Archive | February, 2012

Boulud Sud

28 Feb

In an effort to make our way through The Platt 101, New York Magazine’s  list of Best Restaurants in New York (2012 edition), we made a New Years Day reservation at Boulud Sud.  This was my fifth restaurant in the Daniel Boulud empire (having been to DB Bistro, Cafe Boulud, Bar Boulud, and Daniel), and I can’t help but love each and every place.

Walking in, the space is very modern and bright with an open, bustling kitchen that somehow managed to operate quietly.

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Boulud Sud focuses on Mediterranean flavors.  Both the bread and oil hinted at this, and I had to keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t fill up on it, even though it was quite delish.

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I ordered a cocktail:  The Spiked Apple, which came with Glenkinchie 12 year old scotch, spiced apple cider, allspice dram, and lemon juice.  It was served in a giant, hollow, round ice cube and was absolutely delicious.

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We went with the three course prix fixe for $44.  Mike started with the octopus appetizer that came with ictrus pieces, marcona almonds, arugula, and vinegar. It was quite delicious, but it couldn’t compete with the octopus at Kefi (though what could?)

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I started with the soup, which I think was sunchoke (the menu posted online is different from what we had)

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It came with croquettes that were light, yet crunchy, and went very well with the soup.

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While awaiting our next course, Mike looked at me through his glass and I cracked up.  The glass made it so he had a little face inside the glass.  I just love this picture.

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Mike went with the lemon-saffron linguini with razor clams and shaved bottarga (fish roe).  This was bursting with flavor and typically wouldn’t be something either Mike nor I would order. But it was very enjoyable.

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I got the chestnut ravioli with celeriac, black trumpet mushrooms, and castelmagno (an Italian cheese).  I really enjoyed this.  I wish it had more chestnut flavor (I always want more chestnut flavor) but the raviolis were delicate and had great flavor.  They were also cooked perfectly.

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And it was super pretty.

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Mike and I can’t pass up an opportunity to order brussels sprouts (I’m still pissed off that I spent over 20 years of my life without brussels sprouts).  These were very similar to the ones we make with pancetta, and the roasted hazelnuts added a great smoky flavor and crunch. (But I still like ours better…)

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I was actually most excited about Boulud Sud because of all of the wonderful things I heard about the dessert (in fact, just found out that Ghaya Oliveira was nominated for a 2102 James Beard Award for Best Pastry Chef).  Mike got the Fromage Blanc Tart with plums compote and lemon sorbet.  It was like a light, flavor-filled cheesecake.  Delish.

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I got the dessert that was recommended by everyone on Foursquare and photographed on every food blog: The grapefruit givre (with sesame halva, rose loukoum, and grapefruit sorbet).   It was just as beautiful as everyone said.

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The strings on top was the halva and then below was something that resembled heated sugar (like a creme brulee top).

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As you dug into it, it was layer upon layer of treats in a frozen grapefruit.  It was unlike anything I have ever had (and something I would probably not have ordered for myself had it not been so highly recommended) and it was stupendous.

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Overall, our meal was spotless, service was great, and we had some really unique and fun dishes.  I was totally full and felt like I had eaten at one of the better restaurants in NYC for $44.  I call that a good value!  Go and get that grapefruit thing… you won’t be disappointed.

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

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Eataly’s Birreria: Oktoberfest and Birthdayfest

23 Feb

It’s Eataly Week!

In the last few months, we went to Eataly twice, for two different occasions.

The first was Oktoberfest, which we got exclusive tickets for from Gilt City.  The package included a meet and greet with Joe Bastianich, a tour of the  brewing facilities with brewmaster Brooks Carretta, a brief lesson on brewing, a reception with communal antipasti and beer, a seated family-style Oktoberfest supper with Italian Alpine fare and beer pairings, and a six-pack of beer for each guest to take home.

The brewery at Eataly is a small room where they put together some very different microbrews.  The brewmaster, Brooks, was very informative not only about the brewing process, but also about what makes the Eataly microbrews unique and talked about what new batches were coming up.

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We tried a few beers, and very much enjoyed them.  The Thyme beer was especially delicious.

