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First Look at Beetle House, the Tim-Burton-Themed NYC Bar
May 3rd, 2016 by donuts4dinner

When I found out that Beetle House, a Tim-Burton-themed bar and restaurant, was opening in the East Village, I immediately texted my best friend in Ohio and asked if that was catalyst enough to make her buy a plane ticket to come visit me. She said, “That sounds terrifying, actually.” So I made reservations right away with my other friends. Not to spite her exactly but because I was still sure it was going to be great. During the first week of soft opening, I was hearing about a man dressed as Beetlejuice leading semi-annoying renditions of “Jump in the Line (Shake, Señora)” and a background soundtrack comprised entirely of Danny Elfman songs. I told my boyfriend that it didn’t matter if the cocktails were expensive and the food sucked, because this was obviously just a novelty bar meant to pull in tourists for one night at a time. These are the same owners of the Will-Ferrell-themed bar, Stay Classy New York, after all. They surely aren’t meant to be taken seriously.

Beetle House NYC

Since Beetle House was still in previews when we went (and will be until May 6th), it was cash only, by reservation only, and serving a limited menu. The menu was pretty cheeky, though, with its disclaimer about their meat supply being innocent New Yorkers and its items like Edward Burger Hands, Charlie Corn Bucket, and Eggs Skellington.

After chatting with the super friendly (not even just by NYC standards) owner who was doubling as our server and finding out it was she who’d developed the cocktail menu, my friends and I ordered all of the available drinks to start:

Beetle House NYC
Alice’s Cup of Tea, Barnabas Collins

Alice’s Cup of Tea was their take on a Long Island iced tea and just as strong but with heavy notes of peach that made it perfect for summer. The Barnabas Collins was the whiskey cocktail, not so sweet despite the brown sugar thanks to two kinds of bitters.

Beetle House NYC
Beetlejuice

Tequila, blackberry, and lime made this really refreshing and easy to drink. All of the cocktails were very strong but well-balanced, so I could’ve had several of these but really only needed one to get to a good place.

Beetle House NYC
Jack Skellington

Our table agreed that this one was just weird. Bacardi rum, creme de coconut, lime juice, crushed ice, and orange zest. There was no reason it tasted so funny to us, except that we weren’t on a banana-shaped raft off the coast of a tropical island.

Beetle House NYC
Edward Burger Hands

A bison burger with bacon, pepperjack cheese, quail egg, sriracha cream, avocado, and tomato on a honey garlic bun. The table next to ours got a much better-looking one, but don’t let the mess on the plate dissuade you. My friend the burger snob was impressed that it was actually cooked medium-rare and loved that the quail egg was broken on the side for dipping. The menu didn’t mention that the burger came with a side of garlic whipped mash, which made the $16 price tag make sense.

Beetle House NYC
Victor Van Pork

Smoked BBQ pulled pork, jalapeño jelly, sweet slaw, and pickled egg on a honey garlic bun. It’s a summer picnic in a sandwich, with all of the spicy and smoky you’d expect.

Beetle House NYC
Love It Meat Pie

After reading the description of this–cornbread, sauteed chicken, romano garlic cream, peas, carrots, peppers, onions, and jalapeño jelly–I thought it sounded like a kind of chicken pot pie. But our server told me that it was “just everything in a bowl”. Not exactly crystal clear, but I asked my boyfriend to order it anyway so I could see. It turned out to be the best thing I tasted that night (and, you know, I tasted everything). It really was just all of the ingredients in a bowl together, with the cornbread absorbing all of the flavors rather than just sitting on top, as in a pot pie. I’m not sure what kind of magic they throw in there with everything, but it had the flavors of a bowl of Thai curry. Except with way more stuff and way less broth, which is sort of the dream.

Beetle House NYC
Cheshire Mac

I ordered this because I had to know what $24 mac & cheese looked like. It was seven cheeses (seven!), garlic and sea salt breadcrumbs, and sweet stewed tomatoes. It was a massive plate that took all four of us to finish, and it was just . . . special. Even without meat, I wasn’t sad to have spent $24 on it. (That said, I’d sure rather spend $18 on it if this became a regular place for me.) I loved the crunch of the breadcrumbs that added just the right amount of buttery sweetness to the pasta, and then the tomato sauce just put it over the top in terms of comfort food.

Beetle House NYC
cherry cheesecake

They had run out of the Wonka Bar Chocolate Cake with actual chocolate bars between the layers of cake, so we opted for the cherry cheesecake instead, which was not a mistake. One of the owners’ moms makes all of the dessert, and we could taste it. This version had big sour cream flavor and a thick, buttery graham cracker crust. It was $12, which was a bit of a surprise to us when we got the bill, but it was a good-sized slice, and YOLO.

Beetle House NYC

A lot of the initial Yelp reviews dock stars because this place is so small, which I find adorable. Is this your first day in NYC, Yelpers? Yeah, restaurants are small here.

