Archive for September, 2017

CIEL IT WITH A SEMI-SWEET KISS

If you even just know me by name, you probably know that all retail desserts are measured against the quality of my mother’s desserts. Most don’t come close: too sweet, too many artificial ingredients, not baked enough, etc.  As a result, I am extremely selective – some label it snobbish – as to if and where I eat dessert elsewhere.

Most of you who do know me, know I’ve found the perfect competitor in Rocco’s, New York City, but that’s across the big river. I’ve written about two worthy contenders in New Jersey:  one in Ramsey, L’Arte , where I even dared to bring my mother once, and the other in Teterboro, Palermo’s. So when I saw a nearly full-page newspaper article (yes, I look at an actual printed newspaper), on a four-month-old French pastry establishment in Westwood, NJ, my eyes and mouth perked up. A panic rush of self-addressed questions comes over me – why didn’t I know about this, could it be as good as the pictures look, how soon can I try it? The first answer I don’t know. I was four months behind on this intel. Shame on me. The third answer was …this evening! And that would provide the second answer: yes!

20170920_214927Open until 10 p.m., which excites me by fitting into my late night schedules, I dashed to Westwood at 9:30. The space is tucked sideways, perpendicular to a strip center with another Korean-owned eatery, focused on bbq, called Kimchi Smoke, which moved from Bergenfield. The bakery case in front appeared nearly wiped clean, but there were a few desserts left. The Korean man (owner/partner) explained that these rectangles were called pallets. They are like mini-pound cakes that are warmed up and sliced, but they’re elaborate. One was pistachio, draped in white chocolate and another was milk chocolate and coffee with almonds. I ordered one of each to sit down and enjoy.

 

The back room is the open kitchen with counter and stools, along with a handful of tables. I was given a menu for separate plated desserts, which were more elaborate. At this point of the night, I had not eaten dinner. Dessert was destined to be my dinner because that’s what Ciel serves, and it’s served very well! Chef (and co-owner with her spouse) Jane’s resume sparkles in the pastry arts. Eleven Park Madison, Le Cirque and Nobu piqued my level of impression.  They both explained that they don’t and won’t serve savory dishes because they are doing only what they do best…..dessert! After all, you wouldn’t expect the pitmaster at Kimchi Smoke to serve up crème brulee.

When asked for a recommendation off of the dessert lounge menu, the gentleman suggested the chocolate soufflé as a first timer (a familiar French word of course). It is

 

baked to order in seven minutes and served with fresh made creme chantilly. The airiness and the gooey inside combined in a light and not-so-sweet marriage. That choice paired with the two “pallets” should’ve been a good enough first-visit tasting. But no; I had to notice the apple tarte tatin. I couldn’t  pass it up. It was the most beautiful looking of the desserts I had, but also the smallest portion. Here, Chef Jane’s artistic prowess was exhibited best. The “tarte”  looked like a large, square caramel filled with pieces of fresh apple. It was decorated with thin, dried apple slices, dabs of meringue and radish micro greens.

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Remember, French pastries such as these are meant to be tasted meticulously and slowly with small bites because the portions are not large. The textures are meant to touch every side of your mouth. In fact, the tasting of such desserts, rather than shoveling, is celebrated with a distinctive offering….a dessert tasting menu experience. Ciel offers a 20170920_215724five-course dessert tasting that she serves at the counter. The unique experience with her personal explanations takes about 1.5 hours. There’s also a three-course version that would take about 45 minutes. Reservations for a tasting experience is required at least 48 hours in advance. The tasting menu option truly brings the quality and New York food experience across that river and into this Bergen County town that’s filling up as a foodie destination.

She is quoted in The Record: “I barely use sugar. Fruits — raspberries, mangoes, cherries — have plenty of sweet in them. I don’t use anything that isn’t good for your body.” Her partner told me he goes to the market every morning to select the freshest fruits.

Dessert you can feel good about consuming! She even offers some that are vegan and gluten free, so there’s no excuse for anyone not to try her creations.

UPDATE: This writeup tasted so good to my co-workers, we all decided to try the three-course tasting created by Chef Jane. The images will artfully and tastefully speak for themselves…

 

 

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Batard: A Lone Shining Star, the Sequel

 

IMG_4609Not to start this out on a discordant note, but this is the sequel to my first and only visit to Batard two years ago. It was my last anniversary dinner with my husband. I felt a need to revisit the experience – alone. As I walked down North Moore street looking for the restaurant again, I had a vivid recollection of last time when we walked by the entrance two or three times. It’s a somewhat dark section of West Broadway. At 6:45, the restaurant only had two other occupied tables, and I was led through the empty room to the same table we had occupied, but this time, a chair was removed. I sat on the bench seat along the wall. I requested that table in my reservation, sillily thinking it would stir up some remnant particles of previous presence. Instead it was just a sad reminder of the absence.

But the server greeted me with a smile that I forced myself to comply with. At least I knew Michelin-starred (1 still) dishes would be on their way to me soon enough to forget about those things for a while. And then, it returned: the algebraic dilemma – two or three or four courses and the added complexity of which combination of courses would best add up to the number selected. I settled on appetizer, first course and entrée after I saw the complimentary bite-sized dessert being given to the table next to me at the end of their meal.

