Archive | August, 2009

Top Chef- Part 2 (The Results)

28 Aug

I know… the anticipation is killing you.

I was nervous about a few things going into the competition.  First, I had the insane plan to cook pasta in a microwave.  Luckily it was fresh pasta which cooks pretty well just by soaking in water, however, I was afraid the texture would be terrible or it just wouldn’t work at all.  Second, there weren’t any real guidelines for setting up, prepping, etc. So I’d have to wing it.  And wing it I did!

I went down early to claim a spot at a table (I thought I was first in line for the judges but wound up being last… Oh well!)  When I went to say hello to our host, I noticed he was speaking with someone vaguely familiar.  It turns out it was Lisa Fernandes, runner up of Top Chef Season 4, who was going to be our guest judge!  How exciting!  This is where my dorky excitement for TV chefs came out.

It took a very long time to heat the water for the pasta in the microwave, and when I saw steam, I gave up on the notion of waiting for boiling.  I threw the pasta in and in less than 2 minutes it was done.  I strained it into the hallways sink and it actually tasted quite good!  I knew it was going to get gummy quickly, however, but I decided it was worth the risk.

I set up the chocolate peanut butter bars in a plate tower and they looked quite lovely.

(the flash gave this a very ethereal shot)

At noon on the dot, people started coming up for food.  I was “plating” my pasta and crab cakes with beurre blanc sauce like a mad woman! I decided to put them all into golden cupcake cups.  It made for a nice, cheap little serving bowl!

As the tasting went on, people started spreading the word and before I knew it, I was almost out of everything!  I had to make a little corner reserve for the judges and thank goodness I did.  I was out within 20 minutes. 

There were about 20 other cooks around the room, however, I was so busy serving that I didn’t get to see, photograph, or try any of the other food.  Shame!

Judge’s Table was pretty intense.  There was a lot of hush hush discussion going on.  Have I mentioned yet that I am incredibly competitive?  I was quite anxious waiting for the announcement.

First they announced the top dishes for audience choice.  My chocolate peanut butter bars tied for first!  So exciting.

Then they announced the top three judges picks.  They named the dates wrapped in bacon, the sweet dumplings, and…. MY CRAB CAKES!  After some more discussion, Lisa chose the winner…

*********ME!***********

She said that my sauce was great and the “perceived effort” (a judging point) was deemed high.  She mentioned that she was impressed that I cooked the pasta in the microwave and that she had never done that herself.  I was awarded my grand prize of a BBQ set from a publisher (which is funny since I do not have a BBQ and have received more publisher shwag than most anyone).  My ego boost was the big prize though. 🙂  Ok… ok… the real winner was the charity.  We raised $600 for Big Brothers/Big Sisters (it was $10 a person to “sample.”)

Anyway… back to me winning!

It was a proud moment.  A proud moment indeed!

On a personal note, this will post just about the time that I get out of gallbladder surgery on Friday morning.  Unfortunately, the next few weeks will probably be slow in terms of food (since I won’t be eating much, and especially not anything interesting), so I have decided to leave you with a high note for now.  I hope to return hungry and ready to nom soon.  Stay tuned!

Top Chef- Part 1 (Prep Phase)

27 Aug

My company decided to host our very own Top Chef competition in our office to benefit Big Brothers/Big Sisters.  Of course, I jumped at the chance to cook AND compete (two of my favorite past times).  We were informed there would be a “guest judge” and we could cook whatever we wanted and we could enter more than one dish.  I quickly decided that one of my dishes would be my famous chocolate peanut butter bars.  I have posted the recipe in the past as one of my favorites.

It took me a few days to decide that I wanted to make a beurre blanc sauce (always a crowd pleaser).  At the time and throughout preparation, I didn’t know that you’re not supposed to reheat a beurre blanc sauce (it separates) but I still took my chances.  I was originally going to put it over fresh pasta and lump crab meat.  I was a bit concerned about cooking pasta in a microwave (my only heating tool), however, I figured I’d take my chances (especially since all you really have to do is soak fresh pasta in water and it works).

I took a journey to Whole Foods to get all of my ingredients.  I got home and immediately set to making the beurre blanc sauce. 

