Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Blue Smoke Review

Though dinner at Blue Smoke is a casual affair, it can require some advance planning as it is almost always full and arriving without a reservation can mean a lengthy wait. Thankfully we came prepared.

There are many barbecue places in the city, but they are not all alike. Depending on what style of barbecue you're in the mood for, you'll choose differently. For example, if you're seeking out a dry rub, Texas style, you should head to Hill Country. Danny Meyer's Blue Smoke covers barbecue from a few different regions but seems to do them fairly well (at least to someone who isn't an expert and has no regional loyalties for this type of food.)

We ordered the chicken fried steak - two thinly breaded pieces of steak covered in a chunky gravy and served with a biscuit and mashed potatoes. The potatoes were wonderfully buttery. The biscuit was good, though I've had better. And the meat gave me that feeling of sticking to my insides, just the feeling I was craving.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Crazy Corner

How much more fried chicken does the corner of Fifth Avenue and 32nd Street need before it hits its limit? Apparently, the owners of another chain, Mono + Mono, think that hasn't happened yet — the new spot will offer fried chicken and music. Another branch of it will be located in the East Village.

Mile End Delicatessen Review

Mile End Delicatessen in Brooklyn is a Jewish deli, styled after delis in Montreal, specializing in smoked meat.  The affordable dinner menu gets right to the point and is short and sweet, including some classic deli foods. Unfortunately, they were out of the matzo ball soup on the evening my dining companion and I ate here. But here is what we were able to sample:

The sour pickles in a Brooklyn brine. This was a giant pickle and a large bowl of pickled cabbage that had a minty undertone to it. There were small seeds that looked like caraway seeds that were mixed in there. Both were good, not too sour.

The smoked meat sandwich, which is a heap of beef brisket on rye with mustard. The meat, similar to pastrami, is tender and a bit fatty and rich, but smokey and well-spiced. It's definitely a good thing to share with a dining companion.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Small Bites

- If you're having trouble losing weight, maybe you should try the Twitter diet.

- A vegetarian struggles to balance her food beliefs with life.

- Several New York restaurateurs and eating establishments are expanding to D.C.

- Want that bagel sliced? You'll pay for it.

- Cooking for Geeks takes a more scientific approach to preparing food and engages with a different crowd.

- A discussion about why the latest outbreak of salmonella in eggs happened.

- Food styling has gotten more natural.

Spot Dessert Bar Review

After any fulfilling dinner, what I usually want is a good dessert. Sometimes the place you're at just doesn't offer many good options, but sometimes moving to a new place is a good way to extend an evening. I often lament the lack of places in the city to turn to just for dessert, a place where you won't be made to feel unwelcome for taking up a table where people are still seeking out an evening meal or where the restaurant would prefer you imbibe expensive cocktails.

So, I was excited to try out Spot Dessert Bar in the East Village, opened by pastry chef Pichet Ong, chef at Village Tart and who previously owned the now closed dessert bar P*ong. Spot serves up slightly experimental Asian twists on American desserts. P*ong had a similar bent, but seemed to fall too heavily on the Asian side and I was not charmed by my one experience there. But the menu at Spot relies more on traditional favorites, such as cheesecake, ice cream and cupcakes (though the main desserts are confusingly labeled as tapas) and the setting is fun and casual.

The servers are extremely friendly and helpful with ordering, explaining the background of the place, what the desserts entail and making recommendations. They are perhaps also good salesmen; we upgraded from ordering individual desserts to the omakase tasting, which would get us more dessert than we needed but was a better deal and a great way to extensively sample the menu.

The Yuzu Eskimo were slices of a citrus ice cream and oreo crumbles with strawberries and passion fruit foam. I didn't detect a strong citrus flavor, but I love an ice cream cake with chocolate crunchy things.

The Soft Cheesecake was more like a "cheesecake" made of whipped dollops of cheese with orange, blueberries, walnut cookie crumbs,  and raspberry foam. Despite having long spoons to reach inside the cup, this was clumsy to eat. It became more manageable when one of my dining companions decided to dump the ingredients out on to the plate. The cheese was strong and a little rich for our tastes, but the fruitiness of the other ingredients played off of it well.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sushi Yasuda Review

When your sushi dinner calls for a special occasion place, Sushi Yasuda fits the bill. It's a lovely place east of Grand Central, sparingly decorated with plain wood and high ceilings, feeling a bit spa-like. The coveted spots are the seats around the sushi bar where you can watch several chefs preparing your meal. But on this visit, my dining companions and I sat at a table, the better to converse.

