'Cesca, May 30, 2007

164 W. 75th St. (Amsterdam Ave.)

The Upper West Side, long an area I've avoided for no other reason than because I had no business being there, has seen some action from me lately.

I've been lucky enough, after 32 years of living, to have recently found my birth mother (thank you Google!) who just so happens to reside on the Upper West Side. Without going into details of my personal life (and hers, for that matter), I will say that we've become friends and are working on establishing a relationship of some kind.

Our first meet-up since the hospital room was at Cafe Mozart. The choice of destination had nothing to do with the place itself, but rather its equidistance from her apartment and my office. I also happen to really like Mozart, so I felt comfortable about that.

Our second meeting was at 'Cesca and for mostly the same reasons. I'd been to the bar at 'Cesca with my friend Mike Polombo years ago (it was "his" restaurant and was treated well there) and had some apps and drinks but never got to try a meal. So this is where my wife got to meet her birthmother-in-law. (Hallmark - are you gettin' this?).

I ordered some delicious marinated olives ($7) for the table. Danna ordered the spicy parmesan & prosciutto fritters ($9) which came to about 9 in an order. This was to be her appetizer but quickly became an addicting addition for the table.

For my appetizer, I ordered the linguini with tomato sauce and basil ($18). The portion size was very small but the flavor and texture of the linguini was excellent. I'd be hard pressed to order this again for the value, but it was tasty.

This happened to be the peak of Soft Shell Crab season, and considering I order them maybe once a year on average, this was perfect timing. The crabs were the Market Fish of the day and were served "alla Livonese" - with a spicy tomato sauce, capers, olives and oregano ($28). This was fantastic and as good a soft shell crab dish as I've ever had. Truly well done - and the crabs were big this year. Two were served and had plenty of meatiness to them. I'd certainly recommend this dish for those seeking a new interpretation of this crustacean (sorry, I had to).

All in all a great meal. The wines we chose were also very good, though I've since misplaced what we ordered. I need to get better with that.


Ginger and Spice, May 25, 2007

Ginger and Spice
Ramsey Square
1300 Rt. 17 North
Ramsey, NJ

Located in a strip mall off of Rt. 17 North in Ramsey, NJ - Ginger and Spice is a hidden gem. Flanked by a Panera Bread and department stores, the restaurant, as the name implies, serves a mix match of Asian-style dishes from sushi to noodle dishes to rice options.

What you won't get here is a fine dining experience nor authentic cuisine. But that's not really the point either. What you will get is a fun place to take the family, go on a date, or simply cut out from work for a nice lunch.

On my visit I ordered the salt and pepper calamari ($8.95). According to the menu, the fish is hand battered with 'angry' flour, seasoned with sweet peppers, Thai chili, scallions and served with curry aioli. I'd like the flour to have been a little 'angrier' so to satisfy my need for more heat, I asked for some chile oil, which they gladly provided. I mixed this in with the aioli and just like that, created my new favorite dipping sauce. It'd go equally great with french fries - which, oddly enough, you can order from the Sides menu.

For my entree, I had Thai Curry Udon Noodles ($9.95) which included bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, sweet (bell) red peppers, bok choy and Thai red curry. At the suggestion of our waitress, a very cute, pixie-like girl with a million dollar smile, I added beef to it for $2 more. Next time I'd try the chicken as the beef was a bit lacking, but in no ways bad.

My sister and father both ordered the Soy Honey Glazed Black and Blue Tuna ($20.95) and were pleased with their choice. The very large, wok-seared tuna steak is served with stir-fried veggies and a crispy, sticky bonito rice that they both very much enjoyed.

I look forward going back to this place on a somewhat regular basis. It's a good change from the nearby Kinchley's and Mason Jar Restaurants for a casual bite to eat.


Landmarc, multiple visits

Time Warner Center, 3rd Floor

Dubbed as a "contemporary bistro with a twist", I've gone to Landmarc six times to figure out what that twist is (still can't figure it out) and to break up the week's worth of dining destinations in the neighborhood that I work.

Let's get right into it.

Visit #1 - Breakfast
This was the second day the restaurant was open for business. I sat at the bar and was greeted by everyone in the restaurant - as I was the first customer of the day and probably one of the first on record for breakfast. I ordered an egg sandwich with bacon and gruyere and a cup of coffee ($10 or so, coffee was a freebie). The coffee was okay, but they offered me a huge refill for the walk out once my order arrived. Very nice. I brought the sandwich back to my office surprised at the lack of condiments in the bag (no salt, pepper or ketchup) but fortunately made due with leftover stuff in my desk drawer. The sandwich was good. Ample amounts of cheese and a so-so sampling of bacon. It was pretty greasy and I imagine it would be the perfect panacea for a night of heavy drinking, yet I've not had the inkling for a return visit.

