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

My five-star reviews:

Howl at the Moon in NYC
Nov 24th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

Howl at the Moon invited me to bring a few friends to the grand opening of their new Times Square location, and as a person who loves singing her face off unabashedly in public, I gratefully obliged. It’s a massive (for NYC) open space with a bar at the center, pianos up front, and a wraparound balcony full of leather couches on the second level where you’ll get the best view and the most room to dance. The free drinks were flowing fast and strong that night, and the mini burgers and fried cheese cubes were hot and plentiful.

But what really stood out is how crazy friendly the service was. The servers who brought our drinks were overwhelmingly nice, and when some sloppy guy spilled a glass of wine where we were hanging out, it was about three seconds before someone came to clean it up. I don’t know if they were just trying to impress the grand opening guests or if they want to be known for good service in a city where indifference is the norm, but it was noticeable to me.

When the music began and the audience started writing their requests on slips of paper and putting them on the pianos, we heard everything from Adele to Michael Jackson to Eminem to Bruno Mars to (WTF) a song from The Lion King. Their rapping white guy left us speechless, and one of their piano players seemed to be able to sound exactly like anyone he wanted to. The mostly elderly people in the place were the first ones to start dancing, but the entire crowd was up and singing along by the end of the night, and I don’t think it was just the free drinks.

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Chef Dave Santos’s Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up
Nov 10th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

Chef Dave Santos may be a free agent since closing his West Village restaurant, Louro, this summer, but he’s not taking any time off. I was lucky enough to get a reservation at his Nashville hot chicken pop-up in the Manhattan location of Bark Hot Dogs last week, where he was serving whole fried chickens using his special recipe that even the Tennesseeans in the room said was better than what they’ve had back home. My friends and I got two whole chickens with pickles, cole slaw, baked beans, and potato salad, but we also couldn’t resist Dave’s fried chicken sandwiches and Bark’s super cheap pitchers of beer. The people around us who hadn’t reserved the whole chickens were oohing and ahhing over our tray of crispy battered thighs and drumsticks, and some of them even asked to take pictures. The only complaint I heard is that this was only a pop-up and we can’t have Dave’s hot chicken every day.

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs
so crispy and glistening

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs
a line back to the entrance of people waiting for hot chicken sandwiches

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs
so good we had to take some home to eat later!

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

The New Momofuku Ko
Jul 27th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

You wouldn’t know it from reading my blog, but Momofuku Ko is the restaurant I’ve been to most in NYC. I only ever reviewed my first meal there, because their no-photo policy meant that my reviews would just be words, and my dearest friends have let me know that no one cares about my writing. But I loved Ko for its creativity, its super-relaxed atmosphere where jeans were recommended and the soundtrack included everything from 70s prog rock to 80s alternative to current hip hop, and the way its counter seating allowed you to talk to your chef as he used tweezers to top your miso ice cream cone with puffed black rice. It was my favorite restaurant in NYC, so I was understandably worried when what everyone is calling “Ko 2.0” opened with its much-much-huger space, its revamped menu with a higher price and no extended lunch option, and its attempts at wringing that third star from Michelin.

The first big change I noticed when I walked in with my boyfriend is that service seems to be a bigger deal at the new Momofuku Ko. Someone was there to hold the door open for us when we entered, and it wasn’t a long-bearded hipster who would also act as our sommelier for the night. The general manager, Su, then checked the computer for our reservation (there’s no more printing out your confirmation at home and having to show it at the door), led us to our seats at the counter, and made friendly conversation with us.

