That Time I Got to Go to The University Club

I went to a wedding the other night, and the bride knew that I was going to remark on the food.

I mean…how could I not? I’m not getting back in here anytime soon!

This shindig was held at The University Club…ultra fancy, ultra swanky – the kind of place that Jay Gatsby would risk hell and high water to frequent. It’s an immense building on 5th Avenue and the look is all dark wood, heavy tapestries, and gilded fixtures…you know the type.

I was SO glad that I put on deodorant…this isn’t the type of spot where stank will go undetected.

When we got upstairs to the ornate dining room, we were starving and I have to say that I didn’t know what to expect. Could a place this fancy and old school have food that would be appealing to the couples’ food savvy friends?

In a word – yup!

20140920_202337 Mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes

This is as delicious as something that I would make at home, after carefully sniffing tomatoes at the farmers market and schlepping downtown to get tender mozzarella. This tastes like it was made by hand by someone who really cares about ingredients – who chose tart cherry tomatoes and sweet heirloom ones to compliment each other. Who dressed the room temperature mozzarella in a spicy olive oil and plenty of pepper. This is simple and delightful. The last of summer’s tomatoes to usher in the first of the new couple’s tomorrows.

Wow…when I am good, I am GOOD.
20140920_212800 Rack of lamb au jus with wilted spinach and roasted potatoes

This lamb isn’t just wedding good…it’s RESTAURANT good! I don’t think it was the 2 martinis (because who DOESN’T love an open bar, amirite?), I think that it was just an excellently made plate. The lamb is medium rare -pink almost to the edges but not bloody or raw. It’s deep and robust, with peppery, rosemary scented jus that just cries out for those roasted potatoes. The lamb was really spectacular – I’m telling you that I couldn’t stop eating it.
20140920_222001 Dessert buffet

The piece de resistance was the entirely gluten free dessert buffet. Creamy creme brulee, vibrant macarons, airy chocolate mousse, and more. As much as you wanted, all in tiny, bite size servings.

Actually, this whole meal was gluten free and prepared and presented so well that if I hadn’t known ahead of time, I wouldn’t have even guessed it. The pacing and service is excellent, the setting is stunning and the food is modern and delicious.

Unfortunately, you have to be a member to have your wedding there, but if you are or if you get invited there…I highly recommend dieting the week before. Because this is one wedding meal thta you will want to eat.

Wedding Planning in NYC: Food Tasting at Essex House

The menu tasting.

The day that I had simultaneously been looking forward to and fearing since the day that we booked our venue, Essex House.

Looking forward to – well, the reason is obvious.

Fearing – look, when you are as obsessed with food as I am, your friends expect a lot. They have high standards and they are going to come to your wedding in forgiving stretchy dresses and loose pants sizes. And we booked at a hotel…I was nervous that we were going to get standard banquet food. You know the type…mushy chicken with flaccid skin and overcooked filet that had the flavor of beefy cardboard. I was real nervous, y’all.

I had no reason to be scared. The food was better than tasty. For an event of this scale, it was exceptional.

IMG_20140221_172255_959 From the moment that w sat in the swanky SouthGate restaurant, we were treated like VIPs (which, I guess we were, but still…okay by me!). Personalized menus, a discussion with the brand new banquet chef, personalized explanation of the dishes and the servingware used by the world’s greatest coordinator, Cecilia DeAngelis, and more food than we could possibly eat.

But we tried our best.
IMG_20140221_173119_038 Prosecco Bar

Okay, this was awesome.

My mom got the idea from Lincoln’s prosecco bar – Prosecco offered with mix and match fruit purees and liquors to create your own signature drink. We asked Cecilia if we could offer this for an hour at the reception and she made it happen.

SarahJosh_Ceremony_012

Major happiness ensued.  IMG_20140221_174001_903 Pretzel rolls

Because, wow – pretzel rolls make it HAPPEN. I also made a very diva request that the butter be served spreadable – nothing worse than ice cold butter that just won’t spread on bread. It would have totally taken away from the thick, toasty crust and the soft innards. They delivered on the spreadable butter. Thank you! IMG_20140221_175034_601 Crispy chicken confit with gnocchi, Cabot clothbound cheddar, spinach, and maple pepper lardon crisp

Why didn’t I eat more of this at the time? I’m crying just remembering how delicious this was. The chicken is juicy and crispy at the same time, served atop pillowy gnocchi that soaks up the rich chicken juices. The bits of crunchy lardons are smoky, sweet, and a little spicy. And that clothbound cheddar is one of my favorites, with a calcium crystal-studded texture and nutty, salty, umami flavor. It’s not cheap, either! It really says something that this is a plain ole option when you book at Essex House. You are really getting what you pay for – no nameless mild cheddar substitute here.

