My five-star reviews:
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.
Read my review of all of the pies, meatballs, watermelon salads, and burrata cheese here!
Recently, I’ve been watching the movie Silver Linings Playbook a lot, both because it’s been on HBO and because I’m a sap. There’s this epic scene where Bradley Cooper’s character is desperately trying to find his wedding video in the middle of the night, and Led Zeppelin’s “What Is and What Should Never Be” plays over his frantic search. I try to imagine the scene without the song, and it’s just nothing by comparison. And I’m sure we all have these movie moments where the music mattered so much to us and really made the scene. Chef and author Barbara Werner has figured out that the same can be said for music and food with her new book series and app, Musical Pairing: The Art of Harmonizing Music to Your Meal.
When Barbara invited me to a nine-course music-paired tasting on her at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House near Times Square last week, I expected that she’d just rented out the upstairs meeting room for the atmosphere and would be having a caterer serve us tiny one-bite plates, enough to give us a sample of what an actual musical pairing dinner party could be like. After the first course, I was dying to know the caterer’s name. Because I am dumb. Of course it was Ruth’s Chris food we were eating, and it was all incredible.
My friend Kim and I were seated at a U-shaped table with other journalists, bloggers, photographers, and eaters,
and in front of each of us was a set of Frends headphones in either rose gold or black that were ours to keep.
When Barbara Werner began speaking, we couldn’t help but stop sipping our champagne and admiring our new electronics, because the woman is a real charmer. She was funny. She was honest. She spoke openly about being divorced and how much she loves being a single woman but how she hates the way restaurants announce to all of the other diners that she’s alone the moment she walks in the door. “Table for ONE? Do we have a table for ONE LONELY PERSON?” She didn’t want to have to join Match.com just to be taken out to dinner, she said, but she hated the stigma attached to treating just herself to dinner. So Barbara started wearing headphones while she ate to block out the clatter of silverware as the server removed the extra setting from her table for two, and that’s when she realized that something special was happening.
To start the evening, Barbara’s assistants hooked us all up to iPods,
and then servers brought our food to us as we began listening to the song Barbara had decided to pair with that particular course. She said that she’d specifically chosen headphones versus piping the music throughout the room over loudspeakers to ensure that we’d know it was the music that had made the meal so memorable and not the fantastic conversation we were having with the people next to us.
Our example course was a single scoop of vanilla ice cream, something we all knew well and could use as a baseline. As our dishes arrived, a classical music piece began playing. It was fine. The ice cream tasted like ice cream. But when they switched us over to “Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major”, the ice cream suddenly tasted . . . different. Brighter. Creamier. I knew it was just the power of suggestion, but did I care? If I stop feeling pain because of a placebo pill, I’ve still stopped feeling pain, right? It was a little bit exciting to me to think that my brain could be won over by a couple of violins. I was also probably won over by the fact that this woman was serving me ice cream for an amuse bouche.
The rest of the night would only get better from there, thanks to Barbara’s song choices and this sampling of the Ruth’s Chris menu.
Barbara explained that her pairings are derived from a simple mathematical formula that takes into account the type of protein, the way it’s cooked, and then all of the side dishes and sauces. Since this tuna wasn’t cooked, its musical pairing number was small, so she needed a song with a matching small number. She was looking for a steady beat with no big sweeps, not a lot of dynamics. What she ended up with was “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Go’s. I absolutely loved the spicy wasabi and ginger with the freshness of the tuna and cilantro.
Barbara has a culinary degree and comes from a long line of butchers. She was a self-described nerd in school, a choir geek, and learned about whatever music her crush of the moment was into to make boys like her. And she’s great at talking about food. The way she described the classic veal osso buco had my mouth watering even before the dish was anywhere in sight. This one was infused with saffron and was so rich and buttery. I’m not sure I’d heard of Florida Georgia Line before the dinner, and I don’t usually listen to country music, but “Cruise” had me wanting to dance in my seat and sing along.
I don’t eat a whole lot of squid in my life, and I was actively trying to control my portions so I’d be able to save room for the THREE COURSES OF DESSERT, but I couldn’t stop shoving this stuff in my maw. Set to the tune of Carly Simon’s “Let the Rivers Run” (the theme from Working Girl), it was bursting with red pepper flavor that’s making me salivate even as I type this. The lemon we squeezed over the whole plate was the perfect bright contrast to the heavy batter.
And speaking of heavy batter, next up was the biggest onion ring I’d seen in my life. Barbara called this “the greatest stoner food known to man” and paired it with stoner music, “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones. The coating on this was so thick it went from crunchy on the outside back to doughy again on the inside. I loved getting the best of both worlds, and really, the fact that this was a tempura batter meant that it was surprisingly light. I loved the Thai flavors of the dipping sauce.
