Dining Tour of the Big Apple with Tim Zagat
Several months ago, I went along with Tim Zagat and a reporter for the London Telegraph for a tour of New York's top restaurants. I could tell the story from my own point of view, but I think the author, Douglas Rogers, does a mighty fine account of it in his article that ran this past Sunday, April 20.
Following is the text of the article and here's a link:
New York: Tim Zagat's gourmet tour
Douglas Rogers joins the founder-publisher of the influential Zagat Survey restaurant guides on one of his legendary New York 'dine-arounds'.
Tim Zagat was missing. Somewhere between the reception and the private dining room of Thomas Keller’s imperious Per Se restaurant in New York’s Time Warner Centre, the founder-publisher of the Zagat Survey restaurant guides had disappeared. I’d been warned about this kind of behaviour.
“You do realise,” Michael Mahle, Zagat’s communications director, had whispered as we set off on a five-hour “dine around” with his boss of the 10 best restaurants in New York, “that with Tim anything can happen?”
There are few more pleasurable – or unpredictable – experiences than visiting the city’s best restaurants with the man who knows them better than anyone. A dashing 66-year-old, with a rasping bourbon-and-cigar soaked voice and meaty 6ft 2in, 250lb frame (testament to three decades of dining out), Tim Zagat is the Orson Welles of the New York restaurant world; a man with a manic enthusiasm for good food and good times that would exhaust a teenager.
What I hadn’t expected was that he would stray off-menu so soon. It was only 6.45pm and we had nine other restaurants to see – kitchens to tour, master chefs to meet, sushi and steak to sample – and already the worry was we’d never make it out of Per Se.
“He’s through there,” said a bus boy ferrying imported Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm into Per Se’s $30-million, 5,400sq ft kitchen.
We headed off down a long, ceramic-tiled corridor, past a wall-mounted television screen beaming live footage of French Laundry, Keller’s Napa Valley restaurant. All around was a hushed, focused intensity that was more science lab than restaurant: chefs were delicately drizzling Russian caviar over plates of iced oysters; wrapping smoked bacon around sirloins of farm rabbit.
Before it opened in 2004, waiters at Per Se took dance classes to learn to serve with added grace. That television screen? It was so that the cooks could keep in tune with their counterparts in the French Laundry kitchen.
Eventually we tracked Zagat down to the confectionery room. He was flirting with two pastry chefs, handing out free subscriptions to his online guide, and helping himself to packets of freshly baked coconut truffles.
It was in 1977 that Zagat and his wife, Nina, both Yale-educated Manhattan lawyers, started collecting reviews of New York restaurants written by dinner party friends. They hit upon an idea: why not produce a restaurant guide written by ordinary diners instead of food critics?
The democratic formula paid off: today Zagat is a vast publishing empire, with restaurant surveys covering 60 cities around the world, as well as guides to nightclubs, spas, hotels, golf courses and food markets. More than 300,000 people vote in the surveys, their opinions are condensed into quotable review form by hundreds of editorial staff at the Zagat offices overlooking the Time Warner Centre on Central Park.
But while the distinctive purple-red dining guide is an institution – the “Burgundy Bible” as New Yorkers call it – Tim Zagat’s tours of restaurants, his “dine arounds”, are the stuff of legend. He visits more than 600 New York restaurants a year, and as part of his rounds will often invite friends and journalists along for the ride. Zagat eats dinner out five nights a week and lunch most days.
My own plan was simple: to visit the 10 best restaurants as listed in the 2008 guide, and eat dinner with Tim and Nina (who would join us later), in the last of them. Mahle had drawn up our itinerary and would ride shotgun to keep us as much on schedule as humanly possible.
Our second official stop was Jean-Georges, the Columbus Circle restaurant of Jean-Georges Vongerichten in the lobby of the Trump Hotel. The seas part when Zagat walks into a restaurant. Receptionists flutter their eyes, maître d’s trip over themselves to offer their best tables, and those who don’t recognise him soon step into line. “I’m Tim Zagat,” he’ll say, holding up a copy of his book. “I do this.”
Still, I was surprised to find Vongerichten himself waiting at the front desk to give me a tour of his café and fine-dining restaurant. In the kitchen I sampled a freshly baked cinnamon marshmallow petit-fours that comes with an espresso order; it evaporated in my mouth like a magical sweet foam. “Room service,” Jean-Georges smiled. Guests at Trump’s hotel get the food of the sixth-finest restaurant in New York sent to their rooms.
Two French restaurants have vied for the top Zagat rating for the past five years: Daniel, on the Upper East Side; and the seafood restaurant Le Bernadin on West 51st Street. Le Bernadin was next, and we hopped into a chauffeur-driven town car and headed south.
