Sucker Culinary Baedeker

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:13

    (Also 4000 yards of red velvet. Also more than 20,000 feet of interior garland. Also two 14-foot Christmas trees decorated with more than 10,000 ornaments, 3000 feet of gold rope, 10,000 feet of evergreen garland and 60,000 feet of holiday ribbon weaving in and out of everything that doesn't move.)

    The Tavern's dinner costs $82 if you eat it on Christmas Eve, $78 if you eat it on Christmas Day, and consists of?okay, let's list most of the fulsomely luxurious mess. Seafood cocktails with lobster, shrimp and crab. Roast young turkey with chestnut-prune stuffing, maple sweet potatoes, creamed peas (and some other stuff). Roast prime rib with Yorkshire pudding, roasted autumn vegetables (and some other stuff). A green salad with a blue cheese and honey mustard vinaigrette. A horseradish-crust salmon with asparagus, couscous (and some other stuff).

    A gingerbread man for dessert.

    A children's menu is available for both meals for kids under 12, and costs half the price. Call 873-3200 for reservations. You can also make reservations online at Tavern on the Green is located in Central Park at W. 67th St. For the addresses of the other restaurants, consult that bowdlerized new 2000 Zagat of yours, the one that doesn't even bother to list Riverrun anymore.

    Speaking of Zagat, enough's enough. The restaurant guide's become a tiresome institution, and its publication ought to be suspended until the New York restaurant scene changes significantly enough that Zagat has something new to tell us. As it is, every new Zagat edition's mostly a waste of time, a reiteration of culinary truths that remain remarkably stable. What do you think are the worthwhile restaurants in New York at this point?

    From the "Most Popular Restaurants" list at the front of the 1999 Zagat's, starting at Number One: Union Square Cafe, Aureole, Gramercy Tavern, Gotham Bar & Grill, Le Bernardin, Daniel, Jean Georges, Four Seasons, Peter Luger, Cafe des Artistes. (Where's Nobu? you ask. It was number 11.)

    And from this year's guide: Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, Gotham Bar & Grill, Aureole, Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, Four Seasons, Peter Luger, Cafe des Artistes and Nobu.

    And to what purpose this mind-numbing reiteration of inexorable culinary reality? One imagines the man-hours expended at Zagat Central: the exacting actuarial exertions; the grim tallying hustle of dozens of MIT-trained statistical experts building toward triumphant wonk crescendi as ends?"I think I'm starting to see a pattern here, Mel..." emerge into view; the expectant quiverings of maniacs in green visors. All to tell you that people still like the Union Square Cafe.

    The stupidity's compounded by the fact that the 2000 Zagat's is stripped-down, a guide from which insufficiently illustrious restaurants?in other words, the restaurants you most need advice about?have been excluded. Let's use Riverrun as an example. Does it make sense to exclude that fine bar while retaining such of its Tribeca neighbors as the Tribeca Grill, Chanterelle and Nobu? Not at all.

    Answer this: What do you have to know about Chanterelle that Zagat's going to tell you? Besides the address? Which is in the phone book? Everybody seriously concerned with restaurants is already aware of Chanterelle and its reputation, and knows what to expect from it: excellent food at dramatic prices in elegant surroundings. There's no chance that consulting your Zagat will affect your desire to eat at such a restaurant, any more than a Baedaker entry critical of insufficient lighting in a Titian subgallery will affect your desire to visit the Louvre. These are institutions we're talking about here. You're going to visit the Louvre anyway. And you're going to eat at Chanterelle anyway.

    If you're unfamiliar with Tribeca, however; and if you're going to be in the vicinity of Franklin St. for a party; and if you're seeking a room in which to meet your friend Mitchell beforehand; and if you and Mitchell need a couple beers before you head over to the loft; and if you might even want a hamburger or some roast chicken to pad your gut before you start pounding the beer bong and pinching the silverware; in that case, then, you'll be glad if Zagat steers you toward a place like Riverrun, won't you? What else are you going to do? Meet up at Chanterelle over a cheese course and a '61 Lafite?

    No. The new Zagat's an irrelevant bore, an encrustation on the culinary landscape. We mostly ignore it, actually, and turn now to the Web. Citysearch is our source for restaurant addresses these days. And it's to good sites such as Steven Shaw's New York Restaurant Review & Food Guide ( and Jim Leff's Chowhound site ( that we turn for in-depth food reviewing that blasts Zagat's capsules out of the water.

    We typically advise caution in the face of good, demotic food items raped by berserk creativity. Think of "gourmet" jellybeans back in the 80s. Or of peanut-butter-and-jelly-flavored popcorn.

    But the application of gratuitous creativity at Ruben's Empanadas?whose Broome St. nook we're always happy to walk into at the end of a shopping day when our spirits are bottoming out, and that's been using the humble empanada shell as its blank canvas since 1975?seems to work out fine. Empanadas with appealingly crazy, filling combinations here: corn with pimentos and onion; chopped spinach with nutmeg and tofu; ground beef and pork sauteed in red wine sauce; shrimp in Creole sauce; eggplant parmesan.

    Breakfast empanadas, too: sausage or Canadian bacon with scrambled eggs and cheese; and a Western empanada stuffed with its namesake omelet. Dessert empanadas: cherry; apple; guava with cheese.

    Sound repellent? They're not. They're good.

    Almost all empanadas cost three bucks and are sized like White Castle hamburgers, so one makes a decent-sized snack.

    Ruben's Empanada's is located at 505 Broome St., between W. Broadway and Thompson St. Their phone number is 334-3351. They have shops at 64 Fulton St. (962-5330) and 15 Bridge St. (590-3825), too.

    Contributors: Beth Broome, Andrey Slivka. E-mail tips and comments to or fax to 244-9864.