Sunday, October 25, 2009

Goldfish: a $15 Lure

What do you make of a place that charges $15 for a three-course dinner, with selections that include scallops and New York Strip steak? Can it be taken seriously? Is there a catch?

The short answer is yes, Goldfish Oyster Bar and Restaurant in Ossining can be taken seriously, and no, there’s no discernible catch: a three-course meal really is $15, Monday through Wednesday night (prices are higher for the rest of the week). And plenty of my food was actually quite good.

Goldfish was brought to my attention by my friend Fran, who was ready to celebrate her latest birthday. For the past few years, the tradition in our core group of five fun-loving gals has been treating the birthday girl to dinner, then splitting the bill amongst the remaining four of us (it’s not rocket science). Our group, however, was temporarily down two of its members (Roisin is a brand new mommy (yay, Roisin!) and Katy is on her way to becoming “Dr. Katy” up in Boston), so for the time being, it was up to Fran, lifelong partner-in-crime Danielle and myself to keep our birthday dinner ritual alive and fabulous. Fran, ever mindful of the bill now being split between two financially-strapped Westchester souls instead of four, declared Goldfish the perfect economic solution.

That’s how I found myself behind the Arcadian Shopping Center off Route 9 on Tuesday night, immediately after work. I arrived at 6:00 p.m., parking in a small lot across the street, which looked very much like a residential street, the restaurant looking very much like a residential house.

Inside, the restaurant is warm, somewhat noisy but inviting. There is a second floor overlooking the downstairs dining room and kitchen (I think there was a wedding reception up there. On a Tuesday), and downstairs, the vibe is somewhere between family friendly dining, and upscale diner. Tables are packed closely together, and there is a countertop where patrons can eat facing the open kitchen. The crowd ranges from younger strapped-for-cash 20 and 30-somethings, to families, to (the dominant demographic on our night) seniors. All seemed happy.

The prix-fixe menu is extensive, with some ambitious offerings.

Check out our appetizers:

I got the Smoked Salmon Platter:
There’s a lot of salmon here! In fact, I received more salmon at Goldfish (and good quality) than I have at other restaurants that charged a whole lot more. Nothing fancy, but delectable.

Danielle got the New England Clam Chowder:
I didn’t try this, but Danielle was very satisfied. She said the soup was creamy, chunky, and the portion was just right.

Fran got Mussels sautéed in a garlic lemon broth
I thought the portion looked generous, but Fran said she remembered it being larger the first time she ate at Goldfish. She was still pleased, though.

For entrees, I ordered the Seared Sea Scallops
Grilled asparagus, herbed potato cake, and Vin Cotto glaze:
Scallop fail. The portion was nicely sized (there were three large scallops) and I did like the taste and presentation of the herbed potato cake (in the back, on the left). But while the scallops looked like they had a decent sear, there was no texture on the outside, so it was kind of like eating… flan. Which isn’t a good thing. Maybe they were undercooked? Which is also not a good thing. The vegetables were well-seasoned and garlicky, but the Vin Cotto glaze might’ve been too sweet for the scallops. This was a disappointment, yet I still feel like I got my $5 worth (how can you lose, really?) because I devoured the potato and the vegetables.

Danielle ordered the Grilled New York Strip Steak
Grilled asparagus (she substituted asparagus for the spinach), another potato cake, and a port wine mushroom sauce:
You can see from the picture that the portion is again pretty substantial for a five note. Yet Danielle being Danielle ordered her steak well done (“extremely well done, No blood at all!”), so it was hard for me to judge the quality and texture of the meat. I will say that for an “extremely well done” order, the meat was pretty tender. And the sauce was good. It kind of reminded me of beef stroganoff. Maybe not a good thing if you’re looking for NY Strip, but I sure am a fan of stroganoff.

Fran’s looks the worst. She got the Cappellini alla Salmone
Arugala, fresh tomato with a light lemon garlic broth:
It actually tasted good once Fran mixed it all together. The presentation was awful. All of the sauce was in the bottom of her bowl, and it looks like dry pasta was added as an afterthought, heaped on top with no seasoning whatsoever. The salmon did look tender and moist once we uncovered it under the pasta, but I thought this was the most inexcusable entrée.

For dessert, the portions were much smaller, yet very delicious:

I ordered the Ricotta Fritters:
The presentation could use some work (that’s a big ol bowl for a spoonful of lemon dipping sauce), but the fritters were scrumptious. They reminded me of the fried donuts you get at Chinese buffets, but the ricotta filling classed it up a little.

Danielle got the New York Style Cheesecake:
I didn’t want to try this because the portion was so small, but Danielle made it a point of telling me over and over and over how good it was.

Fran ordered the Butterscotch Pot De Crème:
This was lovely. Light and sweet, but not too sweet.

