The Orchard

photo courtesty of NYCNosh

The Orchard
162 Orchard Street

I made two OpenTable (OT) reservations for my birthday - dinner at The Orchard and lunch at Eleven Madison Park. OT allows you to send a comment to the maitre d'/host(ess) when you make your reservation, so I, legitimately, wrote "I look forward to dining at your restaurant for my birthday" - a test to see if this made a difference to my dining experience. The short answer is yes, but as I'll discuss later, not at both restaurants.

But first the food.

We were intrigued by the flatbreads I've heard so much about and decided that we'd order the Robiola Cheese Flatbread with sauteed spinach, applewood smoked bacon, dried cranberries ($12). First impression - nice looking. Second impression, this is what $12 looks like? The dish was indeed tasty, with the only argument being its value and the fact that the spinach wasn't easy to navigate if you planned on taking two bites of each piece.I would never buy one of these again. The value is way off the mark. Charge $7 and I'd consider it.

We split two appetizers:
Grilled Filet Mignon Wrap butter lettuce, chimichurri pesto, spicy mayo ($15)
Crispy Lobster Empanadas cilantro-buttered corn cob bites ($14)

Again, both of these were really tasty. The lobster was well pronounced and the filet with or without the pesto and mayo (you added/dipped as you liked) was well seasoned. But the portions and price were off the mark...by a lot. The filet was worth $10, the empanadas about the same. I would be hard pressed to order any of these again strictly based on price.

Poached Halibut with crispy artichokes ($27). Slightly off-balanced dish. The fish was very flavorful and really kept the flavor of the fish well pronounced despite the over-saltiness of it. The artichokes, were however, underseasoned. Ugh. Very good - but could have been great.

Veal Osso Buco with a puree of some kind ($33). This was fantastic. Truly delicious and one of the best versions I've ever had. Finally, a dish worth its price tag. Everything worked on this dish. Could be a contender at the end of the year for best entree (though I recognize it is very early in the year).

Bread Pudding ($10)
Apple Tart ($10)

Both were good, both were served with a creme fraiche ice cream (not the best tasting nor the best texture). Both were large and only slightly over-priced - maybe not even. The bread pudding is a winner. We both agreed that we should've only ordered the bread pudding...being that we didn't come close to finishing either of them.

Well, the host was very nice and welcoming but never made mention of my birthday. Eleven Madison Park, on the other hand, wrote happy birthday on my dessert plate in chocolate. The manager, the server and our waiter all came over quietly and inconspicously to wish me a happy birthday separately. On the way out, a different waiter (one we didn't even have help us) quietly wished me a happy birthday as well.

The bus service was efficient for the most part but seemed to run around a bit too much.
Our waiter was a completely different story. He was awful. Barely acknowledged that we were there. Didn't provide any assistance nor a friendly word - or any word at that. I can't honestly recall anything he said, with exception to "Dessert?". What a jerk. He got the tip he deserved.
Otherwise, the wines were good too. I had a Stix shiraz (Australia) and a Chianti that I can't recall. Danna and I ended up switching wines, but we liked both of them.

The room is very warm and lovely despite the crappy area of Orchard Street it sits on. Nice glow to the room. A terrific space. And the food is generally very good. But I'd probably only go back for an entree and dessert...maybe even at the bar if that is possible (couldn't tell). For the neighborhood, the portions and the overall quality, it is a bit overpriced.


Eleven Madison Park - Winter RW '07

Eleven Madison Park
11 Madison Ave.

All in all, my 10th visit to Eleven Madison Park (under three different chefs) was terrific.
Not sure how they do it, but nearly every time I eat there (especially at lunch) we get the same table...which is terrific, because we *love* the table that we nearly always get.

all photos courtesy of chocokitty, aka, the Wandering Eater

I started with the tuna appetizer (above), which was served in cubes along with pickled radishes and tangerines. A beautiful dish (looked like Easter) and very tasty. My father ordered the same dish, and I have to comment on an inconsistency - having to do with the color of the fish. My father's tuna cubes were bright red, whereas mine were more pink than red. Excellent all the same.

I went with the lamb entree, and loved that it was ever so slightly charred around the edges, giving way to tender, moist and falling-apart-in-the-middle, meat. Delicious. The broth on the bottom of the plate could be bottled and sold as it was. The olives gave an interesting flavor but didn't seem to be enough. Either make the olives stand out more or take them out, would be my suggestion.

