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Chef David Santos’s Secret NYC Dinner Club, Um Segredo, at Good Stock
Jun 26th, 2017 by donuts4dinner

I’ve followed my favorite NYC chef from his West Village restaurant Louro to his taking-the-city-by-storm soup venture, Good Stock, but what made me first fall in love with Chef David Santos‘s cooking were his secret home supper clubs, which he called Um Segredo (“a secret” in Portuguese). Well, they’re back, and they’re not so secret anymore! In that they take place right out in the open at the Good Stock on Carmine Street.

But the same secret feel is still there: just you and five others in the tiny store front, gathered around a table while Chef Santos cooks directly in front of you, offering insight about each of the ingredients and just shooting the breeze like he doesn’t need to concentrate while shaving $100 worth of summer truffle onto your plates.

Click here to read more ≫

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holey Donuts NYC: Low-Fat, Low-Calorie, Highly Delicious
Jun 2nd, 2014 by donuts4dinner

Holey Donuts NYC

Here’s a secret about me: though my blog is called donuts4dinner, I find most donuts disappointing. The idea of them is always perfect in my head. They always look perfect when I see them. Even the sight of the simplest glazed donut makes me drool like a bulldog. But most of the time when I actually taste one, I realize that the idea of a donut is usually better than a donut itself. And then there’s Holey Donuts.

When they found me on Twitter and invited me to their grand opening here in NYC, I was super mega skeptical. Low-calorie, low-fat food is exactly the opposite of what I’m all about. But I’m all about donuts in any form and am always trying to find this perfect donut unicorn, so of course I planned to line up after work with stars in my eyes.

I went to the grand opening event with my friends Kim and Ash, where we were promised a box of free donuts to sample, a Holey Donuts tote bag covered in pictures of the most ridiculously good-looking donuts, and other gifts that were completely unnecessary, because they had me at “box of donuts”. The line was long, but the people surrounding us were nice, as people are wont to be where donuts–free or otherwise–are involved. When a woman wheeled out a waist-high container of juices for us to sample while we waited and accidentally spilled the entire thing, ice and all, all over the sidewalk, people came from all directions to help. And no one took advantage and stole extra purple carrot juice, as far as I could tell.

Holey Donuts NYC

Halfway through our wait, a man from the store brought around a tray of these cinnamon bun middles, which were outrageously large for supposedly only being the middle of the bun, but we weren’t complaining. I think we all bit into them apprehensively, expecting the worst from something meant to be gluttonous but with all of the delicious fat and calories removed. And they were . . . The Best! So chewy and moist and with just the right amount of glaze to leave some to lick off our fingers when the bun itself was gone. We couldn’t believe they were just giving these things away. They ended up being Kim’s favorite thing we ate that day.

Holey Donuts NYC

Once inside, we saw why the line was so long and slow-moving. The donuts were cooked plain and kept warm in heated racks behind the counter. When you ordered one, your pink-clad donut artist grabbed a plain donut and then topped it for you while you watched. Of course there was one large old white guy who left his place in line to yell at the girls and their manager for how long things were taking and then stomp out of the store in an old white guy huff once he was already inside and mere moments away from getting his free donuts, but for the most part, people were excited and happy to wait for fresh donuts. Sure, it took a little longer than your Dunkin Donuts, where they just grab a pre-frosted donut from a display case, but the experience of watching my donut being built was incredibly satisfying.

Holey Donuts NYC

Holey Donuts NYC

The counter was lined with vats of different kinds of filling,

Holey Donuts NYC

which naturally I wanted to dunk my whole hand into a la Veruca Salt in the “Pure Imagination” scene of Willy Wonka.

Holey Donuts NYC

They had little nozzles in front that the donut artist would shove into the center of the donut for filling. (I plan to buy one of these contraptions for my home and fill it with Trader Joe’s cookie butter.)

Holey Donuts NYC

Next, she would bring the tray of donuts to vats of frosting and lightly press the top of the donut down into it. Then, she would scrape the donut against the side of the container to wipe most of the frosting off. This part, of course, physically hurt me to watch, but I guess that’s how they keep these things low-fat and low-calorie.

