Russ and Daughters, May 28, 2006

Russ and Daughters
179 E. Houston St. (bet. Allen/1st Ave. and Orchard Street)

I decided to surprise Danna and come back from the shore early. I came home as usual via the Garden State Parkway but since I was going directly to the city, not northern NJ this time around, I decided to take the Outer Bridge Crossings route...which takes you to Battery Park and thus the FDR Drive. Its about 10:00am at this point, and as I see the Houston Street Exit I quickly think about how good a bagel with lox and cream cheese would be, and how happy Danna would be to have breakfast upon my suprise arrival.

So I get off at Houston and drive the six blocks or so, make a U-Turn and park in front of the shop. I've only been in once before, and it was a half hour before they officially opened, so this was my first experience.

I decided to play it safe with the classic: Everything bagel, plain cream cheese and lox.

Good god almighty. This was fantastic. I was revved up for whatever came at me for the rest of the day. That's how good this bagel was. The bagel was good - not nearly the best we've had (Danna was disappointed in her everything bagel - we both prefer the one's at Bernie's Bagels in Allendale, NJ) but the combo of cream cheese and the best lox/smoked salmon I've ever had was unbelievable.

An everything bagel with cream cheese (Danna) and my bagel with cream cheese and lox came to just under $10 and it was well spent. I'll be back before too long but not soon enough.

Cheesey New Indian Restaurant

There's a new Indian restaurant in my neighborhood that is soon to open, called Masala Bollywood. Let me tell you, the cheese factor on this one is high and sadly it adds nothing (as far as style is concerned) to the street either. Ugh.


Stout, May 24, 2006

133 W. 33rd St.

I had lunch with my wife Danna today at Stout. The place is really cool looking inside - sort of a faux rustic carriage house (they even have a room called the "Carriage House") or pub look inside. It also happens to be really large. This would be something you would love to have in your town if you lived in the suburbs.

Alas, they can't even get a hamburger right. The worst burger I've had in the city, sadly. The meat just wasn't of good quality, and to make it worse, it was loaded with Worcestshire sauce to the point of bitterness. Blech. The fries weren't much better.

This is a real shame because a cool looking place like this should do better than that and the neighborhood REALLY needs good lunch options. Sadly this one barely passes as doable, though if I worked in the area I'd probably still limit my visits to once a month.


NY Culinary Festival - The Story of a Disaster, Friday, May 20, 2006

What an awful event.

Where to begin?

They take your ticket (I bought mine online and printed it at home) and give you another, smaller ticket. No direction, no brochure, no map or list of vendors, NOTHING.

I give my ticket to the ticket people (who have no idea about anything) and see the ugliest, most rudimentary "festival" I've ever seen. The space is terrible - cold-like, hard, unfinished and simply ugly with little to no signage, balloons or anything that makes a festival a festival.

It's 6:25 and I am excited to hear Max McCallum (USA's cheese whiz) and Terrence Brennan (Artisanal/Picholine) talk about cheese and fondue - scheduled to take place at 6:30. But no one seems to know where they are or if in fact a cheese demo is taking place today. I am then told to come back in a half hour. Okay.

So I check out the booths...apparently there are supposed to be 80 vendors...currently I'd say there are 25 set up at most. Less than half. What the hell did I pay my $20 admission fee for?

So I wait on this unbelievably long line to purchase food/drink coupons. It takes awhile but I have nothing else to do. A half hour or so later and Josh DeChellis is making a trout is miso marinade which is kinda cool...but he looks like he'd rather be in the weeds at Sumile or Jovia. I wish I was in the weeds at Sumile or Jovia.

An hour later and still no one knows what's going on. And, it turns out, that there won't be a cheese demo tonight. But no one is sure exactly why.

So I go to get some food. And there are some good things here, I must admit. Woo Lae Oak had these chicken drummettes (2 per order for $4) that were delicious. Crispy, soft in the right spots, flavorful and addictive. I actually went back for another order before I left. They were also the best deal of the night.

