Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fatty Crab

My mom and I were in Manhattan last weekend. Originally, we had tickets to see that Spider-Man musical, but the opening was delayed because Spider-Man flew into a wall or something. So instead, we had a leisurely stroll around Manhattan. Stops for the day included: the New York Public Library, Bryant Park to see the ice skaters, and the highly anticipated high-end Italian market Eataly in the hopes of sampling something delicious (note to self: in the future visit Eataly on a weekday, say early a.m., if you don’t want to get trampled by others hoping to sample something delicious—we were in and out of there in less than a half hour due to the crowd).

Around 3 p.m., after a brisk stroll along the High Line, stomachs growling due to the mob scene at Eataly, we walked the few short blocks east to Hudson Street, thinking it was finally an opportune time to visit the tiny, no reservations Malaysian hipster hotspot, Fatty Crab.

We had a good feeling about this Fatty Crab almost immediately. Upon entering, we received a warm welcome from a smiling, unassuming waiter. The restaurant is tiny, the very definition of “hole in the wall.” A corner bar is manned by a hippy-version of Ryan Renolds, with a small kitchen window to his right. Bright red walls, exposed brick, a tin ceiling, and worn wooden floors give off an aura of “I’m-not-trying-too-hard-despite-my-reputation-of-Awesome.”

Given the few patrons at 3 p.m., we were seated right by the front window, a Fatty Crab delivery bicycle parked outside.

We started with Steamed Pork Buns ($13):
I think the picture says it all.

Well, NOW the picture says it all:
I am a SUCKER for a soft, squishy steamed bun, and these buns delivered. Piping hot, soft as clouds, the perfect conduit for succulent pork belly. It’s served with a hard-boiled egg, pickled radish, and a tangy-yet-somewhat spicy dipping sauce.

Here is the Watermelon and Crispy Pork ($16):
At the time, I think my mom and I were under the impression we were ordering an entrée, but now I think this dish fell under Appetizers with our pork buns. Which makes sense, given our waiter brought this out after the buns, but before our entrée. A small matter. The lesson learned was simple: Crispy pork belly and watermelon is the Future. Who knew these two could be such a duo? The pork crunches satisfyingly before melting on the tongue, the watermelon gives a burst of refreshing sweetness. A glorious dish, albeit a small one.

Sadly, this is when we should’ve left Fatty Crab (ie: on top).

Take a good, hard look at the Nasi Lemak ($21), aka, the worst dish I’ve had in years.
Nasi Lemak is described on the menu as “coconut rice, chicken curry, slow poached egg.” On the left are two pieces of fried chicken, a wing and a leg. It was not remarkable fried chicken, but it did taste like fried chicken in its defense (wasn’t it supposed to be curry, though?). There were also some spiced peanuts buried underneath the chicken that were tasty. The shimmering poached egg on the coconut rice wasn’t terrible; the egg, coupled with the creaminess of coconut, just ended up being too creamy and rich. Not a pleasant combination, especially paired with the stuff in the middle, which is what we really took issue with: a fish cake in banana leaves that was extremely fishy-smelling and off-putting. What type of fish was it? I think the waiter said it was a “combination of leftovers” which should’ve been our first clue something was up, but he also went on to say it was made “fresh” daily. There was a little pile of dried anchovies that were fun, but next to it, a dark pile of sambal belacan—chilies, shrimp paste, sugar and lime juice—that was beyond fishy. It smelled off; I tasted it anyway, but it tasted like it smelled. Nasi Lemak: FAIL. Keep in mind: this was my first Malaysian meal. I’m merely telling you my personal feelings on Nasi Lemak (in essence: I was horrified).

The staff, initially on their best behavior, were now acting kind of erratic, as well. What started out as a warm, welcoming feel, was quickly dissolving into the weird and eccentric. Our waiter was conversing loudly with diners behind us, the word “porn” coming up over and over.

We were still somewhat scarred by the Nasi Lemak when our waiter arrived with our bill. There was no offering of a dessert menu (maybe he sensed the last dish didn’t go over well), but he did leave us with two slices of coconut-flavored mochi. They had an unexpected, slightly salty aftertaste, which was wonderful paired with the sweetness of the rice cakes. This lifted our spirits.

