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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)

The Tasting Menu at Daniel
Mar 22nd, 2013 by donuts4dinner

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:

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
amuse bouche trio

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
amuse: salmon, pumpernickel, mustard

Mostly salmony but with just a hint of that bitter rye flavor.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
amuse: parsnip, onion jam

Creamy/crunchy/chewy textures, with chive oil at the bottom to add to and contrast with the flavor of the onion jam on top.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
amuse: shrimp, cilantro, parsnip confit

The most perfect, most singular bite of shrimp, with citrus flavor and the crunch of the confit parsnip chip below.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
Lauer Riesling “Ayler Kupp Faß 6 ‘Senior’”, Mosel, Germany 2011

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
squab terrine with pickled shiitake, confit grapes, muscat gelée, purple watercress, pistachio oil, young vegetables

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.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
duck terrine with red wine poached forelle pear, Asian pear, ginger-onion jam, mâche salad

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.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
Salomon Undhof, Grüner Veltliner “Hochterrassen”, Kremstal 2011

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
Maine peekytoe crab salad with granny smith apple, pickled cranberries, celery shavings, walnut oil

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.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
olive oil poached cod salad, mussel-parsley vinaigrette, pickled hon shimeji mushroom, chorizo, artichoke, smoked sablefish

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.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
Florida frog legs fricassée, red wine stewed rye berry, kale, crispy shallot

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.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
fennel ravioli with Scottish langoustines, sautéed cuttlefish, Sicilian green olive, artichoke and saffron cream sauce

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!

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
Copain, Pinot Noir “Tous Ensemble”, Anderson Valley, California 2010

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
grilled swordfish, pine needle gremolata, gourgane panisse, Brussels sprouts, pioppini mushroom, sauce diable

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.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
oven baked black sea bass with syrah sauce, crispy yukon gold potato with tellicherry pepper, kale flan, shallot marmalade

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.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
trio of milk fed veal, roasted tenderloin with king oyster, cheek “blanquette” with parsnip purée, crispy sweetbreads with green peppercorn jus

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.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
duo of beef, braised black angus short ribs, wild mushroom fricassée with horseradish, seared wagyu tenderloin, rutabaga-mace purée, glazed chestnuts

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.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
cheese plate

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.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
tropical-coconut vacherin, guava gel, mango-vanilla swirl, meringue

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

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
warm guanaja chocolate coulant, liquid caramel, fleur de sel, milk sorbet

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

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC
chocolate cake with lime

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.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC

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.

Daniel Tasting Menu, NYC

Daniel
60 East 65th Street
New York, NY 10065 (map)

Alice’s Tea Cup is Pretty Tea-y but Not So Alice-y
Sep 6th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

My friend Kim online-introduced me to her hometown-friend-with-a-blog Katie Qué (pronounced kay) a few months ago, telling me that she’s a much more interesting blogger than I am and that I’d love her posts about “Game of Thrones” and her many and varied photos of her much-personalitied cat. Within days, we had created a House Katie sigil and motto. (Sorry if that means nothing to you. Wait, no, I’m NOT sorry. Watch “Game of Thrones”. And also “Girls”. Mostly “Girls”, actually.)

Katie Qué came to visit her friend Patrick last weekend and was kind enough to invite me to be a part of her wallet-emptying/belly-filling/Alice-in-Wonderland-obsessing odyssey. My portion of the adventure included brunch at Alice’s Tea Cup, the beloved Upper East Side café with a Saturday morning waitlist far too long for me to ever bother with it. But Kim luckily lives mere blocks away and put our name in early so the rest of us could arrive an hour and a half later with none of those this-better-be-worth-it feelings that a long wait usually leaves me with.

Alice's Tea Cup NYC

To put it bluntly, I don’t give a crap about tea and didn’t really even plan to order any, but then I decided on a dish that came ready-made with a pot, so the four of us ended up sharing pots of Alice’s Tea, a blend of Indian black vanilla tea blended with Japanese green tea and rose petals, and of Darjeeling Earl Grey, a Darjeeling flavored with bergamot.

Alice's Tea Cup NYC

I was really, really surprised by how much I liked the tea. Especially the Darjeeling, which was just bursting with that deep, dark, depths-of-winter orange, both in smell and in flavor. The mismatched cups and saucers, the sugars and milk, the little spoons–I loved the shabby formality of it.

