Archive for the ‘Dining Out’ Category

Restaurant Daniel without My Daniel

September 16, 2019 I set off on my yearly pilgrimage of culinary pleasure and pain since the loss of my dear Daniel in 2016. I revisit the Michelin-starred restaurants where we celebrated our wedding anniversaries, and I do it alone. In 2013, it was Daniel, which you can read about here. I’m not sure why I do it; it just feels right for my soul at this time. I admit, though, it also feels right for my palette.

As I approached, I recalled the steps of yesteryear, not sure exactly where it was until I saw the name glowing on the marquee. I was looking to recreate that approach, but the marquee was obstructed by a construction awning. Upon swinging through those goIMG_6760lden revolving doors, it felt like an eerie dream state where I had to walk this long corridor alone where four hosts stood behind a desk waiting and watching ever step. I was led into a mostly empty dining room at 5:15 p.m. It appeared the same as I recalled from our last visit.

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Similar to the dating scene, it is only fair to IMG_6771give my top three guys an equal number of dates for proper comparison. Eric (Ripert) and David (Bouley) each took me on three dining dates; whereas I only had given Daniel (Boulud) one chance at 65th Street. So now was the moment for him to be able to pull out all the stops to win me over as his culinary lover. I am convinced that with a concerted effort, it’ always the one freshest in your mind that will seem the best.

Electing for the four-course menu, I begged for recommendations because there were too many choices, working backwards from my third-course immediate choice of Suckling Pig. Since it was brand new on the menu, I decided on the CRABE ROYAL – King Crab

Salad, Honeycrisp Apple, Kohlrabi, Sesame Tuile, Poppy Seed Gelee. But of course first comes the amuse bouche. The server listed too many ingredients in these mini works of art, but I know one involved eggplant and the other beets. I was immediately spared any thoughts of selection regret when out came another first course – complements of tIMG_6765he chef – (oh, he’s trying hard to impress). THE FLAGEOLET was enhanced with tableside pouring of the “soup”. I should have captured the deconstructed pieces before they were covered in the sauce. It was another masterpiece. The Flageolet Beans, Black Garlic, Confit Carrots and Maine Lobster at center with the Lemon-Thyme Cream were standing orderly in the bowl before the Artichoke Veloute was gently poured in.

Bread service came along to complicate matters. The three-seed roll was enough to sample, although I could have tried each kind but spared the space in my stomach.

The second course was grilled swordfish, which looked like a dollhouse of twin beds. The ESPADON was accompanied by summer squash, shallot marmalade, Thai basil with Le Cirque’s “Sauce Sottha Kuhnn” drizzled by the server.

And finally, the base of my other meal selections – the COCHON DE LAIT: Gaspor Farm Suckling Pig with Melilot, Ginger-Carrot Croquettes, Daylilly Buds and Sauce Robert. There was only one cringe moment; the server asked, “Are you enjoying the pig?” There was a drifting moment of guilt. And when the plate, as all the others were, was returned to its dishwasher-clean state, except for the bone, I flashed to a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode and hesitated to ask for a “doggy bag” for my dog. She deserved a remnant of that crispy, smoky/sweet tenderness.IMG_6774

Then came the moment that everyone unadmittedly waits for – the fourth and final dessert course. I asked my server to verbally walk me through the desserts and expand upon the written words. His personal favorite was the cashew something something, which turned out to be the NOIX DE CAJOU (now you see why I wanted interpretations). I wanted to defy him and get the FIGUE because simply any dessert with fig has to be the best. He was pretty emphatic about the cashew concoction, so out came this sculpture of Cashew Infused Opalys Chocolate, Salted Caramel and Praline, with Champaka Flower Ice Cream…..why can’t I find this in the supermarket?? And magically, “The Chef must have heard you and sent the Sil-timur Berry Scented Fig Compotee, Mascarpone and Coffee, a recreated version of creme brulee.”

