Tuesday, June 30, 2009

NYC Summer Restaurant Week

Reservations for New York's Summer Restaurant Week began today. With the dour economy, recession specials have been prolific all year long, making Restaurant Week - now actually three weeks long - less anticipated.

Some of the restaurants that participate are not actually that much more of a deal during this promotion. The ones that are often book up pretty fast. So it's a good idea to evaluate the restaurants' normal menu prices and look for reservations sooner rather than later. Unfortunately this time the best deals - any of Danny Meyer's restaurants - are not available. But still, there are some new restaurants that could be worth trying. On my list are Elettaria, Alto and 10 Downing. If anyone is interested in joining me for these meals, let me know!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Small Bites

-The San Francisco Chronicle writes about how, from a business perspective, dessert is a loser. It is probably true that many people don't think ahead in leaving room for dessert. That is not me. I always assume there will be something I will want; sweet and savory occupy two entirely different realms of hunger.

Many restaurants, with specific pastry chefs, do devote attention to this course, but I agree that not enough of them bring creativity to the menu as they try to please with the common chocolate and ice cream desserts.

Michael Bauer gives some good advice:
"First the dessert course should be afforded the same respect and consideration as the savory courses. Desserts should be part of the menu people are given when they sit down to order. That way people know what the desserts are and can plan accordingly. Also waiters should mention desserts like they talk about daily specials. Something like: "We have a really great pastry chef who's doing an amazing peach crostata tonight, so you might want to save room for desserts."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Aldea Restaurant Review

Amid a recent spate of meals with mediocre service and just a few with really good food comes a real hand clapper - Aldea Restaurant. This is a place that deserves attention and garners it through the food, prepared in an open kitchen, the attentive waitstaff, and the sleekly designed interior.

Dinner at this Union Square restaurant hit all the high notes from start to finish - a stunning achievement considering it has been open only for a little more than a month.

Full details and pictures to come. Check back soon.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Growing Controversy

As the airline industry struggles, it has looked to put a premium on every aspect of flying - now you pay more not just for a seat in first class, but to check baggage, to get more legroom and yes, in most cases, to get food. There's even been talk of charging to use the restroom.

Another idea that has entered the realm of possibility is charging more for obese passengers. They might be required to purchase two seats or to upgrade to first class on crowded flights and if neither of those options is available, could be bumped to the next available flight.

While this is perhaps only indirectly related to the main topic of this blog, obesity is obviously related to food, and the debate is an interesting one. Obesity has been an increasing problem for years now and it seems that as it has become more prevalent, the issues dealing with it are popping up everywhere (menu calorie counts, soda taxes etc.).

CNN today digs into the idea of how airlines are dealing with heavier passengers. But Salon.com had an excellent discussion of the controversy of the idea of a "fat tax" a few months back when United Airlines decided to add such a thing to their policy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Strategic Dining

The Wall Street Journal has an article about how restaurateur Donatella Arpaia is scaling back on her spending when eating out. Arpaia is co-owner of Anthos, Kefi and Mia Dona, three Manhattan restaurants I really like. I find it hard to believe that she might truly be thinking about how to spend less when she goes out. But the piece did get me thinking about myself and how I am very much what I consider a strategic diner, perhaps so much so that a friend has branded me a "food lunatic".

Small Bites

Some recent food-related pieces around the Web:

The Times looks at the business of casual restaurant chains. They have been offering deep discounts to keep customers coming, but this may hurt their future profits. I can understand how the Applebees and Olive Gardens survive in the suburbs (they were the local high school hangouts where I grew up), but in a city like New York it's harder to fathom. They must be supported entirely by tourists, who, I suppose, are looking for familiarity and consistency - the same way people know what they're getting when they go to a Starbucks anywhere.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Recent Eats

I've gotten in quite a bit of eating in the past few days.

Tabla Bread Bar: One of my go-to places for dinner. A low-key, casual, yet sophisticated atmosphere. Good, fruit-based drinks (passionfruit puree with vodka), a menu of small plates with a lot of variety. The salad with chicken livers was particularly good. We had their signature dessert of sugary orange doughnut holes served with three sauces (caramel, vanilla rum, and chocolate fudge).

