• Daniel (2)
• Eleven Madison Park
• Eleven Madison Park (2)
• Eleven Madison Park (3)
• Gabriel Kreuther
• Le Bernardin
• Per Se
• Per Se (2) (extended tasting)
• Per Se (3) (vegetarian tasting)
• Per Se (4)
• Senses (Warsaw, Poland)
Here’s a secret about me: though my blog is called donuts4dinner, I find most donuts disappointing. The idea of them is always perfect in my head. They always look perfect when I see them. Even the sight of the simplest glazed donut makes me drool like a bulldog. But most of the time when I actually taste one, I realize that the idea of a donut is usually better than a donut itself. And then there’s Holey Donuts.
When they found me on Twitter and invited me to their grand opening here in NYC, I was super mega skeptical. Low-calorie, low-fat food is exactly the opposite of what I’m all about. But I’m all about donuts in any form and am always trying to find this perfect donut unicorn, so of course I planned to line up after work with stars in my eyes.
I went to the grand opening event with my friends Kim and Ash, where we were promised a box of free donuts to sample, a Holey Donuts tote bag covered in pictures of the most ridiculously good-looking donuts, and other gifts that were completely unnecessary, because they had me at “box of donuts”. The line was long, but the people surrounding us were nice, as people are wont to be where donuts–free or otherwise–are involved. When a woman wheeled out a waist-high container of juices for us to sample while we waited and accidentally spilled the entire thing, ice and all, all over the sidewalk, people came from all directions to help. And no one took advantage and stole extra purple carrot juice, as far as I could tell.
Halfway through our wait, a man from the store brought around a tray of these cinnamon bun middles, which were outrageously large for supposedly only being the middle of the bun, but we weren’t complaining. I think we all bit into them apprehensively, expecting the worst from something meant to be gluttonous but with all of the delicious fat and calories removed. And they were . . . The Best! So chewy and moist and with just the right amount of glaze to leave some to lick off our fingers when the bun itself was gone. We couldn’t believe they were just giving these things away. They ended up being Kim’s favorite thing we ate that day.
Once inside, we saw why the line was so long and slow-moving. The donuts were cooked plain and kept warm in heated racks behind the counter. When you ordered one, your pink-clad donut artist grabbed a plain donut and then topped it for you while you watched. Of course there was one large old white guy who left his place in line to yell at the girls and their manager for how long things were taking and then stomp out of the store in an old white guy huff once he was already inside and mere moments away from getting his free donuts, but for the most part, people were excited and happy to wait for fresh donuts. Sure, it took a little longer than your Dunkin Donuts, where they just grab a pre-frosted donut from a display case, but the experience of watching my donut being built was incredibly satisfying.
The counter was lined with vats of different kinds of filling,
which naturally I wanted to dunk my whole hand into a la Veruca Salt in the “Pure Imagination” scene of Willy Wonka.
They had little nozzles in front that the donut artist would shove into the center of the donut for filling. (I plan to buy one of these contraptions for my home and fill it with Trader Joe’s cookie butter.)
Next, she would bring the tray of donuts to vats of frosting and lightly press the top of the donut down into it. Then, she would scrape the donut against the side of the container to wipe most of the frosting off. This part, of course, physically hurt me to watch, but I guess that’s how they keep these things low-fat and low-calorie.
Then, she would press the frosted donut down into the topping of your choice. Finally, she would drizzle more frosting over the whole thing.
The results were BEAUTIFUL.
AND SO DELICIOUS.
Seriously, this was my unicorn donut. Where yeast donuts are so fluffy they collapse and cake donuts can be crumbly and dense, this was the perfect marriage of fluffy and substantial. What I loved most was that the donut base was more savory than sweet, adding some complexity to what could have been otherwise overtaken by the sugary frosting. I described it as a frosted dinner roll, but Ash and Kim said that didn’t do justice to what we all agreed were some of the best donuts we’d ever had.
I tried the Strawberry Frosted with pink sprinkles, a Raspberry Vanilla Truffle, and a Lemon Chunk Vanilla Frosted.
1) The strawberry was sheer fruity perfection, and I would’ve never guessed that I’d just seen half of the frosting scraped off the donut before my eyes; the proportions were exactly what I would have wanted.
2) The Raspberry Vanilla Truffle was delicious but my least-favourite of the three because of the filling. Usually the filling is the point of a donut, but this fruit filling was too chemical-y and fake-tasting for me. I couldn’t wait to finish the middle so I could go back to eating the edges made of just the regular batter, which is something I’ve never said in my life. That’s a testament to how much I liked the batter.
3) The Lemon Chunk Vanilla Frosted was my favorite, because the chunks of lemon topping started out crunchy but then immediately melted into this tangy tart liquid.
Although my friends and I agreed that these were some of the best donuts we’d ever tasted, we were all put off by the price, and that’s really the only complaint any of us had. At $21.95 for a box of 6, they come out to about $3.66 each (and don’t even look at the shipping charges if you’re ordering them online), which is way more expensive than even your most beloved NYC donut shops like Doughnut Plant. I guess sticking to your diet has its cost.
My boyfriend was in Providence, Rhode Island, for a couple of weeks on business, and people kept telling him how up and coming the food scene was. I was skeptical, because everyone from everywhere loves to tell me how comparable to NYC their town’s food scene is, but Jack took me up there to find out for myself. There were two restaurants everyone seemed to be talking about in Providence, and one of them was North.
