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The Lunch Tasting Menu at Babbo
Mar 27th, 2013 by donuts4dinner

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:

Babbo NYC
marinated eggplant with pickled chilies, Pecorino and black garlic vinaigrette

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.

Babbo NYC
orecchiette with broccoli rabe pesto

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.

Babbo NYC
agnolotti with brown butter and sage

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?

Babbo NYC
beef cheek ravioli with black truffles and Castelmagno

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.

Babbo NYC
grilled heritage pork loin with braised fennel and cranberry agrodolce

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.

Babbo NYC
olive oil and rosemary cake with olive oil gelato

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.

Babbo NYC
“torta caprese” with “fior di latte” and vincotto

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.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

Babbo NYC

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.

Babbo
110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011 (map)

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

Pearl Oyster Bar’s Hugely Chunky Lobster Roll and More
Feb 25th, 2013 by donuts4dinner

I went with my friends Nik and Jack to Pearl Oyster Bar solely because I’d read a Chowhound thread about the lobster pot pie they were making for two weeks only. Apparently this thing was such a big deal that they’d sell out of it within moments of opening the doors, so we rushed to the West Village on a Monday night right after work and tried to order the lobster pot pie before we even saw the menu. Of course that was the only night they’d decided to take a break from making it.

Luckily, Pearl Oyster Bar happens to be known for its lobster roll, and in fact, Chef Rebecca Charles is said to have been the first chef to bring the lobster roll from New England to New York City. Three lobster rolls, three clam chowders, and a plate of fried oysters later, we weren’t missing that lobster pot pie in the least.

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC
New England clam chowder with smoked bacon

Perfectly creamy with just a hint of seafood flavor, this was almost geared more toward the bacon-lovers than the clam-lovers. So I loved it.

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC
fried oysters

The guys, neither of which actually likes oysters, said these melted in their mouths and had none of the slimy texture that oyster-haters always cite. They loved the thick, crispy breading and the dollop of tartar sauce served in the shells.

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC
lobster roll

You have to like mayo to like Pearl Oyster Bar’s lobster roll. You also have to like huge, unbroken hunks of lobster meat. The chunks were sometimes so big that I had to take them off the roll and eat them with a fork and knife. And yet there was so much lobster meat on the roll that even removing half of it left me with a full, fat sandwich. The bun was browned and buttery, just slightly crisp on the outside. It was seasoned just right, with enough going on to hold my interest but never so much as to overpower the fresh, clean lobster flavor.

And as if that wasn’t enough on its own, the lobster roll came with a side of shoestring fries piled higher than the lobster itself. They were a little too thin and difficult to eat for me, but if shoestring is your thing, these had the crunch and the salt you’re looking for.

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC
shoestring fries

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC
Callebaut chocolate mousse

This Belgian chocolate mousse was just as dark and thick as it looks, but we weren’t prepared for how unsweet it was. The whipped cream, too. It was like eating frosting made for adults.

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC
hot fudge sundae

I expected something other than hot fudge and ice cream in this sundae, but nope, it was straight-up classic. The fudge lined the side of the glass from top to bottom and was a nice unsweet contrast to the vanilla ice cream.

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC

Pearl Oyster Bar is what I consider the definitive West Village restaurant. It’s not a hip new East Village place crowded with college kids but a neighborhoody one that’s casual enough for an everyday dinner but also cute enough for a grown-up date. It feels relaxed and established, like a seafood shack in an old fishing town, but there’s just enough of an edge to the food to remind you you’re in NYC.

Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10014 (map)

Truffle Feast at David Santos’s Louro
Dec 5th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

I’ve been pretty terrible about blogging them, but suffice it to say that our first trip to Chef David Santos’s underground supper club was the first of many. Dave’s food is this hard-to-find combination of incredibly comforting and refined, and his passion for what he does makes it taste even better. And now the chef finally has a proper home, Louro in the West Village.