IMG_20140221_175042_094 Smoked salmon tartare and rosette with caramelized pear and spring leek tart with Dijon vinaigrette

The winner across the board – we all loved this. Unique enough to stand out but not just unique – also delicious and appetizing. The smoked salmon tartare is light and fresh, bound with a creamy, tarragon inflected dressing. The tart is sweet, providing the perfect creamy counterpart to the lush smoked salmon. It’s unexpected but also familiar – at a Jewish NYC wedding, we have all had smoked salmon once a week since birth! The Dijon vinaigrette is light and acidic, pairing well with the sweet pears. This was an excellent dish and I would eat it again tomorrow.

IMG_20140221_182933_537

Pan roasted Atlantic Salmon (front) and roasted Chatham cod with wilted leeks, sweet onin risotto with lardons, and New England lobster fricassee

The salmon in front is good – moist, seared to a lovely medium rare and served over some nutty black rice. It was just not exceptional. I could make it at home, and more to my tastes.

But the cod…

OMG…the cod. Whoa. This is an outstanding preparation. The cod is moist and very mild – none of that overtly fishy taste that less than fresh cod has. It’s slightly crispy on top and covered with what can only be described as creamy, sherry scented lobster bisque with hunks of sweet, buttery lobster. The risotto underneath manages to be creamy yet not gluey – hard work for risotto done on a mass scale. Though I loved it with the smoky, fatty lardons, the venue was accommodating enough to offer this kosher style for our many kosher guests.
I told everyone to get this.At the tasting, it was my number one favorite.
IMG_20140221_182948_828 Beef short ribs with potato dauphinois and bordelaise reduction

Of course, the night of the nuptials, I was in the mood for red meat, so I got this honkin behemoth of short ribs. Note to future brides – never go with the filet for your option. It’s just impossible to cook it to each person’s liking and if it has to be done ahead of time – which of course it does – it’s going to get dry and rubbery. The short ribs actually only get better after sitting around for awhile, and these are tender and robust, with scalloped potatoes and a deep, winey sauce.
IMG_20140221_185918_205 Lemon meringue pie

Buttery shortbread crust cradles a tangy, smooth lemon curd filling. Small, tanned peaks of impossibly airy meringue are capped with gold leaf for a sweet, decadent dessert that basically screams bridezilla in the loudest, best way possible. Some tart berry ice cream and an excellent (a little soft, but wonderfully chewy and bright) macaron would make this a perfect dessert along with the cake.

But then…
IMG_20140221_185942_737 Chipwich

This came into our lives. Smooth vanilla ice cream between two sturdy yet biteable chocolate chip cookies. I mean come. on. This is just what you want to eat in your fancy clothes after dancing so hard that you threw out your back. This dessert blew our minds, and our guests minds, too. Something this fun and whimsical perfectly fit our fun and pretty whimsical wedding. Classy right up until the end, when cravings took over.

Any foodie would be thrilled with the food options at Essex House. The team is a dream to work with, the options are limitless, and the food really tastes so delicious.

Toldja I would eat at my own wedding. 

Wedding Review: Ron Ben-Israel’s Delightful and Delicious Wedding Cakes

Remember when I said that I would go through all of my wedding food on the blog?

Okay,  after a quick jaunt to the Mediterranean, now we are back on track.

The most important part of my wedding was obviously the food. And, as I tend to do I focused most of my energy on the savory aspects. I agonized over samosas versus knishes, raw clams versus oyster croquettes, and franks in blankets or mini grilled cheeses. One thing I didn’t think about a lot was the cake.

Until I did.
IMG_20140217_085318_096 We were gifted an upgrade on our wedding package to include a cake by Ron Ben-Israel. Oh, you know, Mr. Sweet Genius himself. Lauded as America’s greatest wedding cake baker. Pastry chef extraordinaire to the stars.

And to us. Wow. Thank you for the this awesome gift, C – you know who you are.
IMG_20140217_090256_080 From the moment we walked into his SoHo studio, we knew this wouldn’t be the standard “here’s a spoonful of icing, what kinda cake do ya want” tasting. We were seated at a table and told to thumb through a book to see what kind of designs we preferred. No, not a picture book.
IMG_20140217_090312_827 An encyclopedia.  IMG_20140217_092925_178 As we waited momentarily for the main man himself, my then-fiance commented on how all the flowers looked so fresh. When I told him that everything on every one of the cakes was edible, he was incredulous.  IMG_20140217_092930_529 From the whimsical to the traditional, Ron Ben-Israel does it all.

