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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

Emmy Squared, Detroit-Style Pizza in Williamsburg
Apr 27th, 2016 by donuts4dinner

To me, the Clinton Hill pizzeria Emily is famous because my neighbor and her husband own it. My boyfriend and I started going there because they offered everyone in our building a free dessert, and there aren’t many places I wouldn’t go for a free s’mores calzone. We kept going to Emily because it turned out the pizza was really the epitome of what great NY wood-fired pizza can be, with an airy, crisp crust that wasn’t hard and overly chewy. And then all of NYC went there, too, not only for the funky pizza concoctions (like the Colony with pickled chilis and honey) but for the award-winning burger that the Internet couldn’t stop talking about. Now there’s Emmy Squared in Williamsburg, an offshoot offering Detroit-style pizza because it wasn’t enough for Matt Hyland to just be a master of NY pies.

Emmy Squared

Emmy Squared

Emmy Squared
crispy cheddar curds

These things must be triple-battered, for all of the crunchy stuff that falls off of them onto the plate as you pull them apart. Growing up in Ohio, we asked for “extra crispy stuff” or “more crunchies” at Long John Silver’s to get a little pile of fried batter on the side of our hush puppies. These are the adult version of that. Dip those little nuggets of cheese into your spicy “sammy” sauce or tomato sauce, and don’t forget the crispies.

Emmy Squared
The Emmy — mozzarella, banana peppers, onions, ranch, side of tomato sauce for dipping

Emmy Squared
Glorious thick crust, loads of toppings, I love you.

Emmy Squared
Art.

Emmy Squared
Angel Pie — mozzarella, ricotta, mushrooms, Truffleist mushroom cream

Emmy Squared
Roni Supreme — sauce, mozzarella, lots of pepperoni, calabrian chiles

When I was a kid in Ohio (and truthfully, up until about five years ago), Pizza Hut was my favorite pizza. The popular pizzas in Ohio–Donatos, Massey’s, every mom and pop shop in my little town–had the Midwestern cracker crust, but if my pizza wasn’t piled on an inch of bread, I wasn’t interested. Emmy Squared takes the idea of that pan pizza and makes it so your stomach won’t explode. It has that same crust that rises up along the side of the baking pan, but here, the cheese spills over the side and fries up crispy to give the crust a crunch and a buttery-ness that you can’t get with wood-fired pizza. And the dough at Emmy Squared isn’t a brick that expands in your stomach; it’s a light, airy thing just weighty enough to support the loads of toppings.

I ordered the Roni Supreme to harken back to those days when we used to use the crispy curled-edge pepperoni of Ohio pizzas as bowls for other toppings. It wasn’t for the faint of heart, with clumps of chile seeds to make your eyes water. My boyfriend’s mom got the Angel Pie, because mushrooms are a hot commodity back in her native Poland, where every member of the household is a fungus-picking expert in the forest. We all loved the texture of the ricotta and the sauce replacement of truffle cream. But our favorite was The Emmy, which we added sausage to like hedonists. But of course it was going to be our favorite, because it had all of the best things in life: banana peppers, red onions, and RANCH. Homemade ranch, with extra herbs in it to make it green. I didn’t even know there was a way to make regular ranch better. I couldn’t stop exclaiming about how this was my new favorite pizza. And it wasn’t just the Moscow Mules talking.

Emmy Squared

Emmy Squared

Remember GreenBox from an episode of “Shark Tank“? Emmy Squared uses them! How environmentally responsible and convenient!

Emmy Squared

Emmy Squared
364 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211 (map)

Game of Thrones Season 6 Dinner by Chef David Santos
Apr 23rd, 2016 by donuts4dinner

I’ve been following Chef David Santos around the city since he was doing secret dinners in his apartment on Roosevelt Island, and I can tell you that there’s no one in NYC doing more creative menus than this guy. There’s been Nashville hot chicken served in giant buckets, a Sun Noodle dinner with bowls of chilled and surf & turf ramen, and meals celebrating Dave’s Portuguese heritage, but I’ve especially come to love the themed dinners. Last week’s “Game of Thrones” pop-up at Noreetuh in the East Village is something my friends and I look forward to every year. Not only because the food is always boundary-pushing but because Dave’s menus are these masterful/hilarious odes to the characters on the show that proclaim this chef both an artist in the kitchen and a wordsmith on the page. None of us will ever forget the bacon-wrapped monkfish dish from a couple of years ago, where Dave said that the bacon protects the monkfish like the Hound protects Arya. Genius. If you want to see the entire explanation for this year’s menu, head on over to the Eventbrite ticketing page and prepare to be delighted.

Game of Thrones Dinner by Chef David Santos
bread and butter

Dave’s bread is reason alone to come to one of these dinners and is worth the price of admission itself. Crusty on the outside and beyond smushable in the middle, and then he always makes some amazing butter to top it with. This time, the butter was sprinkled with thick salt crystals to make it even more delicious and more likely to kill you.

Game of Thrones Dinner by Chef David Santos
black truffle fritter, asparagus puree, zahatar oil

Game of Thrones Dinner by Chef David Santos
fluke tartar with eel, avocado wasabi pudding, scallion, and puffed rice

Texture on texture on texture!

