NJ and NY Catering Review

I just wanted to take a minute to let anyone who reads this know of two caterers...both based in NJ. One you will have wished you'd hired and one you will be thankful I've suggested you not to hire.

The Bad

We'll start with the bad. Clementine Catering of Midland Park, NJ should be ashamed of itself. They are grossly overpriced and they don't even provide edible food.

We were dropped off a plate of roasted potatoes that my dogs refused to eat. They were burnt to a crisp with zero possibility of being eaten. How can you mess this up? How could you be proud to serve such crap?

The pasta salad was greasier than a hamburger at the Shake Shack and had NO FLAVOR. Awful. Unbelievably bad. The chicken dish, stuffed with sundried tomatoes was also impossibly flavorless. How is it possible to make sundried tomatoes taste like nothing. Like nothing!

I implore you to NEVER, EVER order from Clementine Catering.

The Good

Key Ingredient Catering, recently featured in the Bergen Record is helmed by Matt Pivnic. He is a personal chef for a host of clients (he prepares meals in advance and delivers them to his NYC and NJ clients who require special diets or just pre-prepared meals for their busy lives) but also does events on the weekend.

His food is top-notch and having tried his catered foods recently, am actively encouraging my father to hire him for his personal chef meals. Once we have tested those waters, I'll have a report for you. Check back soon for that.

Expect delicious food from Key Ingredient but also be surprised by very tasty, healthy options as well. Apparently, if you had a dish at a particular restaurant in the city that you loved...he will do his best to replicate it for you or your event!


Prune, June 16, 2006

54 East 1st Street.

d.b.a has become my wife's coworkers' default happy hour place...which is a HUGE step up from either of their previous digs. So on Friday we found ourselves near the "nexus of the universe". Fans of Seinfeld will recall (thanks Leo for the head's up and thanks to BC Beat for the confirmation) that Kramer, venturing far from his uptown safety zone during the landmark sitcom’s final season, was lost on the Lower East Side. Frantically, he phoned Jerry. "I'm on First and First. How can the same street intersect with itself?" Kramer wondered. “I must be at the nexus of the universe!".

We had to bail a little early (last minute father's day presents and such) but as luck would have it, we walked by Prune on the way to the SoHo outpost of Bloomingdale's which is on First at First - or close to it.

I was excited. This was not just Prune, home of one of the most celebrated NYC brunches, but also a stop on my top 10 must-get-to-as-soon-as-possible dining destinations. So with very little prodding, Danna agreed. The place was fairly empty (it was early...6:45 or so) and, after realizing the confusion we stirred in one of the waitresses (you could tell she was trying to figure out how to balance a walk-in (us) and her 7:00 reservations), I mentioned that we were in a hurry and would be out quickly. She said "Ok, great" and sat us at one of the window seats. Perfect. That would be the last we saw of her.

On the table already were some soggy, orange/burnt umber colored peanuts and a salt bowl. the peanuts, it turns out, were boiled in water with cumin. They were interesting. I wouldn't say they were great, but they were different. The iced-tea, however, was very good, and didn't need the simple syrup that they served on the side, though that was a nice touch...something I'd seen earlier in the week at The Modern.

To start, Danna ordered a warm artichoke appetizer ($11). This was pretty good. Danna seemed to like it as well. The buttery glob you see on the bottom was superflous.

I decided to go for the Sorrel Soup ($7). This was very good and was my first foray with sorrel. I know its at or near its peak season and wanted to give it a shot. It's not a timid green and does pack a wallop of flavor in soup form. The creme fraiche pictured here hid a few cubes of potatoes which were well boiled and added the appropriate texture balance to the soup. Solid.

Danna had another appetizer for her main course...but when they came out, two beef ribs with lots of mean on the bones, we were both shocked. A nice portion size, though I think the size of the bones made it seem bigger than it was. But still, there was a lot of meat on those bones, and tasty meat as well. I don't recall the rub used on it, but it almost had a mole taste to it...perhaps a coffee flavor as well. Very good.

