First Look at Beetle House, the Tim-Burton-Themed NYC Bar
May 3rd, 2016 by donuts4dinner

When I found out that Beetle House, a Tim-Burton-themed bar and restaurant, was opening in the East Village, I immediately texted my best friend in Ohio and asked if that was catalyst enough to make her buy a plane ticket to come visit me. She said, “That sounds terrifying, actually.” So I made reservations right away with my other friends. Not to spite her exactly but because I was still sure it was going to be great. During the first week of soft opening, I was hearing about a man dressed as Beetlejuice leading semi-annoying renditions of “Jump in the Line (Shake, Señora)” and a background soundtrack comprised entirely of Danny Elfman songs. I told my boyfriend that it didn’t matter if the cocktails were expensive and the food sucked, because this was obviously just a novelty bar meant to pull in tourists for one night at a time. These are the same owners of the Will-Ferrell-themed bar, Stay Classy New York, after all. They surely aren’t meant to be taken seriously.

Beetle House NYC

Since Beetle House was still in previews when we went (and will be until May 6th), it was cash only, by reservation only, and serving a limited menu. The menu was pretty cheeky, though, with its disclaimer about their meat supply being innocent New Yorkers and its items like Edward Burger Hands, Charlie Corn Bucket, and Eggs Skellington.

After chatting with the super friendly (not even just by NYC standards) owner who was doubling as our server and finding out it was she who’d developed the cocktail menu, my friends and I ordered all of the available drinks to start:

Beetle House NYC
Alice’s Cup of Tea, Barnabas Collins

Alice’s Cup of Tea was their take on a Long Island iced tea and just as strong but with heavy notes of peach that made it perfect for summer. The Barnabas Collins was the whiskey cocktail, not so sweet despite the brown sugar thanks to two kinds of bitters.

Beetle House NYC

Tequila, blackberry, and lime made this really refreshing and easy to drink. All of the cocktails were very strong but well-balanced, so I could’ve had several of these but really only needed one to get to a good place.

Beetle House NYC
Jack Skellington

Our table agreed that this one was just weird. Bacardi rum, creme de coconut, lime juice, crushed ice, and orange zest. There was no reason it tasted so funny to us, except that we weren’t on a banana-shaped raft off the coast of a tropical island.

Beetle House NYC
Edward Burger Hands

A bison burger with bacon, pepperjack cheese, quail egg, sriracha cream, avocado, and tomato on a honey garlic bun. The table next to ours got a much better-looking one, but don’t let the mess on the plate dissuade you. My friend the burger snob was impressed that it was actually cooked medium-rare and loved that the quail egg was broken on the side for dipping. The menu didn’t mention that the burger came with a side of garlic whipped mash, which made the $16 price tag make sense.

Beetle House NYC
Victor Van Pork

Smoked BBQ pulled pork, jalapeño jelly, sweet slaw, and pickled egg on a honey garlic bun. It’s a summer picnic in a sandwich, with all of the spicy and smoky you’d expect.

Beetle House NYC
Love It Meat Pie

After reading the description of this–cornbread, sauteed chicken, romano garlic cream, peas, carrots, peppers, onions, and jalapeño jelly–I thought it sounded like a kind of chicken pot pie. But our server told me that it was “just everything in a bowl”. Not exactly crystal clear, but I asked my boyfriend to order it anyway so I could see. It turned out to be the best thing I tasted that night (and, you know, I tasted everything). It really was just all of the ingredients in a bowl together, with the cornbread absorbing all of the flavors rather than just sitting on top, as in a pot pie. I’m not sure what kind of magic they throw in there with everything, but it had the flavors of a bowl of Thai curry. Except with way more stuff and way less broth, which is sort of the dream.

Beetle House NYC
Cheshire Mac

I ordered this because I had to know what $24 mac & cheese looked like. It was seven cheeses (seven!), garlic and sea salt breadcrumbs, and sweet stewed tomatoes. It was a massive plate that took all four of us to finish, and it was just . . . special. Even without meat, I wasn’t sad to have spent $24 on it. (That said, I’d sure rather spend $18 on it if this became a regular place for me.) I loved the crunch of the breadcrumbs that added just the right amount of buttery sweetness to the pasta, and then the tomato sauce just put it over the top in terms of comfort food.