Game of Thrones Dinner by Chef David Santos
roots, celery, parsnip, peas shoots and tendrils, dirt

There was an asparagus granita on this that my friends refused to accept as a real thing in cooking, but they couldn’t deny how refreshing it was to get a little pile of savory shaved ice on top of a cool salad. None of us were okay with that carrot suggestively sticking up like that, but Dave is such the godfather of incredible carrots that the Times posted one of his carrot recipes, so you have to forgive him. The “dirt” was rye bread crumbs, just in case you were scared.

Game of Thrones Dinner by Chef David Santos
smoked sable chowder, oyster, chicharron, nettles

I don’t care for oysters, but I care immensely for a huge crispy-as-hell piece of pork skin that I can dip into my chowder. Comfort food pushed to the max.

Game of Thrones Dinner by Chef David Santos
malloreddus pasta, spicy wild boar ragu, house-aged ricotta

Apparently malloreddus is the national pasta of Sardinia, kind of like a gnocchi, that translates to “fat little calves”. Dave left his with quite a bit of chew, just the way I like it, and gave us just the right amount for being totally satisfied but not dying from the richness.

Game of Thrones Dinner by Chef David Santos
steak and eggs, foie caramelized onions, emu eggs

The waitstaff passed around giant green emu eggs for us to all pretend to be the mother of dragons with before taking them back to the kitchen so Dave could make THE most intense scrambled eggs, loaded with foie and onions. They were so earthy I could’ve sprouted a tree in them, and then he had to go and top them with a piece of steak just for effect. The scallions gave the dish just the right amount of brightness to balance out all of that fat.

Game of Thrones Dinner by Chef David Santos
ice cream sandwich, meringue, strawberry puree

Representing the wall and the blood of Jon Snow, this ice-cream-sandwich-meets-baked-Alaska had just the right amount of novelty for such a fun dinner and just the right amount of elevation for a chef like Dave.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark in Vienna, Austria
Apr 12th, 2016 by donuts4dinner

Early last year, my friends and I were planning a trip to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Athens, so I pulled up the ol’ San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best list to see if that part of the world had anything to offer. Lo and behold, #15 was smack-dab in the middle of Wien (that’s Vienna in German, see; I’m getting you ready for your future trip there), a modern Austrian restaurant perched on a canal of the Danube River in the middle of a 19th-Century park. Steirereck promised the white gloves and unnecessary decorative plates stacked beneath each dish that I love but also tons of fresh local ingredients that I would have never heard of. Adventure!

I was able to request a reservation through the English version of the Steirereck website and received a confirmation the next day with the exact date and time I’d hoped for (this was four months in advance of our travel date), but I had a question. Four of us were sure we wanted to try the tasting menu, but one friend didn’t think she was ready for five hours of eating and wanted to order a la carte. I replied to the confirmation email and basically told them, “Don’t worry, we’re going to be drinking enough alcohol that you won’t mind if one person isn’t eating.” They didn’t reply. A week before our dinner, though, they wrote to reconfirm my reservation, so I took the opportunity to ask again. The reservationist replied,

Thank you for your confirmation!

Don’t worry you can all order on stage.

We are looking forward to your visit.”

My friend imagined herself on a stage at the front of the restaurant, ordering samples from the cheese cart over a microphone. But we just let it go, because adventure!

Having crammed two weeks of vacation clothes into one carry-on bag, I was woefully underprepared for our fancy dinner and arrived in the 60-degree evening wearing sandals, no tights, a sleeveless dress, and a Gap hoodie. The hostess still totally took it from me like it was a real coat and gently folded it over her arm to hang for me without any hint of judgement, god bless her. Aside from the lingering fear of the stage-ordering, things were going great.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

Steirereck seems to be set up like a clover, with each leaf representing a different room with rounded edges overlooking the park. It meant that even with the restaurant completely full, we were only sitting in a room with a handful of tables. Which was lucky, because while the other tables were full of austere Europeans, our table was doing wine pairings and having a really good time of it. It was the staff’s fault, though! They seemed to take great joy in seeing if they could entertain the Americans and kept making jokes about carrying us out to our cabs after the wine pairings and telling us to let them know if we found worms in the salad because it was so fresh. Their humor was so dry that we would all laugh, wait for them to leave the table, and then ask each other, “Wait, he was joking, right?” It was the perfect kind of service for us, a bunch of normal people faking like we were fancy in a different country.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
austere!

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

We all ended up going for the tasting menu with wine pairings, so we never found out what ordering “on stage” was like, but we started off with cocktails in case nine glasses of wine wouldn’t be enough. Mine was this celery cocktail with housemade vermouth, an “Arabian mountain herb” grown on their roof, and rosemary.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The bread cart was overwhelming to a carb-lover such as myself, but there was a nice blood sausage loaf for the one person at our table who wanted to balance his carbs with protein. I chose the white bread with lavender and the double baked sourdough.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
double baked sourdough, white bread with lavender

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
bacon butter with hemp seeds, sage butter with chia seeds

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

After our first wine pairing was served, a huge spread of tiny dishes arrived:

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
allergens

Apparently Austria has 40 different allergens that have to be displayed on a menu lest someone die from eating hidden mustard, so the restaurant cheekily decided to make dishes featuring all of them. We each received a card naming all of the dishes, the allergen they contained, and a description of who the allergy generally affects. (Eggs: It is possible to be allergic to just the yolk or the white. Most common in children under the age of five, most people grow out of it after a couple of years.) We had things like wheat cracker with pericon, crayfish tomalley with salsify and lovage, peanut with sweet corn, and the worst offender of all,

