Posts Tagged ‘seafood’

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.

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!

In a Sicilian Kitchen

I admit it – for the most part, I don’t like when a friend recommends a restaurant.  That’s a facet of my entertainment life I’d like to hand pick. Maybe it’s because I love to explore and research and dive into the “About Us” of the restaurant before dining there. I want to go in feeling confident that the food is going to be good and I will thoroughly enjoy it. Everyone has different tastes and preferences; some are food discerning and some are quantity satisfied.

So when my friend Eddie suggested a New York City restaurant to me for casual Italian food, I almost ignored his recommendation. First understand Eddie. He loves to eat and does it as often as I do, but he finds a favorite dish at a restaurant and orders it every time. He literally licks the plate clean. He appreciates food like I do but within his own confines. I see the pleasure run from his mouth, through his body and settle warmly in his belly. I understand it. We used to enjoy Bocconi in Hackensack, NJ and have been hit and miss finding similar home-cooked-feel restaurants with quality food and family-like hospitality. It wasn’t until Eddie said, “They serve your food in the pan it’s cooked in, and there are only about 10 tables,” that I knew this had potential.

I made a lunch reservation (I wasn’t ready to fully commit to dinner) at Piccola Cucina on Spring Street, NYC. Mind you, it’s not Italian; it’s Sicilian food. The servers all have an accent; although one has a South African accent – it all sounds good. Okay ladies, they do hire for eye candy appetizers it seems.

Without a reservation, I’m not sure how you get in or where you stand. It’s small, and I’ve come to find out they have a larger location with a different type of menu around the corner on Prince Street. But with small comes personal. From the moment the servers and bussers approached our table, I felt like we were friends in another country. A birthday celebration was happening and all the lights were turned out as dessert was brought to the birthday child (not in an Applebee’s manner); everyone was singing and the kitchen staff rhythmically was hitting the pots and pans with utensils. It was a momentary party at someone’s house. Aside from the welcoming staff, let’s get down to the food.

Lunch and dinner are listed as separate menus on the web site, but I can’t see 20170513_173841the difference. Highly recommended by me now, and at the original suggestion of server Misha, the Eggplant Parmigiana Rivisitata is a fun and delicious “revistation” of the traditional dish. Served with grilled toasts and mixed green salad, the glass jar is layered with a pureed eggplant/basil mixture, topped with a creamy tomato sauce and finished off with a fluffy ricotta. We were instructed to reach from the bottom with the small spoon and scoop up, then spread it on toast. Delicioso! Close your eyes, and it’s a lighter, deconstructed version of eggplant parm coming back together in your mouth.

Another appetizer worth trying is the Polpette della Nonna con Caponata Siciliana  -Homemade grilled MeatbIMG_3990alls. But the apogee of appetizers was the special Grilled Octopus delivered on a cloud of burata cheese with olives and cherry tomatos. It was tender and smokey, and it turned a non-octopus-eating friend into a fan. The visual alone drew her in.

 

For the main course pasta dishes, these were all easy home run hitters:

  • Tagliatelle verdi con ragu’ di cinghiale aromatizzato alle erbe di campagna e scaglie20170319_142111 di tartufo  – Green Tagliatelle in a wild boar ragu’ with fresh herb aroma topped with black truffle shavings
  • Ravioli agli spinaci e ricotta con ragu’ di salsiccia – Spinach and ricotta ravioli with sausage sauceIMG_3931
  • Linguine all’astice 25 Lobster linguine served with half grilled lobster and tomato sauceIMG_3930

The only Second Course entree that made it in front of me was:

  • Composizione di crostacei al vapore  – Steamed Shellfish with vegetables

My only gripe might be that the same basic sauce is seen among several dishes. That might get boring after the love affair loses its luster.

The Prince Street location right around the corner is a bit roomier (larger) and focuses more on the fresh seafood displayed in a case but has similar dishes just IMG_3986as wonderful. While the servers tend to run back and forth between the two, sometimes to grab a cup of cappuccino or espresso from Prince St. for the customers at Spring St., my allegiance is now to Spring St. and my friendly waiters.

Their coffee rocks, but I admit I walk the .4 mile to Pasticceria Rocco‘s for dessert and a visit with my other fairly new hard-working Italian ‘friends’.

Hush Hush I Smell It Calling My Name

Aumm Aumm means “Hush Hush” in the Neapolitan dialect. Well, I’m letting this secret out. I never find myself in North Bergen, but I’ll be visiting frequently now. A friend who works at the elite Le Bernardin – need I say more – had been posting photos of dishes from Aumm Aumm quite often in the last six months. I trust the culinary opinion of someone who is employed at a number one New York restaurant. So back in December, with no reservations accepted, a group of us tried this self-proclaimed “wine bar and pizzeria”…which neither descriptive piques my gustatory sense.

