For several years while in Buenos Aires I used to read about the adventures of Layne Mosler, the Taxi Gourmet. They say that every good blog has some sort of gimmick, or core point of view, and hers was definitely something different – she’d hop into a cab and basically tell the cab driver to take her to his or her favorite place to eat – no matter how far away, no matter what sort of food. Not all cab drivers went for it – many simply deposited this seemingly crazy norteamericana at the closest touristy spot, but she also got a good number of really interesting lunches and dinners out of this approach. And then she wrote about not only the restaurant and the food, but enroute, she’d interview the driver and include something in her story about his life.
At some point, the number of parrillas that she was deposited at – one can only eat so many steaks with french fries and write about it – became too many, and some folks here in the States convinced her that her work prospects were better here, plus more variety of cuisines – so, she headed for New York City to work, and to continue her taxi adventures. Somehow, we never managed to connect in Buenos Aires, so I was happy when she offered that I might join her on one of them here in New York. Yesterday I found my way to 59th and Lex where we met up and flagged down the first cab. She warned me that she’s found NYC cabbies to be a bit more reticent about the whole thing, so she’s reversed her process a bit – she introduces herself to them as a journalist looking to just ask a few questions about what it’s like to drive a cab in New York – she gives a fake destination about 30 blocks away, figuring that’s enough time to get the ball rolling. Our driver, however, may as well have been waiting for us – he opened up immediately, telling us about his life here in New York, his work, and had no hesitation when asked about recommending his favorite restaurant – which conveniently was exactly at the point where we’d given the fake destination, in the heart of Little India, and he is Pakistani.
I do wonder, and perhaps Layne could chime in, if our destination had some influence on, well, our destination, i.e., his pick of places – does she pick a general destination based on the ethnicity of the driver? Had he been Asian would she have given a fake destination somewhere towards Chinatown? Or, had she picked East 6th Street, the other strip of Indian restaurants, would our driver yesterday have given us a different “favorite”? Either way, we found ourselves in front of Haandi, 113 Lexington Avenue, with a recommendation to try the Chicken Tikka, the Tandoor Chicken, and not the curries.
Round 2, pastas – the much touted Spaghetti alla Chittara, with crab and sea urchin butter, neither of which was particularly noticeable in the dish, though the salt was; Ravioli filled with taleggio cheese and surrounded by chanterelle mushrooms and brown butter wasn’t bad, certainly the best of the pastas; and Orecchiete with guanciale (cured pork cheek) and sofrito was so salty it burned going down.
Round 3, main course – we decided on one main course and a couple of side dishes – the again much touted Pollo alla mattone, or chicken cooked under a brick – nice and juicy, with a good spice mixture coating it, though again too much salt, and served over slices of potato and big white beans that were both so undercooked they crunched. The side dishes we ordered, the young fennel were so over-pickled and salty they could have been any vegetable, the buckwheat polenta with mascarpone was actually quite good – perhaps the best thing we had all night; the kitchen sent out two extra side dishes, some brussels sprouts that may as well have been served direct from the bag they came in for the little bit of cooking they received, and some roasted beets that were decent.
Need I say more? I’ve said too much, more than I planned. Just, umm, don’t bother. Go upstairs, have a nice steak at Porter House and get the same, or slightly better view. Oh, and taking out the cost of the two wines we ordered, those four appetizers, three pastas, one main course, and two side dishes, came in at under $200, which truly wouldn’t have been bad had the food been good.