Archive | November, 2012

Vincent’s at The Whitehall Inn: Camden, Maine

20 Nov

With food being a focus for us when selecting our wedding venue, one of the first venues I wanted to see was The Whitehall Inn. It’s a historic inn in Camden, Maine and a place I have driven by many times but had never visited.  

We toured the facility and, sadly, decided it wasn’t quite right for our wedding (it wasn’t quite big enough and didn’t have a view of the water).  But we sat down at Vincent’s for dinner, the restaurant inside the inn.

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The restaurant itself was quaint and well appointed.  If we were local to the area and weren’t looking for that “Maine view” and/or had about 30-50 less guests, this place would have been magical.  (Here is a slideshow if you want to see more pictures of the inn itself, which is just beautiful).

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There is a very nice courtyard outside where they do wedding ceremonies. Again, really quaint and pretty, but just a bit too small.

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But we were there for the food.  I had spoken to them earlier and the only special request I had was that if we were going to have the wedding there, I wanted to have pavlova.  The chef was very excited to make it, but the rest was up to us to order.

We started with these little chive biscuits. They were perfect.  Warm with a crisp outside and soft inside. 

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We then tried the crab dip with melted cheddar. This was very good with the cheddar just sharp enough to be flavorful without taking away from the great taste of the crab.

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Our waiter offered to take a picture of us, so here is a rare appearance by Mike and I on the blog:

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Mike got the Vincent’s Ribeye which was served with garlic butter, Holland peperonata & fingerling potatoes. It was cooked perfectly and had a nice char on it.

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I went with the Maryland Crab Cakes which is an authentic Baltimore recipe using backfin and jumbo lump crab meat, served with fingerling potatoes and green beans.  It is rare that I get to eat crab cakes, because they are almost always made with peppers (which I am allergic to). These, however, were scrumptious.  

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A great crisp on the outside and just barely held together with the right amount of binding.  Big, delicious pieces of crab.  One of my favorite crab cakes of all time.

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And then… it was time for the pavlova.  This was perfect.  A hard shell and barely soft inside.  Great flavor and perfect with the fruit and the fruit spreads that were around it.

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So good, in fact, that for a moment I considered cutting our guest list to be able to get married here.  But only for a moment.

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If I were staying in the Camden area, I would stay at the Whitehall Inn in a heartbeat.  The inn is so charming and beautiful, in a great town, and the food was really great. I’m pretty sure most stays there come with breakfast, and if our dinner was any indication, that would be a real treat!

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

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Arrows: Ogunquit, Maine (Birthday Dinner… 3!)

15 Nov

As huge fans of Top Chef (especially Top Chef Masters), we were thrilled when not just one, but TWO chefs from Maine were featured last season. Chef Clark Frasier and Chef Mark Gaier are life partners and own the restaurant Arrows in Ogunquit, Maine which focuses on sustainable food. We decided we must make it a stop during our whirlwind tour of wedding venues in Maine. The fact that it was the day after my birthday (and after our amazing meals at Eventide and Hugo’s) was just icing on the cake.

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There are lovely gardens out back.

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And I just loved the inside. Exposed beams, trees, lanterns. I loved it. 

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I want to find those lanterns for the wedding!

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I loved the wood boxes and metal watering cans to hold the breadsticks. And the baskets to hold the bottles of water. Nice touches. All very rustic and my style.

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Here was the menu for that night:

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Of course, I tried the Blue Honeybee cocktail. Why “of course?” Two of my favorite things: honey and wild Maine blueberries.

This had blueberry infused vodka, fresh lime, Maine made mead and soda, and garnished with orange marinated blueberries.

Yum!

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They served 3 different homemade butters. I had trouble deciding which I loved most. They were all so good.

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We decided to continue our tasting menu adventure by going with the “Chef’s Collection” which was a 6 course menu of oysters, prosciutto, silver striper, duck, lamb, and dessert box.

We started with 3 different types of oysters.  Fried oysters with green goddess sauce, poached in cream with chives and shallots, and chilled with green garlic and chive vinaigrette.

