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BryanZ

Damon: Frugal Fridays (Everyday except Tuesday)

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I checked out Damon: Frugal Friday last night in its second week of existence. This is the foil to Tom: Tuesday Dinner, the biweekly, ten-course extravaganza hosted by Tom himself. The menu is presided over by Damon Wise, and all dishes are less than $10. I suspect that in coming weeks, prices will bump up a dollar, so that the most expensive dishes, now $9, will hit the $10 ceiling.

Tom was, in fact, in house last night, though instead of cooking he seemed to be enjoying a lengthy dinner with his family. I'll take that as a vote of confidence in the food.

We arrived shortly after 6:30 to make sure we wouldn't have to wait. The dining room was almost full by this point, with only a couple more tables available. By the time we left at around 8 the bar was two deep, and people were filling the foyer and vestibule. I really like the space, it's cozy yet not in an kitschy way. Tables are close but not packed in. Kudos to Chefs Colichio and Wise for finding another revenue stream for this quite agreeable room.

The menu is actually quite large and three of us tried a good portion of it. These plates are rather small, and one needs three or more of the larger ones to make a meal. If ordering from the top-half of the menu that number might jump to five or six, the number originally suggested by our waiter.

On the beverage side of things, there are many wines available by the glass. The bottle list is from Craft, so don't expect to see many bottles under $50. Instead, we opted for a cocktail and glasses of wine. Cocktails range from $4-$10. Cheap but on the smaller side. The Hudson Sour--Buffalo Trace, apple schnapps, lemon, egg white--for $6 did not suck. The 19th St. Headache for $4 was too sweet, and the Old Man River for $9 had an interesting Tabasco kick but lacked balance. Wines run from $6-$10, with all major varietals duly represented.

So, back to the food.

The menu

gallery_28496_6396_78731.jpg

Sorry for the creases. It had to endure a night in my back pocket.

From this we had the smoked beef tartar, crispy sardines, ricotta and cabbage pizza, ham hock and orange rillettes, escargot skewer, octopus skewer, fried quail, pork belly, all the offal dishes, and the dessert in a jar. Given that I was able to try 13 (14, counting a comped/mistakenly delivered order of the salt cod fritters) different things with a couple drinks for about $53 this is a pretty killer deal.

With that said, some of the items represent a better value than others. The dessert, for instance, wasn't worth the $5 tariff even if it was pretty tasty (though too sweet). Furthermore, I'm not sure three crispy pig ears with some egg salad is worth $9, even if I really enjoyed the dish. I know this sounds like a weird complaint, but viewed as a tasting menu, a diner can come here and put together a really nice five-course meal for less than $40 before tax and tip. But if you're here to just snack and pick a few of the smaller items, you could end up spending $20 on food and feel like you haven't really eaten much of anything.

But, this conundrum aside, I came away really happy with my meal. Again, since individual items are so cheap, it encourages creative ordering. Although we were sated after our first round of nine dishes, the menu is interesting and cheap enough that we ordered four more items. Stated more explicitly, it's a fun and flexible way to eat and really gets to the appeal of small plate dining. I'm kind of tired of $22 small plates in NYC. This reminded me more of the pintxos in northern Spain; La Cuchara de San Telmo specifically came to mind in the offal dishes.

Favorite dishes were the bone marrow (two short, cross-cut bones topped with a rich oxtail ragout) the beef tongue (topped with crispy sunchoke chips), and the pork belly (the condiments make the dish). One of my party loved the rillettes and placed it among his favorites, and I can see how the interplay between salt, smoke, and orange could be really affecting. The least favorites were, unanimously, the sardines and the pizza. The toppings on the pizza were very tasty, but the dough is too crispy and flatbread like. In fact, it's more a crispy flatbread than a good pizza with that fickle balance of char and chew. The sardine dish just felt a bit clunky to us. Not bad, just, like fried fish, some mayo, some pickles. The duck hearts and the pig ear had camp appeal, and I really enjoyed them, my companions less so.

Service was harried but solicitous. Our server let my friend try three different wines before he finally settled on a glass. A nice touch for a restaurant this casual and this busy. With that said, they really push the food out of the kitchen. All of our food in the first round of ordering was delivered in one massive wave. A bit overwhelming, I think. Here, ordering a little at a time is the way to go. Most of the food is prepped and just needs to go down in the (kind of annoying) little bowls that are used to serve most dishes. You won't wait long.

In the end, I really liked this place. I actually want to go back next week to try a few more items and spend some time with my favorites. It's rare for me to find a restaurant that finds the balance between value and creativity that makes me want to rush back. The best food in the city? No, far from it, but a concept I'm really excited about.

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Might have missed it, but is Damon the only one cooking in the little private dining room? Also, I'm guessing reservations are pretty much packed up to the brim huh...

Jim

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Just got dinner there. Seems to be getting less crowded – no wait at 7, and the seating in the front was mostly clear the whole time. Really good for the price – the pig tail was really spectacular (though I may be saying that just because I've never had pig tail before).

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Just got dinner there. Seems to be getting less crowded – no wait at 7, and the seating in the front was mostly clear the whole time. Really good for the price – the pig tail was really spectacular (though I may be saying that just because I've never had pig tail before).

we waited 5 mins for a two top at 9pm so def less crowded. i agree the pig tails were spectacular. the duck tongue and bone marrow were my next favorite. my friend and i found some of the dishes too salty, especially the escargot/smoked bacon. the broccoli rabe/soppresata pizza was nothing special but fairly priced. overall i felt our check was very reasonable for the amount of plates and cocktails/wines we ordered.

anyone know if they're going to keep the name now that they're operating six days a week? forgot to ask.