I’m left slightly mystified by Fatty Crab. How could a restaurant that served two exceptional, knock-your-socks-off dishes, send out such a BOMB? And what of the vibe? Is it warm or wacky?

Jury’s out.

Fatty Crab
643 Hudson St
New York, NY 10014
(212) 352-3590

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Silver Tips Tea Room

Well hello! It’s been a long time. I completed the two 5ks mentioned below. I’m decidedly the world’s worst runner, but I did complete them, and in my book, that warrants giving myself a good old pat on the back for actually seeing something through. And the more I think about it, the more I wager I may stick with this running thing. I have my eye on the Leatherman’s Loop this coming May. We’ll see how I fare with training this winter, before I make any type of commitment. But back to the food, which is what we really care about.

A few Sundays ago, I had my first “High Tea” with some very lovely ladies. To quote Ferris Bueller, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend it.” Luckily, “the means” in this particular instance is quite reasonable. Silver Tips is a charming little establishment tucked in the heart of Tarrytown. Local artists’ work adorns the walls, knick-knacks and bric-a-brac align rustic shelves, and lively chatter resounds from the tables. It’s quaint without being overly frou-frou or feminine. Guys go there too (I’ll tell you why in a moment). The tea? Pages and pages worth, delivered hot to your table and kept warm via uniquely designed tea cozies:
What do I know about tea? Not a whole lot. I suppose I like it. I steep my own Japanese Genmaicha tea at home and also enjoy Barley tea from time to time. I’m a sucker for English Breakfast with a little milk and sugar. That’s the extent of my knowledge on tea.

The ladies I high tea’d with? They take their tea to another level, and had some great recommendations for the table. The Silver Tips ladies? Just visit their web site: you can learn all you ever wanted to know about tea.

Truth be told, I didn’t take to the blog to mention the tea. I’m here to clue you in to the other teahouse treasures, which is why guys find their way into this teahouse as well. Silver Tips has killer sandwiches. They’re still somewhat small for a dude (but way bigger than those mini cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off) and I suppose the presentation of the toasted sandwiches could cause a guy to squirm, but they’re so. unbelievably. yummy. [Note: Silver Tips also has larger, non-gussied-up sandwich wraps, served with nachos and salsa, as well as soups, salads and samosas that would make men a lot less uncomfortable than the route we went]. For $21, there is “Tea Deluxe”: two sandwiches of your choice, a scone with cream and preserves, one dessert (a variety of tarts and pastries), and two two-cup pots of tea, or one four-cup pot of tea. We ordered two “Tea Deluxes,” for our table of four. Ch-ch- check it out:
The Egg Souchong sandwich? Marinated in smoked tea, then combined with seasoning and chives. Pshhhh, only the best egg sandwich ever. My buddy Danielle and I both really wanted the smoked salmon sandwich, which wasn’t one of the standard selections for “Tea Deluxe” so we asked our waitress to “upgrade” our second choice to the salmon for a dollar more. She thought that was funny, and even funnier when our friends “upgraded” as well.
The scone? Absolutely delightful. We went with the raisin, but it’s also available in cranberry and blueberry. Paired with the cream, it was heavenly.

I’m a sucker for fruit tarts, so Danielle and I chose the peach tart. It was good, but a little heavy on the crust and not enough actual fruit. The mixed berry tart crust was a more condensed and the fruit extra flavorful.

Oh, and the tea? ...It was yummy! But I don’t even remember what we ordered! Hey Lori, wanna leave a comment about the tea below? For the tea lovers?

In closing, Silver Tips is serving up a lot more than just apparently awesome tea. They’ve got some real treasures on their menu, and a cozy, delightful setting to enjoy it. They’ve got a good sense of humor over there, too. Our server took a picture of the four of us at the end of our meal and said, “One, two… teabags!”

It’s good to be back!

