Lure Fishbar

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.

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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.

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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.

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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??).

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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.

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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.

Batard

April 26, 2017 § Leave a comment

Dinner at Batard in Tribeca a few weeks ago. The weather had been absolutely miserable outside that day (pouring rain, random winds) and work was crazy so to indulge in a really nice French meal before the weekend felt like a huge treat. I’d gone once before when they first opened a few years back and really enjoyed the experience but had basically since forgotten that this place is always a nice option for something a bit fancier. There are a number of options in terms of how many courses you can order but it’s actually a pretty good deal considering the amount and quality of the food. We decided to do three savory courses for $75 plus the cheese plate option since neither of us really likes dessert.

House breads and butter with sea salt on top.

Octopus “pastrami” with braised ham hock, pommery mustard and new potatoes – a Batard classic and I think it’s always been on the menu. Really interesting way to showcase octopus that I haven’t seen anywhere else plus the meaty pastrami flavors really come through.

Steak tartare with brandy, egg yolk and sourdough batard

Celeriac tortellini with black truffle coulis, cashew and cured egg yolk – really loved this dish, especially given the shitty weather outside. Earthy flavors, wonderfully tender handmade pasta and a nice crunch from the cashews

Rabbit sausage with risotto, spigarello and meyer lemon – this was really delicious and satisfying as well. Don’t know that I’d ever had rabbit sausage before but it was surprisingly delicate against the creamy risotto.

Duck breast with braised salsify, cara cara orange and crispy quinoa – really powerful citrus flavor and perfectly medium rare duck with crispy skin. Nicely executed overall and stunning to look at.

Braised porcelet shoulder with savoy cabbage, cipollini onions and miso – definitely a bit more on the comfort food side in terms of presentation but I really enjoyed the tender meat with standard onions + cabbage + potato combo. The miso didn’t come across particularly strong for me and may have gotten a bit lost in all the other flavors but still a very solid dish.

Cheese plate of Little Napoleon (bloomy-rind goat’s milk from Ann Arbor); Epoisses (stinky, delicious cow’s milk from Burgundy); Annelies (raw cow’s milk from Appenzell and Crown Heights cave-aged); Queso del Invierno (aged sheep and cow’s milk from Westminster, VT); and Bayley Hazen Blue (blue-veined raw cow’s milk from Greensboro, VT). As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have the biggest sweet tooth and Batard had a fantastic looking cheese cart in the dining room, so we opted to get a plate instead with apricot preserves and aged balsamic vinegar. Standouts were the Little Napoleon, which was super spreadable and had just the right amount of tanginess; the Epoisses…because duh, it’s Epoisses and the Bayley Hazen Blue, which was surprising since I don’t really like the funkier blues.

Overall, a really satisfying dinner with friendly service and a knowledgeable sommelier (we’d ordered a bottle of white and then red burgundy but unfortunately I can’t recall anything other than they were delicious and paired well with our dishes). It’s a great place for a date or a special occasion, where they’re serving seriously first rate food but the dining room isn’t too hush hush and actually sometimes quite boisterous. The bar is kind of small and right at the entrance so I wouldn’t choose to eat your meal there but from what I can tell, it’s surprisingly easy to get reservations, even the day of. Enjoy!

 

Eleven Madison Park

January 23, 2017 § Leave a comment

The first and only other time I’d ever been to Eleven Madison Park, temple of gastronomy and world-class service, was as a Cahill summer associate, when the world of fine-dining was still brand new and, frankly, very intimidating to me. Cindy and I finally managed to get a 9:30 p.m. reservation towards the end of our summer and stayed until around 1:00 a.m., after finishing one of the most memorable meals ever.

So it was only fitting that, when Wes was deciding which restaurants he wanted to visit before leaving us for Austin FOREVER, he chose Eleven Madison Park as one of them and rounded up a crew of Cahill’s most delinquent current and former associates for one hell of a dinner. I arrived early and tucked into a Start Me Up – bourbon, rum, strega, honey, ginger, lemon, orange bitters – at the cozy bar (where you can order a shorter tasting menu, first come, first serve) and then we were seated and started with these black and white savory cookie with apple and cheddar, basically a fancified version of Cheez-its (in the most delicious way possible).

Next, a tower of beautiful wooden boxes that slowly revealed parsnip pie; celery root with black truffle; rutabaga with celery and walnuts; salsify with garlic and thyme. The parsnip pie, with its super delicate crust, was particularly delicious.

Caviar Benedict with smoked sturgeon, ham and pickled egg yolk – a supremely elegant and expensive version of an Egg McMuffin, presented in the most beautiful tin, a replica of which we got to take home with us.

Bread course. Note also the Jono Pandolfi ceramics, all of which I wanted to tuck into my bag and take home with me.