For dessert, I chose the chocolate, banana parfait. This was good, but you could tell that Nicole Kaplan was gone. The restaurant will need a great replacement or the current pastry chef needs to step it up a notch to match DH's savory courses.

Service was fantastic (please read my review of the Orchard to see a comparison). We also received a $24.07 gift certificate that I look forward to using. In the past, this was simply a $20 gift certificate and only given out on the first day of Restaurant Week. Nice way to step it up guys.

A great restaurant serving excellent food and probably the best Restaurant Week option.

Again, thanks go out to chocokitty for the pics. Please visit the great blogs and photo collections of the people I borrow photos from. They do some great work and without them, much of my blog would be really bland.



photo courtesy of Lopez+

Went to Asiate for lunch today. The space is awesome. Anyone not impressed needs a reality check. From the Chihuly glass sculpture (think swans on a tuft of grass) as you walk off the elevator on the 35th floor to the panoramic views from the lounge and main dining room = it's breathtaking. And a little knee knocking. I'm fairly certain my sense of balance was skewed (very, very minimally, but enough to slightly feel it) from high winds and being so high up.
The service was fantastic. The hostess was remarkably pleasant and after not taking up the offer to check my coat, she responded "As you wish. We are here to make your visit a comfortable one" or something like that - not at all pretentious.

I'm dining solo, yet I'm given a great seat - on the deep bench seats looking out onto Central Park. Terrific view (with the exception of Trump International Hotel blocking the view on the left), great light - an experience worth seeking out.

The food itself was, for the most part, pretty good. Choices were limited to two bento boxes, a Chef's tasting and a Seafood version. I went for the Chef's tasting. Both started with an appetizer of red lentil soup that was very nice though more fragrant than flavorful. The crispy puffed rice added a nice touch to it. Presentation-wise - it was great, but for me, the spoon was too small and delicate to use.

The bento box had four items:

Frisee Salad - this was fairly traditional with a few twists. It added dill, walnuts and truffle oil to the traditional greens/frisee, perfectly poached egg (it was excellent), crispy lardons and cherry tomatoes.

Salmon - this dish didn't do it for me. It was served with a dollop of a starchy green chile sauce that lacked any discernable flavor. Also accompanying it, a grilled green chile (shisito) that also lacked any real flavor. The fish itself was cooked perfectly...but was a bit bland.

Rock Shrimp Risotto - very nice. It used a shellfish foam appropriately for both taste and texture. Though I couldn't taste the kaffir lime flavor the foam supposedly had. The shrimp were very good and the risotto expertly cooked. I don't know if I could enjoy a whole dish of it though - so I was happy with the portion size.

Braised Buffalo Short Rib - This, on the other hand, I could eat a pound of. Actually, there would be no way - it was literally and figuratively rib stickingly delicious. Whoa. It was served with some fingerlings and carrot pieces and served atop a smoked potato puree. Yum.

Dessert was a Citrus Yogurt Martini and was very tasty. It had a grapefruit (I think) granite on top. Nice. Seemed to look like what you could imagine might be the house dessert. It looked like how the room felt. Airy, light, etc.


St. Mark's Place Food Crawl

photo courtesy of mikeslice

Danna informed me late in the afternoon that she was working late and grabbing a bite with a colleague. Naturally, I set my sights on snagging a suitable Restaurant Week reservation. Nothing whatsoever intrigued me, with the exception of Molyvos because it was close to my office. Eating alone is one thing. Eating alone for Restaurant Week is not what I had in mind. So I said the hell with Restaurant Week tonight and went for a stroll along St. Mark's Place.

First stop was Crif Dogs, though I'd be a liar if I said Paul's (Da Burger Joint) wasn't trying to pull me in its direction. I stuck to my plan.

I loved the Chihuaha dog so much last time that I had to order it again. A bacon wrapped dog with avocado and sour cream. I thoroughly enjoyed it. "Ya damn right you did" could be heard somewhere in the ether.

I also ordered a Pabst Blue Ribbon to wash it down. But that wasn't all. I went real strong this time and also ordered the Spicy Redneck: a hot dog wrapped in bacon and topped with chili, jalepenos and coleslaw. Damn. One of the best things I've eaten this year so far. Seriously.

