• 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)
The only thing better than being invited to try out a complimentary dinner at a new restaurant is being invited to try out a steakhouse. Rocco Steakhouse is the mastermind of owner Rocco Trotta, who put together a staff of big names from old school NYC steakhouses, including the man who served as the general manager at Wolfgang’s for a decade. (And Wolfgang, of course, started his steakhouse after working at Peter Luger, so you just have to love all of the entanglement within the NYC steakhouse strata.) With another well-known steakhouse on the same block, I asked GM Pete Pjetrovic why he partnered with Rocco and beverage director Jeff Kolenovic to open the space on Madison Avenue; he said he knew they could create a better steakhouse with the best ingredients, the best chef, and the best head waiter.
It seems like the neighborhood agrees. When I sat down right after work, the completely enclosed dining room was nearly empty, but by the time my thick Canadian bacon with just the right amount of char arrived, it was full of regulars. Or maybe that’s just how the waiters treat everyone who walks in the door. I heard lots of “how are the kids?” followed by handshakes and pats on the back. The staff was warm and friendly and let me annoy them for a picture where they wrapped their arms around each other’s shoulders like brothers. But of course when it was time to serve the steak, they were all business.
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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.
I’ve been a pretty bad food blogger lately, in part because I’ve been a pretty bad restaurant-goer lately, in part because I’ve been a pretty great home-cooker lately. (If you’re looking for recipes involving all manner of melting cheese on things you find around the house, I’m your gal.) But my friends and I were all still off our diets on Saturday night last weekend after Thanksgiving, so we headed off to find some sloppy Brooklyn Heights Mexican food. But on the way, my boyfriend decided he wanted Bareburger, because there’s really nothing sloppier.
I only had my camera phone with me, so the pictures are crappy, but I think they give you a good idea of what Bareburger is all about, which is DEEP-FRIED STUFF on top of JUICY THINGS, with a side of BACKFAT and BELLYROLL. I got the brisket burger, which is stacked with smoky brisket, pepperjack cheese, raw red onions, smoked paprika mayonnaise, and panko-crusted butter pickle chips. They recommended bison for the burger patty (there’s also elk, ostrich, wild boar, lamb, turkey, etc.), but I said NO and took mine with beef. Of course. And I mean, it’s just sort of unfair; there are crispy fried pickles on top of the thing and in between the buns. I’m not going to not love this.
Of course we split a side of onion rings and fries (the Bare Snacks size, not the Bare Sides size, because the much-larger Snacks size also comes with four dipping sauces), and then I had the Banana Fritter Sundae, which was their organic vanilla ice cream topped with caramel sauce, studded with deep-fried fritters, and served with toasted walnuts, which I asked for on the side, because nuts ruin ice cream and everyone knows it. The ice cream was pretty standard, but the fritters were super crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside and full of that special much-better-flavor that bananas have when they’re cooked.
And that, of course, led to GIANT BEERS, which my friend Kim is so tastefully modeling below. This is the medium size. She couldn’t actually lift the glass with one hand until the beer was half gone. But the best drink, if you ask me, is their Moscow Mule, which they pump full of tangy, spicy, legitimate ginger and then plop a piece of candied ginger in.
Sometimes I try to quit Bareburger for the sake of my wallet, because that brisket burger is $14 on its own, and I’m not a woman who’s going to forego the fries. It’s not even my favorite burger in NYC, and Shake Shack is even closer to my apartment. But sometimes I just really want the tallest, fattest, finger-lickingest burger I can get my hands on, and Bareburger has it.
My mysterious food blogger friend The Pretender planned this large-format nose-to-tail dinner for us at Resto after much debate about whether we should do:
1) this version, which involves several courses made from parts of the animal, or
2) the similar dinner at the sister restaurant next door, Cannibal, where they serve charcuterie made from the animal and then the whole roasted animal itself.
Having already done the whole suckling pig at The Breslin, I was more interested in a host of interesting dishes, and so we opted for Resto with my friends Jack and Anthony and his friends Sanjay, Jesse, Angela, CB, and Mutsumi. The Resto feasts can be made from beef, pork, goat, lamb, or fish, and we went for the lamb to have something slightly funky. Of course this meant that some of our less-adventurous food blogger friends opted out, which we made fun of mercilessly, but the truth is that I didn’t have the highest expectations for that many lamb dishes in one meal.
The drink menus at Resto are pasted into old catalogs and text books
and are divided into categories with saucy descriptions:
Buttery and tender with knockout seasoning. This is the thing I think about most from the meal, and it’s propelled me to eat a lot more pastrami in the day-to-day. Which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your view of an entirely meat-based diet.
Oniony and salty.
Buttery, crispy bread. The flavor of scallions hit last, but then the lingering flavor seemed almost chocolate-like to me. Strange but delicious.