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Welcome Arrival

For ice cream lovers, there is a new brand available locally that is an absolute must-try.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams has arrived from Ohio and is now being sold at Forager Market in Brooklyn. And apparently they will be stocking not only the best sellers, but also a rotating cast of seasonal flavors as well.

A few years ago, a friend surprised me with what was one of the greatest presents ever - a box of 10 pints of fun, funky-flavored ice creams from Jeni's. We had a party with an ice cream bar to taste and share. This ice cream comes in a great interesting range of flavors that are not shy. Each one is deep, pure and strong.

Black coffee was boldly creamy and ambrosial. When they say "It tastes the way coffee smells", they aren't kidding. Gravel Road, Jeni's version of salty caramel came mixed with smoked almonds. Thai Chili was strangely spicy, good only for a spoonful at a time for me, but it also had a coconutty flavor - I tend to shy away from coconut in sweet forms. Yet, it was still a fun tasting experience.

At $10/pint, it's a treat that comes at a premium, but one well worth it when looking for ice cream with some pizazz. And one I likely won't be able to resist indulging in at some point.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Inhale Your Next Meal

The other day, one of the e-mail newsletters I get touted a new inhalable chocolate called Le Whif. "Chocolate without the calories". It sounded like a joke, something out of The Onion. But then, today, The Times ran an article about manipulating the sense of smell as a form of weight loss. In it, one person says “The hypothesis is that if we can alter your sense of smell we can make food less palatable, because the hedonic effect — that is, the pleasurable effect you get from eating chocolate — won’t be there.”

Making food less palatable defeats the point. I feel bad for those who would rather go this route than dabble in the joys of eating. Sorry, but that's what exercise is for!

Top Chef Masters

This week, I caught up with Bravo's Top Chef Masters, in its second week. A spinoff of Top Chef, "Masters" features 24 well-known chefs competing to win money for charities of their choice. The show inherits the original format, with a "Quickfire" challenge followed by an "Elimination" challenge. Three food critics (including the editor of Saveur magazine) serve as the main panel of judges, but each challenge also has its own set of additional tasters. Often the challenges incorporate ridiculous tasks like using a vending machine as a source for ingredients, or impose difficult conditions on the participants, like cooking in a dorm room.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Taking it Outside

There's been a proliferation of food trucks around the city. Not a surprise that New Yorkers on-the-go provide fertile ground for them. But it seems not all are welcoming their presence.

Midtown Lunch, a favorite blog of mine because I live and work in Midtown, has been chronicling recent clashes between some of these food trucks and the nearby businesses. The businesses may be feeling threatened by trucks parking near them and looking for any reason to nudge the trucks to move somewhere else. Provided the trucks aren't causing any real problems, should this all be left up to the free market? Survival of the fittest - the best product will draw the customers? It should be interesting to see how it all plays out.

Savory and sweet

The latest trend in the food world could be savory-flavored ice creams. Gourmet Magazine writes about Humphrey Slocombe Ice Cream in San Francisco, which is banking on people taking a liking to bourbon-cornflake or prosciutto ice cream. The Globe notes that a few Boston restaurants are also introducing some different flavors like gorgonzola and lavender honey.

Wacky flavors are more often found on high-end restaurant dessert menus rather than in the standard ice cream shop, presumably because the restaurants don't need to rely on a particular flavor selling well in order to keep it around. But I appreciate the deviation from the standard Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry. Sure, the old standbys are good for apple pie, but dessert is supposed to be fun and experimenting with new combinations helps to keep things from getting boring.

Shake Shack's rotating monthly custard calendar currently has one of my favorite, underused flavors on Thursdays - Earl Gray- and a promising-sounding Coffee & Donuts custard on Mondays.

On a past trip to Boston - a city with a more impressive set of independent ice cream shops - I tasted Pad Thai ice cream at JP Licks. It was likely the worst flavor I have ever sampled. I asked the people behind the counter if anyone had ever actually ordered the flavor and unsurprisingly the answer was a resounding no, though many were curious enough to try it. At Toscanini's, also in Boston, I once had a delicious Nilla wafer ice cream, but on subsequent visits have not seen it again; perhaps others did not appreciate it quite it as much. Another time, I tasted Cardamom and decided to go for it, but as a full serving it was overwhelming and the seeds texturally unappealing. Closer to home, at the Chinatown Ice Cream factory, I always go for the almond cookie ice cream. I am game to try almost anything at least once, so bring on the new flavors!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Port Authority Farmers Market

It sounds like it could be an oxymoron - a farmers market in the Port Authority, not exactly a place you'd associate with fresh produce. But starting this Thursday, there will be a weekly market in the North Wing of the bus terminal.

