Amaranth – Lunchtime Bargains for Millionaires

What’s the last time that you ate at a restaurant that was so obviously shi-shi that you felt weird taking pictures?

For me, it was last week. I have taken pictures from Paris to Tokyo and never blinked twice, but this was a little different.

It was ladies-who-lunch different.

We wandered into Amaranth because we were starving and it was in front of our eyes. When we arrived at noon it was empty but an hour later, the place was packed to the rafters. It’s a standard brassiere – small tables shrouded in white, a mirrored bar, and servers who are efficient but not overly friendly.

It’s the clientele that gives this joint its bite. Women dressed from head to toe in Hermes. Men wearing smoking jackets and riotous scarves. Children with the latest ipads and dogs with rainboots that cost as much as my wedding gown.

You can imagine why I didnt’ want to be conspicuous in my Target shirt and Ross purse.

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Bread

Fresh, hot, soft – served with mild and fruity olive oil. Not exactly reinventing the wheel here, but tasty nonetheless.

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Lentilles au vianigrette

Delicious. Al dente and meaty with that grassy, earthy taste that only lentils have. They are mixed with a sharp, shallot-laced vinaigrette that brightens the dish. This is a classic dish in France, and though it would be better here if they added some salty, crispy lardons, it is still a very serviceable rendition.

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Omelette with salad and fries.

The quintessential French lunch. This version is perhaps a bit overcooked on the bottom – a true French omelette never has even a hint of brown – but the feta is wonderfully creamy and smooth and the onions are cooked to a soft, sweet jam. The salad alongside is lightly dressed in a vinaigrette similar to the lentils and the accompanying frites are a little salty but crispy, hot, and fresh.

This meal has some missteps, but its reliable if you are in the neighborhood. It’s overpriced to me, but, then, if I was buying the clothing that these women were wearing, I would think that this lunch was a steal, too. And then I might feel okay taking some pictures with flash.

Well, I would still be shopping the outlets for those designer duds. So maybe not.

The Far Eastern Side of France at Paris Baguette

When I saw a Paris Baguette going up right near my house, I got excited. After all, wasn’t this the Korean owned, French inspired bakery with things like bulgogi sandwiches? We really need more Asian food up this-a-way, so I was pretty excited.

This, however, is much more continental version of the mini chain.

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The minuscule shop (only 4 seats in the whole place) is pristine and filled with the scents of yeast and butter.

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By looking at the overflowing pastry cases, filled with loaves of fresh bread and beautiful cakes, you might as well think that you were in France.

Until you get a little closer.

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Curry croquettes? Franks in Danish dough?

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And what the hell is hash brown bread and why am I not eating it right now?

This is the Asian influence…love it!

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Roasted veggie and goat cheese sandwich

My decidedly un-Asian offering was finger-lickin’ good. The bread is thick enough to house the garlicky pesto and creamy goat cheese without crumbling, yet the crust is very pliant so it breaks easily under your teeth. The vegetables are super fresh – no limp lettuce or green tomatoes here. And the house roasted tomatoes are wonderful – plump and spiced with oregano and olive oil. They are so soft and juicy that they are almost confit style – really something else! The sandwich is filling and properly sized – no afternoon naps needed to recover.

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Pistachio macaron

Satisfies the craving but not much more. The cookie is a little soft and the ganache is a little on the sweet side. It’s still nutty and delicious, but it’s not the best in town.

Paris Baguette is a nice spot if you are in the mood for a quick pastry or sandwich, but it isn’t destination worthy. It’s pricey and the seating is so limited that it isn’t really good for a leisurely meal.

Come on, banh mi place, open up near me!

Decadent Desserts at Payard

When I happened upon Payard with some of my friends last weekend, I could have just walked right by and gotten some frozen yogurt down the block.

Fro yo is healthy, it’s tasty, and it’s cheap.

But then you would have had to check my body for foreign hosts because there is of course no way in HELL that I would ever pass up pastries for frozen yogurt.

Francois Payard isn’t just some flash in the pan. He is the man who created perhaps the world’s most sought after flourless chocolate cake, the man who brought fine French pastries to the masses before cronuts were even a twinkle in a rat’s eye, and the man who would not let a rent dispute shutter his much-loved cafe.

