Sunday and impromptu dinners

October 3, 2016 § Leave a comment

Chances for me to cook are pretty rare (even though I love it and find it very relaxing and rewarding), but with a slower work schedule in August and September, Katie and I began to ramp up our time in the kitchen. Since she works at the Sunday greenmarket right in front of the Museum of Natural History almost every week, we thought it’d be nice to focus on using whatever produce she’d brought home that day and supplement it with whatever we picked up at the grocery store or already had in our pantry.

Below is a dish from one of our first dinners, which featured the sweetest summer corn, cherry tomatoes and aromatic basil. Barely even a recipe, I started with a healthy glug of olive oil over medium-high heat and fried some whole smashed garlic cloves to impart their flavor without having any actual chunks of garlic (hate biting into a super pungent bit of garlic). Fished them out after they turned golden and crisp on the edges and then added halved grape tomatoes and sautéed them in the oil on high heat until they started browning and bursting. Next came the corn until it too had some color, salt and pepper to taste (with red pepper flakes because I like the heat, maybe a pinch of sugar to boost the sweetness of the corn) and that was a basic sauce.

After cooking the linguine a minute or so shy of package instructions (it continues cooking when tossed in the sauce), I added the pasta to the corn tomato mixture and about a cup of starchy pasta water to add a little bit of body since it was on the drier side. Mixed everything together some more with a healthy heaping of grated parmesan so the sauce, cheese and pasta water became a nicely emulsified sauce and then added some torn fresh basil and of course, more cheese on top. So delicious and simple to make and a wonderful way to showcase some of summer’s great offerings…

A couple weeks later, I was craving Korean food and beef and instead of opting for Seamless, thought I’d finally try out the Lucky Peach cookbook, Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes. Were the recipes actually easy? This soy-braised short rib dish certainly was and, with the new potatoes and carrots, proved to be a full meal in itself. Would I have to get random-ass Asian pantry items? Not really – as I already always have soy sauce, mirin and toasted sesame oil on hand (the most Asian of the ingredients listed). As with any kind of braise, it takes a few hours at low heat on the stove for the meat to become super tender but damn is the wait worth it (plus it makes the entire apartment smell amazing). I found some super funky napa cabbage kimchi in the fridge and leftover Momofuku ginger scallion sauce to counteract the richness of the beef and parked my ass in front of the television to watch Stranger Things for a perfect quiet evening at home.

Last week, I actually managed to cook three separate times, including the below dinner with Cindy. I missed the salmon dish I used to order from Il Brigante all the time when I worked in the Financial District so made seared salmon fillets with a punchy lemon caper sauce using this Williams-Sonoma recipe as a rough guideline, a classic broccoli salad with mayo-mustard dressing, toasted slivered almonds, grape tomatoes, bacon (of course) and red onion, and my tried and true roasted potatoes with an insanely good truffle mayo I’d brought back from my trip to Paris. Had a nice crisp white wine and have to say even I was impressed with how great of a meal it was.

Then, this past Friday, instead of going out to eat with Cindy and Beth, I managed to leave the office a bit early and put together this eggplant involtini (I’ve been making and modifying this recipe since law school). It’s a lighter take on a classic eggplant parmesan that doesn’t involve all that breading and frying yet still comes out bubbly, cheesy and super satisfying. In an effort to eat more greens, I also made a salad of wild arugula, grape tomatoes, slivered almonds, avocado, shaved parmesan and this wonderful, easy mustard dressing from Bon Appetit. Again, modified it a bit to personal taste (I like a lot of acid in my dressings) and it turned out to be a hit. Plus, I had plenty of dressing leftover for subsequent salads.

Rounding out the meal were some fantastic cheeses and charcuterie from Murray’s provided by Cindy, a couple bottles of wine (whatever I had in our fridge) and then superb Lady M desserts courtesy of Beth. I’ll always love trying new restaurants and bars but it’s been so nice to spend some relaxing time at home, both in the kitchen and at the dining table, in the company of wonderful friends with delicious food and wine. I can only hope this trend will continue as the weather starts to get chillier and I can really bust out the braises, stews and baked goods and crank up the oven.

