September 6, 2017 § Leave a comment
It’d been years since I last visited Lure Fishbar, the yacht-looking, below-street-level seafood restaurant in SoHo right under the Prada store, but after a random visit with Jackie early in the summer, it’s become a favorite yet again. Twice we sat at the sushi bar for an impromptu seafood meal and once we sat in one of the really cushy banquettes for a Father’s Day and belated Mama Quan’s birthday dinner and each time, had a really enjoyable experience.
At the sushi bar in the back of the restaurant, a typical dinner starts with just-out-of-the-fryer salt & vinegar chips and a glass of bubbly
One reason we preferred the sushi bar when it was just the two of us were the complimentary little bites the sushi chefs would send over. Here, a refreshing kanpachi crudo with yuzu and ponzo sauce
More free bites – this one, a much more substantial bite of spicy tuna and avocado over scaldingly hot crispy rice. Certainly not traditional in any sense but damn, it tasted good.
The Dynamite roll of spicy scallop topped with spicy tuna, yellowtail and tobiko and the Shazam roll of yellowtail, salmon, avocado and kewpie topped with tuna. Despite lately favoring more traditional omakase-style dinners with an emphasis on nigiri, I really enjoyed the freshness and wackiness of the rolls at Lure Fishbar. The Dynamite was particularly good given the sweetness of the scallop against the spicy mayo (of which there wasn’t an overwhelming amount) and fresh fish on top. Plus, they’re pretty stunning to look at.
Oyster sampler – Beau Soleils with pineapple relish; Blue Points with caviar and creme fraiche; Kushi with jalapeno ponzu; and Kumamoto with wasabi leaf. I didn’t care for the Blue Points – they were a bit too big for me personally and something about the creme fraiche didn’t sit great with me – but the Beau Soleils and Kushi were dressed beautifully and not too large.
If I see anything with sea urchin on the menu, odds are I’ll try it at least once. Here, sea urchin bucatini with blue crab, garlic, crushed red pepper and breadcrumbs. Nicely executed and appreciated the kick from the red pepper and the generous amount of garlic, neither of which overpowered the substantial amount of buttery uni. Delicious.
For our Father’s Day and Mom’s birthday dinner, we ordered the whole stuffed lobster with seafood stuff, garlic-chili butter and grilled lemon; tempura shrimp with spicy sesame mayo and grilled octopus with chickpea puree, celery and lime-Aleppo pepper dressing. Not a dud in the mix. We especially liked the super tender octopus for its Mediterranean flavors.
For Jackie’s last dinner in NYC this summer, we stopped by the sushi bar again, this time starting with a salad of field greens with pickled peaches, goat cheese, chicory and poppy seed vinaigrette. I don’t usually like fruit in savory foods but the peaches were tart and still firm to give an interesting texture to the dish.
A generous crab cake with fresh corn and tomato salad and lime aioli. Flavors of summer in one dish.
Kenai roll of spicy wild king salmon, cucumber, scallions and fried shallot and the Shazam roll again.
A classic lobster roll with warm chips and coleslaw to round out the summer. Appreciated that it was an overflowing amount of sweet, perfectly cooked lobster that was barely dressed in mayo and garnished with chives.
I think sometimes Lure Fishbar can be a bit of a scene and the prices are certainly pretty steep for it to be a casual haunt, but given my past few visits and the surprisingly high calibre of seafood and service each time, it’s definitely worth the occasional splurge.
Cafe Altro Paradiso
August 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
There are lots of wonderful restaurants and bars in my neighborhood, but Cafe Altro Paradiso is my latest obsession and I think I’ve been 4 or 5 times in the last month or so. Its location is a bit odd as it’s set back from 6th Avenue on Spring Street behind a small square that’s almost always under some kind of construction but once you walk inside, you’re welcomed into a beautiful, airy and light-filled space with a decently sized brass bar. Also, as someone who is constantly craving Italian food, I love that the menu features a lighter touch on pastas and main dishes, which is better for the summer, as opposed to the classic Roman-style food at Lupa (which I will always love despite the fact that it doesn’t do my waistline any favors).
I typically like to go by myself on the weekends for a late lunch and sit at the bar and love that they stay open between lunch and dinner service with a smaller menu. My favorite cocktail there is the Skinned Knee (tequila, mezcal, Cynar, grapefruit, lemon and orange) and I start with the arancini, addictive crispy rice fritters filled with piping hot and gooey fontina that comes with a spicy Calabrian chili sauce, with the perfect hit of vinegar. They also have a refreshing fennel salad with Castelvetrano olives and provolone. It comes out looking like a giant heap of white sliced vegetables but once you begin to dig in, there’s lovely snaps of sharp cheese and buttery olives and you actually get to feel quite virtuous eating it.
On another visit, I ordered the prawn crudo with cherries and capers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like it’s still on the menu, but I really, really loved this dish. Not only was it beautifully presented but I liked that the crudo was sliced razor thin and the sweet cherries and briny capers balanced each other out nicely. Perfect summer dish.