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I loved the crispy of the fried oyster with the green goddess sauce.  Great compliment.

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The prosciutto was slightly smoky and salty.  The greens on top were a nice counter to the rich meat. 

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The silver striper was pan roasted with kohlrabi fondue, sweet garlic pickled collard greens, and shaved carrot and buttermilk cheese salad.  Great textures and flavors combining into a very nice dish.

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Our next dish was the duck, and it had a few different versions. The menu titled it as “Duck, strawberries, and rhubarb” and had 3 components:

1- Smoked duck breast with duck cracklings, rhubarb chips, and a microgreen salad (top left part of the picture below) served with a sparkling sake and strawberry mimosa (top right).  All components of this were well paired and tasty.

2- Duck confit “cube” with strawberry gelee and port wine sauce (bottom right). This was so rich and decadent. I LOVED this part of the dish.

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And 3- Duck saucisson with pickled rhubarb with rhubarb-tarragon mustard and potato pancake.  This is in a separate picture because it was the only component of the dish that had peppers, so it was on Mike’s plate and not mine. Mike enjoyed it.

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Next up was the lamb, which was also prepared in 3 ways:

1- Fried belly with tarragon vinegar (Umami, rich, and delicious)

2- Braised shank with fennel puree and fennel salad (I don’t love fennel, but it was the perfect foil for the shank)

3- Grilled lamb with huckleberry gastrique (My favorite! The slight sweetness from the huckleberry was great with the grilled flavors0

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It was a beautiful dish,

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And cooked perfectly with crispness in the right places.

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The entrees ended and Mike and I both noted how the meal just kept building and building on itself.  It was a solid, surprising, and delicious meal that we again said was even better than our impression leave Jean Georges just days before.

And then the dessert came out. To be honest, I have no idea what any of this was. We were in such blissful fullness and this wasn’t written on the menu I photographed, so I will say that everything was good but I don’t remember anything specifically standing out. I remember thinking that I was glad for the smaller portion sizes because it allowed me to sample without feeling like I was wasting food.

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And they were lovely enough to bring me out a birthday treat. 

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Which consisted of donuts in all different forms and a smoothie of sorts. Again, I remember it being good but not outstanding.

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Though you cant beat a whole cherry in a fried pastry!

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And then there was still a tower of cookies to come! I really enjoyed these last little nibbles as we headed out.

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Overall, we were really impressed with Arrrows. Sure, they relied on the trios and some food magic that has become in some ways “cliche” in fine dining lately. But I’m sorry, I love the cliche. I love when a chef can make my food taste great and look artistic. I love being able to sample small bites and I enjoy tasting menus like this. In fact, I would say I’m pretty much a sucker for it.

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

PS- I cannot believe I got to go to Jean George’s, Eventide, Hugo’s, and Arrows within 4 days of each other, surrounding my birthday. Have I mentioned how gosh darn fortunate I am?  I am thankful every day for this life I get to live. It is fantastic!

Hugo’s: Portland, ME (AKA Birthday Dinner Take 2)

13 Nov

I was very fortunate to be able to spend my actual birthday weekend in Maine.  We were there to find a wedding venue (more on that at this blog) but we managed to squeeze in some really great meals.  On my actual birthday, we went to Hugo’s, one of the restaurants that put Portland, Maine on the map of foodie towns. Hugo’s is actually owned by the same people as Eventide, where we went the day before, and set the stage quite well for this meal (and happens to be right next door).

This restaurant is decorated very simply but elegantly, without being too fancy. 

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I especially enjoyed the single stem rose on the table with the pinch bowl for salt.

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We started with some signature cocktails, which were insanely good.  Mike got the PDT’s, which was a Bacon Bourbon Old Fashioned with bacon infused bourbon, maple, orange, and Fee Bros. old fashioned bitters. I got the Marmalade Sour which was with tequila, burnt orange, and lime.  Original and delicious.

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They placed these homemade biscuits with garlic and potato flour on the table and they just smelled great. It was served with hand churned butter and everything had perfect texture. 

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A delish bite.

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We went with the tasting menu and sprung for the wine pairings.