The newer version of his eponymous restaurant and bakery is sleek and bright, with a friendly, casual atmosphere that belies its pedigree. We dined there with a family with kids,a couple on a date, and our rag-tag foursome – it’s really one size fits all.

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Macarons

Sadly, these don’t measure up to my favorite macarons or even those at Francois’s more casual outlet, FPB. These must have been made in the morning and are a little dried out and chewy – not the airy, crackly, rich confections that I prefer. However, the flavor is dead on. The passion fruit chocolate is fruit forward and tangy with smooth, creamy chocolate ganache in between the cookies. I would try these once more, but only if they were freshly made.

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Tarte Dulce de Leche

Oh, so THIS is why the man is a living legend. Buttery, nutty crust that reminds me of an especially rich, refined version of those addictive almond cookies at Chinese restaurants. It’s covered in gooey caramel that is more like buttery toffee and less like the rather bitter, burnt stuff that sometimes passes as caramel. Atop THAT is whipped cream so light and fluffy that it seems like a health food. It’s fragrant and lightly flecked with vanilla beans…perfect with a couple of crunchy candied almonds on top. This is elegant, varied in texture, and delicious.

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Geroge V

A grown up Milky Way candy bar. Dark, sticky, rich, dense. Creamy, chocolatey, shiny, and moist. Decadent in every way, but I could only eat about 2 bites before I cried uncle. This is all chocolate and caramel, with just a hint of nuttiness at the very end of the bite.  This is incredibly rich and heavy. Just the way I like ‘em.

Come here for some wonderful, elegant desserts, but get them to go. The service is worse than bad. It’s scattered, uniformed, and very sloowwww. However, the desserts are really special. I would get them for any dinner party or elegant event. I could probably wreck one of those tarts all on my own, but I’m not supposed to admit that, right?

So glad that I never choose the fro yo.

Tocqueville – A Second Look at a Long Ago Post

When you write a blog for almost 4 years, stuff gets lost in the mix. So, I occasionally republish posts that are especially meaningful to me. This one is about a restaurant that, time and again, has proven itself to be consistent, elegant, and truly delicious. In the three years since this post was written, the head chef has changed and the menu changes with the seasons, but the dedication to service, wine, and food, is exactly the same. 
That is, to say, exemplary. 
So, enjoy the heartfelt review, questionable photography, overly flowery prose, and liberal use of caps lock. Because though the wonderful Tocqueville restaurant hasn’t changed, my blogging skills have…thankfully. 
Although I (clearly) love everything about food, I get bogged down like everyone else does. Between work, play, blogging, sleeping and occasionally fitting in time to go to the bathroom, I use food as fuel. I don’t have the time to enjoy and respect it as I should.  I forget what it is like to sit and enjoy a meal for hours. To comment on and discuss the food. To learn about the chefs and farmers who created the  dishes. To revel in the romance that a wonderful meal is about.
When I feel a need to really “be about’ food” again, I will head straight to  Tocqueville, for the $68 chef’s tasting menu, inspired totally from seasonal ingredients, many from the Union Square Greenmarket next door.
This photo does not do justice to the elegant, quiet and refined space. The music playing is low and relaxing, the decor is classic but not stuffy and the high ceiling-ed room infused me with both relaxation and giddy anticipation. I knew something special was in store.

The house baked breads
Baked fresh, every day. If the sourdough’s hole structure was not perfect, I did not care. It was so sour, with such a crisp, nicely charred crust that went perfectly with the house churned butter. The focaccia was still warmed from the oven, with a gentle slick of olive oil on top that accented the woodsy rosemary and briny olives within. The brioche (unpictured), was butter, butter and…more butter. I simply love a good bread program!
The chef’s tasting menu (which changes every day and can be altered to include/exclude specific requests) started off with a warm apple cider. My dad said it was “apple pie in a glass.” I would say that just about says it. Tart, sweet, spicy, rounded out with a strong vanilla taste, this was simultaneously satisfying and appetite inducing. Really, it was just perfection.
 Beet Tuile filled with Goat Cheese
The server told us that the beets were pureed, then sprinkled with powdered sugar before being baked, rolled and filled. These were so extremely beet-y: that sweet, earthy taste that was just all the more vegetal tasting with the grassy goat cheese. The powdered sugar worked with the beet’s natural flavor and brought out its sweet, lighter flavor profiles.
 
