My five-star reviews:
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,
and then we admired the fine flatware
and the posh crown-molded surroundings while we waited for our tower of treats to arrive.
I chose a pot of the bergamot-scented Pierre Blend for my tea
and immediately made it unrecognizable with milk and sugar.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our scones didn’t make it to the table somehow, so next was an assortment of little desserts in very seasonal flavors:
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.
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 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.
I’m in Houston, Texas, with my boyfriend at the moment and am astounded by how much Mexican food these people have access to. I know we’re lucky in NYC to have a little bit of everything, but I’m suddenly feeling very deprived with only one taco joint on my block back in Brooklyn. Here, there are family-owned Mexican places next to huge Mexican chain restaurants next to slightly different versions of the huge Mexican chain restaurants. Driving across the Katy Freeway, my mouth waters right and left at all of the neon signs. So I was here for less than 24 hours when I started searching Yelp for the best Mexican food in Houston and found Chavez Mexican Cafe.
We started off with a big bowl of corn chips with two homemade salsas, one spicy and one sweet, and then ordered everything on the menu. j/k, the menu is gigantic, but we ordered enough food that our server told us there were plenty of take-home boxes in the back. And here I thought my appetite would be appropriate in Texas, where everything’s supposedly bigger.
This melted cheese with chorizo, mushrooms, onions, and poblano peppers was set on fire before our eyes and served with flour and corn tortillas. The cheese was super chewy and dripping with all of the oils and juices from the meat and vegetables. Wrapped up like a little gift in a tortilla, it was the kind of savory guilty pleasure bite that made me unable to stop eating more of it.
With sauteed shrimp, all of the creamy and crunchy toppings you can think of, and those floppy corn tortillas. The lemon cream sauce made these nice and bright, and our server brought us an extra bean soup because we were sharing them. The service here was very friendly and attentive in general, but I really noticed this one little extra.
Apparently whole deep-fried stuffed avocados exist elsewhere, but I’d never heard of them until I saw the menu for Chavez Mexican Cafe. I got mine stuffed with beef and cheese because one of the reviews I read said that it doesn’t even make sense how tender the beef is here. I expected the big chunks of meat inside to be chewy despite that review just based on their size, but they really were fork-tender and a nice contrast to the creamy avocado and its crispy coating. A chicken enchilada, rice, and refried beans rounded out the plate, and all of them were flavorful in ways that made them compete with the avocado to be the stand-out element of the dish. The rice and beans were so good I’d make a meal of them alone.
I persuaded Jack to order this grilled chicken breast covered with sauteed shrimp, Mexican crema, and chipotle just so I could try it. We usually eat low-carb, and I was excited that such a great unbreaded entree option existed, but I also really needed to try that deep-fried avocado. The chicken was pounded thin to make it sort of like a meaty flatbread, and the sauce that I expected to be overly rich was actually acidic and light.
Margaritas are $2.49 during happy hour, which happens to last all day Monday to Wednesday. And they’re only $4.99 regularly, so, you know, get them every day.
Chavez Mexican Cafe is a really, really unassuming place, as you can see from the decor. We loved the booths along the side walls that felt very private, but apparently the place gets crazy on weekend nights, and for good reason. Every bit of food we had here was fresh, clearly made with love, and bursting with unexpected flavor. Chef Chavez came out of the kitchen to tell us about leaving his well-paying former job behind to work hard doing what he’s passionate about, which is making Mexican food that just tastes great. He says he feels a little bad that the other Mexican restaurants around him sometimes sit empty when there’s a line out the door at his . . . but not that bad.
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
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• 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)