Visit #2 - Lunch
I sat at the far end of the circular bar (which would become routine) and ordered the nicoise salad ($18), which Steve Cuozzo wrote was not in fact a nicoise salad at all, because the tuna was seared, not out of a can. I have to agree and did feel slightly cheated. Not just because the tuna was seared (a good thing) but because it wasn't enough tuna. A little skimpy, though the greens and filler (potatos, anchovies, peppers, haricot verts) were decent. Overall though, not worth getting.

Visit #3 - Lunch
Went with two coworkers. I ordered the french onion soup ($8) and the standard grilled chicken caesar salad ($16). Both were simply okay. I've had much better french onion soup (Artisanal, La Bonne Soup, La Petite Auberge, etc.) and have had worse (local pubs, etc.). The chicken caesar was boring. Not completely tasteless, but boring. Add some cranberries at least to jazz it up please. Blah.

Visit #4 - Lunch
Back to my perch at the bar, this time I ordered the croque monsieur ($13). Standard. Good. Perhaps not as good as the one at L'Express, and certainly could be better appreciated at 2 in the morning (which is possible at Landmarc), but good nonetheless. Worth trying again? Maybe one more time after I've gone through the menu.

Visit #5 - Lunch
At this point, I'm only going to Landmarc because I'm tired of going to Bouchon Bakery. I love Bouchon Bakery and anything they serve trumps what you can get at Landmarc. It's a fact. But I don't like to sit under the Samsung sign, so I get my lunches takeout and eat outside or at my desk. And the problem with BB is that they simply don't change their menu enough. I LOVE the nicoise salad sandwich. I LOVE the roast beef sandwich. But I can only have them so many times (countless at this point). Yet I debate each time I come to Landmarc why I choose it over Jean-Georges - and I'm never satisfied with my answers. Yet once again, I ponied up to my spot at the bar, this time ordering the grilled chicken sandwich with roasted red peppers, smoked mozzarella and carmelized onions on ciabatta. It was as pedestrian as it sounds.

Visit #6 - Lunch
I've gone this far into the menu, why not keep going. My spot at the bar is taken by people crunching numbers so I sit in the middle and order what the guy next to me was eating - the grilled skirt steak salad with gorgonzola, watercress, roasted peppers and chimichurri vinaigrette ($21). Lo and behold, this is the first and likely only dish deserving a return visit and recommendation. It was very good. The steak was cooked perfectly and served nice and warm, not chewy and in ample portions. The watercress was crisp and tasty. The gorgonzola was scattered in appropriate density (though I wouldn't mind a little more). The roasted peppers are starting to annoy me here. But this is a good dish. Worth checking out and probably the only dish I've had so far that has a fair value. But still, for a few bucks more I could be eating a three course meal at Jean-Georges, a stone's throw away. Sometimes I guess the casual atmosphere is what we need, and that's why I've been back so many times. But as for that "twist", I'm still waiting to figure out what exactly it is.

Visit #7 - Lunch
I saddled up to the bar once again, this time trying the burger. I ordered it medium rare with gruyere and bacon. It was served just like that, except that the bacon was in the form of lardons and on the side in a ramekin/monkey dish. Whu whu what? How lame is that? You put some lardons on the burger and after one bite they all fall out and onto the plate, bar or worse - your lap. The burger was juicy, salty and beefy and I have no complaints about it but serving the bacon like that is a critical mistake.

Visit #8 - Lunch
Went with about eight people today for a coworkers "last day lunch". Even our boss, a well-known figure, attended. He ordered the burger which arrived per his request as quickly as possible. He ate and ran, which was fine. The rest of us received slipshot service with three of us getting our food in a timely manner. Then the next three people getting their's a few minutes later and then, about eight minutes after that, my colleague finally got her grilled skirt steak salad. Service was ATROCIOUS. True, they took her meal off of the tab, but that was ridiculous. Other servers (I asked for a napkin) were also slow and unconcerned. I got the napkin about 4 minutes later. Terrible.

Jean-Georges, May 21, 2007


I love Jean-Georges. To be clear, I'm referring to the restaurant, although the gentleman who runs the kitchen is no doubt a great guy. He's been cordial each time I've seen him, or rather him seeing me perched at "my" spot at the end of the bar. It should be noted that I have no right to call it "my" spot, as I've only sat there three or four times, but I enjoy it more than at the tables, whether inside, or where this experience found me, outside on the patio.