Not including the two games of Ms. PacMan, the bill came to about $12.

photo courtesy of fatniu

Dumpling Man, across the street and closer to 1st Ave, was my next stop. And who was taking orders, my favorite Crif Dogs cashier, who apparently switched jobs or flip flops depending on the night. Either way, the girl's got the street wired. Love it. Plain and simple, I ordered some pork dumplings lightly seared.

A grabbed a spot at the end of the bar, watched the ladies making the dumplings, read some Dumpling Man propaganda (news clips from local papers) and got my sauces ready.

The dumplings were ready shortly thereafter...and I must say were piping hot. They were pretty good. Flavorful for sure, but kinda sloppy, not very attractive (they seamed to fall apart a bit) and just not my favorite. They were very good though, don't get the wrong idea. But the ingredient quality at Rickshaw and the craftsmanship of those at Mandoo Bar are superior. Still, a great place to get your dumpling fix and for only $6.
photo courtesy of Gothamist

Next up, Crooked Tree Creperie. If I wasn't craving a piping hot crepe, I'd have never stopped into this place. Two remarkably blah people were working the darkly lit chamber with the moodiest music ever to be heard in a place serving food. They actually needed a day-glo orange and black sign on the door letting people know "Yes, We're Open". With only a couple sitting down inside, I can see why. Again, I went simple and ordered a traditional crepe with butter and sugar and you know what...it was fantastic. I ate it outside in the cold, crisp air...and I think it tasted even better because of it. Delicious. $4.

On my way back to the subway, I passed by BAMM, just as I had on the way to Crif Dogs. This time, however, I didn't stop in. And the reason was simple. Nothing whatsoever looked appetizing. Blech. I really wanted to scrounge up $2 and try something. But I couldn't. It looked like fun, but the sense of regret that seemed to permeate the place was far too great. And it wasn't just me. There were lots of people just looking.

So for less than what Restaurant Week dinners cost ($35.07), I filled myself up with three different dining experiences all within a stones throw of one another. Good times.


photo courtesy of New York Magazine

72 W. 69th Street

Lunch with some colleagues today was excellent. Restaurant Week menu was better than most I've seen in the past...probably because it pretty much the same lunch menu they regularly offer.

Just a brief report:

I ordered the Roast Quail served with duck and dried fruit sausage, autumn panzanella & dried fruit vinaigrette. The half quail was cooked and seasoned just right. The duck and dried fruit sausage (3 pieces) was good, but cooler than room temperature, which seemed a bit odd to me. The autumn panzanella was okay - sounding better "on paper" but still good. Nice.

Lobster Bolognese in a shallot-garlic-tomato broth and light herbs ($5 supp.). This was, I admit, pretty to look at but perhaps I expected to see more. But my eyes deceived me. The lobster tail, still tucked in its shell must have been poached in butter or something similar. It was over the top, but still keeping its lobster flavor intact. Really rich. The pasta was different...not in a bad way, just different. Overall, this dish was really very good.
Photo courtesy of John Mariani
Brandy Bread Pudding with brandied cherry ice cream and brandy sauce. Delicious. The brandy flavor was nicely evident, the bread pudding had just the right amount of crispness on top and plushness in the middle. I think there was vanilla in the ice cream too, which was excellent as well. Solid.

Overall one of the best RW experiences I've had. Service from our waitress and bus team was perfect...despite being sent to Siberia...which I credit to the slightly smug maitre d' (we were by far the youngest in the restaurant). The space is interesting. I want to like the photos of the fruit, but seeing them up close is dizzying/unsettling...the runner was all out of whack and looked like a bad backdrop to a grade school photo. Also, the tables are too high for the booths. Either that or the booths are too low. No. The tables are too high. Doesn't make for a comfortable dining experience.

Great food, good waitservice, boring exterior (really blah), questionable interior and bad table height. Worth going for the food alone.


Room 4 Dessert

Photo courtesy of dcnstrctr

Room 4 Dessert
1 Year Anniversary Party

To celebrate Wil's first year, he threw a party for friends, followers and newbies with complimentary champagne at the stroke of midnight on Thursday the 18th. Delicious desserts followed, and generous refills of champagne as well.

I tried the choco bubbles "drink" and the whisky coca (pictured above) "drink". Both were phenomenal. Not sure which I liked better, but both were the best of what I've had so far, being my fourth visit.

