Upland

March 11, 2015 § Leave a comment

Had a fun girls’ dinner at the relatively new Upland right off Park Avenue a while back and got to tuck into some Italian-influenced food with a California twist. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive because my co-worker Artemis went right after their New York Times review had come out and she ended up unimpressed, but based on our experience, it could have been attributed to them still working out the kinks so shortly after opening. I didn’t get any great shots of the interior but the restaurant itself is very spacious, follows the recent trend of having more banquettes than stand alone tables (meaning more room per group, always a plus) and houses shelves and shelves of bottles of olive oil or jars of preserved lemons glowing prettily in the dim lighting.

Our first starter were the crispy duck wings with lemon, olive oil and yuzu kosho, this funky Japanese fermented paste of chili peppers, yuzu peel and salt, which kind of hit you over the head with their spice and tang. Really delicious and intriguing since I also don’t think I’d ever had duck wings before. We got the much-hyped estrella (long tubular pasta stars perfect for picking up sauce) with creamy chicken liver, sherry, rosemary and sage and the delicious pappardelle with spicy pork sausage, kale and parmigiano, all giving great first impressions. Also would point out that chef Justin Smillie even pays close attention to the bread and butter, which is just-out-of-the-oven toasted sprinkled with coarse salt and the butter is room temperature with a smattering of chives and a smidge more salt. It’s little details like this that count, people.

For my main, I ordered the crackling porcelet, an interesting cut, accompanied by jimmy nardello peppers, charred onions and permission. A nice balance between savory and sweet from the fruit, this came in a pretty large portion and turned out to be quite rich thanks to that crunchy, slightly fatty strip of pork crackling running along the right side, though honestly, I had no problem finishing. The other entrees looked amazing as well – a very colorful cioppino with a melange of shellfish and striped bass and a whole grilled branzino with citrus scallion vinaigrette. We also ordered a side of the slow roasted celeriac with black truffle butter and sea salt (because, you know, vegetables) which was earthy and surprisingly light given that I’m pretty sure it came out doused in butter or olive oil.

After a break between courses, we ended our meal with a solid, though not particularly interesting, apple tart and some kind of caramel custard with devil’s food cake and ginger ice cream, which I could only take one bite of since it was too sweet for me.

While I don’t think I’d necessarily revisit Upland that frequently (the food and service were good but I think some places further downtown and closer to my apartment that I’ve recently visited have been more memorable), I’m definitely glad we went, despite hearing some mixed reviews, and our group had a great time. This place would be really fun for birthdays or special occasions with larger groups so you can order a lot of different menu items.

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Bouley lunch

March 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

The lunch at Bouley in Tribeca may be one of the best deals (five courses for $55) in New York City, especially since it happens to be in one of the most beautifully decorated and ornate restaurants I’ve seen. To start – some complimentary amuse bouches that I honestly don’t remember too much about (except that the cracker looking bite had caviar and some kind of black truffle cream). For the first course, I chose the “blini” of Scottish smoked salmon with roe and white truffle honey. The dish was topped with some sort of apple meringue that was a bit too sweet for my taste, especially since the truffle honey was already sweet, but the roe provided some necessary saltiness.

Next, one of Bouley’s most famous dishes, the porcini flan with golden princess crab and black truffle dashi. This was amazing – it came to the table with a cover and when removed, all one could smell was black truffle and brininess from the crab. Really warm and comforting, like a Japanese chawanmushi or egg custard, the portion initially seemed kind of small but was so packed with flavor and richness that it turned out to be just the right amount. I would go back to Bouley just to have this dish again. Also, what I forgot to take a picture of was the amazing bread cart that they wheel to each table after this course. I think there were about twelve different varieties (the usual sourdough all the way to a pistachio and apricot version) and you could potentially try every one of them, but we had to keep in mind that we had more courses coming.

The main dish, a slow braised Kobe-style beef cheeks with blue kale gnocchi, also hit the spot. I don’t have beef cheeks very often but always love how tender and unctuous they can be when done well and the sauce that came with was super savory and just this side of being over-seasoned. Also really enjoyed the perfectly cooked gnocchi (because who doesn’t love some butter soaked starch with their beef?).