Beetle House NYC
cherry cheesecake

They had run out of the Wonka Bar Chocolate Cake with actual chocolate bars between the layers of cake, so we opted for the cherry cheesecake instead, which was not a mistake. One of the owners’ moms makes all of the dessert, and we could taste it. This version had big sour cream flavor and a thick, buttery graham cracker crust. It was $12, which was a bit of a surprise to us when we got the bill, but it was a good-sized slice, and YOLO.

Beetle House NYC

A lot of the initial Yelp reviews dock stars because this place is so small, which I find adorable. Is this your first day in NYC, Yelpers? Yeah, restaurants are small here.

Beetle House NYC

Beetle House NYC

In the end, I left Beetle House feeling like it was nothing I expected it to be and just what I want a good East Village bar to be. There was no costumed Beetlejuice (they tell me he’ll be there on the weekends, along with side show acts, magicians, and zombies). There was no Danny Elfman music. There wasn’t really a whole lot of Tim Burton, truth be told. It was actually, as their website says, “a bar and restaurant in the East Village of NYC with an atmosphere and menu inspired by all things dark and lovely”. I would’ve thought the Beetlejuice guy was kitschy and fun to take pictures of, but I wouldn’t have wanted him there pretending to levitate every time I wanted to casually drink a This is Halloween! cocktail with pumpkin liqueur, cinnamon liqueur, apple liqueur, apple cider, ginger beer, and lime. And hearing the Danny Elfman score for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure would have been charming, but listening to The Smiths, The Cure, and Joy Division was way cooler. It seems like the owners are making this a neighborhood bar during the week and a novelty bar for the weekend. Unfortunately the prices don’t make it the kind of place you can go every night, but I’m hoping they’ll work that out after the soft opening.

Beetle House
308 East 6th Street
New York, NY 10003 map

The New Brunch Menu at Ted’s Montana Grill
Sep 29th, 2014 by donuts4dinner

If you’re like me, you probably think of Ted’s Montana Grill as a place for business deals, happy hours, and big, juicy bison steaks. The Midtown location in NYC is great for all of those things, with its hardwoods and low lighting and intimate booths, but when Creative Communications Consultants invited me in to try a complementary meal at Ted’s Montana Grill, they encouraged me to give the newly-revamped brunch menu a chance.

Because Ted’s is in a more business-oriented part of town, I would’ve never thought of it for brunch, and the massive space was pretty quiet when we arrived at 1 p.m. An hour later, though, things were filling up, so I guess it just takes people a little time to make their way uptown. The staff told my boyfriend and me that when designing the new brunch menu, they wanted to please the people who were there for breakfast foods and the people who wanted to eat the Ted’s signature items no matter the time of day, so we ordered a mix of the two.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

There’s a dim lamp in each of the high-walled booths and a map of the American West covering each table. It’s very handsome and atmospheric.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

We had just come back from a trip to the Philippines, so my boyfriend adorably tried to order a glass of pineapple juice. Ted’s doesn’t have that, but they do have fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices with thick paper straws.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

Some nice half-sour pickles arrived for us to savor while we admired the gigantic bison head on the wall behind us. These were perfectly salty and still retained so much of their cucumber flavor. I wanted to put them on a burger immediately.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC
bison short rib hash

They’re not lying when they say everything is made in-house here; we could tell that the sweet corn had been cut right off the cob for this dish. It was filled with tender, fall-apart bison short ribs with tons of BBQ flavor. They tasted so beefy, yet with just a hint of something extra. The rich flavors of the onion and peppers hit us first, but then a little brightness from the cucumber came in at the end. There was so much depth in this plate; certain bites had a combination of flavors that made me pause to enjoy the bliss.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC
Absolute Best Fish sandwich

I’m a little bit skeptical when you start using too many superlatives, but this really was one of the finest fish sandwiches I’ve had. The breading was crunchy but not too thick, the cod was so flaky it didn’t want to stay contained in the breading, and the grainy bun added earthiness and made the sandwich feel more upscale. I’m such a tartar sauce snob, but this one was very flavorful with its chives and capers and totally passed my test. The coleslaw was so tangy, and I loved the green onion in it. And the fries–OMG, perfect. They were like county fair fries, super crispy and with the skin still on, extra salty and oily without being greasy. This wasn’t only a great fish sandwich but a great plate all around, where even the side dishes were stars.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC
huevos rancheros

