Tag Archives: lobster

Guest Blog: Mas (Farmhouse)

1 Feb

I work in a field where I get to meet a lot of really great people. It isn’t rare that I find someone who loves food as much as I do, but to find a kindred spirit who thinks about it night and day and loves nothing more than talking about it is unique.  When I sat down next to Alexis at a lunch, we were excitedly chatting about her recent meal at Mas (Farmhouse) almost immediately, with her showing me pictures on her phone.  Kindred spirit… check!

It has come to my attention that, disappointingly, I cannot visit every great restaurant in the world, let alone in NYC on my own.  So I am thrilled that Alexis agreed to guest blog about her Mas (Farmhouse) dining experience.

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From Alexis:

I recently started working closer with Sara and when we recently dined together at Millesime, we quickly realized we shared two major passions in life; food and Words with Friends.  I actually mentioned to my husband that these are the only two things I needed in life, he was a bit taken back that I didn’t include him in my list, but hey, I thought that was a given.  My passion for food has transpired over the last few years and I am known to be eating lunch while reading menus for dinner, tomorrow’s dinner, next week’s dinner, you get the point!  I have a self proclaimed eating disorder, where I go to sleep dreaming of food and wake up the same way.  Harnessing this issue has been a problem, so when I was given the opportunity to guest blog, I realized that this may be the perfect outlet for my infatuation. Here goes it…

Mas (Farmhouse)

This past weekend my husband and I went for dinner with another couple.  Of course I read the menu in advance, but I must say the menu doesn’t read as well as the food looks and tastes. Also, despite the waiter’s best effort to showcase the culinary offerings as “custom”, we were a bit overwhelmed by the variations in which you can order; 4 course tasting; 7 course tasting; create your own tasting; a la carte.  We decided to order a la carte but collaborated and shared so we could taste more dishes.  This is always the way I (try to) order despite some people not always in agreement. There’s always that stinker who “doesn’t like to share”… Hate those kinds of people….

Diving right into it…. We were greeted with an amuse-bouche – I didn’t get the exact description, my first blogging error, but don’t hold it against me! – Goat cheese tartlet with caramelized onion and some kind of gelee and micro greens?!

It was truly fantastic and a perfect bite to get our palates going.  I could have easily eaten at least three more of these little tastes of heaven …

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For our Appetizer course, I rallied up the troops to each get something different… I love duck, especially confit style, so I was excited about my selection: Duck Confit Tart with Espresso Gastrique; Apple Butter, Sliced Pears & Mâche Lettuce. The portion size was really nice for one, and actually just enough to give everyone at the table a taste, albeit a small taste as I realized quickly how delicious this sucker was after my first bite ;). The blend of flavors and ingredients in this dish were incredible, and again I would’ve loved to supersize it into an entrée!

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My husband ordered the Yellowfin Tuna l’Occidental; Flashed with Beurre Noisette & Crispy Shallots. Despite him not knowing what half of the ingredients were or knowing what the “flashed” methodology of cooking is, he’s a sure thing when it comes to Tuna with any semblance of tartare-y style. The crispy shallots were a really nice addition, adding texture to the dish and breaking up the typical tuna tartare flavors you usually see.  Very refreshing dish…

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My girlfriend ordered the Shrimp Crusted with Spaghetti Squash; Salad of Frisée & Marcona Almonds with a Horseradish Dressing which was actually on the special tasting menu, but they were flexible to allow her to order it as her app. Although it was certainly a unique presentation, I felt the frisée salad overwhelmed the plate and drowned out the beautiful look of a dish as unique as this one.  Despite the amass of greens, this was another superb dish with unique flavors and texture. I would have gone in for seconds if I wasn’t so wrapped up in hoarding my Duck confit.

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Lastly, my friend’s husband ordered the Brussels Sprouts Roasted with House- Cured Lamb Bacon; Deviled Quail Egg, Butternut Squash Confit & Shaved Pecorino. This is the only dish I did not try. Brussels Sprouts aren’t really my thing, but the rest of the table seemed to enjoy it.

