Archive | September, 2012

Grand Opening: Tavola

30 Sep

We lived around the corner from a pretty infamous place: Manganaro’s. There were 2 restaurants: Manganaro’s Hero Boy and (the late) Manganaro’s Grosseria.  They were side by side and the grocery displayed a sign very specifically stating that they had no affiliation with Hero Boy next door.  It was a very long family feud and the restaurants had both been there for over a hundred years. Anthony Bourdain had famously lived in an apartment above these restaurants before he made it big. He even featured them on a show a few years back.

I ate there once, and they had a group of Italian ladies fighting and cursing pretty constantly in the background, while cranking out awesome old fashioned Italian food that they served on floppy paper plates.  

But then, they closed. After all those years.

A new restaurant quickly started going in, and last week, the NY Times featured this new restaurant, Tavola, in an article.  Tavola opened on Friday (or thereabouts) and we went for a late night dinner.

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The menu is full of the classics.

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And they kept many pieces of the Grosseria as it was, giving it a bit of flashback to days gone by.

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They kept the old ceilings.

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And the very pretty old sky light in the back.

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They built a brand new oven that was quite beautiful.

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And they are doing their pizzas in this wood burning oven.

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It is a good mix of new and old, and it was instantly comfortable.  Even though it just opened, by keeping a lot of the old design, it felt somehow as if this place had been there forever.

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When we entered, it was pretty full and service was buzzing.  There was some confusion and we waited a bit too long for things like bread, water, and the check, but it was obvious that there were just small kinks that needed to be ironed out.

We started with hearty bread.  It was well flavored and good and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

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We had the arugula and fire roasted artichoke salad.  This was good, with a very nice dressing. I wanted more flavor and more quantity of artichokes, but overall it was a nice starter.

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We then tried the wild boar and veal meatballs, with fresh mint and pine nuts. These had a very nice flavor and the mint was a nice compliment.

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Then we had the lasagna with veal meat sauce.  I really loved this dish. The noodles were thicker and really held up to the layers.  The sauce was great and this tasted like everything you want from classic Italian.

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Overall, everything we had was very good and very hearty.  I can see this becoming a really nice, local place to eat on a cold night. As they iron out some of the service issues and get cranking, I can see them doing a very good business here in the section just south of Hell’s Kitchen.

The neighborhood is really growing with tons of new restaurants and building, and I’m glad to have Tavola as part of that growth.

Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10

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Sublime: Gladstone, NJ

25 Sep

I have a tendency to be a bit of a New York City snob (maybe elitist is a better word?).  I’ve had amazing food in many places, but I don’t think any place can come close to rivaling NYC as a food city.  And I especially don’t think of my home state of Jersey as being a food mecca.  So when my mom told me about this “AMAZING” place called Sublime in Gladstone, NJ… I was skeptical.

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But the menu sounded quite promising in its descriptions (since the menu is seasonal and changed all the time, I included our menus below).

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And it was designed with a nice aesthetic and we were greeted by an incredibly friendly hostess. Our service the entire meal was actually fantastic.

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And has a brand new porch area that looked lovely to sit at. (It was a bit too cold for that when we ate there)

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I started with a craft beer flight (they were already speaking my language!)

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It was a really nice trip through very different beers and we had fun passing them all around for everyone to try.

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Then we began eating.  They began with the tuna sliders which were mini spicy tuna burgers on brioche bun with sliced tomato, cucumber, and sriracha mayo.  Everyone besides my sister and I (who are both allergic to peppers) enjoyed these.

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We also had a wedge salad which was topped with applewood smoked bacon, radish and hard boiled egg. Yum.

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I began with the crab and avocado salad which came with jumbo lump blue crab eat with avocado, red onion, cilantro and lemon/thyme vinaigrette.  This was so fresh and so full of flavor. I just loved it. And what a beautiful presentation.

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First entree up was the NY Strip which was a grilled 16 oz. strip over truffled fingerling potatoes and topped with an herbed garlic port wine reduction.  This was cooked perfectly and had all these great rich flavors and textures.  Really enjoyable.

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Someone tried the Macadamia Crusted cod which was a red miso marinated Chatham cod crusted in macadamia nuts served over mango sticky rice and sake braised baby bok choy.  SO. GOOD.

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We also had the sea scallops, which were pan seared diver sea scallops over truffled smashed potatoes with sweet creamed corn and fried leeks.  The crisp on the fried leaks was a great foil for the tender scallops.  Each bite was better than the last.

