Archive for the ‘Favorite 5 Lists’ Category

Five Bites: Recent Top Tastes From Around the City

March 31, 2010

1. Boston Cream Cake at Two Little Red Hens (86th and 2nd):

Everything a Boston Kreme Pie aspires to be and so much more.   Moist white cake, lush custard layers and just dark enough dark chocolate to bind the rings of flavor together.  That they run out quickly only adds to the fun.  Scarcity, at least in bakeries, is still a virtue.  N.B. Get the Lemon Pucker cake if someone beats you to the BCC.

2. Ma Bo Tofu with Beef at Szechuan Chalet (72nd and 2nd)

None of the over-saline taste I’ve found recently at Szechuan Gourmet.  All the peppery potency.  Beef bits worked well in totally unvegetarian vegetable dish.  N.B. Tofu was creamily delicate and astoundingly fresh.  Like Chinese mozzarella curds.  Best rainy day meal I’ve had in a while.

3. Mini Pistachio Cannoli at Stuffed Artisan Cannoli (176 Stanton)

Same size as tuna cigars served at Buddakan, and equally flavorful.  Lighter shell than you’d expect and much more powerful pistachio flavors than I’ve had before.  Like a good super intense Laboratorio de gelato number turned into ricotta/custard cream.

4. Nduja and Grilled Bread at Pulino’s (East Houston and Bowery): Fruity olive oil somehow lightens up the offal spackle that is Nduja and puts it in the luxurious foie camp rather than the nasty grey meat category.  At first, there wasn’t enough bread to sop up this better than braunschweiger spreadable sausage stuffing, but that was easily remedied.  Maybe not in A Voce’s league, but there’s no A Voce on East Houston.

5. Michael Jordan’s Mac and Cheese (Grand Central)

More bite from the cheddar than you usually find in a steak house side and no over the top oleaginous notes.  Brouléed bread crumb crust adds needed textural contrast to what can easily turn into baby pap in the wrong hands.  A rare case of balanced flavors in an unabashed fat bolus.


Five Bites: Top Tastes of the Week

March 16, 2010

1. Torta de rajas con queso at Hecho en Dumbo (354 Bowery St.):

Stopped by on first day of lunch service for a great rendering of Mexico’s second best sandwich (Nothing beats a good cemita).  Yeasty bread, great beany smear to hold down the strips of chile and chunks of fresh mozzarella-like queso de Chihuahua.  N.B. Dot the peppers with the mole-dark chipotle side salsa for extra bite.

2. Pain d’Avignon’s Pain au Chocolat (Essex Street Market):

All the chocolate buttery flavor of the classic continental breakfast treat but none of the oiliness of a typical New York rendering.  I felt like I was walking into EMP’s bread basket when I stepped into their stall, especially when an eager young breadmonger offered tastes of just about everything.

3. Zabar’s Chocolate Babke (80th and Broadway): Good from the bakery at room temp but a little on the sweet side.  Even better a day later out of the fridge.  A thick slice with cold milk chaser is a perfect way to start a late morning.

4. Donut Holes from DessertTruck Works (6 Clinton St.): Brioche based donuts are coated with a sweater thick layer of granulated sugar and stuffed with warm liquid Nutella.  As unbalanced and oversweet a six-dollar dessert as I’ve had in quite a while.  Put some bitter chocolate in the middle and you might be on to something.  Compares poorly to Doughnut Plant’s broulée masterpiece.

5. Queso Flameado with Soft Wheat Tortilla at MXCO (78th and 2nd): Plenty of sausage in the mix and no strange stunt meat–sweetbreads, pig’s feet, etc.–to distract your attention.  They could stand to add a couple more warm tortillas, but that’s about the only flaw.

Five Bites: My Top Tastes of the Week

March 5, 2010

1. San Marzano Slice: $1.85 for a margherita slice and 3 bucks for a beer all day long.    The crust may not be quite as muse worthy as a few of its competitors, but at this quality price ratio, who cares if it doesn’t quite jump the asymptote into Motorino territory?

2. Creme Broulée Doughut at the Doughnut Plant: This is Mark Israel’s Madeleine for a new millennium.   The magically Maillardy crust and creamy middle more than justify a somewhat steep three dollar price tag.

3. Cold Brewed Coffee at Café Pedlar: Platonic ideal of iced coffee.  Tastes as good as  it smells and even better than  it reads in the cupping notes.