Alice's Tea Cup NYC

Katie Qué looks so petite behind her giant cup, and Patrick appears as if he’s plotting a bergamot-fueled bank heist. In the 1950s.

Alice's Tea Cup NYC

Kim just looks pretty.

Alice's Tea Cup NYC

Alice's Tea Cup NYC

I ordered The Nibble, a two-tiered stand with a sandwich of my choice on top; a scone, a pot of clotted cream and preserves, and an assortment of cookies filled the bottom plate. My sandwich was the Black Forest ham and gruyere, and I was probably about as excited by the look of it as you are. It’s kind of a piddly thing next to the mile-high Katz’s pastramis of the world, right? But I soon forgot how flat and unadorned it appeared when I bit through the golden-raisin-studded bread to the whole grain mustard and then to the sweet and salty ham and cheese. It was more complex than I expected and also more filling.

Alice's Tea Cup NYC

I couldn’t have been happier with my pumpkin scone, which was glazed crunchy on the outside but stayed warm and soft on the inside so as to melt the sweet, thick clotted cream. I wasn’t sure the berry preserves would go well with pumpkin, but together, they were this perfect end-of-summer/start-of-fall, warm/cool combination. If the wait wasn’t so unmanageable, I can see myself coming to Alice’s every weekend for their $10 two-scones-and-a-pot-of-tea deal just to have this again.

Alice's Tea Cup NYC

Everyone else ordered the vegetarian egg white omelet to punish themselves or something, but this dish ultimately got the last laugh by including these roasted pears that the three of them couldn’t stop raving about. I think Katie Qué may have been inspired to write an entire cookbook centered on roasted pears that afternoon.

Alice's Tea Cup NYC

My cookies, on the other hand, inspired me to remember to stick to the scones in the future. There was a chocolate chip, a sugar cookie with sprinkles, a cranberry, and a white chocolate-macadamia. As someone who only likes fresh, soft cookies so heavy with butter they can barely maintain their cookie form, these seemed old and stale to me. Between the four of us, we only ate half of each.

Alice's Tea Cup NYC

A good time was had by all, and I can certainly see myself coming back to Alice’s to have a chance to eat that preserve-laden scone and drink that orangey tea again. It’s a charming little café for people in the neighborhood. I have no idea why this is a destination for out-of-towners, though, in the same way I don’t understand why Serendipity 3 is. The Alice in Wonderland theme is minimal, unless you consider adding the word “Alice” to “eggs Florentine” a real nod to Lewis Carroll. The service is plenty nice, but we were taken aback when our server brought us our last pot of tea and told us we’d reached our time limit for taking up a table at the same time. I guess they know I don’t know where else to get clotted cream.

Alice’s Tea Cup
156 East 64th Street
New York, NY 10065 (map)

Sprinkles Cupcakes – Sweets – Upper East Side
Jan 19th, 2012 by donuts4dinner

I had my first taste of the famous/infamous Sprinkles cupcake last year in their homeland of California when my boyfriend’s sister brought an anniversary cupcake cake to his parents’ party. My cupcake was yellow cake with chocolate frosting and a pink block letter of questionable edibility that seemed to be made of sugar but refused to melt in my mouth.

Hardcore New Yorkers will stand loyally behind their Magnolia Bakery cupcakes, but I prefer the much more elaborate/gluttonous cupcakes from Crumbs Bake Shop and really only go to Magnolia for the banana pudding, so I was completely open to trying Sprinkles. And it was fine. Not life-changing. Not make-me-move-to-California-immediately-ing. But fine.

Well, my friend Kim got a coupon to try four free Sprinkles cupcakes at the first NYC location in the Upper East Side, because she is the princess of New York City, and she invited me to try them with her, knowing that I’d insist on buying a couple more. The employees are very nice, and the store is veeeeery cute, with the trademark Sprinkles dots decorating the outside, bright colors everywhere, and enough low tables with corresponding ottomans that we didn’t feel any pressure to move for the couple of hours we sat there.

The cupcakes were still fine.