In short, old chaps, we got along swimmingly for the evening (you see what I did there? A little Goldfish humor). You can’t beat the value, and even though there were some hiccups during the entrée portion of our night, for the price, and for the selection available, I would heartily recommend Goldfish as a Monday through Wednesday meet up. Just as we discovered some gems in the appetizer and dessert section of the menu, I’m sure there are standouts under the entrée section waiting to be unearthed. And I have no problem forking over $5 until I find them.

Goldfish Oyster Bar and Restaurant
6 Rockledge Ave
Ossining, NY 10562
(914) 762-0051

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Co. (Company)

Things haven’t been so good over at The Good Life this past week. Thankfully, I’ve got the best friends and family in the world, fall foliage that is begging to be photographed, mad poker skillz, drumming precision at Rock Band, and Top Chef to keep me warm Wednesday nights (Restaurant Wars this week, people!). In short, I’ve got a lot going on, so it’s best to keep the writing positive. Take now, for instance: as I type, I am enjoying a Boylan’s Black Cherry soda. It’s terrific! Oh, and also, there’s my college buddy Eileen, who will be turning 30 next month.

Because Eileen is my biggest foodie friend, it’s almost impossible for us to meet up in Manhattan without blowing a small fortune. We both adore the New York restaurant scene and view our get-togethers as precious opportunities to try hip, delicious places. In the past year alone we’ve conquered: Artisanal, Perilla, Anthos, Pearl Oyster Bar, and Corton.

For the past three months, I’ve been waiting to phone Eleven Madison Park in the hopes of scoring a table for Eileen’s big day. To make it until the end of November however, a quick fix was needed. The challenge was for Eileen and me to meet up before EMP, keep our bill under $75, and still make the destination fabulous.

Enter Co. (Company): Jim Lahey’s much-anticipated “gourmet” pizzeria in Chelsea, buzz factor made stronger by all that mouth-watering bread he’s been serving at Sullivan Street Bakery.

Co. is soooo the happening scene right now. It’s got a minimalist décor—long tables, warm wood, and sleek mirrors. It’s actually reminiscent of a sushi bar, yet the ambience is so full of life and energy and hipsters, I don’t think it’ll never be mistaken for anything other than a pizza joint.

When Eileen and I walked in Thursday night, the place was packed. I squeezed past models, college students, and a professor-looking fellow sporting a beret, to ask about the wait. Despite the crowds, the hostess was able to fit us in almost immediately, probably because we were the only party of two waiting (that or my blog is becoming stronger and more powerful than I could ever imagine).

To start, we ordered two salads.

Escarole ($7):
Bread crumbs, capers, anchovies, lemon and olive oil
Radicchio ($7):
Shiitake, taleggio cheese, balsamic and olive oil
Both salads were extremely fresh, a recurring theme for the night. My escarole had such a light, citrusy flavor, not at all weighed down by the anchovies or bread crumbs. Eileen’s radicchio had a snap, the shiitake mushrooms were firm and earthy—my only complaint was that they were a little stingy with the taleggio. I think there were only four cubes.

But who comes to Co. for salads? Let’s talk pizza.

Here is the Popeye ($17):
Pecorino, Gruyere and Buffalo Mozzarrella, spinach, black pepper, and garlic.
And the Stracciatella ($17):
Crushed tomato, black pepper, stracciatella cheese, and arugala.
Our server talked us into the Straciatella, saying it was Co.’s signature pizza—sort of like their version of the Margherita (although they’ve got a Margherita on the menu, too). I was most impressed by how fresh everything was. The arugala tasted as if it had just been picked—peppery and remarkably light, the straciatella (a mixture of mozzarella and cream) created complexity and decadence without weighing the pizza down, and the tomatoes were plump and flavorful. The crust was thicker than I expected—it almost reminded me of a Sicilian—yet it’s way more airy and chewy. My only complaint was that the edges were burnt (charred) in some places. This didn’t seem right for a $17 individual pie.

The Popeye was a great companion. While the Straciatella was light and fresh, the Popeye tasted heavier and more complex. Same crust-action going on (including more burnt edges—c’mon guys), and the combination of cheeses gave a pleasant saltiness. The spinach was masterfully cooked: you could taste the olive oil and garlic, but there was still a crunch and freshness to it. One pie wasn’t better than the other; they were just very different, in all the right ways.

Dessert was pretty lame. Eileen got the Chocolate Breadcrumb Torte ($6):
It could’ve been denser. It actually tasted a little stale.

And I got a small cup of praline gelato ($3):
Meh. It was fine. I put it in my coffee.

Our total for the night was $69.68 (Cokes, coffees, salads and dessert add up). With tip, we blew our $75 goal. But we didn’t really mind. We hung out until almost 10 p.m., had some really great pie (next time, I’d skip the salad and the dessert and get three pies), and soaked up the atmosphere.

