Monday, August 31, 2009

Alternative Eating Experiences

Today's Tasting Table e-mail newsletter that landed in my inbox brought to my attention a couple of interesting dining possibilities. As I'm always intrigued by eating experiences that veer from the norm, I thought I'd share.

Want a memorable, intimate dinner cooked by a former Bouley chef? Brooklyn Fare, a grocery store serving dinner three nights a week, offers a changing five-course menu for $70 cooked by Cesar Ramierez.

At Katjitsu, in the East Village, you can sample Shojin cuisine, a vegetarian meal modeled on the culinary practices of Zen Buddhist monasteries.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Truck for the Jersey Crowd

New York City, flush with food trucks, is still waiting for Korean BBQ truck, Kogi, to make its way here from the West coast. But Serious Eats tells us that Jersey City now has a leg up on New York with the Krave Korean BBQ truck. Food Mayhem had a chance to check it out and noticed Jersey City has a few other food trucks!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Otto Gelato

Serious Eats has a nice piece about summer flavors of gelato and sorbet at Otto, Mario Batali's pizzeria near Washington Square Park. While I haven't been to Otto this summer, I love the olive oil gelato they have there. I only wish the place weren't always so hopping so it'd be easier to get in when all I need is a little sweet satisfaction. But there is a large bar area up front with standing tables that works well for drinks and/or gelato.

DBGB Review

Daniel Boulud seems to be competing with Danny Meyer for largest ever-expanding empire in New York. His latest, DBGB, is his entry into the casual restaurant category with that popular bar-dining room split. My friend scored us a reservation for the dining room, which has gotten enough buzz to require some advance planning.

The dining room is dark, but unique with a wraparound open kitchen and a mix of booths, banquettes and tables. The service was efficient and friendly, though they managed to hit upon one of my pet peeves - clearing plates without asking if we were done. The menu has a strong focus on meats - an interesting variety of sausage mixes and fancy burgers. There is also an extensive beer menu to go with them.

Locanda Verde Review

Lunch can be a great way to get to know a restaurant without too much commitment. Often, it'll be cheaper and the vibe more relaxed with shorter or no waits, especially at popular restaurants. But to make sure that lunch is a good way to experience a restaurant, it's important to check that the lunch menu is similar to dinner. From there, hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

A recent meal at Locanda Verde, which had been near the top of my list of places to try, gave me a lot of its best with little of its worst.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Elettaria Closes

Another restaurant reviewed by Food in a Nutshell is closing. Grub Street reports that because of lease issues, tonight will be Elettaria's last night.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Small Bites

-What is normal eating? The Well blog gives us some highlights of an article on that discusses the issue.

-The Daily Beast finds out how Boston chef Jody Adams not only got herself in for dinner at El Bulli but into the kitchen there.

-Looking forward to a better economy? Grocery prices may go up as that happens.

-Eat Me Daily, via Grub Street, looks forward to the fall with a list of new cookbooks that will be coming out.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Rice Reverie

Over on, Lillian Chou writes about a rice-cooker revolution. I'm not convinced it's such a great thing.

When people ask me how I grew to be so tall, I tell them it's not milk because I hate milk and the same goes for bananas. I tell them, it was the white rice. My friends marvel at the fact that I can cook two cups of rice and sometimes eat up all of that in one sitting. I love white rice and can polish off a bowl or two at Chinese restaurants.

But I admit, I use a rice cooker and every time I do, I feel a little guilty, a little too American. Shouldn't I be paying more homage to my roots by at least making an authentic pot of rice? I never could figure out how to do it right - what was the right amount of water or the right amount of time to cook it? It would turn out too sticky and wet, or too dry. I suffer from a Goldilocks syndrome. Am I really Chinese?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Eating in Jersey City

When I dine out, I am usually all about variety. If I return to a place multiple times, I like to try new dishes each time, only occasionally falling back on a few favorites. But when it comes to eating at my favorite Vietnamese place in the region, Nha Trang in Jersey City, I never waver from my favorite dish - grilled pork over broken rice.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Buenos Aires: Cluny Review

Buenos Aires is a stylish city - people there like to dress up and they like the places they go to give them reason to do so. As a result, it seems, the city has several trendy, upscale restaurants all with a similar vibe. But in researching restaurants to try during my vacation there, it seemed that these restaurants were not just all about looks, but that there was also good food to be had there.

