Blue Smoke – My Favorite BBQ in NYC

I’m not a big one for BBQ. I would almost always rather have the Korean version or some steak. But, when the group wants some ribs and beers, I can hunker down with the best of them. This particular group voted to try Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke.

20141109_182410 This restaurant is huge and casual – big bar playing sports on the televisions, massive tables, and Texan sized booths. This is perfect for a rowdy crowd of friends, a family with young kids, or some folks who want some wings and beer while they watch the game.


20141109_184455 BBQ potato chips with blue cheese bacon dip

Sleeper hit of my LIFE! This is almost perfect - greaseless, crispy chips that are HUGE, smoky, and a little sweet. Then they are dipped in some of the greatest blue cheese dressing that I have ever enjoyed. I mean, really…excellent dressing. Super tick and tangy with hunks of salty, funky cheese, sharp chives, and crispy bacon crumbles. The only way that this could be better is if the chips were warm, which the menu stated that they should be. These are a MUST GET.
20141109_191320 Grits

Soupier than I normally have, but delicious. A little sweet, super buttery,and the perfect vehicle for the vineagary house made hot sauce.  20141109_191325 Sampler platter

A must get if , like me, you are new to this ‘cue.

Backyard chicken – surprisingly delicious! The chicken is charred and smoky, with a hefty dose of salt and pepper. Teh meat inside is juicy and prime for the tangy housemade bbq sauce.

Sausage – I wasn’t even fast enough to snag this.

Pulled pork – excellent. Tender but not cottony with an equal balance of meat, spicy, tangy, and savory flavors. Didn’t need any other accompaniment.

Ribs – the best. I would get these baby backs again any day of the week. Sublime - almost as good as Chinese ribs. A thickly burnished, lacquered surface with fatty, soft, meaty flesh. The favorite of the platter, especially when enjoyed with the sweet and salty pickles.

20141109_200213 Chocolate layer cake

Nothing that great – a little dry, a little flat in the flavor department. The banana cream pie fares much better, but best of all is the espresso, served with a side of amaretto.

This place is great! It’ ain’t REAL down home ‘cue, but it beats the heck out of Dinosaur and it certainly scratches the itch for some great ribs and grits.

Upland – A Tasty, if Pricey, Neighborhood Bistro

First the moral: Don’t run to a new restaurant just because it’s on Eater’s hot list.

Now the story:

Last Saturday night, we rushed to our reservation at Upland, the much buzzed about new restaurant by chef Justin Smille, lately of Il Buco Alimentari. It’s a seasonal restaurant with California twists from his native Upland. I used to do improv matches in Upland all the time, so I was obviously eager to see how someone could make my hometown comfort food seem high end and special.

Upland is casual but trendy, with a long, oval bar and plenty of seating. The space is dark but not too much so, and seems perfect for a double date or a quick appetizer with friends before hitting the town.

20141108_190739 Potato bread and butter with smoked salt, chives, and lemon zest

A high point of the evening. The bread arrives warm and light, with a fluffy but not cottony texture. The butter melts quickly on the bread, imparting a slightly sharp, slightly citrusy scent to the bread. We devoured this loaf and would have gladly asked for another.  20141108_193652 Beef tartare with puffed rice, anchovy, and egg yolk

Meh. The seasoning is all off for me – mushrooms make it earthy to the point of tasting like dirt. The puffed rice seems textually incongruent and the whole thing lacks salt and spice. Some tabasco sauce or lemon juice would do wonders for this, because the beef is tender and hand cut and the yolk is wonderfully rich. Unfortunately, this falls way flat for me.  20141108_193701 Crispy artichokes

Very good, if uninspired. The artichokes come in full, meaty bites with clumps of super crispy leaves. They are like potato chips, but even better because of their garlicky-buttery-lemony bath. They aren’t too greasy or too salty – bar food done really  well.  20141108_195736 Farro spaghetti with uni, scallion, and sesame

The best entree that we ordered (skip the branzino, which is fine but nothing more.) The pasta comes chilled and is naturally al dente, with a lovely, wheaty taste. It contrasts well with the briny, clean, almost sweet uni. This must be Santa Barbara uni, judging from its mild flavor. The cold, chewy pasta is tempered with nutty sesame oil, sharp scallions,and just a hint of heat. This is an excellent dish - while not destination worthy, its certainly a must get if you are here.
20141108_203801 Cinnamon sugar doughnuts

Warm, light, sweet. Very tasty, especially with the stracciatella ice cream.

