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New York’s Best Restaurants
Apr 6th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

My five-star reviews:

The New Red Hook Lobster Pound
May 18th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

If you live outside of NYC and know about the neighborhood of Red Hook, it’s for one of two reasons: the IKEA or “The Real World: Brooklyn”. It became one of my favorite parts of the borough to visit after my I convinced my roommate to drive us down there one summer night at sunset when I was trying to make him my boyfriend and thought cramming key lime pie on a stick in our faces would be very romantic. I figured out in the process that Red Hook is really only a 45-minute walk or a 15-minute bus ride from Downtown Brooklyn, enjoys beautiful views of Manhattan, and also boasts the newly-expanded and increasingly-awesome Red Hook Lobster Pound.

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

I went to the Lobster Pound a few times in the last couple of years, and until recently, it was just a tiny storefront offering a couple of lobster roll options and nowhere to sit. But now it’s a full-service sit-down restaurant with rolls, salads, burgers, hot dogs, fish sandwiches, chowders, whole lobsters, lobster dip, lobster cheese fries, and most importantly, beer to wash it all down with.

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

My friend started with a Narragansett beer in an adorable glass,

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

while I had a very tart gin cocktail with soda and lime.

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

My friend ordered the $20 Connecticut-style lobster rolls because she’s not a fan of the mayo on a Maine-style roll and liked how this was just lightly dressed in butter and lemon to let the lobster flavor shine through, while I got the $19 lobster Cobb salad (“Cobbster”) that was legitimately two meals. It had less lobster than a roll, but it made up for it with piles of bacon, crunchy onions, crumbled egg, and blue cheese. And for those of you torn between the roll and the salad, there’s also the “bikini style” roll, which comes on lettuce instead of bread. In case you want to take a dip in the Gowanus afterward. (Word of caution: you do not.)

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

The decor of the new place is reclaimed-looking and beachy, with a much-talked-about bathroom with funhouse mirrors and whooshing ocean sounds that may make you seasick, so use it before you chow down on that fish & chips.

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

And afterward, don’t forget to explore the neighborhood, which is a mix of industrial and adorable, with tons of street art and plant life and the Statue of Liberty across the water at sunset. Can you get over how ~Brooklyn~ it is?

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

Afternoon Tea at The Pierre Hotel
Mar 27th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

A couple of my ladyfriends and I decided to get really into tea recently. We read all of the articles about the best high tea services in NYC, prepared ordered lists of our must-visit teahouses, purchased embroidered silk gloves and dusted the mothballs off our party dresses. And then managed to go to exactly one tea service. But afternoon tea at The Pierre Hotel overlooking Central Park was exactly what we were picturing when we set out to drink some tea and eat some tiny sandwiches.

The Pierre hosts tea in its Two E Bar/Lounge every day from 3 to 5 p.m. with a couple of options so you can choose from expensive, really expensive, or extra expensive with Champagne. The three of us obviously opted for the Champagne, which was poured from individual bottles by our friendly yet extremely polished waiter,

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

and then we admired the fine flatware

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

and the posh crown-molded surroundings while we waited for our tower of treats to arrive.

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

I chose a pot of the bergamot-scented Pierre Blend for my tea

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

and immediately made it unrecognizable with milk and sugar.

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Three of each kind of finger sandwich, cookie and scone, and pastries arrived and wowed us with their imposing size, but we hadn’t eaten breakfast and eventually devoured every bit of it over the next four hours.

