Having eaten a whole suckling pig at Chef April Bloomfield’s The Breslin a couple of years ago, I was excited to see what she could do with one of my comfort foods: tacos. What made Salvation Taco even more appealing to me is that it’s on 39th Street, just south of my boyfriend’s apartment, in this part of the Murray Hill neighborhood that’s mostly filled with highrises and Irish pubs meant to attract the after-work crowd.
(It was ridiculously dark in the restaurant, so please excuse my heavily-lightened pictures.)
I’ve secretly loved the totally-Americanized horchatas I’ve had with pounds of sugar and cinnamon mixed in, but this one tasted much more grown up with the coffee and spice-ful Fernet. You’d, uh, never know it by the vessel it was served in, though. It should be noted that my friend Kim‘s drink came in a totally normal glass, so I’m 100% sure they were trying to shame me for ordering a frozen drink at 6 p.m.
The textures of the pork belly and pineapple were so similar that I couldn’t tell which I was picking up in the near-dark of the restaurant, but I did love the pork-fruit combination and the spicy finish. This was the sort of thing I think of when I think of Chef Bloomfield: perfect meats and a flavor punch. I just needed something crunchy thrown in.
From left to right: Moroccan lamb on naan, al pastor, skirt steak with pecan and chipotle, roasted cauliflower with curried crema, fried striped bass with Mayan mayo.
They were all flavorful and delicious, but the fish taco was the major standout, and I say this as someone who is almost 100% against the idea of fish mucking up my tacos. The mayo was just the right amount of spicy, and there was just enough citrus, and the fish was breaded just enough to give it some crunch without masking the flavor, and those pickled onions were the perfect accompaniment. On my next visit, I’d order five of these. And nothing else.
If I’m being honest, the burnt sugar ice cream was terrible. Truly, truly bitter and inedible. My perfectly classy dining partner and I were practically wiping it off of our tongues with napkins. BUT. When eaten with the pumpkin ice cream, it became like a caramelized sugar crust to a pumpkin creme brulee. I understand why they sell them as a set; they just need to come with a warning.
Salvation Taco fits into the neighborhood perfectly. It’s using excellent ingredients prepared properly for the well-fed business type, but it also has ping-pong, a trendy lounge area, and plenty of pretty tourists stopping by from the attached hotel, Pod 39. It was loud and crowded, but that’s what I expect from a restaurant trying to pass itself off as a cheap taco joint. The only problem for me–and for everyone else, from what I’ve read–is that this isn’t actually a cheap taco joint. The tacos are incredibly small; two bites, and they’re finished. I ate only three because I am a lady, but you can bet I went home after this $50 meal and ordered some questionable-meat tacos from the local Chinese/Mexican place for a fifth of the price. They didn’t compare to that fish taco, though.
My friend Kim online-introduced me to her hometown-friend-with-a-blog Katie Qué (pronounced kay) a few months ago, telling me that she’s a much more interesting blogger than I am and that I’d love her posts about “Game of Thrones” and her many and varied photos of her much-personalitied cat. Within days, we had created a House Katie sigil and motto. (Sorry if that means nothing to you. Wait, no, I’m NOT sorry. Watch “Game of Thrones”. And also “Girls”. Mostly “Girls”, actually.)
Katie Qué came to visit her friend Patrick last weekend and was kind enough to invite me to be a part of her wallet-emptying/belly-filling/Alice-in-Wonderland-obsessing odyssey. My portion of the adventure included brunch at Alice’s Tea Cup, the beloved Upper East Side café with a Saturday morning waitlist far too long for me to ever bother with it. But Kim luckily lives mere blocks away and put our name in early so the rest of us could arrive an hour and a half later with none of those this-better-be-worth-it feelings that a long wait usually leaves me with.
To put it bluntly, I don’t give a crap about tea and didn’t really even plan to order any, but then I decided on a dish that came ready-made with a pot, so the four of us ended up sharing pots of Alice’s Tea, a blend of Indian black vanilla tea blended with Japanese green tea and rose petals, and of Darjeeling Earl Grey, a Darjeeling flavored with bergamot.
I was really, really surprised by how much I liked the tea. Especially the Darjeeling, which was just bursting with that deep, dark, depths-of-winter orange, both in smell and in flavor. The mismatched cups and saucers, the sugars and milk, the little spoons–I loved the shabby formality of it.
Katie Qué looks so petite behind her giant cup, and Patrick appears as if he’s plotting a bergamot-fueled bank heist. In the 1950s.