I think the whisky coca is great. The coca-cola flavored ice cream could become addicting and the whisky caviar is just...just unreal. Please click the photograph to see Mr. Heuer's excellent breakdown of the ingredients.

I'd be remiss to not mention my accidental companions for the evening. Jane, a former pastry chef at Blue Hill and Vanessa, an OB/GYN to my left and Yaron, a student of Jewish mysticism at NYU and part-time prep cook for Room 4 Dessert, and his sister, to my right. I found all of them to be as interesting, kind and pleasant as one could ask...which I think says something about Wil Goldfarb, his staff and the restaurant experience as a whole.



photo courtesy of Jason Perlow
37 E. 28th St.

We wanted simple food close to home. We wanted it for sustenance more than glory. We wanted to go somewhere we haven't been or at least not in a while. It was 7:30 on a Thursday. We were doomed.

Houston's on Park Ave. South - a one hour wait. And I believed it.

I Trulli - once again, service was the downfall. We wanted to sit in the bar room, so, finally getting the bartender's attention (he wasn't doing anything) we asked if we could sit down, seeing that there were two empty tables.

His response, "Sure, it's first come, first serve."
"Okay, can we sit here," we ask. "Oh no, those are reserved," he responded. "So much for first come first served." We leave.

Blue Smoke wasn't really an option, and there too was an hour wait.

So Danna suggests we check out "the place you've been hesitating about".
So we walk over to Urena.

Urena is in an awful location, horribly hidden by dark and shady 'businesses" with a fairly mediocre dining room. But the main dishes at Urena are excellent.

We shared a plate of tapas items to start: Salt Cod croquettes with Chorizo aioli, Banuelo De Queso (manchego, ibercio and stout beer fritters) and a shrimp, chorizo kabob of sorts. The shrimp item was very good and the Banuelo De Queso was excellent. I'd skip the croquettes and order the foie gras option (Danna didn't want it) instead.

photo courtesy of scaredy_kat

For one of our entrees, we ordered the Cochinillo Confitado (above), confit suckling pig, granny smith apple puree, wilted greens and oyster mushrooms, truffle sauce. Wow. This was solid through and through. The only problem was cutting the three smallish squares of pork. It wasn't a problem so much as ruining a nicely plated dish because the squares would fall apart. Really great flavors on this dish. It was an exciting array of flavors.

The poached duck that I ordered was equally delicious. It came with a small piece of duck confit as well that was remarkable.
We liked both dishes equally, and subsequently shared exactly equal portions. We just didn't care for the plates they were served on. Fairly blah, despite their hard-edged, oval plates.

Despite the blah room (though not as bright as it supposedly used to be) and bizarre
location (though very convenient for us) - Urena really is worth seeking out. I think the chef is very talented but I think he needs to rethink his game plan on becoming a big player in the NYC dining scene...and that would start with a new location. It can be in the same neighborhood, but just not there. Otherwise, the food from our first visit was spot on and despite high prices, it isn't terribly overpriced.


photo courtesy of Synaethesia
7 W. 32nd St

I've been a skeptic of this place from the get go. Not sure why. Perhaps it was bad memories of TCBY's my friends worked at during high school.

Alas, I surprised my wife at her office this afternoon as she and some colleagues were on their way to Pinkberry (so THAT's what she does!) and tagged along for a taste of the cold stuff...on a cold day.

I sampled the Green Tea variety, and after weighing the weak hint of green tea versus the price differential between it and the original (read: plain) variety, I went with the latter.

For toppings, I went with strawberries and oreos. Toppings are $.95 each and believe me, you don't get much for your $.95.

However, this particular combination (it was my first foray) was excellent and made me a believer. It will be hard to steer my from trying another combo. Yum. Even in such cold weather (or perhaps it was even more sinfully insane to have such cold food on such a cold day that made it better?).

Good stuff. Just don't bother with the green tea variety.

Blaue Gans

Photo courtesy of Pocketmonsterd
Blaue Gans
139 Duane St.

I took advantage of the lunch break they gave us today (I was on Jury Duty), by dining at a restaurant usually out of my way, yet near the top of my list of places to try...Blaue Gans (Blue Goose).

I loved a previous visit to Wallse, was completely turned off by Thor, and had no idea how this particular Guttenbrunner dining experience was going to pay off.

In essence, it was somewhere in between the two previous experiences.