The genius of Zagat’s guide – at least for Zagat – is that although he doesn’t write the reviews, restaurants still fawn over him as if he did. However, he never accepts complimentary meals, and when a team of waiters at Le Bernadin scurried round offering wine and champagne, he ordered water and made sure Mahle paid for it. “I try not to drink on a tour until the end,” he said. “Otherwise, I’d get stuck in one place.”
I didn’t have the same problem and tossed back a pricey glass of burgundy while chef/owner Eric Ripert, a friend of Zagat, guided us through an elegant dining room lined with 19th-century French paintings and past a private upstairs salon where 40 Japanese bankers were cutting deals over plates of sea-urchin caviar and escolar with miso butter.
Le Bernadin slipped to third in this year’s Zagat ratings, but Ripert seemed unfazed. He reminded Zagat to come to the party he was hosting the next night for the launch of My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals, at which Ripert (who is on the book’s cover), was to roast a Puerto Rican whole hog and administer a whippet shot of truffle foam to the mouths of the guests. “Must I?” Zagat grins. “I hate this job!”
When we arrived in the Four Seasons Hotel lobby to visit the jewel-box sized L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (ranked 10th), a dapper gent in a tailored suit and pink tie greeted him warmly as we walked past. “That was Peter Browne,” Zagat shrugged (Peter Browne as in assistant to the Beatles and name-checked in John Lennon’s Ballad of John and Yoko: “Peter Browne called to say 'You can make it OK, you can get married in Gibraltar near Spain’.”)
Most of Zagat’s energy comes from an insatiable love of food. Arriving outside Sushi Seki, a cult Japanese hole-in-the-wall in the Upper East Side, rated ninth in Zagat, his car door lightly bumped a cyclist ferrying a Chinese food delivery. Zagat apologised, and then his eyes lit up: “What you got there? Noodles? Mmm... smells good.”
There are 2,069 restaurants in the 2008 guide, but as we drove around Zagat would tell the driver to stop if he saw an establishment he’d not been in before; then he’d run in with pad and pen to make notes.
“Go into a restaurant and you can tell if it’s good without eating in it,” he explained. “I look at the people inside, the menu, the kitchen – it has to have a liveliness, an animation.” He paused. “I tell you what, if you really want to know great New York restaurants you really should meet Sirio. Driver, take us to Le Cirque!” And we veered deliciously off course again.
Le Cirque is not in the Zagat top 10, but it’s one of the most famous restaurants on earth.
Opened in 1974 by Tuscan-born Sirio Maccioni – “the world’s great maître d’ and owner,” said Zagat – it’s been a gourmet playground for global high society for 30 years. It recently moved to the sleek glass-and-steel Bloomberg tower on East 58th Street, where, incredibly, Maccioni, 76 and a cross between Don Corleone and Marcello Mastroianni in his black tux and dark glasses, still greets his guests at the front door. He gave Zagat a hug and was soon gliding me through a sumptuous circular dining room set below a billowing silk circus tent, the walls a shiny, lacquered ebony.
We’d just missed Nancy Reagan and Henry Kissinger, but the banker Sandy Weill was at one table and the scent of money and power in there was as strong as the smell of black truffles on the plates of foie-gras ravioli.
Adjacent to the bar, Zagat showed me a wall of photographs of Maccioni with friends: Sinatra, Jackie O, Sophia Loren, Bill Clinton, Silvio Berlusconi. The story goes that Pope John Paul II once asked if he could reserve a table at Le Cirque. Maccioni told him: “Of course, but can you guarantee me a table in heaven?”
“My ambition,” Zagat said dreamily, “is to make it up on this wall!”
Le Cirque is not all about celebrity. Maccioni popularised such dishes as crème brûlée and pasta primavera, and helped launch the careers of master chefs Daniel Boulud and David Bouley, whose eponymous restaurants are rated one and seven respectively in Zagat.
It was way past 10pm now and it was clear we were not going to make it to Peter Luger, the Brooklyn steakhouse, nor to Chanterelle, the French classic of David and Karen Waltuck in Tribeca. Mahle called Nina to say we’d be dining at Bouley in Tribeca, but first we’d see two more restaurants uptown: Daniel and Sushi Yasuda. And it was there, inevitably, that the wheels came off.
In Daniel, a haute-Renaissance palace of red velvet carpets, Venetian pillars and coiffed Upper East Side sophisticates dining on frogs legs and foie gras and milk-fed pig, I ordered a basil-infused vodka cocktail at a gorgeous gold-leafed bar counter to survey the glamorous scene. Zagat, forgetting his no-booze rule asked me for a sip – and then downed the whole drink. He turned to Mahle who also had a cocktail. “Come on, Michael,” he growled – and downed his drink too. “Right,” he said, “anyone for sushi?”
