Friday, April 02, 2010

Recent Eats

Typically dessert is a post-meal snack. But last weekend, dessert was my version of pregaming. My evening began at Shake Shack for a double dose of custard. It was my last chance to try the Shack's Saturday March flavor, chocolate peanut butter pretzel. So, despite the unfortunate chill in the air, my dining companion and I stepped up to the B line for a single scoop. There was also a sign for a special "Standing Order Concrete," vanilla custard blended with fresh strawberries and orange-poppy seed caramel. Could we eat all that? Well, we couldn't resist trying.

The chocolate peanut butter pretzel was luscious, firmer than the Shack's custards usually are and, as a result, more my style; I attributed the better texture to the peanut butter mixed in. I'm also not normally a fan of chocolate ice cream, but this wasn't too sweet and had a strong peanut butter flavor. Unfortunately, most of the pretzel bits were soggy, with only a few crunchy pieces. Perhaps thinner pretzels would hold up better. And my dining companion wished they had added even more salt to the whole mixture. But overall, we loved this flavor.

In an afternoon of opposites at Shake Shack, the normally thick concrete was unappealingly soupy. Aside from that issue, this tasted like a slightly sweet strawberry shortcake in a cup! I had a few passing moments of orange flavor and a few glimpses of poppyseeds. With a stronger freeze, I could make this a repeat concrete.


We continued downtown to Soho to The Village Tart, a small cafe that seemed to be modeled on a French bistro, with tiny round marble tables set close together. The setting is intimate and romantic enough to be a date spot. It's not too crowded and casual enough to sit for as long as you want.

The small-plates setup was perfect, allowing us to tailor our meal to our somewhat reduced appetites. The menu offerings straddled the seasons well and with great variety — there were salads and sides composed with interesting ingredients in addition to homey, comfort foods. We mixed it up with a side of the pears and kashi with feta and mint; a "snack" of bacon-wrapped dates with almond and chili; and the baked rigatoni & artisanal cheeses for an entree. I don't recall ever having kashi, but it was a nice chewy grain and tossed with the pears felt very light and healthy. The dates are an often-seen dish, but the chili gave this one a spark of personality. And the cheesey pasta was covered in breadcrumbs and hit that note of familiarity and warmth just right.

The menu here is supervised by Pichet Ong, a pastry chef who owned the now-closed P*ong in the West Village and Spot in the East Village. So it seemed natural to try the desserts. We chose the Valrhona Chocolate Dulce de Leche skillet torte. It was pretty simple and filled the role of sweet dessert just fine.


My dining companion and I followed up our evening with some cocktails at Jo's, where I had previously been for brunch. Here we indulged in a late-night snack of the crispy pork ribs with a sweet glaze and peanuts. The coating was slightly sticky and sweeter than we expected, but the ribs overall were decent. The bartender service was lacking, though.

The next day I returned to Locanda Verde, which I had once tried for lunch, to check out their brunch. Serious Eats had glowingly reviewed their morning-time offers and so, I was eager to get back.
We received complimentary slices of a rosemary-lemon bread. My dining companion ordered a glass of the Tre Stelle, a house-made juice of pomegranate, blood oranges and valencia oranges. It was an amped-up version of orange juice. 

We ordered the signature sheeps' milk ricotta with truffle honey and burnt orange toast. A hearty helping that's creamy and filling. The toast seems to be unlimited and comes out hot and crispy.
For our main courses, my dining companion had the hazelnut-crusted brioche french toast with a Sicilian citrus salad and I had the Uovo Modenese — poached eggs with cotechino hash and spinach and tomato hollandaise, what could be considered a take on eggs Benedict. The sausage was on the salty side, but hearty and oozing with flavor. The french toast was fluffy and nutty with the fruit adding a sweet highlight.

Although the restaurant had no reservations earlier than 2 p.m. when I called the day before, they do reserve tables for walk-ins and we had no wait when we arrived around 11:15.  Brunch here leans toward the higher end based on the prices, but it's relaxed and rewarding.

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