Kim just looks pretty.
I ordered The Nibble, a two-tiered stand with a sandwich of my choice on top; a scone, a pot of clotted cream and preserves, and an assortment of cookies filled the bottom plate. My sandwich was the Black Forest ham and gruyere, and I was probably about as excited by the look of it as you are. It’s kind of a piddly thing next to the mile-high Katz’s pastramis of the world, right? But I soon forgot how flat and unadorned it appeared when I bit through the golden-raisin-studded bread to the whole grain mustard and then to the sweet and salty ham and cheese. It was more complex than I expected and also more filling.
I couldn’t have been happier with my pumpkin scone, which was glazed crunchy on the outside but stayed warm and soft on the inside so as to melt the sweet, thick clotted cream. I wasn’t sure the berry preserves would go well with pumpkin, but together, they were this perfect end-of-summer/start-of-fall, warm/cool combination. If the wait wasn’t so unmanageable, I can see myself coming to Alice’s every weekend for their $10 two-scones-and-a-pot-of-tea deal just to have this again.
Everyone else ordered the vegetarian egg white omelet to punish themselves or something, but this dish ultimately got the last laugh by including these roasted pears that the three of them couldn’t stop raving about. I think Katie Qué may have been inspired to write an entire cookbook centered on roasted pears that afternoon.
My cookies, on the other hand, inspired me to remember to stick to the scones in the future. There was a chocolate chip, a sugar cookie with sprinkles, a cranberry, and a white chocolate-macadamia. As someone who only likes fresh, soft cookies so heavy with butter they can barely maintain their cookie form, these seemed old and stale to me. Between the four of us, we only ate half of each.
A good time was had by all, and I can certainly see myself coming back to Alice’s to have a chance to eat that preserve-laden scone and drink that orangey tea again. It’s a charming little café for people in the neighborhood. I have no idea why this is a destination for out-of-towners, though, in the same way I don’t understand why Serendipity 3 is. The Alice in Wonderland theme is minimal, unless you consider adding the word “Alice” to “eggs Florentine” a real nod to Lewis Carroll. The service is plenty nice, but we were taken aback when our server brought us our last pot of tea and told us we’d reached our time limit for taking up a table at the same time. I guess they know I don’t know where else to get clotted cream.
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.
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,
quickly switched to determined faces when the snails refused to let go of their shells,
and ended with whatever you call this face once they actually tasted the things:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the longest time, I was saying that the best meal I’ve ever had was at Tom Colicchio’s Craft. And maybe it still is the best meal I’ve ever had. It was my first tasting menu, my first meal over $100, my first time eating bay scallops and sturgeon and cocoa nib. Since then, I’ve had meals that have blown my mind more, but there’s sure a lot to be said for almost being made to cry over some Brussels sprouts for the first time.
Since then, I’ve had pretty stellar experiences at Craftbar and Colicchio & Sons, so my boyfriend and I were pleased to get to try Chef Colicchio’s newest venue, Riverpark, which is situated aaaaaaaaaall the way over on 29th Street behind the infamous Bellevue Hospital, overlooking the East River. It turns out that the interesting views are really the only reason to go.
My boyfriend was a little surprised when an entire baby octopus was planted in front of him, but it was pretty impressive. Chargrilled and just slightly fishy, it had a great firm-but-not-chewy texture. We both loved the cilantro on top, but I thought the clams tasted of funk. In general, it was just a little overwhelming to be handed the whole mollusk; a thoughtful preparation of octopus parts is more our speed.
The dense pasta coupled with the thick sauce made for a rich, homey dish. I loved the crispy herbs in contrast to the soft peas, and the classic combination of long-cooked lamb and mint proved its worth once again. I was looking forward to what the horseradish would bring to the dish but unfortunately couldn’t taste it. If I think about one dish from this night, it’s this one, just for those paper-thin greens.
Served over super-buttery potatoes, this was mushy texture after mushy texture, so every bit of that crunchy fennel was welcome. I liked all of the flavors that were present but noticed almost immediately that something was missing: spice. For me, the dish really needed something to brighten it up.
I’m only now beginning to actually enjoy seafood a little, so it was a major step for me to order this as my main dish, and luckily, it didn’t let me down. The sear on the scallops was just perfect, and I loved the lemony flavor of them. The bacon on top was extra-crunchy, and the vegetables on the side were extra-tender. I love the onions, especially. It maybe wasn’t the most soul-satisfying dish I’ve had, but I pleased myself by enjoying it.
