Tag Archives: top chef

Girl and The Goat: Chicago

24 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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I really enjoyed the goat theme throughout.

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

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

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

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

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We also had a cauliflower side that everyone really loved.

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

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

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

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

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

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

nomscale- 08.5

 

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Harold Dieterle’s new restaurant The Marrow: Opening Night

22 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And I chose the Apple Hand Pie for dessert.

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

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

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

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 7.5 out of 10

The Menu on December 21, 2012:

MEAT PLATES:

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

STARTERS:

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

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

MAINS:

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

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

SIDES:

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

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!

Anita Lo’s Annisa for Valentine’s Day

26 Apr

We had been wanting to try Anissa for a long time. We had watched Anita Lo on television (Top Chef Masters most notably) and she was one of the chefs that made my mouth water every time she presented a dish.  We went to Rickshaw Dumpling Bar (her more casual restaurant in NYC) and her dessert soup dumplings were unreal.  But her fine dining restaurant, Anissa, was really where I wanted to go.  Unfortunately, there was a fire at Anissa a few years ago and it closed down.  So when it reopened, it hit the “someday” list.  Valentine’s Day weekend 2012 was finally that “someday.”

My first impression was that this place was VERY small.  It was intimate without being on top of each other.  I’m pretty sure the restaurant seats less than 20 people at a time.

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It’s the little things about a restaurant for me, and these perfect butter ribbons were just delightful.

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We decided to go with the 7-course chef tasting with the wine pairings.

Our meal started with an amuse bouche of egg salad with cured salmon tartlet.  It was a nice bite and the shell was a perfect crisp.

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Course one was ceviche of fluke, black lime, and green daikon. It was paired with a Sauvignon Blanc: St. Bris Burgundy, France – 2010.

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This tasted perfectly fresh and citrusy. It has a small salty element. Totally delish.

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Course 2 was a Hudson valley duck foie gras with soup dumpling and balsamic. This was paired with Riesling Kabinett -Gunderloch, Rheinhessen, Germany – 2010.  This wine was PERFECT with this dish.

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I was nervous about my peppers allergy, but they defined this as “Sechuan” but I wound up being fine. Very slightly tingly, but worth it. This had great, deep, rich flavor.

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The flavors were so good, in fact, that I tipped my bowl into my spoon while no one was looking… just to get every last drop I could.

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Course 3 was a Miso Black Cod with crispy tofu and bonito broth (I think that’s what she said?)  This was paired with Wakatake Junmai Sake from Shizuoka, Japan.

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There was roe in the broth, which was a nice surprise.  The cod was awesome, and potentially the best I have ever had. I’m not a huge fan of tofu, but even that was great.  I have no idea what the green things in it were (see photo below) but they added great texture.  The tofu itself wasn’t at all crispy, but it was delicious.  Almost polenta-like in texture.

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Our next course came out, and while I wrote it down, it appears I forgot to take a picture of it (Whoops!)  It was grilled arctic char, dill, char mousse, cabbage leaf, and lemon something.  It was paired with Bourgogne Blanc, Domaine Amiot- Servelle from Burgundy, France 2008. This had multiple elements on the plate, so you could choose how much of each you wanted in each bite, or all of it.  Everyone went great together, especially the mix and match of the lemon and dill flavors.  The wine also went perfectly with it.  Awesome.

Course 5 was grilled wagyu, green garlic, chives, escargot, mushrooms with granache. It came with Bandol- Domaine Le Galantin- Provence, France, 2008.  Below the meat there was a piece of brioche that sucked up juices/sauce and made for such a flavorful bite.

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Our next course was a cheese course. It came with some great, nutty bread.

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And I dove in so fast to the cheese that, again, I forgot to take a picture. But I snagged one at the very end.  I took some very short-hand notes: “Chèvre de Argental: sheep, raw cow from Austria, raw cow from Vermont, goat cheese from France, cremesco from Italy, a blue from New York. It was paired with Churchhills White Port- Portugal.  White port is sooooo good with cheese.

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Course 7 was a coupling of 2 desserts, both of which came with Muscat de Beaumes-de Venise, Rhone, France 2009.

The first dessert was a pecan beignet with butter rum sorbet. The sorbet good but icy. The entire dessert was very messy, but tasted awesome.

