On The Menu

NYC 2009 (Le Bernardin, Cafe Habana and Crif Dogs)


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So, in what is slowly becoming a tradition, we took a trip down to NYC for a weekend in December. Taking the Megabus early on Friday morning, we arrived near Madison Square Garden on what was one of the coldest days of December. (Speaking of the Megabus, not bad service, but I really don't like how it goes through the Bronx, Harlem and through 100 or so city blocks to drop us off. That took an extra 45 minutes or more. Also, boo on Megabus for canceling our return trip due to weather on Saturday night and not giving us a ticket until 8pm on Sunday. We had to get our money back and take the Fung Wah early on Sunday. So Megabus, while the seats were comfortable and the wi-fi was slow but servicable, gets a 2 out of 5 for poor customer service. The kicker was that Bolt, Peter Pan and Fung Wah all continued their service on Saturday night even though the snow was coming down hard. I understand taking safety over traveling dangerously, but the roads weren't that bad.)

But, once we got off the bus, we quickly made our way to my buddy's place in Harlem to get changed because we had reservations at Le Bernardin and did not want to be late.

Le Bernardin

Reading about the dress code and other reviews of Le Bernardin, I quickly got scared that we were going to be ostracized because we didn't fit the mode of regular clientele. I was worried that the service was going to be snouty and cold and we'd have as bad as an experience like the ones I've read. It definitely didn't start out well when the maitre d, just like how it was described in other blogs and reviews, immediately without even saying hi, said "Check your coats over there." Awesome...just the way I want to be treated before a great lunch.

Luckily, that was the only hiccup for the entire meal. Well that's not true. They did get our orders mixed up, which normally could be a big deal, but Abby and I didn't mind just switching the plates. The only problem with that was the plate of toasted bread brought out with our appetizers was intended for my sea urchin, but since it was placed by Abby, I didn't use it with my first course but did use it with the amazing salmon starter.

For our first course, Abby got the tuna with foie gras and I got the sea urchin. Abby's plate looked like the "whispering eye" (for all you Role Models fans) but was very exquisite. My sea urchin was fresh and melted once it hit my tongue. Fantastic start to the lunch.

Next we got the Black Bass and Red Snapper. Quite possibly the best cooked fish I've ever had in my life. The black bass, my dish, had an amazing crispy skin and delicate meat that just flaked right off. Unbelievable. The dish came with some sort of palate cleanser, but I didn't really care for it. No need to cleanse my palate of that amazing taste.

I forget exactly what we got for dessert, but again, they both were fantastic. We also got a bag of little cookies that were just incredible.

Finally, we had to ask if we could take a picture with the chef. He was walking around the restaurant so we knew he was working. We get escorted back into the kitchen where Chef Ripert was portioning what was probably $10K worth of kobe beef. When I exclaimed to myself about the meat, he of course just said, "It's just kobe."

I'd deduct points for the maitre'd and the mix up, but really, the rest of the service and the food and meeting Chef Ripert makes up for any of the missteps. I give Le Bernardin a 5 out of 5.

Le Bernardin on Urbanspoon

53rd and 6th Chicken and Rice

Of course I had to drop by late at night to get the famous chicken and rice. Our original review can be found here.

Cafe Habana

When searching Chowhound for the best brunches in NYC, Abby found a little note about how Cafe Habana serves the best Huevos Rancheros in the city. A bold statement, and one that we had to decide for ourselves. I asked one of my sisters, who used to live in NYC, if she's ever been to Cafe Habana and she said, "GET THE CORN!" So apparently the corn is the way to go here. Other reviews online also remarked about the corn and how hard it was to get a seat. Well, we arrived at 1 or so and put our name in for a table for four and we waited outside for our friends to arrive. While waiting, we saw the little take out spot next door and stacks as high as me of corn being brought down to the prep kitchen. I guess the corn really is a popular item.

Cafe Habana is a very tiny spot, with a bar/counter area for about 5 people and tables lined against the windows along with a booth or two. Waiting inside for your table means litearlly hovering over other customers as they eat. Plus, with the weather being as cold as it was, having people waiting with the door open made the heavy drapes used to keep the breeze out basically useless. (After we were seated, people would just stand in the doorway with the doors open causing everyone in the restaurant to freeze. Our hostess immediately ran to the front, asked the people to please wait outside and closed the big drapes up.)

Abby and I both got the huevos rancheros and an order of the corn. Our friends...I forgot what they ordered other than one got the Mexican chocolate which turned out to not be as thick as we all imagined it would be.

The corn was just as advertised. You really do have to get the corn if you come to Cafe Habana. The only issue I had was that I immediately had to floss after I finished my corn, but that's a personal issue not one for the restaurant.

The huevos rancheros were a bit watery overall, but that did not affect the taste. The beans were quite delicious and the rancheros sauce had a nice tang and heat to it to make it stand out for other huevos rancheros I've had in the past.

Bottom line, Cafe Habana is a great spot for brunch from the service to the food, everything was a big hit. There might be long lines and it's a tight fit, but if I lived in NYC I'd come back often for the corn. I give Cafe Habana a 4 out of 5.

Cafe Habana on Urbanspoon

Crif Dogs

Very good dogs. Cool spot and location. They have Spy Hunter. Not as great as Hot Dougs, but plenty of different combinations. There's also a speak easy attached that has hot dogs done by various celebrity chefs like David Chang and Wylie Dufresne. Those weren't as good as the simple chili dog I got. You can do a lot worse than Crif Dogs. I give it a 3 1/2 out of 5.

Crif Dogs on Urbanspoon