Silver Tips Tea Room
3 North Broadway
Tarrytown, NY 10591
(914) 332-8515

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shifting Priorities

Yep, I’m still writing. When I go out to eat, I still blog about it. What’s changed? I haven’t really been going out to eat lately. When I began this blog early last year, it was a fun way to share and re-live some of my more memorable dining experiences. I was Top Chef-crazed, waist-deep in Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman books, and I couldn’t get enough of the scene. Then shortly after New Year’s, I did something that was either really, really wise, or really, really stupid: I totaled up all I had spent in 2009 on dining.

It was a lot.

My brother lectured me on the importance of maximizing my Roth every year (“My what?” was my adept reply). A buddy pestered me to accompany her on a two-week adventure to Egypt; I told her she was nuts—that would cost, like, an eighth of what I spent on food the year before. My scale was either broken, or my detergent was shrinking my clothes. My apartment was… not a 32-year-old’s apartment. In short, I needed to re-focus my spending, and find a cheaper hobby.

The past few months, I’ve been on lock-down with my funds. While being thrifty doesn’t necessarily mean food has to be boring, that’s exactly what it’s become to me. Not because I don’t still love food, but mostly because of my new time sink: preparing for two 5ks. And while food and 5ks do go together, they don’t in the way I was hoping they would. Minutes into Day One of training, the Mexican burrito that was so delicious for lunch was not nearly as delightful sloshing in my stomach at the track. Turkey, eggs, tuna, fruits, veggies, and whole grains (boiled, steamed, baked or raw) have become my friends simply because they seem to stay down well. And give me more energy for suicides, push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, throw-ups, running, sweating, stretching, icing, cursing, cheering, collapsing.

In some ways, my food is not nearly as exciting now, and certainly doesn’t warrant a blog entry; in other ways, I’m so much hungrier lately, I don’t know if I’ve ever appreciated or looked forward to my meals more. It’s been an eye-opener in terms of how and why I eat.

So where does that leave this blog?

I promise I won’t go all Running Blog on you (I would never forgive me either, but I will take this moment to thank Westchester Road Runner for finding me a sneaker that doesn’t make my shins scream). Instead, expect more infrequent entries. When I’ve got noteworthy, exciting food to write about, I’ll post. Two in the pipeline: Zarela and Indochine.

In the meantime, wish me luck with my races! I’ll need it and appreciate the support.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Colicchio & Sons

Spoiler alert [except not really at all]: I’m a wee bit of a fan of James Beard Outstanding Chef winner/Top Chef host/restauranteur extraordinaire/hero/humanitarian/guitarist/fly fisher/one of People’s sexiest men alive in 2008/etc./etc. Tom Colicchio. That’s right: no matter what hat you throw on top of this man, you’ll still find Chef Tommy keeping it real under there. Whether he’s banging out world-class dishes in his deceptively straightforward style, or shooting the breeze with none other than yours truly—there is an aura of real-ness to Colicchio, peppered with drive and integrity, that makes it next to impossible to remain uninspired in his presence. Would-be “Top Chefs” strive for greatness on his show; readers of his cookbook learn the principles behind great cooking so as not to be chained to recipes—to instead Think Like a Chef; and people who learn his life story realize that sometimes, when you work crazy hard, doing what you love actually pays off.

So there was a dance, some hugs, and multiple wardrobe changes when I learned good pal Eileen was taking me to the Meatpacking District for a birthday dinner at Colicchio’s newest digs Colicchio & Sons (taking the place of closed Craftsteak).

I’ve said this about Craft; I’ve certainly said it about Tom: Tuesday Dinner (still the most memorable dining experience of my life); and now, I can say the same for Colicchio & Sons: these restaurants are so. effing. magnificent. And comfortable. And made for dudes. (Sure, they appeal to women—but Colicchio’s already got that demographic covered.) Inside, the music is bluesy, soulful; the décor exudes strength and warmth; the staff is approachable and on-point with absolutely zero airs; and the food: oh lawdy, the food. In the age of foams, deconstructions, and molecular gastronomy, this food resembles food, yet still shines for its flair, boldness and ingenuity. And it tastes like food (albeit the best food you’ve ever eaten). Men needn’t worry about leaving hungry. Or getting busted by the fork police for using the wrong fork. There are no fork police.