A word about the service: incredibly friendly, and once you’re in, you’re in. You won’t be rushed. However, visits to our table were sporadic. Eileen didn’t receive a separate glass for her Coke, and we waited quite a bit for our server to take our dessert orders. If we were in a rush, this could’ve been really annoying, yet that night, I found it refreshing to just sit back and linger.

Co. (Company)
230 9th Ave (at 24th St)
New York, NY 10001
(212) 243-1105

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

San Soo Kap San: Real Deal Korean

Late Saturday morning, while checking my online accounts, I came across a Tweet from my friend Bryant announcing he was going to our favorite Korean BBQ restaurant of all time, San Soo Kap San in Downtown Flushing. “Did my invite get lost in the mail?” I tweeted in reply. “I’ve got nothing going on today except a jones for Korean!” Sadly, Bryant’s tweet had been published 40 minutes prior to my reading, so I figured my reply was hitting nothing but digital ether. Around 11:40, my phone rang. Could I be ready in 20 minutes, asked a still-in-his-apartment-Bryant? If so, him, his wife Karen, and their friend David would be more than happy to swing by. “But if you’re not waiting outside when we get there, we’re all coming in,” he warned. I looked down. I was still in my pajamas. “I can do it!” I said more to myself than to Bryant as I had already hung up the phone and was throwing together an outfit.

A little after twelve, not only was I ready, I had had time grab a bottle of Riesling for the party kind enough to pick me up, and send out one last Tweet: “Guilt trip worked! I’m going too!”

Fast forward to San Soo Kap San, the place of tiny miracles, also known as banchan, dishes which litter diners’ tables before any actual ordered food arrives (think tapas… but free).

There was octopus in a red, tangy sauce; pickled baby bok choy; three types of kimchi in varying degrees of hotness (my favorite was the slightly sweet variety with pickled daikon); red bean rice; some sort of thread-like yellow substance with an intense flavor similar to dried squid; two whole smoked mackerel (heads and all), agar slabs with sesame soy sauce; oh, and one thing that no one ate: raw crab still in its shell with a fiery red sauce on top. It pained me not to try this dish because I love trying new things, but sadly, I couldn’t figure out how to eat this lil critter. I couldn’t break the crab without getting all the hot red goo on my hands, and when I finally did manage to pry a leg open, a smidgen of gelatinous crab gut oozed out. And this smidgen was not chopstick-friendly. Instead, it kind of just hung out on my plate and looked nasty.

What did we actually order? There were pan-fried dumplings similar to Japanese gyoza:
Rice cake soup:
This is one of my favorite comfort foods—miso broth, pork, scallions, and oval-shaped gummy treasures of rice, which don’t have much of a taste, just a pleasant, chewy texture.

David also insisted on a bowl of bibimbap:
Warm white rice, seaweed, enoki mushrooms, shiitake, bellflower root, burdock root, squash, some other unidentifiable stuff, all topped with a raw egg (it cooks when you add it to the steaming mixture), and sprinkled with a chili pepper mixture. A fine choice.

To cook over the gas grill were orders of Bulgogi (a thinly-sliced beef):
... and butterflied shrimp, all delightfully seasoned with soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and a bit of rice wine vinegar. These proteins can be cooked and eaten straight up or placed on provided lettuce wraps, which are then lined with any or all of the following: fermented soybean dressing, pickled daikon, garlic, and hot peppers. The grill-action is sublime. None of us are strangers to the bulgogii or pork (the bulgogii is cooked first, everyone promptly declares it sensational, but then the pork comes out, and suddenly everyone remembers that the pork sooooo trumps the bulgogii). This time, however, Karen’s wildcard-order of shrimp usurped just about everything on the table. Perfectly grilled, incredibly succulent—‘twas sensational.

To drink is complimentary barley tea. It’s heartier and nuttier than (but slightly reminiscent of) genmaicha (green tea with the little pieces of popcorn and brown rice). For dessert: standard orange slices.

Here’s some additional banchan on San Soo: the joint is open 24-hours, which makes it an ideal stop for hungry cabbies or the late-night snack attack; the atmosphere is pretty basic (this is not a place you frequent for ambience); the menu is difficult to read, made all the more tricky by servers who speak limited English; parking is a beeeatch—there’s a big lot across the street, but good luck finding a spot or deciphering the color-coded spots; prices are refreshingly cheap (we ordered a massive amount of food and the bill for our table-of-four was about $90); and the surrounding area is great for exploring candy shops, bubble tea, and Asian specialty stores.

If the above sounds intriguing, and you’re looking for real-deal-Holyfield Korean, give San Soo Kap San a shot. Heck, the worst that could happen is you will get utterly and completely lost in Flushing, have no clue as to where to park if you actually find the garage, experience a Lost in Translation moment if you make it to the restaurant, and then end up with plate after plate raw, gray, gelatinous crab.

But really: it’s fabulous.

(Special thanks to David for deciphering some of the stuff we ate!)

San Soo Kap San
38-13 Union St
Flushing, NY 11354
(718) 445-1165