Nopa

January 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

My last dinner in San Francisco took place at industry favorite and late night spot, Nopa. Multiple people had recommended it to me (both recent visitors and locals) and after a super fun but tiring day at a 49-ers game (my first NFL game ever!) in the brand new Levi’s Stadium and a nice long nap, I was ready to eat a ton of delicious food.  We managed to get some seats at the bar after a half hour wait around 10 p.m. I ordered a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shirdoo got one of their whisky cocktails and we started with their fusilli with lamb sugo, scallions and toasted fennel. Comfort on a plate…so warm and flavorful and perfect for a chilly evening. 

We also got the wood oven-roasted mackerel with pickled beets, egg salad, radishes and rye toast, which was my favorite dish of the night. Again, I am a sucker for mackerel and this was a really nice version that reminded me of traditional offerings at your classic New York Jewish delis. The skin was slightly charred and crispy and the meat lightly cooked and complemented by the pickles and rye. Being a total potato-whore, I also really enjoyed the french fries with ketchup and red pepper feta aioli but didn’t really pay much attention given how good our other dishes were.

Last dish of the night was also a show-stopper: grilled squab with marinated potatoes and Mediterranean salad. Seriously beautiful to look at and served with all the nasty, innard-y (and yummy) bits of the bird. The flavors from the accompanying salad were also really bright and fresh, with a slight sweetness from the pomegranate seeds. We finished our meal with a couple glasses of dry sherry that the bartender recommended (service, by the way, was outstanding throughout the night) and left around midnight super full and sleepy (will also note that the restaurant was still buzzing when we were leaving). A wonderful ending to my first time in California and I will definitely be back soon.

Miscellaneous eats

January 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

Girls’ night at John Dory Oyster Bar, where we loaded up on the lobster with tomalley vinaigrette, Parker House rolls and tons of raw oysters

A stop at Rouge et Blanc for a low-key dinner at the bar. Below are the Vietnamese beef cheeks with green papaya, rice cakes and roasted enoki mushrooms, an old favorite.

Charlie Bird for a late Saturday lunch

Cahill dinner at Polo Bar. Definitely don’t think you’d be missing out by not going, the high prices reflect the ambiance and pretentiousness more than the quality of the food or wine. If you’re looking to do a large format steak dinner (with much better service), I’d recommend Minetta Tavern or Bowery Meat Company instead, both of which are still pricey but not as ridiculous as here and so much better generally.

Hog Island and Michael Mina

January 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

We just got about two feet of snow dumped on us here in NYC. Everything is currently coated in beautiful, fresh white powder and I felt like a little kid walking through the streets last night but since I know it’ll all turn disgusting, grey and slushy in no time, here’s another California post.

Hog Island Oyster Co. at the Ferry Building Marketplace: Artemis kept mentioning how she visits this place every time she makes a trip out to San Francisco and since I didn’t think I’d be able to go to Swan Depot, another famous seafood place, I decided to go to Hog Island for an early solo lunch at one of their counters during my second day. Started with some bubbles and their raw bar mix of five oysters. I quickly became addicted to their mignonette with cilantro and jalapeno and ended up ordering another half dozen at the end of my meal for dessert (again, not much of a sweet tooth).

I tried to be good and ordered their shaved brussels sprouts salad with pomegranate, bacon (OK, maybe not that good) and mustard dressing as well as two chipotle bourbon grilled oysters and two miso grilled oysters. So frikkin’ hot but worth burning my mouth for. I think the chipotle bourbon version was my favorite of the two and, given that broiled/grilled oysters tend to be pretty hard to pull off (so easy to overcook them) and these were perfectly cooked,  I was pretty effin’ happy. Also, towards the end of my meal, I saw Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio chilling at the opposite end of the bar shooting the shit with the chefs and sampling a bunch of their crudo dishes, so next time, will definitely have to try those as well.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and eventually made my way to the Mission. The line outside Bi-Rite Creamery actually wasn’t that long (maybe 10 minutes) so I figured I might as well see if it lived up to the fuss. Got a scoop of their strawberry balsamic, which was fine but didn’t pack as much balsamic punch as I would’ve thought, and the ricanelas (snickerdoodle/cinnamon) that I basically went batshit nuts for. Snickerdoodles always remind me of middle school, where at lunch we’d try to find ones that were barely baked and essentially still cookie dough. While I was enjoying my ice cream, I saw a kid drop his cone on the floor and proceed to have the most amazing, dramatic temper tantrum ever and all I could think was, “I feel you, bro.”