20141108_190338 If this meal were half the price, I would declare it a triumph. However, for the pacing and the price…well, this is just not a great value. The food tastes like a very good neighborhood spot, but the hype is that it’s the second coming of you-know who. If this were billed as what it is – a lovely neighborhood joint – I would have loved it. So, if you go there with those expectations and very deep pockets – you will be impressed. And don’t miss the carbs here – bread, spaghetti, and doughnuts make a mighty fine meal here.

Upland on Urbanspoon

Dinner at Juni is a Journey

Juni is not for everyone.

Which is not normally how I start the review of a Michelin starred chef’s (Shaun Hergatt’s) restaurant.

But it isn’t. You have to like fish. You have to like strange textures. You have to like being out of your element, and you even have to like sometimes not liking the food.

You have to love the journey.

And then you will love Juni.

The restaurant is located in a hotel – it has a modern, low key decor that could be any mid-upscale restaurant in any city. It’s nothing special.

And then the food starts to come.


20140809_192911 Baguette with green olive tapenade and saffron aioli

The saffron aioli is fragrant and reminiscent of paella – it’s heady and rich, to much for some people but just perfect for me. The tapenade is a wholly different experience. There is no taste of olives at all – it is salty, but not briny or slightly bitter like olives sometimes are. The tapenade is incredibly garlicky, salty, and is almost like a very smooth pesto. The warm baguette absorbs the savory flavors and the emulsion just sinks into the crevices of the bread, making it a flavor bomb before the meal even officially starts.  20140809_193851 Goat cheese and carrot chip

Yep. The cheese is dense and a little tangy, and the chip is extremely brittle, almost melting into a sugary sweet, carrot-y taste. It’s fun and unexpected – I have rarely had anything so simple yet so well-balanced to start a long meal.

20140809_194244 Raw zucchini with tomatoes and cucumber gelee

This man loves vegetables and it shows. Here, a pristine zucchini, no longer than my forefinger, is hollowed and filled with earthy, ripe tomatoes confit and jiggly cubes of light, almost sweet cucumber gelee. It’s all about the pure taste of the vegetables, which are at their peaks this time of year. It couldn’t be more delightful.
20140809_194703 Beets

A gelatin bonbon that is for all the world like beet jello. Earthy, tangy, extremely beet-y. Loved it.  20140809_195036 Chicken skin

But it’s vegetarian, made with oats. Tastes JUST like chicken skin. The best part of fried chicken. I could chomp this like popcorn.  20140809_195233 Ham and cheese sandwich

With crispy Iberico  ham and very sharp cheese spread. Cheese Whiz this ain’t!

For the tasting, I got the tomato tasting menu. It’s served though September and all that I can say is: GET IT!

20140809_195837 Tomato carpaccio with freeze-dried goat cheese

Soft, lush segments of tomatoes with the richness of sundried tomatoes but none of the salty flavor or leathery texture. The flavors of the earth and the powder texture of the freeze dried goat cheese work well together.
20140809_201603 Tomato gazpacho with toybox tomaotes

Well balanced – none of the abrasive, acidic punch of lesser versions. Smooth and thick, with tons of super sweet toybox tomatoes and a verdant, basil laden panna cotta in the middle.  20140809_202914 Halibut with tomato concasse

The best piece of halibut I have had in I don’t know how long. The flavors are simple and straightforward – fresh fish, sweet tomatoes, and a little hit of something spicy, but not overly hot. It’s light, it’s fresh, and it’s classic technique at its finest – no molecular gastronomy here, no smoke and mirrors. Just perfectly butchered and cooked fish that is mild and flaky, in a light tomato sauce.  20140809_204646 Braised lamb belly and tomatoes with pommes puree

Dish of the night. Shaun Hergatt himself came around to every single table and chatted with us about the dish. He was charming, jovial, and told us that we like it because it’s so much like American bbq. He started playing around with braising lamb belly until it is soft and melting in his 20s, and now finally got to put it on his menu. Layering it with bright and sweet tomatoes really gives it a bbq-sauce type of taste, and the cloud of potatoes is buttery and light – ideal with the fatty, tender lamb. This is dynamite.  20140809_211107 Goat cheese and caramel ice cream with tomato marmalade and candied pecans

Sweet and creamy. Like dulce de leche with a slightly piquant taste from the goat milk. Crunchy candied nuts and jammy, wonderfully sweet tomato marmalade. This tomato menu really fit the bill.