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Then Joe Bastianich came in and welcomed us to Eataly/Birreria and basically told us to have a good time.

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We sat back down and started chowing down on some great Oktoberfest items.  We especially enjoyed the whole roasted maitake mushrooms, pecorino, sardo creme, and roasted brussels sprouts. Awesome.

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Then a few weeks later… we were back.  My sister has recently expanded her food horizons.  She was the kid that ate chicken nuggets and Kraft macaroni and cheese growing up.  The idea of a mushroom, sausage, or basically anything with unique flavor was repulsive to her.  So when I found out that she was opening up her food spectrum, I was quick to suggest Birreria as a great place to try some new things.

We started with the charcuterie and… gasp… Stacey ate meats.  CURED meats!  I was shocked.

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We ordered the maitake mushrooms again, because they were so good the last time.

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And we got the fried shiitake mushrooms with sage. I LOVE these mushrooms. They are incredibly delicious.

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We also ordered the the pork shoulder which is made with beer and apricot. It was tender and just plain delicious.

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We ended with the bisteca con salsa verde, which was a skirt steak with salsify, green onion, and salsa verde.  It had great char on it, which a touch of salt that just made it stand out.

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I love Eataly. And I really love Birreria.  I haven’t had a bad bite there, and everyone that has been there with me has really enjoyed it. Plus… it’s the first place I saw my picky little sister eat a mushroom.  A true game changer.

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Eataly: Manzo Ristorante

21 Feb

When Eataly first opened, I was excited, but it was SO crowded.  I had been to Birreria before for a client dinner, but that included a reservation. And I had gotten lucky finding a spot to sit at the Crudo bar.

But when That Lori (from Stuff I Ate) and I were looking for a place to celebrate our birthdays, we jumped at the chance to try Manzo, which is the only place that was accepting reservations.  Every restaurant at Eataly has  theme, and Manzo’s theme is MEAT.

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We started with a lovely looking basket of bread. The sourdough was awesome.

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We were torn on the menu. So many delicious sounding things. Our waiter advised that the plates were small, so we decided it was a sharing night.  (Though our arms never really needed to be twisted to share… one of many reasons I love dining with That Lori).

We started with the mozzarella with brown butter and guanciole. It was a lot softer than I was expecting, but the garlic toast that came with it really allowed us to sop up all the deliciousness.

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I liked the compliments of flavors very much.

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Our second dish was the Tajarin with Sugo d’Arrosto.  This was a pasta made with the drippings from a roast.

They very kindly split it for us, but even our half portions were quite substantial.

And this was SO. GOOD.  This is everything that is wonderful about pasta… a perfect compliment with the meaty flavored sauce.  Simple looking yet so complex.

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We also split the hay smoked veal chop.  This came with canneli beans and speck.  This was HUGE.  I have no idea how anything we got was considered a “small” portion.

And the meat? The hay smoking gave it this great grassy, earthy flavor.  It was delicious, and cooked perfectly.

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Since we split everything, we luckily had room for dessert.  We decided to split the chocolate crostada with plums and sliced almonds.  This was very rich (but I LOVE rich) and the ice cream and plums were great to make the flavors more complex.  Very enjoyable.

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Overall, Manzo was just a spectacular dining experience. I highly recommend sharing so you can experience much of what it has to offer.  We were so tickled by our experience there and we really loved all the food.  Every bite was fresh, complex, and bursting with flavor.  Exactly the way it should be.

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

A Restaurant is Born: Menu Sneak Peak

14 Feb

As Chef Bill and I sat at a table chatting about his concept and menu, I couldn’t help but look down with a hint of sadness at the tater tots we ordered.  I love tater tots, but they just seemed to get more and more boring as Bill described his menu.  Each dish sounded more delicious than the previous one. He’s using molecular gastronomy to elevate the food and to make it downright fun.  Here are some highlights that got me especially excited:

Appetizers/Salads:

Bone Marrow Sliders with Tomato Dust on Brioche: Chef Bill is looking forward to hand selecting the fats and the meats that go into his slider and burger dishes.  Usually, you choose a well marbled cut of meat and you go with the ratio of fat that is organically within that cut.  Chef Bill plans to combine a lean cut of meat and grind it up with the right amount of a delicious fat: bone marrow.  He set about solving the burger “leaking” problem with this dish: No matter how fast you get from kitchen to table, some fat and blood leaks onto the bun or onto the plate.  His solution: he will be making an acetate sheet from mustard and using the broiler to shrink the sheet around the burger to seal in all the juices (he affectionately called this method “Shrinky Dinking”). He plans on making his own ketchup and turning it into a dust, and making his own pickles, liquefying them, and then spherifying (making a liquid into a sphere that resembles caviar) them so they will be an intense punch of pickle flavor as you bite in.

