Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bocca East: 1496 2nd ave. New York NY

Bocca East opened about 3 weeks ago in my neighborhood, finally replacing a restaurant that closed after a fire last year. On a block with a few other excellent Italian places, I was surprised that every time I walked past it's been totally packed. Huge windows allowed a peak into the restaurant, which is rustic, cozy, warm and welcoming with brick walls, tons of displayed wine bottles, fire places and artsy chandeliers. The bar goes the entire length of the restaurant and looks very conducive to eating and drinking alone. Towards the back, the windows continue and you can look in on the kitchen which I really like...Nothing to hide.
A friend and I met for dinner tonight. We made reservations for 7:30 and were seated immediately. Water and bread were brought out right away as we browsed the menu- which was very similar to Uva, one of my local favorites just a few doors over. The wine list is extensive, 3 times the size of the food menu, so I decided to have a taste size glass of Pinot Grigio. I LOVE when restaurants offer this petite size, perfect for someone like me that has a low tolerance but loves the taste.
The bread was fresh and had a great consistency, but I felt the olive oil for dipping was not the best quality. I ordered the artichokes starter which came with a delicious basil aioli dipping sauce and I was very impressed with it. The artichokes were quartered and pan fried. They were not coated in any kind of breading or batter so you could really just taste the vegetable without grease or crust in the way. Fantastic appetizer for an artichoke lover like myself. For my entree I had the Rigatoni with eggplant and ricotta and I absolutely loved it. The pasta was obviously homemade and cooked perfectly al dente. The light tomato sauce and eggplant were hearty without being heavy, and the cubes of ricotta added a rich, creamy touch. I had ordered a half size portion (another size option that I love) and cleaned my plate. The only negative here was the service. Our waitress was clearly rushed in telling us the specials and did not check in us much at all. They have a staff of busboys who pretty much take over after orders are placed and we literally sat and chatted for half an hour after we were offered dessert and declined. When we finally saw our waitress, who had pretty much vanished, we asked for the check. Now, don't get me wrong. I  DO like to be able to chat without feeling like we are being rushed out the door, but I also feel that in periodic check-ins are the wait staff's responsibility and that was clearly not part of her repertoire. I think they are a bit understaffed since they are so new, and they will probably work out these kinks as they go forward.
 Overall this is very comparable to it's neighbor Uva, with a similar vibe and similar menu, but here they take reservations, a total plus. Being that it's a 2 block walk from my house, I'm quite sure I'll be returning. Glad to welcome it to the neighborhood!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Red Bamboo: 140 West 4th st. New York NY

 Yay! I finally had an opportunity to try Red Bamboo tonight, a restaurant I have heard good things about for years but for some reason never went to until now. The menu is a lot more extensive than I expected. For some reason I thought it was all asian-based, but it's not at all. Although there are plenty of asian options, there are also plenty of other choices including Italian influences, southern, indian etc. and it's all vegan.
We started with the crab rangoon and though it didn't really taste like crab, it sure was tasty with a zippy dipping sauce. Not cream cheesy like the 'classic' rangoon, but so enjoyable. For my entree I had the mango chicken, which my photo really doesn't do justice for. It was really quite pretty, presented in the hollowed out mango shell and served with peppers, onions and strips of mango in a sweet sauce. The soy chicken was a shockingly close replica to 'real' chicken and I could totally consider going back to vegetarianism (I was veg for 12 years in my younger days) if I could make it taste like that at home. I had a taste of my date's oxtail stew, and while we agreed that it really didn't taste anything like oxtail, and it's consistency was something from another planet, it too was interesting, complex, totally unique and hearty. The best part of our meal was the oreo cheesecake. As dense, rich, creamy and amazing as a 'real' cheesecake would be, but with zero dairy. Our waitress assured us that it was indeed dairy-free but also that it really wasn't any less indulgent health-wise than the real thing. In this case, it was worth every forkful but even between the 2 of us we were unable to finish it despite it's deliciousness. I would absolutely recommend Red Bamboo to vegans, meat eaters and everything in between. They have a real talent for the non-animal, and I think you should let them impress you too!