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Here’s the complete menu:

Catskill Smoked Salmon on Rye Bread, Balsamic Onions & Sour Cream
Boursin Cheese & Asparagus Crostini with Tomato Jam
Spiced Chicken Tartlet
Dates & Babaganoush Crepes
American Caviar & Buckwheat Blinis
English Cucumber with Dill Cream Cheese
Deviled Eggs Brioche Buns with Red Sorrel

Cranberry Scones
With Devonshire Cream, Raspberry Preserves and Fresh-made Lemon Curd
Walnut Cream Sugar Squares
Lemon Apricot Sandwiches
Chocolate Sand Cookies

Fresh Raspberry Tartlets
Red Cherry Financiers
Fresh Blueberry Tartlets
Grand Marnier Chocolate Madeleines
Coffee Opera Cake
Lemon Meringue Tarts
Coffee & Strawberry Macarons

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

We eventually stayed so long that the lights dimmed and we decided some $18 cocktails were in order. None of us could resist the GinGin, a combination of Hendricks Gin, Canton Ginger Liqueur, mint, cucumber juice, fresh squeezed lime juice, and ginger ale.

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

It was served with fresh fried potato chips and huge luxurious chunks of Parmesan cheese, which we certainly needed after that mere literal tower of food we ate earlier.

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

There seem to be two kinds of afternoon teas in NYC: upscale English high tea and comfortable kitschy tea. Alice’s Tea Cup may be NYC’s most popular afternoon tea, and I love that I can pop in for a casual scone on a weeknight or wait on the scorching pavement with the dirty masses for 2 hours and 45 minutes on a weekend (actual Alice’s wait time when I last attempted to brunch there), but when I want fancy high tea with all of the trappings, I’ll forever think of Two E Bar/Lounge at The Pierre. It was just exactly what I expected, from the polished flatware to the caviar to being allowed to laze about for hours and slowly sip our Champagne. They make it feel like it’s worth the money. To complete the experience, there was an older couple sitting at the table next to ours where the man was wearing a suit and reading the Sunday Times and the woman was wearing pearls under her pale yellow blazer, and I didn’t see them speak a single word to each other. Nor even look at each other. So New York City!

The Pierre Hotel
2 East 61st Street
New York, NY 10065 (map)

Cosme: The Time We Basically Ate the Entire Menu
Feb 10th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

Eater called it “One of NYC’s Most Relevant New Restaurants“. The New York Times gave it three stars the very day I went. Chef Enrique Olvera has what’s considered Mexico’s best restaurant and just guest-judged an episode of “Top Chef: Boston” filmed there. This chef is hot, and you know he knows it the moment you walk in the doors of Cosme to find a bar crowded with people not there to eat but just to be. The decor is mostly black, punctuated by little pots of succulents and a direct beam of light on every table strong enough to make professional photographers and hardcore Instagrammers alike swoon. The tables are spaced so widely that you get the idea the restaurant’s more concerned about your comfort than making an extra buck–although maybe that’s why they do charge an extra buck (or ten) for everything–and I can’t remember ever hearing the conversations of anyone around us even though the electronic-tinged soundtrack wasn’t overbearing at all. It’s borderline clubby, the kind of restaurant a non-New-Yorker thinks all New York restaurants are like, but it never felt pretentious nor snooty. And the food? Well, it was tiny and very expensive, but that sure didn’t stop us from eating a lot of it.

Cosme NYC
Cosme’s menu

Cosme NYC
Tortillas, pumpkin butter

Cosme NYC
Stuffed avocado, seafood vuelve a la vida, horseradish

Cosme NYC
Mussel tostada, russian salad, chipotle mayonnaise

Cosme NYC
Uni tostada, avocado, bone marrow salsa, cucumber

Cosme NYC
Sliced raw hamachi, fermented serranos, fish sauce, black limes

Cosme NYC
Chicharron, radish, cilantro, avocado, hot sauce

Cosme NYC
Cobia al pastor, pineapple purée, cilantro

Cosme NYC
Scallop aguachile, poached jicama, fresh wasabi-cucumber-lime

Cosme NYC
Smoked raw sepia, salsa mexicana, avocado

Cosme NYC
Octopus cocktail, purple occidental corn chileatole, charred avocado, red onion