Seared Duck, Butternut Squash Soup with Pear Parisian in Glass:  He plans to serve the squash soup in a shallow bowl with soft slices of duck breast fanned out on the side of the plate.  He will then make pear balls and dip them in a gelee that includes star anise and Asian 5 spice.  The soup will be dotted with these balls so that they glisten like marbles in the bowl.  (Since the restaurant will be opening in May, it may not be butternut squash due to seasonality, but this is TBD)

Chipotle Pork Belly with Pickled Parsnips and Smoked Paprika Fondant Over Parmesan Polenta: The plan is to cure the pork belly and finish it with a chipotle glaze that resemebles a mole. It will add a smokey, spicy heat to cut through the richness of the pork belly.  He will use fondant (that is somewhat sweet) made with smoked paprika (so it’s red) that will wrap an über rich and simple polenta in a bundle.  It will be topped with short rib and finished with pickled parsnips to cut through the richness.  (To say that I am sad that this will be something I can never eat is an understatement.  To all you pepper eaters, I can’t wait for a full review).

Seared Foie Gras Over Pear Panna Cotta with Port Gelatin and Bitter Chocolate Biscotti: Foie gras will be seared and served with a pear panna cotta that retains the “grittyness” of the pear so it tastes like, well… a pear. He will wrap the pear panna cotta in a port reduction gelee so that it has a red outside and white inside, like a poached pear.  It will be finished with a bitter chocolate biscotti with pistachios.  This will be a great combination of sweet, bitter, and buttery flavors.

Waldorf Salad: Because what says 1920’s better than Waldorf Salad?  Dressing pearls, spherified apples macerated in brandy, frozen grapes, and black toasted walnuts will bring it into this decade (if not the future).

Entrées:

Seared Skate, Caper Powder, Celeryroot Mousseline and Crisp Lemon Cured Sweetbreads: I have known for a while that Bill has a “thing” for skate. It’s not a popular fish, but one thing that we agree on is that it should be.  It will be seared so it’s crispy and melts in your mouth. It will be served with dehydrated caper dust, celery root mousseline, and sweet breads cured with lemon and fennel pollen and then fried. A microgreen will be included to add a fresh and “living aspect” to the plate to balance the rich, gamy flavors.

Lamb Loin with Pistachio Crusted Chevre and Red Wine Braised Cabbage: Farm raised lamb loin (from the Berkshires) will be seared with salt and pepper to bring out its natural flavors. It will be served with a lamb demi-glace, braised red wine cabbage (to add some tartness), clove and bay leaf. It will be served with goat cheese that will be freeze dried in pistachio dust so when you break into it it will emulsify the cabbage demi-glace to create a vichyssoise sauce once you cut into it.

Roasted Monkfish Loin, Hazelnut/Prosciutto Brittle, Double Stout/Coconut Cream: The monkfish will be crusted with fennel pollen and roasted. It will be served with a hazelnut, prociutto brittle so it is crispy with a toasted hazelnut flavor.  The stout cream is made with creme fraiche, Belhaven stout reduction, and Malibu Rum (to avoid coconut allergies).

Braised Beef Shortrib with Spiced Tomato Bourbon Jam and Potato Puree: The short rib will be cooked with the sous-vide technique and served with a potato puree (because, in the words of Chef Bill, “You just don’t fuck with that!”)  It will be served with a spiced tomato bourbon jam and then a shot of bourbon will be added at the end to give it that slight burn.