It’s name it was: Aumm Aumm the surprise. I dislike the name; I dislike the tagline. Neither of them provide the golden key to this restaurant – fresh food! Because we waited 20 minutes, our hunger was building. It was best to order a cold throw-together dish to share. The Tagliere is a chef’s selection of 20161216_201942imported cheeses, imported coldcuts, olives, nuts and fresh fruit. It’s the perfect traditional way to begin.

Another cold dish followed: the Insalata Aumm Aumm. A signature dish should be the popular one, and it was among us, as far as a salad can be. Baby arugula, endive, raddichio, artichokes, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, cacciocavallo cheese was all dressed with balsamic vinaigrette.20161216_201312

I’m not one to dine out and order pizza, but with a bunch of people sharing food, one is tempted to try it, since it’s claimed in the name and you sit facing the opening of the large brick oven stove. Choices 20161216_200701are red or white pizzas, round or the larger oblong. We went with a round, red one – the Cappriciosa. It was topped with tomato sauce, ham, mushrooms, Gaeta olives, artichokes and mozzarella. The flavors popped, but as is often with brick oven pizzas, the dough has that lovely charcoal crisp on the outside, but is soft and chewy on the top side. I am a crispy bread freak too, so I was a bit disappointed to get strips of pizza dough in our bread basket for starters.

They carry 150 types of wines. Several primi pasta dishes were ordered, and all were cooked al dente. On the first visit, we tried the Sciallatielli allo Scoglio with fresh pasta, baby clams, shrimp, octopus, PEI mussels, calamari and cherry tomatoes. The second time we went with their new frequent patron, my friend, and the same dish was twice as large and came out inside a pizza dough crust to absorb all the seafood flavors.IMG_3902

Seared pork chops, fish of the day, grilled octopus, among other second courses are worth exploring. Now that Aumm Aumm is no longer on the down low, they may need to change the name…please.

 

Food that Floats Your Boat in NJ

I recently had the pleasure of having a business lunch with a client I’ve known for years but never met face-to-face. He’s out of Toronto and has come to New York City but has never spent any time in New Jersey. He asked me to make the arrangements, but it needed to be near the Lincoln Tunnel for him to get back to Midtown.

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This would be an easy task. It had to be waterfront dining in my mind. New Jersey is fortunate to have lots of waterfront, especially from Middlesex County south. But let’s focus on New Jersey’s Gold Coast for this purpose – or the sprawling Hudson Waterfront as most of you know it. I picked Edgewater.

These days, you can count on an increase in prices at any establishment that’s located waterfront, be it residential, commercial or retail. Dining waterfront on a beautiful spring day is unbeatable for the view, including the NYC skyline – and the calming nature of water. I made a reservation at the young restaurant Haven, which is at the edge of yet another mixed-use development that is still in progress. It already is surrounded by functioning residential and retail spaces. Its modern look offers indoor or outdoor seating and a bar.

oThe waiter was among the top friendliest and respectful servers I’ve encountered. This was lunch, so we skipped appetizers, and since nobody was sure which party was footing the bill yet, we all ordered conservatively. There’s no item, be it main entrée or sandwich, under $18 (remember, prime waterfront space equals prime rent for the landlord). When asked, the waiter suggested the Marinated Hanger Steak Salad with arugula, blue cheese, pickled red onions, avocado, croutons and red wine vinaigrette (the most expensive lunch item at $22) and the Fried Fish Po’ Boy made with Atlantic skate, sweet cucumber, tomato, romaine and garlic-lime tartar sauce. I don’t prefer a deep fried dish usually, but I love New Orleans-style food and went with his recommendation. I chose the side of mixed baby greens, rather than fries, to balance it. The fish was fried perfectly crispy, not greasy, flakey and moist on the inside. The roll was perfectly sized to its contents and was bakery fresh tasting.

If you want to impress, always land a window seat or sit outdoors at a waterfront restaurant in New Jersey. There are a number of great newcomers in Edgewater alone, including Pier 115 and Orama, and some older staples like Le Jardin and Crab House. Just drive up and down River Road from Fort Lee to Weehawken – even the non-water side of the road has the new Lobster Shack and the established La Vecchi Napoli. You’ll find something that floats your boat along the river.

