Posted by: Hungry Korean | June 11, 2010

Minetta Tavern

Guest Blogger: Cookie Monster

Having come down from a foodie high from Red Cat the night before, it is now Tuesday evening. Village is buzzing.  Temperature and humidity perfect outside.  I’m on my way to meet my buddy, Hamill Hemingway, for an early dinner at Minetta Tavern – a carnivore’s haven!  I’m strolling up Minetta Lane, around the bend and I spot the Batali family meandering towards my general direction.  Mr Molto was strutting his infamous orange Crocs, looking perfectly content and on a mission to find a good night’s meal with his wife and kid in check. I immediately text the one and only Hungry Korean and took this as a sign that I wasn’t going to be disappointed with the meal ahead.

Hamill was there waiting for me outside the entrance, an intellectual book in hand (I was running a few minutes late – traffic on Bleecker Street) – they can seat us right now he says to me!   Music to my ears as I was anticipating at least a one hour wait (I am not very well connected at all – sigh – so getting a reservation was not in the realm of possibilities) – I was starving and wanted to dive into the burger I have been hearing about for months.  Walking in to this timeless saloon you immediately feel more manly – I expected the well dressed hostess to hand me an oversized fork for my left hand, a huge steak knife for my right and a checkered napkin to tuck in my shirt; lest not to get any meat juices on my freshly cleaned and pressed shirt.  However, it is classic and classy enough to take a date to (provided that she enjoys digging in to some red meat and in some cases gnawing on a bone and sucking out the marrow – luckily, I am clear in this department with the HK!)

The room is dimly lit and designed to have nooks and crannies for those more secretive and private guests and other sections where you are right on top of other patrons to encourage socializing and intermingling.  Dark woods and red leather banquettes add to the masculinity of the room while randomly placed black and white drawings of facial caricatures on the wall haunt the viewer and remind you that those walls have witnessed generations of diners for decades prior (albeit a different form of cuisine).  I pictured a bustling room full of artists, left wingers, bankers and mobsters discussing the issues of the time and violations of the “family code”, slurping down martinis and scotches like they were going out style, lighting up stogies and cigarettes and filling the air with a choking amount of smoke so much so that the prior owners probably considered adding a chimney.

We were seated in one of the more social locations and made sure to keep a good eye on the door to see who was coming in and leaving.  Ironically, I bumped into a bunch of old work colleagues, all pursuing to fulfill their own manly destiny for the evening of eating something pure, something flavorful, something substantial, something a little messy – no foam, no leafy vegetables, no low fat, no small portions …

I am a man of routine. I don’t like too much change. So the pattern of restaurant-ing and serving is very comforting to me.  Water? Tap or Bottled? TAP  Can I get you anything to drink? YES.  (We go for beers tonight!)  Great I will get your beers gentlemen and be right back to tell you about the specials of the evening.  We take a look at the uncomplicated menu whilst we salivate in eager anticipation of a cool, refreshing mug of beer.

The verdict: We are simple men (at least for tonight) and immediately know within 30-45 minutes we will be savoring a selection of prime dry-aged beef cuts with caramelized onions and pommes frittes – otherwise known as The Black Label Burger. (Maybe we will save the $104 Dry Aged Cote de Bouef for next time).   Now the BL Burger does not automatically come with cheese so if a slice of melty, nutty cheddar is your thing atop a nicely grilled piece of boeuf, you must request this as an addition.  (Not sure if I am offending any true purists out there but we did order our burgers with cheese – I’m not ashamed!!).

For appetizers, Hamill went with the Stuffed Squid with salt cod, piquillo peppers, olives and preserved lemon to warm up the palette and stomach.  His first reaction was – eh, its ok but then he seemed to get into the dish and finish up the plate.  I went with an even lighter special – a Salad! (yes I went in with the intention of eating nothing green but this salad had pickled ramps and baby artichokes — the HK mocks me in that I won’t eat anything pickled and I was out to prove her wrong!).

The salad had a base of peppery mache and an accompanying light vinaigrette on top of one of the lightest and most creamy goat cheeses ever to come in contact with my tongue then freshened up with spring peas, mushrooms and pickled ramps and baby artichokes.  If the HK was present, she probably would have laughed uncontrollably as she watched me crinkle my nose over the absolutely sour and briny taste of the pickled baby artichoke and ramp. Away from that, the salad was a nice way to cleanse the palette and provide a little roughage for the carnivorous activity for which I was about to embark.

After some catch up conversation, the spotlight was on our waitress as she served up two thick, juicy delicious burgers with what appeared to be the perfectly crispy French fry.  Cue sound effect – (Chorus of sopranos: “AHHHHHHH”) – end sound effect.

A perfectly harmonious plate of bun, burger topped with melted cheese and onions framed by the traditional pile of fries, leafy lettuce, red tomato and pickle. I ignored the pickle and lettuce, placed the tomato on top, added a sweet, salty dollop of Heinz ketchup (yes I know the record probably screeched to a stop for some of you here as I committed something worse than original sin for diluting the intensity of the meat but what can I say I’m a ketchup guy – am now, always have been – I’m part Irish – it was like another food group growing up – eggs, burgers, hot dogs, potatoes, French fries, mac n cheese, etc …).    Nonetheless, the burger was substantial and I would place it in the Level 2 of burger sizes.  (Level 1: small and you can eat multiples ala Shake Shack, JG Mellons, PJ Clarkes, Corner Bistro; Level 2:  good size, need two hands to hold it, can be messy, you’re full but don’t feel like you have the entire cow sitting in your stomach afterwards – oh and its thick and beefy ala BLT Burger, Five Napkin; Level 3: this is a mountainous pile of meaty goodness with an abundance of indulgent cheese and jaw breakingly wide thickness of patty and bun – you feel gluttonous and are almost in pain after consuming ala Spotted Pig).  In terms of flavor, it was juicy, deeply pink and well seasoned, bringing out a deep, beefy flavor – the bun absorbed much of the bloody juices to the point it disintegrated and I needed my manly knife and fork to polish her off.  The onions and tomato both sweetened and freshened up every delicious bite.  The fries weren’t firm, not overly greasy and tinkering on the brink of overly salty which paired well with the sweet, savory ketchup.  Overall, extremely satisfying burger and I would put it on a top 10 list.

Being Cookie Monster, I feel pressured to order dessert (yes I am trying to shift blame away from my insatiable sweet tooth and onto the expectations of the blog) so I twist Hamill’s arm (didn’t take much as he enjoys his fair share of chocolate) to order two desserts.

The first, a trio of pot de crème (coffee, vanilla and chocolate) and the second, a milk chocolate mousse with a malted chocolate anglaise.  It doesn’t take much for me to finish a dessert but there are very few that end up being memorable in my mind – I recall drunkenly telling a waitress one time to relay a message to a pastry chef that their chocolate peanut butter mousse concoction was so good it could help to solve world peace. Both desserts were very tasty – the pot de crème was light and I embarrassingly inhaled all 3 in about 45 seconds flat.  The chocolate mousse was rich and decadent with a crumbly dark chocolate shell that added a nice texture.

Overall, I understand the hype over Minetta. – a trendy, low key saloon in the middle of the Village serving up prime cuts of well seasoned beef and tasty accompaniments to satisfy the carnivore in all of our Darwinian, survival of the fittest NYC souls.

Minetta Tavern, 113 MacDougal Street, New York, NY

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