Next up was a roasted chicken breast paired with Cream’s “White Room”, perfect for the herbaceous cream sauce that burst out of the chicken when I cut into its crisp skin. But the star of this dish, and maybe reason enough on its own to visit Ruth’s Chris Steak House, was the sweet potato casserole with a pecan crust. It was CANDY. It could’ve easily been dessert. And did I taste a hint of orange in it? The fact that no one is writing love poems to these sweet potatoes is a crime. The Best.
Finally, we got to the Ruth’s Chris signature: a petite filet mignon medallion with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus. This is the dish that inspired Barbara to write her Musical Pairing series. She was at Ruth’s Chris one night by herself, listening to Luciano Pavarotti sing “Nessum Dorma”, when she was inspired to figure out why this song and this food went so perfectly together. The song was so epic–probably too epic for my taste in any other setting, actually–but there was this moment when I was spooning these potatoes drowning in butter into my mouth that I thought I’d never be able to eat steak without music ever again after this.
Harry Connick, Jr. sang “It Had to Be You” to us as we ate this mini banana cream pie that was more fresh banana than pie. We loved how it was just lightly sweet and how it was so much more “real food” than banana pudding is. The espresso martini it was served with was all chocolate and sugar, on the other hand, and of course I loved that in an entirely different way.
This was like an apple pie stuffed into a bread pudding with all of its cinnamon and fruits. It was paired with The Mamas and the Papas’ “Words of Love” and a creamy whiskey sauce that seemed to also have a whole lotta powdered sugar in it.
This really needs no description, because it’s all in the name. Eating this cake is a sin. Especially after eight previous courses and ice cream to start the whole night off. It was so dense and decadent that half of the room left their plate nearly untouched. I, on the other hand, ate nearly all of it but left behind a single bite to show that I’m in control of my appetite. And I’ll regret that decision every day of my life.
Several years ago, when I was a faithful minimum wage bookstore employee, I was so excited to read This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession the moment it arrived in the store. I was dying to know why music affected me so much, influenced my mood so intensely. What the book basically told me was, “We have no idea.” But even if I don’t know why my connection to music is so meaningful, it is. And well, my connection to food is embarrassing at times. As I sat listening to this Florida Georgia Line song I had never heard before and was finding it so unbelievably catchy, I wondered if the food had as much to do with me liking the song as the song had to do with me liking the food. It’s been a few months since I’d had a good tasting menu, so maybe it was partly just that I was experiencing the euphoria of an overly-full belly, but I kept exclaiming, “This is the best night of my life!” Loudly, so my friend could hear me through her headphones. And she was feeling the same way. Whether or not we can pinpoint the science behind musical pairing, we’re dying to host a music-paired dinner party full of the very best/truly, truly terrible songs our iPods can produce.
If you want to do the same, check out the beginnings of musicalpairing.com for videos and contests, and try the beta app at mpwebapp.com to see actual song suggestions based on your menu.
Thanks to Barbara Werner and Ruth’s Chris Steak House NYC for an amazing time!
If you’re wondering where the pretty people in NYC are eating (or not eating, to maintain their girlish figures), it’s at The Chester in the Meatpacking District. The restaurant serves American food, but the crowd is a mix of world flavors thanks to its prime location, attached to the Gansevoort Hotel with its famous rooftop pool.
I happen to work right next door and looked longingly at the soft blue-and-white striped banquettes on the outdoor patio every morning at The Chester until I finally convinced my friend Kim to join me there for lunch one day. We ordered lobster Cobb salads with chopped lettuce and piles of hard-boiled egg, bacon, blue cheese, avocado, huge chunks of lobster, and pineapple(!) and haven’t stopped talking about them since.
Incredibly, The Chester contacted me recently to see if I’d be interested in reviewing their new dessert menu, and I jumped at the chance when I saw that one of the new offerings is served in a jar, which automatically makes everything taste like sunshine and butterflies in flight. The desserts were on the house, but of course Kim and I had to sample a little bit of the rest of the new menu on our own dime.
An appetizer big enough to be an entrée is a rare and beautiful thing in NYC. This duo of dips was extra satisfying in that it included both the savory part of the meal and a part I would’ve been happy to eat for dessert. The white bean dip was the salty portion, and I loved its strong red pepper flavor. The sweet honey came through in the ricotta dip so well that it tasted like candy next to the white bean. Both seemed extra creamy when paired with the crunchy toasted bread.
