Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pretty Cupcakes!

I think Crumbs is tastier, but Magnolia definitely wins in the looks department.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Late Autumn Ramen

"The passing of autumn leaves a temporary blank, an empty hole in the year that is not of a season at all." -Haruki Muakami

Yep... I think this is the best time of year for ramen. I think I'm over pho, at least for now, as I'm finally discovering the joys of ramen (which, turns out, does not always include that neon-colored fishcake). And this discovery has taken place primarily at Ippudo NY

The hearty Akamaru Modern ramen comes with pork belly and spicy paste and is fantastic topped with Nitamago, a seasoned salt boiled egg (thanks for the rec, Alice!). Sometimes they have a really fantastic special with oyster sauce, ankimo and crusty bread. It is a bit fishy, but definitely better balanced than many of the other ramens you'll find (which will be too fishy to begin with anyway).

And their pork belly buns are better than anything I've had in Hong Kong.

I think a trip to Minca for some ramen comparison is in order this weekend. And maybe someday I'll scrap the usual Sapporo at Rockmeisha in favor of their ramen, too.

Ippudo NY
65 4th Ave

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Local Brunch

I used to go to Brooklyn Label for brunch all the time, but after eating everything on the menu so many times it started to get boring.

But I missed it. This weekend I headed back for my favorite cold weather weekend drink -- the Mayan hot chocolate with pasilla chili and two shots of espresso.

Luckily they had a whole list of specials I hadn't seen before. Including fluffy ricotta pancakes with lemon sauce, fruit and powdered sugar. So good!

I'm thinking I might have to get another Mayan this weekend...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Summer Memories on Thanksgiving

This year our Thanksgiving table ended up looking like a big picnic!

Not that I'm complaining.

But it got me thinking about all the great summer meals I had that I never posted about. Like strawberry and crouton-topped panna cotta at Annella.

And eating caprese sandwiches in the park (from Lunchbox).

And frozen melon soup with champagne from Yo In Yo out.

Is it summer again yet?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Eds. Vs. Luke's

After watching the battle of NYC lobster restaurants on an episode of Food Feuds (Ed's won) I decided to test them out myself. I guess Michael Symon and I have a few differences of opinion, but both Ed's and Luke's serve very decent lobster rolls.

For a quick analysis:

Ed's is:
-Twice as big
-Twice as expensive
-Lots more mayo
-Includes shredded tail meat
-Tastes more lemon-y than lobster-y

Luke's is:
-Smaller and cheaper
-More Maine-authentic (claws only)
-Includes a combo with a soda
-Purer in taste

For something quick, the Urban Lobster Shack is always ok. It's more in Ed's camp in terms of style. And only $10!

Alright, so none of these are even close to Lobster in the Rough, but I gotta get through the next few months of fall and winter somehow.

Luke's Lobster Bar
93 E. 7th St.

Ed's Lobster Bar
222 Lafayette St.

Urban Lobster Shack
805 Third Ave

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Prune for Brunch

Prune has one of the best burgers in the city, but they also have a pretty awesome brunch. Stewed chickpeas with fried poached eggs and buttered peasant bread -- better than pancakes, that's for sure.

54 E. 1st St.
New York, NY 10003

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sweet Things I Like

Chocolate macarons from Margo Patisserie...

Creme-filled donuts from Peter Pan Bakery...

... and super thick black and white cookies at No. 7 Sub!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dressler; Revisited

It had been over a year since I last visited Dressler, so a return visit was definitely overdue. They've redesigned the menu since then, saving a few appetizers like the diver scallops and ricotta raviolini, but tossing the short rib and monkfish for a different fish-heavy list (salmon, cod, black sea bass) and a few other meaty American staples -- duck, chicken, sirloin, porkchop.

We started with the crispy artichokes, a surprisingly salty, cheesy plate. Long strips of Parmesan melted on top while rich, creamy ricotta hid underneath. The artichokes were fried to the point of tasting like junk food -- in a good way.

