Rub BBQ- Righteous Urban Barbecue (NYC)

Posted in Rub BBQ (NYC) on February 19, 2011 by jaydel818

208 West 23rd Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues)
New York, NY 10011

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Expect to pay, on average, $30 per person for a drink, entree, and tip (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Casual
Cuisine- Hickory pit-smoked St. Louis barbecue
Hits- Burnt ends, fried green tomatoes, deep fried Oreos
Misses- Some meats were dry.  Also, you have to really love vinegar to enjoy St. Louis-style barbecue.

The past few weeks have been barbecue-filled for us (see Blue Smoke and Hill Country).  When my brother got a group of friends together to celebrate his birthday at Rub BBQ, my husband Rich and I were excited to round out our “city barbecue tour” with yet another hot spot.  We walked through the cold-catching curtain and into a pretty small dining room with tables concentrated on one side of the space and a bar at the rear.

My brother, Mike

We sat under this super cool, 3D sphere of light-up art depicting RUB and its surrounding storefronts.

My brother, Mike, in front of said super cool, 3D sphere of light-up art depicting RUB and its surrounding storefronts

I started off with the frighteningly girlish razzle dazzle cocktail: a bright pink, lemonade concoction that was tasty but overly sweet and acidic.

My brother Mike had done his homework and knew RUB’s specialties.  For an appetizer, he ordered the barbecue chicken wings, which were totally unique in flavor but so, SO vinegary (and -for the record- I adore vinegar).  I didn’t care for them quite so much; they were just too acidic for me.

Mike’s girlfriend, Mel, had a basket of fried green tomatoes with Cajun remoulade.  They were thickly battered and super (temperature) hot.

Rich and I split the BBQ chicken empanada, which was also filled with chipotle and potatoes.  It was definitely flavorful, and the crust was thick enough to hold up to multiple bites.

My brother had a 2-meat platter with pulled pork and hot link sausage with a side of onion strings.  All platters came with a light, cakey corn bread, sliced pickles, and two slices of white bread.

He also ordered the signature burnt ends, which are basically smoky brisket trimmings; they were flavorful and tender, and it’s easy to see why they’re a signature dish.  These are not to be missed!

Rich also had a 2 meat platter of brisket and spicy BBQ sausage with onion strings and barbecued baked beans.  If you look closely, you can see the pink smoke ring around the edge of the brisket, the hallmark of superior smoking.

I had the pulled chicken (exactly the same as the barbecued chicken only served off the bone) with collard and mustard greens.  The chicken was definitely a bit dry, but the greens were way better than expected, not at all bitter.

Mike’s friend had pork ribs:

and another friend had RUB’s only real vegetarian option, the portobello mushroom burger.

For dessert, we had a basket of chocolate chip cookies with chunks of bacon in them.  The bacon flavor was pretty subtle and smoky, unless you bit into an actual bacon chunk.  Then it was utterly delicious.  The cookies were served cold and probably would’ve been fantastic if slightly warmed.

We also shared the deep fried Oreos topped with powdered sugar.  Seriously, the only way to make an Oreo taste better is to deep fry it, and there’s pretty much no substance known to man that doesn’t taste good fried.  So we indulged in these huge zeppole-like pockets of dough with melty chocolate-cream goodness at the center.  Fortunately, they were served hot.

Of the three BBQ joints I’ve hit up lately, RUB is -sadly- not my favorite.  It definitely had high points, but it simply didn’t warrant an “outstanding” review.  If you’re looking for fun food activities, I’d definitely recommend hitting up RUB as part of a NYC barbecue tour, but on its own, it was -at best- “pretty good.”

Hill Country (NYC)