Duck Confit, Brie and Avocado Brick, Cucumber/Mango flute, and Apricot/Curry Sauce: The duck confit will be cooked in a classic way, but everything served with it will be anything but classic.  Brie and avocado will be freeze dried and compressed into a layered brick to give a textured  bite (like a tough marshmallow).  It will be served with a cone of sliced mango and cucumber on the side which will be filled with an apricot curry sauce.  The sauce is cooked by “burning the shit” out of onions until they become like charcoal, then roasting the apricots on top of them.  It will be colorful and fun, but based on fundamental ingredients.

Steamed Mussels with Grilled Rosemary and Black Garlic Over Pappardelle: Of all the items on the menu, THIS has me the most excited.  The menu item that originally made me fall in love with Bill’s cooking was the mussels he served at Albert Hall Tavern that came with grilled rosemary and black garlic.  I wanted to bathe in that sauce… it was so good.  We would always ask for extra bread to sop up that amazing sauce.  So the idea of serving this over pappardelle (my favorite pasta) sounds like a dream come true.  As Bill said, “it’s sex in a bowl.”  He commented that there are a few dishes that you look back on and think to yourself “yeah… that one worked” and give yourself a good pat on the back.  He says he has probably created thousands of dishes but this one really stands out.  (I CANNOT WAIT!)

He plans on adding more vegetarian dishes and he recognized that all restaurants had some type of fruit cocktail on their menu in the 1920’s.  He plans to do his own spin on this with some unique flavors like avocado and tropical fruits.

Chef Bill is not a dessert person, so he will be bringing in a pastry chef. It’s extra cost, but he wants to throw everything he can into this restaurant so it’s the best it can be.  He plans on having foods that came into fashion in the 1920’s be especially prevalent on the dessert menu.

I absolutely cannot wait to try every last bite.

A Restaurant is Born: Conception

13 Feb

How does a restaurant come to be? I am fascinated by this topic.  I’ve read enough of Anthony Bourdain’s musings to realize that it is ridiculously difficult to open (and keep open) a new restaurant.  Any romantic fantasies I had of opening my own little place were quickly squashed when I realized the hours, dedication, expense, and pure cajones needed to make it work.  While I’ve always wanted to cook or bake for a living, I have come to the simple conclusion that it takes a certain kind of personality to do that (mainly a maniacal one without any need for sleep).  Therefore, I have the utmost respect for people who embark on such a journey.  Which is why the prospect of sitting down with Chef Bill Seleno to write about his journey of opening a new restaurant from the ground up was more intriguing than I could explain.  Chef Bill has graciously invited me in for an all-access, behind-the-scenes look at all that goes into opening a restaurant.

We first sat down on a Thursday evening at a place that can only be described as a “joint,” Milady’s Restaurant.  2 hours and nearly 30 (30!) pages of notes later, Bill had grown hoarse and my hand had developed a serious ache… I couldn’t help but feel like we were on the edge of something insanely exciting.  Bill’s energy and enthusiasm for the project basically radiated from him.  He talked with such excitement and passion about this project that I was exhausted by the time we were done talking.  Exhausted in the best way possible.

Here is the scoop on the new restaurant:

What’s it called?

The Keys.  It’s all about being in key. In key with the food… with the theme… with the pairings… and of course, with the piano.

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What’s the theme?

Welcome to the 1920’s.  Do you just love the aesthetic in Boardwalk Empire? Are you unable to contain your excitement for the new version of The Great Gatsby movie being released this year?  Does the new 20’s inspired Gucci Collection tickle your fancy? Do you find yourself craving jazz music, art deco, and flappers? There is no arguing that the 20’s are back.  Even the economic, war-time, and political spheres render memories of the 20’s.  Chef Bill is embracing everything about the era, including the music.

The main dining room is inspired by Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.  It will be a simple, cafe style with a bar that seats 12 and about 30 tables along the wall.  Chef Bill has plans to blast open the kitchen (can’t wait for those pictures!)

Outside there is a wood deck that seats 30 and is inspired by the poolside party aesthetic of The Great Gatsby. There will be a retractable roof in the upscale, white-and-wood decorated space.