Beetle House NYC

Beetle House NYC

In the end, I left Beetle House feeling like it was nothing I expected it to be and just what I want a good East Village bar to be. There was no costumed Beetlejuice (they tell me he’ll be there on the weekends, along with side show acts, magicians, and zombies). There was no Danny Elfman music. There wasn’t really a whole lot of Tim Burton, truth be told. It was actually, as their website says, “a bar and restaurant in the East Village of NYC with an atmosphere and menu inspired by all things dark and lovely”. I would’ve thought the Beetlejuice guy was kitschy and fun to take pictures of, but I wouldn’t have wanted him there pretending to levitate every time I wanted to casually drink a This is Halloween! cocktail with pumpkin liqueur, cinnamon liqueur, apple liqueur, apple cider, ginger beer, and lime. And hearing the Danny Elfman score for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure would have been charming, but listening to The Smiths, The Cure, and Joy Division was way cooler. It seems like the owners are making this a neighborhood bar during the week and a novelty bar for the weekend. Unfortunately the prices don’t make it the kind of place you can go every night, but I’m hoping they’ll work that out after the soft opening.

Beetle House
308 East 6th Street
New York, NY 10003 map

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter is Frying Up Chicken Right
Jan 22nd, 2013 by donuts4dinner

Despite being a hick from the heartland, I’ve never cared a lick for fried chicken. We didn’t eat it when I was growing up on the farm, because we were too busy enjoying the beef and pork we raised, and then I became a princess who liked all of her meat already off the bone. But after visiting California a few years ago and forcing myself to order the eponymous dish at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, I realized that maybe it was worth a little bone to have a juicier, more flavorful chicken.

And then I became blogfriends with Han of Handi-Eats, whose every other blog post is about fried chicken in NYC. She recommended the year-old Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter most recently, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the pecan pie bread pudding the menu promised, so I fought against my natural desire to not leave the house before 8 p.m. on Saturdays and met my boyfriend and our friend Nik there for brunch.

My first impression of the place was all about relief. The reviews online had made it seem like some divey place with no tables and a wait that would make lesser women gnaw on their hands for nourishment. Instead, it was this rustic-looking open room with white walls, dark floors, plenty of sunlight, five or six tables lining one wall, and a counter for eight or ten diners in front of a bar on the other wall. And people, the bathroom smelled good. I was immediately in love and daydreamed about myself living in Alphabet City and coming every Saturday morning to sit by myself at the counter, eat some bird, and chat with the super-friendly waitress.

The three of us ordered the fried chicken supper for four with ginger ales and sweet teas all around, and here’s what we got:

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter NYC

Twelve pieces of white and dark meat spread across two platters that sort of overwhelmed us when they arrived at the table. The skin was so well-seasoned and crisp, and the meat underneath juiced all over my hands. The huge, perfect pieces of breast were my favourite; peeling the skin back and revealing the smooth white meat felt like unwrapping a gift, and even the very centers of them, so far from the bone, were still succulent.

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter NYC

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter NYC

For the three sides included in the meal, we (I) chose macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and cheddar grits. Each of them was better than expected, with little extras like the crunchy topping on the mac & cheese and the scallions on the grits that made them special. We all loved the potato salad with its chopped peppers, agreed that the tangy cole slaw was too good not to be mentioned on the menu itself, and couldn’t get enough of the warm biscuits with honey.

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter NYC

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter NYC

We were way too full for dessert (and had enough leftover chicken to feed a fourth person), but we bravely forged ahead and ordered the pecan pie bread pudding and the banana pudding. The bread pudding truly was reminiscent of pecan pie, right down to the nuts that don’t get stuck in your teeth and the sweet, sweet caramel drizzle. But truthfully, I liked the banana pudding even more. My boyfriend thought it was too thin and soupy, but even he couldn’t deny how delicious it was. Even the whipped cream on top was something special.

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter NYC

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

From what I saw of its uncrowded tables at prime brunchtime on a Saturday, Bobwhite Counter is one of those rare New York City restaurants that’s doing everything right without anyone noticing. Maybe it’s the Avenue C location far from the subway, or maybe it’s just that East Village kids can only go out at night, but whatever it is, I’m sorry for Bobwhite and happy for me. I’m going to take all of my friends here in groups of four until I’ve had every combination of fried chicken, sandwiches, sides, and desserts that exists. Your invitation is in the mail.

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter
94 Avenue C
New York, NY 10009 (map)

Momofuku Noodle Bar Fried Chicken Dinner
Dec 17th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

Momofuku Ko is probably my favourite restaurant in NYC, so it was no surprise when my group of dining friends loved the whole rotisserie duck at Momofuku Ssam Bar and wanted to follow it immediately with the fried chicken dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar.

It was approximately an entire year ago that we did this, so my review will consist solely of photos and drool sounds spelled phonetically. Get ready.