Celery Root and Potato Croquette topped with a Black Truffle
Warm. Crunch. Creamy. Hearty. Heady. Umami. Could have eaten these for my main dish. Every day.
Any other questions?
 Butternut Squash Confit with Creamless Sunchoke Soup with Black Truffles
The squash confit was good but not amazing – sweet, smooth…just nothing totally memorable. The soup? My favorite dish of the day.
So incredibly rich without being heavy, it had the most wonderful taste. I have not had sunchokes too many times, but this was a celery root-potato-ey flavor that was both familiar and totally new. The truffles were generously added, giving the soup an intoxicating layer, and some tangy balsamic vinegar made everything seem lighter and sweeter. The soup was served lukewarm – which I tend to hate – but, it actually made the truffles taste different. More substantial, less ethereal, somehow. It was interesting and wholly successful.
 Cato Farm Cheddar Salad with Frisee, Roasted Bosc Pears and Hazelnut dressing
My dad requested that this be part of the tasting menu, and though I doubted his choice at first, I was totally mistaken. This was a wonderfully constructed salad. The cheese was sharp yet with a creamy finish, the frisee was soft and lightly bitter, the nuts were meaty and toasted well, and the pears were nothing short of perfection; nothing but creamy sweetness within and shattering caramelization without. The balsamic reduction on top added a tangy taste to the otherwise subtle dish, elevating it further. The ingredients were excellent and the flavor combination could not have been improved in any way.
 Parmesan Poached Lobster Sauteed in Butter with Espelette Chili, Sea Beans, Celery Root and Dill
This was the best lobster I have ever had. That is a bold statement, and also true. The lobster was positively silky, and cut with the merest touch of a fork. The chili was spicy but not hot, it just melded perfectly with the luxurious butter and salty Parmesan cheese. The celery root was toothsome but tender, the sea beans did not have the iodine-y taste they sometimes have and the dill was fresh and fragrant with the otherwise rich dish. The ingredients did not seem like they would pair well with each other, but really worked in total harmony. Inventive and totally delicious.
 Roasted Venison Loin with Black Pepper and Blackberry Glaze, served with Black Trumpet Mushrooms, and Chanterelles
I had never had venison loin before and this was outstanding. Satisfying as beef, light as pork tenderloin. It was very rare, but had no blood, like beef would have. It was tender like filet mignon, but with a lightly gamy, very pleasant flavor that was far more pronounced than that of filet. The peppercorns made the meat spicy and the glaze was sweet, tart and delightfully sticky. The mushrooms were soft and flavorful – mushrooms and meat are always the most wonderful combination, aren’t they? The buttery potato and herb purees on the dish completed this version of “meat and potatoes.’

 

 A cheese plate with a Vermont Blue Cheese, a Spanish cheese similar to Mangchego, served with quince paste, honey, a candied walnut, and a citrus-y, sweet, soft kumquat. Literally, in LOVE with that kumquat – it was like a soft candied orange rind or maybe a slightly less sweet gumdrop. The blue cheese was slightly smokey and extremely pungent, and the Spanish cheese was nutty and salty. The house-baked raisin crostini were perfect foils for these dairy delights. A well thought out and complimentary cheese plate.

 The selection of house made sorbets: Chocolate, passion fruit, blood orange, litchi and green apple
All well balanced flavors with  creamy textures, unlike the icy way many sorbets feel in the mouth. The passion fruit was my favorite – it was tart, not too sweet, and seemed insanely bright and summery for the middle of January. My dad preferred the rich and deep chocolate sorbet.
 Coconut flavored Tofu with those same amazing candied kumquats and a Citrus Broth
Tofu for dessert? Simply put, it rocked my world. It tasted exactly like a tofu panna cotta-just that rich and indulgent. The creaminess paired well with the light and acidic citrus broth and those heavenly candied kumquats.
 The Chocolate Tasting Plate, with Chocolate-Hazelnut Crunch Mousse Cake, Bittersweet Chocolate Molleux, Molten Chocolate Cake, and that wonderful Chocolate Sorbet
What can I say except that it was all complex and wonderfully chocolatey. The bittersweet chocolate Moelleux was especially exceptional – bitter in the way perfectly roasted coffee beans take bitter, and just sweet enough to make the cake more sweet than savory.
After the meal’s conclusion, we were invited down to tour the kitchen by our extremely sweet, attentive, and food-loving server. We met the world’s kindest and most passionate chef, Chef Gregory Vernick. He gave us a complete tour of the entire kitchen, introduced us to everyone, talked about his philosophy of cooking each item daily with as few preserved goods as possible, and told us that we ‘made his day’ by ordering the tasting menu. We saw the ducks that they butcher and hang themselves, the extensive spice cabinet, the foccacia being baked as we spoke, and only one tiny closet filled with the barest necessities of canned and dried goods. Everything else is always fresh, all the time. Chef Vernick reveled in the fact that the owners, Marco Moreira and Jo-Ann Makovitzky, let him cook whatever was fresh, versus being confined to a written menu, as long as the price was not exorbitant. He knew everyone in the kitchen and clearly had the utmost respect for them, and vice versa.  His passion and excitement for food was both thrilling and inspiring. I am so lucky to have dined here, and for only $68, it was a steal. I suggest you dine here soon, for not just a meal, but a deeply personal and communal experience.