Side tangent:  It has become cliche to talk about Julia Child at this time.  Between the book and movie, there is an instant judgement on the subject (especially by other food bloggers!  So judgemental! WOW!)  Now I, for one, loved the book AND the movie (a rarity to love both).  I completely related to Julie’s humble beginnings in the blog world as well as her theatre background and clumsy nature.  While reading the book, there were a number of times that I felt that I could relate ALL too well.  I have also always had a fond respect for Julia Child, especially when it comes to butter.  While I think most of her recipes will never, ever apply to me, I always trust Julia Child when it comes to butter.  Therefore, I decided it was time to check out her recipe.  Low and behold, it is exactly the same as the recipe I’ve been using.  I found myself even more inspired.  /side tangent

My first step was taking 3 bars of GOOD butter and chopping it into small pieces (about a half in slices seems to work well).  It’s also important to keep it cold. (More on that later)

I love shallots and believe in using many and not straining them out.  Therefore I added a LOT of shallots.  Speaking of shallots, I took a cooking class a few months ago and learned a great cooking tip for how to cut up a shallot.  He instructed us to cut off the tip but LEAVE THE BASE (which holds it all together).  First cut it horizontally, parallel with your surface.  Then cut it from tip to base in vertical lines without cutting through the base.  Lastly, starting parallel to the base at the tip, start cutting it into small pieces.  Here is my visual collage of the steps:

Works like a charm! 

Now usually I would never be the kind of cook that would use mise en place bowls.   Unfortunately in the very few seconds it took me to chop the shallots, the butter began to melt and I had to do a quick exchange of putting the prepped ingredients into a lovely little ramekin so I could stick the butter back in the fridge.  (Oh the joys of cooking in the middle of August).

Then I mixed the vinegar and white wine in a pot until boiled.  Then I added the shallots, salt and pepper and lowered the heat to a simmer to reduce the liquid. 

Everyone says the key to beurre blanc is to whisk in one cube of COLD butter at a time.  I diligently did so.

I soon realized, however, that my whisk was ready for a much later stage.  SO it was my mini whisk to the rescue! (I knew it would come in handy some day)

It all went perfectly and I had a beautiful creamy yellow sauce in just a few minutes.

It was at this point that I began to debate… “Do I really want to serve this great sauce over simple lump crab meat?  Isn’t there something interesting I can do with the crab?”  While I mulled this over, I started on the chocolate peanut butter bars.

The combination of peanut butter, melted butter, graham cracker crumbs, and powdered sugar makes an amazing fudgy like bottom.

I have made a double boiler and melted chocolate many, many times.  I’m not sure what happened this time, however, but my chocolate seized.  It has never happened to me before!  I’m not sure if the chocolate was old or the steam hit it too much… it was strange.  I had to start anew.  Take 2 worked like a charm!

Back to crab… I did a quick search for crab cake recipes and decided to go with making a simple mini lump crab cake.  I used panko bread crumbs instead of regular and it was DELICIOUS. 

I was feeling confident as we taste tested that night.

So how did it all turn out? Who won? How did I do? Where did my food rank? Was it a fight to the finish? Who was judging?

Tune in tomorrow for the results.

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RECIPES:

I’m quoting this from the posting from Saveur:

Julia Child’s Beurre Blanc Sauce

“Butter is essentially a smooth mixture of fat and water. The secret to making beurre blanc is to preserve its makeup by allowing each addition of butter to melt smoothly into the sauce, as you whisk it, before adding the next piece of butter. Also, never let the sauce come to a boil once the butter is added; that will cause it to separate. Some restaurant cooks add a little heavy cream to the wine reduction before whisking in the butter, to ensure a smooth and stable sauce. This recipe is based on one in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck (Knopf, 1977).”

3 sticks cold unsalted butter (24 tbsp.), cut into chunks
1⁄4 cup dry white wine
1⁄4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. minced shallots
1⁄4 tsp. kosher salt
Pinch of white pepper
1⁄2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1. Have butter ready. Bring wine and vinegar to a boil in a saucepan; add shallots, salt, and pepper. Lower heat to a simmer; cook until most of the liquid has evaporated- reduced to ~1.5 tbsp. (If reduced too far, add 1 tbsp. water to remoisten.)