Sushi Yasuda was 22 blocks south. I’d never heard of it, but it’s the highest-rated Asian restaurant in Zagat’s history. It was on the ground floor of a nondescript commercial block on East 43rd Street. The décor is unremarkable – blond wood, bright light – but the dozen tables were heaving, and behind the counter Naomichi Yasuda, a big, bald Japanese chef in his fifties, was rolling rice and cutting fish with the flourishing precision of an orchestra maestro. When he saw Zagat walk in three stools miraculously became available at the counter. “Mr Zagat,” he smiled. “Sit. Sit. I take care of you…”
It started with Long Island Spanish mackerel paired with a sake served on a miniature bamboo mat. Then a portion of Idaho rainbow trout with a different drink. Florida Eel came next, spiced up with a rare, rich shot of soy sauce. A piece of Rhode Island bonito went down, smooth as an oyster. Each portion of fish was paired with a sake from a different Japanese region, which we swiftly knocked back. Then came an extraordinary, sloppy, pungent sea urchin from Santa Barbara. “Best aphrodisiac in world,” said Yasuda.
Mahle briefly popped out to call Nina to tell her we were running late. While he was out, Zagat ate his portion of Hamachi yellow tail. “Don’t tell him,” he ordered – then ate his own. I asked the young couple next to me how they chose the restaurant. “We found it in Zagat,” the woman said. Zagat heard her and winked. “It’s a great book, isn’t it?” Then he drank more sake and another tuna slice. “You wouldn’t think we have reservations at Bouley tonight, would you?” he grinned. “Hey, do you want to come with us?”
I suspect they might have, except it was then that Nina marched in. A soft-spoken brunette, she had the definite air of someone who had seen her husband in action many times before. She suggested it might be best we call it a night before her husband created more havoc. Zagat’s schoolboy grin briefly gave way to disappointment; it was clear who wore the trousers around here, he would have to go home.
Mahle ordered me a cab while I watched Nina shove Zagat into the back of the town car. As it sped away, he managed to stick his head out the window. “Go to Bouley!” he commanded me. “It’s brilliant!” And then he they were gone, off to their Upper West Side apartment overlooking Central Park. It was way past 1am.
Zagat's top 10 New York restaurants
1. Daniel 60 E 65th St, between Madison & Park Aves (001 212 288 0033).
2. Sushi Yasuda 204 E 43rd St, between 2nd & 3rd Aves (972 1001).
3. Le Bernardin 155 W 51st St, between 6th & 7th Aves (554 1515
4. Per Se 10 Columbus Circle, 5th fl; 60th St at B’way (823 9335).
5. Peter Luger Steak House 178 Broadway at Driggs Ave, Brooklyn (718 387 7400).
6. Jean Georges 1 Central Park W, between 60th & 61st (212 299 3900).
7. Bouley 120 W Broadway at Duane St (964 2525).
8. Chanterelle 2 Harrison St at Hudson St (966 6960).
9. Sushi Seki 1143 First Ave, between 62nd & 63rd Sts (371 0238).
10. L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon 57 E 57th St, between Madison & Park Aves (350 6658).
Zagat New York Restaurants (£9.99). Zagat London Restaurants (£9.99). To join Zagat.com, where you can rate restaurants, read members’ reviews, and have updates such as menus, maps, food trends and new openings sent to your email address or BlackBerry, visit www.zagat.com/account.
Story from Telegraph Travel:
Bondgård - Allendale Cheese Shop
Some news to share with all of you. I will be leaving my position as Manager of Corporate Communications at Zagat Survey to pursue my dream of owning a cheese shop.
Please feel free to follow along with me as I build my new business: http://cheeseshopblog.com
Park Avenue Bistro "Blog Dinner"
So I think the best way to "review" the experience or more to the point, the food we had, I've gone ahead and commented on the menu we were given. Is this a harsh review? Perhaps, but there is no excuse for a restaurant handing out a menu as poorly written as this. I freely admit that I have spelling, grammatical and syntax errors all throughout my blog. But this is simply a diary or personal food journal of my restaurant visits for myself. It's not a job, I'm not trying to gain advertisers/business and I'm not attempting to win any awards for my writing/blogging. I'm still not even sure if more than 10 unique visitors have stopped by.