When Eileen and I arrived on a Thursday evening, taking in scenic views from the High Line beforehand (Colicchio & Sons is mere steps away), we were among the first in the dining room (there is a more casual “tap room” in front; the two rooms are divided by a floor-to-ceiling wine vault). When we left, many hours later, the restaurant was in full swing with not a seat to spare, yet in no way did we feel rushed during our meal. The dinner was thoughtfully timed; our servers were friendly and attentive without being bothersome. In short: perfect atmostphere/setting.

Take a look at our rolls:
This is the kind of bread you just want to take in your fist and squeeze because it looks so soft and pleasant. The only thing that outweighed the urge to squeeze it was to eat it... which Eileen and I did immediately. Another black skillet thoughtfully appeared moments later containing six more shimmering rolls, coarse salt sprinkled on top. We purposefully held back, knowing what was to come. Wonderful, wonderful bread, though.

Here’s our amuse-bouche:
God knows what this was. My bad. I waited three months to write this entry up. Lobster on a spicy cracker with …apples(?) that went with it perfectly. And tasted very fresh.

For appetizers, the Carolina Soft Shell Crab with ramps and pancetta ($22) was a no-brainer:
This was the first time I’ve had soft shell crab that wasn’t deep-fried. It was bloody sensational. The outer shell had just a bit of firmness to it, the nuggets inside contained fresh, juicy, tender explosions of the sea, tempered nicely by the pungent flavor of the ramps.

Over on Eileen’s plate, was Ricotta Ravioli with morels, fava beans, and ramps (ramps, ramps, ramps! Chefs can’t get enough of ’em when they’re in season.) ($19)
Eileen quite enjoyed this. Even though the ravioli were cooked al dente, the ricotta filling made the ravioli as a whole taste light and pillowy. Another winner.

For dinner, I was talked into the Farm Chicken “Pot Au Feu” with Crispy Skin, Spring Vegetables and …Ramp Broth ($34)
I had reservations about coming all the way to Colicchio & Sons and ordering something as ordinary as chicken, but the server assured me the dish was actually quite “exciting.” It was prepared sous-vide (a technique where food is placed in airtight plastic bags and submerged underwater, then cooked at an exact temperature to ensure the end result is exactly what is intended); and the skin was fashioned into a crispy chip. “What about the ramps?” I asked. “Is this turning into ramp overload?” No, the ramp broth merely accentuated the vegetables, giving everything a slight kick. The broth was light, the chicken was impossibly tender and juicy. It was like springtime stew; the ultimate in comfort food. The dish wasn’t in-your-face bold, instead, the flavors had been gently coaxed out, so that they crept up on you, and remained clear in your mind many days/weeks/months later. Best dish of the night.

Eileen ordered the Roasted Sirloin with Piperade and Roasted Ramps ($42):
This is the closest we came to any sort of misstep. While tasty, this dish could’ve used some sort of carb. There was a lot of meat, and a lot of peppers (and ramps!). Eileen was really craving something else to balance it out. Something crunchy, something potato-y perhaps. She was a little disappointed.

Both of our desserts were excellent. I’d order either of them again.

Here’s mine, the Banana Pecan Upside-Down, with rum caramel, banana sorbet, and malted milk ice cream ($12)

And Eileen’s: the Warm Chocolate Tart with Hazelnut Semifreddo and Espresso ice cream ($12):
Some really hot-looking mignardises followed. I think it was a wine gelee, but again, I don’t remember.
A pleasant ping! to the end of the evening.

On our way out, the hostess gave us complimentary corn muffins for breakfast the next morning, a nice touch, which immediately called to mind the thoughtfulness I experienced at Craft.

All in all, a great experience. Thank you, Tom Colicchio, for making dining at your restaurants such memorable, fabulous occasions.

(And thank you, Eileen, for such a generous birthday present. Dinner is always a blast when you have such great company.)

Colicchio & Sons
85 10th Avenue
New York, NY 10011
(212) 400-6699

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Taking a Short Break

Well duh. I suppose you figured that out already.