Admittedly though, I’d had a slight freak-out of my own earlier that morning when my high school friend Shirdoo messaged and said he’d no longer be able to make the 7:30 p.m. reservation at Quince that we’d made because he’d missed his flight from Austin (missing flights is apparently not an uncommon thing for him to do). After calming down (I was REALLY looking forward to going to Quince) and looking through OpenTable, I saw that Michael Mina actually had 9:45 p.m. reservations available for that day so it worked out fine.

The restaurant was spacious and beautifully decorated, though we noticed that we were definitely the youngest guests by far (and probably also the most casually dressed). We started with a glass of Bruinart rose champagne and decided to go all out and order the tasting menu and wine pairing, even though it meant we’d probably be finishing up around 1:30 a.m. Some amuses bouches to start…I don’t remember what any of them were though.

Onsen tamago – osetra caviar, uni and toast paired with 2004 Kathryn Kennedy “Cuvee Twenty Seven” Brut Blanc de Blanc from Santa Cruz. So happy when this came out…literally all my favorite things with super buttery toast.

Spanish bluefin toro sashimi with 2011 Vivera Etna Bianca from Sicily. Super fresh and the radishes added a nice bit of spice.

Cedar grilled sanma, a type of mackerel, with daikon and yuzu kosho paired with 2014 Andrea Felici Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi from Marche, Italy. This was actually one of my favorite dishes. Mackerel is a pretty underrated fish and grilled this way, it was super tender and flavorful and the yuzu kosho added some extra umami.

Morro bay abalone, baby squash and dashi paired with 2010 Marjan Simcic “Teodor” Ribolla blend from Brda, Slovenia.

Black cod, matsutake, watermelon radish paired with 2009 Domaine de Saint Just Chenin Blanc from Loire Valley. At this point, I don’t know if it’s because the wine started getting to us (the pairings were pretty generous) or he’s just super clumsy but Shirdoo actually dropped his phone in his bowl of cod while taking a photo, which earned some chuckles from the staff.

Gluttony on a plate – Maine lobster, foie gras, butternut squash, misome and truffle broth paired with 2013 Halleck “Three Sons Cuvee” Pinot Noir from Sonoma. Goddamn this dish was good. Generous portion of foie and beautifully cooked lobster. The colors were absolutely gorgeous as well..sometimes you can’t get too much of a good thing.

Tolenas Farm quail, pomegranate, persimmon, roasted baby beet paired with 2009 Chateau Cremade Rhone Blend from Provence. Definitely buzzed at this point and while I don’t really like cooked fruit in savory dishes, the persimmon provided some nice sweetness.

Japanese wagyu, salsify, maitake, hazelnut, sansho pepper paired with 2006 Serafini & Vidotto “Il Rosso della’Abazia” Bordeaux blend from Veneto, Italy. Really dug this dish and its beautiful earthiness. Beef was well-seasoned and a nice medium rare and the other elements were nicely balanced. I was getting pretty full at this point but had no problem finishing this dish.

Quince (hah), brown butter and lemon with 2010 Halter Ranch vin de Paille from Paso Robles. This veered on the too-sweet side for me so I could only take a couple bites, but I had a good time sipping the pairing. Our last course was a dark chocolate cake, cinnamon and apple paired with 2008 Kiraludvar “Cuvee Ilon” Tokaji but at that point I’d given up eating any more or taking photos and was just sitting in a fuzzy, happy daze.

We finally finished our meal around 1:30 in the morning and were the last people in the restaurant (though credit to the amazing, attentive and friendly staff as they never tried to rush us in any way and really made sure that we enjoyed ourselves throughout the meal) by the time we left. All in all, if you’re looking to splurge for a special occasion, I’d definitely recommend Michael Mina.