Sushi Nakazawa

October 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

Dinner at that temple of sushi, Sushi Nakazawa (and as you’ll see below, it really did feel like a temple). I’d been wanting to go ever since it opened to rave reviews but was always too lazy to bother scouring reservations for a decent time at the bar. Finally, near the end of the summer, when I had a serious sushi craving and work was slow, I managed to snag an 8:30 p.m. spot at the 10 seat counter. The reservation was on a Saturday evening, which meant that Chef Nakazawa (of Jiro Dreams of Sushi fame) wasn’t in, but the quality of the food and service was still at the highest level (as it should be, given the price of the omakase).

While the overall experience was wonderful, the general atmosphere seemed a bit stiff to me – the interior was very sleek and modern (almost sterile-feeling), the chefs behind the counter didn’t seem particularly keen to make conversation (even more noticeable since there was no music playing) and the other guests were mostly a well-heeled crowd that seemed to hold the restaurant in such reverence that they weren’t willing to let loose and relax (also, there was a super hip woman wearing a fedora throughout the entire dinner, which I just didn’t understand. I must be getting old). I’m still very glad to have had the chance to go, but given the choice, I’d much rather go to Shuko for dinner, where the food is still perfectly executed (and honestly, more interesting – especially when doing the kaiseki menu) and everyone, guests and chefs, is having a fun time making conversation in a warm and inviting room with Top 40 or old school hip hop blaring in the background.

On the other hand, in addition to the pristine fish, Nakazawa’s sake pairing for $45 is an absolute steal. Compared to some high-end, tasting menu pairings which can set you back another $150 or so (which includes the pairing at Shuko), this was so affordable and I really enjoyed the choices (and the obscenely generous pours). Anyway, see below for the actual courses:

Chum salmon, smoked sockeye salmon, soy marinated salmon

Chefs hard at work

Scallop

Squid

Sea bass

Barrel fish

Spanish mackerel – this was a favorite of mine.

Horse mackerel

Unfortunately, I can’t recall the name of this particular type of fish.

Dungeness crab

Preparing the botan ebi…look at those dimples

Spot prawn – seriously delicious

Skipjack

Trio of tuna from leanest to fattiest

California and Hokkaido uni – always a crowd pleaser

Unagi and the infamous tamago

A lighter sorbet and tea to round out the meal

 

Rebelle and Bowery Meat Company

September 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

Dinner at  the lovely Rebelle, on the Bowery, with Vanessa way back. We’d tried to eat at another restaurant in the East Village but the wait was too long and we were famished for some good food and wine. Upon arriving, we were seated immediately and dug right into some crusty miche with ramp butter, raw oysters with a punchy mignonette and a glass of nice, crisp champagne. Bread, butter and oysters…a great meal in itself.

But, per usual, we didn’t stop there and ended up ordering a slew of other dishes, including the beef tartare; white asparagus and seared scallops. The beef tartare was a wonderful mix of textures – chewy, high-quality beef with a smooth sunchoke cream, spicy, pungent kick from the horseradish and garlic combination and salty crunch from sliced fried sunchokes. The seasonal white asparagus with beurre blanc and summer truffle appeared rather simple but was a highly finessed, earthy dish and the scallops with uni, turnip and squid ink balanced marine briny-ness with a pop of sweet apple.

Finally, even after all that, we were still hungry and decided to share a main course of roast duck with frisee, pistachio and pickled pearl onions. It was cooked to pink perfection with crispy skin (and just the right amount of fat left) with a delicious glaze and crunch from the nuts. The service and ambience were also all-around good, so will definitely try to come back some time, especially during the winter when the menu has changed and I’m craving a fat glass of red wine and even richer, heartier dishes.

 

Same neighborhood, different restaurant – Bowery Meat Company for an impromptu dinner as a break from work. Given how giant and rich portions were during my first visit, we decided to stick with oysters (raw and broiled) to start as opposed to any of the other appetizers and then our separate mains. Our beau soleil oysters came with pineapple cucumber salsa and the kumamotos with wasabi leaf and lemon. Refreshing and perfect for the summer. The broiled oysters with garlic, romano cheese, bread crumbs and parsley were a totally different take and though I usually prefer my oysters raw, these were so cheesy and indulgent that I kind of forgot about the beau soleils and kumamotos.


