Tuesday, June 30, 2009

NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2009

NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2009 (July 12-31) is soon upon us and today, the list of participating restaurants has been posted online. What is NYC Restaurant Week? (Well, for one thing, it’s more like three weeks, excluding Saturdays.) Select New York City restaurants offer discounted, pre-fixe menus (lunch: $24.07 and dinner $35.00). It’s a great time to sample fare that’s normally too pricey, and get an idea how the other half lives.

I always get excited about Restaurant Week, but it’s important to keep the event in perspective. If it’s anything like Winter 2009, for instance, many restaurants will extend Restaurant Week menus past the 31st, due to the current state of the economy. Or, take JoJo and Perry Street—many Jean-Georges restaurants offer the Restaurant Week menu year-round.

So strategize. Try to get BANG for your buck, and find a restaurant that’s ordinarily out of your price range (ie, why use this opportunity to go to Ruby Foo’s?). If you’re able to swing lunch, your choices are pretty solid. You’ve got: Del Posto, Dovetail, Esca, Nobu, Alto, Bar (and Café) Boulud, Craftbar, Gotham Bar & Grill, Lupa, Morimoto, and even the new DBGB Kitchen and Bar is making an appearance this year (although isn’t the whole deal with DBGB suppose to be casual, affordable food?). Most super exciting? Probably hot hot HOT Ago successor Locanda Verde. Notably missing from the picks this time around is the very posh, much adored, Eleven Madison Park.

For dinner, finding a great deal gets a little tougher. Convivio is an exciting addition, although their regularly-priced menu is actually quite affordable without the Restaurant Week discount. You've got Lure Fishbar, which makes up for its nautical cheesiness with a great-looking menu. I had a great experience at Anthos in Winter 2009, which I would recommend, although the service was sub-par. I think I was most jazzed to see the Aquavit Dining Room—last time they only offered the Café as an option.

What am I missing? And what are you most excited to try?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pearl Oyster Bar: Momma, I’m Home

Grub Street recently took Corton chef-owner Paul Liebrandt on a tasting tour of downtown Manhattan, in order for him to weigh in on his favorite lobster rolls. While Mary’s Fish Camp took first-place honors (Liebrandt totally dug that the lobster was weighed right in front of him), it was rated only one point higher than his second favorite, Pearl Oyster Bar, whose sandwich was, according to Liebrandt, “everything you want in a lobster roll.”

My friend Eileen and I were more interested in Pearl Oyster Bar, a restaurant that had been on our radar for some time, so we made it a point to visit last Friday.

Boy, are we glad we did. A few weeks ago, I declared that Corton, the hot new restaurant of 2009, wasn’t really my scene. Pearl Oyster Bar is most definitely my scene—friendly, casual service; fresh, simple food; and a setting reminiscent of a cozy New England fish shack, down to the antique oil lamps, and a color scheme meant to invoke the beach. (…The irony isn’t lost on me that Corton chef Liebrandt—the “not-my-scene” guy—was the impetus to our visit).

Eileen and I arrived at 5:45 p.m. to a small line (doors open at 6:00 p.m., and reservations aren’t accepted). I kind of felt bad for the already-open, adjacent Le Gigot, especially when our line grew right past its front door. At 5:55 p.m., when there were about 30 people waiting, a hostess from Pearl unlocked the front door and made her way down the line, asking each person the size of his or her party, and if the whole party was present. “I feel like I’m going to a rock concert,” I whispered to Eileen.

Doors opened promptly at 6:00 p.m. The entire line was quickly and efficiently directed to respective tables in the dining room—impressive given the amount of people who needed to be seated simultaneously.

Once seated Eileen and I barely glanced at the menu, or the specials hanging on a chalkboard above us. We knew what we had come for:

Market Oysters ($10)
Kind of surprising that an “Oyster” Bar didn’t offer a selection, but these were fine, and just what we wanted—incredibly fresh and clean, served in their own brine, accompanied by both mignonette and cocktail sauce. Actually, these were more than fine; these were incredible.

Fried Oysters ($16)
Loved the presentation. Each oyster was deep fried in a crispy, hearty batter and then loaded back into an oyster shell coated with a light, chunky tartar sauce. Phenomenal. Eileen and I rotated fresh oysters with the fried until they were all gone. We could have made a very blissful, satisfying meal on these two dishes if we had doubled our order.

