As you know, no one is more loyal to the New Jersey dining scene than I am. But living midway between The Big Apple and Philly, I can’t help but venture across one river or the other to sample what those megalopolises (megalopoli?) have to offer.
My latest defection came about because I had tickets to a matinee performance of The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Although I’m not a big fan of brunch, it made sense in this instance. So I logged on to zagat.com to search for a restaurant within walking distance of Broadway & 53rd Street. (I hope you know that NYC can be searched by neighborhood. It’s very handy.)
After reading online reviews of several spots I settled on La Silhouette, a yearling on the fringes of Hell’s Kitchen. This despite a lukewarm write-up by the NY Times’ Julia Moskin. What tipped the scale for me were the Yelp! and other reviews that were posted well after Moskin’s visit, when a new chef had come aboard. In fact, since the changeover, La Silhouette has been listed on zagat.com as one of New York’s 8 most underrated restaurants. (It also received a stunning food score of 26 in the 2012 Zagat NY Restaurants Guide.)
But what sealed the deal for me was when I read the bio of the new chef, Matthew Tropeano. For the last eight years he was at La Grenouille, which during that time earned 3-stars from Sam Sifton of The Times.
I thought brunch would be a good way to get a feel for whether La Silhouette was worth investing the time and dollars for a dinner. It is not inexpensive, even for brunch. But, hey, it’s New York, where nothing is.
The bottom line: I want to return asap. The decor is weird and funky – walls painted with big, red horizontal stripes are the eye-catchers in a multi-room, multi-level space that has been likened, correctly, to a cruise ship. The staff is young, polished, and accommodating. There are no bargains on the cocktail and wine lists, although mimosas and bellinis are only $8. But the food – even brunch fare – has finesse, if you order the more interesting choices.
I’m not talking blueberry pancakes (which, sadly, my partner settled on), or even the terrific house-smoked bacon ($5 for a generous side). I went right to the heart of the matter and ordered Legs and Eggs. The “legs” come in the form of a smallish croquette, crunchy on the outside and full of tender shredded duck leg inside. Accompanying it are two small patties of the house’s tender, loose sausage, which has a pleasant sweetness to it. The eggs are two perfect sunny side up specimen, with those flavorful orange yolks that bespeak pastured, not commercial sources. It costs $16, but I’d order it again in a heartbeat. Brunch includes a sliver of excellent rosemary-sea salt focaccia, and when I requested a second slice to swipe up the remaining yolk, my canny server gave me two, along with a wink.
So there you have it: my latest NY find, and how I chose it. As a bonus, here is the scoop on one of my previous discoveries, in that same midtown/Broadway area, where I enjoyed a weekday lunch.
Il Gattopardo. Set in a pretty townhouse on 54th Street, this restaurant whose name pays homage to the classic 1963 film version of The Leopard is an elegant reminder that authentic Neapolitan and Southern Italian food, manners, and culture are a far cry from their Americanized red-sauce counterparts. Graciousness abounds, in the correct but warm service and in the attractive, understated décor. (Sit out on the glass-enclosed garden terrace for full effect). The food is refined, and the menu structure hews to the traditional, with everything – including vegetables – a la carte. A lunch starter of beef and veal meatballs wrapped in Savoy cabbage leaves with thyme sauce is as delicious as it is unexpected. Also unexpected: a special of three crispy-coated round lentil cakes – cousins to arancini – each on a dab of basil-yogurt sauce, and each one moist yet light in texture. Another special, homemade pappardelle with creamy rabbit sauce, is a showstopper, but no more so than slices of wild sea bass, poached then expertly filleted and set over salad greens. Simplicity at its best. I can think of no better way to end such as meal than how I did: with moist Neapolitan-style cheesecake and perfectly brewed espresso.