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New blogger mistake #2  = missing a photo-op of our pseudo third course.  The Ricotta- Lemon Tortellini; Wild Mushroom Stew, Sunchoke Purée & Parmesan Foam was actually an entrée, but we concurrently decided that we all would like to try it and share it as a table.  This pasta was amazing.  I would have licked the plate and scarfed this dish down if it was just mine, but I tried my hardest to be polite and somewhat refined. This stacks up with the Duck Confit as my favorite dishes of the night. Also, I am a self proclaimed pasta addict, so I may be a tad biased.  I also love mushrooms, ricotta, and I mean you can’t go wrong with parmesan foam, can you? I wish I had a picture to share of this dish… sorry!

For my entrée, I actually sprang for the chicken. For me, I almost never order chicken in a restaurant, but since I tend to put more emphasis on the ingredients and preparation than I do on the actual protein – I just had to try this.  The chicken was good, but I wasn’t overly impressed.  I found myself forking under the chicken for the escargot and the butternut squash risotto, which were two major elements that elevated this dish.

Chicken Breast Roasted with a Black Trumpet Mousse; Hen of the Woods Stewed with Escargots, Butternut Squash Risotto & Fennel

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I also found myself wishing I ordered my husband’s entrée – Butter Poached Lobster with Hon Shimeji Mushrooms; Huitlacoche Purée & Ricotta Spaetzle with Baby Arugula- The ricotta spatezle were so interesting and different, they tasted like a mini ricotta gnocchi and were super light and airy. These morsels mixed with lobster and a mushroom like puree created for literally the perfect bite….

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We were too full for dessert, but the restaurant provided us with Lemon Marshmallow’s that hit the spot.

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Overall, I would rate mas (Farmhouse) very high – a solid 9.  I definitely recommend this place to anyone that is looking for a unique meal with a French flair. This spot is pretty pricy so it may be best suited for a special occasion, dinner with rents or if you have the luxury of a business expense account, snag some foodie client’s and enjoy!

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

13 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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A delish bite.

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

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

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And the wine was perfect with it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

Maine Take 2: River House in Portsmouth, NH

18 Jun

One nice thing about road tripping to Maine from the TriState area is you drive right through Portsmouth, NH. Portsmouth is a beautiful town where you could probably spend a full vacation if you want to. In my family, however, it has always been a stop along the way.  We would get out of the car after about 5 hours driving up from Jersey, and as kids we went to the Children’s Museum to play before having lunch in town.

Now, as an adult, we skip right to the lunch and spend some time walking around the town. There are a number of restaurants lined up along the water, and this time we decided to try River House.  It has beautiful views and it’s great to be able to sit outside.

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And dream about the houses across the water.

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And watch the boats and the bridge. It’s really quite lovely.

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Their menu is extensive and varied.

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We started with the warm lobster artichoke dip. Lobster and artichokes are 2 of my favorite food, so I was thrilled.

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And I loved that it came with big ol’ chunks of lobster in it.

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We also tried something on a skewer.  I wish I remembered what this was… but 2 years later, it has evaporated (and we already know about the fate of the notebook I bought).

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One person in our party got The Cowboy Burger, which was dusted with Cowboy Ranch seasoning, chargrilled, topped with spicy Pepper Jack cheese on a toasted Brioche roll, finished with crisp onion straws, and a side of their house made Chipotle ketchup. He really enjoyed this burger.

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We also got a swiss burger with sweet potato fries.

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And my sister and I split The Tall Ships Plate, which was a 6 inch sweet Maine lobster roll on a grilled brioche bun with a cup of chowder and some sweet potato fries.

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The lobster roll was made the way I like it… on a roll with plenty of butter, one leaf of lettuce, and big chunks of lobster that weren’t drowning in mayo.  It was very good, but I can’t say it was the best I’ve had.

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The chowder was hearty and flavorful, but so creamy that I think we only had a few bites each.

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This is a good restaurant to satisfy a lot of different palates (they even have a gluten free menu now!) with gorgeous views and very good food. We really enjoyed ourselves here, and I’m sure that has a lot to do with the beautiful weather and views.

Total Nom Points: 7 out of 10

Maine Take 2: DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant- Portland

15 Jun

In Portland, restaurant options are growing leaps and bounds every day (I hear it’s grown a lot in just the 2 years since I’ve been… looking forward to finding out TONIGHT!)

But one restaurant has been there as long as I can remember (Wow! 1954 according to their website): DiMillo’s Floating Restaurant.

Yes.. floating. (But only floating since 1982… Happy 30th Anniversary of floatation!)

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I’m pretty sure I have never been in this restaurant, but it looks exactly as you would think you would remember it. Somewhere between a cruise ship and lake cabin.  And we were the youngest people in the restaurant by at least 20 years.