Posted in Hill Country (NYC) on February 5, 2011 by jaydel818

30 West 26th Street (between Broadway & 6th Avenue)
New York, NY 10010

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Various meats priced by the pound ($9 per pound for chicken – $29 per pound for boneless prime rib at time of posting), sides $5-20 (depending upon size)
Ambiance- Super-casual, dine-in or take-out marketplace
Cuisine- Texas “slow and low” dry rub barbecue
Hits- German potato salad, fun “meal ticket” vibe (a great system for folks who want separate checks); I also HAVE to shout out Hill Country for their food-based community involvement with several charitable organizations.
Misses- Many BBQ joints will throw vegetarians a bone with an obligatory veggie burger or portobello-on-a-bun, but Hill Country is definitely a carnivore’s paradise.  Also, the meal ticket system, while fun, can lead to overspending if you’re not careful.
Sitting at the Hill Country bar, I was really excited to meet my friend Erica.  Fresh out of culinary school, she had a lot to catch me up on, and we hadn’t seen each other since my wedding in July.  And what better way to share stories than over some down-home, finger-lickin’, stick-to-yer-bones comfort food?
It was Restaurant Week, but when we got to the hostess station, we were given these nifty little meal ticket cards.  Like eating dim sum at any Chinatown establishment worth its salt, this meal involved stamping your card with the food you chose, which you pay for at the cash register upon exiting.
“How does the whole Restaurant Week thing work?” I asked naively, wondering how this system matched the $24 lunch Restaurant Week promise.
“Oh, we don’t exactly do that,” was the reply.  “You pay for what you eat.”
Okaaaay. Participating in Restaurant Week without a $24 lunch budget is a little like running the marathon standing on the sideline, but -hey- whatever.  The system is great for folks who want their own individual checks, but it can also become very easy to fall victim to “Monopoly Money Syndrome,” when you go around piling up your plate oblivious to dollar signs.
Hill Country is set up cafeteria-style (I guess they call it “market style” to eliminate the grammar-school-lunch-lady connotation), so you claim a wooden table, grab a tray, and visit each of the different stations for your fixin’s.  Being adventurous eaters but, alas, relatively small girls, we wound up with similar, sparing sampler platters.  I tried a beef back rib, moist brisket (as opposed to the lean brisket), and a pork spare rib, which was wrapped up in greasy brown butcher paper.  All three meats were tender and juicy.  The brisket was a little too fatty for me, but it was definitely moist.  Both ribs were meaty with a nice, slow-heat, rich-tang barbeque sauce.  The spice of the sauce wasn’t overwhelming, but it snuck up on me, unexpected.
I couldn’t resist the seasonal German potato salad, which was -to my good fortune- in season, and Erica had the sweet potato bourbon mash.  My potatoes were deliciously vinegary and salty with the skin (all that vitamin goodness) thrown into the mix.  Erica’s potatoes were rich and strongly sweet; good to sample but had I ordered it, I wouldn’t have been able to eat the whole serving.
We each had a piece of dense, sweet cornbread with ancho honey butter.
The accommodating folks at the sides counter let you taste before you buy, so we also sampled the collard greens (flavorful, not bitter), beer braised cowboy pinto beans (hearty and meaty), and white shoepeg corn pudding (sweet, creamy, and pretty darn decadent).
As you can see, everything is pretty much do-it-yourself, no-frills.  The waitstaff kept us in a steady supply of drinks, and the silverware was real (not plastic).  However, all food is served on paper or in thin cardboard trays.  Fancy it ain’t.  But it is pretty tasty.
We hadn’t come this far to skip dessert, so I tried a red velvet cupcake, which had that signature Dutch cocoa flavor.  (I’m not sure if they actually use Dutch cocoa, but the flavor was spot on.)
Erica had the banana cream pudding topped with two vanilla wafers- not as overly sweet as one might expect but creamy and delicious.
I’ve been on quite the BBQ kick lately.  Was Hill Country my favorite barbecue in the city? With so many hot barbecue joints in the city to choose from, I’d have to say no.  It is a place I can feel great supporting, given its many contributions to charitable organizations.  More than anything, Hill Country stands witness to entrepreneur Marc Glosserman’s homage to his family’s Texas roots.  Although the food has soul and warmth, the counter-style set-up doesn’t.  It’s an East Coast touch that, while unique and convenient in some ways, is more “New York anonymity” than “Southern hospitality.”  Worth the trip to try? Yes.  Worth going back? Maybe.

Blue Smoke (NYC)

Posted in Blue Smoke (NYC) on January 30, 2011 by jaydel818

116 E 27th Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues)
New York, NY 10016

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Dinner entrees $12-35 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Casual chic BBQ joint
Cuisine- St. Louis Barbecue
Hits- Shrimp corn dogs, hush puppies, ribs,  pumpkin cheesecake, hospitality
Misses- Not quite a miss, but we ‘d skip the “peanuts” appetizer next time.
I love a good Restaurant Week success story…
Sometimes choosing a place to eat during Restaurant Week is a toss-up, and it depends pretty heavily on the menu.  Some folks put on their “Sunday best” and try to woo a new clientele.  Others sit back on their haunches and merely try  to keep up with the influx.  Blue Smoke is the former.
A jazz-joint staple of the legendary Danny Meyer (Shake Shack, Union Square Cafe, Eleven Madison Park), Blue Smoke is an unpresuming and pleasant surprise.  Upon entering, one chooses the main floor restaurant (Blue Smoke) or the downstairs jazz club (Jazz Standard).
Families and couples crowded the restaurant for lunch.  Arriving a bit early, we had cocktails at the bar, which was a no-frills sort of straightforward but attractive nonetheless .
We were seated pretty much exactly on time for our 2pm reservation.  Although not fancy, the space wasn’t shabby either.  Open and airy, with exposed brick and bright windows looking out onto a wooden fence, the room was jammed with tables and divided by a “wall” of nautical stars.

Ravenously hungry, my husband Rich and I, along with our friends Liz and Brian, couldn’t contain ourselves to the Restaurant Week menu.  Eyes undoubtedly bigger than our stomachs, we ordered a few appetizers off the RW menu, a brazen move we would later pay for in the form of piles of unfinished food and takeout boxes.  First, we tried Blue Smoke’s North Carolina salt peanuts, which are specially made for the restaurant by the men’s group of a Methodist church.  A little oilier and saltier than your standard can of Planters, they were tasty and slightly smoky, but peanuts are pretty much peanuts.

The table then shared iced oysters on the half shell with spicy cocktail sauce.
Then, a fabulously clever play on the corn dog —corn-battered shrimp— served on skewers with an avocado lime mayo.  These were worth risking the effects of my (admittedly mild) shellfish allergy.  The avocado lime mayo alone was one of the best things I had all day.  Light, fresh, and very clean tasting, I could’ve easily devoured a jarful with some plain tortilla chips.  The shrimp were tender with a crisp snap and perfectly crunchy fried crust.

Still off the menu, we shared perfectly round corn hush puppies with a sweet jalapeno marmalade.  The ‘pups were crisp on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside… like savory little cakes.
Our last off-the-Restaurant-Week menu item was a generous basket of charred-skin sweet potato wedges with a white maple dip.  These were starchy with nice bite, cut just thick enough to enjoy.  They were sweet, but not as overly sweet as you might think.  The whole dish showed restraint (on the part of the chef, of course, not the eater).  🙂
With all of this food, we hadn’t even gotten to our Restaurant Week menu first courses yet.  Liz’s appetizer was the sleeper favorite… a flaky tart crust with house smoked bacon, Yukon gold potatoes, and white cheddar, not on the regular menu.  Buttery, smoky, starchy, and savory, it was perfect winter comfort food.
My husband had the smoked chicken liver pate with a salted rye stick and peppered-pear chutney.  The pate was smooth, warm, and slightly mineral-y.  The rye bread was just enough to cool the mouth after the peppered-pear chutney, which was achingly sweet followed by slow, hot-pepper heat.
Brian and I each chose the chipotle wings with creamy blue cheese.  The plate was a generous helping of at least 8 wings slathered in chipotle sauce, which also had a mild to medium slow-build heat.  The wings themselves were meaty, but I prefer a crispier skin.  This was the point in our culinary marathon when I knew I was in trouble.  Two wings in, I was keenly aware that there was a lot more food coming and that I would have to will myself through the Brobdingnagian portions.
When our entrees came, I could hardly breathe.  All four lunch choices looked incredible, and I’d had a lot of trouble choosing.  Fortunately, we ordered enough of a variety that I could taste most of them.  My husband Rich ordered the Kansas City ribs with pit beans and pickles.  They were meaty, smoky, and wet.  The beans, also meaty and delicious, had just enough sweet and savory.