Honestly, despite the reviews, I was convinced I wasn’t going to like it. I wanted to fine dine, and this sounded like some hipster hole-in-the-wall with a teeny menu where nothing looked interesting and nothing sounded delicious. The only thing on the menu that resembled an entree was fried chicken for two, and I didn’t want to waste one of my meals on something I can find all over NYC. Even the ramen, which I usually crave, had clams in it that made it less appealing to me. I was sort of being a sadsack.
And then I loved it.
North totally was a hipster hole-in-the-wall. There was a bar where maybe four people could sit and then a smattering of tables that were a mishmash of built-in wooden booths and the kind of laminate tables and metal chairs you see in old pizzerias. And yet I found it totally charming. There was a sort of nautical theme, and the way-too-cool servers were also really friendly and chatty. When I accidentally left the lens cap for my camera behind at the table, they were holding it behind the bar for me and seemed so relieved when I returned for it five minutes later. The witty drink menu pretty much sums up the place.
Damn. Delicious. Who knew.
I forget what they had concocted the night we went, but it was being mixed up in one of those machines you see in gas stations up by the bar. Apparently the drink changes on a daily basis and is always the thing to get.
Tiny but powerful. I love a biscuit, and I thought it was cool that they were using a Virgina ham rather than an Italian or Spanish one. But it was the mustard that really had all the flavor.
So deliciously porky, and I actually thought the chew of the clams added to the bowl! The broth was heavy with miso and so flavorful.
Everything about this dish was my dream.
1) Most of the pieces were chicken breast that they had wrapped chicken sausage around, just like the duck at Momofuku Ssam Bar here in NYC. And then they were deep-fried. So there was this perfect white meat chunk in the center of every slice, then the more flavorful sausage, then the crunchy crust.
2) A couple of the pieces were bone-in, though, so I got the best of both worlds.
3) There was a big pile of herbs to eat alongside the chicken.
4) There was also a huge spread of one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, everything bread.
I saw the “everything bread” on the menu in the description of the chicken, but it meant nothing to me. I actually thought there might be a word missing or something. Even though I live for the everything bagel. Even though one of the most memorable things I’ve eaten in NYC was the everything bagel ice cream at wd~50. Even though I have a jar of everything bagel spice in my spice cabinet. And this was actually even better than any everything bagel I’ve ever eaten. Because this was brioche from a local bakery, Foremost Baking Company, buttered and grilled so that it became a little crisp, with everything spices on the outside.
We were supposed to make little sandwiches with the bread and chicken, but I couldn’t bring myself to. I just kept eating the bread on its own and dying a little bit more with every bite. One of the most painful parts of existing in this world is the way the first bite of something is always the best bite, and every bite after is a little less exciting. This never got less exciting.
Okay, okay, the food scene in Providence is up and coming. Mostly because it reminds me of some of the best parts of the food scene in NYC. The next restaurant I went to in Providence actually reminded me of another David Chang restaurant I love, so apparently the restauranteurs of Rhode Island came to NYC one weekend, ate at all of the Momofukus, and then went back to open their new joints.
OH! OH! Stop the presses! I was actually just looking at North’s Tumblr, and it turns out that the cook and owner, James Mark, was at Momofuku Ko, my favourite of the Momofukus, when it first opened. And there’s a Momofuku Ko collaboration dinner being hosted at North next Monday as I type this. Hilarious.
And lucky for the people of Providence. This was the kind of meal you want to eat with all of your best friends, at a big table surrounded by mismatched chairs, with lots of Coke & red wine at the ready. The specifics of the dishes seem to change nightly, but the main ideas remain the same, and for good reason.
If you’ve been reading donuts4dinner since its inception, you know that the original purpose of this blog was to chronicle my rise from a farmgirl to a three-Michelin-star dining powerhouse. Well, since I became a full-time resident of a new Brooklyn neighborhood and also unemployed at the same time, I’ve been focusing on local restaurants and healthier living. It’s been great for the most part–there’s not a lot that’s more satisfying than finding delicious food that’s a short walk away–but part of me has missed the beautiful plating and mindblowing bites of the finest eateries. But then, thanks to my roommate/landlord/former co-worker/boyfriend, I found Brucie in Cobble Hill.
The menu changes nightly at Brucie, so expect to be surprised when you visit.
We were seated at the bar in front of the window looking out onto the street, where our good friend JFK the Woodprint sat watch over us. We felt like we saw him give us a thumbs-up after we placed our order.
My boyfriend ordered this because he said the version he had the first time he visited a couple of weeks ago was so good. The funny thing is that halfway through the dish, he remembered that one of his friends had actually ordered it and that he’d only had a bite or two. It’s not that he didn’t like the calamari, but he didn’t really want to eat a whole bowl of squid. The extra funny thing is that I sort of did want to eat a whole bowl of squid and actually might order this myself when we return to Brucie. It was classic Mediterranean with the capers, lemon, dill, and tomato, and just really fresh and light. The dill especially was a knockout. And not a drip was wasted thanks to the fresh bread served with it.
Nothing against neighborhood eateries, but I was a little shocked when this gorgeously plated appetizer showed up at the table. I was dying to dig into it thanks to all of those colors and textures, but I composed delicate forkfuls for myself like a lady. I actually ordered this dish specifically because I don’t like olives and wanted to challenge myself, figuring that making them into a jam would temper the sour flavor a bit. But no, these were straight-up oil-cured olives, no tempering to be had. And I actually thought they added to the dish next to the charred flavor of the crisp lemon peel. The lentils weren’t much more than a textural element, but the taste of the sweet Marcona almonds and the savory herbs made this such a complete dish.
