Empellon Taqueria

December 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

Caught up with an old high school friend I hadn’t seen in years at Empellon Taqueria, right off Christopher Street in the Village, and had a bit of a taco-fest. After moving to a table further away from a bunch of obnoxious Santa-con participants, we started with a very generous dish of guacamole, a creamy smoked cashew salsa and a spicier, more vinegary arbol salsa (my favorite out of the three) with just-fried corn tortilla chips to whet the appetite. For our mains, we avoided the sweeter, more traditional brunch dishes and ordered a trio of tacos. Probably would’ve been fine with just two, but as former tennis players, we fell into old gorging habits as we reminisced about school and figured…oh, why the hell not?

The tacos were the chicken, black kale, crema and salsa verde; fish tempura, cabbage and lime mayonnaise; and lamb barbacoa, cucumber and salsa borracha. Of all of them, the classic fish taco was my favorite (something about the combination of cooling cabbage and lime mayo with crunchy, crispy fish), though I was surprised by how much I liked the chicken version, which was very juicy and flavorful. Really satisfying (probably even a bit excessive) and definitely warranted a super long walk afterwards.

Also had a rare chance to cook myself a meal this past weekend and went with the classic Marcella Hazan tomato sauce with butter, which made the entire apartment smell like heaven. So easy to make, all this requires is a white onion, 5 tablespoons of butter and a can of whole San Marzano tomatoes (all of which I usually have in the pantry and fridge). Let it simmer gently on the stove for 45 minutes, stirring every once in a while, cook your pasta (I like to use linguine or some noodle-y pasta) during the last 10 minutes the sauce is cooking, and you have a homemade, seriously banging bowl of pasta. I usually grate a bunch of good Parmigiano-Reggiano, add some fresh basil if the flimsy plant on our kitchen windowsill has a couple fat leaves and maybe even some red pepper flakes to add a bit of kick. If you’re a cooking novice or just want to make something that doesn’t require a ton of work, this is a perfect recipe to start with. Go make it!

Recently…

December 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

Xi’an Famous Foods hand pulled noodles with pork for the 25th birthday, thanks to sister Laura (in Chinese culture, noodles symbolize a long and prosperous life when you eat them on your birthday)…

Another hearty dinner at Via Carota with Cindy, including a cheesy cauliflower gratin and a ridiculously large slab of pork belly with almost candy-like cipollini onions…

Cauliflower gratin and brussels sprouts with parmesan

Fried rabbit, Berkshire pork belly with cipollini onions and pappardelle with wild boar ragu

Willamette Valley pinot noir and Bluepoint oysters with a college friend at 8th Street Wine Cellar right by Washington Square Park…always so nice to catch up over some vino…

Belated birthday dinner at Do Hwa, an old favorite in the West Village for Korean food, with my sisters. We always order the same thing here – the salmon sashimi and avocado salad, seafood pancake and the spicy pork BBQ ssam…

Escaping the office for an impromptu pasta-filled dinner at Andrew Carmellini’s Bar Primi in the East Village…

roasted beets gorgonzola, walnut, frisee and truffled mushroom crostino

octopus alla griglia patate, red hots, oregano

bucatini lamb amatriciana; short rib raviolini tomato sauce, basil; fiore di carciofi smoked bacon, pecorino

Late night drinks and steak tartare with roasted tomato mayonnaise at Blue Ribbon Downing Street Bar

Cosme

December 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

A late Friday night dinner at Cosme – Enrique Olvera’s new Mexican restaurant in the Flatiron and one of the most-hyped openings this year since it’s his first restaurant in the States. It was still pretty busy by the time we arrived for our 9:30 reservation and it’s definitely a very hip setting but service was friendly and the vibe was casual. We were actually seated at a communal table with plenty of room and started off with some single-origin, just-fried corn tortillas and two salsas (the red one was super spicy even for me) and house cocktails, including a refreshing Paloma with homemade grapefruit syrup and ginger-packed El Ninja (mezcal, gin, vermouth, shiso shrub, lime, ginger and dehydrated pineapple).

