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Archive for February, 2009

Yummm.....

Yummm.....

We ate Mexican twice in the past week – brunch at Crema on Sunday and dinner at La Esquina on Wednesday.  These restaurants are on opposite ends of the trendy spectrum, but both turn out delicious Mexican cuisine.     

I can’t remember how we came across Crema, but we have had a love affair with the brainchild of Julieta Ballesteros (former head chef of Mexicana Mama) since our first visit in 2006.  We’ve had a few disappointing meals here and there, but mostly we have been delighted with the topnotch Mexican fare and delicious margaritas.  There is nothing terribly special about Crema’s décor and atmosphere; the food is the star of the show.  One recession tip is that Crema hosts happy hour every night from 5 to 7, which includes 2 for 1 margaritas (a $12 savings!).  Some of our favorite things to order include the guac (course), the chicken flautas (perhaps the best you’ll have outside of Mexico..or close, anyway) and the carne asada tacos. 

For no good reason, we had not eaten at Crema for quite some time until we had brunch on Sunday with two friends.  This was our first brunch at Crema and it was a wonderful reminder that Crema serves the best Mexican food in NYC (yep, I said it).  Brunch was truly outstanding.  You can either order an entree alone or as part of a $19 price prix fixe, which includes a side and a mimosa.  The waiter was kind enough to swap out the mimosa for a margarita for an additional $4.  At $23, this was not an inexpensive brunch, but it included an enormous amount of food (I took home more than half of my entrée) so it was actually a good deal. 

My order was the best of the bunch – Chilaquiles Verdes Y Rojos Con Huevos Poche (baked tortilla casserole with shredded chicken breast, flavored with green and red salsa, chihuahua cheese, crema, red onions, and fresh cilantro; topped with poached eggs…whew, that was a long description) – but everyone was pleased with their orders.  My husband liked his burrito, but I thought the mole was too cinnamony.  The zucchini corn cake with the salmon eggs benedict was amazing and the potatoes served on the side were prepared perfectly (although they, too, were made with cinnamon, which is a flavor that I prefer with sweet not savory items). 

Pictures below.  I just made a reservation for dinner at Crema next month – we’re back on board!  Have a great weekend filled with good food and tune in next week to hear about La Esquina.

Carne Asada Clasica - adobo marinated grilled skirt steak tacos

Carne Asada Clasica - adobo marinated grilled skirt steak tacos

Salmon A La Crema - zucchini corn cake served with poached eggs in a jalapeño-poblano hollandaise sauce

Salmon A La Crema - zucchini corn cake served with poached eggs in a jalapeño-poblano hollandaise sauce

Chilaquiles Verdes Y Rojos Con Huevos Poche

Chilaquiles Verdes Y Rojos Con Huevos Poche

Burrito De Mole Poblano - flour tortilla with shredded chicken, chihuahua cheese, beans, chipotle potatoes, corn and mole sauce

Burrito De Mole Poblano - flour tortilla with shredded chicken, chihuahua cheese, beans, chipotle potatoes, corn and mole sauce

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I want to share a delicious recipe for cheese wafers, but first I must disclose some breaking news from The List.  A friend snagged a last-minute reservation at La Esquina for my husband and me for tonight (thanks, Jeremy!).  This is exciting news as it’s proven impossible to get a reservation at this perennial hotspot (La Esquina gets my nod for the most annoying reservation line voicemail – “We deeply apologize…”).  At some point in the near future, the reality that we are buying an apartment and need to scale back our spending accordingly will set in, but for the time being, we are still living the good life.  I look forward to bringing you my findings on La Esquina.

On to the cheese wafers, which I made over the weekend.  This recipe comes from my best friend, Maggie (check out her new blog – The Tally), straight out of her mom’s kitchen in the 1970s.  Note the inclusion of two classic 70s ingredients – rice krispies and cayenne.  The wafers are extremely easy to prepare and pair nicely with a crisp glass of wine or champagne. 

Cheese Wafers
Ingredients:
2 sticks butter
2 cups grated sharp cheese
2 cups flour
4 teaspoons garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:
Cream together above ingredients and then add 2 cups rice krispies.  Form in to small balls and then mash with a fork (as with peanut butter cookies).  Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.  Makes 5-6 dozen wafers. 

My only suggestion is that the wafers needed more salt so I might use salted butter next time.