The night before the official opening, we were lucky enough to get a couple of seats at his first Monday night Nossa Mesa supper club dinner, part of a weekly series of themed meals. This was the Black and White dinner, featuring loads and loads of truffles.

Louro NYC Truffle Dinner

Louro NYC Truffle Dinner

This dinner was BYOB, but the bar was fully stocked, and we of course had a glass of Riesling. The space, formerly housing the restaurant Lowcountry, has been redesigned with whites and granites, gorgeous branch-like lighting fixtures with exposed bulbs, and a “library” of photos of books lining the walls. Classy.

Louro NYC Truffle Dinner
Chef Santos’s famous/infamous Portuguese “butter”

Actually lard. With lots and lots of black pepper.

Louro NYC Truffle Dinner
Chef Santos’s equally famous/infamous “flatbread”

Actually the fluffiest bread. Not at all flat.

Louro NYC Truffle Dinner
amuse: uni, grapefruit

One of the better preparations of uni I’ve had. The tart grapefruit didn’t highlight the bitterness of the uni, as I would expect, but they balanced one another. A very clean, refreshing start.

Louro NYC Truffle Dinner
hamachi tartare, quail egg, grilled scallions, white truffle aioli

I never thought I’d ever call scallions the highlight of a dish, but these were so flavorful and had such a great chewy texture. Between the over-easy quail egg and the aioli, this became a creamy mess within seconds, and all of us were practically licking our plates to get every last bit of scallion-y oil-slicked hamachi.

Louro NYC Truffle Dinner
celery root soup, black truffle pudding, celery in textures

I have a friend who hates celery, and never was I sadder for her than when eating this belly-warming bowl of celery-flavored cream. Slivers of celery lined the bottom of the bowl, but the textures weren’t even necessary for me when the base was so incredibly rich with celery.

Louro NYC Truffle Dinner
risotto, lardo, parmigiano foam, white truffles

Refusing to let up for a second, the chef followed with another creamy dish: the most cheesy, fatty risotto. You think you’re going to get tired of eating a whole bowl of the same flavor and texture, and then you take a single truffle-laden bite and wish the bowl was bigger.

Senat Farms chicken two ways:

Louro NYC Truffle Dinner
first way: black truffle, corn bread, wild mushrooms

Tender chicken with a crispy skin and cubes of granular cornbread, mushrooms, and onions marinated in truffle oil. So many deep, dark, umami flavors in one dish. I needed about ten times more cornbread and ten times fewer mushrooms, but I understand that normal people love mushrooms.

Louro NYC Truffle Dinner
second way: polenta, confit ragu, wild mushrooms

Very reminiscent of the buttery potato mousseline served on the side of the whole duck at Eleven Madison Park, this was so smooth it was hard for me to equate it with the grainy fried polenta I’m used to. The tender chicken almost disintegrated into the creamy polenta. I hope this shows up on the regular menu so I can eat it again in the dead of winter and be comforted.

Louro NYC Truffle Dinner
foie gras beignets, truffle sugar and glaze

Donuts4dinner! Only sadly, I didn’t care for them. For me, they weren’t nearly sweet enough to be dessert because of the truffle, but they were also too sweet to be savory because of the sugar, and they were also a little funky thanks to the foie gras. On the bright side, they were just the right fluffy-but-filling consistency, and one of my friends thought they were entirely successful, so.

Louro NYC Truffle Dinner

Louro
142 West 10th Street
New York, NY 10014 (map)



In the name of self-congratulations, I’d also like to mention that some of my photos were used by New York magazine’s Grub Street blog yesterday in the announcement of Louro’s opening this week: What to Eat at Louro, Now Serving Fry Bread and Rabbit Rillettes in the West Village. (Click on the picture to see more.)

I couldn’t have been more pleased at the opportunity to shoot Chef Santos’s food and to have my work shown in one of my favourite blogs. Here’s one of the outtakes from the shoot to get you ready for Louro’s regular menu:

Louro NYC

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)

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