First came two selections of bread, both of which were placed on my bread plate: a slice of grain sourdough and a brioche topped with sea salt. Bread is my starter dessert, and when the woman asked if I’d like more bread, the left side of my brain said, “Don’t; you’ll get too full.” The right side said, “It’s too good to pass up; you have plenty of room in that empty stomaIMG_4607ch.” Out came: “Yes please”. Right side wins, and I unexpectedly was given one of each again.

Then came out my beautifully presented first choice: Madai Crudo, blood orange, cucumber and red pepper vinaigrette. The colors exploded in front of me like a bag of Sunkist candies. It’s still summer for sure! I see the French sauce spoon and am embarrassed to say that I wasn’t quite sure of its proper use. Should I break the fish with it? It’s somewhat flat, so I don’t see it being useful in scooping up that delicious vinaigrette that the snapper was bathed in. I faked it using the fork to break apart and eat the fish, alongIMG_4608 with the crispy curls of fish skin and then the ‘spoon’ for whatever less-solid remained. I cleaned up well.

The room began to fill up, and I didn’t feel so alone any more. It was a later-night dining crowd. The next course arrived. Tortellini,  tomato conserva, sweet corn, andouille, pickled chiles. It had just enough heat from the chiles and sausage to warm the tongue but not too much to burn the tummy. The little packages of pasta had the IMG_4610proper chewiness and the yin and yang of the gentle sweetness of the corn and slight sharpness pepper blended into a harmonious dish that left me wanting more….partially because of the smaller-sized portion.

Even though the waiter tried tempting me with the special pork schnitzel entrée, I told him I would reserve that for my German restaurant and go with the striped bass with goldbar squash puree, halved baby red potatoes, thai basil, roasted fennel bulb and some type of cabbage greens with the golden-browned fish draped over.

Surprisingly, probably because I went with fish versus meat, I wasn’t weighted-down full.

The two-bite-sized complementary pistachio mini muffin (but fluffier) with roasted pinapple laid in the top was enough to satisfy the need to end with a “dessert”. I’m doing it an injustice by calling it a muffin. In four bites, the two were politely completed.

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My first visit I questioned why it wasn’t two-star rated. After revisiting LB last September, I recognize where Batard has some room to grow. I didn’t feel like the Queen I was crowned at the 3-star. I wasn’t asked how everything was! I want the chance to give positive feedback after each course. I will likely not return soon, as the memories are still raw, but under regular circumstances, I would want to return for the food!

Smooth Running Kitchen Macchina

What a nice find in search for a quick lunch on the upper west side of New York City on a holiday. Although they were short staffed, the food made up for it. We were mistakenly given the later day menu and were disappointed when we had no pasta options. Start with the avocado bruschetta and thick juicy burger appetizer though. Pickled onion pieces sat atop the guacamole-like spread, which included the same cilantro addition. The burger is a custom blend beef topped with sweet caramelized onions. Fries don’t tend to be something impressive, but these seemed like they were baked – no greasy fingers and some with a crispy blackened end. In choosing one wood-grilled oven pie, I selected the veal polpetto (meatball). It was a white pizza (no red sauce) with
smoked mozzarella and fresh oregano. Yum. The smokey flavor combined with the shavings of hard Parmesan cheese gave the mild veal meatballs a balanced punch of flavor.

And a little over a week later, I could not get the idea of a fig and fennel pizza out of my mind. Unfortunately, it’s only offered for dinner. So are the pastas! After a good workout, I deserved to have a 9:45 sampling. A quick drive to the Upper West Side was in order. After 20 minutes, I arrived and was immediately seated. Before the water arrived, I interrupted the waiter’s spiel and asked for the SPAGUETTI and clams, mussels, saffron, and parsely crumb. I squirmed at what I thought was a typo, but a quick Google search shows it might be a foreign spelling…Forgiven! There’s a $16 plate option and a $23 option. The $16 version was sufficient as it was much larger than an appetizer portion. It sat in a small pool of saffron-scented broth that demanded to be spooned over every forkful I took. The pasta was cooked to a nice al dente. 20170911_221314

Nothing has fallen short here, but menu items are somewhat limited, and I imagine for a full dinner, one might get a little bored with the selections; however, they do offer Specials.

Silver Moon has Silver Lining

If I dine out, I generally prefer having dessert at a place that…well.. specializes in desserts. My staple is Pasticceria Rocco’s, but today there was no time to head all the way down to the Village. Lunch was at Macchina at 106th and lo and behold there’s Silver Moon on the corner. I always get excited to see such a bakery and generally am always disappointed. Not this time. The selection is small but delicious. Both the peach tart and plum crumb were tasty. The coffee was acceptable too. What really excited me was the variety of breads baked there. I had to take one home. Perfect crispy bread is perfect for any time of day. I know what I’ll be having for my late afternoon snack.  Read the charming story about the owner in the window. It makes it even more enjoyable to sit outside.

Well it is passed midnight. Driving home I see the long load of fig and black pepper bread in a white bag I had to try it. So I just bit into it like an apple and then I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t even really hungry, but it was so good that I think I crunch and a quarter of the loaf.

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Oh, did I fail to mention in a return trip to get a rosemary olive loaf and cranbury walnut sourdough, the thin napoleon and pear tart begged to be eaten?!

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