2. Remove pan from heat; whisk 2 pieces of butter into the reduction. Set pan over low heat and continue whisking butter into sauce a chunk at a time, allowing each piece to melt into sauce before adding more.

3. Remove sauce from heat; whisk in lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasoning, then strain through a fine sieve into a bowl. Serve with fish, poultry, or vegetables.

This article was first published in Saveur in Issue #109

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Mini Baked Crab Cakes

(My recipe made about 36 crab cakes with my melon baller scoop)

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh lump crab meat (I got mine at Whole Foods for $12!)
  • 3 shallots, finely minced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • Salt and black pepper

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400 F. 

  1. Mix crab, shallots, garlic, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and mayonnaise.  
  2. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Using a melon scooper (or teaspoon), shape mixture into about 20-30 walnut-sized balls.
  4. Spread remaining breadcrumbs onto a plate and roll balls lightly in crumbs to evenly coat.
  5. Slightly flatten crab cakes. 
  6. Place on a greased baking sheet (or Silpat). 
  7. Bake crab cakes until crisp and golden, about 12-15 minutes.  (since I used panko, mine didn’t get too gold, however, the crispness was good)

Add enough bread crumbs to bind, about 2-4 tablespoons.

Plummy Pork

25 Aug

When I was at the Union Square Market with Mike, I saw mini plums and couldn’t resist. I used to get them at the Farmer’s Market in Ithaca, and they were some of the best fruit I had ever had. These were good, but not that good.

When trying to determine what to make for dinner on Sunday, Mike suggested making a plum sauce. A quick google later, and we found a recipe that sounded very good without the use of fats. We supplemented the mini plums with pluots (half plums, half apricots) to make for enough substance in the sauce. The recipe was a bit hard to figure out, however, we took some liberties and the recipe turned out incredibly well. The pork was tender and the plum sauce was tart and sweet and tasted incredible. It was quite pretty in color and when you cut it open, and the wine it was cooked in really brought out a great flavor in the fruit. I’d put it in the top five of the recipes we’ve made.  And I think it was pretty healthy!

I actually didn’t have cooking string to tie up the pork to wrap it, however, I did have some wire. I was concerned that the wire would do something funny, so we made a backup version of just the pounded pork with the fruit on top. The wrapped pork in wire wound up working, and the flattened ones were a bit drier, so I recommend the wrapping.

We paired the pork with brown basmati rice mixed simply with mushrooms as well as artichokes we bought for the sole purpose of using the artichoke cookers I got for my birthday from my friend and old college roommate, Kim (she also got me my very own NYC Nom Nom apron, that is adorable and awesome). They are very smart with a stand that allows the artichokes to steam upright. Unfortunately the artichokes we got were too big and didn’t have the flavor that they should have. The stems were also too woody. I look forward to trying the cookers again with regular artichokes.

Artichokes steaming:

Cooking down the plum sauce that goes on top:

Cooking the cherries in the wine (apples were added later):

Browning the wrapped pork in shallots:

Putting the pounded flat pork in the dish with fruit on top:

Browned rolled pork wrapped with wire:

A finished archie:

The finished plate:

Cut open rolled pork:

___________________________

Pork with Plum Sauce

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup dried cherries (or cranberries)
  • ½ green apple, diced
  • 3 Tbl. sugar
  • Red wine (I’m sure good wine would be better, but we used “Four Buck Chuck” aka Charles Shaw, and it was still fabulous)
  • 8 ripe black plums (or red, or pluots, which is what we used)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • Pork chops, pounded thin
  • Shallots
  • High heat PAM

Directions:

  1. In saucepan, mix 1/3 cup of wine with 2-3 Tbl. of sugar until sweet to the taste. Add dried cherries and put over low heat. You don’t want to cook them, you just want to reconstitute them. Add apples to soften (I just let this cook on very low heat until I was ready for the next step)
  2. Cut the plums into a separate sauce pan. You don’t have to peel them. Recipe said to just cut chunks the size of your thumb off until you’re down to the pit. Add wine to a depth of about 1 inch. Add enough sugar that the wine is sweet to the taste (though not too sweet). Add salt and lemon juice. Cook over a medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until the plums soften, about 40 minutes. Mixture should be thick like applesauce.
  3. Preheat oven to 325°
  4. In the meantime, place cooking string or wire under each thinly pounded pork chop so you will be able to roll and tie it up, about 1.5 to 2 inches apart (I used 3 per chop). Spoon the cherry/apple mixture into the pork and then roll up the sides and tie up. (You can also stuff a pork loin if you prefer)
  5. Brown shallots in a pan and then brown all sides of the pork (use tongs to rotate)
  6. Spray casserole dish with PAM high heat spray. Place pork in the baking dish. Cook at 325° until done, about 50 min. Set pork on platter to rest.
  7. Pour pan juices into the plum sauce and boil 1 minute (I guess I cooked too long since there were no juices and just some solidified stickiness on the bottom, but it still tasted great).
  8. Untie/cut/untwist wire/ties and either serve as a roll or slice the pork into 1/2 inch slices to reveal the center. Serve with plum sauce over the top.

Times Square Sushi

23 Aug

There are an abundance of sushi restaurants in NYC, and a ton in Times Square, however, one always stands out as being VERY reasonable and VERY good: Kodama.  I have been there many, many times and it never disappoints.

This time, my mom and her boyfriend took Mike and I to this restaurant for my birthday.  We started with one of my favorite dishes there, the “friend” asparagus.  It is very, very lightly flash fried and comes with green tea salt for dipping. It is always a crowd pleaser.

Next up we got the shrimp shu mai (steamed dumplings).  So good.

We also ordered a lot of food for all of us to share.  It included the Black Dragon Roll which is shrimp tempora wrapped in eel (and something else that I’m blanking on).  We also ordered the sushi sampler with 8 assorted pieces of sushi, a tuna roll, and miso soup.  We also each ordered a fatty tuna sushi and a sea urchin.  The sea urchin is a sushi I struggle with.  I LOVE the taste but the gelatinous consistency is just a bit much for me.  I did enjoy it though.  The Black Dragon Roll was definitely the stand-out, however.

After we polished off that plate, we were still a bit hungry.  So we ordered a “Mets Roll” (eel with cucumber topped with avocado) and a Spider Roll (soft shell crab).  Both were sensational, though the Black Dragon was still the best.

The entire meal came to about $140, and all four of us left completely full with fresh fish.  Not too shabby for Times Square Sushi!

Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10

“Peanut Butter and Jelly M&Ms?! SERIOUSLY!?”

18 Aug

The title is an almost exact quote as I passed through a small convenience store in the Westchester area. I saw this little package labeled “Strawberried Peanut Butter M&Ms” and was trying to resist trying them. I mentioned them to Mike and before I could even blink, they were purchased.

I was concerned about a fake fruit flavor but was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked them. They were a bit fake on the fruit (think dum dum strawberry flavor) but it was overall a good experience. More of a novelty than anything, but still fun to nom.

A change

17 Aug

Well… you may notice a change around NYCNomNom for the next few weeks.  I will probably be blogging (and eating) a lot less as I will be going in for Gallbladder surgery two weeks from today.  It is a quick, routine, laparoscopic surgery, however, it will require me to eat a VERY low fat diet before and after and probably not eat much at all the week of the surgery.

In the meantime, I’ll be writing about my adventures in low fat eating (no cheese and chocolate will be tough!) and will be back with a vengeance once my gallbladder (or lack thereof) allows.

My last “hurrah” was the wd50 dinner on Saturday where I went all out for my birthday and prayed I would not get an attack. Luckily, no attack, however, I can’t risk it from here on out.

This could be quite an adventure! Stay tuned.

WD WOW

16 Aug

Mike told me he was taking me to WD~50 for my birthday dinner a few weeks ago.  I was quite excited, but also worried that it wouldn’t live up to its hype.  Well… it lived up to its hype… and THEN SOME!  WOW!

The front of the restaurant was so unassuming.  A small green awning on a brick building with a little neon wd50 sign in the corner.  It was in the Lower East Side on Clinton Street between Stanton and Rivington Streets. 

In the basement, by the bathrooms, was a wine cellar.  While I was there taking pictures, I was jokingly accused of “being a spy.”  Oh if only I could get past humble notions and think that some day, Wylie Dufresne would be worried that my blog would be some sort of threatening enterprise.

