Monday, February 28, 2011

Riverpark Restaurant Week Review

It takes effort to eat at Riverpark, the newest restaurant by Tom Colicchio, but there's much there that will make the effort seem worth it. The restaurant sits far away on 29th Street just east of First Avenue inside the lobby of the Alexandria Center, a medical center, not exactly the sexiest location. And it's perched above the FDR, peering out onto the East River. (There's a nice view if you can manage to ignore the traffic whizzing by below.) You might find it more comfortable to sit away from the windows in the spacious dining room where tables are positioned far enough away from each other that you aren't bumping elbows with your neighbors as you have to do at so many Manhattan nooks. But the decorative string of lights did leave me a bit dizzy.

There were many choices on the Restaurant Week menu, which turned out to be different than the one posted online. Though there were more options, I was a little disappointed that the fried chicken wasn't offered. But the kitchen, led by chef Sisha Ortúzar, produced a solid meal nonetheless.

The glazed pork belly with pickled vegetables and jalapeño was a wonderful starter, swirling in flavor.

I'm a sucker for dishes that sound different, so I was drawn to the goose tortelloni with black trumpet mushrooms, chestnuts and a huckleberry consomme. The pasta, beautifully formed, had a very gamey flavor, perhaps leaning a bit too dark and heavy. But the mushrooms in the spirited consomme helped to take some of that edge off.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Small Bites

- For sriracha lovers, there's an entire cookbook to help you come up with new ways to incorporate the spicy condiment into all sorts of dishes.

- A small organic milk producer in Maine is struggling to survive.

- Just because a supermarket is gourmet doesn't mean it's clean.

- Food prices seem to be rapidly increasing around the world. Could it eventually become cheaper to eat out than to cook at home?

- Chef Eddie Huang explains why food trends are bad.

- Catalan chef Santi Santmaría, prominent in Spanish cuisine and known for criticizing avant-garde chefs, died this week.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Times Take on Ai Fiori

The Times reviews Michael White's Ai Fiori this week and is impressed. Food in a Nutshell ate there last month and was similarly enchanted.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Babbo Review

Go for the pasta. That goes for too many Italian restaurants. Go for the warm, inviting atmosphere. It's like being at home, except you'll get waited on. Go for the best of Mario Batali. You'll have to plan ahead for one of the hard-to-come-by reservations, but it's better than waiting on line at Eataly. Whatever reason brings to you Babbo, you'll likely find something to enjoy about it. 

You can try the pasta tasting menu if you don't want to think too much about what to order, but better yet, craft your own version of it and share. You can come out ahead, sample the pastas that you find most appealing and get larger portions of them. That's what my dining companion and I did on this visit, when we were seated in the much more pleasant upstairs room.

Marinated chickpeas in balsamic vinegar, olive oil and chili flakes kicked things off. It tasted, oddly, like hot dogs.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Small Bites

- Momofuku chef David Chang visits South Korea and learns more about cooking without meat.

- Koshary, a dish of pasta, lentils, onions, sauce and vinegar, helped to sustain the revolution in Egypt.

- Sushi Yasuda maintains its quality even without its namesake chef, according to The Wall Street Journal.

-The Korean fried chicken war isn't the only one in town; there's an Afghan fried chicken war over the Kennedy Fried Chicken brand.

- Should we be more concerned about the effects of aspartame?

- Nathan Myhrvold, the subject of a Freakonomics podcast mentioned on Small Bites a couple of weeks ago, has been getting even more attention as his $625 Modernist Cuisine cookbook has become popular even before being released. A 30-course meal with Myhrvold sounds like fodder for all molecular gastronomists.

- B.R. Myers rails against foodies in The Atlantic. Francis Lam takes offense and strikes back on

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Morandi Review

It's packed late on a weekday night. And those walking in the door still weather a wait —even actors Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts. It's that type of restaurant where you will spot celebrities, where couples try to have a romantic dinner, unsuccessfully (it's just not possible with all the noise), or girls have their night out. That's the scene at Morandi, an Italian restaurant in the West Village, and it fits right into Keith McNally's restaurant répetoire, which also includes Balthazar. Perhaps partly owing to the allure of the buzz, his restaurants, though popular, seem to produce mixed reviews on the food front. That's not so unusual when it can seem like more attention is focused on producing the scene, one where if you're not "somebody" you might expect to be shunned or ignored.

Don't fall into that stereotype with Morandi. Peer beyond the surface and you'll find that there's good food and the service isn't so bad, but for some slowness on account of how busy they are.

The burrata cheese with roasted cherry tomatoes “on the vine” was wonderfully creamy and salty.

The red pepper combined well with the grilled squid, which was also seasoned with capers and olives. Thankfully, for me, the capers and olives weren't strong flavors. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Small Bites

- What happens when roadkill becomes dinner.

- Where to find the best banh mi is sure to draw debate, but T Magazine compiles some hot spots around the country.

- Limiting intake of salt to the daily recommended limit is difficult for most.

