Solo Dining at the Bar

March 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

I’m a huge fan of solo bar dining when I get a lazy and quiet Saturday or Sunday. Some people are tentative about dining alone but it can be really enjoyable to take some time to oneself with a good book or even your phone. Usually, I try to go to a restaurant during off hours, around 3pm (assuming the restaurant remains open between lunch and dinner service), so I can take up my little slice of the bar and chat with the bartender or other patrons without having to yell. Below are some places I’ve gone to recently where I really enjoyed my experience:

Via Carota: Spicy shrimp pomodoro atop a super flavorful, slightly cheesy polenta. I also always start with the fried olives wrapped in pork sausage…the perfect bar food.

Aquagrill: Oysters and littlenecks with house cocktail sauce, horseradish and mignonette. This place has been open for 20+ years and tends to get pretty packed during prime lunch, brunch and dinner hours but around 3pm, you can usually snag a seat. My usual approach is ordering 6 west coast and 6 east oysters – I leave the particular details to the awesome shuckers – and then some sparkling white wine and maybe french fries on the side.

Union Square Cafe 2.0: The new space is gorgeous and definitely evocative of the original. Service was, as expected, incredibly friendly, and I really enjoyed my spontaneous lunch here when I took a day off. There’s a small bar on one of the upper levels as well so will definitely want to go back and get a seat there next time.

Fried calamari with peppers and anchovy mayonnaise

Rainbow trout with roe, rye, leafy greens, buttermilk and fingerling potatoes

Babbo: I came here for an early dinner after skipping lunch. Vibe at the bar is super casual and low-key even though the food is a bit more high end than Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s more casual places in the neighborhood like Lupa and OTTO. Here, a fantastic roasted butternut squash with goat cheese and black truffle honey that was the right balance of sweet and savory.

Chianti-stained pappardelle with wild boar ragu. Excellent for the early cold evening.

Augustine: There’s been a lot of hype surrounding this place (it’s Keith McNally’s most recent restaurant) but have to say the food and the ambiance lived up to expectations. It really does feel like you’re in an old school Parisian bistro (also…the way to the bathroom takes you through the incredibly beautiful Beekman Hotel lobby that’s perfect Instagram fodder) and my cheese souffle with cave-aged gruyere and parmesan and horseradish fondue was absolutely insane. Rich and cloud light at the same time.

I also ordered the sea urchin spaghettini with king crab and pickled jalapenos with my main and they did not skimp on the ingredients. So damned good, and at 3:30p on a Wednesday, so quiet compared to what I’m sure is a madhouse on a Friday night!

The lobby inside the Beekman Hotel

Finally, the NoMad Hotel: Excellent cocktails and a sandwich version of their famous roasted chicken dish, with black truffle and foie gras on brioche and a side salad (because I guess you need some green every once in a while). The cocktail was called the Start Me Up, a super tasty concoction of bourbon, rum, strega, honey, ginger, lemon bitters. A great Saturday afternoon.

So even if you’re tentative about dining alone at the bar, I really do think it’s one of the most relaxing and stress-releasing things you can do for yourself. It’s probably easiest to go to a restaurant you’re already familiar with so you feel comfortable and just remember to bring a good book (or your iPad) and open yourself up to conversation with the bartenders or other customers. Sometimes you meeting really fascinating people!

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Back to the NoMad

July 13, 2015 § Leave a comment

Visited the NoMad for the second time back in late May and had an even better experience than the first! Started with the fruits de mer “le grand plateau”, a beautiful selection of prepared raw seafood and the chicken liver mousse with pickles and rye bread, which was a favorite from the previous time. At this point in our meal, we got to meet Becky Quan (!), one of the NoMad pastry chefs who I’d spoken with online after my first post on the NoMad and who brought out their highly addictive potato-onion-caraway bread and butter. Such a small world! And the in-person introduction made the rest of our meal even more fun and memorable.

We then progressed to the mackerel cured with buttermilk, peas and nasturtium, which looked absolutely stunning on the plate and tasted so bright and clean. I hadn’t really eaten much mackerel before but since this meal, I’ve actually ordered it more often when on the menu because this dish left such a great impression (and only a few other versions have been as good). We also ordered the foie gras with rhubarb, celery and pistachio, which had everything you could possibly want in a foie dish. There was creamy and smooth against crunch, sweet and tart against fatty and herbaceous. So predictable of me but I really enjoyed this dish (and I dare anyone else not to). Our sommelier of the night also gave us a great wine recommendation – a Sicilian red with dry ripe fruit notes and hints of spice and tobacco – that paired well with all our courses and never overwhelmed.

For our main dish, we ordered the roast chicken for two (duh). Just as great as the first time – the combination of black truffles and (more) foie is so heady and I can never understand how they manage to keep the breast meat so juicy. And that “stuffing” of dark meat was just as outrageous and rich as I remembered.

For our dessert, we ordered the milk and honey with shortbread, brittle and ice cream and were also surprised with a complimentary strawberry cheese cake dessert courtesy of Becky Quan, Pastry Chef. While I loved both, I preferred the classic and simpler milk and honey, which had nice savory elements as well, which worked out perfectly because Ameya had basically finished the strawberry cheesecake by the time I looked up again from my plate. Can’t say enough how much we enjoyed our dinner here (thanks not only to Becky but also to James, our wonderful server who answered all of our questions and even shared the name of the artist who crafted all of the NoMad’s beautiful ceramics that I’d been obsessing over throughout the course of our meal). I’m already dreaming of the next time!

Also, even if you’re not able to stop by for a meal, I would highly recommend the NoMad bars (I like the Elephant Bar that’s connected to the restaurant itself but there’s also a separate, larger bar with its own entrance on 28th street that serves slightly more casual food). Well-crafted cocktails and though I don’t drink too much brown liquor, I’ve heard from various sources that they serve the best Manhattans in the city. 🙂

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.

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