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It instantly dawned on me: This was a murder conspiracy. Death by Desserts! It became especially evident when one employee walking by offered the suggestion of breaking through all the layers at once rather than tasting the fig dessert from the top. This way I would need to consume more of it! If that didn’t do the trick, send over the guyIMG_6782 with a napkin basket of warm madeleines, and after she takes one, leave the whole basket for her on the table to be tempted.

But wait, she’s still sitting strong with her coffee. How about the box trick? It’s like the Russian Tea Dolls with one inside another. And to seal the deal of Dessert Overkill, send her home with a “gift” that she can ingest “later tonight or tomorrow”.

Truth be told, I would have sampled every dessert on that menu if that were humanly possible, but I didn’t want to leave uncomfortable. And in fact, half of each of them did come home with me. I was onto their little murderous plan, and I figured a way out!

Well Daniel Boulud, you’ve done it. You knocked out David and Eric with a single evening’s punch and are now my Chef Guy, and I am your Patron Girl. What really became a deciding factor was the keepsake at the end – a printed personal menu of all that I had personally eaten. Wow! So until my next visit to the other guys, you’re the man Daniel.

Magnolia of Le Monde

Having been the pet mom of an adoring cat the last 20 years, I wasn’t exposed to the same needs and opportunities that canines present. I had a toy fox terrier at my parents’ home as a late teen, but Rocky didn’t go places. He wasn’t a tag-along dog because someone was always in the house.

Now I’ve come to have a little rescue girl enter my life, and in some ways she has rescued me. Although she came from an outdoor, neglectful environment, her dining habits are quite good. She found a stepmom, who is a foodie, but who generally does not give her table food. On my latest lunch outings in Manhattan, I found myself wanting the company of my sweet, little Magnolia. She doesn’t bark…I mean ever. If we lived in Europe, she would tag along with me to many outdoor cafes, but where could I take my canine companion where other diners would not be disturbed and where she would be accepted nearly the same as I am? The answer came quickly the first warm days of spring.IMG_4513

I frequent Le Monde on Broadway for lunch, as you may have read from my last blog post. As soon as the al fresco dining began on the sidewalk, I brought Magnolia along for a test run. She sat close to me on the ground like a well-mannered six-year-old girl should. And then our kind host, Scott, offered her the option of an appetizer of grilled chicken. Actually, he politely asked her step-mommy for approval before bringing it. While her tastes are not so discerning (yet?), she immensely enjoyed her meal at Le Monde and washed it down with a few slurps of New York City tap water. What more could a little rescue dog ask for?

So whether you like dogs or not, I promise I would not subject patrons to Miss Magnolia if she were not well behaved. In fact, she is so small, she could mostly remain undetected. If you do like dogs, come say hello to Magnolia of Le Monde because she can’t wait to go back and see Scott, the hand that fed her , not scraps of fat, but quality grilled chicken. And more importantly, while the weather’s nice, go enjoy one of LeMonde’s well-prepared, delectable dishes for yourself with your furry friend accompanying you…quietly. You might even get a photograph of your pup to appear on https://www.facebook.com/Cool-Canines-of-NYC-624304414695457/ .

Prolifer..profil..pro… one of those (profiteroles), please???!!!20190608_140756

Being Someone in “The World”

Upon arriving for your date with an unknown, your first impression is mostly based on appearance. You walk in the door; your eyes trace the surroundings – left to right, up and down. You can quickly sense what your level of expectation should be: how you will be greeted, how you will be treated.

Are you addressed personally by name, or are you just another paying date? Are you made to feel like you are the only one who matters in the room, or do you immediately get the sense that this is an eat and run? Once you sit down together, you absorb the wonderful, or not-so-wonderful smells, the colorful appearance and artistic presentation in front of you. But does what you are about to dive into make you feel special, or are you just another face in the crowd?

Yes, I am talking about a restaurant, not a Match.com meetup. Oh the reviews can be outstanding. The cuisine can be delectable, but what sets it all apart from others is not you simply being present beneath a French chandelier or behind a plate of  yellowfin tuna tartar with fresh mango and avocado mousse, but rather that you are recognized and celebrated for being there.