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

CELERY. Which we got a whole plant of. The little ribs dangling amidst the stalk were soaked in verjus & vermouth salt, but we were told to eat as much of the stalk as we wanted to. (We did not.) Other highlights were the duck egg with tons of chive, and the sour milk dip for the cucumber.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
young carrots with fennel, coconut and reinanke

Glazed young carrots, carrot and fennel salad, marinated wild fish (reinanke, a kind of salmon, spicy carrot and fennel juice. Lots of fruity, sweet flavor in a savory course.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
peppers & melon with olive herb & venus clams

Grilled preserved yellow peppers, roasted muskmelon, braised Jerusalem artichoke, Taggiasca olives, Venus clams cooked with tamarind, ginger, and lemongrass.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
celeriac & peas with hazelnut & verbena

Confit young celeriac with peas, pea shoots, and hazelnuts, sautéed salad hearts, celeriac-citrus sauce with pepperoncini, and wild celery herb. So much lime flavor!

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
redondo courgette & chanterelles with buckwheat & plum

Sauteed chanterelles, barbecued and steamed redondo courgette (zucchini), avocado and plum marinated in lemon, roasted cashews, spiced green tomato jam, and French sorrel. I loved the spiciness of this one.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
alpine salmon with porcini, cucumber, passion fruit & pepperleaf

Raw “branded” alpine salmon, Mexican pepperleaf inflorescence, verjus-infused radish, grilled porcini, cucumbers with mustard seed and dill, borretsch leaf, passion fruit cucumber juice with pepperleaf oil, fried pepperleaf pearls. We liked the layers of cucumber with dill and porcini with lemon, accented by those crunchy pepperleaf balls.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
amur carp with Job’s tears, kohlrabi & pandan

Pan-fried amur carp, kohlrabi marinated with balsam vinegar & panda oil, Job’s tears crisp, sourdough bread creme with crunchy Job’s tears seeds. Standouts included the crispy fish skin and the way the creme broke up the acidic dish.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
quail

I failed to record more detail about this, but it was quail with this wonderful sesame sauce.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
venison with squash, baby artichokes & orange blossom

Roast Hochschwab venison, butternut squash cooked in brown butter with orange blossom and rosemary, baby artichokes glazed with Madeira and thyme, red onion and radish chutney with horseradish. The chutney was the favorite element of everyone at the table, and isn’t this just about the prettiest plate you’ve ever seen?

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

For those who didn’t opt for the plated cheese course, a cheese cart came loaded with everything from the mildest hard cheeses to the stinkiest washed-rinds. My boyfriend had the restaurant choose a progression of four for him, but you can have the whole cart if you like.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
sweetened vanilla “fresh cheese” with physalis & cereals

Unpasteurised “fresh cheese”, preserved and dried “Little Buddha” physalis, frozen “fresh cheese” whey with toasted hemp seeds, black sesame, amaranth, and coconut. The server plated this in front of us at the table, cutting into the cheese so the whey would drip through the mesh. The physalis (or cape gooseberry or Peruvian cherry, depending on where you’re from) came in preserved and freeze-dried forms to provide different textures.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

Drunk Katie can’t keep her camera still!

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
peach with lemon agastache & basil

Peach poached with lemon agastache flowers and verjus, basil and sorrel creme, marinated peach, and basil beignets with basil sugar.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
basil beignets

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
raspberries with roses, fig leafes & sesamy

Raspberries marinated with rose-vinegar, set sesamy milk, fig leaf snow, rose petals preserved in apple vinegar, “weinviertler” water leaf, and baked raspberries with sesamy.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark
medlar, violets and crepes

Crispy deep fried crepe with Japanese medlar (or loquat fruit) and violet jam and powdered candied violets, strawberry mint, lemon verbena, and violet petals marinated with violet syrup and medlar juice, medlar kernel and violet ice cream. This was an extra course the restaurant brought us just to try, in case our stomachs hadn’t exploded already.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

Another gift from the restaurant, these were traditional poppy seed noodles that were too savory for me for dessert, but my Polish boyfriend with all of his poppy seed desserts at family holidays loved them.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

We’d seen this cart at other tables in the restaurant, with a distinctive buzzing sound emanating from its core. BEES! I was so sure it was just a recording but wanted so badly for a restaurant to just be casually wheeling a live hive around the place. The lady at the table closest to us was so scared of being attacked, though, that her server had to show her the little speaker inside to get her to calm down.

Our server pulled out the honeycomb to scoop a bit off for each of us onto little wooden spoons and then offered us tastes from each of six jars of honey made from the nectar of different flowers from different regions of the city. There was also nougat, little jars of watermelon that tasted like cubes of honey, and honey covered in white chocolate.

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

The Tasting Menu at Steirereck im Stadtpark

At seven courses for $142 and $75 for the wine pairings, Steirereck felt like a steal. The food all tasted so fresh and so full of exotic things we’d never tried before (physalis! medlar! crunchy pepperleaf balls!), and the service was somehow exactly what we wanted all of the time. When I sneezed, I was handed a package of luxurious Relais & Chateaux tissues, and each dish was accompanied by a card with the title of the dish, a description of the ingredients in it, and then notes about elements like reinanke that we may not have seen before. But when we wanted to have a drunken good time with the staff, the white gloves came off. The allergen spread is one of the most memorable things I’ve ever eaten, and I loved the way the restaurant had plenty of those novelty moments to delight our eyes but also made sure the food stood up to the experience. All in all, this was just what I would expect from a many-Michelin-starred restaurant in the U.S., only everyone had great accents and we were sitting on the Danube.

