• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Gabriel Kreuther
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)
• Senses (Warsaw, Poland)
If you’ve been reading donuts4dinner since its inception, you know that the original purpose of this blog was to chronicle my rise from a farmgirl to a three-Michelin-star dining powerhouse. Well, since I became a full-time resident of a new Brooklyn neighborhood and also unemployed at the same time, I’ve been focusing on local restaurants and healthier living. It’s been great for the most part–there’s not a lot that’s more satisfying than finding delicious food that’s a short walk away–but part of me has missed the beautiful plating and mindblowing bites of the finest eateries. But then, thanks to my roommate/landlord/former co-worker/boyfriend, I found Brucie in Cobble Hill.
The menu changes nightly at Brucie, so expect to be surprised when you visit.
We were seated at the bar in front of the window looking out onto the street, where our good friend JFK the Woodprint sat watch over us. We felt like we saw him give us a thumbs-up after we placed our order.
My boyfriend ordered this because he said the version he had the first time he visited a couple of weeks ago was so good. The funny thing is that halfway through the dish, he remembered that one of his friends had actually ordered it and that he’d only had a bite or two. It’s not that he didn’t like the calamari, but he didn’t really want to eat a whole bowl of squid. The extra funny thing is that I sort of did want to eat a whole bowl of squid and actually might order this myself when we return to Brucie. It was classic Mediterranean with the capers, lemon, dill, and tomato, and just really fresh and light. The dill especially was a knockout. And not a drip was wasted thanks to the fresh bread served with it.
Nothing against neighborhood eateries, but I was a little shocked when this gorgeously plated appetizer showed up at the table. I was dying to dig into it thanks to all of those colors and textures, but I composed delicate forkfuls for myself like a lady. I actually ordered this dish specifically because I don’t like olives and wanted to challenge myself, figuring that making them into a jam would temper the sour flavor a bit. But no, these were straight-up oil-cured olives, no tempering to be had. And I actually thought they added to the dish next to the charred flavor of the crisp lemon peel. The lentils weren’t much more than a textural element, but the taste of the sweet Marcona almonds and the savory herbs made this such a complete dish.
Just showing off that charred peel that I loved so much.
In the reviews I read of Brucie before our visit, so many of the commenters recommended the chicken “in whatever form”, so even thought the brisket and porchetta were calling to me, I’m so glad we listened to the reviews and tried this dish. The chef delivered it to our table and told us it was a “funky” chicken, and we weren’t sure if she was referring to the ingredients in it or the fact that James Brown was playing over the speakers. I didn’t necessarily find this chicken very funky, but I did find it REALLY, REALLY DELICIOUS. It was a half a chicken, skin crisped and dripping butter. The risotto fritter was all butter and cheese and creamy. The apple was butter-browned and tasted like it might have just been plucked from a pie. But it was the Brussels sprouts that really got us. They were confit, the server told us, and boy, were they. They were just soaked in fat, nearly mushy because of it. My eyes were rolling back into my head as I ate them. I love Brussels sprouts, but these were just so beyond what I’ve eaten. Only the supremes of fresh Meyer lemon and the zing of the red onion kept this from being too rich.
Honestly, the meal I had at Brucie was a five-star meal of the inexpensive variety. It was some of the best local food I’ve eaten in a long time, and I have absolutely no complaints about it, only accolades. But I hesitate to give it five donuts just because I didn’t try any pasta and I didn’t try any dessert there, and those seem like kind of a big deal for an Italian place. I can’t wait to go back and try another preparation of chicken, though, so this won’t be my last Brucie review. And Wednesday nights at Brucie are Italian ramen nights, which I won’t be able to resist much longer. The restaurant had a cool Brooklyn vibe with its novelty wallpaper, 60s soundtrack, and hipster waitresses, but the food was totally serious and careful and could stack up to some of the finest meals I’ve eaten in terms of flavor.
I’ve read recently about how hard it is for a restaurant in NYC to survive after the initial buzz is over. A place opens, every blogger in the tri-state area rushes to review it, it gets no press after the first few months, and it dies. Naturally I accept all of the blame for this, because I’ve never been to any of the old Chef Harold Dietrle restaurants, but I’ve had my eye on The Marrow for months now. I watched him and cheered for him as he won the first season of “Top Chef”, and then I was so excited to live in New York City when he opened Perilla and Kin Shop. I probably looked at the menu on the Perilla website twenty times in the five or so years I was hardcore fine dining every weekend, but I never went. Of course Perilla and Kin Shop are doing just fine without me, but just to be sure The Marrow doesn’t fail on my account single-handedly, I took five of my friends there one Friday night after work.
Reposado, pink grapefruit, lime, and ginger beer. With a side of water.
Pretzel bread should be in every bread basket, everywhere. And not those pretzel rods, either. I want it soft, hot, and buttery.
I am ruined for kale any other way. This was super acidic, very vinegary. Since it was deep fried, it was partly so crisp it was falling apart with every ravenous jab of my fork and half becoming soft again under the dressing. And then there were the cashews to add even more crunch, along with the sour snap of those red onions.