WD~50 was made top of mind famous (at least from my perspective) with Wylie’s appearance on Top Chef.  I had read many blogs, articles, and foodie fan write-ups of Wylie’s perspective on Molecular Gastronomy and his amazing food, however, it was really his appearance on Top Chef that amassed my guilty pleasure notion of wanting to try his restaurant.  I knew my boyfriend knew me well when he made reservations about a month in advance to take me to WD~50 for my birthday.  

We began with quite an offering… with the Tasting Menu order, there was a 50% discount on any bottle of wine.  While there was a wine pairing with the tasting menu, the waitress told us that the 50% discount was “quite a deal” so we went for it.  With a lot of help from the Sommelier and browsing through the vast menu (that had an odd pair of vertical lips below the cover of the menu), we selected a white and a red.

The white was the Malvasia ‘Selezione’ Edi Kante 2000: Friuli, Italy ~ malvasia
caramelized peach, white currant, floral ($105.00… aka $52.50 with the deal).  We chose it because the description from the someliere referred to it being made in a “cave” and reminded us of our favorite wine discovery, a Domaine du Viking Vouvray that described to us as being brewed by a crazy man only during full moons.   It was a GREAT selection and we thoroughly enjoyed it (though the smell was sour-ish, we loved the taste).

We chose the red early, even though we decided to wait until more than halfway through the meal for the more “hearty” dishes to start drinking it.  This wine was an absolutely incredible winner.  It was a Syrah ‘Kalen’s Big Boy Blend’ Eric Kent Wine Cellars 2006: Sonoma County, CA ~ syrah- roasted bramble fruit, fennel, cocoa powder ($125.00… aka $75 with the deal).  This ranked in the top 5 of wines I’ve ever had.  It was so flavorful and complemented anything salty (and probably would have complemented anything with red meat or tomato sauce).  It was a big wine, and we loved it.

We went with the tasting (because for a birthday dinner, it’s worth the big splurge) and it was $140 each… and COMPLETELY worth it.  The staff was incredibly accommodating, even to my allergy, and I was a little excited and star struck to see Wylie Dufesne in the visible kitchen, fully invested in the preparations that night. 

The meal was supposed to begin with Striped bass, peach, paprika, and sake lees, but I’m allergic to peppers (which is in paprika) so I had an amuse bouche of a mushroom broth with some form of yam or sweet potato and celery (the details are fuzzy after the two bottles of wine).  It was quite good.

Mike had the correct starter, and thought it was delicious.  I trust his opinion, and was quite jealous of the fish + peaches.

Next up was the Everything bagel, smoked salmon threads, crispy cream cheese.  What we didn’t know from the menu, however, was that the “everything bagel” was really ice cream.  It was a standout dish of the night.  The dish came together so well and all the flavors just blended in a great way.  The ice cream was an exciting surprise and I did not want the dish to end.

Next up was the Foie gras, passionfruit, chinese celery.  The surprise here was that the foie gras was actually stuffed with passionfruit, so as you cut it open it just oozed deliciousness.  It was fantastic, although I expected the foie gras to have a bit more flavor (though the passion fruit was AM.AZ.ING.)


I was excited upon reading the next dish: Scrambled egg ravioli, charred avocado, hamachi.  A quick iPhone look up told us that hamachi was fish typically used in sushi.  It was AMAZING fish.  The scrambled egg ravioli was actually entirely made of egg (outside and in) and the charred avocado was the second best avocado I’ve ever had (after the Fishtail octopus app I had just this past week).  Mike absolutely LOVED this dish.  I thought it was great, but I preferred the previous tasting of the “everything bagel” with “smoked salmon.’

The next dish was something I also had to have substituted.  The dish on the tasting menu was Cold fried chicken, buttermilk-ricotta, tabasco, caviar.  The tabasco was the problem here.  So instead I was served smoked eel with some sort of homemade tofu that was incredible.  I’m not sure what the thinly sliced veggie was on top (perhaps some sort of turnip) but I wasn’t a huge fan.  The rest of the dish, however, was amazing.

Mike received the fried chicken and said it was amazing though spicy.  I tried the buttermilk ricotta with caviar (since it was safe) and though it was absolutely great.