Small Bites

-Criticizing Dunkin' Donuts cost a doctor his job.

-This fall, Gourmet magazine will introduce a new TV show, "Gourmet's Adventures With Ruth". Ruth Reichl will visit cooking schools around the world.

-Danny Meyer will expand his empire with a new restaurant on Gramercy Park. has an essay on Jell-O. I bet Jell-o is one of those foods that is tied to memories, good or bad, for many people and I count myself as one of them. When I wasn't having ice cream for dessert as a kid, I was eating pudding or Jell-O. It was such a fascinating process to make it - mixing the hot water with the fruit-scented powder, popping it into the fridge, and a few hours later having a jiggly dessert to eat!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

August Wednesdays at Shake Shack

Somehow much of August has escaped me and it wasn't until now that I checked out the custard menu for the month. This time I sampled Wednesday's Melon Mint topped with Valrhona chocolate chunks. Melon and mint seems like a strange combination at first, but after tasting this, the two actually have more in common than I realize. The melon - it tasted of honeydew - was the overwhelming flavor, but it was because of the underlying mint flavor, which boosted it and helped the melon to radiate. The chocolate chunks were really good quality dark chocolate and were a good texture contrast to the custard. This isn't a flavor that blew me away, but was fun to try.

If you make it to Shake Shack in the next ten days or so, here's the menu:

Mondays: Salted Caramel
Tuesdays: Dark and Stormy
Wednesdays: Melon Mint
Thursdays: Sweet Corn
Fridays: Watermelon Tomato
Saturdays: Bellini
Sundays: Berry Blue

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Ice Cream Options

Always on the lookout for new and interesting ice creams to taste:

The Atlantic, via Grub Street: People's Popsicles made a blackberry cornsicle.


There is a new gelato place called Green Apple open in Nolita and it stays open late!

Top Chef Las Vegas Premieres Tonight

The sixth season of Top Chef begins tonight at 9 p.m. on Bravo. Grub Street has a short cheat sheet on the new contestants.

Goodbye, Frank Bruni

Frank Bruni has an essay in today's dining section about what his more than five years as Times restaurant critic has been like. It's hard to believe it's been that long. I have admired his writing, seeking out those clever lines in his weekly reviews, and appreciated his criticisms. I delight in this piece's observations because many of them are familiar to me.

This, for example, could describe my father, who when served a steak in slices at a dinner at Insieme, railed on how they had ruined the meat:
"And while my friend M. had no complaint when duck, lamb or pork came to the table in slices, she fumed if her steak arrived as anything other than one solid slab of meat, feeling insulted and infantilized by the cutting of it before it reached her. People are as strange about eating as they are about love. They want what they want."

Whether as a job or just a passion, it seems eating out is eating out and dining companions similar.

For his last review, Bruni rates The Redhead, an East Village bar that has striven for acclaim as a restaurant. It succeeded by word of mouth - I'd heard about this place from various food boards and blogs and it took three tries before I was finally able to eat there back in late February. The first time, I arrived on a night when there was no Jekyll (restaurant), only Hyde (bar). The second, we tried going late one weekday evening and were greeted with a 45-minute or more wait. When we finally managed to get in, we arrived very early, not long after the restaurant had opened for the night. In some respects, word of mouth can be detrimental, creating hype and raising expectations. I can see that part of this place's allure is its novelty - interesting, good Southern cooking coming out of a bar. The food was decent - the fried chicken is good! - but the bacon peanut brittle was a letdown. Nonetheless, it was good enough that I would like to return at some point and Bruni has now reminded me that it might soon be time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Aureole Review