Holey Donuts NYC

Then, she would press the frosted donut down into the topping of your choice. Finally, she would drizzle more frosting over the whole thing.

Holey Donuts NYC

The results were BEAUTIFUL.

Holey Donuts NYC

AND SO DELICIOUS.

Seriously, this was my unicorn donut. Where yeast donuts are so fluffy they collapse and cake donuts can be crumbly and dense, this was the perfect marriage of fluffy and substantial. What I loved most was that the donut base was more savory than sweet, adding some complexity to what could have been otherwise overtaken by the sugary frosting. I described it as a frosted dinner roll, but Ash and Kim said that didn’t do justice to what we all agreed were some of the best donuts we’d ever had.

I tried the Strawberry Frosted with pink sprinkles, a Raspberry Vanilla Truffle, and a Lemon Chunk Vanilla Frosted.

1) The strawberry was sheer fruity perfection, and I would’ve never guessed that I’d just seen half of the frosting scraped off the donut before my eyes; the proportions were exactly what I would have wanted.

2) The Raspberry Vanilla Truffle was delicious but my least-favourite of the three because of the filling. Usually the filling is the point of a donut, but this fruit filling was too chemical-y and fake-tasting for me. I couldn’t wait to finish the middle so I could go back to eating the edges made of just the regular batter, which is something I’ve never said in my life. That’s a testament to how much I liked the batter.

3) The Lemon Chunk Vanilla Frosted was my favorite, because the chunks of lemon topping started out crunchy but then immediately melted into this tangy tart liquid.

Holey Donuts NYC

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

Although my friends and I agreed that these were some of the best donuts we’d ever tasted, we were all put off by the price, and that’s really the only complaint any of us had. At $21.95 for a box of 6, they come out to about $3.66 each (and don’t even look at the shipping charges if you’re ordering them online), which is way more expensive than even your most beloved NYC donut shops like Doughnut Plant. I guess sticking to your diet has its cost.

Holey Donuts
101 7th Avenue South
New York, NY 10014 (map)

My Favourite Thing at Louro is Actually Everything
Jan 22nd, 2014 by donuts4dinner

Louro has been open in NYC’s Greenwich Village for over a year now and is still surprising me with its robust flavors every time I go. Sometimes I’ll be sitting at a happy hour spot closer to home, and I’ll think, “Yeah, I could be at Louro right now instead, but what’s the big deal?” And then I’ll actually go to Louro and am like, “Why have I been wasting my life?” Chef David Santos has let me come photograph his food several times, so I won’t be giving Louro a score so as to avoid looking like a shill, but you’ll know that in my heart, it’s 5/5 all the time.

Louro NYC
Whiskey in the Jar: Irish whiskey, grapefruit, ginger, spices

I went with five of my friends, so we basically ate the entire menu. But first we started with many, many rounds of half-price happy hour drinks. This was the table favourite.

Louro NYC
beef tartare, caraway sauce

Off the menu and so bright with those pickled onions but then also earthy and pungent with that caraway spread. Caraway isn’t the first spice I think of for anything, but I loved seeing Chef Santos use it in a non-Indian, non-Middle-Eastern context.

Louro NYC
heirloom carrot salad, miso

This was a special the night we visited, and THANK GOD, because this is my favourite thing at Louro. I encouraged my entire table to get it, and everyone outright ignored me. Not that I blame anyone for scoffing at carrots, but these are not only incredibly visually beautiful but also unexpectedly Asian-flavored. I never even thought I cared that much about miso until I had this dish for the first time. And then there’s the rice wine vinegar, the mirin, and the scallions. Incredibly, the New York Times just published the recipe for the heirloom carrot salad this week, so now I’m going to be eating it every night at home when I can’t get to Louro. Every night, I said.

Louro NYC
bone marrow, mussels, red curry, crisps

This had the same flavor as a big hunk of steak but melted in my mouth even more.

Louro NYC
piri piri shrimp

My other favourite thing at Louro. The chili is so surprisingly spicy that I feel like its name is an onomatopoeia you might see in a comic book. “Piri piri!” the superhero shouts as he delivers a one-two punch to the villain’s gut. It somehow manages to not overwhelm the shrimp at the same time, though. It seems so simple, but it’s so simply perfect.