Next up was Crab tail, kohlrabi, ‘dirty’ grape, cocoa nib.  This was an absolutely fascinating dish for me.  It was “spicy” without having peppers.  When I inquired, I was told that it was the “angel food cake” (the spongy looking things on either side) that had some sort of black or green (?) pepper in it.  I was shocked that I enjoyed it so much without having a reaction, and was pleased as punch that I could taste “spice” for pretty much the first time ever.  The rest of the dish was great, though not quite what I’d expect from crab.  I was just so taken aback by the spice without allergy thing that I couldn’t stop gabbing about this plate.

Our next treat was Duck leg, popcorn pudding, kalamansi, lovage.  Now it’s very hard to pick a least favorite dish, but this may have been mine.  It had all the workings of a best of (I love duck, popcorn, and according to our iPhones kalamansi is a fruit from the Phillippines and lovage is a spice that is a cousin to celery), however, it somehow fell short.  It was great, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t quite have the “wow” factor of the other dishes.  I think that the lovage may have been the ehh-ehh part for me personally.


The next dish sounded amazing, and I was a bit bummed that I was given a substitute.  My dish, however, was probably the best “entree” of the night: Wagyu skirt steak, long bean, tamarind, peanut butter ‘pasta’.  The peanut sauce was incredible, and the beef just tasted perfect. 

Mike got what was originally on the tasting menu: Lamb loin, black garlic romesco, pickled ramps, dried soybean.  Turns out it was the dried soybean that I was allergic too (I think), however, it wasn’t quite enough to give me a complete allergic reaction, so I got the chance to sample a wee bite.  It was really good, but not Wagyu beef with peanut sauce good.

The epic dessert journey began with vanilla ice cream that was filled with balsamic (the best I’ve EVER had) and raspberry.  This tiny dish with few ingredients tasted like a complete tart in my mouth.  I do not know what they did, but it was one of the most satisfying bites of food I’ve EVER had.


The next dessert was Hazelnut tart, coconut, chocolate, chicory.  I think the foam was chicory, though I’m not sure.  Whatever it was, it was sensational.  In fact, the entire thing was.  So many textures and flavors. My favorite dessert of the night. (Which is hard to say since all the choices were so amazing!)

Up next was Carmelized brioche, apricot, buttercream, lemon thyme.  I honestly cannot tell you what I was eating, but I enjoyed it to the utmost degree.  The “sorbet” like portion (I’m guessing lemon thyme) was so-so, but the carmelized brioche looked like a scallop and tasted like heaven.

We (sadly) ended our adventure with Cocoa packets, chocolate shortbread, milk ice cream.  This was definitely one of the more confusing descriptions. We actually had to ask the waitress her advice on how to eat this. Turns out it was “milk” ice cream balls that were rolled in chocolate shortbread.  It tasted like the best oreo I have ever had.   Our waitress advised to save the “packets” for last and turns out, you can eat the outside AND the inside.  It was a chocolate explosion in my mouth.  It left me so happy and so satisfied (without any aftertaste) that I just was in complete bliss as the meal ended.

I’ve had a lot of great meals in NYC and, as much as it is hard for me to say, this was the best.  There were little surprises along the way and everything just had phenomenal flavor. Combined with the amazing wine, it was beyond a great meal… it was an experience that I will not soon forget. What a birthday dinner!  Every single course left us thinking “WOW!”  It takes a lot to make me say “wow” even once, let alone with every single new bite.  I was impressed.  Very impressed.

Total Nom Points: 9.5 out of 10

Fishtail Tasting with FoodBuzz

13 Aug

I was very fortunate to be selected to attend a dinner with fellow food bloggers at David Burke’s Fishtail thanks to FoodBuzz (and Visa Signature). 

(I plan on providing a review as I would any other restaurant and try to not consider the fact that it was free and I won the opportunity.)

One nice thing about being with other bloggers, there was no need to apologize for pulling out our cameras or using our flash.  We also hardly had to ask before taking our forks and digging into each other’s plates to sample the dishes. 

My first glance around impressed me with the decor.  It was quite eclectic and in some ways whimsical, but overall, it had an interesting touch that seemed to be a compilation of things that the decorator just happened to like.  