Lobster Roll with Shoestring Fries ($27)
What's not to love? Fresh, gorgeous chunks of lobster (Pearl Oyster Bar is not stingy with the lobster), and sweet mayonnaise that oozes out of a bun so deliciously toasted yellow with butter, I initially thought I was eating a potato bun (was I? Who knows, but the bun was terrific). The matchstick fries were well-cooked and seasoned, but I prefer my fries a little meatier. These were silly small, almost annoying.

For dessert, we ordered an ordinary but acceptable Hot Fudge Sundae ($8)
And an absolutely out-of-this-world Blueberry pie ($8):
This tasted as if it came straight out of Grandma’s oven. No over-the-top showmanship here, just the amazing magic of combining brown sugar and butter.

Pearl Oyster Bar exceeded my expectations on just about every level...by keeping it simple. Yes, the lobster roll is every bit as good as everyone raves (as long as mayonnaise is your thing); but the real surprise was realizing I have never enjoyed fresh and fried oysters so much.

Oooh, and pie. Stay for pie.

Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10014
(212) 691-8211

Saturday, June 27, 2009

True Blood Party Drink

I haven't seen True Blood yetI don't have HBO, so I'm always behind (i.e., I'm just now watching Season 4 of Six Feet Under on my elliptical courtesy of Netflix)but when viral videos for True Blood start popping up starring Tom Colicchio, my interest is piqued. Big time:

The best part is that the drink actually looks tasty.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Meet Angelina!

My mom sent me an email last week filled with the regular chitchat. She was particularly excited about the brand new KitchenAid mixer she had purchased from Costco (a 475-watt, 12-cup bowl-lift stand mixer) so that she could finally make her own bread and pasta. Her email went on to detail the highlights of her week but closed rather cryptically, saying that if I visited on Sunday, I’d finally get to meet Angie. She had never mentioned any Angies before.

“Who’s Angie?” I wrote.

“My mixer.” (The tone was obvious.)


“Why did you name your mixer Angie?” I asked.

“Because she’s beautiful,” she wrote back simply.

We’ll skip any concerns regarding my mom’s good sense, and instead acknowledge that Angelina is indeed a striking piece of machinery.

Angie sat, gleaming and regal on my mom’s counter, wedged between the microwave and toaster oven, when I visited this past Sunday. The other appliances seemed small and insignificant in comparison. My mom could hardly contain her excitement as she showed off each of Angie’s attachments, including a three-piece pasta-roller and cutter set.

“Let’s make pappardelle!” she exclaimed.

I shrugged, then rolled up my sleeves. No real recipe in hand, no thought of a sauce to accompany our pappardelle when we were finished, we dove right in.

The end result was pretty bad. It was grainy, and tasted vaguely of polenta. We’re not entirely sure where we went wrong, but then again, I suppose we had no real expectations of doing anything right that afternoon.

Our dough consisted of: 2 eggs, ½ tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon water, ½ cup (plus 2 ½ tablespoons) of all-purpose unbleached flour, and 1 cup of semolina flour. The semolina is probably where we went wrong. My mom had it lying around, and while the back of the package said it was an “excellent flour for pasta-making,” it reminded me from the get-go of polenta. Next time, it’s regular flour and eggs.

The dough was fun to make. We mixed our ingredients for 30 seconds with the flat beater, and then used the spiral dough hook to knead the dough for 2 minutes.
Afterwards, I kneaded the dough by hand, and made four small pie-shaped discs. Here’s two of them. Aren’t they cute?
Next, we took one of the discs and held it over the pasta roller attachment (on the lowest speed and the first thickness level).
It’s a little tough to start the dough—make sure your disc is thin in order for it to catch. …and don’t forget to “Watch your fingers, idiot!” as my mom so politely cautioned me):
Once the disc was through the roller, we folded the dough in half, turned off the machine, turned the thickness to 2, and ran it through once more. We repeated this process until we were at a thickness of 5, at which point we ran the dough through one more time...
... then folded it and cut it into four strips.
The finished strips were hung on a pasta rack.
Once all our pasta had been rolled out and hung, it was time to boil it. I’ve read that homemade pasta should come out of boiling water a lot sooner than you think: once our water was at a full boil, we boiled the pasta for about three minutes, which seemed like the perfect amount of time. Except that it was gritty. And polenta-y.