I was forced into trying this, and even as a tomato-phobe, I found these tomatoes so mild, almost roasted to the sweet flavor of a sauce, but they still had plenty of texture for those at the table who eat tomatoes like apples. The burrata was all mozzarella on the outside but creamy and fresh inside, just as it should be.
One of my friends had this and told me it was “delicious”. Nothing but the finest in-depth reporting here at donuts4dinner, folks.
Likewise, I didn’t get a bite of the bone marrow. You know, the dish that’s in the name of the restaurant. Because who would ever share their bone marrow with uni?
I also didn’t try this. I have terribly selfish friends. I think this was duck liver pate on brioche with gooseberry compote. Don’t quote me. You’re just here for the pictures, anyway.
My friend Chantee described this as unctuous and melt-off-the-bone. My friend Nik didn’t care for the amount of fat on the lamb but loved the cabbage, which he said brightened up the rich neck meat.
I love dill to begin with but thought this potato salad made particularly great use of it, adding even more freshness to the cucumber to combat the heaviness of the schnitzel. The wolfberries were soft and sweet (but maybe a little overpowering), while the curd spaetzle had a brilliant crunch from the hazelnuts.
When my friends Jack and Andrew discussed sharing this, I didn’t want to dissuade them, but I also thought they were sort of silly to order a steak in a non-steakhouse. Turns out I was the silly one, because this sort of random restaurant that doesn’t at all need to prove it can do a steak is doing a super-tender one with so much flavor, so much butter, and such great texture. It was just really, really well-seasoned. The corn absorbed all of the truffle butter, beef juice, and onion flavor and was therefore perfect.
Butter on perfectly-cooked steak. YES.
I never, ever need lettuce with my meat (okay, maybe the exception being creamed spinach at a steakhouse), but I loved the way these peppery greens complemented the black pepper flavor in the rest of the dish, the slightly spicy crust of the pork, and the bright pickled onion slivers.
This was the dessert special the night we went, and I have no idea what it was. You’re welcome.
Eating this was like eating a piece of warm, soft gingerbread. Easily the most-beloved dessert at our table.
A very light semifreddo, very milk chocolatey, with a thick, dense, frosting-like dollop of darker chocolate. The torrone was a chewy nougat-like confection that added a textural component, and that’s weirdly all the cherries were, too–they just weren’t very flavorful despite all of the visual impact.
This didn’t come with any of our desserts, so we just ordered bowls of it on the side. Because
ice cream. It was brown buttery and made me feel like I was wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold winter day.
One side of The Marrow’s menu is Italian food to honor Chef Dieterle’s mother, and the other side is German food for his father. We were all over the menu and couldn’t find much at all to complain about. Everything was homey and comforting but elevated enough to make it clear that these aren’t just family recipes but a professional chef’s take on them. The decor is basically what would happen if a zoot suit threw up in a cigar bar, and by that I mean it’s all pinstripes and red leather. The service is laid-back, friendly, personal and makes the place almost seem quaint until you remember that you’re eating caramelized white chocolate ice cream. The menu changes often, though, so get there before everything I’ve mentioned here is gone.
Our first trip to Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s Babbo was way, way back in 2010, before we had visited NYC’s Italian heavy-hitters like Torrisi Italian Specialties and Del Posto. At the time, I said that Babbo was doing Italian food better than anyone in its category in my usual superlative-laden way, and three years later, my boyfriend and I wanted to see how it’s holding up.
This is the four-course lunch tasting menu at $49 with an extra pasta course each for $20 and $35 for wine pairings:
Very appetizing thanks to the bright vinegar notes. Just a touch of sweetness, with chilies that were just spicy enough. Contrast between the tender eggplant slices and the crunch croutons. Relatively simple yet very complete.
Very green and spring-like. I loved the heartiness of the thick pasta and thought the cheese added a necessary depth but wished they hadn’t left off the salami that comes with the full-price version of this dish to give it even more of a bright/robust contrast.
So buttery with that hint of browned-butter sweetness. Little packets of tender, buttery lamb topped with sweet and sagey butter sauce. Did I mention butter?
Buttery pockets of tender beef that tasted as if it’d been slowly cooking for hours, with a fresh hit of parsley and the crunch of the truffle shavings.
Despite the sweet and sour preparation that made these cranberries even more flavorful than usual, it was the pork that really shone. This was JUST how a pork loin should taste, with that smoky edge and so much natural sweetness. The fennel gave the dish a little crunch and added to the sourness.
I’m an olive oil cake fiend, and this one was perfection. The crunchy exterior was soaked with butter, and the interior was asking to sop up the oil on the plate. The sorbet was pretty funk-laden, but Batali’s creme fraiche gelato is one of the best frozen things I’ve ever eaten, so I don’t shy away from funk. The candied lemon mimicked the candied texture of the cake and gave the whole dish a brightness.
This was served with Moscato d’Asti, Brandini 2010, which is the only wine pairing that matched what was printed on the menu. The other pairings were from the Bastianich wineries, and I kind of liked the idea of both of the owners being so well represented in the food and wine.