Nice Matin is Nice Indeed

This post originally appeared on Whisked Foodie.

Nice Matin may just be the most underrated restaurant on the Upper West Side. It is open all day, so you can always get a drink or a small plate at the bar. It is nice enough to frequent with business colleagues yet casual enough to visit in knock-around clothes. And the prices are perfectly on point with the hood – it’s possible to get a tasty entrée and a glass of wine for about $30.

However, the best part of this sunny, spacious, Provence-style bistro is that you needn’t even order an entrée to get the best of what Nice Matin has to offer.

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Roasted beets with chevre

The beets are sweet and tender with a bit of bite toward the center of the root. It is substantial, especially with the creamy, soft goat cheese and light sprinkling of fresh chives.

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Cold leeks

They are braised, not to melting submission, but only until they are somewhat tender. They still have quite a bit of crunch and signature, onion-y bite. Leeks are very rarely done this way stateside, and it is a vibrant side to heartier dishes.

The chickpea fries, a unique take on the French-Italian Riviera treat socca, arrive to the table piping hot. Their thick outer layer, crunchy and salty, breaks open to reveal a warm, soft interior that is earthy and utterly reminiscent of chickpeas. It is falafel’s subtle sister.

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Of course, you could get a French-inspired main course of moules Provençale, Tuscan chicken under a brick, or even the restaurant’s signature five-napkin burger. The nightly specials, like bouillabaisse and roast duck, offer more straightforward, honest cooking with a French bent.

But why would you go that route when you could order so many small dishes plus some wine from the excellent by the glass list for the same price?

Nice Matin isn’t only overlooked by those who don’t go there. Sometimes, it’s overlooked by those who do. Step out of the box, and order off the appetizers and side menu the next time you go there, and you will be pleasantly surprised by what you have been missing.

Celery Root Remoulade – Winter’s Favorite Salad

This recipe is reposted from my older days – hence the unorthodox structure of the post. It’s one of my favorite recipes, especially for a winter salad, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do!

See you Tuesday, after the long weekend!

I love complex flavors.
 That’s why I am so drawn to southeast Asian foods-the sour salads of Thailand, the fragrant curries of India, the spicy soups of Vietnam…these are the layered, multi faceted flavors that I crave.  When other little kids were asking for meatloaf for their birthdays, I wanted Kimchi Jigae.  Go figure!
But…every now and then…I crave clean, uncomplicated food.
Just for a change in pace…or, more often, a little rest for my spice laden taste buds.
That’s when I whip up some Celery Remoulade.
Celery Remoulade is celery root in a tangy, mayonnaise based sauce.  Celery root is easily found in gourmet grocery stores, and often in regular grocery stores this time of year.  It is literally the root of the celery stalk, and has a sweet/savory flavor with celery and apple notes.  The texture is like a radish-crunchy but yielding, and porous enough that it absorbs the dressing quickly.
1. Cut your celery root in half, then cut away the peel with a sharp knife.  Then you cut the cleaned root into thin discs.
2. Pile the discs on top of on another and cut the discs into matchsticks.  You can also do this by cutting the cleaned celery root into small pieces and tossing it in the food processor.
3. Combine equal parts mayonnaise and Dijon mustard, and a bit of vinegar.  Also throw in a hearty dose of salt, black pepper, and maybe some diced scallions or shallots if you like strong flavors (as I do).
4.  Now whisk all that up and taste it.  Is it too tart?  Add some more mayo.  Too bland?  Some more pepper or mustard…you get the point.  Then toss it on your diced veggies!
 5. Refrigerate it for at least one hour or – even better – up to 6 hours. 
6. Serve.
Man oh MAN is this amazing!  It is like cole slaw’s richer, more filling cousin.  Creamy, tangy, tart, spicy from the pepper, with the toothsome bite of the celery root.  The clean celery flavor juxtaposes that rich, fatty mayonnaise so perfectly.  Perfect alongside a burger, a turkey sandwich, or even just a piece of bread and a hunk of cheese, this is my favorite simply flavored dish on the planet.  Although…looking back on how I have described the flavors of this awesome French side dish…I guess it’s not so simple after all.  Yeah, I take back what I said earlier.  I just like complex flavors.  What can ya do?