I opted for the prix fixe lunch menu ($20 -- $21.09 after tax) which today featured either a cabbage/beet salad or a potato leek soup to start, weinerschnitzel or lake trout for an entree and I don't recall a choice for dessert.

The bread they served was very nice with a plush middle and crunchy, slightly hard crust. The whipped butter with what seemed to be a sundried tomato/chipotle combo (similar to what you get if you order the fry bread at Blue Smoke) was, to me, out of place but addictively delicious. I can't confirm the ingredients.

I started with the potato leek soup, which looked really nice upon arrival. The first taste was a bit bland, so I stirred it up a little with my spoon, making the flavors come alive a bit, though it made the "prettiness" of the dish a little less so (though a bit more kaleidescopic, which is kinda cool). That helped. Nice soup and a good portion - not too little, not too much.

Then the trout came out. Wow. What a disappointment. I would never have sent a dish looking like this out to a table. Granted, I was the first person in the restaurant (perhaps the pans weren't ready yet?), but the two halves of the fish facing me were cooked quite differently. One side was charred slightly, the other was properly sauteed. This is just the side of the fish facing me. The other side (on the plate) was seared perfectly. Why didn't they flip the damn fish over at least? Very pedestrian.

Yes, I should've said something at the time but wanted to get back so as to not hold up the jury process. The fish itself was fine. The off-target sauteeing didn't necessarily effect the taste...other than the skin.

The dessert was a slice of a coffee cake-like dessert (bundt pan style) served with a sour whipped cream. Not bad sour, just not really sweetened. This was fine. Nothing special whatsoever.

Overall, not a great showing. The fish was ridiculous and quite frankly the chef should be ashamed of sending something like that out. Hard to get me think about returning...even for the more Austrian dishes. If I want Austrian, I'll go back to Wallse. If I want bratwurst or other sausage...I'll go to Hallo Berlin.



Five Points

Five Points
31 Great Jones Street

Five Points is a really fun place for brunch. The decor's only highlight was a trestle/water flume made from a piece of wood that divided the long room in two, the food was in most cases better looking than tasting, but the service was outstanding from beginning to end.

Danna ordered the escarole and bacon frittata which was slightly underseasoned (though they at least had salt on the table, unlike the restaurant Salt) and skimpy on the bacon. Jude's banana-stuffed french toast was uniquely shaped (more like a long, triangular flan) and tasted excellent. I ordered the baked eggs with apricot/sage sausage which seemed overcooked but well seasoned. The sausage was very flavorful though.

A side of bacon was suprisingly bad. It was like plastic and more concerned with tasting like maple syrup than bacon. On the other hand, the Mexican Bloody Mary (tequila instead of vodka) was served the only way I really enjoy it...in a pint glass. It wasn't the best I've had but it was very good. Put the tequila-based bloody mary you get at Five Points' neighbor, Great Jones Cafe, and you have yourself a nice start to the day.

The coffee, which was served within 1 minute of us sitting down and ordering (a very rare and much appreciated treat) was very good. I could have set my watch by the regular coffee top-offs. Fantastic coffee service. The constant flow of coffee and tequila-infused tomato juice had me in a brief state of bliss. If I could sell that feeling in pill form, I'd be a rich man.

We loved this place - mostly for its service. I think it would be hard for anyone to not really enjoy it.

Room 4 Dessert

Room 4 Dessert
17 Cleveland Place

Though we won't make it three times to Salt, our third visit to Will Goldfarb's Room 4 Dessert was good enough to warrant fourth and likely fifth and sixth visits. And most of that has to do with the service of Will himself.

It's amazing how two dining experiences, back-to-back within minutes of each other can be so different.

We walked in and the two front seats were empty. The corner spot on the bar was where Will was sitting trying to get some paperwork done when not serving customers and helping out behind the dessert bar. He immediately cleared the area for us and made us feel welcomed. He greeted us like old friends and later at the end of our desserts, kind of hung out with us chatting about this and that. We asked him what time he usually closes and his response was to the tune of "whenever people stop coming in for dessert". He said this truthfully, knowing full well that because of this dogma, he probably won't see his (beautiful, I should add) daughter until 4-5am.

Perhaps that's the difference of what Michael Lomonaco (Porter House) calls a chef-driven restaurant. When the chef/owner are actually on site, you can expect a very different experience.

