The Second Annual Melt Awards!
Filet-O-Sole! Fancy dinners! And the best bagels in America!
Before I start, I owe the folks helping support The Melt a few updates and new features. Those are coming in the new year, including the start of The Melt Book Club (better name coming soon) and some new contributors for the newsletter that so many of you subscribed to over the last year, and a lot of you so graciously pay a few bucks to support. And since I have a personal goal I’m looking to hit in terms of paid readers, I’m offering a holiday season special if you want to sign up and help grow this thing in the new year. It’s 20 percent off between now and the last night of Hanukkah. Treat yourself or somebody you like
And with that, the best things I ate in 2023.
The Leftover Filet-o-Sole sandwich
This was my creation. It started at Polo Bar. The Dover sole is one of the best things on the menu, and generally something I always treat myself to if it’s available. It just feels like you’re embracing the best of continental cuisine, something you’d eat right before Slim Aarons took a photo of you. It’s also not cheap, which makes the leftover part of this where the fun comes in. You take home some Dover sole, make yourself some tartar sauce, and then you need a slice of American cheese and a bun. That’s it. Melt that cheese over the fish in the oven, and it’s beautiful, processed food meets high-end dining heaven. I live close enough to a McDonald’s, so I walk over and get a bun from them just so I can truly bridge the high-low gap. I think a Filet-o-Fish is one of the truly great fast food experiences, and taking a piece of fish that costs 40 or 50 bucks to its level is fun but also delicious, so getting as close to the real thing helps. I did it again this past week after dinner at Torrisi. Emily and I shared the Dover sole Francese because we went crazy on pasta. The next day, despite having plenty of ingredients in the fridge for another Thanksgiving leftover sandwich, I decided to go Filet-o-Sole. That’s how obsessed I am. I’d pass over stuffing and meat between bread for the leftover fish. And since I mentioned Torrisi…
Fancy dining is nice again
The Major Food Group “concepts” rub some people the wrong way, and I get that. Am I a little curious to see what their Hudson Yards private club is like? Morbidly, I’m afraid. I’ve eaten at a few of their places, and the only one I really tend to enjoy is Carbone because I’m a sucker for red sauce and I also like looking around the room and thinking I’m surrounded by people who got the reservation by going through their famous aunt or uncle. But Torrisi is actually…fantastic. It’s sort of a throwback to ‘80s NYC dining, with the high-minded but playful menu, the little NYC references to food from Chinatown, the old Jewish Lower East Side, and Little Italy. Everything I’ve had was excellent and the service is top-notch. Going there, I couldn’t help but feel like it’s been too long since a very hyped, very hard-to-get-in restaurant lived up to all the talk. I think this was something that went missing sometime in the latter half of the 2000-teens because there were just too many places opening up with too many ways to game the online system of getting people excited and then never delivering when it came time for the actual meal and experience. I’d like to think that’s changing. This also goes for the overall experience as well as the food. When I wrote about Cecchi’s opening earlier this year, I felt really nice about how owner Michael Cecchi-Azzolina was looking to the past—Odeon, 21 Club, Art Deco, strong martinis—for his spot. I’d like everybody to think that way going forward. Food should be good, the drinks should be perfect, and the look and feel should serve as an aphrodisiac for anybody who’s looking.
Traveling for a small meal
I recently was in Portland, Maine with my buddy Isaac, and we went to Eventide Oyster Co. Since I’m a big fan of dealer’s choice when it comes to picking shellfish, I wasn’t really thinking too much about our oyster order until it came out and I tried one of the local boys without one of the accouterments. I ate one of those suckers and my mind was blown. Just a perfect oyster complimented by a delicious martini. I live five hours away and have had plenty of oysters from Maine, but I don’t think I’ve ever had them in the state. It was so perfect that not only did we order a second half-dozen, but I started thinking about what a perfect little thing it would be to take a short trip just to eat something perfect and simple like great oysters. It sounds silly and frivolous and maybe it is, but I’d honestly make a short train ride or car trip for one good meal in a nice city like Portland. You spend one night there, don’t do too much, have yourself a little getaway, and then go back home. It’s a nice way to break things up.
Best bagels in the U.S. (outside of NYC, of course…)
Of course, you should do breakfast if you. goon one of those little trips and then leave the next morning. And since I mentioned Portland, I guess I should say that like Jack Woltz in The Godfather, I’ve had ‘em all when it comes to bagels, and the best I’ve had outside of my own fair city are found in Maine’s biggest city at Rose Foods. I went once a few years back and thought this, but this second time around, I confirmed it. Texture-wise, I’d say they do something akin to what Courage out in L.A. (another of the best bagels in the country) does, except I think Courage is more on the Montreal end of the spectrum, where Rose reminds me of the way bagels used to be in NYC when you had the same guys who’d been making them at the same place for decades. And the fish? The toppings? Oh my lord! The freshness! It’s taken me a few years to arrive at this decision, but I’m calling it: Rose Foods makes the best bagels in America outside of New York City.
I’m really hard to please with sweets, but the chocolate cake at Gertrude’s in Brooklyn is as good as people say. Just an outrageously delicious thing to eat. The restaurant is not far from my house, and it’s been really difficult not stopping in for a nightly piece.
Best chicken parm
Here’s one I was surprised by for some reason even though I shouldn’t have been: Emilio's Ballato chicken parm is god-level. I’d just never tried it before for whatever reason. I don’t know why, but I went for lunch earlier this summer and the thing is the size of a deflated football, but is thin like a nice schnitzel. I want to make this my order there now, but I might just make it a special occasion parm.
Best new burger in NYC
It was actually looking like a bleak year for new burgers, but then my friend Andrew who runs the great NYC-centric vintage dealership Souvenyr told me about One White Street. I’m going to say that it’s between their burger and the one at Cecchi’s for my favorite of the year. The One White Street burger is a real beefy boy, with two patties and white cheddar dripping off it. Perfection.
Favorite new restaurants
Besides being really happy with Torrisi, Libertine in the West Village is everything I want in a Manhattan take on a French bistro. Just the right level of decadence, but no filler whatsoever on the menu. And the ouefs mayo is literally eggs on eggs on eggs. I was similarly blown away by everything we had at MaMou in New Orleans, specifically the braised celery hearts that swam in a tomato broth with little bits of beef tongue. Finally, in the meat department, Kono is the best yakitori experience I’ve had in the States in…years. Just pure mastery, every part of the chicken more delicious than the next. This one opened in 2022, but it was the one place on my list from that year I didn’t make it to until 2023, so I’m calling it new.
And on the flip side of all that, I still can’t wait until my next visit to get a veggie burger at Superiority Burger.
OK! That’s it for now! Don’t forget about the subscription deal.