Whatever texture it was, it was time to address the sauce, or lack thereof.

“What type of sauce would you like with your pappardelle?” my mom asked, rummaging through her refrigerator.

“Lamb Bolognese,” I declared without hesitation.

My mom paused, then rummaged around some more and unloaded the following smorgasbord onto the counter:
“That’s all I’ve got,” she said. “I don’t even have tomato sauce.”

What we made doesn’t even qualify as sauce. We pan-fried four strips of bacon, about 15 pieces of shrimp, then removed it; stir-fried some broiled peppers, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, garlic scapes, added in the bacon and shrimp, added our noodles, some fresh basil, and grated parmesan cheese on top.
“This is… not so great,” my mom said, chewing thoughtfully.

Stay tuned for our next pasta-making session. Next time, we’ll utilize Angie’s full potential. Let’s face it, we were operating Angelina at like, Foxfire-level. Next time, I’ll bring over the Babbo Cookbook for a real sauce, and we’ll ditch the semolina flour. Then Angie can show off those A Mighty Heart Oscar chops.

In the meantime readers, any advice on where my mom and I went wrong? Techniques? A good pasta recipe? (Dave DiBari: we need your help!)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Que Chula Es Puebla…. Say What?

Yesterday, I met my old boss Bryant and his lovely wife Karen at their apartment in Sleepy Hollow. Standing on their balcony, we surveyed the ungodly 5:00 p.m. traffic inching across the Tappan Zee Bridge, and agreed our original plan to try Bailey’s Smokehouse in Blauvelt now seemed unattainable. I was content to just kick it on Bryant and Karen’s sweet balcony, but they suggested a local Mexican restaurant, Que Chula es Puebla, where they had had some reliable meals over the past two years. I was game.

I wasn’t familiar with the space Que Chula occupies (part of the Sleepy Hollow plaza), but it’s apparently been checkered with past Mexican restaurant failures. By the time we were seated, it was around 6:30 and the restaurant was still quiet. I wondered if this was a bad sign. Bryant and Karen waived it off. “They get a late crowd here,” Bryant assured me. (To his credit, when we left around 9:00 p.m., the restaurant was packed.)

The three of us were seated indoors, right next to the porch. The breeze felt nice.

I ordered a glass of Horchata ($2), a cloudy drink whose ingredients vary: some are made with rice, sugar, and ground almonds. Others use milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, and various types of ground nuts. My drink seemed milk-based with lots of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Bryant and Karen ordered hard-core, premium silver tequila margaritas, no salt, with fresh lime ($10).
Guacamole ($8) accompanied complimentary corn tortilla chips and a mild but good salsa:
I love watching guacamole being prepared. Ours was very well-made, and included the typical: avocado, chopped onions, tomato, cilantro, garlic, a little olive oil and lime juice, and what I think is the most important ingredient in setting apart a good guacamole: a tiny pinch of salt. This was one of the better guacamoles I’ve had—I think there might’ve even been some jalapenos in there, too; my only preference would’ve been more onions, to add a little crunch.
We ordered two appetizers. Here’s a look at the Ceviche de pescado ($9):
Not sure what type of fish they used (I think sole?), but the flavors were fresh and citrusy. It was served Mexican-style with crackers.

Next was the Quesito fundido ($7).

And this is where Que Chula Es Puebla went up in my book. Big time.

Our server made his way to our table and quietly and efficiently began mixing chorizo (a very delicious sausage) and guajillo (garlic and chile) sauce into melted Oaxaca cheese. As he stirred, he would lift the spoon out of the pot, and a big, nasty, gooey mess of cheese would follow. Karen pronounced something from the menu, and our server looked up, surprised. “Do you two speak Spanish?” he asked politely, motioning to Bryant and Karen. “Your pronunciation is very good.”

“Oh, no,” Karen said. But then she laughed “…but I suppose we know a few of the bad words.”

He laughed too, and went back to preparing his cheese. But then he shifted a little closer to us and dropped his voice. “Let’s hear one,” he said casually.