Louro NYC
smoked tomato soup, pork grilled cheese

I had made grilled cheese the night before for my roommate/landlord/former co-worker/boyfriend, so I asked him how mine compared to this one, and he had to very, very gently put me down.

Louro NYC
lobster larb salad, chopped lobster, bibb lettuce, thai dressing, cilantro, peanuts

I’m not sure what to think of this. The common thinking with lobster is that it should be broken down as little as possible, right? But we were Googling larb as we were looking at the menu, and it’s a minced meat salad that’s apparently the national dish of Laos. So I guess you either mince the lobster or you’re not making larb. This was super, super spicy and herbaceous.

Louro NYC
pork & beef ragu, anson mills polenta, Parmesan

Wish I had tried this.

Louro NYC
biscuits & gravy, soft poached duck egg, duck sausage, gravy

Really, really wish I had tried this.

Louro NYC
gnocchi Parisienne, cipollinis, wild mushrooms, Parmesan, thyme butter

I only tried one of these little pillows, but I’m convinced they were more gnudi than gnocchi. All cheese, not enough flour to even matter.

Louro NYC
octopus bolognese: hand cut tagliatelle, goose pancetta, parmesan

It’s been on the Louro menu for as long as I can remember, and for good reason. It’s like beef bolognese but with a little chew from the octopus and then the deep flavor of the bacon as contrast.

Louro NYC
lobster lasagna

I love Chef Santos for throwing us a little extra lobster here and there, but most of us thought that this lasagna was so good on its own that the lobster didn’t even matter. Take THAT, ocean.

Louro NYC
kibby goat & falafel, cucumber, parsley, lemon mint cream

I actually met this dish one afternoon while taking pictures for the Louro website and haven’t stopped eating it since. The combination of the super-light cucumber and rich goat is too much for me to resist, and I could have the minty sauce on just about anything, including my own hand.

Louro NYC
The Hemingway: key lime curd, gingersnap crumble, vanilla ice cream, toasted meringue

I only tried a bit of the lime curd, and it was not shy about the lime.

Louro NYC
A Walk in the Woods: pine needle & porcini ice creams, pine nut puree, maple “dirt”, Maine blueberries

I needed to have this just for the pine needle ice cream, and it was everything I wanted it to be. i.e. like chewing on a forest. The maple dirt was crunchy and sweet and as if I’d stuck a tap on a crispy tree. I love that a restaurant that’s partly food the way your mama makes it can also put out a dish this wild.

Louro NYC

5/5 all the time.

Louro
142 West 10th Street
New York, NY 10014 (map)

The Marrow
Aug 29th, 2013 by donuts4dinner

I’ve read recently about how hard it is for a restaurant in NYC to survive after the initial buzz is over. A place opens, every blogger in the tri-state area rushes to review it, it gets no press after the first few months, and it dies. Naturally I accept all of the blame for this, because I’ve never been to any of the old Chef Harold Dietrle restaurants, but I’ve had my eye on The Marrow for months now. I watched him and cheered for him as he won the first season of “Top Chef”, and then I was so excited to live in New York City when he opened Perilla and Kin Shop. I probably looked at the menu on the Perilla website twenty times in the five or so years I was hardcore fine dining every weekend, but I never went. Of course Perilla and Kin Shop are doing just fine without me, but just to be sure The Marrow doesn’t fail on my account single-handedly, I took five of my friends there one Friday night after work.

The Marrow NYC

The Marrow NYC
Herr Pamplemousse

Reposado, pink grapefruit, lime, and ginger beer. With a side of water.

The Marrow NYC
pretzel bread

Pretzel bread should be in every bread basket, everywhere. And not those pretzel rods, either. I want it soft, hot, and buttery.

The Marrow NYC
crispy kale, bay scallops, pickled red onion, cashews, and hot mustard-buttermilk dressing

I am ruined for kale any other way. This was super acidic, very vinegary. Since it was deep fried, it was partly so crisp it was falling apart with every ravenous jab of my fork and half becoming soft again under the dressing. And then there were the cashews to add even more crunch, along with the sour snap of those red onions.