Our first course was pickle herring with mustard seed and potato crisp paired with a Spanish sparkling wine. I thought it was very fresh and not the mustard seeds were not overpowering (I’m not a mustard person and find that it distracts me from flavors usually).

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And the wine was perfect with it.

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Course two was fluke mousse medallions with cauliflower purée and quinoa arugula broth. This tasted very “green” and was served cold. It wasn’t so much mousse as it was pâté.  I really loved it, but Mike wasn’t a huge fan.  

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Course 3 was a lobster beet salad with orange purée, baby kale, and pecorino. The dish was light and flavorful. The acid of the vinaigrette cut the greenness of the beets and the wine went exceptionally well. There was a bit of a lemon candy flavor that complimented everything very well.

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Course 4 was grilled yellow fin tuna from Massachusetts.  It was delicious tuna tartar with maitkai mushroom purée, hajji, and chili oil… As the server went to put this down in front of me, he immediately noticed the chili oil in mine and took it back to the kitchen.  It was very quickly replaced. This dish was pretty damn awesome.  The waitress told us that she was actually a bit excited that the kitchen screwed mine up so she could try it.  And the wine pairing? Perfection. 

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Our last savory course was a duo of chicken. The red wine that was paired with this was absolutely awesome.  We found that the souvied dark meat was much better than the breast. The sauce reminded us of kasha and was very nice with it.

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For dessert, we were served a moscato which was an absolutely great glass of wine.

Out came a lime sorbet with watermelon gele, mint melon balls, and prosciutto.  It was a very good palette cleanser and everything went incredibly well together.

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By this time, we had been drinking enough that I forgot to take a picture of the corn gelato with tomato sweet jam basil and popcorn. We think… the notes got blurry here as well.

This was served with DuPont cider.  The best way I could think to describe it was that it tasted like hay… in a REALLY good way. The sweet corn gelato was absolutely awesome. I also really liked the corn cake and tomato but Mike thought it tasted like home made corn pops (he didn’t mention whether this was a good thing or a bad thing).  When I got a little bite of everything together it was absolute bliss.  I actually wrote down that it was one of my favorite bites… ever.   

We then had some little treats, but we were just too stuffed (okay… and drunk) to write it down or remember what it was. Whoops. Note how blurry the picture is as well.  Whoops x2.

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I absolutely LOVED our meal at Hugo’s. I was incredibly impressed and felt this could rival many meals we have had in the past in NYC.  It also made us realize that we enjoyed this meal (especially some of the innovative touches) even more than Jean George’s. I highly, highly recommend a visit if you’re in Portland, Maine.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

Eventide in Portland, Maine

8 Nov

Right before embarking on our whirlwind tour of venues in Maine, we spent a night in Portland, Maine with a new friend, the photographer and husband of the editor for Eater Maine (whose last name happens to be the same as mine, though surprisingly, no relation). 

He recommended we visit a favorite of Eater Maine, Eventide Oyster Co.  Eventide  is the sister restaurant of Maine staple, Hugo’s (where we ate for my birthday the day after, more on that later!)

They specialize in, you guessed it, oysters.

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They have many varieties and part of the bar itself is made up of the oysters on ice, with a shucker going to town behind the bar.

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They also have a great selection of local brews, and we were finally able to try Oxbow.  This quickly became one of our favorite beers and we drank a lot of it on this road trip!

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We went with half a dozen Winter Points and half a dozen Basket Island oysters (both local to Maine).  These were fantastic, though I really loved the Winter Points.

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We then tried the Eventide Lobster Roll and the Fried Oyster Bun.

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They were served in more of a steamed bun (like a Chinese pork bun consistency) and everything was flavored so insanely well.  This was not your classic lobster roll, but it was nice to have a new spin on an old classic.  Mike and I weren’t very hungry, so we split both of them, but boy oh boy did I regret not having my own.  They were so damn good.  

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And even the bathrooms stayed on theme.

