As an eater, the main benefit of living in New York versus being a visitor is that I once again have the opportunity to be adventurous. As a tourist for the last five years, usually visiting on a tight schedule, I have been passing up eating at newer establishments in favor of places I have frequented for years knowing that come the end of the meal I will definitely be pleased.
Now that I am once again a resident, checking out new restaurants at brunch is a fairly low risk bet and one that I am happy to wager on.
That being said, one weekend and two brunches at new restaurants down, and I’m still looking for a new restaurant to add to the “tried and true” list.
The well healed crowds mingling outside signal that Gemma is clearly a downtown scene. The friendly face of an old friend at the hostess stand set a good tone, one that was quickly drowned out by the construction on Bowery as backhoes relentlessly tore up the street not 30 feet away from our outdoor dining perch. But my friends and I were not to be deterred from our Saturday reunion. Unfortunately, the food was only sometimes as lively as our conversation. A limp salad of shaved artichoke and truffle oil was lacking in character save for the dominating truffle. Pancakes and a pizza both came over-cooked, the pizza dry as a cardboard take out box. The saving grace was polenta fries, crisp and golden on the outside, molten cornmeal goodness in the middle baptized in truffle oil. As our stoned or hung-over waiter lost his train of thought and slowly regained it half way through our drink refill order, it was a relief to have a basket of the restaurant’s signature banana bread on hand, a small example of excellence if not quite reason enough to return.
A day later, another reunion with a good friend, this time in the West Village at Bistro de la Gare, the year-old Hudson St. cafe. The menu- divided into “Yankee”, “Puebla”, and “Market”- should have been my first cause for concern. Reminder to self: don’t eat Tex-Mex outside of the southwest, you will more often than not be disappointed. Let’s just say that in spite of the gracious waiter, the lovely and quiet backyard patio, the delicious rosé by the glass, it took me several hours for my stomach to recover from the edible, at best, breakfast of chili rellenos. A volcano of red sauce tried in vain to cover for tasteless chilies stuffed with too much cheese all over rice that redefined bland. A bite into a whole clove not fully blended into the tomato sauce was the proverbial nail in the coffin of the dish, long before the indigestion set in.
While the food might not have satisfied, at least the company did. All the more reason to get out there and do it again next weekend. Same city, but the search continues.
Gemma, 335 Bowery, New York, NY 10003
Bistro de la Gare, 626 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014