Howl at the Moon in NYC
Nov 24th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

Howl at the Moon invited me to bring a few friends to the grand opening of their new Times Square location, and as a person who loves singing her face off unabashedly in public, I gratefully obliged. It’s a massive (for NYC) open space with a bar at the center, pianos up front, and a wraparound balcony full of leather couches on the second level where you’ll get the best view and the most room to dance. The free drinks were flowing fast and strong that night, and the mini burgers and fried cheese cubes were hot and plentiful.

But what really stood out is how crazy friendly the service was. The servers who brought our drinks were overwhelmingly nice, and when some sloppy guy spilled a glass of wine where we were hanging out, it was about three seconds before someone came to clean it up. I don’t know if they were just trying to impress the grand opening guests or if they want to be known for good service in a city where indifference is the norm, but it was noticeable to me.

When the music began and the audience started writing their requests on slips of paper and putting them on the pianos, we heard everything from Adele to Michael Jackson to Eminem to Bruno Mars to (WTF) a song from The Lion King. Their rapping white guy left us speechless, and one of their piano players seemed to be able to sound exactly like anyone he wanted to. The mostly elderly people in the place were the first ones to start dancing, but the entire crowd was up and singing along by the end of the night, and I don’t think it was just the free drinks.

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Howl at the Moon NYC

Chef Dave Santos’s Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up
Nov 10th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

Chef Dave Santos may be a free agent since closing his West Village restaurant, Louro, this summer, but he’s not taking any time off. I was lucky enough to get a reservation at his Nashville hot chicken pop-up in the Manhattan location of Bark Hot Dogs last week, where he was serving whole fried chickens using his special recipe that even the Tennesseeans in the room said was better than what they’ve had back home. My friends and I got two whole chickens with pickles, cole slaw, baked beans, and potato salad, but we also couldn’t resist Dave’s fried chicken sandwiches and Bark’s super cheap pitchers of beer. The people around us who hadn’t reserved the whole chickens were oohing and ahhing over our tray of crispy battered thighs and drumsticks, and some of them even asked to take pictures. The only complaint I heard is that this was only a pop-up and we can’t have Dave’s hot chicken every day.

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs
so crispy and glistening

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs
a line back to the entrance of people waiting for hot chicken sandwiches

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs
so good we had to take some home to eat later!

Dave Santos Nashville Hot Chicken Pop-Up at Bark Hot Dogs

The New Momofuku Ko
Jul 27th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

You wouldn’t know it from reading my blog, but Momofuku Ko is the restaurant I’ve been to most in NYC. I only ever reviewed my first meal there, because their no-photo policy meant that my reviews would just be words, and my dearest friends have let me know that no one cares about my writing. But I loved Ko for its creativity, its super-relaxed atmosphere where jeans were recommended and the soundtrack included everything from 70s prog rock to 80s alternative to current hip hop, and the way its counter seating allowed you to talk to your chef as he used tweezers to top your miso ice cream cone with puffed black rice. It was my favorite restaurant in NYC, so I was understandably worried when what everyone is calling “Ko 2.0” opened with its much-much-huger space, its revamped menu with a higher price and no extended lunch option, and its attempts at wringing that third star from Michelin.

The first big change I noticed when I walked in with my boyfriend is that service seems to be a bigger deal at the new Momofuku Ko. Someone was there to hold the door open for us when we entered, and it wasn’t a long-bearded hipster who would also act as our sommelier for the night. The general manager, Su, then checked the computer for our reservation (there’s no more printing out your confirmation at home and having to show it at the door), led us to our seats at the counter, and made friendly conversation with us.

At the old Ko, the seats were small wooden benches with no cushion and no back. They looked streamlined and minimalist pushed under the counter, but they didn’t seem so cool after twelve courses. The new Ko has tall stools with comfortable seats and leather backs that you can melt into with your after-dinner cocktail and your full belly. There’s also a gorgeous dark-wood counter now that looks richer than the blonde wood at the old Ko, and you’ll now get a printed menu in a textured cover at the end of the meal. So that extra money you’re paying now is being well-spent, and Michelin is sure to notice that Ko is now way, way more comfortable than Brooklyn Fare is.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

We started off with a bottle of Riesling

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

and then took in the sights of the new kitchen and chatted with the chef in front of us while we waited for our first course:

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

And then, the food:

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
pommes soufflees

A Ko classic that keeps evolving, this little fried potato tube was filled with creamy pimiento cheese. Imagine eating a Lay’s cheddar potato chip, only way more delicious. And where you can only have one instead of half the bag.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
apple, beet

A sweet little beet ball with the lasting tang of citrus. Followed by a slice of apple with the sting of horseradish, topped with smoky, crunchy rice.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
lobster paloise, tartlet

The tiniest “lobster roll” with an unexpected mint finish (though not unexpected if you, unlike me, know what a paloise sauce is) tasted so fresh next to richer–but not any bigger–Caesar salad boat filled with avocado mousse. The woman next to us told me to put my very small iPhone in the shot to show how incredibly, incredibly adorable these little dollhouse dishes were.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
vegetable roll

This Arctic char roll hit us with jalapeño first, then cucumber to cool it down. The freshness of herbs finished off every bite.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
millefeuille

