Grand Sichuan UWS Delivers on Flavor, Fails on Spice

Another day, another reason to barrage my tastebuds with foods so spicy that I grand start to see double. 
Grand Sichuan is one of the most famous Sichuan restaurant chains in the city, the other being Szechuan Gorumet. Being a HUGE fan of Szechuan Gourmet, I figured I would hit up the competition and see what they had to offer. 
We headed to the Upper West side location of the restaurant. Be forewarned: You don’t need to wear a tie here. You might not even need to wear shoes here. Not dingy or dirty at all, just totally casual and appropriate for families.

Cucumber with Garlic

We wanted to order the Cold Cucumber with Scallion Sauce that I had read so much about. But, it was nowhere to be seen. Even when I described it to our incredibly helpful and efficient server, he didn’t seem to have ever heard of it. So we went with this, and it was excellent. Crisp cucumber was liberally sprinkled with deep, nutty sesame oil and the garlic was a faint bite in the background instead of an overpowering flavor. It was refreshing and whet the appetite, although I was quite disappointed not to try the original cucumber dish.

 Shrimp and Pork Crab Dumplings

Oh yes. These were not perfect, but they were excellent. The skin on the dumpling was rather thick, but the filling was outstanding – sweet, salty, meaty, fresh, and perfectly moist and soft within. They arrive at the table piping hot and you bite off the top of the dumpling dough, then fill the cavity with some of the vinegar-ginger sauce. Then, you pop the whole thing in your mouth, letting the pork and crab broth and meat fill your mouth and invade your nostrils. There can be no better way to commit two Kosher dietary sins at once.

 MaPo Tofu

One of my favorite dishes at any Szechuan restaurant is the MaPo Tofu. Spicy, garlicky, salty sauce with Szechuan peppercorns, chili oil, ground pork and cubes of silky tofu. Usually MaPo tofu is hot enough to make my nose run but this time…it was barely spicy enough to remind me I was alive. Really. This did allow me to focus on the slightly sour taste of the fermented black beans, the pungent taste of the garlic and the buzzy, lip biting taste of the chili oil. But…sorry…I want some pain when I order my MaPo Tofu!

Gui Zhou Spicy Chicken

Highly recommended by our server, I had high hopes that this would compete with the Wok Tossed Chicken with chiles from Szechuan Gourmet. It was delicious in its own right, but it lacked that lip tingling, tongue numbing, ear buzzing spice that I crave out of that dish. The chicken was tender, in fried nuggets interspersed with slivers of caramelized garlic and crunchy dried red chiles that certainly brought the heat but…I don’t know. It lacked the nuances I crave in Szechuan food. 
That was the overlying theme of Grand Sichuan. It was good. It was flavorful. It was certainly a great value for the money, but it was not nuanced or layered the way that I expect Szechuan food to be prepared. I would go back for the soup dumplings, and if I were in the neighborhood I would absolutely eat there, but I wouldn’t dine here over other Szechuan restaurants in NYC.
After all, I like to feel a little pain.
Grand Sichuan 74 on Urbanspoon

Summer Fest: Tomato Terrine

It’s no big secret that I’m not great at making pretty meals. I make hearty dishes. I make delicious dishes. I make dishes with enough animal fat to fill your Vitamin B-12 needs for 20 years. But pretty dishes…not so much. They take too much time. Too much patience. Too much hand-eye coordination. Just give me a bowl of stew and I’m a happy gal. Of course. there are exceptions to every rule. And when I saw the totally lovely Tomato Terrine recipe in July’s Bon Appetit, I figured that this might be my exception. And with a few alterations, it was.

Mostly, I changed it by using beef stock. Beef and tomatoes are a one-two umami punch that delivers hearty, sweet and savory flavors all at once. I also added basil to the recipe, because basil so abundant and delicious this time of year. This is tomato season and using the summer fruits with beef stock, basil and gelatin creates a unique dish that showcases to tomatoes to a T.

INGREDIENTS:
12 summer tomatoes, different colors and breeds (all different types of heirloom varieties work here)
1 package unflavored gelatin
1 large bunch basil leaves, washed and dried
3 cups beef stock, kept hot but not boiling (you could use boxed stock, but I recommend that you use this recipe. Just omit the lemongrass, star anise, cilantro and chile pepper. Add in salt and pepper to taste)
1 Tbls. Sherry Vinegar
Salt and Pepper, to taste

 1)Cut an “X” in the bottom of each tomato

 2)Drop tomatoes into a large stockpot of boiling water.

