Friday, April 29, 2011

Small Bites

- The science of taste buds helps to explain food preferences.

- Chef Thomas Keller shares his tips on how to make food better through seasoning.

- Foreign Policy magazine explains the world through food.

- One scientist says he's made a healthy ice cream.

Recent Eats

I've spoken highly of Danny Meyer's Maialino several times before, so here's a rundown of another terrific dinner I had there recently.

We started with a few appetizers. Despite our early reservation, they were out of the fried artichokes. 

The seared octopus with ramps and bits of blood orange was wonderfully simple and spring-like.

The fried mixed vegetables were coated in a light tempura batter. The mix included some vegetables I've never had fried before, like beets and carrots. There was also cauliflower and what tasted like leeks.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Recent Eats

Num Pang is a good little spot to swing by for a snack or a meal on the go. You order at the window and pick up your food just inside the door. There's minimal seating upstairs, overlooking the adjacent parking lot, if you want to eat in.

On this visit I sampled the grilled skirt steak sandwich ($8.75 without tax) with crushed coriander and peppercorn. The sandwich had a heavy steak flavor and the meat is a little on the chewy side, so you best really like meat if you order this. But the garlicky mayo, pickled carrots and coriander really help to brighten the sandwich, balancing the heaviness of the meat. The bread is great, wonderfully toasty and it's a filling sandwich. The watermelon juice is gritty, true to the fruit. So, next time you're near Union Square, shopping or catching a movie, keep Num Pang in mind for a quick bite.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Currently Reading

I'm currently reading Life, On the Line, the memoir by Grant Achatz, the chef of Alinea, and his business partner Nick Kokonas. It's a fascinating read for anyone who is a fan of Achatz or interested in his type of food, which has been branded molecular gastronomy, for better or worse. The book, an easy read, feels very of the moment: Achatz's new restaurant, Next, and cocktail bar, Aviary, recently opened (perhaps the book release was intentionally timed to coincide), and Achatz was also included in Time magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people. The blurb for Time was written by one of Achatz's mentors, Thomas Keller, after whom he named one of his sons. In the memoir, Achatz mentions a young cook he worked with at Keller's restaurant French Laundry named Richard Blais. Viewers of Top Chef will recognize the name — Blais won Top Chef All-Stars last month.

Achatz also writes about a trip he makes to El Bulli, the exalted Spanish restaurant of Ferran Adrìa, which is in its final months of service. Most of us will never know the experience that is El Bulli and will have to be content with reading about other people's, but some find it to be just too much.

I'm halfway through the book, at which point Kokonas takes over the narrative (indicated by a change in typeface) in an odd transition. But I look forward to seeing how his part will contrast with what Achatz has written so far. I admire Achatz's early ambition and drive, which some might consider arrogance, but I find the book alluring and interesting and recommend it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Small Bites

- The San Pelligrino list of the world's best restaurants puts Copenhagen's Noma at the top again. But what does this list mean?

- Small theaters in New York try to turn their lobbies into community spaces by offering better concessions and opening during the day.

- Could Happy Meals become a thing of the past?

- This foodie club gets kids into food by taking them into the kitchens of some New York City restaurants.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Olympic Pita Review

If you're looking for lunch in the Garment District, the options are more limited than in some of the city's other neighborhoods. You'll likely end up eating from a food truck or going for Chinese food. But there is actually another great spotOlympic Pita on 38th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, which bills itself as Israeli-style cuisine.

Ordering can be a bit confusing, but our server kindly and patiently answered our questions. The mezze sampler is a nice way to start off the meal. We decided to go for three — beet salad, Moroccan carrots and fried eggplant. The sampler came with a huge piece of laffa, a thicker, chewier pita similar to naan in Indian food.

The carrots were heavily seasoned with cumin, but tasty. The beets were pretty standard, but the fried eggplant was wonderfully light and delicious.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Burger Joint Review

This small box of a restaurant with its handwritten menu and graffiti scrawled on the walls is what you might imagine a place called Burger Joint would look like. But its setting in a corner of the swank Parker Meridien hotel in Midtown, hidden behind a heavy curtain with a glowing neon burger sign indicating its presence, is not what you would expect.

All that's on offer are hamburgers, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese and the traditional partners — fries and milkshakes. Yet it has a reputation that can spawn long lines. But going for an early Sunday lunch, my dining companions and I avoided the crowds.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Il Matto Closes

Il Matto, which I reviewed in September, closed last weekend after 10 months in business. I liked it, but on my last visit there were almost no other customers in the restaurant. And a discount on Scoutmob also seemed to foreshadow its demise.

The owners plan to replace it with something more straightforward and approachable, while retaining some of the dishes and the stunning cocktails, which was one of the best things about Il Matto.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Small Bites

- Chef Jose Andres thinks big when it comes to using food to change the world.

- One underground dinner club in Washington, D.C., requires you to answer a series of questions in order to get an invitation — the better to create smart, meaningful dinner dialogues.

- Coffee addicts may be able to blame it on genetics.

- OpenTable allows you to make reservations online, but when diners redeem points for a reward, it is still sent in the form of a check in the mail. Why doesn't it have a more modern system for redemption?

- Meal Snap is a new app that provides estimated calorie counts from a photograph. This review says it's handy but not without some flaws.

- One Slate writer has had enough of reading about other people's experiences of eating at El Bulli.

- Eating based on your emotional state might not be such a bad idea after all.