Aspen had buffalo sliders for $6 each. Mine, and a few others on plates ready for sale, were missing the gonzo sauce - a sign of uneveness that scares me a bit. But the burger was delicious. The bacon on it was amazing. The only good smell in the entire place was coming from the grill it was being cooked on. But this is no deal. They serve 2 of them as an appetizer at the restaurant for $12. No bargain (and actually its more expensive considering the cost to get in). They claimed to be serving three dishes, including a trout taco, but only the burgers were being sold. Roy's was there and the staff seemed friendly, the cajun crusted tuna looked good but was too "convention center" to purchase.

I took a chance and paid the $5 for a scallop dish from Duvet. This offered the most food...three bay scallops on three scallop shells (so 9-10 bay scallops total) in a passionfruit ceviche or sorts. This was actually pretty good. I was surprised.

They had some wine from Long Island (50, pronounced five oh; and 48, pronounced forty-eight). They were from different vineyards on the same stretch of road on the North Fork. None of them excited me but the 50 was worth trying again in a better environment.

Soup Man was there and offered three soups, the most expensive being $3 (seafood bisque), Artisnal had a cheese plate for $4 that included Bridgid's Abbey (one of my favorites from Cato Corner Farm) and some others that were pretty good, Picholine had a gazpacho of some kind that did look good but the rest was pretty boring. Some bored out of their skulls guys from Brooklyn didn't even try to sell their cupcakes (um, I think you joined the bandwagon a little too late fellas), and neither did the guy from Restaurant Insider magazine (you had to pay $2 for a copy of the magazine).

Nina and Tim Zagat were justly awarded the first (and hopefully last) ever Golden Fork Award for their Zagat Survey. Alas, they weren't there to accept the award. Their son Ted did the honors.

But before all of this, on the "stage", a comedian with some interesting material was having the worst gig of his career. The emcee of the event actually came out during his performance to give him the "you've got five minutes" talk. The comedian was speechless and couldn't believe that that just happened.

And before that...a Jimmy Buffet Tribute Band played the classics, which though not being half bad...were just lost on a non-existent, uninterested crowd. I sincerely doubt that Berlin actually took the stage tonight. I didn't stay long enough to find out. But if I were them, I'd give back their appearance fee and leave.

The only interesting thing to see was Mike Verko's fancy fruit carvings. His ice carvings would probably be great but I wasn't waiting two more hours to see the finished result. Save yourself the money and check out his website instead www.mikescarvings.com.

Truly the world's worst run culinary event. I've never seen something run so poorly.

Don's Bogam BBQ & Wine Bar, May 5, 2006

Don's Bogam BBQ & Wine Bar
17 E. 32nd Street bet. Madison and 5th Ave.

My mother-in-law Carin wanted to celebrate her birthday by having dinner at a Korean BBQ joint. I'd suggested Woo Lae Oak (as recommended on Chowhound) but in the end we found ourselves at the funky facaded Don's Bogam who's windows remind me of the geometric characters of the Korean language.
My in-laws had never had Korean BBQ before, I'd only been once before, my wife eats it relatively often and my brother-in-law and his Korean-American girlfriend Amy eat it at least once a month.

The space itself is divided into roughly four spaces, the wine bar up front, the dining area at ground level, the raised "main" dining area where we ate, and the kitchen in the rear.

Service is fairly swift in Korean restaurants (according to my dining partners who go often) and sure enough before we knew it, we'd been served a wide selection of appetizers, or probably more accurately named, amuses.

There was kimchee (nice heat and crunch...standard), spicy pickles (nice heat again), crunchy and very spicy whitebait, pickled green radish (so different, cross between cucumber, pear and apple-like flavors...but pickled), seaweed salad, a slaw of some kind made with corn, peas and carrots, and some other stuff.
For our ordered appetizers, we had something I think was called Hae Mool Pajun, which was a scallion pancake...very green in color and slightly bland and texturally awkward (kind of slimy and floppy, but good - not great), and an order each of steamed and fried dumplings, neither of which were memorable. In fact, they weren't very good at all. They make the dumplings at Rickshaw Dumpling Bar look like the gold standard of the dumpling world.