Brian ordered the hanger steak, which had been a strong contender as I considered my options on the train ride downtown.  As many of you know, I consider hanger steak on a menu a direct challenge to me, as the eater.  When someone has the cajones to put hanger steak on their menu, I feel like they are boldly promising to make it worth my while.  Sometimes the leap of faith is richly rewarded with a soft, well-tenderized, and incredibly flavorful treat.  More often than not, it’s a very tasty but tough, chewy cut of meat.  I refrained from the dare this time, figuring I’d be able to taste Brian’s dish enough to satisfy my curiosity.  Although it was very tasty, I was glad I hadn’t taken the risk.  The steak was definitely a bit tough and would not have exceeded my Harold-Dieterle-Perilla-high hopes.
What I did order was the apple-glazed smoked chicken with mashed potatoes and crispy onions.  The chicken was tender, juicy, and smoky, as promised.  As mentioned, I would have preferred a crispier skin, which would’ve knocked this dish out of the park.  The fried onion slivers gave taste and crunch to thick and oh-so comforting mashed potatoes.  I had long-since thrown in the towel and wound up taking the majority of my dish home.
Dessert was included in our RW menu, and I felt the same way about it as I did when facing our upcoming honeymoon after our wedding: “Really??? There’s MORE?” It felt over-lavish, over-extravagant.  And, besides, I had not an ounce of room left in my belly to put it.  Rich got a pumpkin cheesecake.  I’m not really a cheesecake kind of gal, but with caramel pecans and freshly whipped cream, this dessert was incredible.
Brian had the warm apple crisp with cinnamon, brown-sugar ice cream.

Liz had the grasshopper brownie sundae, also with fresh cream.  The fresh mint was a bit strong for me, but the hot-cold balance and rich chocolate were a success.
With barely any zest left in me, I forced my fork into my dessert solely for the sake of my readership.  (Oh, the sacrifices I make for you… I hope you’re grateful. 🙂 )  I had chosen wisely… buttermilk cake with ginger beer pears and creme fraiche, which sparked a table-ful of South Park “cream freesh” jokes.  The cake was spongy and soft and paired (bad pun intended) beautifully with mildly spiced pears.  Again, it was a muted, restrained dessert, one where you can feel the passion behind it, but it doesn’t slap you in the face.  (Think Ethan Frome versus The Notebook.)

Finally, as we gathered our mountain of takeout boxes in takeout bags, we were each treated to a very hospitable wrapped chocolate chip cookie from the Blue Smoke Bake Shop.  There’s nothing I love more than a restaurant parting gift (see Del Posto and Momofuku Ko); I think it’s a touch of class, particularly during Restaurant Week, that separates the proverbial wheat from the chaff.  A take-home goodie is the sign of an eatery that takes nothing for granted and is still trying to woo you, an unnecessary but generous gesture of appreciation.  Just slightly crisp around the edges and chewy everywhere else, this cookie is like a kiss from your grandmother.  As full as we were, we shared one on the train ride home.
Overall, the generous portions, punctual seating, and clean flavors (sweet, salty, savory) won me over.  The menu was intriguing and left us enthusiastic to visit again.  The timing between courses was a little slow, but —rather than a flaw— I would see this more as an opportunity to relax, drink, talk with friends, digest, and linger over each plate.  Blue Smoke was unpretentious, hearty, and welcoming.  Good value, good food, good price.  I can safely say that I blew through and over my Weight Watchers points pretty hard today, but it was well worth it.  I left full and still have lunch for tomorrow… although those mashed potatoes in the fridge might not make it ’til morning.   🙂