Anyway, much the way you can judge the character of a person by the way he or she plays a round of golf, the same can be said of how one presents their business - whether it be via a website, a menu, or other branding. If that's true, Park Avenue Bistro needs some serious work. At the very least, if you aren't ready to host a party - don't host a party. There's nothing like running out of booze - unless of course you hand out the following menu... (click on it to make it larger)
Bruno Jamais, February 2008
I had the pleasure of being invited to dinner at Bruno Jamais a week or so ago and was surprised to see that such an interesting restaurant existed on the Upper East Side. I'd never heard of it, truth be told, and had zero expectations walking in.
Oh, and I'll come right out and say it - a friend of the restaurant owners invited and paid for my meal, but I assure you that what I write below is honest and accurate.
You could walk by the townhouse the restaurant is nestled in and never know that a restaurant exists there. This, I suppose is part of its success at giving off a secret, club-like vibe where only those in the know, know. However, its inconspicuous location and set up isn't going to help with walk-ins or even getting people to notice it. That's a gamble that Mr. Jamais has taken, and by the look of the crowd inside, it seems to have paid off.
The people inside are, quite frankly, attractive and have what you might say some deep pockets - at least their clothes and overall style would suggest so. It's a peculiar place in that some of these people looked as though they were treating the restaurant as a pre-game to a long night ahead, others looked like it could be a quick bite out before going home to retire for the evening and still others looked like they'd nibble a bit here or have some drinks, go someplace else for a few hours and then find their way back at 1:00am for some appetizers and cocktails to close the night up. I would guess they'd make it more like 2:00am for their return visits on weekend nights, which is when the restaurant is open until. Who knew?
Reading up on the place, it had previously been labled a supper club or private dining club of sorts. This really isn't the case. There are, however, many regulars (you can just tell), but certainly not a private club of any kind. I bet if it became an Open Table restaurant, it would have a better chance of dispelling this rumor.
On to the food
We started out with a signature dish, the lobster creme brulee and the terrine of foie gras. The foie gras was respectable in every way. I liked the toast points - rectangular blocks instead of the traditional sliced brioche, but why fix what ain't broke? The portion size was perhaps too big, but I suppose the size justified the equally large price tag for it. The lobster creme brulee could, we surmised, be either very good or very bad. In the end, Danna didn't really care for it - something to do with the texture, but I enjoyed the flavor and the amount of lobster. But I think the presentation could use some work. I can see how people would either love or hate this dish though I find myself in the middle - enjoying it just enough.
Danna ordered the duck and I will stop right here to say that this dish was fantastic. The best dish of the night and one that you 'll walk away knowing you'll remember it for quite some time. This is the dish to order at Bruno Jamais as far as I'm concerned. I ordered the short ribs, which were good. Nothing wrong with them, but not at all special - compared to some of the versions that I've had the good fortune of trying around the city. But again, it was very good, sound cooking, remarkably tender, etc.
Danna ordered an apple tart of some kind and I, though totally full at this point, ordered the clearly store-bought sorbets. In fact, none of the desserts were made in-house as far as I could tell. Though Danna enjoyed her tart and gave it a passing grade regardless of where it was made.
Overall we loved the vibe of the place. It was alive, but not manic. The service was excellent and the food was above average if not priced a bit high...but then again, for the neighborhood, I suppose I understand.
I'd go back, and will probably get a later reservation to see what the nightlife vibe turns into. It looked like it was going to be a pretty fun night the night we were there...and we left by 9pm.
South Gate, February 29, 2008
Kerry Heffernan, one of the nicest chefs you'll ever come across, is back.
He's ditched the Hudson Yards Catering gig for a restaurant in the Essex House Hotel. And what a restaurant it is!
The place is beautiful. The location is ideal. The food is terrific.
My only issue with the decor is the display columns at the bar. It seems out of place to have on display the bottles of booze the restuarant carries in the way that they've set it up. It seems off. I would have put vases with seasonal fruits or something like that in the glass cases instead of the bottles of Johnny Walker, Cointreau and the like.
But the food is great and brings back memories of a previous incarnation of Eleven Madison Park. The food isn't too frilly. You won't see crazy food combinations or even super over the top artsy presentations (like Dovetail, or the current Eleven Madison Park). What you get is perfectly cooked dishes in presentations that are approachable.
Some items have made the journey including a Chicken sandwich with St. Andre cheese but new items like the pork belly that I had show that this restaurant has legs.
I've always enjoyed this chef's soups, and was pleased at the semi-deconstructed french onion soup, which they simply call an onion consomme. It had all of the ingredients of the bistro favorite but instead of cheese oozing all over the top, it had three or four cheese dumplings floating in the rich-hued broth. Clever, but not too clever and effectively tasty.
