pink donuts: expensive meals
glazed donuts: inexpensive meals
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)
My five-star reviews:
When I found out that Beetle House, a Tim-Burton-themed bar and restaurant, was opening in the East Village, I immediately texted my best friend in Ohio and asked if that was catalyst enough to make her buy a plane ticket to come visit me. She said, “That sounds terrifying, actually.” So I made reservations right away with my other friends. Not to spite her exactly but because I was still sure it was going to be great. During the first week of soft opening, I was hearing about a man dressed as Beetlejuice leading semi-annoying renditions of “Jump in the Line (Shake, Señora)” and a background soundtrack comprised entirely of Danny Elfman songs. I told my boyfriend that it didn’t matter if the cocktails were expensive and the food sucked, because this was obviously just a novelty bar meant to pull in tourists for one night at a time. These are the same owners of the Will-Ferrell-themed bar, Stay Classy New York, after all. They surely aren’t meant to be taken seriously.
Since Beetle House was still in previews when we went (and will be until May 6th), it was cash only, by reservation only, and serving a limited menu. The menu was pretty cheeky, though, with its disclaimer about their meat supply being innocent New Yorkers and its items like Edward Burger Hands, Charlie Corn Bucket, and Eggs Skellington.
After chatting with the super friendly (not even just by NYC standards) owner who was doubling as our server and finding out it was she who’d developed the cocktail menu, my friends and I ordered all of the available drinks to start:
Alice’s Cup of Tea was their take on a Long Island iced tea and just as strong but with heavy notes of peach that made it perfect for summer. The Barnabas Collins was the whiskey cocktail, not so sweet despite the brown sugar thanks to two kinds of bitters.
Tequila, blackberry, and lime made this really refreshing and easy to drink. All of the cocktails were very strong but well-balanced, so I could’ve had several of these but really only needed one to get to a good place.
Our table agreed that this one was just weird. Bacardi rum, creme de coconut, lime juice, crushed ice, and orange zest. There was no reason it tasted so funny to us, except that we weren’t on a banana-shaped raft off the coast of a tropical island.
A bison burger with bacon, pepperjack cheese, quail egg, sriracha cream, avocado, and tomato on a honey garlic bun. The table next to ours got a much better-looking one, but don’t let the mess on the plate dissuade you. My friend the burger snob was impressed that it was actually cooked medium-rare and loved that the quail egg was broken on the side for dipping. The menu didn’t mention that the burger came with a side of garlic whipped mash, which made the $16 price tag make sense.
Smoked BBQ pulled pork, jalapeño jelly, sweet slaw, and pickled egg on a honey garlic bun. It’s a summer picnic in a sandwich, with all of the spicy and smoky you’d expect.
After reading the description of this–cornbread, sauteed chicken, romano garlic cream, peas, carrots, peppers, onions, and jalapeño jelly–I thought it sounded like a kind of chicken pot pie. But our server told me that it was “just everything in a bowl”. Not exactly crystal clear, but I asked my boyfriend to order it anyway so I could see. It turned out to be the best thing I tasted that night (and, you know, I tasted everything). It really was just all of the ingredients in a bowl together, with the cornbread absorbing all of the flavors rather than just sitting on top, as in a pot pie. I’m not sure what kind of magic they throw in there with everything, but it had the flavors of a bowl of Thai curry. Except with way more stuff and way less broth, which is sort of the dream.
I ordered this because I had to know what $24 mac & cheese looked like. It was seven cheeses (seven!), garlic and sea salt breadcrumbs, and sweet stewed tomatoes. It was a massive plate that took all four of us to finish, and it was just . . . special. Even without meat, I wasn’t sad to have spent $24 on it. (That said, I’d sure rather spend $18 on it if this became a regular place for me.) I loved the crunch of the breadcrumbs that added just the right amount of buttery sweetness to the pasta, and then the tomato sauce just put it over the top in terms of comfort food.