Off the beaten path

The Wall Street Journal has a short interview with Roadfood authors Jane and Michael Stern. The Sterns also write a monthly column in Gourmet magazine and they have just put out a new guide, "500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late".

The beauty of their focus is discovering not only good food, but a way to taste local culture and history in many parts of the United States. The Roadfood Web site is a good way to find hole-in-the-wall places, restaurants distinct from places on the main tourist radar, eateries that come with a sense of context.

Ode to the supermarket

A coworker recently recounted to me his family's weekend trip to the grocery store. He laughed because he knew it sounded ridiculous - that a trip to the grocery store as a whole family could be a highlight of a weekend. But strangely, I understood that and it had me reminiscing.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Four Seasons loses executive chef

The head chef of the Four seasons died Saturday, just a week after finding out he had cancer. Here is his obit.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

BBQ & Ice cream

It was a bbq & ice cream kind of Saturday. This was the year I finally made it to the Big Apple BBQ festival. The results were mixed. Thankfully the day would be saved by a surprise run-in with an ice cream truck I'd been wanting to try.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Food stuff around town

Summer is getting started and there are lots of food-related events around town. Here's a sampling:

Food, Inc., a movie about the food production industry, comes out this Friday, June 12. Over at The Atlantic's Food Channel blog, Corby Kummer says it is a must-see. Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, was a co-producer on the film.

The NYC Food Film Festival also begins this weekend and extends through next week. Most of the events are apparently free, except for opening night. And samples of food related to the movies are to be offered.

The Big Apple BBQ festival hits Madison Square Park this Saturday and Sunday. You can get a plate for $8 - if you can bear the lines. While I love bbq, the heat and the crowds (I have read of incredibly long lines with the food sometimes running out) seem to have kept me away in the past. Perhaps its seventh year will be the one I make it there....

If you need to stock your kitchen with new cookware, perhaps you should make a stop at Broadway Panhandler's big clearance sale this weekend.

Recently a new set of food stalls opened up at the South Street Seaport. The Fulton Stall market is on my list of places to visit for the summer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Danny Meyer Strikes Again

Danny Meyer already dominates Madison Square Park with Shake Shack and his restaurants Tabla and Eleven Madison Park lining the east side. Now, he is bringing something new to Central Park that could help brighten the early mornings of those waiting in line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets. An early look from Serious Eats at his new Public Fare at the Delacorte Theater, which is basically a fancy concession stand, makes it seem enticing. He's offering salads, sandwiches- some of which are on Sullivan Street bread- and a diversity of desserts, including gelato from Il Laboratorio del Gelato. How can he go wrong!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Dinner in Gotham

Gotham Bar and Grill a long-established New York restaurant with well-known chef Alfred Portale at its helm, has earned many distinctions over the years. It has the marks of a good restaurant. This was a promising dinner. Besides, my dad has deemed Gotham's steak his baseline against which he measures all other steaks. And I had dined here once before a couple of years ago and found the meal satisfying though not particularly memorable. So, I was eager to try it again.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Destination eating

Is Washington D.C. a city with destination restaurants? A recent piece from The Atlantic's great new food blog makes a strong argument for the nation's capital and its dining scene. Terrence Henry groups his examples into several categories that most food lovers would cite as things they look for in good eating cities. He builds a solid defense for why D.C. should be on any foodie's restaurant radar.

Monday, June 01, 2009

A Day A-Whey

More detailed post in the works about A Day A-Whey, offered by Saxelby Cheese ....

We set off early on a blustery, gray Sunday morning in two minivans, a group of 12 led by Anne, the owner of Saxelby's, and the two other employees of the cheese shop, Benoit and Veronica. After about two hours and a coffee stop, we arrived at our first stop for the day- the main room of the Wolffer Estate winery in Bridgehampton, Long Island.