Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In Search Of Matzo Ball Soup In N.Y.C. (So Why Not?)

Well, it was cold and I got to thinking about matzo ball soup, and then I got to looking for matzo ball soup, and then I got to comparing matzo ball soups-- with a surprising result.

First, it needs to be said there are different schools of thought on matzo balls. 1) They should be light and fluffy. 2) They should be firm. Those were the ones I was brought up on. If you dropped one on your foot you would be injured. 3) Distinctions are nonsense, there can’t be a bad matzo ball.

I’m pretty much in the third school, which meant I wasn’t overly influenced by such as density in the matzo balls I was tasting. I did want to make sure the best known Jewish delis were heard from and so included on my list: The Carnegie Deli, Katz’s, The 2nd Ave Deli, Fine & Schapiro, Liebman’s in Riverdale, Mile End in Brooklyn, and I also included Octavia’s Porch, not a deli but a restaurant serving reimagined Jewish food, and the coffee shop at the Edison Hotel because, although a coffee shop, they are of the deli persuasion.

About Mile End, I realize it’s been highly praised. Zagat rates it the best deli in New York with a 25 rating for its Montreal-based cuisine. The matzo ball soup was fatty to the point of greasy, far too rich and fatty for my consumption. And while we’re on the subject of its top Zagat rating, their “smoked meat” sandwich is neither pastrami nor corned beef, but something else, something lesser, and can’t begin to approach the excellence of the pastrami at Ben’s Best in Rego Park. And while we’re on pastrami, recently I was in Langer’s in Los Angeles, famous for its pastrami, and the bread was incomparable-- it’s baked while you’re sitting there-- but I have to say it, I’ve got Ben’s Best ahead of Langer’s for a pastrami sandwich. But I digress delicatessen-ly.

The matzo ball soup at Octavia’s Porch was interesting, fresh ingredients, imagination went into it, but it seemed more of an Asian dish than a bowl of matzo ball soup. The Carnegie, Katz’s, The 2nd Ave Deli, Fine & Schapiro, Liebman’s, the name delis, all served, to varying degrees, decent matzo ball soup with Liebman’s decidedly a cut above the others for its broth and for having the best-tasting matzo ball of any during this search. If this were only about the matzo ball and not the whole soup of it, I would rate Liebman’s top of the list. The surprise is that the coffee shop here, the coffee shop at the Edison Hotel out-matzo-ball-soup-ed the delis.

The Edison features a matzo ball from the light, fluffy school-- I can live with that. Copious amounts of noodles. A delicious broth. Some of the above soups were clear broth, some a lonely slice of carrot or piece of dill floating about. The Edison offers pieces of chicken along with the noodles, which makes their soup unique among these. Taken together, the matzo ball, the noodles, the chicken, the broth, a generous, beautifully rendered matzo ball soup. A cup will do. A bowl is a meal unto itself.

And then there’s the place, which is actually a little insane looking. The ceiling seems as though it was once part of the hotel’s original lobby or a ballroom in the hotel or who knows, and there are the mismatched dining areas, and the sloppily handwritten signs with the day’s specials. But for a pre-theater light dinner, or any time during the day, it’s outstanding. Best matzo ball soup I tasted. And the whitefish salad sandwich wouldn’t kill you.

Edison Hotel Coffee Shop. 228 W 47th Street, Manhattan. 212-840-5000.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

New York Hero Sandwiches: Not Always So Heroic

In a city where you can’t avoid finding a hero sandwich within a few blocks of wherever you are, from Italian specialty stores like Milano Gourmet implausibly situated in Yorkville, to high-end food department stores like the new, cavernous, (am I ever going to actually eat what I took home from there?) Eataly, to service groceries that also sell cigarettes and lottery tickets, and in a city where, if you dine in nearly any Italian restaurant with a Zagat food rating of at least 21, your bread basket will contain some pretty decent Ecce Panis-style bread-- it’s disappointing that a woeful number of hero sandwiches in this city are served on unheroic bread.

The sheer number of places where you can buy a hero sandwich contributes to the lack of excellence. Commercial bakeries are pumping out those loaves and you can buy a lackluster Boar’s Head hero on lackluster bread all over the city. Then, too, there is this-- sad as it is to say. Some of the quaint, beloved, traditional Italian bakeries providing bread for heroes make quaint, traditional, but ordinary bread. Yes, fresh, but mushy inside and essentially banal.