Cosme NYC
Mushroom and squash barbacoa, chilpachole, hoja santa

Cosme NYC
Eggplant tamal, fresh ricotta

Cosme NYC
Enfrijolada, ricotta, hoja santa, creme fraiche, onion

Cosme NYC
Burrata, salsa verde, weeds

Cosme NYC
Occidental purple corn pozole, pork jowl, lettuce, radish, Mexican oregano

Cosme NYC
Duck carnitas, onions, radishes, salsa verde

Cosme NYC

Cosme NYC
Cosme’s dessert menu

Cosme NYC
Chocolate ganache, mezcal, blood orange, beet sorbet

Cosme NYC
Nixtamalized carrot, cinnamon cake, cream cheese ice cream

Cosme NYC
Brioche, persimmon, ricotta, fresh peanut butter

Cosme NYC
Lemon cake, grapefruit, quince sorbet

Cosme NYC
Sweet potato flan, coffee

Cosme NYC
Husk meringue, corn mousse

Cosme NYC
2012 Riesling No. 110 Semi Dry, Boundary Breaks, Finger Lakes, NY

Cosme NYC
wall decor and A Day at elBulli

Cosme NYC
a lonely little succulent in the wee hours of the night

Most things we tried sort of tasted the same in that they were like, “Here’s something with onions and cilantro and avocado! And here’s a different thing with more onions and cilantro and avocado! And now here’s a different thing with more onions and cilantro and avocado and did we also mention onions and cilantro?” But those are the flavors I most associate with Mexico, for one, and for two, who cares when the food is so good? The first thing I tried was the mussel tostada, and I don’t care a lick about mussels in my regular, non-Enrique-Olvera life, but these were plump and tender atop a tortilla crisp and coated in that creamy chipotle mayo given even more of a kick by the sliced peppers. The hamachi, so humbly presented, was actually deep layers of sour and umami with fish sauce, bold black lime, and fermented chilis. Acids were everywhere, lemons and grapefruits and tomatoes and pineapples. One of the stunners of the night was the cobia al pastor, served with a gloopy pineapple puree that I had a notion to scoop right out of the bowl with my finger, and fresh warm tortillas for making tacos. A review I read said that the tortillas were almost flavorless to provide a blank canvas for the proteins, but my group entirely disagreed and thought that the things the chef was doing with corn were his best things.

Unfortunately, we had to fight for those tortillas. Even though we were a table of six and were ordering all but four dishes off the entire dinner and dessert menus combined, our cobia came with two tortillas. Our plate of hamachi came with five pieces. The one dessert we didn’t order never showed up at the table for us to try with a wink from the chef like it would have in the NYC restaurants with the best front of house service. I’m not really complaining about the service–our server came back to talk with me about our bottle of Riesling from the Finger Lakes that I was really enjoying–but it seems like some communication must have been lost between the server and the chef along the way. Or maybe the chef really couldn’t spare one more piece of hamachi for us.

But back to the food. While most dishes did have similar intense, punchy flavors, there were two that tasted like nothing else on the menu: the burrata and the enfrijoladas. The burrata was so light, with herbs that tasted so green and fresh it was like the cheese and all had just been dug up from the garden. The enfrijoladas, which were kind of like enchiladas but with a bean sauce that reminded me of a mole in color and texture, had this hoja santa herb in it that imparted an anise flavor I didn’t find on the other plates. I would order both of these again for sure, along with: the sepia, where thick strands of the cuttlefish acted like noodles; the octopus cocktail, where someone who loves pickled red onions as much as I do was in heaven; the eggplant tamal with its wildly acidic topping; the posole, where rich ingredients met bright broth to make for one of the most complete dishes; the cobia, the hamachi, and of course that mussels tostada.

Up for debate is the duck carnitas, which was a hefty $58 for the amount of meat you’d find in a measly four tacos but had the most beautifully rendered fatty skin over succulent dark meat. We had to add the really, really excellent hot sauce from the chicharron and some salt flakes to the duck to make it perfect, and you can obviously get great duck for a tenth of the price all over the city, but if you’re already at Cosme and spending $19 on half of a stuffed avocado, just get the duck.