Like the teeniest triple-decker sandwich, this was miniature toasted bread with a little hint of brine. Our palates missed the green tea on top because of the overwhelming toasty taste, but I sure did like squashing the roe with the layers of cracker.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
madai – consomme, shiso

I always think of Ko when I have madai thanks to the plate of sashimi included in their old lunch service that inevitably included some brand new take on the fish every time. Chef Carey wouldn’t tell us what he was misting the bowl with before he served it to us, but the scent of shiso filled our airspace. It turned out to be a spray bottle full of “shiso essence” he had, which we should all inquire about buying from them as perfume. Little bits of jalapeño and lime caviar made for occasional bursts of flavor in an otherwise very subtle dish of consomme jelly.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
scallop – bamboo, almond

This was one of the most memorable dishes of the night, which isn’t surprising, since it reminded me of the wonderful halibut in whey I had at Atera. That was back in 2012, and I still vividly remember the experience of eating it. This was a New Jersey(!) scallop with an almond milk sauce that was slightly starchy to give some texture to the dish. The bamboo was tender, not woody, and the little slivers of green pepper packed so much perfectly-paired flavor that I felt I could’ve eaten a whole bowl of them. I can’t wait to eat this one again sometime.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
razor clam – pineapple, basil

This was a razor clam for anyone who’s afraid of the way it looks in its long tampon of a shell. This is one of the main reasons I love fine dining: eating things I wouldn’t necessarily seek out otherwise but having them presented so beautifully that I can’t resist them. The little slices of clam had a little chew to them, while the basil seeds were super slimy. The overall effect was slightly fruity and sweet thanks to the pineapple, but it was missing the little punch of flavor I expect from a good Ko dish, and we would’ve been fine had this been a very small serving, like a shot.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
razor clam slime!

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
mackerel sawarazushi – ginger, dashi ponzu

Mackerel sushi with lots of ginger and scallions. A layer of fermented sunflower added a grainy texture.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
mackerel dashi – king oyster, asian pear

This broth was made with the bones of the mackerel from the previous course’s sushi, with slivers of onion, king oyster mushroom, and Asian pear. It was really subtle, and we liked how the pear absorbed some savoryness from the other ingredients present in the bowl but a little sweetness sung through every now and then.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
sunchoke – blood orange, tarragon

This sunchoke with its skin still on was dry-aged in beef fat and did indeed look like a little morsel of meat. It was very sweet, like it was covered in a marmalade. We guessed the flavor to be apricot, but it wasn’t distinctive, just fruity and sweet next to the earthy interior of the choke. It turned out to be blood orange sauce, but we blame the restaurant for not making the flavor pronounced enough, not our own palates for not being able to discern it, OF COURSE.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
tamagoyaki – sweet potato, caviar

Sweet soft eggs with an even sweeter dollop of potato, cut with a pop of savory caviar and with crunchy wisps to contrast all of the creamy texture.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
cavatelli – nettle, aged cheddar

This ricotta cavatelli was rolled in a sauce made with stinging nettles to keep it very fresh and light despite the aged cheese flavor. I sort of felt like I was eating mossy caterpillars, but please ignore my imagination.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
bread and butter

We got a little overexcited for pure carbs and took a big hunk out of this butter for our bread before I could get a picture. The combination of the bread and black radish butter made this a sour and funky interlude.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
lobster – snap pea, citronette

More lobster! The super fresh sugar snap peas gave this a bright crunch next to the rich, buttery seameat.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
foie gras – lychee, pine nut, riesling jelly

I’ve had this every time I’ve been to Ko and hope to have it every time for life. The foie gras is shaved cold into the bowl and then melts as it mixes with the jelly, pine nut brittle, and whole fruit slices. I thought it was better than ever, and the chef told me it might be because they’re not plating it using cold bowls anymore. I love the idea that something like the bowl temperature could affect the taste for me.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
duck – lime pickle, xo

When I got this slice of duck breast, the lady next to me at the counter learned over and told me to savor it. It was sweet and sour, peppery, and had a thick crunchy top and bottom, like there was a piece of brittle on both sides. I never got used to the pungent lime pickle, in that every single bite was as delicious as the first. The side of XO vegetables reminded me of the first time I ever had XO sauce, which also happened to be the homemade one at the old Ko. This dish was maybe the best thing I’ve eaten at Ko yet, and you can bet I did savor it while that lady watched me in envy.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
vegetables in XO sauce

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
sorrel – rhubarb, elderflower

If you’ve ever wondered what it’d taste like if you stuck an entire garden in your mouth, this is the dessert for you. The sorrel ice cream tasted exactly as green as it looked, but its savoryness was offset by the sweet diced rhubarb, which also added texture. The cake had a slightly crunchy, caramelized exterior, and it was entirely unfair that they hollowed out the middle of this for the ice cream, because I needed every last crumb.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
huckleberry – laurel bay, bee pollen

I had no idea what bee pollen was before I ate it, and I’m not sure I could even fully explain it to you now. It’s pollen, nectar from whatever the bee was collecting the pollen from, and bee spit, all made into a little pellet by the worker bees for some reason. I have no idea why we would ever eat this, except oh wait, yes, I do–because it’s delicious. It was crunchy and tasted like honey, and this dessert would’ve been nothing without it. The funky creme fraiche made this a challenging dessert if you’re someone who wants ice cream and frosting after a meal, but the huckleberry sorbet was just sweet enough with the bee pollen to top it off.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
mignardises

To finish, we had chocolate cookies that tasted like the herbal liqueur Fernet-Branca and a sunflower macaron that tasted like buttered popcorn. And then we got a little drunker and hung out, just enjoying the sights of the kitchen.