Our options this time were similar, in name only, to the dishes we had little more than a year ago, during our first visit. Back again were "Infance" - a group of "fun" desserts including house-made marshmallows, something called "lucky charm" which tasted like a brick of the breakfast cereal, a swirl of cotton candy with rice krispie praline (tasted like a combo of rice krispies and grape nuts) and some other fun items.

Also back was "Voyage to India" - a chocolate-based 4-some that stretched into some interesting directions (the almond one simply wasn't very good but most else was very tasty).

I ordered the apple desserts - which I think, again, were the best options. He knows how to make apples taste even more apple-y.

Overall a fun time...great music, and excellent service from all those involved. A great way to cap off the night.

Room 4 Dessert will be celebrating its 1 year anniversary next week...check it out.


Salt58 Macdougal St.

We made a late (10:30pm) reservation and, getting out of the NYC Ballet (Sleeping Beauty...it was excellent) around 10:35, I immediately called to let them know we were running late.

Because of traffic and Murphy's Law, we arrive at the restaurant at about 11:05. An inconvenience for both us and the restaurant.

The hostess/manager/waitress let us know right away that there might be a problem because the kitchen was getting ready to close down for the night (despite their OpenTable page stating that they are serving until 12). I can understand, nobody wants to work later than they are supposed to, but the attitude continued with "You better order quick" and forcefully putting glasses, water and later, plates of food, on our table.

Looking past the attitude, we ordered the following, knowing full well that we were on our way to Room 4 Dessert afterwards...

Jude, Danna's cousin visiting from Brown, ordered a vegetarian appetizer as her main course, it was an eggplant dish of some kind which was colorful and by her account, tasty. ($12)

I ordered the venison which was served with beets, pencil-thin carrots and a parsnip puree ($28.50) - all of which was, quite frankly, delicious. A solid dish through and through though overpriced by about $2.

Danna's dish, on the other hand - a whole wheat papparadelle with shredded duck confit ($18) with pecans and I think maybe chestnuts, was completely unseasoned. For a restaurant with the name Salt, you'd think they'd know to include it in some of their dishes (though to their credit, my venison was perfectly seasoned).

Bland couldn't begin to describe the taste of this dish. Blech. And why no salt on the table. What exactly is the concept for this place. No multiple salt offerings. No packaged salt, from what I could tell, to purchase for home use. No salt. And certainly none in the water used to make this pasta or in the dish itself.

Danna and I each had an overpriced glass of Ridge Zinfandel ($15/glass) from a wine list that leaves much to be desired.

In the end, we ended up getting out of the restaurant sooner than any of the other patrons who were there when we arrived.

Despite mediocre service, one awful dish and a lousy wine by the glass list, I think Salt can, if the planets are aligned right, offer a decent dining experience, though I highly doubt I'll try my luck with a third visit.



99 1st Ave.

Had a quick lunch here with Danna, her aunt Andrea and cousin Jude. We were heading to Mamlouk but paid the price for not checking to see what time they opened. As it was, Mamlouk is only open for dinner, so we walked over to Prune, but the wait was too much. We headed over to 6th Street to see what ethnic opportunities awaited. Awash the Ethiopian joint was closed for lunch...and then the rain came pouring down. We were in front of Mancora, a Peruvian restaurant seeming to specialize in ceviche. We went in.

The restaurant is smaller inside that the outside would have you believe, and the small tables make it that much more cozy, if you will.

The food had to be decent, I surmised, after noticing the other patrons to be of South American descent.

We ordered the Ceviche Mixto (octopus, shrimp, mussels, clams, corn, snapper, etc.), an order of the fried fish (mostly calamari, some shrimp and some snapper), a side of yucca a side of plantains in what seemed like maple syrup, and an order of the beans and rice.

For dessert we tried their bread pudding, flan (which tasted, oddly enough, exactly like the bread pudding), Mazamorra Morada (boiled Peruvian purple corn with cinnamon, raisins and plums), and pionono (a so-called "wrapped" cake).

All in all, my first Peruvian experience (excluding the hints of Peruvian cuisine at Nobu) was very good, the ceviche being a significant highlight. Certainly not a culinary revelation, with the exception of perhaps the Mazamorra Morada, which was...well, inedible really, but a good dining experience. The company was a nice change from the usual as well. It was great to see Andrea and Jude. Thanks for lunch Andrea!


W.50th St.

I tried Bann today for lunch and was surprised by a few things...

