Friday

Jean Georges, Nougatine Room, June 28, 2007

Jean Georges (Nougatine Room)
Trump International Hotel

This will sound a little silly but this was the first time I had trouble ordering from either side of the lunch menu at Jean Georges. Most of the stuff on the a la carte (right) side of the menu I've either had or was simply unwilling to spend for today (e.g., lobster for $42).

The prix fixe offerings (left side of the menu), which changes every Wednesday, didn't quite jump out at me either.

Flummoxed, I decided to go for the prix fixe and ordered the soup, pork and fruit dessert. Obviously that's not a fair representation, so we'll go step by step. But first - service from the kitchen to the table (or in my case, bar) has been a bit sluggish lately. I waited a long time for my entree. What up crew? Also, noticeably absent was the girl who's competing on Top Chef and JG himself.

Appetizer

The peach soup, which was more orange in color than I think even they'd hoped for, was cooled to the right temp, blended perfectly and, despite the slightly strange color, very good - though bordering on too sweet. I think I have to blame the peaches, which have been delicious this year. The soup was poured over some finely diced peaches, flowers of some kind and a lemon yogurt. Topping it off was a dash of cinnamon. Interesting dish. I'd probably never order it again, and wouldn't if I hadn't been left with the options described above. But still good.
Entree

It was either this or salmon. Having cooked up some great wild salmon at home earlier in the week, I decided to try JG's take on pork. The pork was cooked well and was no doubt delicious, but I think this was a rather basic dish that could be replicated by anyone with access to the same products. The pork sat on a slightly over-salted bed of rainbow chard next to a brush stroke of plum sauce. Good, not great and, to be perfectly frank, not exciting at all - but still a good value from a cost perspective.

Dessert

I stuck with the early summer fruit theme and ordered an apricot/peach dish that consisted of peaches (good), apricots (eh) a plum sorbet (awesome) on top of a shortbread cookie of sorts (good). Overall, nothing outstanding save for the plum sorbet. But still good.
Drink

It's hard to say no to one of the few places serving Gerwutztraminer juice, so I had a glass. Probably a mistake though this time because of the naturally sweet dishes I chose. Oh well.

Bread and Butter

It should also be noted that they are now serving two pieces of bread, per person it seems. The bread is very good, but I think supplying two pieces per person is assuming too much and also wasteful. Speaking of bread, my friend Rob Seixas has an article about bread on Zagat.com. You can read it here: (link will be added soon).

Insieme, June 22, 2007

Insieme
Michelangelo Hotel
777 7th Ave.

So since it's Friday, we'll do a quick review of a quick lunch.



Location
Can you get any more convenient. This is a much welcome addition to Times Square for both tourists and business folks alike. The foot traffic is remarkable and will keep people walking in the door.

Decor
Despite what Bruni and others think, I like the decor. Well, most of it. The wood work with the angular cuts close to the ceiling are nice, I loved the chairs and the leather bench seats were very comfortable. The tables and dinnerware was fine as well. I didn't even mind the stringy, flapperesque curtains. But what in the world were they thinking with their choice of flowers. Lily's of this variety = funerals. The smell, the look, everything about them reminds me of funerals. And then because the colors of the restaurant are muted shades of gray, white, black and brown, it brings the place down. The person who suggested those flowers should get a serious lecture about floral arrangements. Blech. Oh, and watch your step upon entry. That's going to cause some problems. And is it not handicap accessible because of that step?


Service
Waitstaff (Cassie was my waitress) seemed cheerful and seems to know her stuff. The bussers and water fillers and such were simply drones. Not sure I like the whole tucked-in tie look, but the uniform (blue shirts, blue pin-striped pants and a blue, white (and navy?) tie was sharp. Food came out in good order, ice water filled regularly and the bread/olive oil service was nice.

Food
Pretty good and a decent value. I ordered a small plate of the lasagne ($12) from the traditional side of the menu. To quote Platt from New York Magazine, it was served with six layers of spinach pasta interspersed with a Bolognese rag├╣ and a melting b├ęchamel. I thought it was very good overall but seemed to be missing something. Just one thing, but I can't put my finger on what. Platt's extra star for the lasagne seems a little strange...I think a lasagne without fresh ricotta (from DiPalo's) isn't a lasagne, but what do I know.


For my entree, I went with the barramundi. A good dish that made me truly appreciate the amadai I had at L'Atelier yesterday. Meaning that if Canora's fish was well cooked, then what I got from Robuchon was etherial. That being said, the tomatoes, artichokes and other accompaniments to the dish were delicious and were well placed.

Insieme reminds me of L'Impero in many ways. Actually, it's like the middle child of a family who's kids also include L'Impero and Alto. Good food that doesn't have to get better. With the reasonable price points, great location, lack of competition in the neighborhood and competent dishes it already serves - it doesn't need to do better. An instant standby. It would be a mistake to try and make it more that what it already is.

L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon, June 21, 2007

L'Atelier du Joel Robuchon
Four Seasons Hotel
57 E. 57th Street

I had lunch with Food Editor of Gothamist, Laren Spirer and it was both of our first visits to the dining destination known as L'Atelier. I was so amped for this lunch after hearing some great reviews from friends.