For my entree, I ordered the Bibimbop with spicy tuna. The tuna, which was very spicy, was fire engine red upon service. A heavy mixing of the bbq sauce they provide and the heat coming off of the stoneware quickly cooked the fish. I let the rice (which is on the bottom of the dish) sit for a little bit to get a little crunchy. Then I mixed it up and enjoyed the salmagundi of ingrediants. Danna ordered the short ribs version of this, as did my brother in law. His girlfriend I think ordered the traditional beef version and my father-in-law the same. The birthday girl went for the cook your own BBQ beef...which in the end was actually prepared by an employee of the restaurant (not just at our table either) on an electric, not coal fired, table stove. The beef was tasty and only one piece was slightly too fatty to enjoy.

Service was friendly, but slightly harried and not necessarily helpful in describing dishes. The wine we had, I simply don't remember the name of it, was awful. It opened up a little bit as the night went on but oof. No good.

Overall the experience was fun and has encouraged me to try Korean a little more often but it didn't wow some of us, and understandably so. I'm excited to try some new places (recommendations are welcome) in the near future but probably won't go back to this place. The seating was remarkably uncomfortable and could be, for some, impossible to get in and out of the chairs.


Freeman's Restaurant, May 2, 2006

Freeman's Restaurant
Freeman's Alley (Off of Rivington, between Bowery and Chrystie)

The wife and I went to Freeman's last night prior to my friend's party at the Mercury Lounge (are you a musician looking for great PR? - check out www.tijuanagiftshop.net).

Freeman's has been at the top of my list of restaurants to try for at least a year now and am happy to have finally made it there. I ordered a nice glass of 1995 Bordeaux Blanc from LaMothe (a fair price at $7). I ended up ordering another later.

For appetizers, we shared the Hot Artichoke Dip with Crisp Bread and a (unlisted on the menu) side order of the Three Cheese Macaroni (Mac and cheese). The entree portion ($11) is listed on the menu. The Mac and Cheese was pretty good. We had to fight over the crispy edges. I favor mac and cheese that's entire top is crispy from the broiler. This was very good, but didn't have enough of that crust. The artichoke dip was very good. When comparing it to Penelope (Lexington and 30th), we left it as a draw. The essence of artichoke, I thought, was stronger (better) in this version, but I think Danna favored Penelope's flavor. We both agreed that the consistency/spreadability of the Freeman's version was superior. The bread was just okay, whereas the whole grain bread and pita chips at Penelope rule. For entrees, Danna ordered the Smoked Pork Chop with Stone-Ground grits and apple sauce ($19) and I ordered the Spicy Seafood Stew with Saffron Aioli toast ($21). The pork chop was amazing. I literally cut it with a butter knife. It was salty, it was plush, it was crunchy on the outside edge, it was smokey/bacony. YUM! Wow. What a dish. The grits were actually pretty good too, and the applesauce was great. Very rich dish. My seafood stew, with grouper, celery, 2 mussels and a pathetic, singular cherrystone clam came out at a less-warm-than-I-expected temperature and was fooled by the spicyness the chili flakes gave it. This was pretty good. Not fantastic by any stretch, but good. The fish was cooked well, the celery was a bit overdone and the overall flavor was timid. The shellfish were pretty sorry though. The aioli "buttered" bread, especially when dipped in the broth (minimal broth), was excellent.
Total bill for 2 glasses of wine, 2 apps and 2 entrees was a very reasonable $75.

Service was pretty good. No complaints. We got there early (6:45) and there were plenty of tables available. Another 15-20 minutes later and the place was packed with a group waiting outside. The volume and inside temperature exponentially raises with the amount of people inside.

The host and hostess seemed like they'd be more comfortable in Williamsburg, but I guess the end of an alley in the Lower East Side is pretty similar. Which, by the way, is far more charming than anywhere I've been in Williamsburg. This has the feel of old New York or of pretty much any European city.

A pic of the entrance and part of the alley is above. I really liked how the space has many nooks and crannies. The host/maitre d', when I asked him for a menu, quickly saw his pile of menus, put his hand over them and said "no". Ha. We kind of laughed and moved on.

Unless you have a fear of taxidermy, or live bugs falling on your table (we had three green inchworms land on our table...they must have been hanging from the plants in vases on the fireplace mantel we were sitting next to), this is a great place for everyone. I look forward to going back.