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Minetta Tavern: the Burger, the Bacon, and More
Feb 27th, 2013 by donuts4dinner

Stepping into Minetta Tavern, you can’t help but feel reminded that this is New York City you’re in. The bar is packed for Sunday brunch, with fortysomething women turned backward on their barstools to flirt with fiftysomething men. The floor is that classic checkered black-and-white, the ceiling is hammered tin, and the walls are covered in a mural that looks like it’s been there since the 1800s. Only the Minetta Tavern of today opened in 2009. It was opened by Keith McNally of Frenchy favourites Balthazar and Pastis, though, so you can bet it’s the perfect mix of the used up Minetta Tavern of the 1930s and sparkling new, classic and newly-conceived. And nearly impossible to get a reservation at.

My boyfriend and I went solely for the Black Label Burger, which is mostly talked about because of its $26 price tag. And also because it’s really, really good.

Minetta Tavern NYC
Black Label burger

A mix of different meats from famed purveyor Pat LaFrieda, this thing is dry-aged for weeks like a fine steak is. The New York Times review that gave Minetta Tavern three stars said, “It’s without question a riveting experience, because burgers seldom pack the discernible tang and funk of aged beef. But for that same reason, it’s unsettling and arguably too intense.” MAYBE FOR A PANSY. For me, biting into this thing with its caramelized onion topping was like sipping a cup of French onion soup. Beefy French onion soup. Except better, because it was on a bun. The meat was so dark and had such deep, rich flavors that it tasted expensive, gentlemanly, and refined. Served with a side of slightly crispy, slightly curly fries to soak up all of those beef juices.

Minetta Tavern NYC

Minetta Tavern NYC
“fried green tomatoes”

Neither fried nor green, these tomatoes were a big broiled disappointment when they arrived at our table. But once we got over the menu lying to us, we found that these were perfect to spread over our burgers like natural ketchup. Of course the burger was perfection on its own and didn’t need them, but at least we found something to do with them aside from throwing them onto the floor in anger.

Minetta Tavern NYC
thick-cut bacon

The bacon was your steakhouse staple, with that just-right chewy-melty combination of meat and fat.

Minetta Tavern NYC
Green Mary cocktail

The bloody mary list is five-deep and ingredient-thick here, and this one had green tomatoes, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and Southwestern spices. Tex-Mex in a glass.

Minetta Tavern NYC
coconut layer cake

With fresh coconut in the cream and toasted coconut on top to make it extra coconutty, and a nice, balanced amount of sweetness. There are rumors of rum being added to the cake, which would explain how moist it was.

Minetta Tavern NYC

Living in a city so crowded, I have a preference for sparse, modern, clean-lined dining rooms, but I have to admit that I was charmed by the hubbub and ballyhoo of Minetta Tavern. It felt like half of NYC was crammed into the restaurant that afternoon, all of us sipping cocktails and listening to the conversations of the people next to us.

Minetta Tavern NYC

Minetta Tavern
113 MacDougal Street
New York, NY 10012 (map

Long-Lost Brunch at The Dutch
Dec 4th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

I looked at my blog yesterday and realized it’s been almost two months since I posted here. I skipped the entire month of November. And you know I’ve been eating this whole time–and how. I have an Eleven Madison Park to write up, a Jean-Georges, a couple of Momofuku Kos . . . but I’m lazy, so I’m just going to post some photos from a trip to The Dutch this summer with my boyfriend and our friends Nik and Marko. It was getting buzz from the second it opened thanks to its chef, Andrew Carmellini, not only being super but having another restaurant with Robert De Niro. And I wanted his fried chicken and biscuits. (Not a euphemism.)

The Dutch NYC
a bloody mary and somethin’ else

The Dutch NYC
two fried eggs with grits and chorizo

The Dutch NYC
tripe! and Fritos!

The Dutch NYC
cheddar burger

The Dutch NYC
fried chicken with honey butter biscuits

The Dutch NYC
honeeeeeey

The Dutch NYC
lemon poppyseed meringue pie

The Dutch NYC
mystery pie

The Dutch NYC

I really loved the neighborhoody feel of this place. They’re not trying to invent anything new, and they spent a lot of time trying to not try too hard: the result is a restaurant that’s comfortable enough to want to spend your Sunday morning in but hip enough that you expect the $18 cheeseburger. I could definitely be convinced to come back for those honey biscuits, but I’d probably be more likely to go to closer-to-home decor-twin The Smith for my everyweek brunching needs. Still, The Dutch is a cute addition to the neighborhood and a must-stop for carbo-loading on your way to your lesson at the Trapeze School New York. (Yes, that’s real.)

