David Burke at Bloomingdale’s

On a recent Bloomingdale’s shopping trip, I was having a minor meltdown.

Okay, I was having a full-on panic where I refused to try on one more pair of jeans, almost smacked the poor fragrance woman who spritzed cologne on me, and had to breathe into a paper bag to calm myself down.

Before my sister completely threw me in the gutter and disowned me, she thought we should take a break for lunch and see if I returned to normal.

David Burke is a chef who I just love. He is creative, he is technically excellent, and although his restaurants are on the pricier side, the portions and quality more than justify that. But this is a rather casual restaurant in a department store….could it really hold up to his standards?

 

PopoverEach meal here starts with a warm, oversized popover. These are a little dry for my liking – I prefer a moister, eggier interior.

Apple Sangria

This seasonal special revamps my idea of sangria. This is very light and sugary, with a slight effervescence. It has the sweetness of apple cider with just a little alcoholic tang to anchor it. The fruits are fresh, and more than garnishes, are actual ingredients in the drink. You can order this by the liter, and doing that just makes sense. After all, an apple a day keeps the doctor away!

Juicy Burkey

A double patty stuffed with carmelized onions, cheddar cheese and bacon. Served with pickles, chilled green bean salad, and duck fat french fries. So big that you need to put your order in early, because it takes about 30 minutes to prep. Just put your order in the second you get there. Don’t even look at the menu before you do…

because this burger is unreal.  It is humongous, yet it is ideally cooked. A thick, craggy crust surrounds a rosy interior. Well, two rosy interiors. Each stuffed with sharp, tangy cheddar cheese and sweetly caramalized onions. The patties are coarsely ground and so chock full of flavor that any ketchup or mayonnaise is merely gilding the lily. This burger is possibly the best I have eaten since Louis Lunch. It is really all about the meat – it eats like a steak. The patty is juicy but does not spill all over the plate – rather, it holds its moisture as you eat it. The toppings are delicious, but the meat is absolutely the star. The bun is standard, but holds up well. This burger feeds 2 easily, though if you eat it alone in 25 minutes, you get a free T-shirt. Antacid not included.

The duck fat fries are also memorable. They have a salty, umami -intense flavor that makes it undefinable savory. It is like eating a fry that has already been dragged through meaty juices on a steak frites plate. The delicious burger would be enough, but the fries put this over the top dish…well…over the top.

Oh yeah…there is green bean salad, too. It is light and vinegary, with tender green beans, but next to the burger and fries…who the heck is noticing greenery?

Lobster Bacon Mac and Cheese

 3 kosher dietary sins at once: shellfish, bacon, meat + cheese. I couldn’t possibly have any more fun sinning. Al dente noodles in a cheese that is more melty than creamy, with plenty of cheddar cheese and just a bit of cream for richness. Large slices of bacon are crispy and salty, mingling well with juicy, sweet lobster meat. The combination of sweet, salty, crispy, and tangy is truly unique. I would never think to pair these ingredients together, but Burke is right on the money here.

Think of it this way…now you finally have something to atone for at Yom Kippur.

Crabcake Sliders

This plate is another delicious choice, with moist, creamy crabcakes served on slightly sweet potato rolls. The crabcakes are chock full of sweet shellfish and are served with a tart, creamy tartar sauce.

These are a tasty small lunch or an ideal appetizer.

David Burke does it again. He serves delicious, inventive food in a department store…how does he do it? I don’t know and I don’t care – just grateful that he does. The burger is a showstopper, but all the food is fantastic. The prices are what I would expect them to be in this neighborhood, but the food is WAY better than it has to be. The service is lovely, and if you come here for dinner for 2 during the Olympics when any American wins a gold medal, just say the world “gold” and you will get a bottle of wine. If that isn’t enough to get you here soon, I don’t know what is.

And it’s a great way to keep your sister from committing sororicide during a routine shopping trip.

Disclaimer: The restaurant paid for my meal. I was not required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

David Burke at Bloomingdale's on Urbanspoon

Untitled – Danny Meyer’s Upscale, Up-Priced Coffee Shop

Danny Meyer restaurants prove that a big restaurateur can still maintain a high level of service and food at each and every one of his establishments. From high-end dining to some of the most sought after burgers in the city, he brings hospitality to new levels. When you dine at one of his restaurants, you are sure to be well taken care of and served delicious food.

As such, I felt perfectly confident in going to Untitled, his new-ish restaurant at the Whitney. This upscale take on a classic NYC coffe shop is in the bottom floor of the museum, but high ceilings and lots of light from surrounding windows keeps it from feeling dark or dank.