 

Jardiniere

January 18, 2016 § Leave a comment

Super delayed post on a trip to San Francisco and my first time in California (gasp). As expected, a lot of my activities were planned around meals and restaurants and, for dinner the night of my arrival, we went to Traci des Jardins’ French-influenced restaurant, Jardiniere. Being from New York, I’d decided to walk there from my hotel (only about 30 minutes or so), not realizing that my route would take me through the sketchy-ass Tenderloin neighborhood, but I managed to get there in one piece (albeit, slightly shocked by the sight of multiple people shooting up heroin out in the open).

The restaurant itself was beautiful and maybe a little bit fancier than I’d anticipated, and we started out with some raw oysters with all the typical fixings, delectable little bites of sea urchin, lardo and zesty meyer kosho on crostini and a colorful salad of juicy heirloom tomatoes with crisp romaine, fried bread and crescenza (a soft, creamy and very delicate cow’s milk cheese). All the hype that I’d heard about California’s fresh and amazing produce rang true and I started getting super excited about tucking into a big meal after a morning of traveling.

For our next course, we ordered an absolutely killer gnocchi dish with lamb sugo and cabbage, which I absolutely fell in love with, the duck breast and confit with sweet corn and pumpkin seed mole and a side of creamy polenta and goat cheese. It turned out to be a ton of food (I still felt stuffed the next morning) but everything was delicious. You could tell that the pasta was made from scratch (so fluffy) and the duck was perfectly seasoned and prepared a nice medium rare. The polenta also had a ton of corn-y flavor and I appreciated the tangy accent from the goat cheese. Let’s just say that by the end of the meal, after a bottle of red wine, I was certainly succumbing to the charms of the West Coast.

Eats around town

January 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

A delicious brunch with Bohee at Claudette, right by Washington Square Park, consisting of their chicken liver mousse with soft, squishy pain Tunisien and a super juicy lamb burger

Another solo visit to Via Carota in the middle of a day of errands. The bartender highly recommended the lemon grilled chicken and though it didn’t sound particularly thrilling on the menu, I was impressed (and it’s so cute!)

Craftbar with co-workers – delicious burrata, kale (meh) and winter squash salad, duck hearts and dumplings and of course, the oozy pecorino fonduta, my favorite item on the menu

Lunch at old reliable, Charlie Bird – diver scallops with brown butter and Sicilian lemon and mezze paccherie with suckling pig and saffron ragu (and their addictive house-made chili oil). I should probably start trying more new places but am a huge creature of habit.

Thanksgiving I and II

January 11, 2016 § Leave a comment

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday bar-none and this year, I got to celebrate it with good friends (though I’m not a huge fan of the term “Friendsgiving”) and family. For the first event, Artemis went all out (as she often does), rented a beautiful event space in her building and ordered the Momofuku Bo Ssam to-go deluxe package (pork belly buns, bo ssam with sauces and fixings, multiple side dishes and biscuits) to go along with all the other dishes brought by guests (Vanessa brought a huge vat of potato gnocchi with pesto and sun-dried tomato sauce from a mom-and-pop shop in Hoboken that we couldn’t stop eating despite it being such a carb bomb). Bottles of wine and pounds of pork later, we still managed to finish off the party with ridiculous ice cream sandwiches of Momofuku Milk Bar corn cookies and strawberry ice cream.

For actual Thanksgiving, our family goes out to Long Island to see long-time family friends every year and it’s a pretty big affair of three or four families. There’s all of the traditional American dishes (roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese) but also a healthy mix of Chinese dishes as well (braised beef and bean curd, my Dad’s stir-fried vermicelli, steamed whole fish). It’s a night where we really get to relax, slow down a bit and truly appreciate how lucky we are to have our family, friends and good health (which we then make a little bit worse by eating three pies and a Momofuku Milk Bar pumpkin pie cake – you’ll see that Momofuku offerings usually have some appearance at any celebration I attend).

Thanksgiving weekend is also one of the few times a year where going back to New Jersey is not an option, and this time around, I got to catch up with old friends and try some new eateries, including a hole-in-the-wall Baguette Delite in South Edison that serves $5 banh mi’s and super tasty summer rolls. Always nice to get out of New York City and take some extra time to enjoy the simpler things in life.

