Review: Rafina

New York City
20 February 2013

One problem of moving back to the same neighbourhood (same building, just a different floor and floorplan) is that you know everything around it; it has not changed that much in 3 years. Some things moved, and a few new things showed up. One that had shown up is a Greek place called Rafina, oddly placed across the street from my doctor’s office in a block full of medical offices and residential buildings.

I had high hopes for good food, as one thing NYC can do very good is Greek food. I’ve loved Greek food since living above the rather shabby Souvlaki House while in college in Ithaca. I’ve always used Ammos as a good place to wait for my train out of Grand Central, as they are fast and delicious. Avra, on the other hand, is horribly expensive with crap service but has excellent halloumi (which I love). I wanted another good place within short walking distance.

In the rather windy evening I wandered and found Rafina. It’s a little too “club lighting” for me and that was a bit of a bad sign. Rather empty place but friendly enough service. I sat down and one negative has already appeared — no Greek wine by the glass. For me that’s a “I’m not returning” sign…

After my merlot showed up I ordered…but they didn’t have the atherinos — the smelts. I was gutted as that was the one thing that grabbed me. So instead I ordered loukanikos. They were pretty good but you could barely see anything in this way-too-dark restaurant (I had to seriously doctor these photos…).

loukaniko

This is when the service started to deteriorate as it seems one person is handling everything, and everyone is in a different part of the service so it was getting a little unwieldy. My main showed up soon, some rather unimpressive looking lamb chops.

lamb

They were rather boring. To be honest the potatoes were the most tasty thing on this place. It’s a big negative when a Greek place does lamb badly. I was disappointed.

I was going to order some dessert but the waiter disappeared…and one of the few guests in the restaurant began carrying on a very loud conversation on his mobile (while his dining companion just sat there). He kept dropping large numbers (saying things like “billion with a b, not million with a m”) and try to make himself ultra-important. This is exactly the crap I hate about NYC, people wanting to boast for no reason but to be boastful.

I was so ticked off by now I bypassed the dessert and asked for a coffee and bill. The waiter sensed that I was ticked off and brought out a small baklava gratis. I consumed everything quickly and left as the man kept going on his phone. I was going to say something but not today…just too tired.

I headed out into the windy night for the few blocks home, knowing I did not find a place I would come back to. Shame.

Rafina
630 1st Avenue (at 37th Street)
New York, NY

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Review: Rolf’s

New York City,
17 February 2013

Now my exile in the ‘burbs is over and I’m back in a proper city with proper restaurants full-time, I expect the number of reviews will skyrocket… But for my first real full meal after coming back, I decided to visit somewhere I’ve not been for ages, one of NYC’s old school staples, the Alsacian-German restaurant Rolf’s.

This NYC institution has always been one of my favourites — bright, jolly, full of balloons. Most importantly, excellent and unpretentious food! And of course excellent beer!

I began the Sunday evening meal with a half litre of Hofbräu Lager, which brought back memories of the last time I was here…after a raging row with my ex-gf, after which she nearly severed my fingers by slamming the taxi door on my hand. Oh, what joys is to remember… But tonight’s bound to be a happier experience, especially when my dinner of Kasseler Rippchen arrived…mmm…

Kasseler_Rippschen

Thick as anything, this smoky piece of heavenly goodness just made my homecoming to NYC all that more awesome. This generous cut combines the perfect amount of smoke with the generous trimming of fat near the edges. Think of it this way: this compared to a gammon steak is like comparing a large white truffle to a mouldy button mushroom…

This is everything you want in an old-school New York place — old favourites done well, unpretentious, and just plain awesome. Will always be one of my favourite places to go in NYC, and it is highly recommended especially for a night of relaxation.

After a second half litre I was pretty much spent, as I had committed to a night of extremely heavy drinking coming up at my friend’s Rye House (he’s the manager). A night of experimental cocktails, rare single malts and white corn whiskey await me…plus a raging hangover…

Oh yes, I’m back!!!

Rolf’s
281 Third Avenue (at 22nd Street)
New York, NY

Back in NYC…

“I see faces and traces of home…back in New York City…” — the immortal words of Peter Gabriel (1974) as spoken via Rael. Nearly 40 years later, Mel has done the same thing. He’s back in NYC…

My nearly 3-year exile to the burbs is now over. Why did I do it? Why did it take me so long to come back to civilisation? Difficult questions, but not surprising for my readers. Everyone knows I went through a disastrous break-up and I had major trouble getting over its demise. That’s the reason I exiled myself to the Connecticut suburbs back in 2010 — just to get away from the ghosts.

But as 2013 began, a strange event involving her proved to be a catalyst for very rapid change — much faster than I could have expected. Putting that together with the disenchantment of living in Norwalk/Wilton, the decision was pretty easy. I was sick of everything from the disfunctional Post Office in Wilton to the rotting veg at the Main Avenue Stop-and-Shop, from the “soccer moms” driving with no care of what double yellow lines mean to the worrisome crime rate in town.

But worst of all was the chaos with my apartment…from all the ridiculous construction noise to bad parking, the last straw was losing heat during the coldest nights of the year. My electronics were going nuts. I can handle the cold (was +3F/-16C outside) but my electronics can’t. My TV speakers are still screwed up from it. And the icing on the cake? It took them 2 days to fix it but it knackered my hot water supply, limiting me to 30-second showers.

So I return to the same place I lived. My dry cleaner remembers me. All the staff in the building remembers me. My local El Pote is still there, serving me caracoles whenever I need it…

El_Pote-caracoles - Copy

…and calamares en su tinta

El_Pote-calamares - Copy

In essence, having discharged the baggage from the break-up, I can live again normally in a normal place. The suburbs is not a place for a single guy that travels a lot. Just getting to the airport was a major production. Not anymore.

I will miss my baby tho, as I have to sell my Audi. I will miss the 100mph+ (160km/h+) sprints on the windy Merritt River Parkway (shhhh!!!!!). I will miss going to the driving range (now I have to take my clubs on the subway…), I will miss my awesome butcher at Craft Butchery. But frankly that’s all I’ll miss.

So it’s good to be “home” again. I look out my window and I see the East River and the Pepsi Cola sign in all its glory, and on a good day I can see the Williamsburg Bridge too. But most of all, I can feel the energy of civilisation once again. My real 40th birthday gift to myself — freedom.

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El Pote
718 2nd Avenue
New York, New York