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The second dessert was a poppy seed cake with Meyer lemon.

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It reminded me in flavor of lemon meringue.

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At the end, we were served Petit Fours: coconut popsicles, candied ginger, and piece of chocolate.

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The popsicles were especially fun and deliciously filled with coconut flavor.

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The whole meal was exceptionally well paced with very good service. Every dish was solid. I can’t say there was one that stood out as an awesome dish that topped all other awesome dishes, but the meal as a whole was incredibly good and memorable as a whole.  It certainly did not dissapoint. One of the tops of all time.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

Top 10 Noms of 2011

29 Dec

I can’t believe 2011 is over!  I always love going back through the past year of blogs to pick the top 10, and this year proved MUCH harder than years before.  There were just so many great Noms in 2011!

For the past Top Noms of the year, check out 2010 and 2009.

#10 – Alma de Cuba: Philadelphia I dream about the pork entree I had here, and that chocolate cigar for dessert (that was on fire) will always hold a tender spot in my food heart.

# 9 – The Breslin lived up to expectations with an awesome lamb burger and the scrumpets… oooooooohhhh the scrumpets.

#8 – We had wanted to visit Barbuto for a long time, after falling in love with the chef, Jonathan Waxman, on various food shows on television.  It was a meal made of some of the freshest, most lovingly crafted ingredients.


#7 – Our experience at Maialino was just a few days ago, but I am still thinking about that bacon and those desserts.  I can’t wait to go back again and try more… especially their namesake pasta.

#6 – When we decided to try Catch, Top Chef Hung’s new restaurant we didn’t know what we were in for. It was dark. It was Meatpacking. But it was delicious and inspired.  Awesome combinations and executed beautifully.

#5 – Imperial No. 9 was a fantastic journey of food, with many dishes that I would go back to eat all over again.  If you go, order as much as possible and share. Totally worth it.

#4 – Our adventure at Mountain Flying Fish in Breckenridge, CO was something I will never forget.  A well curated Omikase from the chef, who is a personal friend of my aunt proved to be one of the most perfect, original, and exciting meals I have ever had.  Land locked sushi shouldn’t be this good. Food shouldn’t be this good.  It was just… bliss.

#3 – Mike took me to Daniel for my birthday, and it was impressive.  The entire tasting menu was already one of the best meals I ever had, and then the desserts came.  The best series of desserts I have ever had. Hands down. And I LOVE dessert.

#2 – When I think of epic meals, I have to mention Blue Hill at Stone Barns.  A day-trip from NYC in Westchester, NY, it is actually ON the farm (which made for a lovely day as well).  Everything that comes out in the blind tasting menu was from the farm or locally sourced.  You don’t get fresher than that. And it’s hard to get any better.

#1 – Valentine’s Day at Colicchio and Sons for the Tasting Menu was phenomenal.  It took over the #2 all-time spot (under WD-50, which we tried again recently, by the way, to see if it could hold on to that #1 spot… more on that soon).  I have been to Colicchio and Sons a few times for their a la carte menu, and it’s always fantastic, but this tasting menu was other-worldly.  The duck egg, confit gizzard, & parsnip dish was hands down the best thing I have EVER eaten.  Just… wow.

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Honorable Mention:

The Truffle, Gruanciale, and Egg Pizza from Otto

Birreria at Eataly for the fantastic ambiance, beer, and damn good food

The classic New York feel (and food) of The Palm

Thumbs Up Diner: Atlanta for The Heap

Peking Duck House for the Peking Duck Special

Kefi for that amazing octopus

And 2 great Restaurant Week meals that were worth repeating…

Ilili for Restaurant Week

The Modern for Restaurant Week Winter and Summer

And last but not least… It’s hard to write about 2011 without mentioning Albert Hall Tavern, but now that Chef Bill is gone, the spark just isn’t there like it used to be.

Goodbye 2011! Onto even more fantastic adventures and Noms in 2012.

Catch: Top Chef’s Hung Huynh’s new NYC Restaurant

7 Nov

As you all know very well (or should by now), Mike and I are total Top Chef sluts.  So when we were in search of a dinner location, we decided to try Top Chef’s Hung Huynh’s (Season 3 winner) new restaurant in Meatpacking.  Catch is a 3 floor restaurant, with the top floor dedicated to rooftop drinking.  It is owned by Mark Birnbaum (some of you will see this as funny as I do) and Eugene Remm and is the third restaurant in the EMM Group (the other 2 are Abe & Arthur’s and Lexington Brass) but I know them better as the owners of Tenjune (and many other night clubs).

