Friday, January 29, 2010

Restaurant Week: Dell'anima Review

There are so many different reasons to settle on a particular place for a Restaurant Week meal.  Dell'anima had never before participated and it was a restaurant that had been on my list of places to try for a long time. But any time I've thought of it and checked for reservations it was always booked. So, this seemed like a great opportunity to check out this West Village nook. After eating at this charming little restaurant that had only 10 tables, I now see why reservations were hard to come by.

Lunch was a delightful experience, the cute room was quiet and not overcrowded with tables, making for a comfortable and relaxing meal. The RW menu hadn't been posted online, so it was a gamble, knowing that some restaurants make their RW offerings boring or limited. Dell'anima offered only two choices for each course, but in this case, with only two of us dining, I was happy because it meant that we could try everything on the menu. The portions were hearty and perfect for sharing. And while the main subject of each dish may have sounded boring on its face, Dell'anima found ways to dress them all up beautifully.

Charred octopus, rice beans, chorizo, chicory

Beet salad, pistachio, tarragon, lime, caramelized yogurt

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Small Bites

- A cool visual narrative of the Mast Brothers chocolate bar-making process.

- The New York Times T Magazine blog describes an intriguing, but bizarre-sounding interactive dinner theater experience in Cophenhagen.

- A Wall Street Journal reporter eats his way through all of Danny Meyer's restaurants in a single day.

- The pine nut, an ingredient I have long loved and thought underused, is becoming the latest trendy ingredient.

- Is culinary school worthwhile?

- Marvin's Soul Food in Chicago is a place where black history is remembered.

- Scientists may have created a gel that will help suppress appetite.

- Just because your beef came from grass-fed cows does not mean it's safe from E. coli.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Against Alice Waters?

A recent piece in The Atlantic by  Caitlin Flanagan criticizing the Edible Schoolyards program has gotten a lot of people riled up. Even Flanagan's colleague over at The Atlantic, Corby Kummer, weighed in with his disagreement.

I'm inclined to agree with Flanagan's critics. A quote from Kummer's essay summarizes how I feel about the issue:

"What we know about gardens is that it opens experiential pathways for kids to learn," he said. "Different learning experiences correlate highly with improved test scores. This gives kids a stronger background knowledge in the kinds of subjects that are likely to appear on standardized tests. They'll see the kinds of ideas, people, concepts, and different languages they're exposed to with the Edible Schoolyard appear on tests. It's very helpful."

This summer, the first New York branch of the Edible Schoolyards program will break ground in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Num Pang Review

Vietnamese sandwiches, banh mi, used to fall into the realm of New York City's cheap eats, sold from tiny shops in Chinatown, but they soon crept uptown, morphing into more expensive yuppie iterations of themselves. That paved the way for Num Pang, a nook selling Cambodian sandwiches (which is what the place's name means) not far from Union Square.

I stopped in one evening last weekend and tried one of the sandwiches listed under specials — the five spiced pork belly with pickled Asian pear. At first glance, I wondered if the $7.50 sandwich might leave me hungry. But once I dug in, I realized that between the thick, crispy hero and the generous hunk of pork, I couldn't even finish what I had before me. The pork was slightly sweet and flavorful, though it could have been a tad more tender, and heavy. But the cilantro lifted the sandwich, offsetting the pork with a wonderful freshness supported by the long slices of cucumber and the pile of sliced carrots. The subtle sweetness and gentle crunch of the Asian pear was a surprisingly good match with all the other ingredients. The glaze on the meat combined with the chili mayo dripping from the sandwich made for a down and dirty meal. But it's one I'll trust to satisfy my hunger and that I'd happily have again.

Monday, January 25, 2010

From Truck to Storefront

Last summer, the city lost one of its great street food vendors, the Dessert Truck. But they're back, now going by the name of DT Works, having graduated to a Lower East Side storefront. They still have the same menu of desserts for now, but reportedly will add more sweets in the future.

And not far behind, it seems, the Van Leeuwen ice cream truck will be opening up shop in Greenpoint.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Kyochon Gets Closer

Kyochon, on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 32nd Street, continues to tease and entice as the plywood comes down. They really want you to be hungry by the time they open!

UPDATE: Meanwhile, the new branch of Bon Chon on 38th Street is now open, according to Midtown Lunch. It's looking less club-like and a lot brighter than the Koreatown branch was.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Quote of the Day

"So I tracked down the juiciest lamb in Diyarbakir, Turkey; the fluffiest falafel in Hebron and Jerusalem; the richest veal-stuffed agnolotti in Turin; the most vibrant pumpkin-stuff ravioli in Parma. But it wasn't food as a compulsion; it was food as an investigation, an education, a discovery."