A dense, dark, moist flourless cake with the texture of a brownie. We were both convinced there were chocolate chips inside until we were picking nuts out of our teeth afterward. (Sorry.) The thick whipped cream on top had just the slightest hint of chocolate and was complemented by the sweet, barely-there fruitiness of the sticky vincotto.
With the way our lunch started, I was pretty skeptical that my feelings toward Babbo were going to remain consistent with my first review. We asked ourselves at one point if the place was actively trying to make sure we had a bad time. The service was polite but not anywhere close to polished, we had been seated at a table shoved up against a wall next to the door, and we saw all of the tables around us get the chickpea bruschetta amuse bouche we ate on our first visit but never got one ourselves.
But the food at Babbo more than made up for the otherwise so-so experience. From the very first course, we kept stopping mid-chew and saying, “Hey, this is really good.” It kept surprising us again and again, even after having been to the Torrisis and Del Postos of NYC. We wanted to be mad at the place for not having Michelin-quality service and decor like they do, but we couldn’t help ourselves. And I can’t wait to go back.
When I wrote in my Torrisi Italian Specialties review that Italian food in NYC is terrible, bland, and uninspired, the good people of the Chowhound message boards went crazy, telling me that I didn’t know what I was talking about if I hadn’t been to Del Posto, the Joe Bastianich/Lidia Bastianich/Mario Batali behemoth with one Michelin star.
So in the name of knowing what I’m talking about, my boyfriend took me there for the $165, eight-course Captain’s Menu for a tasting of Chef Mark Ladner’s finest. Our first impression was that the place was gigantic and cavernous, decorated in dark, heavy fabrics that made it seem like the perfect setting for cigar smoking, back door dealing, and hiding mistresses from wives. The staff was friendly despite the ominous feel, we were seated at the most perfect banquette that allowed for plenty of people-watching, and our server treated me like I was the first blogger to have ever entered the place once she saw my camera. Likewise, the sommelier kept talking up the special bottles he was opening up for us and even introduced us to this new contraption called a corovan or coravan or cordovan that separates the cork from the wine bottle without puncturing it so that the wine can be enjoyed without fully opening the bottle; he said that it was invented by a heart surgeon and that Del Posto is the only restaurant on the East coast to have one. Ooh-la-la.
Now, on to the food!
Cauliflower and leek vellutata in the little cups
Bacalao (cod) on a very crispy cracker
Chicken salad tea sandwich with chicken cooked for five hours, which made all other chicken salad sandwiches seem classless
secondi assaggi (second samples):
Like eating truffle hummus.
A beautifully diverse bread basket that was replaced halfway through the meal when it became cold. Our server also switched out our napkins at that point, which I loved.
For the bread. In case you thought it was just for spooning.
They call this vegetable salad brutte ma buone–ugly but good. I didn’t even think it was ugly, but it certainly was good. The sugary carrot cake crumble under this was almost candy-like and really worked with the super-acidic apple cider vinaigrette. The dressing was so sour that I felt like I was choking when I encountered too much of it resting in a little cup formed by the curve of an onion slice, in fact. But hey, what’s a little choking amongst friends?
The many crunchy elements–watercress, water chestnuts, black trumpet mushrooms–made the dish what it was. I’ve never cared at all for watercress, but it was welcome and almost necessary here to add just a touch of freshness. This was also the first time in a long time that I’ve thought truffles really added something more than just an extra $50 to the bill. All in all, I think this was my favourite of the night, and I say this as someone who still totally thinks of fish as poo-drinkers.
I think the name of this dish literally translates to stinky tortello, which is entirely correct. I’m not used to such a strong cheese in my ravioli, so the juxtaposition between the creeeeeamy, buuuuuttery texture of the cheese gushing from the broken tortello and its pungent taste was intense. In a good way.
My boyfriend thought this was a little too one-note, especially following a dish that really was quite simple, but I actually found it complex with plenty of depth of flavor. The pasta was of course cooked perfectly, and then the spicy lamb sauce so complemented the sweet dollops of carrot puree and the dark, rich rye crumble.
A plate of assorted sea creatures arrived,
a broth was poured over them,
and the result was a seafood soup with tons of garlic and super-bright, super-acidic tomato flavor. The tender seafood was complimented so nicely by the citrusy marjoram in the broth.
A veal medallion surrounded by beef deckle was placed in front of each of us,
and then a ragu of tongue was added tableside. I was more excited about this dish than any of the others because of its familiar beefiness, but the lack of seasoning on it was a real letdown; both the veal and potato torta seemed to be entirely lacking salt. However, the deckle (fatty brisket) was perfectly seasoned and perfectly crusted, and the tongue stew was both tender and spicy. Cosa viene prima translates to “what comes first”, which I took as a play on the age-old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg–or in this case, the baby veal or the adult beef.
I had never had Chartreuse before this. It’s a monk-made herbal liquor from France, and it made my mouth pucker worse than any lemon ever could. It’s interesting. And beautiful. And vegetal.
