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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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.

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