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. 

Sushi Dojo – The Best Sushi Deal in NYC

Here’s the short version – if you want high end, expertly prepared, traditional sushi at a superb price, run, don’t walk, to Sushi Dojo. It isn’t the best in town, but it’s absolutely the best for your money.

Here’s the long version:

Sushi Dojo is somewhat of a renegade on the high-end sushi scene. It’s run by David Bouhadana, a young, Caucasian sushi chef who works behind the counter the whole night with his staff, kibbitzing with regulars and blasting current rock music that seems like it would be more at home at a hip Tribeca coffee shop than a hallowed temple of sushi and sashimi. The restaurant is quite small, with only a few tables and a long sushi bar, and the sushi bar’s seats are…wait for it…comfortable and wide, with tall leather backs. Now, this is something that I could get used to – how often have you emerged from an othewise delicious and luxurious sushi experience only to have a backache from the miserable, hard stools that the establishment provides?

The vibe was actually perfect for our girls night out – less so for a romantic date or quiet meeting. I’m telling you, the chefs were chatty  and jovial and we never once felt out of place with our boisterous laughter.

20140812_185944 Fried shisito peppers

Totally unnecessary but expertly made – the lightest, crispest batter I could imagine with very spicy, zingy peppers – these are only for lovers of spicy food. Some aren’t too spicy, but some are – so let’s not play Russian Roulette if you aren’t up for the game, okay?

And then the sushi begins – 10 pieces for $45. That’s right, 10 pieces of this glimmering, beautiful, sushi for $45. That is a fantastic price. Just look at this stuff: 20140812_190435 Snapper

Light, clean, with a melting texture. This is the ideal appetizing bite to start a meal, and the vinegar-y, barely warm rice highlights the fish’s individual tastes.  20140812_190614 Mackerel

Thick, richer than the fish before, buttery.
20140812_191127 Tuna

Lean, tender, mild. 
20140812_191710 Tasmanian trout

So much milder than salmon, with an almost sweet finish and buttery texture.  20140812_191848 Toro

Soft, lush, just rich enough without being too fatty. Beautifully cut.
20140812_192012 Uni

Santa Barbara Uni, the best in the world to my palate. Soft and airy, with the vaguest briny, sea-water aftertaste that leaves a clean, fresh finish on the tongue.
20140812_192431 Eel

Steak like and rich. I could have used a little more eel sauce, but then – I love that sweet stuff. This is an excellent, meaty cut of eel.  20140812_192802 Aji

Always one of my favorite fish. Very clean and pleasantly salty, in super thin slices that fairly melt into the rice.

20140812_193233 Fried shrimp head

The hit of the night! We got this after an (unpictured) excellent raw shrimp nigiri, and were instructed to eat the whole thing. So, we did. The best fish and chips meets crispy potato chip tentacles. Yes, that’s exactly what it tasted like. Tender, crunchy, buttery, and salty. I could snack on these each and every day! 20140812_193449 Anchovy

A little strong for my taste, but that’s just personal preference – the fish is presented beautifully and the wasabi is fresh and nasal clearing.  20140812_193851 O-Toro

As rich as they come. Almost white with fat and so incredibly rich that we just sat in shock for a few moments after eating it. The perfect way to end any sushi meal.

We went for the 15 course sushi menu, which is $80 per person, and not quite the steal as the $45 omakase. On another night, I would absolutely get the $45 menu. That’s where we got the uni, the eel, and the toro – they don’t give you cheap or ill cut fish on the less expensive menu. It’s a tremendous value for sushi that might not be the best in the city, but is heads and tails above most places that charge at least as much, if not more.  It lacks the innovation of Gari or the “je ne sais quoi”  quality of the holy grail of fish that is Nakazawa, but it is really right behind them. I would call this a wonderful place to take someone who is already a sushi enthusiast – the atmosphere is so atypical and the chefs are so talkative and friendly that anyone who has spent a kajillion dollars on high end sushi in the past will appreciate this unique and ultra delicious experience.

So, long story short: Sushi Dojo could easily become a somewhat affordable obsession.

Skip These Dishes at These Excellent Restaurants

I tend to only write about the restaurants I love. Because, unless the errors are really egrigious or a restaurant htat has been lauded is so not worth your time and money and I think that you should actively avoid it.

However, many good restaurants – even great restaurants – have one or two clunker dishes. Dishes that, if you orer them, may color your view of an otherwise excellent restaurant.