I went for the poussin dish. Chicken can be used as a barometer of a restaurant. If you can make a chicken sing, you have yourself a great chef in the kitchen. I don't have to tell you that Prune has a great chef in the kitchen, we all know Gabrielle Hamilton is a NYC culinary hero, but I'd yet to see why. This simple dish was truly terrific. A nice-sized poussin was served whole/intact with some crispy skin (just not on the legs) in a pesto broth and adorned with a "dry" pesto-like sauce. The bird was perfectly seasoned, juicy and crisp where it needed to be and the sauce and "broth" were a perfect foil for the bird. I think my pairing of the soup and bird dishes (pats oneself on the back) was a great fit. They worked well with each other. I'd recommend this dish.We were going to pass on dessert but as always, like to hear what they have. Today's special - a strawberry sandwich - couldn't be passed up. Thank goodness we didn't. YUM! Sugary sweet and youthful. This was a great dessert and I bet it made many people happy this afternoon. Wow. The strawberries, it should be noted again, are also most likely from the Greenmarket as several vendors had fresh, naturally-grown (or perhaps even wild) strawberries for sale this week. I'll be by to pick some up on Wednesday no doubt.

Service on the other hand is where Prune runs into trouble. There are maybe a dozen tables at Prune and their had to be five people with pink shirts on in charge of these tables. We dealt with three of these people. That in itself isn't a problem.

It's the preferential treatment that some guests get and that others do not. A table that sat down next to us (actually, there was a table in between us) received two slices of bread with some good looking stuff all over it. An amuse to be certain. I asked our skinny blond waiter what that was. He said it was something (he kind of mumbled it, knowing that he was busted in a way) and then asked if I would like some bread for my soup. I said yes I would. I never got the bread I was offered and I certainly never got the amuse dish that the other couple to my right received. This preferential treatment is bogus and the waiter received a less-than-what-I-usually-tip-tip because of it.

I will go back for brunch...something both Danna and I are excited to try. The menu looks delicious.


L'Impero, June 15, 2006

Tudor City, bet. 42nd and 41st Streets

My sister has recently been hired by Forbes and in preparation for her first New York City
job, decided to practice her new commute to get a feel for it before she starts. I'm sure the lure of a free lunch with Dad didn't hurt her decision either.

Needless to say, she has learned a thing or two from me over the years. That being said, she and I had lunch with my dad today at L'Impero. I've been there once before with dad for lunch (his office is a stone's throw) and enjoyed the experience. Today didn't disappoint.

Dad went ahead and bought the wine you see below. It was fantastic. Excellent flavor, smell
and body. Also went perfectly with the pasta dish I ordered.

To compare and contrast my appetizer at lunch at The Modern earlier in the week, I went ahead and ordered the Yellowfin Tuna appetizer from the "Suschi" section of the menu. It was served with squash blossoms, mint, orange puree and tomato vinaigrette ($16). For starters, the portion size of this was larger, four pieces of tuna verses three at The Modern. The "salad" and vinaigrette on this dish was better than that at the modern though the tuna at The Modern, with its seasoned edges might have been slightly tastier. Overall, this was a more interesting dish but the value was still questionable. For my entree, I chose house-made Pappardelle with rabbit ragu, parsnips, mint, and pignoli ($23). This was very good, and as mentioned above, went very well with the wine. The mint in both dishes worked well...and I hate to admit it, but I didn't try to go that route on purpose. It kind of brought the two very different dishes together in a way. The pasta was very fresh, the dish was fragrant but not overpowering in any way and the rabbit was simply perfect. But again, is it a $23 bowl of pasta? Perhaps. It's the same price as a bowl of the Papparadelle with Wild Boar Ragu at Babbo, but $5 more than the Mint Love Letters dish at the same Batali establishment. If, knowing all of this, I could choose a price I'd think was fair to pay, I'd price it at $20. Still, all in all, a great dish. I particularly enjoy, as with all of L'Impero's dishes, the attention to detail. All of the parsnips in this dish and the cucumber (unlisted on the menu) in my appetizer were cut perfectly uniform and small. I love it. Looks great, makes for enjoyable bites of different textures and probably helps in the overall taste of the dish.

I was going to hold off but I still had room. The appetizer was light, the pasta was light (a compliment) and the rabbit ragu wasn't super-heavy so I decided to have something. I opted for the Hazelnut Bundt Cake ($9.50) served with rum zabaglione, brandied prunes and panna cotta. Again, the aroma coming from this dish was terrific...but not overpowering. The cake was warm and was a little crumbly but very tasty. The panna cotta, especially with a piece of the cake, was a perfect match. Even the brandied prunes were a nice treat...and was similar to the wine we were drinking. A nice dessert.

Service was just okay. It wasn't bad. Not in the least. The bread guy was nice. He seemed like he wanted to please...even if it just meant offering you bread. I liked that guy.