Colicchio & Sons

Posted in Colicchio & Sons (NYC) on January 29, 2011 by jaydel818

85 10th Avenue (at 16th Street)
New York, NY 10011

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Tap room dinner entrees $17-24, Dining room dinner entrees $28-34, market menu $95, tasting menu $135 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Chic, handsome loft space
Cuisine- New American, one of the pioneering chefs for market-fresh food
Hits- Zeppoles with butterscotch, oven-fresh pizzas, TC burger
Misses- Overseasoned salad, some temperature issues with soup
About a month after the holidays, juuuuuuust when we’ve started to recoup from December over-expenditure, New York City invites us to cease economically prudent at-home cooking with its annual winter Restaurant Week.  This year’s event came hot on the heels of a barrage of brutal snowstorms, which forced many of us into hibernation.  I left my own cozy kitchen to enjoy dinner at Colicchio & Sons with my friends Jesse and Jeanine.  Just over a year since the restaurant’s transition from Craftsteak and having recently celebrated my Dad’s birthday at Chef Tom Colicchio’s uber-casual Craftbar, it seemed as good a time as any to try this Chelsea hotspot.
The large, loft-like space is stunningly decorated and plays with both separation and openness through various media: glass, negative space, a winding staircase leading to the multi-level wine cellar, and minimally intrusive room dividers.  The glass-walled wine room (see photo above) separates the less formal Tap room from the Dining room.  The furniture is both inviting and elegant, masculine without being Hemingway-ish-ly so.
The Restaurant Week menu seemed promising.  After a day of careful deliberation and meal-planning emails, I was disappointed that my #1 appetizer choice, a braised beef terrine with pistachios and cherry compote, was off the menu.  Despite our best sweet talk, we simply couldn’t induce the waiter to scare up a single beef terrine from the recesses of the kitchen.  Instead, we pretty much wound up sharing three appetizers.
The Tap mixed greens salad was a medium-sized portion, well-dressed but slightly over-seasoned.  I love a salad that has the perfect oil-to-leaf ratio, but this one was way too heavy-handed on the salt and pepper.
The second appetizer was a cauliflower soup with pine nut streusel.  It was lukewarm and heartily flavored by cauliflower and cream but otherwise unremarkable.  The pine nut had nice flavor, and there were some soft onions as well.  Jesse remarked, “What do you expect when you hear ‘streusel’? Sweet, right?”  Although “streusel” only refers to scattering or sprinkling some ingredient, I, too, had anticipated a topping like the cinnamon, oatmeal-encrusted goodness one might find over an apple brown betty.  (What? No brown sugar? No raisins?!?) Some savory and sweet might have made this soup more exciting.  It was a miss and our least favorite dish of the night (probably the one that would have sent Chef Tom home were he competing.  🙂 )
A hit of the night was our third appetizer, roasted veal bone marrow with truffle vinaigrette and “drunk onions.”  We balked a little, but the void left by the absent beef terrine simply could not be filled by a mere salad.  The marrow, prized by Native Americans (a factoid our waiter shared), was buttery in taste and gelatinous in texture.  Spread over buttered toasts with sweet, caramelized onions, it was a well-rounded, indulgent delicacy.

For her entree, Jeanine had the tomato, mozzarella, and basil pizza, fired in the flashing oven surrounded by bar stools at the front of the restaurant.  The tomatoes were super-sweet, the cheese hearty and substantial, and the crust lip-smackingly salty.  This simple pizza had beautiful balance.

Entree #2 was a surf and turf: scallops and pork belly with a bacon aioli and citrus.  The scallop was technically perfect: caramelized on top, not at all chewy, perfectly tender and delicate.  The pork belly was pretty much all fat with very little meat and not enough crispy skin to really hold it together.  The dollop of bacon mayo was super-smoky (made with Benton’s Tennessee bacon), and the trio of grapefruits and blood orange gave the dish beautiful color.  Under the pork belly was a soft, mild fennel.
Entree #3 was the “TC burger” with “drunk onions,” a slice of pecorino cheese, and chips.  The burger was a flawlessly cooked medium, the bun a fresh and soft brioche.  I’m not sure if the pecorino cheese had a slightly truffle-y taste or if there was actual truffle oil somewhere in the burger.  Either way, it was subtle enough to be outstanding.  The meat was juicy, and the onions were perfect.  The generous portion of chips, tasting mildly of barbecue flavor, were light and not at all greasy.
The highlights of the evening, though, were pastry chef Stephen Collucci’s artful treats.  Rather than save the best for last, let’s just go for broke.  By far, our table’s favorite edible of the evening was the napkin-nestled set of three zeppoles with malted milk ice cream and a ramekin of butterscotch.  With years of Italian confections under my belt, I consider myself somewhat of a zeppole connoisseur, and this is not your state-fair, fried dough ball.  More like a beignet, Chef Collucci’s zeppole has a perfect, crusty exterior with just enough bite to draw the line between inside and out.  It isn’t quite crunchy, but it isn’t soft either… think of the best-quality doughnut you’ve ever had.  The inside was more cakey than doughy, and it was filled with these perfect air pockets to make the whole thing utterly light.  Never much of a fan of Whoppers, the malted ice cream was sort-of wasted on me, but it was unique and tasty, if you’re into that sort of thing.  The butterscotch, on the other hand, I recommend no matter what you’re into.  Not at all like that yellow syrup we used to squirt from a plastic bottle onto our homemade ice cream sundaes, this butterscotch is the buttery, brown sugary, creamy real deal.  It’s so rich, it almost has a rummy taste… as if the sugars somehow fermented into some type of alcohol.

Also delicious was the apple tatin with hazelnut brittle and Calvados apple brandy ice cream.  The tatin was gorgeously light, buttery, and flaky.  The Calvados ice cream was sweet without being overly so, flavorful, and pleasantly peculiar in taste.  And who doesn’t love hazelnuts??? Add sugar, water, and a candy thermometer, and you’ve got yourself a little taste of nirvana.

Our least favorite dessert of the night, solely on account of its plainness, was a vanilla ice cream parfait with hot fudge, red velvet cake, and “Oreo” cookie crunch.  The only thing that kept it from being “local ice cream parlor ho-hum” was the dense but delicious red velvet cake cubes, which had that tell-tale Dutch chocolate flavor: rich and not too-sweet.  Like the zeppole and the butterscotch, the red velvet was no more and no less than dessert “done right.”  There were no short-cuts taken.  Rather, the love –and quality ingredients– were perfectly evident.  Thankfully, the hot fudge was sparingly applied, which tempered the dessert and kept it modest to avoid overwhelming the other ingredients.