Easy Boeuf Bourguignon

I know how to make a proper stew, mmkay?

I know about flouring and browning the meat. I am well aware of a bouquet garni. And yes, I can even whip egg whites stiff to make a raft that attracts the impurities and leave the broth crystal clear.

But just because I know how to use a paintbrush, does that mean that I have to paint the Sistine chapel every day?

This is the other kind of stew. The “I have a million things to do at work and I have to pick up the kids at school and I have to get a haircut because my hair looks like Harry Potter’s broom and when the hell will I have time to make dinner” stew.

It’s the one that I make the most often.

Hello, slow cooker!

Easy Beef Bourguignon

beef stew

Ingredients:

1.5 lbs stew meat

1 package mushrooms, cleaned and quartered

1 bunch clery, chopped

1/2 bunch carrots, chopped or sliced on the mandolin

1 large onin, sliced into quarters

3 garlic cloves, peeled and whoel or smashed

1.5 cups red wine

2 cups unslted beef broth

3 tbsp. tomato paste

2 tbsp. worcestershire sauce

A few sprigs each rosemary and thyme, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1 glug balsamic vinegar

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1. Put all ingredients in slow cooker. Stir once then set it to high and leave it for 6-8 hours.

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It is done when the meat falls apart at the merest touch of the spoon. Taste for seasonings and skim the fat off the top (or cool it overnight and take off the fat easily, as seen here).

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2. Serve with boiled potatoes, crusty bread, or buttered egg noodles.

Yeah, that’s it. It’s just the ticket when it’s cold and miserable outside and you want to eat something hearty but not fatty or salty – homemade is always best, after all. This is so wonderful. The stew meat is cheap but it tastes as fine as any pricey cut when it breaks down and becomes juicy and rich. The sauce is minerally and savory, with some sweetness from the tomato paste and toothsome mushrooms rounding out the stew. The onions absolutely fall apart in the most wonderful way, and the carrots totally melt when they touch your tongue. The rosemary and thyme are earthy and that glug of balsamic is – If I do say so myself - totally inspired. It adds a sweet-sour, intense aspect to the otherwise earthy stew. Serve it with mashed potatoes or egg noodles or - if you are lucky enough! – in bread bowls.

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And don’t worry.

You can make that from-scratch Turducken tomorrow.

Get Downtown to Lafayette

I’ll cut to the chase – Lafayette is awesome.

I like it even better than The Dutch.

Why doesn’t Lafayette get more buzz? The atmosphere is a livelyy, spacious brasserie that’s more casual than Balthazar but nicer than Marseille. I would love to come here for brunch or for a birthday lunch with friends.  The menu is full of playful French classics – just like all of Andrew Carmellini’s restaurants, it is rooted in tradition but loaded with fun and personal twisted.

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Bread

Don’t miss it. The man takes his carbs really seriously. You can spread it with the soft, creamy butter or you can eat the tangy, slightly burnished crust alone. It’s phenomenal.

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Beet salad with curried cashews and yogurt

Yes, yes, yes! This is a well done salad. The beets are roasted until they are tender but not mushy and are extremely sweet. They are served with this tart yogurt and this fresh, earthy lettuce. The kicker where are the rings of perfectly pickled onions – they are piquant and bright against the other flavors. Though I didn’t like the cashews (can’t help it, I hate all cashews), this salad is very well portioned and is actually enough for a light meal with some of the very good bread alongside.

