Archive | December, 2012

Zoob Zib

28 Dec

Within the past year, we noticed that a new Thai Noodle Bar had opened down the street on 9th Avenue between 35th and 36th. We walked by it as we walked to and from the movie theater, or the High Line, or basically anywhere downtown on the west side. We always mentioned that we should try it, but it took us until a cold December night to pop in.

Zoob Zib is from the owners of Aura Thai restaurant (we live in the “Thai Town” section of southern Hell’s Kitchen, and I find that of the hundreds of Thai restaurants to choose from in a 5 block radius, there is very little that sets them apart, so I cannot tell you if Aura is one of the good ones or one of the mediocre ones).      

The interior is actually quite nice, with the old halogen lights and mason jars turned into chandeliers.  Yup, it’s totally cliche right now, but I love that style.

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We started our first visit (yes… there have already been multiple) with a duck roll appetizer. It was roasted duck, scallion, cucumbers and hoisin sauce wrapped in a tortilla pancake. It was all nicely flavored and balanced and the fresh cucumbers and scallions were really nice.

 

On our second adventure, we tried the scallion pancakes. I’m not sure why they called them pancakes, especially since they stood them up in little triangles, but they were nice and crispy. I think they were lacking in flavor a bit, but I couldn’t eat the sauce (due to peppers). That probably would have balanced it better.

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I also took the second set of pictures with my brand new camera. I have had my old camera for nearly 3 years, and while it suited my purposes, it is old enough that the zoom stopped working and the lens would stick. So it was time for a new one.  My sister did some research to help me narrow down the options and I went to B&H Camera to try them out.  Turns out, a lot has improved in 3 years! I wound up very happily leaving with the Fujifilm FX1 after testing it in low light, up close situations. This was taken in extreme low light, and it’s a point and shoot, yet it still got clarity and depth of focus. YAY! (First round pics taken midday by a bright window with my iPhone 5).

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In the first round, Mike tried the Bah Mee Moo Daeng from the Specialty Noodles section, which was roast pork, minced pork, golden fish ball, fried chicken and shrimp wonton, half sliced egg and egg noodles.  He enjoyed it, and I thought it had a really nice lemongrass flavor.

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But mine was awesome.  I got the Crispy Rard Nah which came with sautéed gravy. sautéed chinese broccoli in gravy over crispy egg noodles or chow fun noodles. (I got mine with egg noodles).  Our waitress warned that the noodles were fried first to be crispy, but then were put in the sauce so didn’t come out as such.  What I really didn’t expect was that the “gravy” would actually be more like soup. But OHHH was it delicious.  Very umami in flavor.  I really enjoyed it.

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So when we went back a few weeks later, both Mike and I got that dish.  Mike got his with duck and including peppers.

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And I decided to try the chow fun (thick noodles) version which came with Chinese broccoli only (different vegetables from the egg noodles version). It was very good, but I preferred the other vegetables (though the thick noodles were really great).

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I also have to pat myself on the back for my next decision, which was to get an add on of pork cracklings and a pah-lo egg.  These were absolutely fantastic additions to the soupy dish.  The cracklings added salty, crispyness and they were not at all stale (something that I was starting to assume just came with the territory of pork cracklings).  And the egg is mildly sweet (in a good way) and was delicious in the gravy. 

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We were so pleasantly surprised by our meal(s) here.  I haven’t had “noodles” like this before, and have stuck to the Pad See Ew and Pad Thai dishes at most Thai restaurants.  But these dishes were really superior and were just perfect on a cold, snowy December night.  Total comfort food, even though it was totally foreign.  And the portions were very large with lots and lots of meat in each bowl. Very glad to have this place within walking distance!

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Top Noms of 2012

26 Dec

2012 was an amazing year. We went to some incredibly restaurants this year, so narrowing it down to 10 will be very tough.  It was also an amazing year personally, since Mr. and Ms. Nom Nom got engaged in Maine (where we had quite a few of our Top Noms this year!)

For the Top Noms of years past, check out the posts from 2011, 2010, and 2009.

The Top Noms really comes down to the meals that we found most memorable and enjoyable when we reflect on the past year. It’s hard to compare brunch to dinner in a ranking, but I always think about this as what I would recommend to my friends when they ask me the best places we ate this year, overall.

Away we go:

#10 – Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune was an awesome brunch.  I was dying to go after reading her book, and it lived up to all the expectations and hype (and totally worth the wait). We really need to get back there for dinner.

#9 – Gramercy Tavern was a really great experience. It is known as a top place in New York and it did not disappoint. It didn’t have a dish that really wowed me, but it was a totally solid and great meal.

#8 – Our meal at Sublime in Gladstone, NJ was incredibly surprising.  The apple crisp was out of this world.

#7 – Hugo’s in Portland, Maine was an awesome meal. The tasting menu with the wine pairings really made for a special birthday treat.

#6 – We had a great meal at Boulud Sud while trying to make our way through the Platt 101 of top restaurants in NYC. Everything was memorable, but I can’t stop thinking about the grapefruit dessert that was unlike anything else I have ever had.

#5– While we can’t remember every detail of our meal at Girl & the Goat, it made enough of an impression on us that we had to include it. That Pig Face alone was Top 10 material, maybe of all time!

