Sunday, May 11, 2003

Small places serve up big-city eats

Campbell's scoop

By Polly Campbell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Where to eat in New York and Montreal:

There isn't really space here, obviously, and I'm not an expert on either city, but I recently spent some time in both and lucked into some eating experiences that could not have happened anywhere else.

Rice to Riches

I fell in love with New York when I was young, partly because I had an enthusiastic friend to introduce me to the city, so I wanted to be there when my teenage daughters visited for the first time. We went this spring break.

We ate at Katz's Deli and the Union Square Cafe, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for perfect pizza at Grimaldi's, and met someone at the kind of Upper East Side coffee shop where tuna sandwiches are $12. But I especially loved a little place called Rice to Riches because it was an "only in New York" experience.

We were walking from Little Italy to Soho when I saw it - the rice-pudding-only restaurant that had been featured a few weeks before in The New York Times.

It has a small, modern, almost futuristic storefront, mostly white with orange accents. A couple of little tables are attached to columns coming down from the ceiling, and there is a small stand-up counter shaped like a grain of rice. A video screen display is behind the ice cream shop-style counter. Each rice pudding flavor is served in a plastic bowl that matches its color. It may be ludicrously high-concept, but the rice pudding is delicious. I had Obscene Orange with a hint of carrot - dense, rich, intensely flavored. (37 Spring St., between Mott and Mulberry; 212-274-0008)

Au Pied de Cochon

A couple of weeks later, I went to Montreal for a weekend with my three sisters. (We couldn't afford Paris, so we went to the next-closest French-speaking location.) There are a zillion restaurants in Montreal, and we made a couple of good choices. We had fresh grilled Greek fish at Milos, and on Saturday night went to Au Pied de Cochon.

The latter, a small, loud restaurant, warm from wood-burning ovens, serves a fine chef's version of Quebecois food. A lot of it you might eat only on a dare, like deer tongue and blood pudding pie.

I had a wonderful stuffed pork shank, wrapped in caul fat and smothered with a mustardy sauce. If I had been writing a review, I would certainly have ordered the specialty of the house, an even bigger pork shank, deboned and stuffed with foie gras. But I wasn't sure I was up for it - it was truly huge, not to mention expensive.

A very fit, muscular young man next to us ordered it, and after eating an appetizer, he methodically demolished it, neatly cutting and eating his way through the whole thing before we were even done with our appetizers of gravlax cured with maple syrup and petoncles au seviche. I was in awe of his meat-eating abilities.

Then my sister really won my respect. She ordered venison tartare. I could manage only a small bite, but she ate the whole thing. (536 Rue Duluth East; 514-281-1114)


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Small places serve up big-city eats