They had run out of the Wonka Bar Chocolate Cake with actual chocolate bars between the layers of cake, so we opted for the cherry cheesecake instead, which was not a mistake. One of the owners’ moms makes all of the dessert, and we could taste it. This version had big sour cream flavor and a thick, buttery graham cracker crust. It was $12, which was a bit of a surprise to us when we got the bill, but it was a good-sized slice, and YOLO.
A lot of the initial Yelp reviews dock stars because this place is so small, which I find adorable. Is this your first day in NYC, Yelpers? Yeah, restaurants are small here.
In the end, I left Beetle House feeling like it was nothing I expected it to be and just what I want a good East Village bar to be. There was no costumed Beetlejuice (they tell me he’ll be there on the weekends, along with side show acts, magicians, and zombies). There was no Danny Elfman music. There wasn’t really a whole lot of Tim Burton, truth be told. It was actually, as their website says, “a bar and restaurant in the East Village of NYC with an atmosphere and menu inspired by all things dark and lovely”. I would’ve thought the Beetlejuice guy was kitschy and fun to take pictures of, but I wouldn’t have wanted him there pretending to levitate every time I wanted to casually drink a This is Halloween! cocktail with pumpkin liqueur, cinnamon liqueur, apple liqueur, apple cider, ginger beer, and lime. And hearing the Danny Elfman score for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure would have been charming, but listening to The Smiths, The Cure, and Joy Division was way cooler. It seems like the owners are making this a neighborhood bar during the week and a novelty bar for the weekend. Unfortunately the prices don’t make it the kind of place you can go every night, but I’m hoping they’ll work that out after the soft opening.
To me, the Clinton Hill pizzeria Emily is famous because my neighbor and her husband own it. My boyfriend and I started going there because they offered everyone in our building a free dessert, and there aren’t many places I wouldn’t go for a free s’mores calzone. We kept going to Emily because it turned out the pizza was really the epitome of what great NY wood-fired pizza can be, with an airy, crisp crust that wasn’t hard and overly chewy. And then all of NYC went there, too, not only for the funky pizza concoctions (like the Colony with pickled chilis and honey) but for the award-winning burger that the Internet couldn’t stop talking about. Now there’s Emmy Squared in Williamsburg, an offshoot offering Detroit-style pizza because it wasn’t enough for Matt Hyland to just be a master of NY pies.
These things must be triple-battered, for all of the crunchy stuff that falls off of them onto the plate as you pull them apart. Growing up in Ohio, we asked for “extra crispy stuff” or “more crunchies” at Long John Silver’s to get a little pile of fried batter on the side of our hush puppies. These are the adult version of that. Dip those little nuggets of cheese into your spicy “sammy” sauce or tomato sauce, and don’t forget the crispies.
When I was a kid in Ohio (and truthfully, up until about five years ago), Pizza Hut was my favorite pizza. The popular pizzas in Ohio–Donatos, Massey’s, every mom and pop shop in my little town–had the Midwestern cracker crust, but if my pizza wasn’t piled on an inch of bread, I wasn’t interested. Emmy Squared takes the idea of that pan pizza and makes it so your stomach won’t explode. It has that same crust that rises up along the side of the baking pan, but here, the cheese spills over the side and fries up crispy to give the crust a crunch and a buttery-ness that you can’t get with wood-fired pizza. And the dough at Emmy Squared isn’t a brick that expands in your stomach; it’s a light, airy thing just weighty enough to support the loads of toppings.
I ordered the Roni Supreme to harken back to those days when we used to use the crispy curled-edge pepperoni of Ohio pizzas as bowls for other toppings. It wasn’t for the faint of heart, with clumps of chile seeds to make your eyes water. My boyfriend’s mom got the Angel Pie, because mushrooms are a hot commodity back in her native Poland, where every member of the household is a fungus-picking expert in the forest. We all loved the texture of the ricotta and the sauce replacement of truffle cream. But our favorite was The Emmy, which we added sausage to like hedonists. But of course it was going to be our favorite, because it had all of the best things in life: banana peppers, red onions, and RANCH. Homemade ranch, with extra herbs in it to make it green. I didn’t even know there was a way to make regular ranch better. I couldn’t stop exclaiming about how this was my new favorite pizza. And it wasn’t just the Moscow Mules talking.