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One person got the seafood yaki udon, which had sautéed shrimp and scallops with seasonal vegetables and udon noodles in a sweet garlic oyster sauce. Very tasty.

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And I got the short ribs.  These were boneless Rioja braised short ribs with oven roasted vegetables and Yukon gold smashed potatoes.  I’m pretty sure I moaned when I ate these.  Everything short ribs should be.  Tender, packed with flavor, in a slightly sweet and rich sauce.  Sensational.

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Sheesh! This took me by surprise. I was sitting here having a really fantastic meal… and in NJ.  (Though the prices could certainly rival NY!)

Always trust the mama.

She then informed us that the desserts were really phenomenal and not to be missed. Well fine mom, twist my arm.

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We started with the banana rangoons, which were deep fried wontons filled with banana and toasted hazelnuts served with dark chocolate sauce.  Awesome.

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Then we had the milk chocolate praline pudding, which was housemade and topped with fresh whipped cream.  Great flavor, but it could have used a little more texture in my opinion.  Some sort of crisp. But we’d be splitting hairs to make this meal any better.

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And then… it came.

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The single most impressive apple crisp I have ever had… in my life.

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It is listed on the menu as “For 2” but this thing could easily serve about 6 people.  It came with vanilla bean ice cream and caramel sauce that just dripped right down the side of the dish.  It was an apple crisp for the records. Usually toppings on apple crisps don’t stay crispy.  They just get kind of mushy and I assumed that was the way it always had to be.  Au contraire my apple crisp loving self!  This was so good that I actually told the waiter that I wanted to send word back to the pastry chef that this was incredible and I was impressed. He came back to tell me that the chef mentioned that he bakes it at a low temperature for a very long time to get the crisp.  Good. To. Know.

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I still can’t believe how wildly good this meal was.  I’m not sure if it was the sheer surprise of it, or if the food was just that sensational.  My mom has always been quite a good judge of food, so I should have trusted her more.  I just couldn’t believe a restaurant like this would exist in a little town in the middle of the Jerz.  All the food was outrageously good, but that apple crisp gets its own 0.5 Nom Point boost.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

ZoneManhattan Week 4 Weigh In

24 Sep

I am down just over 11 pounds. The weight loss has obviously slowed down, but I’m glad to be seeing progress continue.  And then there’s Mike… Mike is down 19 pounds! He’s looking slim and trim and I can’t help but feel a bit jealous of how easily men lose weight compared to women. But I’m proud of him!

Unfortunately, ZoneManhattan has screwed up twice now by putting peppers in my food. It’s frustrating because we pay a lot for the service and it’s really the only food we have. So if I can’t eat one piece of it, I am super hungry (and cranky).  As long as I can eat each meal, I don’t find myself hungry at all, but having to skip one sucks.  I called to complain, so hopefully they are more careful in the future.

Ditch Plains (AKA Romper Room)

20 Sep

We were exploring near the Upper West Side and were in pursuit of a lunch place. I noticed that Ditch Plains was close by, and it had recently been recommended to me. (They also have a location in Greenwich Village)

We entered and realized that we were no longer in Kansas.

More like Romper Room.

I guess word got out that this place was kid friendly, because the strollers in the shot below only show about half of what was packed into their small entry-way.  It wasn’t really a problem as much as it was weird to be the only people in a restaurant without a child (and an iPad playing a cartoon). After looking at the site, it appears that they are not just kid friendly, but also kid healthy with a kid’s menu that follows USDA dietary guidelines.

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The restaurant itself has a wide open feel and a few communal tables.  Surprisingly, it was not very noisy, even with all those kids.

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We started our lunch with some Porkslap Pale Ale. Always a favorite for Mike and me.

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We began with a half dozen roasted oysters (seems we’ve been starting with oysters a lot lately!)  They were with garlic and parsley butter and quite tasty.

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Mike got (shocker) the burger. It was called the Big Marc and had spiked ketchup, housemade pickles, homemade black pepper (huh?), cheddar bun, jalapeño, and cheddar tater tots.  I couldn’t try the burger, but Mike liked it and I was a fan of those cheddar tater tots!

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I got the seared sea scallops with charred corn puree, summer vegetables, and basil walnut pistou.  

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Even though the scallops looked a bit burnt, they were cooked perfectly and really delicious.  The base was really delicious and fresh.

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We were in a indulgent mood, so we got dessert as well.  Sadly, I can’t recall what this one was:

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But I sure know that this was the s’mores!

