Saturday, December 10, 2011

Double Omakase at Jewel Bako

We couldn't even remember the last time we had sushi before Rob's birthday dinner at Jewel Bako in late November. I think it was a combination of wariness from Japanese disasters, the turn-off from dining at lesser places after really good ones and not wanting to spend the money on top notch fish. 

Which made it really special to finish a long sushi dry spell at Jewel Bako. We sat at the bar at the recommendation of many, and that was definitely the way to go. The preparation is amazing to watch, and unlike most places, you get a clear view of everything they're doing. The fish cubby is tucked down towards the bottom instead of right in front of you. It's a small thing, but it really makes a difference not to have to stare at cloudy glass filled with slabs of raw fish the whole time. I think this clear view idea is something Sushi Azabu and Kanoyama could learn from.

To start: two complimentary glasses of champagne, a bottle of Ice Dome sake, miso soup and a delightful amuse.

Then the sashimi omakase, which is not exactly what we expected. Instead of small courses, we each got a combination platter. It was small, but everything here was eye-poppingly, melt-on-your tongue fresh. There were a few really unique presentations here, like an octopus suction cup filled with yuzu, and a scallop wrapped in cucumber. It was amazing watching the sushi chef use a giant knife to carve a super thin mat from a single small cucumber.

So the sashimi was good and all, but it really was just a starter. For part two, we decided to split a tasting of all nine Makimono rolls. We saw the chefs plate a few of them and were really impressed by their sizes, diversity of fish and precision that went into plating and perfecting each roll. I'm talkin' blowtorches, tweezers, giant carving knives, all that stuff.

To decide who got what, we went team captain style. I snagged the snow crab. He chose an eel. And so on. Then we went to town. We did each roll in one giant bite, and then chewed for five minutes or so. I'm not sure if this is exactly how you're supposed to do it or not.

Anyway, at $42 for nine bites, it's not something you can do every day. But its not that outrageous either.

To finish: green tea, and two complimentary green tea ice cream sandwich desserts. Candle for him. Between this and the champagne, I gotta say they were really great about remembering an occasion.

A pretty great re-introduction to high end sushi. I'd be glad to wait another year before having any again, to keep that wondrous sushi excitement alive. Maybe Kuruma Zushi, Yasuda or Gari? 

Jewel Bako
239 E 5th St
(between 2nd Ave & Cooper Sq)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Brunch Roundup

Salt cod hash and Pani Frattau (breakfast lasagna with ricotta, creme fraiche, poached eggs and parmesan cheese) at Belcourt

Eggs Rothko at Egg (fried egg in brioche toast covered in Grafton cheddar)

Crepe at Cafe Henri in Long Island City 

and Borderline Benedict at Brooklyn Label (blue-corn bread, jalapenos, chorizo and chipotle hollandaise) 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Where to Eat in NoLa

There are so many great places to eat in New Orleans, and since usually we were eating late, in dimly lit bars with a few to-go beers under our belt, I won't even attempt to fix up most of these pictures to post. 

Acme Oysters gets a lot of hype, almost enough to make one a bit suspicious about trying it, but its worth every minute in that out the door line. The oysters from Louisiana are large, mild and flavorful, great on the half shell here and even better chargrilled with butter and cheese (believe it!). The fried shrimp and oyster po boy sounds like it would be way too fishy with too much bread(ing), but they use a soft fresh roll, a flavored mayo, lettuce and tomato to vary the tastes and textures. The sampler platter of gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice and grilled sausage is fantastic, but you better like rice if you order it.

Coops Place is also great for some original Cajun-style food. The fried chicken, crispy and flavorful with a tender interior, is definitely on par with the fried chicken you'd find at Brooklyn Bowl or the Redhead, only with more Southern spices (they call it a Bayou Blend and they put it on everything). It comes with a rabbit and sausage jambalaya that most people love but I found a little dry. Don't dare to order the fried oyster dinner unless you're ready for lots of fried oysters and french fries. All entrees here are between $8 and $18.

