minibar by Jose Andres (Washington DC)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on July 20, 2014 by jaydel818

Chef Jose Andres’ minibar website claims that reservations are “in short supply, but available to the passionate.”  If by passionate, he means willing to stay awake until precisely 12:01am on the evening of May 31 to get a table sometime in the summer of 2014, and willing to drive to Washington DC on a Thursday night for a 6:30pm seating of only six people in total, then -yes- I am passionate.

Chef Andres, who owns several restaurants in the DC area, was in Tokyo for a charity event when we visited for our anniversary dinner.  However, his extraordinarily capable staff -surely among the world’s culinary best and brightest- welcomed us hospitably and left us pleasantly full.


Cocktails deftly mixed by JP: 

Corpse Reviver #2 (left) made with gin, lemon, cointreau, lillet blanc, absinthe 

and Smokey Gonzales (right) made with tequila, apricot liquor, ginger syrup, pear juice, and laphroig wash 


Amazing fruit and flowers at BarMini for our 4th wedding anniversary dinner




Pisco Sour at BarMini


Edible pressed flowers in a crisp, clear potato starch paper and flavored with St Germain (elderflower liquor)

Served in a book

Resting on the “marble” chair


“Hot and cold” pisco sour: icy cold lime sorbet in a hot lime foam


Back: Pineapple shortbread

Front: Parmesan canele


Pizza margherita (“crust” made with same starch paper as earlier pressed flowers)


“Cold bowl of rocks”

Almond tart with blue cheese


“Rubber Ducky”

apple meringue filled with foie gras ice cream


Hard at work!


“Late-Night Chicken Shawarma”

wrapped in potato starch, making lettuce wrap easier to pick up and eat

Filled with crispy chicken skin and flavored with aleppo pepper, dill, mint, parsley, cilantro

Herbed yogurt on the side

Easily one of my favorite dishes all night (and ever!)


Thai basil iced tea (mini cocktail): homemade ginger beer and micro Thai basil


Homage to “Vietnamese street food”

Crisp pig ear topped with braised pork shoulder, julienned vegetable slaw, mint, citrus, basil, curry

Served on, yes, a brown paper bag and with a pipette of optional chili oil

(I could have eaten this the rest of the night and gone home happy.)


Don’t eat the expanding hand towel!

(scented with orange blossom)


Geoduck sashimi (omg— gorgeous, clean taste of pure ocean)

in “smoke custard” flavored generously by bonito tuna and katsuobushi

topped with “citrus caviar” (finger lime)


The shellfish-less version of the geoduck dish

Baby Japanese peaches and apple miso ice



Absolute insanity…

Fusilli pasta handmade by molding each on a corkscrew, 

freezing it with liquid nitrogen, then injecting it with pesto

The texture has a pop that makes you want to cry.

Served with deconstructed pesto elements: egg, generous parmesan flakes,

pignoli, and shavings of black truffle


Andalucian tofu with gazpacho ice (instead of rice)

Tofu had a gorgeous almond flavor (think marzipan but not sweet)

Served with sesame, garlic, and sesame

The gazpacho ice was a little over-salty, but that made the tofu seem almost sweet

by comparison.  The tofu flavor was insanely good.



NOT PICTURED: Shabu shabu

Coconut flesh and black garlic ravioli

dragged through a bowl of broth made from young, green coconut and shrimp broth

flavored with scallion and garlic

(My shellfish-less version was a sweeter and very aromatic

coconut broth made with ginger and lemongrass.)



Iberico Tendon

Starchy kuzu root emulates the creamy mouthfeel of marrow

in an onion broth / beef consomme made richer by a quail egg


Jicama raviolo with bone marrow

topped with foamy butter and black pepper 

On top of delicious, mustardy capers

(the shellfish-less version of espadenyes with bone marrow below)

“a study of jicama” flavored with coffee


NOT PICTURED: Espardenyes with bone marrow

Roasted bone barrow with bone marrow sauce, sea cucumber




Beech mushroom papillot with truffle

The texture and flavor of these mushrooms was heaven-

incredible aroma as the clear bags were cut open

topped with Maldon sea salt, winter truffles from Australia, and truffle cream sauce

(a little temperature hot but delicious)



Lamb shoulder with whey and dill

I don’t love lamb, but I could’ve eaten a whole plate of this…

Tzatziki-inspired with dill, dill flowers, cucumber flowers,

(see the little cucumber attached to the yellow flower?)

Fork-tender lamb shoulder topped with milk skin


“Bonne Bouche Cheese Puff”

Vermont unpasteurized goat cheese encapsulated in walnut and mannitol sugar


“Spring Thaw”

Apple herb ice flavored with basil, cilantro, and coriander

Buttermilk “snow”

Sugar-cured lychee gelee

Ginger chip

Sugar-cured cucumber


BEYOND DELICIOUS.  Spring should always taste this good.


“After Eight” mint

Peppermint meringue, table torched to caramelize the sugary exterior

“Cocoa puffs”- almond chocolate cookies

Surprise center- tempered chocolate


Chef Andres’ favorite after-dinner drink: gin and tonic with juniper berries


On round, black plate: 

White puffs= raspberry wasabi bonbons

Chocolate mini-bars (ha ha, get it?)- milk chocolate with passionfruit

Yellow “wrapped” candies- Saffron pate de fruit in edible wrappers


Sticking up from the clear block:

 dark and milk chocolate sesame Pocky stick (sooooo good!) 


Dark chocolate covered yuzu marshmallows


Ice cream doughnuts

I can’t even begin to tell you delicious these were… like frozen Krispy Kremes.

I have no idea how they captured that flavor and made it cold (and better!)


Scotch gummis (“Jell-O shots”)


Pina colada cotton candy cake

(a special treat for our anniversary)

made with pineapple, coconut, and rum


Our 4th (“fruit and flowers”) wedding anniversary!


The Pinterest Entry- Or “How to Throw a Caterpillar Kids’ Party”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 4, 2013 by jaydel818

Our little guy’s first birthday party was a whirlwind of Very Hungry Caterpillar fun.  After months (and I do mean months) of planning, here are the final results.

First, I  had  my sister help me design these cute caterpillar-like invitations and printed them as postcards (less than $1 each!) on Zazzle.  I was also able to make custom stamps on Zazzle, which were kind-of pricey, but I decided to  splurge.

rj invitation


rj stamp

I ordered lime green and yellow throwaway tablecloths from Oriental Trading and alternated them at each table.  The centerpiece for each table was a picture of each food the caterpillar ate pasted onto posterboard and supported by an 18″ metal restaurant menu holder.  (I got these online for $2.50 each at a restaurant supply warehouse, figuring I can reuse them to make future birthday party centerpieces.)  Finally, there were balloons to match the “food” assigned to each table.  For example, the caterpillar ate one apple on Monday, hence the single red balloon.  At the next table, you can see two green balloons for the two pears he ate on Tuesday.


Each place setting was composed of plates and cups from Oriental Trading.  I found the dotted napkins at BJ’s Warehouse.  The favors were small, round plastic containers I got  from Oriental Trading and filled with Skittles.  I printed the date and occasion onto small, round labels purchased at Staples.


I used  plain white bags to make goodie bags for kids, cutting a leaf for each  from construction paper and punching holes with a standard hole puncher.  In the goodie bags, I put a Hungry Caterpillar coloring book, Play-Doh to make caterpillars at the party, and a cute caterpillar craft kit from Oriental Trading for a party activity.  (No candy in the bag… just fun activities to  keep kids occupied!)