Danna was taking some liberties with her work schedule (it was her last week working at the same company for the last eight years) and had some time to meet me for a rare lunch together. We also had to return some stuff I got her from a store in the neighborhood, so Jean-Georges was a convenient place to grab a quick bite.

We were offered a place on the patio and, because it was one of the sunnier/warmer days we'd had in a while, we took it.

The tables and chairs were balanced, the umbrella sturdy despite some gusting winds and service, despite being further away from the kitchen, was still very good. The only issue Danna had, and I have to agree, was the cheap sunglasses on our waiter. It looked "off" and somewhat inappropriate.

Bread was good as usual, and they served us olive oil instead of the requisite butter, which was a welcome change...though I do like the butter there.

Since we were in a rush, we skipped the bargain prix-fixe (which seriously is the best deal in town, with exception to possibly lunch at Bouley) and just ordered an entree each.

Danna ordered the black bass, I ordered the skate - one of the last remaining "standard" dishes I'd yet to try. The skate was perfectly prepared - crispier on the edges, and elegantly plated with a vinaigrette of sorts poured around the fish tableside. Danna liked mine better than her black bass, which, aside from being par for the course with her, was also perfectly prepared and served with a nice collection of seasonal greens and a puree of celery root, if I recall correctly.

You can't execute dishes better than at Jean-Georges and the consistency is something that is truly remarkable. Service is never "bad" and you walk away content and satisfied each and every time.

The only problem is the space. There is nothing wrong with the space, it is lovely and comfortable, but it isn't "wowing". Then again, maybe it doesn't need to be. Afterall, I spend most of my time looking at my plate or my dining companion when at Jean-Georges, which is probably the goal of any good restaurant, or in this case, a great one.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns, May 20, 2007

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Pocantico Hills, NY

So by now anyone that has read this blog knows that this is my favorite restaurant anywhere, anyhow.

Therefore, it was the perfect place to celebrate my wife's parents' wedding anniversary. They hadn't been yet, and with ramps season just about to conclude, there was only one thing to to Westchester...

Consistency is one thing. Jean Georges is a perfect example of a restaurant who is consistently consistent in preparing beautiful, perfectly balanced dishes. But when a restaurant gets better every time you visit it - even at your 6th or 7th visit during the course of almost two years, you are experiencing something very special.

I've had it three times in the past, but I felt the need to order it again. The field greens with soft-boiled and pan-fried panko crusted egg was as good as it could possibly be. Yum. Gooey goodness from the egg just brought it all together. Delicious. Everyone at our table got it and was equally impressed. You can taste the fact that one, maybe two, people touched the lettuce before it got to your plate, and that it was cut from the soil that morning.

I followed this up with Pancetta Wrapped Trout, served with local nettles, ramps, spinach puree and a meyer lemon vodka sauce. I was nervous that this would be smaller than it actually was. Served more like pinwheels and sliced into pieces, I really enjoyed this dish.

We ordered for the table a side order of ramps and carrots ($6 each supplemental charge) but, which happens a lot here, they also accidentally brought out an order of bok choy. Instead of bringing it back to the kitchen, we were given an added treat that was delicious. The ramps, of course, were fantastic and the carrots were also delicious - though Danna and debated whether these were better than the one's at BLT Prime. Danna was in favor of BLTs, and I'm still unsure. Both great but somehow different.

I was able to sample the gnocchi (ricotta cheese, morels, pine nuts and asparagus) which was excellent. You might not think of going for the handmade pastas at BHSB because it isn't an "Italian" restaurant by any stretch of the imagination...but you really need to consider it. It helps to actually see the entire room of the kitchen (in the way back) dedicated solely to making pasta fresh daily.

For my main course - I went with the grass-fed beef which was served with morels, asparagus, and local (stone barns) bok choy. Again, fantastic. Perfectly cooked, flavors, aroma and texture in perfect harmony with each other...simply perfect.

I honestly don't recall what we had for dessert - and it's not that it wasn't memorable (well, I guess it really wasn't), it's just hard to remember everything.

If you do happen to go up there, say hi to Pete the bartender, a friend of mine who I remet while in St. John's earlier in the month.