The address is 21 Ninth Ave, but the entrance is actually around the corner on 13th street next to some construction and only identified by a C with an anchor above the door.  You feel lucky to have found it, then you get into a completely unidentified elevator bank where you look around for a sign.  You try to keep up appearances (after all, you are in the Meatpacking district), but deep down inside you can’t help but wonder why it’s so trendy to not tell people where to get into your business.  Lucky for us, someone else came in and immediately hit Floor 2… which opens up to a very modern, very Meatpacking space.

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I absolutely loved the weird fish in a suit on the menu cover.  Hipster? Sure! But it gave me a chuckle.  I immediately read the request for no flash photography, so apologies in advance for these dark iPhone photos!

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We started with oysters (I have been on a kick lately) and they were very good.  Not Imperial No. 9 good, but good.

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We then had The Catch Roll, which is crab, salmon, and miso honey… with just a touch of awesome.   The sweetness of the miso honey was absolutely perfect on the roll.

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There was nothing not to like about this. The textures, the flavors… it all came together perfectly.  I wanted to lick the miso honey off the plate but I refrained…

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Next up we tried the Macaroni and Lobster Cream.  You know everything about macaroni and cheese that is good in the world? This was all of that with lobster and a slight crunch on top.  It was heaven.

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We also tried the White Flatbread with clams, parmesan, and garlic.  This was good, but not great. If this was all I ate here, I would be disappointed.  It just wasn’t clammy enough.  The crust was nice and crispy, the garlic and cheese were good, but I was expecting more clam.

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For our entree, we split the Scallop & Cauliflower which came with pistacchio and tamarind brown butter.  This was one of the most unique scallops dishes I have ever had.  I love scallops, so I eat them a lot, but they get pretty basic.  They taste so good just simply seared, that they really don’t NEED anything else.  This was a very happy addition, however, as it added to the flavor without overpowering it.  Awesomely delicious.

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The dessert menu looked so scrumptious that we just had to try SOMETHING.

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So we opted for the peanut butter cup souffle.

When it came, the souffle was hot and domed (perfectly cooked) and then picked up what I think was ice cream off the plate and dropped it into the center.

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I was a bit worried about this, since really a souffle is good because of the texture, but this actually cooled it down so we could eat it and didn’t detract from the flavor.  I will say, however, that it is a souffle.  A peanut butter souffle.  I was hoping for a bit more chocolate in it.  It was still good.  But only if you like souffles (I like them… but I don’t LOVE them).

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What I did love, however, was the peanut butter popsicles (tasted like fantastic peanut butter gelato dipped in a hardened chocolate shell) and the little square chocolate cups filled with ground peanuts and what I think was peanut butter, sugar, and maybe some honey.  Scrum-diddly-umptuous.

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Overall, the food here was spectacular.  Very unique flavor combinations and artfully put together.

The one drawback, however, was our waiter.  He was everything that people hate about the Meatpacking district.  He was snooty, inattentive, and downright douchey.  He looked down his nose at us (I think because I was taking pictures) and made 0 effort to deliver even the most basic service.  For instance, he came to take orders from the tables around us on 3 separate occasions, all of whom sat after we did, each time barely spending a moment to put a “1 second” finger up towards us as he didn’t even make eye contact.  It took a good 30 minutes before he took our order, we somehow never got bread (pretty sure everyone else did), and when he came to finally take it, he made us feel as though we were entirely inconveniencing him.  It was a shame he was so bad since everything else was so good.

But the food was absolutely worth it.  It became obvious why Hung won Top Chef… his food tastes as good as it looks.

Total Nom Points: 8.5 out of 10

Imperial No. Nine

3 Oct

I had heard very good things about Imperial No. Nine, in the Mondrian Soho (9 Crosby Street between Grand St. and Howard St.)  It received immediate notoriety because it is the latest restaurant to open under Sam Talbot, the season 2, third place finisher on Top Chef.  (And as any long time reader knows, we are Top Chef whores).  I have been meaning to go since I first read about it opening in March, but somehow life just got in the way.