Overall the lunch was very good. It's not the kind of place I can afford to go regularly but one I'd splurge for once in awhile...though I didn't have to this time. Thanks Dad. I didn't stick around to see if there would be petit fours (I had to get back downtown) but there wasn't an amuse. Hmmm. If there was an amuse, I'd probably vote in favor of this restaurant over The Modern for lunch, but with the service, the view of fine sculptures and additional food items including an array of petit fours, The Modern might have the edge. It's a really tough call.


The Modern, June 13, 2006

The Modern

I was lucky enough to meet my new coworkers for the first time over lunch at The Modern. And as excited as I was to try the Modern, I'm even more excited to (having now met the team) start working with these guys. But, since this is a food journal of sorts, I'll stick to writing about that. But first...the space itself is quite nice with comfortable booths that demand you to pay attention to the sculpture garden and the beautiful townhouses beyond the walls of the garden. The bathrooms were great. The only thing I didn't like were the vases...these cheesey heavy duty platic squares with a Louis Vuitton Epi-style pattern to it. It's everywhere these days it seems including Thor and Wallse. Blech. For a Modern Art museum...this is hardly a worthy design element.

I didn't want to dork out in front of my new coworkers so I don't have a picture of my amuse, which was a cucumber gazpacho that was poured tableside. This was terrific and a perfect way to start the lunch.

I mentioned to them about "not dorking out" and they insisted I take here goes.

This is the tuna carpaccio that was served as part of the prix-fixe menu. It was served with fingerling potatoes (I'd bet anything they were from the guy that sells them and ramps at the Union Square Greenmarket), a few pieces of mesclun greens quite possibly from Windfall Farms (also at the U.S Greenmarket), some purple flowers and other unknown seed pods of some kind. The tuna was very good and the seasoning around the edges was very nice. Overall though, kinda skimpy on the goods. The plate probably cost $2 to make and were selling it for, well, let's just say a lot more than that if you divvy up the prix fixe items. Good, but disappointing in portion size.

For my entree, I went for the halibut, which was expertly cooked and was served in a broth of some kind (I honestly can't remember the details) with poached vegetables atop the fish. This dish was very good when eating it, but sadly not a stand-out. I can barely remember it. Though to be fair, perhaps that has more to do with making sure I didn't have food on my chin in or worrying about eating like a glutton in front of my new colleagues.

But dessert was another story. I remember this. The strawberry panna cotta was served in a delicious sugary broth of strawberries and a stick of rhubarb (yum) and a sorbet with sugared mint leaves. This was very good.
The Modern wasn't shy about serving petit fours. These included more of the candied or sugared mint leaves, some sort of waffled chocolate concoction (see top of pic), a square jar filled with truffles and chocolates (all were very good), some ginger/sugar gummies and spinach napoleon's or something similar (see the green things up front). Sam Mason, dessert guy at WD~50 is a master at vegetal desserts and I think his showmanship is being replicated all over town...The Modern not being an exception. Tasty.

I don't know what the total bill was but prix fixe menu was about $45 or so per person. I think, despite the chintzy appetizer, the price was pretty good...ONLY because of the inclusion of the amuse and the petit fours.

Most importantly, I met my new team and am very excited about it. Here's to a new gig. Cheers!


Big Apple BBQ Block Party 2006

Big Apple BBQ Block Party
Madison Square Park

5 things to mention...

1) It was better organized this year - and I like how and where they had the beer garden/live music set up this year. It actually was a beer garden of sorts. Though this is nothing new and despite the fact that you couldn't leave the beer garden with your beers, I think it worked out well.

2) The food was very good as least from what I had:

Salt Lick

Salt Lick continues to be the best overall vendor at the Block Party. Not only do they have great food, they have enough to last the entire weekend and they also offer more than one option. They, technically, offer three options. A (huge) plate of brisket, a plate of sausage or a combo in which you get two pieces of sausage and a stack of brisket.

I wish other vendors would take this approach. I got the combo and couldn't be happier. The apple cider vinegar flavor in the sauce was delicious. The bread underneath all of it was a bonus. It was sloppy and had specks of meat and slathered in sauce by the time I got to it. Bonus! Big

Bob Gibson's

Again, his food reigns supreme at this event. The pulled pork is just perfect. It really is. I'm not sure what else to say about it. It's no wonder that this had (same as last year) the longest lines and, fairly understandable, ran out of meat at 3:30pm on Sunday.

The cole slaw that came with this was incredible. One of my favorite versions of slaw EVER. Continues to be excellent and a favorite of mine. When I think of BBQ, I think of BBG.