Zozo's Ristorante, St. John, USVI - May 9, 2007

Zozo's Ristorante
Gallow's Point Resort
St. John, USVI

Danna and I split from the pack for dinner on our fifth night on St. John. The previous nights dinners were mostly barbecue-driven (steak, salmon, burgers, etc.) - which makes perfectly good sense because the main house (there were three houses we rented for about 20 people) had a great grill set up, a monster kitchen, and views of Francis Bay and sunsets over St. Thomas. But, being the food blogger that I am, I wanted to see what the island had to offer.

Parking is limited on the island, so the restaurant had a valet of sorts. Basically a big, imposing man asking me for my keys after I'd already found parking. Fine. We walk upstairs and the owner or manager is sweeping through the restaurant and heading to the kitchen but takes the time to kindly let us know that he'll be right with us - then proceeds to yell at the kitchen staff for what seemed to be either slow firing of plates, mistakes or simply poor cooking. A red flag for sure.

We didn't have a reservation, and though the main restaurant was booked, he offered us a table upstairs in the Jax Bar - featuring the same menu as downstairs. This was great. We sat at the long bar overlooking Cruz Bay and St. Thomas just at the tail end of the sunset and got served some good bread with olive oil by a friendly bartender. The simplest and easiest things mean the world to me when done well. Our bartender poured us some good olive oil, cracked some fresh pepper and salt in it and served it to us with the bread. This takes little to no effort, but it is amazing how few restaurants provide such a nice and simple offering.

We ordered some wines and then moved on to the meal. I started with the littleneck clams in a sun dried tomato pesto served with grilled garlic crostini and lemon pinot grigio brodo ($14). Delicious. Truly a solid dish.

Danna had no problem finishing her endive and radicchio salad that was served with fontina cheese, apples and red grapes in a citrus mascarpone vinaigrette ($13).

For entrees, I was torn. I'd been eating meat practically all week but desperately craved the osso buco on the menu. Instead, I went the seafood route and ordered the Caribbean lobster tail served with due colore orzo, wheat berries, tarragon and truffle crab butter ($36) and couldn't have been happier. The crustacean was cooked perfectly. It seems as though I got the last order of it, so the new guy at the bar to my right was forced to try the osso buco. It looked and smelled terrific when it was later served to him, but I was still happy with my decision.

Danna ordered the special swordfish dish which was a steak oven roasted with a peppery polenta crust. It was an interesting dish. Not her favorite - so we switched and I finished the swordfish while she ate the rest of the lobster. I don't recall the price of that dish.

We were stuffed (all that rum is enough) so we skipped dessert and coffee but enjoyed several glasses of wine while watching the lights of St. Thomas and the sky fade to black. Worth a visit.

Uncle Joe's BBQ, St. John, USVI - May 6, 2007

Uncle Joe's BBQ
North Shore Road, Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI

Photos courtesy of Bob and Anita Blake

Danna's friend and former colleague Christina suggested we find Uncle Joe's BBQ. The operative word being 'find'. We were told its near the post office but that didn't help much. Fortunately there was a little information hut across the street from the post office. We asked. He smiled, looked at the door behind him and said "This door leads to the kitchen". Easy enough.

Uncle Joe's is tiny. It has five two-tops that share a space of maybe 150 sq. feet. There's a kitchen but the reheating/grilling is done on a small grill facing the street, situated in the dining "room". There are only two walls to the joint and both of them are actually the exterior walls of other buildings.

We ordered combo platters which included chicken breasts and pork ribs. Both were incredible though the chicken was slightly dry (but not too dry - might have to do with the chicken itself). It was served with ample portions of two of the following: potato salad, cole slaw, pasta salad or rice and beans. We tried them all - the cole slaw and potato salad being the winners. The meat, as it should, fell off the bone easily and was coated in a vinegar-based sauced that had some notes of tropical fruit too. Not terribly hot - in either the spice or temperature categories - and as good as I've ever had. Makes me wonder why people even bother at the too-inconsistent-to-be-trusted Blue Smoke. It's not rocket science people. Just add the love! Uncle Joe's certainly has a lot of love in his 'cue. A must visit when on St. John.

Sun Dog Cafe, St. John USVI - May 5, 2007

Sun Dog Cafe
Mongoose Junction, St. John USVI
May 5, 2007

Our first full day on the island found ourselves searching for bathing suits, bug spray and sunblock. Normally we would have packed these items but they were all down at our place in Florida and didn't get down there as often as we'd hoped this winter. The bug spray, it turned out, would be unbelievably needed. Some fared well (me) others were eaten alive (Mikey) by the mosquitoes that swarmed the island because of the heavy rainfall the weeks before we arrived. We were like a full-course meal for the critters.