#4 – Arrows in Ogunquit, Maine was an amazing dining experience. We went because we enjoyed watching the two chefs cook on Top Chef Masters and wound up thoroughly enjoying our meal.  We were impressed with the creative dishes and great flavors.

#3– Anita Lo’s Annisa was a long anticipated meal that lived up to everything we hoped it would be. The dishes tasted so rich and were made with such love, it was hard not to enjoy every single bite.

#2 – Michael White’s Ai Fiori was our first Valentine’s Day stop this year. The pasta was out of this world, and can you really top scallops and bone marrow? Two of my favorite things in one dish.

#1 – Our meal at Eleven Madison Park (Part 1 and Part 2!) was the best one we have ever had ever! It was an adventure, a journey, an experience, and one delicious meal. I can’t imagine anything better. And it got the one and only 10 out of 10 Nom Points in NYC Nom Nom history.

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Special mentions go out to Cannibal for the awesome Pig’s Head, Smush for a great take on dessert, the pasta with the roast drippings (Tajarin with Sugo d’Arrosto) from Manzo, Eventide in Portland Maine for the awesome new take on the lobster roll, and the Tap Room at Colicchio and Sons for continuing to impress everyone we bring there. We also had quite an amazing time at our “secret” Chef’s Table at SD26, since we got to watch them cook while having a chef’s selected meal. I went back with coworkers a few months later, and it managed to impress the hell out of them, too.

What a year!

Girl and The Goat: Chicago

24 Dec

I am long, long overdue for posting about Chicago. I’ve been twice this year and keep trying to find time to post all 13 (!) of those posts.  Unfortunately (and fortunately), this was one heck of a year, so a full Chicago review won’t come out for a bit.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t post about our amazing dinner at Girl & The Goat on a very cold evening back in January.

We decided to go because we just love Top Chef and have no shame in trying every Top Chef restaurant we can find, especially when traveling.   Girl and the Goat is led by Top Chef’s only female winner (to date), Stephanie Izard. (I also kind of love her because she’s a fellow curly girl, and I feel like that bonds us in some way. I like to pretend that if we sat next to each other on a plane, we’d become great friends… a girl can dream, right?)

We couldn’t get a reservation last minute, so we walked in and crossed our fingers. Within 20 minutes, we had a table for 4.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this kind of creepy, kind of awesome mural on the wall.

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The restaurant is definitely industrial, with a full view of the kitchen.  We saw Stephanie Izard a few times throughout the meal, and she was very gracious when I went up to talk to her afterwards and thank her for an incredible meal.

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I really enjoyed the goat theme throughout.

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We started with a nice hunk of bread with some delicious spreads.

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This was a long time ago (almost a year!) so I apologize that we don’t have great memory for what we ate (besides the pig face… more on that later). And while I can’t remember all the details, what I do remember is being insanely impressed over the entire meal. And I remember thinking throughout the meal that this was an epic dining experience. One of those meals that you just know will be hard to find one better. To make it worse, we were in a really dark corner, so the pictures aren’t great. Basically, this review is not the best, but I couldn’t let this year pass without mentioning how much we truly loved Girl & the Goat.

We started with what we think was a cracklin’ salad.  I remember as soon as the meal started we all started “Mmmming” and we knew we were in for a great meal.

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I remember the waiter recommended we try this, and it was nothing I would have picked myself but we wound up really enjoying it.

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We also had a cauliflower side that everyone really loved.

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And the restaurant was SO accomodating to my allergy. One of the very few places we have been where they actually made separate versions of dishes we were sharing just so I could eat it. Here was my pepper-less cauliflower.

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The octopus dish was really incredible. A perfect blend of textures and flavors that really showed off the delicious octopus.

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The next few dishes are fuzzy, but I can say that we enjoyed every bite…

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And then, at the very end of the meal, the piece de resistance… the wood roasted pig face. This had peppers in it, but I tried a tiny bite anyway. And even though my tongue was itchy and starting to blister, I ate a full portion. It was that good. It was so delicious, so tender, and so packed with flavor that I didn’t care that my mouth was blistering.  It was 100% worth it.  And, as the last dish, this took an already amazing meal to a whole new level.  It was one of the best single dishes I have ever had in my life.  Very impressive.

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Girl & the Goat overall was incredibly good. Every dish added depth and excitement to the last, and each one alone could have been the best dish on a restaurant’s menu, but this restaurant had them all. And then when the pig face came out, all bets were off.  An incredible meal. One of the best of the year.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

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Harold Dieterle’s new restaurant The Marrow: Opening Night

22 Dec

I had been reading about the opening of The Marrow, Harold Dieterle‘s newest restaurant after the success of his other NYC spots, Perilla and Kin Shop.  Mike and I actually visited Perilla very early in our relationship, and it was one of the first “celebrity chef” restaurants we went to. He was excited to take me there after watching Chef Harold win Top Chef Season 1, and I had not yet started watching the wonder that is Top Chef (like I said, it was early!)  After that, I started watching the show and we soon found ourselves to be the Top Chef sluts that we now are.

I really loved our meal at Perilla, and we keep talking about how we need to visit Kin Shop (though I’m nervous it may be tough with my allergy to enjoy the way it’s meant to be enjoyed).  I was very excited about this opening and was hoping we could find a reservation sometime in the next 2 weeks during the holiday. Mike called and was told that, unfortunately, they were closed on Christmas Eve but they had an opening THAT NIGHT at 8:30.  So we excitedly went to opening night.

