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Archive for July, 2009

choc - NYC cab

It’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to share the details of the Chocolate Tour that my best friend, Maggie, and I took several months ago when she visited me in New York.  The tour was offered by the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and was led by Alexandra Leaf, who was a delightful guide.  The tour brought us to a few familiar places and introduced me to some chocolatiers who were new to me.  Here’s the list of where we went – keep reading after the jump for details and lots of pictures (pics courtesy of Maggie).

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Minetta Monday

Two Mondays ago, we snagged a coveted reservation at Minetta Tavern.  We have been eager to try Minetta since it opened and even more so since Bruni raved about the steak.  Alas, “normal” reservation times (e.g., 7:00-10:00) are not available for “normal ” people.  I dutifully called the restaurant one month out from my husband’s birthday and was given the option of dining at either 5:30 or 10:00 so I moved to our backup plan – Wolfgang’s (a steak dinner is a tradition on my husband’s birthday).  On a whim, I called Minetta on the morning of my husband’s birthday and was offered a reservation at 8:30.  Bingo!

So did Minetta live up to the hype?  Without a doubt. 

We had to wait a few minutes for our table so we tucked up to the bar and perused the lengthy cocktail list.  I opted for a Rhubard Sophie – a Minetta creation (half of the cocktail menu was classic cocktails and the other half was specialty cocktails).  The Rhubard Sophie was made with Below 42 vodka, rhubarb bitters, lime, agave nectar and cucumber.  This is the perfect summer drink – refreshing, light, and slightly tart.  My husband ordered a cask ale initially and when it arrived warm (the bartender assured us that this was the correct temperature for a cask ale…and offered to make another drink), he opted instead for Rhubarb Sophie.  When my husband is willing to drink a cocktail named a Rhubarb Sophie, you know it’s good.

We were ushered to out table fairly quickly.  The aesthetic at Minetta is speakeasy, which seems to be the current restaurant theme of choice in New York.  The main dining room was noisy and cramped, as you might expect of a Keith McNally establishment.  We did not recognize anyone (I was hoping to see someone famous given the many reported sightings at the restaurant), but I suspect that there were a lot of black cards floating around.  I went to Minetta for the food, but it was hard not to be drawn in by the people watching as the over-the-top scene unfolded. 

Speaking of the food…drumroll please.  We started with a shared order of the Pasta Za Za – fettuccine-like pasta with pancetta, sage, parmesan, and a fried egg.  The fabulous pancetta made this dish.  Starting a steak dinner with an order of pasta is aggressive, but birthdays only happen once a year!  We both ordered the New York strip – I almost broke rank and ordered the highly-praised Black Label burger, but now I have an excuse to go back (assuming that I can get in again).  In a word, the steak was magnificent.  I was in a euphoric state eating that fabulously flavorful piece of meat – I may have even thrown around the word orgasmic.  The steak is quite possibly the best steak I’ve eaten (and I’ve been to Luger and the other usual suspects).  We also shared an order of Potatoes Aligot, which played their supporting dish role well.  Made with cheese curd and probably something else sinful (crème fraiche?), these potatoes are not for the birds.  We washed down our meal with red wine by the glass (there were lots of extremely affordable glasses) – a Cali cab and a Grenache – both were fine if not great. 

Having eaten too much red velvet cake earlier in the day, we lingered over cups of decaf and then made our way in to the night, very full and very content.

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We made our way recently to another new Upper West Side restaurant: Recipe.  Recipe had not crossed my radar screen until I read Julia Moskin’s review.  I made a reservation immediately after reading the review, eager to take advantage of the restaurant’s free BYOB policy (complicit if not explicit) until the liquor license arrives.  Recipe is perfectly quaint (for example: the itsy bitsy clothespin that held the menu together and the “tap water” bottle pictured above) – it’s one of those restaurants that transports you temporarily from the hustle and bustle of NYC to somewhere more rustic and peaceful like the Berkshires.

Enhancing our dining experience was the arrival of Gael Greene at the table next to us midway through our meal – dining next to a well-known food critic is a thrill that only a foodie can appreciate and made me feel very “in the know.”  Dinner was a delight.  I was not blown away by anything we ate, but there were no misses and the prices are very palatable. 

Recipe is a great neighborhood spot – I’m not sure that it warrants a trek from a neighborhood like the West Village that has a deep bench of comparably accomplished neighborhood restaurants, but if you live anywhere in the radius of the UWS, make haste.  We are looking forward to returning again soon and often.  Here’s what we ate with a few pictures to whet your appetite.