Overall, what stands out about Colicchio & Sons is its strong commitment to visual aesthetics.  Many of the dishes were not just prettily plated but downright artistic.  I wonder if the dining room meal would have been different and (the inevitable question) to what extent Restaurant Week came into play with respect to food, flavors, appearance, textures, and temperatures.  Frankly, I thought Colicchio’s Craftbar put out a more consistent product, but for a Restaurant Week special night out, Colicchio & Sons was thoroughly enjoyable.  Was it perfect? No.  But I’d definitely let this Top Chef stay on the show another week.  🙂

White Plains YMCA Culinary Experience

Posted in White Plains YMCA Culinary Experience on January 18, 2011 by jaydel818

On January 18, 2011, my husband participated in the White Plains YMCA 3rd annual Culinary Experience at the Crowne Plaza Hotel to benefit the YMCA’s Scholarship Assistance Program.  Several White Plains restaurants supported the event with delicious foods paired with wines by Zachy’s Wine and Liquor.  Nirvana Spring Water also sponsored the event. These local restaurants supported a great cause, so please show them your love! 🙂

Tony, Jack, and Rich

My husband prepared 4-alarm chili with beef, lamb, pork, veal, serrano peppers, habaneros, and jalapenos (I had the mess in my kitchen to prove it!) at the White Plains Fire Department table.  His colleague, Tony, prepared a milder 2-alarm chili with cubed steak, sausage, and sweet peppers.  [At this point, my husband is standing over my shoulder, telling me how important it is to mention that “everybody ate our chili and there was none left at the end of the night.”]



Chicken pot pie with white wine sauce in puff pastry







Chicken and beef skewers, mini empanadas, duck wrap with chorizo and fig



Oven roasted porketta Roman style with trofie pasta in wild boar ragu

Owner and host Tony Spiritoso making me an exceptionally generous plate of trofie pasta in cinghale ragu



Sliced tenderloin on finger rolls with horseradish sauce



Stuffed portobello mushrooms with Italian sweet sausage topped with gorgonzola



Crab cake with mango salsa, greens, crispy onion, and chipotle aioli



Salad with beets and feta [not pictured: Cornish hen with saffron basmati rice, grilled vegetables and tabouleh salad]





Smoked salmon over crispy lotus root with truffle aioli [not pictured: signature fire cracker spring rolls]



Pulled pork sliders




Penne pasta flambe



Dark chocolate with Chambord and pure milk chocolate with strawberries, pound cake, and brownies




Krispy Kreme bread pudding






New England clam chowder




City Limits Diner- steamed crab dumplings with Thai soy sauce + assorted cookies

Crowne Plaza Hotel- pork loin with roast pepper jalapeno cornbread stuffing

Johnny Gelato- stracciatella (chocolate chip) and triple chocolate gelati

From My Kitchen- De Lisi Family Christmas Dinner

Posted in From My Kitchen- De Lisi Family Christmas on December 25, 2010 by jaydel818

Food is no joke in my family.  We are serious about our food, and we seriously like to eat.  Here are some of the highlights from our Christmas Day dinner.  Feel free to contact me at for recipes (except maybe the De Lisi vinaigrette, which we keep a close family secret) .

Dad's heavy cream egg nog

Pane rustica from Mario Batali's Tarry Market

Dad's olive oil-soaked croutons... I DARE you to find a better crouton anywhere.


Salad (duh)

De Lisi Family Secret-Recipe Vinaigrette (the preparation and serving jar is part of its singular charm)... You can throw Joel Robuchon, Daniel Boulud, and Jacques Pepin in a room together, and I promise they won't come up with a dressing this good.

Sausage crumbles

Butternut squash ravioli with honeyed butter, pistachios, and sage

Twice-baked potatoes topped with cheddar and chives

Pepper-crusted prime rib

Asparagus with pancetta

Honeyed citrus carrots

My sister, Allison, enjoying some egg nog

My brother, Mike, preparing abnormally large ice spheres

A busy kitchen is a happy kitchen!


From our family to yours… happy holidays!

Westchester Burger Company (White Plains)

Posted in Westchester Burger Co (White Plains) on December 18, 2010 by jaydel818

106 Westchester Avenue
White Plains, NY

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Burgers from $6-17  (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Casual burger joint
Cuisine- Man vs. Food-style, cholesterol-defying pub grub
Hits- Great shakes, surprisingly flavorful salads, reasonable prices
Misses- You have to really work hard to choose healthy options here, and I’m gonna say it… the burgers are more innovation and “show” than substance.

My husband really likes Westchester Burger Co.  They give you huge portions of food at pretty reasonable prices.  Our recent visit there, in fact, was a ploy by my mother, sister, and brother to purchase a Christmas gift certificate for him.  I’m a bit more skeptical… to me, less is more.  I don’t need quite so much food.  I’d rather just have great food.

So we started off with crispy fried pickle chips accompanied by a remoulade sauce.  Pickles are great.  Fried pickles are better.  No criticisms here.

Next we tried the chicken spring rolls with rosemary aioli and a sweet chili sauce.  The sauces were great, and I have to admire the sweet-savory balance.  Well done, friends.

But the burgers were what we came for… Cleverly-named dishes  (the Soprano burger made with fresh mozzarella, pesto, and roasted red peppers; the Napa Valley with watercress, goat cheese, and zinfandel vinaigrette; the South Beach salmon burger; the Ba Da Bing burger with hot sausage, broccoli rabe, and provolone) entice the eater.  Many of these catchy sobriquets are decidedly “man-friendly.”  For example, my brother ordered his own tweaked version of the Hangover, which normally comes with applewood smoked bacon, Monterey Jack, and a fried egg.

Exhibit #2: My husband ordered the Entourage: a behemoth sandwich starring a ten-ounce burger nestled between two sourdough grilled cheese sandwiches.

Mom had the WBC House Salad: mixed greens with sliced avocado, candied walnuts,  baby tomato, and a zinfandel vinaigrette.   [On an earlier visit with my husband, I’d had a custom version of the Yankee Classic: bibb lettuce, watercress, strawberries, smoked bacon, goat cheese, and balsamic-tarragon vinaigrette, which was also great.  Admittedly, it was kind-of funny to watch people give me sideways glances as I committed the sacrilege of consuming a salad at a burger joint.]

