Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Gastroarte Review

With a name like Gastroarte, you might not be surprised to find food presented fancifully. But this Upper West Side restaurant has substance to back it up — the cooking is artful as well.

I was lured to Gastroarte by a Scoutmob discount, a good opportunity to try a place with prices that seemed high. But the portion sizes — especially for dishes listed as tapas —were better than I expected. They were ample enough to be filling. My dining companion and I were seated in the back of the room, which placed us in the "garden," a glassed-in patio beneath the backside of neighboring buildings, letting in the lovely light of longer days.

And we kicked off the meal with a beautiful savory carrot "cake" served with asparagus and Mahón cheese. Any doubts that vegetables can make a delicious, hearty dish will be erased by this dish. The carrot cake, made with pureed carrot, eggs, cream and topped with the cheese was creamy and wonderfully smooth. The asparagus was bright with flavor. A bit of candied carrots and vegetable purees rounded out the dish.

Next came a mixed plate of charcuterie —Serrano ham, salchicon and chorizo — on toasted bread with tomato, olive oil and garlic. Fairly standard. The writing in the powder was a bit hokey.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Lotus Blue Review

Lotus Blue is a new restaurant in Tribeca serving food influenced by the Yunnan region of China. A Chinese restaurant in this neighborhood, and an upscale one, is already likely to rouse the skeptics; its chosen region of influence, rarely seen in New York, will have them throwing mud over its authenticity.

Lotus Blue's Web site provides this introduction:
Yunnan province is located in the extreme southwest corner of China. It borders Burma, Laos and Vietnam on the south and abuts Tibet in the northwest and has one of the most diverse population in the country. As such the cuisine is influenced by cooking traditions from the tropical country to frozen highland. Lemongrass, mint, purple basil and cilantro are common herbs, and fresh fruits and flowers are regularly used in the cooking of the south. Cured beef, ham and mushrooms on the other hand are staples of the north.
I cannot speak to the authenticity after my recent meal there, but I can say that the restaurant is serving some interesting Chinese food that makes use of ingredient and spice combinations I have not seen elsewhere, and it is doing a pretty good job of it.

On the day I was there, the restaurant had a happy hour that lasted until 8 p.m. — two free glasses of wine with each entree and all other drinks were half off.

I liked the Pu-er tea-flavored slices of potted beef shank that we started with. Pu-er is the kind of tea my family always drank at home and in Chinese restaurants, so I may have a bias toward the flavor. The flavor doesn't overwhelm the meat, served cold, but gives it just the Chinese treatment it needs. The quail eggs were also braised in tea.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mas (farmhouse)

Pleasant surprises can come from letting a restaurant slip down the "to try" list for many years after it has opened. It may have fallen under the radar yet it's still producing some of the best food and best overall meal experiences you'll find in a city with lots of options. And what better time to catch such a spot than for a special occasion.

Mas (farmhouse) was one of those kinds of places. For the purpose of celebrating a friend's milestone birthday, I recently dredged it up from the bottom of a list of places I had in my file. The West Village restaurant is focused on seasonal, sustainable food and succeeds in a great way. It was one of the most approachable and accommodating places I have been to. The server was friendly and knowledgeable about the entire menu and answered our questions thoroughly.  Though there is an a la carte option as well as a four-course tasting menu, our group put our dining fates in the hands of the chef, with the chef's six-course tasting menu, which would be designed just for us, not from the dishes on the menu. The chef composed an amazing evening, even with some dietary preferences, meaning that at times a different dish was given to one dining companion, but without forsaking flavor or innovation.

We kicked it off with an amuse bouche of smoked cod and potato with saffron mayo and a fingerling potato crisp. For the non-seafood eating member of our table, there was a dish of roasted beets, cheese mousse and hazelnuts.

The yellowfin tuna sashimi with balsamic-soy, crispy shallots and brown butter sauce was the restaurant's signature dish. And what a great one. The brown butter played well off the smooth richness of the fresh fish and this was definitely something I could have eaten more of. And once we had seen what the chef could do, we were excited to see what else was to come.