Charlie Palmer's Aureole moved this summer from the Upper East Side to the new Bank of America tower near Bryant Park. Such a move - from a rich, stuffy neighborhood to a touristy area likely to attract a more mixed demographic - seems to also reflect the changes the restaurant looked to make. I never ate at the original restaurant, but recently took a friend out to a birthday dinner at the new, remixed version. Aureole has opened with a formal dining room, serving a pre-fixe menu, along with a more casual high-ceilinged bar room, where you can order a la carte while listening to the pop sounds of Coldplay and Jason Mraz. With the bar room, Aureole follows in the footsteps of so many restaurants these days, catering to the recession, trying to attract a younger crowd and those looking to spend a little less.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Small Bites

-Although both Gourmet and Bon Apetit magazines are owned by Conde Nast, they are battling for a shrinking audience. As I've noted before I far prefer Gourmet and hope it remains the fittest.

-New York city coffee shops are cracking down on laptop users who plug in and linger for hours.

-Will Goldfarb, former quirky dessert master, New Yorker profile subject, owner of the unimpressive, now-shuttered Room 4 Dessert has
opened up a bbq truck

-The Wall Street Journal writes about people who have coped with the recession by taking cooking classes.

-Think your rent is expensive? How about $53,558 per month? One hot dog vendor outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art failed to make that.

-Research shows that eating fatty foods affects our cognitive abilities.

A Modern Ice Cream Sandwich

So following up on the last post about my ice cream memories, I thought I'd share one of the latest possibilities for a new memory, a modification of the ice cream sandwich. Doughnuts AND ice cream. Hmmmm. Maybe Doughnut Plant and Il Laboratorio del Gelato should think about collaborating. The combinations would be endless. Just start by looking at all the doughnut flavors (Serious Eats tested out the whole menu)!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Memories Preserved in the Freezer

Gus Rancatore, co-owner of Toscanini, an independent ice cream shop in Cambridge, Mass., recently wrote a piece about ice cream and the memories that people attach to it. He says "People associate ice cream and ice cream stores with first dates, softball victories, and getting into graduate school."

Come to think of it, I have steadily built a life out of ice cream.

Ice cream is my favorite dessert. In my house as a kid, I had some form of it just about every night after dinner: Flintstones Push Up pops, Good Humor bars, fudgsicles, half gallons of Breyers or Welsh Farms or Turkey Hill, or Eskimo ice cream sandwiches. The Dove bars were reserved for my mom and rarely were we allowed a bite. There were cake cones and, sometimes when we were lucky, the superior, pointy sugar cones. Sometimes there was chocolate sauce, sometimes there were sprinkles, sometimes there was Magic Shell.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

10 Downing Review

"Is it British food?"

That seemed to be the question that first came to mind when I mentioned to people that I was going to 10 Downing for a Restaurant Week dinner. The restaurant's name actually refers to its address, though I have read it was also intended as a slight nod toward the British. The food, however, shows little evidence of that.

The space, oddly shaped because of it's triangular corner location, was fairly large and had several tables on the sidewalk as well. It was bright and decorated with an eclectic assortment of photographs and art. We made it here after venturing out into one of the powerful, windy thunderstorms of the summer, so I appreciated and was excited by the more original offerings on this RW menu; interesting choices can make up for the limited number of things from which you have to choose. When the waiter came to introduce the RW menu to us, he made a comment about how it was becoming "restaurant summer" in a way that came off seeming snide.


Chicken Liver Mousse with Grilled Bread and Pickled Carrots and Pearl Onions
This was all served on a cutting board-style platter in ramekins. The mousse was rich and topped with a drizzle of olive oil, chopped chives and a sprinkle of pepper. Though it seemed small, the portion was more than enough. To really enjoy this dish, you must really like liver as it had a very deep, earthiness to it. I had to ask for more of the toast because the proportion of bread (three slices) to mousse was way off.

Chain Coffee Competition

Slate recently put coffee from McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks to a taste test. Though I prefer good coffee from local or independent coffee shops, I can sometimes appreciate knowing to some degree what you're going to get when you walk into one of the chains when you are anywhere else. With these three, I'd rank Dunkin Donuts first, followed by Starbucks and, as I recently discovered, McDonald's a distant last.

