Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Aurora by Morning

There are not many Italian places to dine in uber-Polish Greenpoint. This is a fact, and I have accepted it. So when I get a craving for a heavy carb meal like my grandma used to make, Rob and I usually head to Williamsburg for some Fiore action. While its good and all, the menu can get old kind of fast and I've been craving something different. This is where Aurora on Grand Street -- also in Williamsburg -- comes in.

I've seen it many times on my sporadic trips to Sprout, the cutest little flower shop you'd ever hope to see. I never thought to go back, though, until Shivaun was in the area for a small eclectic jewelry shop. I guess the Grand Street/Wythe Ave area really is a great destination for odd shopping.

It turns out to be the perfect spot for brunch. There was no wait, unlike most places near our apartment at noon on a Sunday. The atmosphere was rustic and quaint. We sat in the clear-covered garden area so we could both enjoy the sun and not freeze. AND they were playing Elliott Smith. This is basically my idea of brunch heaven.

The menu had quite a few interesting and unique items. I was intrigued by the fried poached egg option, as I've never had a poached egg prepared any way but regularly poached. It was actually really good, crispy on the outside but not too affected on the inside. In came sitting atop smoky prosciutto and a small mound of soft polenta. The flavors and textures played really well together, but it was not enough food for a hungry person such as myself.

So that's why I ended up eating a lot of Shivaun's frittata. Sorry Shivaun. (How did this blog become such a forum for apologies?) It was baked with goat cheese, zuchiniand a few other goodies. I thought the goat cheese was a really great touch, as I've found that frittatas tend to blandify when they're baked. Goat cheese to the rescue!

Rob took the fancy route and ordered the L' Anatra -- duck confit & bacon hash with organic poached egg & baby spinach. Great combination of flavors and one of the more fun brunch items I've seen in awhile. Unfortunately, he didn't get much of a portion either. But that's really the only negative thing I can say about Aurora's brunch. Well, that and no credit cards. What's with all the cash-only places recently? Since when is cash king again?? I demand to know.

I was so enchanted by brunch that I dragged Rob out to Aurora for dinner a few days later. It was good, but not as impressive as I had hoped. I guess the place is aptly named, then, since Aurora is the Roman goddess of the dawn. In my eyes, she is the Brooklyn goddess of the poached egg.

The appetizers were definitely the strongest points of the meal. The ricotta tart was simple and rustic, with the outer layer of dough gently folded over the cheese. Pork belly with seared scallop and beans were also really good. I love these items together, despite the fact that they are not a very original threesome. The fresh flavors and soft textures do a great job piquing your appetite.

The entrees, on the other hand, were a little weak. The pasta was obviously fresh, but both our dishes were a little tasteless. I was expecting anything but bland when I ordered the chestnut flavored, roughly cut pasta with braised beef short rib ragu. I did not detect any chestnut flavor, and while the short rib had a great consistency, it was definitely missing something. Rob felt the same away about his dinner, spaghetti with clams and tomatoes. Maybe they were a little too lighthanded with the salt that evening?

Dessert was an apple tart with caramel and vanilla ice cream. It was a nice way to end the meal.
Well, despite dinner being sort of a disappointment, this place has its redeeming factors. Brunch, for instance. Appetizers. A really great wine list and a pretty authentic rustic vibe. Can't you just feel the warmth by looking at this terribly lit iPhone pic?

(My apologies for forgetting my real camera. And now I'm done apologizing... at least for this post!)

70 Grand St (between Kent Ave & Wythe Ave)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 388-5100

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Southern Food for the Soul -- Egg and The Redhead

This spring I had the pleasure of dining at two fairly hyped Southern cuisine spots with short cutesy names: Egg in Williamsburg and The Redhead in the East Village. While I did not indulge in any grits, black eyed peas or other super traditional south of the Mason-Dixon favorites, I must say that both experiences were pretty enjoyable.

