Friday, October 29, 2010

Osteria Morini Review

Mario Batali may be one of the biggest names in Italian food in New York, but Michael White is giving him stiff competition as he builds up a collection of impressive restaurants, including Marea and Alto, two spots I've had great meals at. Now White adds Osteria Morini to that bunch. The Soho restaurant has been open less than a month and it's already a bit of a scene, crowded and noisy. The tables are close together and the tables along the wall awkwardly leave the outside diner in the way of traffic. Yet, the service is surprisingly pleasant (although perhaps not quite attentive enough as there were some minor problems). I was so pleased by the food that it trumped any issues on this evening.

My dining companion and I started with the Sformato, parmigiano-truffle cheese custard with wild mushroom sugo. After asking what we thought, one of the servers mentioned that this had just been added to the menu on this night. I say: Make it permanent. The cheese custard was smooth and creamy and balanced the earthy mushrooms perfectly. I couldn't get enough.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Small Bites

- Providing healthy food in vending machines creates unique challenges.

- The Atlantic gives us the history of candy and Halloween.

- Harold McGee, a sort of food scientist, shares his advice for home cooks with Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air.

- In an interesting experiment, Test Kitchen, a pop-up restaurant in Los Angeles, has chefs cycling through every couple of days, creating a revolving door of menus.

- offers ways to avoid wasting food.

- Blue Hill's New York restaurant begins a menu-free night each month, following the setup of the Stone Barns branch.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Restaurant Reviews From Around the Country

- The Boston Globe heads to The Gallows, which I reviewed earlier this year.

- Time Out Chicago reviews The Girl and the Goat, opened by Stephanie Izard, winner of Top Chef Season 4. Years ago I ate at her first restaurant, Scylla, and loved it, so this new one will be high on my list when I next visit Chicago.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sala One Nine Review

Whenever my friends and I are trying to decide what type of food to eat, they tease me about my penchant for tapas. I like variety in my meal and tapas is a good way to achieve that. There are several good places around the city, but Sala One Nine in the Flatiron is a good spot for classic Spanish tapas.

Grilled chorizo.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Aburiya Kinnosuke Review

I'd long had Aburiya Kinnosuke, a Japanese restaurant in Midtown East not far from Grand Central, on my list of places to go. My impression of it had always been a serious place with Japanese businessmen; it turned out to be a more mixed crowd but with a very Japanese menu (as in, no chicken teriyaki). The menu is wide-ranging with interesting dishes that will intrigue intrepid eaters and simpler comfort food that would satisfy most. The server was helpful in navigating the book of a menu, which can be overwhelming.

My dining companion and I started with the wasabi leaf, small crunchy stalks that had the distinct sharpness familiar to anyone who has eaten the paste served with sushi. There is a brief moment when you taste the leadup to the spicy kick, but just before it reaches that point, it fades out and you feel relief. 

An appetizer sampler came with pickled jellyfish, pumpkin and more wasabi leaf. When the server realized that we had gotten more of something we had already ordered separately, he kindly offered to bring something else. We got a small portion of simple sweet potato.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Small Bites

- Restaurant noise can affect how you perceive the food you're eating.

- Some are boycotting Campbell Soups after a Canadian branch of the company began labeling some of its soups as halal.

- Restaurants use the Internet to research their customers and provide them with better service.

- New York magazine profiles April Bloomfield, of The Breslin and The Spotted Pig.

- Wal-Mart announces plans to get more involved in sustainable agriculture.

- Washington D.C. public schools institute dinner program to help fight childhood hunger.

- Starbucks experiments with transforming its coffee shops into cafes that would sell alcohol.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Recent Eats

I recently returned to Hill Country Chicken. This time I decided to try two Mama Els' drumsticks and a classic thigh with a side of creamy fried mashed potatoes. The Mama Els' recipe, a lighter breading, reminded me of Shake 'n Bake. It was slightly bland; the classic breading has more spice to it. I loved the gooey potatoes, which were essentially mashed potatoes mixed with french fries and cheese.

Dessert at Shake Shack — pumpkin pie custard, a fall classic, tasty as ever.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Per Se Revisited

"Respect for food is respect for life, who we are and what we do."
— Thomas Keller

The way I like to eat — constantly trying a variety of foods and places and always looking for something new— reflects the I way I like to live. I like a hole-in-the-wall that churns out tasty food as much as I like a high-end restaurant that meticulously arranges every element on the plate. In New York City, it's hard to get more high end than Keller's Per Se.

