Tag Archives: chocolate cake

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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SD26: “Secret” Chef’s Table – Gilt City Deal

3 May

SD26 was a restaurant on the list for a while.  So when Gilt City featured a Five Course Chef’s Table Dinner at SD26 for $84, we bought it. (If you want to sign up, why not use my Gilt City Referral Sign Up Link so I can get a referral bonus?).  

It included:

  • Five-course tasting menu
  • One appetizer, pasta, fish, meat and dessert 
  • $10 Enomatic wine card for a future visit 
  • Meet-and-greet with Chef Matteo Bergamini and co-owners Tony May and Marisa May

It wasn’t valid on holidays, Saturdays, nor Sundays, so it was quite hard to find a day to go since we work far too much.  I got the reminder that the vouchers were expiring soon (I have missed 2 or 3 things I’ve purchased due to expiry dates… dammit!)  so we made a reservation to go one Thursday night.

We were immediately greeted by a warm receiving line of chefs and waiters and sat, literally, right in the kitchen.  I LOVE sitting in the kitchen. To me, there are few cooler things than watching how a kitchen works from the inside. It’s fascinating to see how the kitchen staff can operate so like a well-oiled machine, each making part of an order and somehow delivering each piece of each meal perfectly at the same time.

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There are 2 tables in the kitchen, and we were all alone for most of our meal, but a couple joined us later with the same voucher in hand.  

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The chef came over and introduced himself, then asked if there were any allergies (so I told him about my allergy to peppers and the unfortunate side effects) and if we didn’t like anything specific.  I told him that we eat everything (besides peppers) including the weirder things like organ meat.  His eyes lit up and he immediately said “Sweet breads!” and went into the kitchen.

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We were given an iPad that was dedicated to a wine list app. You could search by region, varietal, pairing, etc. When you would tap on wines, you could read more about them, or about their region, etc. It was an awesome app and we spent a good 20 minutes just flipping through it.  We eventually decided on a far too expensive Patz & Hall Chardonnay.  I have a problem that when something was paid a long time ago, it feels like it was free.  So I convinced myself that we could buy an expensive bottle of wine since we weren’t paying for the dinner.  I like my dream world… shut up.

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We started with some focaccia, which was just a little too good.

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And two large breadsticks, which were buttery and delicious.

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And then more bread… this time a fluffy brioche.  

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We watched them assemble perfect dishes of asparagus with roasted pepper and fish.

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And a giant fish cooked in a salt crush.

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Our first course came out: Veal sweet breads with mustard sauce and coffee. He may have also said parsnip, but I’m not postitive on that. These were perfectly cooked and filled with flavor.  The coffee was a great balance and even though I’m not a huge fan of mustard, this all went perfectly together and the flavor wasn’t dominated by mustard.

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Next, the chef came and presented us with homemade spaghetti with mussels and garlic… and chili. To which Mike and I said in chorus “Chili???”  He ate his while they remade mine.

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Which was the same but without chili.  This was okay.  I was hoping for more flavor (perhaps the chili rounded it out well), but it was nice overall.

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Our next course is something that SD26 is known for, and now we know why.  Raviolo (which I thought meant a big ravioli, but turns out it technically is just the singular form of ravioli) with ricotta and spinach and soft egg inside in a brown butter truffle sauce. Brown butter. Truffle sauce.  Nom Nom Nom.

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When you cut it open, the yolk spilled into the sauce and made for quite the scrumptious flavor. (Mike and I tried to make something like this once, but it was no where near this good.  Not to self: Brown Butter. Truffle sauce.)

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Our next dish was a variation on the asparagus/roasted peppers and fish dish we saw being made earlier, only with spinach instead of roasted peppers.  This was Striped Sea bass, asparagus, spinach, and spinach chlorophyl mayo.  (Chlorophyl? Fascinating!)

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It was tasty and the fish was well cooked. The mayo was really fantastic with great flavor.

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Our next course was a beef dish with porcini mushrooms and arugula. The mushrooms on this dish were so rich and flavorful.  I really enjoyed the combination of flavors.

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We had finished our (too expensive) bottle of wine by this point, so 2 glasses of chardonnay come on the house (Perhaps because of the allergy mix-up? Perhaps because I was taking pictures so they suspected I might be writing about them? Perhaps because we spent too much money on a bottle of wine already? Who knows! And who cares! It was good wine.)