The whole meal was fascinating – I didn’t even show you the foie gras and cherry bon bon, the squid ink and truffle bites, or the burrata ice cream. Not everything was the best I’ve ever had, but it was all so interesting. I would totally recommend that a major foodie come here, because you have to want to try new and different things. Hyssop, lamb’s tongue, and oyster leaves (yep, they TOTALLY taste like oysters) were also on the table. The format has several different price points and the kitchen is super flexible. The staff is lovely, the chef himself is always in the kitchen (now, THAT’S a rarity, these days), and the food…I mean, we had bbq lamb in a fancy restaurant.

It really was one hell of a ride. 

Breakfast at Maialino

I have wanted to visit Danny Meyer’s Maialino since it opened. It’s supposed to have sensational rustic Italian food, with homemade pastas, fabulous antipasti, and of course its namesake crispy suckling pig face.

So, of course, I ended up there for breakfast when none of these items are offered. 

What I found was a meal that was way too expensive and yet…so delicious that I could totally see myself going again. 

Rent can be late this month, right?

20140806_082144 The restaurant itself is lovely – very large and spacious by NYC standards, with a casual bar upfront that serves fresh juices for breakfast. There is a large dining room that is covered with homey checkered tablecloths that feel like grandmas house and small dishes of excellent salt flakes that remind you that you are not.  The vibe is somewhere between business and foodie casual – it would be the perfect place to take a business lunch with a colleague who just happens to love great food.

20140806_084529

Robiolina with pickled onions and roe

Okay, this is the smallest dish for the price that I have ever seen. I can’t call it a value. It just isn’t. What it IS is really delicious. The toast is crunchy but thick enough to have some give under the toasted surface. It’s topped with a thin, creamy schmear of robiolina cheese – like a tangier cream cheese with a lighter, more airy texture. Its crowning touches are a few vinegary pickled onions, a drizzle of fruity olive oil, and some fresh, bursting with briny flavor trout roe. This is your bagel with novie gone high class and on a diet. It’s slim, it’s elegant, and it’s sophisticated. This is more of an amuse bouche than a whole meal, and it really is very pricey, but it’s delish.
20140806_084525 Scrapple ai Maialino

Now, THIS is fairly priced and something that I would order again and again. The hockey puck sized terrine looks dense, but beneath its thick, crackly crust is the loosely packed, sage scented, sweet and savory pork sausage of my DREAMS. It’s incredibly juicy and tender, with that pork flavor singing through, especially when lemon juice hits the patty, a la Wienerschnitzel.  20140806_084650 This stuff is as rich as a Kardashian and more enjoyable  as all of them put together. You won’t be able to eat a whole one unless you have a nap on the schedule immediately after breakfast – plan to share this with someone as a fabulous side dish.

I loved Maialino as much as I thought that I would, though I did get some sticker shock. I would love to go back for dinner and see if the portions make the prices a little easier to swallow – the food is surely delicious enough to warrant a second go-round. 

Sandwiches – America’s Pride and Joy

Quick break to say…Hi!!! I may be recapping Europe, but I am back in the good ole US of A and am indulging in what we do best:

Sandwiches. 

(and a couple of tacos)

Here is what I have been enjoying lately:

image (1) Al pastor tacos from Taqueria Diana

This East Village isn’t more than a  hole in the wall and the tacos cost less than $5 per, but they are delicious. Greasy and messy in the best way possible. The pork is slowly roasted on a spit with pineapple, then diced into sweet, salty, juicy hunks that fall apart if you look at them the wrong way. Get yours with some of the vibrant, cilantro-y guacamole and you won’t regret it. It’s not as spicy as I could take it, but nothing is, and this is as good sober as it is drunk – NOT true of all tacos!
image (2) Green chile mac and sliders from Mexicue

This Mad Square Eats spot was win and lose. The green chile mac is insipid and lacking in both real chile bite and sharp cheddary tang. The sandwiches, however, were great! The pulled chicken slider with cheese and pickles is juicy and bright with a vinegary, bright BBQ sauce. The brisket burnt ends chili is PHENOMENAL! Burnt ends are those wonderfully charred bits of meat and fat that get incinerated when a large brisket is cooked. They are only improved by the addition of a chipotle-rich sauce, horseradish crema, and some pickled jalapenos. Slap it all on a soft potato bun and y’all are in business.  image (3) Pomme Palais roast beef sandwich

