Sunday, January 31, 2010

NYC Restaurant Week: Winter 2010

Howdy fellers,

Just a quick note to let you know New York City Restaurant Week: Winter 2010 is upon us. This past Friday, Eileen and I had an extremely satisfying dinner at Dovetail. (Lord knows why I picked a restaurant so far away from Grand Central Station on the coldest night of the year, but it was well worth it). The food, service, and ambiance: all top-notch and very thoughtful. Check back later this week for a full report (having some issues getting photos off of my camera).

Looking forward to continuing NYC Restaurant Week this Friday at Blue Smoke!

What about you? What are you most excited to try? Or, better yet, where have you gone? Tell us all about it in the Comments section below.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week 2010

I may be a little late, but the list of participating restaurants has been posted for 2010 Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, March 15-28th (enjoy a three-course, prix-fixe lunch for $20 and dinner for $28 at participating restaurants). I’d advise making your reservations now, as this event has risen steadily in popularity over the years—spots fill up quickly, especially Friday evenings at the more well-known restaurants.

What are the more well-known restaurants, you ask? Well, perhaps more important than ‘well-known,’ is finding the restaurant that will give you the best bang for your buck. For instance, everyone’s favorite new restaurant The Cookery is on the list, yet dishes on their current menu are such a great value, a pre-fixe menu could potentially be more money—for less options. No, my game plan each and every Restaurant Week is to test out the places that could make a real dent in my wallet without the discount. Somewhere I’ve been curious to try, but not necessarily curious enough where I would want to deal with the hefty bill that would follow. Here are some “high curiosity” places: 42, The American Bounty at the Culinary Institute of America, Crabtree’s Kittle House, Equus at the Castle on the Hudson, Harvest on Hudson, Iron Horse Grill, La Panetiere, Ruth Chris’s Steak House, and X20 Xaviars on the Hudson.

What’s missing? Would’ve been nice to see Richard Gere’s Bedford Post Inn on the list, as well as Tarry Lodge.

Also, I suppose I should address last Restaurant Week. If you remember my report from last time around, I was admittedly a crankypants. […but rightly so, I still say! Is it wrong to expect the same level of quality and service from a restaurant? Should hidden fees be tacked on only during Restaurant Week to make up for the discounted price? Why bother participating at all in Restaurant Week if that’s your game?] But what’s done is done. I’m putting on my glass-is-half-full cap, and hoping for the best this time around. This girl still loves a good deal, and if she doesn’t get one, she can always complain about it here.

So where am I going? Right now, I’m sitting on reservations at X20 Xaviars on the Hudson and Harvest on Hudson. I’ve been to X20 twice in the past—once for Restaurant Week (nice, but the offered dishes all seemed very similar to one another, and we sat upstairs—just not as fun as downstairs) and the other time was for my friend’s 30th birthday (extraordinary—and our tab was actually less than when our same group did The Melting Pot’s “Big Night Out”). Hopefully, they’ll vary up the menu a bit this time around; also, I requested to sit downstairs.

As for Harvest on Hudson, can you believe I’ve never been? I hear such great things about this restaurant, and I’m looking forward to finally testing it out. The lady on the phone was confused when I said I wanted to make a reservation for Restaurant Week. Apparently, Harvest currently has a pre-fixe $28 menu, which they serve Monday through Friday. So, my reservation actually goes against the whole strategy I shared with you above. We’ll see if it sticks. I’m curious to try La Panetiere, so maybe I’ll swap.

Where are you going? What are you most excited to try?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Best Dishes, 2009

Aw yeah, kiiiiiiiids. Look who’s back with another blog entry—in the same week!

Yesterday, we tackled best and worst dining experiences of 2009. Today we move on to Best Dishes. I’m going to skip “Worst Dishes” entirely because I have a feeling that might be in bad taste. All restaurants have bad days, and creating a dish seems like a deeply personal process. A chef should be allowed to fail without worrying that an experiment will come back to haunt him or her on some “Worst Dish” list... right? (Not that any chef is losing sleep over this here blog.)

But enough of that. Let us move on to reveal… the best dishes of 2009!

#10. Ravioli with Short Ribs and Foie Gras in Truffle Butter, X20 Xaviar’s on the Hudson
So much flavor and decadence packed into one bite. Absolutely wonderful, just like Rock Star Chef Peter Kelly.

#9. Fried Oysters, Pearl Oyster Bar
Better than Pearl’s famous lobster roll.

