Tag Archives: celebrity chef

Butter for Restaurant Week Winter 2013

28 Jan

Even if Executive Chef Alex Guarnaschelli (who just won Next Iron Chef) has nothing to do with Butter at this point in her career (which I am not sure about at all… I’ve heard she doesn’t do much with the restaurant anymore, but it’s hard to tell), you would never know. We have been meaning to go to Butter for years, and just never got around to it. I had heard it was good, but no one raved about it so it never made it high up on my list. But when we were trying to find a few new places to try for Restaurant Week this winter, we decided that in light of Chef Guarnaschelli’s recent win, we would check it out.

It’s right by the Public Theater in the East Village. We were seated downstairs and enjoyed the wood tree trunks and sticks that decorated the room. It had a nice, loungy feel with low couch benches in the bar areas and music playing in the rooms.

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Here was the Restaurant Week menu for dinner on Sunday, January 27th.

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And the regular menu.

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And of course, since it’s butter, here is the butter shot.

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And some more butter porn. (The butter itself was decent, but nothing too special and I could have used with a larger portion to cover off on the bread that was on the table.

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But the pumpernickel and sour dough breads were top notch.

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We decided to start with cocktails, and since they were so good, we continued drinking them throughout the meal (rather than switching to wine, which is our usual MO). I got the Pearadise with pear infused Bacardi rum, fresh pear puree, St. Germain liqueur, muddled limes and mint. It was fantastic. Perfectly sweet without being cloyingly so. Mike got the Mickey Blue Eyes, which was a martini made with Grey Goose Vodka and blue cheese stuffed olives.

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Mike started with the House Made Charcuterie Platter. This came with house-cured bacon, duck breast mortadella, and chicken liver toast with spicy napa cabbage. This was awesome. The mortadella had a great flavor, and the chicken liver was packed with flavor and had these perfect crispy onions on top. But the bacon… ohhh boyyyy the bacon.

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I got the soup of the day, which was a butternut squash soup. I have had butternut squash soup all over the world at this point, and I am a fan simply because I really love butternut squash soup. You don’t need to get fancy with it to be delicious, but that also means that most people serve butternut squash soup that tastes just like everyone else’s version. Sure, some people put in some toasted pumpkin seeds or some basil oil (and I sure do love it when they do) but the soup itself usually just tastes like squash, or squash and apples.

But this… this butternut squash was The Shit. I never knew squash soup could have this much depth of flavor. A bit of brown butter flavor and sweetness (from what I assume was brown sugar but not sure) with a layer of fresh squashy goodness. And the salted popcorn to accompany it was just perfect. I actually asked for more bread so I could lop up every last drop of soup. It was, hands down, the best butternut squash soup I have ever had.

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As we started the entree portion of our meal, the additional side of cider glazed roasted parsnips came out. These had thinly sliced apple chips on top and the cider glaze was superb. It was the perfect compliment to the roasted parsnips and it was great comfort food without being heavy.

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Mike chose the House Made Ricotta Ravioli with roasted oyster mushrooms, chili flakes (which they nicely served on the side so that I could eat it), and pecorino cheese. I thought the sauce and mushrooms went very well with the ricotta in the ravioli, which was fluffy and a tad tart, with great flavor. Though in the end, I never order cheese ravioli because I just find myself hard to impress with any version.

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I ordered the Braised Pork Shoulder with a pretzel crumb crust and buttered rutabega. This was also outstanding. A great pork flavor over a bed of creamy rutabega. The little salty crispness of the pretzel with the cabbage on top was delightful. It was perfectly tender so you could just pull it apart with your fork. Fantastic.

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For dessert, Mike chose the Ginger Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich with vanilla ice cream and spiced pecans. It was very good, with a well flavored ginger cookie and what I think were golden raisins with orange zest. The pecans were spiced with something pepper related that I couldn’t have (but Mike enjoyed) and while the cookie was a bit hard to cut, the dessert was very good.

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My dessert came out and the first thing I noticed was that it was tiny. It’s hard to tell in this shot, but the piece of chocolate cake was about 3 inches tall and wide and less than 1/2 an inch thick. But BOY was this big on flavor.

The chocolate was rich and decadent, the pomegranate seeds adding a little bit of lightness to it, and a shmear of awesome salted caramel. The entire dish was so fantastic, and so packed with flavor, I didn’t miss those additional bites.

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As the meal ended, I told Mike how I wanted to lick my plate for every single dish I had. (That is one of the highest compliments I can give a place!) The execution was flawless and I didn’t feel like we lost anything by ordering off the Restaurant Week menu. Portions weren’t huge, but I walked away totally satiated.