The pork belly, served as two logs, were also delicious and served with an Chinese leeks and kholrabi puree. All of it excellent - though the level of thinness that these purees are being made to make me think that its purpose is more about being a sauce than a starch. Similar thing happened at Bruno Jamais the other day.
Anyway, a great meal in a great space with terrific service. Can't ask for much more than that.
Asiate, Jan. 29, 2008
Several things were at play for this meal. For starters, Jan. 29th is my birthday and my employers are kind enough to fit the bill for lunch on our birthdays...or at the very least its become a tradition and turning back on us now would be gauche. But I respect the fact that it is their money, so I took advantage of Winter Restaurant Week, which takes place around this time of year, to revisit a terrific, fancy restaurant that is normally a bit on the expensive side.
Asiate, as I've said before, is really a great restaurant. The room is terrific and the whole floor that it shares with a cocktail lounge and hotel spa is very welcoming. And of course there is a Dale Chihuly piece as you walk out the elevator. And lastly, the food is very good.
My colleagues and I were seated in a booth, which was excellent and afforded terrific views of the limestone beauty known as 15 Central Park West - also known as the new home of much of the city's wealthiest people (Sandy Weil, par example). Here's what we ate:
Scallop Chowder with root vegetables
The menu today was ripe for comparisons to my recent lunches at Jean Georges and Eleven Madison Park. So I decided to repeat my orderings - knowing that it would yield significantly different results. Of the three root vegetable-based soups I've had at these restaurants, this was the weakest. As far as chowders are concerned - this was very good. Nothing at all wrong with it, per se...it just didn't wow like the soups at the other places. Presentation was also weak in comparison.
This was served with some micro greens, pomegranate seeds and I believe a blue cheese of some kind. By my two colleagues accounts who ordered this - it was just fine.
Tiffany ordered the sea bass which looked, and apparently tasted, terrific.
I honestly don't recall what this was...a flan of some kind for sure and I believe the fruit was pineapple and mango. Apparently it was very good. Nice photo (thanks Tiffany).
Eleven Madison Park, RW - Jan. 23, 2008
Winter Restaurant Week '08
The last "nice" lunch I had was at Jean Georges, a place that I believe is arguably the best, most consistent restaurant in New York City. I stand by that statement although it is certainly loose footing when you have restaurants like Eleven Madison Park. I've been to EMP and JG about the same amount of times - perhaps a few more times at JG and only a handful of times while DanielHumm has been in the kitchen at EMP. But every time, the food is outstanding. For the second consecutive time, we didn't get our corner seat - though we did get (again) the table next to it. So at least they are consistent in some regard. When asked if we could have that particular table (which was, truthfully, set up as two tables together), the staff girl said it was, um, reserved. Now, no one sat there during the duration of our meal and the restaurant was practically empty, so I call BS on her for that. If I wanted to sit there...the Danny Meyer playbook, I assume, would say that I should be sat there. Whatever. The young, bespeckled sommelier recognized us and was, as usual, awesome to work with. He picked out a great Mersault to go with our salmon. A '94 with just the right minerality. Anyway, the room was nice as usual, service was awfully chipper minus the hostess, bread and water service was efficient and the food...well, the food was great. And, on purpose, I chose more/less the same dishes that I recently had at Jean Georges. I must say that in all respects, each dish was better at Eleven Madison Park.
Parsnip Pear Veloute with Chestnuts
Differences here include that a) it wasn't poured tableside, I guess because of the foam; b) it was free of annoying strands of rosemary; c) it tasted better and looked better. The even consistency and coloring of the soup was remarkable. The flavors were perfect, and completely identifiable.
Salmon with citrus (blood orange, etc.)
This was great. Unlike the overly salty version at Jean Georges, this was served skin up, which gave that extra bit of texture in addition to a nicer, fuller flavor to the fish beneath. The blood orange wasn't too sweet nor too bitter and really worked with this dish nicely. Perfectly cooked and presented.
Araguani Grand Cru Chocolate Symphony with Caramel and Maldon Sea Salt
Make no mistake - this was delicious and far better that it looks. The caramel on the plate and in the "cookie" was remarkable. The cocolate ice cream was fudge-like and of great texture. Awesome.
Jean Georges (Nougatine Room) - Jan. 11, 2008
Parsnip soup with honey roasted chestnuts. The soups at JG are almost always incredible. This was no exception - but, like a dish here and there - had one thing that was unnecessary - the rosemary. The rosemary added little to no flavor but did add the undesirable task of having to eat around them. I was suprised to see whole pieces of rosemary in it - one would expect, perhaps, to see a rosemary oil of some kind dotting the bottom of the plate instead...
Slow baked salmon with crispy mushrooms, etc. This was cooked flawlessly, and was no doubt a very good piece of salmon...but it was overly salty and the aioli was too, making it impossible to try with the fish.