Momofuku Noodle Bar Fried Chicken Dinner

Momofuku Noodle Bar Fried Chicken Dinner
pork buns

With hoisin, scallions, and cucumber. Because you’re not going to Ssam Bar or Noodle Bar and not getting the buns. In fact, you might go to Noodle Bar after Ko just to get the buns.

Momofuku Noodle Bar Fried Chicken Dinner

Momofuku Noodle Bar Fried Chicken Dinner
the chicken: Southern style and Korean style

Momofuku Noodle Bar Fried Chicken Dinner

Saucy!

Momofuku Noodle Bar Fried Chicken Dinner

Spice-ful!

Momofuku Noodle Bar Fried Chicken Dinner

So much sweet white meat! I can’t actually choose a favourite between the lip-smacking saucy Korean wings and the crunchy Southern wings with their spiced batter. The mu shu pancakes are simple enough, but somehow that oily fried bread ends up being the part of the meal I most look forward to when it comes to the large-format Momofuku meals. I barely touched the lettuce but plowed through the fresh herbs and hoisin sauce and filled up on just a few pieces of plump chicken; even with eight of us, there was no shortage of birdmeat to be had. The rest of the restaurant, on the other hand, looked on droolily as they stood reservationless, waiting in the perpetual Noodle Bar line for not even fried chicken but ramen. Ramen, people. Make your reservation, and get your fried chicken.

Momofuku Noodle Bar Fried Chicken Dinner

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10003 (map)

Cereal Milk, Crack Pie, and More at Momofuku Milk Bar
Aug 28th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

When you’ve finished licking the fat of a whole rotisserie duck off your fingers at Momofuku Ssam Bar and your friends claim they couldn’t possibly even look at the dessert menu, the only thing to do is to say goodbye to all of them, walk one block in whatever direction they happen to not be going in, and then to quickly double back to Momofuku Milk Bar, the bakery offshoot of David Chang’s restaurant mini-empire.

The idea of Milk Bar chef Christina Tosi “living in Brooklyn, NY, with her three dogs and eating an unconscionable amount of raw cookie dough every day” like the Milk Bar website says kind of makes me want to vomit all over her cereal milk–wait, excuse me, Cereal Milk™–but you gotta figure she’s doing something right if even my friend in the backwoods of South Carolina is singing the praises of the Milk Bar cookbook.

Here’s a sampling of the offerings:

Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie
Crack Pie

Just for the record, this tastes exactly like my aunt’s famous old-fashioned cream pie (or sugar pie, as it’s known elsewhere). Which is pretty much the reason any of us show up for family functions in Ohio. And as a regular weekend crack-cocaine abuser, I can tell you with great confidence that this is absolutely nothing like crack. But I can also tell you with great confidence that it takes something bigger than mere narcotics to draw a family together. It’s not as creamy and jiggly as my aunt’s, but I love how dense and lemon-bar-like the texture of this one is.

Momofuku Milk Bar Corn Cookie
corn cookie

Everything’s better with corn. I could actually use a lot more corn flavor in this–my cookies don’t have to be super-sweet–but this is just what I want to bite into when I buy a cookie. Not some shelf-stale crunchy thing but a giant, flimsy, almost-uncooked-in-the-center butter-slab that I have to hold with both hands lest the middle simply droop right out of it.

Momofuku Milk Bar Cereal Milk Ice Cream
Cereal Milk™ ice cream

All the flavor of caramelized cornflakes with none of the getting-stuck-in-your-teeth. Well, until you have them top it with more cornflakes. Then it’s your fault. But if you’re going to get one thing at Milk Bar, make it this.

Momofuku Milk Bar
251 East 13th Street
New York, NY 10003 (map)
(other locations)

Japadog – Japanese/Fast Food – East Village
Jul 24th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

My friend Erin online-introduced me to her friend Lizzie back in 2008, and we quickly became Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and blogfriends. And by that I mean that we never actually met, despite living mere miles from each other. (Although one mile in Manhattan is like ten miles anywhere else.) But after four years, we finally forced a dinner a couple of weeks ago at Japadog in the East Village. And I’m not saying that eating a metric ton of wasabi mayo together makes people get along better, but it sure can’t hurt.

Japadog NYC
Tonkatsu dog: deep-fried pork cutlet marinated in tonkatsu sauce with fresh cabbage

Like a sweet and sour pork belly, this meat seemed to consist of at least half chewy, melty fat. The cabbage added crunch and brightness.

Japadog NYC
Croquette dog: Japanese croquette (fried mashed potato) and Arabiki sausage

Lizzie ordered hers with a veggie dog, which you can do with any of Japadog’s dogs. This is for people who scorn the idea that a meal shouldn’t be made up entirely of carbs.

Japadog NYC

Lizzie’s other veggie dog, which I believe was the Oroshi with grated daikon radish and “special” soy sauce. You get an idea of how huge and fluffy these buns are from this picture, but it still doesn’t convey exactly how hard they are to fit into your mouth.

