Artisanal, February 25, 2006
2 Park Avenue
Thanks to a fellow 'hound, I learned that February is fondue month at Artisanal, which translates to 28 special fondues...the menu can be found on the website (http://www.artisanalcheese.com/images/afb_fondue_month.pdf).
The taleggio and beef tips fondue really whet my appetite so I called in advance to make sure that they would have it. The answer to my question "are all of the 28 fondues available today or just the one designated for the 24th available today?" was "All of them are available today". I was ecstatic, and certainly didn't want to be limited to just Le Moulis (the designated 24th fondue option).
So when I got there, I stopped the waitress short and said I already knew what I wanted...the Taleggio with Beef Tips. She said that they didn't have that today. Long story longer, someone made a mistake on the phone, but the bartender, James, who is always pleasant, suggested I order the Artisanal Blend and he'd throw the beef tips in with it. The hostess was also remarkably hospitable and so with my fondue and glass of prosecco, I enjoyed a great, but expensive lunch for one person.
If you are planning on going to Artisanal this month or the fondue, be sure to call (don't use OpenTable) and tell them you are excited about Fondue February...it's a code word that will get you a free glass of wine. Shhh. Bon Appetit!
Dos Caminos, February 23, 2006
373 Park Avenue South
I stopped by to pick up a quick, late dinner after a lengthy wine tasting at I.C.E. The bar wasn't that full for a Thursday night at 9:15 so I was able to place my take out order without having to fight my way to the front. Despite living around the corner, I've never eaten at Dos Caminos until now...I've just been in to have some cocktails before going elsewhere...and it can get quite tight in that awkward bar space.
But tonight, the male bartender took my order for Dos Enchiladas, which were roasted chicken in corn tortillas with Chihuahua cheese. One had a really tasty mole pobano sauce, the other had a tomatillo verde.
I also tried their house tequila which I think was El Tesoro Platinum...though I could be wrong about that. A very nice, almost sweet, sipping tequila. A step above Patron (which is, in my opinion, the lowest rung of acceptable tequila).
The enchiladas were very good, but, like just about all of the BR Guest restaurants, it lacks refinement and food mastery. But that's not a bad thing necessarily. This is good food at reasonable prices in a fun atmosphere. It's food has more substance that what you may find at the comparable The Stanton Social but not as much as, let's say, that of The Red Cat...or maybe Thor or Public. Probably a safe 2nd date place for less adventurous diners. Note: all three bartenders were very personable - so having a cocktail at the bar to feel the place out first is not a bad idea.
Tabla Bread Bar, February 16, 2006
11 Madison Ave.
I went and had a quick, late dinner last week at the Bread Bar. I've eaten at Tabla upstairs twice before, have had drinks on the street (the flights of Jack Daniels during the BBQ Block Party is too much fun/trouble) but this was my first time eating in the bread bar.
The room was about half full at 9:15pm and the "bar" seating was empty. So I sat at the bar and ordered the pulled lamb and mustard mashed potato "Naanini". The menu calls it a street sandwich that is drizzled with lime sauce and chilies and served with raita and shredded romaine. I call it delicious. The good deal of food that was well put together in texture, visual appeal and taste.
I washed it down with a Lagunitas Rich Copper Ale "The Censored" from Petaluma, California. The censored name, for those that might care, was "The Chronic", but someone wasn't happy about that. So they redubbed it The Censored. An excellent beer. One of the better ones I've had lately (it ranks up there with Otter Creek's Copper Ale from Vermont). Service was great. The young gentleman behind the bar with the widest smile and generally good service and timing was what you come to expect from a Danny Meyer restaurant and its staff.
photo courtesy of www.thetastingroom.com
Bouley Bakery, February 16, 2006
I had Jury Duty I needed to get out of today (not that I wanted to, but I simply couldn't commit to the time needed) and found myself a half a block away from Bouley Bakery at 8:30am. Seemed like a no brainer to me.
The very clean and clearly newish space was just being stocked for the day. Bright white and the smell of pastries is certainly one way to wake up. So was the good, strong coffee they serve. Now that's real coffee people!I chose something labeled coco banana pain au chocolate. This sounded absolutely terrific. And I'm sure it would have been if that's what I indeed got. Instead I was given a coconut dusted pastry with I think a thin layer of mushy pear on the bottom. Nonetheless, it was very good, but not even close to what I'd ordered. Disappointed? Yes, but with an alternative as good as the thing I got instead...I made due...and will certainly pay a visit when I return for Jury Duty in the summer.
enoteca I Trulli
enoteca I Trulli27th Street (bet. Lexington and Park Ave. South)So for those that have read my reviews of i Trulli, you may be surprised to see me come out and actually fully endorse it.