My sister and I made homemade garlands from craft paper:


ImageMy favorite part of the party was the “caterpillar ate” table, filled with all the foods our favorite hungry little Lepidoptera ate on his “journey” through the week: apples, pears, strawberries, oranges, Swiss cheese, sausages, swirl lollipops (the closest I could find to yellow-and-blue suckers in the book were these swirl pops from Oriental Trading), et cetera.  The only fruit I couldn’t find was plums (not in season in late December!) although I was able to get my hands on a watermelon.  For the ice cream cone, I rigged up tin foil over my deepest baking pans, inserted ice cream cones into holes made in the foil, poured pink cake batter into each cone, and frosted them with pink buttercream icing (confectioner’s sugar, milk, vanilla, and butter). Voila! Instant “ice cream cone” that doesn’t melt! For each food, I printed up a little label on my color printer using Bodoni font (similar to the font used in the book).






More easy fun with balloons:


One of my favorite parts of the party was this strawberry and buttercream cake from Ardsley’s Riviera Bakehouse.  The folks at Riviera listened carefully to what I wanted and exceeded all expectations with this gorgeous, artistic cake:




Finally, the hit of the party for kids was this Melissa & Doug caterpillar crawl-through tube I ordered from Amazon.  Everyone commented on how much fun our son had at his own birthday party, and I attribute that in large part to how much the kids enjoyed this toy.  It was  well worth the couple of bucks (and free shipping!) for a toy that he will continue to use.


I got a lot of great ideas from Pinterest (see my first birthday party board) and added several of my own ideas.

*Not pictured: Caterpillar onesies made on saying, “I survived my parents’ first year!” and “very hungry birthday boy.”

We had a great time, and -most importantly- our little boy had a fantastic day!

Top Chef Kitchen: Paul Qui and Tiffany Derry

Posted in Top Chef Kitchen Pop-up: Paul & Tiffany with tags , , , on October 27, 2012 by jaydel818


Thanks to my good friend Jesse and his quick-click ability with online reservations, Hubby and I were able to taste the dishes of Top Chef-testants Paul Qui and Tiffany Derry (seasons 9 and 7 respectively), rather than just watching them on TV.

The short but sweet verdict? Absolutely worth the $95 per plate to eat and meet.  Both  chefs were gracious and super-friendly.

Highlights: Tiffany’s pork belly, Paul’s soubise, Paul’s madras curry, Tiffany’s banana pudding


Crispy and delicious appetizer flatbreads


Classic mojito with aged rum, mint, sugar, and bitters (the red on top)
[Nice flavor… I thought it looked like a chunky granita.]

Notes: Paul’s menu concept was a deconstructed chicken soup.  The first course was onion, the second course highlighted celery, and the third course centered on chicken.  The onion dish (below) was a major highlight of the evening.  With a beautiful visual asethetic and bold flavors, Chef Paul balanced sweet, salty, and savory notes.


Paul’s 1st course (“Onion”)
Soubise (remember that finale-winning dish?), onion chip, juniper, white pepper, clove, crispy chicken skin

Tiffany’s trout was tender, sweet, and flaky with a crispy skin that my husband positively grilled her about.  I asked Tiffany which chef was the most intimidating to cook for.  “Eric Ripert,” she quipped without missing a beat, reminiscing with pride over how he had said that her fish was “perfectly cooked.”  Perfectly cooked, indeed.


Tiffany’s 2nd Course (Crispy Ruby Red Trout)
with cannellini bean ragout and charred onions

Paul’s celery course was incredibly aromatic with celery as both a chip and a puree.  The Madras curry was insanely good– a perfect blend of warm, savory, and spicy.  It smelled and tasted, simultaneously (and paradoxically), both like home and like somewhere exotic.  Brilliant.


Paul’s 2nd Course (Poached Chicken Wings)
with celery root puree, coconut, and Madras curry

Tiffany’s pork belly, house-made sausage, and abso-freakin-lutely perfect grits were our favorite of the night (although Paul’s soubise and curry were also amazing).  This was down-home, perfect, comfort food that I would probably put on my Top Ten list.  Crispy pig ears? Come on!!!


Tiffany’s 3rd Course (Pork Belly)
with house-made sausage, crispy pig ears, yellow grit, and pickled sprouts

Paul’s entree was deliciously juicy chicken with a carrot focus: fluffy carrot “cake,” julienne-like carrot slices, and carrot puree.


Tiffany’s family recipe banana pudding… another highlight.


Tiffany’s Dessert (Southern Banana Pudding)
with caramelized bananas, vanilla bean custard, and pecan

Paul’s dessert was not super-sweet.  Buttermilk sorbet sat atop crushed pecans and was served with a brioche soaked for two days in milk and then bruleed.  The sliced grapes were juuuuust the right temperature- cold, almost frozen, but not quite.


Paul’s Dessert (Buttermilk Sorbet)
with thyme, rosemary gastrique, bay leaf salt, peppercorn, and grapes

Both Paul and Tiffany seemed genuinely happy to be there.  Tiffany graciously answered all of our questions, including my Top Chef favorite question: “What don’t people know about the show from watching television?”  Her answer: “You’re in that stew room for hours.  They leave you there with, like, crackers and wine.”  Apparently, during her season, Padma was nursing, and she would leave the set for hours, interrupting already long deliberation while the Judges’ Panel hashed things out until late in the night.  That definitely explains some of the show’s hot-tempered outbursts and emotional meltdowns.


Jen with Chef Tiffany Derry


Paul was also super-cool and friendly.  After some food small talk, we mentioned wanting to go to DC’s Mini-Bar.  “Oh yeah, definitely.  I know some guys down there,” he said, telling us who to ask for.  “Tell them you’re friends with Paul.”  His warmth was genuine, and he spoke to us as if we were old friends.

He also told us about how life had changed for him since winning Top Chef, how he’d used his winnings to travel and dine finely in Michelin-starred restaurants (“investing in” himself), and how he’d spent 80 Euro on roast chicken.

When asked if having a kitchen staff make his dishes was relaxing or unnerving, he insisted, “Well, I’m still pretty hands-on.”  And he was.  Paul was in the open air kitchen quite a bit: instructing, guiding, plating.  We had to do a little light stalking at the end of the night to snap a photo, but Paul was gracious about that too.  “Sorry, guys,” he said sheepishly, “I got a little busy in the kitchen.  I’m really kind-of shy, so I tend to hide out in the kitchen.”
Shy? Maybe.  Talented? Definitely.


Jen with Chef Paul Qui


It was a real pleasure for us to meet both Paul and Tiffany.  Their talents were obvious, and they were both truly nice people to boot.  We were lucky to have scored this Big Apple opportunity before they had to… you know, pack their knives and go.

Nathan Myrvhold’s Dinner to End All Dinners

Posted in NYC Food & Wine Festival: Dinner to End All Dinners with tags , , on October 13, 2012 by jaydel818

Okay, okay.  So I’ve been on a “little” hiatus.  I was busy planning a wedding… and then I was busy being a newlywed, followed by having a baby and being a mommy.  It’s not that I’ve stopped eating great meals… it’s just that I haven’t had as much time to write about them.

But if there was anything worth stepping back into the spotlight for, it was last night’s NYC Food & Wine Festival Event, The Dinner to End All Dinners.

My longtime food buddy Jesse and I scored seats to this hot ticket event mere minutes after the online queue opened.  The post-purchase hype we engaged in over several months sounded something like this: “If they’re calling it the ‘dinner to end all dinners,’ it’s got to be good!”  But that name.  A little ominous, no? What did they mean exactly? Dinner so good that you’d never want another? Or, like, whodunit dinner mystery where all the lights go out and Colonel Mustard winds up facedown in his boeuf bourguignon and then we all head to the library to accuse Mrs. Peacock with the candlestick?