Just showing off that charred peel that I loved so much.
In the reviews I read of Brucie before our visit, so many of the commenters recommended the chicken “in whatever form”, so even thought the brisket and porchetta were calling to me, I’m so glad we listened to the reviews and tried this dish. The chef delivered it to our table and told us it was a “funky” chicken, and we weren’t sure if she was referring to the ingredients in it or the fact that James Brown was playing over the speakers. I didn’t necessarily find this chicken very funky, but I did find it REALLY, REALLY DELICIOUS. It was a half a chicken, skin crisped and dripping butter. The risotto fritter was all butter and cheese and creamy. The apple was butter-browned and tasted like it might have just been plucked from a pie. But it was the Brussels sprouts that really got us. They were confit, the server told us, and boy, were they. They were just soaked in fat, nearly mushy because of it. My eyes were rolling back into my head as I ate them. I love Brussels sprouts, but these were just so beyond what I’ve eaten. Only the supremes of fresh Meyer lemon and the zing of the red onion kept this from being too rich.
Honestly, the meal I had at Brucie was a five-star meal of the inexpensive variety. It was some of the best local food I’ve eaten in a long time, and I have absolutely no complaints about it, only accolades. But I hesitate to give it five donuts just because I didn’t try any pasta and I didn’t try any dessert there, and those seem like kind of a big deal for an Italian place. I can’t wait to go back and try another preparation of chicken, though, so this won’t be my last Brucie review. And Wednesday nights at Brucie are Italian ramen nights, which I won’t be able to resist much longer. The restaurant had a cool Brooklyn vibe with its novelty wallpaper, 60s soundtrack, and hipster waitresses, but the food was totally serious and careful and could stack up to some of the finest meals I’ve eaten in terms of flavor.
We’ve long had Gramercy Tavern on our list simply because it’s a part of the Danny Meyer/Union Square Hospitality family of restaurants that includes Shake Shack, The Modern, and formerly Eleven Madison Park. With the Shake Shack burger being my favourite in NYC and Eleven Madison Park my third-favourite restaurant in all of NYC, my expectations for the $58 lunch tasting menu were high and were met both in the food and the service.
So citrusy, with a highlight of celery and a little crunch from the kohlrabi and fried onions.
So tender, with the crispy quinoa for contrast. I eat a lot of quinoa because it acts like a grain without actually being a grain, but its use here as a texture element and broth-thickener was one of the best I’ve seen. Despite the heavy flavor of the coconut broth, this was so well-balanced that everything from the shrimp to the bok choy came through.
A hearty fish preparation, with chewy barley and mushroom, that thick halibut steak, salty caviar, and the flavor that made the dish for me, onion. The sauce had just enough lobster flavor but not enough to drown the halibut.
Salty and black peppery, with a crispy-skinned duck, slightly al dente lentils, and that meaty, chewy mushroom. The whole dish had a rich, umami flavor where even the celery puree had notes of earthy lentils in it.
Sour notes, with fresh tangerine, creamy panna cotta, and the crunch of pomegranate seeds and meringue. I love overly-tart desserts, but my boyfriend, who does not, loved that this was more balanced than the palate cleansers we’re used to.
We loved the light, moist coconut layer in the center of this dense, rich cake. The toasted coconut marshmallows and salty butter pecan ice cream with caramelized nuts added extra-sweet and savory-salty notes.
Super-intense peanut butter flavor! The semifreddo was like a mousse in texture but with the temperature of ice cream. We loved the overall saltiness, the crunch of the caramelized peanuts, and the chewy macaron. Regular macaron filling without the hot fudge to dip it in won’t compare after this.
Coffee chocolate, coconut-cardamom macaron, cinnamon cookie.
We ate this lunch the day after our lunch tasting at Babbo, and I was left wondering after Gramercy Tavern why we aren’t lunch-tasting all of the time. $58 each bought us some really well-composed, really delicious plates of food, and everyone else seemed to be there for business lunch, so the staff doted on us as we talked about celery and butter pecan instead of exit strategies and being proactive. The restaurant has a very relaxed, American feel while looking like a room in a Medieval castle, and the servers’ attitudes match the vibe. With the way Chef Michael Anthony and the kitchen at Gramercy Tavern seem to know just the right little touches to complete a dish–crispy quinoa here, onion there–I’d love to go back for the full tasting at dinnertime.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I called our first visit to Daniel back in 2011 “as close to perfect a meal as Kamran and I have had in NYC”. It was our first time at a restaurant with three Michelin stars and our first time eating one of these over-the-top, wine-paired, France-fueled tasting menus.
Since then, we’ve been to all but one of the three-Michelin-starred places (if anyone wants to put in a good word for Masa, I’m listening) and have basically had so much good food that we’ve started to question whether or not it’s been a mistake to ruin ourselves for mediocre food, so we decided it was time to go back to Daniel and see if our first time still holds up.
This is the six-course tasting for $195 (with an added cheese course for $50), paired with wine for $105:
Mostly salmony but with just a hint of that bitter rye flavor.
Creamy/crunchy/chewy textures, with chive oil at the bottom to add to and contrast with the flavor of the onion jam on top.