These places are about finding something serviceable: Dunkin Donuts is mild and a bit watery - coffee for wimps; Starbucks used to be bitter and burnt - coffee for angry people who don't like to be awake in the morning - but it seems to have switched to something smoother, more manageable and less offensive; and McDonald's is just not drinkable - coffee for people who don't actually like coffee.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Eleven Madison Park Gets Four Stars

Update:Bruni filed some additional thoughts on giving four stars to EMP.

Frank Bruni awards four stars to Danny Meyer restaurant Eleven Madison Park as he winds down his tour as restaurant critic. This, just a week after paring one star off of Union Square Cafe, another of Meyer's places. I ate at Union Square Cafe for the first time last summer during Restaurant Week and thought it was quite nice - to think so during RW should mean that it would be even better any other time. Then again, perhaps it is more the relative impression from years before that caused it to lose a star.

I dined at Eleven Madison Park in 2006 right around the time that the kitchen was transitioning to the current chef, Daniel Humm. I don't recall that dinner having had as strong of a molecular gastronomy bent as it appears to now from the photos with this review. The way I do remember that meal- the food was good, portions were on the small side and desserts were fantastic. I know the pastry chef at that time has since left. So I now feel compelled to try to make a return visit here sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dessert Truck Goes Down

More news I missed while gone: Eater reports that the Dessert Truck is no longer able to operate as a street vendor. Its license isn't valid anymore and the city for some reason will not renew it. So sad. Where will I get good chocolate bread pudding now? This city needs good dessert options like this!

More Momofuku, Coming to Midtown

News I missed while I was away: David Chang, owner of the Momofuku restaurants, is working on opening a restaurant in Midtown. Chang says it's going to be French-Vietnamese. People seem to have love it or hate it relationships with the Momofuku restaurants (Noodle Bar, Ko and Ssam Bar with the Milk Bar bakery attached to it). I have been to all and am a fan for the most part; I think the bakery is the least successful and that Chang should stick to the savory foods. I look forward to trying out this latest incarnation of his empire.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Small Bites

-New York magazine gives us a guide to starting a food truck.

-Dan Barber, chef and owner of the Blue Hill restaurants, writes in a Times op-ed about this year's tomato blight. He suggests that home gardeners need to be conscious of buying local starter plants and of how growing food works.

-The Atlantic lists 12 foods to try at least once. It strikes me as random and tempeh is not something I would put on such a list. I take the approach that anything that you hesitate to try is something you should try at least once!

-The Wall Street Journal has an article about Gordon Ramsey's world and how not all is well there.

Friday, August 07, 2009

First Meal in the Southern Hemisphere

Only a few hours into our stay in Buenos Aires, we were ready to dive into traditional Argentine food. Lunch options typically include empanadas, tamales or locro (a hearty stew).

We arrived at Na Serapia, a small luncheonette, hungry, so we ordered four empanadas to start - chicken; cheese and onion; choclo (corn); and salteƱa (a mix of seasoned beef and vegetables). Empanadas are a half-moon-shaped stuffed pastry and the more lard used in the pastry dough, the better they taste. These were crispy, flaky and buttery with nice charred spots on the crusts and they had a hefty amount of flavorful filling. A happy first kiss from Argentina.

Ready for more, we moved on to a tamale and a humita - two corn-based items both wrapped in corn husks. These had a hard time sustaining the love. The pork tamale didn't come close to being one of the best I've had - the masa or corn dough was dense and the pork cubes were kind of tough. This was my first time trying a humita. Once unwrapped from its covering, its appearance was not enticing- a pile of wet corn mush. This sweet corn and masa dish was too sweet and the flavor too flat. My energy fading, I was already looking forward to the next meal.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Small Bites

-Jhumpa Lahiri shares a nice, personal short story about surviving away from home, on the Cape, with a cast-iron skillet.

-New York City hopes to open a shared kitchen available for rental in Harlem to help jumpstart entrepreneurial businesses.

-When you like to eat - or even harder yet, when it is a part of your living - it is hard to keep those calories from piling on. Padma Lakshmi has various methods to help her stay fit, but primarily lives by the credo of everything in moderation.

