Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wasabi Lobby: 1584 Second Ave. New York, NY

I ordered in from Wasabi Lobby last night on the recommendation of a friend who loves it. Well, sorry friend but really? When I opened the bag up, I was very optimistic, a few nice findings included a salad that actually had mesclun lettuce and some jicama instead of the normal iceberg pathetic-ness that most sushi places serve. I was also pleasantly surprised to find some watermelon included free of charge. Nice touch Wasabi Lobby! Other than that, wow, it was pretty bad. Some people might like overstuffed rolls, but for me, they were just ridiculous. Two full bites from each one, and a total mess. The spicy salmon and tuna were mushed up instead of chopped the way they should be, and this resulted in a squishy, unappealing presentation. The texture was a lot like uni, the one sushi item that I don't like because of its consistency. The quality of the fish was poor. I couldn't finish my dinner, which is shocking since I can pretty much eat my weight in sushi...but that's only when it actually tastes good. Sorry Wasabi Lobby, your attractive looks were deceiving. As a friend of mine would say, good from afar, but far from good.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Chicken Festival: 1584 1st ave. NY NY

I really wanted to be impressed. Four different friends of mine who ALL have palates I respect strongly recommended this place. Guys, ya let me down. Except for the excellent value ( I will get 3 meals out of this $20 order) I was not happy with any of my choices. The chicken itself was dry and heavily over-seasoned. The skin was crunchy, but so greasy that I took it all off. The green sauce was fine, but not nearly as flavorful or spicy as my beloved Pio Pio's (which I really feel this restaurant is just a blatant rip-off of). The tostones were the biggest disappointment. First of all, they didn't come with a separate sauce like they do at Pio Pio. They were overcooked and hard as cardboard. They actually had a stale consistency which made me wonder if they were cooked earlier and reheated. My jaw was literally tired after eating a few of them. The plantains inside of way too much batter were cut too thin, so they completely lost their texture. They had SO SO SO much salt on them that I could actually brush some of it off each one- but it had already sunken in so far that I eventually gave up and threw them away. The salad was not really even worth commenting on. Walk a few blocks north and go to Pio Pio instead. The bummer is, despite my strong preference for Pio Pio, I am out of their delivery zone. I may be tempted to order from here again purely because they will deliver to me...but more likely I'll order in from Eastside poultry instead.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bocca: 39 East 19th st. New York, NY

For those of you who don't know, NYC restaurant week is a wonderful time of year when about 100 restaurants offer a $35, 3 course prix fixe dinner (half or even less than half of what it would normally cost).  It's a great way to try places that you wouldn't necessarily try otherwise. It's a perfect opportunity for restaurants to lure new customers in and give them a great reason to return. Or not. The problem with this approach is that a lot of the time, the prix fixe choices become sort of half-assed representations of what the restaurant is capable of...and don't always showcase the best of their abilities. This was the location for my 2nd annual random Facebook friends restaurant week dinner party- so a group of 8 people who didn't know each other and I met here for dinner tonight. Well, I'll start with the positive. The company was fantastic. It's amazing how much fun a group of strangers can have, and regardless of our meals- we had a blast. The service was fine. Nothing special, but nothing terrible either. (although they did forget to take a coffee order until someone finally asked about it) Our meals were fine. Nothing was bad, but nothing was so fabulous that any of us will be chomping at the bit to go back. I started with a homemade mozzarella and tomato salad. The tomatoes were unbelievable and I was happy to find out that they were from the Union Square Farmer's market. They were probably my favorite part of the whole meal. The cheese was fresh and had a nice flavor, but was a bit dense and stringy for what should have been a creamy consistency. The one small basil leaf left something to be desired and I felt a little gypped. My entree was a linguine with pesto and fresh crab. It was incredibly over-salted and had way too much garlic- even for a garlic lover like myself. The pesto itself was so strong and overpowering that I completely lost the crab taste altogether when it really should have been the star of the dish. The pasta was quite good actually, but I think I would have appreciated that a lot more if the sauce wasn't so strong. For dessert I had the chocolate option, because is there really any other option if chocolate is one of them? I think not. It was pretty tasty. It's pretty hard to disappoint me if there is chocolate and ice cream in the same dish. That said, it was good but forgettable, generic, and the presentation was eh. All in all, this was a fine choice for a great deal, but there are better options out there. I should mention that some of the other dishes on the table were far superior to what I ordered, so it might warrant another try with different choices. Then again, we live in a city with 20,000 dining options so for me, it's on to the next.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Norma's: 118 West 57th in the Le Parker Meridien Hotel. New York, NY

