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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
April 30, 2016 § Leave a comment
My favorite restaurant, without a doubt, is Momofuku Ko in the East Village, and lately, I’ve been lucky enough to visit multiple times. Everyone there is so warm and friendly (they remember your name and your favorite dishes by your second visit), the food that chef Sean Alex Gray and his hard-working team are putting forth is as creative as any I’ve ever had (and absolutely gorgeous on the plate, without being too fussy) and the interiors and details at the new location on Extra Place are as particular and unique as the food that’s coming out. All of the accolades and praise they’ve received since their relocation and revamp are well deserved (though the only downside is that it’s now harder to get those already super-coveted counter seats). Below are the dishes (note some are older and might no longer be on the ever-changing menu) that I’ve had recently, some in their final form and some in development. One cool thing about multiple visits is seeing how specific dishes are conceived, initially executed and then refined over and over again until they’ve reached their final iteration, which still sometimes undergo changes depending on ingredients and season. That being said, I’ve never had a dish, work in progress or otherwise, that’s disappointed. Below are some standout dishes…but because I’m lazy and it already took me forever to get this post up in the first place, all you get are minimal notes from what I remember:
Bites of potato waffle, pommes soufflees, lobster paloise and millefeuille. Super high end finger food. The lobster paloise, which I’ve had multiple times now, is my favorite of any of their amuse-bouches offered so far.
Madai – consomme, shiso and finger lime…a relatively newer dish that’s now one of my favorites for its pure flavors. Lately, they’ve been serving it with sea bass instead of madai, which is a bit firmer and stands up really well.
Raw scallop with tonburi (a Japanese herb known as “caviar of the fields”) and citron. Here, paired with Kaika “Tobindori Shizuku Daiginjo” from Togichi, Japan.
An old favorite and Ko staple: uni with chickpea and hozon. I love everything about this dish – the colors, the slightly different textures and the olive oil and sea salt that make everything pop.
Razor clams with apple and basil seeds, paired with two 2014 wines from Peter Lauer. Stunning.
Oh my god…this. Caviar with potatoes that would make Joel de Robuchon cry they’re so buttery and addictive and hidden fermented radish on the bottom to cut through all that richness, served with sourdough bread and cultured butter and Tarlant champagne. Just look at those velvety potatoes and the way they’re draped in the bowl. Ugh.
Monkfish with a sauce of its liver and a sauce of poblano. Love the heavily white presentation accented by the green (also I need to figure out where the dishware came from). I was never really interested in monkfish prior but damn if this didn’t change my mind. So tender and ingenious to serve it with its own liver. Now I try to see if anywhere else has a better version. So far…no.
Crack pasta. Actually, pyramidi with broccoli and aged cheddar with just a little black truffle shaved on top. Who knew broccoli pasta could be so exciting? If they figured out a way to freeze and package this, I’d eat nothing else, carbs be damned. Paired with Andre et Mireille Tissot Cremant du Jura “Indigene” NV rinsed with Tissot “Chateau-Chalon,” Vin Jaune, both from Jura, France.
Venison with kale and olive berry, paired with 2011 Chateau Moulin de Tricot from Margaux, Bordeaux.
Another Ko favorite: foie gras with lychee, pine nut brittle and riesling jelly. Don’t really have anything to say about this other than it’s always wonderful.
Ko’s version of a creamsicle – carrot cardamom and meringue, paired with a 2013 pear cider from Cidrerie de Vulcain from Switzerland.
Chocolate cake with mint and fernet branca, paired with Zucca and root beer (?). Not typically one for desserts but the above creamsicle and this were just sweet enough without being cloying. Also, any dessert with fernet is OK by me.
And on visits that followed, some new dishes included:
Happy Valley beef with accoutrements I can’t recall that was perfectly cooked and beautiful to look at. I think the green is some kind of parsley puree. Ko also started my obsession with MUD Australia ceramics that has by now cost me a pretty penny.
New amuse-bouches: fried chicken oysters with dried honey mustard (take that, Wendy’s!), potato waffles, Ko Cheez-its and a shot of kimchi granita to offset all that fried goodness. On a following visit, we ordered another 6 pieces because we are crazy and the people there are awesome.
Lobster “bouillabaisse” with new potatoes and aioli. Just look at those colors. That sauce is one of the most shellfish-y (in a good way) sauces I’ve ever had and each time, I use their new flatbread to mop it all up.
Duck pie and greens. Can’t imagine the technique and time that goes into making this dish come out as great as it did but it was gone within 30 seconds.
An early version of the chocolate mousse and olive oil ice cream dish that’s now on the counter menu. Again, slightly bitter and barely sweet, with a nice contrast from the bergamot sauce drizzled on top.
Happy Valley beef again with a fried potato churro. That’s right. Potato. Churro. Think on this visit we had way too much wine (including a 1997 Soldera Brunello di Montalcino…life was not bad that day) so when I was hungover the next morning, 50 more of those churros delivered to my bed would’ve been really nice.
So if those above photos don’t make you go straight to the Momofuku Ko website and try to make a reservation (by the way, they’re actually open for lunch now as well), then I don’t know what will…Just do it and I can guarantee you’ll have a meal of a lifetime.
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.
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.