Contrasting that was the soft bread of our other appetizer, this flatbread topped with prosciutto, fontina cheese, and arugula tossed in truffle oil. The prosciutto was so tender, not sinewy at all, and I loved the richness that the grilled flavor added to the bread.
The thickly seared scallops were of course the star of this plate, but I couldn’t get over how the sweet slice of cornbread complemented the naturally sweet scallops. Everything was perfectly seasoned, and there was lots of complexity thanks to the buttery cream sauce, salty capers, and bitter greens on top.
Plus, it was just plain nice to look at.
Kim’s kale Caesar was SPICY! Surprisingly so. The portion size was again really satisfying, and Kim didn’t even think she needed to add the salmon but thought it was a well-cooked piece of seameat and was glad she’d ordered it. The big slices of Parmesan were our favorite part, as a couple of cheese hogs.
The first thing I said was, “There’s liquor in here!”, which is always a great way to start a dessert tasting. The dark chocolate cake had just a hint of bourbon infusion, and I wanted to drape that thick velvety frosting all over everything I ate. The raspberry sorbet had a bright, fresh taste, like it was plucked straight from the raspberry garden. The cocoa nibs, by contrast, added a dark richness and crunch.
The panna cotta is the very last dessert I would’ve ordered for myself because they’re usually too light and not decadent enough for my taste, but this was easily my favorite of the desserts we tried. It reminded me of eating a flower in the best way, the very perfumed flavor of cardamom filling my nose. The warm sensation of the cardamom and strong whiskey cream hit my throat first, but then the cooling burst of Meyer lemon and orange followed. I loved the textural differences of the cream, followed by the crunchy almond brittle, followed by the custard, followed by a layer of liquid on the bottom. The whole experience made me think of drinking a cup of Early Grey tea. Except, you know, it was a creamy cool dessert and not hot tea and therefore much, much more delicious.
My dessert in a jar, at last! Layers and layers of fluffy vanilla bean sponge cake and strawberry compote. I loved that there was plenty of saltiness in this lightly sweet dessert, which really brought out a lemon flavor in the cake. It was such a pleasure to dig through the cream down to the cake and strawberries and come up with a spoonful of different flavors and textures. The honeycomb candy added another reminder of summer with its sweet honey flavor, and it hardened in our teeth so we could continue to enjoy the dessert all of the way home.
If you’re from Columbus, Ohio, like I am, there are three things you’re proud of: the concrete corn field, The Black Keys, and Jeni’s ice cream. Maybe Marilyn Manson, too. But definitely the other three.
I usually have some shame when it comes to my carb intake, but I was in Ohio last week visiting my family and managed to eat Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams three times. I actually visited four of the locations with different friends but didn’t eat at the Bexley one because I’d literally just come from the Grandview one. This is how pervasive Jeni’s is in Columbus. When I’m there, it feels like I have to fatten myself up for the lonely Jeni’s-less winter that is NYC. Sure, there’s Jeni’s in the freezer at my neighborhood grocery store, Brooklyn Fare, but once you’ve had it fresh from the scoop, no old pint will do.
Luckily, a Jeni’s popup just opened up in NYC’s Gotham West Market yesterday and will be here until September. In Ohio, there are about twenty flavors to choose from, all so distinct and distinctly interesting, with gravels and sauces and all the accoutrements. Here in NYC, there are just seven flavors, but boy, are they doozies. I get Salty Caramel ice cream almost every visit in Ohio, and I’ve been dying to try the Pineapple Upside Down Cake Buttermilk Frozen Yogurt. It doesn’t seem like any of the toppings are available here, though, so you’ll need to head to Ohio to get the complete Jeni’s experience. Still, Gotham West Market is going to be seeing a lot of me this summer.
To whet your appetite, here are two of the Jeni’s sundaes I had while in Ohio last week:
Wildberry Lavender, Salty Caramel, and Brambleberry Crisp ice creams, with Salty Graham gravel and a waffle wedge. Up until this visit, I’d never gotten a gravel. The ice creams are so flavorful that I thought adding anything extra would detract from them, but a friend convinced me that the gravel is as important as the base at Jeni’s. I still think the ice creams are perfect on their own, but I absolutely loved the crunch and the added savoryness of the graham cracker/butter mixture that is the Salty Graham gravel. I usually don’t even like crunch in my ice cream, but I loved the way this crunch broke apart in my mouth and melted.