I walked the stones throw it is from my home and sat in the enoteca after taking up the challenge I gave myself when I suggested recently on Chowhound that it would be a good first date place. I think, even moreso now, that this is the ultimate first date place in Gramercy/Murray Hill but is well suited for your midweek night out with the wife/girl/boyfriend or even solo dining, which is what I was there for this evening.
I ordered a flight of wines that included, in order of my final preference to them:
1) Castelli Martinozzi 1999, Brunello di Montalcino(was not a part of the flight-I got this on the side.)
2) Castel de Paolis 2001, I Quattro Mori
3) Ronco dei Tassi, Cjarandon 2002
The Brunello (#1) came at the suggestion of the bartender, a knowledgeable young guy who had a great presence and attitude but unfortunately left soon after I ordered. I would have stayed longer to try other suggestions he had...but the other staff were trolls in comparison. I will buy a bottle of this (or several) in the near future.
The Castel de Paolis was the best wine within the flight of wines that I ordered. As velvety an Italian wine will ever get. Nice.
The Ronco was also pretty good. Not nearly of the level of the brunello and slightly tannic compared to the Castel de Paolis. Still drinkable...but needs food...
So I ordered the special house-made ravioli of the day: Veal and Spinach with pistachio sauce.
I've been a sucker for pistachio lately...sparked by a pistachio eclair from Financier (on Stone Street) late last week. Wow! So when I heard this special, I went for it.
The fresh pasta was cooked perfectly al dente and the stuffing was very flavorful...the veal making its presence known and not hidden in a veil of spinach. The pistachio essence was rather mild, which was actually a good thing for this dish. All told, you can't ask for much more than this. The cost was rather reasonable when you consider the freshness of the ravioli and the variety of wines one gets to try (but try and squeeze in a taste of something extra special like the Brunello!). Good stuff.
Valentine's Day Dinner at home
I find restaurants and the people eating at restaurants on Valentine's day to be annoying. The service, the often contrived "special menu", the guys who are trying to impress their new girlfriends, etc...So Danna and I stay in instead...and I cook for her, something I don't get to do as often these days with work and school schedules as they are.Tonight I made an herb crusted rack of lamb with sauteed spinach, steamed string beans and carrots shaped as hearts and flowers (okay, I am at least 30% cheesey) and a wine and lingonberry reduction on top .The recipe for the rack of lamb was from Bill Telepan in the new New York food scene compilation titled "New York: Authentic Recipes Celebrating the Foods of the World" (Williams-Sonoma). Everything else was my doing.Here's what it looked like:
Country (Cafe), Feb. 5, 2006
Madison Ave. at 29th Street.
This is a sophisticated restaurant that has managed to keep snootiness at bay.
The subterranean entrance opens up into three and a half rooms. There is dining behind the host stand, the bar room to the left offers seating on two sides of the square bar and then there are two more private areas, one is more like a small lounge, the other, where we sat, is part of another smaller bar area.The beautiful mixed wood tables and remarkably comfortable chairs (the wall side has leather banquettes) were designed by Dorothy Vote (?) whom I can't find anything online about, but was told she was well known in the business.
The staff are all well dressed and service, for the most part, was exceptional. The last week or so of dining out has proven that great service can and does exist in New York City (Eleven Madison Park, Park Bistro, Annisa and now Country).
Here's what we ate and drank.
Stuffed French Toast with blueberries and hazelnut butter.
Side of Bacon
The Pomegranate Punch was a bit of a disappointment. It was more like a pomegranate fizz. This needed pomegranate syrup to give it any real flavor...and for the price, it was refreshing, but a rip off.
Both of our teas were great and came with interesting, square (and thus stackable for better storage) mugs that we liked.
The stuffed french toast was delicious but despite the waiters "no it does not" it was topped with nuts. This was very, very good and worth trying. It breaks from tradition by being served in a circular shape and both stuffed and topped with very ripe blueberries. Excellent, though Danna said that it loses its excitement halfway through. The bacon, served on cast iron skillets was very good, but unfortunately left lots of grease on the skillet...not necessarily a nice touch.
Earl Grey Tea
Soft Boiled egg with asparagus and mushroom
Side of Bacon
The perfectly cooked soft boiled eggs (2) came served in a bowl with an avocado puree, small, thin slices of asparagus, a bunch of mushroom slices, bacon chips and parmesan. This was delicious. I ordered a croissant to sop up the left over liquid. This is a less stuffing, cleaner tasting dish (and slightly more enjoyable) than say Deborah's Shirred Eggs dish. Both of which are capable of curing any post-drinking ails.
This simple brunch was as enjoyable or possibly more so, of a dining experience that our dinner at Annisa was the other night. The food was nearly as exciting and was executed very well, service was terrific for the most part and the room was fantastic.
The hiccups in service this afternoon included a) not being offered the specials b) not offered bread and c) not getting the menu exactly right re: the nuts on the french toast.