The most perfect, most singular bite of shrimp, with citrus flavor and the crunch of the confit parsnip chip below.
Pretty gamey-tasting with a ham-like texture that made this like enjoying a charcuterie plate, sour gelee, and a very fresh, almost vegetal-flavored pistachio oil swipe.
Sweet and creamy, with crisp brioche toast points. This was the gentler counterpart to the funky squab thanks to its sweet onions and crisp pears, which I love the texture of in any dish but especially in very homogenous ones.
This was one of my favourite dishes on both visits. Not only is crab just simply delicious, but Daniel knows just the fresh elements to pair with it to make it really sing, for lack of a better metaphor. Subtle and sweet with a vinegary celery sauce to make it bright. I don’t think anything was better for me all night than that first forkful of crab, celery leaves, and crisp apple.
These tender hunks of fish were served cold and had much stronger flavors than their crab counterpart thanks to a meaty mussel sauce and brunoise of bold chorizo. A combination of fresh and wilted leaves gave it differing textures.
My first frog! Except for the lollipop, which seemed more familiar due to its breading, I thought this had its own slightly aquatic flavor and didn’t just “taste like chicken”. The texture of the smaller bits reminded me a lot of sweetbreads with the way it was chewy and segmented. I loved the deep stew-like flavors of the this and the texture of the crispy kale.
Have I mentioned that Daniel really knows what they’re doing with shrimp? The sweet shellfish flavor was so strong in this despite the relatively bold flavors of fennel and olive. It was so buttery and familiar, less exciting than the frog legs but more comforting. I think I’m finally getting used to the taste of olives, too, because when I tasted them in this dish, it was more “that’s what an olive tastes like” than “eww, what is that weird gross flavor?” Grownup!
Our first time at Daniel, we were impressed by the way the kitchen made tuna taste like steak and sole taste like chicken, and this was another instance of their uncanny ability to bring the sea to land. It was just so much like eating a piece of steak, and the fava bean/chickpea cake was such the perfect starch to accompany it with its crispy exterior and dense middle. I loved the buttery Brussels sprout, the fresh garbanzos, and just the slightest heat from the sauce.
Not really a kale flan but more like a crumbly kale cookie, with fresh bitter kale leaves on top. Deliiiiicious little cylinder of creamy potatoes with a crunchy shell. Sticky, dark sauce. The only misstep for me was the lack of crispy skin on the fish; the other elements on the plate were simply much more interesting than the sea bass.
What’s more luxurious than a plate full of different kinds of baby cow? The tenderloin was tender, but the blanquette must have started cooking before that little veal was even born to have made it so buttery soft. The sweetbreads were very familiar inside, but the coating was this thick, flour-heavy batter I haven’t tasted before. Even the herbs themselves were salty and delicious; a lot of care was clearly put into this dish.
I loved that this dish and the veal were just pure hunks of meat, unadulterated but for some sauce. The sticky sweet tender shortrib was such the perfect juxtaposition to the hard-seared wagyu. The chestnuts provided just enough texture contrast to the purées but were still softened and sweet.
The frommelier (apparently this is a totally real word used to describe the fromage version of the wine sommelier) brought her cheese cart around to our table and named each selection. We knew we wanted the super-stinky Époisses de Bourgogne but otherwise left ourselves in her hands and received a plate with six different kinds ranging from firm to soft and sweet to stinky and goaty to sheepy to cowy. Slices of bread, apricots, cherries, and the sweetest red wine gelee accompanied them, and when we couldn’t begin to finish the plate, everything was wrapped up for us to take home.
I secretly think meringue is too simple and bland when anything else is available, but this dessert really worked for me. The layers of whipped cream and cold meringue were so creamy and sweet, and then the fruits on the side packed a sour punch. I loved the guava gel specifically as someone who’s into tart flavors enough to go around sucking on lemons.
served with Château Pajzos 5 Puttonyos Aszú, Tokaji 2003
This was the same chocolate cake I had back in 2011. The crunchy exterior gave way to a gooey molten center that oozed out onto the plate. Simple. But perfect.
served with Domaine de Rancy Rivesaltes Ambré, Roussillon 1996
Last time, we were celebrating my boyfriend finishing law school. This time, we weren’t celebrating anything special, but the kitchen still sent us this extra dessert. We saw a lot of extra desserts going around that night, many with little notes written in chocolate on the plates. It’s little touches like this that make Daniel feel special. The fact that I especially loved this because of the super-sour lime gel didn’t hurt, either.
The Michelin Guide calls Daniel “luxury in the traditional style”, and I really think that’s the best description. It’s purely elegant here, not in the modern and simple Per Se way but in the over-the-top and grand Bouley way. The dining room is completely windowless, creating this very protected and intimate feel, and the sunken center means that diners on the perimeter have a view of what everyone else is doing. I’m sure it doesn’t compare to dining in the skybox overlooking the kitchen, but I felt pretty regal at my spot along the wall on a plush banquette lit only by a candle and being served by friendly-yet-professional Frenchies. Pretty close to perfect indeed.
Despite being a hick from the heartland, I’ve never cared a lick for fried chicken. We didn’t eat it when I was growing up on the farm, because we were too busy enjoying the beef and pork we raised, and then I became a princess who liked all of her meat already off the bone. But after visiting California a few years ago and forcing myself to order the eponymous dish at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, I realized that maybe it was worth a little bone to have a juicier, more flavorful chicken.