Japadog NYC
Love Meat dog: homemade meat sauce and melted cheese

This website says this one is “popular to all ages”, despite its suggestive name. This was easily my favourite of the two Japadogs I tried, because um, it’s covered in three inches of cheese. I loved the smoky flavor from the blackened cheese and the meat-on-meat of the thick coney sauce over the hot dog. The chili cheese dog is the archetypal hot dog in my book, and this one did not disappoint.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarBlank Star

All of the dogs we tried were just right flavor-wise, and the never-before-seen toppings were so novel that a lesser restaurant might have skimped on the links themselves; these were cooked so that I felt that much-desired snap when I bit into them. My only complaints were with the price of each dog, which were sometimes twice as much as that of the Crif Dogs right down the street, and the fact that my butter and shoyu French fries were completely unflavored until the last quarter of the bag. However, the last quarter of the bag tasted like fries covered in movie theatre popcorn butter, so I can overlook that. Especially since the tables at Japadog are plenty, the staff is sweet and friendly, and the decor is casual but cute enough that you could take a date here and not look like a cheapskate. You’ll look like a fool with chili and cheese all over your face, but that’s totally charming.

Japadog
30 Saint Marks Place
New York, NY 10003 (map)

The End of an Era at Kajitsu – Japanese/Vegetarian – East Village
Apr 11th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

I still remember the subtle delights from my first trip to Kajitsu back in 2010: the juxtaposition of grilled mochi on raw, flaky layers of lotus root cake, an osechi box full of foods I’d never heard of, let alone tasted. With chef Masato Nishihara’s departure from the restaurant looming, my group of dining pals and I stopped by for a final taste of his food before a new chef (Ryota Ueshima) takes over and Kajitsu moves to Midtown.

The eight-course, $70 Hana tasting:

Kajitsu
nagaimo hishimochi (Japanese yam) with spring vegetables and sweet soy gelée

Kajitsu

Kajitsu
grated kohlrabi soup with grilled gomadofu, karashi, fresh green peppercorn

Kajitsu
smoked satoimo (taro) with tofu-yo sauce; Brussels sprout with fukinoto paste; spring scallions with white wood ear mushrooms and mustard miso; kabochafu (pumpkin wheat gluten) with red miso; kaffir lime and lemon grass

Kajitsu

Kajitsu

Kajitsu
simmered young bamboo shoots with artichoke tempura, fava beans, mitsuba (stone parsley), wakame (seaweed)

Kajitsu
shredded phyllo-wrapped mugwort nama-fu (wheat gluten) with house-made Worcester sauce; grilled cabbage, arugula sprouts and watermelon radish; snap peas with parsnip puree; sautéed glass noodles, kinugasa mushrooms and leeks in corn husk

Kajitsu

Kajitsu
steamed rice with chaju mushrooms, yuba, and grilled water chestnuts; nori, sesame, and dashi, with housemade pickles

Kajitsu
cherry blossom mochi, salted cherry leaf

Kajitsu

Kajitsu
matcha with candies

Kajitsu

Thanks to my dining companion cheeryvisage for her excellent memory; many of these are only labeled correctly because of her Flickr set.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

When compared to the food at other high-end restaurants in the city, the food at Kajitsu can seem austere: an entire dish will be white or yellow, made up almost entirely of white rice or bamboo. No one flavor ever stands out, and even the tempuraed vegetables are tremendously fresh and light. I know that balance is sort of the point of this kind of food, but it can’t be stressed enough how subtle these dishes are, how you might get caught up in conversation and miss the simple perfection of a salted leaf or the smallest slice of peppercorn.

I love Kajitsu for the seasoned eater and the diner who’s never seen a fiddlehead fern in real life alike. The food is artful and exciting in its simplicity. The boxes filled with four different kinds of unrecognized vegetation dazzle the eye, and the dishes served in covered bowls build anticipation. I didn’t once miss the meat during this tasting and instead delighted in knowing that I wasn’t going to run into a single sinew or bone. With this two-Michelin-starred restaurants in town, vegetarians have it pretty good.

Kajitsu
414 East 9th Street
New York, NY 10009 (map)

Momofuku Ssam Bar Rotisserie Duck – Korean – East Village
Jan 25th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

Momofuku Ssam Bar‘s large format duck dinner is a whole rotisserie Long Island duck served with chive pancakes, bibb lettuce, hoisin, duck scallion sauce, crispy shallots, and two sides of your choosing. It’s $140, feeds three to six people, and is The Best.