No biggee, just a little overwhelmed at work, and not a whole lot of time for dining out.

Looking forward to posting in the very near future.

In the meantime, might I recommend a fabulous, insightful new blog by an old high school friend of mine.

And congratulations Tom Colicchio, James Beard Winner for Most Outstanding Chef in America.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dinner Tonight: Flank Steak Pinwheels

Normally, you stuff anything and people assume you were in the kitchen for at least two hours. That’s just not the case with the above picture (a little Flank Steak Pinwheel action), which makes said picture the perfect fancy-pants dish to serve at your next shindig. People see the circular pattern and automatically assume you spent the whole day calculating recipes in the halls of MIT, simultaneously demonstrating that the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction does not just take place in a solution, but also in multi-phase systems (… and in nanoparticle self-organization of course).

Bottom line: this dish is oh-so-easy, and very, very tasty.

Here is the flank steak:
Butterfly the steak along the grain (to essentially get a thinner, larger flank steak), and then pound it to tenderize. Brush flattened steak with a mixture of minced garlic, parsley, sage, rosemary, and olive oil.
Lay slices of prosciutto on top.
Lay slices of provolone on top, then wrap.
Secure it with twine...
... and then skewers.
Slice, then season with salt and pepper.
Enjoy with some grilled veggies:

Monday, March 29, 2010

Iron Horse Grill: HV Restaurant Week 2010

A man walks into a restaurant and orders Arctic Char (stop me if you’ve heard this one).

Arctic Char arrives.

Man looks at it, a confused expression on his face. Then..

“What part of this is ‘char’?”

“You didn’t know you were ordering fish?” Dining Companion #1 asks, surprised.

Man looks slightly embarrassed. “I dunno; the ‘char’ threw me off. I thought it would be meat.” Then, more under his breath: “[Bleeping] fish.”

“Fair enough,” says Dining Companion #1. “But what part of ‘Artic’ made you think you were going to get a steak? What were you hoping for? Polar Bear?”

“Polar bear is endangered,” says Dining Companion #2.

Meal commences.

That’s pretty much how our dinner went down at Iron Horse Grill in Pleasantville on Friday evening. My feisty dinner companions for the evening were: Todd (aka “Man”), Bill (aka “Dining Companion #1), Lori (aka Dining Companion #2), and Dad and myself (the laugh track).

It was our first visit to Iron Horse, and a last-minute Restaurant Week addition. The restaurant has an intimate vibe and a turn of the century feel, a place where you’d expect to see a man holding his monocle saying, “Quite right, quite right” to no one in particular. Making the rounds that evening was head chef and owner Philip McGrath, seating guests, jotting down orders, and even hanging coats. He exuded confidence, ease and friendliness, and made our party feel comfortable and special simultaneously.

Our meal, while perfectly decent, didn’t do justice to the restaurant’s reputation, which is extremely well-regarded. We chalked it up to Hudson Valley Restaurant Week syndrome, a disorder I experienced in abundance last year, but which I was hoping to cheat this time around after a solid, near perfect, first start. Sadly, Iron Horse didn’t deliver the night of our visit, but a few parts of our meal hinted at the greatness that may exist the rest of the year.

For appetizers, there was Ricotta Stuffed Rigatoni, with parsley sun-dried tomato pesto and pancetta:
The rigatoni were cooked well, and had an almost doughy quality. My only disappointment was that the sauce seemed a bit common.

Here’s a look at the wild mushroom soup (I forgot to make note of the formal description; something about a cappucino):
This is the dish that hinted at Iron Horse’s potential. There were layers upon layers of flavors and earthiness. Elegant and tasty.

For dinner, there was the aforementioned Star Anise Arctic Char with stir fried edamame and crisp rice noodles:
Once Todd got over the fact that his Char was not a steak, he admitted his dish was seasoned well (the star anise glaze was tangy and syrupy), and the noodles added a delightful crunch to the velvetiness of the fish. I stole a few bites and found it pleasing. It just wasn’t knocking socks off.