At the old Ko, the seats were small wooden benches with no cushion and no back. They looked streamlined and minimalist pushed under the counter, but they didn’t seem so cool after twelve courses. The new Ko has tall stools with comfortable seats and leather backs that you can melt into with your after-dinner cocktail and your full belly. There’s also a gorgeous dark-wood counter now that looks richer than the blonde wood at the old Ko, and you’ll now get a printed menu in a textured cover at the end of the meal. So that extra money you’re paying now is being well-spent, and Michelin is sure to notice that Ko is now way, way more comfortable than Brooklyn Fare is.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

We started off with a bottle of Riesling

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

and then took in the sights of the new kitchen and chatted with the chef in front of us while we waited for our first course:

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

And then, the food:

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
pommes soufflees

A Ko classic that keeps evolving, this little fried potato tube was filled with creamy pimiento cheese. Imagine eating a Lay’s cheddar potato chip, only way more delicious. And where you can only have one instead of half the bag.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
apple, beet

A sweet little beet ball with the lasting tang of citrus. Followed by a slice of apple with the sting of horseradish, topped with smoky, crunchy rice.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
lobster paloise, tartlet

The tiniest “lobster roll” with an unexpected mint finish (though not unexpected if you, unlike me, know what a paloise sauce is) tasted so fresh next to richer–but not any bigger–Caesar salad boat filled with avocado mousse. The woman next to us told me to put my very small iPhone in the shot to show how incredibly, incredibly adorable these little dollhouse dishes were.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
vegetable roll

This Arctic char roll hit us with jalapeño first, then cucumber to cool it down. The freshness of herbs finished off every bite.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
millefeuille

Like the teeniest triple-decker sandwich, this was miniature toasted bread with a little hint of brine. Our palates missed the green tea on top because of the overwhelming toasty taste, but I sure did like squashing the roe with the layers of cracker.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
madai – consomme, shiso

I always think of Ko when I have madai thanks to the plate of sashimi included in their old lunch service that inevitably included some brand new take on the fish every time. Chef Carey wouldn’t tell us what he was misting the bowl with before he served it to us, but the scent of shiso filled our airspace. It turned out to be a spray bottle full of “shiso essence” he had, which we should all inquire about buying from them as perfume. Little bits of jalapeño and lime caviar made for occasional bursts of flavor in an otherwise very subtle dish of consomme jelly.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
scallop – bamboo, almond

This was one of the most memorable dishes of the night, which isn’t surprising, since it reminded me of the wonderful halibut in whey I had at Atera. That was back in 2012, and I still vividly remember the experience of eating it. This was a New Jersey(!) scallop with an almond milk sauce that was slightly starchy to give some texture to the dish. The bamboo was tender, not woody, and the little slivers of green pepper packed so much perfectly-paired flavor that I felt I could’ve eaten a whole bowl of them. I can’t wait to eat this one again sometime.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
razor clam – pineapple, basil

This was a razor clam for anyone who’s afraid of the way it looks in its long tampon of a shell. This is one of the main reasons I love fine dining: eating things I wouldn’t necessarily seek out otherwise but having them presented so beautifully that I can’t resist them. The little slices of clam had a little chew to them, while the basil seeds were super slimy. The overall effect was slightly fruity and sweet thanks to the pineapple, but it was missing the little punch of flavor I expect from a good Ko dish, and we would’ve been fine had this been a very small serving, like a shot.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
razor clam slime!

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
mackerel sawarazushi – ginger, dashi ponzu

Mackerel sushi with lots of ginger and scallions. A layer of fermented sunflower added a grainy texture.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
mackerel dashi – king oyster, asian pear

This broth was made with the bones of the mackerel from the previous course’s sushi, with slivers of onion, king oyster mushroom, and Asian pear. It was really subtle, and we liked how the pear absorbed some savoryness from the other ingredients present in the bowl but a little sweetness sung through every now and then.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
sunchoke – blood orange, tarragon

This sunchoke with its skin still on was dry-aged in beef fat and did indeed look like a little morsel of meat. It was very sweet, like it was covered in a marmalade. We guessed the flavor to be apricot, but it wasn’t distinctive, just fruity and sweet next to the earthy interior of the choke. It turned out to be blood orange sauce, but we blame the restaurant for not making the flavor pronounced enough, not our own palates for not being able to discern it, OF COURSE.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
tamagoyaki – sweet potato, caviar

Sweet soft eggs with an even sweeter dollop of potato, cut with a pop of savory caviar and with crunchy wisps to contrast all of the creamy texture.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
cavatelli – nettle, aged cheddar