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I was really impressed by Eventide.  They are doing new things with good food and everyone there is excited to be doing what they are doing.  The vibe is great and the food far surpasses expectations.  I can’t wait to go back.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

Birthday Dinner 2012: Jean Georges

6 Nov

Mike and I have a tradition for our birthdays that I absolutely love. Every year we surprise each other with a reservation at one of the best restaurants in Manhattan.  He has taken me to some amazing meals, including Daniel, Le Bernardin, and (our #1) WD-50.

(Have I mentioned recently that I am an incredibly lucky gal?)

This year, Mike surprised me with a reservation at the famous Jean Georges.  They have a few different Prix Fixe menus that change often. Here was our menu on August 15th, 2012:

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Mike chose the Summer menu. I went with the Jean Georges menu because they informed me that they could not do the Summer Menu without peppers.  They could make the necessary changes, however, to make sure I didn’t get any.

Our reservation was for 8:45pm and we sat right around that time.

They had a lot of options for bread, but I really loved the pretzel rolls they served.

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And it was a very good thing that I liked that bread so much, because it was a full 45 minutes before our amuse bouche arrived.

The amuse was a carrot suit with sesame and okra and sea urchin. The original had peppers in it, but I got a pepper-less version.  The soup, sesame, and okra was very good but the sea urchin had 0 flavor.

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For our next course, we sat, and sat, and sat. It was at this moment that my heart sank. I wanted SO badly to love Jean Georges. It’s a New York staple. And shouldn’t Jean Georges have great service?  We were so spoiled by our service at Le Bernardin, but this was getting really bad.

It was 55 minutes later that our 1st course came out. It was now almost 10:30pm and we were just starting our tasting menu… le sigh.

Our first course was the toasted egg yolk.  This was the one thing off the Summer Menu that I really wanted, so I was very pleased that I got it on my menu.  This was absolutely delicious. 

 

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It had the texture of grilled cheese with that salty caviar. It was a great combination and a great texture. I loved it and hoped that the whole meal would be this unique and delicious, to make up for the slow service.

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Mike’s next course was on the original menu: Foie gras and market strawberry terrine, bitter chocolate and brioche. They said this had peppers in it, but I took a little nibble and I didn’t detect any.  And then I took another nibble and another and another. Frankly, I couldn’t get enough of this so even if it did have peppers, I convinced myself it didn’t (if it did, it was barely a trace).  The bitter sweet chocolate with the strawberry and rich foie gras.  Boy oh boy. This is how foie gras was meant to be.

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I got scallops which were very nicely seared with a very slight crisp. The cauliflower added flavor without taking away from the delicate flavor of the scallop. Very nice.

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I was then served the following, which while I at first thought was some sort of rose petal soup, was merely a dipping bowl for ones hands.  Good thing they told me that before I sank my spoon in!  It was a very nice touch.

 

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Mike’s next course was charred corn ravioli with tomato salad and basil fondue.  It was a great combination of fresh flavors. Sweet and very nice, though Mike said he wanted more ravioli in the dish.

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My next course was garlic soup with frog legs.

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They instructed me to dip the legs into the soup.  It was actually a great combination of flavors and I really enjoyed the mild garlic soup with the salty legs.

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Mike’s next course was trout with charred eggplant and peppers sauce. I didn’t try this one, but Mike concluded that he doesn’t love red fish and this relied too much on the sauce for flavor.  There was really a need for crunch on the top because the fish was a bit mushy.

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My next course was turbo with wine sauce.  The sauce was absolutely incredible.  I really loved it.

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Next , Mike had the lobster in yuzu, chanterelles, and squash.  This was really delightful. Great flavors.

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My next course was lobster with tomato broth. It had a mild mint flavor to it.  My tail piece was a bit overcooked but my claw was perfectly cooked. It was nothing like Maine Lobster Pound lobster though (then again… what is?)

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There was quite a wait between each course even after the initial gaps, so at some point between course 5 and course 6, our waiter brought us a free wine pairing on the house for our next course. That was a very nice touch.

Mike’s next course was the lamb with a smoked chili glaze. It was absolutely perfectly cooked from the looks of it, but Mike said the chili sauce/rub was really overpowering to the flavor and the sides (new onion compote and pole beans) were just “meh.”