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There are few things in life that I love more than s’mores.

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And these ooey-gooey ones did not disappoint in the slightest!

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Overall, the food was very good at Ditch Plains and we enjoyed our lunch.  I am curious about other meals there and would certainly go back if in the area.  I was a bit nervous that the kids would be loud and obnoxious, but it wasn’t too bad at all.  If you have a family, this seems like a fantastic place to go.  Kids are well taken care of and accepted and food is very good.  I hate to think I’d have to sacrifice eating out at good restaurants when I have kids, so I appreciate that this place exists for that reason at least.

Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Cups

18 Sep

I am a huge fan of Pinterest.  I have posted my favorite recipes and restaurants, as well as recipes I want to try. And don’t even get me started on how much of my wedding I have been pinning!

One recipe I stumbled on was Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Peanut Butter Cups.  My homemade peanut butter cups are pretty well known and the idea of making cookie dough cups seemed pretty awesome.

You start by heating butter until milted and then stir in brown sugar, then remove from heat and whisk in the peanut butter.

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I whisked in the vanilla and it looked pretty liquidy.

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But after the 20 minutes of cooling, it firmed up nicely, just like dough.  And I added the chocolate chips (mini chips would be best for this).

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While it cooled, I lined my most favoritist cup molds with chocolate.  I have found an even faster way to do this by putting just the right amount of chocolate chips (6 small or 4 big) into each cup and then putting that in the microwave until it just melts. Then using my finger to spread it around and up the sides. SO simple!

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Once the dough was cool, I rolled it up into little balls.

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And placed each ball into a cup.

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The pushed each ball down so it was flat and just below the top.

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At this point I melted more chocolate, placed a dollop on top of each cup, and then tamped it down so it created the top of the cup.  When you bought into it, you could see a perfect dough filled chocolate cup.  I am explaining this to you because I was too busy eating these suckers to take a picture. WHOOPS!

I really liked these, but they were just too close to the peanut butter cups (and not quite as good) to make it into the usual repertoire.  I made these again the following week and did it without the peanut butter.  I kept adjusting the recipe until it tasted more like cookie dough (including adding flour to get the consistency right) and it was DAMN good.  That version may make it… we’ll see.

Here is the recipe that connects from Pinterest.

ZoneManhattan Week 3 Weigh In

17 Sep

10.8 pounds down even after eating our weight in meat at Meatopia last Saturday!  I tried on wedding dresses this weekend and was amazed how much of a difference 10.8 pounds makes.  I also am down a full size in pants. WOO!

The Australian

13 Sep

I have passed by The Australian nearly every day for the past 5 months on my walk to and from work.  I decided it would be a good place to meet up with a friend for a quick drinks and a bite.  We arrived during happy hour and found that they had live music. Some very good rock from the 90s kept us happy the entire time.

We started with the Aussie Sliders which came with seasoned mini beef burgers, topped with pepper jack cheese, served with beets.  We went with no cheese (due to my allergy).  These had nice flavor.

Then we tried the Grilled Kangaroo Skewers, which came with four roo skewers, basted with tamarind barbecue sauce and grilled rare, served over a bed on julienned carrots and cucumbers and dusted with toasted and chopped cashews.  I thought it would be fun to try something so novel!  We were both surprised how much it tasted like tender steak.  Quite good.

But the real reason I was there was for the pavlova.  Not a lot of places serve pavlova, and I’m kind of obsessed with it, so we had to get it.

It had a really nice passion fruit sauce around it and a big pile of whipped cream.  The pavlova itself was quite good, with a crunchy shell and soft give in the center.  Pavlova isn’t a complex dessert, but this one was executed well and tasted great.  Thumbs up!

Overall, The Australian is a better than average bar. It has all the makings of a run-of-the-mill establishment, but the food is interesting and flavorful, they have live music, and they have pavlova!  Score!  I’m curious to try some other things on the menu and have a full meal there.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 7

The Smith Restaurant: East Village

11 Sep

My friend had a spare ticket to a concert at Webster Hall and mentioned that she really liked the Restaurant, The Smith, around the corner. I had heard good things, so away we went.

We started with some oysters, which were quite good.

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She got the 15 Hour Pork (a Monday special).  It looked quite good and she seemed to like it, but it didn’t seem to thrill her.

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We split some brussels sprouts, which were roasted nicely with a good crispy.  Very good.