Part of the philosophy behind Per Se is that "a great meal is an emotional experience." I could not agree more. It's part of why those of us who like to eat come to such places, well versed in ceremony and the theater of memorable experiences, when we seek to commemorate or celebrate a moment in time. Yes, we pay for it (or, if we are lucky, others we dine with do). I recently had the great fortune to have such a meal a second time. Three years had passed since my first visit. The menu retained some of the same elements, including the classic oysters and pearls, but the price of the nine-course prix-fixe meal had increased to $275 (although supplemental charges had been reduced, service was still included). Jonathan Benno, the chef de cuisine at the time of my first meal had moved on to open his own restaurant; the kitchen is now led by Eli Kaimeh.

The Per Se philosophy also declares that "a great meal is a kind of journey that returns you to sources of pleasure you may have forgotten and takes you to places you haven't been before." It was indeed a great source of pleasure and ranks among my top meals. But I had not forgotten the first time I was charmed by the impressive cooking. This return could have been a mere repeat, perhaps even less exciting given that some of the elements of surprise would no longer exist, but instead it topped the first. Blissful eating ensued, but there was more than just that, there would be a foray into new territory. Before I get ahead of myself, let me take you through our meal.

My group of dining companions and I were gathered here for another birthday weekend for me. As I browsed the wine list, my dining companions gasped in surprise at the menu. I opened my own and saw that each one had a birthday greeting addressed to me. It seems that the special attention I had received the previous week was carrying over. I was in good company once again and from a lovely table by a window overlooking Columbus Circle we dined with the setting sun and the rising moon.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Small Bites

- Food trucks in Los Angeles will soon be subject to the same letter grading system as restaurants, perhaps a sign that they are going mainstream. And since New York's restaurant grading system went into effect, the health department tribunal has been a busy place.

- A burrito vendor is mourned in D.C.

- Wearing gloves may give the people who handle our food a false sense of hygiene.

- Photographer Jonathan Blaustein's project, "The Value of a Dollar," tries to bring focus to what food really looks like

- At home on a Sunday with Tim and Nina Zagat, the founders of the Zagat guides.

- Sorbet may be inferior to ice cream, but Scream Sorbet hopes its recipe is one for success.

Craftbar Review

I see nearly every meal as an opportunity to squeeze out a visit to a new place. But there are times when I just need a trusted standby to go back to, someplace I can rely on without thinking or that I can recommend in a pinch. I find myself returning often to Craftbar, one of Tom Colicchio's restaurants in the Flatiron district. It's casual but with a nice atmosphere — there's room between the tables so you can comfortably have a conversation without feeling like everyone around you is participating in it. The prices are reasonable and there's a wide range of foods that should suit most palates. And it has a nice cocktail menu as well if you're looking for more than just wine or beer. The only drawback on a couple of visits was an overenthusiastic waiter. Here was one recent meal.

 Polenta Fritters, JalapeƱo, Golden Raisin.
These were a bit like hush puppies. The jalapeƱos gave the fritters a nice kick.

Heirloom Tomato, Fines Herbes, Aged Balsamic.
This was a large portion of various sweet tomatoes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Close Look at Blue Hill's Tomato Burgers

My recent meal at Blue Hill Stone Barns included the tomato burgers as one of several starters. I only now came across a blog post on the T Magazine site detailing how these burgers come together. The version I tried was slightly different still, but I love discovering how things I've tried were made. The post includes an adapted recipe for intrepid home cooks.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Bar Boulud Review

Daniel Boulud has established a large collection of restaurants, nearly all of which sport his name or his initials. I've dined at two of Boulud's fancier restaurants, Daniel and Cafe Boulud in West Palm Beach, and though the meals were good, there were drawbacks at both. Lunch at Bar Boulud left me with a similar impression of Boulud's empire as the others had — the food is decent, but not outstanding, not a great sign if you're going to stay afloat among New York's myriad of restaurants.