When we go to an opening night, or even opening month, I always feel a little bad reviewing the restaurant. I am fascinated by what it takes to open a restaurant (as you know from the “A Restaurant is Born” section) and know that it must be so hard to get to Opening Night.  There are bound to be kinks and issues with service, food, and just about everything else. But it is also fun to get a first peak into something so special.

We arrived a bit early, and the hostesses seemed a bit nervous that they didn’t immediately have a spot for us. They had us wait a bit and then recommended we go to the bar.  The bar is quite small, and the table next to it leaves very little room to stand. We had to keep moving around to allow the servers to get through with food. If (or rather, WHEN) this restaurant gets packed, it will be tough to keep chairs at the table by the bar.  But that was probably the worst kink we saw all night. That, alone, is impressive.

The cocktail list had a good amount of drinks that sounded great but were like nothing I had ever heard. I ordered the Miss Roberts’ Cobbler (cognac, red jacket cider, apple butter, pimento dram) and Mike got the Oh Tannenbaum (pine infused gin, clear creek douglas fir eau de vie, lavender and lime).  I really enjoyed mine, especially the apple butter taste. Mike wasn’t as crazy about his, but it was interesting.

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As soon as our drinks were in hand, our table was ready.  I sat along the window with a perfect view into the kitchen, which was left open with a window of its own for kitchen voyeurs just like me.

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The restaurant itself is kind of small but you only notice when people try to pass each other in between the tables. The ceilings are high and it uses light wood beams and some vintage style wallpaper in a simple style.  A nice aesthetic. 

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When we read the menu, I was concerned. There were just too many things I wanted to try!  (Tough life… I know)  The full menu is at the end of this post if you’re curious (since I haven’t found it posted yet).  The menu was split up in a really neat way. Since the theme of the restaurant draws from the chef’s German and Italian heritage, the menu was split in two for his two families.

We decided to try one item from the Meat Plates section, one from each side of the Starters (one for each family), and an entree.

From the Meat Plates section, we got the Kobe Short Rib Crudo with aged anchovy extract.  It was a nice, delicate flavor and the anchovy added a wonderful salt flavor. It didn’t blow me away, but I’m glad we tried it.

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Next, from the Famiglia Chiarelli section, we tried the bone marrow, which came with sea urchin, fried potatoes, meyer lemon aioli and baby celery greens.  We really loved this. The bone marrow and sea urchin went surprisingly well together, with that similar texture but completely different flavors. The marrow’s richness was also nicely cut with the lemon aioli. The fried potatoes were like teeny tiny little nuggets of crispiness, which was the perfect texture with the rest of the ingredients.  Everything here just blended nicely and the well toasted bread was perfect with it.

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Then from the Familie Dieterle section, we tried the Badische Schupfnudeln.  This insane mouthful of German words translated to braised rabbit, beet greens, tarragon & creamy Riesling sauce. (I learned rabbit as hasenpfeffer, but I guess that is specific to stew… thank you Google). Sadly, this was our least favorite dish.  A whole bunch of mostly mushy things together. We keep ordering rabbit, trying to like it, but I think it’s time we give up. It’s just not my favorite. It’s too soft, too little flavor… so many other meats I prefer.  This dish needed something crispy or crunchy or just something to break up the texture a bit. The flavor was fine, but it just seemed pretty flat to me. 

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We had to try the pan fried duck schnitzel off the Mains section. It came with quark spaetzle, hazelnuts, cucumber-potato salad and stewed wolfberries. My background is German/Austrian/Russian, so this fell right into the food I consider being akin with my family. My grandmother made awesome schnitzel so I have very high schnitzel standards.

This absolutely didn’t disappoint. The duck gave it a bit of a twist without losing the best parts about the schnitzel… the thinly pounded meat, the crispy breading, and the rich flavors.  The spaetzle with hazelnuts was especially great since it was toasted.  And the wolfberries (I want to know what a raw wolfberry tastes like now!) were really excellent adding a hint of sweetness to the dish. The freshness from the cucumber really added to things and it all was just perfect together. It was also a very nice portion (everything was, truly) so there was plenty to split.

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And the best part of splitting everything? Room for dessert!

Mike decided he wanted to try some cheese off their great cheese menu.  3 cheeses for $10 is nicely priced, so we went for it.

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The excellent toasted bread was back, and it came with a really nice honey and a date/nut cake (maybe? the server wasn’t positive).  We tried the Toma Walser, Challerhocker, and Chiriboga Blue. I really liked the Challerhocker. It had great bite and went really well with the sweet partners.

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And I chose the Apple Hand Pie for dessert.

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We asked what quark was, and our waiter compared it to buttermilk in that it is sweet and creamy with a tiny bit of a bite. The pie was very good, with a perfect crunch of the dough and nice sugared top. The apples could have been more plenty (or maybe thicker cut) but the flavors were really nice.  I also really enjoyed the caramel sauce.

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At the end of our meal, a fellow diner came up to all the tables and mentioned that the Chef was going to come out soon and we should all greet him accordingly.  A standing ovation quickly followed, and the chef grew very bashful and ran right back into the kitchen. It was a very sweet moment.

