End to summer

August 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s still one and half weeks left before school starts up again, but summer is undeniably coming to a close. Some have already left, and I probably won’t see them for another 5-6 months or so. Others are just returning from trips abroad or finally finishing up work, and it’s really a shame that the timing all around didn’t work out better.

Yesterday, though, a group of us did manage to snag a last slice of summer bliss. After two years of discussion, we visited White Manna in Hackensack, NJ to try their no-nonsense sliders, which have had coverage in Food and Wine, Food Network, etc. And while the food was great (smothered onions in the beef, extra meaty flavor imbued from all those layers of previous grease on the griddle, soft and squishy Martin’s potato rolls) and satisfied our high expectations, friends and atmosphere added so much more.

White Manna cheeseburgers

For some odd reason, I felt a strange sense of closure, not to our friendships by any means, but just this chapter in our lives (even though I’d done the whole “graduated college, living on my own” spiel the summer before). It felt almost like one of those cheesy final scenes in movies, where, after a long trip or a huge, tumultuous conflict, two childhood buddies found themselves sitting together at the local diner and nothing else really needed to be said. Things would be ok. Different, maybe, but ok.

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Restaurant Week: Dinner at David Burke Kitchen

July 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Restaurant Week kicked off last week so Katie and I took advantage of the prix fixe dinner ($35, not including beverages, tax, and tip) at David Burke Kitchen in the mod and fancy shmancy James Hotel downtown. I’ve actually always wanted to try Burke’s dishes – usually characterized as whimsical takes on the classics – and this “urban farmhouse” approach to a restaurant was intriguing. The interior reminded me a bit of Lure Fishbar, basically because we were underground and able to see people walking by above us, but there was a great deal of light thanks to the skylight. I liked that despite the industrial decor, the restaurant actually did have that country barn feel, possibly due to the large butcher’s block table, overflowing with loaves of bread and cheeses and pots of soup broths, in the middle of dining room and the large portraits of the restaurant’s suppliers in their element.

Restaurant Week menu

As usual, we planned our meal to maximize the number of different dishes we’d be able to try. For starters, I ordered the lobster dumpling soup and Katie got the asparagus with crisped prosciutto. I loved the rich, shellfish flavor in the broth, which the waiter poured at the table, and the two lobster dumplings, filled with a coconut fennel cream, were heavenly. I only regretted that there were two of them and Katie and I could only have one each. I have to say, however, that I’m not a fan of cold asparagus, especially if it’s been boiled as opposed to roasted or grilled. The burrata, something that I’ve been wanting to try for a while, was lovely though. Insanely creamy and rich and topped with olive oil and coarse shards of sea salt, it would’ve tasted great with anything.

Lobster soup - lobster dumplings, coconut fennel cream, red watercress

Asparagus and burrata - honeydew, prosciutto, basil

Although one of our starters was somewhat underwhelming, our entrees wowed. The short ribs and cavatelli (kind of a smaller gnocchi), with wild mushrooms and truffle cream, was probably one of the best dishes I’ve had in a long time. The beef was fork tender, the mushrooms added a great earthiness to the dish, and the cavatelli, with its little ridges, did an excellent job of sopping up the savory sauce resulting from the mingled beef juices, mushroom “stock,” and truffle cream.

Short ribs and cavatelli with wild mushrooms and truffle cream

Equally impressive was the enormous pork chop and parsley onion ring dish. At first, I had difficulty cutting into the chop, which made me worry that the meat had been overcooked, but when I took a bite, it was as tender as could be. I didn’t care too much for the mango chutney (I have a hard time understanding pairings of fruit and meat), but the onion rings were well seasoned and incredibly crunchy, and the two little slabs of cumin bacon added a smoky element.

Pork chop, parsley onion rings with mango chutney and cumin bacon

We also managed to get suckered into ordering a side of smoked beef fat and jalapeno French fries for the table. I should’ve regretted it, but they were just too good.

Smoked beef fat and jalapeno French fries

Desserts were solid versions of RW standards: an apple tart and chocolate caramel fudge cake. Nothing eye-opening but nothing sub-standard either.

Apple tart with caramel sauce, vanilla ice cream, and fennel chip

Chocolate caramel fudge cake with salted caramel, goat's milk cajeta ice cream

Oh, and just another note. The red wine that we drank with our meal, Lai Lai Pinot Noir 2008, has since become a favorite, and I usually don’t even like red wine! Even more surprising, instead of coming from Burgundy (which is Pinot Noir’s original home) or California, this wine hails from the Bio Bio district in Chile. Anyway, I just thought it went very well with the food – great flavor and very smooth.

David Burke Kitchen
23 Grand Street
Soho, NY 10013
212.201.9119
http://davidburkekitchen.com

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