4. Szechuan Gourmet Won Ton Soup: Everyone talks about the rest of the menu, but the tender ugly little dumplings in the throwaway soup turned out to be some of the porkiest, lightest meat pockets I’ve had in quite a while.

5. Café Falai Yoghurt: Expensive soured milk it may be, but with a scattering of winter fruit and a drizzle of honey on top, this is one of the best breakfasts in the City.

Corton’s Subtle Pleasures: Five Favorite Features

April 8, 2009

1. Personalized service from the big man himself: Imagine Danny Meyer checking off your name in the reservation book, pulling out your four top for you then making small talk before moving on to seat his next guests.  It’s been years since he could or would undertake such maitre d’ duties for anyone off the soigné list.  In contrast, Meyer’s biggest rival in the informal luxe category, Drew Nieporent, is doing all of the above at his new and admittedly much needed hit, Corton.    

2. Liebrandt in his 30s: Atlas was a magnificent mess when I visited in the 1990’s. I’ll never forget the playful use of Pop Rocks and the early Adrià style foam, nor the only great bottle of Pinotage I’ve ever had in a restaurant.  That said,  I also won’t forget the vague whiff of horse flop from the carriages on the south side of Central Park nor the server who told us a cheese plate would take too long to prepare to be included in a two hour pre-theater meal.  In short, great food,  great wine, not such great restaurateurship.  Add ten years of age, a new venue and a great restaurateur to rein in the wunderkind’s wilder impulses, and you have the makings of a world class chef.  

3. Wine List Beyond Burgundy and Within Budget: Corton-Charlemagne at Corton is about as likely a choice at my price point as Montrachet was at Montrachet, but a great list of reasonably French “country wines” let me enjoy a pair of bottles well within my budget.  An Alsatian Riesling proved particularly well suited to Liebrandt’s lighter flights of fancy.  Cocktails are also well  rendered and reasonably priced.  Even a friend’s digestif of Maker’s Mark and Diet Coke came presented with just enough grace notes to make it seem luxurious and just few enough formal touches to keep it from seeming precious.  Beautiful glassware certainly helped.

4. Mignardises: Mignardises are to dessert what digestifs are to wine with dinner, a delightfully indulgent distillation and repetition of the main event.  That said, they’re also the surest path to late night fat sweats.  Corton solves the problem by letting customers choose quantity and type of post-dessert desserts.  Presented with the option to have it all, customers rarely do.   I loved the  salty caramels with dark chocolate that I picked out, and I also loved going home full not stuffed.

5. The Room:  As far as restaurant terroir goes, Corton maxes out on sense of place.   This an instantly unique and unrepeatable space.   No armies of waiters in avant garde uniforms nor gilded ceilings, just all the small touches.  In short, it seems that Nieporent aims to do for luxury what Meyer does for hospitality:  make you forget it’s there until you go somewhere else and note its absence or exaggeration. 

5 Stars (Risen and Rising) of the New York Food World

July 23, 2008

1) Amanda Kludt:  As Editor of Eater, her snappy prose and relentlessly frequent updates have helped turn the young web site into the top food media compiler for the City.  In a little more than a year it’s become the web site, if not the paper, of record for New York’s food industry.   Everyone from Chang to Zakarian calls or writes in to comment when an issue hits the media.  The thriving DOH Chronicles and Deathwatch features have entered the lexicon and nightmares of an entire city’s worth of restaurant owners.

 2) Juliette Pope.  Proof Danny Meyer is the City’s topic talent scout.  I can’t find a bottle I don’t like on Gramercy Tavern’s casual or formal menus thanks to its genius beverage director, nor one that I can can forget having ordered. Her wine and cocktail lists are among the most influential in town and the only ones in a 3-star restauarant to list bottles under 30 dollars.  No stunt selections, no Le Cirque markups, no duds, and plenty of surprises.  See Belinda Chang at the Modern as well.  After hearing her talk and reading some interviews, I hope she puts up a blog soon.  She has a great voice which would translate well to the Web.

3) Kim Severson:  In the last year or so Severson has become the go-to writer for all New York Times food stories in dining, metro and the front page.  With food shopping turning from pleasure to problem in many households, her voice will be an important one as consumers balance an interest in local, fresh and flavorful with a sudden crisis in safety and cost. 

