The Social Table Cooking Class

I’m about to rock the very foundation of your beliefs:
I don’t know everything.

It’s true, even and especially regarding cooking. everything I make and how I make it is stuff I have seen on tv, read about or cobbled together with my mom’s help. I have no formal training and most of my knives come from Ikea.
I don’t think Mario Batali shops there for his cutlery.

So, this week, I attended a cooking class at The Social Table. For 80 bucks, you get dinner, dessert and a whole cooking class.
And it’s BYOB.
It’s amazing how much WORSE I cut when I am tipsy…
The teacher, Rebecca Goldfarb was pretty awesome. She was obviously well trained, knowledgeable and talented, but was SO laid back, patient and possibly the funniest chick I have met since Jack from Will and Grace.
Oh, right, I’ve never met Jack. And he isn’t a chick.
Suffice to say – Rebecca makes the class pretty freakin fun. And she started the class out with truffle oil and Parmesan popcorn.
I didn’t even KNOW you could get popcorn anywhere but those microwaveable bags.
I was taught how to properly cut veggies – you want to hold the knife near the base and also try to slide the knife forward as you cut, not drag it back. Do it in a rocking motion so you don’t have to come up and down each time.
That’s what she said.
I learned that if you roast beets – just plain, without any oil or anything – and then once they are cool, rub them with a paper towel, the skin comes right off.

I learned that if you slide dental floss underneath a log of goat cheese, then criss-cross the floss over the log, you get these really perfect little discs of goat cheese that are just perfect for frying.
And…I learned how to make the world’s most awesome chocolate pots de creme.
1)While the oven was preheating at 325 degrees, we put 6 egg yolks and…
3 Tbs. of sugar into a bowl and whisked them lightly until they were combined.

2)We heated 2 cups of whipping cream, 4 ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate and 1 tsp. of instant espresso over medium heat, whisking until it was entirely combined. This is an important step – if it isn’t all combined, it will make for lumpy pots de creme.
And “lumpy” really isn’t a word you want to see on a menu.

3)When the chocolate was all smooth, we SLOWLY added the eggs to the chocolate in a thin, steady stream. Don’t do it too quickly or the eggs will scramble. Don’t try tempering it or the eggs will scramble. Basically…do it this way, or the eggs will scramble.
4)We then put the mixtures into small ramekins and popped them onto a roasting pan half filled with water. That’s so the steam from the water will gently cook the mixture and let it become a smooth pudding instead of a hard cracked…mess. 25 minutes later…

They looked like this! Firm, but not hard, and still jiggly in the middle.
We then had to wait while it chilled in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Truth be told, I would have eaten them hot.

But we did have a delicious salad with that grassy, crunchy, melty fried goat cheese and those insanely sweet roasted beets.

And we had some outstanding beef stew and THE BEST MASHED POTATOES I have ever had in my LIFE.
Gruyere cheese and eggs improve anything infinitely.
But then…at long last…dessert time. With freshly whipped cream.

Have you ever heard angels sing and rainbows appear at the exact same time that a bluebird flitted over to you and perched on your finger like you were Snow White?
Well, that is just what this dessert tastes like.
Creamy, deep, rich, smooth, more chocolaty than actually sweet. Intensely satisfying and seductive.
If I go any further, the blog may get a little too R-rated.
What a GREAT freakin class! The teacher was a blast, the food was delicious and I learned a LOT. I would definitely go back for another class to learn some more recipes and techniques.
And to live for the day that I can actually say I know everything.
Who am I kidding? I’m just going to say that anyway.
*Recipe courtesy of The Social Table*

Kim and Scott’s Gourmet Pretzels

There is nothing like a really awesome soft pretzel. Soft, salty, wheaty, with a kiss of salt on the outside. Dipped into spicy, tangy mustard, it might be my favorite of all NYC street food. But…sometimes I don’t want to go outside.
Like when its cold. 
Or when I already got a pretzel that day and I don’t want the corner vendor to know that I am addicted. 
When Kim and Scott’s sent me some of their natural, gourmet stuffed pretzels, I was pretty excited. And I was right. This stuff is not the SAME as what you would get from the cart (I honestly DO love that chemical-y taste), but these are way better for you, with some pretty awesome flavors and are INSANELY low in calories. REALLY.

Apple Cinnamon and Chocolate Crumb.

Sweet, slightly spicy cinnamon coating surrounding chewy, wheaty dough and soft, sugary apples. Um..how could this possibly be anything but delightful? Only thing that could improve this would be vanilla ice cream.

The chocolate crumb pretzel was, I found, a bit disappointing. Too much wheat, not enough chocolate.