The downstairs is an ode to the prohibition era Cotton Club and the Roaring Twenties.  It will be the core of the restaurant and Bill’s goal is to make it feel as though you are walking into an authentic 1920’s place (he mentioned some less-than-stellar knock-offs of late that have determined that acidic drinks, locker room smells, and bad service equates to authenticity… but we’re not naming names here).  Think dark, rich tones, lots of wood, and an art deco glass ceiling illuminated from above.  All place settings will be antique 20’s and all the cocktail waitresses will have flapper dresses as designed by Aaron, a high-end clothing retailer opening up next door.  And of course the wood burning oven at the end of the bar (where Bill plans to roast some of his famous suckling pigs).

Here it will be more wine-heavy with mostly domestic varieties to match the 20’s prohibition vibe (whereas upstairs will be more imports to tie into the European 20’s vibe).  Bill is also bringing in a master mixologist and a Level 2 Sommelier to get the job done right.

There will be a stage complete with Cotton Club style risers. The plan is to bring in musicians with a jazz influence and background for  live sessions. His goal is to bring in Martin Sexton for opening night and to keep the music playing throughout.  He wants the music piped throughout the entire restaurant, with monitors upstairs, so even if you didn’t pay to be in the concert area you can still experience the great music while you eat.

The goal is to wallpaper the bathroom walls with headlines from real 20’s newspapers.

And what 20’s era stomping ground would be complete without a private, secret room?

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Where will it be?

The location is still hush hush until everything is signed, but it’s in the Mulberry area and is positioned to be close to neighborhoods that inspired its inception.

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What about the food?

Chef Bill is pulling inspiration from the area and the 20’s… A huge influx of Italian and Irish immigrants entered the US in the 20’s, bringing with them more depth of flavors, interesting ingredients, and (thankfully) refrigeration.  Tons of new foods came into the American household in the 20’s (corn flakes, Worcestershire sauce, jell-o molds, and Domino sugar to name a few). Bill mentioned the “holy shit” moment of throwing meat into sauce and suddenly you have a bolognese.  It doesn’t have to be complicated to taste great.  And it doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun and creative.

Bill talked a lot about how food television has had a huge influence on the way we look at food. People now have a much deeper understanding of food (and where it comes from) and sustainable, organic, and humane food is a big part of Bill’s goal.  He wants to see a restaurant where every server knows the name of the guy who milked the goat to make that cheese on your plate.  He wants to invest in environmentally friendly energy alternatives and share this with his suppliers.  That’s not to say he won’t serve foie gras, but he is going to take the time to find the most humane foie gras producers he can find.  And he wants it to be more on the healthy side… no saturated fats and he plans to choose the fats that get mixed with lean proteins to customize the blend, fresh micro-greens on every dish.

Food TV also has influenced the menu inspiration by providing people with visibility into the fun and creative methods of food preparation (think molecular gastronomy, spherification, sous vide).  But these methods have been mostly unattainable by the masses, unless theywant to spend $180 for a 3 course meal that belongs in an art gallery (and probably tastes damn good too).  Chef Bill doesn’t think there is anything wrong with that, but he wants to bring these fun and delicious food styles to the masses.  He wants to use the methods where they make sense with the goal of impressing and delighting his patrons.  He thinks people deserve to expect more from what they’re eating and to give them the opportunity to eat the type of foods that have mystified them.

Chef Bill wants to have fun in the kitchen.  To share his passion and his enjoyment for food with all of us. He wants his open kitchen to have jamming music (when the live musicians aren’t playing) and he wants to cultivate an atmosphere where people want to be (if his stint at Albert Hall Tavern is any indication, we are all in for a treat)!  He wants people to walk out and say, “What the fuck just happened?”

The more we talked about the food and the menu, the more excited I got.  Especially as Bill explained the individual dishes on the menu.  Stay tuned tomorrow for a preview of the menu!

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When do I get to sink my teeth into duck confit with a brie and avocado brick, cucumber/mango flute, and apricot/curry sauce?

The opening is on target for May 1st.  Chef Bill plans to have his waitstaff do a 1 week intensive training to live and breathe the menu and the pairings.  He wants the front of house to work in the kitchen and the back of house to serve food. He wants everyone to understand each other’s roles and to act as a family where everyone has pride and respect for what everyone else does.  He will start with dinner, then lunch a month later, and then jazz brunch a month after that.