Remember GreenBox from an episode of “Shark Tank“? Emmy Squared uses them! How environmentally responsible and convenient!
I’ve been following Chef David Santos around the city since he was doing secret dinners in his apartment on Roosevelt Island, and I can tell you that there’s no one in NYC doing more creative menus than this guy. There’s been Nashville hot chicken served in giant buckets, a Sun Noodle dinner with bowls of chilled and surf & turf ramen, and meals celebrating Dave’s Portuguese heritage, but I’ve especially come to love the themed dinners. Last week’s “Game of Thrones” pop-up at Noreetuh in the East Village is something my friends and I look forward to every year. Not only because the food is always boundary-pushing but because Dave’s menus are these masterful/hilarious odes to the characters on the show that proclaim this chef both an artist in the kitchen and a wordsmith on the page. None of us will ever forget the bacon-wrapped monkfish dish from a couple of years ago, where Dave said that the bacon protects the monkfish like the Hound protects Arya. Genius. If you want to see the entire explanation for this year’s menu, head on over to the Eventbrite ticketing page and prepare to be delighted.
Dave’s bread is reason alone to come to one of these dinners and is worth the price of admission itself. Crusty on the outside and beyond smushable in the middle, and then he always makes some amazing butter to top it with. This time, the butter was sprinkled with thick salt crystals to make it even more delicious and more likely to kill you.
Texture on texture on texture!
There was an asparagus granita on this that my friends refused to accept as a real thing in cooking, but they couldn’t deny how refreshing it was to get a little pile of savory shaved ice on top of a cool salad. None of us were okay with that carrot suggestively sticking up like that, but Dave is such the godfather of incredible carrots that the Times posted one of his carrot recipes, so you have to forgive him. The “dirt” was rye bread crumbs, just in case you were scared.
I don’t care for oysters, but I care immensely for a huge crispy-as-hell piece of pork skin that I can dip into my chowder. Comfort food pushed to the max.
Apparently malloreddus is the national pasta of Sardinia, kind of like a gnocchi, that translates to “fat little calves”. Dave left his with quite a bit of chew, just the way I like it, and gave us just the right amount for being totally satisfied but not dying from the richness.
The waitstaff passed around giant green emu eggs for us to all pretend to be the mother of dragons with before taking them back to the kitchen so Dave could make THE most intense scrambled eggs, loaded with foie and onions. They were so earthy I could’ve sprouted a tree in them, and then he had to go and top them with a piece of steak just for effect. The scallions gave the dish just the right amount of brightness to balance out all of that fat.
Representing the wall and the blood of Jon Snow, this ice-cream-sandwich-meets-baked-Alaska had just the right amount of novelty for such a fun dinner and just the right amount of elevation for a chef like Dave.
Early last year, my friends and I were planning a trip to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Athens, so I pulled up the ol’ San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best list to see if that part of the world had anything to offer. Lo and behold, #15 was smack-dab in the middle of Wien (that’s Vienna in German, see; I’m getting you ready for your future trip there), a modern Austrian restaurant perched on a canal of the Danube River in the middle of a 19th-Century park. Steirereck promised the white gloves and unnecessary decorative plates stacked beneath each dish that I love but also tons of fresh local ingredients that I would have never heard of. Adventure!