- The Wall Street Journal dines in New York City restaurants that have been given "C" grades and tells about it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Maialino Restaurant Week Lunch

Maialino has solidified an esteemed place in my list of favorite city meals. It's on the tip of my tongue when I make restaurant recommendations and at the front of my brain when it comes time to choose where to make Restaurant Week reservations.

A weekday lunch at Maialino can make you appreciate life. It's comfortable in a way that makes you desire a leisurely lunch, one that makes you want each bite to linger in your mouth. With so many options on the menu, Maialino demonstrates that it isn't just trying to get through Restaurant Week. You are meant to enjoy yourself here. My dining companion and I preferred approaching each course by ordering a set of constrating dishes.

You might start with the fried cod and lemon. This isn't fried seafood that takes you to New England. It keeps you here, squarely within the territory of chef Nick Anderer. It's hot enough to burn your mouth. It's super salty, but squeeze the lemon to cut the saltiness; the flaky white fish maintains its independence under the smooth coating of crispy batter.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Convivio Restaurant Week Review

If you are looking for excellent food in an elegant setting without emptying your wallet, get yourself to Convivio for lunch during Restaurant Week, which has been extended to February 27. Though its Tudor City location is a bit out of the way, Convivio is making the best use of this deal to show people why they should make the extra effort to return. Unlike some places during Restaurant Week, Convivio makes sure you feel no less of a valued customer than a diner during any other time of the year.

My dining companions and I were able to sample the entire RW menu. These dishes were evidence that just because its winter doesn't mean that heavy foods are the only option. You won't find your average flavor pairings here. Yet, they're almost always successful; when they're not, it's the attempt that counts.

The crostini — tuna, white beans, rosemary, piquillo — were heavier on the beans. Tuna and white beans are no strangers, but the rosemary and piquillo seemed uneasy in this mix. Something about it tasted odd and this is probably the one thing on the menu that wasn't a real hit.

Friday, February 04, 2011

The Breslin Restaurant Week Review

Swirls of icy confetti that clouded the air the night before lay in ruins, forming layers of whipped cream across the sidewalks. People were scooping it out of the way into mounds where it would not be tread on. It was a snow day for many and a good one with the skies now clear and the sun shining. For my dining companion and me, it meant a bonus Restaurant Week lunch at The Breslin. I've had several good meals there now, but it is pricey enough to make the $24.07 lunch worth it. And it's snow day kind of food.

A plate of blood sausage with a poached egg & mustard vinaigrette warmed us up. The texture and taste was akin to eating a liver pate. The egg was so delicate and runny, it was as though it had barely touched the boiling water. Steer clear if you have any fear of a raw egg.

I didn't know what to expect of the bollito misto: poussin, cotechino, and smoked lamb's tongue. But it sounded like the kind of meal you'd want before going into hibernation, something that would help bolster your stores of fat. It was an intriguing trio soaking in a light bath of broth — a deliciously tame piece of braised chicken, a tasty slice of sausage that I assumed was made from pork and the unfamiliar lamb's tongue. The smokiness of the tongue made it seem like a cousin to pastrami or a smoked ham. And I liked it as long as I didn't concentrate too much on the fatty texture and the thought of what I was actually consuming.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Small Bites

- Freakonomics Radio has posted a set of podcasts that addresses the role of science in food, which has produced the molecular gastronomy movement, and how it compares to the slow-food movement.

- The smell of bacon is a powerful thing; it even seduces some vegetarians.

- The government's latest dietary advice is, simply, eat less.

- Food writer Mark Bittman has traded in his Minimalist column for a column in the Opinion section where he will write about food issues and what he terms, "eaters' rights".

- Poet Maya Angelou shares her appreciation for cooking in a new home-style cookbook.

- You wouldn't necessarily think of Chinese New Year as a big holiday in Trinidad, but apparently Chinese culture is a significant part of the Caribbean island's culture.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Lan Sheng Review

There are two Szechuan Chinese restaurants on 39th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. In many cities smaller than New York, that would be nearly enough to call it a Chinatown. In New York, there's nothing like a little competition or rivalry to keep restaurants on their toes. I've been to Szechuan Gourmet, which has gotten much attention and acclaim. But I had read on the blogs about Lan Sheng and a recent lunch there gave me the basis to compare it to Szechuan Gourmet.

When we sat down, I was disappointed to find there was no lunch specials section on the menu. Maybe we had to ask for it or maybe they've stopped having specials.

But I decided to order based on what I'd read about Lan Sheng, so we got the Lan Sheng special chicken listed under their signature dishes. It was a healthy portion of charred chicken slices over cabbage. The chicken had a really good deep flavor; it tasted like it had been marinated in a salty garlic sauce. I liked it, but my dining companion and I shared only two dishes and about halfway through, I found myself wishing for other flavors to balance these.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Shake Shack's February Flavors

Here's the monthly low down:

Monday: Bee Mine
Tuesday: Bananas Foster
Wednesday: Maple Walnut Spice
Thursday: Snowball
Friday: Chocolate Chip Cookie
Saturday: Thin Mint
Sunday: Passion Fruit-Pineapple