We looked at him, a bit shocked. He was still stirring his cheese and was beginning to spoon the mixture into the flour tortillas. The only sign that we heard what we thought we heard was a slight grin on an otherwise businesslike demeanor.

“Er…” Bryant said. He shrugged, and then whispered his best insult involving the server’s mother. We waited for Armageddon.

The server wasn’t impressed. “That’s Mexican,” he scoffed. He looked back towards the kitchen, and when the coast was clear, he inched closer to us, and proceeded to give us a quick lesson in Spanish insults. He never stopped making his tortillas.
Here they are, finished:
The quesito fundido? Good, in an extremely decadent, my-belly-is-going-to-pay-for-this kind of way. The cheese was strong on its own, without the kick provided by the chorizo and peppers. But the tableside-preparation-with-Spanish-insults-lesson? Surpassed the quesito fundido. By lightyears.

Here’s a look at our dinners:

I got the Sopes Poblanos, one chicken and one skirt steak, ($14.75), served in deep-fried, corn soft tortillas.
These were solid. I especially enjoyed the skirt steak, which had a nice char, and a good salty seasoning.

Karen had the Tamales Poblanos ($11.50), corn dough stuffed with pork and mole sauce, wrapped in a corn husk and steamed.
I had been tempted to order this because I love tamales, but was unsure of the mole sauce. I had had mole sauce twice before and was pretty certain I didn’t care for it—both times were too sweet, and I could actually taste the chocolate. Karen assured me Que Chula’s mole wasn’t too sweet. She was right. There was only a whisper of chocolate, and it complemented the mild taste of the corn dough.

Bryant went with one of his favorites, the Carne del Parian ($19.50), cubes of shell steak sautéed in chipotle sauce with cilantro, garlic and olive oil, served with soft corn tortillas.
I wasn’t a huge fan—I thought the shell steak was a little chewy and the sauce was too spicy. What can I say? I’m a wuss.

All in all, Que Chula Es Puebla is delivering reliable, authentic Mexican food, in a fun setting. Their guacamole is one of the best I’ve had, but the service is certainly one of the finest I’ve experienced.

Or, as our server might say, it’s as fine as… your mom.

Que Chula Es Puebla
180 Valley St.
Sleep Hollow, NY 10591
(914) 332-0072

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Q: All About the Ribs

I'm not a rib connoisseur. In fact, I rarely order ribs because they’re so messy, and I seem to make enough of a mess when a fork and knife are involved. But when last Friday looked like it was shaping into a girls night out after work, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to pick a place specializing in finger food.

Q in Port Chester isn’t entirely what I expected. When I heard ‘barbecue joint,’ I envisioned a dark bar, creaky, worn tables, and sawdust on the wooden floor. If anything, Q has a family-friendly—almost cafeteria—vibe. Clean, bright light sparkles off fixtures, casual white paper covers communal tables, and the bar upfront is more of a throwback to a ‘50s soda pop counter. Orders are placed at the register upfront, at which point customers can sit down at a designated table number, and wait for their food.

The food was not entirely what we expected, either. My friend Erin got wings, which were much bigger and less seasoned than she was hoping for, as well as sweet potato fries that could’ve used some extra time in the deep fryer. My other friend Tia ordered a grilled chicken sandwich, which was entirely unexceptional (she did perk up considerably over her side of baked beans, which she deemed a 10).

I, on the other hand, in keeping with the fact we were at a barbecue joint, ordered the Quarter-Slab of St. Louis-style ribs (described on the menu as “meatier than baby backs, leaner than spare ribs”). A benefit of cooking ribs St. Louis-style is that by chopping spare ribs into a more rectangular, uniform shape, the ribs as a whole cook more evenly. Boy do they ever. Wonderfully tender, pink, and juicy, with a tangy, smoky wet barbecue sauce infusing every bite, my ribs alone were reason to come to Q. My friends looked on enviously, and admitted they would happily return if they had ordered my meal. And what a bargain it was!