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Steak tartare

Very good, if a bit low on heat. Luckily, there is a bottle of Tabasco provided to up the spice quotient. Other than that, this is exemplary. It’s well portioned and made with soft, coarsely ground beef. It’s layered with classic flavors of pickles and served with as swath of mustard on the side and a wonderfully creamy quail egg yolk on top. It’s nothing groundbreaking but it’s super satisfying.

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Pumpkin brulee tart with pomegranate and whipped creme fraiche

The standout of the meal. A warm, whipped pumpkin pie underneath a shattering sugar crust. It’s scattered with tart, fresh bursts of pomegranate and plated with very dense, creamy whipped creme fraiche. It’s a really fun twist on pumpkin pie and I couldn’t stop eating it. This dessert isn’t only recommended, it’s unmissable.

I just love Lafayette! The service is great, the prices are what you would expect to pay at a Carmellini restaurant, and the food is just wonderful! I can’t even believe that I’m sharing this secret with you but, hey, – get there asap!

Your Friday Lunch Plans!

Before I head out of town for the weekend, I thought I would leave you with a few ideas for lunch today…

why not…

IMG_20131001_201332_324Hit up Madison Square Eats for its final day

Try any of my favorite dishes , including this ramen from Hong Kong Noodle Cart. It’s made with fresh artisanal noodles and served with a nicely medium boiled egg with a fluorescent yolk. The garlicky broth is punchy without being too strong and the other flavors of the broth – the ginger, the pepper, and the hearty beef-  just sing. The beef itself is tender and juicy, and the spinach in the bowl really fleshes out the dish. The noodles are bouncy and totally addictive – I finished this bowl no problem, even though it was huge and I was overstuffed. 

TWSS.

IMG_20131009_135254_885Trek to the UWS for Amber’s great lunch deal

I love great sushi. I mean the really good stuff that costs as much as a small car and should take many hours to eat, each piece placed lovingly on a mother-of-pearl dish by a sushi chef related to Jiro. 

BUT…

For those occasions when neither money nor time will allow for such delights, I head to Amber. This Buddakan design knockoff  offers extremely fresh sushi made right in front of your eyes at the sushi bar, or you can sit at a table if you prefer. If you order the lunch special, for about $10, you get miso soup (bad), ginger-dressed salad(with pine nuts and raisins – surprisingly good!), and your choice of 2 sushi rolls. The spicy tuna might be totally trashy but hey, so am I – it’s fresh and well spiced, with excellent texture and slightly warm, vinegared rice. The salmon is also excellent – firm and mild, with no fishy aftertaste or tough texture. It’s absolutely one of my favorite well priced sushi restaurants! 

IMG_20131022_120013_746Check out Michel Richard’s new fast-service restaurant Pomme Palais

Disclaimer – I work with Michel Richard. But honestly…the food at Pomme Palais is good. Really good. It’s sandwiches, soups, and salads done gourmet and to go. The croque monsieur is cheesy and creamy and super awesome. The turkey, cheese, and spinach crepe is what quesadillas always want to be – sophisticated and filling without being a total gut bomb. And the lemon egg-ceptional is easily the best dessert in Midtown East – sorry, Buttercup, you have been replaced. It’s a lemony, light mousse inside a creamy white chocolate shell, atop a crispy kataifi nest. It’s so textually interesting and playful – it really captures Chef Michel’s whimsy. Pomme is on the pricier side, so I would really recommend this mostly if you need a quick business lunch or if you can put it on the company card, but please try that lemon egg-ceptional on your own dime – I have!

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Cafe Boulud – Practically Perfect in Every Way

You know those times when you meet up with a couple of friends for a casual dinner, then one bottle of prosecco later decide to go all out and scrap the relaxed plans to dine at a Michelin starred chef’s intimate bistro?

I didn’t know those times till last weekend.

Now I do know those times. And spontaneity plus foie gras equal my best dining experience in many moons.

In fact…it might have been a perfect meal. 

IMG_20131011_202954_942When we made a last minute reservation at 8:30 on a Friday night at Cafe Boulud, we didn’t know what to expect. Wouls it be overly stuffy or filled with octogenarians? Would it be super casual and not really deserving of the Boulud name?

It was both and neither. It was casual enough to wear nice jeans but still demanded a button down jacket or an elegant blouse. It was filled with people mostly in their 60s, but the vibe was anything but stoic. It was bustling and humming and all the people there, regardless of age, looked like they were enjoying the best time of their lives.

