March 9, 2010
Surprise surprise, I am behind in posting about our lives lately so naturally this took place all the way back in October. I’m hoping to play catch up in the next week or so and get pics posted from our holiday trips to Hong Kong and Florida.
A few months back whilst browsing the interwebs, I saw a post on Serious Eats about an event they were sponsoring at Astor Center’s new space with Hot Doug’s. Truth be told, I had never heard of Hot Doug’s prior to this but as soon as I saw the menu, I knew we had to get tickets. If I remember correctly, it was $60 for two and the meal included 6 Dos Equis beers, an amuse, 2 Chicago-style hot dogs, two of their foie gras topped hot dogs, and an order of duck fat fries.
Ed Levine and Doug Sohn
Chefs in the kitchen
Jason and JJ
Amuse of fancy pigs in a blanket with spicy mustard (not surprising that these were Jason’s favorite of the whole night, aside from the beer that is)
Chicago-style hot dog with the works
Foie gras topped hot dog
Duck fat fries
All of the food was good but surprisingly, my favorite was the “homely” Chicago dog. I thought it would be the foie gras dog but without anything acidic/sweet/tart, it was a bit too rich for me. The Chicago dog was perfect though with the refreshing and crunchy fresh vegetables on top. I think the duck fat fries had been fried a little bit earlier so by the time we got to them, they weren’t as crispy as I would have liked but the flavor was good nonetheless.
The highlight/memorable moment of the evening for me though wasn’t the food. It was getting to meet and speak to Doug Sohn for a few minutes as we waited in line to get our food. Yes, he is THE Doug behind Hot Doug’s. He stood at the front of the line and spoke to each and every person at the event. It wasn’t surprising that he did though because he apparently mans the register at the storefront in Chicago almost all the time. Being owners of a food establishment ourselves, we totally respect his passion for his craft and appreciate that he loves to talk to his customers. He is a very funny, down to earth, and approachable guy.
When he learned that we were new owners of a food place, he quickly offered up some hard-earned advice. He told us to never look at blogs and online review sites (i.e; Yelp). He said that our goal shouldn’t be to please everybody and that we shouldn’t change what we do based on the opinion of a few people. That’s hard for me to do and whilst I don’t agree 100% with that philosophy because I do think that listening to our customers is important, I do understand that there will always be naysayers no matter how good the food. Now every time I read a negative review or comment on Twitter about us, I think about Doug’s advice, take a deep breathe, assess whether there’s any merit in the person’s opinion, and usually just close down my browser because I find none.
In any case, Jason and I are heading to Chicago for our annual anniversary trip (read about last year’s in New Orleans here) this year. So far I have about 30 places on our Chicago Google map to go to but rest assured, Hot Doug is at the top of the list and one of the places that definitely will not be missed.
September 11, 2009
This is a haiku written by Jason and dedicated to one of the best burgers we’ve had in a long time.
May 9, 2008
Today’s post is from our guest writer, the original JLH!:
I usually don’t feel the need to add onto Jacquie’s restaurant reviews, partly because we discuss most of the stuff over dinner and partly because I proof her postings so I subtly inject my comments that way. This time however, if I had injected my comments into her latest review it would have been far too obvious because Jacquie cares little about alcohol.
As she mentioned briefly, Jacquie ordered a mint julep and it was by far one of the best I’ve had. Mint Juleps are simple in practice –
- Prepare a mint simple syrup the night before by boiling 1 cup of water and 1.5 cups of sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Throw in about 15-20 sprigs of mint and let it chill in the refrigerator overnight so the syrup is infused with mint flavor.
- When preparing the drink, add a few mint leaves to a rocks glass (or stainless steel cup if you’re authentic), add a quick splash of bourbon and then muddle. Add a large handful of crushed ice, and then add a 2:1 ratio of bourbon to simple syrup until the glass is filled. A traditional garnish of fresh mint sprig is optional.
– but delicate in execution. If you think it’s easy you can try one of Wildwood’s and then compare it to mine, which for some reason turns out to taste just like bourbon over ice with a little mint flavor. It’s going to take much more practice for me to get it right.
