Friday, November 26, 2010

Cafe D'alsace: 1695 Second Ave. New York, NY

I met an old friend and his lovely wife here for lunch today. As a fellow foodie, I had total trust in his choice when he said it's one of his favorite neighborhood spots and the many excellent reviews I found online confirmed his great taste. Walking in and seeing Anthony Bourdain sitting at the table next to us cleared up any chance that this wouldn't be a great meal.
I ordered the Omelette D'alsace which was filled with mushrooms and comte. It was cooked beautifully and even though I was stuffed after half of it, I managed to clean my plate. Light, fluffy eggs, juicy mushrooms and the perfect amount of melted cheese. The fries arrived well-done per my request and were crunchy and perfect, not too greasy. The side salad was lightly dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette and a refreshing complement to the heavier foods on my plate. I sipped a delightful lemonade and took in my surroundings. Brightly colored seltzer bottles circled the bar, a hoppin' UES crowd of all ages filled the tables. The noise level was a little louder than I like- but overall it was a fantastic lunch and I'm sure I'll be returning!

Friday, November 19, 2010

ABC Kitchen: 35 East 18th st. New York, NY 10003

         I've been looking forward to this meal at the newest Jean-George restaurant for weeks. Teamed up with ABC Carpet and Home, this environmentally-conscious concept uses organic, local and sustainable goods and is committed to growing whatever they can in the rooftop garden. They use recycled goods and natural cleaning products, and they support local artisans.
         I walked in through the rustic doors to a modern, magical, snow-kingdom fairytale.  A vast space with a loft-like feel to it, high ceilings, exposed beams, and silver and white everywhere. Crisp simplicity. What an absolutely lovely setting! Natural tables with leaf-covered chandeliers, tiny mismatched antique bread plates and glass cube vases with miniature flower arrangements. This may be the perfect combination of minimalist and elegant. So hip, but something so timeless about it. It looks exactly the way the exquisite food tastes.
          When we realized there were WAY too many mouth-watering options to choose from on this beautifully written menu, my two girlfriends and I decided to order a bunch of small plates to share. We asked the waiter what the most outstanding plates were and ordered pretty much everything he suggested. It really sounded like we were overdoing it, especially for 3 petite ladies, but we managed to cleaned our plates with no problem.
           From top to bottom the dishes are as follows: The fresh crab toast was a hit with all of us. Flaked pieces of crab simply dressed on crunchy sourdough.
A salad made from julienned pear, endive, candied pecans and some of the best bleu cheese I've ever had was impeccable.  This would be a great summer dish- not too filling but full of flavor and textures. I will definitely be trying to replicate this at home.
 This was my favorite dish: Arugula with homemade mozzarella, figs and balsamic. So incredibly simple, but it totally showcased what a few top notch ingredients can do together. Nothing overpowered the other, just complemented the distinct flavors of each component. The figs, as they are when they're in season (but wait, isn't this actually pretty late for them? How did they get such good ones?) were so velvety, sweet, and succulent that I wanted to marry them...or at least eat about a million more. The cheese was....just wow. I don't even have words for how good it was. Melty, soft in the middle with a slight pull to the outside layer. Seriously the kind of food I'd like to eat every day.
The pizza was the only dish that we didn't think was noteworthy. The crust was slightly soggy except for the crunchy edges. It was a little too salty overall, and the fried egg- that was supposed to be on top judging from other blogger's photos, was undetectable. We actually think they might have forgotten it altogether. The mushrooms however, were superb- and although one friend felt there were way too many of them, I am a funghi-phile and loved them.
 The bruschetta with butternut squash, ricotta and mint was an autumnal delight. This was the collective favorite dish of the day. The squash took on a caramelization that could have earned this dish a spot on the dessert menu. Again, the quality of the cheese here proved itself again with sweet, creamy goodness.

 The pretzel dusted calamari was also delicious. Given the creativity of the rest of the menu, I felt that the dipping sauces- though excellent for marinara sauce and mustard, were a bit on the boring side.

 We were so full at the end of our many courses that when the waiter asked if we'd like dessert, we explained that although we really DID find the dessert menu appealing and tempting, we were just too full to attempt it. At that point, I gave him my blog business card and told him that I'd be writing a fantastic review of my new favorite restaurant. He must have taken that as a cue to make sure it held it's new top spot because the next thing we knew, he reappeared with two comped desserts for us to try. Wow. Niiiiiiiice. Even cooler was the fact that they were the two we'd been eyeing- maybe he overheard us debating whether or not we should order either. The first was the pumpkin spice cake with maple cream cheese frosting. To be honest, I wasn't crazy about this one, it wasn't particularly pumpkin-y and I actually though the spices were too strong. I do realize that my about-to-burst stomach might be too blame here though...However, I DID find PLENTY of room for the  salted caramel ice cream sundae. It was topped with fresh whipped cream, candied peanuts and popcorn and some of the best hot fudge I've ever had. Where there's a will there's a way.
 I can't WAIT to go back !

