Nook – A Haven of Home Cooking in Hell’s Kitchen

Service is paramount in any dining experience. It makes up for a multitude of sins, and often makes me return to a restaurant to see if the food has improved.

This experience was the opposite of that: the service was mediocre at best, but the food was so wonderful that I don’t think I can resist going back.

Nook is a tiny, un-air conditioned restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. By tiny, I mean TINY – you can almost touch both walls of the restaurant by standing with arms akimbo. It is very casual, BYOB only, and the sole server the day of our lunch was also the main chef, cashier, and host. Let’s get the bad out of the way first:

Your meal will take forever. You will get a carafe of water and a menu, and then you will wait. Almost interminably. Then, when you finally order, don’t expect to get your soda right away. That won’t happen until after your food arrives, almost half an hour after you finally got to order. You might get crabby, but if you peek into the narrow kitchen, you will see why it takes so long. There are eggplants being sliced and grilled a la minute. Fries being cooked to order. Steaks being cut off the tenderloin and grilled to order. Every single thing is made fresh and with utmost care.

 Smoked turkey breast with tomato, cucumbers and spicy beet relish on a baguette, served with fries

Whether this turkey is homemade or outsourced is irrelevant. The point is that it is unlike any sandwich turkey I have had before. It is extremely juicy and tender, with a smoky, candied exterior that is so sweet that it seems more like ham than turkey. It is light enough to balance with the peeled cucumbers but earthy enough to stand up to the tart homemade beet relish. The baguette has a thin, sharp crust that surrounds a slightly tangy, bouncy interior crumb. The fries merit special mention. Fried to order from what seem like fresh potatoes, they are crunchy, rosemary flecked, and flecked with fragrant rosemary.

Grilled Vegetable Salad with eggplant, red peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, and goat cheese over mixed greens with a balsamic reduction dressing

This is a dish where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The eggplant is sweet, almost fatty in its richness. The zucchini is firm and charred, with a slightly yielding interior. The yellow squash is sugary and the roasted peppers are soft and intense. The goat cheese is mild and melts into creamy warmth that blankets the vibrant vegetables. The deep, umami-laden balsamic glaze brings depth to the salad, and a few scattered scallions brighten and sharpen the flavors. This is not a technically or flavor-wise complex salad, but it is one that is made with as much care as you would take to make it for yourself. That makes it special.

The care taken with the food is what makes this whole restaurant special. Though the service is abysmally slow, it isn’t because you are being ignored, it is because the chef is doing everything by himself. That is how he keeps the prices low and the quality high. And the quality really is very high. The menu is not especially inventive or large, it is just prepared expertly. This is highly recommended for a lazy lunch or brunch. Just be sure to bring cash (the restaurant is cash only) and have plenty of time.

It is well worth the wait.

Nook Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Nook Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Making the Perfect Omelette with Chef Neil Kleinberg and Zwilling Thermolon Pans

Omelettes are on of my favorite foods on the planet. I love them for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I love them loaded with spicy meats, creamy cheeses, or fresh vegetables. I love them served on toast and I love them plain.

I am an omelette fiend…get the picture?

When I got the opportunity to have a cooking class with Neil Kleinberg, of Clinton St. Baking Company fame, I jumped at it. This man is the Master of NYC Breakfast – who was I to turn down this opportunity? Following are the expert tips I took away from the man who put pancakes on the map:

Mise en Place is Your Key to Success

As Chef Kleinberg pointed out, eggs cook quickly. So quickly that if you try to chop the tomatoes and grate the cheese after your eggs are in the pan, you are likely to end up with egg flavored rubber. By preparing all of your ingredients ahead of time and just having them there in toss into the omelette, you won’t waste any cooking time.

Whip it Good

Don’t be a lazy whisker. Get those eggs really well aerated. The key to a light, fluffy omelette isn’t cream or milk, it is incorporating enough air into the eggs before you get them in the pan.