Sprinkles Cupcakes
peanut butter chip

Sprinkles Cupcakes
salty caramel

Sprinkles Cupcakes
black and white

Sprinkles Cupcakes
cinnamon sugar

My only complaint about Crumbs is that I feel like they spend so much time working on the filling and toppings that they forget to care about the cake; it usually tastes a couple of days old. My complaint about Magnolia is that it’s too simple; I can and have made their cupcakes at home myself. Sprinkles hits a nice balance between quality cake and quality toppings. The cake was fresh and moist, and the frostings and accoutrements were all creative. In the end, though, I missed the way Crumbs fills the cake with a dollop of frosting, and I missed the sheer size of the Crumbs cupcake. Sprinkles is good for people who want to splurge without bursting their bellies, and that ain’t me.

There’s one reason I might choose Sprinkles over Crumbs in the future, though. The drinking chocolate:

Sprinkles Cupcakes

It’s bittersweet Belgian chocolate with a vanilla bean marshmallow, so rich and dense you feel like you’re wearing a mouthguard of hot chocolate when you’re finished with it. The marshmallow was so thick that it lasted almost to the end of the cup, making each sip creamy and flavorful.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarBlank Star

Sprinkles Cupcakes
780 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10065 map)

Flex Mussels is Weak – Seafood – Upper East Side
May 10th, 2011 by plumpdumpling

Flex Mussels gets pretty good reviews. It has four stars on Google, four stars on Yelp, four stars on Menupages. So when my boyfriend insisted that I eat a steaming pot of mollusk in exchange for getting to try some of Executive Pastry Chef Zac Young‘s famed creations, I thought I was probably safe.

We showed up at 7:55 for our 8 p.m. reservation and were asked to wait. Not a big deal. A couple came in after us and were seated immediately. Fine. Then another. And another. Even though we were standing right beside her, my boyfriend thought maybe he needed to mention to the hostess that we were still waiting to be seated. She said we were next. And then seated some more couples. I had read reviews that mentioned the aloofness/disorganization of the service, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but I also kind of felt like saying, “Um, you DO know that the Upper East Side is the middle of nowhere to me, right? I could be at any one of the Momofukus right now.”

Finally, after fifteen minutes, we were given a table, and the guy who seated us said, “I’m so sorry that happened.” And I asked, “What DID happen?” And he said there had been a problem in the kitchen and gave us a beer and a glass of wine to make up for it. I appreciated the gesture and will try not to automatically deduct two donuts from my rating from the start because of it.

Flex Mussels NYC
iceberg wedge, crispy bacon, shaved radish, chunky blue cheese dressing, grapes

I basically think salad is a waste of space, but I’ve been known to eat my words when I come across a truly delicious one. For some reason, I’m more likely to like a wedge salad than any other kind (especially the ones at Docks Oyster Bar and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que); maybe because they’re usually heaped with all sorts of nasty, fatty goodies? This one was clearly no different with its loads of crunchy bacon to contrast the freshness of the grapes and radish. I found that the sharp blue cheese dressing just really overpowered everything else on the plate, though.

Flex Mussels NYC
The Number 23: mussels, lobster, clams (2!), saffron, some other not-memorable stuff

My boyfriend got the 23rd mussel iteration on the menu, which changes daily. He had wanted multiple types of seameat in his pot, so that night’s special seemed like the perfect choice for him. Firstly, there were exactly two clams mixed in with his mussels. Secondly, his lobster was one giant chunk that was nearly impossible to eat with the spoon provided. He said it “wasn’t much of a to-do, flavor-wise”. And this was from the person who really loves and craves seafood.

Flex Mussels NYC
Maine: mussels, lobster, smoked bacon, corn, white chowder, parsley

From the description of this, I maybe-foolishly pictured it being thick and creamy. New England Clam Chowder was one of the first seafoody dishes I had when my boyfriend was trying to get me acclimated to fish after eating a diet of only land-based foods during my twenty-five years in Ohio, and there was nothing not-delicious about it. I guess my broth was a little thicker than his, but at the end of the day, it was still broth.

The mussels were actually better than I expected. I didn’t like how chewy they were right out of the shell, but when I extracted them all using my tiny fork and left them to soak in the steaming broth a while longer, they fell apart in my mouth. I liked the firmer texture of the lobster and the familiar comforts of the bacon slivers and corn kernels, and as far as taste goes, I think I got the right combination for me.

It’s just that . . . mussels are weird! Some of them had sand in their bulging, black digestive systems still, which was unpleasant enough to begin with, but that got me thinking about the fact that I was eating the digestive system, and I developed this mind block that just wouldn’t let me enjoy my heaping portion of bivalves.