Because trust fund babies want to eat well, too. This isn’t insanely expensive – it’s what you might be spending at a casual sit down place in the East Village, but the shop is cute enough to eat in and the sandwiches are GOOD. The roast beef is juicy and tastes like a great steak sandwich. It sits on bread that is floury and substantial enough to house the nutty Gruyere and horseradish mayo, but still tears apart easily. This is filling but not heavy – I work for the place, but I have gone back here and paid full price to eat it more than once.

image Fish tacos at El Toro Blanco

Shi-shi but really delish. Mild, flaky cod inside a puffy, crispy beer batter. It’s served in warmed flour tortillas with radishes, buttery avocado, and just a smidge of jalapeno aioli. So many places bury their delicious fish under mountains of goopy sauces – not necessary when the ingredients are so fresh and tasty. A squirt of lime is all that’s needed to complete this plate.

Craftbar Excels at Restaurant Week

Restaurant Week can sometimes be…how to put this… a scam.

Fancy, big name restaurants put out “special” menus to feed to the hungry masses at a reduced prix fixe cost. Though this sounds great – a chance to dine at a world renowned, Michelin-starred or Top Chef helmed restaurant for only $25 at lunch – it is often a let down. A harried staff pushes out more meals than it can handle, there are add ons and up-charges that make the price skyrocket, and the food itself is often sub par, banquet hall quality food prepared for the masses.

Can you tell I’ve been burned?

However, I had one Restaurant Week meal that shone brightly, competing with any lunch I have had in recent memory, snd at a much better price.

I have reviewed Craftbar before, but this meal is so exemplary that it deserves special recognition.

First, the (very short) list of cons:

-No bread basket

-Several different servers during the meal (although they were all extremely skilled and efficient without rushing us)

Now onto the pros:

IMG_20140306_133644_381

Marinated chickpea salad with yogurt, eggplant, and pickled red onions

Tender standard chickpeas and nutty, slightly chewy black chickpeas in a bright, slighty spicy chile and lemon vinaigrette. The underlying yogurt is silky and thick and the eggplant is soft while the pickled onions add the appropriate amount of acid to the dish. This is Mediterranean without being in-yo-face about it. It’s just  fresh ingredients put together in an interesting and thoughtful way. I wish I had some of those breadsticks usually offered to eat with this, but ah well.

IMG_20140306_135438_158

Mussels with chiles, Szechuan peppercorns, and kaffir lime

This is an ideal warming, wintry lunch. Not as fiery or salty as yu might get from Kin Shop, but that’s okay. As with the chickpea salad, this isn’t meant to represent a specific kind of food. It’s meant to take Asian influences and apply them in a careful, delicately balanced way. The mussels are almost all open, cooked until juicy and plump. They are in a light, chili flecked broth that is more filled with garlic and fennel than fish sauce. The Szechuan peppercorns give their signature tongue tingling effect, and the broth is easily sopped up with the two fluffy pieces of upscale Texas toast. The portion is ideal – enough to fill you yet not so much that it will weigh you down after lunch.

IMG_20140306_141524_005

Lemon poppyseed cake

Moist, tart, and sweet. I don’t know if poppyseeds have a taste, but I love them anyway. Totally worth having to floss your teeth for an hour after you eat it.

For $25 before tax and tip, this is my favorite pick for Restaurant Week. It’s done so well, with a large variety of menu choices, including several of the restaurant’s signature dishes. The service is great, the food is delicious, and the price is right.

Now, someone bring me some floss, because those poppy seeds are definitely still all over my teeth. 