Without naming the name--I don’t have the heart-- recently I ate a hero from a well known Italian hero place, good ingredients served on bread from a local Italian bakery. The purveyor was being admirably loyal, keeping it all in the neighborhood. But the bread was mushy and bland inside, not what we now understand to be excellent baked bread. If that old-fashioned bread is to your taste because it’s what you’ve grown up with and have always known, fair enough, tradition is tradition. But the baking arts have changed here over the years.

There are places where it all comes together, excellent bread and excellent ingredients, not as many places as you’d expect in New York, but some, and the one I particularly like, and am amused by, is Alidoro on Sullivan Street in Manhattan, formerly known as Melampo. They order bread made to their specifications from two top-level Brooklyn bakeries, Royal Crown and Gold Star, and they are also supplied by the artisanal Grandaisy bakery nearby. The special-ordered bread from Brooklyn is outstanding and is available during the week, not on Saturday, at a surcharge. The store is closed on Sunday. And the no-extra-charge bread is grainier with a tastier crust than most.

What is amusing about Alidoro is the quirkiness of the menu, forty sandwiches with names like the Pacino, the Fellini, the Vivaldi, the Galileo, as though the owners were graduates of the Shopsin School of Culinary Idiosyncrasy. I refer to Shopsin’s, the ultimate in idiosyncratic cuisine, now located for your madcap pleasure in the Essex Street Market.

At Alidoro, changes to the listed ingredients of a given sandwich are allowed, but the additions also carry surcharges. So you could order a ten dollar sandwich and end up with a surcharge for the special-ordered bread and another surcharge for your added meat, cheese or roasted peppers. It’s not Blimpie.

The culture of the place has inspired some complaints on the food blogs, allusions to a Seinfeld-ian Soup Nazi atmosphere in this narrow space of an operation. I never have had trouble, but then I keep to the menu. I have also never done better than a fifteen or twenty minute wait for a sandwich and people complain about that, too.

Is it worth the wait? Absolutely. Wonderful, fresh ingredients, imported cheeses and meats, and outstanding bread. Eating at one of their tiny tables is not grand dining, you’re eighteen inches away from the people standing on line. I usually go around the corner to a nearby playground and eat there. I like the Pavarotti-- salami, smoked mozzarella, sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, sweet roasted peppers. $11.75. And in a lighter frame of mind, the Cabiria-- fresh mozzarella, sweet roasted peppers, arugula. $9.25.

I don’t know what I’ve done for the regulars by writing this, increased the wait, no doubt. Still, fair is fair, an estimable, quirky place like this should be known, and if you don’t know about Alidoro, (capicollo, mortadello, add $2.75) you should.

Alidoro, 105 Sullivan Street, just north of Spring Street, 212-334-5178.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Dining In Paris: High, Medium, Low.

The cliche is that it’s impossible to get a bad meal in Paris. Well, you can get a meal that isn’t bad, but isn’t so great either, and you can overpay. What is impossible-- is to avoid people giving you advice on where to eat in Paris. So here’s my advice.

Dining high: Taillevent is listed first in Zagat’s Top Food category for Paris restaurants and first in their Most Popular category. But Taillevent, traditionally a three star restaurant in the Michelin Guide, has been demoted to two stars by Michelin. The two guides are hardly mirror images of each other and it is the more populist Zagat that holds the luxurious restaurant in higher regard. Rating madness aside, if you’re willing to spend the money for the pleasures of haute cuisine, go to Taillevent for lunch.

The estimable food writer, Jeffrey Steingarten, once passed that on to me-- for dining in a haute cuisine Paris restaurant, if the money and the atmosphere for a non-French speaking person seems like it will be intimidating, choose the less pressured lunch environment instead of dinner.

Taillevent offers an 80 Euro lunch. I realize that’s already serious money, but we are on the high end here. Lunch consists of a starter, main course, cheese course, and dessert. The portions are substantial. They’re not skimping for lunch. The food is superb. Recently, I had mushroom ravioli to start-- never had anything like it. Then duck breast re-imagined. It was like duck steak. Never had anything like that, as well. Wonderful cheese. And dessert on the I-really-shouldn’t-have-this-at-lunch-but-I’m-in-Paris level and it was outstanding.