So, when visiting these restaurants, you should avoid these dishes:

20140601_182341 Red Farm fried lobster and cheese sticks

To be honest, this whole meal was kinda a disappointing. But these cheese sticks were by FAR the most miserable item that we ordered. Yes, miserable. Fishy lobster. I can’t even remember any other taste, because the lobster was so offensively awful. It tastes fake, rotten, foul…ugh. And maybe that’s why the rest of the meal was disappointing. I need to go back and enjoy a meal without the gross taste of bad shellfish in my mouth.
20140609_192830 Fabrick red snapper ceviche

Loved this meal – hated this dish. Weird, fishy, off taste (in case you can’t guess, anything less than totally pristine seafood is my major gustatory bugaboo) and the fish skin was not crispy enough so it turned rather soggy. By all means, skip this and order the lovely flatbread or the addictive candied bacon.
20140704_184348 Minetta Tavern oxtail and foie gras terrine

High end cat food. Bizarre, slimy texture that is so dense that the meat itself almost gasps for air. The flavors are muddied and it seems like a waste of excellent ingredients. Do yourself a favor and order a different appetizer from the excellent menu.
20140705_114241 Russ and Daughters Cafe new Holland herring

This just tastes like a big ole slimeball with a visually displeasing tail and some rather tickly bones. I so badly wanted to love this. I know that all over Asmterdam this is considered a delicacy and that these particularly tender and mild herring only come in for a few weeks every year. The lines can wrap around the corner of the Russ and Daughters shop when word comes in that this stuff is in stock. And…yet…I just couldn’t get into this. Oh well, more for you.

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. 

Dates, Booze, and Haggis Crisps!

Here are some tasty treats I have enjoyed at home recently – be aware, a couple of them are from the honeymoon and so will have to be ordered online if you want to try them.

20140508_154105 Bateel

This shop on posh New Bond street in London is a treasure trove for foodies from the USA. It specializes in all things date – at least 5 varieties that I have never even heard of, and they all come from Saudi Arabia. What’s the last time that you had a date from Saudi Arabia? They range from taut and juicy to sticky and sweet, with the thinnest skins I have ever tasted. These dates are unlike any I have had in the USA, and you can get them enrobed in chocolate, laid in marzipan, or baked into cookies. Whatever dates you desire, Bateel can deliver. This is always my first stop in London and I never escape without spending waaay too much money.
20140630_190300 BuzzBar

These alcoholic ice cream bars premiered at the Fancy Food show and they have the alcohol equivalent of half a mixed drink. They are also DELICUIOUS…just like your favorite Haagen Dazs bar infused with a slight kick of your favorite alcohol. I loved the vanilla and cognac bar, with its creamy interior and thick, crispy chocolate coating. Check out the site for more flavors and lets all pray together that this comes to stores soon – because happy hour with ice cream is so much happier. 

haggis & cracked black pepper

Haggis potato chips (photo from website)

Oh. Em. Gee. I love Haggis, the offal and oatmeal mixture boiled in a sheep’s stomach. It tastes like scrapple mixed with stuffed derma, and I could eat it every night for dinner. But, if you are squeamish about things like lungs (weirdo…), get your fix with these awesome chips from Scotland! They are thick cut and very peppery – much more so than American chips, which always seem to go light on the pepper. The haggis flavor comes through in meaty, savory flavors – it’s a potato chip with the aftertaste of steak. But in a good way, not the weird way that it sounds. These are SO fantastic dipped in sour cream or eaten next to a burger.

Or, you know, straight out of the bag

Happy eating weekend!

Orange Zest Gremolata

So you have some short ribs? A pot roast? Roast chicken, veal shank, or roast pork?

Those are all delicious, but they aren’t what I would call light. They are a little heavy, a little rich. They might need something to cut through the fat.

Something like this:

Red Wine and Tomato Braised Shor Ribs with Gremolata: Part Two

IMG_1059 Ingredients:

zest of 1/2 orange

1 clove garlic, pasted with salt

2 tbsp. finely minced flat leaf italian parsley

IMG_1062 1. Mix it then use it liberally.  I had heard of this but had never used it before and had to consult a couple of recipes to develop my own, so this absolutely counts as a recipe in my book – albeit a super fast one. I made it like pico de gallo, with equal proportions of all ingredients. It’s salty, fragrant, grassy, and a little spicy. It perks up any slow cooked meat instantly, and as the heat of the protein hits the gremolata, the sweet orange scent wafts up and the garlic instantly mellows and becomes savory. I can’t recommend this enough – in fact, I would even use it with poached salmon and tartar sauce or broccoli and béarnaise.
IMG_1067 So simple, but it makes a great meal a gourmet one.