The Marrow NYC
burrata, local heirloom tomatoes, baby basil, balsamic, extra virgin olive oil

I was forced into trying this, and even as a tomato-phobe, I found these tomatoes so mild, almost roasted to the sweet flavor of a sauce, but they still had plenty of texture for those at the table who eat tomatoes like apples. The burrata was all mozzarella on the outside but creamy and fresh inside, just as it should be.

The Marrow NYC
housemade rigatoni, spicy duck sausage, tomato ragu, basil, pecorino

One of my friends had this and told me it was “delicious”. Nothing but the finest in-depth reporting here at donuts4dinner, folks.

The Marrow NYC
bone marrow, sea urchin, fried potatoes, meyer lemon aioli, baby celery greens

Likewise, I didn’t get a bite of the bone marrow. You know, the dish that’s in the name of the restaurant. Because who would ever share their bone marrow with uni?

The Marrow NYC
pate

I also didn’t try this. I have terribly selfish friends. I think this was duck liver pate on brioche with gooseberry compote. Don’t quote me. You’re just here for the pictures, anyway.

The Marrow NYC
juniper-braised lamb neck, rutabaga puree, red sauerkraut, whole roasted carrots

My friend Chantee described this as unctuous and melt-off-the-bone. My friend Nik didn’t care for the amount of fat on the lamb but loved the cabbage, which he said brightened up the rich neck meat.

The Marrow NYC
pan-fried duck schnitzel, quark spaetzle, hazelnuts, cucumber-potato salad, stewed wolfberries

I love dill to begin with but thought this potato salad made particularly great use of it, adding even more freshness to the cucumber to combat the heaviness of the schnitzel. The wolfberries were soft and sweet (but maybe a little overpowering), while the curd spaetzle had a brilliant crunch from the hazelnuts.

The Marrow NYC
dry-aged rib steak for two

When my friends Jack and Andrew discussed sharing this, I didn’t want to dissuade them, but I also thought they were sort of silly to order a steak in a non-steakhouse. Turns out I was the silly one, because this sort of random restaurant that doesn’t at all need to prove it can do a steak is doing a super-tender one with so much flavor, so much butter, and such great texture. It was just really, really well-seasoned. The corn absorbed all of the truffle butter, beef juice, and onion flavor and was therefore perfect.

The Marrow NYC

Butter on perfectly-cooked steak. YES.

The Marrow NYC
grilled hampshire country style pork rib chop, cannellini beans, dandelion green
salad, hot cherry peppers, pork jus

I never, ever need lettuce with my meat (okay, maybe the exception being creamed spinach at a steakhouse), but I loved the way these peppery greens complemented the black pepper flavor in the rest of the dish, the slightly spicy crust of the pork, and the bright pickled onion slivers.

The Marrow NYC

This was the dessert special the night we went, and I have no idea what it was. You’re welcome.

The Marrow NYC
ginger stout cake, roasted peaches, honey ice cream

Eating this was like eating a piece of warm, soft gingerbread. Easily the most-beloved dessert at our table.

The Marrow NYC
chocolate semifreddo, cherry compote, pistachio torrone

A very light semifreddo, very milk chocolatey, with a thick, dense, frosting-like dollop of darker chocolate. The torrone was a chewy nougat-like confection that added a textural component, and that’s weirdly all the cherries were, too–they just weren’t very flavorful despite all of the visual impact.

The Marrow NYC
caramelized white chocolate ice cream

This didn’t come with any of our desserts, so we just ordered bowls of it on the side. Because

caramelized

white chocolate

ice cream. It was brown buttery and made me feel like I was wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold winter day.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarBlank Star

The Marrow NYC
looking out into the West Village from the damask-patterned interior of The Marrow

One side of The Marrow’s menu is Italian food to honor Chef Dieterle’s mother, and the other side is German food for his father. We were all over the menu and couldn’t find much at all to complain about. Everything was homey and comforting but elevated enough to make it clear that these aren’t just family recipes but a professional chef’s take on them. The decor is basically what would happen if a zoot suit threw up in a cigar bar, and by that I mean it’s all pinstripes and red leather. The service is laid-back, friendly, personal and makes the place almost seem quaint until you remember that you’re eating caramelized white chocolate ice cream. The menu changes often, though, so get there before everything I’ve mentioned here is gone.