So anyway, the mint julep at Wildwood was surprisingly delicious. As for the rest of the bourbons, well, the list was excellent. I hate saying that one bourbon is better than another, or pick a favorite, mostly because bourbons are not meant to be created equal.
If I was pushed to pick a favorite though, I’d say that Maker’s Mark is it because of it’s versatility in my drinking world. Maker’s Mark is excellent served neat, with Coke, or in a Manhattan, which are my three favorite drinks. I would go so far to say that a Manhattan with something other than Maker’s is not a Manhattan. Side note: Babbo has the best Manhattan in the city – I enjoyed it so much that I called them for the recipe and served their version on my wedding day.
But Maker’s obviously isn’t the best on the market – in fact I love Hirsch and Pappy much more in regards purely to flavor – but you’ll be paying 3x as much for these upper echelon bourbons. Regarding Wildwood’s selection, I was impressed because:
- It had a few things I love (i.e. Hirsch, Pappy and Four Roses) giving it my stamp of approval
- It didn’t list Jack Daniels under the bourbons
- Most importantly, it had selections I had never heard of, which is a rare but excellent happenstance
At this particular dinner I chose to try the Parker Heritage, which turned out to be a whole new bourbon experience. Honestly, I can’t begin to properly review bourbons with my limited knowledge, but I can say that the Parker’s Heritage isn’t for the faint of heart. I would never introduce someone to bourbons using this one, but for someone that enjoys scotches or bourbons or even finer rums, I would tell them to try it. It turns out that not only is this limited edition, but it’s cask strength, which gives it the extra umph that I respect.
By the way, that extra “umph” is why I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to newbies. It’s an intense combination of flavors that may be a bit much – the best I can liken it too is shoving tons of dark chocolate in your mouth. Not because the bourbon was chocolaty, but because as wonderful as choclate is, shoving mounds of it your mouth is a sensory overload and can be too much for novices. For the record, I love that sensory overload.
Anyhow, I’d suggest using Jacquie’s excellent recommendation for the BBQ and foodstuffs, but if you want my opinion on which bourbon to order, just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.
And now I leave you with a picture of the mint julep I made while watching the Kentucky Derby, in none other than a fleur de lis rocks glass.
May 4, 2008
Last Thursday, Jason and I had plans go to dinner at Wildwood BBQ with our friends D and B but sadly D got sick and they had to back out around 3. I tried calling Wildwood to let them know we would be changing our reservation to two but was greeted by busy signals for a good five minutes. After finally getting through, I was automatically put on hold for another five. I hung up after that and had we not been salivating at the menu for the past week that would have been enough for us to refuse to dine there. The tolerance of the busy tone is for Babbo, and Babbo alone.
That’s where the negativity stops though and to be honest, I almost don’t want to write about our experience at Wildwood because it was unbelievably positive. Whenever I read wholly positive reviews I become skeptical, a reaction I think most people would have. Additionally, I’m not a huge fan of other B.R. Guest establishments – out of the multiple ones I’ve been to, I’ve repeatedly found them lacking in overall value:price ratio. Wildwood was altogether different.
After picking up our new toy at B&H, we arrived at Wildwood around 7:30 hoping they be able to seat us earlier than our rez. First thing I noticed after confirming my arrival with the host was that the restaurant was not packed despite it’s smaller than expected size. Never ones to complain about a reasonable wait (especially when we’re a half hour early), we headed to the bar to grab some drinks. I ordered a mint julep in honor of one of my hubby’s state prides, the Kentucky Derby, and he wanted a Manhattan with Maker’s Mark. Unfortunately, this was the only mix up of the night because the bartender thought I ordered a Maker’s Mark neat. It was bourbon all the same though so Jason happily drank it anyway. I have to mention, and the hubby confirmed, that the mint julep was spot on with its authenticity. With a bourbon list like this, I’d be disappointed if it wasn’t.