 3)After about 20 seconds, when the tomato skin starts to peel away, remove the tomatoes…

 place them into a bowlful of ice water to cool and stop the cooking process…

 and when they are cool, peel them completely.

  The skin should come off faster and easier than a burlesque dancer’s costume.

 4)Cut each tomato in half, and cut off the stem end of each tomato.

5)”Fillet” the tomato so you cut out the inner part with the seeds.

 6)Put the outer shell of the tomato on a paper towel to drain

 7)And put the seed part in a strainer over a bowl.

 8)After all your tomato shells are laid out on the paper towel,

sprinkle them with salt to let the excess moisture drain from the tomatoes.

(You can put a paper towel on top to absorb the moisture after the salted tomatoes have sat for about 20 minutes.)

 Also, use a spoon or spatula to press out all of the tomato juices from the seeds into the bowl underneath the colander. Throw the pulp away, but keep the juice.

 9)Because now, you are going to add your gelatin to the tomato juice.

 It starts like this. But in just about 10 minutes…

 it looks like this. Some awesome, gelatinous creature from the scientific kitchens of doom.
I hadn’t used gelatin before, okay? It was quite thrilling to me.

10) Now you take your boiling stock(Taste it for salt and pepper at this point, and add seasonings as necessary)

 And add the gelatinous mixture to it!

 11)Add the sherry vinegar.

 12)Now line a greased loaf pan…

with enough cling wrap to go over the sides of the loaf pan so they can later fold up and create a cover for the middle

 and pour in 1/2 cup of the stock.

 13)In 40 minutes, after the layer has set in the fridge, you can layer it with tomatoes

 and basil.

14)Top with about 2 Tbls. of stock

 15)Repeat the layering steps -

 stock, tomato, basil -

 until all the ingredients or all the room in the pan are used.

 16)Now, wrap your cling wrap over the top of the pan,

 place a small book or plate inside the loaf pan (protect the book with a plastic baggie)

and weigh it down with a few cans. I put the loaf pan in a large ice water-filled Tupperware so the filling from the loaf pan wouldn’t overflow onto the fridge. It’s your call if you want to take that step or not, but with my luck involving things spilling in the fridge…it was SO not an option.
17)Pop it in the fridge for 6 hours, or until it is set.

 18)When the terrine is firm,

 unfold it,

 invert it

 and unwrap it.

 Your first slice might not be perfect, but keep going with this…it’s going to be delish!

 And just LOOK at how stunning it is!

After you figure out how to cut it (With a non-serrated, very sharp knife, firmly), you are going to be treated to the most sensational thing to happen to tomatoes since mozzarella cheese. The gelatin, with all of it’s rich, beefy , saltiness, brings out the sweet and bright flavors of the tomatoes. The basil, herbaceous and fresh, contrasts deeply with the long cooked flavor of the stock and the totally umami taste of those tomatoes. Shockingly, the tomatoes do not take a backseat to the beef stock – rather, the beef stock supports the tomatoes, making them the star of the dish. This would be outstanding with a shot glass of vodka as a take on a Bloody Mary starter. It is outstanding on its own
And it is my own personal contribution to the world of attractive cooking.
Check out what other bloggers around the world have made with tomatoes for this challenge:
Big Girls Small Kitchen: Seared Chicken with Cherry Tomato Pan Sauce
Haute Apple Pie: Heirloom Tomato & Three Cheese Tart
What’s Gaby Cooking: Zebra Tomato and Burrata Crostini
Zaika Zabardast: Balsamic Roasted Tomato-Basil Ice
And Love It Too: Healthy Lunchbox – Garlic Tomato Basil Pesto Bruchetta 
Chez Us: Roasted Tomato Sauce
Daily*Dishin: Refreshing and Rustic – Tuscan Bread Salad
Glory Foods: Fresh Tomato Salsa
Dishin and Dishes: Tomato Tart Tatin
The Purple Cook: Eggplant Parmesan Caprese Salad
I Am Mommy: Tomato Crudite
Cooking With My Kid: Gluten-Free White Bean Chive Cakes with Heirloom Tomatoes
FN Dish: Easy Tomato Appetizers
Add a Pinch: Simple Caprese Salad Skewers
Sweet Life Bake: Salsa Cruda
Virtually Homemade: Farfalle with Roasted Tomato Sauce, Bacon and Shaved Romano
Dixie Chik Cooks: Tomato, Basil and Olive Bruschetta
The Sensitive Epicure: Yemista – Greek Stuffed Tomatoes & Peppers with Potatoes
Mooshu Jenne: Sun Burst Tomato Pasta
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Book Club, Tomatoes and a Recipe for Chicken Provençal?
Cooking With Elise: Tomato Parmesan Biscuits
From My Corner of Saratoga: Cooking from the Garden – Bruschetta Pizza
Fritos and Foie Gras: Tomato Terrine
Creative Culinary: Fresh and Savory Tomato Pie
Big Apple Nosh: Caprese Salad/Tomato Carnage
Spices and Aroma: Quick and Easy Paneer Curry