This and the bo ssäm (pork shoulder) dinner are the only ways to get a reservation at Ssam Bar, and that alone is enough to make the dinner worth it, as the wait at Ssam is regularly two hours in my experience. (Get there before 6:30 or after 9:30 on weekdays if you want to avoid the line.) My group of six included a couple of people who can really eat (obviously I’m including myself here), so we started with some regular menu items to supplement the duck:

Momofuku Ssam Whole Rotisserie Duck

Momofuku Ssam Whole Rotisserie Duck
veal sweetbreads, almond, sauerkraut, Thai chili

It’s really hard to say “this thymus really melted in my mouth” without rolling my eyes at myself, but if I didn’t know this was offal, I’d think it was dessert. It was sweet and creamy inside, spicy and crispy on the outside, with a kick from the lemon segments arranged on top. It’s like fried chicken, if chicken had the texture of custard.

Momofuku Ssam Whole Rotisserie Duck
spicy pork sausage & rice cakes, Chinese broccoli, Sichuan peppercorn

This was my second time having this dish, and I’d have it a third time, too. The rice cakes are this perfect spongy, chewy consistency, and I love all of the spicy peppers and the crisp of the shallots over the meaty sauce.

Momofuku Ssam Whole Rotisserie Duck
bibb lettuce, sambal sauce, hoisin, crispy shallots, duck scallion sauce

The lettuce and sauces arrived just before the duck did and were the ultimate excitement-builder. I felt about these the way I feel at a concert when the lights dim after hours of standing around, listening to crappy opening bands. Not that our starters were crappy. You know what I mean.

Momofuku Ssam Whole Rotisserie Duck

The duck arrived on a platter the width of the table with scallion pancakes, rice dripping with duck drippings, and what must have been every herb in the kitchen. From my vantage point, it looked like a glistening little duck breast lost in the forest:

Momofuku Ssam Whole Rotisserie Duck

I took a few slices and tried to keep them intact as they threatened to separate into pieces in all of their tenderness. I grabbed a scallion pancake and found it pleasantly salty and soaked through with oil, like a funnel cake. The duck scallion sauce was just adding duck to duck, and the sambal sauce was too vinegary for my taste, but the crispy shallots and hoisin were just the right combination of crunch and thick stickiness. The skin wasn’t crispy, but it had a layer of pork and duck sausage piped underneath it that was a fine substitute.

The duck thighs were apparently cooked confit and served to the side of the breast, but I couldn’t see what I was doing amidst all of the basil, cilantro, and mint, so I grabbed whatever I could with the tongs and thought it was just a pile of the fatty, fatty skin. Well, even if I missed out on the confit thigh, the skin was shockingly melty, and I wish I could feed it to anyone who’s afraid to eat fat.

Momofuku Ssam Whole Rotisserie Duck
herbed fingerling potatoes

Our sides of fingerling potatoes dripping in duck fat and broccoli salad just couldn’t compare to the duck, perfectly adequate as they were. The potatoes had a nice crispy-on-the-outside texture, but the flavor didn’t knock me out. The broccoli salad, on the other hand, had too much fish flavor for me. I wouldn’t order it again for myself, although I’m pleased to have had the two sides that aren’t available on the regular menu.

Momofuku Ssam Whole Rotisserie Duck
broccoli salad

Clearly the duck was the star of the meal for everyone, because while half of the potatoes sat uneaten at the end of the night, my dining companions were clamoring to finish the fatty rice:

Momofuku Ssam Whole Rotisserie Duck
the aftermath

We counted about 26 slices of duck in all, which meant four to five slices per person. And honestly, I could’ve eaten twice that. So next time, I’m bringing half the friends.

Just kidding, friends.

(But not really.)

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarBlank Star

This dinner will stick with me for a while. I’ve had some good duck, but this was some good duck. A couple of my dining companions were also at the Wong whole duck dinner with me, and they both thought Wong was better because of the diversity of the duck dishes. The creativity at Wong wasn’t lost on me, and I seriously love a good Chinese bun, but I think I may have liked the scallion pancake and hoisin sauce with the duck more at Ssam Bar. It’s a toss-up. Go to Wong for the full-meal experience, but then go to Ssam Bar just to tear into some really well-done plain, ol’ duck.

Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003 (map)

The Tasting Menu at Hearth – Italian/American (New) – East Village
Sep 14th, 2011 by donuts4dinner

Hearth NYC

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.

Hearth NYC
amuse bouche: chilled pea soup shot

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.

Hearth NYC
Summer Tomato Salad: Sicilian tuna, shelling beans, celery

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.

Hearth NYC
grilled octopus

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.

Hearth NYC
Canestri alla Norma: canestrini, tomato, eggplant, ricotta salata

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.

Hearth NYC
Roasted Scotish Salmon: freekeh, string beans, pickled garlic scape, trout roe, mint

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.

Hearth NYC
Roasted Hampshire Pork Chop: Swiss Chard Gnudi, House-Smoked Bacon, Spring Onion

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!

Hearth NYC
tomato ice cream

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.

Hearth NYC
Brown-Butter Financier: blackberries, lemon verbena ice cream

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.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarBlank Star

Hearth NYC

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.