Tortillas and salsa

Paloma and El Ninja

Cold appetizers were thinly-sliced raw scallops and poached jicama in a wasabi-cucumber-lime vinaigrette as well as a ripe avocado half piled high with raw seafood and horseradish to add a little bit of zing. Though I’m usually a sucker for anything avocado (see below), the scallops were my favorite of the two due to the clear, bright flavors of the sea and citrus.

Scallops and stuffed avocado with seafood

Our hot appetizers were actually two vegetarian choices: enfrijoladas with ricotta, hoja santa, creme fraiche and onion as well as the mushroom and squash barbacoa, chilpachole and hoja santa. The enfrijoladas had a lot of familiar Mexican flavors but the mushroom and squash dish was definitely an example of Mexican cuisine that none of us had really eaten before.

Enfrijoladas

Mushroom and squash barbacoa

Standouts of the night, however, were our entrees. I ordered the black garlic rubbed NY strip with shishito peppers (one of my favorite things) and avocado-tarragon puree (see?). Super flavorful, tender beef balanced with raw onions and crunchy, sweet peppers and then mellowed with a creamy, smooth avocado sauce.

The duck carnitas to be shared was the favorite dish by far – it came out in its own cast iron skillet, enormous and amazing-smelling, perfectly cooked (crispy skin with just the right amount of fat and meat) with spicy radishes and a punchy salsa verde. I’d definitely go back to Cosme with a friend and sit at the bar (which just started serving the full menu) with a glass of wine and order just that dish. The red snapper with thai curry, plantains and scallions and the half lobster pibil, chorizo, black bean and avocado leaf puree also got glowing reviews.

Black garlic rubbed NY strip for tacos, fried shishitos, avocado-tarragon purée

 

Half lobster pibil, chorizo, black bean and avocado leaf purée

 

Duck carnitas, white onions, radishes, salsa verde

 

Broiled red snapper, thai hoja santa curry, plantains, scallions

 

Somehow, even after drinks, appetizers and entrees (and we’d actually come from a coworker’s going away party chock full of bar food), we still had enough room for four desserts (definitely took a looooong walk after this meal). Having read early reviews of the restaurant, we all agreed that we’d get the popular and somewhat strange looking husk meringue with corn mousse dessert, which proved to be a good choice. Definitely a unique dish with strong corn flavor without being too sweet. I also really loved the carrot cake riff with cream cheese ice cream and the lemon cake with quince sorbet.

Nixtamalized carrot, cinnamon cake, cream cheese ice cream

 

Chocolate ganache, mezcal, blood orange, beet sorbet

 

Husk meringue, corn mousse

 

Lemon cake, grapefruit, quince sorbet

Word is that reservations for Cosme at prime dinner time are currently hard to come by, but if you can get even a late seating around 9:30 or 10:00 PM or a place at the bar and you have the time to indulge in a long leisurely meal, I’d definitely recommend getting the scallops appetizer, the duck carnitas to share (though honestly, I could probably finish this dish on my own because it was so frikkin’ delicious and I eat like a baby dinosaur) and then a husk meringue to finish.

Two posts within a week! Trying to be better about keeping up with this blog…

 

Last Call at WD-50

December 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

After eleven years, on November 29, WD-50 had its last night of service at 50 Clinton Street and thanks to Wes who managed to snag tickets, some of us were lucky enough to experience Wylie’s Dufresne’s last 12 course tasting menu of his greatest hits with wine pairings. Having been here two times prior, this final meal was definitely the best of the three and I was also surprised by how much I loved the white wine pairings with certain dishes.

It was definitely a bittersweet night…Wylie was walking around talking to customers and our server was nice enough to arrange a kitchen tour and photo with the man himself. WD-50 was actually the first place where I ever ordered the tasting menu and I’ve always loved it for its refined, oftentimes whimsical take on classic dishes and flavor combination, served in a super casual and friendly LES setting with exemplar service.