#8. ShackBurgers and Vanilla Milkshake, Shake Shack
Might not be the fanciest dish on the list, but the tummy wants what the tummy wants. And when my friend Eileen and I waited to be seated for our reservations at Eleven Madison Park, part of us just wanted to skip the whole charade and walk across the street for Shackburgers.

#7. Key Lime Pie, Rraci’s Ristorante
I can’t decide if points should be added or subtracted for the above presentation. Cause the pie sort of looks like a hat an Avatar would wear if it were being fancy or going to church. Either way, the dessert is the best Key Lime er…Pie I’ve ever tasted.

#6. Chocolate Dome, Tarry Lodge
If Rraci’s Key Lime Pie and Tarry Lodge’s Chocolate Dome were in a Dessert-Off, however, I’d have to go with the simplicity of Tarry Lodge’s Chocolate Dome. The gooeyness of the chocolate coupled with and the richness of the pistachio ice cream was absolute perfection. Have I had that combination before? Countless times. But have I ever had it executed so well? Nope.

#5. Charred Baby Octopus, Soma 107
Sadly, I don’t know if this dish exists anymore. Initial buzz was very strong at Soma 107, but last I heard, chef James Cawley is no longer with the restaurant. I had no idea octopus could be so tender, and my first bite was an absolute explosion of flavors and textures.

#4. Shrimp with Grapefruit and shaved fennel, Tarry Lodge
A handful of ultra-fresh ingredients refreshingly under-fussed-over to let each element shine.

#3. Dry-rub ribs, Big W’s Roadside Bar-B-Q
High on my list for the same reason Shake Shack made the cut. You simply cannot ignore your cravings. And these ribs—smoked with such care and complexity—come to mind pretty much anytime I’m in Dutchess—heck, even Putnam county.

#2. Langoustines, Tom: Tuesday Dinner
My favorite dish from my 12-course tasting menu at Tom: Tuesday Dinner happens to be my worst photograph, unfortunately. Colicchio doesn’t normally get all loco in the kitchen—yet there was something about this dish that was very experimental and exotic. Were there Thai influences at play? I’m not sure, but it was his most successful and delectable dish of the evening.

#1. Radiatore with Lamb Bolognese, The Cookery
My number one pick because I could eat this pasta forever and ever and never get sick of it. And it represents all I love about The Cookery: authenticity, simplicity and soul.

Honorable Mentions: Melt Sandwich Shop’s Pulled Pork Pizza, Emma’s Ale House’s Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding, Locanda Verde’s Fava Bean crostino on prosciutto bread.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2009: A Look Back

Happy New Year, everyone! Can you believe The Good Life has been online for a full year!?!

Creating this blog has been an interesting experiment. It began with no real goal; instead, it was a way for me to remember and document some of the stellar meals I’ve been fortunate enough to experience. So it was a surprise when Google Analytics confirmed that people were actually visiting my site each day. Links from Liz Johnson’s Small Bites, Foodgawker, and Tastespotting grew traffic considerably, but I suppose I didn’t truly understand the power of the internetz until The Amateur Gourmet himself, Adam Roberts, commented on my Almond Cake experiment. A few days later, Amanda Hesser tweeted that she loved the frowny face I put in her cake. And then there was that day in August I thought Analytics was broken because it said I got over 2,000 unique visitors in one day…and then later that same day when it turned out Analytics wasn’t broken at all—The Cooking Club of America had linked to my entry on Blueberry Buckle!

People were reading me!

I only hope I can stick with my blog in 2010. The Good Life is a one-woman show… and said woman has a full-time job, random extra-curricular hobbies, and a growing case of ADD. Sitting down to write can be difficult at times. As can paying for some of these absolutely fabulous meals. Hopefully, you’ll visit now and again, and won’t be too frustrated if there’s a lull in new content.

That said, let’s do one of those 2009 wrap-ups, where I tell you about all the best and worst things of 2009! In 2010!

Best Meals, 2009
2009 netted some mouth-watering, exciting food all over New York—fine dining, roadside food, grandma’s cooking: there were highs in every category. Here follows five of my top favorites:

(Note: Perilla, Craft and Babbo (the pasta-tasting evening) were not eligible for Best Meals, 2009, as all happened at the end of 2008. Each meal was absolutely fantastic, and a strong factor as to why I started this blog in the first place.)