This was like a cheesecake rolled in thick, crispy breadcrumbs, paired with the most celery-flavored and refreshing sorbet and a fig dried as sweet as a raisin.
This was Del Posto’s take on s’mores, and while it seemed simplistic to me at first, I thought it was a really nice take on a cheese course in the end. The La Tur was really funky, but the sweetness of the chocolate balanced it so nicely, and their flavors were so complimentary. I always love the difference in flavor between raw cheese and melted, so I was pleased to find this gave me an idea of both states of a La Tur.
This semifreddo was like a thick, rich, brightly sweet dulce de leche with a crunchy crumble. I thought the fruits on the side seemed like such a weird, uncomplimentary addition, but I actually loved them–particularly the melon. And I’m not a person who cares about melon.
My boyfriend got the raw end of the deal with this course. Instead of the semifreddo, he was served this pumpkin cake that was a little too dry, a little too simple, a little too not-at-all pumpkin-flavored. The sage gelato, on the other hand, was so overwhelmingly sage-y that I didn’t care much for it, either. It sure was pretty, though.
To end the meal, our server brought a drawer full of small bites, this chocolate sculpture, a cookie jar, and a plate with a giant almond cookie on it. She held the cookie up to show how delicate it was while my boyfriend and I secretly thought, “Why are you touching our cookie?” She explained to us that this type of cookie is commonly passed around the table after a family meal so each person can take a piece for dessert. The Del Posto version of this involved our server smashing the cookie down on top of the cookie jar so that cookie chunks went all over the table. It was quite the spectacle. And quite the delicious, crisp cookie.
The contents of the cookie jar, dumped out onto the table for us.
Little tastes of things like Campari grapefruit, apricot cookies, and lemon curd doughnuts. We were too full for any of this, so it was wrapped up and left at the coat check for us to take home.
Del Posto was solid on all fronts, from food to decor to service. It’s clear why the restaurant has a Michelin star, and it’s clear that the staff are working hard to make it a destination, a place where you can expect a special bottle of wine to be opened for your special dinner. If this was an up and coming restaurant, I’d bump it up half a star, but I expected a little more wow from the food of the Bastianiches and Batali; I didn’t feel creative boundaries being pushed here, and I realize that’s probably because the restaurant is known amongst out-of-towners who don’t want any surprises, just traditionally good food. The better choice for dinner here for us probably would have been the five-course menu, which focuses more on pasta–the thing Del Posto is doing so well. I think this is the sort of place you only have to go to once to get the full experience, and I’m happy to have had mine.
Italian food in New York City is terrible. Most of all in Little Italy. It’s all aimed at tourists, who are so enraptured with the closed, car-free streets and the outdoor seating that they forget to notice the bland, uninspired food. And then there’s Torrisi Italian Specialties, which was bold and impassioned, playful and polished–an embodiment of New York City itself.
Torrisi’s seven course, $65 prix-fixe menu is a steal and has received nothing but raves, but of course we couldn’t settle for a mere seven courses and went for the twenty-one course, $150 chef’s tasting menu with seven excellent wine pairings for $75.
This “mocktail”, a riff on the classic Americano, was made not with Campari and vermouth but juice and housemade bitters. My favourite part of it was the giant square ice cube. I’m not hard to please.
Torrisi is a bustling deli by day, serving a brined turkey sandwich office workers while away their lunch breaks waiting in line for, and the bar snacks were the perfect interlude to switch the tiny kitchen from that of a casual sandwich shop to one that puts a high Italian spin on the cuisines the people who make up NYC. These one-biters came at us so fast–in pairs or triplets–that I forgot to photograph the clam with celery and spicy oyster on the half shell. The Doughy caraway pretzels were like mustard-flavored gnocchi, the sable cigarette a kind-of-nasty/kind-of-clever reminder of the salmon cone at Per Se. The olive wasn’t an olive at all but a soft quail egg with a pleasant, not overpowering olive flavor; I was a little put off by the inedible accoutrements (though I would totally eat bay leaves if people would stop telling me I can’t) but loved the spoons they were presented on. The rabbit with carrot puree was sweet and herby with a crunchy base, and the caviar, served on a bed of buckwheat, was homey and warm. Not only was the caviar’s serving dish stunning, but we loved being able to decide how deep into the groats we wanted to plunge our knishes; the grain was easily crunched, like a nut. The chicken oyster, a nugget of dark meat on the chicken’s outer thigh, was so flavorful and juicy but really stood up to the cashews in a way I wouldn’t expect from such a tender piece of meat. The snails were sour, chewy, and only slightly less firm than the bacon chunks that accompanied them; it wasn’t my favourite dish of the night in flavor nor texture, but I appreciated the take on clams casino and was excited to try my first snail after all these years of fine dining without having ever been faced with one.
all paired with Lieb Cellars, Pinot Blanc, NV (nonvintage, which means it’s a blend of multiple years), NY
These beets, a nod to the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn that’s still so Russian you need a tourguide to help you navigate restaurant menus, were a mix of crisp and tender, fresh and long-cooked. Sour apples and fried onions added to the already bright flavors.