Froth the Butter

The butter should not just melt, it should bubble slightly and create a light foam. Do this over medium heat, and once the butter foams, be ready to add your eggs so the butter doesn’t turn brown. If the butter browns, you have to wipe it out of the pan and start over.

Let it be, Let it be

Once your eggs are in the pan, scramble them once or twice then leave them alone. In a very few minutes, the outer corners of the omelette will start to set. Don’t disturb the omelette yet! Just let it gently cook while you add…

Toppings all Around

The importance of adding toppings is twofold: Distribution and Symbiosis. The toppings should be added in rows, which allows for an even amount of each topping in each bite. The toppings should also mix well with each other – you don’t want cream cheese, avocado, and pate – who wants an entirely mushy omelette? You also don’t want brie, chorizo, and sundried tomatoes – there is an umami overload if there ever was one. Choose fillings that are creamy, crunchy, fresh, savory, and sweet – you want a mixture of tastes and textures. Goat cheese, bacon, tomatoes, and caramelized onions, is a great combination.

The Flip

To create a classic French filled omelette, simply fold the omelette over with your spatula about 1/3 of the way when it is stiff, but still a little jiggly in the very center top layer. Then, move the omelette over to the edge of the pan and, with your spatula, flip it out on the plate. Tuck in the sides and…ta-da! If your omelette breaks a little, just cover it with some chopped chives. 

Of course, it comes out a lot easier if you have this Zwilling Thermolon pan. Yes, this was a press event, but I was not required to write about it. But I am. Because this pan was incredible. It heats evenly, has cool-touch handles, and a nonstick surface that is not that insufferable plastic coating that I can’t stand. This is ceramic, unscratchable by metal spoons or forks. The omelette nearly flew out of the pan when I was ready to remove it, and the residue was nada. Chef Kleinberg uses these pans, and I am a fan as well.

And there you have it – instructions on how to make the perfect omelette, for those days when the diner just won’t cut it.

Next up, maybe I will try to cure my own bacon?

Maybe not.

 

Brick Lane Curry House – I Phought the Phaal

Some people skydive to get their thrills. Some people race cars, or even shoplift.

Me?

I eat food so spicy that even Adam Richman threw in the towel.

Brick Lane Curry House is an English style curry house. This means that it has a huge menu with classic British-Indian dishes like chicken tikka masala, aloo gobi, and naan. It also has phaal, which is listed on the menu as:

“An excruciatingly hot curry, more pain and sweat than flavor! For our customers who do this on a dare, we will require you to state a verbal disclaimer not holding us liable for any physical or emotional damage after eating this curry. If you do manage to finish your serving, a bottle of beer is on us, as is a certificate of completion and your picture in the (P)hall of fame.”

It is considered by many to be the spiciest dish in NYC, so hot that all flavor is obscured and those who eat it are solely doing so because they are masochistic.

So, of course, I had to do it.

The restaurant is just what you imagine in an Indian restaurant – sitar music playing, cloth napkins, servers carrying burnished bowls of curry and biryanis. The vibe is one you have seen a thousand times before, and it is welcome every time. It is equally good for families, a group of friends, or even a date.

Maybe not a first date. Unless you are really sure that the other person will be turned on by seeing you snarf down smelly Indian food.

Pappadums and Chutneys

Each table is brought a crisp, lentil infused pappadum and a selection of chutneys – sweet tamarind, fragrant cilantro, and fresh tomato and onion. The basket is not incredible, but it is welcome and introduces you to the pungent, tangy flavors that will permeate the rest of the meal

Lamb Samosas

The measure by which I judge any Indian restaurant. The samosas arrived piping hot, and the flaky exterior broke open to reveal minced lamb and juicy peas. The aromas were of cinnamon, cumin, and the slight sweetness of fennel. The lamb was mild, with just enough gaminess to counteract the sweet tomato chutney served alongside.

These are some of the best samosas in the city, and I could make a meal of these alone.

Onion Kulcha

Fluffy, hearty, stuffed with sweet onions, this bread is not only delicious, but necessary to sop up the many sauces.

