Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Eating in late '08

Some new restaurant rundown. Lots of new and exciting eating lately, but lots of missteps in there too.

Finally went to the new Momofuku Milk Bar last night. I went in the evening so I didn't get to sample the insane-sounding breakfast pastries (deep-fried poached egg on a homemade english muffin with pork? Um, yeah, there's a way to start the day that I can get behind). I bought a slice of the crack pie which was a perfect midday snack; it's pretty much a pecan pie without the pecans, all sweetened condensed milk, Karo corn syrup and sugar. Gnarly but great. The soft-serve was good, but the chocolate fudge was so treacly sweet and has too sticky a mouthfeel for me. I got the "brown-butter solids" as a topping, and found those disappointing too. High expectations and all, but believe me, I will be back for pistachio cake, peanut butter cookies, and the aforementioned breakfast sandwich. The one real, egregious error in my book? The fact that the most intense fish smell kept wafting in from the Ssam kitchen down the hall—such an unpleasant scent to go along with your chocolate cone!

Buttermilk Channel is the absolute closest restaurant to my house. When I went the other night, it was raining, hard, but the place is so near to my front door that it wasn't even worth it for me to open the umbrella to get from point A to B. Got to love that for convenience, and obviously, I want to love the place. BUT. They got some work to do, oh yes. We sat at the bar and the guy working was wildly spacey, just not paying us any attention. The kale and endive salad arrived totally undressed and the croutons were large chunks of bread, nothing more. The kale was also unchopped, presented as big, full leaves. Which was pretty, but impossible to eat—I was wrestling with slicing each leaf up into manageable chunks. Sarah's green salad was equally tasteless, not bad, but just not much of anything. She also got the bratwurst, which arrived uncooked—call me crazy, but I don't like my pork sausage served raw in the middle. It was easily fixed, but they seemed kind of scared of us after that. The donuts at the end of the meal were totally redeeming, however. What was funny was that the waiter told us there was only one donut per order, and the plate arrived with three donuts, each with its own little munchkin perched on top! A welcome mistake. Regardless, I am going to keep going back, I am rooting for these guys. It's the neighborly way.

Other great dishes I've had recently:
At Bar Q, I had the eggplant miso which was the most damn delectable eggplant I have ever had, or at least in my limited eggplant memory. I also had a chili–kaffir lime margarita there that blew my mind, I loved it so much.
Braeburn just opened in the West Village, where I enjoyed a lovely, sophisticated dinner with Sue and Sarah, and we all went crazy for the passionfruit peekytoe crab salad. I am a fan of anything with passionfruit, but what could have been kind of fruity-lame was a totally fresh and exciting dish.
I had a great coconut chicken dish at The New French on Hudson, which is not really so new nor particularly French. Alas, I'd go back.
I've now had two great brunches at Char no. 4, filled with biscuits and ham and really strong coffee. Though I've yet to go there at night and drink some of the bourbon they are so well known for, I like the place lots and am happy to have it in the 'hood.
Down the block, I had a mediocre hot cider drink at the Clover Club. Too frou-frou for me for Smith Street, thanks. I'll stick with my new winter addiction of rum cider at the local, Abilene.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Updates

I know, it's been forever. Here is some of what I've been up to.

Metromix reviews:
the General Greene
Ippudo
plus stories on coffee, and Manhattan and Brooklyn restaurant weeks.

Citysearch reviews and write-ups:
Nizza
2nd Avenue Deli
Padre e Figlio
Kuta Satay House
Pop Burger

A silly Daily Candy piece on Batch

Plus, I will soon be blogging for Delish.com, and am already contributing posts to Metromix's blog, York'd. I wrote a long article about the lovely Madame Chocolat for Chocolatier magazine, and contributed restaurant blurbs to the soon-to-launch Manhattan magazine. Cool!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Fast-food croissants

Sometimes the best bites come from the most unexpected sources. This week I have developed a new love for what might be the best croissant I have had in the city. And yes, that flaky, tender croissant comes from... Pret a Manger. Apologies to Patisserie Claude and Marquet and all my usual French pastry places.

I have a soft spot for Pret, mostly because I love the little packaged triangle sandwiches sold at every Boots and Marks & Spencer in England; so much better than the overstuffed, too-big-to-eat style of sandwich that Americans prefer. I love the thin bread, weirdly un-American fillings (curried chicken salad, prawn salad, egg and cress, salmon and cucumber) and the diagonal cut fit for a kid.