The feel is casual but not totally hole in the wall – this may be a coffee shop, but it is a Danny Meyer coffee shop, after all.

Large, balloon sculptures decorate the ceiling, lending a whimsical and artistic feel to the space.

Coffee

I’m not the world’s biggest coffee fan, but the coffee here  deserves special mention. It must be roasted on site or specially sourced, because it is caramel-y and nutty, not at all bitter like so many coffees are. Served in an artistic little ramekin, it is a reminder that you are in an upscale museum. The coffee is so delicious it barely needs any sugar – and this is from someone who prefers her coffee in ice cream from.

Scrambled egg whites, asparagus, mushrooms  and chives

I love diner eggs, and these eggs are those, but elevated. Smooth and fluffy egg whites that clearly don’t come from a carton, are strewn with beefy mushrooms, grassy asparagus, and fresh chives. The eggs are soft and supple, versus many egg whites that turn rubbery from fast, hard cooking. The home fries alongside are almost impossibly crispy – as if they are made in a deep fryer versus a sautee pan. A very simple meal elevated by expert cooking techniques.

Spread some creamy butter and strawberry compote, with whole strawberries in there, on the tangy, coarse sourdough toast.

Untitled not a destination restaurant, but it is much better than many museum restaurants are. The food is pricey, but if you are in a museum and starving, what are you gonna do? I would come back to try the burger or some other sandwiches, which seem more judiciously priced than the breakfast options. That way, I could feel a little better about the price tag, because I already am a fan of the tasty food and excellent service.

Untitled (Whitney Museum) on Urbanspoon

Joel Robuchon at The Mansion – A 16 Course Dream Come True

Foodies like all types of dining experiences. Eating potato chips on a road trip. Enjoying burgers at a drive in. Cooking at home for loved ones. And, once in a while, every foodie relishes a truly fine dining experience. This was such an experience.

Joel Robuchon, named “Chef of the Century,” did not want to open Joel Robuchon at the Mansion in Las Vegas. He had to be wooed and coaxed out of retirement. To hear the whole story, I direct you to the very funny and delicious book The Man Who Ate the World, by Jay Rayner. When he did open it, he pulled out all the stops. Since it has opened, it has been considered one of most over the top, the one of the most elegant, and certainly one of the most expensive restaurants in America. Though other restaurants, like Per Se, have the same 3 Michelin stars and difficult reservation policies, there are very few restaurants that compete on the old-school elegance and technique of this restaurant.

It is part of the famous Mansion hotel-within-a-hotel in the MGM Grand. You have to be invited to stay there, and rooms start at $5,000 a night. It is only for whales, foreign princes, and people to whom $5,000 a nigh tis chump change. You aren’t even allowed to visit the hotel – it is within a secret courtyard hidden in the MGM Grand.

But, if you book a table at Joel Robuchon, you get a gold limo that chauffers you to The Mansion, where you can relax in the glass atrium before dinner. Tropical plants thrive in the always 75F temperature, and gently classical music is piped through. You may find yourself, as I did, shocked into the realization that this will be a dining experience like none other you have ever had before.

Don’t worry, I took a coaster from a coffee table to remind myself later that this wasn’t a dream.

Soon, a concierge will arrive to take you through The Mansion to dinner.

To say that the room is elegant would be doing it a disservice. It is absolutely, straight up, old school fancy. Done in tones of eggplant and gold, there are plush banquettes, a sparkling chandelier, and even a faux garden outdoors, so people can eat outside without ever having to battle bugs. Many of the seats are couches, putting forth the idea that this is not a meal to nourish, but one to relax, to enjoy, and to indulge.

Bread Cart

This is where the magic starts. A cart filled with at least 17 types of bread is rolled to you, and your server describes each one, like some glorious, hunger-inducing monologue. Baguette, country bread, milk bread. Basil brioche, bacon bread, Gruyère bread. Hard bread, soft bread, miniature bread, gargantuan bread. Each different, each baked in house daily. You are encouraged to sample many breads throughout the course of the meal, though only your first selection will be warmed.

Bread Selection

Mustard Bacon Baguette – an exemplary baguette, with a stiff crust and an airy interior. Flecked with sizable chunks of fatty bacon and pungent grainy mustard.

Gruyère Bread – light and fluffy, with a generous portion of nutty Gruyère cheese capping the roll.

Comte Bread – delicate and buttery, like a croissant. Filled with smoky, salty comte cheese that oozed in the middle.

Saffron Brioche – fragrant and heady with saffron, reminiscent of paella. Very light and moist.

The butter, from Brittany, is hand shaved, and the olive oil is Spanish.