For our mains, I ordered the Bowery steak with salsa verde and whipped potato – a nice medium-rare with crusty char and a offset by the herbaceous salsa and Chris got the bone-in filet mignon au poivre. Sides were the memorable sour cream and onion hash brown we got during our first visit and then spring peas because, you know, green. A nice, quiet meal right before my summer got insanely busy, at a restaurant that’s normally quite packed, noisy and to be honest, too scene-y for my taste.

Ruffian & Salvation Burger

July 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

Two relatively new places that couldn’t be more different (and one that is now temporarily closed due to a fire). I’m a bit conflicted posting about Ruffian because it’s a matchbox of a place and I don’t like the idea of someone else taking up my seat but at the same time, it totally deserves the publicity and recognition. I’ve posted about West Village wine bar, Lelabar, on this blog multiple times and have been a visitor ever since I moved into the neighborhood. One of the first Lela sommeliers I got to know was Patrick – a super friendly guy who’s seriously passionate about his wine, especially anything particularly funky or strange – and when I heard he was opening his own place in the East Village, I knew it’d be a gem.

He’s assembled a great team – I know Alexis, the other sommelier, from Lelabar and the chefs, Josh and Andy, are turning out some crazy ambitious Southern French small plates in a kitchen that’s tucked right behind the bar and tinier than mine. One thing to note about Pat and Alexis is that by now, whenever I visit either Lela or Ruffian, I have no idea what I’m drinking since they know my preferences and I always defer to them…it’s an approach that’s never steered me wrong.

On this visit – Cindy and I started with a refreshing rose wine and this dreamy dish of scrambled eggs with shaved bottarga, ramps and mushrooms. Texture of the eggs was perfectly creamy and I loved the raw earthiness of the mushrooms against the briny, funky bottarga and the garlicky bite of the ramps. Seemingly simple but surprisingly complex.

Josh and Andy also had us try this slightly Asian take on a steak tartare – unfortunately I can’t remember what the other components were but I can tell you it was a lighter version compared to classic iterations and so delicious.

Here we have the octopus dish with pickled sunchokes, cilantro and a sauce made with octopus ink. The octopus was tender and I quickly became addicted to the sunchokes, which I’d never had pickled and sliced that thinly before. Chilies added some heat and a generous glug of fruity olive oil rounded out the dish.

Somehow we managed to eat even more food after all the above – below is some sliced finocchiona, a salami from Tuscany that’s heavy on the fennel, a generous wedge of soft coupole cheese (one of my favorites and not too strong), a selection of crusty bread and then more pickled sunchokes (I’m telling you, I couldn’t get enough) and pickled grapes. We had a really lovely time catching up with Pat and Alexis, meeting Josh and Andy and can’t wait to see what they turn out next. The menu is constantly changing and it’s always a new surprise every time I visit.

Much further uptown is April Bloomfield’s newest NYC place, Salvation Burger. Note that the restaurant is temporarily closed due to a kitchen fire they had at the end of May but they should be opening up again soon. If you’re ever in Midtown East and craving some satisfying, greasy food, this is definitely the place to go. We came here right before seeing Fully Committed, a totally hilarious one-man play starring Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson about the restaurant industry, and thank god we had enough time before the show to walk some of this off. We split two burgers and a giant side of fries (super crispy on outside, creamy on inside and nicely salted, just how I like them).

The Classic Burger (second photo below) was basically what you dream a Big Mac could be – a double patty burger with American cheese, some special sauce and pickles – and the Salvation Burger (third photo) had ramp butter, taleggio cheese and a whole mess of mushrooms. Both were cooked to a medium rare, super juicy that I think I used about a dozen napkins, and not too heavy handed with the garnishes, but my favorite of the two was the classic version. It’s a wonder I didn’t start snoozing during the play and I mainly credit Mr. Ferguson’s talent with keeping me awake and entertained.

Here’s hoping that Ms. Bloomfield’s team will be able to get the kitchen running again soon…there are admittedly a ton of burger joints in NYC but this one is turning out some seriously good food and the neighborhood needs an upbeat restaurant like this.