The Marrow
99 Bank Street
New York, NY 10014 (map)

California’s Umami Burger in NYC
Aug 5th, 2013 by donuts4dinner

There’s nothing a New Yorker loves more than feigning disinterest in other cities. We have everything worth having here, and Chicago can take its sparkling blue lake and shove it. But somehow, when it comes to food, New Yorkers have a fascination with everything from everywhere. Maybe it’s just that we want to say we’ve had it. Maybe it’s just that we want to be able to intelligently naysay it. Maybe it’s that we want to put it on a cronut.

In any case, I found myself at the made-famous-in-L.A. Umami Burger on its fourth day in NYC. Partly because I had planned to go to the park and it was raining, and partly because I figured not having to stand in the dinner line was one gift I could give myself as an unemployed lady. It turned out that the rain had dissuaded all of the half-hearted burger-eaters and left my friends Kim and Jack and me with a mere ten-minute wait for a table during what should have been the lunch rush.

Umami Burger NYC
The menu has salads on it. Isn’t that adorable?

We were seated in a not-quite-as-cramped-as-you-would-think booth in the corner and greeted by a super-friendly server who told us our burgers would be half-off because the buns that day weren’t as “pretty” as the Umami Burger standards would dictate. The unemployment gods were smiling upon me. Sadly, they weren’t serving the special five-spice duck burger only available at the NYC location that day, but they made up for it with a pastrami burger with an inch of spicy, smoky, herby lunchmeat on top of the hand-ground steak burger:

Umami Burger NYC

Umami Burger NYC
Not an unusually attractive bun but not offensively ugly, right?

Umami Burger NYC

You can tell these things aren’t coming off some truck frozen because of the way they fall apart when you cut into them; they’re not the homogeneous rounds of your traditional fast food burger joints. The patty was seared to a crust that was only dwarfed by the dried exterior of the pastrami. A sour relish countered the deep, rich flavors of the burger but the cheese added to them, so there was no escaping the umami. I’d heard complaints about the $12 price tag on these burgers, but I wasn’t so offended; with fries, they’re just a dollar-ish more expensive than, say, 5 Napkin Burger, and a whole lot less expensive than the burgers at The Spotted Pig and Minetta Tavern. And this was just plain delicious with that pastrami so thick and spicy it became the whole point of the burger.

Umami Burger NYC

Kim is a lady and ordered the tuna burger with sprouts, avocado, ginger-flavored carrots, and a little wasabi kick. It was basically the exact opposite of my burger with its light sear and its freshness.

Umami Burger NYC

Jack took one for the team and ordered The Original, which was topped with shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, and a big round of crisp Parmesan. The Parmesan was the thing I was most excited about, but he acted like it was mainly there for texture.

Umami Burger NYC

For starters and sides, we got the complex House Pickle Plate with sesame ginger wax beans (who would think to care about beans at a burger joint?, but these were super lemony and tart), spicy green beans, smoked okra, bread and butter pickles, and beets,

Umami Burger NYC

the Truffled Beet Salad with arugula, smoked almonds, and truffled ricotta spread,

Umami Burger NYC

tater tots filled with cheese,

Umami Burger NYC

and shoestring fries served “manly” style with beer-cheddar, thick chunks of bacon, and onion strings. Aside from being supremely offended that cheese, pork, and onions are apparently for men, I loved these fries. Even more than Kim’s fries dripping with truffle cream.