When you order, you won't realize just how good you're going to think the food is, even if you are aware of its reputation as one of the best sushi spots in the city. You'll surely end up with a second or even a third round of fish. There's so much to choose from, making for some tough choices as you'll likely want more of what you just ate while also wanting to try the many other options.

We ordered a couple of appetizers on the specials list. We got a fried blowfish with ponzu sauce — a delicately coated chunk of toothsome white fish.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Custard Tastings

Blueberry Coffee Cake Tuesdays: Shake Shack's blueberry-involved flavors are definitely the prettiest of the custards. I highly recommend them for their taste as well. This one was a solid, smooth berry custard with sugary crystals embedded throughout, like the crumble on a coffee cake, my favorite part.

Basil Thursdays: Ordering a cone sure seems like a better deal; it appears that you get what nearly amounts to two scoops. Though the basil custard has a clear vegetal flavor, it was refreshing. But by the time I reached the cone, I had had my fill, reinforcing my theory that Shake Shack does better with flavors that have texture contrasts.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cascabel Taqueria Review

I don't often make it to the Upper East Side for food. But sometimes the location can't be helped and you need a good meal. So, after reading Serious Eats' strong recommendation, I settled on Cascabel Taqueria for a recent lunch with a friend. We decided to share a few dishes to maximize our ability to sample the menu.

To start, we each got a small paper bag with what essentially amounted to a giant tortilla chip sprinkled with chili powder.

We ordered the blue crab and corn fritters with fresh salsa, piquillo pepper aioli and sopa de tortilla, listed under the "To Start" section. But strangely, all our food came out at once. My dining companion and I were both drawn to this by the mention of blue crab. But these crispy balls were a bit too dark, so fried that the flavors were muddled. The dish was a bit skimpy on the sauce, but the tomato salsa was refreshing.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Keeping Track of the Trucks

Food trucks are everywhere these days and because they move around, offering their goods to different areas, it can be hard to keep track. But the Web site, Roaming Hunger, maps their locations in real time and keeps track of the essential Twitter updates. They've gathered information for several locations around the country and you can also easily view results by what you're in the mood to eat (i.e. savory, vegetarian).

Small Bites

- How long would you wait for a cupcake? If you don't want to wait, just catch one of the many cupcake-themed shows on television.

- As shrimping seasons begins in the Gulf, concern over the industry's survival continues.

- Don't eat your cat. It'll get you in trouble.

- Despite room for improvement, FreshDirect makes the life of one writer better for seven reasons.

- The unlikely success story of a startup yogurt company.

 - A program in Massachusetts tries to address childhood obesity by handing out "prescriptions" for produce at farmers' markets.

- A new book looks at what people around the world eat in an average day.

- Changes are being made to industrial farming in response to concern for more humane treatment of animals.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Recent Eats

I recently stepped in to the world of chef Kurt Gutenbrunner's restaurants specializing in Austrian food, with brunch at Blaue Gans. An early meal meant my dining companion and I had the place to ourselves for awhile. The offerings are fairly simple as is the presentation, but they're done well and reasonably priced. I'd like to return for dinner sometime.
Two Poached Eggs with Creamed Spinach and Baked Ham, Hollandaise Sauce.

Wiener Schnitzel, Potato Cucumber Salad and Lingonberries.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Small Bites

- For some people, dissatisfaction turns into restaurant rage.

- Ever bought an unripe cantaloupe? Here's a guide to picking a better one. If watermelon is your fruit, learn how to analyze its shape and color and how to store it.

- And if you've ever wondered how long your food can stay out of the fridge, use four hours as a guideline.

- Studies suggest that global warming will cause rice yields to fall.

- Grant Achatz, chef of Alinea, and his business partner Nick Kokonas discuss an innovative way of paying for your meal that they plan to institute at their new Chicago restaurant, Next.

- Turning butter into fuel.

- The recipe for Thomas’ English muffin is closely guarded secret, but one insider has been accused of trying to take it to a rival.

- Vitaminwater is not good for you. But Coca-Cola claims no one would believe it is. Is that a viable argument?

- An entire cafe devoted to selling Pop-Tarts has opened in Times Square. There's even Pop-Tarts sushi. See what Mark Bittman thinks.

- What is the war on high fructose corn syrup really about?

Northern Spy Food Co. Review

Getting to Northern Spy Food Co. in Alphabet City is a bit of a trek, but it's one that pays off. The place had popped up on my dining companion's list of suggestions for dinner several times and I had continually bypassed it in favor of other, closer spots.