The Dutch
131 Sullivan Street
New York, NY 10012 (map)

The Chef’s Tasting Menu at Torrisi Italian Specialties – Italian – Nolita
May 1st, 2012 by donuts4dinner

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.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
our Americano

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 Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
pretzels

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
smoked sable cigarette

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
the quail’s olive

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
rabbit and carrot

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
buckwheat caviar knish

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
chicken and cashews

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
escargot casino

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

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
Brighton beets

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

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
foie gras newberg

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.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
Delmonico tartare

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

Kalin Cellars, Chardonnay, 2005, CA

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
Dancing Ewe sheep ricotta and ramps

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.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
lobster Cantonese

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

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
ravioli caruso

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

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
Jewish lamb

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.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

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

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
bitters green

A sour, bitter palate cleanser to prepare us for the sweet, sweet desserts.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
cheese danish

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.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
ginger-lemon ice

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.

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
maraschino float

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

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu
pastries

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.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

Torrisi Italian Specialties NYC Tasting Menu

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.

Torrisi Italian Specialties
250 Mulberry St.
New York, NY 10012 (map)

The Duckavore Dinner at Wong – Chinese – West Village
Dec 16th, 2011 by donuts4dinner

My foodie friend Lucy read about Wong‘s Duckavore Dinner on a Chowhound thread and sent the link to a couple of us. Tempted by the promise of the duckiest meal we’ve ever had (even the dessert!), our friend Tiffany made a reservation for four with the required 48 hours notice, and we converged in the West Village restaurant amid candles, school desks, and beakers for a wildly successful large-format meal that was more than just novelty.

Wong Duckavore
the menu

Wong Duckavore
bread

Although quite confusing at first, the bread service perfectly set the tone for the meal. We still have no idea why one piece of bread was puffed and one wasn’t, and we couldn’t find any of the cheese the server mentioned, but the four of us were in agreement that whatever it was, it was delicious. The bread was soft and warm and was so good on its own we didn’t need the sweet and sour curry sauce on the side but appreciated it, especially when combined with a basil leaf.

Wong Duckavore
duck sung choy bao

The words “fish sauce” haven’t exactly inspired confidence in me in the past, but this could change my mind. Our server told us the chef recommends using the lettuce to form wraps around the pulled duck pieces, but our lettuce all seemed to be fused together and impossible to separate for wrap-making; most of us used forks and knives and treated it like a salad. And what a salad it was, with elements fresh and crispy, sweet and spicy, citrusy and crunchy.

Wong Duckavore
duck bun with Chinese celery and cucumber

Three words: deep-fried bun. I was definitely looking forward to this course most, and maybe that’s why I wasn’t wholly satisfied by it in the end, but the bread sure was interesting. It had the thinnest crispy layer covering its exterior and just oozed oil all over my hands. The duck just couldn’t stand up to it, though; it was underseasoned and therefore underflavored, and there wasn’t enough sauce on the bun to make up for it. I did like the near-pickled cucumber, though, and you can’t beat those soft Chinese buns no matter what.

Wong Duckavore
duck meatball with squash

It was so unfair that there were only two of these for the table, because I needed four for myself. The sauce was so deliciously chunky and left such an unexpected heat in my mouth. The squash had the texture of a cooked apple and added a little necessary sweetness to balance the dish. I’m not sure I understand why paneer was used over a more traditional cheese, but I loved the added flavor and texture.

Wong Duckavore
whole Long Island duck in lotus leaves

One of the chefs presented us with the whole duck before taking it back to the kitchen, carving it up, and bringing it back in pieces on a tray with sides of greens and rice.

