Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gastroarte Review

With a name like Gastroarte, you might not be surprised to find food presented fancifully. But this Upper West Side restaurant has substance to back it up — the cooking is artful as well.

I was lured to Gastroarte by a Scoutmob discount, a good opportunity to try a place with prices that seemed high. But the portion sizes — especially for dishes listed as tapas —were better than I expected. They were ample enough to be filling. My dining companion and I were seated in the back of the room, which placed us in the "garden," a glassed-in patio beneath the backside of neighboring buildings, letting in the lovely light of longer days.

And we kicked off the meal with a beautiful savory carrot "cake" served with asparagus and Mahón cheese. Any doubts that vegetables can make a delicious, hearty dish will be erased by this dish. The carrot cake, made with pureed carrot, eggs, cream and topped with the cheese was creamy and wonderfully smooth. The asparagus was bright with flavor. A bit of candied carrots and vegetable purees rounded out the dish.

Next came a mixed plate of charcuterie —Serrano ham, salchicon and chorizo — on toasted bread with tomato, olive oil and garlic. Fairly standard. The writing in the powder was a bit hokey.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Lotus Blue Review

Lotus Blue is a new restaurant in Tribeca serving food influenced by the Yunnan region of China. A Chinese restaurant in this neighborhood, and an upscale one, is already likely to rouse the skeptics; its chosen region of influence, rarely seen in New York, will have them throwing mud over its authenticity.

Lotus Blue's Web site provides this introduction:
Yunnan province is located in the extreme southwest corner of China. It borders Burma, Laos and Vietnam on the south and abuts Tibet in the northwest and has one of the most diverse population in the country. As such the cuisine is influenced by cooking traditions from the tropical country to frozen highland. Lemongrass, mint, purple basil and cilantro are common herbs, and fresh fruits and flowers are regularly used in the cooking of the south. Cured beef, ham and mushrooms on the other hand are staples of the north.
I cannot speak to the authenticity after my recent meal there, but I can say that the restaurant is serving some interesting Chinese food that makes use of ingredient and spice combinations I have not seen elsewhere, and it is doing a pretty good job of it.

On the day I was there, the restaurant had a happy hour that lasted until 8 p.m. — two free glasses of wine with each entree and all other drinks were half off.

I liked the Pu-er tea-flavored slices of potted beef shank that we started with. Pu-er is the kind of tea my family always drank at home and in Chinese restaurants, so I may have a bias toward the flavor. The flavor doesn't overwhelm the meat, served cold, but gives it just the Chinese treatment it needs. The quail eggs were also braised in tea.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mas (farmhouse)

Pleasant surprises can come from letting a restaurant slip down the "to try" list for many years after it has opened. It may have fallen under the radar yet it's still producing some of the best food and best overall meal experiences you'll find in a city with lots of options. And what better time to catch such a spot than for a special occasion.

Mas (farmhouse) was one of those kinds of places. For the purpose of celebrating a friend's milestone birthday, I recently dredged it up from the bottom of a list of places I had in my file. The West Village restaurant is focused on seasonal, sustainable food and succeeds in a great way. It was one of the most approachable and accommodating places I have been to. The server was friendly and knowledgeable about the entire menu and answered our questions thoroughly.  Though there is an a la carte option as well as a four-course tasting menu, our group put our dining fates in the hands of the chef, with the chef's six-course tasting menu, which would be designed just for us, not from the dishes on the menu. The chef composed an amazing evening, even with some dietary preferences, meaning that at times a different dish was given to one dining companion, but without forsaking flavor or innovation.

We kicked it off with an amuse bouche of smoked cod and potato with saffron mayo and a fingerling potato crisp. For the non-seafood eating member of our table, there was a dish of roasted beets, cheese mousse and hazelnuts.

The yellowfin tuna sashimi with balsamic-soy, crispy shallots and brown butter sauce was the restaurant's signature dish. And what a great one. The brown butter played well off the smooth richness of the fresh fish and this was definitely something I could have eaten more of. And once we had seen what the chef could do, we were excited to see what else was to come.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

On the Road Eats: North Carolina

Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill was another stop on my tour of Southern food in North Carolina. Although the menu had some of the usual stuff of Southern restaurants, like shrimp and grits and fried green tomatoes, it also produced some more interesting offerings as well. The food was solid and the atmosphere was casual and comfortable.

The green Tabasco chicken was my pick —half of a roasted chicken served with mashed potatoes and sauteed mixed vegetables. The green supposedly comes from jalapeños, but I didn't taste much spice. No matter though because the sauce was tasty and the chicken was perfectly cooked. The dish was clean and simple and on the healthier side of all the meals I had.

Shake Shack in November

November brings us these custard flavors at Shake Shack:

Monday: Apple Rosemary
Tuesday: Chocolate Cinnamon Spice
Wednesday: Pumpkin Pie
Thursday: Maple Brown Butter
Friday: Banana Bread
Saturday: Red Wine Poached Pear
Sunday: Salted Caramel

Monday, October 24, 2011

On the Road Eats: North Carolina

Thanks to Chowhound, my dining companions and I discovered a little place called Cúrate in Asheville. It was relatively new, having opened in March of this year. And we scored the last available reservation for that evening on OpenTable. Despite the late time of 9:45, we still had a short wait when we arrived, perhaps attesting to the popularity of this elegant tapas bar. The hostesses were quite congenial though and while we waited, we were able to observe the fast-paced action in the open kitchen, including the preparation of some of the dishes we ended up ordering.

Once seated, we settled on a broad cross-section of the menu.

Pan con tomate with Manchego cheese was a nice portion size and the large chunks of bread were good to have with some of the other dishes we ordered too.

From the list of cured meats, we chose one of the more expensive and, according to the menu, more flavorful options, the jamon Ibérico de Bellota Fermín. It's a cured ham from the black-footed pigs of Spain but ones that feed only on acorns. The result was a smooth piece of meat with a slightly nutty taste. 

Tortilla Española is the dish by which I judge a tapas restaurant; this was an incredible iteration that really spoke to our overall experience. This was no ordinary tortilla — once you sliced through the small round, the inside had a uniquely liquidy center, like an over easy egg. It was heavenly. The small mound of salt mixed in made for a perfectly flavored tortilla.

Monday, October 17, 2011

On the Road Eats: North Carolina

The South is full of rich, fatty, stick-to-your-bones food. No matter what you eat — biscuits, fried chicken, barbecue — it seems like it's not likely to be the healthiest, but there is a lot that's tasty. I had a good sampling of it recently.

I started at The Pit in Raleigh. I had heard of The Pit because of its famed pitmaster, Ed Mitchell, who has been a part of New York's annual Big Apple Barbecue festival. Although he recently left the restaurant, I figured it was still a place worth a try.

Pumpkin skillet cornbread with maple butter was much larger than I expected. It was delicious, though I wouldn't have minded if  the pumpkin flavor had been a tad stronger. The melting maple butter was irresistible.

The fried green tomatoes with buttermilk lime dressing and basil were also a great choice for an appetizer. They were light and the basil was a nice touch.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Shake Shack October Flavors

The new flavors for October are:

Monday: Shackenstein
Tuesday: Coconut Caramel
Wednesday: Ginger Pear
Friday: Pumpkin Pie
Saturday: S'mores
Sunday: Apple Spice Cake

Shacktoberfest, with special menu items, returns from October 7 to October 16. And until October 21, you can also enjoy the food stands at Madison Square Eats.