Here’s my dish, the Captain Lawrence Glazed Short Rib of Beef, with Saffron-Vegetable Risotto:
I enjoyed the flavors, but this tasted more like a beef stew. A little texture on the plate would’ve gone a long way; everything was so soft. I was also hoping for more innovation and punch. …as well as more food. (The portion was tiny.)

Here’s Bill and Lori’s dish, the Confit of Hudson Valley Duck, with Black Bean Chorizo Cassoulet:
This dish looked amazing, but duck was tough and little bland. The cassoulet had some interesting things going on. (I should mention that Lori liked her dish; and told me I was being a total hard-ass the entire night.)

And dessert. First, the Coconut Sorbet, with Pina Colada Pineapple, Lemon “Langue du Chat”:
This dish should’ve been a homerun for me (I love all the ingredients); yet something about it was overkill. Maybe it was the coconut shavings on top of the sorbet, which added unnecessary texture.

Finally, there was the Grand Marnier tart (again, my apologies: I forgot to jot down the formal description). There was raspberry sauce, and … I do believe, “masticated orange slices?” Is that a real thing? I was half-expecting a plate full of chewed-up oranges.
Regardless, my dad loved this dish. The rest of our table? Meh. I would’ve liked a firmer, thicker crust on the tart, but I preferred it to the coconut sorbet.

All in all, my descriptions may come off as harsh for a restaurant as highly-esteemed as Iron Horse Grill, but they’re accurate for the level of food we sampled that night. A shame, because the soup, the personable service, and the lovely atmosphere hint at so much more. Maybe we’ll try it again soon now that Restaurant Week is over.

Iron Horse Grill
20 Wheeler Avenue
Pleasantville, NY 10570
(914) 741-0717

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Harvest on Hudson: HVRW....Fail.

It’s always stymied me as to why during Restaurant Week, some allegedly “great” restaurants experience such a drop in quality. Many trusted friends and colleagues have deemed Harvest on Hudson—a magnificent-looking Tuscan-style farmhouse with superb views of the River—their favorite restaurant, and have repeatedly sung its praises. Online reviews have been kind. And when I made it known that best bud Danielle and I would be dining there Thursday night as part of Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, the consensus was we were going to have a smashing time, and that the dinner would nothing short of knock us on our asses. But here’s the thing: after our meal last week, Danielle and I checked and we were most definitely not on our asses; instead we were scratching our heads as to whether or not Harvest on Hudson fell under the “great restaurant” category. All we knew for certain was that it did not during Restaurant Week. Not even close.

We had high hopes for the evening. The restaurant, as mentioned above, is very beautiful. The décor is tasteful and elegant without feeling snooty, high ceilings make the rooms feel expansive, and there was some snazzy live blues music for the majority of the night, always a treat. And the menu looked suh-weeeet: seven choices for appetizers, and eight for entrees, all of which sounded mouth-watering. (Dessert was a predetermined trio, but I wasn’t sweating it after the wonderful job La Panetiere had done earlier in the week.)

Then our waiter came along. ...and brought us down faster than Marvin in Hitchhikers Guide. (I’m not looking for open-mic night when someone gives me my menu, but I also don’t expect a bump on a log from someone who is in the service industry.)

“That guy was the worst,” whispered Danielle, after Bump left. (And Danielle never says anything negative about anyone.)

Here’s a look at our appetizers, which appeared about three minutes after we had placed our orders.

First, my Crispy Lamb Spring Rolls with Mint Tzatziki Sauce:
These rolls tasted like something I would’ve warmed up from the frozen food aisle. Except drier. And the tzatziki was just ok; it didn’t scream freshness.

Danielle’s Creamy Polenta, with house-made mortadella meatballs and Harvest Tomato Sauce:
“House-made?” Really? These meatballs had no texture and reminded both of us of Chef Boyardee. Same thing for the tomato sauce. Neither of the dishes wowed us with presentation either. They were sloppy, with spatters on the plate, and the mint and Italian parsley thrown in both dishes seemed like afterthoughts. Blah.