-Ed Levine, of Serious Eats, likes Julie & Julia.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Restaurant Reviews from Below the Equator

Posts and photos are forthcoming on eating around Buenos Aires, Argentina. First day: Traditional Agentinian food for lunch at Na Serapia, a hole-in-the-wall-like place, dinner at Cluny restaurant. Most places seem fairly empty, likely because it's winter here and we're eating somewhat earlier than the rather late prime dinner time (most places just open for dinner at 8:30 p.m.).

NYT Names New Restaurant Critic

The New York Times has named Sam Sifton to replace departing restaurant critic Frank Bruni. Ever since it was announced Bruni would be leaving the job, bloggers have been speculating on who might be suitable successors. From what I remember, Sifton was not mentioned at all, despite the fact that he has written a few food essays for the Times magazine. Sifton is already answering questions from readers about his new gig, which will start in October.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Alto Restaurant Review

Alto is the Northern Italian arm of chef Michael White's three-restaurant empire (Convivio in Tudor City and Marea on Central Park South completing the set).

Situated in East Midtown, set back from the street, Alto quietly offers a place to sample Italian food that isn't instantly recognizable as Italian food. It is set in a beautiful, airy multilevel space colored in soothing hues of green. The service here was a lesson to any restaurant trying to do RW lunch - incredibly efficient without making diners feel rushed.

The RW menu was limited to three choices for appetizers and mains, and two for dessert, but it was a good introduction to what Alto has to offer. Bread is provided for each individual diner from a server with a basket of olive or sourdough. The portion sizes at Alto were good enough to make me feel like I got my money's worth and I left feeling sated, but not too heavy.

Movie Mania

The way the movie Julie & Julia has been chopped up to pieces and every piece chewed up and spit out again, one would think this movie had come out already. Nope. Next Friday, August 7. Today, The Times looks at how the movie portrays marriage.

Gourmet has an early review, mixed at best. Praise for the parts depicting Julia Child, scorn for the parts related to blogger Julie Powell.

Many bloggers have seen the movie in early screenings and are all over it. I warn you, it is a cascade of links.

I still plan to go see for myself.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Small Bites

-Blue coloring in M&Ms could be good for you. Who knew?

-Food banks are benefiting from the federal stimulus law. Good thing because they have been seeing increasing numbers of people in need of food.

-Is there any correlation between gender and food preferences? Some people seem to think so - the new Wheaties Fuel is being marketed specifically to men.

-Or do people's ideas of comfort food differ based on age?

-DiFara's slice is now $5 and the owner, Domenico DeMarco, is unapologetic, saying he uses ingredients that make the slice worth it.

-The difficulties of the cacao trade in Venezuela are many.

-The House passed new food-safety laws. Under them, high-risk food plants would be inspected by the FDA more frequently - currently, some plants are only inspected once a decade, if that.

Elettaria Restaurant Review

The first of three Restaurant Week meals: Elettaria, a cozy space on W. 8th Street.

Though I say cozy, the place is roomy, but sort of feels like a stylish living room. It's large enough to have the not-common-enough luxury in New York of comfortable space between the tables so you don't feel like you are sitting on top of your neighbors. When you enter through a bright red door, you notice the rustic dark wood floor and ceiling, and exposed brick. But curved banquettes along the walls, velvety curtains, and low lighting help to soften the atmosphere. And Elettaria has joined on that open kitchen bandwagon.


Elettaria has a long bar area up front and a specific bar snacks menu. The restaurant devotes attention to a nice cocktail menu, which is half price during happy hour (5 -7 p.m.).

Our trio enjoyed:

Martinique Sidecar, a strong mix of aged rum, orange curacao, and fresh lemon juice.

The Mission Bell, a margarita of El Mayor Reposada Tequila, Benedictine, cinnamon and lemon and lime juices on the rocks.

The Simple Life, sparkling wine with seasonal fresh fruit over crushed ice.

The RW menu was limited to three options for appetizers, main course and dessert. As a party of three open to sharing, we were able to try everything.