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Wow, the menu for DFFNEET(?) looks abut a million times more interesting than any Craft menu ever. And cheap. There are a lot of things on that menu I genuinely want to try, and I hear the atmosphere is pretty fun.

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I was there this Friday with my parents and aside from an annoying hostess the meal was very good. We particularly enjoyed the chicken pate as well as the bone marrow. The only dish we thought missed the mark was the fried sardines.

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Interesting... yesterday, the menu was up, but since today is Tuesday, and they're not open, no menu.

From what we had yesterday, the pig's tails and ears were particularly good (the ears are pretty much just cracklings, which is entirely a good thing) as well as the beef tartare, bone marrow, and cod.

To echo an earlier comment, one or two of the dishes were a little heavy on the salt, but overall, just a great meal.

Tom was also there having dinner with a few folks as well, which was nice. Great playlist they had going - Led Zeppelin mixed in with some LL Cool J.


I want pancakes! God, do you people understand every language except English? Yo quiero pancakes! Donnez moi pancakes! Click click bloody click pancakes!

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Interesting... yesterday, the menu was up, but since today is Tuesday, and they're not open, no menu.

/menu.html should do the trick :-) (creative, I know)

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Went back on Friday this week. Got there just after 6:30 and the dining room was very full. The place still remains very popular.

Two dishes were markedly worse this time. That's the bad news. The good news is that they're still putting out tasty food and a gentle price point. $4 for a can of Porkslap is a good deal, and the wines are fairly priced too, even if the reds are served way warm.

The dishes that fared poorly this time were the pizza and the pig ears. The former is now firmly in the not-worth-ordering category for me. It seemed even more flatbread-y this time and just floppy. Rather bland. The pig ears were nice and crisp on my first visit, but this time either they're using larger ears from an older animal or they simply weren't fried as much. As a result, the centers were very chewy. I liked the crispy surroundings enough to finish the dish but the center of a couple of the ears was unpleasant.

The dessert, a crepe with sauteed caramel apples was a throwaway. Totally fine, but you can get something better from an NYU-area crepe stand for a couple dollars less.

Pretty much everything else remains really solid. The crispy chicken was kind of a surprise hit. It's just a chicken tender, but with the waffle and all it works.

$60/person all in with a round of cocktails and two bottles of wine for four people. With that much alcohol you would almost certainly do worse for the same money anywhere else.

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$60/person all in with a round of cocktails and two bottles of wine for four people.  With that much alcohol you would almost certainly do worse for the same money anywhere else.

It's funny you should say that, as your actual review did an excellent job of persuading me that I shouldn't bother. It sounds like the quality varies widely, and for $60 (even including alcohol) it's hard to believe that one cannot do better.

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I went Friday PM, arriving at about 9:45. The wait was about a half-hour for two.

I wanted to like this place, and there are certainly are things to like, but in the end the food just wasn't particularly good. I doubt I'd go back. The details:

The lamb rillettes were interesting, smoother than traditional pork rillettes, but with a nice flavor. The chickpeas with sausage were also excellent. These were our first two items, so I was expecting very good things to come. We didn't stay at such a high level.

The pizza with bacon came off like a warmed pita with some toppings. Harmless, but not interesting. The tuna in a jar was similar - just a small serving of acceptable tuna tartare, harmless. The cod fritters came off as a bit fishy. We ordered two chicken dishes based on the sides: ramp waffles and socca, neither of which had much character. None of this was really bad, but nothing would make you pause, either.

Service was good, and the small wine list is well priced, especially by the bottle. We also ended up in the $60/head range. That pushes you close to the Momofuku Saam level. While this was certainly less of a headache that fighting the crowds at Momofuku, the food just isn't on the same planet.

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It's stupid to say this without having been to D:FF for the comparison, but the feeling I'm getting from reading this thread is that, because the food there is slightly less ambitious and as a result more consistent, Halfsteak may actually be the better of the two.

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there were about 3 tables occupied this past saturday night at 7:30. maybe b/c of the beautiful weather?

pretty much agree with bryanz and tazerowe about the various dishes. the crepes were terrible for dessert, the pizza with bacon was ehh. i did enjoy the flatiron steak on a stick with cheese (that doesn't melt). the bone marrow hit the spot as did the ice cream sandwiches (oreo cookie with coconut sorbet, snickerdoodle with espresso ice cream, and can't remember the 3rd flavor/cookie).

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Service was good, and the small wine list is well priced, especially by the bottle.  We also ended up in the $60/head range.  That pushes you close to the Momofuku Saam level.  While this was certainly less of a headache that fighting the crowds at Momofuku, the food just isn't on the same planet.

The thing I like about this place is that it's so cheap that even with a miss, it's never more than few bites and, at most, $9. Surely, you can eat well at other places for $60/person. What you can't do is try as many dishes and drinks. Of course, there's Chinatown and all that, but that's hardly comparable.

It's stupid to say this without having been to D:FF for the comparison, but the feeling I'm getting from reading this thread is that, because the food there is slightly less ambitious and as a result more consistent, Halfsteak may actually be the better of the two.

Indeed, less ambitious to some extent and perhaps a more integrated concept. Still, I think D:FF is more fun and where I'm more likely to return, all things considered.

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Eater reports that Damon Frugal Fridays (DFF) will be discontinued after tomorrow. I have not seen any signs that the recession is over, and by most accounts the place was popular, so it's an odd decision.

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that's too bad. i went back a couple of weeks ago and had a great dinner even though the offals offerings had been diminished to mere two items.

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