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On Tuesday, Chef Bill is leaving for an adventure in California to visit breweries and wineries, to learn how to brew beer and to see where the wine comes from.  He will also being visiting some farms, cooperatives, and fisheries to explore how the food gets from them, to us.  He will be chronicling his journey on Facebook and Twitter, and I’ll be sharing his postings here.

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Next up: A preview of the menu! (get ready to drool)

A Restaurant is Born: A New Adventure!

10 Feb

The day I heard that Chef Bill was leaving Albert Hall Tavern was a sad day for me.  Not only did I love his inspired cooking (and the fact that it was right around the corner), but his energy and passion for food created such a great dynamic in the restaurant.  It was a big loss, but Chef’s energy couldn’t stay dormant for too long.  He soon let me know that he was on a quest to open up his own place and wanted me to join him along the journey to write about the opening of his new restaurant.

To say I was excited would be an understatement. I have always been fascinated with how restaurants work, and especially how you bring one to life.  I will be following Chef Bill’s adventure from the lease signing, to the decorating, to the menu testing, to the opening (targeted for May 2012).  It will be a real behind-the-scenes glance into how the magic happens.  I look forward to having you along for the adventure!  This will have a special section on the blog, so you can add a bookmark and check back regularly.

Last night, Chef Bill and I sat down to discuss the theme (20s and jazzy!) and the food (molecular gastronomy for the masses!) and how the restaurant was conceived.  My first interview with him will be posted on Monday, so stay tuned!  

Welcome to…

A Restaurant is Born

Chrismukah Dinner

9 Feb

For Chrismukah (our annual family celebration) this year, I decided to try to make Grandma’s brisket again.  I had tried one time before, and it wasn’t QUITE right.  So I called up my aunt to get the low down on the recipe.

We started by browning up some onions.

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Then we put slits into the pot roast and put in slices of garlic.  (I think our meat was not exactly the best cut for brisketing… but it was all Whole Foods had that day).

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Then we browned the meat.

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And set it up to cook on top of the onions for a good long time topped with ketchup , red wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and a bit of water.  We covered and simmered it, removed the liquid as it formed (from the onions breaking down) leaving about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of liquid in the bottom (because, to quote my aunt quoting my grandma, “You want a pot roast, not stew meat”).  I cooked it until fork tender.  And it was close… but still not quite right.  I think the cut of meat was definitely a big part of the problem.  Well… guess I gotta try again!

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Mike set to making some latkes.  He went ahead and grated up the potatoes (one of my LEAST favorite jobs).

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And fried them until golden.  They tasted great at first, but we put them in the warming tray to keep them warm and they were never quite the same. Bummer.  Note to self: Always fry latkes to order.

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We also made our famous brussels sprouts and some roasted cauliflower.

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While I wasn’t 100% happy with how it all turned out, luckily, the family thought it was great (or they at least told me it was).  I looked at it as a learning experience!

NYC Restaurant Week- Winter 2012: Barbounia

6 Feb

That Lori (from StuffIAte) and I decided to attend Food52’s Piglet Party to check out the Tournament of Cookbooks.  We didn’t know much about the event, but when we arrived, it seemed as though no one else really knew much about the event… even the organizers.  It said it started at 7, but when we arrived around 7:15, people were still setting up and there was no one really directing the flow.

There were a few stations with food and wine and then a bunch of cookbook authors sitting at a table, waiting to sign, but without any information about which cookbook they wrote.  And while I have a special place in my heart for cookbook authors, I haven’t memorized their faces.  So that was… strange.  There was no place to put coats and no one found a garbage can, so Lori and I wound up sitting at a table surrounded by other people’s garbage.  Someone was nice enough to say “thank you” as she put her garbage down next to us.  With that… we decided to cut our losses and head out to take advantage of Restaurant Week.  A quick search on the iPhone and we had a reservation for 10 minutes later at Barbounia, around the corner.  (What DID we do before smart phones? Really???)

I have been meaning to try Barbounia for quite some time (especially for brunch, which is supposed to be awesome).   But Restaurant Week seemed a great opportunity to check them out.

Here is the RW menu.