Rob and I visted Egg both for breakfast and dinner over the past month, and as you probably guessed, its breakfast is much better. The OJ tastes like you're sucking on an orange still ripening on the tree, and the coffee is strong and comes in individual french presses. I am a big fan of this. I also like to draw palm trees on the white tabletops with crayons while I wait for my food. A few drawbacks though -- the wait for brunch on the weekends can be insane and the barren white wall decor leaves something to be desired. And no credit cards.

As for the brunch itself: Rob had the chorizo and salsa verde and it came with an insane amount of chorizo. I didn't think there was enough to offset all the spicy meat, but I don't really remember because I forgot my camera that morning. I had the biscuits in sausage gravy. I believe the biscuits had the right amount of stick-to-the-inside-of-your-mouth-ness to satisfy the craving, and the cream base was good and satisfying, if not a little heavy.

We headed back for dinner, when we knew it'd be quieter. I had the chorizo sandwich and I should have known, they sure like to give that chorizo away! It was impossible to pick up the sandwich because it was heavy and chorizo was falling out and the bun was sticking to the plate, so I had to eat it with a fork and knife -- not quite what you want to do when you just want to pick the thing up and take a bite. It was tasty and all, just the same chorizo from brunch on a roll. Yawn. Rob's duck breast and duck leg in "dirty rice" (which included duck heart) was pretty amazing though. Nice juicy meat that soaked into the rice for the perfect soppy bite... man, I should have ordered that. Next time. Maybe.

135 N 5th St
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 302-5151

We headed over to The Redhead sometime during March Madness when our friends Sam and Virginia came to visit. There were two reasons we chose this place: 1) I've heard good things and 2) it was only a block away from Momofuku Milk Bar, which we had yet to try. I was underwhelmed with the bakery but very happy to have experienced The Redhead.

The place is cozy and warm without being pretentious -- brick walls, tv in the corner of the bar, family patrons of all ages. Also had a really hard time choosing something off the menu because I wanted to eat it all. We finally narrowed it down to a reasonable amount of apps, and The Redhead did not disappoint. I loved the bibb salad with hazelnuts, bacon and cheddar dressing. The perfect amount of salty and sweet to spice up a salad. The homemade waffle chips with homemade onion sauce was surprisingly addicting. Seared scallops were good, but standard -- no frills.

I would have thought that this was one of the places where the apps outshine the entrees, but then they placed the fried chicken in front of me and I knew I was wrong. I'm not normally a fried chicken person (well, I haven't been since sophomore year...) but this might be enough to turn me back. The friendly people next to us claimed they were fried chicken fanatics and that this was the best they'd ever had. Good enough for me. Super crunchy on the outside and extra juicy on the inside, salty all around. Fantastic. Rob got the grits with shrimp and andouille, which I thought was phenomenal. The grits were "gritty" in just the right way, and the cornbread had the perfect amount of butter baked into them.

Sam had the salmon, which he said he enjoyed. He gets salmon everywhere he goes, so he knows what he is talking about. Sorry I cut your eyes out of this picture, Sam. Virginia got the well-done burger which I did not take a picture of because it hurts me to see overdone meat. I am sorry for that, too.

The Redhead
349 E 13th St (between 1st Ave & 2nd Ave)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 533-6212

So we weren't really hungry for it but of course we had to check out Momofuku Milk. The complete opposite of what we had just experienced. The place was so overcrowded that Sam said it was more like a nightclub than a bakery. He was right. Kind of obnoxious when you just want something sweet and quick. Rob's chocolate chocolate chip cookie was too bitter for me and needed milk -- which we did not buy because it was so overpriced to begin with -- and my bavarian cream soft serve was unique and all, but not worth elbowing your way through an overdressed crowd to get to the surly counter people.