My group of five ordered a bottle of champagne to begin. We were celebrating. We had come to Paris for the opening of the French language stage adaptation of my novel, “Kramer vs. Kramer.” We ordered a second bottle of wine for the meal, and the tally-- lunch, two bottles, additional tip, was about $130 a person, more than is probably decent, but this is indeed Paris haute cuisine and nowhere near the amounts people pay for dinner at these cathedrals of dining. It seems slightly insane to say it, lunch at Taillevent is a good value.

Dining at the low end: On this trip I flirted with an idea that you can eat well on vacation in Paris and never once order cooked food. That would be budget Paris. Bread and cheese. Sandwiches and more sandwiches. The bread is so great, the ingredients so fresh. It’s a thought.

A realistic strategy for saving money while eating well in Paris is to do a variation on the previous thought and simply have sandwiches for some of your lunches. We had a beautiful lunch sitting by the fountain in the plaza at The Louvre, eating sandwiches from the museum cafe. And I had a great sandwich-- can a sandwich be great? This was, smoked salmon, at Café des Musées, a first rate bistro near The Picasso Museum. Of course, it’s not only the bread that makes the sandwiches in Paris so special, they put that excellent French butter on the sandwiches, and in this case, sea salt on the smoked salmon. My friends ordered delicious bistro food there while I was in some other zone-- it troubles me a little to say it, but I have to-- a smoked salmon zone beyond Sable’s, beyond Barney Greengrass, beyond Zabar’s, beyond Russ and Daughters, with my sandwich at Café des Musées.

Dining in the middle: The middle is any of the innumerable bistros of Paris which America’s imitation bistros are based on. I’ve been emphasizing lunch here. A lovely bistro for dinner is Maison du Jardin near the Luxembourg Gardens. And you could do an entire bistro dinner highlight reel off Le Comptoir du Relais, as it’s listed in Zagat, Le Comptoir as it’s called in Michelin, located a few steps from Saint-Germain.

It’s the restaurant scene of restaurant scenes, people in a straggly line on the sidewalk waiting to get in, the overflow drinking wine and eating in the adjacent hors d’oeuvres bar, also waiting to get in, everyone in a mad flight pattern orchestrated by the restaurant manager. They take reservations on a restricted basis which contributes to the mayhem, and it’s been copiously publicized. Anthony Bourdain featured the place on a Paris segment of his television show. Zagat gives it a food rating of 26. The highest possible is 28.

Here’s the crazy thing. One minute you’re not much more than a bum waiting on the sidewalk, being told by the manager to back up, move away from the entrance. But then you’re in and you’ve gone from bum to family. They embrace you, what can we do for you, what can we bring you? The food is terrific. The chicken is comparable to the chicken at Chez l’Amis Louis without the attitude and without the tariff. Outside, people are standing in line as you were. Want to linger over dessert and coffee? No problem. It’s your table. You earned it. Comptoir is the kind of place that makes you feel this is what you came to Paris for.

I’m over the top about New York, always was, always will be. In the novel, “Kramer vs. Kramer,” and now, delightfully, in the French adaptation, there’s actually a reference to the Football Giants. But whatever your budget, they’ve got some city for eating, that place, Paris.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A New York Omelet-- Under The Radar

Can there be such a thing as a Destination Omelete? I’ve got one for you, smoked salmon, onions, capers, served with a toasted bagel, delicious, worth a trip, no lines, no waiting.

The no lines, no waiting is a tip off that I’m not talking about Barney Greengrass. Don’t get me wrong, I love Barney Greengrass. For a while I wore their souvenir T-shirt with its insane logo as my dress T-shirt. I have had actual arguments with people over their whitefish salad, whether it’s better than Zabar’s. Personally, I’m partial to their tuna salad, yes, usually banal tuna, but excellent there, on pumpernickel bread.

But who are all those people on weekends at Barney Greengrass, where did they come from, why are they ahead of me, is it worth it? I suppose. If you live in the neighborhood. But if you’re traveling to get there, or to any place in New York that serves smoked salmon in an omelete, I have the ultimate under the radar place for you.