Hearth
403 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10009 (map)

DBGB – French/American – East Village
Sep 7th, 2011 by donuts4dinner

When my friend Kim saw a four-person dinner at DBGB pop up on GiltCity for $150, the first thing she thought was, “SUNDAE!!” And the second thing she thought was, “Can I eat four sundaes by myself?” And the third thing she thought was, “Guess I have to invite Katie.”

I’d had a very so-so experience the first time around at DBGB, but my subsequent tasting menu at Chef Boulud’s flagship restaurant, Daniel, was so outstanding it changed the way I rate all other restaurants; naturally, I was interested in a second try at DBGB. So Dr. Boyfriend and I met Kim and her friend Kelly on Friday night to share what we’d read wouldn’t be enough food but turned out to be so much we couldn’t finish it all. Nor did we want to, in the case of the final course, but more on that later.

DBGB NYC

DBGB NYC
petit plateau de fruits de mer

Shrimp, mussels, clams, oysters, snails, tuna tartare and a whole crab claw. All things I was completely terrified by a mere couple of years ago. And it’s not that I exactly salivate over any of them now, like my boyfriend does, but I was perfectly willing to try everything on this platter. Luckily, the fact that there were only two of some of the items meant that I only had to try a few.

The mussels were perfectly cleaned, which is a major issue for me, because eww, please don’t try to feed me sand and stomach leftovers if I’m already going out on a limb by eating seafood at all. The fact that they were covered in a cool, creamy sauce with herbs didn’t hurt anything, either. The tuna tartare was well-appointed with fresh herbs, and the crab claw looked so fresh I didn’t even bother dressing it with lemon. Wait, no, that was because the server took the lemon away before I could dress the crab. Anyway.

I tried one of the larger and one of the smaller oysters, but Dr. Boyfriend and Kim handled the apparently veeeery-oceany-tasting clams and the giant snails, a process which began with excited faces,

DBGB NYC

quickly switched to determined faces when the snails refused to let go of their shells,

DBGB NYC

and ended with whatever you call this face once they actually tasted the things:

DBGB NYC

I’m still not entirely swearing off trying snails drenched in butter sometime in my life, but I’m a little less sure after this.

DBGB NYC
Iceberg & Blue: tomato, walnut, bacon bits, herbs

Very classic, and an excellent palate-cleanser. The iceberg wedge is one of the only salads I actually enjoy, because:

a) it has bacon,
b) it has cheese, and
c) iceberg lettuce is basically water.

I like to think of it as a vehicle for moving fatty things to my mouth.

DBGB NYC
Beaujolaise: pork, mushrooms, onion, bacon, and red wine link, lentils du puy

I think we all agreed that though this was a rich, hearty sausage, the lentils were really the star. Which is good, since we ordered lentils, glazed carrots (undercooked for my taste and not nearly sugary enough), and ham and crayfish gumbo (flavorful but too thin) as our sides without anyone telling us we were already getting lentils.

DBGB NYC
Allemande: veal bratwurst, beer-braised sauerkraut

This one was too sweet for me. When I see beer-braised, I want the lingering stench of Guinness on my breath for days; I think this might have been soaked in O’Doul’s.

DBGB NYC
Coreanne: Korean-style pork sausage, cucumber-bok choy pickle, spicy kim chee coulis, shrimp chips

This was the most complete of the sausage plates in that there was a lot going on but that the theme was so evident. I loved the homogenous texture of the sausage, more like bologna than ground meat, and the crunchy pickle that was such a divergence from the cooked-until-mushy accompaniments on the other plates.

DBGB NYC
Espagnole: fresh chorizo sausage with piperade, basil oil

Easily my favourite, just because it had the most flavor. I was in need of some spice, and I might have liked the peppers more than the sausage itself because of that.

DBGB NYC
Boudin Basque: spicy blood and pigs head sausage, scallion mashed potatoes

I’ve always been scared of but interested in blood sausage, and after having tried it, I can’t believe I ever even considered it exotic. The texture was crumbly and dry, the taste earthy and rich. It was like eating fake meat, or textured vegetable protein, which I did for four years as a vegetarian. I wouldn’t say I liked or disliked it; it was boring enough that I was just sort of neutral about it. And that’s the last thing I ever thought I’d say about sausage made of blood.

DBGB NYC
Caramel-Pear: ginger marshmallow, roasted pears, shortbread cookie, brandy caramel sauce, whipped cream

DBGB NYC
Cherry-Chocolate: vanilla marshmallow, brownies, chocolate fudge, kriek-braised cherries, whipped cream

DBGB NYC
Blueberry-Mint: candied brioche, olive oil cake, blueberry compote, toasted almonds, whipped cream

We were there for the sundaes, and once again, they were so good they’d make me come back to DBGB again despite the otherwise just-okay food. I went for the blueberry-mint after my first wonderful mint-chocolate experience and again found the mint flavor so fresh and herbaceous. Dr. Boyfriend and Kim said it was like eating ice cream salad, but I loved the savoriness of the mint coupled with the olive oil cake. The candied brioche added crunch and sugar to the very natural-tasting berries.