Nomad – Moroccan Tapas in the East Village

The East Village is one of my favorite food neighborhoods in NYC. High end establishments sit next to tiny mom and pop shops. Indian food neighbors French fare. Rowdy bars are just a block down from exclusive and elegant cocktail lounges. There is something for whatever mood or appetite you may have.
 Nomad is a Moroccan inspired tapas bar. The mood inside is a slightly sexed up version of Epcot’s Morocco Pavilion. Rose colored walls, a cloud-painted ceiling, pillowed banquettes…it was campy, but in a good way, and put me in the mood to sit back and enjoy.
 Trio of Dips (from bottom left): Hummus, Fava Bean and Feta Artichoke. 
The ample servings of the dips arrived with warm, crispy outside and fluffy inside pita bread. 
Hummus – creamy, lemony, only slightly garlicky. Neither too gluey nor too grainy, a generous slick of fruity olive oil on top made the citrus flavors stand out. Excellent hummus. 
Fava Beans – I had never had fava bean dip before and it was totally delicious. Earthy like beats, toothsome like chickpeas and zesty with garlic and cumin, it was a heartier and more complex version of hummus. Slightly thicker, with more chew and less creaminess than traditional hummus, this was my favorite dip of the night. 
Artichoke and Feta – Now, I loved this but not everyone did. It was extremely pungent and grassy – like goat’s cheese gone wild and funky. Salty and smooth with meaty chunks of artichokes, it was full of dill and – you guessed it – garlic. 
Luckily, this was a gals only meal. Cause no one would want to kiss me after this meal. 
 Grilled Calamari Salad with Pears, Fennel, Greens, Tomato, and Red Onion. 
This was a shockingly excellent version of grilled calamari. I wasn’t expecting such tender, mild, well made calamari. It wasn’t at all mushy, but was quite tender with just hte barest spring to it that lovers of calamari enjoy. The dressing was incredibly bright and tart, melding with the sweet fennel, the juicy pears, the acidic tomatoes and the gentle bite of the red onion. This is an excellent dish for someone who has never had grilled calamari – very mild, not at all fishy or rubbery.
Duck Pastilla L’Orange with Duck and Almonds. 
This is why you come here. It’s why Moroccan food is so popular. A crispy, crackling phyllo dough sprinkled with powdered sugar and tart-sweet orange syrup surrounds a slightly gamy duck filling. The ground duck is mixed with almonds, cinnamon and cumin and the many sweet aspects of the pastilla made the savory ones taste even more savory and hearty. Sweet and savory is the name of the game here, and if you like samosa or duck, you will LOVE this dish. 
And, if you happen by this restaurant, chances are you will be very pleased. Pleasant staff, low prices and tasty food make for an enjoyable meal or snack. It isn’t a destination meal, but it is absolutely worthwhile if you are in the neighborhood and want to try some Moroccan food.
Nomad on Urbanspoon

Maple Walnut Muffins

I’m not a breakfast person. Never have been, vacations notwithstanding. But there are times that I can push myself to eat. Like when it is free. Or when I am in an airport. Or..when it involves the term “Maple Walnut.”  Maple and walnuts are meant to go together. Liquid and solid, sweet and savory. And when the flavor combination finds its way into muffins And…even better…it’s possible to make it with no sugar! Just maple syrup. And vanilla paste. And egg yolks. Maybe a LITTLE sugar…


INGREDIENTS:

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or paste
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup whole milk
1 large egg, plus one large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

1 Tbls. pumpkin pie spice
1 package cream cheese
1/2 cup powdered sugar

1)Preheat the oven to 375 F and spread the walnuts on a single layer on a foiled baking sheet. Toss the walnuts in the oven while it preheats and pull them out in about 7 minutes, when the nuts start to look oily and let off a savory, nutty scent. Be sure not to let them burn – scorched nuts are useless.
That’s what she said.

 2)Place the flour and baking powder in a large bowl.

 3)Add the maple syrup…

 the vanilla extract(or paste – expensive but offers SUCH deep and rounded vanilla flavor),

 the melted butter,

 the milk,

 and the egg and egg yolk.