Telepan - Winter 2007
Stone Park Cafe, December 9, 2007
I wasn't in the mood for dessert, but Danna ordered the chocolate brioche pudding with caramel ice cream. This was fairly disappointing. The brioche lost its tell-tale deliciousness in what seemed like overcooked chocolate. Presentation was pretty weak too. Overall, not a good dish.
Five Guys, Mee Noodles, Wondee Siam II and Joe's Shanghai
The burgers are pretty well known, but I guess I didn't know enough about them when I ordered my regular cheeseburger and found myself biting into a double decker. The burger, despite being cooked "well done" by order of the owner, wasn't dry and had some flavor to it. Not the best burger - not even a contender - but good nonetheless and is a better option, in my opinion, than the overrated burger at burger joint at Le Parker Meridien.
I had the pan-fried "meat" dumplings in clear soup ($4.80) and was pleasantly surprised at how far a five-spot can go (plus tip of course). The dumplings were porky and sort of what you'd expect - except you get quite a few (6) and they are on the larger side. The soup itself was quite good on a cold day and not as salty as I'd feared. Decent enough for a return visit.
Wondee Siam II
To get my Thai fix, I visited the 9th Ave. outpost of Wondee Siam. I'm infatuated by Sripraphai's version of Penang Curry and have yet to find one elsewhere that is as good or better. Unfortunately, Wondee's doesn't come close either, but I do like their version - especially because of the pineapple that's added to the dish. It gives it a very different flavor and cuts the heat (of which was fairly minor) nicely. Service was pretty bad and the decor is hideous, but I'd likely do take out again from here instead of Pam Real Thai, another local option.
I'll never forget the first time I had the famous soup dumplings at the Pell Street location. They were truly a unique experience at the time and, having been a few years, were due another go. So I walked over to the midtown branch and found myself in another ratty looking room with fairly brusque but not necessarily mean, service. I placed my order: crab and pork soup buns and an order of the pan-fried, pork dumplings (and an order of the spicy shredded beef to go for dinner later that night). The soup buns were as good as I remember them - though more expensive and of fewer numbers per order (6 compared to 8). The pork dumplings were actually not good at all and my dinner later that night was simply passable if maybe a little too tough.
Blue Ribbon Sushi & Grill, November 30, 2007
I'm sure I've said this before, but there are some dishes I simply look forward to having at specific times of the year. And I often like to have them at different places for comparison's sake. For example, bone marrow. The last time I ordered the dish as an appetizer was the first time - at Blue Ribbon on Sullivan Street. It was served with an oxtail marmalade and a perfect bread and was, by all accounts, memorable. I've been itching to have that dish again or something similar for several years, although one could say my annual ordering of osso buco satisfies both needs (the bone marrow part, and the annual dish thing).
So after seeing the band Ween play a rocking concert at Terminal 5, I made my way back near my office to try out the newly opened Blue Ribbon Sushi & Grill, and more importantly, their bone marrow dish. This version was cut horizontally into two long pieces instead of the vertical tri-cuts at the SoHo outpost. And there wasn't any accompaniment to the marrow either, though the same delicious bread was in attendance. Overall - very good, but I felt like something was missing...maybe it was the small amount of marrow on the bones? In any event, this was fine and the pork shumai I ordered was equally adequate but not outstanding. I ordered just one piece of sushi - amberjack - and was disappointed with the size and lack of flavor in the fish and rice. Blase. I'll probably return for lunch, but it isn't the great place I'd hope it'd be just yet. Maybe some happy hour cocktails there with some coworkers will help shine the light on this place.
Irving Mill, November 30, 2007
Restaurants I Want to Go to: A top 10 list
I'm sure I'll go to others before these, but nevertheless, these are on the must-try as soon as possible list.
The second list are ten restaurants that I'd eventually like to get to but aren't top priorities. Note that some of these are not in New York City but all are in the States.
Visitors are welcome to suggest dishes for any or all of these. Thanks
1. The Tasting Room
2. Irving Mill
4. Little Owl
8. Hill Country
10. Mas (Farmhouse)
L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon
2. Per Se
3. French Laundry
4. Chez Panisse
7. Peter Luger
9. The Herbfarm
10. Inn at Little Washington
P.S., if you need a date for one of these restaurants, just let me know.
Al di La, November 9, 2007
Doug and I went out to Brooklyn on Friday night for two reasons, the first to support my friend Jeff's business and/or clients, two of whom were having a gig at Southpaw, and secondly, to check out Al di La, a restaurant that has been on my To Do list for two years.