This isn’t usually something I’d order (I want carbs on carbs with extra meat for brunch), but the manager told us it was one of her favorites and that we’d want to eat the house-made tomatillo salsa on everything. Apparently the chef had a Latino friend consult on how to make it extra-authentic, and we did think it was a winner. It actually tasted like it had mango or pineapple added to it, but it turns out that was just the natural sweetness of the tomatillo. It gave us a slow burn in the back of the throat, tamed by the egg and crispy tortilla. It could’ve actually been spicier for my taste, but this was a really hearty dish, great for vegetarians who still eat eggs.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC
French toast

This is exactly what I want from French toast. It was like someone took the very best banana bread from their grandma’s kitchen to make this. The outside had a crunchy coating, and the inside was nice and fluffy, not too dense. The bananas on the side were cooked down to sugary-sweetness, and they imparted a little of their flavor onto the dollop of smooth whipped cream. Even the butter served alongside the dish somehow seemed exceptional, just because it was salted. I would order this every time, with a short rib hash to take care of the part of me that loves savory alongside my sweet.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

Growing up in Ohio, my family farm was down the road from a field full of bison, and my mom used to take my little sister and me to the field on summer afternoons to visit them. I have such fond memories of those times and remember how majestic I used to think the bison were, so it sort of warms my heart that Ted’s Montana Grill brought the bison back to the American table and made a market for bison farmers. On top of that, I loved everything I ate at Ted’s. I’ll think about that tender short rib, those county fair fries, and the crispy coating on the French toast for a long time to come, and with bottomless brunch cocktails, I know other New Yorkers are going to love this new menu, too.

Ted's Montana Grill, NYC

Minetta Tavern: the Burger, the Bacon, and More
Feb 27th, 2013 by donuts4dinner

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.

Minetta Tavern NYC
Black Label burger

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.

Minetta Tavern NYC

Minetta Tavern NYC
“fried green tomatoes”

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.

Minetta Tavern NYC
thick-cut bacon

The bacon was your steakhouse staple, with that just-right chewy-melty combination of meat and fat.

Minetta Tavern NYC
Green Mary cocktail

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.

Minetta Tavern NYC
coconut layer cake

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.

Minetta Tavern NYC

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.

Minetta Tavern NYC

Minetta Tavern
113 MacDougal Street
New York, NY 10012 (map

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter is Frying Up Chicken Right
Jan 22nd, 2013 by donuts4dinner

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:

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter NYC

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.

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter NYC

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter NYC

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.

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter NYC

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter NYC

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.

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter NYC

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

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.

Bobwhite Lunch and Supper Counter
94 Avenue C
New York, NY 10009 (map)

DBGB – French/American – East Village
Sep 7th, 2011 by donuts4dinner

When my friend Kim saw a four-person dinner at DBGB pop up on GiltCity for $150, the first thing she thought was, “SUNDAE!!” And the second thing she thought was, “Can I eat four sundaes by myself?” And the third thing she thought was, “Guess I have to invite Katie.”

I’d had a very so-so experience the first time around at DBGB, but my subsequent tasting menu at Chef Boulud’s flagship restaurant, Daniel, was so outstanding it changed the way I rate all other restaurants; naturally, I was interested in a second try at DBGB. So Dr. Boyfriend and I met Kim and her friend Kelly on Friday night to share what we’d read wouldn’t be enough food but turned out to be so much we couldn’t finish it all. Nor did we want to, in the case of the final course, but more on that later.


petit plateau de fruits de mer

Shrimp, mussels, clams, oysters, snails, tuna tartare and a whole crab claw. All things I was completely terrified by a mere couple of years ago. And it’s not that I exactly salivate over any of them now, like my boyfriend does, but I was perfectly willing to try everything on this platter. Luckily, the fact that there were only two of some of the items meant that I only had to try a few.

The mussels were perfectly cleaned, which is a major issue for me, because eww, please don’t try to feed me sand and stomach leftovers if I’m already going out on a limb by eating seafood at all. The fact that they were covered in a cool, creamy sauce with herbs didn’t hurt anything, either. The tuna tartare was well-appointed with fresh herbs, and the crab claw looked so fresh I didn’t even bother dressing it with lemon. Wait, no, that was because the server took the lemon away before I could dress the crab. Anyway.