The same friend, upon hearing that I’d just gotten the gravel, informed me that the cherries at Jeni’s are the best cherries. Another friend informed me that no, it’s the whipped cream that’s so good. So on my next visit, the next day, I got the whole shebang. This was Bangkok Peanut, Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Ndali Estate Vanilla Bean ice creams with Salty Graham gravel, Salty Caramel sauce, whipped cream, a cherry, and a waffle wedge. I really wanted to try the Donut gravel but just couldn’t miss out on having the Salty Graham again. All of the toppings were great additions that somehow didn’t tame the flavors of the individual ice creams, but the cherry was the star. It was dark and tangy, familiar and yet also unlike any cherry I’ve ever had. So rich I would’ve been sick after two of them.
I don’t know what it is about Jeni’s ice creams. Reading one of her recipes, I’m always slightly weirded out by the cornstarch, corn syrup, and cream cheese in her bases. But if that’s what it takes to make ice cream so creamy and memorable you come back for it three times in the span of four days, I’m not going to argue. Visit Jeni’s @ Gotham West Market for more information and to see all the flavors being offered in NYC!
Last night, Virginia Tourism took over Chelsea Market for the Virginia Craft event celebrating the state’s artisan food and beverage purveyors. I was invited to attend by the Lou Hammond PR agency and brought my boyfriend along for what I expected to be a quiet night of sampling hams, but it ended up being a party packed with people aching for oysters, bourbon, and beer. The breweries and restaurants in attendance were represented by people who really cared about their products and talked lovingly about their local, organic, heirloom ingredients. Virginia is for lovers . . . of good food and drink!
Tables set up around the room all contained one food company and one drink company, which made for some excellent pairings.
Our first stop was Foggy Ridge Cider. Cider’s my go-to at a bar, but Foggy Ridge’s Serious Cider was something entirely different than I’ve ever had–a very light, very mineral, very dry cider that reminded me of a wine but tasted like apples. It was so neat to hear about the different types of heirloom apples they grow, one of which was thought to have gone “extinct” until twenty years ago.
Beth from FOODE served us this beef brisket over organic cheddar grits with organic kale salsa verde that had a delicious little kick of spice.
My dream come true, thanks to FOODE.
Caromont Farm was on hand with two cheeses that were washed-rind yet managed to be mild and balanced: a raw milk cheese using milk from their neighbor’s farm and a goat milk cheese using milk from their own goats. They call these American cheeses in the style of European cheeses and won second place in that category last year from the American Cheese Society.
Blue Mountain Brewery was offering two of their beers, a very light and crisp Kolsch 151 lager and a Full Nelson featuring their home-grown Cascade hops.
Chef/owner Ian Boden was serving a lamb dish from The Shack featuring Border Springs Farm lamb, peas, rhubarb picked in gin, and soy sauce lees, which is the solid left behind when the liquid soy sauce is drained away. They were surprisingly mild, and the overall dish was well-balanced with sweet, savory, salty, and sour flavors.
Chef/owner Harper Bradshaw had a lovely blue crab dish from Harper’s Table with buttermilk, cucumbers, peanuts, and lime. Each flavor came through so well, and yet the sweetness of the crab was still the star of the show. As were the wood-grain compostable plates.
Complementing that was the Faux Rickey by bartender Todd Thrasher of PX using Catoctin Creek Distilling‘s Watershed Gin, home-grown basil, and lime juice. The basil foam made it impossible to drink. And also awesome to drink.
Sister restaurants Comfort and Pasture were serving this smoked trout/deviled egg/pickled apple combo on a sumac wafer. Smoke is irresistible to me.
Belle Isle Craft Spirits was making an old fashioned the old-fashioned way with their moonshine, which they had smoked. It was intense, intensely delicious, and perfect next to the smoked trout.
Co-owner Ryan Croxton of Rappahannock River Oysters was offering two types of oysters and a clam, grown at different places in the Chesapeake Bay to give them varying levels of brine ranging from sweet to knock-your-socks-off salty. My boyfriend also thought their cocktail sauce was killer.
Catoctin Creek Distilling gave us a shot of their rye whiskey and a cocktail made with rye, ginger ale, orange bitters, and lemon peel. I’ll be making this one at home. A lot.
I believe this tiny ham biscuit was from Edwards Ham, but it arrived out of nowhere on a tray from an angel/server. The first time I had Surryano ham was on a tiny biscuit at North in Providence, Rhode Island, and this one was comparably tasty with its clear, sweet porky flavor.
A. Smith Bowman Distillery had seven- and ten-year aged bourbons that we each drank neat and were truly taken by the smoothness of both and the stronger flavors of vanilla and caramel in the longer-aged version, which was impressively from a single barrel. The gentleman serving the whiskey was actually the person who samples the seven-year barrels and decides which of them will be mixed together for the bottles of seven-year and which are perfect enough to go on aging for the single-barrel bottles. What a life.
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)