Smoky, with a crusty exterior. So much like eating a steak.
Spicy, with a crispy skin and arugula salad with pickled onions to counter sweet and spiciness.
So lemony sour, with crispy-chewy thick lamb bacon.
Fatty and spicy, with grease that ran down my hands in the best way.
Ugh, this dish. So memorable. The lemony tzatziki was incredible, the best tzatziki I can ever remember tasting. The pita was so fluffy, the ends of the leg so crispy, the Brussels sprouts so everything. I wish I could have this over and over.
I had worked up the guts to try some brain all day, but by the time the head made it around to me, all of it was sadly gone. Including the EYEBALL.
I loved this feast. I want to do all of the different animal feasts now. There’s something novel about getting to dig into the side of an entire pig, but I really preferred having the chance to eat all of these interesting, complete dishes for $85 per person. I can’t imagine the kind of effort that goes into planning a meal like this, and then each plate was delicious and diverse on top of that. We opted for the later of the two seatings the restaurant offers each night and were the last ones in the restaurant four hours later; the earlier seating only had three hours to eat, so I’d say we got the better end of the deal. And we still had leftovers for the next day to boot.
There’s nothing a New Yorker loves more than feigning disinterest in other cities. We have everything worth having here, and Chicago can take its sparkling blue lake and shove it. But somehow, when it comes to food, New Yorkers have a fascination with everything from everywhere. Maybe it’s just that we want to say we’ve had it. Maybe it’s just that we want to be able to intelligently naysay it. Maybe it’s that we want to put it on a cronut.
In any case, I found myself at the made-famous-in-L.A. Umami Burger on its fourth day in NYC. Partly because I had planned to go to the park and it was raining, and partly because I figured not having to stand in the dinner line was one gift I could give myself as an unemployed lady. It turned out that the rain had dissuaded all of the half-hearted burger-eaters and left my friends Kim and Jack and me with a mere ten-minute wait for a table during what should have been the lunch rush.
We were seated in a not-quite-as-cramped-as-you-would-think booth in the corner and greeted by a super-friendly server who told us our burgers would be half-off because the buns that day weren’t as “pretty” as the Umami Burger standards would dictate. The unemployment gods were smiling upon me. Sadly, they weren’t serving the special five-spice duck burger only available at the NYC location that day, but they made up for it with a pastrami burger with an inch of spicy, smoky, herby lunchmeat on top of the hand-ground steak burger:
You can tell these things aren’t coming off some truck frozen because of the way they fall apart when you cut into them; they’re not the homogeneous rounds of your traditional fast food burger joints. The patty was seared to a crust that was only dwarfed by the dried exterior of the pastrami. A sour relish countered the deep, rich flavors of the burger but the cheese added to them, so there was no escaping the umami. I’d heard complaints about the $12 price tag on these burgers, but I wasn’t so offended; with fries, they’re just a dollar-ish more expensive than, say, 5 Napkin Burger, and a whole lot less expensive than the burgers at The Spotted Pig and Minetta Tavern. And this was just plain delicious with that pastrami so thick and spicy it became the whole point of the burger.
Kim is a lady and ordered the tuna burger with sprouts, avocado, ginger-flavored carrots, and a little wasabi kick. It was basically the exact opposite of my burger with its light sear and its freshness.
Jack took one for the team and ordered The Original, which was topped with shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, and a big round of crisp Parmesan. The Parmesan was the thing I was most excited about, but he acted like it was mainly there for texture.
For starters and sides, we got the complex House Pickle Plate with sesame ginger wax beans (who would think to care about beans at a burger joint?, but these were super lemony and tart), spicy green beans, smoked okra, bread and butter pickles, and beets,
the Truffled Beet Salad with arugula, smoked almonds, and truffled ricotta spread,
tater tots filled with cheese,
and shoestring fries served “manly” style with beer-cheddar, thick chunks of bacon, and onion strings. Aside from being supremely offended that cheese, pork, and onions are apparently for men, I loved these fries. Even more than Kim’s fries dripping with truffle cream.
My Mexican Coke tasted like American Coke but with less flavor,
but my ice cream cookie sandwich with its gigantic gingerbread rounds, vanilla ice cream, and gloopy lemon curd was the perfect spicy-bright note to end a mega rich meal.
Owner Adam Fleischman says this isn’t a Shake Shack ripoff, and he’s right (even if there was a smashed burger a la Shake Shack’s on the daily specials menu the day I visited). Shake Shack is a fast food burger you eat in the park or squeezed in between tourists at whatever table space you can manage, and this is a leisure burger you enjoy with a beer and your friends with the biggest stomachs. Shake Shack is perfect in its simplicity, while this is the whole kitchen piled on a bun. There’s definitely room for both types in NYC and in my mouth, but which I’ll choose on a given day comes down to whether I’m in the mood for the best-tasting patty possible or a really great sit-down meal with appetizers that are just as strong as the main event.