Overall, this was a standout meal not just for Restaurant Week, but overall. I was truly impressed and look forward to returning again in the near future. I can’t believe it took us that long to go!

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

nomscale- 08.5

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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!

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

 

 

Todd English’s Ça Va

6 Sep

Ça Va opened right by my neighborhood, and I heard nothing about it.  It looked a bit like a night club on 44th between 8th and 9th.  I was surprised to read that it was from Todd English when I walked by.  I guess Todd English just doesn’t carry the celebrity chef status that gets most a lot of press? Or maybe I just missed it.

Either way, when we were looking for some late night fare after leaving a Broadway show, we decided to pop in and try it.  It has a very modern feel and a very nice aesthetic.

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We started with what I think was a special with pork belly and eggs. I cannot remember exactly what it was, but I remember enjoying it.  (UPDATE: Kim remembered!  “It was a play on bacon egg and cheese: Bacon Egg And Cheese berkshire pork belly, quail egg , gruyère foam, 14.00. Thank goodness for search engines that still list old menus!”  Mmmm pork belly and quail egg.

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I then had the “CARPACCIO DE BETTERAVES” which was golden and red beet carpaccio with pistachio-goat cheese panisse and white balsamic vinaigrette.  This was inspired.  The beets were sliced super thin (just like carpaccio) and made into a wrap around the salad.  Not only did it look beautiful and original, it tasted absolutely fantastic.  Everything blended so well with acid and sweet and savory.  So great.  I was super impressed.

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We also tried the “HUÎTRES FINIES COMME DES ESCARGOTS” or crispy oysters ‘escargot style’ in herb garlic butter.  I was really impressed with how delicious these were. Everything I love about oysters combined with the buttery garlic deliciousness of escargot.  Really fantastic.

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I was really impressed by Ça Va.  When you walk into a Times Square restaurant, you really don’t expect much besides overblown prices and average food.  This was especially the expectation since this place looked a little too cool for school (yes… I just said that).  But just like Olives, this Todd English establishment surprised and impressed.  I would go back for that beet salad alone (and for $12, it didn’t feel that inflated in price compared to other places nearby).

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Michael White’s Ai Fiori for Valentine’s Day Part Deux

15 May

Michael White is one of those “celebrity” chefs that I have long heard about but never tried.  Enter Ai Fiori, Michael White’s newest restaurant, centered around pasta, that happens to be just a few blocks from the apartment (400 5th Avenue, between 36th and 37th Streets, in the Setai Hotel).  We were looking for another lovely dinner to surround Valentine’s Day to compliment our meal the weekend before at Annisa (since I was away on business on the actual day), and Ai Fiori couldn’t have been more perfect.

We went for an early dinner and found ourselves alone (but not for long) in the tastefully decorated 2nd floor restaurant.

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Even the table settings were quite lovely.  A waiter confused our table with the one next door and accidentally delivered us glasses of champagne.  I wasn’t sure if it was free (for Valentine’s Day) so there was some confusion.  We sent the champagne back to the table that ordered it, but our waiter wound up bringing us a glass each, on the house, for the confusion.  A lovely touch.

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The crusty, soft, warm bread came out with delicious salted butter and well flavored olive oil.

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Our amuse bouche was small shot of a fruity smoothie.  I cannot remember if this was mango or passion fruit, but it was a nice way to start the meal.

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We chose to do the prix fixe of 4 courses (cominciare / pasta or risotto / pesce or carne / dolce) for $89.

Mike chose to start with the Animelle which was crispy sweetbreads, pomme purée, truffle vinaigrette, and pancetta. It was delicious, delicate, and just the right amount of crisp. It was a $5 supplement charge, and well worth it.

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I chose the Mare e Monte (which, sadly, does not currently appear to be on the menu).  This had a $15 supplemental charge… but hey, it was Valentine’s Day!

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This was diver scallops, celery root, black truffles, bone marrow, and thyme.

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It was rich in all the right ways with complex flavors and sprigs of green to spring it up a bit.  It was decadent and fantastic.

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For our pasta/risotto course, Mike chose the risotto with riso acquarello, duck confit, and hen of the woods mushrooms. This was a perfect blend of flavors. Very rich but not at all heavy.

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I went with the Agnolotti, which was braised veal parcels, butternut squash, and black truffle sugo.