My quarter-slab was $12.50, and came with cornbread, and two sides—I went with the macaroni and cheese and the potato salad. Throw in a delicious Boylan’s Black Cherry soda and my tab for the night was $16.50!!! While the sides were almost laughably small, they were also quite good. The cornbread was soft and moist, perhaps not as gritty as I would’ve preferred, but tasty, and suitably sweet. The potato salad was eggy and colorful, with chunks of red and white onions, scallions, and red peppers (my buddies stole this; we all loved it).
The mac and cheese resembled Velveeta shells in both look and taste, so might not be everyone’s thing, but lucky for me, I love Velveeta shells, as well as just about any type of processed or homemade mac and cheese there is.
Tia and Erin couldn’t resist getting a signature drink from the bar. I believe the drink below is called an Applejack, but have no clue what was in it; I only know it added a hefty $10 to each of their tabs. I took a sip and wasn’t impressed.
Here's a pic of Erin's wings:
and Tia's sandwich:
I saw some items around us worthy of future trips: a pulled pork sandwich, brisket... the guy next to us had a house-smoked sausage that looked out of this world. For now, though, I heartily recommend what I ordered, down to the black cherry soda.

Anybody have some tips as to what else is worth trying at Q?

Q Authentic Barbeque Restaurant and Bar
112 North Main Street
Port Chester, NY 10573
(914) 933-7127

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Gremlins in the Machine

Hello? ... is this thing on?

My computer has been experiencing technical problems. The really bad kind that make everything go haywire. Hoping to have it repaired this weekend. Bear with me while I iron out the kinks, and thanks in advance for visiting my site. Google Analytics has been showing some real promising, growing numbers for a blog that only began this year! I really appreciate your visits!

In the meantime, see that "What's New" widget on the right? That's my Twitter feed. That's... not growing. If you enjoy what you read here, and are looking for additional updates, go on ahead and Follow Me! Why tweet? There are plenty of great people who are tweeting valuable and entertaining foodie news: Liz Johnson from Small Bites (small_bites), the Amateur Gourmet (amateurgourmet (my favorite--he is hilarious)), Michael Ruhlman (ruhlman), Ruth Reichl (ruthreichl), Amanda Hesser (amandahesser), Carol Blymire (CarolBlymire), Grant Achatz (gachatz)... I also enjoy Foodimentary (Foodimentary), which offers some really helpful and informative food trivia. Why else would you tweet? It's plain good clean fun!

Thanks for your patience while I tend to my broken computer.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Me Likes Sushi Mike’s

Only a short walk from everyone’s favorite new restaurant (myself included) The Cookery, in the quaint riverside town of Dobbs Ferry, is what is regarded by many to be Westchester’s best and freshest sushi, Sushi Mike’s.

Sushi Mike’s has a casual, quirky vibe. It’s somewhat the antithesis of White Plains’ Sushi Nanase, where the chef/owner, whose past stints include Nobu and Masa, may or may not serve you the best omakase meal of your life, depending on how respectful you are to him, his food, and his tiny but authentic sushi house.

No, here at Sushi Mike’s, there’s nothing reverent or serious about the setting. Michael Buble cheerfully sings (and skips occasionally) from the speakers, the sushi chefs greet you from behind the counter with smiles, and walls are a soft turquoise, as if you are under the sea, with murals of saltwater fish, sharks, and even a deep-sea diver doing his own underwater painting, to, er, add to authenticity.

Here’s a look at Hawaii’s state fish, the Triggerfish, in the aquarium by the door (luckily, he’s not on the menu):
Sushi Mike’s menu is extensive, mostly showcasing raw items, but also featuring udon and soba, teriyaki and yakitori dishes, and plenty of cooked or vegetarian rolls, for those who may not want raw fish.

Soba is probably one of my favorite comfort foods of all time, yet I had heard and read from reliable sources that what Sushi Mike’s excels at is—the sushi! On the day of our visit, my guest and I decided on one of their many specialty rolls, as well as a few additional items.

Here’s the Out of this World Roll ($12.95):
Isn’t that gorgeous? Inside, you’ve got cooked snow crab and spicy tuna with tempura crumbs, and on top, avocado and cooked shrimp. The tempura crumbs melded to the spicy tuna to give the interior an interesting crispy and creamy texture.

We also ordered a Spicy Tuna Roll ($5) and some items a la carte:
The spicy tuna is in the back, and in front, from left to right, you’ve got: Tuna (Maguro) sushi ($2.50), Yellow Tail (Hamachi) sushi ($2.50), Fatty Tuna (Toro) sushi (market price – it was $7 on the day of our visit), Sea Urchin (Uni) sushi ($4), and Salmon Roe (Ikura) sushi ($3).