The Four Seasons, it should be noted, is breathtaking. I don't like the word breathtaking, but it really was. Actually, it was stresstaking. I walked in and immediately fell at ease. So calming. An oasis in a bustling part of the city.

After navigating the winding halls, I made it to the ebony and red room just as my dining partner for the day was. We were offered a seat at the bar (the good seats!) and jumped on the opportunity of seeing the action up close.

I went with the Express Menu and chose the Le King Crab - which was a 'salad' of king crab, mozzarella and avocado. It sounded so mix matched that I had to see if it would work and indeed, lest there be any doubt, it did. The crab was awesome, the romaine hearts (uncut) actually made sense in this form, and the mozzarella also seemed to work well with the crustacean.

For my entree, I chose L'Amadai which was pan sauteed with lily bulbs and served atop a yuzu citrus broth. So delicate. So delicious. And the crispy skin was perfect. First time trying this fish, and I'm now a fan.


We shared an order of L'Anguille - caramelized eel layered with smoked foie gras. The joining of these two distinct flavors is a case study for flavor profile perfection. It lived up to every expectation...I just wish the serving was larger. Oh my god was this delicious. One of my favorite dishes ever.

photo courtesy of New York Magazine

L'Atelier is truly something special. The food is heavenly, the location is much better than what some critics are arguing ("In the lobby of a hotel? For shame") and the artistry is nice too. The room itself was pristine, the design was nice, but the color (shiny blacks and reds) reminded me of my high school locker room (Go Big Red!). Alas, is this better than Jean Georges? I don't think so. Some of the dishes (the Eel and foie gras!) are certainly more intriguing that what you usually get at Jean Georges, and the menu is a little deeper, but I'm not sure if its better.

A few more visits and maybe I'll know for sure. :)

steak tartare with boring looking fries.

Peasant, June 14, 2007

Peasant
194 Elizabeth St.

There was a Food Blogger Meet Up/Happy Hour at Von that I attended with my dining partner Doug (dpd for short) where we got to meet Ed Levine of Serious Eats and Alaina of The Full Belly among several others who all seemed great and had their own niches carved out for themselves.

After a few drinks of a bordeaux blanc I don't recall, I wandered over to Peasant for a bite to eat. Having never been there and hearing of its all-Italian menu, blunt service and terrific food, I had to see for myself.

Well, I can't disagree with anything I've heard about the place. The menu is in fact written in Italian, but I had absolutely no problem navigating the menu. If you have any language skills (Latin or its European spawn) you should have no problem with the menu. Same applies if you are a dedicated diner like myself. That said, I can see it being an issue for the regular person, but I wouldn't consider it a turnoff. What was a turnoff, however, was the loud room, loud Euro centric clientele and what looked to me like a staff that goes skiing every night together.

I sat at the bar, as is my MO when dining alone (Doug had a basketball scrimmage, Danna was working late) and ordered a half order of the pasta with pesto sauce and was floored by it. It was phenomenal and costing me about $8 for a healthy portion made it all that much better. Truly excellent pasta - at least as good as that at 'Cesca and a fraction of the cost (and more pasta!).

For my entree, I wanted to order the grilled quail, which they were out of, but settled on the spit roasted chicken. This was superb. Filled with a nondescript stuffing, the herb infused bird was perfectly cooked and seasoned and simply hit the spot. I don't recall the exact price, but it was somewhere near a respectable $24 or maybe $22(?).

Is the scene a bit too sceney and Euro? Yes.
Are the staff a bit kookoo? Yes.
Is it loud and less homey than it should/could be? Yes (but that's because the front area is bigger than it needs to be)
Is the food delicious and of a good value. Definitely.
Worth a shot? I'd say yes.

Monday

Big Apple BBQ Block Party - June 10, 2007

Big Apple BBQ Block Party
Madison Square Park

What can I say. The 'cue was as good as it gets. Sadly, these are the two best days of the year to get BBQ in New York City - and it's a downhill run after that...though from what I hear Hill Country might change all of that. Blue Smoke simply shouldn't even be considered a contender to what was served in the Park this weekend.

The highlight for me was the Baby Back Ribs & Beans served by Pitmaster Mike Mills of the 17th Street Bar & Grill from Murphysboro, Illinois. They won the Memphis Championship Barbecue event in Las Vegas and dammed if they don't deserve. I've never had ribs this good before in my life. Phenomenal.

Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q is still my favorite place to go though. I've visited his plot of sidewalk all three of the years I've been to this event and it keeps getting better. I asked for some of the "brown stuff" and was treated handsomely to large chunks of extra crispy cracklin'. Holy crow was this pulled pork delicious.

Ubon's "Champion's Choice" pulled pork shoulder and cole slaw was good and certainly qualified to be a part of this event, but didn't stand a chance against Big Bob. Though it also didn't deserve to have such few people on its line. The food was real good but unless there is a line, people don't think it's that great. Their loss was our gain. An easy line to pass through.

One quick thing about the Bubba Fast Pass - they sold out at 3pm on Saturday which is infuriating. They should allot a few for sale each day, in my opinion. However, the lines weren't all that terrible to navigate on Sunday, so we ended up feeling just fine about not being locked into a $100 pass with only $80 some odd worth of food. NOT getting the pass definitely worked in our favor this year. Oh...and great job with the beer tents this year. I was very impressed with the speed of which it moved. Truly a great job.

See you next year.