- Frank Bruni, "Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater"

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Small Bites

- When a craving for good Japanese food hits, some people head to the nearest sushi joint or izakaya. But a 72-hour eating trip to Tokyo sounds like a better idea.

- A "gastronomic university" is to open in San Sebastian, Spain, where students can become mini-Ferran Adrias.

- If you have some spare liquor in the kitchen, make use of it by cooking. NPR has some suggestions.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Recent Eats

Chennai Garden: Although this Indian spot in Curry Hill is vegetarian, the food is so good and so filling that I never even stop to think about that fact when I head here. It's a fun place to go with a group, the better to share with; the menu is dense, but the food is very affordable. The combination dinners are a good option for sampling several different items, though it'll take some work to figure out what's included in each because the dishes are listed by their Indian names. Or just go for it and be surprised. The Gujurati combination dinner was a hit for us. The dosas, long crispy crepes filled with some combination of potato and onion, are always a solid bet, especially the masala dosa. On this visit, I was introduced to malai kofta, a punjabi curry with vegetable fritters, and that's definitely one I'll have to have again. Iddly in sambar (rice and lentil flour cakes in a spicy soup) and channa masala (chickpeas, onions and cilantro) rounded out our meal (and us!).

A Voce Columbus: This is the younger sibling of the Madison Square Park original, which has gone downhill since the departure of chef Andrew Carmellini. He was replaced with Missy Robbins, a chef from Chicago's Spiaggia, and this branch opened under her watch last fall. Brunch here was a classy affair — the space is wide-open, with high ceilings and tall windows overlooking Central Park, and everything was bright and shiny. But you feel like you are paying for it.

The Uovo Fritto was a stack of fried egg, a gamey lamb sausage patty and a corncake garnished with arugula and pilacca, an Italian fried chili sauce that added a little kick. It was more filling than I anticipated it to be. The egg crepes with fontina and prosciutto were rolled like a stromboli, cut into three sections and turned on their side; by the time they reached the table, they were lukewarm.

As is often the case at most Italian restaurants, the pasta was the standout of the things we tried. The pappardelle with braised rabbit and hen of the woods mushroom was cooked well. Though generously portioned, I'm not sure it was worth the $25 price at brunch. The biggest ripoff seemed to be the sodas, poured from 8-ounce bottles. So, unless you're dining on someone else's dime, I'd follow Andrew Carmellini to Locanda Verde instead. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

No Reservations

Times restaurant critic Sam Sifton reviewed The Breslin last week. The Breslin doesn't take reservations and Sifton raises the love/hate question over such a policy. Does this provide a fairer opportunity for everyone to try a restaurant or is it just a royal pain?

In New York, a line stretching out the door is a beacon to New Yorkers; if so many people are willing to wait, it must be worth trying. It seems like those restaurants that don't offer reservations do it more for the hype it can generate. I have never been sympathetic to the no-reservations system. Allowing reservations allows anyone with a phone or a computer to get a seat at a restaurant but the opportunity to eat there gives priority to those who plan ahead. On the flip side, perhaps it also encourages those who like to plan ahead a bit too much to make reservations and cancel later, leaving the restaurant with a table to be filled. But it's likely that the restaurant was bound to have some empty tables anyway or that the table would be filled by others looking for a last-minute reservation or walk-ins who take their chances.

No reservations means a play-it-by-ear evening. Who knows if the wait will be 20 minutes or an hour. Want to make a movie? You'll have to be prepared for the next showing or the one after that.

I'll admit it — I don't like to wait. A restaurant that doesn't offer reservations is less likely to receive my attention. Or I'll only try it at my convenience, when I know I can go at a time when I won't have to wait. Most places that do offer reservations these days do so through, so there's the added bonus of earning points that can be redeemed for a check that can be used at any restaurants that participate in the system. A free meal? Yes, please! When I go to a restaurant, I prepare myself for my meal by going hungry. Crowded into a tiny entrance or, sometimes even worse, shunted outside, my stomach growls and my crankiness grows. No thanks.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Midtown Lunch Expands to Downtown and Philly

One of my favorite food blogs, Midtown Lunch, is now devoting sites to Downtown Manhattan and Philadelphia. For some time, there have been Downtown lunches featured on the main blog, but now it'll get its own section. And soon, Midtown Lunch's editor, Zach Brooks, will be moving to Los Angeles and eating his way through that city for us as well.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A New Doughnut Plant

First it was the beloved Shake Shack cloning itself, providing us more opportunities for delicious eating. Now word comes, via Time Out New York's The Feed blog, that Shake Shack's sometime partner in fattiness, Doughnut Plant, will open a new branch in Chelsea that will be larger than the Lower East side location. And you won't have to take it to go; there will be tables to sit at and enjoy the caloric goodness.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Small Bites

- Domino's takes an odd tactic for advertising: criticizing their own product.