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These were just perfect.  Great meaty flavor inside and the pasta was just thin enough to hold it together.  The bay leaf on top was crisped and slightly sweetened, and tasted great when broken up into the pasta and squash puree. Mmmm mmmm.

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For our carne/pesce course, Mike chose the Agnello, which was rack of lamb en crepinette, panisse, romanesco, and parmesan.  This was simply perfect. The lamb was cooked as well as you can cook a lamb and each piece on this dish was simply delicious, especially the sauce on the lamb.

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I chose the Astice, which was butter poached Nova Scotia lobster, root vegetable fondant, and chateau chalon sauce.  I always struggle when deciding to order lobster, as no matter how good it is, I never find it as good as the lobster pounds in Maine (I’m spoiled rotten… I know), but this one was right up there. All the pieces that came with it just added to a fantastic dish.

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Onto dolce!  Mike chose the Tartaletta which was dark chocolate, red grape, caramelized sherry, and walnut gelato.  I loved this dish, and the grape tasted like a fantastic grape jelly.  It all went together perfectly.

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I chose to go with the Buddino di Limone with hazelnut praline, toasted meringue, espresso gelee, and cinnamon gelato. I was impressed by how architecturally it was belt, with a sheet of caramelized sugar balanced on top of the meringue peaks.

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This was a perfect dessert with great, original flavors.  Really impressive.

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And then out came the petite fours! They were stunningly beautiful…

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… and very, very tasty.  I especially liked this jelly thing… though I have no idea what it was. 🙂

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I knew we were in for a treat when we finally decided to try a Michael White restaurant, but this was out of this world.  I was so impressed by every bite at Ai Fiori, from start to finish.  It’s also very hard to find food this good, with a well-known chef, on a tasting menu with 4 courses for less than $100 (yes… I know that’s crazy…)  I really loved everything we tried and find it very hard to ignore the fact that this restaurant is so close to home. I just want to go again and again.  I definitely want to go back for breakfast, and also try White’s other restaurants (Marea, Alto, Convivio, Osteria Morini and recently expanding to Bernardsville, NJ and many other locations coming soon).

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune

11 May

I really love books written by chefs about their adventures in food. Anthony Bourdain was my first and made me fall in love with reading about the inner workings of restaurants and chefery.  I read somewhere that HIS favorite food book was Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton and I quickly made the purchase on my Nook (ps- I love that thing… never thought I’d want anything besides a real book, but I have read more in the 6 months I’ve had it than the entire last 3 years combined).

I absolutely loved the book, and was especially excited to read the section about her starting a restaurant in NYC.  A restaurant I had been meaning to go to for quite some time: Prune.

We were going to go for Valentine’s Day, but then I was called out to LA for a work meeting, so we had to cancel that reservation. A few weeks later, on an idle weekend with nothing to do, we made our way down to the East Village and put our names on the list for brunch.  They don’t take reservations for brunch, and I was expecting a long wait. We decided we would stroll the neighborhood for a bit, but when they told us it would be just 45 minutes, we made it a quick stroll.  We came back 20 minutes later and were seated less than 10 minutes after that.  Lovely!

What I first noticed was that Prune is SMALL.  Even smaller than what I imagined from what she described in the book.

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We started our brunch with cocktails.  While Prune is known for their Bloody Mary’s, I don’t drink vodka (long story) and I’m allergic to peppers… So that pretty much eliminates me from the Bloody pool.  I went with some refreshing, citrusy cocktail that I can’t remember a thing about, other than that I really enjoyed it.

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Mike, on the other hand, was all over trying one of these famous Bloodys.  The menu of Bloody Mary’s is quite big and quite original (scroll down to the bottom here to see).  Mike chose the Chicago Matchbox, with homemade lemon vodka, pickled brussels sprouts, baby white turnips, caperberries, green beans, and radishes.

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 It was beautiful, and he was a big fan. He never really drinks Bloody Mary’s, but after this one, he has been trying more and more.

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For noms, Mike got the steak and eggs, which was a 7 oz. prime newport steak, grilled with parsley shallot butter and 2 eggs (he went sunny-side up) witha toasted english muffin and potatoes rosti.  This was SO good. The steak alone could rival any of the best steak restaurants in the city. Everything was cooked perfectly.

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I chose the dutch style pancake.  It was one individual pancake cooked in the oven, with pears, served with canadian bacon and potatoes rosti.  This thing was DELICIOUS.  The pancake was super fluffy with a bit of crisp on the outside.  It was sweet, but not too sweet, and had great flavor with the batter and the pear.  I thoroughly enjoyed this… probably more than any other pancake I’ve ever had.