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The menu is large, with a focus on seafood (as it should be).

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We started with an appetizer of angel hair spaghetti with scallops, shrimp, and artichokes.  This dish really just focused on the ingredients, but the ingredients were very good, so we enjoyed it.  

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We also had some burgers and a pizza.

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Both of which were fair.  Nothing special, but not too bad either.

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I also picked up this handy dandy little notebook that came with a pen. I wrote down all my notes about everywhere we dined throughout the trip, and decided to keep it with me to continue taking notes for the blog. There are always delays between dining and writing, and with my swiss cheese memory, I thought the notebook would help.  And then… in typical Sara form… I forgot where I put the notebook when I came back. Go me.

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DiMillo’s is a classic place. I wouldn’t say run there, but it’s a fine choice for a unique experience of dining, literally, on the water. You may want to wait a few years though, until your hair turns grey, so you can feel like you fit in a little better. And if you’re in Portland, I’d say hit up one of the restaurants we went to on our earlier trip like J’s Oyster or Fore Street.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10

Maine Take 2: The Quarter Deck, Bar Harbor, ME

15 Jun

Somehow, in just 4 days on our August 2010 trip to Maine, we managed to stop in Portsmouth, NH, spend time in Blue Hill, explore a bit of Portland, and make our way up to Bar Harbor.  I was ambitious back then (ok… I’m still ambitious… with just four days this time around we’re flying into Portland and spending 1 night there, 1 night in Camden, then 2 nights in Boothbay Harbor. Who says vacation requires being sedentary?)

On our trip up to Bar Harbor, we stopped at a classic restaurant right on the harbor, Quarterdeck. Fine dining is not exactly the mantra of Bar Harbor, and the Quarterdeck doesn’t make any promises of being fancy.

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But it sure has some absolutely gorgeous views.

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Right there in the center is my favorite ship, the Margaret Todd, a 4 masted red sailboat that I’ve been on twice and loved every moment.

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Some menu perusal…

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We started with some cocktails, mostly of the blueberry variety.

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All were quite good!

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And one of our favorite Maine breweries: Allagash.

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We started off with the calamari, which were nice and crispy but not overly interesting.

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We also split some crab cakes, which were decent but nothing to write home about.

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I got some coconut shrimp, which I was a big fan of.  Flavorful, succulent shrimp with a crispy coconut shell.  

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We got some burgers, which were… fair.

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And a very fresh salad.

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Is the Quarterdeck a phenomenal restaurant… well no.  But the views are exceptional, the service friendly, the food good enough.

It’s a really great place to grab a drink and watch the world pass by.

Total Noms: 6.5 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

Mermaid Inn

20 Mar

I absolutely love oysters.  In fact, one of my favorite things even as a little kid were those cans of smoked oysters. (Yes… I have been a foodie practically since birth… and also a very, very strange child).  I had been hearing great things about the Mermaid Restaurants and their oysters. Not only were they rumored to be very tasty, but they have a “Happy Hour and a Half” every day from 5:30pm – 7pm with east coast oysters for $1 and west coast for $1.75.  Awesome deal.

As if that wasn’t enough to sway me, Blackboard Eats put out a special that took 30% off the bill. It didn’t include the Happy Hour, but hell… 30% off is pretty damn great. And finally it motivated me, with a deadline, to try it out.

There are three locations: The Mermaid Inn on the Upper West Side (Amsterdam between 87th and 88th), The Mermaid Inn in the East Village (2nd Ave between 5th and 6th), and The Mermaid Oyster Bar in Greenwich Village (Macdougal between West Houston and Bleecker).

We stopped into the one on the Upper West Side and were immediately warmly greeted and shown to our seat.  With 30% off, we decided to go whole hog… err… fish… and try out a number of yummy looking items.  I gave my usual peppers allergy warning (“I am allergic to peppers. The vegetable.  Black pepper is fine but anything made from the vegetable is a problem: Red, green, yellow, chili, jalapeño, red pepper flakes, paprika… old bay.”  I am so sick of saying this… but… c’est la vie).  He wrote it down and very diligently confirmed what I could and couldn’t have.

First, we started with the Grand Platter: 12 oysters, 6 clams, crudo, shrimp cocktail, and 1/2 chilled lobster.

