Tag Archives: top chef masters

Top Noms of 2012

26 Dec

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

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

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

Away we go:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a year!

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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!

Jonathan Waxman’s Barbuto

4 Apr

While Mike and I watched Top Chef Masters last year, we really had a fondness for Jonathan Waxman.  We were thrilled to learn that he had a restaurant in the West Village which was quite reasonably priced.  Barbuto is located on Washington Street at West 12th Street and has big garage doors that must be awesome in nice weather.

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There is also a nice open kitchen.

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I also appreciated the logo, which had an adorable cartoon dog, and was on all the plates.

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The menu changes often and tailors to what is freshest.  As I looked through, there were far too many things that looked far too good.  We then saw a note in the bottom left corner that said that a tasting menu was available for $65 per person.  As far as tasting menus go, that seemed like a steal.  When we inquired about it, we were informed that the tasting menu includes 2-3 dishes from each section… and then the waiter went on to tell us that it was a LOT for two people and he wanted to make sure we were aware that we would probably be overwhelmed with the food quantity.  Seeing as though we hadn’t eaten that day, and it’s hard to resist TOO MUCH food, we went for it.

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There was also an extensive wine menu and our waiter guided us in a direction that I’m still not sure how to pronounce, but it was FANTASTIC.

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Our first course was the salumi, which had prosciutto coppa, cacciatorini and rosemary focaccia.  Very fresh. Very delicious.

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Next up, we were delivered the bruschetta which came with butternut squash and marinated gorgonzola.  MMMM this was good.  Great combination of flavors.

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Our final antipasti was the cavolini crudi, which was shaved brussels sprouts with pecorino, lemon, and breadcrumbs.  While this was DELICIOUS (and the vinaigrette impeccable), we both agreed that we enjoy our brussels sprouts roasted rather than shaved.

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Our first pasta was lumaconi alla cavolfiori.  Lumaconi is “snail shell” pasta that looks like opened shells.  It had a GREAT texture and ours came with roasted cauliflower and cream sauce (they, thankfully, remembered to hold the chilis!)  I’m always concerned that when a dish loses peppers that it will lose its substance.  But this was great even without the spice.

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Our second pasta was the gnocchi con zucca which came with roasted fall squash and sage.  The squash here was SO. GOOD.  And I really liked the gnocchi.  It was slightly browned and had a great texture, with awesome pecorino cheese and a delicious sauce.

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Our first main course was pollo al forno which was a roasted chicken with salsa verde.  We heard good things about this chicken, and it was VERY GOOD.

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Ok… not Zuni good… but still very good.  Though I think I’m always a wee bit let down when I get chicken on a tasting menu, since I don’t think chicken is ever really special enough (and I make a damn good roast chicken myself, thanks to the Zuni recipe).

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Our second entree was coda di rospo, which was seared monkfish with bacon and savoy cabbage.  I LOVE monkfish, and this was one of the best I had ever had.  It was seared and cooked perfectly and the slight sauce on it was awesome.  And it all went so well with the delicious cabbage. 

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We also received sides, and I was very happy to see that we got the roasted brussels sprouts and colatura (anchovy sauce!)  The salty anchovies with the brussels sprouts was very good.

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Our last side was crispy potatoes with pecorino and rosemary.  It looked like these were hit with a hammer and then roasted to perfect crispness. 

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Our dessert was a hazelnut torte of some kind with chocolate sauce. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember thinking that it was very good, but not GREAT.  I kind of wanted just a little more texture in this.  But I enjoyed it.

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Overall, as far as tasting menus, especially at a celebrity chef restaurant, I thought this was incredibly affordable and did an amazing job of showcasing the REAL menu by picking selections from the actual menu.  While I do love the specialness of getting a tasting menu to try out some things that you can’t get a la carte, there is something comforting about knowing that the menu is good enough to be its own tasting menu.  Nothing was earth shatteringly delicious or original, but it was all cooked and flavored perfectly. 

I can’t wait to go back.

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

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

Rickshaw Dumplings

5 Aug

I’m an outright sucker for celebrity chefs.  I see them cook on TV and instantly begin Googling their restaurants or plotting to remember the name next time I show up in their city. 

This happened quite quickly and easily while watching Anita Lo on Top Chef Masters.  She seemed so quiet and yet came in to steal the show each time and cooked what sounded like amazing food.  Unfortunately her main restaurant, Anissa, caught fire and is currently closed, however, Rickshaw Dumpling Bar (on 23rd between 6th Ave and Broadway) is very close to my apartment.  A beautiful day in NYC led us straight there… well… after a movie (500 Days of Summer! Go see it! Great movie-making) and the gym.

Mike and I each ordered dumplings of our own and decided to share the pork buns.  I went with the Pork Dumplings (since I am a closet lover of greasy, hole in the wall Chinese Pork Dumplings).  They were… ehh… though the soy sauce was especially tasty.

Mike got the Peking Duck Dumplings and they were really great. Perfect flavor and tenderness.

The pork buns were great (but my main comparison is Momofuku’s so it certainly paled in comparison).

We also both ordered green tea shakes.  I LOVED this.  SOOO tasty.

During the whole meal I stared at a poster behind Mike that noted that the soup dumplings were rated as one of the top ten chocolate desserts in all of NYC by NY Mag.  I couldn’t resist and went back up to order, though just one for each of us. 

Um… WOW!  These things were heaven.  My perfect dessert.  Mochi outside (rolled in black sesame seeds) and a molten warm chocolate center (can be messy but totally worth it).  HEAVEN!  I will be back for these. 

I have to rate this separately since the deviation between the dumplings and the dessert dumplings is HUGE. 

Overall, dumplings were fine, but I’ve had better, and the pork was dissapointing.  Same with the buns, good but I’ve had better.  Dessert may be one of my favorite things I’ve ever eaten.

Total Nom Points for Meal: 6 out of 10

Total Nom Points for Dessert: 9.5 out of 10