We were seated before we were halfway through with our drinks and were greeted by our friendly waitress right away. We settled on the bottle caps appetizer (deep fried jalapeno slices served with a thin Ranch dressing) and chicken wings slathered with Frank’s Redhot sauce. This wasn’t a tough choice because I had spent the better part of the previous three days studying the menu.
The bottle caps were lightly fried and crispy. The accompanying dipping sauce was refreshing against the slight spiciness of the jalapeno slices. I think the best part about the bottle caps was that they didn’t taste like poppers without cheese. Just like frickles are delicious because the pickle flavor isn’t lost, so were these bottle caps with their subtle spiciness.
Not surprisingly we found the buffalo wings to be the star of the show. Hands down the best I’ve had in the city. So many places use tiny wings that would dry out after 2 minutes in the fryer, you’re left eating skin and bones after the eatery fries them for five minutes. The most egregious characteristic that a wing can have is being too dry. As for the wings at Wildwood, they were exceptionally meaty and juicy and the Frank’s sauce on the wings was much thicker than their sauce straight out of the bottle. It leads me to believe the sauce was somehow modified and perhaps reduced, something we will try ourselves one day I’m sure.
I was so full after the meaty wings (we ordered ½ dozen) that I told Jason I didn’t think I’d be able to eat my Wildwood brisket sandwich that was to come. However, once the plate arrived, I knew I would eat my words, no pun intended.
Jason got the simple pulled pork sandwich that turned out to be anything but. The tangy vinegar flavor from the mop permeated every bite of the sandwich and absolutely zero additional sauce was needed. That’s saying a lot from a family like us that is all about condiments. As I’ll touch on in the brisket section, the smoke flavor and the quality of the cut was spectacular so overall, the pulled pork was in every way perfect.
As for me, well, there is an option of getting just brisket meat on a sandwich as Jason had gotten his pulled pork. But of course, I opted for the special brisket sandwich that came with melted provolone, co’ slaw, and onion rings on top. At first I thought all of the toppings might hide the flavor of the brisket meat but I needn’t have worried. The smoke flavor in the brisket was incredible and unlike any other I have ever had outside of the south. At another BBQ joint nearby to Wildwood, which will remain nameless, the brisket is decent but only when it’s ordered as marbled. But let’s face it, what meat isn’t good when it comes with tons of fat? The meat at Wildwood was lean but extremely tender and though there was a thin layer of fat on each slice it definitely was not enough to make me feel guilty. Always a good thing because heaven knows I’d eat it anyway!
For dessert, instead of getting the ubiquitous chocolate cake that’s bigger than a child’s head, we ordered the s’mores. They gave us three s’mores that consisted of graham crackers sandwiching melted marshmallow and peanut butter, and then half dipped in chocolate. How can you beat that??? Oh yes, the chocolate was then sprinkled with chopped peanuts. They were incredible and the perfect night cap.
Again, I feel like Wildwood was just too good to be true which is why even though I have talked about going back there almost every day since Thursday, I am nervous to go back. What if somehow the kitchen gods smiled on us, and every single thing we ordered was done perfectly for us and us alone? Will others go and have a totally different experience and think I’m crazy?
Well the only way for us to find out is to keep going and bring our friends to get their opinions. Anybody up for going with us? We will clear our schedule for Wildwood
December 27, 2007
A couple of weeks ago we met up with our restaurant buddy, G, and his partner (the business kind, not the life kind), W, for dinner. We were in the mood for something casual and decided to go to Laurent Tourondel’s Fish Shack of the BLT empire, which had G’s stamp of approval from a previous visit. I went in a bit skeptical after having been disappointed by the genre of cheaper sister restaurants before. However, I am happy to report that the food, service, and ambiance were all wonderful at the sister restaurant of BLT Fish.
I was the last of our four to arrive and after being greeted by a smiling host and hostess, found the others drinking at the bar. I hopped onto a bar stool and contemplated which glass of wine to order. The range and selection of by the glass wines was really good and after internally debating between the Sancerre and Chablis, I went with the Chablis. After ordering, I joined the conversation but admittedly did more looking around at the space than listening (I hate joining a convo in the middle!).