I dropped Doug off in front so that we could get a table or get on line, as this place is known to fill up fast. I finally found parking a block away (after circling several blocks) and entered to see Doug sitting down with menus at the ready. A very good sign, as there were about four groups of people coming in behind me.
Al di La is a perfectly charming restaurant on a nice street in Park Slope and despite the constant action inside, the staff is very cordial. It took awhile for them to get back to us to take our order, but the food made it to our table in good time and the space between courses was also respectable. Here's what we had:
Doug ordered the pasta special...which was a dry (not fresh) pasta with shredded pork shoulder. Cooked to perfection, this dish was a winner and is a good example of why the restaurant has been compared to places like Babbo. Everything about it was "good". Might not have "super incredible" but exactly what our expectations could be for it. Solid.
I ordered the ricotta gnocchi in sage and brown butter sauce. This was luscious and similar to the gnudi you can get at the Spotted Pig. Very tasty, but I would give the Spotted Pig the edge if I had to compare.
Jean Georges, November 9, 2007
I eat at the bar at Jean Georges fairly regularly. The food is nearly always delicious and the service when it's "on" is terrific despite the occasional, lengthly lag time between appetizers and entrees. And overall the staff is a delight. There is, however, one person I would love to see removed from the staff, and though I don't recall her name, she's a bartender in the Nougatine room. Everytime she is working, I sigh. She doesn't pay attention to customers, she's slow at doing just about everything from making drinks to tagging wine bottles, and just has a "way" about her that is inately annoying. But today she was outright wrong in serving her customers, in particular - me, equally.
I took my usual seat at the bar (far corner spot nearest the kitchen) and she politely asked me to move as it, and the seat next to it, was "reserved". Fine. I've never seen a bar seat reserved before, but went about my business three seats in. A few minutes pass by and another individual (who couldn't do the common courtesy of taking off his hat) sits down in the same seat. Now, he was alone and was not the reserved diner. But this witch of a bartender took his order. As he left to use the men's room, I asked her why she allowed him and not me. She said that she didn't realize he sat there as she wasn't paying attention. So then why did you take his order??? There were other seats at the bar she could've asked him to move to, much like she did to me...but she didn't. And she got a crap tip (still more than she deserved, but I like the other guys that get some of the tip) for it and an official complaint to Pierre Vongerichten the next time I see him.
In any event...this what we had today...which was good but sadly ruined by this awful girl.
(pics and descriptions to follow).
Today's flower arrangement made the most of the season's changing leaves.
Arguably the best mushroom soup I've ever had. It was served with a shredded chicken confit and enoki mushrooms. Fantastic.
This was the petit filet served with brussel sprouts and a pepper that really gave the dish a zing. The lime was a good foil to the spicyness. Overall a very tender piece of meat and I love the brussel sprouts at JG. This is the third time I've had them in as many weeks. Can't get enough of them.
This was a cranberry brunoise (I think) served with a trail mix of candied walnuts and dried fruit. It's construction made sense...just was not a dessert for me.
Pamplona, November 6, 2007
Went to the Taste of BlackBerry event tonight - basically a gathering of Research in Motion (RIM) users/developers - and had the luck of being invited to dinner by some of the fine folks who work for Handmark - and the developer's of its PocketExpress.
When asked for a suggestion on a place to eat, we (after busting out our ZAGAT TO GOs on our BlackBerries) stayed nearby to the event and checked out Pamplona, Alex Urena's latest restaurant concept in the same space that was Urena. I had a slightly better than good, not quite great dining experience at Urena several months back and was excited to see how he'd handle a more casual concept.
Fortunately, as Frank Bruni would agree the following morning in his New York Times review of the restaurant, the makeover was in fact very good - worthy of 2 stars from the Bruni.
Our generous host, Steve, ordered quite a bit of food for the table. We started with a pitcher of sangria, but I think we'd all agree that it was awful. In fact, it was bitter. We quickly switched to two different (and unknown to me) Spanish red wines, which was a much better route to take.
Pretty much all of the tapas items we had were good, which included the Buñuelos (De Queso iberico, manchego cheese and cider fritter, $5), Pincho De Chorizo Y Gambas (fresh chorizo and shrimp skewer over goat cheese toast, $4), Albondigas (meatballs eggplant, sherry vizcaina sauce, $6), Bocadillo De Jamon (jamon serrano, iberico cheese, $6) and some Blue Point oysters, $12.