4) Mary Mraz:  Mary has brought Gramercy Tavern level service off the island, out of the boroughs and all the way to the North Fork Table and Inn.  Rather than make do with a shallow local talent pool, she trained and retrained a corps of servers from the ground up. It’s the best front of house outside the City, and that’s saying something.  Proves enlightened hospitality is far more exportable than seemed possible.           

5) Heather Belz and Mani Dawes: With the additions of El Quinto Pino and an all Iberian wine shop called Tinto Fino to their lineup, these women are on their way to building an empire of Spanish food and drink.  Well managed growth and deep commitment to modern and classic Spain—from Tia Pol’s pintxos to Quinto Pino’s more innovative uni sandwiches to Tinto Fino’s wonderful sherry selection–make them one of the few pairs of restaurateurs able to serve food and drink with equal commitment to innovative flavors and specific regional perspectives: No pan-Iberian pandering here!    

C-CAP Benefit 2008: A Taster’s Digest

February 28, 2008

Revolution and Sterno were in the air at the tenth annual C-CAP benefit as sweet beat out savory for the first time in half a decade.  In another surprise turn, the once ubiquitous soup shooter was nowhere to be seen.  Tuna and lemon (from Meyer to regular to -grass) were the new favorite ingredients, while pork bellies, truffles and foie took a well deserved rest from center stage.  Below are a few highlights from this year’s offerings. 

1. Blue Hill: Pork Part Petits Fours

A ganache of pork offal purée rolled in cocoa nibs and sandwiched between Mexican-spiced chocolate crisps.   Sounded awful, tasted great.  Reminiscent but not derivative of Wylie Dufresne’s now classic foie, anchovy, cocoa nib creation from a few years back.  Added points for creating a single-serving portable portion on a night when so many chefs favored plates better suited to sharing amongst a seated threesome.

2. Dovetail: Rabbit terrine and kumquat skewers

After Fraser’s 2007 foie and Rice Krispy masterpiece, I knew his stars (had two, has  three) were on the rise.  This year’s rabbit terrine on a skewer confirmed it.  Loved witty allusion to 2006 C-CAP (Year of the Kumquat) in fruit accompaniment.  Kudoes as well for producing plateless dish easy to carry and fun to eat.  Skewers also good for poking people dithering in front of Craft dessert station.  

3. Craft: Caramelized banana tatin and malted milk ice cream

Butter, sugar, banana, milk alchemy.  Everything elevated comfort food is supposed to be, especially on a typically cold C-CAP benefit night.  Speed and consistency with which DeMasco turned out toaster tatins were a reproach to all of us with small kitchens: It’s not the equipment; it’s the cook.  For the record, I only “doubled down” the first time chef offered…and the second time her back was turned.    

4. Four Seasons NY: Lobster saltimbocca

“Saltimbocca” was taken literally at this highly interactive station: They just about put the generous chunk of lobster in your mouth while ladling the sauce with it.  Souvenir chin drips of sage-infused brown butter were delicious and blotted from face only after spousal reprimand.

5. Town: Squash parfait

Kabocha squash interleaved with goose mousse and set against blood orange emulsion renewed my faith in foam and kept the foie for fatty liver’s amazing versatility. John Johnson makes the best composed cheese plate in New York.  Little did I know he could produce similar wonders with an unsung winter vegetable. 


Felidia: Burrata and asparagus

I love the burrata’s delicacy and the spike of spring flavors from the delicate asparagus spears.  On a side note, Chef Fortunata Nicotra should win a chef’s award for trying the most dishes by his colleagues.  I was in line with him at half a dozen stations and saw him at a dozen more.  

Aretsky’s Patroon: Steak tartare

Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide with steak tartare.  Everything must be right and everything was.  Peet pulled it off again this year in a perfect bite size (canapé, mezze, tapa, you name it) portion.  Went well with the night’s red wine selection. 

Aureole: Lemongrass yogurt and passion fruit tapioca

C-CAP superstars Rachel Lansang and Amar Santana delivered again this year.   Sweet-sour balance was pitch-perfect on the palate.  Tastier and less baroque than the tapioca pearl masterpieces by Claudia Fleming at the North Fork Table & Inn and Pichet Ong at Spice Market, this tightly edited creation left my tongue so perked up that I made another run at the savories.   

Gotham: Alaskan king crab risotto with assorted delicious things

Hard to get texture and temp right with risotto in a crowded room over Sterno.  Portale’s team nailed it.  Only gripe was horizontal nature of plate.  I had high hopes for a signature vertical creation.   Pleasure wasn’t lacking, just more gustatory than visual.   


