Monday, January 31, 2011

Le Cirque Restaurant Week Review

Le Cirque is one of those New York City restaurants you might consider an institution. It's been around for a few decades, though it has occupied several different locations in that time. The place is a very high-end French spot tucked away in an alcove between 58th and 59th Streets. The prices make it a prime example of a place worth trying for Restaurant Week when you can get a three-course dinner for $35, cheaper than the price of a single entree, most of which fall in the mid-$40 to mid-$50 range.

My understanding when I made my reservation was that we would be eating in the dining room. When my dining companions arrived, the host made a round through the dining room, then led us to the cafe area behind the bar. We were seated at a table directly in front of a live jazz band. It was so noisy we couldn't hear each other talk. We felt slighted; we were having our own Ruth Reichl "unknown diner" experience. We should have spoken up. I regret not doing so, but at the time, it was already late in the evening and a severe snowstorm was raging outside, so we were eager to get through our meal.

The online Restaurant Week menu had listed several options for each course but it did not make note of a $5 supplement for some of them as the menu we received at the restaurant did.

The bread basket was filled with delicious rolls, cranberry walnut slices and olive bread.

I was excited to try the grilled escargot and bacon brochette with lentils, red pepper and ginger. Unfortunately, this mostly flat — the escargot weren't sweet and in fact were quite bland and the pieces of bacon were more like squares of fat. The flavorful lentils were the redeeming factor.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Prime Meats Review

On a chilly Sunday night, after a show at St. Ann's Warehouse, a friend and I tried to get in for an early dinner at Vinegar Hill House. But not early enough alas —it had just filled up and it would be an hour wait. Taking advantage of my friend's car, we decided to try Prime Meats instead. We called ahead to see if there would be a wait and were told there wasn't at that time, but that that might change by the time we arrived. It seemed a bit unnecessarily couched as the place was mostly unoccupied when we arrived and never totally filled up by the time we left.

Prime Meats was dark and rustic, a good spot to hunker down and provision ourselves with some heavy wintry foods. There's been much talk of these no-reservations, long-waits restaurants; we might have had the cold weather to thank for being able to slip in easily.

Although my dining companion requested that the white bean and cabbage soup she ordered come to the table with my main course, it came at appetizer time. Not the worst offense, but it revealed there was some lack of attention, despite the fact that they were attentive to our water glasses. The soup was a nice roundly flavored broth filled with beans and strings of cabbage.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Small Bites

- The number of Korean greengrocers in New York has declined.

- Danny Meyer hoped never to have to close a restaurant, but unfortunately he had to do just that at the end of last year when Tabla shut its doors. Meyer talked about the how and why of the closing.

- Some chefs conceive of their dishes through sketching. Saveur showcases some sketches by Grant Achatz of Alinea and Michael Laiskonis, Le Bernardin's pastry chef, alongside images of the final products.
- Those with food addiction have to deal not only with their eating issues, but also with the idea that not everyone believes food addiction is a legitimate problem.

- Food makers establish their own nutrition labeling system after disagreeing with the F.D.A over what the labels should highlight.

- Bad service during a recent meal at a new restaurant reinforces for the Village Voice's restaurant critic just how important service is (and just how many places fail to execute it properly).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Revd Up Pi Review

Update: If you like this place or decide you want to try it out with some friends, Groupon is offering $20 worth of pizza for $10.

I love pizza. Plain and simple. But in a city known for its pizza, there are a lot of bad slices out there. And much of it has gotten increasingly expensive (though at the same time, there's been also been an outbreak of 99 cent pizza places). So, when it's free, it's not a gift to be overlooked. When I saw a coupon on Tenka for a free slice from Rev'd Up Pi in Murray Hill, I jumped on it. I had heard about this place, which claimed to offer healthy pizza, just 170 calories per slice. I was dubious and with prices starting at $3.50, I wasn't likely to try it on my own, not when my favorite spot is nearby.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ai Fiori Review

Ai Fiori is the latest effort from Michael White, chef of Marea and Osteria Morini, which opened last fall. The restaurant is an elegant, expensive place, appropriate for it's location in the Setai hotel on Fifth Avenue and 37th Street. The good news is that White continues to produce wonderful food here.

We arrived for our reservation — early on a Saturday night — because at the time we made it, that was all that was available. But when we sat down, we were confused. The restaurant was large and mostly unfilled. As we dined, we realized that a majority of the restaurant was not yet being used. Perhaps they are still testing things out.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Small Bites

- Farmers are scarce at winter farmers markets. But does the prevalence of "value-added" vendors, who are not connected to farms, alter the concept of the markets in a positive or negative way?

- Jamie Oliver helps to convince Midtown Lunch's Zach Brooks that Chipotle isn't all bad.

- See what foods represent your state with this food-by-state map.

- South Los Angeles bans new fast-food restaurants as part of an effort to improve public health.

- James Osland, editor of Saveur Magazine, is profiled by Midtown Lunch.

- French chef Alain Ducasse helps 15 women from a poor suburb of Paris learn to cook.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Landmarc Review

Landmarc at the Time Warner Center is a sprawling restaurant overlooking Columbus Circle, a sibling to Landmarc Tribeca. Befitting its location, the restaurant is fairly upscale and the breakfast prices are on the high end. Unfortunately, the food lends credence to the idea that here you're just paying for location.