We shared all of the main dishes as well including the best dish of the night, Cochinillo (confit suckling pig, chestnuts puree, swiss chard, celery root gratin, $35), Paella Mar Y Montaña (braised rabbit, fresh chorizo, squid, mussels, shrimp, bomba rice, $30), 16+oz Chuleton rib eye steak (patatas bravas, onion vizcaina, $38), Ensalada De Pollo (stuffed chicken - baby greens, jamon serrano, morcilla, $12), and the Atun Y Sopresada (cured tuna sliced thin, sopresada aioli, $12).
The only problem with this restaurant, well, actually two, is that it's still not in a location you might normally find yourself (despite the fact that I recently moved from the neighborhood) and isn't a terribly exciting restaurant. I'm not alone when I say that I think if Chef Urena can find a new location for his cooking, I think he will really take off.
Taste of New York
Some of the highlights for me included Marco Canora's tortellini (Insieme), Dan Barber's take on a V-8 (Blue Hill at Stone Barns), ilili's veal breast skewers, Jean George's goat cheese parfait and Hill Country's beef ribs. There were some excellent drinks too - especially the St. Germain (Hi Gerri!) champagne cocktail and an interesting display by Virgin Atlantic, featuring both the business class "beds" and roomy coach seating.
Though there were some great food items, there were also some clunkers. Alto/L'Impero's sardine dish was pretty weak, Butter tried to hard with their lamb chop, Chinatown Brasserie's chef looked like he'd rather be elsewhere, and Michael Lomonaco, who I like on a personal and professional level served a hefty portion of a cold seafood salad...which was fine, but if your restaurant is Porter House and are considered a steakhouse...,
The folks at Devi are remarkably nice, Marcus Samuelson's Merkato looks promising and I tip my hat to Wylie Dufresne for his amusing popcorn soup though confess it wasn't satisfying as a food. Oh, and JGV, dressed in his normal chef's whites looked pretty cool, as usual, sitting in his black Mercedes Gelaendenwagen out front. Good times.
Jean Georges, October 30, 2007
I can't believe it's been three weeks since I've visited JG for lunch. I did get a tour of the kitchen by the man himself two weeks ago, and now I'm back. The pacing between appetizer and entree was a ridiculously long 18 minutes. No excuse for that. The food though, was as good as ever.
Cauliflower soup with crystallized mustard and pickled florets...Yeah, this was pretty awesome. I mean, cauliflower - big deal. But this was great. The crystallized mustard was a real zinger and the florets were just the right acidic foil to the creamy soup and spicy mustard crystals.
Sweet potato cake with chai tea ice cream and pear/apple butter. Yeah, this was as good as it sounds. It was really very good. The best part, however, was the chai tea ice cream. Delicious! The crumble was very good too.
El Quinto Pino, October 24, 2007
Cafe Gray, October 18, 2007
Forget the food for a second. The service was terrible. I am turned off from returning solely based on the service (or lackthereof). The host was very nice and sat us at a great table, but we were completely ignored for at least ten minutes once we got seated at which point we were given the menus. Another five to seven minutes passed by before the waiter (of which it seemed there were only two) took our order. This is understandable if the place was busy, but we were one of maybe four or five seated tables.
But what would bring me back is the room and the view of Columbus Circle. I really liked the interior design of this place (beautiful wood and a 20s, Jazzy feel to it) and wonder if a different staff and a different style of cooking could better suit it.
Alas, Gray Kunz' traditional French fare - with a bit of a modern twist - seemed less "push-pull" as it has been known for and more about more salt and more butter. Today's lesson in dining out was all about learning to navigate really, really rich dishes (that perhaps I'm not used to) and to avoid what was no doubt dangerously undercooked poultry. In this case it was the poussin dish. The presentation was beautiful, however the leg meat of the bird was pinker than my gums. I found some safe area in the breast meat, but how much fun is it when you have to search (and cross contaminate with a dirty knife) for safe parts to eat?
Anyway, the summer truffle ravioli was good and very rich but nothing I can't imagine being difficult to replicate at home. Simply add more butter than you think you should and voila. Oh, and don't expect much. Two small raviolis, some crispy kernals of corn and a rich sauce is pretty much all it was.
The risotto appetizer with mushroom fricassee was, by all accounts, delicious. Incredibly rich, buttery and salty but not lacking the delicious flavors of the mushrooms which were added to the risotto tableside. The best dish we tried.
Here, in honor of Serious Eats' National Meatloaf Appreciation Day, is a picture of the mini foie gras meat loaf - the foie gras was seared and visible on the top of this tasty mashup of meat. Solid dish. Very rich.
Here's the poussin. As I said, brilliant presentation - questionable cooking practices. Also, the flavor, of what I was able to eat, was good...but not necessarily awe-inspiring.
We also ordered the skate schnitzel - which was tasty but I've had better skate elsewhere (Eleven Madison Park and Jean Georges come to mind).