My boyfriend said, “Just slurp ’em down. Don’t look at them too much.” But that’s kind of a problem for me. Half of the fun of eating is the looking! So while I usually say, “I thought this [any other kind of seafood] was going to be icky, but it was actually awesome!”, I won’t be saying that about mussels.

Flex Mussels NYC
Flex Famous Hand-Cut Fries

The reviews on these are either “way overrated” or “OMGbestfriesever!” They were fine, but they weren’t $6 fine, especially when Pommes Frites is serving better and more fries for $4.50 with interesting sauces to boot. The only reason I’m glad we ordered them is that it gave me something else to fill up on when the mussel flavor got monotonous.

Flex Mussels NYC
Flex Donuts: meyer lemon, salted caramel, chocolate, cinnamon sugar

Finally, dessert time! The warm, sugar-dusted donuts lived up to their hype. So soft they deflated under the slightest touch, their pure bleached carbiness was only intensified by the vanilla crème anglaise served on the side. The gooey, flavored sauces nestled inside each one were too delicious to exist in such small quantities.

Flex Mussels NYC
The Original Deep Fried Whoopie Pie: dark chocolate cake, cream cheese filling, espresso ice cream, caramelized white chocolate cream, caramel mousse

We thought we’d saved the best for last. Before starting in on the donuts, we’d each scooped a little of the ribbon of caramel onto our forks and nearly died from the shock of how good it was. But . . . the whoopie pie was not delicious.

I almost feel bad saying it, because how could it not be good? I’m a total glutton. I make fun of frou-frou desserts that favor fruit over chocolate. But this was just overindulgence for the sake of it. It wasn’t thoughtful. It was complex but not sensical. It was just deep-fried cake with some mismatched accoutrements.

The cake was nice and warm, but that was part of the problem. See, where I’m from, this is a whoopie pie. My mom was known for her whoopie cake. Every year in Ohio, at the neighboring town’s pumpkin festival, I gorge on whoopie pies. I’m something of an expert when it comes to whoopie.

Whoopie pies are two pieces of cookie-shaped cake with a big schmear of icing between them. And since this was just one giant hunk of deep-friedness, the filling in the middle had melted into the cake. Oh, and by the way–the stuff in the middle? It was just cream cheese. Not cream cheese icing. So it was unpleasantly not-sweet.

On the other hand, the non-whoopie-pie portion of the dish was absolutely decadent in a good way. The caramel mousse was rich and thick and salty and nicely contrasted the less-sugary ice cream. The white chocolate piece was iridescent, which we hoped was thanks to the pastry chef’s famed “disco dust”. I would order the caramel and ice cream on their own again but couldn’t even begin to finish the whoopie pie the first time.

Rating One StarOne StarOne-Half StarBlank StarBlank Star

Flex Mussels was just disappointment after disappointment for me. I liked our actual server quite a bit, but between the wait for a table when we had reservations, the too-pungent blue cheese, the un-chowdery chowder, the two clams, and the throwaway ball of cake, it ranks with some of the least-impressive dining experiences I’ve had for $100. I’ll give one star for the mussels that were tender and not undigested-food-filled, one star for the donuts and amazing caramel, and a half star for the idea of the whoopie pie.

Flex Mussels
174 East 82nd Street
New York, NY 10028

French Macarons at Financier
Nov 2nd, 2010 by plumpdumpling

As a lover of intense flavor experiences and creamy desserts, meringue cookies are about the least interesting treat in the entire world for me. They look nice and all, but their taste is always too weak, and biting into them is like biting into a hunk of diabetes-inducing chalk.

But after being served a mango macaron at The Wright for my birthday, I keep finding myself unexpectedly craving those little French cookies. They have the tiniest layer of crunch on their outsides, easily broken just by holding them, but then their centers are somehow super-moist, almost like raw cookie dough. And their flavors are always wildly dense, like heavily-concentrated versions of things found in nature.

So naturally I Googled “best macarons NYC”, because I am a master searcher who doesn’t type out entire questions like, “Where do I find the best macarons in NYC?” like everyone who finds my blog via Google. (I still love you, though.) The first viable result came from some snob from Serious Eats who wrote:

After Paris, the city whose macarons I’m most familiar with is New York City. Unfortunately, after eating NYC’s macarons I think I’d rather wait until my next vacation to Paris than eat another one here. I don’t mean to imply that they’re all horrible—obviously someone likes them or else these shops wouldn’t keep churning them out—but I’ve found most of them to be disappointing.