Sable’s on Second Avenue between 77th & 78th does a great omelete. The smoked salmon isn’t thinly sliced slivers or little pieces which you generally get when you order it in an omelete. They make it with chunks of smoked Scottish salmon and it’s so good it will make you rethink how this dish should be served and why you’ve been settling all these years.

Advisory: The main activity is their appetizing business. Their “cafe,” and that’s a generous name for a few tables and chairs, serves on paper plates. If that’s a turn off, I understand. But this is about the food, not the setting, and anyone I’ve ever brought there for the omelete or the appetizing has said it’s outstanding.

Why Sable’s is there, on the upper east side, not exactly an appetizing center, beats me. The Sze brothers from Hong Kong who own the place originally worked in appetizing at Zabar’s, and opened Sable’s twenty years ago. People go rapturous over their lobster salad, whitefish salad, and the sable, of course. Sure, one would say-- you can’t get that stuff on the upper east side. Well, Eli’s is nearby, but that’s designer shopping. For my taste, and this is the highest praise I can think of in this context, Sable’s could be on the west side and it would still be outstanding.

I’m not rating these places numerically, they all have destination omeletes. Barney Greengrass, surely. The Waverly Restaurant on Sixth and Waverly Place, where they serve them in individual frying pans, a really nice touch. Shopsin’s, now in the Essex Street Market, deliciously eccentric. The Sable’s omelete, $8.99, with its chunks of Scottish salmon, is a favorite of mine-- I usually order it with egg whites-- Sable’s sitting out there, wildly out of context on the upper east side, never crowded, unknown except for the smart appetizing crowd, a sub-category I’m sure exists.

Hordes of people occupy the nearby Second Avenue joints for brunch, and you want to say, What are you eating? Why are you here? You’re right near one of the great omeletes in the city. Their loss. Not ours. Go there. And if you order something other than that omelete, or buy the appetizing to go, I wouldn’t yell at you.

Sables, 1489 Second Avenue, bet 77th & 78th. 212-249-6177.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Greek Restaurants in New York... The Branzino Follies

$100 to $175 for dinner for two? With entrees of simply prepared Greek-style grilled fish? I don’t know about this.

I was first introduced to Greek food by a couple of Greek-American guys I worked with at the beginning of the Sixties, Stanley Anton and Chris Gianakos. There may have been some fancy Greek restaurants in the city then, but for them, and thus for me, Greek food meant two places in the west Forties, Molfeta’s and The Paradise.

The food was cheap and the food was good. Molfeta’s was a steam table place that looked like a coffee shop. They renovated along the way and when they were done it still looked like a coffee shop. The Paradise was classier in decor and you didn’t stand on line to choose your food, they had waiter service. It was at The Paradise I first ate a feta cheese omelette. I then went to Greece with Chris and tried to order it and they never heard of a feta cheese omelette, an American invention. They would bring an omelette with a piece of feta on top of it.

Molfeta’s and The Paradise are long gone. I miss those places from another time and another price point for Greek food. In Manhattan one relatively inexpensive Greek restaurant is Uncle Nick’s, not far from where Molfeta’s was located. I went there pre-theater a while ago and it was so hectic and the food was so awful I would have been able to match it by ordering a Greek dish as take-out from any Greek-run coffee shop and eating it on the A train.

Today’s Greek restaurants, especially those in Manhattan serving grilled fish as a specialty, are extremely pricey operations, places like Estiatorio Milos, Molyvos, Trata Estiatorio, Persephone. Those restaurants and many others in New York serve good, fresh grilled fish. Here’s the thing, though. It’s grilled fish. For those prices, what kind of cooking is actually going on?

Take Eleven Madison Park by contrast. It’s even more expensive. It is, though, a New York Times four star restaurant and there’s probably not a single dish that comes out of the kitchen that you, unless you’re an outstanding chef yourself, could make at home. It’s on some other level of cuisine, which is why you’re there, and why you pay the prices. To pay what you’re paying in those Greek restaurants for a whole grilled fish? You can make it at home with no real cooking skills.

