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Preview: Below 14th

Below 14th

Eat Drink & Nightlife in Downtown Manhattan

Published: 2004-05-23T01:30:17-05:00


Goodbye To All This


It was a good run, but all good things... and so to bed for Below 14th. Thanks to all who visited, read and commented over the last two-plus years. The archives remain here for those who want to catch up with old friends, though comments have been frozen in time. Please join us at our new site, Curbed, where we carry on with all things food and drink related on a broader Manhattan scale. At this URL, posting on all matters of absurdity continues unabated on the homepage.

Review: Evviva


We've eaten at many an East Village Italian in our time, but never have we had cause to guffaw more often than a dinner this past weekend at Upper Avenue A newcomer Evviva. This is a restaurant that wants to be taken seriously—so very seriously—but hasn't made it even half past amateur hour. The result is an hour-long master class in how not to run a restaurant. Comedic gems abound: wine glasses so large they could hold the entire bottle; seats so small they cannot hold an entire ass; an absurdly overambitious wine list replete with $800 bottles; a tepid gnocci entree smaller by half than most appetizers; and a swirling plasma TV screen that bathes the restaurant in a dim screensaver glow. The coup de grace came during our main course when the waiter arrived with two glasses, turned them upside-down and placed candles on them. "For romance." The payoff came moments later when the too-small table was jostled, sending hot wax flying across our shirt and down our pants, with a special detour onto our date's skirt. The only way to have more fun at Evviva, we figure, would be to go ahead and order the tasting menu. Frankly, we dare you.

BREAKING: The End of Below 14th


As just announced on the main blog, this will be the final week of operation for Below 14th. Join us all this week, won't you, as we relive two-plus years of joy and rage in restaurants across downtown Manhattan. Because Wylie would have wanted it this way.

Somewhere, An Artist Turns in His Grave


New B14 correspondent Kelly P. emails us about Rothko, the Bar Formerly Known As Adult World (Suffolk @ Rivington/Delancey). "I walked by there last Friday night, to see a host of skinny UES girls with blow-outs lined up outside the joint. I walked up to the doorman (he was wearing a head-set microphone thing) and asked, 'Hi. What's the new name of this joint?' He pointed to the words on the building and said "Rothko, it's the original name of the building, you don't believe me, look up," and pointed upwards to show that, yes, in fact it is the name on the building. I know, I live on the block, I should know what it says. Anyhoo, when I returned to my home block at 3ish that night, I heard a Kinks tune blaring out of there. The Kinks? I don't believe that they were being ironic, either. Anyway, they aren't opened every night, since I tried to go there and check it out for myself on a non-weekend (and thus non-crowded night.)" Intrigued, we stopped by early on Saturday night with our boy BluBox, who did reconassiance work at the bar. The space is the same as Adult World, but gutted, with a stage at the far end. Has been open Thurs–Sat nights, but they're throwing open the doors more often in May, cultimating in a "Grand Opening with Bands Coming May 21st!!" according to its calendar of events.

Lil Frankie's Bulks Up


Just in time for al fresco dining, Li'l Frankies (1st Ave. @ 1st/2nd) has added a second front dining room a few doors down from its original storefront. Of course, you'll still want to sit in the back. Regardless, not for the first time, we urge you: the Focaccino. The Focaccino! (And yes, this website has nothing better to do than shill once more for Frank Prisinzano.)

Neighborhood Notebook (Now w/20% more Nolita!)


'Twas a bright and sunny weekend, the time to discover eateries anew in the Dining Fields of the Lord 'neath Houston... On the well-trafficked block of Spring Street, just steps from the reknowned Jen Bekman Gallery (N.B. opening there tonight, people!), we noted a collapsed awning at Cafe Lebowitz—further proof of the decay of this once-grand establishment. But that is not why we write today. Two doors down, wedged in politely next to Bread, we noticed that a new Asian tapas restaurant/bar called Room 18 has opened. A peek revealed a breezy space and friendly barkeep; we shall return, perhaps even this eve!... New East Village wine store on the way: Discovery Wines on lower Avenue A (thanks, Charlie)... Proving that you can't keep bad taste down, 12" Bar has opened in the old Filthy McNasty's space on Essex (@ Houston/Stanton). Emails Joey of ToTC, "There's a motto on the sign: 'Drink. Look. Listen.' Look at what? The playground across the street? That's just gross, dude. And if there's going to be live music at that place, the band better have absolutely no following, because it's not like that place can fit more than five fat dudes." Indeed... Sandra, the proprietress of Essex St. chucklemporium Laugh Lounge NYC, also drops us a line. "Come on by any Thursday-Saturday night and tell folks to mention the Lockhart Steele site for free admission to the show!" Amen!