This was a real treat. Spicy tuna is one of my favorite rolls. Many “traditional” sushi houses will not serve it, saying that the spicy sauce (hot chili sauce, chili oil and a touch of mayonnaise) just disguises the freshness of the tuna. But then again, most specialty rolls popping up in sushi houses across the U.S. aren’t very purist, either, are they? I say, whatever tastes good. The tuna here was very good. It had a slight kick, but also tasted as if there might’ve been a touch of sesame oil—a nice addition.

As for my ala carte items, the sushi rice was suitably sticky and vinegary. The fish were well cut, not too thick, and very, very fresh. Sushi etiquette (arguably) says not to dip your sushi (it’s ok for sashimi) into your wasabi and soy sauce bowl, as the chefs have already dabbed a small portion of wasabi between your fish and rice, however, I couldn’t really taste much wasabi in my sushi. This didn’t bother me at all, as I think the chefs at Sushi Mike’s are smartly trying to appeal to a wide clientele, some who might not prefer wasabi in their sushi. So, as long as no one was offended that I dipped my sushi into my soy sauce and wasabi, I certainly didn’t mind dipping it.

As for that third item in front, the fatty tuna, or toro, at $7, it’s a little steep for one piece of sushi, but it is the most prized and delicious fish I have sampled, and it was a real treat to have it that night. It is the belly area of tuna, and the fattiest portion of the fish. It is so fatty that it falls apart and literally melts in your mouth. Like butter.

The salmon roe had a crisp, salty pop to it, and the uni (best eaten in fall and winter), was soft but not too creamy, with a slightly sweet taste (I’m trying to find a place in Westchester that’ll serve uni in the urchin—1.) it’s supposedly the freshest and 2.) it looks cool! …anyone know of a place?)

I wish we could’ve sampled more, but I think we ordered just enough for two people, and we’ll certainly be back. The freshness was certainly top notch, as was the wide variety. Prices were also extremely reasonable. However, in terms of best sushi in Westchester? Sushi Nanase still holds that honor, fickle sushi chef and all. I hope to visit soon and provide a detailed report.

One word of caution: because we had an early dinner, we had no trouble sneaking in without a reservation; however, the place is small and fills up quickly. Best to call first.

Sushi Mike’s
146 Main St
Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522
(914) 591-0054

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Corton: Not My Scene

Maybe I don’t belong at a place like Corton—it’s my first venture into truly “fancy” fare, and perhaps I’m just not a fancy girl. Corton has been featured in almost every Hot List of 2009, with Executive Chef/Partner Paul Liebrandt repeatedly taking the honor of Best Chef for his modern French menu. You certainly don’t have to look any farther than the high art set before you in each and every course to recognize Liebrandt’s passion and ingenuity.

But ingenuity aside, when is eating a flower fun?

Don’t get me wrong: dining at Corton is an experience. The atmosphere is exquisite, diners are dressed to the nines, complimentary courses dot the meal, and the service is, for the most part, professional.

I say “for the most part,” because when my friend Eileen and I visited about a month ago, service started out exceptionally strong, only to plummet. The sommelier was gracious and recommended a luxurious riesling, our server had a pleasant demeanor and seemed quite proficient at explaining extremely complicated menus, and dishes were brought out promptly. Following our entrees, however, there was about a 40-minute lull before the next complimentary course appeared (some sort of tart, sickly sweet lemon foam that neither one of us particularly liked... there was coconut sorbet under there, too—one of my favorite things in the whole world—but I couldn’t get past the foam).

It took another 20 minutes for dessert menus to arrive. I ordered the highly recommended caramel brioche, stunning to behold, yet strangely processed, and almost stale in taste. The blue cheese was distractingly pungent, and the only flavor discernible from a paper-thin square set on the brioche was ‘burnt.’ [Please judge the brioche for yourself: everyone raves about it. So again, maybe I’m just not a fancy gal.] When our server came to clear our plates, he paused before taking mine. “Are you sure you’re through?” he asked, brow furrowed with worry. I told him ‘yes’ with a smile, but his concern continued. “Was everything to your liking?” he pressed, motioning to my almost full plate. I thought about it, and decided to be honest. I motioned to Eileen and said, “Her dessert was wonderful, as were all of our other dishes [ok, I wasn’t totally honest]. This just wasn’t my favorite.”