I tried one of the larger and one of the smaller oysters, but Dr. Boyfriend and Kim handled the apparently veeeery-oceany-tasting clams and the giant snails, a process which began with excited faces,


quickly switched to determined faces when the snails refused to let go of their shells,


and ended with whatever you call this face once they actually tasted the things:


I’m still not entirely swearing off trying snails drenched in butter sometime in my life, but I’m a little less sure after this.

Iceberg & Blue: tomato, walnut, bacon bits, herbs

Very classic, and an excellent palate-cleanser. The iceberg wedge is one of the only salads I actually enjoy, because:

a) it has bacon,
b) it has cheese, and
c) iceberg lettuce is basically water.

I like to think of it as a vehicle for moving fatty things to my mouth.

Beaujolaise: pork, mushrooms, onion, bacon, and red wine link, lentils du puy

I think we all agreed that though this was a rich, hearty sausage, the lentils were really the star. Which is good, since we ordered lentils, glazed carrots (undercooked for my taste and not nearly sugary enough), and ham and crayfish gumbo (flavorful but too thin) as our sides without anyone telling us we were already getting lentils.

Allemande: veal bratwurst, beer-braised sauerkraut

This one was too sweet for me. When I see beer-braised, I want the lingering stench of Guinness on my breath for days; I think this might have been soaked in O’Doul’s.

Coreanne: Korean-style pork sausage, cucumber-bok choy pickle, spicy kim chee coulis, shrimp chips

This was the most complete of the sausage plates in that there was a lot going on but that the theme was so evident. I loved the homogenous texture of the sausage, more like bologna than ground meat, and the crunchy pickle that was such a divergence from the cooked-until-mushy accompaniments on the other plates.

Espagnole: fresh chorizo sausage with piperade, basil oil

Easily my favourite, just because it had the most flavor. I was in need of some spice, and I might have liked the peppers more than the sausage itself because of that.

Boudin Basque: spicy blood and pigs head sausage, scallion mashed potatoes

I’ve always been scared of but interested in blood sausage, and after having tried it, I can’t believe I ever even considered it exotic. The texture was crumbly and dry, the taste earthy and rich. It was like eating fake meat, or textured vegetable protein, which I did for four years as a vegetarian. I wouldn’t say I liked or disliked it; it was boring enough that I was just sort of neutral about it. And that’s the last thing I ever thought I’d say about sausage made of blood.

Caramel-Pear: ginger marshmallow, roasted pears, shortbread cookie, brandy caramel sauce, whipped cream

Cherry-Chocolate: vanilla marshmallow, brownies, chocolate fudge, kriek-braised cherries, whipped cream

Blueberry-Mint: candied brioche, olive oil cake, blueberry compote, toasted almonds, whipped cream

We were there for the sundaes, and once again, they were so good they’d make me come back to DBGB again despite the otherwise just-okay food. I went for the blueberry-mint after my first wonderful mint-chocolate experience and again found the mint flavor so fresh and herbaceous. Dr. Boyfriend and Kim said it was like eating ice cream salad, but I loved the savoriness of the mint coupled with the olive oil cake. The candied brioche added crunch and sugar to the very natural-tasting berries.

I would’ve been equally happy with either of the other sundaes, though. Kim and my boyfriend both got the caramel-pear, which had the most flavorful marshmallows and pears that tasted like they’d just come out of a pie, while I almost got drunk on Kelly’s beer-soaked cherries. These were adult sundaes.

Grand Marnier soufflé, creme anglaise

I had another soufflé this bad once. The server asked us how we were enjoying it, and I said we weren’t, and he brought us another dessert. This time, the server was basically absent for all of our meal, so we just left it sitting.

I was the first to poke my spoon into it to make a hole for the creme anglaise, and I described the bite as “exactly on the edge of egginess”. Well, of course, the farther we got down into the soufflé, the eggier it became, so once everyone had a bite, the rest was inedible. It was the very opposite of the Grand Marnier soufflé we had at The Mark by Jean-Georges. Egg when you want cake is disconcerting.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half StarBlank Star

As with my last visit, this was a mixed bag. The sausages–which are of course supposed to be the focus of the restaurant–are good, but none of them had me mmming in disbelief like so many of the dishes at Daniel did, and for $13 to $15 per sausage, I should’ve been. The place is borderline hip (what we could hear of the soundtrack was all indie rock), but the noise level is obtrusive, and the service suffers because the servers can’t interact with diners. Not that they’d want to, apparently: our server seemed like the classic NYC wannabe-actor who’s annoyed by customers, and the waiter at the door who looked like a greeter was actually just waiting for us to move so he could leave. Luckily, the sundaes were incredible at $9, and I can see myself popping in just for dessert some night if I’m in the Bowery.