 4)Add the walnuts and the pumpkin pie spice,

 and stir to combine

 The batter will be a little loose, but not runny.

 5)Now place your cream cheese into a different bowl…

 and whip it either with your hand mixer or your stand mixer.

 6)Add the powdered sugar to the cream cheese

 7)Grease your muffin tin and fill each tin with the muffin batter.

 Be sure to only fill it up halfway. Because next…

 8)You add a little dollop of the sweetened cream cheese.

 9)Top it off with another (thin) layer of batter

 10)And pop it in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until a knife stuck into the middle of the muffin comes out clean, with no streaky traces of batter.

 11)Wait for the muffins to cool (just a bit), and pop them out of the tray.

 These muffins are so good. So warming, comforting and perfect for a rainy morning or an afternoon treat. Since the batter has no sugar in it, the muffin isn’t at all sugary or desserty – just gently sweet with the maple. The walnuts give off a savory, meaty flavor that contrast with the extreme fluffiness and lightness of the muffins. The cream cheese provides that fatty, decadent sweetness that is like a layer of cheesecake in the middle of this pastry. These would be perfect with some candied bacon.

And it’s a great way to get yourself to eat a healthy breakfast. No sugar…remember?

Chicken Meatloaf – Cheatloaf!

Who doesn’t love meatloaf? Homey, warming, satisfying and reminiscent of a time when all you had to do was eat quickly enough to catch the newest episode of Boy Meets World. I grew up with traditional meatloaf. Breadcrumbs, eggs and beef. Lots of beef. Sometimes I still love that meatloaf. But sometimes, I want something a little lighter. A little less dense. Still comforting but not quite as leaden feeling in the stomach. And it better be easy.
Like…Cheatloaf!

INGREDIENTS:
1.5 lbs. Ground chicken (dark or white meat is okay, or any combo thereof)
1 Small dinner roll or bialy (I am specially partial to onion rolls)
1/2 Cup Whole Milk
1 Cup mayonnaise (once again…you use the light stuff, you are dead to me)
1/4 Cup Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 Cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1 Yellow or vidalia Onion
Liberal Sprinkling of 21 Seasoning Salute or Montreal Steak Seasoning
1.5 Tbls. Tomato paste
1/3 Cup ketchup

 1)Preheat oven to 350 F, line a large loaf pan with foil and put the chicken in a large mixing bowl.

 2)Break the bread up into small, but not tiny pieces and put it in the bowl with the chicken.

 Don’t worry about making the pieces too small – you want them larger.

 3)Add the milk to the bowl

 being sure to submerge the bread in the milk, to begin to break it down and make a sort of paste.

 4)Add the Parmesan

 5)And the Worcestershire

 6)And the tomato paste

 7)And the seasoning

8)And the mayo. The mayo and the healthy amounts of umami from the Worcestershire and the tomato paste are necessary because the chicken is, on its own, quite bland and lean. It needs some sort of fat and seasoning to punch it up. 

9)Mix the ingredients just enough to combine and moisten everything. You don’t want to over-mix it, because then the chicken will get too tough.

 10)Slice your onion into rings, either with a knife or a mandolin.

 My new mandolin rocks my world.

 11)Layer the onions in the bottom of the foiled pan (ignore the potatoes, failed experiment forever preserved in photographs).

12)Smooth the meat mixture evenly in the pan

 13)Top with ketchup.

 I mean really, LIBERALLY top it with ketchup. You kinda can’t have too much ketchup here.

 14)Bake for 35 minutes, or until the meat is no longer pink and is firm when you go to cut it.

 15)Enjoy! This is light and incredibly delicate – almost fluffy. It is spicy with the red pepper and black pepper in the spice mix, salty with the Worcestershire and the bread melts into soft globs of starch – like the way the bread bowl tastes when filled with rich stew. The sugars in the ketchup caramelize to a gooey, sugary finish on top of the chicken, and the onions underneath steam to sweet, oniony perfection.

Equally as delicious hot on top of mashed potatoes, room temperature on a sandwich with mayonnaise or eaten out of the Tupperware straight from the fridge, this is one meatloaf that is only cheating on how easy it is and how low fat it is. Cause it surely doesn’t cheat you on the flavor.