Wong Duckavore
duck slices with greens

In a word, the duck was incredible; all four of us were murmuring and nodding through our entire portions. I’m a big fan of tasting menus because the initial punch of a dish usually wears off for me after a couple of bites, but the sauce on the duck was a gift that kept on giving. It was sweet and rich, like a barbeque sauce for a dark, stormy night. The duck was tender enough not to need a knife, and the skin, though not crispy, melted in my mouth like it had been roasting all day.

Wong Duckavore
8-treasure sticky rice

I loved the rice in theory but only liked it in practice. It was so chock full of fruit and nuts that it should have been bursting with flavor, but it seemed underseasoned to me. When the juices from the duck touched it, though, it took on the same deep, savory flavors, so when I go back for this dinner the second (and third and fourth) time, I’m going to pile my rice high with duck.

Wong Duckavore
duck broth

This was far too hot to drink when it was served to us, so we had to sit and wait for it to cool while the fat congealed on top. It was certainly the duckiest part of the meal, and the thick, oily broth stayed on our lips long after our cups were empty.

Wong Duckavore
duck a la plum: roast duck ice cream, star-anise-poached plums, crispy tuile

Almost everyone I’ve mentioned the duck ice cream to has been skeptical, so I’m not sure why I went into this thinking it was going to be the best dessert ever. (Was it Wylie Dufresne’s delicious everything bagel ice cream that convinced me?) Of course I was right, though; it was ice cream, all right, but instead of being flavored with chocolate or mint or caramel, it was flavored with duck, and it was excellent. Maybe it works because we’re so used to covering our meat with sweet sauces for savory courses, anyway, but everyone agreed that it did indeed work. The flavor was pretty intense, though, so the golf-ball-sized scoop was just the right amount. The super-crunchy caramelized tuile was another highlight, both in flavor and texture, and we all liked the floral notes of the plum.

Wong Duckavore
five-spice cookie

We almost seemed to like this simple cookie as much as the plated dessert, but how could we not love shortbread in duck fat?

Wong Duckavore
plum chaser

Lucy accurately described this as a sort of plum soda; it reminded my boyfriend and me of the homemade sodas at the Jean-Georges restaurants that are really the whole point of dining there. It was light and refreshing, perfectly topping off the heavy meal.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarBlank Star

It seems like the thing to do in Manhattan these days is to lure customers in with whole suckling pigs, whole lambs, and whatever this thing is (I still haven’t been able to convince anyone to go eat it with me). In my experience, those dinners are exciting novelties that don’t really hold up in the taste department. I have an inkling that Wong was attempting to gain some attention by attempting the same sort of idea, but I think they were much more successful. Not only was everything delicious, but we got to try so many iterations of the protein; it wasn’t just appetizer, main, dessert. This is also the first time in my experience that the meal had a theme that was carried out from start to finish, and now the idea of having an unrelated pie with my whole suckling pig seems like a cop-out. At $60 per person, with friendly service and a casual candlelit atmosphere, I can definitely imagine myself coming back for this dinner just to be able to watch three more friends get to enjoy it.

Wong
7 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10014 (map)

The Croque-Madame at Pastis – French – Meatpacking
Aug 4th, 2011 by plumpdumpling

Having grown up on a diet that consisted entirely of American classics with a visit to The Spaghetti Warehouse thrown in every now and then for a little foreign culture, the croque-madame was an entirely new thing to me when I tried one for the first time a couple of years ago.

I mean, it’s basically a grilled cheese sandwich. Except with fancy cheese that happens to be melted on top. And a big, ol’ slab of ham in the middle. And an egg over the whole thing. It’s so savory and decadent that French law should prohibit their being eaten more than once a year.

I’ve had really excellent ones here in NYC at L’Orange Bleue and La Silhouette, but my favourite so far is from the brunch menu at Pastis in the Meatpacking District:

Pastic Croque Madame

I was actually torn about ordering it, thinking maybe I should get one of the less-traditional egg preparations, but there’s really no messing with perfection, and perfection is bread with cheese, ham, and egg. Everyone at the table agreed mine was the best dish ordered, and half of it went to people needing to try “just a taste”.

Pastic Croque Madame

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarBlank Star

It’s a little pricey at $16 with nothing on the side, and of course the place is ridiculous to get into, but well, sometimes I’m willing to suffer for food. Especially when that food is like the pizza of breakfast.

Pastis
9 9th Avenue
New York, NY 10014 (map)

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