• mackerel in crazy water
I missed this photo, as well, likely dazed by the idea of eating a traditionally very fishy fish alongside the most dreaded of all foods for me: tomato. But this was more like a gazpacho than a fresh salad, and the mackerel–served raw–was so unfishy it could’ve been sturgeon or halibut. The tomatoes, which were preserved, had the flavor of watermelon, and the sea beans added a crisp bite.
Bloomer Creek, Tanzen Dame, 2010, NY
Served at the same time and meant to be shared, the foie gras and tartare are updates of dishes made famous by one of the oldest and most noted steakhouses in NYC, Delmonico’s. The original Lobster Newberg was made with a creamy, buttery, alcoholic sauce; here, the sweet foie is topped with a brandy gelee and served with a salty, meaty, spiced oyster mushroom salad.
The Delmonico’s tuna tartare becomes a steak tartare with crisp, sour cornichon slices and a Béarnaise sauce that I can only dumbly describe as buttery. The presentation wowed me to the point that I was still taking photos of the delicately-carved pickles even as half of them had already been devoured. Spread on the thickest, saltiest, caper-powdered potato chips, it was more finesse than novelty.
But you can bet the novelty of the Demonico’s plates wasn’t wasted on me.
Kalin Cellars, Chardonnay, 2005, CA
This gnocchi was covered in a sauce so creamy and dense with peppercorn flavor, I would’ve paid for the pleasure of licking the pan. The ramps had the texture of green onion but are known for their more intense aroma and what my boyfriend called their “racier” taste. The ramps evidently replace the scallions that were being served on the oft-photographed version of this made with Coach Farms goat cheese; it had a strip of coffee/caramel/tobacco water “leather” on the side with the word “COACH” stamped on it like the label of one of the knockoff designer handbags sold in Chinatown. The more straight presentation of this dish makes me wonder if Torrisi is headed away from whimsical presentations or if they just weren’t in the mood to use marijuana syrup to draw a sheep in a ballerina costume on my plate.
Just plain delicious, no matter what cuisines it’s trying to emulate, this vermicelli with lobster evoked the flavors of Chinatown with soy and scallion. The crunchy breadcrumbs made the lobster seem deep-fried, like sweet and sour pork gone high class.
Arnot Roberts, Rose, 2011, CA
This apparently replaced the much-lauded beef ragu for us and was probably a more interesting if not grandma-reminiscent dish. The chicken liver filling, contained in the most perfectly-cooked raviolo, verged on too iron-flavored at times but was nicely balanced by the sweetness of the tomato sauce. The brown butter with accents of sage added deep flavors ripe for red wine pairings. Food & Wine says that this dish was “named for the famed tenor who backed the epic NYC restaurant Mamma Leone’s ([chefs] Torrisi and Carbone cite Mamma Leone as an inspiration alongside Thomas Keller and Joël Robuchon in a video they made about themselves)”.
Coturri, Carignone, Testa Vineyard, 2009, CA
A young man brought this gleaming dish of tomahawk lamb chop to our table and unannoyedly held it while I photographed it. And then held it over the table of the people beside us when I said he was too close for my lens to focus. But in all fairness, they had been ogling our table all night as they sat there with the regular, ol’ prix-fixe dishes, so they owed me.
The loin and deckle together were not-fatty and fatty, gamey and not-gamey, delicious in their own ways when accompanied by fried mint and peeled grapes. The deckle had a thick glaze and a chewier texture, while the loin was leaner and less adorned. The chop itself was more impressive than the finished dish, but that’s always the way with these things.
Wind Gap, Syrah, 2008, CA
A sour, bitter palate cleanser to prepare us for the sweet, sweet desserts.
We were served two pieces from a large danish cut into fours and kept under a glass dome. It didn’t matter how our slices tasted, because all we could think was that we wanted the other two. It was buttery, with a burst of poppyseed flavor. The onions were sweet, the cheese so thick and creamy. But who was going to eat the other two pieces?! The kitchen? The servers? MORE IMPORTANT DINERS WHO GOT SIX SLICES INSTEAD OF FOUR? No! No, actually, our server returned with the other two slices when he saw us finish the first two. Phew.
Surprisingly creamy for an icy treat, with a strong bite from the ginger. This was unlike any shaved ice, snow cone, or slushie I’ve had.
This tasted like really expensive medicine, and I mean that in the best way. It was so strongly flavored, maraschino cherry ice cream alongside a root beer financier made of creamy mousse covered in a chocolate shell, with mashed pretzels providing the contrasting saltiness. All attempts to suck the cherry soda through the straw were fruitless and embarrassing, but at least it was edible.
Heitz Cellars, Port, NV, CA
People eating the prix-fixe around us were getting a small plate with the old-timey (and incredibly not-crave-worthy) bakery staple, the rainbow cookie, so we couldn’t have been more impressed when we instead were served this giant cake stand of pastries with the chef’s tasting. For each of us, there was an apple donut, a pistachio and lime truffle, a crumb cake, a pine nut macaron, celery cake, a really not-sweet cannoli, a mint chocolate truffle, and seaweed taffy. All of it was impressive. Even the seaweed taffy. They also sent us each home with a little box containing a rainbow cookie, ironically, and you know what? Even it was powerfully flavored and much, much better than any day-old rainbow cookie in any Italian bakery.