I arrived and was a bit blinded by some crazy Mercedes photo shoot that was happening for Fashion Week right outside. I managed to walk by the place 3 times.  If you go here… look for the vine covered, trellised entry!

The inside is hard to describe, but I can say one thing… it looks “rich.”  New money rich.  But not in a tacky way.

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I will apologize in advance, as these pictures were taken in much too dark lighting.  It was super trendy with its minimal lighting, but I always selfishly prefer it brighter (simply for camera purposes).  I never want to use my flash if I can help it.

Imperial No. Nine is mostly small plates. Luckily, I was dining with some supremo sharers.

We started with some items from the raw bar. 2 types of oysters (East and West Coast), clams, and shrimp.  All were very good but these may have been the best oysters I have ever had.  Fresh, plump, filled with flavor.  So good.

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These came with multiple dipping sauces. Frankly, I didn’t try any because I didn’t know what had peppers… but more importantly, why mask any bit of that amazing flavor with sauce? Really now.

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We also tried a Chilled Pea Leaf salad with blond red wine vinaigrette.  It was tasty, but I’m really not sure what made this salad $12s worth of special.  It reminded me of the delicious yet common salad that is thrown on the side of eggs benedict at nice brunch restaurants.

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We then tried the cauliflower fritters.  These were so good that we wound up ordering a second batch.  They were just perfect in texture and flavor.  A MUST try if you go.

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We then tried the crisp Berkshire Pork Belly with pickled cherries and green lentils.  This was delicious, but surprisingly overshadowed by the rest of the meal.  I think it had a bit too much heaviness to it and not enough crispness to really shine through.  But that is being very nit-picky.   I think the rest of what we ordered was just that much better.

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We also tried the scallops, which was easily the favorite dish of many at the table.  They were seared over summer corn, heirloom tomatoes, and romano beans.  I remember no tomatoes, but I remember loving it.  The scallops were cooked perfectly and the corn and sauce it came on was just sensationally delicious.

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We also tried the duckfat roasted peanut potatoes with shallot confit, cured lemon, and sea salt.  These were pretty good but could have used a bit more flavor.

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We heard that the cous cous was good so we decided to try that.  It came with crab, asparagus, roasted mushrooms and a slow cooked egg.  It all blended together very well and had great, interesting texture and flavor throughout.  Usually I prefer my crab more highlighted, but I couldn’t argue with this flavor combination.  Spot on.

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We ordered the heirloom blue corn grits with shrimp and a slow poached egg.  It also came with NY State Maple Jus and Aged Cheddar.  Holy cow!  I usually absolutely hate shrimp and grits.  The grits are always all wrong to me.  But this… this was a masterpiece.  I could not believe how much I enjoyed this dish.

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We also heard great things about the King Crab a la Pancha, which came with sweet and sour butter and crispy garlic.  I have no idea what sweet and sour butter is, but I can tell you that this had a very Asian flavor.  I really enjoyed it, but some of my other diners found that the sauce overpowered the crab flavor.

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And what is a meal without red meat?  I was really happy we ordered the steak, which was listed as Beef Culotte a la Plancha with greens, dashi, and white soy.  (This was my second run in with “a la plancha” during this blog post so I decided to figure out what it means… grilled on a metal plate…. interesting).  I THINK this was topped with very finely sliced, crispy onions, but at this point in the meal (and let’s face it… the wine), I cannot be 100% clear on anything.  All I can tell you is that this was absolutely fantastic.  Probably one of the best pieces of meat I have ever tried.  Filled with flavor, perfectly sauced and complimented with those crispy things.  Delicious.

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I’m still not sure how we managed to fit it, but we had to try dessert while we were there!

First up was the Banana Bread Pudding with maple bourbon sauce, honeycomb semi fredo, and nutella.  I liked this dish, but the flavors didn’t really stand out for me.

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We also tried the caramel corn, which was salted caramel ice cream with sweet popcorn powder. I could not get enough of this.  Perfectly sweet, salty, crunchy, and cold.  Awesome.

