Notes from New York: Becco, Alder and Tavern on the Green

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Alder eggsPastrami hash and "poached egg" at Alder.

Dining in New York's theater district is always a dicey proposition. There are too many chains in Times Square and too many tourist trap operations that go low on quality and high on prices. There are some good places to eat on the designated Restaurant Row, 46th Street west of 8th Avenue, but they tend to be on the pricey side. So what a pleasant surprise was Becco, a modest Italian restaurant with a Bastianich ownership (Lidia and her son Joe).

The menu is reasonably priced, with several entrees in the low $20 range, a price that includes a Caesar salad. A popular choice among diners is the Sinfonia di Paste, which gets you that salad or antipasto misto plus three daily pasta preparations — unlimited servings — for $22.95. What's more, there is quite an extensive wine list with each bottle priced at $25.

Becco picattaBecco's veal picatta.

Becco pepperStuffed pepper at Becco.

The salad was fresh tasting and not overly garlicked, as too many Caesars can be. I chose the veal picatta, not the most tender veal I've ever had but perfectly acceptable, with a lovely lemon sauce. Rick had the peperoni ripieni, stuffed Cubanelle peppers with beef, pork and veal in a wonderfully pulpy tomato sauce, plus some spinach spaetzle, which is German (but who's complaining?). We shared a bottle of wine. And I was certain that something had been left off the check when I received it — I've never dined in New York with so much food and a bottle of wine and have the total come to under $100 before the tip.

Pleasant service and a typically bustling New York atmosphere, to boot.

Hours and address at Becco's website. Definitely make a reservation.

Alder interiorThe entire interior of Alder, with its minimalistic decor.

Alder is a hot new East Side restaurant near Astor Place, small, modern, minimalist. We stopped in for brunch and I knew what I would be having before I sat down: pastrami hash with a poached egg (I'd peeked at the menu online). Some might quibble with the poachedness of the egg — technically it was a soft-boiled egg with the shell removed (it was cooked in liquid, so it meets the qualifications for poaching). Slicing into the egg allowed the yellow goodness inside to ooze out over the chopped meat and potatoes. I loved it.

Rick had the sausages and a couple of eggs on the side, which were OK. The hot donuts were obviously handcrafted but weren't anything special. Oddly, everything was served on small, black slate, which you'd normally expect to be used for, say, cheese or charcuterie rather than oozing eggs, but nothing escaped.

Here is a link to the Alder website.

I didn't eat there, but I stopped in to Gallagher's before the theater one evening. The steakhouse on West 52nd Street was always a great spot for a cocktail before the show. It was sold and closed for renovations last year. It finally reopened, so I was anxious to get a look.

They wisely kept the meat locker that can be seen from the sidewalk, the huge slabs of beef, each with a morgue-like tag, in various hues of blueness as they age for three or more weeks.

But everything else inside the restaurant is quite new. The bar is still in the same place, just inside the door and very much a part of the front dining area. The walls are stereotypical boardroom-dark, and lighting is moodier than before. The huge mural of characters from the world of New York sports, show business and politics that had well over a hundred figures is gone.

They still put out baskets of housemade potato chips on the bar, but they're thinner and not as distinct. And I identified only one of the bartenders from the old Gallagher's. His attitude had not changed — he was still unsmiling and unwelcoming. Thank God some things never change. Gallagher's website.

TOTG exteriorTavern on the Green.

I also stopped in at another New York restaurant landmark that had recently been renovated, the legendary Tavern on the Green just inside Central Park at West 67th Street. We had a reservation for lunch but chose to sit at the bar instead, freeing up our table for one of the parties of people queuing up at the host stand.

TOTG prosciuttoProsciutto and cheese on a crusty baguette (with remnants of a Manhattan nearby).

The lunch menu is quite limited. I chose a prosciutto cotto ham sandwich with Gruyere, served on a crusty baguette. It was accompanied by cornichons and a handful of potato chips. Rick had the marinated skirt steak sandwich on ciabatta roll with Spanish blue cheese. A small dish of patatas bravas with a dollop of aioli accompanied.

TOTG steakSteak sandwich on ciabatta roll with patatas bravas and a dollop of aioli.

My sandwich was $16.50 and the steak sandwich was $23. Why so much? Because it's Tavern on the Green.

Most of the interior has been redone. The famed Crystal Room is no more, but there is a large room with a floor to ceiling wall of glass with a terrific view of the park. Actually, it overlooks the patio that overlooks the park. There's a bar outside there, too, and it would have been nice to sit there if there had been any kind of shade provided — all of the seats were in direct sun.

TOTG dining roomThere's no longer a Crystal Room, but one of the dining rooms has a glass wall with a view of the patio and Central Park beyond.

And although the restaurant was packed, I couldn't spot anyone outside the staff that looked like a New Yorker. Basically, this is a tourist trap.

That's something else that hasn't changed.

Here's a link to the Tavern on the Green website.

I also visited Junoon, the restaurant whose owner, Rajesh Bhardwaj, is taking over Raga on Orlando's Restaurant Row. I chatted with him about his plans for Orlando and sampled some of the food from Junoon. I'll tell you about that visit soon.

 

Other notes

I paid a visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which had opened to the public just a few days prior. Much like Tavern on the Green, most of the visitors are not New Yorkers. That's because so many of them witnessed the day first hand; to visit the museum seems superfluous to some, sensationalistic to others. The exhibits are graphic -- tragic and heart-breaking. I found that after a short time it was sensory overload. There was simply too much to take in. The space, which is entirely underground, surrounding the cascading memorials above, is impressive. But one visit was enough for me.

In theater:

"A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," which leads the nominations for the 2014 Tony Awards (which will be announced on June 8) , was fun and entertaining, but I don't quite get the raves. 

I was surprised by "Bullets Over Broadway," which I had hoped would only not suck. Not only did it not, it was quite enjoyable -- Susan Stroman, who directed, is an extraordinary choreographer, and it was the dancing that provided some of the highlights. All of the music is comprised of old songs, some standards ('Taint Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do, I'm Sitting On Top of the World) and some less so (I Ain't Gonna Play No Second Fiddle) with added lyrics to match the action. It worked nicely, but the finale of the cast singing "Yes, We Have No Bananas" was just odd.

Audra McDonald is stunning in "Lady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill." McDonald plays a down-trodden Billie Holiday in what essentially is a one-person play (although the band is onstage and she does have some interaction with the pianist). It's billed as a play with music instead of a musical, but there is plenty of singing, all of it from the outstanding McDonald but in the voice of Holiday. If you're going to be in New York soon, this one is a must.

Earlier in the month I saw "Act One," the stage adaptation of Moss Hart's autobiography of the same title. Tony Shalhoub is outstanding in the three roles he plays, especially as George S. Kaufman. I was unfamiliar with Santino Fontana, but he was just charming as the younger Hart. Shalhoub is nominated for best actor but Fontana is not. The best actor in a play category was brutal this year with other deserving actors excluded, including Zachary Quinto, who gave a mesmerizing performance in "The Glass Menagerie" (whose other three actors were all nominated for awards).