Saag Paneer

A generous portion of creamed spinach served with soft, creamy paneer. This Indian farmer’s cheese has the mild taste of cream cheese and the texture of soft tofu, and is a welcome accompaniment to the garlicky spinach. This dish is ideal for anyone who loves creamed spinach or is new to Indian food – there is no pervasive cumin or ginger flavor, and the spinach is so thick and savory that it is a main dish all on its own.

Now, for the main event…

Chicken Phaal

At first glance, this looked like chicken mole. A few peppers, a few scattered seeds…meh, I can handle that.  And, at first, I could. The aroma was smoky and a little spicy with red pepper, and at first bite chicken was moist and tender. At first it was a bit spicy and deep, like chipotle peppers. I became brave and took another spoonful of sauce. Then, it started. The burn flooded the insides of my cheeks,   then my lips. It went from a slight prickle to an insistent burn, and by the time that it stretched to the back of my throat it was an all out pounding, scraping, insistent burn. I was sweating and my nose was running. I was miserable. But beneath the misery…I was in heaven. The sauce was layered with ginger, coriander, and cumin. The spice made my heart beat faster and gave me a sort of high – I was drunk off the pleasure and the pain. Forget 50 Shades of Grey…you want hot, this is hot. Even a spoonful of cool raita couldn’t cool it.

Needless to say, I couldnt’ finish it. My raw, throbbing tongue and chapped lips made me give up. I got not beer. No certificate. No honor. But the very cheap prices, excellent service, and really wonderful food ensure that I will be back, and soon. That certificate will be mine.

You won the battle, Phaal, but not the war. I’ll be back.

Brick Lane Curry House on Urbanspoon

Artisanal – For the Love of Cheese

I take cheese very seriously.

If you don’t, just stop reading now.

If you DO…well then, you will want to make your way to Artisanal for dinner, as I did. This Terrance Brennan restaurant, an NYC stalwart for years, is the city’s most famous cheese emporium. The restaurant worships cheese. There are cheese tasting menus, cheese fondues, and even an entire room filled with the stinky stuff, where you can eat amongst the dairy.

If that doesn’t sound romantic to you, then again, please just stop reading now.

Artisanal looks like a huge bustling Parisian brasserie – a bit less authentic than Balthazar, but just as bustling. It is ideal for an upscale dinner with a group of friends, but since it gets so loud, it isn’t the best choice for a first date.

Lady Mary with Lillet Blanc, Citrus, Basil, and Champagne

It is rare that a restaurant makes a cocktail so extraordinary that I sit up and take notice. This is such a rarity. Lillet Blanc is an aperitif, a fortified white wine that is sweet and citrusy. It balances well with the peppery basil and tart lemon. The final touch of crisp champagne makes this bright cocktail both potent and eminently drinkable. This tastes like punch but after just one, you will be pretty buzzed.

Luckily, the restaurant serves plenty of dishes to soak up that booze.

Bread

Each meal here starts with crusty, tangy sourdough bread. There is a nutty whole wheat version as well, and both go well with the sweet, unsalted butter.

Steak Tartare

This starter is a classic bistro dish. Cubes of tender, robust beef, mix with egg yolk, capers, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce in this satisfying, if somewhat bland rendition. I prefer my tartare to be mixed tableside, extra spicy, but this is at least made with extremely fresh, coarsely ground beef. It is especially tasty when spread on warm toast, creating a carnivorous open faced sandwich. The frites that come alongside are exemplary. Piping hot, incredibly crispy, and not too salty – they really taste of potato. Order the truffle mayonnaise alongside for dipping purposes. The mayonnaise is rich and creamy, and the truffles are heady, deep, and incredibly savory. I started dipping my spoon into the serving vessel and eating the mayo plain.

No, I’m not embarrassed.