Just one bite of the food, and you will see why.

Quick note: Use the sommelier. We had an excellent experience, where we were recommended a few excellent wines in a range of prices so we didn’t feel embarrassed or bad about our lack of knowledge or how much we wanted to spend. Bravo!IMG_20131011_203559_471Truffle arancini

A tasty amuse bouche to start the evening. Piping hot risotto balls, with a thin breadcrumbed crust and a wonderfully al dente risotto interior. Nothing mushy here – individual grains of rice blended with salty cheese and the heady, aromatic flavor of truffles. This is a fantastic way to start the evening because it enlivens all of your senses – you hear the crunch of the breadcrumbs, you see the golden-brown balls, you you smell that unmistakable truffle, you feel the warmth of the ball, and you taste…heaven. These were a touch on the salty side, but if you are like me and like that – you are in for a treat!

IMG_20131011_205754_820 Bread

So worthwhile – don’t take just one slice. The savory, pleasantly briny rosemary olive, the sweet cranberry walnut, and the whimsical pumpkin bread are all winners. The pumpkin bread is a total sleeper hit – who would expect a piece of bread to taste SO MUCH like grandma’s punkin pie? Slather it with the sweet butter on the table and you might just want to order more of this and cancel your first course.

But, please, don’t do that. IMG_20131011_210648_119Veloute de champignon with warm barley, wild mushrooms, and parsley cream

After she tasted this, my dining companion actually looked at me dumbfounded and said “I couldn’t believe it when you ordered soup. But now, I get it.”

She ended up almost stabbing me with the butter knife to get the last of the soup.

This is picture perfect. A balance of earthy, creamy, warming, and light enough for a first dish. The barley is nubbly and textured in the smooth, deep,  rustic soup. It tastes wild and out there, but the presentation is totally refined. The parsley cream is cool and airy next to the dense soup,  adding a touch of freshness to the dish. if you thought you liked soup, you have to get this. If you think you don’t like soup, get this.

Then admit you were wrong.

cafe boulud foievia

Seared foie gras with almond beignets, seckel pear, and tonka bean

The best foie gras I have eaten in NYC. No question. Seared with such a thick, caramelized, salty sweet crust that it almost stands apart from the interior. And, oh, that interior. That liquidy, buttery, meaty, delicate, otherworldly interior. The accompaniments are lovely here – sweet and complimentary – but this is all about that seared lobe of foie. Unforgettable. Unimprovable. Literally perfect in every. Single. Way. 

IMG_20131011_213257_815Duck breast with brussels sprouts

So well cooked. This duck eats like a steak – it’s served in a hearty portion and thick, meaty slices. It’s very mild and tender enough to cut with your butter knife. The skin is crisp and sticky sweet, but not so hard that you can’t bite it. The meat is unbelievably juice and fulfilling – you need to really be a carnivore to love this. The sprouts are crispy and caramelized, but this is really all about the duck.
IMG_20131011_213312_359Crispy polenta

What the hell have I been making all of these years? These bites are so crispy, creamy, airy, buttery, corny, tasty WONDERFUL that the name polenta just seems disrespectful. Especially when smothered in garlicky, onion-y jam. I mean come on…this is one of the best bites of the night. How come they aren’t called ”so tasty that once you take a bite, you will forget about the government shutdown” bites? 

IMG_20131011_221154_322 Chocolate mousse with coffee ice cream

More fudge than mousse, this is a chocolate desert that really makes you sit up and pay attention. It’s halfway between low and high brow. It’s creamy and smooth like the chocolate bars or your youth, but has a pleasant bitter edge and creamy coffee ice cream that keeps it from venturing into saccharin territory. It’s an uncomplicated and comforting end to a luxurious meal. IMG_20131011_221220_980Oh no, wait…this is the end.

These warm, lemony madeleines that are just like the ones in Palm Beach.

That is to say, perfect.

How many times did I say the word “perfect” in this review? Too many? No, too few. Too few times to describe the expert, unobtrusive yet always alert service. Too few to explain the depth of flavor in every dish. Too few to relate the way the warm, bubbly atmosphere infected our table and made for a truly fun and delicious time. Too few times to relate how the price is SO fair for the service and food that you get.

It really was a pretty damn perfect meal. 

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