This ricotta cavatelli was rolled in a sauce made with stinging nettles to keep it very fresh and light despite the aged cheese flavor. I sort of felt like I was eating mossy caterpillars, but please ignore my imagination.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
bread and butter

We got a little overexcited for pure carbs and took a big hunk out of this butter for our bread before I could get a picture. The combination of the bread and black radish butter made this a sour and funky interlude.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
lobster – snap pea, citronette

More lobster! The super fresh sugar snap peas gave this a bright crunch next to the rich, buttery seameat.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
foie gras – lychee, pine nut, riesling jelly

I’ve had this every time I’ve been to Ko and hope to have it every time for life. The foie gras is shaved cold into the bowl and then melts as it mixes with the jelly, pine nut brittle, and whole fruit slices. I thought it was better than ever, and the chef told me it might be because they’re not plating it using cold bowls anymore. I love the idea that something like the bowl temperature could affect the taste for me.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
duck – lime pickle, xo

When I got this slice of duck breast, the lady next to me at the counter learned over and told me to savor it. It was sweet and sour, peppery, and had a thick crunchy top and bottom, like there was a piece of brittle on both sides. I never got used to the pungent lime pickle, in that every single bite was as delicious as the first. The side of XO vegetables reminded me of the first time I ever had XO sauce, which also happened to be the homemade one at the old Ko. This dish was maybe the best thing I’ve eaten at Ko yet, and you can bet I did savor it while that lady watched me in envy.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
vegetables in XO sauce

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
sorrel – rhubarb, elderflower

If you’ve ever wondered what it’d taste like if you stuck an entire garden in your mouth, this is the dessert for you. The sorrel ice cream tasted exactly as green as it looked, but its savoryness was offset by the sweet diced rhubarb, which also added texture. The cake had a slightly crunchy, caramelized exterior, and it was entirely unfair that they hollowed out the middle of this for the ice cream, because I needed every last crumb.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
huckleberry – laurel bay, bee pollen

I had no idea what bee pollen was before I ate it, and I’m not sure I could even fully explain it to you now. It’s pollen, nectar from whatever the bee was collecting the pollen from, and bee spit, all made into a little pellet by the worker bees for some reason. I have no idea why we would ever eat this, except oh wait, yes, I do–because it’s delicious. It was crunchy and tasted like honey, and this dessert would’ve been nothing without it. The funky creme fraiche made this a challenging dessert if you’re someone who wants ice cream and frosting after a meal, but the huckleberry sorbet was just sweet enough with the bee pollen to top it off.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
mignardises

To finish, we had chocolate cookies that tasted like the herbal liqueur Fernet-Branca and a sunflower macaron that tasted like buttered popcorn. And then we got a little drunker and hung out, just enjoying the sights of the kitchen.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
old-fashioned

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
a space to the side for larger parties

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

So did I need to be worried about missing the old Momofuku Ko? Well, not really. I did miss some of the cutesy things that Ko used to do, the novelty things like the miso ice cream cone, the bento with the pork fat rice ball, or the lunchbox with fried chicken. It was fun to reminisce with Executive Chef Sean about the soft shell crab sandwich I once had in the early days, and even he seemed a little nostalgic about the magic they made over in that tiny kitchen on 1st Avenue. But Ko 2.0 is legit fine dining now. It’s comfortable, it’s beautiful, and all of the extras–from the printed menu to the mignardises you’d get at Per Se or Eleven Madison Park–are included.

Plus, with the huge kitchen upgrade, so much more food is being made right in front of you now. We watched a duck being carved, fruits being juiced, fish being finished on a Japanese charcoal grill–all things that would’ve happened behind the scenes at the old Ko. Ko used to be about watching beautiful pre-prepared things being plated from little boxes, but now it’s about also watching things actually get cooked.

And the bones of the old Ko are still holding the place up. You’ll still hear Radiohead, The Cure, and Cat Stevens on the soundtrack, and you’ll still get really delicious, sort of Asian, very tiny, extremely imaginative, wildly well-composed plates of food. And hey, with all of the extra space, you can actually get a reservation now.

Momofuku Ko
8 Extra Place
New York, NY 10003 (map)

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)

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