You ask your fish store to clean a whole branzino, European sea bass. Then you place some fresh garlic, rosemary and olive oil in the cavity, drizzle the outside of the fish with olive oil, place it in the broiler section of your oven and keep turning it and drizzling it with olive oil until the skin looks crispy, and you’ll have a delicious fish, fairly comparable to what they’re serving you at those prices in the fancy Greek restaurants.

Okay, you go out to eat to go out to eat. You’re paying for essentially renting space in a restaurant while enjoying the ambience and specifically the food they’ve prepared. Granted. But how much is fair to charge for simple grilled fish cooking? $100 to $175 for two people doesn’t seem right to me. Let’s stay with our friend the branzino for a moment. Many of the Greek restaurants have adopted a policy of not listing fixed prices on the menu for certain dishes, rather they say, “M/P” for market price. Whose market? What price? I went into Citarella’s recently and bought a dinner-sized whole branzino for $8. So in the first place, these restaurants aren’t doing much in the way of cooking-- it’s something you could do at home-- and second, if they buy a fish wholesale that you can buy retail for only $8, you’ve been seriously, seriously marked up.

All this is why if I want to eat grilled fish Greek-style I stay away from the Manhattan mark-up scene. Like so many others I go to Astoria where you have several choices including Stamatis, Philoxenia, Elias Corner, Telly’s Taverna, Taverna Kyclades. But beware of the service at Elias Corner. They’re like the rude Jewish deli waiters from the old days, but not as funny.

The raffish ambience of the Astoria Greeks is certainly not the same as the Manhattan venues, and you have to get there. However, for Milos the Zagat listing on the price of dinner for one person with a drink and tip is $82. For Kyclades, which is rated by Zagat just under Milos for food, the price listing is $36. Is it worth the trip to Astoria, a half hour or so by subway from 59th and Lexington Avenue? I think so.

The signature grilled fish selections at Kyclades are superb. In the warm weather, the patio and the outdoor tables give you the feeling you really are eating at a taverna. Remember when people used to judge restaurants in Chinatown based on how many Chinese people were eating there? I don’t know how much it means, but I’ve never been to Kyclades when I wasn’t sitting near people speaking Greek and ordering copious amounts of food.

The problem with Kyclades is it’s always crowded. My suggestion is do what I did recently. Go at an off hour. Have a late lunch or an early, early bird. Like four on a weekend afternoon. Fish at four? Why not? If it feels like too much food at that hour, split a whole fish with a friend and it gets really inexpensive.

Rethink your branzino. Paying all that money in Manhattan-- it’s almost an ethical issue.

Kyclades Taverna, 33-07 Ditmars Blvd., 718-545-8666. N or W train to Ditmars Blvd., 1/2 block to Ditmars, turn right for 1 1/2 blocks.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New York: A Major Barbecue City. Really!

It was the kind of dinner, thirty-plus years later, I still remember. The writer, Susan Edmiston, and her husband, Peter Edmiston, a music business guy, were entertaining about eighteen people in their apartment. Right off the plane from Kansas City, Peter would be arriving with food from Arthur Bryant’s famous barbecue place. We were waiting like little birds with our beaks open, getting reports, he’s landed, he’s on his way, then Peter arrived lugging a considerable amount of food. The barbecue was reheated and we ate and I thought it was outstanding, which I mentioned to Calvin Trillin, one of the guests, who had famously championed Arthur Bryant’s. Trillin, never known not to be droll, said-- and take into account the shlepping Edmiston just went through-- “It’s good, but you have to actually be there to get the full taste. This is, basically, a take-out order.”

I’ve got a feeling it’s not just Kansas City anymore when it comes to barbecue for New Yorkers. In a tectonic food shift, New York has become a major barbecue city with more barbecue places than Jewish delis. You can sample the various types of regional American barbecue right here and we’re not even considering Asian influences, also proliferating. Try this for a list, not anywhere near complete, Blue Smoke, Brother Jimmy, Daisy May’s BBQ USA, Dallas BBQ, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Fette Sau, Hill Country, Johnny Utah, Lookout Hill, Max’s Memphis Barbecue, Rack & Soul, RUB BBQ, Smoke Joint, Spanky’s BBQ, Virgil’s Real BBQ, Wildwood Barbeque, and a guy who had been selling barbecue out of a truck in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Kings County BBQ, who now caters.

