Sunday, January 31, 2010

16 Wines, 8 Cheeses, 1 Night

A few weeks ago, I went back to the NYC Wine Class to build upon my 101 knowledge from August. This time I took Rob with me, since the focus on this wine class weighed a little bit more heavily on the cheese (and who likes cheese more than Rob?). While I didn't think the wines were necessarily better than the 101 class (actually, I'd say it was the opposite) we got to try quite a variety of red, white and sparkling wines from all over the world.

I didn't really note this in my Wine 101 post earlier, but this class is really excellent in a lot of ways. First, they really take care of you here. If you like a particular wine, they'll bring you more. If you finish your water or fresh bread, they'll bring you more before you even have a chance to ask. If it's obvious that you're enjoying the cheeses, they'll bring you a second plate. And Andrew, the instructor, is so nice, so knowledgeable and so accommodating. He clearly knows his stuff but never appears to be even slightly condescending to anyone's questions (and people do ask some weird ones). AND it's only $90 for three hours of educational pampering! You can't beat it.
And now, without any further ado, here's the class breakdown:

Going clockwise from the top:

1) A dense, chalky goat cheese from France (Chabichou du Poutou) paired with a champagne and prosecco. I really liked the subtle, round taste of the "Spago Nero" from Veneto, Italy. The cheese was maybe one of my favorites, definitely among the most memorable.
2) Another goat cheese, this one milder and creamer, with rosemary. Paired with two mineral whites. I preferred the Chenin Blanc from South Africa; Rob liked the Palacio de Vivero from Spain.
3) "Triple creme" cow's milk from France. This tasted like a super buttery brie -- obviously no complaints here! Paired with two wines merely labeled "Oak." One turned out to be a sav. blanc, the other a chablis. We both preferred the chablis (Les Deux Pivex from Burgundy).
4) This cheeese was a crumbly, chalky cow's milk from Piedmont (Red Cow) that the instructor suitably described as one that sneaks up on you. Paired most notably with a Gernot Heinrich from Austria. Acidic, not a lot of body. Rob said it tasted like the ocean. A hint of seaweed, maybe?
5) Raw cow's milk from Switzerland, this cheese was sharp, bitter and a little gritty. Paired with a two wines by a small supplier called Limerick Lane.
6) This crunchy, butterscotchy, caramel-like "cheese candy"reminded me a lot of one of the cheeses we had in the 101 class. Maybe it was the same; they were both from the Netherlands. Paired with two Bodegas Lan wines (from Rioja, Spain), most notably the Gran Reserva. We tasted vanilla, dill, and oak in this sweet wine, although it was "flashy" without any real lingering taste.
7) Cow's milk from France (Tarentaise), paired with two wines, also from France. Unfortunately, I stopped writing notes at this point because I hadn't dumped anything out and did you know that sixteen wines is a LOT?
8) Bleu d'Auvergne, cow's milk from France, very strong bleu cheese with two wines from Australia. A this point I was both done drinking AND done eating, so I only got to try this one briefly (and dizzily).
167 West 23rd Street (Between 6th and 7th Aves, above Landmark Wines)

Brunch, Snacks and Dinner in Park Slope/Prospect Heights

It's not too often that we go to the Prospect Heights area of Brooklyn, but when we do, it's usually pretty awesome. It always helps to have the right neighborhood-aware foodie friends take you to the right places.

We started the day yesterday at Flatbush Farm, which I guess is technically Park Slope. Great atmosphere with high ceilings and modern decor, though we got seated in an adjoining room that was practically empty and fairly cold. Luckily, their "local seasonal fare" was pretty spot on.

I had the Farmer's Breakfast. I usually don't go for the simple eggs any style/bacon/potato breakfast combos, but I figured it would be a good test of the restaurant's commitment to simple, fresh ingredients. The eggs were poached perfectly, and the bacon was a huge, meaty, fatty slab. The potatoes were really interesting too -- cut small and fried with jalepenos and plantains, topped with some kind of spicy aioli.

Rob got the crispy duck confit topped with warm lentils and two sunny side up eggs. The meat was tender and went really well with the substituted crunchy grains, whatever they were (they were out of the lentils).

I also got to try a few bites of the omelette (with talleggio, herbs and yogurt), and the burger (which everyone else in the restaurant seemed to be having). Both were excellent.

76 St Marks Ave @ 6th Ave and Flatbush
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(718) 622-3276

We stopped at BKLYN Larder, a small cheese and organic grocery store owned by the Franny's folks (and no, I still haven't been to Franny's... yet). I tried a sample of their duck pate... fantasic. We took almond and pistachio gelato to go. It's never too cold for ice cream, even if it is seventeen degrees out.

228 Flatbush Ave (between Dean St & Bergen St)
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(718) 783-1250

I was really excited to have dinner at The Vanderbilt. I was drooling over the menu when they first opened a few months ago. I've never been to Saul, but since its one of only three places in Brooklyn to earn a Michelin star, I (and probably many other Brooklynites) figured Saul Bolton's newest establishment was worth a visit. 8pm on a bonechillingly cold Saturday night and the 90 seats were packed to the brim.

The New American menu is all small plates, too big to be tapas but too small for individual portions. Six of us tried as many items as we possibly could and were really impressed with most of what we sampled:

Pickled eggs -- served over some kind of tomato chili sauce with a pleasant kick.