A New Look at Some Old Joints

I can’t go out and eat at new restaurants every night, can I ? After all, just last night I made my favorite kale and tomato recipe (added some sausage, nixed the beans) – sometimes, you just need to revisit an old favorite menu or recipe because nothing else will do. With that in mind, here are some little known dishes from previously blogged restaurants:

2013-02-12_10-33-39_925 (1) Mexico City Chilaquiles at Rosa Mexicano

The only reason this isn’t blogged is that the review was already lengthy. This stuff is wonderful – not quite up to my Arizonan past, but leagues better than most of the Mexican food in the city. The sauce is creamy but not gloppy or heave, and is at turns tart, spicy, and savory. I could – and did! – lap it up with a spoon. I’m not a major fan of ham, but this steak is mild, thin, and very crispy underneath the well scrambled (read – not rubber) eggs and super crispy tortilla strips. This is a very hearty breakfast and only needs a couple of Bloody Marias to make it a brunch worth repeating.
IMG_20140128_131801_015 (1) Kale salad at Blossom

Okay, usually I like the more indulgent food here, the stuff that tastes really indulgent and dirty. But every now and then – you know, when my  pants are especially tight  and my face looks like it’s bloated in a fun house mirror – I need something that is a little healthier. Enter the kale salad. the kale is obviously massaged within an inch of its life, because it’s very soft and tender. It’s layered with diced red pepper, creamy avocado, and the creamiest, nuttiest, wonderfully salty tahini salad dressing. It’s very light, which is sometimes just what you need. This is so addictive that I actually had it twice in one day.

If you order it for delivery, then they can’t tell that it’s you and make fun of you.
IMG_20140127_183217_958 (1) Bolognese at Lincoln

I mean, what IS this stuff?! It’s utterly fabulous! Veal, pork, and beef cooked in a bright tomato sauce. Oftentimes, bolognese is heavy and filing, but the abundance of acidic, juicy tomatoes really broke up the meaty, earthy taste of the meat. the pasta is in long, lasagna-like noodles that perfectly capture the juicy meat and salty Pecorino cheese. This will only be around while the restaurant features the Emilia-Romagna part of Italy, so get it while it’s hot! A new part of the country soon take center stage at the menu and you don’t want to let this gem go untasted!

NoMad – Is the Emperor Wearing Any Clothes?

If you want to read about the greatest meal I have had in awhile…go back and read the Mas (la grillade) report from yesterday.

Because this review isn’t really a love letter.

Even though I could have sworn that it would be…I ate at a restaurant I have wanted to experience for a year. I was expecting culinary fireworks, and what I got were a few sparks but mostly a dull flame.

NoMad is Daniel Humm’s and Will Guidara’s whimsical restaurant. The Eleven Madison Park alum created the hit of the 2012 restaurant season with decadent takes on classic foods like chicken, bread, and even radishes.  It has a downtown meets uptown gothic vibe – dark velvets paired with a soaring atrium and modern music paired with excellent, formal service. It was – and still is – such a hot reservation that you either have to know someone, make a reservation 30 days out, or eat incredibly early.

Hey, when it gets dark at 4:00 PM, I can eat by 5:45 at night!

photo 3 (3)

Start with one of the excellent cocktails. The Sippy Cup with vermouth, Averna, ginger, and lime, is like a tomato-less Bloody Mary. The ginger kick is strong and spicy, with a fragrant, herbal backbone from the Averna and the bright note of lime. It’s the ideal aperitif – it sparks the appetite, whets the palate, and prepares tour stomach for the meal to come.

photo 1 (7)

Radishes and butter

The restaurant’s signature appetizer and a truly delicious one. The radish is dipped in a super rich, thick butter flavored ganache and there is a small pile of coarse salt crystals in which to dip the butter. It’s different from just plain butter - it really is thicker, more intense, more buttery than…butter itself.

It’s expensive, but worth it not just for the taste but for the novelty.

photo 5 (4)

Fruits de Mer

Here’s where I stop drinking the Kool Aid. This plateau is phenomenal in variety and quality. The oysters are briny but still creamy, with an icy champagne gratine. The uni panna cotta with salty nuggets of caviar is so mild that it has just the faintest suggestion of the sea – soothing and rich. The scallops with lime and pistachio are tender and fresh as can be and the king crab is totally genius – a citrus-y poached crab with creamy foam stuffed back into the claw to resemble its appearance when whole. But…wow. This is an expensive dish. I get that this stuff is expensive and that the chefs do careful and excellent work on it. However..it’s tiny. So tiny. It wouldn’t even make a dent in my blood sugar let alone curb my appetite.

photo 4 (3)

King crab tagliatelle

My favorite dish of the night, and the one worth going back for. So simple – fresh, eggy tagliatelle, mild, sweet king crab, and a plethora of butter. Enough to stop my heart. Enough to make my heart sing. This is the buttered noodles of your youth upped a notch. The crab is so tender, so mild, so wonderfully rich and tasty. I can’t imagine a more delicious pasta dish. It’s comforting and interesting with just enough salt and the most soothing, lush texture. If you go, please get this.