I would’ve been equally happy with either of the other sundaes, though. Kim and my boyfriend both got the caramel-pear, which had the most flavorful marshmallows and pears that tasted like they’d just come out of a pie, while I almost got drunk on Kelly’s beer-soaked cherries. These were adult sundaes.

DBGB NYC
Grand Marnier soufflé, creme anglaise

I had another soufflé this bad once. The server asked us how we were enjoying it, and I said we weren’t, and he brought us another dessert. This time, the server was basically absent for all of our meal, so we just left it sitting.

I was the first to poke my spoon into it to make a hole for the creme anglaise, and I described the bite as “exactly on the edge of egginess”. Well, of course, the farther we got down into the soufflé, the eggier it became, so once everyone had a bite, the rest was inedible. It was the very opposite of the Grand Marnier soufflé we had at The Mark by Jean-Georges. Egg when you want cake is disconcerting.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half StarBlank Star

As with my last visit, this was a mixed bag. The sausages–which are of course supposed to be the focus of the restaurant–are good, but none of them had me mmming in disbelief like so many of the dishes at Daniel did, and for $13 to $15 per sausage, I should’ve been. The place is borderline hip (what we could hear of the soundtrack was all indie rock), but the noise level is obtrusive, and the service suffers because the servers can’t interact with diners. Not that they’d want to, apparently: our server seemed like the classic NYC wannabe-actor who’s annoyed by customers, and the waiter at the door who looked like a greeter was actually just waiting for us to move so he could leave. Luckily, the sundaes were incredible at $9, and I can see myself popping in just for dessert some night if I’m in the Bowery.

DBGB
299 Bowery
New York, NY 10003 (map)

Degustation Chef’s Ten-Course Tasting Menu – Spanish/Tapas – East Village
May 24th, 2011 by plumpdumpling

Degustation is designed entirely to facilitate a relationship between the chef and the diner. With only 16 seats arranged in a half-rectangle around a bar that encompasses the prep area, you don’t miss a moment of your dinner being made. For better or worse.

Do you want to see the plastic storage bowl your rabbit liver came out of? Do you want to look at a whole container of cooked bacon slabs on the counter throughout your meal and know that you only get two tiny pieces? Is that worth it to get to watch your chef so delicately place a single slice of Fresno pepper on top of a sardine with a pair of forceps? It’s not exactly the most romantic of date spots, but dinner at Degustation is special in its own way.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
amuse-bouche: fish skin, sherry vinegar

Being served this the moment we walked in the door was kind of hilarious, if you know me. While I can at least eat seafood without much complaint now, I still don’t find it the least bit comforting or homey. And it was actually my first time at Degustation that I tried fish skin for the first time. At least that was attached to a piece of actual fish, though; this was just straight-up skin.

And I actually kind of liked it! It was only slightly fishy, and the texture reminded me of Cheetos: crispy, puffy, and full of tiny air holes. The sherry vinegar was so sour it made me wrinkle my nose, but I liked the combination.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
amuse-bouche: ham and apple croqueta

Clearly this is much more my speed. A crunchy exterior, a creamy potato interior punctuated by ham bits, and a smoky emulsion underneath that I kept coming back to, trying to scrape more off my plate. This still wasn’t as good as the one at Tenpenny, but I think it was improved over the last time we were at Degustation.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
amuse-bouche: Spanish tortilla, quail egg, shallot jam

This was our favourite on the plate because it was the most original and complexly-flavored. The tortilla had the texture of a Shanghai bun skin, and the filling was like caramelized onions: sweet and sour and like it came off the bottom of a cast iron pan. The shallot jam is just really nice, too; it has all of the flavor of an aged wine with all of the texture of a homemade jelly.

• hamachi crudo

I somehow didn’t take a photo of this, but it was served on a spoon with pickled vegetables. It wasn’t fishy but had that distinctive fresh ocean flavor that you find in mild seafood like scallops and shrimp. The refreshing bite was a nice palate-cleanser for the more intensely-flavored amuses.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
uni, sunchoke panna cotta, ramp?, pepper

I love a savory panna cotta; you just don’t get enough creaminess in savory foods. Panna cotta topped in sea urchin is a little bit different, but I understand that uni is considered a major delicacy, and I’ve only had it a handful of times at this point, so I was open-minded.

It tastes like iron, looks like orange chicken skin, and has the texture of mousse. Which is not to say that I didn’t kind of enjoy it. The spice of the single slice of pepper really pervaded the entire bowl, and I can really get behind the idea of uni pudding, which is basically what this was.