Finally, after months of unabated anticipation, we headed downtown with our respective spouses.  As my husband and I drove down the west side, a dramatic sunset unfolded over the Hudson.  “Hmmmm,” I said aloud.  “Maybe it will be Mrs. Peacock with the candlestick.”


Spoiler Alert: Well, I made it out alive to write this post, so -dear reader- you can rest easy.  But in case you missed this “intimate gathering of 80,” here’s the inside scoop:


After exchanging greetings on the Soho street, we were whisked up to the International Culinary Center’s fifth floor loft.  The atmosphere in that (albeit cramped) elevator is something I can only compare to what Charlie and Grandpa Joe must have felt upon arriving at Willy Wonka’s famous chocolate factory.  I have to admit, I half expected the French Culinary Institute classrooms to be transformed into a chocolate river with lollipop mushrooms and little, modernist Oompah-Loompah servers.  I was quickly snapped out of that reverie by the insanely inviting smell of the fifth floor, which permeated the elevator somewhere between floors two and three.  It was warm. It was enticing.  It smelled like walking into Grandma’s kitchen… only my grandma didn’t have an immersion circulator.

We entered the loft….. and there was Nathan Myrhvold.  In the flesh.  We promptly besieged him for a photo, which he was gracious enough to take.


Jesse and me with Nathan Myrvhold, the man who wrote the book (literally!) on Modernist cuisine

Then, with celebrity chef pleasantries aside, we got down to business.  There was food to be had.  Modernist food.

Reception hors d’oeuvres

First up was Chef Alex Stupak’s octopus and parnsip with salsa papanteca.  The true marvel was the texture of both the octopus and the parsnip, both soft and buttery in texture, and -again in texture- nearly impossible to distinguish from each other.  Giving octopus the same bite as a parsnip? Fascinating.  In flavor, it was spicy, sweet, and slightly acidic (due to a citrus cream).  Toasted pepitas and mild, watery onions rounded out the flavor and provided a different mouth-feel.  Chipotle and arbol chilis gave the salsa a gentle heat.  Overall, I found it beautifully balanced, multi-dimensional, and elegantly composed.


Chef Alex Stupak’s octopus with parsnip and salsa papanteca

Next, coming around in champagne flutes, was a surprisingly complex caramelized carrot soup.  It had a bouquet of curry, and we swore we tasted coconut, butter, and a caramel-butterscotch warmth without over-the-top sweetness.  The miraculous flair is that the dish was composed from five ingredients: carrots, butter, water, baking soda, and salt.  Not even stock!!! The team used baking soda and a pressure cooker to caramelize the carrots all the way through (rather than the typical high heat and potential drying out method).  These intense flavors came from the food itself and made for something remarkably complex despite its simplicity.  This wasn’t my favorite dish by any means, but I marveled at the technique.  Texturally, it was beyond smooth.


Nathan Myrvhold and the Modernist Cuisine Team’s caramelized carrot soup

Lastly, there was Chef Mads Refslund’s raw mackerel with pickled mushrooms and nasturtium.  The mackerel itself was briny and clean.  I got a huge, unexpected bite of an alarmingly large peppercorn, which threw off my sense of taste a bit.  Once past that hurdle, the flavors of horseradish and buttermilk emerged.  The fish was fresh, the nasturtium mildly mustardy and clean… but the mushroom.  Ahhh the mushroom.  I don’t even like mushrooms, but the explosive texture of that orangue-hued beauty made this whole dish for me.


Chef Mads Refslund’s raw mackerel with pickled mushrooms and nasturtium


As we were ushered into the dining room, I found myself hoping things would pick up a little.  While the hors d’oeurves were delicious, I wasn’t sure they were measuring up to the hype I’d created in my head.  Chef Refslund is the golden child of Noma, the Copenhagen hotspot that usurped El Bulli’s “World’s Best Restaurant” crown in a 2010 stunning upset.  How could this meal be anything but amazing??? I was expecting the sun, moon, and stars…

Dinner started with Nathan Myrvhold (et al)’s vegetable stew, a gorgeous medley of brightly colored vegetables (beets, corn, mushrooms, onions) subsequently covered in a clear, raw pea broth made from pea puree spun in a centrifuge with force roughly equivalent to 27,000 times the earth’s gravity.  Yeaaaaaah baby! NOW we’re talking! The density-separated materials were heated and salted, making a portion for each guest from 3/4 of a pound of peas.  The team also made a pea butter from a substance in between the flavor molecules.  With a texture like butter, it was spread two ways: onto an oh-so-thin wisp of a toast and on a dollop of ricotta.  Myrhvold reflected on the “essential earthiness” of our little green friend, the pea, then cracked an unexpected one-liner about the dish’s essential “pea-ness.”  Appreciative laughter ensued, and we dug in to the hearty dish, which had real bite and incredibly smooth sweetness.  The pea’s normal starchiness was gone, leaving only a delicious sweetness that was paired with a gorgeously oaky 14 Hands Hot to Trot red.  The wine was smoky and remarkably bacony, making the dish and its accompanying wine pairing a clever play on “split” (ha ha… get it? centrifuge!) pea soup.  The pea butter was sweet and so enjoyable on the toast’s salty crunch.

Visual aesthetic? Yes.  Look at this gorgeous, Kermit-the-Frog green below.

Flavor? Yes.

Texture? Yes.

Hype? Sooo worth it.






The next course was Mads Refslund’s black sea bass with green tomatoes, cardamom, vanilla, and dandelion.   Chef Reslunds introduced his dish with a sweetly candid anecdote about his first meal in the States ending in the cultural foible of not leaving a tip, being chased down the street… and recognized.  He then plugged his New York restaurant (stay tuned… I’ll get there and let you know how it is) before telling us remarkably little about the technique for his dish other than that it featured six herbs… from New Jersey.  That said, the bass was delicious and generously portioned.  The warm, soft, velvety broth at the bottom of the plate was Comfort itself, and had there been bread on the table, I would have soaked up every drop from the bottom of my plate (and, quite possibly, the plates of everyone else at my table).  Suffice it to say that it took a lot of self-restraint not to slurp the broth from the plate… or pour it into my purse for later enjoyment.  The tomato, however, was the most incredible thing I tasted all night.  The cardamom and vanilla made the whole fruit utterly warm and comforting- tangy, flavorful, rich, meaty, and yet incredibly light: a bite full of contradictions.  Paired with a light-bodied, ruby-colored Oregon Pinot Noir from Erath, I could have eaten that tomato all night and walked away feeling like I’d gotten my money’s worth.


Not to be outdone, Myrvhold and Peeps then presented pastrami with saeurkraut.  The scent wafted out of the kitchen for nearly ten minutes before it was served, positively tantalizing this non-pastrami gal.  A two-week endeavor, Myrvhold introduced the process, which involved a week of curing, 72 hours of cooking, and 6 hours of smoking short rib.  Served with a playful rye crisp, cabbage and apple sauerkraut, the delightfully crisp shells of brussel sprout (not your grandma’s gray, boiled brussel sprout!), and a speck of fresh Oregon wasabi, this pastrami easily competed with the tomato that had won my heart.  Soft.  Smoky.  Lightly spicy.  The wasabi, made from real wasabi root, was sweet… nothing like that green garbage that shows up next to your rainbow roll.  I’m not a huge mustard fan either, but the seedy mustard under the rye crisp popped like caviar and was just enough tang to provide gorgeous, round flavor.  It was paired with a Red Diamond Tempermental, which was light and maybe a little peachy.  By this point, I was slithering around in my chair like a five-year-old who needs to use the bathroom.  Not because I needed to use the restroom, of course, but because the delightful dish made me feel like a little kid.