Torrisi is playful, gutsy, and aiming to please. The week before we dined here, my boyfriend and I had the chef’s tasting at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant that was supposed to be the best meal of our lives, and eating at Torrisi was a better experience. Where that restaurant was pretentious, Torrisi was humble. Where that restaurant was aloof, Torrisi was friendly, giving us details and stories associated with each dish. Where that restaurant was silent and imposing, Torrisi was filled with cool, jazzy music and couples not looking to out-foodie anyone. The only problem was that, as my boyfriend said, no one bite at Torrisi compared to any one bite at that restaurant. Nothing disappointed, but nothing had us using phrases like “the most” or “the best”, and we have used those words at similarly-priced restaurants. The effort is evident, though. You feel like Torrisi is making the absolute best food it can at this moment, and I have high hopes for its future.
Note: for the seven-course menu, reservations can be made up to a month in advance on the website or by calling (212) 965-0955. Reservations for the chef’s tasting can be made up to a month in advance and must be made by phone Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I recommend calling right at 9 a.m., and even then, you’ll probably have to dial and redial for fifteen minutes straight to get through.
Sapori D’Ischia is so out in the middle of nowhere that when my boyfriend and I approached–after getting lost no less than twice–and I said, “I’m not sure this is the right place,” the owner, who happened to be standing outside, said, “Trust me; it’s the right place. There’s nothing else around here.”
You always hear about people who haven’t been to one of the outer boroughs in ten years because they think everything worth seeing is in Manhattan. Well, I actually live in Brooklyn and get annoyed at the prospect of having to leave Manhattan, so if I’m telling you that it’s worth it to trek out to Sapori D’Ischia’s truffle festival, you know it’s something special.
The four-course, $60 prix-fixe menu seems to change weekly, but here’s an idea of what you’ll be served:
I know that everyone’s all, “Truffle oil?! For shame!” (Especially if you’re watching an episode of “Chopped“, where the judges famously chop almost any contestant who dares insult them with truffle oil.) The idea is that truffles are real and expensive and delicate, while truffle oil is synthetic and cheap and kind of knocks you out with how odorous it is. But I like my food to smell like food, so I don’t have a problem with it. I also loved the additional texture of it in this dish, which otherwise would have been much less creamy. All of the flavors were so rich, smoky, and earthy, perfectly-suited for complimenting the truffle shavings.
My good friends over at Wikipedia tell me that Vialone Nano is one of the two best and most expensive varieties of risotto rice. I’m not sure I’m versed enough in risotto to know the difference, but I thought this dish was about as good as it could have been for what it was, which was risotto and truffles. Again, this was heavy on the truffle oil, but I didn’t find it overpowering, and the dish probably would have been bland without it. I wouldn’t have complained about the addition of some sort of meat, but the plain risotto was the perfect vehicle for highlighting the truffle.
When I think of a juicy steak, I picture a piece three inches high and squishy in the center, so I was a little skeptical about this thinly-sliced version, but all of our filets were nice and red in the center. The creamy sauce only made it that much more melt-in-your-mouth, while the red wine sauce cut some of the richness. The potato cake actually tasted very vegetal to me–like it was made of something actually healthy–so I was surprised to re-read the menu and see it was just potato. It was a hearty cross of crunchy and creamy that added to the rustic feel of the dish.
The people at the table next to us were celebrating a birthday, and I loved the sparkler the birthday girl was given. I’m trying to figure out if the guy across from her is whistling or licking ice cream off his fingers.
This dish looks deceptively simple but managed to leave us satisfied, likely due to the richness of the truffle honey drizzled over the gelato. The pear was spicy and tender and not overly sweet, which was perfect for the savoriness of the truffle and mascarpone. This seemed to be everyone’s favourite dish of the night, if the utter silence of our group of six (including newcomer Lucy!) after we dug in is any indication.
I have to rate this meal purely by the quality of the food, because the restaurant is not only way, way out there but also partly a grocery store, so the decor mostly consists of jumbo cans of peeled tomatoes. Considering, though, that my meal was not only delicious but also cost less in its entirety than a single truffle course at any Manhattan restaurant I can think of, I’d say it’s well worth the train ride and having to stare at the canned goods. The truffle festival ends when the truffle supply does, and the menu changes often, so go quickly and frequently.
It’s funny how you can ride by a restaurant on the bus every day and not notice it until its chef is a contestant on a reality TV show. Or sad, maybe. But that was the case with Hearth, which I must have seen at least 365 times but didn’t actually see until Chef Marco Canora performed spectacularly on the Food Network’s Next Iron Chef. Another of the Tom-Colicchio-trained, it’s no surprise that his food seems honest and that his ingredients speak for themselves.