Review: No. 1 Chinese


(image) As you approach No. 1 Chinese, Frank Prisinzano's new restaurant on Avenue B (@ 4th St.), the stench of smug self-satisfaction intensifies. It's hardly an olfactory amuse-bouche. But you can't blame Frankie P., who knows full well that his ever-expanding below 14th food empire will suck you in and charge you twice what you'd pay for Chinese food twenty blocks south—and that, despite your better instincts, you'll like it. Over a year in the making, No. 1 Chinese reunites Frank with his partner at Hue, and apparently adds another partner to the mix. Whatever. The result is Supper gone Chinese, with a large open kitchen and dining area upstairs and a dark bar and lounge for dining downstairs. The food has a clean edge to it—General Tso was spared his usual drowning—and, despite the prices, it's a raw inevitability that the place will be jammed before the month is out. But last night, on its first night open to the public, the downstairs lounge was deserted, and we sampled food off the plates of the barstaff. The window is open—you've got a week of grace until NYMag blurbs it up next Monday.

Review: Ivo and Lulu


The nameless neighborhood between the West Village and Tribeca (realtors say "Hudson Square" or "WeVar"; we favor "EarInn") doesn't get much respect—or press. Besides the SLNY namedrops, we're not sure we'd even know that Ivo and Lulu exists, or that the block of Broome St. between 6th Ave. and Varick is the place for a low-key, low-cost night on the town. Start the night at new hole-in-the-wall bar Monkey Temple, where the proprietors served us up free nibbles that did not consist of peanuts, pretzels, or popcorn. From there, it's a few doors down to Ivo and Lulu, as cool and different a restaurant as we've discovered in recent months. No wider than Monkey Temple, the place serves what's billed as French-Carribean cuisine. That essentially means that fruity surprises accompany stalwart bistro dishes like lamb. Between two of us, we batted three out of four on ordering things we liked. The best part: the place is BYOB, and nothing on the menu is more than $10. We're even willing to overlook the fact that the place is a spin-off of an Upper West Side joint—and that's saying a lot.

He Said/She Said: Bianca


Two B14 correspondents, DR and KS, separately dined at new Bleecker (@ Bowery) Italian eatery Bianca this weekend. Now, exclusively on Below 14th, the genders face off! HER: "Expressing delight at the recent influx of 'tall women,' the maitre d' escorted us to a prime table. A bit more charming and polished, or perhaps just newer and therefore more interesting than Frank or Supper, Bianca sports a shabby chic, hyper-cozy warmth. And it's really, really noisy. The menu was pretty nice, except for one item: Giant boiled sausage. The special entree, some sort of hand-cranked pasta with white wine clam sauce, looked to be a winner. The flavor was there, but so faint that many bites were just bland floury pasta. When the owner asked how everything was, intently wondering what we ladies thought, I made the mistake of telling him the truth. He got cranky. 'Well I will be SURE to tell the chef!' Note to self: Italians never want to know the truth if it's not glowing. Dessert was on the house." HIM: "The maitre'd had a pleasant, crazed smile that suggested that he had spent the last three nights in Atlantic City with Fred, Resort's memorable gatekeeper, and several other old friends. Our first glass of wine tasted like something you would receive if you ordered the Pinot at Lit circa 3:45 a.m. The sommelier, who likely joined Fred and the maitre'd during their jaunt, expressed condemnation of our disapproval and charged us for the wine anyway. After that, it's just tough to get excited about a menu that emphasizes so much sausage. The food was good, though I really just wanted to be at a bar watching the UConn game, so my criticisms and observations may be unwarranted and/or unfounded. The real highlight was the wait at Von, which now features the hottest bartender in New York."

The Decline and Fall of Rosario's?


New correspondent Darren F. emails: "It's common knowledge among a few people that Rosario's [Orchard @ Stanton] has completely slipped in quality the past few months. It's pretty shocking considering what a mainstay of great pizza they've been, but I personally have had about 8 bad slices in the past few weeks, and I've heard a lot of anecdotal evidence that says other people have as well. It's all different kinds of pizza at all different times—not just the last pizza of the night at 5am. The cheese seems cheaper and oilier, and the crust is not the normally crispy and crunchy high quality we're used to. The sauce was also dry and skimpy. One night it was so bad it was inedible and seemed closer in quality to the bagel store pizza (which you must know how bad it is). They were also closed on a recent Saturday night at 4 which was very early for Rosario's. Sal looks fine and healthy, so what's the deal??" As longtime fans of Rosario's, we throw the question out to our listening audience. Any clues?