We had lunch at the House of Blues on a whim one day; we were starving and the hawker was convincing. Fun and unique atmosphere, lots of jazz portraits and voodoo trinkets in a large churchlike space.

The steak tacos were unimaginative but good; the lobster mac and cheese was definitely the highlight. Crunchy, creamy, large hunks of lobster and piping hot!

We had a great brunch at Stanley on our last day. Breaux Bridge benedict for me with fried boudin, ham, cheese and creole hollandaise. I can still taste it (dreamy sigh). Corned beef hash for him with huge chunks of corned beef, potatoes and pastrami. Also, they have ice cream for breakfast a LOT down in NoLa. We waited a bit for our brunch (which was nothing compared to most of our waits in Brooklyn, but whatever) so they comped us a free dessert. We had their house made ice creams: Chunky Chartres (a cute spin on Rocky Road) and peanut butter chocolate chip. Fantastic. Go early if you visit on a weekend, they get a crazy line out the door!

If you venture out a bit farther from the French Quarter and into the Garden District, its worth a visit to the small plates Cajun spot Cochon. We split a wonderful crab salad dish with orange beets, fried boudin and a few other plates. We also tried to fried alligator here, which I can't say I recommend, but I won't hold that against Cochon. 

One place I can't say I recommend is Brennan's, but I felt I really needed to go there since its the birthplace of bananas foster. We had a ridiculously overpriced breakfast (the bill came to $100!) that involved yawn-worthy hot soups, over-hollandaised eggs and a pretentious atmosphere. But I did get to have the bananas foster, and they were pretty good.

here's the before picture with a mound of sugar, the bananas and the alcohol vials they use to blow it into oblivion.


Then they serve it with vanilla ice cream. A flamey sugar rush to help you forget the rest of the meal.

Acme Oyster House
724 Iberville St.(between Bourbon and Royal St)

Coops Place
1109 Decatur St

House of Blues
225 Decatur St.

Stanley Restaurant
547 St. Ann St. at Chartres St.

930 Tchoupitoulas St

Brennan's Restaurant
417 Royal St.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

John Besh Restaurants in NoLa: Luke and August

We wanted to hit the John Besh restaurants in New Orleans during our visit -- the upscale August for sure, and the lower key Luke if we had time. Both restaurants were pretty great, but August was (unsurprisingly) much more polished, both in the service and the dishes we tried. Besh Steak in Harrah's can wait 'til next time.

Dinner at Luke, the French brasserie, started with a long-ish wait at the bar, even though the place was only about half full. Luckily we got to sit in the back, right against the open kitchen so we could watch the progress of our food. I'm not sure if that was good or not considering how hungry we were. Three of us had: a bacon-swiss burger, duck breast with a subtle blueberry demi glace and grilled gulf fish with bacon and corn. The bacon in my gulf fish was actually more like heavily smoked strips of pork belly -- so good. The same stuff also made an appearance in a soup at August. No complaints here.

For dessert -- a pot de creme of the most amazing chocolate mousse I've ever tasted, and a more forgettable vanilla cake with orange and creme fraiche.

We were lucky enough to have the time to visit August at lunchtime, when they offer a $20 three-course prix fixe meal. It's gotta be the best deal in town.

The amuse was a truffled egg custard with cavier, served in an egg shell. It sounds over the top, but it was actually REALLY good. Creamy and salty with tiny hints of crunch. It might have been my favorite of the meal.

For an appetizer, I had the sunchoke soup, poured tableside over carmelized apple and the bacon from the night before (they call it "crispy lardon" now). He had the pate with pickled mushrooms. It was gigantic!

My entree was a cod ravioli topped with saffron foam. Much saltier than the tuna belly ravioli I had at Convivio, which I think was the only other time I've had fish-stuffed ravioli. It was good, but not as good as the seared sheepshead fish with corn and succotash (which sounded too much like my dinner the night before, only it was lots better).