One thing that is unfortunate is that I can see the restaurant being closed in the near future...not because of food, or lack of customers (the place really started to fill up as we were leaving) but because of a structural problem.
There is a glass walkway above the seats in the bar area supported by glass beams. 4 of the 10 or so glass beams were shattered, as a result of the initial construction (I assume, as there were huge bolts drilled into the glass). I think Mr. Rockwell was a bit off his rocker when designing that part of an otherwise beautiful design.
I'll definitely be back for brunch, most likely for lunch and definitely for dinner when the main dining room is open in March.
Photos can be found on my blog.
Annisa, Feb. 3, 2006
13 Barrow Street
So we went to Annisa last night for my belated birthday dinner.
I'll get straight to it. The service was top notch. Our waiter was possibly the best I've experienced in the city or elsewhere for that matter. Generally sensitive to our needs, not intrusive just perfect.
Everything else was simply good...nothing quite reaching levels of greatness. The food, decor and even the restaurant's website fail to acheive what it is capable of. And had I been thinking clearly, I probably would have passed on a restaurant who hasn't changed its menu on its website for 6 months.
And that's what everything seemed like. Sort of half assed. The entry to the restaurant is promising...the bartender wearing a bright orange and white striped shirt and keeping things animated up front. But beyond that and once up the few stairs to the dining room everything gets bland and outdated.
The lighting is dim and romantic, helped out by some paraffin candles on the tables but I'd argue that they keep it so dim so that you don't see the wine spills on the walls and the unfinished (or was it simply not fixed) nicks in corners of the walls. And the fact that not one piece of artwork was on the barren walls, made me have the continued feeling that they were still figuring out what to do with the place.
The only "wow" factor of the evening was what the maitre d' was wearing -- a backless dress that just seemed completely inappropriate.
The food, as I mentioned earlier, was good...probably even very good (desserts) but nothing earth shattering.
Were served an amuse bouche which was a tiny red pepper and creme fraiche (I think) pastry. Very nice.
For apps, Danna had the Trumpet Mushroon Bread Pudding and I had the lobster broth with sea urchin. The bread pudding was fine...definitely earthy as it should be, and was served with half a grilled porcini mushroom. In the end it was completely eaten and was deemed very good.
The lobster broth was nearly "beefy" and hardly seafoody. The island in the middle of the bowl made of lobster, uni and bay scallops was very tasty with a new love for uni being born as a result. I've had it once before and was revolted by it. I gave it another try this evening and have been converted.
For entrees, Danna had the striped bass and I had the seared scallops. The bass was slightly overcooked and the preparation was, in general, less than exciting -- only being served with some salsify. I would recommend skipping this dish.
The scallops were seared perfectly and was served with evenly diced beets and caviar who's taste and crunch were hidden by the beet sauce it sat in. Yes, the scallops were good. No, for being the second most expensive dish on the menu ($33) was it worth it.
The desserts we chose were the kabocha tower (me) and the Chocolate pudding biscuit with banana ice cream.
The essence of kabocha squash was clearly evident...the first time during the night where the main ingredient actually popped out at you. The same goes for the banana in Danna's ice cream - but the texture of the ice cream was off, unfortunately. My dessert came with a preserved piece of ginger that was tough to eat but worth trying. A real zinger!
Petit Fours included mint chocolates, candied ginger and the cutest petit four either of us have ever had - the lychee lollipops. Excellent and very fun.
We did have a slight wine issue. Earlier in the day (see upcoming review) I had lunch (Restaurant Week) at Brasserie and had two glasses of Avinyo Cava that was delicious. Really, really nice.
Keeping with that, I went for a bottle of the Cava on Annisa's menu for dinner. Both the smell and taste were off and the lack of bubbles scared me off and so had to pass on the bottle. I hate to do this anywhere but I couldn't justify drinking something that, to me, tasted and smelled off.
The backless-dressed maitre d'/sommelier said that, despite the funny smell, it was as it should be. But she was VERY gracious toward my request to pass on it, as was the waiter, who steered me to a bottle of prosecco, which was just fine for our needs.
I'm not a master at sparkling wines, and I hope someone can set me straight on this...but neither the prosecco nor the Cava had many bubbles. I mean severely lacking them. The Cava I had earlier in the day had plenty of tiny bubbles in a long stream throughout the drinking. Is this the result of storing the champagne poorly, I don't know. But the lack of bubbles in their sparkling wines was consistent.
Overall I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed. I'd expected more inventive cuisine...or at least the essence of the ingredients to have popped out more - especially for the price. The service was impeccable. And for that alone it might be worth giving it a try. But the bland room and incompleteness of the entire experience will have me look elsewhere next time.
All food photos are credited to Yusheng and his gallery on Flickr. Thanks Yusheng! The photo of the restaurant comes from Annisa's website.