The night ended with Alex Stupak’s Mezcal crema with sour orange and pumpkin: a thin disc of orange ice with different forms of pumpkin.  There was a pumpkin puree, toasted pumpkin seeds, and a salty streusel oil.  Ultimately, I thought this dish was incredibly cerebral but not delicious.  Its textures and flavors had depth and interest, and I appreciated the cleverness of the composition.  It was paired with a late harvest riesling from Chateau Ste. Michelle, which was the only sweetness to the entire ensemble, and was a remarkable pairing.


After dinner, I poured myself out of my chair, wine-laden and ready for bed.  Highlights of the evening were the infamous tomato, forkfuls of pastrami so soft and fluffy it could have been cake, and truly brilliant wine pairings (kudos to the night’s unrecognized sommelier who orchestrated them).  Did it live up to the hype? Even Myrvhold had commented on the unfortunate event title, promising that we would, indeed, survive the night.  So was it the “dinner to end all dinners”? Well, I had dinner again tonight, so I guess not… but it was pretty darn great.


Bedford Post

Posted in Bedford Post (Bedford) on March 22, 2011 by jaydel818

954 Old Post Road
Bedford, NY 10506

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Dinner entrees range from $13-32 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- The Barn is casual elegant.  The Farmhouse is more formal.
Cuisine- New American and bakery
Hits- Our dishes were technically proficient, hearty, and extremely flavorful.  Highlights not to be missed include the Tunisian chickpea stew, spicy sausage orecchiette, Brussels sprouts side, Johnboy’s chicken, steak frites aioli, and ricotta pound cake.
Misses- The menu is a bit limited, but on the flip side, what is done is done exceedingly well.

Hastily overlooking the Hudson Valley Restaurant Week fine print, my husband Rich and I met our friends Liz and Brian for a “great-food-good-deal” type of dinner.  Okay, so Bedford Post is only offering a HVRW menu for lunch, but that didn’t stop us from loving Bedford Post.  Although the price was more than we anticipated, we found our dinner to be well worth the price of admission.

We started off with a shared pasta: house made orechiette (ear-shaped pasta) with spicy pork sausage ground into a paste, tender bits of cauliflower, and clean-tasting rosemary.  First of all, there is nothing like homemade pasta (sorry Barilla).  This orechiette was gorgeously al dente.  So the first thing you noticed was mouthfeel: a great bite.  Next, there was a slow heat- presumably from the ground sausage, which seemed ingenious as a paste rather than in chunks.  I think that bites of traditional sausage might have taken away, texturally, from the pasta; as conceptualized, the dish was rich and flavorful, and it placed the house made pasta front and center: the star of the show.  Flavor-wise, the sausage gave spiciness first, then the cauliflower gave a meatiness, and finally the rosemary gave a clean finish.  Bravo!

We also shared the macaroni (elbow pasta) with creamy white cheddar.  It was well-received around the table.

I simply couldn’t resist the Tunisian chickpea stew, which turned out to be one of my favorite dishes.  Overall, it had a beautiful balance: savory, meaty, umami-ish.  A basic broth surrounded tender chickpeas, garnished with a slice of lemon, a poached egg, black olives, capers, and a harisa-style red chili paste.  I thought something was vaguely citrusy, but perhaps it was my sensitivity to the capers, or maybe a squeeze of lemon…? The waitress informed me that what I’m calling harisa (traditionally red chili, olive oil, garlic, salt, caraway, coriander) was actually a house made Calabrian chili paste.  Since Tunisia and Calabria are about 200 miles apart (as the crow flies, over the Mediterranean Sea), I’m going to make the wild-and-crazy assertion that Calabrian chili paste would likely have similar flavors as Tunisian chili paste.  Either way, there was such depth of flavor to this incredible dish.

Liz had the John Boy’s Farm chicken, a local purveyor I know and love from our experiences at Crabtree’s Kittle House.  It never fails to be juicy, tender, and all-out fabulous comfort food.  Served with roasted potatoes, rosemary, and green olives, this is a go-to dish that you couldn’t possibly get wrong.  The skin is crisp, just fatty enough to be flavorful, beautifully seasoned, and yet the meat has its own distinctive au jus flavoring.  Seeing John Boy’s chicken on a menu affirms, for me, a chef’s commitment to local and ethical ingredients.

Rich, who couldn’t decide between the two fish entrees and was feeling playful, asked our waitress to surprise him.  He wound up with an impressive, juicy striped bass in a spiced tomato broth and topped with mussels.  The pure-ocean flavor of the bass further convinced me of Chef Jeremy McMillan’s affinity for higher-end proteins.

Brian and I both opted for the steak frites.  I ordered my skirt steak medium-rare.  When it came out (pretty dark, as you can see below), I got a little nervous.  It looked more like medium-well to me.  I braced myself, bit, and… breathed a huge sigh of relief.  The meat had a STRONG, sweet balsamic flavor.  Clearly, the chef had tenderized this tough cut in vinegar, which gave it a darker hue; however, it was a perfectly medium-rare tender with a nice char on the outside.  The thin fries were good… I could’ve taken or left them.  The aioli, however, was a whole other story.  Cream and garlic…? Oh heavens! I could’ve gone all “Frank’s Red Hot” and “put that ___ on everything!” Seriously, folks, I would’ve spread that aioli on anything that wasn’t nailed down.  It could make a piece of wood taste good.  If I weren’t too embarrassed, I probably would’ve asked the waitress to put it in a container for me.  (I didn’t.)

We also ordered a side of Brussels sprouts with chili, garlic, and lemon.  Trust me- these are not your Momma’s Brussels sprouts! For starters, unlike the soggy, brownish mini-cabbages of school cafeteria nightmares, these sprouts had a gorgeous green color and a caramel-crisp exterior.  Once again, deep, deep flavor, this time soaked in oily goodness.

We hesitated on dessert, but that hesitation lasted about fifteen seconds.  The peanut butter mousse was a house made chocolate gelato topped with a creamy peanut butter-white chocolate mousse and topped with a chip of sweet nut brittle.  While chocolate and peanut butter have been an “item” since Harry Reese of Hershey, Pennsylvania quit his dairy farm to open a candy business in 1928 (maybe even before then), this dish plays with the concept just enough to be simultaneously whimsical and yet reverent to the flavor pairing’s tradition.  I loved the temperature change (icy cold gelato and less-cold mousse).  I truly enjoyed the flavors, and the texture (creamy, creamy-foamy, crisp) was also playful.

What I didn’t expect to fall in love with was the ricotta pound cake with Meyer lemon curd.  I don’t loooove lemon.  I don’t even really like lemon.  (Lemon Meringue -that little tart!- was my least favorite Strawberry Shortcake character.)  But this… oh my, this was something special.  Light, airy, creamy cake… sweet and just-slightly-sour-lemony custard… toasted almond slivers with a lemony coating… it took every ounce of self-control I possessed not to snatch the plate away from Liz (it was her dessert), shove my face into it, and make nom-nom-nom sound effects like Cookie Monster attacking a plate of Chips Ahoy.  It was so flavorful and yet so light.  Once again, nice colors, great play on texture (spongy, liquidy custard, crunchy candied almonds) , and flavors that were just down-home delicious.  I stand corrected on the whole lemon issue.  This dessert changed my mind about lemons.