299 Bowery
New York, NY 10003 (map)

Whole Suckling Pig at The Breslin Bar & Dining Room – Gastropub/American – Midtown West
Apr 8th, 2011 by plumpdumpling

As a fairly new food blogger originally from three states away, I sometimes feel out of the food-blogging loop. And as a pig farmer’s daughter, I really love me a good pork roast. So it was a delight to be invited to eat a whole suckling pig at The Breslin Bar & Dining Room with one of my favourite food bloggers, Chubby Chinese Girl, and her pals Henry from Ramblings and Gamblings, Tia from Bionic Bites, Addie from Gypsy-Addie’s Food Diary, and other friends who actually eat things without blogging about them.

The first thing you notice about The Breslin is just how gastropubby it is. It’s a bar, but it’s the kind of bar where the bartender’s serving more burgers than beers. Every inch of wall space is covered in something farm-related–mostly ceramic animals in all shapes and sizes–and all of the fixtures are old-timey. The place is dark but for the bright light coming from the sparkling white open kitchen in the back. And we especially loved the use of what appears to be the original ceiling, which was cracked and peeling and beautiful.

Breslin Suckling Pig

Breslin Suckling Pig

Breslin Suckling Pig
herbed Caesar salad, anchovies, croutons

I’m really not an appreciator of salad. I get that some people like light, fresh foods, but I’m going to chase my oysters with a big buttered steak every time. Our first course was a salad even I could’ve eaten as a meal, though. The Caesar dressing was just so flavorful, the dried herbs so crunchy. The anchovies weren’t fishy at all, really, but just added some salty depth. I would order this again in a second.

Breslin Suckling Pig

And then the pig arrived as the entire restaurant spontaneously broke into applause.

Breslin Suckling Pig

Its little piggy face was right in front of me, its eyeless sockets staring at me and its puffed ears floating alongside its head, begging to be popped like balloons at a county fair dart game. It was much smaller than I’d expected, but I guess we were feeding a table of nine and not a whole neighborhood of smalltown Ohio hillbillies.

Breslin Suckling Pig

Our pig-carver deftly removed the legs from each side and then tonged shoulder, belly, loin, and butt onto our plates.

Breslin Suckling Pig

My plate of crispy skin and shoulder was heavenly. The forkfuls alternated between completely falling apart and so crunchy I couldn’t cut them. It was all of the best things about pork with the benefit that I could sample all of the cuts in one dish.

My boyfriend’s experience wasn’t quite as good as mine, because the skin he got was floppy rather than crispy. I had to give him a piece of my skin before he understood why everyone was salivating over it. I guess that’s one of the side effects of EATING A WHOLE PIG.

Breslin Suckling Pig
duck fat roasted potatoes

It was served with sides of potatoes roasted in duck fat, roasted fennel, broccoli rabe, green sauce, and red sauce. The potatoes were the star with their extra crispy/extra fatty exteriors and soft insides, but really, all of the accoutrements held their own. The garlicky broccoli rabe and tender fennel were both spicy to accent the sweetness of the pork, while the chunky red sauce of peppers and tomatoes only added to its sweetness by tasting wildly of apple pie.

The apple that had been roasted in the pig’s mouth, on the other hand, was funky. My first bite was just nice, mushy apple, but my second bite was freaky, pig-saliva-flavored mushy apple. Lesson learned.

Breslin Suckling Pig

We spent an hour or so really ravaging that carcass, peeling back the cheeks and breaking off the ears, making excessive mentions of the butt meat and trying the doubly-flavoured neck meat.

Breslin Suckling Pig

Even my boyfriend, the salad-lover, found himself ravenous.

Breslin Suckling Pig

In the end, only this

Breslin Suckling Pig

and this remained.

Breslin Suckling Pig

And that’s when they brought the chocolate tarts

Breslin Suckling Pig

and ice cream.