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We also tried the seasonal stone fruit with almond crunch polenta cake, and corn ricotta sorbet.  I would describe this more as delicious fresh peaches and plums with croutons, sweet corn, and a corn sorbet.  If someone told me they were serving me a dessert with croutons and corn, I would have looked at them funny. But this somehow worked.  It was delicious and very seasonal, though I’m not sure I would go out of my way to order it again. I

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Last but not least, we tried the German Chocolate Whoopie Pie.  This came with spicy milk chocolate, young coconut sorbet, and passion fruit.  This was very good, except the deconstruction made it a bit hard to really get the flavors of German Chocolate Cake (which is what I think they were going for).  It came together well, but I think part of me was expecting that gooey coconut thing that German Chocolate Cake does so well.

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Every one of us that walked out of this meal could not stop talking about how good it was.  Weeks later, Mike and I are still reminiscing about it.  Fantastic flavor combinations I have not seen before coupled with great cooking and fresh ingredients really makes this place stand out.  I highly recommend it for a nice meal.

Total Nom Points: 8 out of 10

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

Angelo Sosa’s New Restaurant: Social Eatz

14 Mar

Social Eatz opened up this past Thursday and, being the Top Chef Sluts that we are, we were there on Saturday to try it out. As long time lovers of Xie Xie, Sosa’s previous NYC establishment that specialized in Asian style gourmet sandwiches, we were excited to try this new place. We were bummed when Xie Xie closed, especially because it was so close to our apartment and because I was in love with their 1000-year-old ice cream sandwich.

The interior was very orange and black. It was a nice, modern setup with almost as much bar seating as table seating. Unfortunately, they did not yet have their liquor license when we were there. I’m curious what type of interesting cocktails will be available.

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We were given a chef appetizer… however, it was about 3 mouthfuls for 5 people. Kinda silly when we’re talking about marinated raw veggies. I couldn’t have them due to the peppers (this was an ongoing problem) but consensus was that it just wasn’t anything special… as we expect at least a little special from Sosa.

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Appetizers proved difficult for me, as all of them had peppers in them and there was no way around it. This was especially upsetting since everyone said the apps were the best part of the meal.

First up was the crispy spring rolls. It had chunks of shrimp and ground chicken with diced jicama, shredded cabbage, mushrooms, scallions, and cilantro. It had a duck sauce made from calamansi, which was described as “a citrusy Filipino fruit with a sweet and sour essence.”

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Everyone agreed that they were great. Excellent crispy outside, good portion, and flavorful.

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Mike said that the ribs were delicious, fell right off the bone, and it was a hearty 3-piece portion. They also had a “nice kick” to it, which meant I couldn’t eat them. Boooo.

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One person ordered the chili kissed tilapia. It was light, white fish brushed with thai chili, sauteed and garnished with fresh green tomato salsa and avocado. She enjoyed it and said that it did, indeed, taste “chili kissed.”

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Mike chose the bibimbop burger which was ground beef topped with a slow cooked egg, shredded carrots and cucumber, and lettuce. Calling this “bibimbop” made me think of a few traditional items that were missing, especially the rice and the mixed vegetables (especially the zucchini).

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Mike very much enjoyed the burger. He said it was a little soggy, but the flavors all worked very well together and tasted very asian.

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And what could be wrong with an egg on a burger?

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I ordered the bulgogi burger. Now I LOVE bulgogi. There is something amazing about the sweet marinade that gets put on the tender grilled beef at traditional Korean restaurants. Perhaps it’s because I have been eating bulgogi for years, both homemade (thank you Esther!) and in restaurants, but I really didn’t find anything bulgogi about this. I had to order mine without kimchi, and I wonder if Sosa was relying on the spice to inspire the flavor. I was disappointed.

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They called the cucumber topping “cucumber kimchi,” and while they said it didn’t have peppers, I’m pretty sure it did and I had to strip it off mine to maintain feeling in my mouth. And the bun? It tasted like a grocery store, soggy, bland bun. Man I was upset. I was really expecting more.

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And the fries? Everyone enjoyed them, but then we found the secret… red pepper spice on top. I had to send mine back for a regular batch which were bland. Very bland. McDonald’s bland… and not crispy enough. Man what a bummer.