The entire dessert menu was impressive, but my boyfriend and I decided we had to go for the very craziest thing on it. We love soufflés, and we love beets, so how could it be bad? Well, it was bad, and we knew it was going to be from the very moment it hit our table. It just looked wrong. And then our server took a spoon to scoop the center of it out and pour in the créme, and it was clear that the thing was much less a soufflé and much more an omelet.
It was so eggy. So eggy that we couldn’t eat it. We tried the beet sorbet and liked the way it was not sweet at all on its own but actually tasted like dessert when eaten with the pistachio brittle. Still, we were so disappointed with the soufflé that we couldn’t even enjoy it.
To tell the truth, I was almost a little excited to write a negative review about it, because we’ve been going to so many great restaurants lately that everything has been four and five stars. But when I almost apologetically mentioned to our server that the egginess had turned us off a bit, he said that the chef would be happy for our feedback, because it was the first night the soufflé had appeared on the menu, and they weren’t sure how it was going to go over.
The restaurant entirely made up for it by sending us a plate of the most wonderful housemade sorbets and ice creams in creamsicle, brown butter, and pineapple.
It kind of pains me to give Riverpark such a low rating, but all of the dishes were just so-so. Nothing blew our minds, and nothing offended us, but we had such better meals at Craft and Craftbar that our expectations were high. The most my boyfriend could muster was, “It was amazing . . . that I ate a whole octopus.” And I think that about sums up my feelings, too. Go for the views of the water and the creepy old Bellevue buildings, but try one of the other Colicchio restaurants for the food.
If you can get past the fact that it’s owned by Michael Jordan and is called Michael Jordan’s The Steak House N.Y.C. (what?), this place is actually a decent steakhouse with atmosphere that beats the usual Harvard-crimson carpeting and gold-lacquered everything. My boyfriend and I talked casually about visiting The Steak House every time we spotted it overlooking Grand Central Terminal, but it took seeing Chef Michael Vignola on an episode of The Food Network’s “Chopped” to make us seriously consider a reservation. On the show, the chef was super-creative–quite the opposite of what we expect from someone just cooking steaks and lobster all day–and we were excited to see what sort of avant garde creations he was pushing out with Michael Jordan’s blessing. But alas, The Steak House’s menu mirrors every other one we’ve seen.
Never overestimate the power of assorted breads when it comes to getting an extra donut in your rating from me.
I’m just starting to get into lobster after years of hating seafood, and this was just the right dish for a newcomer. It was lightly-dressed enough that the ocean flavor came through but included enough other ingredients that I was sufficiently distracted from the idea of eating, as my boyfriend says, the insect of the sea. The cabbage helped keep it fresh, while the spicy mayo on the side gave it a kick. Also: potato chips. Yeah.
Obviously this dish totally cheated by dressing itself with roasted corn. I didn’t particularly care for more cabbage slaw, but I suppose they don’t expect you and your date to be gluttons who order multiple apps on top of their filet mignons. I did particularly care for the lemony sauce the crab was swimming in, and the filler factor was slim to none in the cake.
The mac & cheese is listed as Michael’s Macaroni & Cheese on the menu, which only furthered our belief that he would pop out of the kitchen at any moment in his tall chef’s hat, giving us a friendly “bork bork bork!” a la the Muppets’ Swedish Chef. But no. Both of the sides were oversalted to my boyfriend’s taste, but I’m a freaky saltfiend who likes to make the waterboy come over every two minutes to refill me, so they tasted great to me. The mac & cheese was definitely the better of the two, though, almost certainly because it’s Michael’s.
As for the steak–it was well-seasoned and cooked to my liking. It wasn’t Peter Luger quality, but it wasn’t Outback, either. (Sorry, Outback.) The problem is that the prices are more Peter Luger (and actually even higher than that) and less Outback, which means I was expecting the same quality.
I love the view over Grand Central location so much that I’d forgive the lesser quality if it wasn’t for the higher price. I’d recommend The Steak House for impressing out-of-towners, clients, or anyone who hasn’t been to the city’s top-notch steakhouses like Peter Luger and Keens (which itself isn’t nearly as good at Luger, as you’ll see in my review). Come for the classy black-and-white action stills of Jordan hung on the walls and the menus that feel like the skin of a basketball, but don’t come expecting the best-quality steak.
5 donuts: transcendent experiences
4.5 donuts: extremely awesome meals
3.5 donuts: good eats
2.5 donuts: food I could have made
1 donuts: dinners not fit for the dogs
• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)