The entrance was somewhat dramatic...though if I were an investor, I'd be concerned that the first 200 sq. feet of space was there simply for effect and thereby not money-making.

On the other hand, the effect worked to some degree. I actually felt the need to ask for a menu to see if it was within my lunch budget. To my surprise, it easily was.

The very pleasant (both on the eyes and otherwise) hostess brought me to the dining room, a good sandwedge away from the hostess stand, past some autographed chopstick cases from unknown celebrities/guests.

The room is fairly open, tall and generally spacious. The tables, some of which are next to each other, are separated by sheer dividers...pleasant and purposeful enough.

I sit down and order the Bi Bim Bap ($12). The waiter asks if I'd like it with a fried egg. I ask what the difference is, he says "about 2 dollars". I say fine, let's go for it.

He also asked "would you like some tap water?" What a great question. Yes, I respond...thankful for not having to sound cheap by vetoing sparkling or bottled water.

Moments later the water arrives, and moments after that a salad of romaine lettuce, shaved cucumber (lengthwise) and some other greens in a spicy dressing. Also served at this time was a trio of kimchi, seaweed, and a spicy noodle of some kind that I simply don't know the name. All of it was good. The seaweed was nicely nutty and simply good. Dipped lightly in the spicy dipping sauce (in big bottles on the table) really made it shine.

Shortly after (there were very few people, 8 other diners perhaps), I was served a large bowl of rice, beef, greens, mushrooms and other stuff and asked by a new server if I would like hot sauce added to it...and to what degree of heat I'd like it. I went for hot. Why not. He proceeded to add a fair amount of sauce to the dish and mixed it for me tableside. A nice treat as I finished my salad and trio of amuses.

The main dish was great. Very filling and in no way finishable. Table clearing service was prompt and friendly.

I got the bill ($15.30 I think) and was very pleased. I gave the waiter a $20. Now, 20% tip would be about $3.00 making the bill $18.30. I would never see any change. The waiter, possibly accustomed to few lunch diners, tried (successfully) to tip himself up.

Now, I understand what its like. I've seen the tactic before, but it doesn't make it right. As I was leaving, I did see the waiter, who looked a bit like he knew he was caught. I told him that I had expected change and he feigned misunderstanding.

I assured him it was fine..because really, the food and service was good enough on a Friday to let it slide. He certainly wasn't making much money today, so who cares.

That being said...I'll be back and would recommend giving it a try. But I'll be sure to ask for change though, so that I can determine the tip amount for myself.


Upcoming Reservations

I have upcoming reservations at the following restaurants. Please suggest dishes you recommend I try (or avoid). Thanks!

The Orchard (for dinner) - will likely try the short rib flatbread or the cheese one.
Eleven Madison Park (for Restaurant Week lunch) - if possible, I'll get the berkshire pork dish
A Voce (for dinner) - I'll definitely get the duck meatballs...but what else?
Asiate (for Restaurant Week lunch) - no ideas here, need guidance.
Telepan (for lunch...might stray from the RW lunch menu) - an egg dish of some kind most likely.
HQ (for brunch) - no idea.
Salt (for dinner) - I've had the dates wrapped in bacon, the duck and the Newport steak...any thoughts on something else?




Blue Hill at Stone Barns, New Year's Eve '06-'07

In short...it was fantastic.

My wife and I had the pleasure of enjoying the second seating with our usual dining partners Sue Anne and Doug. It was a chef's 7-course tasting menu (Dan Barber was in the kitchen). Doug and I went for the wine pairings, which really made the meal complete.

We arrived a little early and enjoyed some cocktails in the lounge by the fireplace. I had a glass of Mont-Ferrant Rose Brut Cava, Danna had the elderberry and cava cocktail, Sue Anne had something called Snowflake (quince juice, elderflower syrup, sake and apple infused vodka), and Doug had a glass of Wandering Poet sake. All were very good.

Amuse Bouche
This was simply called "Caviar".
This was a three piece amuse served on a piece of slate. It included: kumamoto oyster, pomegranate granite and trout caviar; smoked salmon, beets and American stugeon caviar; and something called (appropriately enough) potato cloud with herring caviar. The wine choice was Pierre Gimmonet 'Brut Blanc de Blancs' 1ier Cru, Cuis, Champagne. Fantastic. The smoked salmon was excellent and the potato cloud was really something.