I've always been a sucker for a coronation chicken salad, which is always the first one I grab off the shelf at any Pret in the world. This is a total digression to the topic, but when I was about ten years old I went over to my best friend Sasha's house, and her mother had a bowl of curried chicken salad in the fridge. It had grapes and nuts in it, which I thought was completely weird, but I loved the dish and it became a marker of sophistication for me. Sasha's mom is a wonderful cook, and I always held her Gourmet-inspired cooking in high regard, and I saw that chicken salad as the epitome of high-class eating. Not that my mom was making crap, mind you, but she sure didn't put grapes and curry powder in the chicken salad; she was more of a diced celery kind of lady. When I started putting lime and dill in my tuna salad, a trick taught to me by a high-school friend, my mom thought that was pretty radical.

Anyways, it should be said that the sandwiches at Pret a Manger in its homeland of England are far superior to the ones available here—years ago there was a great New Yorker article about Pret's American expansion, and they detailed the marketing meetings where executives discussed the strange American penchant for huge, multi-filling sandwiches that fall apart after a few bites. Apparently Americans are scared of mayo, which was probably scary to a culture that calls egg salad "egg mayonnaise." (People are weirdly fearful of mayonnaise I find; it's one of the most-cited items on many people's do-not-eat lists.)

At the Pret a Manger that's downstairs from the office building where I am working this week, they have a small case for breakfast pastries (in the morning it's muffins and scones, in the afternoon they put in cookies and sweets), and every day I manage to grab a pastry that's still warm. I also love that they give you free jam and butter (organic butter even, in those cute individually-wrapped pats). And their coffee isn't so bad either.

Monday, April 07, 2008

ko


It seems almost too food-blog meta to post about my dinner at momofuku ko last night, so for now, here is a photo. I took this at the very end of the night, I was the only one left in the restaurant. Everyone was super nice and the food was ridiculously fantastic.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

New coffee

Because coffee is the greatest beverage ever invented, I want to write about a few new coffee places that recently opened up in Manhattan (my part of Brooklyn is still sadly lagging behind when it comes to a decent cup, for some reason. Williamsburg is well served by a few excellent places, but where's the strong coffee in Cobble Hill or Carroll Gardens, huh? Someone needs to jump on that business idea, quick).

My current winner is the new Gimme Coffee in Nolita, an offshoot of their original Williamsburg store. They have a narrow counter spot on Mott Street staffed by the coolest, nicest people who pull the most ridiculous cappuccinos. I like the kind of coffee drink that's super rich and chocolatey, and along with my favorite at Ninth Street Espresso, Gimme succeeds in giving me exactly what I like. With a mediocre drink, sometimes it's as if all you can taste is milk (I am still baffled by people who willingly drink large lattes—why not just order a pint of whole milk and put some espresso powder in it, 'cause that's really all it is...), and other times the coffee flavor is too lame or acidic to really shine. Gimme totally gets it, and I love that every time I have walked in there over the last month or so, I have run into someone I know (including the proprietor of another new favorite coffee place, Abra├žo) and/or had a great, hilarious conversation with the folks behind the counter. And they do that pretty leafy design thing in the foam, which I find charming.

I also liked the Mercury Dime, the new coffee house opened by the same guy as Milk & Honey, the semi-private cocktail lounge downtown (where it actually makes me sad to go because the last time I visited several years ago was with a guy who has now passed away... Apologies for the morbid aside). Basically, anyone who has such a knack for mixing such spectacularly balanced, creative cocktails is bound to have a talent for brewing coffee, too. Mercury Dime is on one of my most favorite blocks in all of Manhattan, 5th Street between Second Avenue and Bowery; a lovely, downtown block with great restaurants and a quiet, leafy vibe. I liked that Mercury Dime was also hushed and relaxing, with thick carpeting and low music, and a soft-spoken quirky hipster behind the counter. They also give you a mini palmier with every cup (I was told they come from the infamous Patisserie Claude), which is a very nice touch. Nice place.