Now, to the courses…

Pu-pu platter / Salad, beef tongue, cold fried chicken, saffron-coconut ice cream sandwich with Champagne, Billecart-Salmon NV

Small bites with bubbles. Favorites were the beef tongue that was skewered with a ball of deep-fried mayonnaise (yes, you read that right) and the cold fried chicken that came with a tiny scoop of caviar and some fried chicken skin.

Shrimp noodles, tomato and basil with Champagne

A comforting bowl of pasta, except the noodles here are made of shrimp instead of typical flour, eggs and water. Classic Wylie.

Foie gras in the round with Dewazakura “Omachi” Ginjo from Japan

One of the most popular dishes of the night…tiny little pearls of foie gras with chocolate covered crispies and a film of vinegar on the bottom to balance out the richness of the foie.

Scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado and hamachi with Torrontes “Don David” Michel Torino 2012 from Salta, Argentina

Ingenious “ravioli” where they used egg yolk as the pasta to encase the fluffiest scrambled eggs after. Also loved the tiny tiny crispy potatoes and super-fresh hamachi.

Sake lees bowties, clams and kimchee crisps with Ilias IGP “Kallisto” Mercouri Estate 2013 from Peleponnese, Greece

One of my favorite dishes of the evening – pasta in a briny broth thanks to the clams, topped with these insane crispy kimchee chips that I found myself wishing WD would just mass manufacture so I could buy bags and bags of them. The wine pairing for this course was also ridiculously good and smelled very similar to white peaches.

Bay scallops, sea beans, smoked sable and daikon radish with Lazio Bianco “Fiorano” Alessandrojacopo Boncompagni-Ludocivi 2011 from Lazio, Italy

Another standout – small, perfectly cooked scallops with a smoky sauce from the sable fish. We were all trying our hardest to scrape every last bit of that sauce out of our bowls.

Beef & bearnaise with Pinot Noir “Le Bon Climat” La Fenetre 2008 from Santa Maria, California

A very playful dish and totally unexpected when thinking a classic steak with bearnaise sauce – three fluffy, kinda cute looking bearnaise gnocchi in a very rich beef consomme bath.

Lamb loin, black garlic romesco, pickled ramp, dried soybean with Merlot “Los Carneros” Sinskey from Napa, California

Probably the most traditionally prepared dish of the evening but a still amazingly delicious lamb with a really savory, umami-bomb black garlic romesco.

Vanilla ice cream, balsamic, raspberry

At this point in the evening, things start to get a little fuzzy from all the cocktails and wine pairings, but I definitely remembering busting into this marshmallow-looking, raspberry powder encrusted scoop of ice cream only to find a gorgeously dark and syrupy balsamic vinegar oozing out. Everyone freaked at this dish, which looked so simple from its presentation.

Jasmine custard, chartreuse, cucumber and smoked cashew with Sparkling Apple Cider “La Transparente” Cidrerie du Vulcain NV from Fribourg, Switzerland

I had this dessert the first time at WD-50 and it was probably one of the most memorable courses from that meal because it was so refreshing and new. A layer of cucumber ice on top with this almost bacon-y cashew crumble and once you cracked through the top, a dreamy custard below.

French toast with St. John Commanderia NV from Cyprus, Greece

“French toast” that was black-out good. Super crusty and crispy on the outside and almost custardy in the middle paired with a raisiny and not-too-sweet dessert wine.

Mignardise

Our last course at WD-50 (though we really, really didn’t want it to end) – an assortment of mignardises, including these little balls of gjetost, a Scandinavian whey cheese covered with a layer of white chocolate, that I had at my first time at WD-50, mini churros and something like a pate de fruit. We were all definitely kind of depressed to realize we’d never be back in this particular space, eating this kind of food. To cope, we hilariously (and very drunkenly) decided to drown our sorrows in some Disney-focused karaoke at nearby Karaoke Boho. A super hi-low and perfect kind of night.

Thanks so much to Wylie and the entire team at WD-50 for treating us so well over the years and consistently delivering course after course of amazing food…it was truly one of, if not the most delicious meals I’ve ever had and I can’t wait to see what you do next!