Butter

It deserves special mention. This Brittany butter is incredibly dense and feels like it weighs twice what American butter does. It tastes sweet and very clean, not greasy at all. Sprinkled with fleur de sel, it is delicious enough to be eaten on its own.

Don’t worry, I didn’t. I am a classy broad, ya know.

Cherry gazpacho with sheep’s ricotta and pistachios

The first taste of this is not cherries, it is sherry vinegar. Deep, nutty, complex. Then, sweet tomatoes and fresh cucumber come through. Finally, at the end, a sweet note of cherries finishes off the mouthful. The sheep’s  ricotta is milky and the salty pistachios are a wise textural contrast. It is an ideal starter.

Salad of tomato with basil infused olive oil and basil gelee topped with mozzarella

Wonderful things about this dish include:

-the incredibly potent tomato. It tastes bright but also earthy, and very sweet.

-the mozzarella. Tiny, exact pearls of mozzarella, so creamy they practically melt if you look at them too hard.

-the basil gelee. Incredibly fragrant and herbal, it is spicy next to the sugary tomato.

-the black plate that makes the gelee look black, instead of clear.

-this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXQTdPCWG7M&feature=youtu.be

Red turnip and radish with yellowtail carpaccio, chilled cauliflower veloute, and maki of thin couscous, all topped with caviar

Yellowtail carpaccio – as mild as toro, with a less fatty taste and slightly firmer texture. It has a brightness that works well with the peppery radish and crunchy, earthy turnip. The caviar adds a pleasant salty taste that ties in the land and water theme.

Cauliflower veloute – my favorite part of the course. Thin but very rich and smooth, this is the essence of cauliflower. It is salty enough to bring out the naturally sweet and creamy flavor of cauliflower, and the caviar adds both depth and texture. It is so very savory that I would swear there was pork somewhere in the base of the soup.

Couscous Maki – The least memorable part of the dish, but the one where the caviar stands out the most. Thinly shaved cucumber holds pearls of couscous, topped with a generous portion of caviar. the caviar’s deep taste reverberates through the mouth with salt, bitterness, and a final note of iron, like liver.

Roasted foie gras with cherries and kumquat compote

My baby. My favorite food. My sweet little liver. This is as ideal a foie gras as one could hope to have. A thick, crisp crust conceals a warm, pale pink interior that is so umami it defines the word. Savory and meaty, with a dense, creamy texture. It pais well with the cherries, which taste of wine, and with the bright kumquat puree, which temper the dish’s richness. When foie is this perfect, all description fails it.

Seared scallop with young leek in green curry

Following the foie with the scallop is a calculated and very smart move. To follow it with more meat would result in palate fatigue. To follow it with a light fish or vegetable would mean that the delicate taste would be lost. Following it with buttery shellfish served in a spicy, herbal broth both gives the palate a rest and awakens it for the courses to come. Every move at this restaurant is thought out and planned. The scallop has a crunchy crust and a soft interior. It works well with the green curry, which is  it is so bright with ginger, cilantro, and lemongrass that it seems almost alive. It breathes life into the meal and re-awakens the appetite. One of my favorite dishes of the night.

Truffled langoustine ravioli, grilled spiny lobster medallion in herb sabayon, sea urchin on potato puree with Blue Mountain Coffee

Ravioli – delicate sheets of pasta wrap around a chopped langoustine filling. Plump and bursting with buttery flavor, it is infused with the powerful scent and flavor of truffles. The earthy shrooms make the dish as meaty as it is oceanic. My seafood-wary sister claimed this as one of her favorite dishes of the night – it is quite rich and very tasty, but also very mild on the seafood taste.

Lobster – a bit tougher than I like, with too many herbs taking away from the butters inherent delicate flavor. It was still quite tasty, but not up to par with the other aspects of the plate.

Urchin – unbelievable. Pillows of soft, creamy, intensely briny sea urchin atop Robuchon’s famous pommes puree. These potatoes, made with as much butter as potato, are so rich and dense that they make the uni seem even lighter and more refreshing by comparison. The Blue Mountain Coffee adds a smoky, pleasantly bitter quality. For once, coffee actually tastes as delicious as it smells!

Delicate green pea cream on foie gras royale with argan oil

The only misstep of the night for me, due more to personal taste than any cooking discrepancies. The peas taste too grassy, almost like wet soil. The foie gras royale is airy and gets lost in the thick potage, and the argan oil has no discernable flavor. Let it be known that I am not a huge pea fan, and that other members in my party lapped this up.