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We really enjoyed our meal and we were excited to be able to dine there on opening night.  I can’t say it was a top meal of 2012, but it was a solid meal and Mike and I agreed that it would be absolutely worth returning to try more.  The schnitzel was certainly the stand out dish, followed directly by the bone marrow.  I would skip the rabbit and the crudo if I were to return, but I’m glad we tried both.  Can’t wait to try more!

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

The Menu on December 21, 2012:

MEAT PLATES:

Waygu Bresaola 10
Foie Gras Mousse w/ gooseberry 7
Light Sauerbraten Lamb Ribs w/ fried garlic 13
Kobe Short Rib Crudo w/ aged anchovy extract 14
Prociutto Wrapped Dates w/ gorgonzola & saba 6
Housemade Weisswurst w/ apple butter 6

STARTERS:

FAMIGLA CHIARELLI:
SKILLET-BRAISED CUTTLEFISH- Garlic bread, guanciale & white wine 14
HAND-CUT FETTUCCINI- Pork and sage sausage, acorn squash & baked parmesan 12
BURRATA SALAD FOR TWO- Giardiniera, grilled bread, EVOO, balsamic 26
THE BONE MARROW- Sea urchin, fried potatoes, meyer lemon aioli & baby celery greens 15

FAMILIE DIETERLE:
BRAISED DUCK & PRETZEL DUMPLING SOUP- Beech mushrooms, kale & marjoram 13
BABY RED OAK & LADY APPLE SALAD- Cambozola blue cheese & spiced pumpkin seed vinaigrette 12
BADISCHE SCHUPFNUDELN- Braised rabbit, beet greens, tarragon & creamy Riesling sauce 15
PICKLED HERRING SALAD- Roasted baby beets, horseradish cream, pistachios & baby arugula 14

MAINS:

GRILLED GAME HEN- Fennel, fried salami & brussels sprouts panzanella 24
BRAISED BEEF BRISKET “BRACIOLE”- House ground polenta, escarole, pecorino & red sauce 25
ROASTED WHOLE HEN OF THE WOODS MUSHROOM- Cardoon-creamed kale, crispy onions & truffled mushroom jus 26
SAUTEED STONE BASS “VITELLO TOMATO”- Fingerling potatoes, cippolini onions, olives, sweet breads & tuna belly sauce 30

GRILLED WAYGU CULOTTE STEAK- Cauliflower gratin, watercress & beerenauslese vinaigrette 33
PAN-FRIED DUCK SCHNITZEL- Quark spaetzle, hazelnuts, cucumber-potato salad & stewed wolfberries 28
JUNIPER BRAISED LAMB NECK- Rutabaga puree, whole roasted carrots & red sauerkraut 23
PAN-ROASTED SCOTTISH SALMON- Cabbage, pastrami & warm mustard sauce 25

SIDES:

BAMBOO RICE RISOTTO- Leek puree, steamed egg & parmesan 14
GRILLED BABY ROMAINE LETTUCE- Pecorino & warm lemon-anchovy vinaigrette 10
MASHED STUMPF- Snipped chives 10
DRY AGED BEEF FAT FRIED POTATOES- Pickled red onion & grains of paradise aioli 10

Gramercy Tavern for Mike’s Birthday Dinner

18 Dec

Back in October, I surprised Mike with a dinner at Gramercy Tavern for his birthday. I had lunch once at the bar, but had never had a full dinner there, so we were both excited to try it.

The inside is beautiful, with separate but grand rooms and just a really comfortable dining room. We both commented that it was one of our favorite restaurant spaces.

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Our waiter very nicely took a picture of us to remember the occasion.

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We started with an amuse bouche of a polenta cake and some sort of fish topping. I remember it being unmemorable.

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We then started into the Seasonal Tasting menu with a red snapper course that came with sunchoke, shiitake mushrooms, and (not mine) jalapeno peppers.  The snapper was very fresh and the broth around it was quite nice.

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Our next course was lobster with corn, sucrine lettuce, and pickled green tomato. The lobster had great flavor and went very well with everything around it.

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We then had smoked trout with cippollini puree and pickled onion.  The combination of trout and onions was fantastic, and the smoked trout was perfectly smoked, full of flavor, and the thin slice made for just the perfect bite.

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The duck agnolotti were next and came with turnips, carrots, and arugula.  The duck was so flavorful and perfectly sweet, balanced with the arugula.  I wanted more agnolotti, not because the portion was too small, but because they were so delicious.

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Our last savory course was roasted and braised beef with black garlic and farro (was supposed to also have peppers, but mine was without, due to my allergy).  This was a perfectly cooked piece of meat and the jus was perfectly flavored.  Every course was even better than the last, building one after the other for a really fantastic meal.

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We had an intermezzo with raspberries.

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We then were given a free glass of moscato (yum!) with the raspberry dessert

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I don’t remember it very well, but I remember those raspberries being so perfectly fresh.

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Then out came a very nice Happy Birthday dessert with shaved ice. It was quite refreshing.

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We then started into our tasting dessert, which had chocolate mousse tower that I believe came with hazelnuts.

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Then a delicious display of petit fours.  Chocolate mousse cups, macarons, chocolate fudge squares, and their famous toffee (which I actually use the recipe to make my own!)

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All of the bites were very good (though shh… my toffee is better).  I really enjoy ending a meal with these little bites.

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And then they did do one of my favorite things that a restaurant can do… gave us a muffin to eat in the morning. It’s such a great way to enjoy the restaurant a little bit the next day. It’s such a lovely touch.