  • Chilled Corn Soup (the details are hazy on this one…it was a special)
  • Tomato & Buffalo Mozzarella Tart – basil pesto, black truffle oil
  • Artic Char (also a special)
  • Grilled Hangar Steak – baby zucchini, cipollini onion, haricot vert, ancho romesco
  • Chocolate Pignoli Tartine
Tomato & Mozzarella Tart

Tomato & Mozzarella Tart

Hangar Steak

Hangar Steak

Artic Char

Artic Char

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Last week, we finally snagged a reservation at the UWS Fatty Crab, which has been booked consistently since it opened.  We had never been to the original Crab so we didn’t know what to expect and can’t draw comparisons.  My husband and I joined my colleague, Elise, and her boyfriend, Marc, an Asian food aficionado, at the Crab.  My initial impression of the restaurant was that it’s dark (very) and loud (very) and has a strange smell (hopefully, that was just a fluke).  The waiter informed us that the plates are inspired by Malaysian street cart food and meant for sharing and that we would need 4-8 dishes for the table.  Marc has a more adventurous palate that my husband and me so we divided and conquered.  Here’s what we ordered:

Elise and Marc:
Skate Panggang – grilled on a banana leaf, sambul udang kering
Soft-Shell Crab (a special)
Chinese Broccoli with Salted Fish
Steamed Baby Bok Choy

Me and my husband:
Short Rib Rendang – braised with kaffir lime, coconut, chili
Nasi Lemak – coconut rice, chicken curry, slow-poached egg
Fatty Sliders – mini pork & beef burgers

I was quite pleased with my dishes.  I had tried the short ribs at the Taste of the Upper West Side last year and they were every bit as good as I remembered.  The rice dish was excellent as well.  By the time the sliders arrived (two good-sized sliders), I was stuffed and only had room for one (extraordinarily spicy) bite.  The short ribs and rice dish were very large – frankly, the waiter did us a disservice by not warning us that we were over-ordering. 

I tried a few tepid bites of Elise and Marc’s dishes – the skate was topped with dried shrimp (I am not a fan of the latter) and the soft-shell crab was, well, soft-shell crab.  Marc devoured his food enthusiastically and seemed pleased by Zak Pelaccio’s fare – coming from a man that travels to Flushing to dine on Asian delicacies like stinky tofu, I would say that’s a compliment of the highest order. 

I left the meal wondering why I don’t eat Asian food more often – I do enjoy it, after all.  When I asked my husband for his review of the meal, he said that he doesn’t need to make a return visit.  I had been thinking the opposite, but the more I mulled over the increasing number of great places to eat on the UWS (places like Recipe – review coming soon – and Salumeria Rosi and West Branch and, of course, Shake Shack), I would have to agree.  Fatty Crab provided a very good, if not overly memorable, meal.

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It’s my man’s birthday.  To round out a weekend of eating in Maine, where the only exercise (thank you, rain) we got was chasing around after my obscenely cute godson, I snagged a last-minute reservation tonight at Minetta Tavern.  I am beside myself with excitement.  In light our travel schedule (which afforded me some time to work on belated posts…look for them later this week), I did not have time to bake a cake.  Instead, my very sweet colleague carried a red velvet cake back from Sugar Bakers in Catonsville, MD – I went to high school in this Baltimore suburb and Sugar Bakers bakes the best red velvet cake that I have tried.  The cake is accented with a thin layer of chocolate ganache and a delicate cream cheese frosting.  I hear the cake received rave reviews at my husband’s office.  Happy 32nd, baby!

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We nibbled our way through last weekend.  On Friday night, we tried Buceo 95, a tapas and wine bar located a half block from our new apartment.  We sat outside to enjoy the calm after torrential thunderstorms earlier in the evening.  Were it not for the residents of the halfway house located across the street ambling along the sidewalk while we dined, we could easily have been 20 blocks south in our old neighborhood.  We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. 

There are three reasons we will return to Buceo 95: 1) aforementioned proximity to apartment 2) congenial host and waitress, who were extremely accommodating 3) churrasco con salsa verde, which was the only dish worth revisiting.  This is not a restaurant worthy of a special trip, but if you find yourself near the 96th Street 2/3 subway stop, pop by for a glass of wine (a taste will be provided with a smile) and an order of the churrasco. 

On Saturday night, we were reservation free.  On sleepy summer weekends, I try to take advantage of the ease of dining at otherwise hard-to-get-in-to restaurants that don’t take reservations.  I may be one of the few people who actually enjoy NYC in the summer – sure it’s hot (June 2009 aside) and it can be smelly, but you have to share the city with far fewer people.  I was excited to try Barrio Chino, but after a trip to Soho earlier in the day to go couch shopping, we couldn’t muster the energy to trek to the LES.  Instead, we opted for Gottino, where we had more wine and nibbles.  (more…)

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