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As you may have noticed, I have been on a “blogcation.”  I have a good excuse, which is that my husband and I decided that Pio Pio is, in fact, a reason to move and made an offer (which has been accepted!) on a great apartment on 95th and Broadway.  As a result, every spare moment of my free time has been consumed by tracking down my elementary school report cards, dental records, and other minutiae required by the lender and the co-op board.  I have found time to eat some delicious meals (no surprise there) and have lots to fill you in on when I come up for air. 

To tide you over, I have provided pictures from a recent dinner at Casellula Cheese & Wine Café.  I adore this spot – the expansive cheese menu is impressive and the individual pairings that accompany each cheese are thoughtfully selected and presented.  My favorite pairing on this visit was white chocolate and mango fudge with some sort of creamy cheese (I forget which one) – I was skeptical of the fudge, but it was perfect with the cheese.  The food menu is quite good, particularly the pig’s ass sandwich (pictured below).  We polished off the meal with chocolate cake with fresh-from-the cow Meadowbrook Farm cream.  Delicious!

cheese

pig-sandwich

cake

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Scarpetta in pictures

My husband and I made our second trip to Scarpetta two weeks ago with our friends Shannon and Ben, who were visiting from DC.  Our expectations were sky high after our first visit, but Scarpetta lived up to the hype that we’ve created, although we were a bit less filled with awe and wonder than on our previous visit.  We tried a few new dishes…

The burrata with marinated eggplant was a hit; we also had a few “old” favorites, including my personal favorite, fritto misto.  Unfortunately, the cavatelli with braised rabbit missed the mark – it was really quite bland, which was a shame because the preparation of the cavatelli that we had on our last visit (with ceci, pancetta and bitter greens) was excellent.  The black cod was another new entrant and received rave reviews all around, but the agnolotti (my order) stole the show winning “best in dinner” accolades from the non-vegetarians at the table.  The olive oil cake provided a delightful, palette-cleansing end to the meal.  I prefer my desserts rich so the olive oil cake was a revelation; the dark chocolate cake provided the perfect foil so I got to enjoy the best of both worlds. 

Now for the food porn.  Sadly, I forgot to shoot the desserts (again), but there should be plenty here on which to feast your eyes.

CAPONATA

CAPONATA

IMPORTED BURRATA marinated eggplant

IMPORTED BURRATA marinated eggplant

CRISPY FRITTO MISTO

CRISPY FRITTO MISTO

BRAISED SHORT RIBS OF BEEF vegetable & farro risotto

BRAISED SHORT RIBS OF BEEF vegetable & farro risotto

MOZZARELLA IN CAROZZA stewed baby tomatoes

MOZZARELLA IN CAROZZA stewed baby tomatoes

BLACK COD caramelized fennel & concentrated tomatoes

BLACK COD caramelized fennel & concentrated tomatoes

CAVATELLI braised rabbit, parsnips & mint

CAVATELLI braised rabbit, parsnips & mint

AGNOLOTTI DAL PLIN filled with mixed meat & fonduta, mushrooms & parmigiano

AGNOLOTTI DAL PLIN filled with mixed meat & fonduta, mushrooms & parmigiano

SPAGHETTI tomato & basil

SPAGHETTI tomato & basil

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I am overdue to share my thoughts on The Orchard, where my husband and I dined recently with our friends, John and Amy.  I found the meal average, but I was outnumbered by my dining companions, who were extremely pleased.  The food lacked the technical precision of many of the restaurants on The List, and I would put The Orchard in the “good neighborhood restaurant” category (but not in the “worth a trip to the LES” category).  My husband, John, and Amy would probably disagree so take my review with a grain of salt (advice you should heed whenever reading my reviews, which are one person’s opinion, after all).  One highlight of the meal was the service – our waitress was competent, efficient and patient.  We lingered at her table for almost three hours and she could not have been more accommodating.

We started with two orders of flatbread (mushroom and short ribs) and an order of tuna tartare.  I’d heard the flatbreads were delicious, but I thought they were just ok.  The tuna tartare, however, was the best dish of the meal.  Sadly, my picture of the tartare did not turn out, but I can promise that you will not be disappointed with this appetizer – in fact, order two!