Travis didn’t seem to have a problem with any of these issues.
The Pizza Pretzel rocked my face off! Zesty, oregano-filled sauce with melty mozzarella filled the slightly sour pretzel dough. With crispy Parmesan on top, this was perfect with a cup of tomato soup and a dollop of Sriracha.

But then…what isn’t perfect with a dollop of Sriracha?
Kevin sure liked it.
And really…I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t like these snacks! They aren’t the same thing as what you get at a cart, but…guess what…they won’t stuff your body full of chemicals and preservatives either. Really, Kim and Scott’s Pretzels are just awesome to keep in the fridge for those times when you feel snacky.
They are also great for those times that you want to make up a musical parody to Bernstein’s “New York, New York”

Dickson’s Farmstand’s Chicken SERIOUSLY Takes the Cake

More expensive food does, occasionally, just taste better. Not because it is fancy or cool, just because…well, sometimes you get what you pay for. Not ALWAYS mind you – I really don’t go in for $80 Kobe beef burgers or $300 glasses of of champagne. But when something is more expensive because it is raised ethically and allowed to graze freely and lives a life just waiting to be eaten by me…
Well then , I will pay for it.
I have waxed poetic about Dickson’s Farmstand before, but I have never bought a whole chicken there.
And now I will never NOT buy a whole chicken there.
When you buy a chicken that is not raised in a tiny hermetically sealed cage, you need to rinse it off. There might be a little extra blood or something…because these animals were, after all, alive at one point. And if there are a few pin feathers, don’t worry. They will burn off in the oven.
And be sure to preheat your oven to 360 degrees.
You want some nice sage, rosemary, thyme and chervil. Only use the chervil if you like licorice. Some sliced onions, fennel and/or shallots would not be remiss here, either, but resist the urge to throw garlic or lemon in there. You don’t want anything to take away from the taste of the chicken.
Well if that perfectly trussed chicken (Thanks, Dickson’s!) doesn’t look pretty, then just call me stupid!
Don’t call me stupid. It’s my blog. I make the rules
Salt and pepper that chicken and rub about 3 tablespoons of good olive oil all over the chicken. It will seem like there is not enough oil on the chicken, but if the chicken is good enough, that is all you need.
About 2 hours later, or whenever the thigh pulls easily away from the bird, the chicken is DONE. Now, it might not look as you would expect – there are no hormones or extra seasonings or treatments to the chicken’s skin, so the bird will look more blonde than golden. 
But looks can be deceiving.
Because this chicken was totally AMAZING. Moist, tender without being mushy, woodsy and earthy from the sage and rosemary, with light notes from the chervil. There were no strong acidic or pungent tastes to take away from the homey, comforting, yet totally divine taste of the chicken. The skin was impossibly crisp and the breast meat was as moist as if it had been dipped in gravy. The dark meat was rich and almost beefy. The whole chicken was nothing short of amazing.
I mean, the juices congealed right on the plate as if they had been stewing for hours on the stove. No more than 15 minutes after the chicken had been cut and was resting on the plate, the slightly golden juices from it thickened into jelly that made it perfect for a layer of jam on a chicken sandwich…
With some mayonnaise and roasted fennel…
That outstanding breast meat…

And some arugula, tomato and goat cheese. 
We didn’t really need the goat cheese…but what the hell?
The moral of this story is – sometimes ya get what ya pay for! This is the best chicken I have ever had outside of Paris, NO QUESTION. It cost more. And it tasted like it.
Now, if you will excuse me…I have some chicken jelly to eat on a slab of bread.

Albert Hall Brings Gastropub Fare To Hell’s Kitchen

There is this new group in town, called [Exploration] Dining that, for a fee, allows you to pay half price at a number of restaurants around town. They also do excursions with dining groups, where people eat at either brand new restaurants that are under the radar, or old restaurants people have forgotten about. The whole point is to, literally, explore your own city. I mean, we do live in NYC…it totally makes sense to have this company here! I was invited to a press dinner at Royal Albert Tavern, so of course I am more inclined to like this company, but really…it’s kind of a simple but awesome idea!
Albert Hall Tavern is a new gastropub in Hell’s Kitchen…
HALLELUJAH!

Hell’s Kitchen has awesome Thai food and some great bakeries, but – with the exception of Danji – very few nicer places that I have not tried already. This eclectic, cheeky restaurant with a relaxed but upscale vibe seemed like it might be a welcome addition.

Sometimes you CAN judge a book by its cover.
Oysters - Malpagues and Blue Points.