A bus-boy collected both plates while Danielle was spooning the last piece of polenta into her mouth.

Seconds later, our dinners appeared. My plate felt lukewarm; Danielle’s was scorching.

Danielle’s Seared Salmon:
I stole a small piece of salmon and pronounced it decent. Not much flavor going on (thinking back, Danielle asked for no citrus butter, so it’s not the restaurant’s fault), but tender and juicy, and I appreciated how the skin had a good crisp. Danielle, however, the salmon expert, said the fish was just “ok.” We had bigger issues with the roasted red peppers, which did not taste fresh at all; instead, we suspected they were packed in water and from a jar. Really disappointing. I cut corners all the time in the kitchen, but even I will roast my own red peppers, because I don’t like the jar taste. The house-made gnocchi was a clever addition, and added a pleasant chewy texture, but they were few and far between.

Here’s my Porcini-Crusted Monkfish with risotto guanciale, shrimp, parsnips, and chianti reduction:
This tasted re-heated as well. I expected more complex, layered flavors from the amazing menu description; instead, this was pretty one-note.

It took about 30 minutes for us to finish both our appetizers and our dinners. We were certain we were being rushed; but then came the wait for dessert.

We sat. And sat some more. Danielle and I didn’t mind, because we can chat until closing time and still have more to say. After about an hour, though, a different server appeared (where was Bump?).

“Can I get you two anything else this evening?” she asked us with a smile, reaching for the bill.

“Just our desserts!” Danielle said brightly, with a dazzling smile of her own.

The server was very apologetic, and our Dessert Trio appeared about a half-hour later.
On the left is a flourless chocolate cake with caramel and chocolate sauce; the top, a tiramisu with coffee anglaise, and in front, the vanilla panna cotta.

None of these were winners. The chocolate cake was dry and pretty much inedible. The panna cotta was pretty good, but I would’ve liked it a bit firmer, and oddly enough, the tiramisu was all right (I don’t really like tiramisu—I think they went easy on the coffee anglaise).

“I’m so disappointed,” said the normally chipper Danielle, moving the chocolate cake around in her plate somewhat pathetically.

I hear ya, buddy.

Here’s our tea.

I’m curious how a dinner outside of Restaurant Week at Harvest on Hudson would compare to the train-wreck Danielle and I experienced. Would a new kitchen be at the helm? Would Bump be replaced with Mr. Winning Personality, Smooth Talker Guy? But why the drop in service in the first place? Aren’t restaurants prepared to operate at full capacity?

Harvest on Hudson
1 River Street
on Hudson, NY 10706

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

La Panetière: HV Restaurant Week 2010

Last Tuesday, I visited La Panetière in Rye to commence Hudson Valley Restaurant Week 2010. I’m just now getting around to blogging about it because I am the worst blogger in the whole world. …Well, I take that back. The worst blogger in the world would blog about a Restaurant Week dinner after Restaurant Week was over. So… I guess that makes me… the penultimate worst blogger. If I am even using the word “penultimate” correctly.

Anyhoooo, I’ve been curious about La Panetière for some time. I drive by it regularly on my way to Playland, the Boardwalk, or the Edith Read Sanctuary, and it’s got a decidedly charming, residential vibe to it—in that old-school Westchester mansion kind of way (don’t let my Tim Burton-esque photo fool you). A friend of mine also told me a few years back that a couple he knew had the most expensive dinner ever there, which piqued my curiosity. (Later on, I found out that it wasn’t because the prices were obscene; it was because Guy ordered a $200 bottle of wine. But the story stayed with me, and made La Panetière seem like one of those “special occasion” places.)

My girls Tia, Erin and Jen and I arrived separately after work, each having our cars valeted at no charge. Inside, a few things struck me. One, the restaurant seemed smaller than I thought it would be. Outside, you have this big old house, but inside, it’s this cozy little dining room that reminded me of a French bed and breakfast. I wondered briefly if the chef and staff lived upstairs. Then I thought it was probably more likely that there were other dining rooms (anyone know?). The website says they have banquet facilities and on-site catering, so that could also solve my mystery. Our particular room was adorable with French Country china, old clocks, and quaint hutches, yet also exuded fine-dining elegance (servers dressed to the nines). All in all, it was a suitable choice for four women looking to enjoy dinner and be pampered (or have afternoon tea! This place would be super awesome for afternoon tea).