Not up for debate are the desserts, which ranged from very good to I’m-never-going-to-stop-thinking-about-this. Pastry chef Jesus Perea has worked everywhere from Chef Olvera’s acclaimed restaurant in Mexico, Pujol, to Del Posto under Brooks Headley to Le Bernardin to too many of the very best restaurants in NYC to name. The brioche smothered in ricotta was almost savory at first bite and didn’t seem very special, but then suddenly the smear of fresh peanut butter took over and made it this incredibly craveable thing. The sweet potatoes in the flan gave it natural sweetness, and coffee syrup somehow didn’t overpower the potato flavor, making this a great choice for someone who likes a simple, not-sugary dessert. The lemon cake was this entire bowl of citrusy brightness, all kinds of lip-puckering in different textures. The cinnamon cake was spicy to the point that it overpowered the cream cheese ice cream, which really needed to be eaten alone to appreciate it, and appreciate it I did. The tender carrot was nixtamalized, which is apparently the same process used to make corn into hominy. (That is, it makes it softer and more delicious.) Despite the interesting preparation, though, it didn’t have enough “pop” for some of our group, which we attributed to a lack of acid in the bowl. The chocolate ganache was a table favorite, on the other hand, with its perfect sphere of beet sorbet that made it look like a delicious spaceship. The mezcal lent the chocolate this almost funky flavor, like it had gone a little sour, but we somehow wanted to keep eating it; I’m guessing it’s the kind of dessert that you either absolutely love like we did or think is semi-disgusting. (And borderline disgusting is some of the most exciting food, right?) The star of the night, though, was this beautiful cracked husk meringue with corn mousse seeping from it. All of the reviews will tell you that this is the dessert to get, and they are correct. This will probably become the dish Cosme’s known for with its naturally sweet corn whip and meringue that immediately sticks in your teeth like wet cotton candy and then melts away just as quickly. I’ll never forget you, husk meringue, no matter how fleeting you were.

So is this the most relevant food in NYC right now? Well, in a way. It cemented my love of Mexican food and reminded me that the best flavors are often the simplest: a well-placed fresh herb or a slice of pickled red onion can so easily bring a dish to new levels. And the great news is that those things can be found all over the city in hole-in-the-wall Mexican joints where a taco costs two dollars instead of twenty. (Two of my favorites right now are Tacos El Bronco in Sunset Park, introduced to me by my friend Kim, and The Original California Tacqueria, introduced to the same friend and me one Friday night when we were drunk and wandering Cobble Hill.) But you’re probably not going to get chipotle mussels there, nor noodles of smoked sepia, nor that corn meringue. Cosme is the Mexican flavors you love in ways you never imagined.

Cosme
35 East 21st Street
New York, 10010 (map)

Forno Rosso Pizzeria and Its Half-Pizza-Half-Calzone
Feb 4th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

I’m writing pizzeria reviews as Examiner.com’s Manhattan Pizza Examiner. I know it shows that I have the palate of a 5-year-old, but pizza’s easily my favourite food, so you can count on me for plenty of fangirling over crust and sauce in these articles.

Forno Rosso Pizza, Brooklyn, NYC

I had to order the Forno Rosso, figuring they wouldn’t name it after the restaurant itself if they kind of didn’t want anyone ordering it, and also figuring that the best situation one could ever encounter in a pizzeria is a half-pizza/half-calzone on the menu. The Forno Rosso is part classic calzone (house-made tomato sauce, imported smoked mozzarella, ricotta, imported soppressata, EVOO), part Primavera pizza (house-made mozzarella, imported Gorgonzola, mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli rabe, EVOO). And I don’t mean that you get one thing on one side of the plate and one thing on the other side. They’re fused seamlessly, like beautiful meaty conjoined twins. The acidic tomatoes meet the bitter greens, the sweet sauce mingles with the sour Gorgonzola, and everything is made cohesive by the crispy-chewy crust. I loved the salty slivers of cheese that added a savory element and a different texture on the pizza side and then the creamy, oozing cheese on the calzone side. It was basically all of the things different people could want from a pizzeria in one dish, making it the perfect thing for people with different tastes to share. (Read the complete review here!)