My sister and I shared the eight-ounce Kobe Burger, sans cheddar, with raw onion and tomato.  I have to be honest; the burger was really seasoned, and the seasoning was tasty.  It just didn’t have that wow! factor.  I wanted more juicy pink bits, and I wanted the meat to taste more like meat than seasoning.  It all felt more like show than substance.

The sweet potato waffle fries with a maple sauce, however, were all substance… and off the hook.  Watch yourself! These are DANGEROUSLY delicious.

We all shared a S’mores shake, with crunchy bits of crumbled graham cracker at the bottom.  Um. Yeah.  Fabulous.  [My husband had given me a taste of his peanut butter and jelly shake on our previous visit, and that one was dead-on delicious also.]

Westchester Burger Co. puts on a great show.  It’s actually fun to watch tables oooh and aaah as waitstaff place gluttonous portions of fried food in front of them.  For my own taste, I prefer a more subtle menu.  I don’t need towers of food; just give me small, fresh, clean, flavorful dishes with great ingredients.  WBC certainly isn’t short on flavor, but I’d rather have one of our homemade, family, summer-barbecue burgers any day.  The “go big or go home” food ethic draws the crowds, though, and WBC has a wide niche market and popular appeal; I have no doubt that WBC will have a booming business, and I wish them well.

My husband and I will undoubtedly be back (we have a gift certificate, after all).  I’ll be easy to spot… just look for me, the one eating the salad.  🙂

Craftbar (NYC)

Posted in Craftbar (NYC) on December 12, 2010 by jaydel818

900 Broadway (at 20th Street)
New York, NY 10003

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Brunch mains range from $8-17, Lunch entrees from $9-22  (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Casual, unpretentious gourmet
Cuisine- New American
Hits- Chorizo-stuffed sage leaves, hibiscus-lime sorbet, brown butter ice cream, fabulous bar menu
Misses- For lack of any major criticism, I’ll simply state that Craftbar occupies a large space and has an equally large seating capacity (although neither the food, the service, nor the intimacy of each table suffers for it), so be prepared for a humming din.  In general, the savory dishes are more successful than the purely sweet ones.

Dad’s birthday 2010.

Since my dad is hard to shop for, and since he likes all things celebrity chef, birthdays and Fathers’ Days have become opportunities for our family to treat him to New York’s culinary finest.  We had taken him to Daniel and Perilla, among other places.  Since we’ve all watched Top Chef together since day one, it was time to see what The Great Judge, Tom Colicchio, was all about.  Dad was convinced that Colicchio, who is notoriously tough on the reality show chef-testants, simply had to have major A-game if he was going to be so credibly critical.  We chose Craftbar, the least fussy and most casual of Colicchio’s restaurants.

Our first introduction to Craftbar was the extensive (and fabulous!) bar menu.  There were at least five cocktails I would have tried and a wide selection of beers (lovingly delineated under subheadings: “crisper,” “fruitier/spicier,” “hoppier,” “darker,” and “sharing beers”).  The bar menu listed 14 vodkas, 13 gins, 7 tequilas, 8 mezcals (not including a mezcal flight), 15 Kentucky straight bourbons, 12 scotches separated out into Speyside, Highland, Islay, Lowland, and blended varieties.  The drinks were serious business, like meals unto themselves.  My sister ordered a “rosemary lavender” (picture below) with rosemary Damrak gin, lavender, and lemon.  My brother had the “winter warmer”: vanilla Maker’s Mark, root syrup, Averna, and Left Hand Milk stout.

The big hit of the day was the chorizo-stuffed sage leaves served with saffron aioli.  Although this picture doesn’t do much to make it look appetizing, the flavors were bold and balanced.

We also tried the brioche cinnamon buns, which were fine but not served hot (and nothing to write home about).

My dad and sister, the formaggio-philes in the family, went crazy over the pecorino risotto balls in a spicy tomato sauce.

Another favorite “snack” was the polenta fritters topped with jalapeno and golden raisins.  Great balance of textures as well as sweet and spicy flavors.

My husband Rich had the duck prosciutto bruschetta over duck egg with peppery-bitter Japanese mizuna greens and orange puree.  We loved the duck-as-prosciutto and the incorporation of a less common green.

The Berkshire ham and cheddar scones scored another major hit.

Colicchio’s sweets weren’t as well-received as his savories.  Although it would be hard to find fault with the cranberry-orange muffins, they simply didn’t “disappear” as quickly as the ham and cheddar scones or the chorizo-sage leaves.
My entree was a piquillo pepper, mozzarella, and charred onion panino. Like nearly all of the other savories, it was was flavorful and straightforward.  The bread was perfect in thickness, soft in the middle, and crisp on the exterior for bite.  The moisture of the sandwich ingredients didn’t compromise the bread, and the product was wholly balanced.
Another very popular panino was the Berkshire pork Cubano with gruyere and pickled jalapeno.  Rich, hearty, flavorful… Colicchio was certainly “bringing it.”
Mom had a mixed lettuce salad with Bosc pear and pear cider vinaigrette, the latter of which had the perfect balance of sweet and acidity.  The salad was perfectly dressed and seasoned.
My sister and my dad had the goat cheese ravioli with Black Mission fig and honeyed onion.  Once again, one of the things this menu does extraordinarily well is pair sweet with savory in tightrope-precision balance.
Our first dessert was a pumpkin pot de crème (loose French custard) with maple crème fraîche and walnut shortbread.
We also tried out the apple crisp served in a small cast iron pot with brown butter ice cream, which was phen-om-en-al. So phenomenal, in fact, that I had to hyphenate.
Finally, I couldn’t resist trying the hibiscus-lime sorbet (at $4 a pop, how could I?).  I love non-traditional ice creams and sorbets, and this one was immaculately clean.
Our waiter informed us that, in Craftbar’s temporary pastry chef vacancy, one of the sous chefs had stepped up to the plate to innovate several of these desserts.  Many of them made the meal, so hats off to this extremely talented (but -alas- unnamed) sous chef.