Restaurant Daniel’s Enduring Charms

February 25, 2008

Like an ever-expanding collection of Barbie dolls, Daniel Boulud now offers himself dressed up in Restaurant, CaféBistro and Bar outfits.   While the 2008 model’s  pulp fiction menu of blood, guts and feet en gelée has its peculiar appeals, I think I’ll stick with the easier non-violent charms of the grande old dame.  Here are a few reasons why.

1) Danny Meyer’s brother from another mother: Starting with the name, it’s hard not to see a bit of Danny Meyer in Restaurant Daniel.  Hugs both virtual and real begin at the door, continue at the coat check, follow you down the stairs to the bathroom and sweep you back out to your town car at the end of an evening.  This is as warm, reasonable and democratic a four-star as you’ll get in New York, both the most French—Lyon not Paris—and the most American—St. Louis not New York.

2) Liberty, fraternity and equality on the wine list:  If “Subway” is a restaurant or means of transportation you make use of often, then you’ll be pleased to know that no one’s blocking the door to your enjoying a glass or bottle on this revolutionarily (French) democratic list.  I was stunned by the number of bottles under fifty dollars and by the lengthy selection of half-bottles at a variety of price points.  Easy to explore and hard not to.

3) Keeping the faith for foie gras: Despite the crise de foie in more craven establishments, Mr. Boulud continues to fight the good fight for God’s greatest goosely creation.  On a recent visit, five different interpretations made eating one’s liver far more delicious and far less nutritious than mom intended.  

4) Parting pleasures: Petits Fours are my favorite part of the meal: they are invariably delicious, and I rarely have to share them.  Most people restrain themselves when feeling full, fat and drunk.   I don’t let feelings get in the way.  My most recent meal was no exception.  Next time, however, I might cut back to a single serving of Marc as accompanying digestif.  My car could have made it to the Major Deegan on the fumes alone.  

Cortez Restaurant: A Wonderful Close To a Week of West Coast Eating

August 16, 2007

Next time you’re in San Francisco, forego the easy, obvious and egregiously overpriced restaurants of Union Square. Walk a few blocks the wrong way to Cortez Restaurant , and you’ll be rewarded with higher quality, much lower prices and enough love to make you think it’s 1967 without the patchouli.

1) Stellar Service: Affable, attractive and knowledgeable front of house. Fire alarms went off a few times at start of evening, so desserts were comped, and, at server’s suggestion, we “didn’t skimp.” Pacing was fabulous and intuitive, turning five small plates into a three course meal. Never felt rushed, never felt sluggish.

2) Top Dog Desserts: Pastry chef Nick Torres is heading for the big time. These were some of the most memorable selections I’ve enjoyed in a long time. All the beautiful plating of Michael Mina, but way more flavor. These were sweets to savor with the eye then lick and lap from the plate. In less polite company, I might have considered a repeat.

3) Fabulous Foie:Canadian foie from Champs Elysees Farms was served cold with fleur de sel and grilled bread and warm as a sweet dessert like mousse. Would have redeemed a bad meal. Here it only confirmed a great one. Order it soon before foie gras goes the way of the after-dinner cigar and between meal trans-fat taste treat.

4) Half-bottles and other small serving delights: A Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, a Quinta do Crasto Tinta Rouriz and a glass of tawny port complemented all the generous small plates and left me tipsily within budget and sobriety limits for a luggage heavy redeye flight later that night. No fat sweats, just a tiny hicky of a hangover the next day.

5) Farmers Market Fun: Heirloom carrots usually look better than they taste; here the colors almost caught up to the flavors thanks to a delightful crème fraiche accompaniment. Rucola and a variety of other market fresh lettuces helped stave off the crise de foie that I’d been dodging all week.

Slanted Door: 5 Reasons Why The Bi-Coastal Hype is Well Deserved

July 27, 2007

I’m always skeptical when a restaurant is so frequently and effusively praised.  High expectations are hard to exceed and easy to fail to meet.  For once, the critics have it right.  Here’s why.

1) Floyd Cardoz of Vietnamese Food in the Kitchen: Charles Phan enhances and refines his native cuisine but never obscures the ingredients that give it such a unique and attractive set of flavors and textures.  Makes New York’s Indochine look like Saigon Grill on an off night. Oh, and he’s also around at Slanted Door to talk to customers when he isn’t manning the stoves. No Vegas outposts…yet.

