It’s 10 P.M. — Do You Know Where Your $1 Blue Point Oysters Are? (aka the “City Crab Weekend Happy Hour Win” Post)

Half-priced appetizers, $1 Blue Point oysters, $3 beers.

If a better Friday or Saturday night deal exists in downtown Manhattan, bring it. For now, City Crab‘s late-night happy hour, which is available at the stately restaurant bar between 10p and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, is the golden ticket. (City Crab also runs its happy hour from 4p-7p daily.)

When four of us stopped in on a recent Friday night, we started with a round of Coronas and a dozen Blue Points. Squeeze, sauce, slurp, repeat — these oysters, meaty and lightly briny, are some of the best specimens I’ve had yet, although it should be noted that oysters are still new to me.

(After many years of “trying” oysters — e.g. swallowing the slippery thing as fast as possible and hoping I wouldn’t feel it too much or taste too much — lately, I’m slurping them down with the best. This epic night of all-you-can-eat oysters at Bondi Road in LES was the turning point.)

Onto the hot foods — and mas cerveza s’il vous plait.

First impression: These portions are not for the faint of appetite. The crab, spinach and artichoke dip ($6.50/hh) comes out bubbling in a metal cauldron, a basket of thick pita chips ($6.50/hh); both the dip, and the basket of Southern fried popcorn shrimp ($6/hh), went on and on — even among four of us. The lightest option, a pound of steamed PEI mussels ($6/hh), comes in a beautiful tomato broth laced with garlic and fresh herbs.

For next time, I have my eye on the lobster mac n’ cheese and crab cake bites and … of course, more oysters. (The chef at the raw bar said he shucks 1,000+ oysters a night!)

City Crab, 235 Park Ave. S., near 19th Street, 212-529-3800.

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Thursday: Crispy Fried Whole Fish at Saigon Grill, This Is Something I Could Get Into

photo-2Crispy fried whole fish is something I could really get into. The way the fish is served, its flanks deftly sliced, the meat on the verge of falling-apart-suppleness — stop staring at the maraschino cherry eyes. Go ahead, dig in with your chopsticks. You won’t ever look back.

At Saigon Grill, the location adjacent to Union Square, the ca chien, a crispy, 1 1/2 pound sea bass, is served Vietnamese style, swimming (pun intended) in traditional sweet and sour sauce that’s just a touch spicy and loaded with slices of mild, white onion, and red and green bell peppers.

I’m already envisioning a crispy whole fish streak: How many Asian cultures have their own variation? (It’s meant to be a rhetorical question, folks.)

I recall having a Thai version at Thai Angel, my former local Thai spot in Soho, and a Japanese version involving a whole fried blowfish at The Fish Joint in Oceanside, Ca. an only-in-So-Cal Japanese restaurant run by a couple of redheaded brothers equally serious about their restaurant, surfing and punk rock. (I have photo evidence of this blowfish — will track it down.)

photoNot to be overshadowed by the excellence of the whole fried fish, Saigon Grill is generally known to be a legitimate spot for Vietnamese food, and I can attest that the fried crab claw appetizer (pictured) was like a crab meat fritter hybrid, oh so good, and the summer rolls (not pictured) were among some of the best I’ve had in the city — which is sort of a big deal.

Summer rolls have almost reached that status of something I’ve stopped ordering, because too often they’re done all wrong: the rice paper is gummy, or too thick; the shrimp inside are bland, probably pre-cooked, previously frozen; the fresh herbs either lacking entirely or just not vibrant. There’s nothing more disappointing than a summer roll that is but a sad, bland vehicle for sauce.

Not the case at Saigon Grill.

Thursday: Report from Harvest in the Square (the “Ohhh … Good Food Overload” Post)

photo-4To use a terribly-overused metaphor, I was like a kid in a candy store at Harvest in the Square, only the store was a cavernous tented event space stretching three city blocks and the candy was little menu tastes from several dozen restaurants located in the greater Union Square area — and wine shops, wineries and breweries to boot.

An hour and a half? No problem. As far as I can recount, here’s a faithful tally of my candy store rampage:

photo-12Tocqueville‘s chilled tomato consommé with a confit tomato (right) was beautiful to look at, but, pardon my unrefined palate, seemed a little oily. Also not quite a success was Back Forty‘s cold corn soup with Trinidad pepper relish — the soup had a sourness to it that I just didn’t get, and the texture was oddly … fluffy?

photo-13In the veggie sphere, I much preferred  Union Square Café‘s simple zucchini alla scapece or Gramercy Tavern‘s souffléd crackers stuffed with zucchini — so airy and poppable, it’s a good thing I didn’t discover these little gems until toward the end of the night because I would have kept popping them and not had room for, say, my second serving of Blue Water Grill‘s smoked bacon-wrapped lobster sausage (above, served with corn salsa and fennel pollen aioli). Never knew such a form of lobster existed, but my life is better for it now that I do.

photo-14The Strip House — I’ve never been, but they’re supposed to do good steaks — served a crab cake with fingerling potatoes. It was fine. But I much preferred steak places that did meat, like the Knickerbocker. Perfectly cooked strips of the restaurant’s signature T-Bone steak (right) were being snatched up faster than the chef could slice them. (If the point of a restaurant’s participation is to get you interested enough to come in sometime, and you’re a steak place, serve steak.)