Croxley Ales – The Standard-Setting Wings

It’s no secret that I can eat like a dude. I love bacon wrapped hot dogs, huge steaks and pizzas covered in various meat products. Something else I love: Wings. And I am pretty sure I discovered the holy grail, courtesy of another gal who can match me in the manly eating habits department. 
 Croxley Ales is a straight man’s haven. We are talking multiple televisions playing different sporting events, a huge draft beer selection, room to sit while you get tipsy and full, and enough guys to make you forget that your girlfriend made you watch The Notebook again last night. Pretty much, this place is great. 
 Irish Nachos.
If you haven’t had these, you didn’t spend enough time getting drunk in college. French fries topped with bacon, scallions and melted cheddar cheese. There was nothing totally extraordinary about these – frozen fries, some soggy, not very seasoned. But something about melted cheese globbing onto fried potatoes, sprinkled with salty bits of pork and fresh, zingy scallions gets me every time. I wasn’t even drinking, but I could imagine that these would only get better with alcohol consumption. 
And then…it was onto the wings. 10 cents per wing. And they were GOOD.
 Honey Wings – Sweet, crunchy, honey caramelizing on the outside to a perfect crunch. The meat inside the sugary shell was moist, tender and hot enough to burn my tongue. That’s a good thing. 
 Teriyaki Wings. 
No way did this come out of a bottle. Tangy, salty, sticky, a little sweet, savory with green onion sand sesame seeds. Is anything better than teriyaki with chicken? Didn’t think so.
Hot Wings. 
Vinegary, spicy, a thin crust surrounding those juicy drumsticks and delicate wings. Dipped in some EXCELLENT blue cheese dressing, these set the chicken wing standard. Spicy but not painful, bones loaded with tender but not mushy meat and a dressing on the side that was funky enough to compete with the spicy zing of the wings. 
I usually do a rather poetic wrap up, but really, what can I say here? Cheap, delicious food, not so great for a first date but AWESOME for talking about what happened on that first date with the guys. 
Or, if you are a gal like me…spilling the dirt on what happened to your girls!

Croxley Ales on Urbanspoon

Aldea Makes its Way to the Top of the List

George Mendes’ Michelin Starred restaurant Aldea has been on my list for awhile, but, as many upscale restaurants tend to do, kept sinking to the bottom. This isn’t the type of restaurant you just happen to walk into on a Wednesday night. 
 This is a reservation-worthy, get your high heels on, skip lunch sort of place. And I did all those things (Well, let’s be honest…didn’t wear heels) when I arrived for my reservation.
 The extremely affable hostess asked if we would like to be seated at the chef’s counter – yes, please! We walked through the small, muted dining room and sat at a sushi bar in front of all the chefs. We literally got to watch the staff of a Michelin-starred restaurant at work. This was like my version of watching an adult film – I was intrigued, I was paying attention and I was most DEFINITELY excited. 
 Olive Baguette and Bacon Fat Cornbread. 
The olive baguette was exemplary – sour, crusty and studded with moist, slightly bitter green olives – but the cornbread was something else altogether. Crumbly, soft but not mushy and with a pervasive smoky taste and aroma. Not specifically bacon-y, but so hearty and meaty with that deeply porky taste pervading throughout. Clearly, I ate it all.
 Caphirena Macaron
Crispy, minty macarons melded with a sweet and potent alcoholic snow cone. Cooling with the mint and crunchy with the macaron, it melted in my mouth leaving behind the tang of alcohol and the promise of a great meal to come.
 Gaspacho
A classic version of the Mediterranean soup. Smooth, creamy, acidic and sweet with tomatoes and a ton of sherry vinegar. The vinegar was cut by a ball of spherical mozzarella that was liquid on the inside, its creaminess melding with the bite of the sherry vinegar. Not as transcendent as the version at M. Wells, but I could still drink a gallon of this. 
 Cured Foie Gras with Market Peaches, Lemon Verbena and Almonds.
Smooth, rich foie gras that tasted even sweeter with the flecks of salt. Crunchy almonds broke up the creaminess of the foie, and the peaches were satiny and bright, punching up the meaty flavor of the liver. The lemon verbena was judiciously used, so it wasn’t like eating a mouthful of perfume, just a gentle hit of the herb to bring a fragrant note to the rich dish. 
 Shrimp with Garlic, Coriander, Razor Clams and Trout Roe.
This was the one dish of the meal that I was not crazy about. Loved the shrimp – obviously oil poached and so tender they were almost liquid. Loved the trout roe, gently salty and pleasantly sticky. Loved the garlicky, pungent broth. But those razor clams…I just couldn’t get past them. They had a very fishy, iodine-y taste to them. Too bad, because the rest of the dish was very tasty, but the razor clams just didn’t do it for me. 
Arroz De Pato with Duck Confit, Chorizo, Cracklings, Olives and Tangerines.
 My paella kick continues and this just might be my favorite one. The rice was so creamy, so rich, so redolent of  citrus and the salty kick of olives. The duck confit was juicy and tender and the chorizo was fragrant with garlic and fatty pork. The cracklings were like pork scented potato chips – crispy, shattering in the mouth, contrasting with the melting texture of the confit and the total creaminess of the rice. If you come here for just one dish, come here for this.  Our server said it was her favorite and man…she has great taste. 
 Passion fruit Tart with Coconut Ice Cream and Caramelized Bananas. 
Oh yes. Sweet, tart passion fruit. Dark, slightly bitter chocolate. Fluffy, light mousse next to crisp, decadent crust. A sorbet so rich it seemed to be made entirely of cream. 
And bananas…don’t worry, I didn’t eat those. 
But I did eat these cranberry mignardises. Sweet, tangy and the perfect way to end the meal. 
And what a meal it was! Portuguese food evidently focuses on strong, fresh, zesty flavors, because that’s what this whole meal was. Wonderful service, fair prices and delicious food made the night one to remember. And let’s not forget the fact that you can sit at the counter and watch the chefs prepare your food. I could just watch the way that they cut vegetables into tiny even dices for hours. Maybe that’s just me…but its also a great way to not have to talk to your dinner date!
Of course, if I was your dinner date, all I would be doing was talking about how fab this meal was. 
And all that from something that got pushed down on my list. 