The Recipe for Italian Restaurants in NJ

I couldn’t even guess how many restaurants in New Jersey classify themselves as Italian. They run the gamut from pizzerias that serve simple Italian dishes to cafes or casual, to upscale dining. It comes as no surprise since New Jersey has the second highest number of Italian Americans in the country at 1,503,637, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

I tend to lose interest quickly when I hear that a “new” Italian restaurant opened. Our market is saturated, but we all have a few favorites, and it’s often based on proximity. For some, quantity is a factor; others weigh quality heavier when comparing. I lean toward the latter, but location definitely plays favor. When my preferred casual Italian restaurant shuttered recently, a number of people I know were distraught – not because there is a lack of other choices, but because it had the formula for somewhere you can enjoy frequenting twice a month or more… quality food, hospitality, inexpensive and 10 minutes from home in Bergen County. I mentioned in a previous column that I may have found my rebound with La Cambusa in Garfield. Less than a month ago, however, a new Italian restaurant opened in Bergenfield, called The Recipe, on the corner of S. Washington and E. Clinton avenues.

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A repulsive feeling came over me – “oh, another glorified pizzeria serving lots of low-grade-cheese parmigiana dishes to try to qualify as an Italian restaurant.” But a coupon lured me in along with dangling carrots of location and cute appearance (the full-size windows allow you to see through as you drive by). My second foot in the door, and I was greeted with a warm smile and a “good evening.” That got off on the right foot. The menu is not extravagant but has basic pastas, veal, chicken, seafood and steak dishes, along with a creative list of specials, which only averaged $24.

20160219_204721The menu items were less. My first real taste of The Recipe came after the warm bread and the soup (choice of minestrone or chicken noodle that comes with an entrée) was the eggplant stack appetizer with beefy tomato slices, fresh mozzarella – the top layer slightly melted – thick breaded eggplant slices and a bed of mixed greens, all drizzled with a balsamic reduction. Thumbs up!

I usually test an Italian restaurant with a veal dish or a pasta/seafood combo. The first visit scored an 88 with a veal francese and artichoke hearts ($19). The second visit scored an 89.5 with the Linguini Del Mar red sauce (also $19), large butterflied shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari. The calamari was slightly overdone but not enough to detract from the rest of the goodness. More importantly, I requested very little garlic, and they listened! Finishing the meal with a decent cappuccino was equally important.

20160219_210831When one’s expectations are low or none is when the gems are discovered. I hope this passes the initial five-year business test because it has a solid B++ in my book. That could definitely go up as I order more.

Another recent Italian restaurant opening is Rugova in River Edge. It reopened the vacant building that housed Dinallo’s. Let us know how you grade these newcomers. Rugova is owned by the same people who have Dimora and Sear House, so they should be good at this.

LET YOUR PERSONAL NEW JERSEY CHEF IMPRESS

rrFor those who concur that food and music can determine a good time – most hosted occasions require more than a tray of penne marinara and salad from your local pizzeria. Now I’m not saying that New Jersey’s pizzerias can’t deliver good food because we New Jerseyans know we have some of the best pizza around. I am talking about the milestone life events, such as a first-year wedding anniversary.

In August 2002, I was trying to plan something special for our one-year September anniversary. It needed to involve really good food and really good music. The standards to be met were high. My husband, although not a professional chef by trade, is an excellent cook. He was also a musician, so I knew the quality had to be high for both. While we had often eaten at fine establishments, this had to be a little more personal. I came up with the idea of hiring a personal chef for the evening and a harp player (couldn’t get one to carry their harp up my front steps, so I wound up with a classical guitarist). I didn’t know anyone who did this at the time, so I researched and came up with Chef John Deatcher/Foodini’s Catering. He’s based in Neptune, but traveled to North Jersey. Unlike some others I had contacted, John did not just offer set menus. He worked with me to create personal dishes for each course with the entrée being Chilean sea bass. We enjoyed his food so much that I hired him to cater a 40-person birthday party. He was impeccable in cleanliness too.

429639_511561445556758_1698383510_nIn 2002, there was no Facebook, so I was not privy to Robert Russo’s journey into the culinary world. We grew up in the same town, and when I found out he had opened a small, high-quality restaurant in Hasbrouck Heights, we immediately made reservations. It was 4-star food and ambience. While the Red Hen Bistro had too short a life, it was even too much for Russo to handle on top of his flourishing catering business. As much as he and everyone who set foot in there loved the restaurant, he decided to put all his efforts into Robert Andrews Caterers & Special Events. While I have not had the need to hire Robert yet in this capacity, I have had the privilege of being served his food personally. His passion for cooking is evident and his desire to “serve only the best for the best” – in his words – has propelled him to go the path of all natural and organic and no GMOs. Robert caters all types of events and provides a personal chef service as well. Maybe Robert’s catering business was not born yet in 2002, and I would not have had this option, but if you want to impress your guests who are wooed by quality food, hire this New Jersey home-grown chef. You’ll understand what it’s like to eat in a Michelin-starred restaurant.

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