I kind of want to punch the woman in the crotch. Calling a macaron disappointing is like calling a flavor of ice cream disappointing. Or pizza. Or corndogs. Yes, some corndogs are better than others. And when you’ve had a corndog dipped in pumpkin sauce, I can see how other corndogs wouldn’t live up to it. But you’re still getting to eat an effing corndog, so shut it.

Sorry. I’m just jealous that I’ve never eaten a macaron in Paris.

The writer recommended La Maison du Chocolat for the best of the apparently-unsatisfactory NYC macarons, and incredibly, my boyfriend works right above one. I begged and pleaded and called him things like “darling” and “cuppycake”, but he doesn’t think women should be sitting around eating bonbons on a Tuesday night, so I was left to my own devices.

Luckily, a co-worker informed me that Financier, home of the famed Bûche de Noël, carries them. So I stopped after work and bought a package of 8, all in different flavors.

Financier French Macarons

YOU GUYS. Maybe it’s good that I’ve never been to Paris to compare these to the real things, but glurgglurgglurgglurg. They were so good.

Financier Patisserie
87 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017 (map)

93 Pearl Street
New York, NY 10004 (map)

1211 6th Ave
New York, 10036 (map)

983 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10022 (map)

What You’ve Read About The Wright is Wrong – American (New) – Upper East Side
Oct 12th, 2010 by plumpdumpling

I was secretly concerned about going to The Wright inside the Guggenheim Museum for my birthday this weekend. The menu looked classically delicious, and photos of the decor made it seem like a hip 1970s spaceship (it won the 2010 James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Restaurant Design), but the reviews were a little too so-so, and we’d been totally unimpressed by a similar museum restaurant a few weeks earlier. But, you know, I’m always happy to find out for myself how a restaurant rates.

Dr. Boyfriend and I decided to do the chef’s tasting with wine pairings, and right away The Wright scored points with me when our server asked if there was anything in particular on the menu that we wanted to make sure was in our tasting. Then she poured us each a glass of champagne, gave us a selection of breads with salted butter, and let us feast:

The Wright
blood orange gelee, cucumber, shrimp, marcona almond foam

As soon as our server put this down in front of me, I said, “Dessert!” Even now when I imagine these ingredients, I don’t think they should go together, and I certainly don’t think they should go together in an amuse bouche, but this was perfectly balanced. The gelatin and foam layers were sweet and smooth, while the middle layer of shrimp was more savory and segmented. The cucumber was the high note for me and was just the right addition to the dish, as it straddles the line between sweet and savory.

The Wright
Spanish octopus mosaic, potato, olive, tomato, lemon oil, basil pesto

If you know anything about me, you understand how funny it is that I was served this on my birthday. The only two things in the world I absolutely don’t eat are tomatoes and olives, and the thing I’m only just now learning to eat in my quest toward becoming an adult is seafood. So to see them all on one plate was horrifying/hilarious. And yet.

I was surprised at how tender and not-chewy the octopus was, but Kamran said, “That’s how it is when they do it right.” The acid from the lemon made all of the flavors so bright, but it also “cooked” the tomatoes so that they tasted more like a nice sauce than a fruity raw tomato. The earthy potato neutralized the bite of the olives so that they became a subtle background saltiness. Not a single component of the dish stuck out more than any other, and somehow, that made me actually enjoy eating them all.

The Wright
seared diver scallop, gently-cooked shrimp in chili oil, artichoke two ways, zucchini-wrapped goat cheese, red peppers

I’ve had scallops twice before, but this was the first time I understood why everyone’s always making them on every cooking show known to man. This intensely-seared scallop was salty, a little bit crispy on top and bottom, and so tender it was almost falling apart in the middle. I think I might actually be developing a thing for that specific scallop flavor that’s oceany without being fishy.

The sweet shrimp was equally as pleasing in its red chili sauce, the artichoke puree was so flavorful the drab color didn’t seem to fit it, and the coolness of the zucchini really contrasted with the sourness of the goat cheese. I probably don’t know enough about cooking to understand any fluidity between all of the items on the plate, but I get real joy from being presented with an array of flavors like this and making them work how I want them to.