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
old-fashioned

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC
a space to the side for larger parties

The Tasting Menu at Momofuku Ko, NYC

So did I need to be worried about missing the old Momofuku Ko? Well, not really. I did miss some of the cutesy things that Ko used to do, the novelty things like the miso ice cream cone, the bento with the pork fat rice ball, or the lunchbox with fried chicken. It was fun to reminisce with Executive Chef Sean about the soft shell crab sandwich I once had in the early days, and even he seemed a little nostalgic about the magic they made over in that tiny kitchen on 1st Avenue. But Ko 2.0 is legit fine dining now. It’s comfortable, it’s beautiful, and all of the extras–from the printed menu to the mignardises you’d get at Per Se or Eleven Madison Park–are included.

Plus, with the huge kitchen upgrade, so much more food is being made right in front of you now. We watched a duck being carved, fruits being juiced, fish being finished on a Japanese charcoal grill–all things that would’ve happened behind the scenes at the old Ko. Ko used to be about watching beautiful pre-prepared things being plated from little boxes, but now it’s about also watching things actually get cooked.

And the bones of the old Ko are still holding the place up. You’ll still hear Radiohead, The Cure, and Cat Stevens on the soundtrack, and you’ll still get really delicious, sort of Asian, very tiny, extremely imaginative, wildly well-composed plates of food. And hey, with all of the extra space, you can actually get a reservation now.

Momofuku Ko
8 Extra Place
New York, NY 10003 (map)

The New Red Hook Lobster Pound
May 18th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

If you live outside of NYC and know about the neighborhood of Red Hook, it’s for one of two reasons: the IKEA or “The Real World: Brooklyn”. It became one of my favorite parts of the borough to visit after my I convinced my roommate to drive us down there one summer night at sunset when I was trying to make him my boyfriend and thought cramming key lime pie on a stick in our faces would be very romantic. I figured out in the process that Red Hook is really only a 45-minute walk or a 15-minute bus ride from Downtown Brooklyn, enjoys beautiful views of Manhattan, and also boasts the newly-expanded and increasingly-awesome Red Hook Lobster Pound.

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

I went to the Lobster Pound a few times in the last couple of years, and until recently, it was just a tiny storefront offering a couple of lobster roll options and nowhere to sit. But now it’s a full-service sit-down restaurant with rolls, salads, burgers, hot dogs, fish sandwiches, chowders, whole lobsters, lobster dip, lobster cheese fries, and most importantly, beer to wash it all down with.

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

My friend started with a Narragansett beer in an adorable glass,

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

while I had a very tart gin cocktail with soda and lime.

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

My friend ordered the $20 Connecticut-style lobster rolls because she’s not a fan of the mayo on a Maine-style roll and liked how this was just lightly dressed in butter and lemon to let the lobster flavor shine through, while I got the $19 lobster Cobb salad (“Cobbster”) that was legitimately two meals. It had less lobster than a roll, but it made up for it with piles of bacon, crunchy onions, crumbled egg, and blue cheese. And for those of you torn between the roll and the salad, there’s also the “bikini style” roll, which comes on lettuce instead of bread. In case you want to take a dip in the Gowanus afterward. (Word of caution: you do not.)

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

The decor of the new place is reclaimed-looking and beachy, with a much-talked-about bathroom with funhouse mirrors and whooshing ocean sounds that may make you seasick, so use it before you chow down on that fish & chips.

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

And afterward, don’t forget to explore the neighborhood, which is a mix of industrial and adorable, with tons of street art and plant life and the Statue of Liberty across the water at sunset. Can you get over how ~Brooklyn~ it is?

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

Red Hook Lobster Pound, NYC

Afternoon Tea at The Pierre Hotel
Mar 27th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

A couple of my ladyfriends and I decided to get really into tea recently. We read all of the articles about the best high tea services in NYC, prepared ordered lists of our must-visit teahouses, purchased embroidered silk gloves and dusted the mothballs off our party dresses. And then managed to go to exactly one tea service. But afternoon tea at The Pierre Hotel overlooking Central Park was exactly what we were picturing when we set out to drink some tea and eat some tiny sandwiches.

The Pierre hosts tea in its Two E Bar/Lounge every day from 3 to 5 p.m. with a couple of options so you can choose from expensive, really expensive, or extra expensive with Champagne. The three of us obviously opted for the Champagne, which was poured from individual bottles by our friendly yet extremely polished waiter,

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

and then we admired the fine flatware

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

and the posh crown-molded surroundings while we waited for our tower of treats to arrive.

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

I chose a pot of the bergamot-scented Pierre Blend for my tea

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

and immediately made it unrecognizable with milk and sugar.

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Three of each kind of finger sandwich, cookie and scone, and pastries arrived and wowed us with their imposing size, but we hadn’t eaten breakfast and eventually devoured every bit of it over the next four hours.