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The inside is beautiful.  Great arches with detailed lights.  It looks like it should be a good deal bigger, but it was somehow cozy in a very grand way.

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After ordered, we received a very warm, very fresh piece of bread.  The edges were especially delicious.

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I ordered the Grilled Oysters on half shell with tomato confit, fennel pollen hollandaise and parmesan crumble.  Since it was Restaurant Week, I was expecting 1 or 2 small oysters.  I was very surprised when it was 3 giant oysters. And they were DELICIOUS.  The top was like mild melted cheese that complimented the oysters without taking away from the flavor.  Really enjoyed this.

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Lori got the Roman salad with romaine hearts, artichokes, fennel, celery, shave pecorino cheese and bresola.  She seemed to enjoy it very much.

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For entrees, I got the duck confit.  It came with overnight braised farro, medjool dates, baby carrots, turnip with date syrup and 5 spice sauce (luckily, not one spice included peppers).  This was cooked to perfection, full of flavor, and falling off the bone.  The faro was ehh, but the sweet sauce was so good that when using the faro to sop it up, became mouthwatering.

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Lori got the grilled pork (which doesn’t appear to be on the menu that is posted).  I believe it came with Israeli cous cous, cipolin onions and black trumpet mushrooms. I though her dish was really outstanding.  The pork was a perfect blend of meat and fat so it was succulent, and the sauce it had was delicious.

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For dessert, we both opted for the dark chocolate mousse (also not on the posted menu) which came with a salted caramel sauce.

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The mousse itself had GREAT flavor.  Perfectly bitter sweet with chunks of chocolate.  When you hit the flecks of salt, it took the flavor to a whole different level. Unfortunately, while the flavor was great, the mousse itself was a bit gritty.  Tasted like the chocolate broke.  But it was so good in taste that it hardly mattered.

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Service was very good.  Our waitress was attentive without being overbearing and didn’t treat us like Restaurant Week lepers (an all-to-common theme during RW).

Overall, our meal here was surprisingly delicious.  I was impressed that a meal this good (and this big in portion!) had flown under my Restaurant Week radar.  They deserve accolades for serving food proportionate to their regular menu, and fantastic in ingredients and flavor.  They don’t skimp, and for that, they will earn my loyalty and I will be back.  A great execution of Restaurant Week.  Gave us just enough great food to bring us back for more.

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

NYC Restaurant Week- Winter 2012: Russian Tea Room

6 Feb

Our second stop this Restaurant Week was at The Russian Tea Room.  The Russian Tea Room is a NYC classic, but I had no idea why. I also had no idea why I had never been there before.  So Restaurant Week seemed as good a time as any to check it out.

When we entered, we were told that due to the popularity of Restaurant Week, they had opened up the 2nd floor, which was usually reserved for private parties.  The hostess bragged about the “Fabergé inspired” egg tree in the back…

This was a plastic tree with some plastic lit up eggs… I didn’t get it.

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She also bragged about the “bear aquarium” (which, much to my dismay, was a bear shaped fish aquarium and not, in fact, a big aquarium filled with bears).  It turned around and around in the dining room and was filled with large goldfish.

This makes me wonder… who, while decorating a dining room, says “I know what would be perfect! A bear shaped aquarium that spins!”  But hey… there was opulence everywhere in this dining room with no clear decoration direction… so I guess it went with the room.

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Onto the food!

The regular menu was VERY expensive.  All apps were $18-$35 ($18 for beet salad!) and most entrees were in the $36-$48 range ($39 for beef stroganoff and $38 for chicken kiev!)

We stuck to the Restaurant Week menu.

Mike started with the Goat Cheese and Wild Mushroom Blinchik which was described as a crêpe filled with mixed mushrooms, goat cheese, melted onions and lingonberries.  It was crispy and actually quite good.

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I got the borscht.  It was no Veselka, but it was decent. I found it tasted more like carrots than beets, but it was still hearty and good. It came with a small meat-pie type thing that was so so.

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Mike got the chicken a la king.  It both looked, and tasted, like wedding food.