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All the oysters were fantastic, but I decidedly have a preference for West Coast oysters.  Shhhh… don’t tell.

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The lobster was pretty good, but I am a total lobster snob after spending so much time in Maine. It’s just NEVER as good.  Do lobsters lose something the moment they cross the bridge out of Maine? It’s a phenomena I cannot explain.

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The crudo was a delicious tuna with avocado… oh… and PEPPERS.  I took a bite and my mouth felt itchy… then a second later Mike pushed a jalapeño across his plate and told me to stop eating immediately.

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The wait staff was INCREDIBLY apologetic and immediately brought me out a FULL SIZE portion without peppers. And it was SOOOOOO delicious.

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We followed up our tower with lobster mac and cheese. This was perfectly cheesy (without being soupy) with great crunch on top and big full chunks of lobster meat cooked in.  The lobster in here was actually even more flavorful than the chilled lobster.  This was DELICIOUS.

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And then we had to try the lobster roll. The fries were perfectly average but the lobster roll was pure heaven… until… my mouth went on fire… and then the fire spread.

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Old Bay was lurking in every crevice of that sandwich… and was now burning every crevice of my mouth.  This was actually one of the worst burns I have ever experienced.  Because Old Bay is a powder, rather than burning a single spot like a normal altercation with a pepper might do, this spread across every part of my mouth and lips and hit hard.  I went immediately to the back and asked for a glass of milk (it is the only thing I have found that stops the reaction from spreading).  My waiter looked at me as if I had just told him that his puppy had died.  He sprinted into action, toppled over everyone in the kitchen, and ran back with a full jug of milk and a glass.  I went back to the table and a fresh lobster roll (sans old bay) was brought out.  And it was insanely good.  Perfectly buttered and crisped roll with perfect lobster meat.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t doing too well, so I asked for a glass of ice, which I proceeded to hold, embarrassingly, over my quickly inflating and blistering lip. At this point the manager came out and was beyond apologetic… mentioning that she was shocked to hear that the kitchen messed up not once, but twice, and that they had it backwards thinking my allergy was to black pepper, not the vegetable.  She immediately said they would be comping… the ENTIRE MEAL.  In my experience, it is really fascinating to see the difference in reactions I get from restaurants when peppers wind up in my food.  Many (too many) are totally indifferent or deny the hell out of it (“Oh it’s a jalapeño, not a pepper!“)  Some places comp the dish that was in error, or throw in a free glass of wine.  Frankly, I don’t expect anything. I would prefer the pepper wasn’t there in the first place, but accidents happen (it scares me to think what would happen if I WAS anaphylactic though).  I was SHOCKED when she said she was taking care of the entire bill.  And I felt awful. It wasn’t the waiter’s fault, and their care and attention was above and beyond.

It made what could have been an “I will never come back here!” boondoggle into an experience that will make me very loyal to this restaurant.  I can’t help but respect a place that takes ownership of its mistakes and goes above and beyond to compensate.

And just as I thought this restaurant had done enough to impress me, out came Fortune Teller Fish. Does anyone remember these from childhood? You put them in your hand and it tells your fortune depending on how it moves.  What a novel bit of nostalgia!

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And then… there came the chocolate mousse. Heaven.

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Beyond the above and beyond care for my allergy and comping the meal, the food here was sensational.  I was incredibly impressed and kind of wish I lived closer so I could be a regular at a place like this. Especially for those oysters!

Highly recommended.

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

Blue Hill at Stone Barns: Tarrytown, NY

15 Aug

We were trying to determine where to go for a getaway weekend.  I knew we might not get out until late afternoon on Friday, and had to be back on Sunday, so we didn’t want to go far.  We thought about the usual contenders: Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island, Jersey Shore, Long Island beaches.  But then Mike came up with a fantastic idea… to go to Tarrytown, NY and finally visit Blue Hill at Stone Barns.  We have been wanting to go for years, especially after trying their NYC location which was wonderful.  The only reservation we could get with the 1 week notice was at 9:30pm on Friday night.  So we decided to get a local hotel room and then we would explore the area the following day.

Stone Barns is very easy to get to. The train is very quick and you can get a cab right there.  We got a ZipCar and arrived less than an hour after we left our apartment.

Blue Hill is literally on the farm.  The chef finds what is freshest from the farm that day and makes a menu out of it.  You never quite know what is going to come out, but you can be sure it’s good.