We enjoyed Craftbar immensely.  Tom Colicchio did, indeed, bring his A-game, and -in my mind- is certainly justified in any Top Chef butt-kicking he dishes out.  In truth, I enjoyed Craftbar more than Colicchio & Sons.  It’s the less formal of the two, but it packs a serious punch.  I don’t say this often, but I would absolutely, positively go back.

NYC Food Adventure #1

Posted in Afghan Kebab House (NYC), Empanada Mama (NYC), Kyotofu (NYC), NYC Food Adventure #1 on December 4, 2010 by jaydel818

My sister, Allison, and I decided to head downtown for a day of culinary exploration.  We had no real plan in mind… just a Holden Caulfield-style wandering, only this would be food nomadry.

Our first stop was a mozzarella bar, Obika, at Madison and 57th.  This outdoor-in-indoor space in the IBM Building atrium was a great place to step out of the cold, find a table, and share a panino. People were relaxing, playing chess, and enjoying a coffee in this light, airy space.

We shared a delicious caprese sandwich: creamy, almost liquidy mozzarella di bufala Campana in a crusty ciabatta with tomato and fresh basil.

Next we stopped at the Momofuku group’s Ma Peche/Milk Bar.  We shared a slice of crack pie in the lobby of the Chambers, the chic, mod hotel adjoining David Chang’s midtown eatery.  People go absolutely crazy for it; Martha Stewart even had a slice.  With its toasted oat crust and self-proclaimed “gooey” butter-sugar filling, it’s a decadent dessert.  I don’t quite go coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs over crack pie, but I get the hype (kind-of).

While at Ma Peche/Milk Bar, we also tried the compost cookie (made with pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, and chocolate chips), the chocolate-chocolate cookie (with chocolate crumbs), and the cornflake-marshmallow-chocolate chip cookie.  The cookies were all flat and thin with the thickest, softest part in the middle.  The compost cookie tasted strongly of coffee and wasn’t as awesome as I thought it would be.  Like many of the items at Milk Bar, it pits sweet and salty against each other like warring factions, and they fight for dominance in your mouth with a not-altogether-pleasing result.  The cornflake-marshmallow jammie, however, was absolutely bangin’! It had the salt thing goin’ on, but the marshmallow gave it a chewier texture.

We also tried the “volcano” (not pictured), a potato gratin sandwich with creamy gruyere and VERY salty, smoky pancetta.  This savory treat didn’t try to be at all sweet, and therein lay its success.

Next, we checked out the gingerbread houses at Le Parker Meridien.  This (free!) annual holiday event showcases artistic gingerbread creations made by local bake shops; viewers pay $1 apiece for ballots to choose their favorite, with all the proceeds going to City Harvest.  This year’s theme was New York-based movies. My favorite was Tribeca Treats’ Ghostbusters; my sister, the artist, preferred  Cupcake Cafe’s version of The Sweet Smell of Success, which she felt really embraced the medium.   CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT ALL THE PHOTOS OF THESE AMAZING CREATIONS FOR A GREAT CAUSE ON FLAVOR PROFILES’ FLICKR PAGE.

We stopped briefly at Dean & Deluca, across from Le Parker Meridien, and shared a pomegranate Doughnut Plant doughnut (yes, those are fresh pomegranate seeds on it).

We made our way down to Afghan Kebab House on 9th Ave (at 51st) for an absolutely incredible meal.

It was a narrow, intimate space with tables and chairs on each side and beautiful Aghan rugs and braided blankets under glass on each table.  Our waiter told us they’ve been around since the 1970s, which set us to speculating a bit about Afghan-Soviet history.

Firnee- a creamy pudding made with cardamom, rosewater, and pistachios (only $3!!!)

Sambosa- a stuffed fried "dumpling" (more like a flatbread) filled with ground beef, peas, spices, and mint and served with a delicious yogurt mint sauce (total:$3) Herbed, but not salty, it was delicate, unadorned, and maybe a little bland.

Combo kebab platter- lamb tikka with grated spices and herbs, beef kafta, and chicken breast with basmati rice, Afghan bread, and salad (total: $13)

We finished our conversation over hot cups of Afghan green tea with cardamom, a habit I could regularly partake in.  Then we headed across the street to Empanada Mama to bring home goodies.

The space was uber-narrow but filled to capacity with eager diners.  Shortly after we entered, the walkway (pictured below on the right) filled with folks waiting for a table.

I brought home “The Viagra” (a wheat flour patty filled with seafood stew with shrimps, scallops, and crab meat- $3.00) for my husband.  (Insert joke here.)  For myself, I got “The Veggie” (corn flour patty filled with steamed potatoes, carrots and lima beans- $2.40).  They were delish! There were tempting dessert empanadas too, but we’ll just have to come back for them.

Our last stop was Kyotofu Dinner & Dessert Bar & Bakery on 9th Ave between 48th & 49th.  Unable to decide on one flavor, I grabbed a sampler pack of cupcakes: chocolate souffle, sweet potato pecan (my favorite), vanilla yuzu (citrusy), and green tea (my 2nd favorite).  These were a nice snack on the train ride home.