Slightly cooked slamon with grain mustard seeds and mango tagliatelle

The best salmon I can remember eating, including at top-notch sushi restaurants. It is so mild, so soft but not mushy, with a thin, caramalized crust. It must be cooked incredibly gently, because it has a moist but still cooked interior, where the fat has melted away and self basted the fish. The mango tagliatelle is just as outstanding – thin ribbons of fruit that resemble al dente pasta in texture, but with a bright, tart flavor.

Sauteed veal chop with porcini mushrooms

Veal never tasted this good. This veal has the intensity of beef with the delicate texture of veal. I was able  cut it with a fork, it has a woodsy, hearty taste that one normally only associates with beef. It stands up to the porcini mushrooms, not as heady as truffles but much meatier. The demiglace served alongside is thick and reminiscent of wine, slowly cooked onions, and spicy black pepper.

Risotto of soybean sprouts, lime zest, and chives

Sprouts cooked very gently in the style of risotto, until they form a thick, rich stew. If it weren’t for the slight crunch, I would think it WAS risotto! Bright with lime zest, there is the nutty taste of Parmesan cheese and a lingering taste of garlic that makes this dish taste traditional. Well, as traditional as spout risotto can be. Once again, a wise choice in terms of timing. This gently bridges the gap between salty main course and sweet dessert.

Honey gelee and a light lemon cream finished with a spiced red fruit coulis

Very sweet, more like caramel than honey. The lemon goes a long way to cutting through the sugar, and keeps it from being overpowering. An interesting dessert, but not a sensational one.

Caramel panna cotta topped with fresh strawberries in a balsamic reduction

Now THIS is a dessert. A showstopper. Panna cotta that is smooth,  milky, and incredibly clean, with just a bit of  bittersweet caramel. Fresh strawberries, juicy and tangy, cloaked in their rich balsamic dressing. Bits of crunchy brioche croutons soak up the juices, and vanilla scented foam perfumes the whole dish.

A perfect end to the meal.

Or is it?…

Mignardises

Um, no. This is the end to the meal. An entire cart full of mignardises (small sweets served at the end of a meal) comes to you, and you choose s many as you would like. Caramels, chocolates, petit fours, cakes that burst in your mouth with raspberry jam, macaroons, lollipops, bonbons…it’s as if Willy Wonka himself is in front of you.

Needless to say, they are all delicious, but do not miss the cannele. It is custardy, caramalized, and a gustatory transport straight to Paris.

Joel Robuchon is, for me, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Not only because it is prohibitively expensive, but because how many times can Cinderella go to the ball? From the moment I stepped in the gold limo to the second that I was surprised with a birthday cake, to the very last bite of my very last petit four, this was a fairy tale. There were some dishes that were not to my taste, but that mattered less than the experience of the meal. It was a 4 hour dining journey.  Servers came by to chat when we had questions, to advise on the wine list, and to show us a special feature of the dish. They also left us alone to laugh, to talk, to revel in the meal and each others’ company. Our needs were anticipated – we never had to ask for more bread or an extra napkin. The surroundings are beautiful, the service is excellent, and the food was really beyond my expectations. It combines classic techniques with unexpected ingredients. That scallop with the curry sauce is not the most technically complex dish on the menu, but it is representative of Robuchon’s attention to detail and exquisite palate. From beginning to end, this meal is worth every penny to someone who values a unique and over the top dining experience.

The next day, I went back to eating sandwiches, but for just that night, I was Cinderella at the foodie ball.

Joël Robuchon on Urbanspoon

Mole Restaurant Brings Mexico City to the UES

The Upper East Side has a little more flavor and fun, thanks to Mole, the mini-chain of Mexican restaurants that started in the West Village and has now expanded as far as Williamsburg. The restaurant is bustling, colorful, and loud – perfect for an after work drink off the reasonably priced happy hour menu.

The sight of someone making fresh guacamole is enough to get my engine roaring. If that doesn’t do it for you, try a fresh margarita made with one of over 100 tequila.

Sopa de Elote

This soup elevates corn in every way. Thick but not heavy, the soup is filled with sweet corn that bursts with sugar . It is buttery and fragrant with cilantro, which keeps it from tasting too much like New England corn chowder. The crisply fried tortilla shells add crunch and salt. Even on a blisteringly hot day, I couldn’t help but drain my small cup and wish I had more.

Mexico City Style Quesadillas with Mushrooms

Thick, handmade flour tortillas that are slightly coarse and have a pleasant chew are the base of this dish. They are filled with mild cotija cheese and smoky, cumin laced mushrooms. Served with a spicy, citrusy salsa and cilantro-laden guacamole, this is hearty enough to have as a light meal.

Tacos Suadero

These brisket tacos are so good, you think they have come off a truck in LA. That is the highest praise I can give! The double wrapped taco comes on blue corn tortillas that are soft yet not gluey – a common taco pitfall. They stand up well to the juicy brisket, braised into melting submission. It has a deep, dark flavor that is lifted by fresh onions and a squeeze of lime juice.