The restaurant is quite small and dressed up like a casual seafood joint that might be found in Nanutcket. I think that the moniker ‘shack’ is a bit of an understatement though. After all, the napkins are still cloth and the raw bar looked pristine – nothing like the fittingly ravaged raw bars you’re likely to encounter seaside.
Instead of peanuts and pretzels, the bar offers delicious salt and vinegar chips — those alone were almost worth the trip. After Jason managed to pry me away from them, we were seated and were offered more free food!
Warm sesame crusted bread smothered in garlic and butter…need I say more? You could get your fill here for the price of a Guinness on tap. Alas, man (and woman, at least this one) cannot survive on bread and salt and vinegar chips alone. So we continue on our culinary journey.
Despite his initial desire to relive his youth and order the fish sticks from the children’s menu, Jason, along with our non-bottom feeder eating friend G, ordered the fish and chips. I, on the other hand, could eat bottom feeders all day. Give me a platter of oysters and clams and I’m as happy as a pig in…well, I won’t say what but you get my point.
Imagine my elation upon seeing that the special on Wednesdays is ‘all you can eat mussels.’ With a choice of TWO broths! W was also happy with this special and ordered his with the inventive beer broth with caramelized onions and bacon. I quickly followed suit.
But wait. Would I hate the beer broth? Would I have to finish the entire thing before switching over to the more traditional white wine broth even if I hated it? W was generous enough to put me out of my equivocal state by changing his order and saying we could go halfsies. Or maybe he was saving our waiter from having to wait any longer while I tried to make up my mind.
As it turns out, my indecisiveness worked out in the end because I liked the beer broth more and he preferred the white wine. I think I would have also preferred the traditional one had it not been too salty for my liking.
The waiter said the mussels were PEIs but I have seen that designation on menus all over the place from nice restaurants to sports bars so even though it should, ‘PEI’ does not imply quality to me. The fat, sweet, briney mussels spoke for themselves though. They were some of the highest quality that I have had in the city and I will definitely return for them.
Jason also sang praises for his fish and chips. I only had a tiny forkful but the fish was fried well and reminded me of a lighter version than those found in some pubs in London which have beer batter that is much too thick and soggy inside.
A debate sparked when W said that the only complaint he had with his meal was the fries served with all of our entrees. They were the shoestring type fries that are thin and crispy versus the thicker style steak fry. G and Jason disagreed with him and said the fries were perfect, but I am in the same boat as W. Give me a hearty fry any day I say!
One and a half bowl of mussels and half a basket of fries later, I could not justify ordering one of the cupcakes that were under glass domes by the raw bar no matter how good they looked. So you sweet junkes will have to wait for my next trip for a dessert review.
Despite the fry disagreement, we all agreed that our meal got a big thumbs up.
I propose a group french fry tour around Manhattan to settle the thin versus thick debate. We would have to walk to offset the guilt I would have after eating though. Who’s with me!?
September 28, 2007
Our friend M’s 24th birthday was this past weekend so we went to Otto Enoteca (pronounced Oh-toe een-oh-TEK-uh, not Ah-toe like my title suggests) on Saturday to celebrate. Jason and I have been to Otto quite a few times before because we love the atmosphere, the food, and the extensive wine selection. It is a great place for groups because the dining area is spacious and the service is friendly. The prices are also extremely reasonable and mirror the casual experience.
The Otto experience is great even before you go to the restaurant. As opposed to other establishments in the Batali-Bastianich restaurant empire, it is fairly easy to get a reservation – no 30 day waiting periods and constant busy tones. I called on Thursday afternoon for a 6 person, Saturday night reservation and was told they had most times available.