And then I became blogfriends with Han of Handi-Eats, whose every other blog post is about fried chicken in NYC. She recommended the year-old Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter most recently, and I couldn’t stop thinking about the pecan pie bread pudding the menu promised, so I fought against my natural desire to not leave the house before 8 p.m. on Saturdays and met my boyfriend and our friend Nik there for brunch.
My first impression of the place was all about relief. The reviews online had made it seem like some divey place with no tables and a wait that would make lesser women gnaw on their hands for nourishment. Instead, it was this rustic-looking open room with white walls, dark floors, plenty of sunlight, five or six tables lining one wall, and a counter for eight or ten diners in front of a bar on the other wall. And people, the bathroom smelled good. I was immediately in love and daydreamed about myself living in Alphabet City and coming every Saturday morning to sit by myself at the counter, eat some bird, and chat with the super-friendly waitress.
The three of us ordered the fried chicken supper for four with ginger ales and sweet teas all around, and here’s what we got:
Twelve pieces of white and dark meat spread across two platters that sort of overwhelmed us when they arrived at the table. The skin was so well-seasoned and crisp, and the meat underneath juiced all over my hands. The huge, perfect pieces of breast were my favourite; peeling the skin back and revealing the smooth white meat felt like unwrapping a gift, and even the very centers of them, so far from the bone, were still succulent.
For the three sides included in the meal, we (I) chose macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and cheddar grits. Each of them was better than expected, with little extras like the crunchy topping on the mac & cheese and the scallions on the grits that made them special. We all loved the potato salad with its chopped peppers, agreed that the tangy cole slaw was too good not to be mentioned on the menu itself, and couldn’t get enough of the warm biscuits with honey.
We were way too full for dessert (and had enough leftover chicken to feed a fourth person), but we bravely forged ahead and ordered the pecan pie bread pudding and the banana pudding. The bread pudding truly was reminiscent of pecan pie, right down to the nuts that don’t get stuck in your teeth and the sweet, sweet caramel drizzle. But truthfully, I liked the banana pudding even more. My boyfriend thought it was too thin and soupy, but even he couldn’t deny how delicious it was. Even the whipped cream on top was something special.
From what I saw of its uncrowded tables at prime brunchtime on a Saturday, Bobwhite Counter is one of those rare New York City restaurants that’s doing everything right without anyone noticing. Maybe it’s the Avenue C location far from the subway, or maybe it’s just that East Village kids can only go out at night, but whatever it is, I’m sorry for Bobwhite and happy for me. I’m going to take all of my friends here in groups of four until I’ve had every combination of fried chicken, sandwiches, sides, and desserts that exists. Your invitation is in the mail.
wd~50 is one of the first restaurants my boyfriend and I visited once we agreed that while some couples exercise together and some couples vacation together, we were going to be a couple who ate really fantastically over-the-top meals together. We celebrated our second anniversary with a few savory courses and the five-course dessert tasting and then went back for the full tasting menu, which included dishes that we still talk about years later as iconic examples of molecular gastronomy.
When we heard that the menu format had changed to celebrate wd-50’s ninth anniversary, we knew it was time to go back again. The “From the Vault” menu is five of the most memorable courses from the restaurant’s past for $75, but we opted for the new twelve-course tasting menu for $155 with wine pairings:
Salsify, the root of a plant, as rice? It wasn’t unconvincing, and knowing that salsify is said to taste like oysters, using it as the base of a seafood dish is so clever. There was a heavy lime component to this, and the crisp texture of the sesame paired well with the springier fish and “rice”.
It seems like a bit of a cop-out to hide the lobster roe in the dough, but no one would mistake this for plain old pasta. Not only because of the color (lobster roe is called “coral” for a reason), but also it was funky–not just salty like fish roe is but a little organy. Sweet, light grapes and sour pickled onion cut the richness of the buttery lobster coins nestled below.
Pho, the Vietnamese soup, has never been of any interest to me despite my boyfriend’s attempts at tempting me with it whenever we order Vietnamese takeout, because a) soup in general is dumb, and b) drowning good beef in water is dumb. Plus, pho–this one included–is so cumbersome to eat between slurping the noodles and spilling the broth and losing the meat at the bottom of the bowl. But this one was worth it. The broth was so wonderfully belly-warming and anise-flavored that I suddenly wished it was cold winter night in front of the space heater (not quite as romantic as a fireplace, but good luck finding that in NYC). The dwarf bush basil added so much to the dish that any bite without it seemed wasted. We loved the spicy lime-hoisin sauce under the puffed tendon on the side of the plate, but the real star was the tendon itself, which was like eating a really buttery packing peanut. The foie fell apart under my fork and made the broth richer and creamier than any traditional pho’s.
The New York Times tells me that the “amaro” portion of this dish is the “yolk of a duck egg that’s been bathed in amaro, the strident Italian spirit, after having been cured for six hours in salt and sugar so that its texture thickens”. But that’s not important. What’s important is that the thick, gelatinous yolk at the center of this nest of carrot shavings mixes with the fatty chicken confit to make the richest, most flavorful chicken. The peas–made of compressed carrot covered in “pea powder”–were firm, almost crunchy, while the carrot “pasta” was tender and sweet.