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Gramercy Tavern was a top notch experience. It was perfectly in line with my expectations as one of New York’s old standbys. I was hoping it would totally WOW me, which it did not, but it was certainly a great dining experience that I would recommend to anyone looking for some classic New York.

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

The New Champion: Eleven Madison Park- Part 2

13 Dec

Welcome back to our incredible meal at Eleven Madison Park. If you haven’t read Part 1 of our number one meal of all time, please go back there and come back here when you’re done!

So where were we?

Oh yes… we had just had some salsify and realized our cocktails were, sadly, empty.  So it was time for wine (while I was tempted by the wine pairing, I was nervous that I would be too drunk at the end to really enjoy and remember the meal… so we went for a bottle instead).  We told the sommelier that our favorite white wines were Vouvray and Russian River Chardonnay.  He mentioned that we had diverse flavors and we discussed trying something that was interesting. He recommended we try a WHITE Rioja. I hadn’t heard of a white Rioja, but we were game.  It came in netting. How fun!  

The wine tasted great and complimented the whole meal well. Must keep white Rioja in mind!

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But now… back to the meat grinder!

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We were soon given a tray of a whole bunch of mini bowls.  From left to right and top to bottom, there was an apple mustard, sunflower seeds, quail egg, dried blue fish, chives, whole grain mustard, horse radish, apple, and salt (the same special salt as before). In the little squeeze bottles were an apple oil and the other was a horse radish oil of some kind.

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It was also served with slices of rye bread.

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But what was going into the meat grinder?  Never would have expected this…

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Fresh New York carrots were ground for us right at the table into “carrot tartare.”

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It made a great consistency that was neither mushy nor crunchy, but exactly the same texture as tartare. How interesting!

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You then mix in however much of anything you want and enjoy.

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I really enjoyed the taste of the quail egg with the carrot.

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Our next course was one of my absolute favorites. It was lobster with poached leeks, black onion, and a shellfish bisque. I also think one of the waiters mentioned it had black garlic in it (one of my favorite flavors). This was everything right.  The leeks had a delicious char flavor and the lobster was so sweet and flavorful.  It all went so well together and I couldn’t believe how elevated this dish was. (Come on! How do you possibly elevate LOBSTER?! Amazing!)

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As we were finishing up, we were presented with our 140 day aged beef.

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And we saw the duck (that we didn’t choose) presented to the table next door. It was lavender and honey coated.

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While we awaited our beef, we were presented with a roasted parsnip with sesame, parsley, and dijon.  It had a parsnip chip on top.  I am not a huge parsnip fan, but this was a really fantastic presentation and all the textures made it very interesting. I was impressed that a parsnip could be made to taste this good.

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Once we finished our parsnip, a bowl of magic was put in front of us.  I cannot do justice to the smell (and taste) that came from this bowl. It was an introduction to the flavors we would be having next, a beef broth made with the same seasonings as our next course. It was a nostalgic flavor that brought me immediately back to my Great Grandmother’s kitchen. It was a memory I didn’t even know I had. Smell is a magical thing.

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After our incredible broth, we were given our beef course.  It was grilled with mushrooms (the likes of which was a variety I have never seen), amaranth, and arugula.  The amaranth is a tiny North American grain that was toasted and added a perfect little crispiness to this dish.  It was served with a sauce with the same flavors as the broth.

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On the side was a braised oxtail with foie gras and potato.  The oxtail was the texture of short ribs and incredibly rich in flavor.  The foie gras and the potato had such a great flavor, and it was all a bit reminiscent of a (brilliant) shepherds pie with that potato/meaty combo.

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The rib eye steak itself was absolutely incredible.  Charred and perfectly cooked, with an amazing sauce.  Every bite made me do the “happy belly dance.”

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What came next was one of my favorite parts of the whole meal. It started with a porcelain plate that perfectly resembled a paper plate.

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And then out came a mystery basket they called a “Greensward.”  

They said everything we would need was in the basket, except we may need a bottle opener, which they provided.

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We took a peak

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Inside was a beer, a soft pretzel, cheese, grapes, and plum mustard.  

I commented that the restaurant was like Christmas, because you just got to keep opening up presents.

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The beer was a special brew from Ithaca Beer Co. and we really enjoyed it. It was perfect with everything.

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I went to Ithaca College and always liked this brewery. I’m so glad it’s growing and now showing up all over the place in NYC!

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The plum mustard was a bit much for me (not a mustard fan), but Mike liked it.

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The cheese was served inside a mystery box…

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… and the cheese smell when you opened it was awesome.

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The grapes and pretzel went perfectly with the cheese and beer.  It was just a perfect picnic basket and totally FUN!

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After we were done with our picnic, they wheeled over a cart and started mixing up their take on the egg cream.  It was made with vanilla malt and fresh seltzer right in front of us.

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I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a real egg cream, but I can tell you that I never have had, nor probably will ever have again, an egg cream as good as this. It was a little glass of heaven.

It was a great conversion from our savory courses to our desserts. 

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Our first dessert came out and looked like autumn on a plate. It was poached pear with honey and acorn. (Acorn?) I don’t know what acorn tastes like, but if that was what we ate, I think I want to be a squirrel.

This was perfect. Everything I could possibly want. Totally my kind of dessert. I absolutely loved this combination.

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And then we had some excellent coffee.