 

Misc. Eats

June 19, 2016 § Leave a comment

Remembering when I still had it easy at work and weekends were free…just need to make it through June 30. Here – a lazy Sunday lunch at the Via Carota bar, starting with fried green olives with pork sausage and a superb negroni

A huge, hands-only kamayan feast featuring banana ketchup ribs, longanisa sausage, whole head-on shrimp, braised lamb, etc. at Filipino gastropub, Jeepney, in East Village with Cahill friends. Total gut bomb.

The Macho Man sandwich from a new favorite, Court Street Grocers – heritage pork shoulder, cabot cheddar, coleslaw, pickled jalapenos and duck sauce on garlic bread. Between this, the Delight and the Cubano, I can order from here about 4 times a week. So dangerous.

Dinner with Artemis at Mario Batali’s new restaurant, La Sirena, in the Meatpacking District. Bucatini with braised octopus in spicy pomodoro sauce and then ravioli all’amatriciana with spring onion butter…quite tasty but wasn’t crazy about the atmosphere, the service or the scene

Lunch at Legend near Washington Square Park with the family. We ordered our usual dishes – spicy lamb with cumin, spicy beef tendon with chili vinaigrette and a seriously delicious whole braised fish with spicy bean sauce – and went for a really long walk afterwards to recover

Sunday night shellfish bake at North End Grill – half a Maine lobster, head-on prawns, clams, new potatoes and corn in an addictive garlic butter and then sweet gem lettuce and blue cheese dressing on the side. Not pictured: duck fat fries and a lot of white wine.

The famous, substantial duck carnitas at Cosme…’nuff said.

Late night eats at Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken…my ultimate weakness.

Momofuku Nishi

June 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

Dinner at Momofuku Nishi, David Chang’s newest NYC restaurant in the Chelsea neighborhood, featuring a kind of mash-up of Korean and Italian food.  The interior is typical for Chang’s restaurants (spare, not particularly comfortable furniture and a cramped, loud space with mostly communal seating) and service would sometimes disappear and pop up again randomly, but there were a number of interesting dishes that conveyed the concept particularly well and made the visit worthwhile…

To start: whole fried shrimp with salt and pepper…a perfect bar snack to pop into your mouth, head, legs and all, while drinking a refreshing beer or cocktail. Crunchy and heavily seasoned, brightened with a squeeze of lime.

Instead of getting any protein-heavy dishes (the brisket had run out by the time we arrived), we ordered a number of pastas, including the much-hyped ceci e pepe with chickpea hozon and black pepper, a funky take on the classic Roman pasta. Here, the usual pecorino cheese is swapped for a chickpea miso-esque substance that doesn’t skimp on the umami and maintains that velvety texture.  It looks super simple on the plate but don’t expect it to be bland.

One of my favorite dishes of the evening, Nishi’s Asian take on chicken and dumplings. It was a lighter version of the Southern comfort dish, with strong hits of toasted sesame oil, wide flat noodles and meaty, smoky shiitake mushrooms. It reminded me of the minimalist, medicinal soups that my mom and dad would prepare when my sisters and I were young, consisting mainly of a milky bone broth made pork back bones, sesame oil and other Asian ingredients like goji berries and ginseng.

Here, clams grand lisboa, a potentially great dish that was unfortunately way over-salted on our visit (and I tend to like a lot of seasoning). Topped with tender clams, the noodles were cooked like Spanish fideos or Cantonese pan-fried noodles, with crunchy, almost charred noodles around the perimeter and heavily sauced, softer noodles in the middle. At some point, I’d like to try a better executed version of this dish because it has everything that I like – briny seafood, lots of different textures and an interesting sauce.

Our final pasta dish, spicy beef Sichuan noodles, a decent dish but not particularly memorable. It evoked a hybrid of pappardelle bolognese (and looks a lot like it too) and the addictive sauce in the spicy pork sausage and Chinese broccoli dish at Ssam Bar but didn’t have as much of a kick as I would’ve expected from a dish labeled “Sichuan”.

We also tried the fried fingerlings with smoked yolk and tarragon and while the sauce was delicious, I didn’t really care for the large, thick chunks of potato, which were missing that crispy exterior and creamy interior that I look for in any fried potato dish.