The John Dory’s Fantastic Pan Roast Outshines its Service

What do you do when the service is the pits but the food is fantastic? Aye, there’s the rub. I could do without the surliness, but that crudo. That soup. Those ROLLS!
…let me rewind for a moment. 
 When 3 of my favorite foodies wanted to go to dinner at The John Dory, I was more than happy to become the fourth member of the date. April Bloomfield’s seafood focused restaurant has been making a splash (pun intended) for awhile now, and I was anxious to see why. 
The light dining room, with high topped tables and a counter with stools running around the room’s perimeter, was a veritable hot spot when I arrived at 7 pm. They don’t take reservations, so grab a drink at the bar and go to the back of the room – near the restrooms – to grab one of a few hidden tables to relax at while you wait for your table. 
Pink Snapper Crudo with Cucumber and Cured Lemon.
Snappy, bright fish paired with clean cucumber and slightly bitter, sour lemon rind. A straightforward dish, all about the sushi-grade quality of the fish – so bright and not at all fishy or briny. The cucumber echoed the fish’s firm texture and the lemon rind brought a round, tangy note to the dish.
 Burrata with Canary Melon and Trout Roe.
Burrata. Mozzarella’s richer, sexier, more desirable cousin. Smooth and taut without, creamy, unctuous and liquidy within. Standing on crisp, sweet melon, it made the more savory taste of the mozzarella come through. Though you often see burrata with tomato, this is an interesting combination – the melon has the sweetness of the tomato, but none of its harsh acidity. The trout roe on top added pops of salinity and brine, bringing the sea to the grassiness of the cheese. The roe itself was not slimy or overtly salty, but tender and filled with the pure essence of the sea. Melding with the rich cheese and sugar melon, it was a truly great appetizer. 
 Oyster Pan Roast with Uni Crostini. 
Cream. The alcoholic tang of sherry. Sweet butter. Plump oysters, just warmed through, their natural sugars caramelizing on the outside, contrasting with the salty, oceanic juices that flowed freely when they were bit. Thin as a soup but richer than a stew – no vegetables or flour to get in the way. Just the lush cream, the biting sherry and those deep, briny ousters. The crispy crostini was generously layered with fillets of sweet and salty uni, redolent of the sea and with an iron-y taste not unlike liver. Crisp bread, creamy uni, rich stew…this bowl was so small we were at first sure that it wouldn’t be enough for us. It was. Especially with…
Homemade Parker House Rolls. 
Don’t know why we got this. Don’t know where I remembered hearing about them. All I know is that the rolls arrived PIPING hot to the table, glistening in butter and a scant amount of coarse salt and then…well then it all goes blank. When I split the rolls a puff of steam emerged and I remember the pliant, buttery dough melting in my mouth against the crisp brown of the crust. There was no butter here, no tapenade. These didn’t need any. It was a fantastic piece of bread. 
And the meal itself was fantastic. Except for…the service. It was just really lackluster. There was no communication between servers and buspeople, our server took about a million years to take our order and then the food took quite awhile to come. On top of this, the server made it very clear that she would rather be unclogging a toilet than serving our table. This would have been acceptable if not for 2 things: 
1)When the prices are this high (not exorbitant but certainly upscale), the service should be nothing but gracious
2)We saw the server berate our busboy in front of us for some minor offense. This is NEVER appropriate – it is demeaning, it is unkind and it is unprofessional. Hopefully this was a one-time situation, because it really soured our meal. 
But did it sour it enough for me not to go back? I would say, no…with caveats. The food was just outstanding – truly well made and delicious. The service really did leave something to be desired, but I would give it one more chance to see if it improved.
So here’s hoping that the service was oa one time glitch. Because the rest of the dinner went swimmingly(yes, again with the puns).
John Dory Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