High Tea at Kiran’s Restaurant – Houston, TX
Dec 19th, 2014 by donuts4dinner

My NYC ladyfriends and I have been really into the idea of high tea at fancy hotels lately, so when my boyfriend and I found ourselves in Houston through the weekend earlier this month, I wondered if I could find some Texas-style high tea full of brassy ladies with hair as tall as the heavens. I never expected to see Indian high tea in my search results, but Kiran’s is as beloved around there as BBQ and Mexican food.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX

High tea is served on Saturday afternoons beginning at 2, and reservations are required for the four-course, $35 menu. For an extra $3, you can add on a glass of Champagne, lemonade, or spiced cider to start. We tried the lime-lemonade with tiny chopped fresh herbs floating throughout and the cider with hints of Indian spice. The cider was obviously more seasonal, but the lemonade really said brunch to me.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
herbed lime-lemonade

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
spiced cider

Then our first tea arrived, a boiled masala chai with cream and sugar, just the way Chef Kiran Verma likes to drink it. It turned out to be just the way I like to drink it, too. I tried to savor it, but our waiter generously refilled it for me when I failed.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
masala chai tea

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
mushroom and feta samosa with fig chutney

I loved this take on the traditional samosa, with the bright flavors of the fresh vegetables and the rich flavors of the fig chutney and balsamic vinegar. It was incredible to me how well the slice of red pepper complimented the mushroom and feta filling, and I wondered how the idea of the pairing ever came about.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
tea sandwiches

Instead of the usual tiered serving tower to share, we were each given a plate of Indian-inspired finger sandwiches and accoutrements:

Waldorf chicken salad
tandoor-smoked salmon with dill
paneer pakora with tomato and basil
vindaloo deviled egg
peanut butter with hazelnut ganache with passion fruit jelly

And then there was what I’d describe as an Indian hummus in the little bowl, with some of the fluffiest, chewiest naan. I loved all of the different flavors on the plate, from the traditional chicken salad perked up with some pomegranate seeds to the deviled egg made extra devilish with curry. My favorite thing was the strips of fritter with the bright, spicy tomato sauce. And the hint at the sweetness to come with the take on PB&J was a nice way to finish the course.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
petit fours

Our scones didn’t make it to the table somehow, so next was an assortment of little desserts in very seasonal flavors:

pumpkin cheesecake
pecan pie
lemon tart
mousse cake

It was a nice combination of sweet and tart, creamy and crunchy, chewy and melty. Everything was fresh and delicious, but I missed the Indian flavors on the plate and would’ve loved to see how the restaurant could put their twist on these classics.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX
apricot and cranberry scone

The scones, when they made it to us, were a delicious mix of apricot and cranberry, flaky and chewy and sweet and sour in all of the right ways, with that thick layer of crunchy sugar on top. Clotted cream and beautiful chunky preserves were served on the side. I love how the scone is such an unassuming thing, so dry and crumbly-looking, and yet I think about eating one at least once a day when I’m not.

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX

Kiran's Restaurant, Houston, TX

Kiran’s is a dark wood and thick table linens type of place, and the tea-time harpist playing Christmas carols really added to the atmosphere of ladies who lunch. My boyfriend felt a little conspicuous when we arrived right at 2 p.m. and he was the only gentleman in sight, but there were at least four by the time we left. The service was friendly yet very professional, and the staff was more than happy to let us sit for three hours with our tea and our scones and our tiny sandwiches. And really, that’s what I love most about high tea: taking hours to eat what could take five minutes. It somehow feels fancy to be leisurely, and tea at Kiran’s made me feel all kinds of fancy.

Kiran’s
4100 Westheimer Road
Houston, Texas 77027 (map)

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