These were absolutely perfect oysters. Briney, salty, fresh and tender, with just a slight bit of shallot to accentuate the natural oceanic taste. Oysters are always the perfect start to a meal – light but complex in flavor, they just whet my appetite!
Screaming Oysters from Hell-Fried oysters with a Sriracha relish, served over grilled pineapple.

FABULOUS! I don’t think these were from Hell, per se, but they were definitely from a a very sassy place. The oysters were those same fresh beauties as before, this time crispy breaded in a grease-less, albeit a touch thick, fried-chicken like coating. The garlicky, vinegary, spicy sauce added that hit of heat to the oyster that makes any dish more vibrant and interesting. The warm, slightly charred pineapple brought a sweet note that really completed the dish. A stand out dish.
Tuna Tartare with Quail Egg

Not innovative, but delicious. Fresh, buttery tuna melded with the rich, yolky quail egg and a bit of jalapeno peppers for a flawless rendition of tuna tartare. A little spicy, very fresh, on a fantastically buttery crostini.
Deviled Braised Short Rib with Horseradish and Mustard Seed.

Extremely tender beef, gently braised into a sort of meat jam…it sounds disgusting but tasted AMAZING. It was literally so tender that it actually did melt in my mouth. The mustard gave it a tangy edge, and the horseradish-tomato jam cut through the beef’s fat perfectly with its spicy-sweet taste. If this is what happens when you braise beef for 30 minutes longer than I normally do…I will have to give it a try!!
Pickled Sardines with Fennel Pollen and Meyer Lemon Cream.

My least favorite dish of the night. I just thought the sardines were too damn fishy. The fennel was a nice vegetal addition to the dish, bu the vinegary, fishy taste just overwhelmed the Meyer lemon. And this is form someone who really does like sardines.
Grilled Radicchio with Trifoline Cheese and Butternut Squash Carpaccio.
WOW! Why don’t I ever grill radicchio at home!!! This took all the bitterness out of the lettuce and imparted a smoky, almost meaty taste to the leaf. Wilted but not without some crunch, it paired so well with the cheese – somewhere between Roquefert, Tallegio and Guryere cheeses – this was for a lover of stinky cheeses! The squash underneath was a smooth and sweet component that really rounded out the dish, along with the delicious fatty snap of some slivered almonds. This was just an awesome combination of flavors and textures that I MUST recreate at home!

Stemed Mussels with charred rosemary and black garlic.

These were good if not great. The mussels themselves were delicious – plump and sweet with nary a grain of sand or a bad one in there. But, while the garlic was too subtle to detect, the rosemary was WAY too strong. It’s woodsy, earthy aroma totally overpowered the delicate mussels. This dish was prepared well, just was not to my liking – someone who likes meat more than fish might actually quite like this dish.
Roasted Suckling Pig with maple rum.

How have I never had suckling pig before? Suckling pig is to pork what Catherine Zeta Jones is to me.
One just blows the other clear out of the water.

This meat was so tender, so sweet, so fatty, so moist…I really have no words. It was the most intense explosion of porcine flavor next to the simplest, softest texture imaginable…it was a totally bizarre and wonderful experience. Though the skin was a bit tough to cut (okay, I’ll admit it…I just used my hands), it’s sweetness played perfectly with the sweetness of the meat. I loved how un-seasoned the pork was. No herbs, no sauces, very restricted use of salt…just total pork taste dominating my palate. Awesome.
This meal was excellent. The service was great, the atmosphere is nice enough for a date but relaxed enough to show up in jeans and a t-shirt and the food was sensational. The price point was very reasonable and the beer list was AWESOME…try the Estrella Galica or the Gavroche French Red Ale if you think you don’t like beer! [Exploration] Dining definitely peaked my interest in their group AND in Albert Hall Tavern.
And…in suckling pig.

*Note: My meal was paid for by the restaurant.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*





Albert Hall Tavern on Urbanspoon

Tropical Mahi Mahi Sandwiches

Although it is sunny outside, it’s a far cry from summer. It’s still cold, the icy, slushy snow still cakes the streets and it still gets dark at 5:30  p.m.
Come on daylight savings!
The only way to really escape this sort of winter is through an awesome tropical meal…or a flight to Tahiti.
But my private jet is in the shop this week.
So…Mahi Mahi Sandwiches it is!
First you are going to make a light and tangy Asian Slaw.

Throw in half bulb of fennel, sliced thinly.

Half a head of napa cabbage.

2 grated carrots

And a few chopped scallions to the mix,  and resist the urge to throw in something spicy – we are taking care of that lata!

