Friday

Country

Country

To celebrate my dad's birthday, we went to Country at his suggestion, which is great because it was a restaurant on my to try list.

We sat below the rotundra/stained glass skylight which, sad to say, looks more impressive in photos than in real life. The grapes seemed to border on tacky. But we all agreed that the shape and idea of it was great. And the use of crystals (chandeliers, etc) were enjoyed by all.

Service, you could tell right away, would be trying very hard to please throughout dinner service, and for the most part that was the case. More on that later.

We were served gougeres with a perfectly warm, gooey pesto sauce inside along with delicately layererd crepe towers topped with creme fraiche and paddlefish roe.

Then came the bread...which was as good as those before me have talked about. It was beautiful, it was plush, it was salty, it was buttery, it was disturbingly delicious.

Next up was a frog's leg amuse which sat in a garlicky mayo based product. I'm not too keen on frog's legs (having had several varieties as pets) but dove in anyway figuring that it would be more of a disservice to NOT eat it.

I secretely hoped I wouldn't enjoy it. Fortunately (perhaps), I didn't. The dipping sauce was too cloying and the leg's covering - a very light tempura like crust - was rather bland. It didn't even taste like chicken...just blah. The silver lily pad it was served on (along with the silver frog on it) was either tasteless or cute. I'm not sure which just yet.

During all of this we were drinking a Mersault A.C. 2004, Pierre Matrot, Burgundy which was excellent. Fantastic wine.

For my appetizer, I went for the foie gras terrine served with pomegranate seeds, fresh figs and apple slivers as well as two pieces of well charred bread. The foie gras was good, as you'd expect, but not the most flavorful I've had. The layer of fat on the top was appropriate but the fat to liver content in the center of the slice was a bit more than I'd have preferred.

My dad also had the foie gras, the others at the table opting for the oeufs du plat - a crazy mix match of egg, shrimp, and some vegetables. In the end it was a bit like shirred eggs you might get at brunch downstairs at the cafe at Country. Very good.

And now we wait. For at least 25-30 minutes. It very well may have been longer. The restaurant, which is big but doesn't hold a lot of tables, got filled up, but not enough to incur a wait on food like this. It was much too long to have to wait between courses.

For the second course I went for the sweetbreads. There were several meaty pieces served with white radishes and figs and sauced tableside with veal jus. The sweetbreads were very good but again, nothing too wowing.

At this point we started a new bottle of Carraudes de Lafite 1998, Pauillac. It needed time...and we gave it time. But as time passed we realized that this very good wine, was not going to open to its full potential. Sure enough, it didn't. And sadly, I think this dinner as a whole was represented in this one bottle of wine.

Before our entrees arrived, we were given more bread. And this bread was, on the outside, as beautiful as the last. But sadly it was undercooked inside - doughy and unfinished.

Danna and I chose to order the canard (duck) en croute for two. The table service was very nice, with our attendant cutting open the bread that encased the bird. He removed the top of the bread for all to see the bird, which they then whisked away to cut up for our plates.

The bird was a good size, so it was a surprise to see just three pieces of duck on my plate with some nondescript vegetables. Danna and I looked at each other and more/less wondered where the rest of our meal was. Someone in the back surely was having a nice staff meal with the rest of the bird.

In the end, the serving size was okay (we still had dessert to eat) I guess, but the duck was chewy and not all that great. Good but not as good as to deserve the showmanship it received.

And now we waited again. For another 20-25 minutes at least.

Dessert was next. I ordered a piece of the pithivier, an almond cake that was beautiful to look at and equally tasty. I was offered creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream (I went ice cream) and butterscotch or vanilla whisky sauce. I went for the whisky sauce. As I said, the cake was delicious but the whisky sauce was VERY strong. Too strong, quite frankly, and I'm good with whisky. It just needed to be reduced or cooked down a bit.

All in all the food was good to very good but never did it achieve "excellent" status. Service, like the food, had its good moments and its not so good moments. Long waits between courses and sometimes harried, synchronized plate placements evened out the pleasantness and genuinely kind servers.

Lastly, the breakfast dessert cake they gave us to enjoy the following day was good for only one thing: reminding me of the uneveness of the previous night's food. It was too dense and lacking a good flavor. And for $105 - I'd expect a bit more.

I like what Doug Psaltis is trying to do, but it's not working as well as it should - especially for that price point. Nothing was truly bad or awful but nothing really shined either. And all in all we had a fun evening celebrating my Dad's birthday. Just keep your expectations in check if you plan on going - though at this point in time, Country is not a place I can recommend except for maybe brunch downstairs.

Saturday

Dani

Dani does a good job of representing itself on its website. What you see is pretty much what you get. A comfortable, tastefully appointed room serving mediterranean cuisine that is neither boring nor too adventurous.

And that's a good thing for nearby residents...but perhaps not enough for those considering making an extended trip to try it.

We started with some chips that were served with a tasty, eggplant caponita-like dip. These were fine and kept us nibbling until our appetizers arrived.

My wife ordered the steamed prosecco mussels (orange/fennel/saffron). The broth was very tasty but the mussels were too big (New Zealand) and chewy to be enjoyed. I simply don't care for the New Zealand variety, and neither did my wife.

I ordered an appetizer portion of the special pasta of the day - which was a wild boar ragu with housemade papparadelle. This was pretty good. Not on par with what you'd get at Maremma or Babbo but good nonetheless.

For entrees, my wife had a short rib ravioli which was good but she wasn't in favor of the consistency of the meat (blended instead of say, shredded) and the overall flavor fell flat. She said it was good but left much room for improvement. I'd agree.

