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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

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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