Red Wine and Tomato Braised Short Ribs

Mkay, so what we have here is a VERY involved recipe. So involved, in fact, that it will be written in 2 parts.

It’s taken equal parts from Serious Eats, Pioneer Woman, and my mom’s brisket recipes.

It takes forever to make and it isn’t especially cheap, but wow does it deliver for a big dinner party.

Red Wine and TomatoBraised Short Ribs with Gremolata, Part 1:

short ribs cuke soup Ingredients:

6 lb.s bone in short ribs, salted and peppered

zest or peel of 1 orange

2 cups red wine

2-4 cups beef stock

2 onions, diced

1 bunch celery, diced

3 garlic cloves, diced

3 bay leaves

a few sprigs each rosemary and thyme

1 cup flour, to dredge

1 small can tomato paste

3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup ketchup

1 glug balsamic vinegar

1/2 package bacon

IMG_0990 1. Put the bacon in a large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed, oven safe pan with a tight fitting lid. Cook it slowly over medium heat until the fat is totally rendered and the bacon is quite crispy. This should take about 15 minutes – when the bacon is finished, take it out of the pan with a slotted spoon, turn off the oven, and leave the grease in the pan. Put the oven to 325F.

IMG_0987 2. Toss the short ribs in the flour so they are all totally coated. Turn the greased pot back on high heat until it smokes.

IMG_0995 3. Put the short ribs in the pot, 2 or 3 at a time so they don’t touch each other, and sear on each side for about 2 minutes. This is just to sear in the juices, not to cook the meat. Then, remove them to a plate and turn the heat slightly down to medium high.

IMG_1018 4. Add the celery, onions, and garlic, and cook until they are translucent and softened, though not browned. This should take about 10 minutes.

IMG_1024 5. Add the wine, cooked bacon, tomato paste, ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, orange peel, and herbs. Turn the pot on high and bring to a simmer.

IMG_1036 6. Add the beef and…

IMG_1040 the stock. Make sure that the bones are 100% or almost 100% covered.

IMG_1055 7. Cover and cook for about 3 hours, or until the beef slips off the bone easily and is incredibly tender.

IMG_1087 8. Pick out the bay leafs and the herb stems. They are usually pretty easily found, but if it’s driving you up a wall, don’t worry about it.

IMG_1092 9. Take out the meat and the bones – by this point, the meat may have fallen off of the bones. Or, if you want, you can slip the bones out – they should slide out quite easily.

IMG_1103 10. Using a stick blender, puree the broth completely. It will turn quite frothy. Then, skim the fat (mostly that upper frothy stuff, and taste for seasonings.

20140803_202314 11. Serve with polenta, garlicky spinach, and roasted carrots.

These are just delicious. Tender, hearty, and bursting with flavor. The faint backnote of orange is sweet; it melds with the tangy balsamic vinegar and jammy tomato paste. The sauce develops its salty flavor as it sits, especially overnight, so be judicious with that Worcestershire sauce. Speaking of which, this is GREAT as a make ahead dish – it’s even better as leftovers than it is the day that it is made. The gravy is thick and hearty – perfect with some creamy polenta. And that ketchup is the secret ingredient – it adds a sweet, tangy dimension that brings in some bbq flavor.
20140803_202321 The only thing it’s missing is some brightness. But…oh wait…what’s that on top?

Stay tuned.

Benihana – Making My Birthday One to Remember!

Okay, so I indulged in one of my favorite, basest pleasures on the night that I turned 30.

It involved a ton of grease, a sweaty man performing tricks, and a private room.

Get your mind out of the gutter.

We went to BENIHANA!

I haven’t been here for YEARS. I used to love these sort of teppan yaki places – jovial waitstaff, food for days, onions that turned into volcanos (though sadly the volcanos these days have no real fire – seems that one too many drunk ladies set her hair on fire.

I really do miss those volcanos.

But everything else is totally the same as my suburban youth! I mean, it’s like time has stood still, from the dark interiors to the white clothed chefs!

20140801_210811

It’s still dinner and a show!

20140801_212404 The chef flirts with you and your friends shamelessly and, yes, is very handy with a spatula.

20140801_204940 Onion soup

Tasteless – totally limp scallions and raw mushrooms. The soup tastes really minerally and meaty in a rather abrasive way – this was really the low point. But it was included with the meal - I didn’t even remember that restaurants still included things with meals. We got this with the price of our entree…what’s the last time THAT happened to you?
20140801_205459 Ginger salad

Iceberg lettuce, a fluffy tangle of carrot shreds, and piquant, spicy ginger dressing. It’s JUST like I remember it!

