Monday, February 22, 2010

What’s Cooking Over at The Good Life

It’s been busy at my day job, which means not a lot of time to dine out. Or cook for that matter. But stay tuned:

With Hudson Valley Restaurant Week (March 15-28th) fast approaching, there are some write-ups in the pipeline: I’m booked at X20 Xaviars on the Hudson in Yonkers, La Panetiere in Rye, and Harvest on Hudson in Hastings on Hudson.

I’m also doing my best to finish an entry on Eleven Madison Park, which Eileen and I visited back in December—the entry got away from me with all the intricate little courses that dotted the meal… and the alcohol that was consumed. But I’ll pull something together—the dinner was certainly an experience worth writing about.

In cooking news, my mom, grandma and I have been experimenting with soba—we’re trying to create the authentic Okinawan variety of the noodle (there is a secret ingredient that takes the dish up a notch). When we get there, we’ll share the recipe so you can make your own and knock your friends on their behinds.

Finally, I’ve created a fan page for this here blog on Facebook! Click here for the link and to become a fan. Thanks so much to all who have already joined. At last count, I was up to 54, which is 52 more fans than I anticipated (I only accounted for me and my mom). Feel free to leave comments or post questions to other foodie fans when you’re in need of restaurant suggestions.

I leave you with an easy-peasy Lemon Chicken recipe (pictured above). It’s mind-bogglingly simple, with only a handful of ingredients, but it’s a good one nonetheless; the coating of the chicken has a moist, spongy consistency that melts in your mouth. Give it a try if you’re looking for quick, mid-week comfort food. (I’d place it up there with my anchovy pasta). It’s also the dish I’m planning to make for m’boy Todd on Wednesday night.

Lemon Chicken
Sprinkle salt and pepper on 1 ½ pounds thinly sliced chicken breasts (or chicken pounded flat so that the scallops are roughly ¼ inch thick). Dust the scallops with flour, and shake off the excess.

Melt roughly 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. (Throw in some thinly-sliced cloves of garlic at this point if you like garlic – I can’t get enough of garlic. I should call this recipe “Lemon Garlic Chicken.”) Add the chicken, and cook for about 2 minutes, or until they’re golden brown. Remove the chicken and set aside.

Pour off any of the fat that’s accumulated in the skillet, and add about ½ cup of chicken stock. Scrape up all the nice brown bits at the bottom of the skillet, and then place the chicken back in the skillet. Add thinly sliced lemon slices on top of the chicken (you don't have to slice your lemons so that they look like stop signs like in my picture above). Reduce the heat to low, and simmer for about 15 minutes. Serve your chicken with brown rice, some mushrooms and asparagus. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Blue Smoke: Not a Fan

My evening at Blue Smoke started interestingly enough. I was photographing the outside of the restaurant and jazz club, when a gentleman tapped me on the shoulder.

“Miss,” he asked. “Can you tell me what’s so interesting about the outside of this restaurant?”

My dad, as any proud papa would, jumped in immediately and shouted, “My daughter is a food blogger!”

The gentleman, not a tourist at all, but a very important fellow behind the Blue Smoke empire, considered this, took a business card out of his pocket, and told me to give it to the host, who was now following this exchange curiously from the other side of the window. “He’ll take care of you,” the gentleman promised.

A very nice gesture, but, as I insisted to the pleading faces of my dining companions that evening (Dad, my brother Bill, Lori and Todd), to give that card to the host would be committing the cardinal sin of food blogging: using your “power” (I use that word loosely given the 40 or so visits I get on my blog each day) to receive special treatment once inside a restaurant. No—to play that card would compromise the integrity of our dinner.

This, while sound logic, did not sit well with said dining companions, who wanted the free shiznit.

Do it,” my brother whispered to me more than once, as we waited for our table. It was 7:45 p.m. Our dinner reservation was for 8:00 p.m. I felt the crisp edges of the business card in my pocket, and hunger pangs in my belly.

At 8:25 we were seated, and to Blue Smoke’s credit, we were told to choose any appetizer off the menu as an apology for our wait.

The plan for the evening was to take advantage of New York City Restaurant Week: Winter 2010, and enjoy a 3-course dinner for $35.00. But this didn’t happen. The choices just didn’t seem like a $35 value. For instance, one of the entrees was the Kansas City Spareribs. On the regular, non-NYC Restaurant Week menu, a half-rack ran $14.95. We did the math, and it didn’t seem plausible for the Restaurant Week appetizers (I remember one being a braised veal cheek), and the dessert (one was a chocolate silk pie) to add up to the remaining $20 you would need to total $35.