And, once again, get the big portion. Because even that is JUST about enough to share as an appetizer.

photo 5 (3)

Brussels sprouts with hazelnuts, apple, and bacon

Very good but nothing that I haven’t made at home. Crispy sprouts, sweet apples, smoky bacon, and crunchy hazelnuts. A great balance of flavors and textures, to be sure – it just paled in comparison to other courses.

photo 2 (5)

Broccoli roasted with lardo, lemon, and Parmesan

Some fabulous broccoli – the finest I have had since Amaya in London many years ago. It’s roasted at such a high temperature that it gets incredibly crispy without burning. It’s tender at the core but so crunchy outside that it’s almost like a high fiber potato chip. Served atop a verdant broccoli puree, it is broccoli in stereo, coming at you from all angles. The lemon and Parmesan are generously applied, adding bright, salty, and nutty flavors. The lardo is used more sparingly, but its sweet, porcine flavor literally melts onto the brocoli and really infuses the veggies with a meaty, deep flavor.

HOWEVER…

The portion is so lilliputian that my sister actually turned to me and said “you have GOT to be kidding me.” It was a size that is appropriate for a hungry 6 year old. NOT a remotely peckish adolescent, let alone an adult. I totally get small portions in a tasting menu or reasonable portions so you don’t feel sick when you leave a restaurant. I understand high prices for big ticket items like foie gras or labor intensive preparations. But this. is. insane. It’s just too much money for too little food.

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Roasted chicken with foie gras, brioche, and truffles, served 2 ways

The dark meat is served with crispy chicken skin and a poached egg – it’s wonderful.

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Juicy, tender, and succulent with a supremely poached egg and addictive salty bits of chicken skin. It’s familiar yet totally elevated – you ain’t never had no chicken and dumplings like these.

photo 3 (2)

The breast is good, if a little dry. It’s a wee bit salty and the foie gras flavor is mostly lost in the stuffing. The truffles are a wonderful counterpart to the very fresh white meat, but it isn’t the ethereal chicken of Olympus that it has been purported to be. 

And it isn’t worth the money. I’m so sorry, but it just isn’t.

The desserts are so unmemorable that I can’t even spend time on reporting on them.

Especially since we weren’t gifted the neat macarons that tables on both sides of us got to try.

Maybe we didn’t order enough wine to warrant them? (There is an amazing wine by the glass selection, including the chance to try incredible wines that you would normally never get to drink by the glass).

For whatever reason, it left a bad taste in my mouth even after a very tasty meal.

But tasty doesn’t cut it for the price tag. Or the wait to get a reservation. Or the hype. It just doesn’t cut it for something that I have waited for for a year. I would have enjoyed it a lot more without the hype and with the caveat “get a drink and some appetizers – and bring your gold card. I can’t say that I would recommend this place for anything other than a cocktail, the radishes, and a bowl of that insanely delicious pasta. Nothing  else really stands out.

NoMad is just a case of the Emperor new clothes. And – spoiler alert – he isn’t wearing any. And they still cost him a ton of money.

The NoMad on Urbanspoon

Craftbar – No Wonder it’s Still Around

Sometimes, when you eat at a restaurant you just say to yourself – “oh, no wonder.”

And that’s what I said when I ate at Craftbar .

IMG_20131030_122815_658 This Tom Colicchio restaurant practically screams flatiron with its low-key, upscale atmosphere. It’s large and spacious, with a few tall communal tables and a section that can be partitioned for private parties. It is minimalist but warm, and relaxed enough for a quick lunch but chic enough for a birthday dinner. It’s elegant without being pretentious.

IMG_20131030_123037_279 Breadsticks

A simple, well done dish. Cheesy, crunchy, and just salty enough to make my mouth water for the upcoming meal.  I ate way too many.
IMG_20131030_124421_853 Pig’s head terrine

A totally fabulous terrine. Some terrines can be bouncy, gristly, or way too gamy tasting.

This is none of the above.

It’s soft and mild, with tender bits of sweet pork. It’s topped with pickled chiles that are spicy but not crazy hot, and the pickeld vegetables alongside cut right through the rich meat. It is really mild – even more so than pate – and is spreadable onto the tangy bread. It’s a fantastic rendition of a popular dish.