Iso Reborn


Word on the street that the space that once held East Village sushi haven Iso, which shuttered in December, re-opens next Wednesday. The restaurant is now under the management of two former Iso employees and carries a new monicker, Koi. New York Metro reports that the new name means Asian carp, and features "a similar menu built on a core collection of old favorites." [Thanks, JH]

Review: The Spotted Pig


Continuing our quest to dine as much in the west as we do in the east this year, we ducked into West Village newcomer The Spotted Pig (W. 11th @ Greenwich St.) early Sunday night. The space that formerly housed Le Zoo has been remade in the image of a British pub—perfect for the place that aims to make the gastropub as big a trend in NYC as it has become in Britain. We sat at the bar—plenty of open seats at the early hour we chose—and ordered a pint of the Spotted Pig Lager, brewed for the place by Brooklyn Brewery. (Our advice: stick with Old Speckled Hen.) Mario Batali (an investor, it seems) chose the chef, 29-year-old April Bloomfield (see second item), who comes to the 'Pig by way of London's famed River Cafe and a summer in the kitchen at Chez Panisse. We just did appetizers, but the results were tantalizing: first, a fleet of half a dozen oysters; second, an order of gnudi, a sort-of dumpling/ravioli hybrid stuffed with ricotta and served with baked sage leaves. Enough to convince that a return trip is in order.

6's and 8's


Last night, once the quasi-models had left the public school auditorium where Built By Wendy held its downtown fashion show (Collection tagline: "Midwest prepiness meets proper European boarding school"... Our kind of style!), we adjourned to Chrystie Street (@ Stanton) for an afterparty at new Lower East Side club 6's and 8's. In a space that housed the late, not-so-lamented 205 Club (a divey joint with a penchant for sporadic violence), Guy Jacobson and David Schlachet have morphed it into a large, sultry bar. (Who are Jacobson and Schlachet? We have no idea either.) Apparently designed to evoke Las Vegas (so parroteth Page Six), the place does indeed boast slot machines in the Clorox-clean basement. Similarities end there. Upstairs, flea market crystal chandeliers hang above deep black leather banquettes. Music plays so loud that a man outside remarked, "Must be a great gig going on in there." He, alas, could not get by the velvet ropes. Whereas we could: absent a doorman, we just stepped over them and walked right in.

Review: Sugar Sweet Sunshine


If it's true, as we've come to suspect, that we're living in Magnolia Bakery Nation, we can think of worse cultural fates. For the last month, we've been peeking in on Sugar Sweet Sunshine, a new Rivington Street bakery slash coffee shop (@ Essex/Norfolk) from two ex-employees of the West Village cupcake shrine. Verdict: Sugary goodness—our new go-to spot for all things cake in the hood, and a worthy addition to the Lower East Side's espresso explosion. (The banana pudding ain't shabby either.) Interesting historical note: the bakery used to be the retail home of Shapiro Wine Company, the wine maker whose kosher mural still adorns the facade above the north-east corner of Rivington and Essex. The company had quit the neighborhood in 2000, but has re-opened a retail spot in the Essex Street Market, the Times reports (last item).

Spelunking on the LES


A pal forwards us a press release with this tantalizing start: "Cave exploration on the Lower East Side? Now it can be done while enjoying a delicious cocktail!" Damn if someone hasn't picked up on our closest-held dream! (And some people say the LES is played. Fie! Fools!) The release continues: "On a trip to Europe, owner Nick Adjari decided to come back to the Lower East Side in order to introduce something fresh to the landscape." Something... fresh? Could it be?... Yes! An Italian restaurant! Actually, we've been negligent in checking this joint, La Caverna (Rivington @ Essex/Norfolk), out, given that it's just a few doors down from The Magician. From the street, La Caverna is just a hallway. Around the corner, it gives way to a stairwell decorated—yes—like a cave... albeit a cave from a really cheesy fairground haunted house. But then, at the bottom of the stairs, the room opens into a giant cavern, complete with faux stalactites, waterfalls, and more. This is Suba on some serious fucking acid—one of the trippiest spots we've ever seen. Definitely worth a peek.