Breslin Suckling Pig

The tart was very good, especially the parts with course salt sprinkled on top, but the ice cream was the really delicious part. I don’t want to pretend like I have any idea what to compare the flavor to, but the ice cream was extra sweet and just had a really wonderful smooth texture. I wondered if there was Marshmallow Fluff or something mixed in.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarZero Stars

Breslin Suckling Pig
see larger (still impresses even me)

This was a difficult rating for me. On one hand, I really appreciate the novelty of being able to eat an entire pig in a fairly small NYC restaurant. I appreciate the work and care that had to go into preparing it. The side dishes were all better than expected and were flavorful enough not to become just afterthoughts next to the pig. I’m still thinking about that ice cream. But at the end of the day, if I’m going to spend $85 for a plate of food, I’d rather have it be an uncommon preparation made with ingredients I have to Google before I leave for the restaurant. Had this been anything but a whole pig, it would have been much less expensive, and there wouldn’t have been any floppy skin to deal with.

But my boyfriend said, “I mean, I just ask myself how much better they could have done with that, and it seems like, for what it was, that’s about as good as you could expect,” and I think that’s reasonable. It was a really neat experience, and I’m very glad I got to be a part of it. I found out that for me, eating an animal that still looks like itself isn’t weird at all! And I met some great people in the process.

The Breslin Bar & Dining Room
16 West 29th Street
New York, NY 10001 (map)

Restaurant Review: Lodge
Apr 27th, 2010 by plumpdumpling

My friend Meredith and I decided to go to Lodge in our Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg one night last week to celebrate a cool restaurant not being on the cool-saturated Bedford Ave. She’d been there once a year ago for brunch and wasn’t impressed, but she left deciding that she wanted to come back and try more of the dishes, so I’d say it was a success.

deviled eggs with plenty of chives

• I’m so into the fact that deviled eggs are a popular thing right now. These were probably the best I’ve had lately thanks to their extreme chiviness. The added texture was a welcome treat, too.

pulled pork

• This was less like pulled pork and more like pulled pork soup. I’m the kind of girl who likes a little Kansas City in her barbeque, so I wasn’t totally averse to the extra sauce, but this would’ve overwhelmed someone who prefers their sauce as a mop or a side. The meat was just the right amount of fatty, and there was still plenty of burnt-end flavor, but I’d probably tell them to make it not-so-sloppy next time.

Brussels sprouts with MUSHROOMS

• Why are there mushrooms in my Brussels sprouts?! And why are they not mentioned on the menu?! Neither Meredith nor I were very pleased with this, especially since little burned Brussels sprouts bits look like mushrooms, and I accidentally ate one. Not that it tasted bad or anything, because mushrooms are actually kind of delicious, but I don’t eat them because of their ugliness.

gouda mac & cheese

• Just look at that flaky topping. This more-mac-than-cheese tasted slightly bacony to me, but there was no bacon to be found in it, so maybe they used a smoked gouda that deceived me. This was meant to be a side dish but more than served as Meredith’s main, so A+ for value.

It’s a very neighborhoody kind of place, with a family at one table and a group of twentysomethings celebrating a birthday at another. It’s on a quiet but not uninhabited corner, and the people-watching–guessing whether a girl actually liked the rumbly 50s-era car her date was driving, a Satmar Jew looking completely lost for five minutes but unwilling to stop anyone for help–from walls of solid glass was top-notch. The service was totally unpretentious and even verging on friendly, my giant bottle of pear cider was only $10, and they were playing Spoon on the overhead speakers. Sold.

318 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211 (map)

What to Eat at Serendipity 3
Apr 7th, 2010 by plumpdumpling

Serendipity 3 is probably the tourist destination in NYC when it comes to dining, and you would think the sometimes three-hour waits would keep people who actually live here away, but . . .

Okay, actually, I don’t think anyone who lives here does go there. BUT! I love it. Its two floors are filled with the oddest vintage lamps, clocks, mirrors, paintings, and bric-a-brac, none of which matches and all of which is tacky. In December, they have a neon pink Christmas tree and lighted snowflakes as big as you are covering the walls. It’d be offensive if it wasn’t so charming.

The menu is extensive, covering everything from pastas to crepes to hot dogs to the most inventive sandwiches. When I started visiting in 2005, I would always get the Summer Bries, which is smoked turkey, sliced apples, melted brie, and alfalfa sprouts, served on raisin pumpernickel with Russian dressing. Then I started trying different things on the menu: the Chicken Pot Pie (delicious, with giant hunks of white-meat chicken), The Alamo (a spicy black bean burger that was good but looked and tasted exactly like the Morningstar Farms version you can buy in your freezer section), the Chicken Salad Sandwich (great ingredients but not NEARLY enough mayonnaise).