To top this off (ugh, bad coffee pun?), here is the link to the coffee article I wrote for Metromix (with fabulous pictures from Kate!). Both Gimme and Mercury Dime opened right around the time when I turned this in, so sadly, they couldn't be included. I learned so very much writing this article—I don't think I have ever enjoyed researching a piece as much as this one, and I realized how much there is to know on the topic. Like wine or chocolate, it is a deep subject with infinite information to be uncovered about the history, the product, cultivation, techniques, and the rest. I know I am nowhere near to being a true coffee geek, but I am working on it, and hope to attain total coffee dorkiness soon.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sandwiches

I had a funny realization last night: I have eaten nothing but sandwiches for the last three days. Sure, there was a half-pint of raspberries, chocolate nut candies, shortbread cookies and a ginger scone in there too, but mostly, nothing but things between bread for me.

This came up because of a conversation about the Sandwich Party, Lisa Davis's annual make-a-creative-sandwich-to-share picinc event. I am very proud to say that Lisa even named a sandwich in my honor last year when I was unable to attend (I think it involved brown-sugar bacon and fig jam with brie and watercress).

Thursday was a chicken salad sandwich from 'wichcraft—I usually love 'wichcraft, and find that it's a reliable spot for really good, if overpriced, sandwiches. I am always happy when I have a job near Bryant Park and get to go to the kiosks there. Still, the best thing they make there is that peanut butter sandwich cookie. A cookie, I know, but still a sandwich! For dinner on Thursday I made a Molinari dry salami and arugula sandwich on an English muffin. And then I watched Lost and went to bed, the end.

On Friday I had a flank steak sandwich from this lovely gourmet to-go spot in Chelsea called Brownstein's. I was working at Martha Stewart Weddings way over on 12th Avenue and 26th street, and the lunch options around there are slim. I ended up at Brownstein's two times last week, even though, like 'wichcraft, it's crazy expensive. It seems all wrong to spend $18 on soup and a sandwich for an office-break lunch, y'know? Dinner on Friday was a global interpretation of the theme, with my favorite street cart treat of Kwik Meal falafel. I stood in the rain on Sixth Avenue eating my falafel on grilled pita and killing time before a performance of Passing Strange. (Go see Passing Strange now!)

Yesterday I kind of forgot to eat except for half of a deliciously spicy-sweet Vietnamese sandwich from Hanco's on Bergen St. I asked for it extra spicy and they definitely indulged me. Bahn mi are so damn good—I got their classic version, with its array of odd spongy meats and salty pate, lots of cilantro and carrot and hot hot chilies. I just finished the other half for breakfast.

Tonight: a square meal, promise.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Current favorites

Some favorite dishes of late:

Jerusalem artichoke soup at Shorty's.32
This was served at brunch, a ridiculously flavorful and rich puree topped with basil oil. We thought there had to be lots of brown butter in there, but the waiter demurred. No matter, I would order this soup again and again.

Gruyere gnocchi at One If By Land, Two If By Sea.
I enjoyed a nice opportunity to eat there last night, at a press dinner to showcase the new chef, Craig Hopson, who is Australian and quite hunky, truth be told. My favorite dish of the night was the gnocchi, which reminded me more of a cheese fritter than anything else. An outside crunch, a super creamy center with no doughiness, and very satisfying. I could have eaten 15 of them in a bowl, alone.

French ham on a baguette at Amy's Bread.
I Imagine that if I lived in Paris this would be my daily breakfast. Nothing complicated about it at all—a few thin slices of ham on a fresh baguette smeared with a healthy layer of butter. There are a few pickles in there too. Perfect. I don't know what took me so long to adopt this as my favorite snack.

Fried chicken at Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill.
Blue Ribbon's created a strange amalgam of all of their restaurants at the new Columbus Circle location. They brought their coveted fried chicken recipe to the sushi bar—when I saw it on the menu I expected a fried cutlet, a sort of tonkatsu preparation, thinly pounded and crispy. But instead, this was a good ol' Southern recipe, dressed up for a Japanese setting with a dusting of paprika and chile powders; the dish comes with a ramekin of wasabi infused honey to drizzle over. Sticky and greasy, good attributes both, in this case.

The brussels sprouts at Spotted Pig
This is not a new revelation to most people who eat well in New York, but man, oh man, are those brussels sprouts great. I had never ordered the sprouts there until New Year's Day, where I went with Anthony for the world's best first-day-of-the-year meal. If 2008 proves to even remotely resemble the rich, buttery joy of those brussels sprouts, it will be a good year indeed.