Great color on the green tea cupcake

The day with my sister was an awesome treat.  Stay tuned for food adventure #2 when the weather warms up!  🙂

Bottega (Yountville, CA)

Posted in Bottega (Yountville) on October 10, 2010 by jaydel818

6525 Washington Street
Yountville, CA 94599

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- approximately $31-50 for one dinner including drink and tip
Ambiance- casually elegant with rustic, Old World charm
Cuisine- Italian
Hits- local ingredients capture the flavors of Napa Valley and the surrounding area
Misses- menu seems to keep the same basic skeleton with minor seasonal tweaks, which makes it seem like a one-shot deal rather than a repeat dining experience
Bottega was our last culinary stop on a long, gorgeous, harvest season weekend in Napa.  We were traveling with our friends Tommy and Sarah, and our dinner at Bottega was also a reunion with our friends Dominique and Briano, newlyweds from the Oakland area whom we met on our honeymoon in Thailand.  Our lunch at French Laundry was a tough act to follow, but we had high expectations and were looking forward to what Chef Michael Chiarello had to offer.  Inside, we were greeted at a back-lit, tiled hostess station that glowed like a flaming mosaic.  This photo isn’t great, but it gives you some sense of the visual aesthetic:
We had a drink at the copper-topped bar and drank in the Old World ambiance: dark, wooden farmhouse tables; terra cotta tile; exposed brick; rounded windows and archways; warm, earthy Tuscan oranges and yellows; metallic wall sconces; and large, circular, black metal chandeliers.
We were hesitant to leave behind the cloudless autumnal blue sky but equally glad to be seated on the awning-shaded, screened patio (think lanai if you’re a Floridian), which allowed us to enjoy the outdoors.  We first had a crusty bread with an herbed, garlicky olive oil spread.
Our first appetizer was tuna tartare with pomegranate seeds and arugula served on a thick, pink Himalayan salt block.  The flavor progression was well-timed: sweet, then salty, then nutty.  We have the same salt block at home, a gift from Portland from my brother, and it’s a great serving piece for fish, cheeses, carpaccios, and vegetables.
Our next appetizer for the table was calamari with squid ink mayo and chili paste, served with a char-edged lemon wheel.
We also had a burrata, a magnificently soft cheese made from mozzarella and cream, with black mission figs (gotta LOVE harvest season!) and crisp rosemary.  Other people may be sick of the fried herb thing, but I still dig it.  This appetizer was probably my favorite for its simplicity alone.

Our last appetizer was “house cured” organic prosciutto with doughy lumps of pasta fritta (fried pasta) and zuppa di melone (“melon soup”), which was an innovative play on the more traditional prosciutto wrapped around slices of melon.  This dish was a bit more of what I had been hoping for: something I knew with a clever twist.
Both Rich and Tommy followed their appetizers with a pasta course; each tried the the ricotta gnocchi al forno with roasted pomodorini (tomato) sauce, basil oil, and pecorino cheese.
My husband Rich had smoked and braised short ribs in a smoky jus with preserved Meyer lemon spinach.
Dominique and I had the crispy potato gnocchi with baby summer vegetables, a zucchini passato (thick sauce), and crisp prosciutto.  To be honest, it was mostly cheese and oil, and I was disappointed.  What promised to be clean, fresh vegetables felt heavy and overburdened, although the gnocchi were light, airy, and a great textural mixture of crisp on one surface and otherwise soft throughout.  In fairness, I don’t love cheese, so a bigger cheese lover might have enjoyed this dish more.  I found myself wishing that I’d asked our server to hold the cheese, which would have made the dish a totally different one.
Sarah had an Adriatic seafood brodetto (a rather thick, hearty seafood stew that ironically translates to “little broth”).  It was made with monkfish, mussels, rock cod, fresh Monterey calamari, tomato broth, and a rouille (French for “rust,” it’s a seafood-garnish sauce made of olive oil, paprika, saffron, and croutons).
Both Tommy and Briano had the grilled “angry” Gulf prawns with heirloom tomato “steaks,” crispy garlic, basil, Calabrian chili dressing, and a lemon aioli.
Bizarrely, after all of this food, we still had room for dessert.  I had the zeppoles, soft doughy pillows, served with Conserva lemon curd and also with a blackberry-blueberry-Earl Grey tea sauce.  The zeppoles were good, as far as zeppoles go, and the accompaniments were original and enjoyable.
We also tried a berry bowl from Sebastapol Farms in Sonoma.  It was served with heavy cream, strawberry syrup, and sweet crostini (toasts).  The berries were nice since they were soooo out of season back at our home on the East Coast.
Another dessert we shared was a Marcona almond sbrisolona (a very crumbly tart, almost like a cookie) affogato– topped with vanilla bean gelato, an espresso granita (a semi-frozen, icy, shaved dessert made from sugar, water, and flavoring) with honey-almond milk espuma (foam).  This dessert seemed to show off the most work and bona fide technique…
Our last dessert was a chocolate bourbon tortino (“pie”) with banana brulee, roasted banana gelato, and a milk chocolate peanut butter bar.
Sarah ordered the Bottego cookie and biscotti plate.
So those of you who are loyal readers are probably thinking, “Great, Jen.  I now know everything you guys ate.  But what did you think of it?!?”
Frankly, I think my lack of detail and description speaks for itself.  The meal was ho-hum. It was good. It was technically proficient, but it was pretty much what one might expect of a celebrity chef with too many pots on the fire.  Chiarello is no longer in the kitchen and is likely busy balancing his many endeavors: the family winery, a restaurant, a few cooking shows, and Napa Style, a California-centric retail store a la Williams Sonoma.  While Chef Chiarello is busy building his empire, his restaurant suffers the unfortunate effects of a talented chef spread too thin.   In the heart of sunny, beautiful Napa, it’s not enough to be talented.  It’s not enough to use fresh, natural ingredients.  I wished I had seen more that surprised me, more that jumped off the plate.  While the prices were reasonable and the food was good, it wasn’t something I’d run back for… even if I did live on the West Coast.