For a palate cleanser after our savory dishes, a chilled coconut soup with pineapple granite, 10 exotic fruit sorbet, passion fruit and coconut ice cream. Really refreshing with a good balance of sweet and tart – this almost punched you in the face with its coconutiness. Around this time, we were struggling to stay awake, so a cappuccino was in order. My dessert was the hot caramelized Anjou pear with Valrhona chocolate, biscuit Breton, hot toffee sauce and huckleberry and Tahitian vanilla ice cream, which was a bit too sweet for me and since I was so full, I was only able to take a couple bites.  However, when the tower of mignardises and petits fours came out, I had no problem popping a few chocolate bonbons in my mouth.

So there you have it – one of the best lunch deals in the city. At some point, I’d like to go back and try everything with their recommended wine pairing, which brings the meal to $110 before tax and tip. I think this would be a great place to bring parents when they’re in town and or a special date. Here’s a shot of the entryway, which is lined with apples to greet you and say farewell with the most heavenly smell (we kept wondering how often they have to check and change them out). Oh and I almost forgot to mention that when you leave, they send you off with not one but two individually wrapped cakes (lemon pound cake and stollen) for you to peck away at as soon as you’ve recovered from your lunch food coma. 🙂

Little Park in Tribeca

March 4, 2015 § Leave a comment

I’m a huge fan of chef Andrew Carmellini’s restaurants (Locanda Verde, Lafayette, Bar Primi and others), so when he started getting positive reviews for Little Park, his new farm-to-table, vegetable-focused restaurant in the Smyth Hotel in Tribeca, I knew I wanted to try it. Like all of his other restaurants, Little Park is on a corner and it’s right by the Chambers Street subway stop, making it a maybe too convenient place to stop by on my way home from work. The interior is very neutral in color and there are a lot of large banquettes which means more room for each table. Our lunch group of four started with some spent grain bread and a nice tangy cultured butter, both of which I’m guessing come from farms in NY state and are probably processed and made in house.

For our starters, we ordered the wild mushroom broth with short rib raviolini and black garlic, the crispy brussels sprouts with smoked parsnip and apple and the girandole pasta with black kale, squash and pine nuts. These dishes reminded me a lot of the offerings at ABC Kitchen – lots of vegetables that you almost feel virtuous eating them but flavorful and different enough that it nevertheless feels like an indulgent treat. The mushroom broth tasted super clean and light and actually, when tasted alone, I thought lacked some seasoning, but the miniature ravioli it came with packs a petite yet meaty punch to counteract the mildness.

As for the brussels sprouts…these might give my favorite ones at Tertulia a run for their money. They’re also fried to the point where they’re almost charred and super crispy on the outside but tender on the inside, and instead of using pork belly to give it that umami and smokiness, Carmellini adds smoked parsnip and apple for some sweetness. So addictive. Finally, the girandole was probably my favorite dish of the meal – comforting and cheesy with different textures from the crunchy pine nuts, slippery pasta and soft butternut squash. And it should be noted that while none of these dishes had any meat, we didn’t miss it at all!

Our main courses were the grass fed hangar steak with charred broccoli and green sauce, the spatchcock chicken with New York state freekeh and sweet mustard and the steamed black bass with beluga lentils and oregano. I didn’t try the chicken or the black bass (both of which looked gorgeous on the plate) but really enjoyed my hangar steak – super flavorful and well seasoned without being too chewy – and whatever that herby, green sauce was. And the nicest part about this meal was leaving feeling completely satiated but not gross and bloated, which happens quite often because I can never restrain myself from eating everything in front of me. Carmellini’s restaurants each have their own character and feel and Little Park is no different. While it doesn’t necessarily focus on a particular cuisine (like Italian pastas at Bar Primi or French bistro at Lafayette), it delivers some seriously delicious and refined food that made this unapologetic carnivore think about vegetable-driven food in a different, and definitely positive, way.