Hearth is casual without being unimpressive. The waitstaff is in t-shirts and visible tattoos, but the exposed brick, polished wood, and candlelight match the mid-priced menu. We tried the seven-course tasting menu, which is full of the fresh, bright ingredients of the season and is one of the more-affordable tastings in town at $76 per person.
Cool and starchy, with a floating topper of slightly-hardened yogurt and pea skin to add some texture. The natural sweetness of the pea, one of my favourite flavors in nature, contrasted the sourness of the yogurt.
It’s all of my favourite ingredients in one bowl! And then a whole lot of tomato, my least-favourite ingredient ever. But I’m an adult, and I ate the skin and an eighth of an inch off of every single one of those tomatoes before making Dr. Boyfriend switch bowls with me. Aside from the tomatoes, which even I will admit were perfectly ripe, this was summer in a bowl and made me sad for the mushy, mealy produce that’s going to be showing up in stores in the coming winter months. It was simple, fresh, acidic from the sherry dressing, hearty thanks to the beans, and crunchy from the celery. Of course I’m more preferential toward land animals, but the use of the tuna felt like a very deliberate choice to keep the salad light.
This items isn’t on the menu, which doesn’t surprise me, since the repetition of the beans in consecutive courses didn’t seem well thought out. Careless or not, I really loved this dish, and I say this as someone who would’ve been absolutely freaked to find edible suction cups on my plate a year ago. I always think that octopus is going to be rubbery and hard, and I always find it tender and just the right amount of chewy. It doesn’t hurt that this is grilled; I’m a sucker for charred flavor, and the grilled taste permeated the very manageable chunks of meat. The radicchio added a pleasant bitterness, and the oregano made everything a little more familiar for a landlubber like me.
Eating good pasta always reminds me that I want to eat more good pasta. The pappardelle at Babbo completely changed my expectations, and although this wasn’t life-altering, it was very nice. The little baskets of pasta were the perfect chewiness, and the ricotta added just the right amount of dry, crumbly texture. The basil-laden tomato sauce was still chunky and bright, so I could’ve really used some heavy meat in place of the eggplant to add a smokiness or some richer flavors. It felt a little too simple to me for a restaurant dish, not one you’d use to impress on your tasting menu.
Not to bring up another food I’m squeamish about, but up until very recently, I didn’t like cucumbers; they’re one of those half-sweet, half-savory foods, like tomatoes, that my tastebuds didn’t respond well to. But in this dish, the cucumbers were the best part! Their brightness matched the briny flavor and the freshness of the roe. This was my first time having freekeh after seeing it in an episode of “Chopped“, and I wasn’t disappointed; it added such a chewy texture and such a familiarity. The salmon made the freekeh less heavy, and the freekeh made the salmon heartier. The scapes in the freekeh reminded me of scallions, and we liked what we believe were pea shoots on top, but I unfortunately missed the mint.
I’ve had a lot of crispy-skinned pork in my life, and the most interesting thing about this pork was that it wasn’t crispy-skinned. Instead, the “skin” tasted like it had been caramelized, and its sweetness was a nice compliment to the cooked onion. The pork was extra-salty, and the housemade bacon was extra-firm–both pluses in my book. The gnudi of Swiss chard was . . . well, it was too healthy for my taste. I did like it, and I did think that the chard was a nice accompaniment to the pork, but I want my gnudi to be cheesy and bad for me!
This was easily the most interesting course of the night, and I’m ashamed to say that, as a hardcore tomato-hater. It’s not my fault, though. The tomatoes were sunk into a syrup so sweet and herbaceous it was like eating a Bloody Mary ice cream float. The saving grace was that there was the perfect amount of syrup in the bowl for me to take in multiple spoonfuls after each bite to mask any raw tomato flavor. With the yogurt sorbet providing a sourness, the dish became the perfect bridge between the savory and sweet courses.
I was a little preoccupied with my raspberry liqueur from the Finger Lakes and the fact that the people next to us were getting extra courses that I was dying to see, but the standout in this dessert was the chewy, sugar-dusted top of the financier. I loved how the lemon verbena ice cream was like lemon for grown-ups: bright and herby and not at all sour.
Hearth is serving solid rustic Italian-inspired food. The weirdest part about my visit is that the dishes I thought would be exceptional were really just fine–the pork, the pasta–while the dishes I thought I’d have to quietly shove into my napkin–the octopus, the tomato and ice cream–turned out to be my favourites. Although I think the individual dishes may be too simple for their price tags, the tasting menu was a great value, and I would certainly return for it.
It’s hard to get into Mario Batali’s Babbo. They don’t do online reservations, and week after week when I called, they would tell me they were full. At one point, my boyfriend and I said, “Screw Batali! We don’t want his relatively cheap ($75) tasting menu with also-cheap ($50) wine pairings if it means being jerked around like this!” But once we finally did get in, we realized why the place is always full and why our persistence was totally worth it.
We sat in the upstairs portion, which has a lovely skylight that made me excited to take photos. The problem was that as the sun set, so did the quality of my photos, so please excuse the varying lightness.