I was so unexpectedly impressed by Bedford Post.  We didn’t have one bad dish… not even one middling dish.  Although the menu items do tend to “play it safe” with standard-ish favorites, Bedford Post is refined and yet hearty.  I can’t help but be impressed by the ingredients, the execution, the deeply developed flavors, and the sheer number of house-made components.

We also had pretty great service.  Our waitress was knowledgeable about each dish’s preparation and encouraged us to try different beers and desserts with “on-the-house” samples.  That kind of friendly “try-it-ness” is usually reserved for Mom-and-Pop shoppes, and it isn’t what I expected from a clearly successful, high-end restaurant.  Don’t get me wrong… we definitely appreciated it.

It was the perfect combination of warmth and just-plain great food that made this dinner so memorable.  After Blue Hill (to which I am practically wedded despite the fact that I haven’t written it up yet), Bedford Post is now my second favorite Westchester eatery.  Will we be back? You bet your sweet lemons!  🙂

Restaurant X

Posted in Restaurant X (Congers) on March 17, 2011 by jaydel818

Restaurant X
117 N Route 303
Congers, NY

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Restaurant Week dinner menu including appetizer, entree, and dessert- $28  (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Casual elegant
Cuisine- New American
Hits- Captain Lawrence beer braised short ribs, apple-cranberry cobbler with cinnamon ice cream, use of local ingredients, some truly attractive presentation
Misses- Rapid-fire service feels rushed, food temperatures sometimes off, “play-it-safe” menu

My initial foray into the world of Peter Kelly, at Yonkers’ x2o, left me a little empty.  There had been so much hype coming off the initial reviews and the Bobby Flay victory.  (I love Flay and his willingness to put himself out there for throw-downs, but, really, who hasn’t beaten him at this point? J)  x2o’s food gave off this cold, factory-like vibe, as if different components of each dish were plated at different stations.  It felt efficient and precise but also disparate and not quite cohesive.  And don’t get me started on the Kobe beef hot dog…

Nearly three years later, after numerous assurances that, “his Rockland locations are so much better,” I opted to try Restaurant X with my sister for Hudson Valley Restaurant Week.  Chef Kelly was using all-Hudson-Valley ingredients, and how could that be bad? 🙂

Okay Chef, bring it.

When we first walked in, it took us a few minutes to garner the attention of the two hosts, but we were then warmly welcomed and showed to our table.

Restaurant X has been accused of looking a little “rundown.”  The front foyer had on its Sunday finest with deep red walls and dark, ornate woods. The dining space was warm and sunny with panoramic windows overlooking a duck pond that is probably much prettier in the summer.  My sister immediately characterized the clientele.  “It seems like the kind of place that older [note: my sister is 24] married people frequent regularly and order the same thing as each other,” she ventured.  (As our meal proceeded, her speculation was quasi-confirmed.  Four of the four tables around us were middle-aged couples; three of the four ordered the same entrée as their respective spouses.)

With no time to waste, we were immediately treated to thin dinner rolls and, being St. Patrick’s Day, delicious, crusty ends of soda bread.

For an appetizer, I opted to try the warm butternut squash flan.  It was beautifully plated and served in a sweet garlic confit and topped with a “rocket” (looked like a micro green –arugula?- with purple edges) salad.  The garlic confit (think roasted garlic only tidier and more efficient in process) was tender, sweet without the caramelization you get from roasting, and delicious.  Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than garlic and oil… The greens were fine, offering visual aesthetic.  The flan, however, was scaldingly hot and pretty bland.  The dairy (milk, eggs) totally drowned out any butternut sweetness.  It seemed like a miss- I didn’t get nearly enough of the side notes I’d expected: maple, maybe ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves? Heck! Even throw me a little parmesan cheese! Nope.  Nada.

My sister received a similarly scalding hot onion soup gratin with sherry and caramelized Pine Island black onions (yummy and from Warwick!).  Our appetizers came out with diner speed and outrageous temperature, which once again, bespoke a machine-like culinary efficiency.  I have this vision of mis-en-place being hastily thrown into an oven, plated with a doily, and thrown in front of the waiting consumer.  My sister’s reaction?

“French onion soup is French onion soup.  It’s hard to mess it up.”

My entrée was the pan-roasted Murray’s organic chicken.  (Murray’s is one of the few local –i.e., Pennsylvania– farms that offers certified humane chicken, so I try to habitually support them.)  What came out was a mediocre, albeit juicy, boneless, skinless chicken breast… the same kind I buy at DeCicco’s for $6 a pound and cook for myself at home.  It wasn’t strongly seasoned or very flavorful; nor was the port glaze it came in.  The tastiest component of the plate was the asparagus risotto.  At first I was getting this faint taste of Swiss or Gruyere, but thinking that odd, I dug in to find out more.  Truffle oil. I inquired with the waitress, “Does this asparagus risotto have truffle oil in it?”  She transmitted my question to the kitchen and came back with an affirmative response.  One of those not-on-the-menu, little, unexpected surprises…

My sister had the Captain Lawrence beer braised short ribs. How delicious does that sound? And it was. This dish was my favorite in the meal.  The beef was flavorful and tender.  The white cheddar grits were hearty and also flavorful.  The fried Brussels sprouts had nice caramelization on the exterior, making them a little chewier (a good thing!).  My sister thought they were greasy, but I suppose my oil threshold is a little higher.  🙂

The desserts were pretty standard fare: cream (a buttermilk panna cotta or a crème brulee), chocolate (with caramel center), fruit (a cobbler), or a cake (citrus almond pound cake).  We decided to share the apple-cranberry cobbler and the chocolate “Milky Way” galaxy: a hemisphere of chocolate ganache with a soft caramel center and crème Anglaise.

For the most part, the desserts were as hit-or-miss as the savory courses.  The cobbler was tart and tasty, served covered with thin strips of pastry, a dollop of cinnamon ice cream (the most outlandish thing on the menu, really). and a rolled, pirouline-like crisp.

The “Milky Way” was a visually nifty but unremarkably flavored ganache spaceship with a stylized sugar garnish and a shortbread-like biscuit in the shape of a shooting star.

I really, really wanted to like Restaurant X.

I really, really wanted to walk away impressed.

We were ceremoniously imparted with a pair of coconut macaroons along with our check.

A lovely couple at the table next to us, regular patrons, shared their enthusiasm.   “It’s the only place of its kind near here,” they shared.

I really, really wanted to share their enthusiasm.

But it still felt very robotic to me… like plates prepped well in advance and rapid-style fired.  It felt more like a large-scale operation than individual, lovingly plated dishes.  I could probably forgive the assembly-line automaticity if the menu were more unique, but Restaurant X caters “safely” to its Westchester-Rockland crowd of regulars; there are no wild-and-crazy experimental dishes here.  Then again, knowing and catering to his market is probably what makes Chef Kelly the successful owner of four restaurants.

I don’t know… I hear his brunches are amazing… and that Xaviar’s is really the place to go.  Maybe I’ll give it another shot.  🙂

Red Rooster (NYC)

Posted in Red Rooster (NYC) on February 26, 2011 by jaydel818

310 Lenox Avenue (at 125th Street)
New York, NY

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Dinner entrees range from $14-32 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Uptown chic, casual/hip dress
Cuisine- Comfort food influenced by owner Marcus Samuelsson’s Scandinavian/Ethiopian background
Hits- Nuts with sour cherry and injera (on the “snack” menu), spiced duck liver pudding, “chicken & egg” appetizer, Helga’s meatballs, desserts, knowledgeable and professional waitstaff
Misses- Open only about two months, Red Rooster still has a bit to work out regarding its reservation system.

My text message went something like this: “Left my camera battery at home in the charger! I’m going to cry!!!”