Now you make a dressing with 1/3 ponzu(soy sauce with a fabulously acidic, citrusy edge)

2/3 rice vinegar

And just a touch each of veggie oil (no olive oil here – we don’t want a Mediterranean or fruity touch here), and toasted sesame oil.
Some sesame seeds or sliced almonds would also make a fabulous touch.
And yes, I made this dressing right in the ponzu sauce bottle…cause I am resourceful like that.

Shake it up, dress the salad, and let it marinate.
Next, you take a nice piece of mahi mahi (although wahoo, ono or tuna would work well, too), and marinate it in equal parts sesame oil and soy sauce.

Toss that baby in a Ziploc and throw it in the fridge.
Here is the BEST part of cooking this meal!:

Blistering peppers!!!

Use poblano or Anaheim peppers here -something mild but that can be spicier if you leave the seeds in. This isn’t the preparation you want to use for a jalapeno or a Serrano pepper. If you are worried about the spice – don’t be! This is basically one step up from a bell pepper. If you are worried there isn’t enough spice -don’t be ! A little sriracha does wonders, and any pepper too spicy would drown out the flavors of the fish. 

Turn the flame up high on your burner, and just throw your peppers on there, one at a time.

Turn them over the flame with tongs so all of the sides blister and turn black.
You want this baby CHARRED.
It is seriously so fun to watch the blisters form and hear the peppers pop like popcorn.

When those are as charred and black as could be, you put them in a Ziploc bag and zip that up so that the pepper sweats in there for at least 20 minutes.

Then the skin just scrubs right off (some running water helps get off the stubborn parts)!!!
Now, you put a pan on HIGH and throw that mahi mahi in there.
Once again…a little char is not a bad thing.  That is just the sugar caramelizing.

But your kitchen might smoke a little bit…occupational hazard.
When the fish flakes in the thickest part, it is done!!!

Now, you just take a soft brioche roll, scoop out the innards (to save for making amazing meatballs) and layer on some mayonnaise (we seasoned ours with orange zest and sesame oil), some slaw,

 the pepper,

and the fish.

To. Die. For.

The fish is tender, mild, and sweet and salty with the caramelization of the marinade. The bright, vinegary slaw matches perfectly with the creamy mayonnaise and the soft roll, and scooping out the middle makes the sandwich easy to eat.  The pepper is slightly spicy and a little charred, giving that almost beefy texture and umami-filled taste to an otherwise muted sandwich. I threw some Sriracha on mine, but then…I like the pain. Some crispy onion strings might really have taken this to the next level.
If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the palm trees swaying in the breeze.

And if you open them…you are just so happy you have another half of your sandwich left.

Max Takes it to the Max

I don’t eat a lot of Italian food out, unless it is incredibly high end. The main reason is…why? I make a damn good bolognese, can whip up a saltimboca like nobody’s business and I definitely know where to get some cheese so Italian you can almost hear it catcalling you from the Spanish Steps.
Then I went to Max.
This deceptively large restaurant makes you feel like you are entering your grandma’s home. That unpretentious, that cozy. Plus, I heard that Lady Gaga likes this place…if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me!
Salsetta. Roasted tomatoes, a bit of garlic, basil, olive oil, olives and pine nuts.

These were not the sweet, much heralded San Marzano tomatoes, but tomatoes from Tuscany. I found the taste to be deeper, more savory  and even more umami filled than San Marzanos. I was a huge fan. The dip was salty, savory, fresh and even a little citrusy. Oranges and tomatoes play so well off each other – who knew??


We next got some Buffalo Mozzerella, made in the Bronx.



That might sound like an oxymoron, but really…it was so delicious. One of the best mozzarellas I have ever tried. SO sweet and creamy that it was more like butter than cheese. That rich, that satisfying, that incredible. Better than any mozzarella I have had in recent memory. I even preferred it to burrata, whose watery center is too thin for my liking. 


Melanzane a Funghetto.


Soft, creamy eggplant cooked with tomatoes, garlic and herbs. The eggplant must have been fried then slow cooked, because although the flesh was tender, the outer skin was crispy and caramelized. It was not papery or sharp as eggplant skin can be, just perfectly sweet and salty. Eggplants and tomatoes are a match made in heaven, so that was where I was here…heaven. 

Ravioli di Porcini in Crema Tartufata


This was utter perfection. The ravioli was made in house, and was thin enough to let the filling shine while thick enough to relay the flavor of flour and wheat. The porcini filling was meaty and woodsy, and the heady scent of truffles invaded all of my senses. Well, maybe not tough, but I would have picked these little babies up with my fingers if I could. The mushrooms were different enough that they made the other taste more like itself – the porcinis seemed earthier and the truffles more ethereal. 