Umami Burger NYC

My Mexican Coke tasted like American Coke but with less flavor,

Umami Burger NYC

but my ice cream cookie sandwich with its gigantic gingerbread rounds, vanilla ice cream, and gloopy lemon curd was the perfect spicy-bright note to end a mega rich meal.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarBlank Star

Umami Burger NYC

Owner Adam Fleischman says this isn’t a Shake Shack ripoff, and he’s right (even if there was a smashed burger a la Shake Shack’s on the daily specials menu the day I visited). Shake Shack is a fast food burger you eat in the park or squeezed in between tourists at whatever table space you can manage, and this is a leisure burger you enjoy with a beer and your friends with the biggest stomachs. Shake Shack is perfect in its simplicity, while this is the whole kitchen piled on a bun. There’s definitely room for both types in NYC and in my mouth, but which I’ll choose on a given day comes down to whether I’m in the mood for the best-tasting patty possible or a really great sit-down meal with appetizers that are just as strong as the main event.

Umami Burger
432 6th Avenue
New York, NY 10011 (map)

The Tasting Menu at Louro
May 1st, 2013 by donuts4dinner

Having first met Chef David Santos at his home supper club, Um Segredo, I felt a sense of pride when he opened his first restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village, Louro. As he sold out his Monday night themed dinners (like the truffle feast) and received a star from the New York Times two months in, I was already telling people that “I knew him way back when”.

The restaurant is a little bit of everything: a rustic floor and seating, nature-inspired lighting, and black and white photos of highbrow book collections. The food is on the fancy side, but the service makes you feel comfortable. I get the feeling that Dave’s tasting menu varies from night to night like the Per-Se-trained chef he is, but here’s the five-course, $65 chef’s tasting from the night my boyfriend and I visited recently:

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
homemade flatbread and Portuguese “butter”

The Portuguese “butter”–actually lard–is basically reason enough to ever visit Louro. Chowhound even wrote an article solely devoted to people’s devotion to it. In the Um Segredo days, it was a gloopy, drippy, melty concoction. Now it’s a homogenized spread that actually stays on your bread. I’m not saying I like it one way or another, but it’s all grown up now and is certainly ready to be jarred and sold commercially. (Hint, hint.) The bread was just as ridiculously fluffy/crunchy as ever.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
seafood fritters, smoked paprika aioli

So much flavor, and not any one standout “this is definitely scallops” flavor but a meld of the whole sea, clean and fresh and bright. They didn’t even need the tangy sauce for me, and I live to cover up natural flavor with sauces.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
piri piri shrimp

Super spicy thanks to the piri piri pepper with the most perfect texture. I have to admit that I’m somewhat squeamish about touching shrimp tails still (and let’s not talk about the heads), but I could eat a lot of these. Like, a lot a lot.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
green asparagus

My extremely observant impression of this: “very fresh for the most part but then sour pickled something”. You’re welcome. The mushrooms were salted and the whole dish was chilled.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
white asparagus, sauce gribiche

I love when a simple dish really wows. Not that sauce gribiche is so simple, but presenting this white asparagus so purely made it seem more important and almost meaty, like a piece of steak. I loved the grainy texture of the sauce against the cool, tender asparagus. It was like eating a really good tartar sauce. With eggs.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
sepia

The cuttlefish is a freaky animal, but it’s a pleasure to eat a singular thing like this with no bones/veins/any of the freaky stuff you find in land creatures. The sepia has a natural light oceany flavor that was compounded with grilling, and then the richer bacony flavor and bitterness of the greens created a contrast.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
uni, crispy pork belly, yuzu, shiso, togarashi pickled cabbage

My boyfriend said he was worried that pork belly was too easy–bacon makes everything better–but we didn’t care once we tasted the fresh brightness of the uni against the richness of the pork. The spicy/sour cabbage cut its fattiness, and with the bright citrus, this dish became one of the lightest pork preparations I’ve had. But with just enough of that uni iron flavor to make things interesting.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
mackerel, pineapple, hearts of palm

Sour and sweet thanks to the pineapple and the onion, which for me, made the dish. Crispy skin and that tender but hearty hearts of palm texture.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
walleye, hominy, onion ring

So meaty and spicy with so many textures, from the crunchy onion ring with its delicate batter to the hominy, which was like eating a mixture of pasta and popcorn.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
spring vegetable pasta

I don’t know why Dave’s pasta is so good. I half-expected this to be a pasta course simply for a pasta course’s sake, but this and the tagliatelle were two of the most memorable dishes of the night. The peas and garbanzos were so super fresh and al dente against the creamy, rich cheese.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
octopus bolognese tagliatelle