That night, Jason and I arrived 15 minutes early for our 8:00 PM reservation and decided to head in even though M and the rest of our friends hadn’t arrived yet. The front of the restaurant doubles as a waiting area and standing wine bar; obviously we took advantage of its dual purpose. We ordered the olive sampler and a bottle of white wine to enjoy while we waited for the rest of our party to arrive and our table to become available. Upon check in at the hostess stand, the hostess handed us a piece of paper that had the Italian town of Lucca printed on it. As you’ll see in the pic below, there was a big schedule board that would announce our town as soon as we could be seated. That is a great touch because it makes waiting much more interesting!
If you have a keen eye, you may notice from the time on the board that we were seated 30 minutes late. The hostess was very apologetic though and honestly, it was the first time we had ever been there that they did not seat us at our reservation time. Thank goodness for our wait because if not for that, I wouldn’t have been standing in a prime location to see Mr. Joe Bastianich strolling in. This wasn’t the last I’d see of the restaurant mogul, but a bit more on that later.
Once we were seated, our waiter apologized for our late seating and to get in our good graces, gave us free booze. We were each poured a generous glass of prosecco and needless to say, we forgave him fairly quickly. After a birthday toast to M, we delved into the menu.
The menu at Otto is different every time we go because they use seasonal vegetables as much as possible. This past Saturday was no different. The menu offered side dishes with corn alongside pasta with late summer/fall greens like Swiss chard. Even their pizza toppings vary season by season! I appreciate the use of seasonal vegetables and try to do the same as much as possible when I prepare food at home. I have to admit, it’s hard not to shop out of season when I see something I really want, like strawberries in December. I consciously remind myself that they probably wouldn’t be that good, would be shipped from halfway across the country if not the world, and perfect strawberries are worth the wait.
But I digress…we ordered a host of appetizers, side dishes, pastas, and pizzas to share, so without further ado, pictures of our meal!
The heirloom tomato caprese was fresh and delicious. M along with another friend S both agreed that though they normally don’t like tomatoes raw, the tomatoes used in this dish were exceptional. Again, there’s nothing like eating foods that are appropriate for the season and I’m willing to bet that if we go to Otto in a week or two, heirloom tomatoes will no longer be offered. Complementing the tomatoes perfectly, the mozzarella that dotted the tomatoes was creamy and flavorful, unlike the often dry and bland cheese-like substance some restaurants claim is mozzarella.
The salumi platter featured all of their cured meats and was rustically presented on a wooden board. Everybody had their own favorites but my personal favorite was the prosciutto di Parma which was salty and sweet but not overpowering in the mouth. And it might go without saying that Jason loved the lardo the best.
Luckily, I captured a picture with the two kinds of pizza we ordered (marghetrita and mushroom with taleggio) before it was devoured. Also in the picture are views of half eaten plates of the pasta we ordered (bucatini with guanciale, rigatoni with Swiss chard and sausage, and penne puttanesca.) Of the pastas, the puttanesca was my favorite with the flavors of capers and olives adding their distinct flavors to each bite.
Having been to Otto a number of times before, I have an opinion of their pizzas and pasta that is affirmed each time I’ve gone to dine there:
- I can’t say that the controversial griddle pizzas at Otto are my favorite pizza in all of NY, but I think it’s fair to say that it’s tasty and consistent every time. It is more reminiscent of pizza made with flatbread than pizza dough and it doesn’t have the crunch factor I like exhibited by most flat pizzas.
- True to Batali style, the pastas at Otto are cooked to al dente, the sauces are used sparingly, and the flavors work together perfectly. The combinations at Otto are traditional ones that cannot be categorized as elegant or particularly inventive; however, I don’t think that’s the purpose of this casual restaurant. I imagine that any one of the pastas offered here would be served in an Italian home on any given weekday night and that’s the point.
Back to our meal, naturally it ended with a dessert. For me it was a cup of three homemade gelatos: pistachio, hazelnut stracciatella, and their ever popular olive oil sprinkled with sea salt. I love the olive oil gelato there and if I could, I would eat it every day. However, the flavor of olive oil in the cream based gelato wasn’t as prominent this past Saturday. It tasted more like sweet cream gelato with olive oil flavoring versus olive oil gelato. This won’t deter me from continuing to order it in the future because it was still delicious.