1st Course
We had a choice of two options. Fortunately, the girls ordered one thing and the guys ordered the other, which enabled us to try the entire menu.

"Golden Farm Egg"
This was a mushroom and parmesan broth with herbs and lemon zest. It was incredibly flavorful - with each ingrediant having its moment on one's tongue. I've had some overly salty broths/soups at Blue Hill in the past - but not tonight. This was right on.

"Foie Gras Terrine"
Possibly the best foie gras terrine I've ever had. The presentation was equally terrific. The foie gras was half an inch thick and about 3 inches long with a variety of toppings evenly spaced. The first section was a dried apricot, next was dried capers, the next was a combo of salt chips and walnuts and lastly yellow paddlefish roe. The sides of the foie gras featured chocolate wafers. The dish was plated with a walnut crumble similar to what you might see on a Wylie Dufresne (WD~50) dish. Finishing the plate was a well balanced (savory/sweet) citrus and shallot marmalade. The wine choice for this was Wegeler Riesling Spatlese 'Wehlener Sonnenur' 2005 (Mosel).

2nd Course
The delicate piece of fish was served to look like it had scales - which were purposefully placed slivers of seared scallops. It also came with braised endive and beet juice. Similar to something I've had at Fleur de Sel, but much better.

"Truffled Lasagne"
This was one large strand of housemade lasagne wrapped beautifully , encasing a chesnut confit, leeks and black truffle - which was nicely pronounced. This was very rich (especially when compared to the Turbot) and delicious. It was served with Roger Sabon Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 'Cuvee Renaissance' 2005 which cut the richness very well.

3rd Course
"Maine Lobster"
This, and the next dishes were clearly prepared sous vide to great effect. There were no options - everyone got lobster. Lobster tail and claw were served with braised red cabbage and horseradish with all flavors being amplified. This was served with a Clairborne & Churchill Pinot Noir 2005 (Edna Valley, CA) - a very earthy and heady wine.

4th Course
"Poached Duck"
Six perfectly evenly cut pieces of seared-then-sous vide pieces of duck were served with braised dumplings with foie gras and a quenelle of something (blended dates and turnips?). The dumpling, which might have been fashioned out of a cabbage leaf, was excellent. One of the best items of the night.

"Loin of Lamb"
Five or six pieces of lamb, also seared and then most likely cooked sous vide to the perfect/even internal temperature, was served with minted spinach (loved it) and chickpeas and chickpea puree. This was served with Chateau La Tour Haut-Brion 1999 (Graves, Bordeaux). Excellent.

Dessert Amuse
Apple gelee, mousse and sorbet. Apple, apple, apple. If you love apples or even just like them...this was amazing. So pronounced. So delicate. So perfect. And as a palate cleanser...it really did the trick.

"Chocolate Cake"
This was a two part dish. The chocolate cake was served with hazelnut mousse and on the side was a quenelle of coffee icecream. This was served with Toro Albala 'PX' Gran Reserva 1971 (Cordoba, Spain) - Doug had this and shared. What a fun pairing.

"Meyer Lemon Gratin"
A warm meyer lemon compote was served alongside a sorbet served wrapped in its braised peel. This was served with Darting Huxelrebe Beerenauslese 'Forster Schepfenflug' 2003 (Pfalz, Germany) - apparently a very rare wine made of two rare grape varieties. It went very well with the dessert.

Right after our Apple dessert amuses and prior to the dessert, our waiters gave us two straw cowboy hats filled with noise makers, feather masks and bull "noses". Glasses of an unknown champagne were also served at the same time.

The civilized group of diners quickly transformed into something you might see in the opening scenes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was great. Then as the clock struck midnight, the entire back of house staff, led by a pot-banging Dan Barber, paraded around the dining room wearing the same festive costumery (?) and using the noise makers.

They went back to the kitchen and turned out our desserts, coffee and petit fours. The petit fourse were: a white chocolate granola thingy that was amazing, a baba rum cake, a mint chocolate block that was "fluffy" in texture, similar to something you'd get at Wil Goldfarb's Room 4 Dessert, and lastly an apple mille feuille.

I couldn't have asked for a better meal (or company). The atmosphere was also just what we were looking for. Of the five trips I've made to Blue Hill at Stone Barns - this was the best yet. I wish we had photos to share, but the cameras battery crapped out on us when we got there.