If you’ve ever tasted honey mustard pretzels, you know what it’s like to eat mustard meringue. Meringue cookies are one of the least-satisfying desserts I can think of, but savory meringue cookies are an extra-interesting way to condiment a pile of lunch meat. The mustard was the perfect spicy compliment to the herbaceous za’tar and its sumac flavor that my boyfriend recognized from his family’s Persian cooking. The sweet plum added great texture, but all of the flavors of the dish muted the veal, which I wanted to have an even punchier, pastrami-like flavor.
Chilled crab made for such a nice contrast to the crisp saffron cake, which brought to mind the warmer climates the kaffir lime also suggested. Crab lovers may find the saffron overpowering, but saffron lovers will be salivating uncontrollably.
To be absolutely fair, this dish made me appreciate black licorice in a way I never have with Easter jelly beans. To be absolutely honest, I only remember this dish because of how unremarkable it was. The fish had been poached and was basically flavorless; I’m really not sure why it hadn’t been at least grilled. It became nothing more than a vessel for transporting the pil pil sauce, which was luckily very balanced and not at all overwhelmingly bitter. The fried green tomato mostly tasted like its breading, which was quite a relief to this tomato-hater. This was an unfortunate misstep in a restaurant we associate with bold flavors (foie gras with a passion fruit center!).
It was Chef Wylie Dufresne who first made me like sweetbreads back in 2008 with his fried version paired with beets, so I was expecting a lot going into this dish and truthfully wasn’t all that in love. I liked the sauce the sweetbreads were rolled in, but their texture was not only not what I’ve come to expect from them but also just not that pleasant. When I think sweetbreads, I think of the ones from Momofuku Ssam Bar, which I described as “sweet and creamy inside, spicy and crispy on the outside, with a kick from the lemon segments arranged on top . . . like fried chicken, if chicken had the texture of custard”. These were more like little pellets of dry, chalky meat substitute, smooshed together to form what looked like owl upchuck. The pistachio brittle and zucchini were a relief after that, as were the very peppery nasturtium leaves.
Thank god this dish arrived next and canceled out any disappointment I had about the previous two courses (and oh, just wait for the desserts!). We were expecting ribs: you know, meat still on the bone, sauce all over our hands and mouths, not enough wetnaps in the world to clean us. But this was bacony, smoky pork deboned, cooked overnight, and formed into this lovely little slab fit for fine dining. The root beer was evident in the sauce, its flavors highlighted by the spice in the apricot spread. The rye really tasted bitter and wheaty and desperately needed the sweetness of the spread; together, they were complex and hearty. The filling, homey components of this dish made for such a nice contrast to the lighter dishes earlier in the progression.
You know how people always say, “This dish was a revelation,” when they mean, “I’m too lazy to describe to why this dish was good”? This dish was actually a revelation for me. I only started eating cucumbers a few years ago, and I only started liking them even more recently, so the idea that I would not just like a cucumber dessert but love it and love it even more than the chocolate-marshmallow dessert is astounding. And in fact, I loved this more than I’ve ever loved any of the Per Se palate cleansers. There were little cubes of the sweetest honeydew under that thick, salty, frozen cucumber disc, mixed into a creamy Chartreuse custard. Tapping through the disc with my spoon was like cracking the top of a creme brulee. The celery leaves made the cucumber taste sweet, and the cucumber made the honeydew taste sweet, and I’ve never liked any of them more than in this dish.
wd~50 has taken away its a la carte menu option but is serving two dishes for $25 and every additional dish for $15 at the bar, so you can bet I’m going to see if I can order this there.
This beautiful cloud-like puff of ice milk deflated under my fork like a sponge cake would and melted into the crunchy crust underneath. Seeing yuzu on any menu perks me up, and its sour citrus flavor was such a complement to these sweet, sweet ripe berries. The basil puree, something I’d usually salivate at the idea of, was so salty that I almost found it too savory; I probably would’ve preferred some boring basil leaves.
With a smoky flavor throughout, especially in the edible cocoa stick, this was authentic as a s’more could be while still remaining totally frou-frou. The crispy chocolate wafer absorbed the rich ganache underneath, the thin ice cream melted and became a glaze for the browned marshmallow, and the very intense currant became another element of richness. It was playful, artful, and just plain delicious.
Tart raspberry, an element of crunch, and the taste of burned bread. Gjetost is a brown cheese made of caramelized cow and goat milk, and I’d seen pictures of the stuff, but I didn’t put two and two together as I was eating this. I also dropped it down my dress and had to fish it out while our server politely looked the other way, so . . . not a very successful end to the meal on my part.
Our impression leaving wd~50 is that the tasting menu just didn’t seem all that molecularly gastronomical. (I read an article recently where a critic said New Yorkers don’t embrace the really avant-garde culinary arts like Chicagoans do and wondered if Chef Dufresne was trying to cater to our stodgy tastes.) But then we started thinking about the menu and said, “Hey, but there was something special about that egg,” and “Remember those little yogurt drops on the crab?” Perhaps the newest techniques are still being used but in a more restrained, less showy way.
It seems that while wd~50 was busy growing up, so were my boyfriend and I. When we visited the restaurant in 2008 and then again in 2010, we had what were some of the most inventive, composed dishes we’d ever seen. Since then, we’ve been to all but one of the three Michelin star restaurants and most of the two stars. We’d never been to Per Se, and now we’ve been there three times. This weekend, we’re going to Momofuku Ko for the fifth time. After all of that, eating at wd~50 was like visiting an old friend, but it wasn’t as palate-inspiring as those places are. Even newcomer Atera was more playful, more can’t-wait-to-see-what-they-come-up-with-next. There were enough wow moments on this menu, though, that I’ll continue to be sentimental about wd~50.