The market oysters were my favorite size (not too big), and my favorite strength (not too mild, not too briny). They went great with our bottle of txakolina, a very dry white wine.

The octopus was as pretty as a picture, almost tender to a fault, with an odd pairing of fingerling potatoes that strangely seemed to work. Served on top of a small drizzing of kalamata olive oil vinaigrette with red peppers and feta cheese for maximum saltiness.

The beet and navel orange salad came with the obligatory goat cheese -- a whole wedge of the stuff -- along with a scattering of hazelnuts and lots of leafy arugula. The salad was set atop really thin slices of a roasted tomato tart. I haven't met a version of beet-and-goat-cheese salads I haven't liked, and this one was definitely a winner, thanks to the hazelnuts and abundance of cheese.

The only main entree we ordered was the Heritage Country Pork Chop, a huge, fatty, rich piece of meat that tastes nothing like your traditional pork chop. It was served on top of a generous portion of grits, with morel mushrooms and a few stalks of white asparagus. The grits complemented the fatty pork really well, everything melting into one another.

I really liked Dressler's first menu, but I think this one has a lot of promise, too. There's a good selection, interesting ingredients and a great wine list, too. I think its safe to say that Dressler is still ahead of the pack of restaurants of its caliber in Brooklyn.

149 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY
(718) 384-6343

Sandwich Fridays Continue

I've been a lot more true to this summer's sandwich promise than I was to last year's burger endeavors. I've already got two more to add to the list: Blue Ribbon Bakery and Baoguette.

After a great panini at Ino on Bedford Street, my summer sandwich friend and I decided to give Blue Ribbon Bakery right across the street a go. They only do takeout, so it was a good excuse to grab some food and head over to the waterfront for some picnic-style scenic dining.

Blue Ribbon Bakery's sandwiches are all open-faced. Most just include a butter (like fresh churned or cashew) and/or a cheese (like manchego and stilton). While I was too hungry to consider a bread, butter and cheese sandwich (good as they sounded), I went with the heartier duck breast with honey mustard. I was surprised to see that they sliced the bread AND the duck fresh from the loaf/full breast. They loaded the meat on top of the toasted bread and sprinkled some parsley on top. It was just the right amount of food.

And I should mention that the place was empty and the guys working here were really friendly. Another West Village sandwich winner!

Blue Ribbon Bakery Market
14 Bedford St.
(212) 647-0408

I recently made my second trip to Baoguette, the much-hyped Vietnamese sandwich shop down on Lexington. I don't know why it took me so long to get hooked on banh mis. I love Vietnamese food, and always figured noodles were the best vehicle for the sweet and spicy flavors. But I was wrong! Crispy bread gives the whole mess texture, and as long as it has some spicy meat, some fresh herbs and something sweet to balance out the flavors, I'm happy.

Their classic banh mi comes with a thin layer of pate, spicy pork and lots of carrots and cilantro. They always ask if you want it spicy, and if you say yes, they don't mess around. 

My favorite is their signature Sloppy Bao, with spicy curried beef, green mango, basil and lemongrass. The flavors together are perfect in the summer: fresh, sweet, slightly fruity.

The only thing that could use a little help here is the atmosphere. I don't mind eating at a cramped counter facing the wall, but when that wall has a mirror, it makes it a little awkward to chow down on spicy food. Here's a tip for summergoers: eat towards the back of the room, where there's a small fan that will just barely keep you from passing out. It's uncomfortable, but the baoguettes are worth it!

61 Lexington Ave (between 25th & 26th) 
(212) 532-1133

Sunday, June 27, 2010


West Village's Recette has been on my list of places to visit since the Times gave the small plates place such a glowing review last March. I finally had the chance to visit on Friday night and tried to adhere pretty closely to Sifton's recommended dishes. Overall, I was really impressed with this place. Even better, it wasn't terribly crowded and we didn't feel rushed to leave. It was a nice place to sip wine, enjoy each plate and relax into the night.