I usually prefer cheese over chocolate for dessert (is that really strange?) so I had the manchego "eclair" with caramel and apples. I could have done with about half as much melted cheese, but the pairing with the poached apples and caramel was nice and autumny. He had the milk chocolate peanut butter croquant with caramel and buttered popcorn-flavored ice cream. Both desserts were pretty heavy. I guess they want to make sure you don't leave hungry.

Then, finally, some pralines and chocolate truffles that we couldn't even finish. We could barely move afterwards. And now we understand why people in Louisiana walk so slow.

33 St Charles Ave
New Orleans, LA

301 Tchoupitoulas St
New Orleans, LA

Friday, October 28, 2011

Beignet Faceoff

I'm back from New Orleans! It was an amazing trip filled with lots of crazy good Southern cooking -- gumbo, jambalaya, fried chicken, po boys, oyster po boys, oysters on the half shell, fried oysters, grilled oysters, muffuletta, red beans & rice, fried alligator, boudin and crawfish, but most importantly, beignets! And lots of them. There are two main players in NoLa:

Cafe Beignet

and Cafe du Monde

They both come in threes, plain only, completely covered in powdered sugar. But Cafe du Monde's smaller beignets are much more complex, with a rich, heavenly smell and a firmer bite. Cafe Beignets are a lot like fried dough.

Plus, Cafe du Monde has that pretty look by night. 

I'm really gonna miss my mid-day sugar fix.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Signature Desserts from EMP at ICE

A few weekends ago I had the honor of taking a baking class with the pastry chef from Eleven Madison Park, Angela Pinkerton!

She was so amazingly patient with everyone, from the woman who wanted to write down her every word to the girl that didn't speak English that well. I can only imagine that letting a bunch of amateurs loose in an industrial kitchen is not an easy thing to manage when you're used to such a high level of precision.

We broke into teams and each tackled a segment of a single dessert. There was cornbread pudding with buttermilk sorbet, summer stone fruits with ricotta and tarragon, a mint chocolate chip ice cream sandwich and pistachio sundae with green market grapes. I made the pistachio brittle in the sundae. The part that they crumble on top and no one even notices. The class made me realize the level of detail that high end restaurants really have to adhere to.

My Pistachio Brittle

The best part of class was the end, where wine was poured before we watched Angela plate all the dishes. It really is an art form. 

Then, of course, eating it all!

A pretty ideal Sunday if you ask me. :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Red Hook Lobster Pound: Maine Roll

Did you know the Red Hook Lobster Pound is at the Brooklyn Flea on weekends?

For $17, the Maine roll (with mayo) is a bit pricey. They're generous enough with the lobster meat, but its bumped up on a bed of lettuce to look like even heftier. I think the lettuce messes with the taste, but adds a nice crunchy contrast. For a dollar more at Luke's, you can get the Schooner combo with a soda, chips and a pickle... and a tastier lobster roll. Though this one was still a nice refreshment to enjoy on the waterfront.

Fruit Salad Two Ways

This weekend, I learned there are two ways to enjoy my favorite summer treat!

Simply dressed with equal parts lemon juice and water mixed with a heaping tablespoon of vanilla scented sugar. This week the fruit combination is blackberries, blueberries, pitted cherries, grapes and strawberries.

OR blended with OJ, cranberry juice and vanilla extract, frozen and on a stick.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fun Summer Treats

Play doh ice cream from Hershey's in Nags Head, North Carolina

Lobster roll from the Lobster Joint in Greenpoint, Brooklyn

White chocolate nonpareils from Perkins Cove Candies, Ogunquit, Maine

Cashew caramel ice cream from Annabelle's, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Beer sampler from Portsmouth Brewery, New Hampshire

Popovers (with maple butter!) from Popovers on the Square, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Molasses taffy from the Goldenrod in York, Maine

Roquefort, cheddar and red pepper-studded sheep's milk Rustico Peperoncino from Corks n Curds, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Coffee frozen custard at Kill Devil's, Outer Banks, North Carolina