M. Wells Lives Up to Expectations, but not to its Reputation

M. Wells. Don’t pretend like you haven’t heard of it. After Alan Richman’s rather soured view of the restaurant hit the internet last week, I wouldn’t be surprised if beings living on Mars had heard of the Quebecois influenced haute-dining-meets-diner food served in Long Island City. 
Hoping to see what all the hoo-ha was about, I set out to M. Wells, run by Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis,  for lunch last week. When we got there at 11:30, there was a 20 minute wait. That’s right…at 11:30. On a weekday. Plan accordingly.
*Also…when you get out of the 7 train, walk TOWARDS the New York City skyline. If you walk the other way, you will end up in no man’s land. I speak from experience. And bitterness.*
The diner was just that – a diner. An actual dining car, with burnished chrome accents, stools at a countertop and a long communal table at which I sat. It was cramped, it was hot, and I couldn’t have been more excited.
Smoked Herring Caesar Salad. 
For those of you who hate anchovies or salt, this is your salad. All the punchy, umami, garlicky taste of Caesar, but with a more pungent, fishy, intensely smokey taste to it than the original. It was reminiscent of both bacon and the whitefish salad you might get at brunch with your Bubby. With crispy homemade croutons and layers of fluffy, nutty Parmesan cheese, this was a unique and delicious take on a Caesar. Well deserving of its acclaim. 
Spaghetti Sandwich.
If this isn’t hangover food, I don’t know what is. Spaghetti and tomato sauce, bound with egg and fried, served on a soft, squishy bun. I didn’t try it, but my mom said it was fantastic. And trust me…that wild woman has had her share of drunk food. 
French Fries
Some crisp, some squishy, some salty, some flecked with herby parsley and all perfectly cooked. Not too salty or oily but enough of both to remind me that I was indulging in the world’s most perfect guilty pleasure. Good french fries are a  thing of beauty. These were perfect french fries – truly some of the best I have ever had. Deliciously savory next to the sweetness of ketchup, they were even better on their own. Just fluffy, crunchy pieces of potato. In fact, this would have been my favorite part of my meal if it hadn’t been for…
Gaspacho with foie gras. 
Sweet and acidic summer tomatoes blended with pungent onions, vibrant basil, a touch of heavy cream and a myriad of other ingredients. Incredibly complex, I can’t even begin to imagine all the ingredients in there. I definitely detected the tang of sherry vinegar but beyond that…I don’t know. It was earthy and comforting but also intricate and refined. It showcased how the most simple ingredients can be transformed into something unexpected and unusual with the right technique. If you like tomato soup, you will love this. If you like salad you will love this. Hell, if you like LIFE you will love this. This soup was the soup of the day, so it is ever changing, but if it is on the list, you MUST get it. 
And, of course, you must get it with the  seared foie gras. A generous love of seared foie floated in the middle of the vibrant bowl of soup – the most decadent ile flotant I have ever encountered. Crisp, syrupy sweet crust gave way to melting, rich, velvety insides. Warm contrasted with the coolness of the soup, the flecks of salt on the buttery foie blending in with the sweet tomatoes and the herbaceous, zingy basil. 
Banana Cream Pie
Have I told you I despise bananas? Because I do. I hate their gummy texture, their stringy outsides, and their almost sickeningly sweet taste. 
But my good friend and greenmarket guru was dying to order it. 
So we did. 
And it BLEW me away. 
Let’s start with the crust. The savory, flaky crust that was so supremely rich that Jen gasped “There must be 6 pounds of butter in there! That’s amazing!” The custard was not sweet either – speckled with vanilla beans, it was rich, smooth and deeply vanilla but only barely sweet. The sweetness came from the bananas. That’s where the brilliance lay. The bananas, naturally sweet, gave all the sugar necessary to this pie. They fairly melted into the custard, making it one smooth, cohesive layer underneath a mound of freshly whipped, unsweetened cream. By a mound, I mean a mountain and by a mountain, I mean Kilimanjaro. 
By the end of the meal, I have to say…I was a little disappointed. I received great service. Courteous, efficient, helpful and enthusiastic. The prices were INCREDIBLY cheap and the food was totally fun and delicious. I didn’t get even a whiff of the terrible service that had Richman writhing in anger. The only thing that angers me is that the restaurant is closing at the end of the month. So get there while you can. Because, even if you hadn’t heard about M. Wells before…you damn well have no reason not to visit there now.
M. Wells on Urbanspoon