The server was horrified. He tried to cover it with a thin smile, but Eileen and I didn’t see him again for 45 minutes, and only because we flagged down another server for the check, and he in turn motioned to our server. When the check appeared, we couldn’t help but notice that the mignardises (a selection of truffles), which had accompanied other couples’ bills, were absent.

Here’s a look at some of our dishes. I apologize for the lack of detail, but complex descriptions came at us so fast, with dishes presented in such an unfamiliar way, that we were lost in a sea of foam and anysse hyssop.

The restaurant offers a three-course prix fixe menu for $79, as well as a chef’s tasting menu for $125. We opted for the prix-fixe:

Gougeres stuffed with some sort of melted cheese (divine). Those spongy green things? No clue. I believe green olives were the main ingredient. Salty, but good.

Second amuse bouche (not pictured—sorry, the mousse was in a cup and I didn’t want to stand up to take a picture of it):
A foie gras mousse with some sort of gelee on top: good, not great. Again, not my thing. I like foie gras a little firmer.

Meyer Lemon, Violet Mustard, Smoked Steelhead Caviar
Was this good? Sure. Was it pretty? You bet. But give me more hamachi and less flower petal.

Crayfish, Morels, Anise Hyssop
I didn’t try this. Eileen thought it was interesting, but wanted nothing to do with the green foam.

Elysian Fields Farm Lamb

Pimento Crusted Loin, Eggplant Chutney, Ricotta
My square of lamb was actually very well cooked and seasoned. No complaints here. It came with a side of this potatoey-tasting thing:
I can’t remember what it was, but I liked it, too.

Maine Lobster
Parmesan Crumble, Burgundy Carrots, Balsamic Brown Butter ($9 supplement)
Eileen adored her lobster.

Complimentary Sorbet with Foam

See above for comments on the lemon foam.

Passion Fruit, Coffee, Banana
See above for my comments about the Brioche. You can’t deny its beauty. It’s like a little mini Cubist movement.

Dark Chocolate Fondant
Caramel, Yuzu, Olive Oil
This was a big hit. When Eileen took her fork to it, the inside was a comforting, gooey sinful mess. A refreshing way to end a meal filled with such intricacies and refinement.

Our experience at Corton made my head swim. And perhaps therein lies the reason critics voted it Best Restaurant of 2009: they appreciated a restaurant that could elicit such a powerful reaction. After all, critics eat out all the time, often visiting the same restaurant every day of the week in order to form a fair judgement. Maybe critics were so jazzed at the notion of finally eating somewhere where no one knew what the eff to expect on a given night, that the only thing left to do at the end of a week was throw up their hands and crown Corton king.

For Eileen and me, it made us yearn for simpler food: food that looked like food, and food that tasted like food.

239 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
(212) 219-2777

Monday, June 1, 2009

Babbo: Revisited

In an attempt to make good on all those entries promised in “Blogs are a-comin!”, here’s a look back at dinner with my brother Bill and his girlfriend Lori, at one of my favorite dining destinations of all time, Babbo.

Our meal dates back to Friday, February 27th. A little late to be writing it up, I admit, but I found all of these photos somewhere deep in my computer and figured there were a couple additional points worth mentioning. Number one, I enjoyed the Pasta Tasting Menu back in November much more than the Traditional Tasting Menu. Not because I relish the idea of carb after carb; in fact, more protein would’ve been welcome in the Pasta Tasting. However, the progression from savory to sweet worked better for me in the Pasta Menu, and there were just so many winners amongst the pasta dishes, (particularly the casunzei with poppy seeds). The Traditional Menu, on the other hand, had a bunch of good dishes, one spectacular dish, and then one dish that was kind of awful.

Both menus vary regularly, so don’t take my word on which one is better—be sure to study both ahead of time, or, don’t do a tasting menu at all. Order off the regular menu, which looks fantastic—it’s what I intend to do on my next visit.