My husband Rich and I were already at Red Rooster’s copper U-shaped bar thirty minutes ahead of our reservation time, waiting for our friends Jesse and Jessica to arrive.  We had been talking up Marcus Samuelsson’s newest venture for two straight months, consumed with anticipation.  I paused outside to take my signature “front door shot,” and realized the camera wouldn’t click. My stomach sank… oh no! I had walked clear out of the house without my camera battery! It was like that recurring nightmare where you show up to class for a final exam with no pencil, or worse- no pants.  Drowning my sorrows in “the Savoy” —a refreshing cocktail made with Wodka vodka, lemon, muddled grapes, and agave— I resigned myself to the situation (admittedly this was only after testing the limits of my cell phone camera and finding them utterly unsatisfactory).  Sometimes, it seems, Fate reminds you that it’s normal to eat at a restaurant without leaning obnoxiously over everyone’s food to snap photos.

“Sometimes,” my husband consoled, “you need to just enjoy yourself and eat.”


Jesse and Jessica arrived only a few minutes after us with appetites in tow.  We had a few impatient cocktails at the bar and hovered at the hostess station as the time got further and further from our 9:30pm reservation.  The hostesses were gracious and pleasant, bringing four glasses of champagne over as the clock neared 10:15.  We were finally seated more than forty-five minutes past our reservation time.  Okay, I get it.  Red Rooster is popular.  It’s delicious, it’s trendy, it’s new, and it’s chic.  But with a celebrity chef-owner of Samuelsson’s stature, nothing makes a 45-minute wait even remotely acceptable.

Fortunately, this was my only bone to pick all evening.  Our server was welcoming and well-informed, noting my shellfish allergy (which I had long ago filled out and forgotten on my OpenTable reservation profile) and outlining which dishes to try or avoid.  This attention to detail was typical of the night and the hallmark of brilliant (warm, friendly, knowledgeable) service.

At this point, I have to admit that I feel a little “naked” without my pictures, but I guess I don’t need them to tell you how incredible Red Rooster’s food was.  We ordered a veritable smorgasbord of snacks, appetizers, entrees, and desserts for the table, and I’m going to share them a little differently than usual:


  • Nuts with dried sour cherries and crisp injera (thin Ethiopian flatbread)– This small bowl was utterly delectable, one of the simplest but most flavorful surprises of the night.  The snack was flavored strongly with mint (or maybe Thai basil?), and it was both savory and sweet.
  • Beef patty with salsa verde– a few small, bland empanadas plated with an insipid tomatillo sauce, definitely had missed potential


  • Corn tacos and tostadas- These four teeny, amuse-bouche sized chips were very prettily plated but looked like something out of Gulliver’s travels.  There were two small yellow corn tortillas and two round tostada chips served with yellowtail and salmon ceviche and avocado.  The flavors were fresh and very clean.
  • Crab cakes- Made from lump blue crab with spiced mayo, I’m told they were quite tasty and had great texture
  • Dirty rice and shrimp- I “tested my allergy” (which is, thankfully, not severe) with a forkful of the aged basmati rice with curry leaves.  It was hearty, wholesome, and definitely had that signature shrimp taste.
  • “The Chicken and Egg”- This appetizer really shouldn’t be missed.  Delicious “pulled” (shredded) chicken in Ethiopian berbere spice (I don’t know Red Rooster’s proprietary blend, but berbere usually has a gorgeous tawny color and includes -among other spices- garlic, ginger, fenugreek, pepper, chili, and basil) topped with an egg, and a pop-in-your-mouth seared duck liver wrapped in soft injera.
  • Spiced duck liver pudding- My husband ordered the star of the night.   This foie gras looked like a tiny British dessert pudding and functioned like a lava cake… you know, spongy on the outside with that exploding liquid center.  Absolutely.  Brilliant.  It was one of the more innovative foie gras preparations I’ve seen, and we unanimously agreed upon its genius around the table.  It was deliciously paired with slices of duck “pastrami” and just-sweet-enough almond and pear.
  • We did not try the gravlax (Scandinavian cold-cured salmon), but —I mean, really— how much food can four people really eat? 🙂


  • Jesse had the fried “yard bird” (dark meat chicken) with white mace gravy, a bit of hot sauce, and platano verde (less sweet/ripe plantain).  The outside coating was crisp, the inside tender, juicy, and flavorful.  Earned nods of approval around the table.
  • Rich had the oxtail braised in Mother’s Milk Stout, which was served with thinly sliced, delicate plantain chips.  There are only a few things in the world (including both oxtail and foie gras) that my husband simply cannot turn down on a menu.  The oxtail itself was moist, meaty, and won over even the skeptics at the table.  We agreed it was one of the best entrees of the four.
  • Jess had the red snapper with sour tomato broth and flavored with kaffir lime.  She didn’t particularly love it.  We all tasted, and -to the kitchen’s credit- the fish was nicely cooked.  With the other intensely flavorful choices at the table, the snapper wasn’t quite as strongly seasoned.  Once again, our hospitable server noticed her dismay and truly wanted to make it right, offering something else on the menu.  “I can take it,” she promised us, inviting criticism.
  • I had Helga’s meatballs, from a recipe honoring Samuelsson’s Swedish grandmother.  Our waitress had recommended the dish, promising (and I paraphrase), “I really didn’t have much of an opinion on meatballs, but these changed everything.”   SOLD.  Sign me up!  Not for the dietary faint of heart, these delicious meatballs are made with cream, sirloin (or chuck), veal, pork, breadcrumbs, and honey.  They’re served with deliciously thin, vinegary-sweet shavings of pickled cucumber, bright red lingonberries, and hearty garlic mashed potatoes.


  • Black vinegar cauliflower- with sesame, sumac, and olive.  This generously portioned side  was both acidic (vinegar-y), sweet (also, I presume from the black vinegar), and lemony (from the sumac).  It has a beautiful yellow color.  Between the sumac and the black vinegar (which can have a really complex, grainy flavor), I expected a bit more from the final product.  It was okay but not my favorite.


  • The sweet potato doughnuts with cinnamon sugar were like richer, thicker, orange-ish zeppoles.  They weren’t the lightest I’ve seen, but sweet potato has to weigh down that dough a bit.  They also weren’t excessively sweet.
  • The recommended spiced pudding was an unexpected hit.  Subtle, enticing, exotically spiced, it was accompanied by apricot and black currant flavors.  There’s nothing I love more than a great, cake-y, British-style pudding, and this one was incredible.
  • Finally, we had the black and white mud.  This dessert was a two-layered “pie.”  The bottom layer was a hot vanilla bean flavor, and the top layer was chocolate.  The layers had a consistency slightly thicker than mousse, and the whole thing was contained by a chocolate wafer crust and topped with a candied orange rind.  I can only describe this crust, which made the dessert -hands down- everyone’s favorite, as reminiscent of one’s first Oreo cookie only a thousand times richer, as if it were made by pulsing whole Oreos —maybe even Double Stuff— into a fine crumble in a food processor.  But the real surprise was this large-grained salt crunch at the bottom… unexpected taste and texture.
  • The only dessert we missed was a warm apple pie with soft cheddar crust and vanilla whip.  The promise of sweet and savory called to us, but we were at this point —honestly— trying to inconspicuously loosen the top buttons on our too-tight waistbands.

Besides, we need something to come back for…  🙂

Red Rooster was worth every second of our wait.  Even more delicious is Samuelsson’s welcoming revival of a circa-1900 speakeasy, his commitment to the Harlem community, and the restaurant’s inviting “for all people” atmosphere.  With successful (and pricey) Aquavit under his belt, Red Rooster becomes something more approachable, more homey, and more down-to-earth.  And down to earth as it may be, Red Rooster had us over the moon.