#5. AquavitHere we have a NYC Restaurant Week participant that got it right: a pre-fixe menu finally representative of a restaurant’s cuisine without making diners suspicious as to what they were missing off of the regular menu; a special guest appearance by a super-star chef (Marcus Samuelsson); the strange and intriguing flavors of Scandinavian haute cuisine; and the feeling that I had just experienced a part of New York City history. After over 20 years in Manhattan, Aquavit is decidedly still ├╝ber-fabulous.

#4. Big W’s Roadside Bar-B-Q

Seriously. Don’t let the roadside locale or the drive north to Dutchess County deter you. And before you turn your nose up to da best ribs in da world, know that owner and all-around-nice-guy Warren Norstein used to cook at both Chanterelle and Bouley (in da city). His dry-rub ribs? Intoxicating. His excitement? Contagious. Buy a mountain of ribs for a few bucks, and while Warren packs up your order, sample some of his brisket, smoked chicken, or wings. Warren’s only happy when you’re happy.

#3. Tarry Lodge
Very new to the scene in 2009 was Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s Tarry Lodge in Port Chester. One of my favorite dishes all year was unquestionably the grilled shrimp with grapefruit and shaved fennel root I sampled off of the antipasti menu. A simple dish, yes, but bursting with flavor, freshness—each ingredient made better by the next. A trend it seems, with all of their antipasti and pizzas. This restaurant is the real deal.

#2. The Cookery
While all of Westchester buzzed about Tarry Lodge’s opening (deservedly so, the food is fantastic), a small, unassuming restaurant in Dobbs Ferry quietly opened at the bottom of Chestnut Avenue serving simple, authentic Italian food. Little did anyone know, chef David DiBari was about to storm upon the Westchester scene, delivering mind-blowing homemade pasta, affordable wine, and food just like your Italian Grandma used to makebut perhaps only if your grandma molded cavatelli in Tuscany for 20 years and bested Mario Batali six straight times on Food Network’s Iron Chef. It’s that good, peeps. The Radiatore with Lamb Bolognese still calls to me.

#1. Tom: Tuesday Dinner
Was there any question that Top Chef/Dawg Tom Colicchio’s intimate private dining room open every other Tuesday evening would be crowned Best Meal of 2009? Any doubt at all? Colicchio is a hero to me. I love his philosophy, his clean, soulful food, his integrity, his …piercing blue eyes, and how he has inspired a whole new demographic to get into the kitchen and cook. If anything, I walked away that enchanted Tuesday evening admiring my Grand Poobah all the more. Nothing can touch that meal. Pure genius at work. Under-rated, I say!

Honorable Mentions: Pearl Oyster Bar, X20 Xaviar’s on the Hudson, Melt Sandwich Shop, Babbo (second visit), Shake Shack

Biggest Disappointments, 2009
I’m more of a “glass-is-half-full” gal, so can’t say there were a lot of disappointments in 2009. I went to some amazing destinations, all pretty fantastic, some due to the food, some due to the service, some due to the company—no matter the pitfall, it seemed as if there was always a saving grace.
If I had three lemons to pick, one would be in Hyde Park, New York, where the next 3-Star Michelin Star chefs are “allegedly” born and bred—Escoffier at The Culinary Institute of America, I’ve got your number. In a nutshell: your whole staff fell asleep the night of my visit.

Another big disappointment of 2009 was my evening at The Spotted Pig where I shared oysters with a charming doctor who looked like James McAvoy (Yeah ladies, I know—pretty appalling, right?). The food was good I guess, it’s more of what followed with the doc. ...nothin.

Finally, Id be remiss if I let Mortons The Steakhouse, White Plains off the hook. Service was decidely on the hook that night.

...oh, and Corton can get over itself.

Check back later this week for the best dishes of 2009! And here’s to a delicious 2010!

UPDATE 1/6/10: I shouldn't write that The Spotted Pig was a disappointment. The food was quite good. And if the doctor had called me back, then I never would've had that passionate affair with Gerard Butler (Just kidding. Turns out, Gerry's not very passionate at all.)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Nope, I Haven't Quit Blogging.

I just received an email from someone in the food business whom I respect very much asking me if I've quit blogging. Holy mortification, batman.

Nope! I'm still here, chief! In fact, I'm working on those "Top 2009" lists that are so popular. Would've been nice to finish them in 2009, but what can you do. Check back later this week for them, and my apologies for the long hiatus.

Happy New Year!