Enchiladas de Mole Poblano

The mole here is imported from Mexico City by the owner’s mother in law, and it is unreal. I tasted so many flavors in there: sesame, raisins, sweet poblano chiles,  rich chicken stock, and the bitter taste of chocolate that lingers on the tongue like the taste of coffee after you have finished your cup. Served over tender crepes fille with juicy pulled chicken, it is a complex and unexpected taste of Mexican cuisine. It certainly puts my mole to shame.

Desert Trio – Tres Leches, Flan, and Chocolate Cake

Though dessert in a Mexican restaurant is typically an afterthought, sweets here should really be put on the front burner. Though the tres leches is a bit dry for my tastes, the flan is fantastic – eggy and rich, with notes of toffee, pecans, and fresh cream. The chocolate cake is as classic as what you wish your grandma had made you after school – dense, fudgy, and intensely chocolate. It wants only for a glass of ice cold milk.

Mole breathes new life into the UES. This is a wonderful restaurant for young people, or even families, and has an excellent staff, a fair price point, and truly delicious food.

*Disclaimer: This was a press dinner. I was not required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Good – A Restaurant That Really Earns its Name

Though I have previously reviewed the burger at Good, I think this neighborhood spot is swell enough to deserve an entire post dedicated to it.

Good is one of those restaurants that is hard to find in NYC. It is moderately priced  for lunch, but nice enough to take a date for dinner. Casual enough to walk in without a reservation on Monday nights (when a fantastic prix fixe is offered) but trendy enough to have a hopping bar scene on Saturday nights. The menu is small but expertly prepared.

The room is small and cozy, with plush booths, whimsical artwork, and a view of the scene going on right outside, in the heart of the West Village.

Cheddar Hush Puppies with ham, jalapenos, and chile lime honey

My favorite part of the meal, hands down. Dense nuggets of cornbread were filled with salty ham, jalapenos, and pockets of gooey melted cheese. A spritz of lime lifts the hush puppy from being heavy, giving it acidity and a clear, high note . Though I found the lime honey too sweet and smoky, these were so delicious on their own that they needed no additional accompaniment.

Housemade Potato Chips with caramelized onion dip

A simple dish made with restraint and thought. The chips were thin sliced and fried until extremely crispy. They tasted so truly of potatoes - earthy, confronting, and familiar. The dip was nothing like the classic Lipton’s salt bomb I ate growing up. Here, ribbons of gently caramalized onions flowed like rivers through a creamy, tangy base. They were sweet and buttery, mixing with the sharpness of fresh chives and the pleasantly sour taste of the cream. The pairing of the chips and dips two is beautiful and somehow delicate. A must order.

Escarole and Farro with  red onion, smoked almonds, pecorino, and garlic-anchovy vinaigrette

This salad is ideally composed. The escarole is tender and slightly bitter. The onion is tangy and pungent. The almonds are smoky and crunchy. The pecorino is salty and very savory. The dressing is light, acidic, and a little spicy from the garlic. It is not fishy at all, but incredibly umami filled from the anchovies. This is a salad working on all facets – it is an ideal light meal or appetizer.

Burger

The Good burger is great. Just read here for my description.

Now do you see why this restaurant needed its own post? It is just what you want, no matter what you want. The service seems to have improved since my last visit, the prices are fair (especially for the West Village), and the food is great.

In fact, if the restaurant changed its name to Great, that would really be more fitting.

Angry Roasted Peach and Kale Salad

This is called a the angry salad. Why? Well, you get to hack up some sundried tomatoes, you get to use up peaches that are a little under-ripe or sour(because don’t you get angry when you buy bad peaches?! I know I do.), and you massage kale. You know, the way that Muhammad Ali massaged George Foreman’s face.

That kind of massaging.

Beating up the kale is really the key to this recipe – it makes the kale as tender as romaine, while still maintaining its signature minerally taste.

Angry Roasted Peach and Kale Salad

Ingredients:

1 head kale, leaves removed and spines discarded

1 peach, diced

10 sundried or oven dried tomatoes, diced

1 large handful basil, chiffonaded

1/4 cup walnut halves (preferably roasted)

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/2 cup olive oil

Juice of 2 lemons

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and put the peaches and basil on a tinfoiled baking tray. Put the tray in the oven for 10 minutes, or until the peaches are very soft and the basil is dark and shriveled, but does not taste burned.

2. While the peaches cool, combine the mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, and cheese in a bowl. Set aside.