For my entree, I chose the quail spiedini. A google search tells me that spiedini is the Italian word for skewers of meat or fish grilled over a flame or under a broiler. Not to be confused with Spidini (as served at Aldo's in Wyckoff, NJ) which is Breaded mozzarella with b├ęchamel; topped with creamy cheese sauce and mushrooms. The quail, two birds, were well cooked, perhaps a bit too well and slightly underseasoned. The baked racicchio slightly overpowered the smoked bacon but added to the bulgur also served with the quail. Good, and certainly appropriate for this time of year, but again, could have been better.

Dani is a good local spot (Hudson and Charlton) for those seeking a decent dinner, a room that looks comfortable without being too cramped (especially during the fall and winter) and a decent bar scene for those who want a casual (sort of low key) but fun night out. But it's not really a destination restaurant - I wouldn't go back unless I was in the area.

We decided to go elsewhere for dessert - a second trip to Will Goldfarb's Room 4 Dessert, which seems to have matured since our first visit during it's first month of business.

Room 4 Dessert

The menu has become only slightly more readable (spelling errors and missing words taboot) but gone is the silly cotton candy dish that didn't really work for me.

Will seems to have things going more smoothly though perhaps not at the level he'd like just yet. He'll get there I think. Nice guy, I hope so.

Danna went for Choc 'n' Awe, a foursome of really rich chocolate dishes - our favorite being the white chocolate cake dish.

I had the Laissez Pear, which was great from beginning to end, the highlight being the cake of kabocha squash, vanilla ice cream and pear bavardian cream.

Monday

Salt

Salt

Our regular dining companions, Sue Anne and Doug are getting married in a week - finally, I mean "Hooray!" :) and so with that comes bachelor and bachelorette parties. Doug's bachelor party actually happened earlier, but we'll get to that in another post as it has a lot to do with food.

So anyway, Danna, my wife, hosted a cocktail party for Sue Anne and a bunch of her girlfriends at our home before heading out to dinner at Dos Caminos and then out and about on the town.

Being effectively kicked out of the house, I decided to grab a bite to eat with Doug at a place on my list of places to try and, which turned out to be on his as well, Salt.

I got there at 8:15, fifteen minutes before our reservation, and sat at the bar, ordered a glass of prosecco ($10) and soaked in the cozy-but-slightly-rough-around-the-edges room waiting for the groom-to-be.

The room is tight, with a series of communal tables and a few two-tops toward the front and a bar with a half dozen stools. There isn't a true wall behind the bar, instead a large cutout looks directly into the kitchen, which was, even with the dining room at full capacity, relatively calm. That probably has to do with the relatively short menu - 7 appetizers and 8 entrees to choose from. Limited menus can be challenging for the average diner, but Salt's seems to have something for everyone on it.

The two apps that looked most enjoyable were the honey-glazed dates wrapped in bacon ($10), which came six to a serving and a steak tartare and eggplant dish with gorgonzola sauce (all told it was almost caponata-like) ($12). Both were very, very good. $10 for the dates might be a little high, but they were very good.

For entrees, Doug ordered the Newport Steak ($26.50), named not after the city in Rhode Island, nor the beach in California, but after, get this, the favorite brand of cigarette of the late Jack Ubaldi of the Florence Meat Market - and, according to my friend Mona on her regular-reading-worthy foodblog, Mona's Apple, a Newport Steak is cut from the triangle (the bottom sirloin steak), and is roughly the size of a filet mignon. It was very good, with the top part (well seasoned) being especially good.

I ordered the duck breast ($23.50) and, like Doug, chose the tomato salad and artichoke puree as the sides to go with it. The duck was cut into six or seven thick slices and served over the puree and greens and cherry tomatoes. It too was well seasoned - at least on the ends, and satisfied without going into new territory. The cherry tomatoes were good...but I'd have like to have seen one more night of using heirloom tomatoes.

For wine, we went strong this evening, at least by the our standards and by Salt's wine list, a $65 Burgundy of which the name escapes me...but the GM came over after we ordered it and claimed it as his baby. I too thought it was very good. Note about the GM, he will be the new GM at EU...if it ever opens. I wish him luck.

For dessert Doug got the pecan pie with spiced whipped cream ($8) and I got the Creme Brulee ($8) both of which were average. We were also mistakenly given an order of humboldt fog, dried cherries and toasted slices of french bread which was okay too.

Overall this was a very good dining experience - I'd certainly go back again. But what I think I liked the most was the overall Salt empire. The fact that they have a little wine bar (Salt Bar) and a little restaurant with similar themes is great and something (2/3) of what I'd like to have for myself someday in the future.

Eatery/Whym

Eatery and Whym

Just a quick post, because, well, there's not much to say. Had lunch with my colleagues here the other day and thought we might be in a for a real treat...although a recent take out lunch at their other shop, Whym, should have given me a clue. Not that either were awful. They were both passable but could be so much more. If they spent a little less effort in making the place(s) look trendy (which they do a good job of) and spend a little more time freshening up the menu, these restaurants could be great, and something to truly be proud of as a restaurateur.

But the reality is drab food. I ordered a chicken breast sandwich that was extraordinarily boring. A chicken sandwich is so easy to make delicious and a barometer for what the rest of a restaurant's food will be like. It was big, I'll give it that much, but the bacon was missing, the chicken was dry, the bread was too spongy (yet somehow dry too) and the cheese was flavorless. Utterly disappointing.
My take-out from Whym a few weeks earlier was better, and more promising. A grilled chicken panini with portabello mushroom, pequillo peppers, smoked mozzarella (which is called smoked FRESH mozzarella on the menu) was decent and a good change of pace for the neighborhood. But still, nothing super outstanding, but perhaps worth a second chance. I can't say the same for Eatery.