The Traditional Tasting Menu with wine pairings:
duck bresaola, sweet pea sformato
“Vespa Bianco”, Bastianich 2007
This was my first sformato, a kind of molded creamy custard. It’s a texture I definitely associate with dessert, so the sweetness of the peas pleased me.
This is the dish I still dream about. It’s hard to even describe what makes homemade pasta so incredibly different and better than boxed pasta–maybe it’s the texture? Fresh pasta is much grittier and more tender. I’ve grown to love fresh pappardelle in particular because it has no rigid shape and can be cut however I please. For me, this is the pasta by which all other pastas are measured.
grilled hanger steak, royal trumpet mushrooms, cipolline agrodolce
Aglianico del Vulture, Basilisco 2002
Coach Farms’ (NY) finest goat cheese, fennel honey
Franciacorta Brut, Cavalleri NV
This was the point in the meal where my boyfriend started feeling overwhelmed by the tasting menu. Between the many glasses of wine and the richness of the dishes, I thought he was going to wimp out on me. I don’t really understand the idea of finding food too intense, though; I just can’t be sympathetic. And I like anything-flavored honey.
chocolate “al diavolo”
Malvasia delle Lipari Passito, Hauner 2007
peach and raspberry budino, honey butter, honey vanilla gelato
Brachetto d’Acqui “Le Donne dei Boschi” Ca’ dei Mandorli 2009
fruit tart that strangely wasn’t on the menu
almond biscotti, chocolate baci, almond meringue cookies
I understand that people love Italian food–and I theoretically do, too–but I’ve been disappointed time and time again by boring, bland Italian food in this city. And if you were to ask me my top five restaurants in the city overall, I’m not sure I’d actually put Babbo in that list, but for what it is and the kind of food they do, I think they’re doing it better than anyone in their category.
Finding restaurants that can hold a group as big as my office’s monthly dinner club of co-workers past and present can sometimes be a major challenge, so super-touristy places like Becco are sometimes our only choice. Luckily, super-touristy doesn’t have to mean super-might-as-well-have-gone-to-McDonald’s.
I know the last picture is awful, but that carrot was so crazy soft and delicious that I had to publicly preserve its memory.
My friend Ash ordered the osso bucco, and everyone was amazed as she went to town on it, scooping the marrow out of the bone with a tiny fork first so she could be sure she didn’t fill up on anything else.
But Becco’s main draw is its unlimited pasta special. For a stupidly low price, you get the three house pastas of the day brought to your table in heaping piles until you beg your server to stop. That night, ours were:
(Even with my usual distrust of mushrooms, the ravioli was easily my favourite of the three.)
Now, I have to admit that pasta never exactly blows me out of the water (unless it’s gnocchi). A lot of it is way too bland for me after growing up with a mother who must have used half a gallon of oregano in her spaghetti. But this was really, really good pasta. My boyfriend couldn’t stop talking about it for days, actually. And even the Brooklyn-born Italian in our group didn’t complain.
This dessert was the hugest disappointment of my life, but I don’t think it was Becco’s fault. When I ordered it, I guess I was thinking of streusel or an apple brown betty or something, because I expected apple pie filling with a crumbly brown sugar topping. Instead I got apple pie filling and a flaky crust. NOT THE SAME. Very light and not overly sweet, but these are not the things I look for in a dessert.
Funnily enough, I chastised my boyfriend and the Italian for ordering the zabaglione with seasonal fruit, thinking it was the equivalent to a stupid fruit cup with some whipped cream. But dude, zabaglione is great. The custard was suuuuuuuper-intensely flavorful and much more dense than I would’ve imagined. GET THE ZABAGLIONE. You’re welcome.
I kind of get a kick out of going to places like this from time to time, because they’re so unlike most NYC restaurants. Meaning huge and bright and full of people who actually eat. I definitely recommend Becco for big groups and anyone who wants to feel like he’s at a huge family dinner for a night.
It was just a couple of months ago that my boyfriend found a rudimentary menu for the soon-to-be famous Meatball Shop, and now the place has totally blown up into what you might call a phenomenon. And I love a gimmick as much as the next guy, so a co-worker and I rode the bus from our office in Battery Park up to the Lower East Side recently to give the balls a go.
The restaurant itself is all dark wood and old-timey feel, very small with a storefront entirely made of glass so that it gets plenty of natural light and air. The kitchen takes up the entire back wall and is also open so that you can see your meat being freshly-ground and your balls being freshly-formed.
My whole wheat hero with pork meatballs, spicy meat sauce, and mozzarella probably lost a lot of its freshness on its way back to the office, but that didn’t matter one bit. This wasn’t the biggest meatball parm I’ve had, nor the sauciest, but I’ve never had one made with better ingredients. Even the mixed greens salad with sliced pears and chives was worth talking about.
As usual, a small menu is a better menu when it means the chef can do a few things really well rather than a bunch of things mediocrely, and executive chef Daniel Holzman has meatballs down
Note: Everyone who tried my pork meatballs agreed that they were better than the chicken ones, so you know what to order.