Italian food in New York City is terrible. Most of all in Little Italy. It’s all aimed at tourists, who are so enraptured with the closed, car-free streets and the outdoor seating that they forget to notice the bland, uninspired food. And then there’s Torrisi Italian Specialties, which was bold and impassioned, playful and polished–an embodiment of New York City itself.
Torrisi’s seven course, $65 prix-fixe menu is a steal and has received nothing but raves, but of course we couldn’t settle for a mere seven courses and went for the twenty-one course, $150 chef’s tasting menu with seven excellent wine pairings for $75.
This “mocktail”, a riff on the classic Americano, was made not with Campari and vermouth but juice and housemade bitters. My favourite part of it was the giant square ice cube. I’m not hard to please.
Torrisi is a bustling deli by day, serving a brined turkey sandwich office workers while away their lunch breaks waiting in line for, and the bar snacks were the perfect interlude to switch the tiny kitchen from that of a casual sandwich shop to one that puts a high Italian spin on the cuisines the people who make up NYC. These one-biters came at us so fast–in pairs or triplets–that I forgot to photograph the clam with celery and spicy oyster on the half shell. The Doughy caraway pretzels were like mustard-flavored gnocchi, the sable cigarette a kind-of-nasty/kind-of-clever reminder of the salmon cone at Per Se. The olive wasn’t an olive at all but a soft quail egg with a pleasant, not overpowering olive flavor; I was a little put off by the inedible accoutrements (though I would totally eat bay leaves if people would stop telling me I can’t) but loved the spoons they were presented on. The rabbit with carrot puree was sweet and herby with a crunchy base, and the caviar, served on a bed of buckwheat, was homey and warm. Not only was the caviar’s serving dish stunning, but we loved being able to decide how deep into the groats we wanted to plunge our knishes; the grain was easily crunched, like a nut. The chicken oyster, a nugget of dark meat on the chicken’s outer thigh, was so flavorful and juicy but really stood up to the cashews in a way I wouldn’t expect from such a tender piece of meat. The snails were sour, chewy, and only slightly less firm than the bacon chunks that accompanied them; it wasn’t my favourite dish of the night in flavor nor texture, but I appreciated the take on clams casino and was excited to try my first snail after all these years of fine dining without having ever been faced with one.
all paired with Lieb Cellars, Pinot Blanc, NV (nonvintage, which means it’s a blend of multiple years), NY
These beets, a nod to the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn that’s still so Russian you need a tourguide to help you navigate restaurant menus, were a mix of crisp and tender, fresh and long-cooked. Sour apples and fried onions added to the already bright flavors.
• mackerel in crazy water
I missed this photo, as well, likely dazed by the idea of eating a traditionally very fishy fish alongside the most dreaded of all foods for me: tomato. But this was more like a gazpacho than a fresh salad, and the mackerel–served raw–was so unfishy it could’ve been sturgeon or halibut. The tomatoes, which were preserved, had the flavor of watermelon, and the sea beans added a crisp bite.
Bloomer Creek, Tanzen Dame, 2010, NY
Served at the same time and meant to be shared, the foie gras and tartare are updates of dishes made famous by one of the oldest and most noted steakhouses in NYC, Delmonico’s. The original Lobster Newberg was made with a creamy, buttery, alcoholic sauce; here, the sweet foie is topped with a brandy gelee and served with a salty, meaty, spiced oyster mushroom salad.
The Delmonico’s tuna tartare becomes a steak tartare with crisp, sour cornichon slices and a Béarnaise sauce that I can only dumbly describe as buttery. The presentation wowed me to the point that I was still taking photos of the delicately-carved pickles even as half of them had already been devoured. Spread on the thickest, saltiest, caper-powdered potato chips, it was more finesse than novelty.
But you can bet the novelty of the Demonico’s plates wasn’t wasted on me.
Kalin Cellars, Chardonnay, 2005, CA
This gnocchi was covered in a sauce so creamy and dense with peppercorn flavor, I would’ve paid for the pleasure of licking the pan. The ramps had the texture of green onion but are known for their more intense aroma and what my boyfriend called their “racier” taste. The ramps evidently replace the scallions that were being served on the oft-photographed version of this made with Coach Farms goat cheese; it had a strip of coffee/caramel/tobacco water “leather” on the side with the word “COACH” stamped on it like the label of one of the knockoff designer handbags sold in Chinatown. The more straight presentation of this dish makes me wonder if Torrisi is headed away from whimsical presentations or if they just weren’t in the mood to use marijuana syrup to draw a sheep in a ballerina costume on my plate.
Just plain delicious, no matter what cuisines it’s trying to emulate, this vermicelli with lobster evoked the flavors of Chinatown with soy and scallion. The crunchy breadcrumbs made the lobster seem deep-fried, like sweet and sour pork gone high class.