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We arrived about 10 minutes early and were told we would be seated soon.  So we made ourselves comfortable at the bar, which had these lovely, comfy chairs and couches.

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Their cocktail list was very unique, but both Mike and I were enamored with the “Up in Smoke” which had whiskey, mescal, and smoked peaches, lime, and thai basil.  It was definitely unique. Not sure I would get it again but I’m glad we tried it.

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We had nearly finished our cocktails when the Maitre’D came over.  I assumed it was time to go but he informed us that they were a bit behind schedule and asked if we would like to begin our amuse bouche in the bar area while we waited. We happily agreed.

First up were lightly fried fresh beans (green and wax).  They were delicious and the fry just added a hint of crisp.  I also liked that they served it on slate.

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Next up was a few fresh veggies from the garden (arranged on skewers sticking out of a block).  We had fennel, butter lettuce, a radish, and a gooseberry.  Everything was tasty, but the gooseberry was sensational.

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Next up came a pancetta fried squash blossom.  I find that many times squash blossoms retain too much grease from frying, but these were tender and cooked just right.  I can’t say I tasted the pancetta too much, but the entire thing was tasty all together.

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Next was something I remembered trying, and loving, at Blue Hill NYC.  These were tiny tomato “burgers.”  These were perfectly sweet with perfectly ripe tomatoes.  Even better than I remembered.

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Next up came some sliced meats.  The one on the left was bresaola (air cured beef) and on the right was prosciutto.  Both were quite tasty.

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At this point, we were so pleasantly enjoying our experience that we hadn’t even realized that we were nearly 45 minutes past our reservation when we finally sat in the main dining room.

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The did an amazing job with an old barn, keeping it modern and industrial, while clean and looking like it belonged on a farm.

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I opened up the menu and was pleased to see that of the multiple artwork available on menus, I received the artichoke. (I LOVE artichokes).  The menu gives a choice of 5, 8, or 12 courses.   The 5 and 8 have the same amount of food, but the 8 had more variety.  The 12 is called the “Farmer’s Feast” and it sounded quite epic.   Too epic for being after 10pm.  (Sidenote: This place is a “Special Occasion” restaurant.  It is expensive even as far as NYC Tastings go.  Be prepared.  But it is 100% worth it.)  We chose the 8 course and, to add to the opulence, I also got the wine pairing.  (Note as dishes get increasingly blurry below… both in images and in recollection of what we ate).

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I then realized that the beautiful flower sitting on our table was ALSO an artichoke.  Gorgeous.

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And then the food started coming out… Look familiar?  It was so delicious and light the previous time that we didn’t mind a second helping.

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Next came a melon shooter.  It was melony, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to drink it again.

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And then more beans…

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When the meat came out again I debated saying something, but this was NEW meat so I just had to try it.  I believe the left was bresaola again but on the right was bologna.  Now I don’t like bologna.  But this is what bologna was supposed to be.  Made me think that I cannot even imagine how they can call deli bologna “bologna” if THIS is what it was supposed to taste like all along.

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Next, out came a salad.  It had fresh and seasonal vegetables with (YAY!) gooseberries.  It also had some marscapone and a foam that I cannot recall anymore.  They also topped it with edible flowers.  It really just looked like freshness in a bowl.

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The next item was a piece of brioche (that also had some swiss chard that didn’t photograph well).

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And this was paired with homemade ricotta that they strained in front of us.    It was creamy and rich and I kind of wanted to bathe in it.

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We were then served poached lobsters with corn and shallots.  It was in a broth that tasted like everything that is wonderful about lobster and corn.

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At this point we really wanted bread to lap up the broth from the lobster dish, and without a moment to spare, out came the bread with homemade butter and two specialty salts.

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They were flavored with tomato and spinach.  And they were wonderful.

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Next was an egg dish.  It was a poached egg over julienned squash noodled.  I took a small bite and realized that the dark red specks were, in fact, peppers(which, thanks to my allergy are my mortal enemy).  Mike really enjoyed the dish while I waited for a replacement.

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At first I was a bit upset to be missing the egg course, because there are few things I love as much as a fresh and well cooked egg.  I was also surprised that the pretty impeccable service had made this mistake.  But then… my replacement came out.  It was a lightly fried poached egg (say what?) in a pea broth.  Let me just say, this was so freakin’ amazing that I was GLAD they made the mistake.  How on earth they fried a poached egg will remain a mystery to me, but it was sensational.  The pea broth was a perfect foil for the egg and everything came together with perfect flavor and texture.