And let’s be honest, a good ole cream sauce never hurt nobody…except my ever expanding hips.

ANYWAY…

Max’s Lasagna


This is one of the restaurant’s most famous dishes, and I can see why. Whereas lasagna is usually a rich, heavy dish, this one was almost…dare I say…light? There is no ricotta and the meat sauce was more tomatoey than meat-y. The bechamel used provided creaminess without too much richness, Parmesan on top added a nutty sharpness, and the whole dish was an comforting and savory treat. 



If you like a traditional lasagna, this may not be for you, but if you want a lighter, more tomatoey version, this is your perfect dish. 


 Fettuccine al Sugo Toscano


Okay bolognese, I get it. You win. I won’t try to make you again. Because this bolognese was FABULOUS!!! Meaty, a bit spicy and hearty without – once again – being too heavy or rich.

How do they do it? I swear, the food is so light and easy to eat here, you can eat and eat and you don’t get full…

It’s basically my dream. 

Spaghetti with Lamb Ragu


This was so amazingly different from the beef ragu. It was sweet and almost grassy in the way that truly great lamb is. Less tomatoey and more onion-y, it was almost bright with the lamb and the tangy pecorino cheese. The pasta was al dente and it was GREAT. They don’t make the pasta in house, nor should they, if it tastes this amazing to buy it elsewhere.

Baccala.


Not my favorite course of the evening. Not because it was bad, but because it did not stand out as the other dishes did. It was a bit dry and perhaps too “fishy” tasting unless you really love that briny, oceanic taste – which I do. It was simply grilled, and a squeeze of lemon was acidic and bright next to the simple herb salad and the lucsouis mashed potaotes. Still, this one was not a standout for me. 

We tried a few desserts, but let’s just skip to the star, shall we?
Tiramisu.


Clean, creamy mascarpone. Deep, bitter coffee. Heady, soft ladyfingers soaked in rum. A final sweet dusting of shaved chocolate. Perfect.

Seriously.


This whole meal was pretty perfect. The prices are excellent, the cooking was familiar yet innovative and the atmosphere is homey and relaxed. The wine list is expansive and well priced, including many by-the-glass options. This might be my new Italian go-to place in the city. 

Because I need one, now that I have been totally convinced I had just better give up trying to cook it at home!

*Note: My meal was paid for by the restaurant.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*


Max on Urbanspoon

Ai Fiori’s Exquisite Italian Food

A blogger who I respect quite a bit waxed poetic about his meal at Ai Fiori, Michael White’s new upscale restaurant at the Setai Fifth Avenue.
Well, let’s just say that I respect this blogger with damn good reason.

The restaurant is quite large, with dark furnishings and beautifully bright floral arrangements.

The amuse bouche was a sunchoke, chamomile and apple veloute.

This was just delicious. I am a huge fan of the rich, nutty taste of sunchokes, and mixed with sweet apples and just the faintest bite of garlic, the amuse bouche was really excellent. I could not taste the chamomile, but since I think chamomile tastes like bathwater anyway..this was just FINE by me.
Sardines – Mediterranean sardines, tomato confit, chickpea mille-feuille and olive oil

WHOA! If sardines have you thinking of smelly, oily fish that impoverished old ladies eat every day, you need to try these STAT! Luxurious, tender fillets of fish so mild that they were almost like very tender chicken. The confit was sweet, acidic and intensely tomatoey, and the concentrated drops of olive oil were a sour counterpart to the rich fish. Celery provided a fresh and vibrant crunch and the mille-feuille was delightfully hearty and carbo-loaded. This was a perfect combination of light and rich…what a way to start the meal!
Diver Scallops, celery root, black truffles, bone marrow, thyme.

This was unexpected on every level! Who would pair scallops, truffles, and marrow? Chef Michael White, that’s who, and he is on the money with this dish. The scallops, usually so buttery and sweet, seemed meatier and brinier next to the sweet unctuous-ness of the marrow. The black truffles were deep and heady, and the thyme was almost citrusy next to those woodsy shrooms. The celery root puree at the bottom soaked up all of the oceanic and meaty juices and was a creamy addition to the incredibly well conceived dish.
Slow Poached Egg with lobster, crispy sweetbreads and nuage layon.

Slow poached, fast poached, poached from a secret government agency…I don’t care how this egg was prepared, it was prepared PERFECTLY. The entire egg was silken and unctuous, and beneath its delicate white shell lay a swath of thick, golden yolk. This would have been perfect on its own, but with the luxurious lobster tail and those crispy sweetbreads, more reminiscent of great fried chicken than anything else, this was a dish for the ages. The light, winey foam with citrus notes was a welcome addition to the otherwise very rich, decadent dish. A truly sensational course.
Foie Gras Torchon with Spiced pears, mostarda, pistachios and brioche.