We’ll be back.

This time with the camera.  🙂

Picholine (NYC)

Posted in Picholine (NYC) on February 21, 2011 by jaydel818

35 West 64th Street (between Broadway & Central Park West)
New York, NY 10023

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- 2-course lunch $29, 7-course chef’s tasting $58, 10-course chef’s tasting $88 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Swanky, elegant although dress is casual
Cuisine- French/Mediterranean
Hits- Incredible technique, top-notch (organic, sustainable) ingredients, modest prices, formal and very capable service, vegan and vegetarian friendly
Misses- There’s little around Picholine’s Lincoln Center location except… well, Lincoln Center.  Lack of confidence? (read on)

Liz and I met early at Picholine’s unmanned bar, ready for another fabulous Restaurant Week lunch.  We had left the “husbands” at home, leaving us free to gorge ourselves on French food and discuss the finer points of Liz’s upcoming wedding.  No one came to take our drink order, but we were seated early and resigned ourselves to ordering a cocktail at the table.

The dining room, with ornate white molding, lavender walls, and crystal chandeliers, was notably feminine.  Liz accurately described the decor as what you’d expect if Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump had a restaurant on the East Coast.  Frank Bruni, less kindly, called it “cloying,” “monochromatic,” and “the architectural equivalent of a bridesmaid’s dress” in his 2006 review.

It seemed as good a place as any to discuss Liz’s wedding dress fitting, and we settled in with glasses of Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Réserve.  A restaurant’s champagne list tells you a lot, and I rather enjoyed this brut, which had a lot of structure and depth for a non-vintage champagne.

Picholine’s pretty-as-a-picture set-ups made us feel like the grown-up equivalent of girls at a tea party.  It was a great place for a girls’ lunch, or perhaps a date. 

Our first taste was an amuse bouche of micro-thin salsify chips accompanied by sweet potato panna cotta (creamy but not sweet) topped with a port gelee.  The chips were remarkably thin and light with a cerebral, sweet-to-spicy flavor progression.  The flavor was intense: star anise, sea salt, and cardamom.  It was probably my favorite dish of the day- powerful, flavorful, smart, and bold.

We had chosen our meal carefully to sample and split.  The 2-course lunch ($29) offered more exciting choices than the limited Restaurant Week menu ($24), so opting for the regular menu seemed like a no-brainer.  Liz’s appetizer was a tuna “napoleon” with flavors of the Riviera and olive oil ice cream.  As you can see, the “napoleon” was a layered “cake” of beautifully colored tuna slices and a crunchy, puffed-rice-type of chip topped with watercress.  The olive oil ice cream was a bit thin and flat; it could’ve been richer.  Here began my line of thinking about Picholine.  The amount of work that went into the dish was clear.  There was a lot of technique, a lot of planning, and beautiful plating… all with a remarkably modest price tag.  It wasn’t, however, knock-down-drag-out delicious.  Something seemed missing.

My appetizer was a chestnut veloute poured tableside over cèpe marmalade with chocolate granola and a bacon-maple mousse.  It was extremely subtle, technical, and had depth of flavor… but somehow the sum didn’t equal the whole of its parts.  I could appreciate the rich chocolate (not sweet) of the granola, the earthiness of the cèpe mushrooms, and very faint bacon-maple… but I didn’t have the irresistible urge to gobble down the entire bowl.  These dishes felt brilliantly thoughtful…all brain.  Where was the heart? Where was the soul? It felt polished and discerning but not passionate.

I hoped the entrees would change my mind.  Liz had pan-seared diver sea scallops “rossini” (a reference to 19th century composer and truffle-and-foie-gras lover Giaccino Rossini?) with black truffle oil, foie gras-pistachio dressing, and topped with thin slices (like cheeky little berets) of sunchoke.  The pan-sear was perfect, the textures lovely, the flavors deep and rich… and yet not entirely memorable.

My entree was the grilled Columbia River sturgeon.  I was tempted by the skate wing “pastrami,” because -like hanger steak- I feel that putting skate wing on a menu is a challenge to the eater.  When done well it is sweet and flavorful; when done poorly, it can be terribly dry.  Looking back, I feel certain that the technique would have been perfect: cooked on the cartilage and the fillets perhaps later removed to retain moisture.  I also considered the Elysian Fields lamb.  Although I’m not a huge fan of lamb, this Pennsylvania farm prioritizes a humanely raised philosophy and has the stamp of approval of Chef Thomas Keller’s input.  It appears regularly on the menus of both The French Laundry and Per Se, and if it’s good enough for T.K., it’s good enough for me.  That said, I was intrigued by the Pacific Northwest sturgeon, one of the largest and oldest living freshwater fish.  It tasted, ironically, like pure ocean and was quite tender if not a little bland.  Served with salsify fondant (a little more flavor), Syrah sauce (the bulk of the flavor), and topped with foam, it was once again technically proficient.  The pommes “Lyonnaise” were thinly “mandolined” and stacked like a gratin or a terrine; they tasted deliciously of butter and fat.  The crisp top layer and soft texture beneath made this simple, comforting, and one of my favorite parts of the meal.

We were reasonably full and could have skipped dessert, but I feel like the additional course often provides more information in the big picture of a restaurant. While waiting, we opted for another champagne-based drink.  I had a hibiscus cocktail, while Liz tried the pomegranate.  Mine was delicious: subtle, dry, and aromatic with visual aesthetic.  Hers was bright red, a bit sweeter, and also refreshing.



We chose the “chocolate and peanut butter” dessert: a mousse, crisp croustillant, and peanut butter sorbet served with whimsical peanuts encased in sugar and shaped like toothpicks.  The peanut butter was subtle in flavor, the chocolate rich, and the dried white crumble (front of the plate) was also peanutty and innovative in form.  This dish was incredibly complicated but muted in flavor.

My overall impression of Picholine’s food? It’s erudite, polished, and utterly masterful.  And, yet, it’s like a woman with luxe hair, porcelain skin, stunning eyes, full lips, high cheekbones, and a size 2 figure who is not described as beautiful.  One can appreciate it for its discrete parts and for the effort and technique that go into each plate.  But something feels missing. Worried that I was being unduly tough, I dug up some older reviews of Picholine.  The New York Times gave Picholine three stars (“excellent”) in 2006, and New York Magazine gave it four stars (“exceptional”).  With a 2007 James Beard nomination for the country’s Outstanding Restaurant in 2007 and two consistent Michelin stars from 2008-2011, Picholine clearly has street cred.  Yet Frank Bruni noted Picholine’s “seemingly chromosomal stuffiness,” its lack of “energy and style,” and that it is fundamentally “too quiet” despite its “first-rate ingredients and superior execution.”  What isn’t in Bruni’s review (or mine) is sheer deliciousness… because it simply isn’t there.  Picholine is refined.  I wanted so badly to fall head over heels in love with it, and yet I walked away feeling like there was some missed potential… a lack of confidence? a very head-over-heart approach? a lack of wild, reckless abandon? It felt zippered up way too high at the neckline and with floor-length hems too low to show any real natural beauty.  You got the sense that there was something fabulous underneath, but it was heavily cloaked in a genteel modesty.   I admire Chef Terrance Brennan for Picholine’s philosophy and proficiency, but at the end of the day, only the passion and complexity of the amuse bouche and the pommes lyonnaise really stood out and were truly memorable.