- New York City's quest to make people healthier now aims to get food manufacturers and restaurant chains to reduce the salt content in their food products.

- Head to China and try an imperial feast (which may or may not be authentic), if you can afford it. You'll get things like peacock drumsticks or deer's lip.

- Slate's Explainer tells us how food companies determine serving sizes.

- It IS possible to hold a dinner party midweek. Sara Dickerson explains how she does it on Double X.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

January at Shake Shack

The cold weather probably doesn't have most people thinking much about eating ice cream and even less so, ice cream you order while standing outside. But it's a new month and there's a new rotation of Shake Shack flavors to consider for those of us who have an obsession with ice cream:

Monday: Gianduja
Tuesday: Blood Orange
Wednesday: Salted Caramel
Thursday: Roasted Peanut
Friday: Carrot Cake
Saturday: Mint Chocolate Chip
Sunday: Cinnamon Toast

A Preview of Southern Eating

Although I didn't enjoy any warmth in the South last week, I did indulge in a lot of good eating. Here's a very small sampling:

Detailed write-ups to come!

Currently Reading

After many months of waiting, I have finally reached the top of the public library's request list for Frank Bruni's seemingly very popular book, Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater. An excerpt from the memoir ran in The New York Times Magazine last summer.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Recent Eats

Some recent weekend eats:

Xie Xie: It remains unclear whether this Hell's Kitchen sandwich shop, which bills itself a "project" is actually some kind of wacky experiment or just another entry in the recent race to popularize Asian sandwiches. The shredded braised chicken sandwich and the Vietnamese BBQ beef sandwich were both tasty and included a little something to make it special. The chicken was smothered in a smoked egg salad with cilantro; a tad on the salty side, but flavorful and original. The beef was more evenly flavored but dressed up with basil mayo and carrot kimchee. And despite the frigid weather, I managed to taste "1000 year old" ice cream sandwich. This was caramel ice cream bundled up in two flaky chocolate cookies with a liquid black salted caramel center. Though the taste of caramel was distinctly there, it was an interesting clash between the eyes and the tastebuds —the bizarreness of the black center could really throw you off. While the sandwiches definitely fall on the more expensive side, this is a decent option for a quick, casual pre- or post-theater meal. (See the review at Serious Eats for some images.)


Maialino: Danny Meyer's lastest creation opened not long ago in the Gramercy Park Hotel. I'm happy to report that he's done it again and presented another terrific restaurant, this time a Roman trattoria. The place has been popular with prime reservations being booked a month in advance. On a fluke I managed to grab a Sunday night one. Maialino straddles the upscale-casual atmosphere so that both those dressing up for a special occasion and those going for comfort in jeans can coexist. Service, something even the most upscale of restaurants often fails to nail, is perfect — enthusiastic and helpful, offering suggestions and explanations. Fried artichokes and marinated sardines kicked off the meal just right; the variety bread basket useful in helping to make the most out of everything on the plates. The malfatti pasta with suckling pig ragu (as close as we got to sampling the namesake dish) and arugula was an outstanding first course and the kitchen kindly split the portion before bringing it to the table. The oxtails with carrots and celery filled me with nostalgia; the dish was similar to an oxtail stew my dad made when I was a kid. Three oxtails, the meat tender and just a little bit fatty, provided fuel to survive the cold. And lastly, who can pass up homemade gelato: a mix of fior di latte, dark chocolate and pistachio served with biscotti. Though it may be hard to return, the bar up front is first come, first serve and it seemed approachable enough. Though it serves a different, more abbreviated menu, I'm sure a taste of any food from here will be welcome and satisfying.

Grand Sichuan: This is usually a good Midtown option for Chinese food delivery, but can also be hit or miss. And on this occasion, it really missed. Next time I'll stick to my solid standbys of Gui Zhou chicken, Ma Po tofu or dry and sauteed string beans with minced pork. The crispy shrimp with Sichuan sauce and the plain (not so) spicy chicken with chinese broccoli failed to quell the craving for a good meal.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Small Bites

- For 22 years, Lazy Lady farm in Vermont has been producing seasonal cheese.

- R.W. Apple's wife is planning to auction his wine collection.

- Salon has an interview with chef Wylie Dufresne, of WD-50.

- Danny Meyer will open a new restaurant in the Whitney Museum, replacing a Sarabeth's.

- Are vitamin supplements actually more harmful than helpful?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Time For a Hiatus

I'll be taking a little break until next week. There may be some light posting, so check back.