For the past couple of years, though, there’s only one thing I’ll order: the Young Chicken Sandwich, an open-face concoction of chicken chunks crisply sautéed in butter with almonds, served on toasted Irish Soda Bread with greens. The butter practically drips off the chicken and soaks the soda bread, which is so delicious I’d eat it as a meal on its own. The crunchiness of the chicken and almonds contrasts so well with the soft bread, and although it comes with this vinegar-based curry sauce, I always request Russian dressing instead. And you should, too.

Serendipity Young Chicken Sandwich

The whole reason for going to Serendipity, though, is the desserts. Now, the restaurant is famous for its Frozen Hot Chocolate, but let me tell you a secret: it’s not that good. It’s cold and chocolately as a frozen hot chocolate should be, but it’s extremely thin, like chocolate powder added to cold water. I want to be able to eat my desserts with a spoon, and this can be sipped from a straw and finished in ten seconds.

(You know what’s a lot better? The Frozen Hot Chocolate from Dairy Queen. No joke. It’s mixed with thick vanilla soft serve, and the chocolate sauce they add to it clings to the side of the cup for you to scrape off at the end. Plus, it’s about $6 cheaper than the Serendipity version. Unfortunately, it only seems to be available in the Midwest, which is why I make trips home to see my family in Ohio 6 to 8 times a year.)

Instead, I enjoy Serendipity’s sundaes, which are a meal in themselves at $15 but are weeeeeeeeeeeeell worth it and can be split amongst five people. The Can’t Say No Sundae with peanut butter pie, vanilla ice cream, bananas, hot fudge, and whipped cream is my favourite, but really, the Three Scoops of Ice Cream of your choice with one topping is just as impressive:

Serendipity Sundae

No matter what you order, half of it will fall off out of the sundae glass and onto the dish below. Do not be inhibited. Dig in.

Serendipity 3
225 East 60th Street
New York, NY 10022 (map)

My First King Cake
Feb 16th, 2010 by plumpdumpling

My office ordered two king cakes last week under the guise of needing them for a co-worker’s going-away party but actually because I’ve always wanted to try them. The first king cakes were introduced to the southern U.S. by French and Spanish settlers and were originally associated with Christmas but are now traditional in Mardi Gras celebrations. Which makes sense, considering how indulgent they are.

A southern co-worker recommended Paul’s Pastry Shop as the source for an authentic king cake, and the going-away girl choose a lemon over cream cheese and a chocolate Bavarian. I spent the week before they arrived telling everyone we were going to have cake made of baby, because a tiny plastic doll is stuck into the cake post-baking and is said to provide good luck to whoever finds it in their slice.

When we opened up the cake box, we thought it was a lump of unbaked dough, but it turns out that an undecorated king cake is just sort of ugly. Luckily, bags of icing and sprinkles were provided, along with Mardi Gras beads to use as payment for boob-baring. Or, since my office is full of men, manboob-baring.

Jack dons the provided gloves–a little freaky, right?–and prepares to ice the cake.

Ash goes for decorative swirls, but we figure out later that Jeff’s way of just slopping it on in a straight line makes for better coverage and easier hand-spreading.

Nik, it turns out, has no future in cake-decorating.

The finished product!

Dripping with icing and caked in layers of sprinkles, it was a diabetic’s worst nightmare. The cake itself was mostly a thick, sweet bread with the tiniest layer of lemon preserves or chocolate spread and a layer of cream cheese baked into it, and it was good, but it wasn’t the sort of super-moist cake we usually go for in the U.S.

The best part was the way the icing collected in pools around the edges of the pan and began to harden. Some people acted grossed out when I spooned the extra icing onto slices of the cake, and those people are no longer my friends.

Jack, the cake slicer, isn’t so pleased with the Valentine’s Day decorations that arrived with one of the cakes.

It was clear to Jack in slicing the first cake which piece the baby was in, so of course he took that piece for himself.

After licking the baby clean, Jack threw his away, but

Steve, who found the baby in the second cake, proved to be a doting caregiver.

Happy Fat Tuesday!

