What I Ate That Was Great in 2008

Matsugen, Jean Georges’ new venture in Tribeca, serves soba in a minimalist setting, and a dish you must not miss: uni with yuzu jelly. Nearby, Chanterelle is celebrating its 20th year. The meal I had proved the restaurant is as good as ever—and David Waltuck’s famous seafood sausage was still on the menu.

The most fun I had was at Yerba Buena, a pan Latin restaurant on Avenue A. It looks like a dive in Old Havana and serves wonderful cocktails, paella and short ribs. Every time I came here it felt like a party.

This year I also made a couple of serendipitous discoveries through friends. Zenkichi in Williamsburg is a quirky Japanese restaurant that looks like a set for a Kurosawa movie, with an unmarked front door, a maze of private curtained mahogany booths along narrow passageways, and an enticing omakase menu. On the Upper East Side, Shalizar, at Third Avenue between 80th and 81st Streets, is a charming, inexpensive Persian restaurant serving pilafs, kebabs and khoresh fesenjan (a stew made with chicken, walnuts, saffron and pomegranate).

 

SPEAKING OF INEXPENSIVE, since 2009 will doubtless be a frugal year for dining out, here are some money saving tips.

Eat at the fancy restaurants at lunch. Jean Georges offers a bargain—two courses for $28, another $14 if you add a third. Gramercy Tavern is serving a $14 lunch—soup and sandwich.

Eat two first courses and skip the main. They are often more interesting.

Dine at the bar. Near Lincoln Center, you can drop in to Picholine for small bites at the wine bar, or to Bar Boulud, which has great charcuterie.

Dine out on Sunday. Some restaurants, among them Dovetail and Eighty One, serve inexpensive Sunday night suppers.

Tell the sommelier upfront how much you are willing to pay. Many restaurants are now adding cheaper wines to their list; the sommelier has surely spent years looking for good deals from boutique vineyards and unexpected venues.

And finally, a few things I don’t want to see (or hear) in 2009:

Kobe beef burgers

Fake truffle oil

Noisy restaurants                     

“I‘m sorry—we can’t seat you until your party’s complete.”

“How are we doing this evening?”

And once and for all, I never again want to be asked, “Are you still working on that?”

 
Moira Hodgson’s memoir, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, will be published in January by Nan Talese/Doubleday.

mhodgson@observer.com