So, while all five of us strongly considered the Restaurant Week menu (it was the impetus for our visit); all five of us ultimately decided against it, and went with the regular menu, which seemed like a better value.

First, let’s take a look at a highlight of the evening. Here’s the complimentary Crispy Chili Crusted Calamari with Charred Red Pepper Mayo ($12.95):

[First, my apologies for the bad photography to follow. I put a candle next to most of our dishes, hoping for some added light, but all it really did was eff with the white balance to make my shoddy photography harder to fix in Photoshop later.]
I don’t know if it’s because everyone at our table was starving at this point, but this dish went over quite well. The calamari were well-cooked, not greasy or rubbery; there were deep-fried lemons in there that added a welcome zing, and the mayo had a delicious kick. A promising start.

Before we get to our orders, I’ll mention the service at Blue Smoke. I was very surprised at the lack of personality. Blue Smoke is one of famed restauranteur’s Danny Meyer’s restaurants. And Danny Meyer is all about hospitality—he’s written books about this philosophy, and his empire has been built around it. Heck, the lady who took my order for a ShackBurger at Shake Shack actually made me feel good about waiting almost two hours for a burger. At Blue Smoke, however, I don’t remember anything about our waiter other than he kept telling us to lift up our menus in order to set stuff down. And that he made himself scarce for the rest of the evening.

Onto our dinners.

For the most part, we didn’t like them.

Unless your name is Todd. We’ll address another highlight for the evening, his meal, the Filet Mignon with Chipotle Bernaise Sauce, Mushrooms, Leeks, and a crispy goat cheese potato cake ($34.95):
Todd’s not a dessert person, and he had already had his share of calamari, so he figured why not use his $35 Restaurant Week budget on something he really wanted. Enter the Filet. My problem with this logic (at the time) was that we were at a rib joint. I was worried he might be setting himself up for mediocrity.

But turns out, Todd’s filet was just about the only thing that was smokin’ at the rib joint that night. The filet was tender and juicy, with a nice seared finish, the mushrooms tasted as if they were sautéed in the drippings from the filet, and the potato cake? Suh-weeeeeeet. Pile all three elements together, with a dollop of tangy and buttery Chipotle Bernaise, and you have a darn near perfect bite. Better than Morton’s (although that’s easy), better than BLT Steak.

Here’s a picture of Bill with his Pulled Pork Platter with Pit Beans and Sesame Slaw ($18.50):
Not only does this picture illustrate the effect of three Chimays, it also provides a useful scale to fully appreciate just how much pulled pork was on Bill’s plate. It was a silly amount.

Bill took a couple of bites and deemed the pork “ok.” I agreed. It was a little dry, but not off-putting—it just wasn’t something I would want to eat a lot of. The beans were nothing special, but the Sesame Slaw was incredible. Different and refreshing—had a bit of an Asian twist. I think there might’ve been some rice wine vinegar in there as well as sesame oil, which gave it a clean finish.

Here’s a picture of the half-rack of Kansas City Spareribs ($14.95).
They’re described on the menu as “big, juicy, spicy and sweet,” but the juiciness translated to greasiness at our table. No one liked them! Surprising, after all I’ve read about them, and the restaurant’s reputation. I’ll stick with Warren’s ribs, thank you very much.

We also ordered side dishes, since nothing came with the ribs (another reason we weren’t feeling the Restaurant Week menu): Macaroni and Cheese ($7.95), Hush Puppies with Jalapeno Marmalade ($3.95), and Cornbread ($3.50):
The mac and cheese was totally lackluster. And this is coming from a gal who loves mac and cheese. It reminded me of Velveeta’s, although I like Velveeta’s—so this was like bad Velveeta’s mac and cheese.

I’ve never had Hush Puppies before (I believe it’s a cornmeal-based fried bread), so it’s hard to judge, but it tasted a bit like fried grits. The jalapeno marmalade was too sweet for me, as well.

The cornbread was a travesty. It tasted like eating a stick of fried, greasy butter. I couldn’t even taste the corn. Even though there were only two pieces for our table of five, there was a whole piece left when our check came.

Bottom line: I’d be willing to write off Blue Smoke completely, if I didn’t enjoy stealing “perfect bites” from Todd’s plate so much. It was a terrific filet. Still, I doubt we’ll be back with so many stellar restaurants in the city.

Blue Smoke dining companions: you were cracking me up all night with your assessment of our dinner. What am I missing? Leave your own point of view below!