Fondue

When you come here, you eat fondue. There are 3 fondues to choose from – 2 standard choices, and one rotating fondue du jour. The one we tried, the fondue du jour, was made with leeks and Gruyère cheese. The fondue comes to your table with hunks of bread, and you of course have to purchase some add ons. The fondue arrives to the table in a pot on a burner, so it stays liquid and warm the whole time. The first thing about this fondue was the aroma. It smelled like that mouth-watering scent of onions bubbling away in butter, mixing with the light, high note of white wine. Dipping a chunk of bread in the fondue made the cheese stretch from the pot to my plate in a ribbon. The taste was…perfection. Nutty, salty, gooey, creamy. Studded with sweet bits of browned and caramelized leeks.

The bread is tasty enough, but when you add in juicy nuggets of garlicky kielbasa, sweet apples, and tiny, tart cornichons, the meal takes on a wholly different level of greatness. The tastes are so varied and customizable – the pot finished all too quickly.

Profiteroles

If you are eating French, you might as well do it all the way – am I right or am I right?

The profiteroles here are topped tableside with warm, viscous chocolate sauce that hits the perfect note between bitter, milky, and sweet. The ice cream is smooth and fragrant with vanilla, and the dough is crisp and light, crunching ever so slightly between the teeth. The best dessert on the menu, and possibly the best rendition in town of this dish.

Artisanal is a very special place. Not just because the prices are upscale but not obscene. Not just because the service is efficient and knowledgeable but not pushy. Not even because the food and drinks are spot on in preparation and execution. It is because this restaurant specializes in the ultimate communal experience. What fosters conversation more than eating together and sharing a meal like this? Dipping into bread basket together, laughing as cheese strings refuse to break, arguing over which fondue to get…this is what eating is about. It is about sharing an experience with another person. Artisanal is tailor-made for that kind of experience.

And if you love cheese as I do, it is tailor-made for you.

Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Cheeburger Cheeburger – If it’s Good Enough for SNL, It’s Good Enough for Me

On my trip to Florida, I did that thing where I woke up early for a flight, had a Diet Coke, and then didn’t eat for about 5 hours.

To say I was hungry by the time the plane landed would be an understatement.

To say I needed to eat rather quickly to avoid a meltdown would be the understatement of the century.

By the time we pulled by a Cheeburger Cheeburger, I was hungry enough to eat a nonfat American cheese slice, still in the plastic wrapper.
Luckily, I didn’t have to resort to that.

Cheeburger Cheeburger, named for the famous SNL sketch is a casual 1950s style burger shop that is ideal for a quick  meal with friends or young kids. Burgers, fries, milkshakes and the like all feature prominently on the well priced menu.

Fried Pickles, Mushrooms, and Jalapenos

Why choose fried potatoes when you can have fried jalapenos? This basket was the drunk food of my dreams, even though I was sober. Juicy mushrooms, tangy pickles, and spicy jalapenos were all fried in a crispy, zesty batter. Dragged through some smoky chipotle ranch dressing, the fried basket was indulgent but also well sized – enough to stave off hunger for a few minutes longer without being so huge that it ruined my appetite.

Classic Cheeburger

One of the selling points of this restaurant  is (in stark contrast to the sketch for which it is named) all the free toppings. Unlike many restaurants that add on the toppings for added fees, this restaurant includes most of them. Guacamole, pepperoni, coleslaw, and even peanut butter can all be added to your burger for free. Premium toppings like bacon cost extra, but even one cheese is included in the price of your burger. That is a pretty wonderful thing in this world of the $40 entrée with no sides.

This burger had Jack and Cheddar cheeses, onions, jalapenos, and thousand island dressing on it.Though it was cooked to a rather dry medium and the meat itself lacked flavor and a serious char, the burger was altogether satisfying. The cheese was melty, the dressing was tangy and rich, the onions had a fresh bite, and the jalapenos were delightfully spicy. The bun was sturdy enough to stad up to the many toppings without being cottony.

Clearly, I had no problem finishing it off completely.

Cheeburger Cheeburger will never be a destination restaurant. But the service is excellent, the prices are fair, and the food is just what you expect it to be.

If it’s good enough for SNL, it’s good enough for me.

Cheeburger Cheeburger on Urbanspoon

Burger Joint – The Taste You Grew Up With

It’s been a burger sort of week here at Fritos and Foie Gras.