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I got the filet of beef that came with garlic mashed potatoes and “baby vegetables.”  The mashed potatoes tasted quite bland (no garlic) and the “baby vegetables” consisted of a single carrot and a single piece of asparagus.  Neither were baby, unless the portion size was what they were describing. This also both looked, and tasted, like wedding food.  Cheap wedding food.

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For dessert, Mike got the cheesecake.  As a purist, he LOVED this.  It was absolutely pure cream cheese and sugar.  I can’t blame him for enjoying that.

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My dessert was the “chocolate dome.” It was filled with some raspberry something. It was overcooked, dry, and one note.  One of the most boring desserts I’ve ever tried.  Bleh.  When I don’t finish dessert, you know something is wrong.

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The service was also pretty horrid.  No one offered us refills on water nor wine, it took a long time between courses, and we waited 20 minutes for our check before finally asking a busser to get it.  Our waiter never even came over in the next 15 minutes before we left. Bravo.

Overall, the Russian Tea Room seems to be relying on it’s long-standing history and it’s opulence, rather than on its food and service.  The food was hardly passable, and had I spent more than the Restaurant Week price ($35 per meal), I would not have been pleased.  Even $35 for what we ate was decidedly overpriced.  This is the exact reason Restaurant Week has a bad rep.  I want to assume that they served so-so things to fit into the price of RW, rather than serving smaller portions of their regular menu (which gives people a reason to come back and eat off the regular menu).  If their regular menu is that bad, they are robbing New York tourists.

Total  Nom Points: 5 out of 10

NYC Restaurant Week- Winter 2012: Ruth’s Chris

6 Feb

I try to write about Restaurant Week each season.  This year I was away for the first week, but, thankfully, Winter 2012 Restaurant Week actually lasts 3 weeks.  So you have one week left.  Make your reservation! (Though it usually does get extended…)

This RW I decided that it would be a good idea to bring Mike to a steak house that I enjoyed very much, but not necessarily enough to want to bring him there for full price.  In my mind, I would much rather get the same meal somewhere else since I’ve already tried Ruth’s Chris and put it very firmly in the center of the NYC Steakhouse pile.  That’s not to say it’s not good, on the contrary… the buttered steak is something everyone should enjoy once in their life.  But there is some stiff competition out there (cough cough Keen’s cough cough).

Mike and I decided to take advantage of our reservation, and order one meal off the Restaurant Week menu and one a la carte from the specials section on the menu.

The Restaurant Week menu is here.

We started with the Steakhouse salad with vinaigrette dressing. This was a very good, very fresh salad with great croutons.

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Then we got the 8 ounce petite filet and paid the supplement to add grilled shrimp.  The shrimp were very tasty and totally worth the up-charge (nothing worse than paying extra for shoddy shrimp!). The steak itself was good.  It was charred well and full of flavor.  But it wasn’t exactly super special.  It was just good and well cooked.

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This Restaurant Week menu also comes with a side.  We chose creamed spinach.  This was decent. I prefer the one from The Palm by far.

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As for the a la carte special, you can choose a starter, steak, and get a dessert for about$50 (a veritable steal by NYC Steakhouse standard).

We started with the spinach and pear salad.  This is my kind of salad.  Sweet and filled with fruit. I know some people don’t like fruit in their green salad, but I’m a HUGE fan. And this didn’t disappoint.

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The Cowboy Ribeye is usually their best steak, but we didn’t need such a huge piece of meat, so we got the regular Ribeye.  This was very good, but surprisingly not as good as I remembered. It definitely had a leg up on the filete, but I remember the Ribeye having a lot more char (I’m such a char sucker). It was still quite delicious, however.

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They had a brown sugar and walnut butternut squash side on the menu and I opted to get this instead of the sweet potato casserole that I got in the past and loved.  this was good, but I missed that sweet potato casserole (which… let’s be honest… was really dessert).

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The dessert with both menus was their signature chocolate cheesecake. I LOVED this, but Mike, who is a cheesecake aficionado, likes his cheesecake pure and original. Can’t please everyone!

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Overall, this was a good Restaurant Week experience.  The special menu is actually quite a deal on its own, but spending $35 for a steak dinner is really never a bad thing.  I can’t say I LOVE this place… but it’s a good staple.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10