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After the incredible success of the ice cream sandwich, we had to try dessert. We sampled both things on the menu.  First up was the yuzu cream puffs. They were described as “pillowy puffs filled with a sweet, creamy yuzu curd made from the tart japanese citrus fruit of the same name.” When I hear cream puffs, I think more pastry than zeppoli, but I was kind of glad that these had a granulated sugar coating rather than the overly sweet craziness of cream puffs. The yuzu was definitely a bit tart, but I enjoyed it. Just not as much as I wanted to.

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We also sampled the chocolate toffee brownie, which I had heard good things about. It was described as a “double-rich chocolate brownie warmed and glazed with a sweet toffee topping.” It was DEFINITELY rich, and definitely chocolatey… but when I think toffee, I think crunchy toffee. A few sprinkles of the crunchy type would have made this awesome, but alone it was just a good, warm brownie with a caramel sauce. It also came with cereal milk, which I always think is better in concept that in execution, but it wasn’t bad.

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The service was pretty rough.  I will give them a pass because they’re BRAND new, however, the same guy tried to deliver the wrong food three times.  And one time was when dessert was still on the table… rough.

I’m also a bit confused on the name.  Why Social Eatz?  What about this place is social?  I was thinking maybe they were going social media and would have some ipad menus or some interactions online, but so far, I see nothing remotely social about it.  Not even really in the way it is set up (tables are slightly common… but not really).  Hmmm.

I REALLY wanted to like this place. So much so that I just kept trying to find positives as I wrote this review, but what it came down to was just that it was disappointing. Nothing was special enough, flavorful enough, or interesting enough to be what I would think of as Sosa. Xie Xie had novelty about it, but it was also just fantastically delicious. If this wasn’t Sosa’s place, I don’t think I would have thought about it a second time. It just tasted like an average burger place with a different concept that wasn’t well executed. I got to see a bit “behind the curtain” since I had to have mine without the spice. It made me realize that spice was so relied upon, that the rest of the dish was just average. When I go to a place like this, I expect them to execute on a delicious dish, whether or not it is spicy.

Bummer Angelo. Total bummer.

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10

Total Nom Points: 5.5 out of 10

Colicchio and Sons: Tasting Menu + Wine Pairing

11 Mar

Mike and I perused our Grubbit List in search of where Valentine’s Day (well… weekend) would take us this year.  We continued the tradition of totally splurging on food for special occasions (rather than expensive gifts).  We decided on Colicchio & Sons as we have been watching Chef Tom for years on Top Chef he was a 2010 James Beard Outstanding Chef.

Our reservation was for 6pm, and when we arrived at 5:45pm, we were informed that the dining room didn’t open until 6 and were invited to take a seat at the bar.  It wasn’t that full, however, it took a good amount of time to get a drink.  This was really the only misstep of the evening.

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We were the first seated and I was impressed by the expansive space, including a huge glass wine bar separating the dining room from the more casual Tap Room.

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The space appeared to be all about the vertical lines and columns.  Reaching up into space.  Even the candles were designed with this aesthetic.

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The back of the restaurant had a huge mural on the wall. We’re pretty sure it’s supposed to be the Highline, but we could be mistaken.

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(Enough about the decor… what about the food?!)

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The menu had many enticing options.

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And I was very tempted by the roasted pork with crispy brussels sprouts.

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But we decided to go whole hog and get the full tasting menu… WITH the wine pairings.  OH BOY.  (They had a VERY heavy pour on the wine pairings… it was about 3/4 of a glass each time… times 8 courses and I can’t remember the cab ride home… WHOOPS!)

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We were soon greeted with the most fluffy, buttery, warm rolls.  They were in a little skillet pan and topped with sea salt.  Before we knew it… they had vanished.  But another tray replaced it almost as fast as the first one disappeared.  The butter with it was surprisingly bland, but it was the perfect temperature.  And the buttery rolls more than made up for it.

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First up was the cauliflower panna cotta with nantucket bay scallops & black truffle.

(Wine: Blain-Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet 2008.  Very nice on its own.  Even better in combination with the earthy truffle flavors).

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The crunch and sweetness of the apple on top was a nice add on, and I liked the layering of the cauliflower on the bottom.  This dish was a perfect mash of flavors.

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Our next dish is probably the most amazing thing I have ever eaten in my life.  And I have eaten some AMAZING things!  I couldn’t believe how good this was, especially after the description of duck egg, confit gizzard, & parsnip.  There were rich, savory notes with sweet, creamy texture and the crisps on top.  Holy crap this was good.