And Happy Birthday, Paw!

Blue Smoke
116 E 27th St
New York, NY 10016
(212) 447-7733

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dovetail: NYC Restaurant Week 2010

Are you enjoying NYC Restaurant Week: Winter 2010? My budget and time constraints only allowed for two restaurants this season, so I wanted to make both picks count. Up this past Friday was Dovetail, made famous by Frank Bruni and Adam Platt’s solid reviews, and a few articles that showcased the restaurant’s use of bacon in dessert as part of the newest culinary trend.

What did I learn about Dovetail on Friday? A.) that joint is far. I picked a restaurant where I actually had to exit Grand Central Station and walk to Bryant Park on one of the coldest night of the year in order to catch the right subway line (the B). B.) The ride and walk ended up being well worth it. Even though I couldn’t feel my nose or ears by the time I arrived, I knew almost immediately that Dovetail was the right choice. Because… C.) ….Chef John Fraser clearly loves Restaurant Week! Amuses and free stuff were flying left and right! I told Eileen, my dinner companion for the night, that the creativity-level of the food—along with the sheer amount of it—reminded me of the dishes we sampled at Anthos last year (minus the crappy service we got at Anthos).

Dovetail the restaurant is quite comfortable. It’s a small space, yet there is ample room between tables to make it feel private and relaxing. The colors exude warmth, with browns and brick, and the vibe is a tad more formal and classy than I expected. Servers were especially going for the formal vibe, yet never came across as inaccessibly stuffy or weird.

But let’s get to the free stuff.

Shortly after we placed our orders, we received the following:
Our amuse bouche was a stunner: pureed beets, sour cream, and salmon tartare. The taste was nice enough (I’m not a huge fan of beets), and certainly classy, but I much preferred the white cheddar cornbread that was also left on our table: sweet and moist, with a slightly firm outer shell. One of the best pieces of bread ever sampled.

For starters, Eileen chose the cauliflower soup:
The server added some extra elements tableside: bacon, apples, walnuts and brown butter that, when swirled, reminded us of Quaker Oatmeal’s Maple Brown Sugar Instant Variety. I stole a spoonful, and while the consistency looked watery, it totally worked, as did the flavor: rich, and super-fresh. Like Grade-A roasted cauliflowers in pureed form.

I was looking to shake things up this Restaurant Week and try something new, so I ordered the Rabbit Mille Fuille:
I had no idea what a mille fuille (pronounced “mill fwee”) was, but when my plate arrived, I deduced it had something to do with stacked layers of phyllo dough. In between the layers was the rabbit (in terrine form) and a frisee salad including pears and turnips. There was a super-pleasant creamy sauce underneath it all. Altogether it was refreshing, and well-balanced. A good start.

Next, Eileen and I ordered the Hanger Steak:
The portion might look small in the photo, but it was a nice-sized serving and a great progression to our appetizers. The steak was cooked well, but it seemed either over-salted, or lacking something sweet to balance the overall dish. Still, Eileen and I both came away thinking the dish was a success, mostly due to the hen of the woods mushrooms, and an absolutely fabulous mini beef cheek lasagna (the lasagna is hidden behind the steak in the photo).

For dessert, Eileen ordered something chocolatey (per usual), the Black Forest Gateau:
She said it was fine, but nothing out-of-this-world. She was more interested in eyeballing my dessert for the rest of the evening.

Cause the famous bread pudding was on the dessert menu! (Sort of… they ix-nayed the bacon —maybe they thought it was too out there for Restaurant Week):
Bacon or no bacon, my first bite was one of those classic first bites. It reminded me of when Anton Ego took a bite of Lil Chef’s ratatouille in Ratatouille: a sensory explosion that took me back to Saturday breakfasts with Mom, to comfort, to sheer happiness, to indulgence. To da shiznit. I kept looking at that little yellow square placed before me, stupefied as to how one bite of anything could be so good. And it’s why I will for certain come back to Dovetail when Restaurant Week is over. I simply must have that little yellow square again.

After dessert, a small plate of mignardises:
And with the bill, some peanut-butter granola for the road:
The highs far outweighed any lows experienced at Dovetail (lows included our tea arriving after dessert, and one overly ambitious server who came by and hovered over us to make sure we ate our amuses (Eileen and I wanted that tasty cornbread before anything)).

So stay classy, Dovetail. Perhaps next time I visit, the slab of bacon will be put in its rightful place—atop of your bread pudding. I can tell already it will work just perfectly.

103 West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024