Cheesy but not enough to hide the tang of the tomato, with the thinnest pasta and just the right amount of chewy texture from the octopus. I expected this to be on the seafood side of the flavor spectrum, but it was much more land meat than ocean.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
pork belly

Tender, oniony, and homey, like it was from a recipe passed down by your mom. The best part were the nuts that added to the crunch of the crust.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
steak

I loved the bold flavors of this, the intense spice of the peppers and chilis. Tender and rare, with hearty crushed potatoes.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
pain perdu

I don’t really remember what was going on with this bread, because I was too focused on the amaretto cookie, which was suuuuuper buttery. It was perfect with the texture of the ice cream–just a little grainy, like the best homemade ice cream is.

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC
white asparagus ice cream, strawberry compote, shortbread crumble

The funky, fresh taste of asparagus with the cold and syrupy sweet strawberry chunks and a crumble for texture. This isn’t for the faint of heart with the asparagus flavor so evident and unexpected in ice cream, but Chef Santos seems to love to present a little challenge at the end of the meal (see: foie gras doughnuts).

Louro Tasting Menu, NYC

I won’t rate this since I’m too biased toward Chef Santos’s cooking, but I can tell you that this is the best food I’ve had from him. He’s never been one to shy away from bold flavors, but these dishes were even bolder, even more complex, even more complete than what he was doing at his supper club. Clearly the new kitchen and the hands in it suit his ambitious style, and I plan to be so much of a regular at Louro that they get tired of seeing me.

Louro
142 West 10th Street
New York, NY 10014 (map)

The Lunch Tasting Menu at Babbo
Mar 27th, 2013 by donuts4dinner

Our first trip to Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s Babbo was way, way back in 2010, before we had visited NYC’s Italian heavy-hitters like Torrisi Italian Specialties and Del Posto. At the time, I said that Babbo was doing Italian food better than anyone in its category in my usual superlative-laden way, and three years later, my boyfriend and I wanted to see how it’s holding up.

This is the four-course lunch tasting menu at $49 with an extra pasta course each for $20 and $35 for wine pairings:

Babbo NYC
marinated eggplant with pickled chilies, Pecorino and black garlic vinaigrette

Very appetizing thanks to the bright vinegar notes. Just a touch of sweetness, with chilies that were just spicy enough. Contrast between the tender eggplant slices and the crunch croutons. Relatively simple yet very complete.

Babbo NYC
orecchiette with broccoli rabe pesto

Very green and spring-like. I loved the heartiness of the thick pasta and thought the cheese added a necessary depth but wished they hadn’t left off the salami that comes with the full-price version of this dish to give it even more of a bright/robust contrast.

Babbo NYC
agnolotti with brown butter and sage

So buttery with that hint of browned-butter sweetness. Little packets of tender, buttery lamb topped with sweet and sagey butter sauce. Did I mention butter?

Babbo NYC
beef cheek ravioli with black truffles and Castelmagno

Buttery pockets of tender beef that tasted as if it’d been slowly cooking for hours, with a fresh hit of parsley and the crunch of the truffle shavings.

Babbo NYC
grilled heritage pork loin with braised fennel and cranberry agrodolce

Despite the sweet and sour preparation that made these cranberries even more flavorful than usual, it was the pork that really shone. This was JUST how a pork loin should taste, with that smoky edge and so much natural sweetness. The fennel gave the dish a little crunch and added to the sourness.

Babbo NYC
olive oil and rosemary cake with olive oil gelato

I’m an olive oil cake fiend, and this one was perfection. The crunchy exterior was soaked with butter, and the interior was asking to sop up the oil on the plate. The sorbet was pretty funk-laden, but Batali’s creme fraiche gelato is one of the best frozen things I’ve ever eaten, so I don’t shy away from funk. The candied lemon mimicked the candied texture of the cake and gave the whole dish a brightness.

This was served with Moscato d’Asti, Brandini 2010, which is the only wine pairing that matched what was printed on the menu. The other pairings were from the Bastianich wineries, and I kind of liked the idea of both of the owners being so well represented in the food and wine.