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Here’s the complete menu:

Catskill Smoked Salmon on Rye Bread, Balsamic Onions & Sour Cream
Boursin Cheese & Asparagus Crostini with Tomato Jam
Spiced Chicken Tartlet
Dates & Babaganoush Crepes
American Caviar & Buckwheat Blinis
English Cucumber with Dill Cream Cheese
Deviled Eggs Brioche Buns with Red Sorrel

Cranberry Scones
With Devonshire Cream, Raspberry Preserves and Fresh-made Lemon Curd
Walnut Cream Sugar Squares
Lemon Apricot Sandwiches
Chocolate Sand Cookies

Fresh Raspberry Tartlets
Red Cherry Financiers
Fresh Blueberry Tartlets
Grand Marnier Chocolate Madeleines
Coffee Opera Cake
Lemon Meringue Tarts
Coffee & Strawberry Macarons

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

We eventually stayed so long that the lights dimmed and we decided some $18 cocktails were in order. None of us could resist the GinGin, a combination of Hendricks Gin, Canton Ginger Liqueur, mint, cucumber juice, fresh squeezed lime juice, and ginger ale.

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

It was served with fresh fried potato chips and huge luxurious chunks of Parmesan cheese, which we certainly needed after that mere literal tower of food we ate earlier.

Afternoon Tea Service at The Pierre Hotel, NYC

There seem to be two kinds of afternoon teas in NYC: upscale English high tea and comfortable kitschy tea. Alice’s Tea Cup may be NYC’s most popular afternoon tea, and I love that I can pop in for a casual scone on a weeknight or wait on the scorching pavement with the dirty masses for 2 hours and 45 minutes on a weekend (actual Alice’s wait time when I last attempted to brunch there), but when I want fancy high tea with all of the trappings, I’ll forever think of Two E Bar/Lounge at The Pierre. It was just exactly what I expected, from the polished flatware to the caviar to being allowed to laze about for hours and slowly sip our Champagne. They make it feel like it’s worth the money. To complete the experience, there was an older couple sitting at the table next to ours where the man was wearing a suit and reading the Sunday Times and the woman was wearing pearls under her pale yellow blazer, and I didn’t see them speak a single word to each other. Nor even look at each other. So New York City!

The Pierre Hotel
2 East 61st Street
New York, NY 10065 (map)

Cosme: The Time We Basically Ate the Entire Menu
Feb 10th, 2015 by donuts4dinner

Eater called it “One of NYC’s Most Relevant New Restaurants“. The New York Times gave it three stars the very day I went. Chef Enrique Olvera has what’s considered Mexico’s best restaurant and just guest-judged an episode of “Top Chef: Boston” filmed there. This chef is hot, and you know he knows it the moment you walk in the doors of Cosme to find a bar crowded with people not there to eat but just to be. The decor is mostly black, punctuated by little pots of succulents and a direct beam of light on every table strong enough to make professional photographers and hardcore Instagrammers alike swoon. The tables are spaced so widely that you get the idea the restaurant’s more concerned about your comfort than making an extra buck–although maybe that’s why they do charge an extra buck (or ten) for everything–and I can’t remember ever hearing the conversations of anyone around us even though the electronic-tinged soundtrack wasn’t overbearing at all. It’s borderline clubby, the kind of restaurant a non-New-Yorker thinks all New York restaurants are like, but it never felt pretentious nor snooty. And the food? Well, it was tiny and very expensive, but that sure didn’t stop us from eating a lot of it.

Cosme NYC
Cosme’s menu

Cosme NYC
Tortillas, pumpkin butter

Cosme NYC
Stuffed avocado, seafood vuelve a la vida, horseradish

Cosme NYC
Mussel tostada, russian salad, chipotle mayonnaise

Cosme NYC
Uni tostada, avocado, bone marrow salsa, cucumber

Cosme NYC
Sliced raw hamachi, fermented serranos, fish sauce, black limes

Cosme NYC
Chicharron, radish, cilantro, avocado, hot sauce

Cosme NYC
Cobia al pastor, pineapple purée, cilantro

Cosme NYC
Scallop aguachile, poached jicama, fresh wasabi-cucumber-lime

Cosme NYC
Smoked raw sepia, salsa mexicana, avocado

Cosme NYC
Octopus cocktail, purple occidental corn chileatole, charred avocado, red onion

Cosme NYC
Mushroom and squash barbacoa, chilpachole, hoja santa

Cosme NYC
Eggplant tamal, fresh ricotta

Cosme NYC
Enfrijolada, ricotta, hoja santa, creme fraiche, onion

Cosme NYC
Burrata, salsa verde, weeds

Cosme NYC
Occidental purple corn pozole, pork jowl, lettuce, radish, Mexican oregano