I was able to request a reservation through the English version of the Steirereck website and received a confirmation the next day with the exact date and time I’d hoped for (this was four months in advance of our travel date), but I had a question. Four of us were sure we wanted to try the tasting menu, but one friend didn’t think she was ready for five hours of eating and wanted to order a la carte. I replied to the confirmation email and basically told them, “Don’t worry, we’re going to be drinking enough alcohol that you won’t mind if one person isn’t eating.” They didn’t reply. A week before our dinner, though, they wrote to reconfirm my reservation, so I took the opportunity to ask again. The reservationist replied,
Thank you for your confirmation!
Don’t worry you can all order on stage.
We are looking forward to your visit.”
Thank you for your confirmation!
Don’t worry you can all order on stage.
We are looking forward to your visit.”
My friend imagined herself on a stage at the front of the restaurant, ordering samples from the cheese cart over a microphone. But we just let it go, because adventure!
Having crammed two weeks of vacation clothes into one carry-on bag, I was woefully underprepared for our fancy dinner and arrived in the 60-degree evening wearing sandals, no tights, a sleeveless dress, and a Gap hoodie. The hostess still totally took it from me like it was a real coat and gently folded it over her arm to hang for me without any hint of judgement, god bless her. Aside from the lingering fear of the stage-ordering, things were going great.
Steirereck seems to be set up like a clover, with each leaf representing a different room with rounded edges overlooking the park. It meant that even with the restaurant completely full, we were only sitting in a room with a handful of tables. Which was lucky, because while the other tables were full of austere Europeans, our table was doing wine pairings and having a really good time of it. It was the staff’s fault, though! They seemed to take great joy in seeing if they could entertain the Americans and kept making jokes about carrying us out to our cabs after the wine pairings and telling us to let them know if we found worms in the salad because it was so fresh. Their humor was so dry that we would all laugh, wait for them to leave the table, and then ask each other, “Wait, he was joking, right?” It was the perfect kind of service for us, a bunch of normal people faking like we were fancy in a different country.
We all ended up going for the tasting menu with wine pairings, so we never found out what ordering “on stage” was like, but we started off with cocktails in case nine glasses of wine wouldn’t be enough. Mine was this celery cocktail with housemade vermouth, an “Arabian mountain herb” grown on their roof, and rosemary.
The bread cart was overwhelming to a carb-lover such as myself, but there was a nice blood sausage loaf for the one person at our table who wanted to balance his carbs with protein. I chose the white bread with lavender and the double baked sourdough.
After our first wine pairing was served, a huge spread of tiny dishes arrived:
Apparently Austria has 40 different allergens that have to be displayed on a menu lest someone die from eating hidden mustard, so the restaurant cheekily decided to make dishes featuring all of them. We each received a card naming all of the dishes, the allergen they contained, and a description of who the allergy generally affects. (Eggs: It is possible to be allergic to just the yolk or the white. Most common in children under the age of five, most people grow out of it after a couple of years.) We had things like wheat cracker with pericon, crayfish tomalley with salsify and lovage, peanut with sweet corn, and the worst offender of all,
CELERY. Which we got a whole plant of. The little ribs dangling amidst the stalk were soaked in verjus & vermouth salt, but we were told to eat as much of the stalk as we wanted to. (We did not.) Other highlights were the duck egg with tons of chive, and the sour milk dip for the cucumber.
Glazed young carrots, carrot and fennel salad, marinated wild fish (reinanke, a kind of salmon, spicy carrot and fennel juice. Lots of fruity, sweet flavor in a savory course.
Grilled preserved yellow peppers, roasted muskmelon, braised Jerusalem artichoke, Taggiasca olives, Venus clams cooked with tamarind, ginger, and lemongrass.
Confit young celeriac with peas, pea shoots, and hazelnuts, sautéed salad hearts, celeriac-citrus sauce with pepperoncini, and wild celery herb. So much lime flavor!
Sauteed chanterelles, barbecued and steamed redondo courgette (zucchini), avocado and plum marinated in lemon, roasted cashews, spiced green tomato jam, and French sorrel. I loved the spiciness of this one.