Babbo NYC
“torta caprese” with “fior di latte” and vincotto

A dense, dark, moist flourless cake with the texture of a brownie. We were both convinced there were chocolate chips inside until we were picking nuts out of our teeth afterward. (Sorry.) The thick whipped cream on top had just the slightest hint of chocolate and was complemented by the sweet, barely-there fruitiness of the sticky vincotto.

Rating One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne-Half Star

Babbo NYC

With the way our lunch started, I was pretty skeptical that my feelings toward Babbo were going to remain consistent with my first review. We asked ourselves at one point if the place was actively trying to make sure we had a bad time. The service was polite but not anywhere close to polished, we had been seated at a table shoved up against a wall next to the door, and we saw all of the tables around us get the chickpea bruschetta amuse bouche we ate on our first visit but never got one ourselves.

But the food at Babbo more than made up for the otherwise so-so experience. From the very first course, we kept stopping mid-chew and saying, “Hey, this is really good.” It kept surprising us again and again, even after having been to the Torrisis and Del Postos of NYC. We wanted to be mad at the place for not having Michelin-quality service and decor like they do, but we couldn’t help ourselves. And I can’t wait to go back.

Babbo
110 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10011 (map)

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

Pearl Oyster Bar’s Hugely Chunky Lobster Roll and More
Feb 25th, 2013 by donuts4dinner

I went with my friends Nik and Jack to Pearl Oyster Bar solely because I’d read a Chowhound thread about the lobster pot pie they were making for two weeks only. Apparently this thing was such a big deal that they’d sell out of it within moments of opening the doors, so we rushed to the West Village on a Monday night right after work and tried to order the lobster pot pie before we even saw the menu. Of course that was the only night they’d decided to take a break from making it.

Luckily, Pearl Oyster Bar happens to be known for its lobster roll, and in fact, Chef Rebecca Charles is said to have been the first chef to bring the lobster roll from New England to New York City. Three lobster rolls, three clam chowders, and a plate of fried oysters later, we weren’t missing that lobster pot pie in the least.

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC
New England clam chowder with smoked bacon

Perfectly creamy with just a hint of seafood flavor, this was almost geared more toward the bacon-lovers than the clam-lovers. So I loved it.

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC
fried oysters

The guys, neither of which actually likes oysters, said these melted in their mouths and had none of the slimy texture that oyster-haters always cite. They loved the thick, crispy breading and the dollop of tartar sauce served in the shells.

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC
lobster roll

You have to like mayo to like Pearl Oyster Bar’s lobster roll. You also have to like huge, unbroken hunks of lobster meat. The chunks were sometimes so big that I had to take them off the roll and eat them with a fork and knife. And yet there was so much lobster meat on the roll that even removing half of it left me with a full, fat sandwich. The bun was browned and buttery, just slightly crisp on the outside. It was seasoned just right, with enough going on to hold my interest but never so much as to overpower the fresh, clean lobster flavor.

And as if that wasn’t enough on its own, the lobster roll came with a side of shoestring fries piled higher than the lobster itself. They were a little too thin and difficult to eat for me, but if shoestring is your thing, these had the crunch and the salt you’re looking for.

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC
shoestring fries

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC
Callebaut chocolate mousse

This Belgian chocolate mousse was just as dark and thick as it looks, but we weren’t prepared for how unsweet it was. The whipped cream, too. It was like eating frosting made for adults.

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC
hot fudge sundae

I expected something other than hot fudge and ice cream in this sundae, but nope, it was straight-up classic. The fudge lined the side of the glass from top to bottom and was a nice unsweet contrast to the vanilla ice cream.

Pearl Oyster Bar NYC

Pearl Oyster Bar is what I consider the definitive West Village restaurant. It’s not a hip new East Village place crowded with college kids but a neighborhoody one that’s casual enough for an everyday dinner but also cute enough for a grown-up date. It feels relaxed and established, like a seafood shack in an old fishing town, but there’s just enough of an edge to the food to remind you you’re in NYC.

Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia Street
New York, NY 10014 (map)

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