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Chez Carey: Jordan's Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Raisins

I learned this recipe from my brother who made it a few Thanksgivings ago. I make it frequently for myself, often switching out the raisins for cranberries and pancetta for turkey bacon. It's a very adaptable recipe that lends itself for using whatever is in your pantry.
If you are in charge of the veggie side dish for next week's holiday, I strongly suggest this one.

Okay, I never measure anything so just use your best judgement. I'll try to give approximates. This probably serves about 4 people if my quantities are good guesses.
*1 basket of brussels sprouts, the small and tighter, thebetter. wash, cut in half, salt and pepper them, sprinkle with a tiny bit of lemon juice and set aside.
*1 medium thick slice of pancetta, cut into 1/4" squares.
*a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.
*Garlic, minced. a clove or 2
*Shallot, finely chopped. Should equal about the same amount as the garlic
*1/2 cup golden raisins
*1/4 sherry wine or other white wine- actually, red would probably be lovely too.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet. Saute the garlic and shallots for a minute until they are starting to look like they need more oil. Add the pancetta and continue sauteing until the pancetta starts to get crisp- a few minutes on medium heat. Set aside. In the same pan with all of those delicious juices, add a tiny bit more oil if necessary and put those sprouts face down. Toss to coat, but then resist the urge to move them around for a few minutes. After they start to brown toss the raisins in and mix it all up. At this point the brussels sprouts should be almost fork tender. Add the pancetta/shallots/garlic mixture back into the pan and toss. Add the wine, bring up to high heat and cook down until the liquid evaporates. Deeeeelcious! Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

 I've always thought it would be really cute to get a Brussels Griffon and name it Sprout. :)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chez Carey! An experiment...

I've been making a big effort to make my dinner at least mostly healthy and vegetable-based lately. I work until 9pm most nights and think eating a big dinner that late is really not a good idea. When I do my grocery shopping, I try to pick out produce that isn't in my normal go-to, quick and easy dinner repertoire and I sometimes stumble onto a good combo of ingredients by chance. Tonight I combined the squash, mushrooms and scallions I just bought with a bunch of stuff I already had in my fridge and it was a noteworthy success. I imagine this loose recipe concept is very flexible, and would go with plenty of other flavors as well.

Spaghetti squash: cut in half, cut side down in a pan with a cup of water. In oven at 350 for 30-40 minutes. Cool a bit and then shred with a fork.
Saute the following ingredients in a little olive oil, a couple of ingredients at a time until the mushrooms are cooked and the water has evaporated from the pan.
garlic, chopped
scallions, chopped
shallots, chopped
green pepper, diced
mushrooms, sliced

Add the following and saute for another minute.
cilantro, trimmed and cleaned, finely chopped
pepperoncini, chopped
marinated spicy olives, chopped

Add the sauteed stuff to the squash and mix it all up.
Top with crumbled feta cheese.

Deeeeeelcious! Enjoy!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Eataly: 200 5th ave. New York, NY