The Wright
Maine lobster, matsutake mushrooms, arugula cloud

As soon as we saw the menu, I said, “I want that cloud,” and I got it. What was funny was that before this was presented, our server poured our wine and said, “I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but the next dish is very earthy.” And I was of course like, “TRUFFLES!” But it was freakin’ mushrooms. “Way to build up to nothing, lady,” I thought.

But actually, I really loved the puree with the lobster. Kamran called it “heavy-handed” and thought the amount of puree made it a borderline soup, but I’ll never mind having an abundance of sauce. The arugula foam was everything I like about arugula and none of the bitterness, so I didn’t think the actual greens were necessary, but maybe that’s the veggie-hatin’ kid in me coming out.

As for the lobster, I was totally scared at first by the way the claw meat looks like a claw, but dude, claw meat is way more delicious than tail meat. I understand that’s not how I’m supposed to feel, though. What gives?

The Wright
Kamran on fire

It was at this point that our first glass of champagne hit Kamran hard in the chest and gave him heartburn somethin’ awful. Apparently this happens to him with champagne all of the time, and the fact that I didn’t know it clearly means we’re not drinking nearly enough champagne together.

I said, “Ask our server if they have any antacid in the back,” and he did, and she said, “That would be a smart thing for a restaurant to have, huh?” and then disappeared for a while. We figured she was just pretending like she’d forgotten he’d asked, but a couple of minutes later, she emerged from the kitchen to tell him someone was running to get him some.

The Wright
antacid course

And then she presented us with an antacid course! We were so impressed by the restaurant going so far above and beyond for us so I could enjoy my birthday dinner. I’m tearing up a little now just thinking of it.

The Wright
roasted suckling pig, glazed quince, quince puree, mustard pig jus

This is the course I told our server I specifically wanted, and boooooooooy, was it the must-have dish of the night. The layer of skin on top was so caramelized-crunchy, the pork was so cooked-for-hours that it fell apart under my fork, and the quince was such a nice twist on the classic applesauce. It was like a sweet pig pie. Sweet. Pig. Pie.

The Wright
blood orange supremes, Greek yogurt sorbet

Our palate cleanser was good enough to be dessert course all its own thanks to the Greek yogurt. I’ve been eating Greek yogurt for dessert just about every night for the past many weeks, so it was neat to see what someone with actual cooking skills could do with it. This was like the sour frozen yogurt that got super-popular a couple of years back thanks to Pinkberry (and my favourite, 16 Handles), except more natural-tasting.

The Wright
Valrhona dark chocolate mousse, walnut caramel, concord grape ice cream

Ellie and I were just talking last week about how great concord-grape-flavored anything is, and then bam!, I get this dessert that used the grapes so well without automatically pairing them with peanut butter. The chocolate mousse was so decadent, and the chocolate glaze on top was in some sort of perma-melt state that left it shiny and gooey. There were tiny chunks of walnut brittle in the mousse to give it contrasting textures, and the bar of caramel might have been better than the ones the little old lady next door made for us every year for Halloween in Ohio. I just love the way a candied nut falls apart in your mouth.

The Wright
caramelized Bosc pears, puff pastry, Tahitian vanilla ice cream

I described this ice cream to Kamran as “why I say I love vanilla ice cream”. It was immensely vanilla-y and defied anyone who might use vanilla to mean boring. The pastry was architecturally tough and didn’t crumble under my spoon as I stole chunks of it off of Kamran’s plate, and the pears practically melted in my mouth.

The Wright
assorted birthday cookies just for me, because I am really special

I guess I’m not known for my subtlety, but I was still surprised to have this plate brought to me and remember that I mentioned it was my birthday in my reservation. Oops. But also yes! I loved that the kitchen put this together for me, and to finish the night by scooping up my own name in chocolate with a mango macaron was incredible.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

The Wright is just right for people who consider themselves foodies, but I also think it’s a great fit for anyone who wants to get into fine dining but is intimidated by the formal decor and freaky ingredients. The bright, colorful room feels casual, and the service is friendly to match. The ingredients used by the chef are all high-end but not ostentatious, so there’s nothing to make new foodies squeamish, and the inventive combinations and expert preparations elevate each individual component beyond its humble beginnings.