Toro

January 5, 2016 § Leave a comment

Lately, one of my favorite restaurants in the city has been Toro, the giant Spanish restaurant owned by Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette in the Meatpacking District, right next to the West Side Highway. They manage to do everything right here (which is impressive considering their extensive and varied menu) and the service is absolutely awesome. There have been many instances where I’ll go with a few friends after a late night at work, grab seats at the bar and order a bunch of tapas along with whatever wine/cider/cocktail the bartenders recommend that evening. Sometimes we end it after a couple bites but most nights (especially if it’s during the weekend or a special occasion), we’ll order multiple rounds and even partake in trying the porron, a traditional Catalan drinking vessel, or bone marrow luge. I even decided to have my birthday dinner here. Below are some of my favorite dishes after multiple visits and menu changes. If you ever have a chance to go, I seriously recommend it for a fun, casual night out.

Classic jamon serrano – rosier and less salty than its Italian counterpart, prosciutto

Grilled corn with alioli, lime, espelette seasoning and aged cheese – super rich in the best possible way

Fideos with clams and peppers (I actually like this broken-noodle dish more than the paella below)

Grilled razor clams with piquillo pepper, garlic and lemon – briny with a touch of acidity and a good amount of meatiness

Caviar, sea urchin and quail egg with jamon iberico – ultimate indulgence in a single spoon and understandably, my friend Vanessa’s favorite dish of them all

Bacalao (salt cod) fritters with tempura lemon rings and aioli – a classic and exemplar of anything fried

A sea urchin crudo special with shiso strongly recommended by our favorite bartender, Ken

Seared foie gras with seckle pear and marcona almonds

Paella with shrimp, mussels, clams, chorizo and chicken, complete with the required crispy and slightly burnt soccarat on the bottom

Mushrooms, cooked on the plancha (a sort of super-hot flattop), with a beautiful farm egg

Roasted bone marrow with radish citrus salad, beef cheek marmalade and grilled bread. This is probably my favorite (and one of the most gluttonous) dishes at Toro. It’s well-balanced between the fatty marrow and the tart and peppery salad AND it enables you to do the bone marrow luge (where you pour some dry sherry down the scooped out bone and take it like a shot).

 

Pasta tasting at Babbo

December 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

A second visit to Babbo during the early fall, but this time to sample their pasta offerings and wine pairings. So delicious (the casunzei and the garganelli were probably my favorite dishes of the night) and so nice to ignore work for an evening:

Black tagliatelle with charred corn and castelmagno paired with Acari e Danesi, Dosaggio Zero NV

Casunzei with poppy seeds paired with Bastianich, Ribolla Gialla 2011

Garganelli with Funghi Trifolati paired with Crivelli, “Collina La Mora” Barbera d’Asti 2013

Agnolotti al Pomodoro paired with La Mozza, “I perazzi” Morellino di Scansano 2013

 

Pappardelle Bolognese paired with Masciarelli “Marina Cvetic” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2010

Olive oil cake and gelato paired with Santa Vittoria, Vin Santo Valdichiana 2009

The tasting menu at Semilla

December 12, 2015 § 1 Comment

Had a really lovely and vegetable-heavy dinner at the intimate, 18-seat Semilla in Brooklyn (yes, I traveled all the way out to BK) a few months back that surprised and lived up to all of the hype it’s been receiving since it opened. 10 courses with beverage pairings in an intimate setting with friendly, open staff and good Cahill company.

Tomato gazpacho with peaches, rat tail radishes and black olives paired with Cremant d’Alsace, Dirler-Cade, 2012 from Alsace, France. I’d just been telling Chris and Wes that I don’t really like fruit in savory dishes but this cold soup proved me wrong. So flavorful and clean. I also don’t like olives that much and was crazy about them in this dish.

Tomato salad with cucumbers and scallops and stuffed tomato with ricotta and basil with Dupont cidre, bouche brut from Normandy, France. I didn’t get a photo of the cute stuffed tomato but it was pure summer in a bowl and one of the most memorable bites of the night.