The maître d’ is key! My first visit to Le Monde (translates to: The World) on the Upper West Side (UWS) of New York City was somewhat out of location necessity. It was a weekday, late afternoon, following my 83-year-old mom’s doctor’s appointment. Lunch was overdue, and she enjoys trips over the GW Bridge if they’re not too long. A solution would be to stick to the UWS. In my never-ending research for worthy dining establishments, I came across Le Monde, but French always comes with a warning sticker for me: extra dollar signs or escargot and other dishes that mom would no longer experiment with these days. While those little buggers are on the menu, the rest of it celebrates “the cuisine of the Loire Valley”, and it seems more familiar everyday food than not.

Entering at an off-meal hour (3:00), the restaurant was maybe 20 percent occupied. Scott, the maître D’, sat us by the glass doors with a sidewalk view of Broadway. We connected immediately with the topic of pets somehow. I explained that Mom needed a “soft” dish due to her dental issues. He offered the French Onion Soup with gruyere, the Tomato and Burrata Tart with fresh basil, olive oil, balsamic glaze and the French Omelette with caramelized onions, spinach, gruyere. Yes, I said, to all. And she must have “French” fries! It’s her new weird addiction.

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Scott checked in several times, engaging in personal conversation with us. He felt like a long lost friend. And now, when I think of where to take Mom after her uncomfortable appointments, other restaurants come to mind and pass through quickly. The warmth that flows over me when made to feel like a celebrity or someone who might write a critical blog or just someone that MATTERS, embraces my decision-making process and satisfies my soul for an hour or so. The coffee doesn’t hurt either!

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Brunch Bunch Brawlers – Part II

Brunch locations in New York City are endless, and every week I attempt to find a different restaurant to please my palette and help my friends, aka fellow Brunch Bunch Brawlers, experience a more-than satisfying culinary excursion. I shall continue the recap with our visit to Morandi on Waverly. In doing the dining research, the menu is the first link to click, so the atmosphere is sometimes a surprise. Since looks are usually the first impression, we knew this was going to be good. Marry brick and wood, and it puts

me in a time machine to where I feel most comfortable reverting. The menu items delivered the same rustic promise:

  • Focaccia “occhio di bue”*: with a sunny-side egg, pancetta & pecorino
  • Burrata e zucca: burrata cheese with roasted delicata squash, arugula & toasted pumpkin seeds
  • Con semi di zucca: whole grain toast with hard boiled egg, avocado
  • Campanelle alla norma: bell-shaped pasta with tomato, roasted eggplant & mozzarella

An extreme desire to drive to Morandi right now has overtaken my typing fingers.

Our next brunch pilgrimage was based on location. Spring had just sprung, and a walk in Central Park was in order. Along comes the marmalade institution known as Sarabeth’s with a new location overlooking the park and next to the Plaza Hotel. Of course with the locational perk comes a higher price tag, but it was a great diversion from our more casual spots and the quality warranted it. Busy, busy, busy – everyone knows the name apparently. The front dining room was all abuzz and would not have been my preference with hungry patrons milling around restlessly waiting for others to finish. Although the back dining room loses the park view, there’s a courtyard in view as a consolation.

The menu is true brunch with triple choices of “extraordinary egg” selections, sweet breakfasts and lunchie sandwiches.

  • SALMON EGGS BENEDICT: smoked salmon, hollandaise, peppers, chives
  • The popular new kid on the block (these might have been fluffier than Locanda Verde – see Brunch 1) – LEMON & RICOTTA PANCAKES: blackberries, organic maple syrup
  • HAM & TURKEY CLUB SANDWICH: bacon jam, manchego, avocado on a croissant
  • CRAB MEAT GUACAMOLE & CHIPS: cilantro, lime, jalapeño
  • A scone, muffin and preserves and butter

It looks like a lot, but we walked it off in the park.