The only complaint we had was that there was no wine with the dessert course, and that’s the wine we most look forward to. Still, this is the most affordable tasting we’ve had at $68, and I’ll assume most of the extra $42 for the wine pairings went into that champagne.

The Wright
Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10128 (map)

Restaurant Week Summer 2010: Park Avenue Summer – American (new) – Upper East Side
Jul 14th, 2010 by plumpdumpling

It’s Restaurant Week Summer 2010 here in NYC, and my boyfriend and I finally made a reservation for a place I’ve been eyeing for a couple of years now. Depending on the season, it’s called Park Avenue Summer, Autumn, Winter, or Spring, and the decor changes entirely with the seasons. Appropriately, all of the dishes we had on the first night of Restaurant Week were incredibly summer-y and some of the best we’ve had in all of our years of Restaurant Week-ing.

Park Avenue Summer
watermelon amuse-bouche

Does this look like a chunk of pineapple or what? 10 points for surprising me, and another 10 for serving me cream cheese and herbs with fruit. My boyfriend ate the pink hunk and said it was spicy, so another 10 for that. Not that these points mean anything or can be redeemed. Sorry.

Park Avenue Summer
burrata, cucumber, tomato

I kind of got this against my will. It was an extra $5, I hate tomatoes, and I wanted the corn soup. But whew, boy, if the menu had explained in detail what this was, I would’ve ordered two. The cheese is regular mozzarella on the outside, but the inside is a blend of mozzarella and cream, making it this dreamy texture. And also making it funky. It was at once the youngest-looking and oldest-tasting cheese, and it paired so nicely with the fresh cucumber. And the tomatoes? They were actually not as gross as I expected, because there was this rich tomato sauce under them that drowned them out.

Park Avenue Summer
salmon tartare

I hear chefs talk about how important acid is, especially when it comes to raw fish, but I never got it until this tartare. The first thing I tasted was CITRUS!, and it was glorious. This was probably my favourite dish of the night, just because I’m usually not a fish person, and this made me want to be.

Park Avenue Summer
veal chop, summer succotash

This was an extra $10, and my boyfriend made me get it just to be nice, but I secretly wanted his chicken. I’m really bad about not getting all of the meat off anything served on the bone, so I thought it was going to be a waste of good meat. And then I took one bite and realized I’d be picking up the bone and gnawing on it later. (There are pictures.) Super-chargrilled on the outside, super-pink on the inside.

The funny thing was the side. Now, I love corn like nobody’s business, but do you know what I tasted with the first forkful of succotash? PIZZA. I swear, it tasted exactly the way green peppers on a pizza do. And my boyfriend said the exact same thing without me telling him that’s what I was thinking! They must have used a lot of oregano in that salad or something.

Park Avenue Summer
free-range chicken, peaches

The peaches were really the highlight here and almost overpowered everything else, which is not a complaint, because the chicken, in my opinion, really would’ve benefited from some spice. I really loved the crispy edges, though, and the crunchy pine nuts. My boyfriend liked the sweet sauce and was reminded of zereshk polo, a Persian dish from his childhood made with chicken, rice, and barberries.

Park Avenue Summer
goat cheese mouse in phyllo, honeyed raspberries

Grace Kang from Serious Eats said this was like eating frosting and was “so decadent I could never finish one by myself”. So obviously I didn’t even look at the other desserts. I would say that she was right about the goat cheese being frosting-esque, but I could’ve eaten a whole mixing bowl of it easily. I loved the thin yet moist wafer and the lemony sauce under the raspberries. This dish was so un-sweet that my boyfriend said it was like having a cheese course for dessert, but the honeyed fruit added just enough natural sugar that it completely satisfied me.

Park Avenue Summer
banana parfait, chocolate crumbs, banana butterscotch puree

You know how the best part of a Dairy Queen, Dunkin’ Donuts, or Carvel ice cream cake is the uber-crunchy layer of chocolate bits? Now imagine a whole glassful of those, drizzled in banana-flavored butterscotch. WHAT? YES. Delicious.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarZero Stars

Park Avenue Summer
100 East 63rd Street
New York, NY 10021 (map)

The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges – French – Upper East Side
Jul 13th, 2010 by plumpdumpling

My boyfriend and I went to The Mark because the Times called it “unambitious” and the whole blogosphere was seemingly up in arms over the two-star rating they gave it despite that. I was prepared to be blown away, anyway, and to give it the many-doughnutted review it deserved.