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And started our last course: sheep’s milk cheesecake and port with walnut ice cream. I really loved the walnut ice cream. It was very mildly walnut flavored, but identifiable so.  The port and the cheesecake mixed so well with everything.

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And then Mike cheated.

He noticed that the plate below his dessert was moving around and he lifted it to find a little chocolate in a dish below.

At which point our poor waitress (noticing he made this discovery) ran over (with grace) and asked us to cut a deck of cards. She spread them out and then did some magic and gave us each a card.

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Mike’s card was blackberry… 

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…which was MYSTERIOUSLY the chocolate he had discovered.

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Mine was espresso…

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…which was my chocolate (surprise!)  What a novel and fun way to end such a novel and fun meal!

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And then our meal ended just how it began… with a perfect little pastry box all tied up.

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And inside was another set of black and white cookies, but these were of the sweet variety.  They were apricot and something else, but Mike’s handwriting (he was the note taker for this meal while I photographed) is unreadable at this point (I’m blaming the booze!)

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But then… there was one more.

It started with this homemade apple brandy being placed on our table, with the comment that we could drink as much of it as we wanted… I really enjoyed it, but damn was it STRONG! I only had a couple sips, but I enjoyed it.

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And then out came two perfect chocolate covered pretzels to end the meal.

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We marveled over the incredible adventure of a meal we just had. It was such a journey filled with fun surprises and every single bite was fantastic.  Usually tasting menus are filled with a few memorable bites and some other things you don’t remember.  Even the best ones.  Even a couple days later, we still have moments where we recall a whole bunch of courses from the meal and marvel at how amazing they were.

When the bill came, our server informed us that they had taken the drinks off the bill because they were late. I was really impressed that they went to this level of service to remove the cocktails.  But upon reflect, I think they might have taken the cocktails AND the bottle of wine off the bill.  I almost feel bad about it, because I’m not sure if they meant to do that. I have no idea! 

The service from start to finish was fantastic. There was only the 2 little blips with the cocktails being delayed a bit and then the one egg dish coming out without a description, but I can hardly remember those when put in light of the rest of the meal. Our server, specifically, was impeccable in every way.

As we stood up to go, we were given two cute little boxes to take home.

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In our little boxes was a sweet note for a Happy Anniversary.

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And 2 chocolates to take home. (We ate these a few days later and HOLY CRAP! They were so insanely good. It was like a spark of the meal we had and brought back all those awesome memories).

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Then a final bag with a jar of the chef’s favorite breakfast granola for the next morning.  (It is probably the best granola I’ve ever had and I just love when a restaurant sends me home with something awesome for the morning)

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What an amazing meal! I don’t know if I could say it enough. It was just freakin’ fantastic.

And we had no doubt as we left that it was the best meal we’ve ever had.

WD-50 has been our Number One restaurant for 4.5 years (even after a 2nd try!) and I really didn’t think anything could possibly top that.

But Eleven Madison Park topped them all.

Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Go immediately to Eleven Madison Park for the meal of a lifetime. (Okay… maybe save it for a special occasion, but GO!)

And I am giving it a perfect 10.

Total Nom Points:  10 out of 10

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A Restaurant Is Born: The Paperwork is In!

12 Dec

It has been an unbelievably long road to open The Keys. (For a full recap of the story so far, you can start from the first post of “A Restaurant is Born”) The original open date was aimed for Summer 2012, and here we are at the end of the year, without a place to enjoy Chef Bill’s awesome food.

The owners were really the hold up here.  Paperwork just would not move along since there were so many cooks in the kitchen (pun intended) on the owner’s side.  They went through 3 different lawyers, and each new lawyer wanted his own new deal.  Once word came that they could move forward, it still took a full 5 weeks to get the contract together.  They had to figure out the exact terms to keep the owners on as partners (at 25%) so they still were invested in the restaurant to everyone’s satisfaction. Finally, the contract was signed this past week! It required 6 owners and partners to sign, from all over the world.

The design firm that was going to invest is no longer going to be used, because 10% is a big chunk to give away.  There is a new architect involved now named Shay who works for Perkins Eastman. He is busy getting measurements and putting the plans together so they can start construction the moment the lease is signed.  They hope this will be just a week or two away so they can be in there by mid-December. This will allow the Concession (you can read more about what a Concession from this previous post) to extend to March, giving the restaurant time to get on its feet.

There is a $150K budget for the full build out and equipment. The brick oven is a key piece of the restaurant, but repairing it will cost about $8K, so it has got to be worth it! Bill is busy figuring out some awesome dishes that can come out of it, including suckling pig, plank seafood, and, of course, the homemade bread.  (Bill is posting about some ideas on The Keys’ Facebook page. Go on over and become a fan!) Bill is also excited about putting in smokers, so he can make his own bacon and the bar can make smoked ice for cocktails.   The outside patio will get a new fortified roof so he can have an herb and chili garden on top.  He also plans to put a macro grower in the kitchen so he can grow some super sized greens.  The in-season menu is back in play.  Shay is already taking measurements and making sketches and I’ll be posting more about this in the next few weeks when things start getting really exciting and we see how the physical restaurant changes.