As for Mr. Bastianich, the closest I got to him that night was when he walked behind me to go to the bathroom. I smiled at him and he smiled back but by the time I got up the nerve to ask him for a picture, the most I could do was grab his arm as he was walking away. Thankfully, he thought it was a waiter bumping into him versus me, a psycho food groupie trying to attack him. On his way back he walked the other way (perhaps he did know it was me?) and I had to resort to asking the waiter if he thought Joe would mind taking a picture with me. Unfortunately, he told me the restaurateur was in the middle of a business dinner so he thought it would be a bad idea. Oh well, perhaps next time you will be so lucky as to get a picture with me Mr. Bastianich. 😀
Lastly, much thanks to “J Man” for showing what a classy guy he is, and sending a bottle of wine our way. It was thoroughly enjoyed and though you couldn’t be there in person, you were with us in spirit!
Salut and happy 24th birthday M!
September 12, 2007
Last Friday night, Jason and I were invited out to dinner with two good friends, G and K. We were up in the air about where we’d like to go but decided upon Craftbar since G and K are big Top Chef fans. Craftbar is one of the many restaurants under the “craft restaurant family” started by head judge of Top Chef and more prestigiously, James Beard award recipient, Tom Colicchio.
We had a reservation at 8:15 PM, arrived not a minute later or earlier, and were seated promptly. The general feel of the space is typical of the Union Square area restaurants. I would summarize it as modern and sleek with dim lighting, high ceilings, spacious tables, etc… The tablecloth is paper over cloth, the menu is printed on a single sheet of paper, and the servers wear casual clothes emphasized through the ubiquitous appearance of jeans. I guess the point is to differentiate Craftbar from the Craft family’s more upscale ventures like Craft and Craftsteak at which I’m sure I would not find a single piece of denim, worn or otherwise.
The menu is divided into multiple sections and while the offerings are extensive and mostly all sound delicious, I find the concept a bit confusing. Raw oysters, salumis, gazpacho, chilled pea soup, paté, pastas… I suppose Mr. Colicchio is simply offering what he knows people like to eat rather than focusing on any single type of cuisine. I can’t fault him for that but restaurants that focus more on one regional cuisine are my preference.
We decided to share a bunch of first courses instead of ordering individual appetizers. Our selection included chickpea fries with black olive aioli, pecorino-stuffed risotto balls, bruschetta with field mushrooms, roasted tomato, and mozzarella, and calamari with arugula and lemon confit.
The texture of the chickpea fries were completely different than what I had anticipated. They were perfect rectangular blocks and did not have a crisp at all. The inside of the “fry” had the consistency of mashed potatoes. The flavor was fine if not a bit bland but the name fry is a bit misleading. The black olive aioli was a nice condiment but would have benefited from a bit more olive flavor.
The risotto balls were perfectly crunchy in comparison to the fries and the pecorino was very pleasantly subtle. The balls were served atop a light tomato sauce and the acidity was a welcome addition to the otherwise rich dish. This appetizer was well accepted amongst our group and definitely the star of the first course bunch.
Surprisingly, nameko mushrooms made an appearance in the bruschetta topping. I enjoy nameko mushrooms a lot and was glad to see it used in a non-Japanese dish but whilst they are a delicious fungus and cute to boot, the small round caps were reluctant to stay on the bread. Despite the messiness, the bruschetta was delicious and very fresh.
The calamari which was either poached or lightly sautéed paired very well with the bitter arugula. The lemon confit in the description on the menu tasted very similar to just freshly squeezed lemon juice which I actually appreciate very much. The lightness of the dish called for a simple dressing like that.