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We walked away from Prune incredibly impressed.  The atmosphere was great, the drinks were great, and the food was great.  I love brunch, but find a lot of times it’s all the same. Here, it was brunch anew.  I cannot wait to go back and try more!  

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

Dominique Ansel Bakery

1 May

When Mike and I ate at Daniel in summer 2011, the entire meal was epic, but the desserts were hands down the best I can remember.  I looked up the pastry chef when I got home and found out that it was Dominque Ansel.  I also caught some news that he would shortly be leaving Daniel for his own venture.

Thankfully, that venture maintained his presence in New York and he opened up his own bakery in SoHo.

I got down there a few weeks after they opened, and I had a stepping into Willy Wonka moment.

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They had cases filled with beautiful pastries.

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They have a few shelves of packaged goods.

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And a huge menu of goodies, including their famous Madeleines, which are made to order after 3pm on Fridays and Saturdays. I was impressed to see Dominique Ansel behind the counter and going to the back to make the madeleines.  I wanted to tell him how much we enjoyed his desserts at Daniel, but never had the chance (that’s a lie… I just couldn’t bring myself to talk to him… you have your celebrities, I have mine).

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I ordered up some macrons to bring to my team in London.  While it was a gift, I did manage to snag one to try.  It was the best macaron I’ve ever had. By far. And I’ve had many. Every time I’m within 2 neighborhoods from SoHo, I think “maybe we should drop by there to get some macarons.”  Sadly, we haven’t been back yet. Though I foresee these in my very near future.

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We also ordered one of the pastries that looked divine.  It was packaged in the most elegant box I have ever seen.

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Inside was like a perfect prize.

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It was absolutely beautiful. Sadly, I was just too full to eat this and was off to London that night, so Mike had to take one for the team and eat it himself.   To quote his opinion: “Deeeeeeeeeee-licious!”

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Why was I so full? Well… because these little babies were just captivating.  When we had these at Daniel, I have a distinct memory of the waitress unfolding the napkin on top of these warm, steaming madeleines and the smell just being totally overwhelmingly delicious.  It was a similar moment upon opening up this paper bag and peering inside.

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They were definitely smaller than the ones at Daniel.

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And I don’t think they were QUITE the same.  They still tasted great, and that warm, lemony, sweet pillow is still something other-wordly, bit it just wasn’t 100% there.  Perhaps nothing can ever be as good as your first time.

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James Beard Foundation Pop-Up: David Chang and Iñaki Aizpitarte

8 May

When I heard that the James Beard Foundation was doing pop-ups in Chelsea Market, and one was featuring David Chang, I was ecstatic.  Luckily, GiltCity was doing a special where you could buy tickets before they formally went on sale, so we jumped on it. 

They are also doing a number of events in Chelsea Market.  It’s only through May 14th, so get going!

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When we got to the event, it was decorated beautifully with lights strung on the ceiling.  The earlier seatings were finishing their meals in shifts.

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While we waited, we were served some champagne and nuts.

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I took the waiting period to walk around the room and photograph some of the fun displays they had.

They had a number of programs listed and a nice Angus cow to show it off.

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They had a bar in the back with a number of fun colored jugs. It added to the festive feel of the room.

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They had a Julia Child display that was fun.

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Especially when you’re a ham like I am…

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Since the JBF Pop-Up is a limited time event, for only 27 days, all the staff were wearing shirts where they crossed off the days left.  We were day 22!

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Our table was set up beautifully, just waiting for us to eat.

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And there was a large chalk board to feature the dining experience.  While David Chang was definitely the draw for us (I have professed my love for him on this blog before), I was excited to try the food of Iñaki Aizpitarte from La Chateaubriand in Paris. 

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The menu changes daily, but this was the menu for our meal.  We began with chicharones, which were like fried pork rinds.  (Sorry, forgot to snap a pic!)

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Next up was white asparagus with mozzarella, sorrel, finger lime, and parmesan.  This was cold.  Super cold.  So cold you could hardly distinguish the flavors.  It was definitely lacking in punch of flavor and everyone around us was muttering the same thing.  Bummer.

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The next dish was kimchi jelly with fresh garbanzo beans, english peas, asparagus, ramps, fava beans, and herbs.  I couldn’t try this one because the kimchi had red peppers, but everyone around me was very dissapointed by this dish.  One diner next to us mentioned that he thinks it would have been okay as an amuse bouche, but not as an “entrée.”  They said it was lacking in flavor and depth and was just a really strange dish to be served by David Chang.  At this point, everyone looked around nervously and you could just feel the “this is IT!?” fear in the air."