Anyway, in one of the shopping centers called Mongoose Junction sits a tiny shack called the Sun Dog Cafe. Everyone I spoke to recommended it for their fish tacos, so naturally we went for it.

We sat at one of the tables scattered on the patio in between clothing shops, an outdoor bar called the Gecko Lounge and a cigar shop. The ammonia soaked rag that was used to clean off our table didn't set a good stage, but the dishes served to us hit the spot.

Danna ordered the black bean and grilled chicken quesadilla that was as good as this basic fare can get. My Mighty Mahi taco, served with three soft tortillas with perfectly grilled Mahi Mahi and a slightly fruity (mango) salsa was just right. Though I couldn't help but put a little extra hot sauce on it.

I'd certainly recommend this place for a quick bite while shopping around town - and stick to the local fare (fish tacos, etc.).

Skinny Legs - May 9, 2007

Skinny Legs
Coral Bay
St. John, USVI

Think of Skinny Legs, located on the northeast corner of St. John, as something you'd get if you combined Margaritaville with Fenway Park. The owners, and likely many of the patrons, are Bostonians - or at least formerly from Massachussetts as evidenced by the Patriot, Red Sox and Bruins paraphenalia covering every square inch of space not covered by St. John-themed t-shirts.

The burger I ordered was good, though remarkably overpriced for what it was. I went with blue cheese and bacon as my toppings and would recommend it for your burger fix on this particular island. The mahi sandwich is also pretty good and worth considering. The fries were average at best but the beers were ice cold, the service friendly and likely drunker than you, and the dart board "stadium" is an excellent offering.

It's definitely worth a trip if you are staying on the island - and doubly so if its raining out. The covered patio is nice even during an afternoon rain shower.


My kitchen

The kitchen we had in our apartment in Manhattan was small, excuse me, tiny - even by NYC standards. Formerly a bathroom or closet, it was physically impossible to have two people do anything but stand still while in it. What the apartment lacked in kitchen size and conveniences (no dishwasher), it made up in closet space, ceiling height, accessibility, and in general, a good deal of space. It was a great apartment - I wish we could still have it in addition to our new home. Here's a pic that was taken by the Village Voice for their column "Shelter". The interview can be found here. And that couch is not that yellow, I assure you.

So when looking at houses, the functionality, look and feel of the kitchen was very important in the decision making process. Fortunately our favorite house also had the best kitchen.

Here, per Brandon's request, is a photo of the main half of the kitchen before we bought it. The stools are gone, the chicken basket is gone and the ceramic fruit thing above the sink/picture box window is or is about to be gone. Everything is fairly new - five years old or so, except the dishwasher, which is not the best, but certainly better than what I had in NYC. I'll add some additional photos in the near future as well as some meals I plan on cooking...

Amalia, April 26, 2007


My first impression of Amalia, located in the Dream Hotel, was that it would be all style and no substance. It certainly does have quite a bit of style, though that shouldn't surprise anyone when looking at its pedigree (same owners of Aspen and Groovejet and designed by the same group, SLDesign, who brought us Butter and Aspen).

My second impression was that my wife would love this. The space features a handful of separate rooms/areas in a mix of brick, glass, mirrors and currently trendy wallpaper treatments much like you'd find from Walnut Wallpaper (Cole & Son, Osbourne & Little, etc.) and Twenty2.

The service is awkward at best. The hostess looked like she just woke up and the waiter was over-polite/too polite - which I guess I can't complain about but made me feel awkward.

My first impression came to fruition when I received my Golden Beets and Blood Orange salad which was served with avocado, crunchy chickpeas and pomegranate vinaigrette. The plating was reminiscent of the tuna appetizer currently being served at Eleven Madison Park, but because it was on a square plate, not a long, narrow oval-like plate at EMP, it didn't work. There was too much negative space and it looked amateurish. Sadly, the ingredients failed to impress as well.

My entree, a ground lamb sandwich, essentially a sloppy joe, was actually quite tasty. Not worth a second try, but a nice option for lunch. It doesn't come close to the lamb nanini at Tabla (which has been worth three tries all of which were very good), but decent and passable.

I skipped dessert because the sandwich was enough to fill me up but also because none of it really intrigued me.

A recent check on Open Table showed that it was currently offline. Is this a harbinger of things to come? Hard to say, but I hope not. I'd like to give it another shot for lunch and a shot at dinner too with the wife.

Yes, its style might prove to be greater than its substance, but another shot is a fair approach. A good place to consider a starting point for a night on the town -- where getting in the mood to go out is the focus instead of strictly a dining experience.