The Landmarc egg sandwich with Gruyere and bacon came on an English muffin and with a side of hash browns. You have a choice of bacon or sausage on the sandwich; I opted for bacon, but it wasn't what I expected. Rather than crispy strips, there were small chunks of thick-cut bacon mixed in with the egg. But many of the pieces were actually thick pieces of unappealing, chewy fat. The hash browns were thinly grated potatoes that were a little too salty, but otherwise okay.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Union Square Cafe Review

Danny Meyer opened his first restaurant, Union Square Cafe, when he was 27 years old. That was twenty five years ago, last fall. These days it seems as though it takes a particularly tough alignment of factors for a place to persevere that long. When you visit Union Square Cafe, it's not hard to see why it has thrived without even seeming dated.

Tucked away on 16th Street, just west of Union Square, the restaurant manages to appeal to those looking for a casual meal and those who want to get gussied up for a special occasion. Although one would be wise to book in advance, it's not so coveted that you won't be able to get a reservation for months. The menu is wide ranging enough to bring people of varying tastes together at one table. Despite the restaurant's apparent popularity, the service isn't rushed and my dining companion and I were allowed to have a leisurely dinner.

We started with the Cara Cara blood orange salad with fennel vinaigrette, toasted pine nuts and smoked ricotta. A dish filled with complex flavors, but the underlying sweetness of the oranges tied it all together. The restaurant also kindly split some of the dishes for us.

The local fluke crudo with Meyer lemon, seasoning peppers and sea beans was delicious. The citrus was again the main flavor, making for a refreshing appetizer. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Small Bites

- Analysts debate whether the latest increases in food prices indicate a rapidly worsening problem with food supply and demand or if it's just a part of a longer-term issue.

- Some New York chefs live with the constraints of small kitchens at home.

- What would eating be like if we could block the receptors that allow us to taste bitter things?

- Figuring out how to put our money to best use when buying food can be a complicated task. This is how New Yorkers spend their money on food.

- There's a blog devoted to turning Kanye West's lyrics into songs about food.

- This is how to define "everything in moderation."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fatty Cue Review

Brunch is a meal that divides. Some vehemently refuse to partake in it while others embrace the lazy weekend meal. Personally, I think brunch is great —it's another opportunity to eat and try new places. But many places offer uninspired, insipid platters of eggs and toast. I love the greasy spoon breakfast, but when it comes time for a brunch pick, I want the menu that has flare, the twists that make plates original. 

Brunch at Fatty Cue, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, was my first New Year's meal. I'd heard good things about the place, focused on barbecue with a Southeast Asian bent. But I wasn't sure if any of that would come through at brunch, a time when some places seem to lose their backbone and turn into toned-down versions of their nighttime selves. But if this visit was any indication, then I'll have nothing to worry about when I return for dinner.

Perhaps the revelers were still asleep — there were few people here. The place was rustic and cozy with low ceilings; the service was very casual, yet attentive. This is just what brunch calls for. (Though they were out of several things, including the curried black eye peas I'd wanted to try.)

The Heritage pork ribs came just two to an order, but the small portion allowed me to dine in typical fashion — ordering an extra plate to share with my dining companions in addition to our individual choices. The long ribs were coated with smoked palm syrup and Indonesian long pepper, a tasty concoction that helped this hit the right combination of savory and sweet. 

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Small Bites

- Some Chicago chefs attempt to turn the notorious Asian carp into a delicacy.

- Studies showed that calorie information won't deter people from eating what they want, but that people are receptive to reducing the portion size of side dishes.

- For those who make dieting a New Year's resolution, follow's experiment with better eating. Meanwhile on, Francis Lam makes a vow to eat chicken mindfully and ethically.

- New regulations in New York aim to clarify how restaurants should handle tips.

- As Sara Jenkins, chef at Porchetta, prepared to open her new restaurant, Porsena, she wrote about the difficulties of the task.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Grand Sichuan Review

When it comes to finding good Chinese food in Midtown, Szechuan (or Sichuan) cooking tends to dominate, unless you're looking for American Chinese food. I've written before about one of the star restaurants in the area, Szechuan Gourmet. It tends to get most of the attention while another terrific spot resides in its shadow just a few blocks away. Grand Sichuan, on Lexington Avenue near 33rd Street, is one of my go-to spots and definitely at the top of my list for nearby Chinese.

There are some dishes I just can't do without when I eat there, and on this visit I didn't. But I also tried a couple of new dishes.

I'd never had tomato and egg soup at any Chinese restaurant, so I wasn't sure what to expect. This was a delicious brothy soup with large omelet chunks that gave it a distinctly eggy flavor, tomato wedges and scallions.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Ninh's Vietnamese Sandwiches & Bubble Tea Review

My latest find: a Vietnamese sandwich place in Kips Bay/Murray Hill. After watching a movie at the Kips Bay theater, a gleaming green awning caught my eye. It looked like Ninh's Vietnamese Sandwiches & Bubble Tea was fairly new and, naturally, I wanted to check it out. The interior was as plain as the outside and the only menu was the takeout one on the counter.

January Custard Flavors

Here are Shake Shack's custard choices to open the new year. Not much new here, perhaps because fewer people are coming out to eat custard in the cold.

Monday: Boston Cream Pie
Tuesday: Gianduja
Wednesday: Carrot Cake
Thursday: Honey Roasted Peanut
Friday: Salted Caramel
Saturday: Mint Chocolate Chip
Sunday: Cinnamon Chip

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Food Gallery 32 Review

It was lunchtime and I was thinking about what new place I might try (as every meal is an opportunity for good eats). Just then, I conviently espied the new Food Gallery 32 in Koreatown. It had recently opened, so I stopped in to see what this was all about.