(We also felt pretty rushed… the 6:30 seating was still wrapping up when we got our main course… and we sat at 8pm.  Hmmmm)

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But then… there came the lamb.  WOW!  This was milk fed lamb on charred eggplant, with some pickled fruit and onions.  What I LOVE LOVE LOVED about this dish was that it was a lovely piece of lamb plus some more exotic cuts, which I’m pretty sure was lamb belly and liver. 

It was also paired with an EXCELLENT wine.  I enjoyed the wines along the way, but this one was awesome.  Montgras Carmenere Reserva, Chile 2008 is now on the short list!

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This was perfection.  Absolute perfection.  (Note to self: When in France, go to Chateaubriand. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.)

Every bite was savored and the full table of 20 seemed to say “mmmm” at the same time.

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At this point in the meal, the chefs came out and thanked each other.  Unfortunately, there was no mic so we couldn’t really hear what they were saying.  

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I did go up to David Chang afterwards and literally thanked him “for being awesome.”  He was very humble and thanked me for being a fan of his food.  It was a love fest.  A David Chang love fest!

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We had spotted Jeffrey Steingarten, the usually grumpy judge on Iron Chef, when we first entered (scroll up if you want to play Where’s Waldo and find him in some of the room shots above.)  He came up and spoke with David Chang for a while.

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While they were chatting, dessert came out.  I can’t say it sounded all that exciting: Poached rubarb with sweet potato vinegar, sicilian pistachio, goat butter, and goat milk from Momofuku Ko.  This was surprisingly delicious!  I didn’t have great expectations, but the flavors blended marvelously.  Very enjoyable!

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We all left this meal a little confused.  We went because we loved David Chang, but the consensus when we spoke to other diners was that the 3 things from him (the chicharones, the kimchi jelly, and the dessert) were just not what we would expect from Chang.  Perhaps he was trying to blend well with the French chef?  I’m just not sure… but the main dish he made (the jelly) just wasn’t very good according to Mike and our fellow diners. 

The lamb, however, almost made this worth every penny.  It’s pretty impressive when one dish can make the meal. 

Either way, it was exciting to be there.  I wish it were a bit more, but I’m glad to have been able to attend.

There are only 4 days left, so go stop by!

 

Bottega- Napa Valley

10 Feb

Well… we’ve finally made it.  The #1 question I was asked upon my return to the East Coast was “How was Bottega??”  Well… in case you didn’t get it from the Top 10 Noms of 2009, Michael Chiarello’s restaurant did NOT disappoint.

The ambiance was beautiful, though Mike and I were both surprised that the restaurant was in the middle of what we would term a “strip mall” (though much nicer).  I guess land there is so valuable that all of the places have to be on the same space!

We ordered Burrata Creamy mozzarella burrata with roasted butternut squash, caramelized mushroom & shallots, brown butter vinaigrette, balsamic caviar.  Um… HELLO!  I would like to go back in time so I can eat this again.

But then the entrees came.  Mike got the short ribs.  The flavor of these was so incredible that I had a tough time not asking for additional bites!  They were sensational.


I went with Wood Grilled Grass-Fed Lamb Rib Chops fresh figs with tarragon, fennel seeds, white balsamic vinegar, California olive oil, creamy ancient grain  .  OH SO GOOD! 

The hotel (which made the dinner reservation, and that we REALLY liked) had asked me if we were celebrating anything.  I tried to think of a good thing to say and mentioned we were celebrating our 2 year anniversary (it was 2 weeks prior).  I guess they really took it to heart and even told Bottega who did a lovely yet reserved nod to our celebration on our dessert plates (see photos below).

Looking at the menu is conflicting with my memory and the picture.  I THINK I ordered the chocolate and caramel tortino with espresso stracciatella gelato and milk chocolate peanut butter bar.  But now I see bananas in the picture below.  Hmmm.  Either way, it was REALLY good. If I hadn’t just had the tart at lunch from Mustards, it probably would have shined even more.

Mike got the apple and honey panzerotti with apple grappa mash, vanilla bean gelato, and pink peppercorn apple pearls.  Another hit!

Overall, this meal was just so enjoyable from first bite and every bite there after right up until the very sad moment when it ended.  They took such care with every little detail and it showed in every morsel of their food.  If you go to Napa, go to Bottega.

Total Nom Points: 9 out of 10