Though Bar Boulud might be considered less formal than the others, don't be fooled into thinking you're going to be able to taste the esteemed French chef's food cheaply. The prices still represent a white tablecloth dining experience (even outside on the sidewalk) with prices to match. But at lunch, you can stick to the less expensive sandwich section, unless you are looking for heavier meal.

Soupe De Mais: corn and mussel chowder, lovage oil, bacon, potatoes

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Small Bites

- NPR cooks with Diana Kennedy, the "Julia Child of Mexico."

- The Times reviews Ferran, a new book by Colman Andrews about El Bulli chef Ferran Adria.

- A cabbage shortage in South Korea is impacting the supply of the national staple, kimchi, and causing a crisis.

- Complaints that biodegradable bags used by Sun Chips are too noisy mean the company will revert to nondegradable bags.

- The new Michelin ratings for New York City restaurants are out.

- Slate imagines the most expensive meal possible composed of Whole Foods products.

- If you knew what mechanically separated chicken looks like, would you still eat those chicken nuggets? And what does it mean if you like McDonald's Southern Style Chicken sandwich?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Concord Grape Verdict

A Friday night at Shake Shack in October means Concord grape custard. It's an ingredient that used to be seen only in the context of jelly; I'm pleased to see it being used more with other things. But here, the muted gray color of the custard reflected the strength of the flavor — it was mild and just barely detectable. I agreed with a dining companion's assessment that had we not known it was Concord grape, we might have mistaken it for vanilla.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Blue Hill Stone Barns Revist

The seasons had changed, I had grown older —in fact, I had returned to Blue Hill Stone Barns to mark just that, a landmark birthday. But how had the restaurant stood up in the two years since my first visit? My virgin meal took place in early summer, but my return visit would allow me to witness it under the guise of late summer. The season can make a world of difference when the mission of the restaurant relies on fresh, local food. At Blue Hill, the diner must trust the chef as there is no set menu; the chef decides how to compose your meal from what is available at on the farm or from nearby sources. Because of this, a chef must be versatile and able to adapt to changing limitations. The ingredients from which your meal is drawn might determine just how much you enjoy the meal. It was essential to me that my group was an eat-anything crowd —more flexibility and range given to the chef, higher chances to see his full creativity, just a naked look at what might be inspiring him on this night.

In place of the traditional menu, there is the list of possible ingredients, the roulette wheel from which our dinner would be constructed. You can return to Blue Hill and never have the same meal twice (even if you eat more than once in the same season) because the list of ingredients is long, many of which will be unfamiliar to most.

The Concord: fresh concord grape juice, gin, juniper berries

Friday, October 01, 2010

Vandaag Review

Vandaag is muscling its way into the European offerings of the East Village. It has been open for only a couple of months, and though The New York Times has already dropped two stars on it, my take is that the place needs a little more time to work on its promising menu and to refine its spotty service.

The restaurant employs the tactic often associated with fancier restaurants of starting with an amuse bouche and ending with a small end-of-the-meal sweet bite. But in a very European manner, there is no complimentary bread to start; you can pay $6 for it if you covet your carbs. Several different servers took their turns stopping at our table, confusing themselves in the process over what had or hadn't already been taken care of.


B-Side Sling (left): Bols Genever, Roobis infused Vermouth, lemon, maraschino & bitters
Pack Mule: Strawberry Peppercorn Akvavit (this had a strong peppery punch), ginger, Pimms, lemon & Campari

Chinaski: Akvavit, Cynar, lemon & apricot syrup with sparkling Gruner & celery twist

Danny Meyer Closes Tabla

Danny Meyer has decided to close Tabla, his restaurant serving Indian-influenced food, at the end of the year. Too bad, as I always found the food reliable and it was a good choice in the neighborhood.

October Custard Flavors

Some Shake Shack custard might help make a dreary day like today a bit cheerier, but head to one of the indoor locations to stay dry! It looks like some new flavors I have never seen before have been added with Shackenstein as a surprise combination. Concord grape is calling to me...

Monday: Pumpkin Pie
Tuesday: S'mores
Wednesday: Orange Fennel
Thursday: Coconut Caramel
Friday: Concord Grape
Saturday: Apple Cinnamon Raisin
Sunday: Shackenstein

UPDATE: Besides the new flavors, Shake Shack also has some additional offerings with its Shacktoberfest menu.