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I actually ran into a bit of an issue with my allergy. While most of the dishes seemed pretty safe, it turns out they use peppers in a lot of their sauces and seasonings.  I had very few options to choose from, but I decided to go with bibimbop (one of my favorite Korean dishes). It was nicely fresh with sushi rice, edamame, shitake, bean sprouts, pickled carrots, spinach, and a sunny side up egg.  It was pretty good, but definitely lacking in depth of flavor. I’m pretty sure they had to leave a sauce out, due to the peppers, which probably had a good bit of flavor.

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I don’t think I could really give The Smith a fair shot since I couldn’t eat most of the dishes. But the fact that the dish I did have was kind of bland made it seem like they focus on spice for flavor instead of relying on doing good things with good ingredients.  I won’t put this as a stake in the ground, but my take on it was entirely average.

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10

ZoneManhattan Week 2 Weigh In and Update

9 Sep

Week 2 has me 9 pounds down and Mike is 8 down!  We have both noticed that our clothes are fitting better.

For the first few days, we both had headaches.  But we realized we were both taking a supplement and when we stopped, headaches for both of us ended.  Now we’re feeling good, though Mike seems to be a bit hungrier than I am.

We ran into a snag with the site, however. Turns out, even though they seem to have the renewal process fully online, Mike’s 1st day of the renewal came with no food delivery. He called to find out that they didn’t store our credit card info and needed it again to restart the program.  I called (my renewal was set for the next day) and was told the same thing.  There was no way for us to know this was an issue had we not spoken to them.  Why no one called us about this, we have no idea, and the woman that answered the phone didn’t seem all that concerned.  I even wrote to their help desk to mention that this was not a good user experience, but they also seemed to care very little.

It’s a shame because we’ve really enjoyed the rest of the program.  Customer service should be on top of that. It can be as easy as putting a note on their site to call them once you submit the renewal.  Right now it just says “Thanks for renewing. A nutritionist will be in touch shortly.”  But we heard from no nutritionist.  I also find this weird… why wouldn’t they call to check up on us? See how it’s going? Ask if we want to keep our calorie count the way it is?

It seems they have a great product and delivery has been good so far, but their customer service could use some fine tuning.

Luckily, we don’t need to deal with that too often, so 1 more month is ahead of us!

Meatopia 2012

9 Sep

 

Yesterday, we had the pleasure of attending Meatopia 2012.  It was held on Randall’s Island, which is a bit of a pain in the butt to get to, but serves as a really nice space for a food festival.  (We took the bus to 102nd and took the foot bridge across, the walked up and got a wee bit lost, but figured it out. We then took the water taxi back.)

You never really know what you’re going to get when you go to a food festival, and it’s especially concerning when you spend that much money ($150 General Admission, but we got our tix from Thrillist for $130 which included admission an hour earlier).  Luckily, Meatopia was exactly how food festivals should run. Enough food for everyone, presence by celebrity chefs who weren’t just there for PR but were actually cooking, reasonable lines, not over-crowded, and all-inclusive (all drinks and food on premises were included in the admission ticket).  

We had a really great day there, even though there was a big storm and it poured for part of it.  We hit almost every stand, and did our best to try just a bite of everything (we’d get one serving and split it between us).

Both Mike and I had the same #1 dish. And it won by a landslide.  Chef Aaron Franklin served brisket from Franklin BBQ (based in Austin, TX).  We saw a long line and wondered what could have a longer line than the celebrity chef stands we had already hit up (in the pouring rain no less). When I realized it was Franklin BBQ, I nearly skipped back to where Mike was saving our place. You see, we had just watched the first episode of the final season of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation, where Bourdain went to Austin during SXSW. Bourdain stopped by 2 BBQ joints, one of which was Franklin’s.  I actually posted on Facebook (are you a fan of NYC Nom Nom on Facebook yet? What are you waiting for?) while watching the episode that I wanted to lick the TV because it looked so good.  So when we happened to be at a festival serving Franklin’s just a few days later, we were very excited.  But could it live up to the hype? Oh yes… yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.  Best BBQ I think I have ever had.  WOW.  And as I balanced my brisket on top of my beer while holding onto my umbrella in the pouring rain, I asked for a fork.  Chef Franklin said that the brisket was meant to be eaten with the hands to get better acquainted with the meat.  Well done chef, well done.  It fell apart and had all the right bite, melty fat, and crisp char.  Gosh was it good.  

Here are all the pictures we took, mostly starting with a red sign explaining the dish followed by the picture of the dish.  Comments below the pictures reflect things that were especially memorable or clarity when I forgot to take a photo.