Obviously, people who come to New York from other regions of the country that featured specific barbecue styles are going to bring their preferences with them, but native New Yorkers are also becoming foodies on barbecue. My own credentials are extremely dubious, growing up as I did in the Bronx of the 1940s and 1950s where the closest we came to barbecue were the dry, overcooked spareribs from the Oh, Joy Chinese Restaurant. But you know how it goes, you eventually get older, you own a grill, you make spareribs, you think you know something about it. So I think I know something about it. It may not be your something. There’s so much good barbecue in New York, but I offer a few thoughts.

For this discussion, let’s just stick to basic pork spareribs, and if you know what I’m about to say, apologies, someone else might not know. Baby back ribs are not from baby pigs or piglets, they are taken from the top of the hog’s rib cage and are smaller in size with less fat, and therefore, some say, less fun to eat than spare ribs which are taken from the belly side. You see various places around the city featuring “St. Louis-style ribs.” But St. Louis is not known for ribs. “St. Louis-style ribs” merely refers to the way the ribs are trimmed before cooking. If you type “trimming St. Louis style ribs” in the YouTube search box, you’ll find a video of a guy doing the trimming. Trimming, that’s it, that’s the whole deal about St. Louis ribs. I did get to St. Louis some years ago before I knew this, asked my host to take me to the best ribs place in town, and the ribs were mediocre, the kind of ribs you might get if they were the nightly special at a diner off the Long Island Expressway.

So where to go for ribs in New York? I’m almost tempted to say anywhere. Right now we’ve got a better level of ribs going than we do, say, pastrami. And people can get overly fussy about where they eat their ribs and why-- wet or dry rubs, how smoky they like them. I say, just go. Have fun.

I am going to pick one favorite place uptown and one favorite place downtown and you can work your way through the city to your own favorites. What follows is like saying, “If you want to go to a baseball game, go to Yankee Stadium,” but I really like Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. It’s working too hard with its faux roadhouse decor, but it’s reached the point where it has become genuine faux. The ribs are great, smoky, juicy, and at really fair prices. You can get at least three ribs and a couple of sides for $9.95 If you want to eat that light. A more conventional serving is $15.95.

Downtown, and this is surprising, for ribs I would go to the Knickerbocker Bar & Grill. It’s a very attractive old-fashioned New York saloon, and classy, Hirschfeld theater prints on the walls, small combo jazz on weekend nights. It’s a place you could go if not everybody in your party wants to eat ribs, and so it occupies a category all to itself, the best restaurant in the city that serves great ribs but isn’t a barbecue place. It’s also known among steak-eaters for its T-bone, but you might expect that from a serious neighborhood restaurant. Why such outstanding ribs? An interesting provenance. New York foodies know about the very highly rated restaurant, The Grocery in Brooklyn, created by Charles Kiely and Sharon Pachter. Some years ago, Kiely was the chef at the Knickerbocker, the ribs are his recipe, his legacy. Marinated for a couple of days with the rub he devised, cooked on the same grill as those excellent steaks, they’re fall-off-the bone delicious. $21.50, enough for two to share.

Uptown, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. Downtown, The Knickerbocker Bar & Grill. Two completely different dining venues, both terrific spareribs.

Incidentally, I once made it to Arthur Bryant’s in Kansas City. The place was packed before a Royals game, you lined up to get to the counter, the food was being whirled about confusingly, the line hustled along by the countermen, step up, step up, keep moving, what do you want, and I from New York was the rube, and intimidated. I ordered my ribs and ate them quickly by myself. Truth be told, I enjoyed it more as take-out at the Edmistons.

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. 646 West 131st Street at 12th Avenue, 212-694-1777. Knickerbocker Bar & Grill. 33 University Place at 9th Street. 212-228-8490.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

New York Cheesecake: From "Guys and Dolls" Onward

When Nathan Detroit tries to snooker Sky Masterson into a bet on the number of pieces of cheesecake sold the previous day at “Mindy’s” in the musical, “Guys and Dolls,” he says, “You will admit Mindy has the greatest cheesecake in the country?” Sky responds, “Yes, I’m quite partial to Mindy’s cheesecake.” In the years since “Guys and Dolls” first opened, their Times Square area has changed dramatically. Gone is Lindy’s restaurant, for which “Mindy’s” was a stand-in. Oh, there is a Lindy’s, but it’s not that Lindy’s. Gone is the Turf restaurant, Jack Dempsey’s, Hector’s Cafeteria. Not gone is terrific New York cheesecake.