Which is why my friend Lisa and I decided to check out Burger Joint, the once secret burger spot in the high-end Le Parker Merien hotel. I say the once secret spot, because even Helen Keller has heard the buzz about this joint. It is located just past the registration desk, towards the back. If you can’t see the flaming neon burger, just look for the ever-present line or sniff around for the mouth-watering scent of grilled meat.

This is a bare bones place where you go up to the front, place your order, then wait for your number to be called. There are only a few stools and booths, so if you find an empty spot, send your dining buddy to save the seats while you pick up the burgers. The choices here are simple – burger, cheeseburger, fries. Milkshakes, too, after 1:30 pm. Work your way through the throngs of businessmen in suits, Asian tourists with impossibly cool cameras, and cool fashion interns in the city for the summer. It is worth the wait.

Burger with the works

“The works”means tomato, ketchup, mayo, mustard, pickles, onions, and lettuce. The scent of the burger is almost better than the taste. It smells like backyard barbecues, sunscreen, and fireflies. It is a nostalgic scent that takes you straight back to childhood. The first bite of this burger completes the illusion. It is really like eating a perfect backyard grilled burger. The beef is lean and full of body. It is cooked to a spot-on medium rare, with a smoky crust contrasting with the soft, juicy interior. The bun is just the standard supermarket stuff, but it is a sturdy canvas for the fresh vegetables, tangy pickles, and mayonnaise-ketchup mashup. Lisa got hers blanketed in melted cheddar cheese. The burger isn’t overly salty or greasy, it is just the way that you would make it at home.

Fries

“These are just like McDonald’s fries,” Lisa whispered conspiratorially, as if an angry Burger Joint employees might come out and chastise us for mentioning another burger place. But she was right…they ARE! Well, they are like McDonald’s fries used to be. Crisp, very light, evenly cooked, and generously salted. A swipe through some tangy ketchup is all that’s needed to make you ask where your Happy Meal toy is.

This isn’t the best burger in the world, or even in NYC. But it is a cheap meal in a very cool joint. And the food is just what you want it to be. It tastes just like every burger you ate growing up at block parties, except with less flies and cooked to a better, juicier medium rare. Lunchtime is busy, so get there early or prepare to wait on line. This is just the burger you need when you crave a little meat and a little memory of your summers as a kid.

Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien on Urbanspoon

David Burke at Bloomingdale’s

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

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

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

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

 

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

Apple Sangria

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

Juicy Burkey

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

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

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

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

Lobster Bacon Mac and Cheese

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

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

Crabcake Sliders

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

These are a tasty small lunch or an ideal appetizer.

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

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

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

David Burke at Bloomingdale's on Urbanspoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bread Cart

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

Bread Selection

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

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

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

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

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

Butter

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

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

Cherry gazpacho with sheep’s ricotta and pistachios

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

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

Wonderful things about this dish include:

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

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

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

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

-this:

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

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

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

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

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

Roasted foie gras with cherries and kumquat compote

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

Seared scallop with young leek in green curry

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

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

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

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

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

Delicate green pea cream on foie gras royale with argan oil

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

Slightly cooked slamon with grain mustard seeds and mango tagliatelle

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

Sauteed veal chop with porcini mushrooms

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

Risotto of soybean sprouts, lime zest, and chives

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

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

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

Caramel panna cotta topped with fresh strawberries in a balsamic reduction

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

A perfect end to the meal.

Or is it?…

Mignardises

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

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

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

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

Joël Robuchon on Urbanspoon

Mole Restaurant Brings Mexico City to the UES

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

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

Sopa de Elote

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

Mexico City Style Quesadillas with Mushrooms

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

Tacos Suadero

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

Enchiladas de Mole Poblano

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

Desert Trio – Tres Leches, Flan, and Chocolate Cake

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

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

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

Good – A Restaurant That Really Earns its Name

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

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

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

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

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

Housemade Potato Chips with caramelized onion dip

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

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

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

Burger

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

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

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