Via Carota

November 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

A first look at the new West Village, Italian-French bistro-esque eatery by Jody Williams of Buvette and Rita Sodi of I Sodi. The new place is definitely much roomier than Buvette, except they crammed as many tables into the space as they possibly could, and though the fluorescent lighting is a bit strange, the food, friendly and attentive service and casual, neighborhood atmosphere more than make up for it. We started with a bottle of reasonably priced, toasty and surprisingly, slightly funky, Montepulciano, the black kale + pork sausage (always good to get some roughage) and winter vegetable lasagna, which tasted like a delicious cross between a potato gratin and a lasagna and really hit the spot for a cooler night.

Black kale with pork sausage and winter vegetable lasagna

On the mains, we’d already heard great things about the chopped steak, or svizzerina, which Grub Street described as a bunless burger, but it seemed to both of us to be more like a beautifully seared beef tartare, basted in softened garlic (which you can also rub all over the grilled bread that comes to the table), rosemary and olive oil. Pure, unadulterated beef flavor and definitely straight up rare on the inside (as a warning to those who are a bit on the squeamish side). My mussels over grilled bread were just this side of over-salted but again, exactly what I was craving from the brisk weather. Comforting, saucy and a great balance of sweet and acid over lovely charred crusty bread. It was also refreshing to see that the entrees were decent sized portions and from what I remember of the menu, all under $20 (more in the $15-$16 range). I will definitely be going back to sample more of the pastas, vegetable dishes and a fried rabbit that looks ridiculously tasty.

Mussels with tomato, oregano and grilled bread; chopped steak and a bottle of Montepulciano

There’s no website for Via Carota (53 Grove Street between Bleecker and 7th Avenue) just yet and they don’t take reservations, but if you happen to be walking around the West Village on a cold winter night, it’s a great place to stop by, sit at the bar, order a couple dishes and just dig in.

Recent food snaps

November 23, 2014 § 1 Comment

Dinner at Drew Nieporent’s Batard in Tribeca – at 4 courses for $75, one of the best deals in NYC

Tete de cochon

Octopus “pastrami” with pommery mustard and new potatoes

Pork belly with onion and baby vegetables

Caramelized milk bread with blueberries and brown butter ice cream

The fried chicken large format lunch at Momofuku Noodle Bar – 1/2 Southern style, 1/2 Korean style with fixings and baby vegetables

After a long day of work, a dry Riesling and free oysters at Lelabar, which is slowly becoming my second, more booze-filled home

Brunch with old high school friends at home…a rare chance to cook up a storm, including this classic broccoli salad with bacon, slivered almonds, cheddar and grape tomatoes

Brunch at All’Onda near Union Square, with a small-portioned but highly flavorful spaghetti carbonara

Bordeaux Under One Roof event for City Harvest – a before and after (when people starting putting half-finished bottles in their bags)

A 2007 Etna Rosso (from the year I graduated high school) at Lelabar with their triple cheese panini, possibly my favorite grilled cheese in the city.

WD-50 (August 17, 2014)

November 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

A summer visit to one of my favorite restaurants in New York City, WD-50, which is sadly closing November 30. Love that the atmosphere and service is always friendly and super casual (if you drunkenly ask for a kitchen tour at the end of the meal, they’re usually nice and polite enough to say yes) and the food manages to be sophisticated and comfortingly familiar at the same time.

Highlights of this particular meal were the first two dishes – an oyster in its “shell” and a super rich, flavorful potato ravioli paired with caviar, both paired with a lovely champagne, an updated version of shrimp and grits, which is one of my favorite Southern dishes to begin with, the pork collar course and the verbena mousse with buckwheat (which oddly reminded me of Carvel ice cream cake and seemed to amuse the waiter when I told him so).