Arnot Roberts, Rose, 2011, CA
This apparently replaced the much-lauded beef ragu for us and was probably a more interesting if not grandma-reminiscent dish. The chicken liver filling, contained in the most perfectly-cooked raviolo, verged on too iron-flavored at times but was nicely balanced by the sweetness of the tomato sauce. The brown butter with accents of sage added deep flavors ripe for red wine pairings. Food & Wine says that this dish was “named for the famed tenor who backed the epic NYC restaurant Mamma Leone’s ([chefs] Torrisi and Carbone cite Mamma Leone as an inspiration alongside Thomas Keller and Joël Robuchon in a video they made about themselves)”.
Coturri, Carignone, Testa Vineyard, 2009, CA
A young man brought this gleaming dish of tomahawk lamb chop to our table and unannoyedly held it while I photographed it. And then held it over the table of the people beside us when I said he was too close for my lens to focus. But in all fairness, they had been ogling our table all night as they sat there with the regular, ol’ prix-fixe dishes, so they owed me.
The loin and deckle together were not-fatty and fatty, gamey and not-gamey, delicious in their own ways when accompanied by fried mint and peeled grapes. The deckle had a thick glaze and a chewier texture, while the loin was leaner and less adorned. The chop itself was more impressive than the finished dish, but that’s always the way with these things.
Wind Gap, Syrah, 2008, CA
A sour, bitter palate cleanser to prepare us for the sweet, sweet desserts.
We were served two pieces from a large danish cut into fours and kept under a glass dome. It didn’t matter how our slices tasted, because all we could think was that we wanted the other two. It was buttery, with a burst of poppyseed flavor. The onions were sweet, the cheese so thick and creamy. But who was going to eat the other two pieces?! The kitchen? The servers? MORE IMPORTANT DINERS WHO GOT SIX SLICES INSTEAD OF FOUR? No! No, actually, our server returned with the other two slices when he saw us finish the first two. Phew.
Surprisingly creamy for an icy treat, with a strong bite from the ginger. This was unlike any shaved ice, snow cone, or slushie I’ve had.
This tasted like really expensive medicine, and I mean that in the best way. It was so strongly flavored, maraschino cherry ice cream alongside a root beer financier made of creamy mousse covered in a chocolate shell, with mashed pretzels providing the contrasting saltiness. All attempts to suck the cherry soda through the straw were fruitless and embarrassing, but at least it was edible.
Heitz Cellars, Port, NV, CA
People eating the prix-fixe around us were getting a small plate with the old-timey (and incredibly not-crave-worthy) bakery staple, the rainbow cookie, so we couldn’t have been more impressed when we instead were served this giant cake stand of pastries with the chef’s tasting. For each of us, there was an apple donut, a pistachio and lime truffle, a crumb cake, a pine nut macaron, celery cake, a really not-sweet cannoli, a mint chocolate truffle, and seaweed taffy. All of it was impressive. Even the seaweed taffy. They also sent us each home with a little box containing a rainbow cookie, ironically, and you know what? Even it was powerfully flavored and much, much better than any day-old rainbow cookie in any Italian bakery.
Torrisi is playful, gutsy, and aiming to please. The week before we dined here, my boyfriend and I had the chef’s tasting at a three-Michelin-starred restaurant that was supposed to be the best meal of our lives, and eating at Torrisi was a better experience. Where that restaurant was pretentious, Torrisi was humble. Where that restaurant was aloof, Torrisi was friendly, giving us details and stories associated with each dish. Where that restaurant was silent and imposing, Torrisi was filled with cool, jazzy music and couples not looking to out-foodie anyone. The only problem was that, as my boyfriend said, no one bite at Torrisi compared to any one bite at that restaurant. Nothing disappointed, but nothing had us using phrases like “the most” or “the best”, and we have used those words at similarly-priced restaurants. The effort is evident, though. You feel like Torrisi is making the absolute best food it can at this moment, and I have high hopes for its future.
Note: for the seven-course menu, reservations can be made up to a month in advance on the website or by calling (212) 965-0955. Reservations for the chef’s tasting can be made up to a month in advance and must be made by phone Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I recommend calling right at 9 a.m., and even then, you’ll probably have to dial and redial for fifteen minutes straight to get through.
I still remember the subtle delights from my first trip to Kajitsu back in 2010: the juxtaposition of grilled mochi on raw, flaky layers of lotus root cake, an osechi box full of foods I’d never heard of, let alone tasted. With chef Masato Nishihara’s departure from the restaurant looming, my group of dining pals and I stopped by for a final taste of his food before a new chef (Ryota Ueshima) takes over and Kajitsu moves to Midtown.
The eight-course, $70 Hana tasting:
Thanks to my dining companion cheeryvisage for her excellent memory; many of these are only labeled correctly because of her Flickr set.
When compared to the food at other high-end restaurants in the city, the food at Kajitsu can seem austere: an entire dish will be white or yellow, made up almost entirely of white rice or bamboo. No one flavor ever stands out, and even the tempuraed vegetables are tremendously fresh and light. I know that balance is sort of the point of this kind of food, but it can’t be stressed enough how subtle these dishes are, how you might get caught up in conversation and miss the simple perfection of a salted leaf or the smallest slice of peppercorn.
I love Kajitsu for the seasoned eater and the diner who’s never seen a fiddlehead fern in real life alike. The food is artful and exciting in its simplicity. The boxes filled with four different kinds of unrecognized vegetation dazzle the eye, and the dishes served in covered bowls build anticipation. I didn’t once miss the meat during this tasting and instead delighted in knowing that I wasn’t going to run into a single sinew or bone. With this two-Michelin-starred restaurants in town, vegetarians have it pretty good.