I started with the recommended glass of Gruner Veltliner, which later turned into two glasses. I'm normally a red drinker, but on hot nights like Friday I needed something a little more refreshing. I prefer my whites to taste just like this -- more dry than sweet (no mineral whites), refreshing, with enough character to help liven up the meal.

We started with the assorted charcuterie plate, which was not as nearly as amazing as Marlow & Sons' but pretty decent anyway, if only because the foie gras terrine was sublime.(From left) we had the salty Jamon de Bayonne, the silky, decadent foie gras terrine, the tasty but unremarkable cacciatore, and Tete de Cochon. The gelatin combined with the soft meat reminded me a lot of a very thin pot roast, but maybe my palette isn't refined enough for head cheese yet. They were served with sweetly pickled vegetables and a zesty mustard.

We were served the salt cod fritters at the same time as the charcuterie: a tiny pot of three croquettes nestled atop a spicy lamb ragu sauce. Sifton was right when he called it a "head scratchingly good combination." The saltiness of the dish was perfect; the meaty sauce gave the soft fried fish some depth with the fatty flavor. A curried aioli was drizzled on top, rounding everything off with some color and acidity.

Another strange but wonderful combination: the heirloom tomato salad, basically a caprese with peekytoe crab. The tomato, ripe and perfect, was coated in a basil vinaigrette, with decorative basil seeds making tiny flowers on the plate. The crab meat was perfect and tender, but the real treat was below that, a fresh burrata cheese, made from mozzarella and cream. The soft texture mimicked that of the crab: a tiny bit stringy, but soft and delicate on the tongue, a perfect counterbalance to the heirloom.

Strangely, it seems that the plates with the more obvious sounding combinations are not as amazing. Chilled pea soup with foie gras and sea urchin is a great example. The thickish soup wasn't created with nearly as much tender love and care as the others, the hardened foie gras thrown in almost as an afterthought, the small amount of uni not adding much either. In the end it was overly salty; it could have used some dill or other livening herb (for a mind blowing pea soup, head to Nougatine).

As far as we experienced, the soup was the only real misstep. The halibut was among my favorites: a tender, buttery, perfectly flaking fish was the focus of what looked very much like a painting: fish meets forest, in watercolor. The mildness of the fish lent it perfectly to its assembly of vegetal and fungal accompaniments: a few morel mushrooms, artichokes and asparagus; bright dipping pools of Saffron Beurre Blanc.

The pork belly was a good way to end the parade of small plates. The sherry caramel fired the pork into meat candy territory. The belly was topped with a turnips and an amazing, crispy fried piece of rock shrimp; a tomato-y romesco sauce served on the side. This dish was definitely too big for me, the fat and the sweet caramel got tired after a few bites. But I can never resist trying new ways to eat pork belly and I'm glad I gave the shrimp-tomato-caramel combo a spin.

Of course we had to finish with dessert: pastry chef Christina Lee, a Per Se alum, created her own version of s'mores with graham cracker ice cream, toasted marshmallow cream and a spicy cayenne chocolate sauce. The dessert was beautiful to look at, but the cayenne overpowered the subtle graham cracker flavor of the ice cream. It's too bad, because I really do love spicy chocolate, but I also want to appreciate the quieter, more complex flavors. I think this is why I've always preferred vanilla ice cream to chocolate. But I digress. Recette is fantastic, and I hope to come back for the cheese spread, the tuna crudo, and more of that heirloom tomato salad.

328 W. 12st St (at Greenwich St)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Outer Banks Highlights

My family and I visit the Outer Banks for vacation every year or so. It's taken us awhile to weed out the bad restaurants and stick with the good ones. In the name of brevity, this year I had...

Amazing top sirloin and cold smoked chicken at Kill Devil Grill...

... a great tuna salad and lemongrass beer from the Outer Banks Brewing Station...

... and mint chocolate chip ice cream in a melty chocolate chip cone at Sunset Ice Cream in Duck.

How could vacation get much better than that?