Restaurant Review: Craftbar (Restaurant Week Winter 2010)
Feb 3rd, 2010 by plumpdumpling

The Craftbar winter 2010 Restaurant Week menu is huge! Most restaurants have three to four choices in each of the appetizer, entrée, and dessert categories, but Craftbar has at least ten. If that isn’t reason enough to go, check out some of the offerings we sampled at lunch yesterday:

Craftbar Smoked Pig Head Terrine
Smoked pig head terrine, citrus mostarda

I ate head cheese. There. I said it. I ate headcheese. I’ve been interested in it but never interested enough to actually order it, but I thought, “Hey, it’s Restaurant Week. This meal is going to be incredibly cheap, so even if I end up vomiting it up all over my shoes, I don’t have to feel bad about it. Plus, if anyone can do pig head meats right, it’s Tom Colicchio.”

It tasted like a lightly-smoked bacon and had the consistency of week-old ham. I know that sounds kind of gross, but it was delicious. The fat wasn’t chewy like I thought it’d be, and the slight gelatinous feel of it was about a hundred times less jellyish than any other head cheese I’ve seen. It was firm enough to sit on top of the bread but also soft enough to be spread, and the sweetness of the mostarda of lemon and orange peels went so well with the spices on top of the terrine and the sweet mustard seeds on the side.

I would order this again and again from Tom, but I’d still be a little scared to try it anywhere where it looked like this.

Craftbar Salt Cod Croquettes
Salt cod croquettes, piquillo peppers, capers

Just before he met me for lunch, my boyfriend came out of the subway and saw Bobby Bacala (aka Steve R. Schirripa) of “The Sopranos” fame walk by wearing a track suit. (A track suit! So perfect.) Call him nerdy, but he couldn’t resist ordering the salt cod croquettes, because he knew that the Italian word for salt cod is bacala. (Isn’t he so smart?)

The croquettes themselves mostly just reminded us of fish sticks, but the piquillos were especially sweet and marinated. He liked them, but in the end, he wished he’d ordered something more adventurous.

Craftbar White Anchovy Bruschetta
White anchovy bruschetta, soft-cooked egg, braised leek

Our friend ordered the bruschetta, not realizing it came with anchovies. Luckily, she’s a fish person and didn’t mind them, but she did seem especially willing to share.

Craftbar Fried Chicken Breast
Fried chicken breast, potato puree, pipérade

I was especially excited to try the pipérade after just learning what it is recently, and as deliciously tomato-sauce-y as it was, the fried chicken definitely didn’t require it. We had a to-die-for pan-fried chicken during a previous visit, and this one might have been even better. The batter was thick enough that I got to really enjoy all of the rosemary flavor in it but thin enough that it didn’t overpower the succulent chicken. The potatoes were creamy, salty, and thick, making this a true comfort dish.

Craftbar Braised Pork Belly
Braised pork belly, grits, cippolini onions

We’d also had craftbar’s pork belly once before, and just seeing it on the menu made my mouth water. You’d think something that fatty would be tough to eat, but it all just falls apart as you cut it and disintegrates when it hits your tongue. The grits were fine, but I prefer the dark and earthy richness of the black currant puree that accompanied the pork last time. Still, um, this is the best pork belly ever.

Craftbar Salmon
Salmon, root vegetables

Our friend ordered the salmon, which looks totally lame next to all the lard in the last two dishes, but I guess you can’t hate a girl for trying to play it cool. I didn’t try this, but she said she liked it aside from the abundance of onions.

Craftbar Apple and Cranberry Crumble
Apple and cranberry crumble, maple whipped cream

I got this solely for the maple whipped cream, and it did not disappoint. It was only lightly maple-y, but that was enough to satisfy me. The sugar topping was so thick and chunky, and the apples, cranberries, and golden raisins all had different levels of sweetness that really complimented each other.

Craftbar Brownie
Warm brownie, caramel ice cream, whipped cream

The best thing about this brownie is that it has a really thin, really crunchy top layer and then a thick fudgey layer below. The caramel ice cream was much better than the banana ice cream that used to come with this dessert, but I’m a bit biased against bananas, so think what you will.

Craftbar Cheeses
Selection of cheeses

Who ever actually orders the dessert cheeses? My boyfriend, that’s who. I sort of talked him into it, actually, and while he genuinely liked them, he was obviously in pain when he sampled my apple crumble and then had to go back to his coagulated milk. Sorry, Kamran.

Craftbar remains one of my favourite NYC restaurants because of the way the chef uses such basic ingredients but makes them taste better than they ever should. At $25 for lunch, it’s a total steal, and if you can’t get there in the next few days for winter Restaurant Week, you’d better be prepared for the next one.

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