Mamoun’s Falafel (NYC)

Posted in Mamoun's Falafel (NYC) on February 20, 2011 by jaydel818

119 McDougal Street (between Bleeker and West 3rd Streets)
New York, NY 10012

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Many sandwiches under $2.50-5.00, platters $5-11, sides $1-2.50, pastries $1.50-1.75 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Hole-in-the wall, take-out joint
Cuisine- Middle Eastern
Hits- Great eats for a better price than you could possibly imagine!, baklava and pastries
Misses- Don’t blink! You could miss it!

Mamoun’s flagship location in Greenwich Village is older than I am.  Serving Middle Eastern food since the early 1970s, Mamoun’s now has locations on St. Mark’s and in Connecticut.  My husband and I stopped by to pick up a few falafel sandwiches, which were irresistible at $2.50 each.  The falafel (made of chickpea, onion, parsley, garlic, and various spices) was greener (more parsley) than I’d ever seen.  The vegetables were fresh, and the pita held together well.

My husband had the kafta kebab (seasoned lamb with onions and parsley ground into a patty then grilled) platter: two patties served with a salad, olive oil, lemon juice, tahini sauce, and two warm pita breads.  [Photo unavailable due to rapidity of ingestion]

We got a small piece of absolutely delicious, flaky, honeyed baklava:

and a small piece of mabrume, a tidy pile of pastry (vaguely similar to Italian sfogliatelle) topped with honey, whole almonds, and chopped pistachios and walnuts.  It was impossible to eat in one sitting but disappeared very easily after several successive fork-in-hand passes through the kitchen.

Mamoun’s was sort of an accidental find for us, but at prices so low and with flavors so great, we’d definitely go back!

Minietta Tavern (NYC)

Posted in Minietta Tavern (NYC) on February 20, 2011 by jaydel818

113 McDougal Street (between Bleeker and West 3rd Streets)
New York, NY 10012

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Brunch entrees $16-22, dinner entrees $17-32 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Hipster vibe, 1920-30s Paris steakhouse meets classic NYC tavern
Cuisine- French bistro
Hits- Balthazar baked goods, much-hyped Black Label burger
Misses- Crowded, can get a bit claustrophobic

Our family has developed a pleasant tradition of dining out in lieu of birthday gifts.  My brother, the consummate carnivore, chose Minietta Tavern over a month in advance of his 28th birthday and forwarded slews of e-articles about Pat Lafrieda and the famed Black Label burger in the time spanning late December to mid-February.  We were well-versed in what to expect and arrived with sky-high expectations for this $26 burger.

After climbing through the burgundy curtain, we stepped into the bar area, replete with alternating black-and-white floor tiles, original glass-front oak wood bar, and white tin ceiling.  The gentleman in the gray suit and hip black glasses reading the Times at the bar could’ve been a strategically planted character; I could completely picture the bar stools sixty years ago filled with men just like him.

When our table was ready, we headed into the back dining room, which crams a lot of people chair-to-chair in a medium-sized space with narrow walkways for the staff.  The walls were covered in framed caricatures and black-and-white photographs with a fresco depicting Greenwich Village around the top of the room.  Couples and young families packed into the Paris-red leather banquettes for brunch.  As we prepared for our own meal, we watched two plates consistently pass us by: the thick brioche French toast and the signature Black Label burger.

We started off with a basket of Balthazar Bakery (which falls under owner Keith McNally’s empire) breads.  The collection was a sumptuous start, and we simply devoured (clockwise from the top) buttery croissants; a dark, thick-crusted Bordeaux-style cannelé with its custardy center and a marzipan flavor; a fruit focaccia; a moist, rich chocolate brioche; and (in the center) a nutty maple doughnut.

My husband Rich ordered a side dish, the duck hash with soft potatoes, as an appetizer and then proceeded to good-naturedly heckle my father about leaning toward the Green Market omelet instead of the Black Label burger.  The hash was served in a cast-iron skillet and looked like “pulled duck.”  It was fatty, abundant, and enjoyed around the table.

My brother’s girlfriend, Mel, and I split the salade d’agrumes (a citrus salad) with pomegranate seeds, thin slices of fennel, mint and dotted with chopped pistachios.  As you can see the colors were beautiful; the flavors were light and refreshing.

We also split the Black Label burger (which accounted for the rest of the table’s entrees, including aforementioned heckled Dad), which came with an obscene mound of thin French fries, a slice of butter lettuce, a tomato wheel, and an old-fashioned (super-sugary and achingly acidic vinegar) pickle that none of us quite cared for.

Minietta Tavern and the Black Label burger are practically synonymous at this point.  The juicy, eight-ounce burger itself is the result of laborious artistic process and revision.  Pat Lafrieda’s blend of dry-aged Kentucky ribeye, skirt steak, and brisket (in proportions guarded with NASA-esque security) is plancha-griddled to form a crust and sprinkled with clarified butter, salt, and pepper.  It is served on a custom Balthazar Bakery sesame-crusted brioche bun with caramelized onions.  [Nick Solares’ in-depth expose of the Black Label burger on is, by far, the most detailed account its complexity and origin.]

When ordering your temperature, note that Minietta’s medium is really medium-rare, it’s medium-rare is really rare, etc cetera.  So a “well done” burger still comes with a pink center.  We ordered ours “medium,” which came with a pink-red center.  As you can see, the bun was just perfectly moistened with juice and fat on the top bun, while the bottom bun was buttery and just-nearly soaked through.  The dry aging of the beef itself gave it an earthy and (I mean this in the best possible way) moldy taste that my brother and I both related to a moldy cheese flavor.  My friend Jesse (who dined there earlier this year) called it an “umami taste,” which I’m inclined to agree with.  Thick like a meatball (which I LOVE in a burger), I can’t say it was my favorite burger ever, but the flavor was certainly unlike any other.  Honestly, I’m not totally sure the dry-aged taste was totally for me, but speaking objectively, it was rich and wildly flavorful.

My mother and sister shared a burger that was “extra well-done” and didn’t care for it.  At the more thoroughly cooked temperature, the meat got a bit gristly, and my sister got a hard piece (we speculated it could be cartilage) in her burger.  Although we agreed that, like hanger steaks, the burger probably wasn’t best-suited for the “well-done” meat lover, my sister felt (and, in the spirit of fairness, I’m including her opinion) that the waitstaff should gently warn diners that the dish isn’t recommended at higher temperatures at the time of ordering, giving them a heads-up to either order another dish or knowingly risk the repercussions.

For dessert, we shared a chocolate-hazelnut dacquoise with a rich chocolate ganache and hazelnut meringue.   The flavors were spot on and led me to believe that much of Minietta’s success follows on the heels of its incredible Balthazar baked goods.

Another star was the Balthazar fruit galette with currants and lightly charred pears: sweet, tart, with subtle almond-marzipan flavors and a delicate, crunchy crust.  How gorgeous are these colors?

We also shared an âssiete de chocolats (chocolate assortment) by renowned chocolatier Jacques Torres.  Proceeding clockwise from the half sphere in front —which was a milk chocolate with a deliciously gooey rum-caramel-brown-sugar-and-butter center— was a dark chocolate square, a milk chocolate hexagon with a butterscotch-y center,  a milk chocolate square with a cinnamon/hazelnut center, and the dark chocolate heart ( in the middle) that tasted like passionfruit.

On the whole, Minietta’s food was rich, delicious, and flavorful.  Did it live up to the hype? Well, it’s hard when the hype is so amplified.  We enjoyed ourselves, and I’d definitely consider going back for that brioche French toast.  More than anything, though, our meal left me wanting to visit Balthazar Bakery.  Now that was some amazing stuff, and it just goes to show what the right shared investments can do for a restaurant.