Sandwich Fridays

While last year's early release summer Fridays yielded celebratory cheeseburgers of all shapes and sizes, this summer's theme so far has been sandwiches. Since Grubstreet's 101 Best Sandwiches list was released, I've been mapping out sandwich shops wherever my early weekend happens to take me. Last week I met a friend in the West Village, and we headed over to sandwich winner #18's establishment -- Ino.

Ah, what's not to love about the West Village? Tiny, charmingly paved narrow streets that cut through the avenues like organic growth. Tiny coffeeshops, bakeries, bars. And Ino, a cafe and wine bar that seems to specialize in bread -- most of the menu is paninis and bruschetta.

Most items have about three ingredients. Usually something simple and fresh, with enough variation to stay interesting. Like the artichoke with fennel and fontina, or cacciatorini (a type of salami) with goat cheese and black olive pesto. Not everyone knows what all the ingredients are, so they have a little cheat sheet on the back that defines everything from pancetta to mortadella.

I had the soppressata with fontina (cheese) and rucola (arugula). It was laid out thinly across two pieces of bread so crusty it cut up the roof of my mouth a little. The oozy cheese, salty meat and crusty bread kept me coming back for more anyway. It was served with a very cute and tasty little mushroom and pepper salad.

While I didn't order the recommended quattro panino, I'm finding it hard to believe that Ino ranked all the way up at #18. I'm a little curious as to why Faicco's huge soppressata didn't make the list either. Well, speculation aside, I'm glad to have experienced a small slice of the West Village the other day -- and to check another sandwich off my list.

Ino Cafe & Wine Bar
21 Bedford St (between Downing St & Houston St) 
(212) 989-5769

Sunday, June 13, 2010

My Own Sifty Fifty

Last week, Sam Sifton released a list of his current favorite restaurants in the New York Times' Diner's Journal, the cutely named Sifty Fifty. In conjunction with the list, the Times released an iPhone app that lets you check off the places you've visted (along with Pete Wells' top 25 bars, and a few other nifty foodie things). I generally liked Sifton's list, but had to disagree with some of it. What, Baoguette made the list, but Maialino did not? Keen's Steakhouse, but no Marlow & Sons? And no Annisa?? Are you kidding me?

So I decided to make my own list. I think 50 restaurants would probably be every good restaurant I've ever visited (and then some), and I needed to be able to exercise some selection. So now I present my very own top list, the Wisty Twenty-Five:

Acqua Santa
Fette Sau
Le Bernadin
Marlow & Sons
Peter Luger
Pho Viet Huong
The Redhead
Sushi Azabu
Tia Pol

There probably won't be any iPhone app for this list, but you never know.


Last week I was treated to a special birthday lunch at Convivio!

This was my first Michael White experience, and expectations were high. Tudor City is like a magical little oasis in midtown and Convivio fits in perfectly, a modest but majestic brick alcove right across from the park.

If you've ever wanted to try a 3-star restaurant but thought it'd be absurdly priced, head over at lunch. At Convivio, the business lunch is $28 for any two courses you want; any additional is $12. I've had crappy salads in midtown for more than that!

I started with the sgombro, two beautiful slices of raw yellowtail with olivada (olives, oil garlic), pistachios and scallions. So simple and yet so exquisite!

Next was the malloreddus, a perfectly textured Sardinian saffron gnocchetti with crab and sea urchin. The crab was plentiful, and the bits of sea urchin moistened each bite. Frank Bruni said it best in October '08 when he noted that the texture of the crab mimics that of the dumplings, "its taste proving another whisper of the sea."Dessert was a trio of freshly spun gelato: espresso, cream cheese and chocolate. The cream cheese was a little too richly tart for me, but the espresso and chocolate were perfect.

The caramel sea salt tart with vanilla ice cream was as tasty as it was pretty, the salty/sweet combo a perfect end to an amazing Southern Italian meal.

Micheal White will be hearing from me again. Marea, you're next!