One other visit, I had the burrata with roasted peppers, raisins and capers. Again, wonderful for the summer and even though I usually don’t like fruit in savory dishes, the plump raisins were a nice touch against creamy, fresh burrata and the smoky-flavored peppers. Also, I need to figure out what olive oil they use because it may be some of the best I’ve had.
My most recent visit, I ordered the malfatti, these cloud-light ricotta dumplings with cherry tomatoes, pancetta and pecorino. I couldn’t believe how quickly these melted in my mouth and really appreciated the meatiness and savoriness of the pancetta. I definitely need to go back and have it one more time before the tomato season ends (by the way, it’s a bit insane that it’s already mid-August…where has the summer gone??).
I’m not usually a dessert person, but during my last visit, I ended up at the bar for a good three hours or so, when Jackie could finally join me after work. She’s a big ice cream fanatic and so we ordered the blood-orange Campari sorbet and fig-vin santo gelato, both of which were interesting flavors and delicious. The sorbet was my favorite for its slight bitterness and citrusy bite.
Ever since my first meal here, I’ve been raving about Altro Paradiso to anyone who’d listen. It’s a perfect neighborhood spot where you can come in with a bigger group, order everything and have a fun, rowdy dinner or you can go in solo and just hang out at the bar and have too many cocktails with an antipasti platter. The service is always so friendly and chill and though it can get packed during dinner on the weekends, for lunch it’s one of my favorite places to go. In fact, I’ll probably find myself back there this coming weekend.
April 8, 2017 § Leave a comment
Lately, when splurging on dinner, I’ve preferred doing omakase menus instead of European-style tasting menus since you come out feeling satisfied but not weighed down by super rich sauces and the like and Ichimura in TriBeCa has possibly the best omakase offering I’ve ever had in NYC. It’s 10 seats (two seatings each night at 6 and 9pm) in a minimalist setting and Chef Ichimura’s emphasis on aging fish to optimize flavor and texture results in some seriously delicious fish. Once again…too lazy to go into detail but I actually did manage to note what each piece was. It’s well worth the visit if you can manage to get a reservation and Chef Ichimura, who was literally doing all the fish preparation himself, was so adorable and soft-spoken that I wanted to adopt him as my grandpa.
Baby eel; roe and cod tartare; orange clam
Chawanmushi – perfectly jiggly
Sashimi of abalone; octopus; fluke; golden snapper; shima aji
Smoked bamboo shoot. Super clean flavors and a nice toothsomeness.
The beautiful bar and no surprise, Zalto glassware.
Needle fish – almost too pretty to eat. Almost.
Spanish mackerel belly – this was a standout and a great example of how aging can firm up the texture of fish.
Horse mackerel – again, such a pretty piece
Medium fatty tuna
Hokkaido uni – always a favorite and super generous with the uni
Baby shrimp – super sweet and a new favorite of mine
Eel – just cooked and warm to the touch. Really enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t drowned in any sauces
Chef Ichimura doing his magic
Fatty tuna – oh snap. Three butterflied layers of the butteriest toro. I almost passed out.
Dessert – simple green tea ice cream with mochi and other fixings. Just the right amount of sweetness.
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!
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.
June 19, 2016 § Leave a comment
Remembering when I still had it easy at work and weekends were free…just need to make it through June 30. Here – a lazy Sunday lunch at the Via Carota bar, starting with fried green olives with pork sausage and a superb negroni
A huge, hands-only kamayan feast featuring banana ketchup ribs, longanisa sausage, whole head-on shrimp, braised lamb, etc. at Filipino gastropub, Jeepney, in East Village with Cahill friends. Total gut bomb.
The Macho Man sandwich from a new favorite, Court Street Grocers – heritage pork shoulder, cabot cheddar, coleslaw, pickled jalapenos and duck sauce on garlic bread. Between this, the Delight and the Cubano, I can order from here about 4 times a week. So dangerous.
Dinner with Artemis at Mario Batali’s new restaurant, La Sirena, in the Meatpacking District. Bucatini with braised octopus in spicy pomodoro sauce and then ravioli all’amatriciana with spring onion butter…quite tasty but wasn’t crazy about the atmosphere, the service or the scene
Lunch at Legend near Washington Square Park with the family. We ordered our usual dishes – spicy lamb with cumin, spicy beef tendon with chili vinaigrette and a seriously delicious whole braised fish with spicy bean sauce – and went for a really long walk afterwards to recover
Sunday night shellfish bake at North End Grill – half a Maine lobster, head-on prawns, clams, new potatoes and corn in an addictive garlic butter and then sweet gem lettuce and blue cheese dressing on the side. Not pictured: duck fat fries and a lot of white wine.
The famous, substantial duck carnitas at Cosme…’nuff said.
Late night eats at Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken…my ultimate weakness.
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.
Santina and High Street on Hudson
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.
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!