Mitchell's BBQ

I only had a little bite of the whole hog, but it tasted really, really good. A friend was on line as they were bringing out a new pig and said that once past the hard-to-stomach slaughter of the freshly arrived pig, you couldn't help but find the meat to be delicious.

3) The Bubba Fast Pass is the way to go. This is the first year we got one (didn't get one the previous two years) and will certainly do it again next year. We had roughly ten friends using it...which worked out great because different people would show up at different times. $200 went a long way and everyone was sated.

4) The weather. The park was PERFECT. For some reason outside of the park (east side) was really windy and cooler, but the center of the park was perfect...even better was the beer garden area. What a great day it turned out to be.

5) Bring friends. The more the merrier. I was lucky to spend such a great day with several different circles of friends, including Danna's coworkers, a colleague of mine and her boyfriend, our regular dining partners Sue Anne and Doug, some of their friends and some ol' high school buds of mine. Good times.


BLT Fish, June 8, 2006

BLT Fish
17th Street

Wednesday-Thursday felt like an entire week in and of itself. I had to get up at 3:45am Wednesday to catch a plane to Atlanta for a two-day meeting. Got to the meeting at 9am and got out of the meeting at 6:30pm. Then we went to dinner - getting back to the hotel at midnight. Long story longer...I flew home and took the cab to ABC Home & Carpet to meet Danna and get my hair cut and restyled (Beauty Parlour - thanks Joey, it looks great). So afterwards we decided to celebrate the new job that I was offered somewhere in between all of this. We stayed in the area and went to BLT Fish.

The downstairs "clam shack" is a cross between Babbo (music choices and volume) and the front room of The Mermaid Inn (food/ambiance) but much more jam-packed (read: tight).

We were a walk-in and were told by the well-dressed, well-coifed and glassed host that it would be a 30 minute wait. Waiting patiently (though starving), we breached the 40 minute mark and asked the whereabouts of our table. The host apologized and said that it'd be another 15 minutes. Argh. Then, less than a minute later, he said that a table was ready for us. We were both thankful - because we were about to walk out, and I really wanted to give this place a shot.

We get a seat in the back and quickly place an order for the Whale's Tail Pale Ale - the only remaining beer available on tap (of a possible three).

Oysters were definitely on the agenda this evening, so I went ahead and tried a half dozen, four of which were new to me. I had the following:

Danna ordered a cup of the New England Clam Chowder ($5) - with bacon, we were made aware - and though fragrant with the smell of bacon and relatively tasty - it was a bit thin. Some may say the absence of cream is a good, healthy version - I say otherwise. The flavor was there, the ingredients were all good, but it was very thin on the lips.

For entrees, Danna was all about lobster ($MP - about $36 I think). She had her mind on it before we got to the restaurant, and nothing would change it. Good thing too. The 1 1/2 pounder was sweet and succulent. The tail was a bit firmer (overcooked) but that might have been a result of slower eating (cracking the claws and such takes time) and the fish continuing to cook a bit. The claw and particularly the knuckle sections were excellent. Juicy, salty, sweet in all of the right amounts. It was served with a ramekin of lemon hollandaise sauce (per Danna's request) but ended up on my plate, rice pilaf (average at best) and a forgettable shredded salad.

I ordered the yellowfin tuna (rare) with the spicy salsa ($24). The spicy salsa neither arrived on my plate nor tasted the slightest bit spicy when it finally did arrive. The tuna, however, was perfectly seasoned, grilled perfectly on the top and bottom and simply delicious. A nice portion size as well. I also ordered the rice and again, was less than great.

We decided to order dessert - this was a celebration after all. I got the key lime pie ($7), Danna went for the berry bread pudding ($7). The bread pudding was served cooled and was tasty, but we prefer our bread pudding warm and gooey. The key lime pie was very good, but not at the level you get in Bonita Bay, Florida, for example.

Total cost with tax came to about $112. Our waitress was great -- her persona fitting for this style restaurant, but not the upstairs one. She knew her stuff and was frank with her answers to our questions ("get the bread pudding, you can get apple pie anywhere"). I told Danna that she will, by night's end, be either really great or really bad. My odds were in her favor and she proved me right.

Would I go back to BLT Fish's downstairs room - in a word, no. Maybe for some oysters at the bar, but that would be it. I imagine the upstairs is amazing. The elevator alone was cool enough to warrant a trip back. I love seeing the inner workings of things like that. Would I recommend this place to a friend - sure, its worth going once. I think the prices - specifically for the main dishes - are too high. But I think there are better places for the price.