IMG_20131030_124426_885 Beets with yogurt and pistachios

So well done. freshly roasted beets have a different texture than canned ones – they are tender, but al dente, with a really sweet taste – almost like sugar. These are served room temperature and topped with fragrant dill, crunchy pistachios, and creamy, fatty yogurt. The dill is really the kicker here - it uplifts the hearty dish and gives it a brightness.

IMG_20131030_130757_552 Dorade with pickled eggplant, chervil, white beans, and preserved lemon

Well prepared fish. Nothing earth shattering, but very well done. Flaky, crispy skinned fish atop vinegary, pleasantly salty eggplant. The white beans are al dente and creamy at once, and the topping of chervil provides an unexpected sweet, licorice-y note. The lemon is a nice pop of acid, and the fish is a good sized portion.

So, no wonder. No wonder, Colicchio is considered to be a trendsetter. No wonder he is on Top Chef. No wonder this restaurant has enjoyed such longevity. No wonder.

Because those these items seem old hat now, they were the newest things on the block when Craftbar opened.

And they are still some of the best renditions around.

Craftbar on Urbanspoon

Mad Square Eats – Bring Your Stretchy Pants

After many years of letting this semi-annual event pass me by, I finally dragged myself to Madison Square Eats

And then I had to roll myself home.

This foodie haven consists of various restaurants, carts, and food purveyors who gather near Madison Square Park for a month each season to stuff you with all the goodies your blood pressure can handle. We went on a Tuesday night and it was relatively crowded, so leave the Saturday nights to chumps and go there early in the morning if you must make this trip a weekend one. However, that night, the crowds were manageable. We even managed to score a small table (by watching its dawdling inhabitants like hawks).

And the food. Was. Great!

Roberta’s

IMG_20131001_200837_109 First and foremost, we visited this station because, really…how could we not? Roberta’s is known for its pizza, and it really delivers. Thin, supple crust with an earthy, deep char that makes even a  vegetarian pie taste meaty and satisfying.  IMG_20131001_200827_219 I must be the only person on the planet who does not love the Bee sting – the sauce is sensational – really spicy – but the honey is just too prevalent for my tastes. I’m not a fan. The special Supe Lace pizza, above, however, is dynamite. I can’t get over the crust – its’ just masterful. The sauce is bright and so vibrant that it’s practically alive, (in a good way, not a creepy way) and the cheese is both plentiful and tasty, but really…it’s the crust that takes the cake. It’s so delicious that I am literally dreaming of it. No matter how long this line is stand on it.

And get two pies at least.

I mean, we’re not fooling around here.

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Delaney BBQ taco stand.

So delicious that I ACTUALLY almost cried. That freakin awesome.

IMG_20131001_194820_056 Their brisket is just so good. Tender, juicy, and really well seasoned – salt and pepper in every bite. It has a satisfying steak-like chew and it’s expertly  hand chopped. But the best part here are the accouterments. The soft, pliant tortilla, the acidic onions, the sharp cheese melting int he warmth and that chile sauce.

Be still, my heart.

That. Chile. SAUCE. Seriously wonderful. It isn’t hot at all, just heartily spiced with roasted chiles, cumin, and garlic. It reminds me of Taco Bell in the best way possible (is there a bad way to remind one of Tco Bell?)

I wolfed it down.

Trust me, you will, too.

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Vinh Dog at AsiaDog

IMG_20131001_194154_190 This banh mi style dog is da BOMB mi.

Yes, I went there. It’s my blog, so I can do stuff like that.

Anyway, AsiaDog is really great! The hot dogs are juicy and not too salty, with an audible “snap” as you bite into them. The buns are well buttered ant toasted, adding to the taste and texture of the dish instead of just being a supporting player. At first, the cold, crisp vegetables are a little odd, temperature wise, next to the dog, but by the third bite, you will be hooked. They could have a heavier hadn with the pate but a little squirt of sriracha and mustard helps bring the umami flavor home. I would totally go back to Asia Dog and highly recommend it!They were also extremely fast in delivering your food.

I didn’t’ even get to half  of the eats that I tasted or half of the food that was offered! Brig some cash and bring some stretchy pants – and don’t wait as long as I did to get to Mad Square Eats!