This was the only non stellar part of the whole meal. Surprising, considering who much I totally love foie gras. This was smooth and well prepared, but lacked the rich, fatty taste that makes foie so sensational. The pears and mostarda were also a bit too sweet for the foie, which craved a slightly tart-er counterpart. 
Risotto with parsley, Parmesan, garlic chips and escargots.
OUTSTANDING! Creamy but still firm rice melded with SUCH a vibrant, earthy parsley taste, that nutty salty Parmesan, and escargots. Ever had escargots? They have the gentle salinity of clams with the tenderness of mussels. You would never guess they were snails.
If you didn’t know they were snails, just forget I ever said that.
The garlic chips were gentle and sweet, and this was an unexpected but total hit for everyone at the table.
Veal Agnoletti with Butternut Squash.

Chef White is known for his pasta, and this dish proved that his repute is well earned. The pasta was see-through thin, but with perfect elasticity, surrounding sweet, sage-seasoned parcels of veal. The butternut squash brought out the veal’s inherent sweetness and the pasta’s buttery and floury tastes. It was simple. Simple and perfect. And that is not an easy feat.
Saffron gnocchi with sea urchin and crab.

Oh for the love of all that is holy…this was a RIDICULOUS dish. The gnocchi was tender but not mushy, with the intense and pervasive floral/heady scent of saffron. The saffron perfectly complimented the sweet lumps of crab and the salty, creamy urchin. The raw tomatoes in the dish provided a lightness and acidity to the pasta, and the whole dish was textbook perfection – well balanced, filling, rich, acidic, salty and sweet. 
Wrap that up, put a bow on it, and you could call it Christmas.
Truffle Risotto with Parmesan and Veal Jus.

Funky, deep truffles. Creamy, buttery rice. Nutty, salty cheese. Meaty, sweet veal jus.
Any other questions?
Branzino with mussels, saffron and chorizo-stuffed piquillo peppers.

This dish brought out the Mediterranean side of the menu. the branzino was flash grilled on the plancha so the outside was crispy and lightly charred but the inside remained moist and flaky. The saffron was applied with a light touch so the clean, mild flavor of the fish shone through, only gently accented by the floral saffron. The mussels were tender and SO sweet, and the tart piquillo peppers stuffed with the spicy, garlicky pork chorizo brought the whole dish to another, complex level.
Butter poached nova scotia lobster with root vegetable fondant and chateau chalon sauce.

This was one of the main reasons I came here…I had heard that the lobster was unmissable. While it was tender, buttery and delicious, it was not as good as the lobster at Tocqueville. Not as tender, not as rich and…dare I say…not as large? I am not someone who needs huge portion sizes to enjoy a meal, but I thought this serving size was a wee bit paltry. The dish was delicious…don’t get me wrong…just not the #1 best version that I have had in NYC. The root veggie fondant was like the best mashed root veggies in the WORLD and the sauce was light but creamy…really a great dish. But, like I said…not the best.
Braised beef cheeks with pommes puree, orange zest and olives.

This was from the French influenced part of the menu. Tender, velvety beef that fell apart in the mouth with the bright orange zest and briny olives playing perfectly off the rich meat. The pommes puree were nothing less than perfection. Creamy, rich, utterly over the top. They were even better than the pommes puree at Joel Robuchon. Yep. They were that good.
Amish Veal Chop with sweetbread-stuffed cabbage and sauce periguex.

Um…whoa. This is the BEST veal that I have EVER had. thick, caramelized and salty on the outside, moist, tender and so very veal-y within. Veal has a sweeter, milder taste than beef, but a more assertive savory taste than pork. This did not have any special spices or cooking techniques to cover up the true taste of the meat. It just showcased the meat in all of its perfection. Of course, the tart/sweet apple, cabbage and sweetbread ragout and the rich, meaty, truffle-scented sauce didn’t hurt either.

I clearly hated it.
We tried several desserts, but the one that really stood out was the Baba au Rhum with vanilla ice cream and tropical fruit salad.

This was the finest Baba au rhum I have had outside of Paris. Light, sweet, crunchy without and custardy within. The taste of buttery rum permeated the cake and the incredibly vanilla-y ice cream went perfectly with the cake. The fruit salad lightened up the whole affair, and made it citrusy and tart to avoid sweets overload. Buttery avocado was a surprising and welcome addition!