Foie gras – seared with Brussels sprouts and lemon. You can choose between a cold terrine and the seared, though to me it’s a pretty obvious choice. It’s a small, perfectly cooked portion of foie jam-packed with flavor and a nice hit of tartness.

Lobster – butter-poached with rutabaga and pear. Gorgeous to look at and the lobster was super sweet and tender. I don’t usually care for fruit in savory dishes but liked the earthiness the pear lended to this dish.

Our next course was a vegetable course of celery root with truffle jus that was prepared table-side a la Paul Bocuse in an inflated pig’s bladder.

The plated celery root braised with black truffle. Deceptively simple looking but for a vegetable course, had all the richness and savoriness of a meat dish. The black truffle jus didn’t hurt either.

A classic EMP dish: duck, honey and lavender glazed with turnip and huckleberry. Stunning and served with some some of the lightest potatoes I’ve ever had. They tried to prematurely clear the dish and I had to reach out my hand to stop the server so I could finish the last couple bites.

Our cheese course of the cutest little cheddar tart with apple and mixed greens. Honestly, at this point, I would’ve been happy to end on this note since I don’t usually really care for dessert but we had a surprise waiting of us.

Baked Alaska, set aflame at the table, with citrus, vanilla and rum

Towards the end of our meal, we were taken on a tour of the kitchen and served the last dessert course – an ice cream with a honey-colored dessert wine made from noble rot (botrytis) grapes. Felt so lucky to have a chance to see the workings of the kitchen (which was beautiful and spotless) and the giant Miles Davis photographs they have hanging on the walls for inspiration.

Fancy food with fancy friends

The wines we’d had that night – we’d opted to order bottles instead of the pairing, which was the right decision. A Keller riesling to start and then two different, fantastic bottles of Clos Rougeard. Our meal finally came to a close with chocolate covered pretzels and a guessing game of which chocolate was made from which milk (cow, goat, buffalo or sheep), which I failed miserably.

No matter – in the end, we all came out feeling like huge winners. Such a wonderful experience, top to bottom, from the warm and friendly staff to the perfect pacing and explanation of each course to the food itself, which was beautiful, whimsical and most importantly, downright delicious. A huge thank you to the Eleven Madison Park for exceeding all expectations once again…I cannot wait to visit again.

The beautiful dining room at the end of the night.

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.

Rebelle and Bowery Meat Company

September 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

Dinner at  the lovely Rebelle, on the Bowery, with Vanessa way back. We’d tried to eat at another restaurant in the East Village but the wait was too long and we were famished for some good food and wine. Upon arriving, we were seated immediately and dug right into some crusty miche with ramp butter, raw oysters with a punchy mignonette and a glass of nice, crisp champagne. Bread, butter and oysters…a great meal in itself.

But, per usual, we didn’t stop there and ended up ordering a slew of other dishes, including the beef tartare; white asparagus and seared scallops. The beef tartare was a wonderful mix of textures – chewy, high-quality beef with a smooth sunchoke cream, spicy, pungent kick from the horseradish and garlic combination and salty crunch from sliced fried sunchokes. The seasonal white asparagus with beurre blanc and summer truffle appeared rather simple but was a highly finessed, earthy dish and the scallops with uni, turnip and squid ink balanced marine briny-ness with a pop of sweet apple.

Finally, even after all that, we were still hungry and decided to share a main course of roast duck with frisee, pistachio and pickled pearl onions. It was cooked to pink perfection with crispy skin (and just the right amount of fat left) with a delicious glaze and crunch from the nuts. The service and ambience were also all-around good, so will definitely try to come back some time, especially during the winter when the menu has changed and I’m craving a fat glass of red wine and even richer, heartier dishes.

 

Same neighborhood, different restaurant – Bowery Meat Company for an impromptu dinner as a break from work. Given how giant and rich portions were during my first visit, we decided to stick with oysters (raw and broiled) to start as opposed to any of the other appetizers and then our separate mains. Our beau soleil oysters came with pineapple cucumber salsa and the kumamotos with wasabi leaf and lemon. Refreshing and perfect for the summer. The broiled oysters with garlic, romano cheese, bread crumbs and parsley were a totally different take and though I usually prefer my oysters raw, these were so cheesy and indulgent that I kind of forgot about the beau soleils and kumamotos.


For our mains, I ordered the Bowery steak with salsa verde and whipped potato – a nice medium-rare with crusty char and a offset by the herbaceous salsa and Chris got the bone-in filet mignon au poivre. Sides were the memorable sour cream and onion hash brown we got during our first visit and then spring peas because, you know, green. A nice, quiet meal right before my summer got insanely busy, at a restaurant that’s normally quite packed, noisy and to be honest, too scene-y for my taste.

Ruffian & Salvation Burger

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.

 

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.

Momofuku Ko

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.