photo-3More great beef: The grilled beef tenderloin and malanga fondue with truffle trumpet frisee salad (left) from brand new Pipa Tapas y Mas restaurant was a dark-horse contender for favorite of the night. And BLT Prime served a bacon-crusted Wagyu flatiron with corn roasted bell pepper salad and bacon chimchurri that sounded more complicated in the placard than what I got on my plate, but it was a nice bite.

photo-8Wildwood BBQ‘s whole pig (right) was definitely the most ambitious display of the night; the pulled pork sliders with coleslaw and chipotle BBQ sauce were okay, but a little boring compared to the smoked pork spare riblets being served at Hill Country‘s table (served with mac & longhorn cheddar cheese).

photo-6Hands down, my overall favorite of the night was Almond, who had a gorgeous, potatoes-overflowing and rock salt display and a brilliant dish (left): house-smoked blue fish and potato chips, dill, goat yogurt. It’s like chips and dip deconstructed, pure mouth bliss. And entirely original. I will go to this restaurant specifically to order this dish in the future.

More from the fish front: SushiSamba did a kanpachi tiradito with heirloom tomatoes, fresh yuzu and white truffle oil, which was clean and just a lovely bite of sushi. And while I wanted so much to love ‘Wichcraft’s fluke with vodka-infused watermelon, charred chilies and basil — sounds so exotic — it was really overwhelming. The charred bits were almost gritty, whoa there vodka-soaked fruit.

photo-10… and, dessert. The Stand‘s mini toasted marshmallow shakes were perhaps one of the most adorable presentations of the evening, each topped with its own chocolate-dusted marshmallow. The perfect serving size for this sort of event: a few good sips and you’re done and SO satisfied.

And the guys hand-shaving the ice for market-flavor treats at Todd English’s Olives table get the award for hardest working team. Literally, hand-shaving ice. It’s like kitchen time-out to have to do that job. The flavors were ambitious and fascinating: Horachata was the clear winner. The creaminess improves the shaved ices, and it comes dotted with tiny raisins. Other flavors were: butternut squash, spiced cider and pomegranate.

On my way out I grabbed at beignet from ilili — so glad I did. It was the perfect sweet bite to end on.

photo-15Other miscellany: Whole Foods’ “Ploughman’s snack,” which featured local ingredients from Rick’s Picks, Schoolhouse Kitchen and Sprout Creek Farm on these fantastic plates made from fallen leaves by VerTerra Dinnerware out of Long Island City showcased all the locally-produced items beautifully. You could tell it was a really thought-out presentation. And then there’s the guac — I just couldn’t say no, not when I see the Rosa Mexicano team pounding out fresh batches in giant stone pestels (left).

… And about those noodles from Republic that were handed out in tiny orange and blue-colored take-out boxes? Mine ended up in my purse for later…

Dinner: Wednesday, May 6, 2009

photo-71After lunch’s feast just a simple salad tonight, please. To mixed greens I added three newish food obsessions, and one old stand-by:

Half a container (4 oz.) of Wakim’s Foods garbanzo salad (Bristol, PA). It’s just garbanzo beans, spinach, olive oil, lemon juice and some other herbs, but it’s so damn good. 

The end of a jar of goat feta in olive oil from Patches of Star Dairy (Nazareth, PA) that a friend picked up at the Union Square Greenmarket. There’s a certain tang the goat’s milk gives to the feta that just kicks it up a notch.

photo-21Diced Medjool dates from Russ & Daughters. Just like candy. Better, in fact. I’m eating some chocolate right now as I write this and I think I’d prefer the dates.

On top of all that, I added a fried egg, cooked over-medium, which I then cut into bite-sized pieces with my knife and let the last molten bit of yolk drip all over everything. Super delicious.

Dinner: Tuesday, April 28, 2009

photo-45If you’re going to have just a little something to eat, it may as well be a salad of greenmarket spinach, beets and red onion, plus the fringe of a prime cut of steak from Whole Foods (saving the rest for basically a larger redux of this meal tomorrow), plus some blue cheese and balsamic vinigarette. 

It’s the miniature salad of the one I *think* I’m taking to work to eat tomorrow; that’s the tentative plan. The only variation might be that I tossed the greens I used tonight in the hot, fatty cracklings in the pan I fried the top loin steak in for just that little extra bit of goodness. Mmm … goodness. 

I realized I have some very nice before and after pictures from the prep. Here are the ingredients as I first laid eyes on them yesterday: 

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Below: After I got my hands on them this evening. Could be a scosh pinker, but overall not a bad pan-fried steak. I seasoned with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and olive oil and gave it a good rub before throwing it in a really hot pan. I don’t cook protein much and was vaguely worried I might somehow mess it up, but it ended up being fairly intuitive. For someone who likes her meat on the rarer side of things, there really isn’t too much of a worry of pulling it off too soon. 

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Coming up tomorrow: Steak salad at the office. How to make the most beautiful of salads in the most unglamorous setting. Hint: It involves prepping for travel. 

COST: Market vegetables (spinach, beets and red onion) $3.75; steak at USQ WF $8.49; cheese and dressing I had on hand. 
PREP TIME: I spent less than an hour in the kitchen. But let’s not talk about the line at Whole Foods last night at about 7 p.m. That place is a cash cow.