This rustic, cash-only sister of Frank’s on 2nd Ave. is on 2nd Street! Supper is for brunch, and so simply enjoyable it was that we brawlers – a different combo – went two weeks in a row. But this Northern Italian fare doesn’t have a Northern Italian flair when it comes to eggs. How can it? It’s eggs, but it is innovative.

That flair kicks in on the basic pastas and creative pretend pasta, which somehow taste better when you sit in the glass-window fronted room and watch the foot traffic.

 

 

And server Simone is a sight for sore eyes ladies, but you’ll have to wait for supper to see him now at Supper, no more at Frank’s.

And here’s one more to wrap up this second installation of the Brunch Bunch Brawlers. Palma holds generations of family recipes in its palm and holds my tummy for being right around the corner from my favorite Pasticceria. The white stucco walls seem more Greek, but the bright rear of the restaurant is an indoor/outdoor garden.P1040994

Agnolotti Ricotta e Spinaci – homemade pasta filled with spinach and buffalo ricotta, served with basil and tomato sauce

Brunch requires pancakes/waffles or French toast. Here it was French Toast with mascarpone and fresh fruit, finished
with maple syrup even if Rocco’s desserts were steps away.

Stay tuned for episode 3, as I try to keep up!

Brunch Bunch Brawlers – Part I

Brunch – how snooty I thought! That’s for women driving Jaguars, who plan their day around socials with other women driving BMWs. Who has time for a meal in-between meals? Alas, New York City has forced brunch upon me! It seems a majority of the city’s restaurant owner believe it is okay to restrict my ability to eat lunch on a Saturday! This angered me. Every noon-time reservation I tried to make came with a brunch menu online. The lunch menu is only available Monday through Friday when I am absolutely unable to venture in because……I don’t work in the city. Why was I being punished for living in New Jersey? Why am I not allowed to have a smaller version of dinner items mid-day – you know, around lunch time?? Shouldn’t I be able to order lunch during lunch hours no matter the day of week?!….Exhale…..

What stemmed from a schedule change in life has now resulted in a new habit. Dinner was the preferred meal for dining out – it’s grand, it ends your day on a satisfyingly full belly and you don’t need to think about food until the next morning (except for we night owls who -see what I did?- nibble late night). A change in circumstances caused me to start gathering friends together for Saturday lunches and where else but in nearby New York City for a mini quarter-day trip.

First up in December 2017 was Eataly Downtown because I wanted to impress with the panoramic view and an actual lunch with no dish resembling breakfast. There were five of us for the first jaunt, so we fit nicely packed into a sedan with a little food expansion room. Since the delicious dishes will be too many to list, I must highlight some favorites to provide a Brawlers’ compilation. Any chance I get, I cap the meal off with a stroll or drive to Pasticceria Rocco’s, and if you don’t know why, read all the mentions in my blog posts.

A week later, still in my brunch protest mode, another group of five headed to the Upper West Side to Celeste. Because it was on the other end of the island, I tried Cafe Lalo (made famous in “You’ve Got Mail”) for the first time. While it was visually fun and appealing, the quality of the desserts just didn’t measure up. I tried.

Yet another week later, I tried to get my toes wet and found a brunch menu at The Ribbon that included lunch items like burgers as well. I went for it with a Breakfast Sandwich: House Made Pork Apple Sausage, Avocado, Grilled Onions, Fried Egg, Cheddar, Butter Lettuce. It made me tingle with the idea that I could get used to this. I would never have meat for breakfast but combine it with an egg for brunch? Now we’re talking possibilities. Even a Fox 5 anchorwoman seemed to enjoy herself here. At this time I was on a best-pie quest and read that Petee’s claimed that title. I’d label it “OK”.

2018 began with Locanda Verde, which really dove into brunch. I was slowly converting. The Hudson River was like a floating iceberg that day, and sitting against the glass windows, I couldn’t remove my coat. But the meal began with Locanda’s own fresh baked goods: Apple and pistachio danish and cranberry goat cheese scone. A zucchini frittata followed by a hearty Rigatoni lamb bolognese, sheep’s milk ricotta and mint plate and closing with the fluffiest lemon ricotta pancakes, never imagining a fluffier one was yet to come.