3. Now take those kale leaves. Crunch them in your hand. Wring them out like they are the necks of TSA agents who have made you go through separate security screenings because of a button on your jeans. Oh yeah, now you are getting steamed.

Use that anger. Crunch the heck out of those kale leaves. In about 3 minutes, your hands will start to smell like steamed broccoli, and the kale will suddenly give up resistance. It will go from dry and papery to limp somewhat moist. It will turn dark green and shrink considerably in volume.

You have now subdued the kale.

4. Add the rest of the ingredients. Toss well. Taste for salt and/or pepper.

5. Serve. 

This salad is extremely multilayered and complex. It is best when made about an hour before eating, because then the dressing saturates the sundried tomatoes, making them juicy and savory. The peaches release their sweet juices, mingling with the acidic, umami-forward dressing. The kale relaxes even more, but – amazingly – does not wilt! It retains its color and crunch even after sitting in the fridge. The walnuts add a luxuriously fatty component and the basil turns sharp and peppery in the oven, contrasting with those sweet, delicious peaches. This is a fabulous salad for a picnic or to take on a road trip because it stands up so well to being made ahead of time. It would be great topped with some poached salmon or fried chicken cutlets.

Even though this is called an angry salad, you can’t help but feel happy as you eat it.

Havana Restaurant, Palm Beach

Remember when I said that you could have a nice Palm Beach lunch at Havana?

You didn’t think I was just going to leave it at that, did you?

This 24 hour spot in West Palm beach defines laid back. It is so casual that you can feel comfortable dining in your bathing suit and a cover up, or even just get a to-go order at the 24 hour walk up window.

The line may be long but it moves fast. Chat with locals in line, survey the beautiful fried offerings, and get your cash ready.

Ground Beef Empanada

The weakest of the food we tried. The shell was crisp and bubbly, but the filling was overly bitter, almost tasting of char, or acrid smoke. It overtook the tender texture of the beef and was way too overpowering.

Papa Relleno

Always my favorite Cuban dish. Buttery mashed potatoes wrapped around spicy, garlicky ground beef. The whole thing is fried so it is crisp outside, then soft before you reach the meaty center. It is delicious, inexpensive, and utterly satisfying after a morning spent at the beach.

Cuban Sandwich

I am sure that there are better Cuban sandwiches than this, but this fits the bill. Soft, fresh bread layered with fresh turkey, sweet ham, Swiss cheese, and the salty tang of pickles. Pressed so the cheese melts into the meant but not too toasted, so the bread stays supple and squish, redolent with spicy mustard. This is not a gourmet or unbelievable sandwich, but something about it is so comforting. It is the type of sandwich your mom might have made you, if she was a sassy Cuban mamacita.

All this food was around $8. So cheap! So tasty! So casual and open 24 hours.

And NOW you have the full scoop on Havana

Havana Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Brazilian Court – Palm Beach’s Hidden Oasis

I have stayed in sleek boutique hotels, I have stayed at seaside resorts, and I have stayed at every kind of hotel in between. I have never, however, been lucky enough to stay at my wealthy friend’s home.

Well, until now.

That is how it feels when one stays at The Brazilian Court. This Palm Beach hotel is not so much a resort as it is an oasis. The hotel literally comes out of nowhere –  it is so hidden that the first time I drove up, I missed the entrance. It is in a residential neighborhood that is smack dab between 2 beautiful Moorish homes. It is literally a 4 minute stroll to Worth Avenue, lined with upscale shops and restaurants, and the public beach is only 2 blocks away.

The moment that you enter the hotel, you enter an sanctuary of calm and peace. It is as if the outside world has melted away and you are transported to the 1940s, when stars like Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy would come to Palm Beach for the winter. The hotel is build around 2 sunny courtyards, filled with comfortable white loungers and bubbling fountains.

In the evening, classic jazz music is gently piped through hidden stereos to the courtyards, enhancing the romantic, retro feel of the hotel.

The rooms are done in several themes, but each has the feel of being individually decorated. This is not the modern, minimalistic look that so often makes rooms feel institutional. The feel in each hotel room is dark and sumptuous, filled with saturated jewel tones, deeply colored wood, and deluxe linens. Free wi-fi and a plethora of cable channels are included in each room. Even the smallest room is expertly designed to feel spacious and luxurious,

and the bathrooms come with deep soaking tubs with spa jets and a separate glassed-in shower.

Of course, if you wanted to really make a splash, you could stay in one of the hotel’s signature suites, which feature up to 2 bedrooms,

a  kitchenette,

and a large sitting room.

Some of these suites have direct access to the elegant pool, where hotel guests enjoy loungers and a full pool menu, including entrees, snacks, and cocktails.