Dinner at The NoMad

March 2, 2015 § Leave a comment

The popular and well regarded NoMad hotel and restaurant are owned by the same group that operates Eleven Madison Park, so when a group of us went for dinner at the end of January, we knew we were in for a treat. Upon entering, we could see that the dining area was broken up into different sections with different decor in each – the atrium, the parlour, etc. – and we were seated in the parlour, which was sumptuously decorated with velvet chairs, ornate furniture and lots of red. We stuck with cocktails and beer for our meal, and because I was craving something super citrus-y and refreshing, I actually started with a non-alcoholic basil-fennel lime soda and asked for a healthy splash of Hendrick’s gin to be added.

Our small bites to start were the butter dipped radishes with fleur de sel, a very rich chicken liver mousse and the scotch olives with lamb’s sausage with sheep’s milk cheese. Everything gave a really great first impression of the kitchen, including the super French-inspired simple and kinda cute looking radishes, and my favorites were the scotch olives (which is saying something because normally, I don’t even like olives), which were expertly fried and just the right amount of gaminess from the lamb’s sausage. There was also some killer, toasted on the outside but cloud-soft on the inside pita-esque bread that they kept replenishing throughout our meal, seasoned with caraway and other spices that I couldn’t identify that we could just not get enough of.

As mentioned earlier, after cocktails, we decided to order 2 growlers of beer instead of wine for our starters and entrees, mainly because our main course, the famous roast chicken dish for two (times two because there were four of us), had been recommended with a specifically brewed Belgian-style brown ale by Brooklyn Brewery called Le Poulet. It definitely proved to be an interesting pairing, especially since the roast chicken came with foie gras and truffles, (typically very luxurious ingredients you’d think would go better with wine) yet the carbonation and savoriness of the beer was a great match with food so rich.

Moving on, for starters, we shared the slow poached egg with cauliflower, kale and almonds, which had a great combination of different textures (smooth and unctuous from the egg, light and crispy from the fried kale and crunchy from the almonds), the foie gras with shaved beef carpaccio and mushrooms (surprisingly probably one of the least memorable dishes of the evening) and the tortelloni with celery root and black truffles, which blew everyone’s minds with its perfectly cooked pasta and pure umami, truffly deliciousness. We definitely used that caraway bread to scoop up every last bite of that celery root sauce, which I still crave to this day.

Our main course, the roast chicken for two, was the biggest reason why I wanted to come to the NoMad. It’s been hyped up ever since chef Daniel Humm put it on the menu, and after trying it, I think it’s well worth all the praise and good reviews. They actually present the whole chicken, in all its golden and shiny splendor, to you before they take it back to the kitchen for carving. Out comes a plate with the perfectly cooked, not to dry breast, which has black truffles and foie gras (too much of a good thing can only be even better) stuffed underneath the beautifully burnished skin on top of a bed of brussels sprouts and lentils. The dark meat comes in a separate side dish with crispy, well seasoned chicken skin, more brussels sprouts, slightly sweet brioche bread and some insane cream sauce that makes it taste like a savory bread pudding on steroids. This was actually my favorite dish of the night and I would come back just for this.

After our small bites, starters and then the roast chicken (as well as the two growlers of beer), we could’ve called it quits but no…time for dessert! As someone who doesn’t usually care for sweets, I was intrigued by the milk and honey dessert, with shortbread, brittle and ice cream and it definitely did not disappoint. It’s a dish that’s kind of hard to describe and the techniques seemed slightly avant-garde, but the flavors were very familiar and very comforting. It was also very light, especially compared to the cobbler dessert we also ordered. By the end of the meal, a long walk home in the cold weather was definitely needed.

The restaurant at NoMad is a real gem. Compared with Eleven Madison Park, which is super refined and sophisticated, serving dishes that feel incredibly modern (but are still very delicious), NoMad is a place that executes the dishes you know and love at the highest level. At the same time, throughout our meal, service was super friendly, attentive and not stuffy in the slightest. We had a really lovely time in a beautiful setting and felt very lucky to indulge in all the food that we did. I hope it’s not too long before I get to go back and have some more of that tortelloni and roast chicken.