Our drink selection was a red, a white, or a “signature cocktail.”  I’m still not sure what it was, but it was delicious and STRONG.  It tasted like a combination of a mojito and a gin and soda. 

The passed hors d’oeuvres began immediately and our waiters were understanding enough to pause for photo-ops.  (In fact, our waiters throughout the meal were very impressive and attentive).

My first sample was asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. 

The bread they served was a pretzel like croissant roll that was absolutely delicious.  Not quite BLT popovers delicious, but worth sampling.  The other passed apps included California Rolls (average), mini tuna sliders (delish even with the wasabi, which I’m not a huge fan of!), chicken wrapped escargot (waste of escargot, tasted only like chicken), and oysters with ginger (?) roe.  The stand-out, however, was the lobster dumpling (center).  Perfection.

The one appetizer I couldn’t try, the spicy tuna tacos (allergic to peppers), was also one of the prettiest.  It sounded as though others enjoyed.

The menu provided us with the appetizer options of:
Dry Roasted Angry Mussels- chili oil, basil and lemon
Pretzel Crusted Crabcake- confit orange and poppyseed honey
Warm Octopus- hearts of celery, avocado, and lemon garlic aioli

Due to my allergy, my only option was the Octopus.  It was good, but I just think the chewiness of octopus is not for me.  Flavors were great, however, and the avocado was probably the best I’ve ever tasted.

I did manage to get a pic of the Angry Mussels, however, the pretzel crabcakes were across the table so you’ll just have to take my word for the fact that they looked scrumptious.

Our entree selection was:
Roasted Branzino- asian mushroom vinaigrette
Pan Roasted Wild Salmon- braised bok choy and two curries
Pan Roasted Diver Scallops- sweet corn and lobster risotto and citrus butter

While branzino has quickly become one of my favorite fishes, I love scallops all too much to pass them up.  Add the words lobster, risotto, and citrus and there was just no contest.  Luckily, the friendliness of my fellow food bloggers allowed everyone at the table to sample from each other.

The branzino was a whole fish and it was phenomenal.  Cooked perfectly and great balance of flavors that didn’t overpower the fish but added to it.

My scallops were very good and I enjoyed the risotto, although I wish there was more flavor to the entire dish.

The salmon was really good as far as salmon goes.

My biggest concern when looking at the menu was dessert. They all sounded amazing and I had no idea how I was going to choose just one.  Luckily, they provided us with a sampler of ALL of the desserts:
Peaches & Cream- white chocolate pudding, georgia peaches and strawberry sugar wafers
Chocolate Caramel Cake- chocolate mousse, “cracker jacks,” and peanut butter ice cream
“Can o’ Cake”- molten chocolate cake with all the fixins
David Burke’s Cheesecake Lollipops- raspberries and bubble gum whipped cream

The cheesecake lollipops came out first, and apparently they are a signature of David Burke.  They were VERY good and the waiter was nice enough to wrap some up for me to bring home to the very deserving Mike.

The peaches and cream was my least favorite.  It was just bland to me.  I love peaches but I think they need to be warm and in some conjunction with butter, brown sugar, or cinnamon. 

The chocolate caramel cake was pretty good, but the cracker jacks nearly pulled out my teeth (though they tasted great).  The peanut butter ice cream was Oh.My.Goodness. Good.  It was so flavorful and so delicious and seemed to be everyone’s favorite part.

The “can o’ cake” was a pretty big undertaking.  It required quite a bit of prep and wound up being served by the spoonful with what tasted like sesame bits on it.  Now I LOVE molten chocolate cake, but this just didn’t have the complete “wow” factor I was hoping for.


The pièce de résistance (count it… three French words I had to look up how to spell), however, was the food lovers dream, in my opinion.  Beaters covered in chocolaty goodness.  This put me very near heaven.  There is something just so nostalgic and wonderful about licking something gooey straight off a beater.

The perfect way to end the meal.

Overall, I think the dining experience itself (and getting to dine with kindred spirits) slightly outshined the food.  While it was good, it wasn’t great.  If you go in there and order the lobster dumplings, branzino, and the peanut butter ice cream, you’d be absolutely thrilled with a fabulous meal. I noticed that they have “crispy artichokes” as a side on the menu (we didn’t get to try, much to my dismay), and with that added I think it would be a close to perfect meal. 

Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10

Another THANK YOU to FoodBuzz for making this happen.  It was a great experience.  I do wish they introduced us to each other as I felt a bit settled in my small table so I’m not sure who else was there.  I also think that the chef stopped in, however, I could only guess from overhearing bits of conversation.  I would have loved to hear a word or two from him!

To check out the other blogger’s takes on our evening, check out these blogs:

High/Low Food/Drink
Zen Can Cook
Blondie & Brownie
Chez What?
Eating the World in NYC
Little Girl Big Appetite
Midtown Lunch
The Pink Spoon
Taste As You Go

Above Average Chinese

9 Aug

I have been hearing great things about Grand Sichuan International since I moved to north Chelsea.  It seems to be the place to go, but I had never been.  When my Aunt and Uncle came in for a visit and Uncle Shelley wanted Chinese, it clicked.  It was time to try the “amazing Smoked Tea Duck” I kept reading about. 

Aunt Lynne ordered the pickled cabbage.  It was not in a format we were used to, but it tasted good.  It was quite spicy, however, so I had one piece and called it a day.

As mentioned in my previous entry about Rickshaw Dumpling Bar, I love pork dumplings at Chinese restaurants.  Luckily, Uncle Shelley shares my fondness and ordered them when I forgot.  They were delish! (One curiousity I’ve always had… how do all Chinese restaurants have almost the EXACT SAME recipe for pork dumplings?  They all pretty much taste the same!)

I had to order the Smoked Tea Duck, even after being told it was a fried dish.  I am SOOOO glad I did! It was perfect flavor with fatty goodness in between a crispy skin and flavor filled, meaty, and not greasy duck meat.  It was over cucumbers (which, in my opinion, should have filled the weird gap space on the plate, but I’ll take it).  It was probably some of the best duck I’ve had to date.

Aunt Lynne ordered healthy and went with the “Four Precious Jewels” which sounded too good to be good for you!  It consisted of jumbo shrimp, scallops, fish filet, and beef slices with snow peas, baby corn, carrots, and soft bean curd.  She got it with a side of garlic sauce.  Aunt Lynne said it was delicious and cooked to perfection.

Uncle Shelley went with the Seafood Delight and was delighted! (yes… I just made that joke)

Overall, it was certainly above average Chinese.  I will definitely be going back if I want Chinese again. 

Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10

Yummy Pasta

7 Aug

One of the best dishes my mom made growing up was discovered later (highschool time I believe) is something we affectionately called “Yummy Pasta.”  I think it’s great for summer with the fresh tomatoes, however, pine nuts have become SUPER expensive.  Therefore it is great to know someone in the nut industry.  THANKS TRAVIS!!!

It is SO easy and quick to make, and you can make a big batch and have it for multiple meals.  You can also make the pesto sauce in advance and freeze it until you’re ready.

I made the sauce as the recipe called for, but I added some of the fresh basil and pine nuts at the end and chopped it only a few seconds so it had more texture.  It came out quite yummy!

As a side, Mike decided to whip up some spinach and mushrooms with shallots and garlic.  It was absolutely scrumptious and I was very excited to see Mike cooking off the cuff.  I’m pretty sure he threw everything into the pan and just cooked it until it was all soft.

Here is the Yummy Pasta Recipe (you can adjust the amounts if you want to make more or less):

Ingredients

  • One box of mini penne pasta
  • One ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes
  • One container of grape/cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 2/3 cup of pine nuts (split in half so it’s 1/3 in each part of the recipe below)
  • 3/4 cup of fresh basil (or to taste), stems removed and cut up leaves
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup of olive oil
  • Salt, Pepper, and Garlic Powder to taste

Directions

  • Cook pasta as directed
  • While pasta is cooking, cut up all ingredients
  • Put oil, basil, and 1/3 cup pine nuts into a food processor and blend to desired texture (add garlic powder at this stage if you like garlic)
  • Drain pasta
  • Toss basil mixture into pasta
  • Add additional 1/3 cup of pine nuts (I use more since I love them)
  • Carefully fold in tomatoes and mozzarella
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Happy Nomming!