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I somehow forgot to photograph my last savory course, but it was squab. It had curry, which I’m typically not a fan of, but this one was very good.  It was a bit hard to cut but the corn cake with foie was quite good.  The lemon with it was too lemony and was pretty overpowering for the dish.

At this point, we were both pretty full (and tired), but our most anticipated courses were yet to come.

On to dessert!

Mike had the cherry dessert tasting which had a few variations of cherry desserts. Mike’s favorite was the cherry almond creme brulee. It also had cherry with champagne something-in-french-with-cherries in the jar and black forest cake with cherries.  These were very pretty, but really just okay in flavor.

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I got the chocolate tasting which included chocolate lava cake (fantastic), a candy bar (just ehh), apricot with mcadamia nuts and lavender (I thought it tasted like soap, but Mike liked it), and a lemon meringue like dessert (my fave).  None of it worked together, but it was a nice assortment.

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The candy bar, while so-so on flavor, was really beautiful.

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I was beyond stuffed at this point, but a very nice happy birthday present came out (filled with chocolate mousse).

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And then a guy came by and cut us some homemade marshmallows.

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Which were fluffy and perfect.

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And then out came a candy sampler (the wrapped ones had chipotle, but the rest were just okay).

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And then macarons, which had good flavor but were a bit too small to be texturally right.

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And then I got a goody bag to take home that had some candy “for the lady.” It was a nice treat the day after on our way up to Maine (more on that later)

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By the time we finished our meal it was after 1am.  Over 4.5 hours.  Ridiculous.  

And when we sat and thought about it, we realized that our meal was really, really good… but was it great? Was it even memorable? 

I couldn’t even put it in the top 10. Maybe not even the top 20. What a bummer.  It’s not that anything was bad… in fact, most of our dishes were far above average. But it just wasn’t what we expected from such a famous place.  And the service?  Way too slow. Ridiculously slow. Bummer. Bummer Bummer.

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

 

 

My favorite steakhouse of all time: Keens

1 Nov

I am a lucky lady. I have been to many of the best steakhouses in NYC.  And yet, my heart belongs to Keens.

I wrote about them quickly at the very beginning of this blog, but I somehow managed to not dedicate an entire post to my favorite steakhouse. I must rectify that immediately.

Keens is located on 36th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues and has been in that location since 1885.

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The most memorable part of Keens, besides the food, is the pipe collection that adorns the walls and nearly every inch of the ceiling. (You can see them in the picture below, if you look hard enough, lined up all along the ceiling)

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The pipes are specifically churchwarden pipes, which were too fragile to carry around, so people would join the Pipe Club and leave their pipe at Keens to enjoy their next time around.

It’s also has a historical footnote in women’s history: 

“In 1905 Lillie Langtry, actress and paramour of King Edward of England, took Keens to court for having denied her access to its gentlemen-only premises. She won her case, swept into Keens in her feathered boa and proceeded to order one of our famous mutton chops.” (Source

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Keens is famous for their mutton, which I had never had before I went to Keens.

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And right behind the bar is Miss Keens. She both seems to be looking over the place and luring you in. 

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While the main dining room is fantastic (especially for a business meal), their Pub Menu is very reasonably priced for a steakhouse and has some absolutely fantastic dishes.

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My alltime favorite is the Prime Rib Hash. This is one of those meals that I can have again and again. It’s like a giant potato latke with pieces of prime rib in it, topped with a fried egg.  The whole thing just combines so perfectly.  Magic in your mouth.

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And the creamed spinach is always spot on. Not too dry and not too wet.  Just perfect.

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We also had the pub-sized mutton chop.  It’s a huge serving, even though it’s called “pub-sized” and even though Mike and I split all this, we couldn’t finish everything. Not even close.

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And on every table is some housemade mint jelly.  I don’t love mint jelly, but something about this one is quite good, especially with that mutton.

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I absolutely love Keens and recommend it to just about everyone who asks for either a great steak house or a great meal near midtown. Everyone that has gone has agreed… Keens never disappoints.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10