For NYC restaurant week meal #3, I met my brother, his girlfriend, my mother and my grandma here for lunch today. I will be full for a week. I walked the 30 blocks home in 95 degree heat to try to burn off some of it, but alas, my dress still feels a lot tighter than it did this morning. All that taken into consideration, it was worth every single delectable calorie.
Before we ordered, we were treated to a lovely amuse-bouche of a guava, strawberry, mango sorbet. Lovely, refreshing and served in a frosty shot glass, it was a great preview of the dishes that followed. Our appetizers were a mango/papaya/brown butter/cinnamon crepe (which my bro had, but I tasted and loved it) and a ring of fresh fruit. Both were delicious and presented beautifully. The watermelon ring was a really cute touch and prompted some table-wide oohs and ahs when it was placed on the table.
For my entree, I indulged in macaroni and cheese with lobster. Wow. Not quite the kind of food one pictures eating in the dead of summer, but amazing nonetheless. I would never have thought to pair these 2 totally different foods, but was so pleasantly surprised with the outcome. I polished off the whole bowl (hence the "I will be full for a week" statement) in about 4 minutes.
But wait, there's more. I will always find room for dessert. (Or, I won't find room and will thusly be completely overstuffed, but in today's situation.) Dessert was Valhrona chocolate french toast with pistachios and strawberries. Now that is just ridiculous. That really could have been the whole meal it was so rich and dense. Somehow or other, I managed to eat about 75% of it, and tastier it could not have been. Why haven't I thought to do this before? It's really quite brilliant.
Thanks to our great server Luis, our meal was perfectly timed, and we were well taken care of. I strongly recommend Norma's for a marvelous brunch, but be forewarned, they close at 3pm.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rice: 166 Dekalb Ave. Brooklyn, NY (multiple locations)

This is one of the best people watching corners in NY as far as I'm concerned. An awesomely diverse mix of artsy, hip, creative types and young families. Laid-back, casual atmosphere complete with cute pillows made of rice sacks make this a great spot for a late afternoon lunch. My friend and I loved the airy, melt-in-your-mouth rice crackers they brought out for us to nosh on while they prepared our meals. There was a sweet/spicy sauce that sat perfectly in the crevasses of the crackers and we polished off the whole bowl of them in about 45 seconds. I ordered Thai coconut chicken curry with Thai black rice that was steamed in coconut milk. Delicious and really cool looking to boot. My friend ordered the Vietnamese chicken salad with Japanese rice which was equally flavorful, fresh and scrumptious. We shared some chocolate and espresso flavored Ciao Bella gelato for dessert which was the perfect way to end a meal on such a hot day. I would strongly recommend stopping into one of the 4 locations for a meal someday, you will not be disappointed.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Todd English's Olives: 201 Park Ave South, New York, NY