Stepping into Minetta Tavern, you can’t help but feel reminded that this is New York City you’re in. The bar is packed for Sunday brunch, with fortysomething women turned backward on their barstools to flirt with fiftysomething men. The floor is that classic checkered black-and-white, the ceiling is hammered tin, and the walls are covered in a mural that looks like it’s been there since the 1800s. Only the Minetta Tavern of today opened in 2009. It was opened by Keith McNally of Frenchy favourites Balthazar and Pastis, though, so you can bet it’s the perfect mix of the used up Minetta Tavern of the 1930s and sparkling new, classic and newly-conceived. And nearly impossible to get a reservation at.
My boyfriend and I went solely for the Black Label Burger, which is mostly talked about because of its $26 price tag. And also because it’s really, really good.
A mix of different meats from famed purveyor Pat LaFrieda, this thing is dry-aged for weeks like a fine steak is. The New York Times review that gave Minetta Tavern three stars said, “It’s without question a riveting experience, because burgers seldom pack the discernible tang and funk of aged beef. But for that same reason, it’s unsettling and arguably too intense.” MAYBE FOR A PANSY. For me, biting into this thing with its caramelized onion topping was like sipping a cup of French onion soup. Beefy French onion soup. Except better, because it was on a bun. The meat was so dark and had such deep, rich flavors that it tasted expensive, gentlemanly, and refined. Served with a side of slightly crispy, slightly curly fries to soak up all of those beef juices.
Neither fried nor green, these tomatoes were a big broiled disappointment when they arrived at our table. But once we got over the menu lying to us, we found that these were perfect to spread over our burgers like natural ketchup. Of course the burger was perfection on its own and didn’t need them, but at least we found something to do with them aside from throwing them onto the floor in anger.
The bacon was your steakhouse staple, with that just-right chewy-melty combination of meat and fat.
The bloody mary list is five-deep and ingredient-thick here, and this one had green tomatoes, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and Southwestern spices. Tex-Mex in a glass.
With fresh coconut in the cream and toasted coconut on top to make it extra coconutty, and a nice, balanced amount of sweetness. There are rumors of rum being added to the cake, which would explain how moist it was.
Living in a city so crowded, I have a preference for sparse, modern, clean-lined dining rooms, but I have to admit that I was charmed by the hubbub and ballyhoo of Minetta Tavern. It felt like half of NYC was crammed into the restaurant that afternoon, all of us sipping cocktails and listening to the conversations of the people next to us.
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.
Momofuku Ko is probably my favourite restaurant in NYC, so it was no surprise when my group of dining friends loved the whole rotisserie duck at Momofuku Ssam Bar and wanted to follow it immediately with the fried chicken dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar.
It was approximately an entire year ago that we did this, so my review will consist solely of photos and drool sounds spelled phonetically. Get ready.
With hoisin, scallions, and cucumber. Because you’re not going to Ssam Bar or Noodle Bar and not getting the buns. In fact, you might go to Noodle Bar after Ko just to get the buns.
So much sweet white meat! I can’t actually choose a favourite between the lip-smacking saucy Korean wings and the crunchy Southern wings with their spiced batter. The mu shu pancakes are simple enough, but somehow that oily fried bread ends up being the part of the meal I most look forward to when it comes to the large-format Momofuku meals. I barely touched the lettuce but plowed through the fresh herbs and hoisin sauce and filled up on just a few pieces of plump chicken; even with eight of us, there was no shortage of birdmeat to be had. The rest of the restaurant, on the other hand, looked on droolily as they stood reservationless, waiting in the perpetual Noodle Bar line for not even fried chicken but ramen. Ramen, people. Make your reservation, and get your fried chicken.
My friend Erin online-introduced me to her friend Lizzie back in 2008, and we quickly became Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and blogfriends. And by that I mean that we never actually met, despite living mere miles from each other. (Although one mile in Manhattan is like ten miles anywhere else.) But after four years, we finally forced a dinner a couple of weeks ago at Japadog in the East Village. And I’m not saying that eating a metric ton of wasabi mayo together makes people get along better, but it sure can’t hurt.
Like a sweet and sour pork belly, this meat seemed to consist of at least half chewy, melty fat. The cabbage added crunch and brightness.
Lizzie ordered hers with a veggie dog, which you can do with any of Japadog’s dogs. This is for people who scorn the idea that a meal shouldn’t be made up entirely of carbs.
Lizzie’s other veggie dog, which I believe was the Oroshi with grated daikon radish and “special” soy sauce. You get an idea of how huge and fluffy these buns are from this picture, but it still doesn’t convey exactly how hard they are to fit into your mouth.