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Our next course required special preparation, where a special type of egg yoke was grated onto our dish.

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This was a homemade ostrich egg pasta dish (with the shaved egg thing over it) and a sauce that I cannot for the life of me remember but I do remember thinking it was absolutely delicious.   (Note: this is when I realized that the wine pairings, which were supposed to be “small pours,” were no where close to small and were starting to impact my ability to photograph and recall what we ate… not that I enjoyed it any less, however).

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Our next course was the meat course, which had sliced flank steak and beef tongue. I usually am not a huge fan of tongue.  Sliced deli tongue is fine, but give me a slice of pastrami any day instead.  This tongue, however, was one of the best morsels of food I have ever had.  It was rich and melted in my mouth, with intense meat flavor.

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Up next were desserts.  This was fresh blueberries, marscapone, and sorbet. It was fresh and delicious and all the right balances of sweet and tart.

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Our last bite was a caramel sauced, fresh milk ice cream, chocolate mousse with chocolate ganache and fresh berries.  It was decadent with nothing too sweet, nothing too rich, nothing too bitter.  It was perfect.  A blend of everything that is right with dessert.

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At this point I was a bit thankful that it was over… I was so stuffed (and so damn drunk) that I was concerned that Mike would have to carry me out (or roll me).  At this point we were served a mint smoothie, some fresh fruit, and some chocolate cookies.  I took a nibble and sip of each, and each was delicious… but just far. too. full.

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Overall, this was one of those meals for the history books.  It was easily in the Top 10.  From start to finish, everything was delicious.  There were some mistakes in service (the seating, the double amuse bouche, the peppers) but the overall service was so fantastic with great attention to detail, that none of that mattered.  The wines during the pairing were each very good, but nothing that stood out and it was honestly just too much.  I wouldn’t recommend going for that part, but everything else is a must.  Each bite was fresh, delicious, and elevated what food should be.  It was unbelievably expensive, but worth every penny.  It is one of those once in a lifetime food experiences that everyone should have the opportunity to have just once.   Some people dream about vacations to Bali, some about luxury cars, some about owning race horses… me? I dream about food experiences like this one.

Total Nom Points: 9 out of 10

Luke’s Lobster- East Village

13 Sep

After hearing about Luke’s Lobster (we went to the one on 7th Street near 1st Ave, however, one just opened up on 81st Street near 2nd Ave) for a long time, I finally made my way there as a “last meal” at my old job.

Staring at the menu, I was really stuck.  I wanted to try as much as possible, so I eventually decided on “A Taste of Maine” which included a small version of each of their rolls (crab, shrimp, and of course, Lobster) along with 2 Empress crab claws, chips, and soda. 

It was a bit more than I usually spend on lunch at $20, but fresh seafood ain’t cheap.  Oh wait… aren’t lobsters prices at all all-time low?  Ok… I guess we’ll forgive them for transportation costs, etc. Sort of…

I really enjoyed the Maine kitsch that decorated the small storefront. 

My soda pick was, of course, blueberry.  It was delicious, sweet, and tasted like dessert (definitely NOT on the diet plan).

The sandwiches came and they were certainly small, however, they were overflowing with meat.

Luke’s Lobster bills itself as being fresh from Maine, and I really value that, however, the lobster just wasn’t the same.  I can’t totally fault them, however, because I have had lobster at some of the finest restaurants in NYC and it just never compares to the lobster in Maine, right off the boat, and simply steamed.  Even when I buy LIVE lobsters to make myself, it just isn’t the same.  Is it the Maine water? Air? The 10 hours of transit?  I wish I knew… because it’s good, but it’s just never quite MAINE good.  The roll at Luke’s was exactly on these lines… good, but not the same.  And (I HATE to say it) it tasted almost frozen (perhaps their fridge was too cold?)

I actually wound up preferring the shrimp roll (shockingly), however, the highlight of the meal was the Empress Crab Claw.  HOLY SHIT!

This tiny little claw packed SO much flavor.

Overall, I’m glad a place like Luke’s Lobster exists since they are such Maine fans, however, they still haven’t solved the eternal “MAINE GOOD” problem.  Sad, but I’m glad I went.  And I would go out of my way for that Empress Crab.  Nom Nom Nom.

Total Nom Points: 6.5 out of 10