Someone once wrote that there’s no difference between good wiener schnitzel and bad wiener schnitzel. I’ll do a variation on New York cheesecake. In this city where you’re never walking distance or a bus or subway ride away from a piece of cheesecake, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad piece of cheesecake. I have had cheesecake that was better than others, and that’s what this is about.

Tasting my way through, Junior’s surprised me. Before Junior’s came into Manhattan and went for big marketing it was Brooklyn’s prized possession. I assumed with the changes in the operation the cheesecake wouldn’t be that good. It’s excellent, smooth and creamy, a classic cream cheese-based New York style cheesecake.

An even bigger surprise was the cheesecake from the Carnegie Deli. A few words about the Carnegie. Time was for me and for my friends the Carnegie was our favorite, the best deli. It was in a permanent face-off with the Stage nearby, just as Ratner’s and Rappaport’s did a downtown dairy face-off on Second Avenue. But we loved the Carnegie. No longer. The corned beef and pastrami are ordinary and honestly if you don’t have that you don’t have me. I was also dubious when I looked at the cheesecake offerings, gelatinous-looking fruit toppings, even a chocolate-topped cheesecake. For my money cheesecake should be eaten plain. I ordered a piece, they serve a really large piece, two could share, three could nibble. It was terrific. Creamy, delicious. They have a side business in shipping cheesecakes and they should. Nathan Detroit would have said, “I am surprised to have obtained a notable cheesecake comparable to that of Mindy’s at the Carnegie Deli.”

Does anybody remember Cheesecake Elegante? It was a very rich, distinctive cheesecake that seems to have vanished from the city. The closest to it in my perception is the cheesecake served in the cheese-centric Artisinal restaurant. The Artisinal cheesecake is, however, tarted up with a too-insistent crust and caramel sauce and the cost of a piece is $11.50. You can nearly buy an entire cheesecake in some places for that kind of money.

On the subject of price, on the upper east side Two Little Red Hens sells a cheesecake some people favor and their version is fine. The cheesecake and the tea room shop is, shall we say, effete, compared to the Carnegie. The young woman behind the counter told me with a straight face that an 8-inch cake is $39. $39! You can get an 8-inch cake at Rocco’s (more on Rocco’s in a moment) for $10.50. Which raises the question, Does price matter if you’re a cheesecake aficionado? Well, yes, at that price it matters.

Cheesecake is in the DNA of New York. People are going to have their favorites, the way we root for teams. Eileen’s, D’Aiuto’s Baby Watson, S & S which supplies restaurants, but will ship direct or you can pick up their cake at Zabar’s. You could make a long list and you wouldn’t go wrong. My own cheesecake taste has shifted in recent years from the straight-up cream cheese style to Italian ricotta cheesecake. I don’t have a good explanation. Ricotta cheesecake is lighter than cream cheese style, some of the bakers add fruit specks. Beats me-- I just prefer it these days. Here, too, people have their favorites, Ferrara, DeRobertis, Veniero. Incidentally, file this away. Veniero, although a classic Italian bakery, makes an outstanding pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

And so to Rocco’s. Located just west of Sixth Avenue on Bleeker Street with thousands of people passing by each day, Rocco’s is hardly under the radar. For people who care about these matters, to say Rocco’s makes a great ricotta cheesecake is like saying to someone, “Oh, you’re going to France. They have a city worth seeing called, Paris.” A reverse prejudice might even kick in. Rocco’s is so visible on the Greenwich Village scene, its cafe so popular with tourists and locals, the assumption might be the cheesecake can’t be that good. It is. Not only does it look beautiful, it tastes beautiful.

For cream cheese style cheesecake, surprisingly, the Carnegie Deli. For Italian style ricotta cheesecake, unsurprisingly, Rocco’s. Trust me on these picks. It’s better than even money.

The Carnegie Deli, 854 Seventh Avenue at 55th Street, 212-757-2245. Rocco’s, 243 Bleeker Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, 212-242-6031