Raw “branded” alpine salmon, Mexican pepperleaf inflorescence, verjus-infused radish, grilled porcini, cucumbers with mustard seed and dill, borretsch leaf, passion fruit cucumber juice with pepperleaf oil, fried pepperleaf pearls. We liked the layers of cucumber with dill and porcini with lemon, accented by those crunchy pepperleaf balls.
Pan-fried amur carp, kohlrabi marinated with balsam vinegar & panda oil, Job’s tears crisp, sourdough bread creme with crunchy Job’s tears seeds. Standouts included the crispy fish skin and the way the creme broke up the acidic dish.
I failed to record more detail about this, but it was quail with this wonderful sesame sauce.
Roast Hochschwab venison, butternut squash cooked in brown butter with orange blossom and rosemary, baby artichokes glazed with Madeira and thyme, red onion and radish chutney with horseradish. The chutney was the favorite element of everyone at the table, and isn’t this just about the prettiest plate you’ve ever seen?
For those who didn’t opt for the plated cheese course, a cheese cart came loaded with everything from the mildest hard cheeses to the stinkiest washed-rinds. My boyfriend had the restaurant choose a progression of four for him, but you can have the whole cart if you like.
Unpasteurised “fresh cheese”, preserved and dried “Little Buddha” physalis, frozen “fresh cheese” whey with toasted hemp seeds, black sesame, amaranth, and coconut. The server plated this in front of us at the table, cutting into the cheese so the whey would drip through the mesh. The physalis (or cape gooseberry or Peruvian cherry, depending on where you’re from) came in preserved and freeze-dried forms to provide different textures.
Drunk Katie can’t keep her camera still!
Peach poached with lemon agastache flowers and verjus, basil and sorrel creme, marinated peach, and basil beignets with basil sugar.
Raspberries marinated with rose-vinegar, set sesamy milk, fig leaf snow, rose petals preserved in apple vinegar, “weinviertler” water leaf, and baked raspberries with sesamy.
Crispy deep fried crepe with Japanese medlar (or loquat fruit) and violet jam and powdered candied violets, strawberry mint, lemon verbena, and violet petals marinated with violet syrup and medlar juice, medlar kernel and violet ice cream. This was an extra course the restaurant brought us just to try, in case our stomachs hadn’t exploded already.
Another gift from the restaurant, these were traditional poppy seed noodles that were too savory for me for dessert, but my Polish boyfriend with all of his poppy seed desserts at family holidays loved them.
We’d seen this cart at other tables in the restaurant, with a distinctive buzzing sound emanating from its core. BEES! I was so sure it was just a recording but wanted so badly for a restaurant to just be casually wheeling a live hive around the place. The lady at the table closest to us was so scared of being attacked, though, that her server had to show her the little speaker inside to get her to calm down.
Our server pulled out the honeycomb to scoop a bit off for each of us onto little wooden spoons and then offered us tastes from each of six jars of honey made from the nectar of different flowers from different regions of the city. There was also nougat, little jars of watermelon that tasted like cubes of honey, and honey covered in white chocolate.
At seven courses for $142 and $75 for the wine pairings, Steirereck felt like a steal. The food all tasted so fresh and so full of exotic things we’d never tried before (physalis! medlar! crunchy pepperleaf balls!), and the service was somehow exactly what we wanted all of the time. When I sneezed, I was handed a package of luxurious Relais & Chateaux tissues, and each dish was accompanied by a card with the title of the dish, a description of the ingredients in it, and then notes about elements like reinanke that we may not have seen before. But when we wanted to have a drunken good time with the staff, the white gloves came off. The allergen spread is one of the most memorable things I’ve ever eaten, and I loved the way the restaurant had plenty of those novelty moments to delight our eyes but also made sure the food stood up to the experience. All in all, this was just what I would expect from a many-Michelin-starred restaurant in the U.S., only everyone had great accents and we were sitting on the Danube.
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.