still competitive over the business at hand.

However, the more laid-back atmosphere and simple menu make it a perfect impromptu lunch destination on a warm spring day. Like Da Silvano, Bar Pitti always offers plenty of delicious specials daily. Start with the prosciutto antipasti, which is under a bed of arugula and parmesan with a dollop of olive oil and garlic. Then the thinly pounded chicken paillard with grilled caramelized onions and aromatic spices.

Bar Pitti
268 6 Avenue
Bar Pitti prosciutto.
Bar Pitti chicken paillard.
Pane Panelle. Tribeca is blowing up. And in the balmy weather, each restaurant opens its doors to expansive outdoor seating. The neighborhood has retained its laid-back vibe while adding a more sophisticated, urbane, and trendy element to the mix. One new restaurant that does this exceptionally is Pane Panelle, a casual Italian restaurant on the corner of Church and Walker with ideal outdoor seating for sunning, people-watching, and hobnobbing.

The menu here offers innovative modern interpretations of Sicilian classics. Pane Panelle derives its name from "Pane e Panelle," a celebrated street-styled sandwich in Palermo that is the most popular dish at this Tribeca restaurant (and why the owners changed the name from Stuzzicheria to Pane Panelle).
Pane Panelle outdoor dining.
Other addicitve dishes on the menu include the arancini rice croquettes filled with creamy layers of mozzarella and pecorino or the beloved spicy beef meatballs. Other favorites include the milky buffalo mozzarella and tomato with basil, and the crispy eggplant parmesan filled with warm, hearty layers of fresh tomato, mozzarella, and pecorino. Lucky for us, we happened to dine at Pane Panelle on the Feast of St. Joseph (Italy's Father's Day), so the dessert of the evening was a savory ricotta zeppole, which is meant to be dipped in a rich nutella sauce. Va Bene!

Pane Panelle
305 Church Street
Pane Panelle arancini.
Pane Panelle buffalo mozzarella & tomato.
Pane Panelle's pane panelle.
Pane Panelle grilled octopus.
Pane Panelle eggplant parmesan.
Pane Panelle meatballs.
Pane Panelle ricotta zeppole.
Monument Lane. Indoors, Monument Lane is warm and cozy with its wood-paneled seating, low lighting, white-washed walls and rustic appeal. However, soon the West Village haven will allow for dining al fresco, where you'll be surrounded by quaint cobblestone streets and amazing people-watching. The seasonally-driven American menu is always changing. All of the bites and small plates at Monument Lane are perfect for sharing. In for the spring, start with creamy pimento cheese toasts and the tasty shrimp-stuffed shitake mushrooms. The oysters are a must, so try all three: Blue Point, Thatch Island, and the earthy Salt Pond – a mixture of small and kusshi with a sweet, crisp, and clean flavor.
Then move onto the small plates and share the light and refreshing long-island baby squid with fennel manzanilla olives, and some pickled jalapenos that add a nice kick, all dressed with a lemon aioli. Or the equally refreshing mackerel carpaccio with a flavorful accompaniment of black olives, jalapenos, preserved lemon, baby celery, radishes, pickled mustard seeds, and a dollop of olive oil. The Farro Risotto with celery root, apples, and shaved parmesan was a hearty complement to these sides. As for the salads, the mainstay favorite on the menu – the escarole and black kale with parmesan, croutons, soft egg, and a garlic anchovy dressing – remains a crowd-pleaser for good reason.

Monument Lane
103 Greenwich Avenue
Monument Lane oysters.
Monument Lane escarole and black kale with parmesan.
Monument Lane shrimp-stuffed shitake mushrooms. Monument Lane pimento cheese toasts.
Monument Lane long island baby squid.
Chinatown Brasserie. The high-backed booths are the most spacious and comfortable seats in the house, but on a warm spring day, you'll want to take your chinese feast outside, where regulars indulge on their favorite dim sum dishes and Cantonese classics at this upscale, haute NoHo chinese brasserie.

Years later and Chinatown Brasserie has retained its trendy appeal and timelessly delicious fare, with its sophisticated interpretation of Cantonese classics.
A look around Chinatown Brasserie.
Chinatown Brasserie is famous for its award-winning dim sum, so that's an excellent starting point. Try the two favorites on the menu: the shrimp and snow pea leaf dumplings, and the green curry whole lobster rolls with tempura claws and guacamole. Then move onto the more classic vegetable lo mein and the sweet and savory mango-garlic roast chicken dressed in a heavier plum soy sauce, with shallots and pine nuts. A delicious and light vegetable dish to complement this is the wok-sauteed brussels sprouts & green asparagus.

If you want to splurge, feast on the Peking Duck with steamed Mandarin pancakes, scallion, cucumber, and hoisin sauce.

Chinatown Brasserie

380 Lafayette Street
Chinatown Brasserie shrimp and snow pea leaf dumplings.
Chinatown Brasserie wok-sauteed brussels sprouts & green asparagus.
Chinatown Brasserie green curry whole lobster rolls with tempura claws and guacamole.
Chinatown Brasserie Peking Duck wrap.
Chinatown Brasserie vegetable lo mein.
Chinatown Brasserie mango-garlic roast chicken dressed in plum soy sauce with shallots and pine nuts.
Chinatown Brasserie fortune cookies.
Best March Madness Event? Madness '12, New Heights Youth Inc.'s annual fundraiser at The Ainsworth in Chelsea, welcomed over 500 people and included an over-the-top auction narrated by Jim Cramer. All to raise over $650,000 for promising student-athletes!