What could be better than catching up with a great friend over a wonderful meal during restaurant week? (aka: at an incredible value. $35 for appetizer, entree and dessert) We began our evening with cocktails. Mine was a refreshing Olives' signature drink with vodka, pineapple and ginger over ice with a sugar rim. I'm really not a drinker, this was my first drink in about 6 weeks, but it totally hit the spot on this 95 degree day. The bread basket, tapenade and olives were an excellent snack alongside of our drinks. Specifically, the caramelized onion focaccia was especially tasty. We shared both appetizer offerings. One was a light, summery squash carpaccio with Parmesan and a little tempura'd squash blossom stuffed with cheese. MMmmmMMMmm. This was my favorite dish of the night. It tasted just like summer should. The other was a sweet corn and ricotta flatbread with leeks. Savory, sweet and salty with a great crunchy crust. I'm being especially picky by mentioning that I would have liked more corn and leek piled on top, it was mostly bread and cheese. It was still perfectly delicious the way it was though.  My duck entree was slightly more cooked than medium, but If I remember right, I think I just told the waiter to have the chef prepare it as he/she saw fit. Though I didn't love the lentils which were a bit salty, I thought the figs and the duck married beautifully and were a luxurious tasting duo.   Desserts are something I always save room for. It is by far my favorite course of any meal. Tonight they were a total disappointment. We shared both of the restaurant week choices and were surprised to see how similar they were. Both were a gelatinous pudding-like substance with a sauce and some cereal thrown on top. The chocolate one, simply because it was chocolate, was the better one. It came with a lovely strawberry ice on the side atop a chocolate fudgy thing. That part was great. The rest? Not so much. The other one tasted like cheesecake flavored jello. On top was a handful of kix. Cute, but really? The blueberry sauce was the best part and I kind of wished I had something else to put it on.
All in all, despite the dessert bummer, Olives was a top of the line choice. Beautiful setting, super convenient location, charming service (thanks Nathan!) and hip, creative ingredients and pairings. I will definitely put this one on my plan-to-return list.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hatsuhana: 17 East 48th st. New York, NY (multiple locations)

I wish I could remember to take the photograph *before* I start eating. I may need to hire someone to remind me since it seems I always remember after the first few bites...You will notice that the top right dish is totally empty. Oops. That was a scrumptious piece of seared salmon with seaweed salad. Clockwise from there, spicy salmon roll, scallop sushi, salmon sushi, yellowtail sushi, and WOW toro sushi. Top left is a cucumber jellyfish salad, and in the middle a seared tuna in ponzu sauce. These were the restaurant week specials- which began with a pretty standard miso soup and salad. What a wonderful sushi experience, the kind that makes those subpar 7.95 lunch specials at other restaurants seem like a waste of time (and stomach space). The quality of the fish here is so incredible, it really changes everything. The service was excellent as well, efficient, fast and polite but not invasive. I've been meaning to try Hatsuhana for a long time since it's my brother's favorite sushi spot, and I am so glad that I finally made it!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Per Lei: 1347 Second Ave. New York, NY

I *meant* to take a picture of that tiramisu in it's untouched entirety, but 'accidentally' dropped my spoon into it and found that the spoon had mysteriously made it's way to my lips before I got a chance. And, yes, I realize that I am starting this entry with the final course, but I can't stop thinking about it. Luckily for me, I have half of it left...waiting to be eaten by me at 3am or maybe for breakfast. I should NOT eat tiramisu after a late dinner. It will keep me up all night. I knew that, but ordered it anyway when I saw it on the next table over, being adored. The ratio of cream to cocoa to Marsala (yes, Marsala!) soaked biscotti was divine. Each layer was distinct and delightful. Dare I say, the best tiramisu I've ever had.
Progressing in reverse order, my friend ordered the special of Chilean sea bass with garlic spinach. This might have been the most perfectly cooked sea bass I've ever had. SO crispy on the outside, delicately seasoned, rich and flavorful. This is how fish should be prepared. The owners of the restaurant from my previous entry would be smart to come try this and learn from it. I ordered the monk fish with artichokes. Again, cooked to absolute perfection with a sauce that did not compete with or overpower the fish- just complimented it in a lemony/winey/delectable way. The only thing I didn't love about my dish was the addition of pistachios. I felt that they were clashing with the delicate flavors a little. Personally I just don't love nuts with fish I guess. I will give the chef props for creativity though, that was definitely original, and it was easy for me to avoid them.
Not pictured are the 2 AMAZING appetizers we shared. Too bad too, because they were both beautiful...but silly me forgot to turn my camera flash on. Sorry about that! One was a tuna tartare with avocado, lemon, ginger and cucumbers that was so beautifully presented it was a little sad to break into it. The other was the most UNREAL cheese, a homemade stracciatella with prosciutto, tomatoes, basil and eggplant. The eggplant was so naked and wonderful, just a slight flavor of vinegar. I'd never had eggplant prepared this way, where there was no breading to muddy up the texture or flavor. I liked it so much that I asked our fantastic waiter to explain how it was prepared. Little did I know that he was also a serious foodie and very knowledgeable chef himself and he got a little excited and animated as he explained. Of course, once we found that out, we thoroughly enjoyed our chats with him between courses. He was sweet and sincere and completely understood that a good dining experience has a lot more to do with what's on the plates that the chef sends out.  A truly wonderful experience includes a waiter who knows what he is talking about and does it with a personal flair, knows when to check on us and when to let us talk to each other, and appreciates our love for good food and good friendship. A special thanks as well to Luca, the kind manager who helped to make our meal an especially memorable one.
As I reflect on on the whole evening, starting with the very difficult decision of choosing dishes from an incredibly appealing menu, I am certain that I will be back soon.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Boathouse: 46 Westerly Rd, Ossining, NY