This website says this one is “popular to all ages”, despite its suggestive name. This was easily my favourite of the two Japadogs I tried, because um, it’s covered in three inches of cheese. I loved the smoky flavor from the blackened cheese and the meat-on-meat of the thick coney sauce over the hot dog. The chili cheese dog is the archetypal hot dog in my book, and this one did not disappoint.
All of the dogs we tried were just right flavor-wise, and the never-before-seen toppings were so novel that a lesser restaurant might have skimped on the links themselves; these were cooked so that I felt that much-desired snap when I bit into them. My only complaints were with the price of each dog, which were sometimes twice as much as that of the Crif Dogs right down the street, and the fact that my butter and shoyu French fries were completely unflavored until the last quarter of the bag. However, the last quarter of the bag tasted like fries covered in movie theatre popcorn butter, so I can overlook that. Especially since the tables at Japadog are plenty, the staff is sweet and friendly, and the decor is casual but cute enough that you could take a date here and not look like a cheapskate. You’ll look like a fool with chili and cheese all over your face, but that’s totally charming.
Momofuku Ssam Bar‘s large format duck dinner is a whole rotisserie Long Island duck served with chive pancakes, bibb lettuce, hoisin, duck scallion sauce, crispy shallots, and two sides of your choosing. It’s $140, feeds three to six people, and is The Best.
This and the bo ssäm (pork shoulder) dinner are the only ways to get a reservation at Ssam Bar, and that alone is enough to make the dinner worth it, as the wait at Ssam is regularly two hours in my experience. (Get there before 6:30 or after 9:30 on weekdays if you want to avoid the line.) My group of six included a couple of people who can really eat (obviously I’m including myself here), so we started with some regular menu items to supplement the duck:
It’s really hard to say “this thymus really melted in my mouth” without rolling my eyes at myself, but if I didn’t know this was offal, I’d think it was dessert. It was sweet and creamy inside, spicy and crispy on the outside, with a kick from the lemon segments arranged on top. It’s like fried chicken, if chicken had the texture of custard.
This was my second time having this dish, and I’d have it a third time, too. The rice cakes are this perfect spongy, chewy consistency, and I love all of the spicy peppers and the crisp of the shallots over the meaty sauce.
The lettuce and sauces arrived just before the duck did and were the ultimate excitement-builder. I felt about these the way I feel at a concert when the lights dim after hours of standing around, listening to crappy opening bands. Not that our starters were crappy. You know what I mean.
The duck arrived on a platter the width of the table with scallion pancakes, rice dripping with duck drippings, and what must have been every herb in the kitchen. From my vantage point, it looked like a glistening little duck breast lost in the forest:
I took a few slices and tried to keep them intact as they threatened to separate into pieces in all of their tenderness. I grabbed a scallion pancake and found it pleasantly salty and soaked through with oil, like a funnel cake. The duck scallion sauce was just adding duck to duck, and the sambal sauce was too vinegary for my taste, but the crispy shallots and hoisin were just the right combination of crunch and thick stickiness. The skin wasn’t crispy, but it had a layer of pork and duck sausage piped underneath it that was a fine substitute.
The duck thighs were apparently cooked confit and served to the side of the breast, but I couldn’t see what I was doing amidst all of the basil, cilantro, and mint, so I grabbed whatever I could with the tongs and thought it was just a pile of the fatty, fatty skin. Well, even if I missed out on the confit thigh, the skin was shockingly melty, and I wish I could feed it to anyone who’s afraid to eat fat.
Our sides of fingerling potatoes dripping in duck fat and broccoli salad just couldn’t compare to the duck, perfectly adequate as they were. The potatoes had a nice crispy-on-the-outside texture, but the flavor didn’t knock me out. The broccoli salad, on the other hand, had too much fish flavor for me. I wouldn’t order it again for myself, although I’m pleased to have had the two sides that aren’t available on the regular menu.
Clearly the duck was the star of the meal for everyone, because while half of the potatoes sat uneaten at the end of the night, my dining companions were clamoring to finish the fatty rice:
We counted about 26 slices of duck in all, which meant four to five slices per person. And honestly, I could’ve eaten twice that. So next time, I’m bringing half the friends.
Just kidding, friends.
(But not really.)
This dinner will stick with me for a while. I’ve had some good duck, but this was some good duck. A couple of my dining companions were also at the Wong whole duck dinner with me, and they both thought Wong was better because of the diversity of the duck dishes. The creativity at Wong wasn’t lost on me, and I seriously love a good Chinese bun, but I think I may have liked the scallion pancake and hoisin sauce with the duck more at Ssam Bar. It’s a toss-up. Go to Wong for the full-meal experience, but then go to Ssam Bar just to tear into some really well-done plain, ol’ duck.