Brussel sprouts -- one of the standouts. Not sure how they got the combination of Sriracha, lime and honey so deep into these little guys. Each bite was crazy juicy with both a sweet and spicy flavor. I bet people who say they don't like brussel sprouts could be coverted by these.

Lamb sausage -- A standard greasy coil, served with chickpeas.

Mussels -- These gigantic and perfectly cooked little guys came in a very Thai currylike broth of coconut, basil and chili. Topped with a kaffir lime leaf (at least, that's what we thought it was).

Serrano ham and cheese croquettes -- Came out piping hot, that didn't stop Rob and I from gobbling them up. Topped with saffron aioli. Definitely comparable to Tia Pol's fantastic croquettes.

Artichokes -- with mushrooms and carrots. Wasn't my favorite -- tasted kind of like an incomplete stew to me. Was this my punishment for trying to add some healthiness to dinner?

Beef shortrib -- The meat fell apart as soon as your fork touched it. Reminded me of a pot roast with carrots, onions and some kind of gravylike sauce.

Chicken wings -- More sweet than spicy, topped with lots of sesame seeds. Cripsy on the outside, juicy on the inside, but was very hard to finish seeing as how full we were getting (and did I mention we had two orders of most everything?)

Hanger steak -- Charred on the outside, medium rare perfection on the inside. I love hanger steak, and these had a meatiness to them far deeper and richer than most other places I've had it. The side of romaine with a light white sauce and pepper was the perfect accompaniment.

I'm not sure why we ordered dessert, since we were literally putting food on each other's plates trying to get rid of everything. Luckily I think most people save room for dessert as a kind of instinct.

Chocolate cake -- with buttermilk ice cream, which had a surprisingly great flavor that went with the chocolate well. Concord grape gelee on the bottom and popcorn on top.
Panna cotta -- with elderflower gelee and fresh citrus. Way better than Alta's version. A great light, sweet end to a meal.

The Vanderbilt did not disappoint. I guess now I should move Saul (and Franny's?) to the top of my Brooklyn to-do list.

The Vanderbilt
570 Vanderbilt Ave (between Pacific St & Dean St)
Brooklyn, NY 11238
(718) 623-0570

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Notable Dishes of 2009

Well, since New York Magazine and Sam Sifton of the New York Times both did similar round-ups, I thought I'd make my own list of the best meals I had in the city this year. I'm only naming one item per restaurant in two separate categories: dinner and dessert. I'm listing the items in order as best I can, with both general awesomeness and surprise factors (aka, those much sought after "it looked like a normal bite of X, but it blew me away" moments) in mind:

Goat cheese and Concord grape crostini at Marlow and Sons
Seared salmon at Le Bernadin
Burger at Prune
Pea soup at Nougatine*
Porterhouse at Peter Luger
Uni at Kanoyama
Sirloin and short rib at Dressler
Pork Betty with pickled egg at Bozu
Hot sopressata sub with mozzerella and artichokes at Faicco's
Spicy chicken wings at Bon Chon
Pulled pork shoulder at Fette Sau*
Lamb skewers at Tia Pol
Fried chicken at The Redhead
Mac 'n' cheese at Dumont Burger

Panna Cotta at Le Bernadin
Sea salt and caramel chocolate tart at Marlow and Sons
Caramello gelato at Grom
Grasshopper cupcake at Crumbs
Vanilla cone at Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory
Creme Brulee donut at The Donut Plant
Oreo sundae at Fornino*
Bavarian cream soft serve at Momofuku Bakery/Milk Bar
Donut ice cream sandwich at Peter Pan's Bakery

What was YOUR favorite meal of 2009?

** Starred items represent places I haven't blogged about yet. Awaiting future visits to verify awesomeness.

Monday, January 4, 2010

What, You Tryin' to Rush Me?

Last week I went and visited Rob for a rare lunch in Harlem. He took me to a cute, breezy French creperie with the unfortunate name of Yo In Yo Out. I was a bit wary of trying crepes again as the last time I had them at Crepe Creations I wasn't too impressed. They were too thick and chewy and weird for my taste. Luckily, Yo In Yo Out got it right. I don't think I could be more impressed... or pleased.

The cafe is run by two sisters -- Yoanne Magris ("Chef Yo") and Jade. Chef Yo herself waited on us; Rob said Jade waited on him the last time he visited. Both women are extremely sweet and accommodating, and yes, they are French too!

I ordered a coffee to start and was happy to be given steamed milk and raw sugar cubes to dress up my huge mug of coffee. Points already!

I ordered the La Complete, a crepe with jamon blanc and gruyere, topped with a sunny side up egg. The jamon was plentiful, and the cheese melded the meat to the thin, perfectly cooked crepe. The egg rounded out the flavors well. I can still remember exactly how it tasted -- so good!

Rob had the Le St. Barth, a crepe with mini portobello mushrooms, goat cheese, arugula and truffle essence. Have you ever gone out to eat and loved your dish, then tried someone else's and couldn't believe theirs is even tastier? This situation applied here, and I usually can't stand mushrooms, especially portobello. But here, the mushrooms weren't slimy or soggy or chewy, they just added a great earthy flavor to the herbed goat cheese.

I wanted to stay for dessert -- I bet their creme brulee is amazing -- but by this time the place was filling up, and so was my stomach.
Maybe I'll come back and maybe it'll be awhile before I'm in the area. Either way, Yo In Yo Out restored my faith in crepes... and maybe even in the French, too.

1569 Lexington Ave (between 100th St & 101st St)
New York, NY 10029
(212) 987-5350