This Week’s Installment of Ask the Critics: Mom’s in Town


The laid-back vibe early in the evening and charming West Village location of Malatesta may be perfect for Mom.

One of my favorite parts of my job is helping friends and acquaintances with restaurant recommendations, and I work on several per week, time permitting. If I were an idiot savant, I could just reel them off the top of my head, but most take real work, in an attempt to match the personality of the requester with a decent selection of restaurants.

Here is a typical request, and the rex I came up with:

Hey Robert: Help! My mother [from New England] is coming to town and I want to go to a restaurant I’ve never been to before….do you have any good suggestions for a place to take mom, downtown preferably, ethnic and spicy is good, somewhere not too loud/trendy/hard to get a table on a Friday night…?? I always have a bunch of places I want to try and then when I have to think of something, I draw a blank! –M.

Dear M.: Just the kind of question I like. Moms are tough, and “not loud” is well nigh impossible, but “not trendy” can be arranged. Here are a few places that, hopefully, meet all three criteria.

The Gujarati Indian restaurant Vatan (409 Third Avenue, 212-689-5666) has reopened in Murray Hill. It’s a vegetarian, prix fixe, all-you-can-eat feed of several courses, with some really surprising dishes, and the place is made up to look like an Indian village.

Friday night is always tough, especially in hipster nabes. That said, you can do an end run around the crowded circumstances by trying to eat as early as possible. Most of the following places don’t take reservations, but call ahead to make sure.

I’m very fond of Hill Country (30 West 26th Street, 212-255-4544), the facsimile Texas barbecue near Madison Square, and Haandi (113 Lexington Avenue, 212-685-5200), a cheap Pakistani steam table place on lower Lex (eat upstairs, not down, for best effect).

The brilliant tagliatelle al ragu at Malatesta.

Malatesta (649 Washington Street, 212-741-1207) in the West Village is a great Emilia-Romagnan Italian restaurant, and Back 40 (190 Avenue B, 212-388-1990) is a superb market-driven American food place associated with Peter Hoffman of Savoy. Northern Spy (511 East 12th Street, 212-228-5100) is similar, only cheaper, and equally excellent. If you could get to any of these places at, say, 5:30 or 6, you could probably breeze in.

I also love Hasaki (210 East 9th Street, 212-473-3327), a Japanese sushi bar on East 9th, and the related noodle place across the street, Soba-Ya (229 East 9th Street, 212-533-6966) is also wonderful.

Lots of good Sichuan in town lately, too, including Grand Sichuan branches in both Chelsea (229 Ninth Avenue, 212-620-5200) and the East Village (19-23 St. Marks Place, 212-529-4800).

Good luck! And let me know where you end up going.


Awesome, long-smoked brisket and pork ribs make Hill Country the city’s best barbecue.

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