We snuck in a return visit to Eataly Downtown with a new crew of five, but the area we ate in is a seasonally changing restaurant. Then it was La Stagione, so pasta it was, closing with a most important run over to Rocco’s:

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Celebrating a friend’s birthday – and with a record eight attendees in one vehicle – closed out January 2018 and the closest thing to brunch was the fried egg on top of the thin crust pizza at Otto Enoteca, a place of nostalgia for me. Pasta and more pasta was had and still we had room for Rocco’s after walking there through Washington Square Park.

Il Buco delivered one of the cutest decors and was another true lunch. I made a guess that their bread was from Sullivan Bakery but was surprised to learn they made their own! It was a small group of four on a rainy February day. The cod croquettes were a nice diversion, and I won’t even say where dessert was had!

Five of us were warmed up by the healthy-minded brunch at Hearth on another cold February day.  Bruschetta with goat cheese and carmelized onions, Mushroom brodo for dipping a wild mushroom and cheese sandwich, Bacon/egg/cheese on warm english muffin with contadina potatoes were some of the tempting items.

March rolled in with a double shot of Bar Primi. The brunch was so good the first time, I returned with six others the following week, and we all were treated with eating near Actor Patrick Stewart.

To be continued in Part II, where the Brunch Brawlers Bunch are fully addicted to this in-between meal….

Verboten Broten

Forbidden Bread: In today’s society of scandalous starch and refuting gluten, how does Sullivan Street Bakery survive? First, it’s people like me who revere crunchy-crusted, airy-centered fresh-baked breads as works of art to be idolized. Instead of admiring the loaves with my eyes and nose, however, my mouth engulfs it and removes it from IMG_5619possible display. I literally could eat a special loaf with just some EVOO (or even plain) as an entire dessert meal.

My first exposure to this delicacy (yes, I just referred to a raised ball of yeast as a delicacy) was at Mario Batali’s Babbo Ristorante. My then boyfriend Daniel and I needed to know if they were creating this crispy wonder since everything else brought to the table was fresh, high-quality food. The server gave up the provider – the secret of Sullivan Street Bakery. I know can almost always identify the overwhelming amount of restaurants that provide us diners with such a free opening treat.

The next time we were wandering the Village, we walked down Sullivan Street looking for the bakery to buy our own samples to enjoy at home, but no such luck. We did not know that Sullivan Street Bakery was no longer on Sullivan Street. According to the web site, Sullivan Street Bakery was founded in 1994 in New York City.  In 2000, the bakery moved to Hell’s Kitchen. And since then, they opened a cafe to the public in Chelsea on 9th Ave. to enjoy breakfast/brunch-style servings incorporating their breads!

Today, I had a carb craving. After all, I played tennis in the morning. There was a parking space practically out front. The different breads jutted out from racks on the wall like a beautiful sculpture. Two stools opened up at the counter, and a friend and I eagerly sat ready for someone to offer up the best options. Nobody behind the counter paid attention though. A kind regular patron told me to go to the register a few feet away and order. I found that a bit bothersome. The young man at the register made me feel compelled to try am Uovo in Coppetta though (poached egg bowl). I selected the AL CONTADINO – two poached eggs, toasted Truccione Sare bread, butternut squash, cipollini onion, fingerling potato, herbs, lemon oil. THIS made me experience a different kind of Flour Power!

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I’m also a sucker for a good butternut squash soup because I enjoy cooking my own. Even though this could’ve been slightly thicker, the pieces of sour apple and toasted pumpkin seeds gave it a different spin. As luck would have it, the kitchen accidentally made two instead of one bowl, so guess who enjoyed that? I needed a sandwich to truly experience their bread. The young man suggested ANINI D’UOVO (served on their Strecci bread) – The Originale: with soft-cooked eggs, crisp Prosciutto di Parma, demi-sec tomato, basil. So simple. So good. And just because it had the words “Roast Pork” in the description, I sampled that sandwich as well; it was very good but surprisingly my least favorite of the selections if I had to choose.

