44 & X


622 Tenth Avenue
New York, NY 10036
(212) 977-1170

Hell's Kitchen
originally got it's name back in the day when Satan was a celebrity chef here. Not many people know that. More modern times saw a few waves of crime-ridden putridity so rank that even the most starving of starving artists wouldn't touch the place. Suddenly, something happened. Manhattan real estate prices jumped up so high and so fast that the definition of "bad neighborhood" went from meaning a place where you'd get mugged in broad daylight in front of a police precinct to one that's missing a Starbucks and that's kinda far from the subway.

Still, Hell's Kitchen does retain much of its neigborhoodiness, unlike some of the pied-a-territories of Soho and the Central Park ring. There are plenty of brownstones, local bars, and cool nooks mixed in with the new highrises and bistros. Some traditionalists will be happy to note that the farther west you go from Ninth Avenue, the more likely you are to run into some original residents. Fear not, they won't mug you, but they might ask for some meth money.

I first noticed 44 & X while walking down Tenth Avenue a few month's back. Maybe Time Out New York, or the New York Times, or New York Magazine, or something else with New York in the title wrote about them. I dunno. I have the misfortune of being a food blogger/critic who doesn't really have the time to read other people's opinions. Anyway, I pretty much based by entire decision to eat here on the cool name and the fact that it has scads of sidewalk seating.

Speeds, as I'm sure I've mentioned ad nauseum, is somewhat lazy when it comes to travelling. She was very reluctant to come and visit near where I work to find a restaurant, finding excuses like traffic or the air quality after the steam-pipe explosion and so on. But I convinced her to meet me halfway. I'd head west, she'd head north. And so we travelled. Archi, a friend of ours from DC, was in town, and came along. I'd attempted to convince Archi to move to New York, but apparently her career was more important than my restaurant blog. Women are selfish, selfish creatures.

We chose to sit in 44 & X's white-themed outdoor area, instead of it's white-themed indoor, air-conditioned area. We scooped up the nicest waitress in town, got a basket of multi-grain bread and lemon-slice garnished water and took a peekity-peek at the menu. The first thing in it were the drinks. We ordered the absolute cheapest white wine on the list, a 2006 bottle of Kanu Chenin Blanc from South Africa for $29.

If you've ever been to Cafeteria or Eatery (coming next), then you'll quickly get the concept of 44 & X: a high-brow take on American comfort food. So you can order macaroni and cheese, or meatloaf, or short ribs, or their buttermilk fried chicken (which I'm told is very good, but which I did not get), but you won't feel like you're eating at a kitched-out Cracker Barrel. Of course, when someone says "comfort food" at a place like this, you can rest assured that filet mignon's on the menu.

So that's what I ordered. Pan Seared Filet Mignon, which came with mashed potatoes, a tomato jam and was drizzled with a port wine "reduction" (ie: sauce). Very tender, very juicy. Oddly very heavy. A bit overcooked for my medium-rare taste, but still very good.

Speeds and Archi both went the salad route, to my dismay. And, apparently, to theirs as well.

They split a salad appetizer before their salad entrees, a Goat Cheese Pistaccio Souffle with endive over a bed of sliced asian pear and drizzled with a pomegranite syrup. This was actually really good and I caught myself picking at it. Just the other day, Speeds talked about how much she liked this dish.

Archi picked out the Mediterranean Chopped Salad, which came loaded with cucumber, hearts of palm, cabbage, chick peas, avocado, and baby tomato. She felt very Valley Girl. I tried it and it wasn't that it was bland, so much as it's so far removed from anything I can conceive of ordering for dinner that there's simply no way I could get into praising it.

Speeds went for a special to the menu, a Spinach Salad with Bacon, that also had asparagus, and artichoke. Do you like it?, I asked. "It's good" said her mouth. A wholly other message was conveyed by her face. Later on, after trying Archi's chopped salad, Speeds told us what we already knew. "I don't really like either one of them." The lesson here isn't that 44 & X is a crappy restaurant. It's that you should not eat salads when you go out for dinner with your friends. I had a steak and do you see me complaining? Nope. Know why? 'Cause I ordered a steak. Or to be more accurate, I didn't order a salad.

Archi thinks that when one opens their menu, the very first page should be the dessert menu. This way, you can fingure out exactly how much you should order so you can get dessert before you're full. But this completely disregards the two-stomach theory.

Our desserts were very good. Speeds and Archi, disappointed over their salad-ordering mistake, needed them to be. When I was in college, I took a trip out to Key West for spring break, and since then there are two things that when I see them on a menu, I find it hard to pass up ordering. I need to see if they measure up to the originals. One is conch, which no one seems to serve anywhere. Sad. The other is obviously key lime pie. Well, 44 & X doesn't serve key lime pie, but they do have a Key Lime Cheesecake drizzled with strawberry syrup. Very good, but too heavy for me to finish. Archi chose the Peanut Butter Mousse, which was very creamy and very smooth. She liked it, but I can't get into peanut butter desserts. I dunno why. Finally, Speeds got her requisite chocolate dessert, a Falled Chocolate Souffle, which was as rich as all sin. If you like dark, heavy, rich, creamy chocolate desserts that leave their chocolaty taste in you mouth for ten minutes after you swallow, this is the dessert for you.

The thing about 44 & X isn't that I don't think it's good, since I think it is, and it isn't that I think it's terribly pricey, because it really isn't. But at the same time, I feel that comfort food is one of those things you don't play games with. It exists on a timeless plane where variation is based mostly on whose grandma's recipe you use. So for real, traditional comfort food, I have to endorse Friend of a Farmer in Gramercy.

Our total meal, tax and tip included, for a bottle of wine, an appetizer, an entree, two salads, three coffees, and three desserts came to $174.50.

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