A word about service: our group was one of the younger parties of the evening, and all of us were dressed pretty casually. In no way were we made to feel inferior, even when we each ordered tap water at the beginning of the meal (we later ordered wine)—our server didn’t bat an eyelash, and might’ve even said something like “Very good!” This respect and professionalism held true for the entire evening, and went a long way in making us feel comfortable.

Let’s get to the food.

I’m sorry to say I don’t have a picture of the country bread that was continually offered to our table. The outside was this crusty, powdery perfection; the inside was so soft and dense it almost tasted raw—but in the most unbelievably satisfying way. Love a place that knows how to make bread.

For appetizers, Erin, Jen, and myself couldn’t resist ordering the same dish, the Gnocchi Ricotta:
I kind of wish we did resist it, though. This gnochhi wasn’t bad, it just in no way resembled what we were hoping for (dense little dumplings that would sit in our stomachs for weeks). The consistency here reminded us of dry mashed potatoes. We tried to keep an open mind, but all in all, we were disappointed. More sauce would’ve helped. The pancetta was good (it’s pancetta, duh), and the wild mushrooms and onions were well-seasoned, but they were such tiny elements of the plate, they couldn’t save the dish.

Tia ordered the Winter Veloute, a celery root, pear, roasted chestnut, and curry-scented soup:
I took a bite, and was impressed that I had never tasted anything like it before—rich and creamy, yet simultaneously refreshing and zesty. ..But I couldn’t necessarily tell if I liked it. Neither could Tia.

For dinner, Erin and Jen order the Beef Short Ribs:
This was a winner. There was a flavorful potato mousseline, and a crunchy salad of apples and carrot chips, but the showstopper was the beef. The butter at our table put up a better fight with our knives. And the skin had a wonderful char.

Tia got the Braised Duck Leg, served with quinoa, pomegranate, vegetables brunoise, and cranberry sauce.
Tia liked her dish, but I stole a bite and was unimpressed. The duck was cooked very well—moist, yet not greasy at all—but it lacked flavor. Pomegranates and cranberries, although a nice combo, couldn’t save it. And quinoa has to be my least favorite grain.

I ordered the Assorted Seafood Risotto:
Pretty, but the first thing Erin observed was that the broth looked as if it had been sitting under a heat lamp for a while, and the top had solidified. I also thought the scallops tasted undercooked, but the rest of the seafood was prepared well. While the dish had some problems, the flavor ultimately trumped them.

When I found out that there was only one option for dessert, the enigmatically described “Dessert Sampler,” I had a mini-meltdown.

“I know it, guys. I can just feel it in my bones,” I whispered to my girlfriends. “They’re going to bring us a plateful of dry cookies. Like biscotti or something.” (I’m just not a fan of biscotti when I go out to eat. I was preparing myself to feel cheated.)

“Biscotti doesn’t sound very French,” Tia murmured.

This is what was set before us instead:
OH, how I loved these little desserts! The presentation was obviously pretty, but that little lemon tart on the right was pure perfection. (The chocolate espresso cake was fine, but I would’ve gladly traded it in for more lemon tart.) And the lemon sorbet: grainy, refreshing, lip-puckeringly sour—my friends found it almost too sour... but my friends are fools!—this sorbet packed a punch in the best way possible.

If you go by some of my food descriptors above, you might have second thoughts about trying La Panetière for Restaurant Week. But there were two clear winners on the menu: the short ribs and the dessert tray. Service was top-notch, and the dining room was very pleasant. There are reasons to visit, and for $28, now is the time. Can’t say how happy I would’ve been if I had paid regular price for the gnocchi, the soup, or the duck, but all in all, I think there are interesting things happening on the menu. And hey, now you can avoid those dishes!

La Panetière
530 Milton Road
Rye, NY 10580-3304
(914) 967-8140