K ordered the Bucatini with Pancetta and Fried Egg as a main course though she was debating between that and the wonderful sounding sandwiches they offered. I don’t blame her for debating – the Coppa with Buffalo Mozzarella was calling out to me as well. I only tried a tiny bit of her pasta which I can report was a pleasant al dente. That’s really the most important thing to me when it comes to pasta
G opted for the Veal Ricotta Meatballs with pasta that was deservingly popular. I saw it being brought out of the kitchen many times throughout our meal. The ricotta imparted a very light texture to the meatballs and you could definitely taste it in every bite. This was an impressive dish. I would have never thought to mix ricotta with the meat when making meatballs but this will definitely be experimented with the next time I go to my favorite local gourmet Italian shop and pick up their fresh ricotta.
Jason ordered the Hanger Steak with Heirloom Tomatoes and Bread Salad. The steak was served rare as per Jason’s request and thiny sliced over the salad. I am not particularly fond of restaurants that serve steaks pre-sliced because I feel like that is a way for them to get out of truly representing how much meat they give per plate. When it’s thiny sliced and fanned out, 2 ounces of steak can look like quite a bit. The heirloom tomatoes were delicious and have definitely convinced Jason and I that next summer we must take advantage of the bounty at our local farmer’s market. The dish as a whole though was quite everyday and not much to rave about.
I chose the Spicy Fish Stew with Red Pepper Aioli which came out like a bouillabaise. I was not really expecting that because the image that stew conjures in my mind is one of hearty chunks of meat in a thick broth. This “fish stew” contained small dices of salmon and white fish, tiny cockles, thiny sliced bits of calamari, and baby shrimp the size of which I’ve never seen, and not in a good way. These shrimp were no larger than the eraser on the back of a #2 pencil. Though the bouillabaise lacked in scale and portion, the flavor did make up for it a bit. It was was not spicy as the name had led me to believe which was also a disappointment. It’s the first word in the dish for heaven’s sake! To be fair, the broth did permeate with sweet red pepper flavor and what little fish was present, was fresh and flavorful. However, I can’t excuse the tiny portion for $20 in a “casual restaurant.”
For dessert, we chose to share the Crispy Chocolate Cake with coffee gelato and the Almond Semifreddo. I did manage to snap some pictures at the end for your viewing enjoyment. Please excuse the dark lighting.
The Crispy Chocolate Cake is the main focus of the first picture and the Almond Semifreddo is in the background. I could not manage to take a picture of it prior to K understandably taking a big forkful. My espresso macchiato on the right was enjoyably strong with a wonderful froth on top. Too many places I’ve been to serve me espresso macchiato’s with what looks like the sorry excuse for froth Starbucks serves.
Of the two desserts, I enjoyed the Almond Semifreddo the most as it reminded me of the wonderful almond cookie ice cream served at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory.
I wanted so much to like the first Tom Colicchio restaurant I had ever been to simply because I have heard such good things about Top Chef. I don’t think I’ll be returning to this one any time soon though. There is nothing overtly wrong with Craftbar. The service was pleasant though there were a couple of times our waiter seemed to be absent. We finished every single dish we ordered so I can’t say that the food was bad. It’s just that everything seemed so banal, which didn’t do anything at all to justify the price tag. Overall, with all the other choices in NYC, I’m ready to move on to another restaurant. The question of whether it will be another Tom Colicchio restaurant is left to be seen. If it is though, it will most likely be his sandwich bar ‘wichcraft. I think I still hear the faint sound of the Coppa and Buffalo Mozzarella sandwich calling me…
September 10, 2007
Last month Jason and I were gifted a prime time reservation at Mario Batali’s restaurant Del Posto in the Meatpacking District. The avid Mario fans that we are, we jumped on a chance to try out one of the few Batali joints at which we have not yet feasted. As you can see, we couldn’t have been happier in our anticipation as we drove into the city.
After some initial trouble finding a space, we proceeded onward and punctually entered the restaurant. The space is hands down the most elegant of all his restaurants. It’s large and spacious relative to his other outposts, most likely due to the less than central location all the way on the west side almost in the Hudson. Table stalking while we waited to be seated, I made a couple of initial observations:
1. The decor of the restaurant reminded me very much of Christmas time even though it was the middle of August. I think this was owed much to the string-light ornamented topiaries and the wooden banquettes. It seemed a bit anachronistic but warm nonetheless.