Oh and apologies for not having photos. My phone crashed earlier and didn't have time to recharge it.


SriPraPhai, June 4, 2006

64-13 39th Ave.
Woodside, Queens

WOW! As good as I've heard and then some. This will likely go down as one of the best
dinners I'll have in New York. The flavors and balance of ingredients were incredible. Truly an eye opening and mouth watering experience. A true wake-up of the senses.

The restaurant itself is nothing special, and in fact gets really loud without even being filled to capacity. It's clean though and generally comfortable with room between tables so as not to feel cramped. Though I had to lean over the table to hear Donald for most of the evening - it was that loud.

Despite hearing about long waits (perhaps that was pre-expansion), we got a table immediately at 7:00pm on a Sunday...and our dining partner for the night, Donald (aka Dawg), had yet to arrive.

Though the restaurant is really easy to get to (6 Train to 42nd, 7 Train to 61st Street, Queens), I can't be sure when the next time I'll get out there, so we ordered a few more items than necessary. But with prices like these, why not.

The Crispy Watercress Salad was phenomenal. And a perfect way to start your meal here. I highly recommend it, and when I return, I will start with it again. Crispy watercress and red onion, thai basil, and kimchi-like shrimp, squid and chicken - an odd combo that worked well against all odds. I feel as though my mouth was turned on (think Timothy Leary, not your light switch). Awoken as if out of a famishing coma. The mind was rewarded for the introduction of such a dish of flavor and spice. This is up against Babbo's lamb's tongue vinaigrette for favorite salad of the year. It's going to be a toss-up.

Danna ordered the BBQ Pork appetizer. This was perfectly sauced and grilled, some pieces having strong traces of grill marks/char that made it taste even better. No frills - straightforward, tenderized pork with barbecue sauce - but superb in flavor.

Donald started off with the chicken curry puffs. I should note that we all shared, but I think that that is a given. These puffs, impossibly flaky - enough so to challenge the greatest of croissants, held a creamy blend of chicken in a mild curry. Very tasty though pedestrian for a place full of many other options.

Donald also ordered the Catfish curry over rice. This had an orange, masala-colored sauce that included chunks of eggplant and other vegetables. It was excellent. The catfish, imported from Thailand, had a nice texture to it but needed to be carefully navigated -- it required the removal of several tiny bones.

I ordered two main dishes. The first was from the Noodle menu. This was Beef Noodles (dark soup). I opted for the dark soup, though you could order the light instead. Perhaps not the most attractive of dishes, this included muddy-water looking soup, processed-looking meatballs, crispy pork rinds, two different noodles (one thick ribbon-style, the other very thin), and shredded beef. Goes to show that you can't always judge a book by its cover as it was delicious. The noodles, I guess would be akin to chow fun in Chinese cuisine and were very good -- they looked similar to squid. The meatballs were kind of bizarre, though the taste was good. Donald loved them -- and mentioned he's had this version several times before. I probably wouldn't order this again but am happy to have tried it - similar to my experience with the beef cheek raviolis at Babbo.Danna doesn't have the tolerance for heavy amounts of spice and heat, so I knew this would be a challenging dinner for her. But she was great throughout and did enjoy some of what she had. She really liked the BBQ pork. She ordered the Shrimp Pad Thai, which while not hot or spicy, did include shrimp that weren't deveined. That turned her off a bit. I ate some of the pad thai noodles and have to tell you -- they were very good and silky. Some lime squeezed over them gave it a nice touch.

Last but not least, I needed to try one of their curries. According to reports on Chowhound and elsewhere, the curry dishes were worth a go -- and I have to agree.

I went with a recommended one -- the Penang curry -- and have to tell you that it was unlike any other curry I've had before. This was topped with a yogurt of some kind, dill and red bell peppers. The chicken was fine, nothing special, but the heat of the curry sauce was electric. After trying five or six dishes, all with their own unique flavors and all previously unknown to me - this was yet another wake up call. Some bites were quite powerful (heat) though bites that included the yogurt cooled things down a little. Excellent - and definitely a would-be take-out favorite if I lived in the neighborhood. I'd order this again -- definitely.

I really loved this dining experience and now feel comfortable saying that I have experience eating Thai food. Previous "Thai" experiences are a huge disappointment in retrospect. I don't think I can have Thai food anywhere else now (stateside). If you haven't gotten there yet...don't wait any longer. Go.