Around 7 p.m. on a Sunday evening, the place was just lightly filled and it was easy to get a table, but by 8:30 p.m. it was packed. The casual setting, with white wood-paneled walls and exposed brick, was something you might expect by the shore.

The drink list includes an interesting list of seltzers. My dining companion ordered a watermelon-basil seltzer while I opted for the sparkling sangria made with blueberry juice. Both were refreshing, though my dining companion wished the watermelon flavor hadn't been so diluted. And when our check arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find that we'd made it in time for happy hour and got a $2 discount on the sangria.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Summer Restaurant Week: Maialino

After a couple of good experiences at Danny Meyer's newest, Maialino, I jumped at the chance to book a Restaurant Week reservation there. I had also heard rumors that they were giving out vouchers toward a future breakfast.

Lunch began with a basket of assorted fresh bread from the bread counter here. I could live off that bread and the quality olive oil served with it.

We started with smoked swordfish, pickled onion and caperberry and mizuna. I have never heard of smoked swordfish much less seen it on a menu. This was a sharp dish with the right flavors to highlight a fairly mild fish.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we ordered the tripe, pecorino & mint. If you associate tripe with chewiness, you'd be pleasantly surprised here. The tripe was tender, similar in texture to cheese. The tomato sauce, ever so slightly sweet, and pecorino made this dish go down easily.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Small Bites

- A photographer comes up with a possible new way for food magazines to adapt to tablet technology.

- New York chef Anita Lo talks about women in the kitchen.

- Why is ice cream getting so expensive? Maybe more places should try making ice cream without eggs.

- The Washington Post makes note of the popsicle trend.

- NPR looks at the evolution of the human diet.

- All about lychees.

- A British market started selling smaller heads of lettuce for single people.

- Food writer Michael Pollan talks to the Wall Street Journal about local eating.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

What to Do?

Mark Bittman recently posted about his bad experience at a restaurant where he found plastic in his corn soup. He asked readers what he should have done differently and wrote a follow-up post, noting that he didn't think it right to reveal which restaurant it was. I tend to agree that for one particular mistake like this that it's not fair to ruin the restaurant's reputation.

But I often wonder when it's appropriate to make known any complaint I have with a restaurant. I tend to avoid sending back my meal unless it's utterly inedible (and that has rarely happened) for fear that the chef will be offended among other reasons. But perhaps it's reasonable to share any complaints with the server or with a manager at the end of the meal — a good restaurant will ask how everything was anyway. If you don't plan on going back then there's little at stake and just maybe, other diners would be spared similar problems. This situation came up at a recent bad dinner I had at SD26 and though the waiter did stop by to ask how our meal was, we didn't offer our true thoughts. In retrospect, I do wish we had at least made it known that we weren't satisfied.

And once I've spoken up, what do I expect a restaurant to do? If it's after the fact and the problem can't be corrected, I do think it's right for the restaurant to offer to comp some portion of the meal. The mere act of raising a complaint is an opportunity for the establishment to show that, no matter what happened, it still knows how to provide exemplary service.

Upper East Side Gets a Shake Shack

Hot on the heels of the Times Square Shake Shack opening, the Upper East Side branch soft opens and unsurprisingly there was a line. The good news — it looks like the branch will have a C line.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Summer Restaurant Week: Bar Room at The Modern

This past winter, I dined at the Bar Room at The Modern and thought it was worthy of returning for another round this summer.

Tomato and Almond Gazpacho with cucumbers, teardrop tomatoes and basil oil. This was a visual beauty, chock full of ingredients. It's not your typical gazpacho, which to me makes it better because I usually don't like cold soups. This was creamy and interesting, though if you prefer a simpler soup, this wouldn't be for you.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Fried Chicken Wars

Midtown lunch reports that the new branch of Bon Chon on Fifth Avenue will open next week. Just down the street is Kyochon, which opened a few months back with mostly disappointing results (so I won't get my hopes up too high for Bon Chon) and Mad for Chicken is across the street. Mad for Chicken has better food, but it loses points for the clubby atmosphere. Hopefully Bon Chon will hit the right combination of great chicken and casual atmosphere.

August is Here

And so are the new Shake Shack flavors:

Monday: Salted Caramel
Tuesday: Blueberry Coffee Cake (this will be my must-try for this month)
Wednesday: Cavaillon Melon
Thursday: Basil
Friday: Chocolate Chuckles
Saturday: Caramelized Peach
Sunday: Sweet Corn