And what a man he is. So kind. So funny. SO humble and so genuinely happy to be doing what he does. When he came out and shook our hands, you would think that he was a new baker who just needed his first gig. He seemed so grateful that we were working with him, instead of the other way around. He listened to our ideas and then gently steered us in a direction that would work better. He heard key words and tuned them into a concept. He did not rush or intimidate us. He was sweet, sincere, and was so happy when we asked to take a photo with him that you would never have known that he was a major tv celebrity chef.

But then we tried his cakes. And it was like…oh…this dude is very totally famous because J.H.C. is his stuff amazing.  IMG_20140217_093023_820 Citrus cake  –  moist and light, with a lemony, fresh zing that complements the gentle vanilla flavor. Sweet and refreshing at the same time.

Almond cake – my absolute favorite. Sophsiticated and subtle with slivers of crunchy almonds in a nutty, moist, tender crumbed cake. This was especially delicious with the Nutella ganache.

The best ganaches in this round were the lemon (bright, creamy, zippy), the coconut (fragrant, full bodied, utterly tropical), and the blood orange (tart, sweet, sharp). The Nutella was chocolaty, the raspberry was fruity, and the other flavors were all craveworthy, but these were just the standouts.  IMG_20140217_093028_441 Vanilla cake – very light and mild built to showcase the jewel colored ganache.

Chocolate – deep and fudgy, like Mississippi Mud.

Excellent flavors included the cookies and cream (I swear, they must have scraped the filling out of Oreos to get that flavor so precise!) the pistachio (intensely nutty and creamy), and the cappuccino (buttery, faintly coffee-esque, and quite sweet).

The flavors were all insane. We ended up going with the citrus cake (one of my best friends is allergic to tree nuts, and I couldn’t imagine her not being able to enjoy the almond cake at the wedding) with cappuccino, blood orange, and coconut fillings. I could have sworn that I would want a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, but Ron Ben Israel showed me the light. He assured us that this flavor combination would be sophisticated and delicious, which is just how we wanted the food at our wedding to taste.

It was supreme.

And it looked…well, you can see how it looked.

SarahJosh_Reception_011 I know. It’s the prettiest thing that I have ever seen, too.

SarahJosh_Reception_390 And the most delicious cake that I have ever eaten.

This cake is expensive. But if you are deciding between high end cake makers, I can’t recommend Ron Ben-Israel enough. He is a doll and he does beautiful, delicious work. He will make your wedding dress bust at the seams.

I’m proud to say that I ate a ton at my own wedding.

ron ben israel

Thank you so much, Ron Ben-Israel, for making dreams that I didn’t’ even know I had come true. 

Foie Gras and a Million Dollar View at Bouchon

*I’m blogging on a boat from Athens to Mykonos! So far, I have eaten a room service burger topped with a fried egg, airborne welsh rarebit, and the most sensational tzatziki on planet earth. I’m thrilled beyond words, but the WiFi leaves something to be desired, so pictures for this post will be published tomorrow!!*

Anyone who left for her honeymoon the day after her wedding…bravo to you. Frankly, the next morning, it was all that I could do to order some eggs Benedict, Facebook stalk some guest photos, and crash back to sleep until noon.

But that didn’t mean that our honeymoon didn’t start right away.

We actually made it a point to have one of the most delightful lunches I have had in some time at Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s casual Times Warner Center eatery.

The setting is quite nearly spectacular. It’s just an upscale casual cafe but it looks out onto the most magnificent view of Central Park and Columbus Circle. On a clear day, you could just sit for hours with a glass of champagne or a cup of cappuccino and watch the world go by.

But why stop there?

Foie gras terrine

If you don’t order this, do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Don’t even come home. This is the biggest must get from the entire menu. Terrine so smooth and soft that it almost melts onto the warm brioche. The apricot jam is sweet and simplistic next to the meaty, creamy foie – it reminded me of peanut butter and jelly! The brioche is clearly house baked – it’s soft and eggy. You might think that this is too much soft and rich, but no it truly isn’t. Foie is an example of too much is never enough – you always need and want more soft, rich, umami flavors and textures.

Nicoise Tartine

One of the rare ways that I enjoy tuna salad. The tuna is mixed with a small amount of mayonnaise and layered with salty capers, soft olives, and olive oil doused radishes. The radishes are wonderfully peppery and the bread that it comes on is layered with a creamy aioli and fresh bib lettuce. This is a fork and knife affair, and don’t forget the brightly dressed salad that comes alongside. It’s a grown up tuna salad, and quite a good one!

Kale salad with garlicky croutons and chicken

This isn’t your local deli’s kale salad. The kale is in large, tender leaves and tastes almost like spinach, but without that often slimy texture that spinach gets. It’s tossed in a creamy, pleasantly salty dressing (gotta be some anchovies, right) and the world’s best croutons. Honestly, these oil soaked crunchy bits of bread aren’t too hard and they don’t get soggy…I could eat a pile of them. And now that I don’t have to fit in a wedding gown any time soon, maybe I will! The chciken is soft and perfectly paoched, so it is still juicy and not at all mushy. Some fresh lemon zest adds a much needed zing of acid without watering down the dressing.