My dear friend and I have been trying to plan an adventure to Eataly for about 2 months now...When I first read about it's opening, I was so excited and could not WAIT to go check it out. Our first attempt was thwarted by a pet-related emergency and we tried again. Salmonella was to blame for the 2nd missed attempt, and though at the time I felt like I'd never want to eat again, the ravenous, insatiable appetite quickly returned. Well, the third try was the charm and we picked a Sunday night to go check it out.
 I had read SO many mixed reviews since it's opening, and was a little nervous about being overwhelmed by the size and underwhelmed by the quality. As someone who is a bit over-sensory-aware in even calm situations, the 50,000 square feet filled with imported foods, 7 different restaurants, food stands for gelato, pastries, chocolates, Alessi cookware, and more could potentially have had my head spinning pretty quickly. I also worried that I'd built up the hype in my head for 2 months now, and was maybe setting myself up to be disappointed.
Not so! When we got there at 7pm on Marathon Sunday it was pretty quiet. Tables were mostly full, but not so full that we had to wait to be seated. There were lots of beautiful people, both NYers and tourists dining and shopping, but the crowds were no where near as thick as some people have complained about. I guess we picked the perfect day and time to go, and the previous missed attempts were for good reason.
We started at La Verdura, the vegetable restaurant, and decided to share an appetizer here along with a glass of delicious 2008 Friulani wine. We had the special bruschetta of the day which was spaghetti squash with brown butter, Parmesan and fried sage. WOW. So tasty and butterylicious. I tend to get in cooking ruts and don't do much with spaghetti squash other than cooking it like pasta with Parmesan and red sauce, but I was newly inspired by this and plan to make it at home soon.
The service was pretty good, although I will mention that the waitress poured me half a glass of wine from the end of one bottle and then topped it off with a new one. Well, that's not so cool. Luckily, I'm pretty much a wine novice so it wasn't a big deal, but it certainly did seem a little tacky to me.  It also took 3 requests to finally get the olive oil for dipping that we wanted. Other than that, our waitress was friendly, attentive and knowledgeable.
After our snack, we decided to do a little shopping before our next course. This market is SO beautiful. Pastas, breads, produce to die for, a seafood market that made me want to dive in and try fish I'd never heard of, meats and cheeses to entertain guests with, tons of friendly and helpful staff all over (although they DO, ew, all wear those horrible Batali-orange crocs. They sell them there too, just in case you'd like to emulate Mario's horrible sense of style) and the design and architecture of the building itself is pretty incredible. The spices, jams and sauces are packaged so beautiful it's almost like a food museum. I would not recommend a visit if you are short on time. This is a place that you'll want to browse thoroughly, and doing it in a rush would be stressful and not fun- especially if it's crowded. As gorgeous as the market is, I only bought a few things. The prices are exorbitant and I highly doubt I'll shop there very often- although for special occasions or hard-to-find imports it's perfect. One of the coolest features is a free-of-charge vegetable butcher who will happily prep your produce for you. Awesome. I had her work on peeling a bunch of baby artichokes for me and am excited to cook them tonight. I was also REALLY excited to see that the bread baker is a woman I know and love from when she used to work at Orwashers uptown. I missed seeing here and wondered where she went. It was a wonderful and pleasant surprise to see her here. She's the kind of woman who makes you want to hug her. Long, grey dreadlocks and a warm smile. I would trust her opinion on all of the breads, just ask her what's best and don't question it. Take my word for it. My friend bought a rustic fig bread that, as she emailed me about this morning, is apparently amazing. I plan to go back to buy one soon.
After we looked around for an hour or so, we were ready for another snack so we went to Il Crudo. We ordered a meat and cheese plate and mixed marinated olives. Everything we had was delicious, especially the olives and the best ricotta I've ever had. I wonder what my famous lasagna would taste like using THAT instead of the grocery store container I usually buy. I must find out soon. I will let you know. Maybe I'll even invite you over for dinner.
Until then, go to Eataly. Eat and shop to your heart's content and let the naysayers stay home.
Bon Appetite!
P.S. On our way out, we caught a whiff of hazelnut and chocolate pouring from a faucet in a glistening, melty display. We just HAD to have a little sample and bought a tiny piece of the most delicious little piece of heaven. And yes, if you were wondering, I did forget to take a picture of it. It was in my happy tummy before I realized it. Sigh, I suppose I'll just have to go back and do that part again.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sushi Hana: 1501 2nd ave. New York NY

A friend and I decided on some late night sushi for dinner and found ourselves walking past Sushi Hana. The picture windows and lovely atmosphere brought us in. I had been there once before a few years ago but frankly didn't really remember it and figured it was worth a second try. 
I loved the lighting fixtures which hang from the ceiling like stainless steel octopuses. The decor is really appealing, natural branches, sleek table settings and simple flower arrangements. Clean and simple, exactly the way I want my sushi to taste.
We each had a salad to start, and were pleased to see 'real' lettuce instead of iceberg, good tomatoes, carrots and radishes and a very nice ginger dressing on the side. 
We shared 3 rolls with seaweed on the outside as I always request it. Eel with cucumber, spicy tuna and salmon/avocado. They were all good, but nothing special. The standard sushi you'll find at any of about 40 restaurants on the UES. The wasabi, I will warn you, is EXTRA hot and we weren't sure why- or what made it that way. The ginger was better than normal, and I wondered if perhaps they pickle it themselves.
The service was attentive and quick and though she couldn't really answer most of our questions, she certainly tried.
We were rather entertained by the drunk guy on a date a few tables over from us. He kept yelling woooooohooooo and then getting yelled at by the middle aged couple sitting next to them. It was really quite amusing to me, but I couldn't figure out why his cute date tolerated it instead of taking off. 
All in all, this restaurant fine. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to avoid either.