Bill is ambitious and hopes to have a Friends & Family opening by the last week of January.  He will start with dinner, then add lunch a month later, and brunch when the weather warms up.  There will be Jazz music downstairs, which will start up right at opening, and Bill plans to have some house instruments so that Jazz musicians will look at The Keys as a place to just stop by and jam from 11-4am.  There will also be a DJ on the weekends with molecular bottle service downstairs.  This is not going to be a club scene, however, and more for people who will be excited that the cocktails include homemade bitters.

I am excited to say that it is finally time to announce where the restaurant will be!  The Keys will be bringing great food and music to Mulberry Street, between Prince and Spring Streets, in the space currently occupied by the Australian restaurant, 8 Mile Creek.

Stay tuned in the next few weeks as the construction starts and the menu takes form!

The New Champion: Eleven Madison Park- Part 1

11 Dec

I really love the tradition that Mike and I have of treating each other to really awesome dinners for special occasions.  I took on our anniversary this year and made sure to get a reservation 30 days in advance (I set my alarm for midnight to do it) at Eleven Madison Park. I took the day off of work (and Mike a half day) to be able to have a 16-course, 4 hour lunch here.  (Yes! 16-courses!)

Mike had no idea where we were going until we pulled up in front of the restaurant. 

I had been wanting to visit Eleven Madison Park for a long time, having read about the amazing meals there. I was hoping it would be in the top 10, but I didn’t expect what we got… the new NUMBER ONE. This was the meal of a lifetime. The best meal of my lifetime.  In fact, it was so grand, it wouldn’t fit in 1 post. So I had to split it into two parts.

We arrived to greetings by name and a warm wish for a Happy Anniversary (they had asked if it was a special occasion when I confirmed the reservation a few days prior).  They took our coats (and we realized a bit later that they didn’t give us a tag for them) and showed us to our table, which had a card sitting on it, wishing us a Happy Anniversary and thanking us for choosing EMP for this special occasion. 

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The restaurant itself is quite grand, with very high ceilings. It looks like it has not changed in forever, yet was somehow modern.

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I loved the murals on the wall and the general clean aesthetic of the dining room.

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And I’m glad we went for lunch, when we had a lovely view of Madison Square Park right next door.

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The sixteen courses are all a surprise, and you only get one choice.  Beef or duck.  We chose beef.

And then… the adventure began…

With a classic pastry box.

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Inside was EMP’s take on the classic New York Black & White Cookie. This one was a savory version made with apple and cheddar cheese.  The moment I took a bit, I knew we were in for an amazing treat. These were the perfect balance of everything, and in such a novel delivery.

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Bite number two was a Long Island oyster with wood sorrel and mignonette snow and crispy buckwheat.  A perfect treat of an oyster, with things that complimented it without taking away from the flavor of the oyster.

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Bite number three was a cranberry snow with beets, goat cheese, Greek yogurt, and caraway.  It was very refreshing and a nice balance of tart and sweet.  As a beet lover, I enjoyed this dish, but Mike said it was his least favorite dish of the meal… not that it was bad, but just because everything else was that much better.

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Course number four was sea urchin custard with shellfish ragout and apple espuma (foam).  It was a great balance of flavors, with a seriously seafood taste balanced perfectly with the apple.

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We were starting to get curious where our drinks were, since we ordered them when we first sat down and we were now already 4 courses in.  They came with sincere apologies that the bar got slammed, and we were soon sipping away on a Lafayette for Mike (Scotch, Cynar, East India Solera Sherry, Chambéry Dry Vermouth, Maple Syrup). Mike thought it was extremely well balanced with a nice oaky nose.

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And a Sleepy Hollow for me (London Dry Gin, Amaro Abano, Chambéry Blanc Vermouth, Apple Cider, Spiced-Pumpkin, Lemon, Egg White). I thought it was an awesome drink, with a perfect balance of sweetness and alcohol, with that excellent egg white foam.

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Course number five was, at first, a big mystery. This was a strange misstep in service. Since the full tasting menu is a surprise, you don’t know what you are getting until they put it in front of you and describe it. We had a server (who we only saw once during the meal) put these lovely eggs in front of us and then… leave. Not a word.  We sat for a few moments, not knowing what to do, taking in a delicious smoky smell.  It became too much, so we had to dig in with our little spoons.   The egg was creamy and delicious, and we got a smoky flavor that we were trying to identify before we heard the description… we thought it might be smoked ham, but we weren’t sure. We stopped a server to ask what we were eating, and she told us what it was: egg sabayon with chive oil. It had pieces of smoked sturgeon in the bottom. Delicious.

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This little blip in service was quickly recovered.  As we tried to get every morsel out of that egg shell, a beautiful cloche filled with smoke was put on our table with the instructions that it was still cooking and not to lift the lid.

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At this point, they put in front of us a plate with everything bagel crumbles, quail egg, and a baby romaine salad.

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They then put down a jar of homemade mini pickle spears.

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Two slices of thin rye toast.

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And a jar of caviar and cream cheese. 

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And then, they lifted the lid.

The amazing smell of wood smoke took over all my senses and Mike and I immediately said to each other that it is one of our most favorite smells.

On top was smoked sturgeon (complimenting the egg course before).

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We scooped out the cream cheese and caviar and made our own little bites of deliciousness.

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At this point, the Maitre D’ came over to say hello and then… invited us into the kitchen for a quick tour and a drink.

Don’t mind if I do!