Second point: in my first report, I made a big deal about how it’s all kinds of impossible to get a reservation at Babbo. That’s not entirely the case. If you call exactly one month prior to the date you want the reservation, at precisely 10 a.m., the woman who answers the phone is actually quite accommodating. I had no trouble securing my Friday night reservation. And when I arrived that Friday (it was after a conference, so it was an early 5:30 dinner), it looked as though the handful of folks without reservations who were waiting at a quarter to 5:00 p.m. for one of the six unreserved tables (my last tactic), got in no problem.

Here’s a look at our menu:
And here’s a picture of the complimentary Ceci Bruschetta (garbanzo beans with black olive paste and balsamic vinegar, on grilled peasant bread):
[Not pictured: Babbo also serves the best complimentary peasant bread in existence. It’s warm and incredibly soft, like a sponge. The downside is if you eat any, there’s a good chance you won’t finish your food.]

On to the Traditional Tasting Menu

Culatello with Ramps and Pecorino
Culatello is cured meat from the rear legs of a pig. This was silken and salty, more delicate than prosciutto, and a tad bit spicy (it is rubbed with wine, salt, pepper, and garlic… and then wrapped in a pig’s bladder to mature). The ramps gave a garlicky, slightly pickled, taste.

Pappardelle with Hedgehogs and Thyme
Pappardelle is one of my favorite types of homemade pasta. It reminds me of Italian Chow Fun. This dish was a winner—simple and comforting. And all three of us were relieved when we were told that the hedgehogs were only mushrooms.

Duck Tortelli with “Sugo Finto”
The gentleman who came by to describe each dish made it a point to tell us an interesting story about the “Sugo Finto” sauce, which is a mock meat sauce. Unfortunately, after waiting so long to write this up, I don't remember the details. In a nutshell, the sauce has a tangy and rich complexity that suggests it took all day to make, but really, it’s rendered rather quickly with… pancetta, I think he said? Anyone? Either way, we weren’t crazy about this dish. The sauce was good, but the filling (a duck/ricotta mix) was a bit too gamey for us.

Grilled Hanger Steak with Royal Trumpet Mushrooms and Cipolline Agrodolce
This is the “Spectacular” dish I mentioned above. The first bite was a tad salty, but only the very first bite. The rest was phenomenal, especially when mixed with the sweet and sour onions. “Awesome,” Bill agreed, chewing happily.

Coach Farm’s Finest with Fennel Honey
After the hearty, magnificent Hanger Steak, which is when our Traditional Tasting Menu really hit its stride, I think all of us were a bit disappointed that we were already on to the transitional course, or the “pre-dessert.” Still, the goat cheese with peppercorns, coupled with a simple drizzle of fennel honey, was a nice pairing, and got us psyched for the real dessert to come.

“Crema con Mosto”
This dessert and the next one just really weren’t my thing at all. Lori absolutely adored this dish, but, we’re still not sure exactly what it was. There was a distinct taste of orange and chocolate-- two flavors I love independently, but don’t really care for together.

Chocolate “Tartufino”
“Tartufino, tartufino… is that like tartufo?” Bill said excitedly, his only input when we were deciding if we should go with the Traditional Tasting Menu. [Give Bill a simple bowl of vanilla ice cream and he’s a happy boy. He actually e-mailed me from a cruise ship to say, “Sharon, do you know you can have ice cream any hour of the day on this boat?”] Tartufino is kind of like tartufo, except, instead of ice cream, you’ve got hazelnut mouse, and it’s served with a drizzle of chocolate, not completely coated with it. This dessert was sickly, sickly sweet. Lori and I only ate a bite. Even Bill, sorely disappointed, only had a few bites before he gave up.

Pecan and Date Budino with Caramel Gelato
Again, similar to the Pasta Tasting Menu, this is when the pastry chef sends out a different dessert for each individual, not just the one listed above. We also enjoyed a kumquat panna cotta and a lemon tart. We were so excited at the variety, I plum forgot to take pictures, so here are three photos in various stages of eaten-ness.
...can you guess which was our favorite? (They were actually all very good; we were full beyond belief at this point.)

Even though I enjoyed the Pasta Tasting Menu more than the Traditional Tasting Menu, Babbo is still a unique, lively place and one of the most reliable dining destinations in Manhattan. I guarantee you a memorable meal. …And where else can you hear Guns N’ Roses while you eat?

110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011
(212) 777 0303