(Wine: Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris 2008.  I was in love at first sip.  I will be ordering a case of this.  It had a very honey flavor and was absolutely perfect with the dish)

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I wish licking the plate was not so frowned upon at restaurants…. so I went with the next best idea.

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Next up was Hawaiian blue prawns with pork ballotine and artichoke salad.  The prawn was sensational.  Full of flavor.  Mike even called it “the best prawn EVER!”  I’m not quite sure where the artichoke part came in, but I still very much enjoyed it.

(Wine: Lopez De Heredia Rioja Blanco Crianza Vina Gravonia 2001.)

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Pancetta wrapped monkfish with black truffle and beets was served next.  I love monkfish, as I think it tastes a lot like lobster, and the beets and pancetta were a great foil for this.

It was around this time that Mike mentioned that we had not needed salt yet.  Impressive for salt lovers like us!

(Wine: Jean Grivot Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Aux Bourdots 2007)

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Next up was red quail with canterelles, bok choy, and licorice jus.  I was nervous about the licorice, as I’m usually not a fan, but this really came together.  There was a nice helping of quail (unusual) and the chanterelles were plentiful.

(Wine: Bodegas La Cartuja Priorat 2009.  It was very aromatic and perfect with the quail)

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The roasted wagyu sirloin was served with a bone marrow beignet (a bone marrow beignet!), salsify & truffle syrup.  The steak was perfectly cooked with char and the little crunchies on top were delish.  The bone marrow beignet was a fried mush of deliciousness that just exploded in your mouth.  More please!

(Wine: Paverno Vaona Amarone Della Valpolicella 2006)

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I was not familiar with salsify, besides that it was a vegetable, and I still can’t say I know what it tastes like.  But it created a lovely pillow for the perfectly cooked steak.

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I was actually bummed when the food was over and dessert was coming.  Dinner was such a satisfying set of dishes that I was scared dessert wouldn’t be as good.  Luckily, I was wrong.

The vanilla creme fraiche panna cotta with citrus, Prosecco grapefruit, and persimmon sorbet was PERFECT.  I thought this would be bland, but it was complex and had great flavors without being at all overpowering.  A great dish to serve after the steak.

(Wine: They replaced the wine originally listed with a Moscato d’Asti Cal Du Sindic 2009.  I was THRILLED as the original list was champagne and I’m not a fan.  This was DELICIOUS and perfectly sweet without being too much.)

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Last up was a chocolate souffle with a milk chocolate-earl grey parfait and cinnamon custard, candied cashews, & milk chocolate ice cream.  Honestly, the souffle was sadly a bit overcooked, but the flavors were delicious.  I also think it was hazelnuts instead of cashews, but who’s counting?  All the little pieces around it were VERY good, but I honestly did prefer the panna cotta.  According to my notes, in the picture below, the milk chocolate earl grey parfait is on the bottom, the cinnamon custard is on top, and the chocolate ice cream is in the middle.

(Wine: Broadbent Malmsey 20 Year Maderia… which I think was a port… but like I said… fuzzy)

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As I love at the end of the meal, they brought us out some petit fours.  These were shortbread with berry and dark chocolate filled with something something something and something something something.  Yeah… the 3/4 pours of wine with each dish make my brain as fuzzy as this picture.

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But I do remember thinking that the texture in this filling was perfect enough to take a (blurry) picture of.

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Then came something that put this dining experience over the edge… they sent us home with muffins for the morning!  How adorable.  And OMG were these good (and I don’t use an awful phrase like “OMG” lightly people).  I was hurtin’ when I woke up the next day after all that wine, and these muffins were like a little piece of heaven.

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Overall, Colicchio and Sons was one of the best meals I have EVER had.  Mike and I ranked it as number 2 on the list of all-time favorites (narrowly beating out Bottega (in Napa), Momofuku Ko, and Le Bernadin, while falling JUST short of WD-50 (since that was such a unique dining adventure).  I’m sure the healthy pours of the sensational wine helped lubricate my love for this place, but I thought it was absolutely sensational.  Not a single bad dish in the tasting and some that were SENSATIONAL.  I think the duck egg, confit gizzard, & parsnip dish alone deserves 10 Nom Points.

Total Nom Points: 9 out of 10