Kin Shop’s Spicy Duck Laab Hits it Out of the Park

Kin Shop is Harold Dieterle’s modern play on Thai classics. Everyone from Serious Eats to The New York Times has praised its food – quite the boon for Dieterle. I don’t care how many Top Chefs you won, if you aren’t Thai and people still like the Thai food you make…you are doing something not only right, but special. 
The first thing he did right was hire an amazing front of house staff. The moment that I walked in (quite a bit early for my reservation), Lawrence treated me like I was the queen of England. He sat me at the bar, spent time discussing what I should get for the meal, and made sure that I never felt awkward or lonely whilst awaiting my dining companion. He didn’t know I was a blogger-I didn’t take any photos of the drink. He didn’t know how much I would be eating. He just knew that I was excited to dine there, and he shared in and increased my enjoyment. From the first, I was inclined to like Kinshop.

  • Fried Pork and Crispy Oyster Salad with celery, peanuts, mint and chili-lime vinaigrette
    If Liza deGuia likes a dish, you just order it. No questions asked. And when she recommended this dish on Twitter, I knew I had to get it. Soft oysters, coated in a feather-light, greaseless batter that crunched through to the sweet, plump oysters – deep and oceanic tasting the way that oysters are. The natural brine in the oysters cut through the crispy pork’s pearly later of unctuous fat, straight to the sweet and salty meat. The celery added a crunchy, herbaceous taste and texture to the decadent dish, and the bright mint and tangy vinaigrette kept it from being too heavy on the palate. This is a must order. 
    Spicy Duck Laab Salad with toasted rice, ground chili and romaine hearts
    Oh. My. Gawd. The best laab I have ever had. EVER. Beat Lotus of Siam by a mile. So bright, so tangy, so fruity-spicy with a heat that prickled behind my lips but never made me cry (so, I mean, it could have been a LITTLE spicier). The duck added a depth of flavor I don’t get from chicken laab. It lent a slightly heartier, wilder taste to the dish – making it not only spicy and fresh but also hearty and fulfilling. The pickled onions on top added the perfect amount of tang and zip. Don’t get this if you don’t like heat. And if you don’t like heat…I just don’t know how to help you. Really, I don’t.
    Triggerfish with Mussels in Green Curry
    One of the night’s specials. The server referred to it as halibut, but this reminded me more of sole or sand dabs. It was quite thin, with a crispy outside and a drier, flakier interior. Pan seared, it had a mild taste that absorbed the lemongrass and other aromatics of the creamy green curry. The mussels were few, but their delicately salty, shellfish flavor seasoned the whole broth. This is a dish for someone who appreciates the subtlety of a well made green curry. It was incredibly complex but not at all in your face or aggressive. It was about the crispy fish, the tender mussels, the balanced sauce. 
    Northern Thai Style Curry Noodle with braised brisket, cucumber, peanuts, fresh herbs
    Their version of Khao Soi was – like many things I ate that night – about balance. Melting cuts of fatty brisket with tart lime. Creamy coconut with the zesty, warming spice of curry. Thick, springy rice noodles with crunchy cucumber and meaty peanuts. Hunks of green vegetables – water spinach, perhaps, or bok choy-that absorbed the meaty, creamy, hearty sauce like a sponge. It made the vegetables meatier and 
    the sauce lighter. Crunchy cucumbers and fresh basil served alongside added a lightness to the dish, and the springy, chewy rice noodles were nothing short of addictive. I could have eaten them plain. The ample serving seemed like too much at first, but…well, we did a pretty good job on it.
    And Dieterle did a pretty GREAT job on Kin Shop. Relaxed atmosphere, casual enough for dinner at the bar or dinner with a date paired with fair prices, an interesting and well executed menu and a fantastic staff. Not just Laurence, the whole staff was kind, efficient, jovial and really added to the meal.

    And for the staff to stand out next to that phenomenal laab….that’s really something.

    Kin Shop on Urbanspoon