45 Tudor City Place, betw 42nd &43rd streets
(212) 599-5045

Lobster Roll Fever

A few weekends ago, Rob and I headed up to Maine to do some work on his family's summer cottage. It was a long day of scraping, painting and re-painting, but at the end of the day it was all made worth it with a lobster roll from Lobster in the Rough.

This place is more like one of those day camps that schools take kids at the end of the year than a restaurant. Except instead of horseback riding and mini golf, this place has an outdoor sports bar, horseshoes, karaoke, bonfires, a playground and the best lobster roll I've ever had in my life. Two tails, four claws with just the right amount of mayo on a split bun.

I should have shirts made that say "Will work for lobster." Who else would wear one?

This lobster roll got me craving the buttery, soft textures of the perfect Maine food, so I finally gave in the other day and headed up to the Urban Lobster Shack in midtown on my lunch break. Everyone on Yelp was complaining that its too small and too expensive, but I gotta say that these people must have never been to Maine. You can spend up to $18 for a small but decent lobster roll up north. Here, ten dollars gets you a tasty, normal sized roll, plus cole slaw AND a salad. What's everyone's problem?

While it obviously was not as fantastic as Lobster in the Rough, I gotta say this was a pretty solid lobster roll. A few good chunks of meat, although some of the meat on top is strangely shredded. The chunks of celery were a little large for my taste, but the extra butter on the split roll made up for that. For a lobster roll in midtown that satisfies the craving, I say its definitely worth the $10.

Lobster in the Rough (Behind the Lobster Barn)
Open mid-May through October
1000 Route 1, York, Maine
(207) 363-4721

Urban Lobster Shack
805 Third Ave, betw 49th & 5oth streets
(Lower level in the Crystal Mall)

Meatballs: The New Burger?

Critics always argue over who has the best burger in the city, but the burger's meatball cousin rarely seems to get any attention. The new-ish Meatball Shop aims rectify that, and so far I'd say they're doing a pretty good job. Their spicy pork hero was recently mentioned on Grubstreet's 101 Best Sandwiches in New York, which is pretty awesome since that's exactly what I ordered. I sure know how to pick 'em!

Speaking of which, the unique ordering system here is one of my favorite aspects of the Meatball Shop. The menus come with dry erase markers so you can mark up the combination of sliders, heroes and plainly dressed meatballs you'd like to see on your plate. Say you'd like three kinds of meatball sliders -- a salmon slider with a mushroom topping, a vegetable meatball with tomato, and a classic beef topped with parmesan cream. Hard to remember? No problem -- just mark it all up on the slider grid. I'm waiting for tapas places to adopt dry-erase menus like these. I get a little bossy when a bunch of us dine together and I'm sure they'd appreciate not being assigned 2-3 items to remember each.

You would think that this whole setup makes servers' job as simple as possible (just collect and hand to the cooks?) but the service here needs a lot of work. Maybe I'm being a little harsh as they'd only been open a few weeks when we went , but the food took forever and when it DID come, the waitress had no idea what was what. There were colored toothpicks in each one, so we assumed they were representative of the type of enclosed meatball. Unfortunately this assumption is false, and everyone who ordered sliders ate most of someone else's before even realizing it.
Luckily, the tasty meatballs overshadowed the service. I had the spicy pork with parmesan cream and lots of mozzerella. The unexpected amount of cheesiness hit the spot, although the pork was a little bland to be labeled as spicy.

The meatball heroes, sliders and dishes were all tasty, but the homemade ice cream sandwiches were easily the highlight of the meal. You choose from five ice cream types to sandwich between five kinds of homemade cookies. I had vanilla on ginger snap, but I bet caramel on walnut meringue is equally amazing. The only unfortunate part is ordering the ice cream at the same time as the meatballs. I've never been to a place where I felt so pressured not to fill past the dessert line (an actual line in the stomach that some less experienced eaters may have trouble locating).
The Meatball Shop
84 Stanton St
(between Allen St & Orchard St)
New York, NY 10002

Note: It appears I spoke too soon on the popularity of meatballs. Check out this upcoming Meatball Madness event hosted by none other than Giada De Laurentiis!