Sweet corn chawanmushi with matsutake mushrooms with Grimm, Rainbow Dome, from New York. Perfect balance of sweet and richness, with lots of umami and unctuousness.

Roasted eggplant with pepper leaves and grapes with Gamay, Les Chamins de Traverse, Bachelard, 2013, from Beaujolais, France. The most distinct characteristic of this course was the heavy smoke.

Bread course of Anson Mill’s grits sourdough with Cowbella butter and buttermilk…which I could not stop eating. Buttermilk with butter is a genius idea.

Tomato tart with Feints Cuvee Zero, Ruth Lewandowski, 2013, California/Utah. Also deceivingly simple but everyone really loved this dish. I have no idea what was in the crust but it reminded me of a Cheez-it (my favorite childhood snack) and was kind of mind-boggling to have it paired with floral shiso.

Lobster mushrooms with corn and mole with Chenin Blanc, Els Bassots, Escoda Sanahuja, 2013, Conca de Barbera, Spain.

Another reminder of childhood – peaches, saffron & bitter almond. Growing up in a Chinese family, the only dessert we’d ever serve (other than straight up fruit) was almond jello that came in a packet served with fruit cocktail. Think of this as a highly refined, delicious version.

Tarragon profiterole with wild blueberry and buttermilk with Chinato Americano, Vergano, from Piemonte, Italy. To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about the tarragon/anise-y element but it was still a nice end to a meal that surpassed expectations and showed how creative cooking with vegetables can be (we really did not miss the meat at all). Would definitely visit again, especially since chefs Jose Ramirez-Ruiz and Pamela Yung change the menu according to the seasons.

Costata

November 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

Had a great catch up dinner with Tim, Sebastian and Christine at Michael White’s Italian steakhouse, Costata, in Soho. I always enjoy eating at two of his other restaurants, Marea and Osteria Morini, so had high hopes for this and wasn’t disappointed. We decided to share everything, starting with the heirloom tomato and burrata salad (this was during late summer when they were at their juiciest and most flavorful), the fusilli alla convivio with pork shoulder ragu, pomodoro and robiolina and the garganelli alla fiamma with peas, con speak and truffle cream (there is usually a similar dish on the menu at Osteria Morini). Amazing, amazing, amazing. The pastas at any of Chef White’s places never fail to satisfy and my favorite was the fusilli, which was cooked perfectly al dente and nicely balanced between the rich ragu, the slight sweetness of the simple pomodoro sauce and tangy creaminess of the robiolina cheese. Sometimes, when I’m at home and feel like splurging on delivery food, I order this dish on Caviar with some creamed spinach and it feels like such a treat. It was good that we’d ordered the tomato salad, which was a lovely, lighter compliment to the much richer pastas.

For our main course, we shared everything again and it turned out to be the perfect amount of food – not too much that there was a lot leftover but still pretty gluttonous. We ordered the enormous, beautiful Costata, a 40 day dry aged 44oz tomahawk ribeye, with the bearnaise, salsa verde and creamy horseradish sauces and then two sides, the creamed spinach and french fries. Everything was so well done – the beef was a perfectly cooked medium-rare with a slight bit of funk thanks to the aging (and flecked with sea salt, which makes a huge difference IMHO), all of the sauces were super tasty and I actually really liked the salsa verde since it was refreshing and lighter than the others. The sides, especially the creamed spinach, were great takes on classic steakhouse sides. Pair that with a killer bottle(s) of Brunello di Montalcino and I was in heaven. I’ve had a few large format beef dishes (Minetta Tavern’s cote de boeuf, Bowery Meat Company’s chateaubriand, etc.) but this was a great version and would be something really fun to order for a birthday dinner or when your parents are visiting (and paying).

We really got to take our time eating the ribeye and sides (service was super friendly and never hovered over us) and actually had interest in some light dessert by the time our table was cleared. We got the affogato (freshly brewed espresso with ramazotti amaro and vanilla gelato) and then a trio of flavor-packed sorbets – lemon-basil, which was my favorite and perfectly tart and herbaceous, blueberry-limoncello (another standout) and strawberry. A nice, low-key dessert to a super satisfying meal.