The Other Critics

Asimov Finds Isa ‘Peculiar’; Sutton Likes the Revamped Monkey Bar

If you want to get your “spicy face” on, head down to the East Village’s aptly named Hot Kitchen. Lauren Shockey recommends the Chengdu-style hot pot: “the most legit hot pot I’ve had in Manhattan.” For something less intimidating, she suggests the sweet potato noodles, spicy dumplings, and the dry-fried beef. Avoid the red cooking pork (“all fat and no meat”), most of the cold dishes, and all the American-style entrees, and stick to the menu’s suggested dishes. [VV]

“Tables for Two” visits Danny Meyer’s latest venture, Untitled. Breakfast and lunch, the restaurant’s specialties, include classic diner dishes like buttermilk pancakes, grilled cheese, and a Pat LaFrieda hamburger — all of which “hit the spot unimpeachably.” For dinner, the three-course prix fixe has highs (a kale Caesar salad) and lows (“bland and watery” mushroom veloute). “Note the motto, printed on the paper placemats at their farm-to-table update of a traditional coffee shop: ‘Breakfast all day. Lunch all morning.’” [NYer]

At Tertulia, “the menu offers a combination of traditional and invented tapas, but you can’t go wrong ordering nearly anything of small size that comes from that oven,” writes Robert Sietsema. He raves about an “unmistakably plain” tortilla Espanola, the tosta huevo roto y jamón Ibérico — which is “the best breakfast you’ve ever eaten at dinnertime” — and the raw goose barnacles, “splendid and unlike any seafood you’ve tasted before.” Many of the larger entrees end up being “coarsely executed,” however, so stick with the small plates. [VV]

Isa is one peculiar restaurant,” Eric Asimov writes in his one-star review. The latest incarnation from the brain behind Peels and Freemans is “occasionally strange for no apparent reason” but, overall, “the food’s pretty good.” Of the limited entrees, Asimov loved the cod, “slow cooked to an exquisite, pillowy softness,” and the “smoky” rib eye accompanied by potatoes and “blackened hay.” Diners should come here for the tapas, though: “meltingly soft” pig tails, “superb” chanterelles, and calamari “redolent of the wood-burning oven.” “Isa is very much an unusual expression, to be applauded for its successes, understood for its striving and forgiven for its lapses, which at least resemble no others.” [NYT]

“It would be nice to say this is the best Portuguese restaurant in Midtown,” Julia Moskin writes of Alfama, which is the only Portuguese restaurant in the neighborhood. “But ‘best’ still might be putting too high a shine on it.” To start, “the menu is bloated with dishes, only some of which the chef seems to have control over.” The bright spots include small plates of octopus and potatoes, chicken gizzards, or Brussels sprouts, and desserts are good, too, especially the custards (examples of “Portuguese wizardry with eggs and cream”). But unfortunately, “too often, the food is careless.” [NYT]

Dave Cook discovers Harlem’s Agua Fresca, which features “Latin American flavors (chimichurri especially) that are less widely used in [Mexico], as well as traditional flavors in deft combinations.” A “lush” pork chop, a “subtly” seasoned roast chicken, and braised tongue tacos with “superb house-made sauces” are just a few of the excellent mains you’ll find here. As for the “tempting”-looking, freshly baked churros — “get ’em while they’re hot.” [NYT]

The revamped Monkey Bar, “famous for serving mediocre fare to the famous, is now dispensing very good American food and extraordinary cocktails to celebs and hoi polloi alike,” determines Ryan Sutton in his two-star review. The wine and cocktail menus here are excellent, as is “one of the city’s richest gnocchi dishes.” Chef Damon Wise “whacks flavors out of the park” — he “zaps” halibut with chorizo, and “supersizes” pork belly with kimchee and deep-fried oysters. “On point” service and “accomplished execution served with a sly twist [have] turned the Monkey Bar from social climber into a good neighbor. In this zip code, that’s saying a lot.” [Bloomberg]

Asimov Finds Isa ‘Peculiar’; Sutton Likes the Revamped Monkey Bar