This was also the first time I decided to opt for the wine pairing…and thanks to that and the additional bottle of sake we ordered towards the end of the meal (because the oat meringue dessert didn’t come with a pairing and someone at our table apparently would not let that stand), yours truly had a massive hangover the next morning. Worth it though…

Oyster in its “shell,” preserved lemon, snow pea, hazelnut with Pinot Meunier Champagne “Brut Blanc de Meunier” Millesime 2007 Jean Michel from Champagne, France

Egg yolk-mashed potato ravioli, caviar, cucumber with Pinot Meunier Champagne

Avocado-pea soup, smoked crab, pistachio with Riesling “Vandenberg” Tatomer 2010 from Santa Barbara County, California, USA

Cuttlefish, carrot, chamomile, schmaltz with Sauvignon Blanc Bluxome Street Winery 2012 from Russian River Valle, California, USA

Charred chicken liver, szechuan, injera, melon with Viognier “Antoine Creek” Grammery Cellars 2013 from Walla Walla, WA, USA

Shrimp grits, pickled jalapeno with Grenache, Zinfindel, Mourvedre Rose “Old Hill Ranch” Bucklin 2013 from Sonoma Valley, CA, USA

Hamachi, turnip, shiso, blood sausage with Hoyo Sawayaka Junmai Uchigasaki Brewery from Miyagi Prefecture, Japan

Pork collar, poppy seed, red bell pepper, tamarind with Bourgogne Rouge Camille Giroud 2011 from Burgundy, France

Cured duck breast, curds-n-whey, sweet potato, rice noodles with Malvasia Nera “Medos” Castello Monaci 2011 from Salento, Italy

Oat meringue, banana, strawberry, yeast

Verbena mousse, rhubarb, buckwheat, camelina oil with Sparkling Apple Cider ‘La Transparente” Cidrerie du Vulcain from Fribourg, Switzerland

Ovaltine cake, marcona almond, cardamom, sheep’s milk with Tawny Porto Quinta do Infantado “10 years old” from Douro, Portugal

Cookie dough ice cream with sarsaparilla jelly

The pass at the end of service

Betony and Alder

August 16, 2014 § 1 Comment

Two very different meals, spanning seven months. One of my first splurge meals after moving back to NYC was at Betony, helmed by Eleven Madison Park alums and executed to perfection. Unfortunately, since this meal took place so long ago, I don’t really remember the specific components of each dish but just that the overall experience – food, service, ambiance – was very much worth the money. The standouts were definitely chicken liver mousse, super smooth and served with bits of fried chicken skin and green apple, the roasted chicken and the grilled short rib. 

The second meal was in late spring at Wylie Dufresne’s Alder in the East Village, which focuses on bar food with a modern twist. Though I didn’t think it could compare to his flagship (WD-50, which is sadly closing this coming fall), it is a way to sample some of Dufresne’s food without paying a pretty penny. The best dishes were the “pigs in a blanket” (Chinese sausage, Japanese mustard, sweet chili sauce) and the French onion soup rings with beef gravy and gruyere but I do wish the portions had been a little bit more generous. 

Momofuku whole rotisserie duck

August 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

Three months later…another large format meal at Momofuku Ssam (I swear that I eat at places other than Momofuku).

This time, we had the whole rotisserie duck stuffed with duck and pork sausage (and served with chive pancakes, bibb lettuce and four flavorful sauces) with the broccoli salad (smoked bluefish vinaigrette and crisped duck skin), spicy rice cakes and sausage (because it’s too good to not order), pork belly buns (for the Momofuku virgins), and crispy fingerling potatoes (with crab mayo and chili). 

Yet again, so much food for the five of us (the maximum allowed is six), even with multiple rounds of eating, but we still managed to knock back a few Blood Mary’s (which had country ham in them) and dig very deep when it came to the dessert of Concord grape sorbet with black sesame and peanut crumble (in other words, the best iteration of the PB&J ever) and mint julep truffles (which were a little too dense and sweet for my taste). 

Afterwards, I wanted to pass out so badly but amazingly, an iced coffee from Third Rail and a 45 minute walk all the way downtown managed to keep me upright for the rest of the day. 

 

 

Momofuku Bo Ssam

April 8, 2014 § 1 Comment

Had a pork-tastic dinner this past weekend consisting of Momofuku Ssam Bar’s pork belly buns and bo ssam. Totally worth the meat sweats and food coma afterwards, although it’ll be a while before I can eat any pork again.