Even just looking at this meal again makes me lose my appetite. How a chef could let this go out to a table (at $24, no less) is beyond me. When I see soft shelled crabs on a menu, I almost always get them as they are a short-seasoned favorite. The options were either fried or sauteed, so I ordered them sauteed- but asked the waitress to make sure it was with very little butter. They came out drenched in a pool of some kind of oily, buttery, thick, viscous gravy that tasted horrible. The delicate fresh crabs were so overpowered by the sludge they were sitting in that they may as well have been previously frozen, out of season and tasteless. On the side was a piece of greasy, overcooked potato that reminded me of cafeteria food. I asked my waitress for a steak knife since cutting crab with a butter knife wasn't going so well, and I had to ask 2 more times before she actually remembered to bring one out for me. I understand they were busy, but that seems a little ridiculous to me. By the time the knife arrived, the crabs were cold. Luckily, the bread that came with the meal was fresh and hot out of the oven, so I was able to fill up on that and a salad. My salad was fine, but that was only because I asked for the dressing on the side. Both of my parent's were served severely over-dressed salads that were almost inedible. I should mention that we also had to wait over an hour to get MAYBE the fact that they were extremely busy that night was an explanation for the terrible food. MAYBE it was an explanation, but as far as I'm concerned it was NOT an excuse. My family and I joked (though we really weren't joking) that we should have just gone to the local diner instead. The one positive thing I will say is that the setting is lovely. It's right on the water with boats all around. You can pretty much look past the parking lot and just focus on the pretty sights. Also, the hostess DID come over to apologize (but only after I gave the waitress my card with this blog address on it) and tried to say whatever she could to make it right. She even suggested that we give the restaurant another try on a less busy night. Unfortunately, my parents also strongly disliked their meals (my mother ordered pasta with clam sauce and the clams were out of shells- so probably not actually fresh, HUGE and grey. Ew. They didn't even look like clams at all) and I doubt we will ever return. When you live in New York, and incredible dining experiences are a dime a dozen, why go back after strike one? I can't find a reason.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Susan Lawrence Gourmet Foods: 26 North Greeley Ave. Chappaqua, NY

I grew up in Chappaqua, NY and only get back to visit once in a blue moon. When I do, one of my favorite places to come have lunch is at Susan Lawrence. When you walk in, not only is the atmosphere buzzing with locals, but the displays are so beautiful that it makes you immediately wonder who you need to buy a gourmet food gift for. Colorful ribbons of pasta, sparkly packages of chocolates, the most adorably decorated cookies you've ever seen, and cases full of gorgeous cakes and prepared foods. I had a plate of fresh summer corn salad with cilantro, barley with kale and ricotta and a salmon cake with a brioche roll on the side. The perfect summer lunch to take outside and eat sitting at one of the cute tables decorated with amazing flowers. The prices aren't exactly cheap, but reasonable considering how amazing all of the food is. Apparently their main business is catering and if I ever decide to get married, I know who I want to hire!