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We walked into the front part of the kitchen where a little table was set up. He told us about how the kitchen operates (they use no computers, everything is figured out by the Executive Sous Chef and Expediter and they write down the times of every course to determine the pace at which people are eating.  We discussed how good service should mean that you never notice its there. You should never wait too long nor feel rushed.

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He then told us about how the pastry and cocktail teams came together to figure out a fun cocktail for this kitchen service. One of the pastry chefs came to make it right in front of us (WHAT FUN!)

They came up with a new spin on a 1920s, Prohibition style cocktail. It had gin, grapefruit, and pop rocks in it.

First, she used liquid nitrogen to freeze the gin.

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Then more liquid nitrogen to make a ball of grapefruit foam into a ball that resembled a meringue consistency (but cold).

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Then she added some grapefruit.

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Some other stuff that I don’t remember but tasted damn good.

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The frozen gin.

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Then pop rocks. (YUP! Pop Rocks!)

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And then the ball of frozen grapefruit foam.

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You “drank” this with a spoon, that you used to crack into the grapefruit ball.

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It all mixed together so well, and the pop rocks made for such an interesting and fun experience. (I can’t call it a drink… it was really an experience)

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The Executive Sous Chef, Bryce Shuman, also came by to chat with us for a bit.  He told us that they have nearly a 2 to 1 ratio of staff to diners during lunch and nearly 1 to 1 during dinner. This helps make the service totally flawless.

It was so exciting to be in that kitchen.  

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They even offered to take a picture of us in there (while joking that we probably would only want pictures of the food… which I couldn’t argue with… but figured we would make an appearance for this special occasion).

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On the way out, I took a photo of the butter station, which the Maitre D’ appreciated that I appreciated.

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And just like that… we came back to butter on the table.

On the right was a cow’s milk butter and on the left they mixed that same butter with beef compound.  The salt in the center was a special salt that the chef loves (it was very, very good).

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I was so curious about the meat butter.  It was actually similar in taste to bone marrow (which I jokingly call “meat butter”) and it was something I was very curious to try.  

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I loved the flavor but it needed the salt to cut through the greasiness a bit. I liked it in small doses, but wound up using more of the regular butter.

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The bread was almost a roll, almost a croissant.  It was the best of both worlds.  Buttery and flaky. We enjoyed making a mess of crumbs with that bread. It was delicious.

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Our next course (at this point… I don’t even know what number we hit), was salsify roasted with bulgur wheat, mangalitsa ham, and hazelnuts.  They told us that the ham was a special ham… and it certainly tasted special.  This was a nice combination of textures and flavors and had a nice freshness that went well after the bread and butter.

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What was next? The table next door was a hint since they were 1 course ahead of us.  What on earth was a meat grinder doing on the table?

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You will just have to read Part 2 to find out!

New Kid on the Block: Better Being 940

9 Dec

We live in a weird neighborhood. It’s stereotypically “up and coming” with a fine mixture of luxury apartment buildings, Starbucks, new restaurants, and homeless people. We even have a needle drop right next to a luxury hotel being built!  Gotta love NYC.

We always get excited about new restaurants opening up in the area (except when there are 4 Irish pubs opening within 3 blocks of each other in the same month… strange).  On his walk home, Mike mentioned there was a new brunch place on 9th Avenue and 40th Street, so last weekend, we went to check it out.

Better Being 940 had just opened its doors this week, but not really. The official opening is tomorrow, December 10th at 8am (with an “awesome assortment of baked goods, a yummy egg sandwich and complimentary Stumptown coffee”).  Besides having a name that I cannot possibly seem to remember, had all the makings for a place I wanted to love.

A fun  menu of things I wanted to try…

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With some of it written on a giant chalk board behind the register.

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And a quirky interior…

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Everyone behind the counter looked at us with the same glance as if to say “I put my heart into this joint so I hope you’re enjoy it!” Everyone that is, except our waiter. Who was confused by things like “water” and “allergy.” I’m not sure if he was nervous, new to the English language, or just confused in general, but we just scratched our heads and kept on trucking.

Mike ordered the meatloaf sandwich (which was supposed to come with fries or a salad… neither of which it did). The sandwich was just “ehh.”  Average with the arugula making it a bit too peppery.

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I ordered the very interesting sounding Souflancake. (“It’s not a souffle. It’s not a pancake. It’s both!”)

It came topped with “seasonal fruit” (berries in November)?

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I really, really, really wanted to like this.  But I couldn’t. It didn’t have the fluffiness of a souffle nor the breadiness of a pancake. It really just tasted like an egg omelet with fruit on top. And I just cannot wrap my head around eggs with fruit.

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We asked our very confused waiter about the bacon we ordered, and he said it was on its way.

Within moments, we smelled that great smell of bacon just starting to cook.

It was actually quite tasty, but VERY greasy. It could have used a pat down before being plated.

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Just as I was resigning myself to not like this place, despite its potential, a woman who must be an owner came out and offered us peanut butter rice krispie treats on the house. I used to make something similar with my mom as a kid, so the nostalgia was really enjoyable.

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As we were heading out, the same woman came up to us to ask how we liked it. I was very honest with her about the soufflancake, but her earnestness just made me feel so bad that I didn’t like it. I WANTED to like it.  This place has everything I love.  And I have hopes that once they get out these early kinks and test some recipes, they will have something great.

I hope I hope I hope!

For now, I will review it only on what we had, with a strong desire that next time we go back, it will be awesome.

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10