Braised Short Ribs Flatbread, marinated cherry tomatoes, sweet horseradish cream

Braised Short Ribs Flatbread, marinated cherry tomatoes, sweet horseradish cream

Mushroom Flatbread, sauteed seasonal mushrooms, polenta, mushroom puree, fresh herb

Mushroom Flatbread, sauteed seasonal mushrooms, polenta, mushroom puree, fresh herb

For our main courses, we had filet mignon wraps (me; I should note this was an appetizer, which may account for my lack of enthusiasm), lamb (John), halibut (Amy), pasta (my husband).  It’s been a few weeks so my memory of the dinner is rather fuzzy (or perhaps it was the cocktail + half bottle of wine).  I know that everyone was delighted, except moi, and I didn’t dislike my meal, but I didn’t love it.  John loved his lamb and, although I prefer my lamb alive, the lamb was pretty darn delicious.  Amy liked her meal, too – I am always a little scared of poached fish (it never sounds right), but the halibut was flavorful and well prepared.  And my husband enjoyed his funky pasta (with avocado?!).

Olive Oil-Poached Halibut, crispy black bean salad, potatoes, carrots, fresh cilantro

Olive Oil-Poached Halibut, crispy black bean salad, potatoes, carrots, fresh cilantro

Sliced Lamb Tenderloin, mint creme fraiche orzo, red onion jalapeno relish

Sliced Lamb Tenderloin, mint creme fraiche orzo, red onion jalapeno relish

Grilled Filet Mignon Wraps, butter lettuce, chimichurri pesto, spicy mayo

Grilled Filet Mignon Wraps, butter lettuce, chimichurri pesto, spicy mayo

Cavatelli Pasta, crispy pancetta, diced avocado, fresh herbs, tomato cream sauce

Cavatelli Pasta, crispy pancetta, diced avocado, fresh herbs, tomato cream sauce

Dessert was pedestrian.  The flourless chocolate cake was good, but no different than any other flourless chocolate cake.  I did not like the tartufo – the chocolate was too sweet (I like my chocolate dark).  As seems to be the case with every meal, I took pictures faithfully of every course but dessert (wine consumption is surely a factor) so you will have to imagine these sweets.  Tuna tartare aside, I wouldn’t rush out to The Orchard, but if you are in the neighborhood, stop in and treat yourself to a perfectly enjoyable meal.

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Deborah R.I.P.

My husband and I were very sorry to see one of our favorite spots, Deborah, on the growing list of shuttered NYC restaurants.  Deborah was a small neighborhood spot in the West Village that served up the best mac and cheese in the city or perhaps anywhere.  The heaping bowl of creamy elbow pasta was topped with turkey kielbasa.  Divine.  I am tearing up a little just thinking about it.  The mac and cheese was the reason that we returned to Deborah time after time, but all of the dishes were delightful and reasonably-priced, the patio behind the restaurant was a lovely spot to sit on a summer night, and Deborah’s homemade desserts were the perfect way to end a meal.  We will be first in line if Deborah opens a new restaurant.  Until then, I will be dreaming of her mac and cheese.

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I know that it’s difficult to judge the merits of a restaurant during Restaurant Week when the kitchens are overrun with orders (for the same three items) and the staff is strained.  But dinner at Mia Dona last week failed to meet even my (lowered) Restaurant Week expectations.

When my friend and I arrived for our 7:30 reservation, we had to fight a crowd to get to the hostess, who confirmed our reservation, but told us there were no tables available (not that there would be wait, simply that there were no tables).  Hmm.  I volunteered to wait at the bar, which had not been suggested by the hostess, and asked the hostess if she would cover a round of drinks.  After waiting 30 minutes (we were told the wait would be 15 minutes), we were led to a crowded banquette where we were wedged between two tables.

The Restaurant Week menu included several tempting options for each course.  Following unremarkable bread, we started with meatballs for me and cannelloni bean soup for my friend.  The meatballs were the best dish that we tried – they reminded me of the Kefi meatballs that I love so much (although the Kefi version is better).  The soup, on the other hand, was incredibly bland.  For our main course, we ordered the grilled hangar steak for me and the butternut squash tortelli for my friend.  When the food arrived, it was clear that it had been sitting in the kitchen window – my broccoli rabe was wilted and turning brown, the parmesan on the pasta was melted.  Pictures below and additional comments after the jump.

Unremarkable bread

Unremarkable bread

Mia Meatballs – tomato, onion, parmesan

Mia Meatballs – tomato, onion, parmesan

Cannellini Bean Soup – pasta, parmesan, extra virgin olive oil

Cannellini Bean Soup – pasta, parmesan, extra virgin olive oil

Butternut Squash Tortelli – chestnuts, sage, pecorino romano

Butternut Squash Tortelli – chestnuts, sage, pecorino romano

Grilled Hangar Steak – broccoli rabe, herb ricotta, pepperoncini

Grilled Hangar Steak – broccoli rabe, herb ricotta, pepperoncini

(more…)

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