The problem is that everything in the bowl was just so unfamiliar. About halfway through, it started seeming just, you know, something someone should eat only if beef isn’t available. I ended up mixing the rest of my uni into the panna cotta so I could disguise it. I’m still a work in progress, I guess.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
monkfish liver

On the other hand, I think I can honestly say that I like monkfish liver. I had it first at an Asian buffet (Ichi Umi), but it was drowning in some sort of sweet sauce that I figured was the only thing making it palatable.

But no, it tasted like any other totally non-fishy organ meat and had a wonderful flaky, chunky texture. And, as I’ve probably made abundantly clear, I hate tomatoes despite years of trying not to, yet these were weirdly delicious. The cilantro and red onion overpowered that gross not-quite-sweet, not-quite-savory thing tomato has going so that the topping tasted like a fresh, crisp salsa. I really loved the way that nothing could get soggy because of the way it was cut into little slivers.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
asparagus soup, bacon, salmon roe

I was really excited when this was set down in front of me. I was ready for something earthy and familiar. We sunk the contents of our spoons into our cups of soup and were delighted by crunchy bacon and artichoke tips and . . . SALMON ROE? I wrote in my notebook, “Just give me something without fish!” Even the wine this was paired with tasted salmony to me. At least the soup itself was delicious, with a savory foam on top that reminded us of eating garlic and onion potato chips.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
Littleneck and razor clams, pasta, butter beans

We loved the salty, garlicky flavor of this dish. After a pretty dismal experience at Flex Mussels recently, this brought me back to bivalves a little. The textures in the dish were all of a similar chewiness, but luckily, I like chewy.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
sardine, cucumber tzatziki

My boyfriend was worried I wouldn’t like this due to its silver-skinned fishiness, but on the contrary, it was just a big, salty, crunchy fish stick. I loved the spicy pepper against the cool pickled vegetables, and the tzatziki was like a better version of tartar sauce.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
chicken egg, bacon, crouton

This one kind of overwhelmed us and sent us into a five-star-dish coma, starting with the adorable presentation of the brown egg on blue-and-brown-striped plates and ending with the tiny chunks of ham hidden in the cheesy egg filling. We loved the texture progression from creamy egg to chewy ham to crunchy crouton.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
rabbit tasting: liver, pate; baguette, salad

Watching a chef form your rabbit liver into a quenelle with two spoons right in front of you is kind of a joy. So is eating different preparations of the same animal in one dish. The liver was smooth and organy, but the pate was like eating a really fine lunch meat–spicy, flavorful, but so likeable a kid would eat it. Spread on the crisp baguette and topped with some pickled greens, it was hearty and filling.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
lamb, Romesco sauce, barley, olive breadcrumbs

This lovely little chunk of rare lamb was wrapped in lamb bacon and proved once again that any kind of bacon is good bacon. The Romesco sauce was nutty, garlicky, and sweet from the red peppers it’s made from; we weren’t sure if it was just the color, but when we swiped our barley through the sauce, we swore it made them taste like orange Nerds candy. We loved the sour dirt-looking topping, and I was shocked to learn it was made from my enemy, the olive.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu

I wish I had any memory of what this was, but between wine pairings and my not writing anything about it in my little notebook, it’s pretty hazy. Some sort of meringue, an orange supreme, and a slice of jelly. I remember liking it, but I guess it wasn’t quite memorable enough to overcome the wine.

Degustation NYC Tasting Menu
caramelized torija, grapefruit

On the other hand, it’s almost like I can still taste this little square of French-toast-like brioche. It was our favourite dish on our first visit to Degustation and definitely did not disappoint the second time around, even without the benefit of newness on its side. The way they torch the outside but leave the inside doughy and uncooked makes for such interesting taste and texture contrasts. The chef in front of us, sensing our delight, informed us that the bread is soaked in heavy cream for twenty-four hours. And that explains that.

We didn’t, however, care for the grapefruit segment on the side. I really, really love grapefruit, but next to the super-sweet caramelized bread, it became savory; usually I love the play between sweet and savory in dessert, but in this case, the grapefruit just sort of lost all its flavor, like fruit does when it’s out of season.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarZero Stars

I wasn’t using a ratings system at the time of our first visit, but I think I would’ve given Degustation four donuts back then, too. It doesn’t exactly reflect how I feel about the place in certain circumstances, though. I don’t think the food is technically perfect, and for me, it’s way too heavy on the fish. But for diners who are just getting into high-end food and don’t mind a little roe here and there, I think it’s one of the best values going.

For $80, you get to try ten tasty and creative courses and watch the chefs make them right in front of you. Things can get pricey if you opt for the wine pairings, which run the same as dinner itself, but it’s still several hundred dollars less than you’d pay at many of the restaurants I’ve rated five donuts. Of course I’d argue that the several hundred dollars is worth it for a five-donut meal, but while those might be once or twice in a lifetime meals, Degustation serves more of an everyday dinner in a less-stuffy environment. Plus, did you see that torija?

Degustation
239 East 5th Street
New York, NY 10003 (map)

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