The Mark by Jean-Georges
homemade cherry yuzu and ginger ale sodas ($5)

These sodas were sort of an afterthought, and they turned out to easily be the best part of the meal for me. Ever since the major ginger ale brand in the U.S. started advertising that they use real ginger, I’ve become way more interested in the stuff; I don’t know what I thought was in it before, but it sure wasn’t actual ginger.

If you like drinking that super-commercial style of ginger ale, this might be too much for you to handle, because it is so unbelievably flavorful that you’ll never be able to buy a 2-liter ever again. The ginger was actually settling in the bottom of the glass between sips, which makes me heart pitter-pat just thinking about it. I wish The Mark was closer to my work, because I’d convince all of my co-workers to have happy hour at the bar every day just to get faux-drunk on this stuff.

The Mark by Jean-Georges
black truffle pizza with fontina cheese ($21)

Obviously, this was good. A crunchy, airy crust with an earthy, umami middle and that fresh frisée on top. It wasn’t quite as earth-shattering as I expected, though, maybe because it was too easy. Or maybe because I’m becoming a snob who’s becoming too accustomed to black truffle.

The Mark by Jean-Georges
market beets, endive, walnuts, grapes ($13)

This was a dish I’d definitely order again. I had never tasted beets until my boyfriend took me to Jules in the East Village three or so years ago, so they’re still a little foreign to me and therefore exciting. Having three different kinds on the plate was like Christmas, and I was pleased to find that they all had distinctive flavors.

The endive with walnuts and grapes was heavenly, and we were sopping that crazy cheese sauce up with our breadbasket.

The Mark by Jean-Georges
branzino with couscous ($30-something)

The Mark by Jean-Georges
parmesan-crusted organic chicken with artichokes ($25)

I’d be a liar if I said I wouldn’t eat this every day, because come on, look at that crust. The chicken was so moist inside, and the lemony butter sauce only enhanced that, although I needed twice as much of it. When I compare chicken to pork and duck and beef in my mind, it’s so flavorless, and I’m always happy when a chef changes that for me (even if just for a moment).

The Mark by Jean-Georges
Grand Marnier souffle, mandarin sorbet ($10)

I’m as disappointed in us as you are for only ordering one dessert, but it was quite the dessert. I usually feel like souffles are more trouble than they’re worth, but this one was so crusty/creamy/orangey. My boyfriend was nice and let me clean out the ramekin, which I did with my finger when our server wasn’t looking.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half StarZero Stars

I liked the formal yet not overly-romantic atmosphere, and the professional service (though our waiter did a double-take when I ordered a Riesling to accompany our meal, but I will not feel bad about my dessert wine love), but for someone with three Michelin stars, it definitely felt like an easy venture rather than a super-passionate one. We left feeling like we’d eaten a nice meal by an accomplished chef, but we didn’t feel wowed. I’m not writing Vongerichten off, though, and I do hope to write an our-socks-were-knocked-off review of his other restaurant, Jean-Georges, soon.

The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges
25 East 77th Street
New York, NY 10075 (map)

One of Two Good Pizzerias in NYC: Totonno’s – Pizza – Kips Bay and Upper East Side
May 20th, 2010 by plumpdumpling

The way that I defend chain pizzerias should give you some indication of how much I generally think New York pizza sucks. It’s not the style I mind–I’ve grown to love the huge floppy crust that you fold together so the grease can drip straight into your mouth–but I just find it so entirely flavorless.

Totonno’s is about as New York-y as pizza comes, with an owner who started at the famed Lombardi’s, a location on Coney Island, and a reputation known the world-over. And yet, I find myself somehow craving it. The crust is brick-oven-browned, a little crunchy on the outside to help it maintain its form. But more importantly, the toppings are so mountainous you rarely see the cheese through them.

Totonno's NYC Pizza

And one of their available toppings is basil! Heaven. Indeed, Zagat said, “Only God makes better pizza.”

I have to admit that when I tried Totonno’s for the first time a couple of years ago, I thought it was just as bad as other New York pizzas. So either my tastes have matured, or my expectations are sufficiently lowered after five years of living here.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

Totonno’s
462 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10016 (map)

and

1544 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10075 (map)

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