We finished off the meal with some pretty outstanding mignardises-the salted fleur de de sel caramel filled chocolate was my idea of heaven.

This whole meal came pretty close to heaven, actually. The four course prix fixe was only $79, and even with a few supplemental dishes that we ordered, the value was just outstanding. The wine list includes many half-bottle options and the staff was elegant yet unstuffy. I would recommend this restaurant for anyone…who eats.
And can you really get a better recommendation than that?

Ai Fiori on Urbanspoon

Shalezeh, or Why I Can Still be Prom Queen

A Michelin Star is a big deal in my book. It is the gold standard, the highest peak, the zenith of a restaurant’s career…
It is like winning Prom Queen.
Something that definitely never happened to me. Theater nerds don’t REALLY factor into popularity contests.

Yeah that’s me in the middle…at our school’s lip synch contest…

ANYWAY…
Michelin stars really mean something. So when Grace and I headed to NYC’s only Michelin Starred Persian restaurant Shalezeh, I was ready to be impressed.
We started out with bread and this tahini dip. The tahini was VERY strong and thick – almost peanut-buttery in texture. At first it was nutty and comforting, but it later tasted sort of repetetive and dull. A little pepper or chile would really have kicked this baby up to interesting levels. 

The bread. The picture stinks…but so did the bread. Dry, leaden, nondescript. 

Koofteh Tabrizi - prunes and fava beans stuffed meat ball, served over tomato, sweet pea, turmeric, curry and saffron stew. This was the restaurant’s specialty, and it really was quite delicious. Tender beef, fragrant with tumeric and cinnamon, was stuffed with sweet, soft prunes and creamy fava beans. The prunes played so well off the savory beef and the tomatoey saffron soup was acidic, tangy, and provided a great, bright flavor to counteract the hearty meatball.
It was great….but not groundbreaking. Grace and I weren’t really hungry, so we called it a night after our meaty snack, but, really…it was yummy. Nothing less, but certainly nohting more. Not Michelin Star worthy. And this was the restaurant’s signature dish. The service was good, decor was fine, menu was classic, but not deserving of a coveted Michelin Star.
I mean, if that was the way we were doing it, I definitely could have been homecoming queen.
Maybe not. 
Shalezeh on Urbanspoon

Sel et Poivre – I’m a Lover of Their Liver

Sel et Poivre is an Upper East Side French bistro that vacillates between the different regions of France.
 It features the hearty organ meats of Lyon, the saffron tinted bouillabaisse of Marseille and the classic steak frites of Paris. Does it succeed? 

The bread was disappointing at first. Crunch, yes, but without that floury, yeasty, sour taste of a true French baguette.
HOWEVER…
The butter totally transformed this bread. Like Cinderella slipping on her glass slipper, this bread became the belle of the ball once slicked with a pat of the creamiest, sweetest butter imaginable. I could have eaten this butter with a spoon, but the bread was slightly more socially acceptable.More than that, the bread’s bland taste really let the butter shine through. I tasted the glory of the butter, versus just the taste of the bread.
Well played, Sel et Poivre…well played.
Bouillabaisse.

Excellent version of this soup. The red snapper base was briny and tasted of the ocean, with earthy notes of potato and sweet onions.

Adding a dollop of the garlicky rouille, the pungent Gruyere cheese and a tiny crisp toast made this one of the standouts of the meal. This is a dish for someone who likes the taste of seafood – while not fishy, it absolutely tasted of the sea. That was the best part about it, actually, just not for someone who is not as crazy about seafood as I am.

Celeri Remoulade with Beets.
I LOVE Celeri Remoulade. I love beets. I should have loved this…but I didn’t. The use of saffron was an interesting and bold choice, but not an especially wise one. The heady saffron totally overwhelmed the mild taste of the celery root and competed with the beets’ natural sweetness. What I did like was the use of roasted beets with the celery root. Taking the saffron out of the equation might make this dish a total star.
Skate with lemon, butter and capers.