I always ask at a New York City dining establishment when I think their bread is provided by Sullivan Street because I want to confirm how identifiable its goodness is. I am mostly correct except one time I was fooled at Il Buco, where it turns out they used to be supplied by SSB, but decided they could make their own. Watch out Sullivan Street; they had ME fooled.IMG_5564

Circling back to the opening where I mention dessert, while the dessert items such as the bomboleno were tempting and I did taste their artistic cappuccino with swirly design, the Little Pie Company was only a six-minute drive! A seasonal pear apple crumb and the traditional high-covered old-fashioned apple pie were tasty, but don’t ask for it warm. The microwave “melts” the pie crust and steals the flaky, crispy texture that defines its excellence.

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The metaphor I used is ironic for I just found out that “Jim Lahey studied sculpture before learning the art of bread baking in Italy. When he returned to New York City in 1994, he opened Sullivan St Bakery in Soho with little more than the wild yeast he hand-cultivated in Italy and a desire to bring the craft of small-batch bread baking to America.”

Dolce de Leche, a Sweet Cultural Surprise

Everyone knows I’m a dessert snob. Brought up being served European style pies, tarts and cakes right out of our oven, I can’t get myself to set foot in most American-style bakeries for a sugary rainbow overload. I favor Italian and French pastries with nods yet again to Pasticceria Rocco’s and Silver Moon in New York City. Bergen County, New Jersey shines with L’Arte, Erie and Ciel.

Today began with the notion of lunch at Aumm Aumm in North Bergen, arriving at 12:20. It’s been a year exactly since I last ate there. We walked in from the 18-degree weather to be told, “We don’t open until 1:00 for lunch.” I couldn’t comprehend why so late to start lunch service. In a panic, I Googled “lunch near me” and up popped a Yelp 4-star eatery La Sorrentina only .5 miles away.  My first impression was a pizzeria. I downgraded my expectations of having a satisfying lunch. But once the oven-warm bread and olive oil came out, I thought the runway was clear.

I am not particularly enamored with pizza unless there’s something special about it. This one was a little special tasting. We ordered a small (six slices) QUATTRO STAGIONI with
Eggplant, Artichokes, Mushroom and Prosciutto. That almost could have done it for me. Nervously I ordered the SPAGHETTI AI SAPORI DI MARE: Mixed Seafood with a Spicy Tomato Sauce because that’s what I had in mind for Aumm Aumm. Well the shrimp, mussels, clams and calamari were married with an arrabiata sauce that was reminiscent of Bocconi.  And the LA CAPRESE, Homemade Mozzarella with Tomatoes and Extra Virgin Olive Oil starter was quite satisfying.

Photo of Trattoria La Sorrentina - North Bergen, NJ, United States. Spaghetti ai sapori di mare. Mixed seafood w pasta in tomato sauce. Served fresh, hot, and delicious.  Yum

It was when my Argentinian friend brought up dessert at a nearby Argentinian bakery that I began to pout internally.  I pre-judged. I had an image of churros – a fried dessert. Oh no! That’s all I could see. He insisted, “We go for coffee there too!” Less than a half mile drive and we arrived at Dolce De Leche, a large, bright bakery cafe with many tables, most occupied. The first thing I noticed was the busy bakers in the kitchenIMG_5374through the glass. It was nice to actually see through the kitchen. This cafe offers a selection of savory breakfast and lunch items too, such as quiche and sandwiches and empanadas, but it’s hard not to go directly to the dessert cases. I skipped over the fried section to dispel my preconceived notions and went directly to the small desserts that look like they could’ve been in Rocco’s or Silver Moon’s cases. I actually tried an elephant ear too just because they looked so perfect. It was the mini desserts, though, with fruit and dulce de leche that were my favorite. And yes, the coffee measured up…in this instance, a cappuccino (a real cup rather than paper would’ve made it better for staying in house). Who knew Argentinians did dessert in a European style — not too too sweet!

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