2) Snap-tight service: Counter and table servers know their stuff, and when they don’t, they ask. Exotic herbs in each dish were explained on request. Clam shells were whisked away and my usual spills were quickly and discreetly erased. I talked to a barman one morning, a takeout counterman another and an outstanding server at lunch on the third day. Not a single slip, plenty of charm and the best hard skills training—clearing, marking, tracking orders, wine service and pairing—of any of my week’s dining in San Francisco.

3) Wondrous whites: Reasonably priced wine list with unreasonably good selections. Bartenders check every bottle before pouring by the glass, and the reward is consistently exceptional quality. Two Rieslings were particularly delicious. For my money, and I didn’t spend too much, one of the better lists for white going in the Bay Area.

4) Manila clams with crisp pork belly and chiles: Ordered this dish on a whim, then returned for more on two occasions. Amazing combination of rich porcine juiciness from back bacon, piercing heat from piquant peppers and salty-sweetness from super-fresh clams. And Thai basil was a magic addition. The protein and vegetable components were delicious in their own right, but it was the broth they infused that had me gasping. Wonderfully integrated flavors.

5) Vietnamese iced coffee: One of few the great byproducts of colonialism. French press coffee with chicory drips onto condensed milk to produce a two layered parfait of pleasure. Mix the layers then add ice to order, as they do here, and you have coffee and dessert without the gutbusting juvenile whipped cream shenanigans of Starbuck’s or Dunkin’ Donuts. It tastes profoundly of espresso, but it’s oh so much better. Regular desserts are also outstanding, especially the lighter fruit based offerings.

Boqueria Reigns in Food of Spain

July 3, 2007

If you want great Spanish food in New York, look for an Irish-American chef. Bolo’s butter-cheeked Bobby Flay is already well known; Boqueria’s sun-averse Seamus Mullen will be soon.

Cause For Applause:

1) Clean flavors: Market-fresh arugula, scapes and other seasonal produce lighten and brighten up bar snacks and large plates. Don’t worry though, Mullen’s no culinary Calvinist. The menu also contains plenty of fried favorites for those so inclined, from meal-opening croquetas—obligatory and workmanlike— to meal-ending churros—extruded wonders that belong on the short list of New York super-doughnuts.

2) Dirty chef: I love it when the chef makes the rounds of tables, especially if there’s evidence of cooking on his whites to tell you he’s really working the stoves. Even better when he’s a shy kitchen craftsman happy to hear a compliment or answer a question but happier still to return to his station. Mullen’s no media-savvy FN food actor, and that’s great news for dedicated food fans.

3) Quality Caffeine on The Quick: The barman at Boqueria had no problem answering a booze athlete’s call for a mid-bout bolus of restorative caffeine. He also knew to cut it with a pitch perfect half-nipple of milk. For those who tend to match wine to water consumption, consider throwing caffeine in the mix and you just might outlast the college kids at the other end of the bar.

4) High performance, low-key cheese plate: A perfect bar snack or first dessert. One of the best edited and plated cheese selections I’ve seen recently. An understated wood plank held flavor complementing cherries, apples and quince paste alongside generous chunks of lush ripe torta de serena, garrotxa, idiazabal and cabrales.

5) Golden Showers at the Bar: Half the fun of easygoing Txakolí is the pouring method. Here it’s cascaded down from on high, just as it is in Galicia and the Basque Country. Fine to drink this light white at the tables as well, but much better up front. Would you order French maid service for your apartment while plugging away at the office?

Cause for Correction:

1) Twice-killed swine: Rough-cut thick slices of jamón serrano took subtlety out of the dish. Spanish ham should be too good for this brutish treatment. And speaking of pigs, how about some feet on the menu?

2) Still no Orujo: Spain’s grappa homologue remains elusive in this city. A server hinted at the culture preserving virtues of trade barriers in explaining its absence from the menu. I say leave the canned fish back on the Peninsula and start importing the world’s best hooch.

3) Not much bottom to the wine list: Txakolí and the other Basque whites on Boqueria’s list were once the quite reasonable choices of factory workers out for a low budget low pretense moveable feast. I know Spain has moved up in the world economy and that the Euro is now crushing the dollar, but there have to be a few Iberian options left under thirty dollars. The same applies to double-digit heavy options by the glass.