Cosme NYC
Duck carnitas, onions, radishes, salsa verde

Cosme NYC

Cosme NYC
Cosme’s dessert menu

Cosme NYC
Chocolate ganache, mezcal, blood orange, beet sorbet

Cosme NYC
Nixtamalized carrot, cinnamon cake, cream cheese ice cream

Cosme NYC
Brioche, persimmon, ricotta, fresh peanut butter

Cosme NYC
Lemon cake, grapefruit, quince sorbet

Cosme NYC
Sweet potato flan, coffee

Cosme NYC
Husk meringue, corn mousse

Cosme NYC
2012 Riesling No. 110 Semi Dry, Boundary Breaks, Finger Lakes, NY

Cosme NYC
wall decor and A Day at elBulli

Cosme NYC
a lonely little succulent in the wee hours of the night

Most things we tried sort of tasted the same in that they were like, “Here’s something with onions and cilantro and avocado! And here’s a different thing with more onions and cilantro and avocado! And now here’s a different thing with more onions and cilantro and avocado and did we also mention onions and cilantro?” But those are the flavors I most associate with Mexico, for one, and for two, who cares when the food is so good? The first thing I tried was the mussel tostada, and I don’t care a lick about mussels in my regular, non-Enrique-Olvera life, but these were plump and tender atop a tortilla crisp and coated in that creamy chipotle mayo given even more of a kick by the sliced peppers. The hamachi, so humbly presented, was actually deep layers of sour and umami with fish sauce, bold black lime, and fermented chilis. Acids were everywhere, lemons and grapefruits and tomatoes and pineapples. One of the stunners of the night was the cobia al pastor, served with a gloopy pineapple puree that I had a notion to scoop right out of the bowl with my finger, and fresh warm tortillas for making tacos. A review I read said that the tortillas were almost flavorless to provide a blank canvas for the proteins, but my group entirely disagreed and thought that the things the chef was doing with corn were his best things.

Unfortunately, we had to fight for those tortillas. Even though we were a table of six and were ordering all but four dishes off the entire dinner and dessert menus combined, our cobia came with two tortillas. Our plate of hamachi came with five pieces. The one dessert we didn’t order never showed up at the table for us to try with a wink from the chef like it would have in the NYC restaurants with the best front of house service. I’m not really complaining about the service–our server came back to talk with me about our bottle of Riesling from the Finger Lakes that I was really enjoying–but it seems like some communication must have been lost between the server and the chef along the way. Or maybe the chef really couldn’t spare one more piece of hamachi for us.

But back to the food. While most dishes did have similar intense, punchy flavors, there were two that tasted like nothing else on the menu: the burrata and the enfrijoladas. The burrata was so light, with herbs that tasted so green and fresh it was like the cheese and all had just been dug up from the garden. The enfrijoladas, which were kind of like enchiladas but with a bean sauce that reminded me of a mole in color and texture, had this hoja santa herb in it that imparted an anise flavor I didn’t find on the other plates. I would order both of these again for sure, along with: the sepia, where thick strands of the cuttlefish acted like noodles; the octopus cocktail, where someone who loves pickled red onions as much as I do was in heaven; the eggplant tamal with its wildly acidic topping; the posole, where rich ingredients met bright broth to make for one of the most complete dishes; the cobia, the hamachi, and of course that mussels tostada.

Up for debate is the duck carnitas, which was a hefty $58 for the amount of meat you’d find in a measly four tacos but had the most beautifully rendered fatty skin over succulent dark meat. We had to add the really, really excellent hot sauce from the chicharron and some salt flakes to the duck to make it perfect, and you can obviously get great duck for a tenth of the price all over the city, but if you’re already at Cosme and spending $19 on half of a stuffed avocado, just get the duck.

Not up for debate are the desserts, which ranged from very good to I’m-never-going-to-stop-thinking-about-this. Pastry chef Jesus Perea has worked everywhere from Chef Olvera’s acclaimed restaurant in Mexico, Pujol, to Del Posto under Brooks Headley to Le Bernardin to too many of the very best restaurants in NYC to name. The brioche smothered in ricotta was almost savory at first bite and didn’t seem very special, but then suddenly the smear of fresh peanut butter took over and made it this incredibly craveable thing. The sweet potatoes in the flan gave it natural sweetness, and coffee syrup somehow didn’t overpower the potato flavor, making this a great choice for someone who likes a simple, not-sugary dessert. The lemon cake was this entire bowl of citrusy brightness, all kinds of lip-puckering in different textures. The cinnamon cake was spicy to the point that it overpowered the cream cheese ice cream, which really needed to be eaten alone to appreciate it, and appreciate it I did. The tender carrot was nixtamalized, which is apparently the same process used to make corn into hominy. (That is, it makes it softer and more delicious.) Despite the interesting preparation, though, it didn’t have enough “pop” for some of our group, which we attributed to a lack of acid in the bowl. The chocolate ganache was a table favorite, on the other hand, with its perfect sphere of beet sorbet that made it look like a delicious spaceship. The mezcal lent the chocolate this almost funky flavor, like it had gone a little sour, but we somehow wanted to keep eating it; I’m guessing it’s the kind of dessert that you either absolutely love like we did or think is semi-disgusting. (And borderline disgusting is some of the most exciting food, right?) The star of the night, though, was this beautiful cracked husk meringue with corn mousse seeping from it. All of the reviews will tell you that this is the dessert to get, and they are correct. This will probably become the dish Cosme’s known for with its naturally sweet corn whip and meringue that immediately sticks in your teeth like wet cotton candy and then melts away just as quickly. I’ll never forget you, husk meringue, no matter how fleeting you were.

So is this the most relevant food in NYC right now? Well, in a way. It cemented my love of Mexican food and reminded me that the best flavors are often the simplest: a well-placed fresh herb or a slice of pickled red onion can so easily bring a dish to new levels. And the great news is that those things can be found all over the city in hole-in-the-wall Mexican joints where a taco costs two dollars instead of twenty. (Two of my favorites right now are Tacos El Bronco in Sunset Park, introduced to me by my friend Kim, and The Original California Tacqueria, introduced to the same friend and me one Friday night when we were drunk and wandering Cobble Hill.) But you’re probably not going to get chipotle mussels there, nor noodles of smoked sepia, nor that corn meringue. Cosme is the Mexican flavors you love in ways you never imagined.

Cosme
35 East 21st Street
New York, 10010 (map)

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