This was delicious! Now HERE is a dish for someone who thinks he/she does not like fish – this is basically the gourmet version of fish fingers. Mild, clean tasting fish slathered in a rich but not heavy buttery sauce, tart with lemon and just salty enough from the capers. It is a flavor explosion, not from the fish, but from the well balanced sauce. The fish was a bit mushy, which could be solved with a thicker dredging in flour and being fried in a hotter pan, but the flavor was so good, I really didn’t even notice it. 
Calves Liver a La Lyonnaise
When something is served a la Lyonnaise, it incorporates sweet sauteed onions as a main ingredient. When the something served a la Lyonnaise is liver, it has the potential to be a favorite dish of mine. When the dish is done as perfectly as it was here, it is hands down a REVELATORY experience! This was my favorite dish of the night, and one of the best liver preparations I have ever had in my LIFE…my LIFE, I tell you!!! The thin fillet of liver was tender and velvety throughout, with not a stringy or tough part in it. A ightly crisped, browned exterior surrounded a rich, funky livery-y silken interior. The sweet onions brought a whole new taste to the dish, and the creamy mashed potatoes were a perfect compliment. This is my new favorite liver preparations in NYC.
Steak au Poivre
This dish was not as successful as its predecessors. Though the sauce was excellent – a spicy, creamy, rich delight – the steak itself was a bit tough and sinewy. It tasted very bland , lacking that deep, umami-filled, beefy taste that truly great steak has. This was a big letdown, as the steak itself was cooked to a perfect medium rare.
Terrine de Chocolate.

A French restaurant should excel at desserts. Sadly, this merely made the grade without succeeding it. Though the taste was rich and chocolaty, it was slightly bitter and the texture was too grainy for my taste.

This meal, if not stellar, was very good.. Thought the dessert and celeri remoulade were not quite to my liking, the liver and skate were out of this WORLD. The price point is excellent, the decor and service are charming, and the wine list is extremely extensive and varied. Head here for some bouillabaisse and liver a la Lyonnaise and you will not be disappointed.
Of course, I WILL be disappointed if you don’t take me with you.

*Note: My meal was paid for by the restaurant.  I was not paid or required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and, I feel, impartial.*


Sel Et Poivre on Urbanspoon

Gallo Nero is a Hero for Girls’ Night

Girls Night.
It has to be cute.
It has to be delicious.
When the weather is below 30 degrees, it has to be a 5 minute walk from the home base.
And…it has to be CHEAP…sorry, Kardashians, we don’t quite have your budget.

Kara and I wandered into Gallo Nero, a romantic looking wine bar with hopes that it would fit all of our criteria. Though we were perhaps the only 2 people in the place not making out like it was 8th grade (if we ever do that, we are filming it and making money off it), we still had an AWESOME meal.

The bread brought out at the beginning of the meal was truly top-notch. Holey, pliant and sour with a chewy, flour-y crust, this is a bread basket at its finest – it whets the appetite but does not make you eat the whole thing so you feel like a bowling ball by the time you are done with your meal. The olive oil served with it was fruity and light, a welcome compliment.
We started with the trio of bruschetta. Starting from the top, going clockwise:

Tomato – this was simply canned tomatoes cooked for HOURS until they formed a sweet, sticky, intensely tomatoey paste. Seasoned liberally with pepper and shards of fresh basil, this was a tomato lover’s DREAM! It was so good, I intend to make it at home..why have I never done this before???
Wild Mushroom – the only dissapointing one of the bunch. The mushrooms had been cooked too long, and were dried out and a bit tough. They lacked that lucsious, meaty taste and mouthfeel that well made mushrooms have.
White Bean – STOP THE PRESSES! Hummus…you have been truly and completely replaced. This white bean dip was insane! Creamy but textured, gaarlicky, vaguely carb-y, with hints of rosemary. It was not assertive or overly smooth like hummus can be, but almost like roughly mashed potatoes. I could have eaten a bowl of this with some bread and caled it a day.
But then I would have missed…

Portugese Octopus with olives, tomatoes, celery and potatoes.
What do they DO to their octopus in Portugal? Do they massage these creatures and feed them champagne like kobe cattle? Do they just compliment them a lot? Whatever they do, it is WORKING! This octopus was so tender, it actually cut with a fork – something almost unheard of for octopus. It was very much like a white fish-mild, of the ocean, but not salty at all. The braised celery was tender and delicous, and the olives and tomatoes brought salty and sweet notes to the dish. The potatoes were just perfect – crispy on the outside, fluffy within. A swath of tangy balsamic vinegar brought the entire dish to life. It was really simply outstanding.

Kara’s gnocchi were a hit, too! Too often, these potato dumplings can be leaden, gooey glutinous affairs (just ask Kara about the time SHE tried to make them). these were fluffy, soft, light as air dumplings that were mild and hearty. In a basil and tomato sauce with melty, creamy mozzarella cheese, this was a totally perfect rendering of gnocchi. 
Gallo Nero is a GREAT find. The food was delicious, the prices were extremely reasonable and…if you want to make out with your lover…this is the place to do it! 
Dark, romantic and delicious…what more could a girl want?
And, oh yeah, you know it…that’s what she said.

Gallo Nero on Urbanspoon