2. Instead of the much-loved Italian bread served wrapped in parchment paper that patrons are given at Batali’s other eateries like Babbo and Otto, each table had a bread basket with mini Baguettes and rolls. Also, instead of the beautiful La Mozza olive oil used as a dipper for the bread, there were little ramekins filled with what looked to me at the time like butter and anchovy butter which as will be explained in a bit, turned out to be so much more.
We were shown to our table about 15 minutes after our arrival and much to our delight, were seated on the second level which is basically a lofted area overlooking the first floor. We were then given our bread basket and it was explained to us that there was a spread of homemade sweet cream butter and a spread of lardo that was melted down with garlic and rosemary. Imagine our surprise (and Jason’s excitement!) when we heard that! Lardo is Jason’s favorite part of the Babbo salumi appetizer and to have it in spreadable form with garlic and rosemary was like music to our ears. I willfully passed up the butter for the lardo which was a bit salty, very creamy, and subtle on garlic and rosemary flavoring. I had to refrain from eating the entire bread basket which isn’t actually much of a shock but it took much more will power this time than most.
* side note: I apologize but despite the beauty of the food we ate, I didn’t take pictures because the restaurant was quite dark and the flash would have more certainly drawn unwanted attention onto ourselves. Going forward, I will throw caution to the wind for the sake of proper documentation. Back to the restaurant…
We were then showered with gifts of amuse bouches presented to us on three mini plates. There was a chilled vegetable broth with pesto, mini arancini, and both Jason and I cannot for the life of us recall the third one. The soup would have been better warm but was refreshingly simple. The mini arancini were perfectly fried and we would’ve requested more had we not thought they would thinkg us odd.
We ordered the yellowfin & tail susci with radish, fennel, snowpeas & violets to share as a starter. I feel ambivalent about this dish which came out tossed much like a salad. The fish was naturally of excellent quality, as were the accompanying vegetables but I’m not 100% sold on the combination. I feel the radish competed with the subtle sweetness of the fish but that could be due to my general distaste for radishes. The violets added a slight bitter flavor which was enough of a complementary flavor that the radishes were unnecessary. Overall the dish was enjoyed but I would not order it again.
The two pastas we ordered were the Del Posto Agnolotti Dal Plin and the Crisped Potato Gnocchi with Braised Pork Shoulder, Celery, and Nepitella. The agnolotti (pronounced anneeolottee) were stuffed with three kinds of braised meats and was in a simple brown butter sauce. This dish was divine and will definitely be ordered again on a return trip. The gnocchi (pronounced nyo key) was delicious as well but not particularly exceptional. The highlight of that dish was the pork shoulder which Jason thoroughly enjoyed.
We shared the secondi which we are apt to do and ordered lamb cooked two ways though now I cannot remember the two ways! I do recall that it was delicious though and had a texture unlike any other lamb dish I’ve ever eaten. It was very soft and not at all gamey. We enjoyed this dish but would most likely try another meat next time. The whole fish ordered by a table below us looked scrumptious as it was being de-boned by the waiter. See what I mean by table stalking?
For our desserts we ordered espressos and the assortment of gelato. The flavors were milk, vanilla, and coffee. The espressos were strong and yummy but the gelatos were a bit disappointing. The vanilla and milk tasted very similar and the coffee tasted very generic, unlike the wonderful and popular olive oil gelato served at Otto which is sublime. We did receive the customary plate of complimentary cookies with our coffee. It was delicious but I prefer the cookies in the Babbo cookie plate.
All in all, we enjoyed our night out at Del Posto where the food and service were both excellent. I have read reviews of the restaurant with complaints of over-priced food. I too would agree with those reviewers if ambience were not taken into the equation. The food and service was on par with both Babbo and Lupa but when it comes to environment, Del Posto is definitely more upscale. When that is factored in, I suppose one could say that Del Posto has a fair price to value ratio. Our overall assessment is that we would return here for another special date night, but definitely not before a couple of trips to our reigning Batali favorite, Babbo