You could also choose to dine at Cafe Boulud, the hotel’s restaurant. The breakfasts, lunches, and dinners here are all equally delicious and served with efficiency. The dining room is sunny and casual, a welcome rest from the uptight atmosphere of many Palm Beach eateries.

The homemade sausage with pork, cheddar, and apples is not to be missed.

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Though you could easily spend your afternoons at the pool , you would be remiss to miss the beach club. A hotel luxury car drives you to the beach club at the beautiful Omphoy Hotel and picks you up. When there, rent a lounger and an umbrella, and relax on the stretch of beautiful private beach. The servers are quick with a cocktail menu, and the combination of crystal clear waters, delicious drinks, and hours of relaxation is not to be missed. Don’t worry if you are hungry on the drive back – ask your driver to stop at the window at Havana for a beefy, spicy Papa Relleno.

Once back at the hotel, you may wish to take advantage of the nightly happy hour, offering wine and appetizer specials until 7 pm. Or, you could want to go to your room to prepare for a night out on Worth Avenue. You could even choose to just sit in the courtyard and order some food – the room service fare is as delicious as that in the dining room.

The club sandwich walks the line between comfort food and haute fare, pairing fresh roasted turkey with creamy avocado, sweet tomatoes, and soft multigrain bread. A side of homemade potato chips completes the indulgent meal, available till 11:30 at night.

The service is some of the best I have had in recent memory. Everyone knows your name, yet does not bother you. The staff senses if you need some help or if you want to be left alone. Staff members are quick to offer water bottles when you leave the hotel, and appear from nowhere to open doors for you.  Like a good friend, the staff seems to be able to sense your mood and what you need. Everyone we encountered was  quick to call our car but slow to interrupt us while we were dining. This anticipation of the guests needs is what sets this hotel apart.

Don’t come here if you want a  gigantic full service resort or a business centered hotel that is fast paced. Come here if you want to truly escape.

To unplug, to relax, to sit for hours in a sun drenched courtyard or lounge on a gorgeous private beach. Come if you want to be chauffeured rather than drive, if you want to lay for hours in your lovely room, if you want to truly lose yourself in another time and place.

The Brazilian Court is more than a hotel, it is a friend. A great one.

*Disclaimer: I received a press rate to stay at The Brazilian Court. My opinions are my own and unbiased.*

2nd Avenue Deli

2nd Avenue Deli isn’t somewhere I normally frequent…it is on the Upper East Side, it is  expensive, and (let’s be honest), the pastrami can’t hold a candle to Katz’s. But, when I found myself up there for an assignment, I thought that I might as well make a meal out of it.

The deli is classic old school NYC – dark, cavernous, with a lengthy menu and servers who are either gruff , old, sassy, or some combo of the three. And awesome in their own ways. For example, if you don’t order enough, you are likely to get told that there will be a mandatory order of  fries tacked onto your meal. And you will eat them, too…you don’t want to get yelled at.

Pickles

LIke any good deli, you get a plate of pickles and a plate of coleslaw. The vinegary slaw is a bit more sweet than I like, but the pickles are pitch perfect. Tangy dill pickles, crunchy new pickles, and delightfully sour pickled tomatoes. A plate of these will drive your blood pressure through the roof, but are heaven when paired with a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda.

The #6: Turkey, Chopped Liver, cole slaw and Russian dressing

Now this…THIS is a sandwich. Fresh roasted turkey is juicy and flavorful, a good match for classic, mayonnaise-based slaw. The chopped liver is almost as good as mine – rich, minerally, a little sweet, and filled with the pungent crunch of finely diced onions. Served on musky rye bread with tangy Russian dressing, it is all good things that Jewish food is: heavy, comforting, and guilt laden.

Stuffed Derma

This Jewish version of stuffing is fantastic. Moist and soft, with texture of polenta, it is filled not only with garlic and onion, but with the liquid gold that is chicken stock. This makes it fatty but not greasy, rich but not overwhelming.

Served with  thick gravy, this is comfort food at its finest.

Instant Heart Attack Sandwich

Click here to see my opinions on this monstrosity.

Spoiler alert: I love it.

Egg Cream

Each meal here ends with a tiny shot of a chocolate egg cream. There is neither egg nor cream in this old fashioned drink – just seltzer, milk, and a little chocolate syrup. The bubbly drink here is incredibly rich and chocolatey, which must be due to using the best chocolate syrup of all time, Fox’s U-Bet.

The 2nd Avenue Deli is a great representation of a classic NYC Jewish Deli. While it lacks the fantastic pastrami and old school atmosphere of Katz’s, it still has some delicious and traditional food, including that wonderful stuffed derma. The prices are high, but come on…you can easily share a sandwich and a side and be full for hours.

