Wednesday, June 03, 2009
I played subway roulette again yesterday. This time the E came up, again. I decided to take it to the 7th Avenue Station (53rd St.). I had recently noticed that there was a new Thai place on the corner of 8th Avenue and 55th, the storefront that for many years was a Chinese noodle shop. It's now a branch of Chai, an apparently popular and well-regarded Williamsburg Thai restaurant, and I had been meaning to try it. I ordered the tom yum shrimp noodle soup, which turned out to be one of the worst things I've eaten in days. The broth was totally clear, with a bit of sweetness, a bit (just a bit) of spice that cohabited but didn't marry with the sweetness, and only the slightest hint of the tang one expects from a tom yum. It looked and tasted nothing even vaguely like any tom yum I've ever had. The soup had five rubbery, tasteless shrimp swimming in it, along with the rice noodles and some bean sprouts. I was hoping the waiter would ask me how it was, so I could go on a tirade, but, alas, the fateful question was not posed. I'm not sure one should damn a restaurant based on one bad dish, but this one was so bad, and so central to the cuisine. Could I have gotten a bad dish at an otherwise good second branch of a good Brooklyn restaurant? Could this have been a bad dish at a bad second branch of a good Brooklyn restaurant? Or could it have been a bad dish at a bad second branch of an undeservedly well-regarded, equally bad Brooklyn restaurant? I'm afraid I'll never find out, as the dish was so bad that I'm neither inspired to return to the Manhattan branch nor try the Brooklyn one.
Happy I was not. We're only granted a certain number of lunches in this life, and large though that number may be, any bad lunch diminishes me. I had enough time to walk back to the office on the East Side, so I headed down 55th Street. As I walked down the block between Sixth and Seventh I saw it. It was back! The Osteria del Circo gelato cart, whose demise I had reported here last year. All of a sudden a bad outing had turned into a red letter day.
Osteria del Circo is run by the same family that brought you Le Cirque. It's a pricey Italian restaurant, and from what I can tell not especially esteemed by those in the know. But boy is their gelato good. As I've said before, it's probably the best gelato I've had outside of Italy or Switzerland. Switzerland, you ask? Yes. Though I've had great gelati in Rome, Florence, Verona, Milan, and in Palermo, where it's commonly eaten for breakfast, as a sandwich on a brioche, the absolute best gelato I've ever had was in Locarno, Switzerland. Granted, it's Italian Switzerland, the Ticino, sharing Lago Maggiore with parts of Piemonte and Lombardia in Italy. I've been to Locarno twice. My first time there I was traveling through Switzerland on a rail pass. It's a pretty lakeside holiday town with a famous film festival. I had gelati from several places while I was there, but by far the best was at a stand at an indoor market with a quite a range of flavors, among the most I've ever seen in one place. A few years later, when I was staying in Lugano, also a lake town, also extremely beautiful, perhaps more so to my taste, and more of a real city, I took a day trip to Ascona, which I hadn't seen before, and made a stop at nearby Locarno, more for the gelato than anything else, it was that good.
Osteria del Circo's gelato may not reach the same exalted heights, but it's damn good. Whatever license problems they had last year have obviously been solved, and were I a wagering man I'd say, "Hallelujah!" But my name's not Pascal, so I'll just thank the gelato fairy.
They've kept their prices at the amazingly reasonable $3-5 a cup. As always, I got a small cup with two flavors. This time I tried the baci (usually called bacio, the singular form, meaning kiss) and the caffe latte. The caffe latte was good, but maybe too much latte and too little caffe for me. In the past they've done a cappucino gelato that had more of a coffee kick. But the caffe latte did have the nice touch of a few roasted coffee beans mixed in. I think I've had the baci before but I'm not sure, because they also do gianduja sometimes, and both are based on chocolate-hazelnut candies. Anyway, the baci was fabulous, and it had some hazelnuts and little pieces of chocolate mixed in, which studded the top of the supply in the cart.
Welcome back, cart.