Recently

February 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

3:00 am Korean BBQ at Miss Korea in K-Town…

An impromptu, late night meal at Benchmark in Park Slope with the most awesome foie gras dish served with peppered pineapple, pecans and bourbon glaze (so good we ordered a second one) and filet mignon with purple potato gratin and caramelized marrow

Pecorino, golden raisin and pine nut kale salad to balance out all the gluttony

Homemade chicken parmesan during the night of the snow storm that turned out to be no big deal…

The roast beef press during lunch with Cindy at that old standby, Grey Dog

Greatest delivery pizza ever from Spunto (with caramelized onions, mushrooms, hot Italian sausage and a ton of red pepper flakes)

Brunch at Tertulia

December 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

An impromptu brunch with Cindy at Seamus Mullen’s Tertulia on 6th Avenue in the West Village, one of my go-t0 casual spots in the city. Our conversation earlier that day (which resembles about 80% of our conversations period) basically went: “Have you eaten yet?” “No” “Brunch?” “Meet you at Tertulia at 1pm” “OK, yayyyy.”

Tertulia is known for its traditional and modern tapas, and the interior does make you feel like your inside a bar in Barcelona. I’d only ever visited for dinner and didn’t really know what to expect for brunch. As it turns out, our meal, though enormous and probably difficult to finish for two much larger-sized males, admittedly didn’t include your typical brunch fare, but it was perfect for someone like me who isn’t big on sweets. The nuestras patatas – crispy potatoes with pimenton and garlicky aioli – were spud crack. So addictive that I kept going back until the large pan was empty. I’m also always a sucker for fried shishito peppers (you’ll see that fried is a theme here, despite it being a veg-heavy meal), sprinkled with sea salt at the last second before serving. Although the tortilla espagnola (eggs, potato, onion and olive oil cooked in a small skillet) was delicious, it wasn’t as exciting as the other dishes.

Probably the best dish were our brussels sprouts (again, fried to crispy) with smoked sobresada, pork belly and sheep’s milk yogurt. I had this the first time I ever went to Tertulia a few years ago and went bonkers over it, but since then, I never saw it on the menu during subsequent visits and figured it was a seasonal item. Super savory, with fatty chunks of pork belly and a creamy yogurt dressing, it’s a dish I would order at the bar with some red wine on a solo visit (if I ever actually did that kind of thing).

Our last dish – a seasonal dish consisting of grilled broccoli, lamb bacon, olive oil fried egg and some peppers – though good, paled in comparison to the potatoes and the sprouts. The broccoli was a bit raw for my taste and the dish overall seemed a bit dry to me and could’ve used some kind of sauce or dressing. All in all, however, a really satisfying, fry-tastic not-really-brunch that reminded me why Tertulia is one of my favorite restaurants in New York City.

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.

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.

Spring approaches…

March 12, 2014 § Leave a comment

and all I want to do is sit outside and eat pastries all day. Please take me back to Paris.

Hot Doug’s

October 3, 2013 § 1 Comment

Hot Doug’s – first on the “where to eat” list of so many travel guides, shows, and blogs and a must for the food-obsessed’s first visit to Chicago. We got there relatively early in the day since we’d heard about long wait times but the line was barely out the door when we arrived. Menu choices ran the gamut from the classic Chicago dog to the famed foie gras and Sauternes duck sausage with truffle aioli, foie gras mousse, and fleur de sel, so we ordered a variety (plus the duck fat fries which are only available on Friday and Saturday) and tucked in. Big hits were the Chicago dog (it’s classic for a reason), the Texas smoked link, and the wild rice and Asiago bison sausage, which wasn’t as gamey as I thought it’d be. I actually wasn’t floored by the duck fat fries but they did the job of lending some crispiness to all the meat and starch. In the end, Hot Doug’s is definitely worthy of all the acclaim and fandom, a casual place where Doug himself still mans the counter and takes orders, the staff are super efficient at getting customers their food as quickly as possible despite the long lines, and the food is just frikkin’ delicious. 

Hot Doug’s

Menu

Well said

Smoked Texas hot link with Coca-cola BBQ sauce and habanero-jack sauce

Cheddar Jack-stuffed atomic bomb with ancho-chipotle aioli and cheese-stuffed hot peppers

Wild rice and Asiago bison sausage with chilli aioli and smoked Provolone cheese

Classic with everything

Cognac-infused pheasant sausage with fresh herb mustard, double creme brie cheese, and duck confit

 

Duck fat fries

Spread

 

Hot Doug’s
3324 North California
Chicago, IL 60618
773.279.9550

 

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