This weekend we make a lollypop-shaped loop around Manhattan mostly in and around Hell’s Kitchen and the theatre district. Our wild ride includes a spectacular dip down the stick to the Flatiron District to check out Mario Batali’s latest venture.
Our odyssey begins at Firebird, a romantic Russian restaurant that resembles czarist St. Petersburg. Patrons dine on caviar and herring prepared a billion ways while enjoying one of the most extensive vodka lists this side of Kiev. Firebird’s honey vodka is so mind-numbingly sweet I recommend you save the dainty signature sip for dessert. Framed antique ballet costumes preside over plates of gravlax, blinis and caviar to die for. Service is attentive and the tableside preparation is nifty. Firebird feels authentic with old-world charm and flavor to spare, but when you get the check you may feel your tail feathers starting to singe. Is it worth it? Heck yeah.
A trio of one-acts by Woody Allen, Elaine May, and the Coen Brothers really works up an appetite, so we head for a post-theatre snack at Marseille restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. Marseille delivers simple, robust French flavors in smooth brasserie style. The dense duck liver pate provides a nice fatty coating for a palate still smarting from flaming Russian desserts. Marseilles’ signature mussels in white wine and garlic are briny and sweet, perfect after-midnight fare.
High-end food courts like those in Italy are becoming popular in the city that never sleeps. Tucked into the first floor of a block in the Flatiron District, Eataly is the brainchild of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. Everyone’s smiling as they snake in and out of busy shops and restaurants, gelateria, espresso bar, vegetable stand, wine bar, Alessi housewares, pastry, breads, cheese, cheese, cheese, and much more.
In the thick of Eataly’s bustle is Manzo, one of few sit-down options in the market. We nail a spot at the bar and cruise the wine list landing on Prosecco, as always. The veal sweetbread and mushroom antipasto is delicious, and the roasted cauliflower dish is a revelation. Sadly, the gratin of cardoons and artichokes is gloopy and bleargh. We move on to linguine with scallops glistening beneath dense meaty prosciutto and a scattering of scallions with an Asian edge. The agnolotti with brown butter and Parmigiano is exquisite – sexy pasta pillows so delicate, rich and flavorful you want to eat them all night. We splurge a little on grappa. His is rough with a faint turpentine whiff; mine is as smooth and compelling as a black-velvet Elvis.
We make an 8:00 curtain with minutes to spare after a terrifying bike-taxi-rickshaw up Broadway whose legendary bright lights zip by like something out of Star Wars. Seminar with Allen Rickman and Lily Rabe is so smart and so funny and so great I am not even going to talk about it. Just see it. Period.
Tonight’s post-theatre nosh takes us to Balkanikas tapas and wine bar, famous for fabulously creamy and delicious meze spreads. Don’t miss the beet and pinenut puree or their signature taramosalata (carp roe) spread served with pita triangles. Try the refreshing shopsha salad with feta. Their pita is divine and happily soaks up a lot of alcohol.
Morning-after fare is spectacularly abundant at Chelsea Market, where we not only shop ‘til we plotz but fill up on spinach quiche, oat scones, and cupcakes. Yes, cupcakes – breakfast of champions, Chelsea style. I don’t know when New York’s cupcake obsession is going to end, but let’s hope it isn’t soon.