Paris, Part 1

April 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

Vanessa and I recently went on a dream trip to Paris and by the end, neither of us wanted to come back. Both of us had visited before so our main objectives this time around were simply eating and drinking as much great food and wine as possible, wandering aimlessly a la flaneur, meeting cute French guys and getting in some serious shopping, all of which we handily accomplished and then some.

We stayed in a seriously gorgeous AirBnb 2 bedroom apartment on the left bank in the St. Germain area, a neighborhood I fell in love with the last time I visited, full of charming boutiques and bistros and of course…the department store, Le Bon Marche. Assuming that I get to visit Paris more regularly in the future, I would stay here again and again.

We had our first lunch at Cafe Varenne, just down the street from our apartment and a sentimental favorite from my last time in Paris. A bottle of red wine (by the way, we couldn’t get over how inexpensive great red wine was in Paris…it made NYC prices look like absolute gouging), steak and frites and we were super happy campers, despite the lack of sleep.

Dinner at the super hip, draped-in-velvet Hotel Costes…where you could smoke on the terrace and all the servers were beautiful. We shared a bottle of champagne and then I had a lighter dinner of sweet, freshly grilled langoustines with some greens.

Another epic meal of the trip at L’Avant Comptoir, the standing-only bar next to the famous bistro, Le Comptoir. We had SO much fun here just drinking and eating small bites and shocking the bartender, Baptiste, at how much we could stuff down our gullets over the course of about six (yes, that’s right, six) hours. I really loved the communal Bordier butter (Vanessa became obsessed) and bread as well as the giant jar of cornichons (NYC DOH would have fainted). Also…there were a lot of cute, friendly French men here which may have contributed to why we stayed so long…

Menu items hanging from the ceiling

Some of the 16 dishes (again…it was an epic meal) that we ordered over the course of several hours – duck sausage hot dog, blood sausage with brandied apples, shishito peppers, giant slab of Bordier butter, gratineed scallop and oh…just our third bottle of wine…

One of the most special meals we had was a lunch at L’Arpege, a 3-Michelin starred restaurant with a focus on vegetables (which we were actually thankful for after our meat-heavy binge at L’Avant Comptoir). We started with more champagne (a habit we eagerly adopted during the rest of our trip) and the lightest black pepper and onion pastry.

Some other highlights of the tasting menu were the perfectly cooked Dover sole with charred cabbage and their version of bouillabaisse. Such bright and clean flavors and again, surprisingly light. Just look at those pops of color!

Some non-food related activities: a visit to Sacre Coeur in the Montmartre neighborhood and then seeing Dita von Teese (one of my ultimate girl crushes) perform a seriously amazing show at the famous club, Crazy Horse.

Stayed tuned for more in the next post!

Empellon Push Project

March 20, 2016 § Leave a comment

Photos from this winter’s Push Project (super behind on posting), an amazing and delicious collaboration between Albert Adria (of the now-closed El Bulli) and Paco Mendez of Hoja Santa in Barcelona and Alex Stupak of Empellon Cocina. It featured a great mix of Mexican and Spanish food, traditional and super-modern, and tons of booze (let’s just say we started and ended with shots of mezcal). Such a treat and afterwards, I made a note to add Stupak’s Kitchen Table at Empellon Cocina to my list of reservations to make.

Wellfleet blood clams (a little bit strange looking but delicious and briny) with frozen sangrita and the aforementioned mezcal shot. Woo!

   Pickled vegetables, crunchy hoja santa (literally tasted like a crunchy, slightly sweet leaf), cantina olives (an El Bulli classic…spherified olives that exploded in our mouths) and corn jicara with pipicha oil and chipotle with a giant, refreshing saffron margarita

Smooth and silky avocado gazpacho with a whole bottle of Allende beer (we ended up having two each actually)

Black truffle quesadilla

Mini Pueblan-style sandwich with fried abalone (a tiny po’boy)

Mixed seafood cocktail with spicy ketchup

Red onion x-ni-pek

Papantla-style pipian with Maine lobster (yes, we each had half a lobster for this course – so pretty and so good) paired with a cider

Pork ribs in Grandma Flor’s adobo (one of the more traditional dishes, but also one of my favorites)

Mole with sweet potato and fruit with a red wine

Milk-soaked sponge cake with kabocha squash and pecan ice with…sherry? I can’t remember and honestly, at this point in the dinner, with all the different kinds of alcohol we’d already had, I was feeling pretty lit.

Corn, chocolate and cajeta (the perfect dessert…not too sweet)

Chicory flan with duck egg yolk and orange sorbet with sal de gusanos

The Modern

March 3, 2016 § Leave a comment

From a while back: dinner at The Modern at MOMA with CGR girls. I’d been to The Modern only once before and that was a few years back in the Bar Room when Gabriel Kreuther was still chef and I couldn’t drink because I was under 21, so it was nice to see the improvements they’ve made since Abram Bissell took the helm. In the more formal dining room, where we were, you can choose between three, four or seven courses so we decided to go with four. Service throughout was warm and attentive and Chase, the sommelier, provided some really great wine recommendations. It was a seriously special night out and so much fun to catch up with girlfriends I see in the office every day without actually talking about work. Some of these dishes have since dropped from the menu due to the season so apologies for not being able to remember the details or other diners’ dishes.

Amuse-bouche to start

Complimentary butternut squash soup with truffle foam (one of my favorite dishes of the night) and a glass of Billecart-Salmon champagne (well, 2 actually)

Bread course – pretzel croissants and rolls…I think we asked for seconds of these.

My first course: lobster and beet salad with creamy sorrel dressing. Super tender and sweet lobster that matched well with the more tangy sauce. Chase recommended a bottle of 1992 Vouvray – very smooth with a great acidity and a nice finish.

My second course: roasted foie gras with lemons, red endive and quince. I wasn’t about to pass up a chance to eat foie and this was a stellar take. There was sweetness from the quince, slight bitterness from the endive and acidity from the lemon and then when paired with 1989 Sauternes (my birth year!) as recommended by our server, I was in heaven.

Another second course dish (unfortunately I can’t recall what it was).

Third course: roasted beef and bone marrow with truffle jus, new potato and radishes paired with 1998 Cahors. Earthy and, surprisingly, not too heavy considering it’s essentially meat and potatoes.

Other third courses: one, I believe, to be seabass and another, duck.

Mango + coconut shumai as a nice palate cleanser.

My dessert: sweet corn custard with blackberry and mozzarella sorbet. Any dessert with corn, I can’t really resist, and I was also intrigued by the mozzarella sorbet, which turned out to be very subtle. Chase also offered complimentary glasses of Chartreuse to go with our dessert, a very nice touch.

Another chocolate dessert and the cheese course for Vanessa, who like me, usually doesn’t like super rich sweets.

Since this initial visit, I’ve been back to the Bar Room a couple times and though the dishes are different and the setting is a bit more casual, execution and service were still so on point. I’d highly recommend the dining room for special occasions and the bar room for more impromptu visits, especially if you’re just looking to get a couple bites to eat (the crab fritters were super tasty) and trying some of the stellar cocktails.

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).

 

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