Momofuku Bakery/Milk Bar
207 2nd Ave (between 12th St & 13th St)
New York, NY 10003
(212) 254-3500

In summary: I think I'm turned on to Southern cuisine now and would like to try a more traditional, non-NYC-fusion spot next time. However, I'll be back to Egg to sample their famous Eggs Rothko, and I will definitely be back to the Redhead to have one of everything. I will probably skip dessert.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Churning Out Winners at the Doughnut Plant

Sunday was such a gorgeous day that upon stepping outside, Rob and I immediately abandoned our movie theater plans to wander aimlessly around in the (finally) rainless day. Not knowing where we were headed, we followed our feet down Greenpoint, into Williamsburg, and across the Williamsburg bridge. Before we were halfway across, I think we both knew what stop was next. Last time we were on this bridge, it was a Sunday afternoon. We were in a car with Adib and Kelly. And we were headed to the Doughnut Plant.

I'm not a donut connoisseur by any measure of the word, so you can bet I wouldn't know a good donut from a bad one. So I have to wonder that if a place so consistently crowded (like the Donut Plant) is actually good or just clever hype. I've examined my donut statistics and come up with a
few interesting, if meaningless, pieces of info. First, I've noticed a trend: people flock to places where they spell "doughnut" the longhand way. I guess it makes it look more traditional, and therefore more desireable? But these donuts are
anything but traditional. Some of their donuts are even square. Edgy, right? I don't think I'm giving them enough credit. New Yorkers are generally uninterested in gimmicks. I think this place has genuinely earned its true fried dough wings on product alone.

Well, strange marketing speculation (and my inner monologue rambling) aside, these donuts (or doughnuts) are pretty darn good and might be worth the hype. The consistency is different from any donut I've had before because of its chewiness. It resists your bite better than any Krispy Kreme ever did. The dough themselves are not very sweet, but the sticky glaze on top makes up for it and reminds you of what you're eating. It's not so much that it's the best I've ever had. It's just donut, redefined. And the flavors are not typical either. Where else can you get a PB&J filled donut?

On our last visit, we tried the myers lemon glaze (sweet and bitter at the same time), the vanilla bean glaze (my personal favorite), and a chocolate cake donut (I'm not a cake donut fan). This time we tried the cashew. The dough again is what surprises you, I want to call it "extra chewy" but I know that's not right, so I'm going with "slightly springy" and "donut al dente" for lack of a better phrase. The cashew-studded glaze, though, was forgettable. Next time, I'm trying the creme brulee. The only reason we didn't get it this time is because its literally the smallest donut they have, but they sure rave about them on yelp.

Unfortunately, this place is really tiny, so if you don't get a spot on the bench outside you're SOL, that is of course unless you have a friend to drive you back over that bridge.
The next step, obviously, was to make our way down to Chinatown for some pork soup dumplings at Nice Green Bo. Still a great bargain and decent dumpling, but I'm open to suggestions on a new pork bun spot if anyone has any ideas.

Doughnut Plant
379 Grand St
(between Essex St & Norfolk St)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 505-3700

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Friday Night Beer Tasting at Brouwerij Lane

Two weekends ago, a little beer shop called Brouwerij Lane popped up about half a block down the street from us. I kept meaning to go but when I heard they were having a $2 beer tasting on Friday night, I stopped putting it off.

I'm glad I did. I was really impressed with their beer selection -- over 150 bottles, and many I had never heard of. Rob recognized some from his travels in Germany. That's probably a good sign.

They have ten beers on tap, and they switch up their selection quite a bit. They actually keep an updated list on their blog which is pretty cool. While these are usually reserved for $10 growlers, Friday was the first night you could try before you buy. They had a nice little atmosphere for a beer store: a couple of makeshift tables and chairs (aka boards on upturned crates) and a woodfire in back. The guys working there seemed really nice too. Nice that we finally have a great alternative to buying the same old stuff at the bodegas.
Brouwerij Lane
78 Greenpoint Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11222
*4/14 Update -- They now have beer tasting during all business hours!! WOOHOO!