Dessert, however, was delicious and wonderfully simple. We ordered the pistachio bundt cake with ricotta because everyone had been raving about it and it was a lovely, not-too-sweet slice offset by the tangy cream. So many carbs in one meal…in the end, while I was happy to have tried this cross-cultural restaurant, it will be a while before I feel the need to go back.

Shuko

June 4, 2016 § Leave a comment

Procrastinating all the work I have to do this weekend and reliving this amazing dinner at Shuko near Union Square when I had all the time in the world in between jobs. It’d been a long time since I’d splurged on sushi and the kaiseki menu offered also features a few cooked preparations, including some super luxurious supplements. The interior is minimalist and dominated by the ash 12-seat counter, and the night I was there dining solo, top 40 was blaring. Some highlights of the all-around outstanding meal were the fatty tuna belly tartare and caviar with Japanese milk bread course; beautiful sunchokes, lobster, truffles and a subtle taste of bacon; sea trout; Santa Barbara and Monterey uni and a whole procession of pristinely prepared fish. I wish that I’d been given a menu of all the courses at the end of the meal so I could recall exactly what I had but since some courses were also customized based on personal preferences told to the chef throughout the meal, I didn’t want to be a bother. Instead, I’ve made another reservation for July and will be curious to see menu changes according to the summer season. If anyone wants the second seat, let me know.

Santina and High Street on Hudson

May 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

From a while back: dinner at Santina, right next to the Whitney Museum and the High Line, with Cahill folks and then two separate visits to hit bakery/restaurant High Street on Hudson for dinner and breakfast. Completely different restaurants but great experiences at both (Santina was surprising since I think the Torrisi restaurants tend to be over-priced and too hip for me and generally avoid them).

At Santina, we sat in the atrium outside under heat lamps, which was actually nice and almost felt as if we were outside in the middle of winter. We started with squash carpaccio with honey agrodolce – my favorite dish of the nice and completely new. The squash was thinly sliced and tasted almost as if it was bruleed, a wonderful mix of textures and savory against sweet.

Cecina pancakes with lamb tartare, green olive and aioli.

Family-style mains – rice of guanciale e pepe, spaghetti with blue crab with tomato and chili, lobster catalan with garlic and anchovy butter, grilled lamb chops, spicy fried potatoes. The rice was underwhelming and didn’t pack as much flavor as one would hope but the spaghetti stood out with its bright and briny notes. In the end, I was happy to try Santina but don’t think I would ever choose to go again given all the great restaurants constantly popping up in the neighborhood (as well as all of my time-tested favorites).

Turning to a totally different restaurant – High Street on Hudson. The original location is in Philly and ever since the owners announced that they were opening a NYC version, it’s gotten a lot of press and well-deserved love. Artemis, Cindy and I went for dinner during the week not too long after they opened and it was packed. We started with an addictive dark bread called vollkornbrot with creamy charred rutabaga hummus and long hot chermoula and black sesame oil and perfect, crispy fried razor clams with habanero buttermilk, which made me wish for summer.

Next, another (and in my opinion, superior) lamb tartare with burnt celery root, sunflower, cultured cashew and malted rye and tripe diavola with sunchoke and grilled cucumber (kind of an oddly textured element that I wasn’t crazy for). Both absolutely gorgeous on the plate and wolfed down within seconds.

Highlights of the meal were the main courses of seawood bucatini with njuda, lobster bottarga and breadcrumbs and Happy Valley beef with sweet potato and fermented broccoli. Stellar examples of dishes from the earth and sea…I was in such a happy place by the time our dinner came to a close.

And for good measure, Cindy and I went back to High Street not long after for breakfast to try their super-hyped sandwiches and they did not disappoint. We got the bread basket (so ambitious), the bodega sandwich of malted breakfast sausage, egg and aged cheddar on a giant sage-black pepper biscuit about the size of my head and old bay fried potatoes that I kept popping into my mouth even after I felt completely stuffed. I don’t think I ate another meal for the rest of the day but it was completely worth it.