- Farmers markets are segueing to underground food raves.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cocoron Review

For something fun and different, go to Cocoron. But don't go with more than one other person. Cocoron is a tiny soba noodle restaurant on the Lower East Side. By tiny, I mean there are only three two-person tables and a few seats at the kitchen bar. The first time I tried to eat here, the restaurant had run out of noodles. Cocoron feels authentically Japanese, yet the server is happy to explain how things work here.

We started with the daikon mochi, a pan-fried sticky rice cake made with daikon radish, bacon and baby shrimp with yuzu pepper. You'd do well to follow this lead. It's a glutinous patty, but with every bite you can taste the bacon and the shrimp. The mochi comes with a side of freshly grated daikon, which is just a bit spicy. If you've ever eaten dim sum, this is similar to the fried turnip cake.

The pork and okara croquettes are small, but well worth trying. They are fried balls of pork, potato, carrot, onion and okara, which is a soy pulp. They're wonderful bites that your mouth will treasure.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Good Review

Good Restaurant and I are well acquainted. But until now I've only had the pleasure of partaking in a delicious lunch or brunch, never dinner. Prodded along by a coupon, I finally changed that. Good strikes a commonly sought balance of a casual yet charming atmosphere along with tasty food and drinks. And the menu hits a range of notes —from sauteed scallops to burgers — that might seem jarringly disjointed elsewhere, but here seems to form a multifaceted American food personality.

The farro salad ($12) with arugula, cucumber, red onion, green beans, goat cheese (we requested it on the side) and red wine oregano vinaigrette is a bright start. The dense texture of farro makes this salad more substantial and the flavors blend together well.

The good burger ($19) is not your average burger. The thick beef patty exterior hides even more than you might imagine — a center of pulled pork & smoked mozzarella cheese. Sounds odd, but it's a hearty combination sure to fill you if you're hungry.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Taim Mobile Review

I wanted something good for lunch and I wanted to try something new. So after scouring Midtown Lunch and checking out the food truck twitter feeds, I settled on Taim Mobile. It seemed hard to resist when Midtown Lunch declared that it "may be the best lunch truck in Midtown." Unlike the food truck-to-store evolution, Taim Mobile is a spin-off of a small storefront in the West Village.

On this day, the Taim Mobile truck was parked on the corner of 40th Street near Sixth Avenue, not far from Crisp, a brick and mortar falafel place with a few locations in the city. Intentionally engaging the competition?

The special of the day was spinach and jalapeño falafel, which I opted for over the classic falafel. At $6.50 for the sandwich, it was a dollar more than the classic. Taim bills itself as a falafel and smoothie truck, and I was tempted by the interesting-sounding smoothie combinations they had (namely, pear-mint-lemon) but decided to test out the food only on this first visit.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Small Bites

- The economics of a prix-fixe menu revealed.

- The government's proposed rules that require establishments serving food to post calorie counts will exempt movie theaters.

- Color counts for a lot when it comes to food.

- Some tips for when to use different types of cooking oil.

- There are many reasons goat makes for a good meat, but its popularity is growing slowly.

- Newsweek profiles Heston Blumenthal, chef of England's Fat Duck restaurant and a prominent name in the realm of science-based cooking.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Social Eatz Review

Besides standing out for its ridiculous pluralizations using the letter "z", with garish colors and graphics to match, Social Eatz will be most notably characterized as the latest domain of Angelo Sosa, a contestant on Top Chef and former chef at the late Xie Xie. The restaurant opened in Midtown East last month serving casual food with Asian twists. The menu consists of small sections of appetizers, salads and soups while the rest is composed mostly of sandwiches or burgers and tacos, falling in the $6-$12 range.

The Hanoi Burger is a patty of ground beef with mint, lemongrass, cilantro and red onion topped with lettuce and served with a chili mayo and a sweet onion jam. We weren't asked how we wanted our burgers cooked, but they came juicy and pink in the center. The Hanoi was tasty, but the onion jam was the prevailing flavor. The Asian essence was lost because of a disappointing lack of mint or cilantro presence. And the whole thing needed a sturdier bun; this one soaked up the juices and sauces too quickly. The thin-cut fries were great, even more so because of the spicy dusting on them.

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Bar Room at The Modern Review

My recent return to the The Bar Room at The Modern was yet another delightful meal at a place that continues to prove itself as a bastion of consistency and reliability among New York City restaurants. Most of my previous visits had been during Restaurant Weeks, but this average Saturday night wasn't much different. The expansive menu, which the restaurant puts forth as a collection of small plates, had some of the same dishes I had previously tried and loved, while introducing several new dishes that piqued my interest. On this evening, we were heavy on the seafood.

The tarte flambée is a great appetizer. It's bigger than most of the others and is great for sharing with a group. And we were able to order it without the applewood-smoked bacon to accommodate a vegetarian dining companion. The thin, crispy crust covered in creme fraiche and onion was still delicious, but I prefer it with the bacon, which gives it a bit more depth of flavor and color. 
The Scottish salmon tartare with Meyer lemon and jalapeño and black olive was dashingly arranged. The flavors were mild, but the fish was fresh.

The slow-poached farm egg in a jar with Maine lobster, salsify and sea urchin forth was a fun presentation visually, but in practical terms, was a bit difficult to manage. The foam wasn't an empty garnish; you could definitely taste the sea urchin in it. The portion did seem a bit small though.

Shake Shack's April Flavors

Here's the list of flavors for April. The Pancakes & Bacon is back, though I found it to be disappointing when I tried it last year.

Monday: Coconut Caramel
Tuesday: Strawberry Pistachio
Wednesday: Cheesecake Brownie
Thursday: Gianduja
Friday: Fluffernutter
Saturday: Pancakes & Bacon
Sunday: Carrot Cake