Paris, Part 2

April 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

Second half my Paris re-cap: Vanessa and I ate lots and lots of raw, super fresh oysters throughout our trip. It was crazy how ubiquitous they were and always so delicious (didn’t get a stinker the entire time we were there). Here is a starter before a much heavier meal at seafood-oriented Marius et Janette, right before Dita’s show at Crazy Horse.

We visited the Musee d’Orsay, one of my favorite museums in the world, and got lost in some Impressionist art one afternoon.

Browsed beautiful Astier de Villatte ceramics while shopping on the super luxurious Rue Saint Honore.

Stopped by Cafe de Flore for champagne and potato chips. This is what we loved most about Paris…falling into the leisurely habit of sitting at a sidewalk cafe, people watching and not worrying about where to hurry to next. By the end of the trip, we were total pros.

A crazy good meal at Le Servan, run by sisters Tatiana and Katia Levha, where they’re cooking up some seriously creative and slightly Asian-inflected food in an airy and almost Williamsburg-esque bistro. This was the first time Vanessa had ever had veal sweetbreads (this version was roasted and perfectly tender) and I don’t think she was disappointed.

After Le Servan, we stopped by Prescription for some really great cocktails…I think I had about 10 different kinds of booze this night (something gin + citrus based, their version of a Negroni, their version of a Penicillin, shots of rum and on and on and on) while Vanessa fell in love with their gin + tonics and kept throwing them back. By the time they were closing up shop, we were so hammered that we asked the bartenders for their late night food recommendations and at their suggestion, ended up at a place called Chez Denis in the middle of nowhere that was literally just a bistro open late. Groups of inebriated people were eating full meals with bottles of wine at 5 in the morning and neither of us could comprehend how the French could eat so much but there you have it.

Some more culture…this time at the Musee de l’Orangerie right on the edge of the Jardins des Tuileries, which I’d never visited before. We started with the two stunning circular rooms of Claude Monet’s water lilies, where we just sat there for a long while to take everything in, and then progressed through the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume collection.

I also really love works by the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, so when I found out there was a standalone exhibit of his works and studio near the Centre Pompidou (admission is free, by the way), we popped by for a quick visit (the atelier is only four rooms). I mean…just look at that! I really liked that he was so particular and personally tied to his pieces that he planned exactly which sculpture went where and even refused to sell pieces that were especially dear to him.

Tasting menu at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in the Saint Germain neighborhood. While not as thrilling as I thought it would be (there were also a lot of Americans there, which made it feel more like a tourist destination than anything else), the service was impeccable and some of the dishes were truly standout, such as this chestnut soup with seared foie gras hidden beneath.

A flower vendor on a romantic rainy day…

The awe-inspiring stained glass windows at Sainte-Chappelle on the Ile de la Cite in the heart of Paris.

My crazy-good braised veal cheeks and buttery potatoes at the homey, modest-looking Chez L’Ami Jean. This meal, even though relatively low-key compared to some others we had, was among my favorites. We started with a comforting Parmesan soup that was perfect for the rainy weather, this as a main dish (goddamn, those potatoes) and then the biggest and richest bowl of rice pudding (with candied nuts and salted caramel sauce) that anyone had ever seen. It was also very cool to see the chef Stephane Jego and his cooks plating each dish in the open kitchen.

More art, this time at the relatively new Frank Gehry-designed Louis Vuitton Foundation, which was currently featuring contemporary Chinese artists. Below is a photo of the gorgeous grotto on the lower level.

Our last dinner at David Toutain was another highlight. Everything about the restaurant – the interiors, the ceramics and flatware, the service (our hip-looking server actually lived and worked in Brooklyn for a while) and of course, the food, was incredible. There was a smoked eel dish in black sesame that absolutely blew our minds and the below, perfectly cooked lamb with asparagus and spring vegetables. Amazing. We were so sad our trip was coming to an end.

After dinner, we went to a bar called Le Calbar, where all the friendly bartenders were serving well-made cocktails in their boxers. Yet again, we met some friendly locals and ended up closing down the bar. A great last night out.

Our last day in Paris consisted of a lot of shopping and running errands before our flight. I stopped in Deyrolle, mainly to ogle the gorgeous displays of insects and butterflies, and considering picking up something but couldn’t figure out how to fit a fragile glass frame in my already-stuffed suitcase. So sad.

Sigh…last lunch at our good ol’ Cafe Varenne. It’d become our place for morning coffee and breaks in the middle of the day and now, we were having our last meal of charcuterie, cheese and frites. It was a beautiful sunny day and we got to sit outside and enjoy our last bit of freedom before heading home to New York. It was, all in all, a dream trip where we got to eat and drink extremely well, meet some warm and friendly locals, experience art and culture and most importantly, just relax and soak up the beauty of Paris as much as we possibly could. It was so hard to leave (I was thinking about my next trip on the flight back) and settle back into reality upon our return (though I did pick up some good butter and a jar of cornichons at Murray’s Cheese the morning after I got back) but I know that I will be back soon.

 

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