Eats Downtown

May 16, 2016 § Leave a comment

Still catching up on posting…these are from a few months back when I knew I was leaving Cahill and started scaling back on work to take some off-campus lunches and catch up with old friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Dinner at Untitled at the Whitney. We started off with Carolina rice fritters that came smeared with chicken liver and pickled carrots and lamb meatballs with peanuts and guajillo pepper. A super fancy, farm-to-table version of bar snacks.

Instead of ordering heavier main dishes, we shared the beef tartare with chestnuts and winter squash; cauliflower, cardamom custard and lemon; and sunchokes with bacon and cloumage cheese, which was my favorite of the three.

And because we’d decided not to drink any booze, we justified ordering two desserts – the hot fudge truffle cake with creme fraiche which I could only handle two bites of, it was so rich, and the ridiculous, giant banana hazelnut praline cake with concord grape sauce. Not bad for a weeknight meal.

 I also got lunch with Bert and Artemis at Tribeca favorite, Little Park, conveniently located right outside the Chambers Street subway stop. Here are the charred broccoli with radish, blood orange and pancetta with the roasted carrots with sesame, dukkah and honey. I normally don’t really care for carrots but this was an interesting sweet and savory take thanks to the dukkah, which I’d never really tasted, and honey.

A favorite dish from a previous visit – the crispy brussels sprouts with parsnip and apple cider. These taste a lot like the sprouts from Rouge et Blanc…mainly in that they’re both hella fried and have a nice acidic bite to them. I could eat bowls and bowls of these no problem.

My main of rainbow trout, fingerling potato, dill and celery. A nice, light take on the fish salad combination. Which was good considering I was meeting up with old high school friends at Khe-Yo later that evening.

Aforementioned dinner with Lucy and Steph at Khe-Yo, also in Tribeca, although a totally different cuisine. It was one of the few times I’d ever had Laotian and man, is it addictive (and spicy). Here is the smashed green papaya salad with fried pork rinds on top and their two famous sauces (one of which basically just singes all your tastebuds off if you’re not careful).

A gout-tastic dish of steak tartare hidden underneath just-fried shrimp chips served with bone marrow and a bunch of uni heaped on top (no big deal).

Super succulent, tender and slightly sweet Berkshire pork spare ribs with a smashed long bean salad that I didn’t really care for.

And the day’s special and indisputable show-stopper, half a roasted pig’s head served with accoutrements like herbs, noodle salad and peanuts, all of which you wrap with sauce in rice paper that’s soaked and softened at the table. Unsurprisingly, I was really struggling by the end of this meal and took a painful hour long walk to feel somewhat back to normal.

 

ABC Kitchen

May 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

Sometimes on lazy Sundays, I really love walking up through Union Square and wandering through ABC Carpet & Home, which has kitchen supplies, decor, carpets, furniture, everything you’d need to decorate your dream home if you had no budget. Yes, the goods can get insanely expensive but the presentations always looks so goddamn gorgeous that I can’t help fantasizing about buying up all of their ceramics, objets d’art and wall decor. The store is also wonderful because of the well-known farm-to-table restaurant next door by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, which is beautifully appointed with ABC Carpet & Home wares and offers a lot of vegetable-heavy dishes. It’s usually difficult to get reservations on short notice, but one night, Alice and I managed to get a table and dig into some of the lighter fare they had to offer.

Crab toast with lemon aioli with blood orange negroni and clementine mojito. A nice start that was a surprisingly large portion.

One of my favorite dishes from last time: roast carrot and avocado salad with seeds, sour cream and citrus. It may look like a mess of greens but it’s incredibly flavorful and full of different textures – crunchy seeds and croutons, smooth and creamy avocado, toothsome carrots spiced with cumin. Good for you but delicious too! I’ve tried to replicate this dish at home but there’s always something missing in my version.

Another favorite from my last visit: the insane mushroom pizza with parmesan, oregano and a farm egg – completely meatless but very satisfying and perfectly presented, with a runny bright yellow yolk and crispy, charred crust. We also ordered the roasted hake with crispy potatoes, broccoli and red chile garlic sauce, which was super delicate and fell apart with a fork and had a nice kick thanks to the sauce. All in all, a really lovely and light low-key meal in a beautiful venue. 

 

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