This isn’t a cheap meal. It’s a honeymoon meal. A meal where the service is excellent even when you spill the diet coke and where the portions are large enough to fill you but not so big that you feel bogged down afterwards. I had a wonderful time and would totally come here for a glass of wine and some foie gras.

Honeymooning before the honeymoon is awesome.

Sarabeth’s – One Great Rehearsal Dinner

When you plan a rehearsal dinner, there are many factors to take into account.

For example: Where will it be? Will the room be private? Will there be a dedicated bar and bathroom for your event? How far is this event from where most of your guests are located? What is the RSVP policy? How flexible are they on allergies and dietary restrictions? Must you have alcohol at the event? How expensive is it per person?

And…of course…how tasty is the food?

For my own rehearsal dinner, we decided on Sarabeth’s Central Park South, a restaurant that I would never normally frequent. However, I have to say that it was such a good experience that I would recommend it  for any large dinner affair, without reservation.

First, the not so great:

It is hard to get ahold of the banquet manager. She is extremely busy, since Sarabeth’s has so many locations. The onus is pretty much on you to call her and keep calling until you get through to her. Once you do, she is very responsive and answers your questions quickly.

That’s it..that’s the only somewhat con.

The rest are all pros. Yep, it is great for these reasons:

1. You don’t have to include alcohol, but you can. You don’t have to include an appetizer hour, but you can. You don’t have to use the whole back room, but you can.  Get the picture? You have so many options – you can really make the rehearsal dinner yours.

2. The space is fabulous. Large, comfortable, spacious, and very private. Trust me, we were hooting, hollering, and sobbing in tandem the entire night and never once did we get asked to quiet down. There is a dedicated bar, bathroom, and servers just for your party. It’s awesome.

3. The price is extremely reasonable. I men, it’s still insane because it’s Manhattan but it’s INFINITELY less insane than any other place in town for the amount and quality of food.

And speaking of which…

The food. Shall we get to it?

20140425_192010

Mixed greens

Simple, but who wants to eat something super complex or rich before she has to squeeze into a tight white dress, right? This is fresh and well dressed, with freshly cracked pepper, a bright but not overly acidic vinaigrette, and tart tomatoes – no limp, soft tomatoes here. I would eat this again with pleasure.

20140425_192022

Tomato and cheddar soup

My now-husband ordered this and to quote him “This is like Campbell’s had a baby with Chef Boyardee and I love it.” Yeah, he pretty much got it. This lacks acidity or any complexity of flavor, but somehow it’s still just delicious. Creamy, savory, and thick with a little salt from the cheese and many hunks of soft, sweet tomatoes. It was much improved by some Tabasco and though this is a little tame on th flavor for my tastes, a lot of people enjoyed it.

20140425_195131

Salmon with carrot-ginger broth, salmon caviar, and parsnip puree

Okay. The salmon was clearly made ahead of time, because it was a little overcooked and chalky and the skin, while pleasantly salty, was soggy instead of crisp. However, the broth was delicious – very sweet with a little gingery kick that was slightly reminiscent of Indian food – some freshly cracked black pepper added a deep and savory edge. The puree, interspersed with fresh spinach, is earthy and creamy – perfect to sop up those gingery juices. The salmon roe atop is a luxurious, salty touch.

20140425_204039

Chcoloate truffle cake

The high point of the night. Dense and chocolaty, more on the milk than the dark side of things. It tastes so comforting and honey, like grandma’s cake might taste. It’s topped with some light, airy, freshly whipped cream and the frosting is so fudgy that you might want seconds.

Don’t worry, you can get a girdle for the dress.

Was this the best meal that I ever ate? No, of course it wasn’t. It was made to please a lot of people, some of it was made ahead of time, and the flavors were far too bland for my tastes.

So why would I recommend this place? Because it is a perfect rehearsal dinner spot. Everyone liked it and some people loved it. My dad couldn’t get enough of the dessert and my husband (WOW…THAT’S STILL SO COOL TO SAY!) doused the soup with hot sauce than actually lifted it to his lips to lick the bowl. The service was excellent, speeches were uninterrupted, and drinks were constantly replenished.  They even offered t let us take home the bottles of wine that we didn’t’ finish! The prices are extremely reasonable for the city, and it’s a really perfect spot to sit with old and new friends and family for a relaxing night. The vibe is nice but extremely laid back and don’t forget chow down on the cake and an insanely delicious cheesy breadstick from the bread basket.

Next up: lunch at Bouchon!