I mean, am I listening to Backstreet Boys and wearing knockoff Juicy sweatpants again or am I just imagining this time travel? 20140801_212605 Chicken fried rice

A $5 upgrade and well worth it. It’s made in front of you with fresh chicken, diced onions, and SO MUCH seasoned butter. Piping hot, marvelously greasy, and just enough soy. I dare you to finish the gargantuan pile of fried rice.  20140801_213457 Hibachi steak and mushroom

A lot of steak, cooked to a lovely medium rare. A little tough, but with wonderful salty, meaty flavor and juicy mushrooms. And so much of it – what’s the last time that I had this much steak for $25? My parent’s house in 1990? 20140801_214337 Scallops

Buttery, tender, and so delicious that the fair price will, again, surprise you. They lack the dense texture and slight briny taste of really high-end, dry scallops, but in this setting and with the other high fat, high salt food, this is ideal. It stands up to the other strong flavors. They are so mild and buttery – they are ideal for people who are skittish around seafood. The shrimp, which is included in each meal, isn’t quite as memorable, but it’s snappy and garlicky.

20140801_204927 Benihana was possibly my favorite birthday night ever. It was tasty, well priced, and so, SO fun! Private room, birthday photos from the chef, and more nostalgia than I could shake a stick at. I can’t recommend this place enough for a celebration where the atmosphere and price point matter at least as much, if not more, than the food.

Next time, I’m bringing my Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper and really making the theme work! 

Forty Carrots is as Good as Gold

New Yorkers are a cultish little crew.

If New Yorkers like a particular store, they will shop there regardless of the bad service, iffy merchandise, or remote location.

If New Yorkers are loyal to a hairdresser, it doesn’t matter if that hairdresser moves to Philadelphia – the true New Yorker will schlep.

And the feelings that they have for frozen yogurt run deep and passionate.

When my girlfriend brought me for frozen yogurt right before my birthday, I thought it was just a light lunch date.

I didn’t know that she was initiating me into Satan’s lair.

IE, Forty Carrots.

If you get here on a weekday and don’t mind waiting for 10 minutes, you can almost always sit down for your meal. On a weekend, I’m sure that it would be MURDER to try to get a table.

20140731_134732 Try not to trip over the yummy mummies, hordes of tourists, and fashionistas on your way to the table. If you have a low tolerance for ladies who lunch, this may not be the place for you. However, if you love to people watch as much as my friend and I do, settle in for the best reality non-tv on the face of the planet.  20140731_140729 Chopped Greek salad

Surprisingly huge – most of the women here look as though they haven’t eaten this much food since Thanksgiving when they were 11. This is fresh, really tasty, and I’m telling you – big enough for a light lunch for 2 or a really filling lunch for 1. The chicken is warm and crispy outside, tender inside. The veggies are finely diced, with crunchy romaine lettuce, cucumber, juicy kalamata olives, and plenty of creamy chickpeas. The dolmades alongside are soft and salty, filled with dilled rice that is somehow creamy but not mushy.  The pita is warm and soft and the lemon oregano dressing is tart with mustard, creamy, and just rich enough to up the light salad’s ante. I would get this again.

Except…I never will again.

Because, you know…next time I will be getting this:

20140731_142746 Frozen yogurt with carob chips and Oreos

This is the best frozen yogurt I have had – ever. Period. When I was a kid in Southern California, fro yo shops were all the rage. I remember going all the time with my dad and sister, getting huge cups filled with nonfat gray cookies ‘n’ cream yogurt that had a weird, airy consistency and was doubtless filled with enough chemicals to kill a horse.

Aah, California in the 90s.

But this was not that.

This is rich. It’s creamy. It’s tart but not bitter or bracing. It’s sweet in a very clean, milky, fresh yogurt-y way. The coffee flavor is wonderfully complex, with notes of espresso, caramel, chocolate, and almonds. The carob chips are a nostalgic throwback andthe oreos…well, I haven’t ever said no to an Oreo and I’m not going to start now.

This place isn’t stupidly expensive for how much food you get and the food really is delish. If you can either stand the crowds or get your food to go, it’s so worth it.

So get me a candle and prepare me for the initiation.

I’m joining the Forty Carrots cult.

1984-2014

That’s right, I turn the big 3-0 today!

That means I’m taking the day off to spend with family, friends, and Geritol.

However, I will see you back Monday, because this eating weekend will be EPIC!!

Have a great weekend!