Or at least until your server pressures you into ordering dessert.

Gotta love that Jewish guilt.

2nd Ave. Deli (UES) on Urbanspoon

Cafe Boulud, Palm Beach

While vacationing in Palm Beach, you might expect to eat club sandwiches by the pool. You might expect to eat haute sushi while shopping the incredibly expensive boutiques on Worth Avenue. You might expect to have cocktails on the beach or appetizers at the beach club.

You probably don’t expect to eat the refined cuisine of Daniel Boulud.

The Brazilian Court is home to the Palm Beach outpost of Cafe Boulud. The trick here is transferring Boulud’s flawless service and precise cuisine to the laid back elegance of Palm Beach. Residents here are wealthy and well-traveled – they know good food. But can this outpost deliver?

The dining room is beautiful – an indoor space overlooking the spacious courtyard. Trees and twinkling lights fill the room, giving the illusion of being outdoors with no bugs and where it never goes above 75 degrees. The space is not stuffy, but be sure to wear at least a polo shirt if you are a gentleman, and ladies would not feel out of place in heels. This is Palm Beach, after all.

As a note, I was here during the Boulud Sud pop-up of the restaurant, where for a month, the menu is comprised of dishes inspired by the fabulous version of the NYC restaurant.

Sundried Tomato and Olive Foccacia

The house baked foccacia is yeasty and soft, studded with juicy tomatoes or pungent olives.

Enjoy it dipped into a plate of olive oil flavored with garlic, rosemary, and red peppers.

Sicilian Sardine Escabeche with Pine Nuts and Raisins

In a word: sensational. These bear absolutely no resemblance to the oily, bony specimens that come in tin cans. These are soft enough to cut with a fork, and the bones are so tiny that they dissolve in the mouth undetected. There is no fishy, iodine-y taste that many sardines have. Instead, these are more like smoked trout – extremely mild, taking on the flavors of the tart lemon and herbal fennel. The raisins provide an unexpected note of sweetness, working with the tart, bright flavors in the marinade, and the pine nuts are a pleasant textural contrast. If you don’t like sardines, try these – you may be a convert.

Rabbit and Foie Gras Ballotine with Chestnut Mostarda and Madeira Gelee, with Sauternes

Woodsy, earthy rabbit and heady, smooth foie gras in a smooth, meaty mosaic encased in buttery pastry. The foie gras and rabbit are such a natural pairing, because while they both taste intensely meaty, one is dark and husky and the other is light in texture and almost electric in taste. Though I didn’t care for the very sweet chestnuts, the slight acid of the madeira jelly worked well with the ballotine. The crowning touch was the Sauternes. Sauternes is a desert wine that is notoriously delicious with foie gras. Sip it after taking a bite of foie gras and the liver takes on different flavors – of raisins, of walnuts, of rich rare steak. This is a classic dish done very well.

Lamb Merguez Sausage with Chickpeas and Couscous

As our waiter said “That’s a lot of sausage!” You aren’t cheated on the portions here – the point isnt’ to get the money out of you, it’s to make sure that you leave having a wonderful experience. The lamb, though a bit grainy and coarsely ground, is bursting with flavor. Smoky with cumin, hot with harrisa, with a finishing note of cool mint, it is Morocco on a plate. It sits on a bed of garlicky, peppery couscous next to lightly curried chickpeas and spinach. This plate is a flavor explosion – it isn’t for people who like plain potatoes and boiled beef. The execution is beautiful, and the flavors really pop.

Chocolate Souffle and Pistachio Ice Cream

All the molten chocolate cakes out there, take note. This is your classy grandmother who shops at Bergdorf’s and still wears heels. LIght, moist, and almost impossibly rich, it disappears the moment it touches your tongue, almost too fast. The pistachio ice cream, nutty and creamy, adds a wonderful temperature contrast. This is classic and almost the perfect dessert.

The madeleines that come with the check really make it a perfect dessert. Lemony and still warm from the oven, I ate 4 of them and would have eaten more if I hadn’t been so very stuffed.

This restaurant is excellent. It isn’t inexpensive, but you get what you pay for. Excellent, unobtrusive service that never once bothered my date and I when we were deep in discussion, yet somehow always made sure the water glasses were full. Flavors that are surprising and excellently executed. And atmosphere that is equal parts romantic, laid back, and elegant. It fits Palm Beach to a “T” and is absolutely a must-visit if you are in the area.

*Disclaimer – The restaurant paid for my meal. I was not required to write a review, and my opinions are my own and unbiased.*

Cafe Boulud on Urbanspoon