I really enjoyed the view from our table, including the pastry area to the other side where they had their petit fours all ready and waiting to go for each table.

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The seemed to have a big party because they assembled huge sets of plates with identical dishes and desserts a few times. I enjoyed watching the setup of each of the pastry plates, and the pastry chef was very exact.

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When these chocolate cakes came out, the smell blew me over.  Holy chocolate batman!

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Our desserts came up next, starting with a pineapple banana shot with strawberries. Fresh and delicious. Great segue from dinner into dessert.

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Up next was some coconut whipped cream with cocoa on top.  My guys missed the mark on the cocoa a little bit, and the pastry chef gave him a quick glance that packed a punch.

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His next time on Mike’s was much better.

This was another really nice segue. Nicely flavored, small, and light.

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And then the chocolate cakes came out.

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The were topped with a nicely stamped SD26 chocolate piece.

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And oozed perfectly when cut into.  This was a great lava cake, definitely more on the bittersweet side, and rich as rich can be.

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We also had a 2nd dessert, which I completely missed the name of.  The pastry chef was fantastic (and, according to our waiter, recently fresh from Italy) but I just could not understand her accent (I’m a bad American… I know).  It was flake pastry with strawberries and some delicious cream. I think it had some caramel in it. Whatever it was… it was good.  We also ordered some moscato and it went great with this.

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Just when we thought we probably shouldn’t have another bite or another drink, they brought out 2 more glasses of moscato on the house and some petit fours.

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This was a hard, fudgy candy with white and bittersweet chocolate.

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And this was a lemon cookie of some sort.  Very, very good.

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This was such a fun adventure, eating in the kitchen and having the chef cook for us right there. It seems this is a secret of SD26, but you can reserve these tables in advanced (either for 2 or 4).  It’s an impressive date night and just plain foodie fun.  It definitely made me want to go back, soon, and try out their main dining room.

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 7.5 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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Strip House

4 May

Every time I have had a NYC steakhouse discussion (which happens very often actually), Strip House comes up in the top of most lists.  I had not been, so when I was treating a colleague to dinner, I was excited when he chose Strip House.  

Strip House is on 12th Street just east of 5th Ave.  There are also locations in Las Vegas, Key West, Naples (Florida), Houston, and, impressively, Livingston, NJ (In the hood where I grew up… What What!)  

I failed to get a picture of the interior, but I can pretty much summarize in 2 words: Red + Leather.  I also seem to remember burlesque-esque photos on the walls and a room filled with men, pretty much exclusively.  Oh this was definitely a boys club.

You could smell the business transactions happening in the room.

It’s not quite my vibe (I prefer the “old style” New York feel of Keens with the old pipes hanging on the ceilings), but it was lovely to look at.

We started with the Strip House Roasted Bacon which came with baby arugula and russian dressing.  The bacon was good and bacony, though I preferred the one at BLT Steak. (And is it just me, or is it somewhat strange to have this with a salad? I mean it makes sense… who doesn’t like bacon on their salad? And it’s a nice balance to have greens with the fatty bacon… but it still seemed strange to me.)

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Next up we had a rib eye…

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And a New York Strip.

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We both preferred the Strip, and the roasted garlic on the side really made it.

The char was very good, though not the best, and I found myself wanting just a little more flavor from the meat (and using more of the roasted garlic to compensate).

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For sides we ordered the Crisp Duck Fat Potatoes.  I was very excited for this, but I found it VERY disappointing. It was a dome of bland potatoes with a slightly crisped outside.  I had to really try to taste the duck fat.  Bummer.

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The other side we had was truffled creamed spinach. THIS was sensational.  My favorite part of the meal.

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For dessert, we had to try their famous 24-layer chocolate cake.  It was good, and very rich, but it fell short simply because I’m not a big cake person.  Cake to me is boring when I can have a creamy mousse or a crispy brulee.  Perhaps it’s a texture thing.  But as far as cake goes, this was certainly a good one!

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Overall, I would say Strip House is good, but not great.  It’s definitely a top steakhouse in NYC, but across the board, I’ve had better steak experiences at places like Keens, Uncle Jacks, and BLT Steak.  If given the choice, I would pick any of those over Strip House.  Not to say I wouldn’t go back.  It just wasn’t as good as the buzz.

Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10