Brasserie Julien: 1422 Third Ave. New York, NY

 I met a friend here for brunch today and was greeted by the hostess who actually recognized my voice from when I called to make the reservation last night. VERY impressive! It's that kind of attention to detail that I really love and take notice of.
We were seated immediately in a partially indoor/partially outdoor spot. Ice water, bread and butter were served, and I thought I tasted a faint orange flavor to the butter, nice touch! (or maybe the butter is just stored near the orange juice in the fridge and takes on it's flavor. Either way, I liked it)
I ordered the eggs benedict. (with the hollandaise on the side because I don't usually like it) As you can see, it was a lovely presentation and included fresh fruit, a small salad, and a piece of sweet potato gratin. The eggs were slightly warm, but definitely not hot. The english muffin and spinach that it sat atop was sort of on the cold side, and the bread tasted stale to me. The sweet potato gratin was close to inedible. I had one bite and then rejected the rest. Slimy, cold and greasy. Definitely NOT worth the carbs this time. I ate the eggs (which were cooked very nicely even though they were cool), the salad and the fruit and picked at the spinach and half of the english muffin a little. The rest remained on my plate. For dessert, I had a taste of my friend's 'Berry Avalanche' and though the berries were fresh and plentiful, and the custard rich and creamy, the filo pastry was definitely stale. Again, not worth it. The service, aside from the hostess, was lacking. Although she was friendly, she was very slow in between courses and even slower to bring the check and have the plates cleared even though we'd been finished eating for a pretty long time. When my friend asked for 1/2 and 1/2 for her coffee, our waitress told her they only had milk. At a French restaurant? What? That was totally impossible to believe knowing how many French foods require cream for their preparation. My friend decided to ask the busboy for some cream and he replied, "Would you like 1/2 and 1/2 or milk"? Ummm, okay. He brought out a small pitcher of 1/2 and 1/2 a minute later for her. Ooooookay. Anyway, though seeing my friend is ALWAYS a complete delight, I thought this restaurant was sub-par. It's always crowded with a typical Upper East Side clientele though- just another case of diners with little discretion for food as long as it's a hip place to be seen.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Chez Carey! Crab stuffed mushrooms (and peppers for another day)

What's a rainy day good for? An opportunity for a cooking experiment of course! Remember that crab I had in the freezer that I used for this: Well, I STILL had 1/3 of it left and have been on a crab kick lately so today's experiment's object was to use it up. Using ingredients I already had on hand, I decided to make some stuffed mushrooms- a dish I play around with pretty often, but I must say, this is the best version of it I've ever made. I started by removing the stems from white mushrooms and chopping them up with shallots, parsley, (fresh from my city farmer fire escape window box garden!) a little chicken broth, black pepper, chopped garlic, and a few tablespoons of light cream cheese. I filled each mushroom with that mixture and topped each one with a sprinkle of grated parmesan, and a few pine nuts. Since I had some extra stuffing left, I decided to split and fill an orange pepper that I just put in the freezer for another day. Into the oven the mushrooms went, with about 1/2 cup of white wine in the baking dish. 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes and out they came, golden brown and simply delicious. I put some on top of my 'standard' salad (with balsamic and olive oil) for lunch and it was FANTASTIC. Give it a try! It's hard to mess this one up! 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Chez Carey! Soft shell crab almondine, salad & herby/lemon/mustard dressing

Soft shell crabs are one of my favorite foods in the world. They have a super short season, and tons of restaurants feature them. It seems like they are always really expensive and never as good as when I make them myself, so I was really excited when I saw that Fresh Direct had them on sale for only $3.99.
My favorite way to prepare them is almondine. That way, the crunch of the almonds makes the crunch of the shell slightly less disturbing. I dredged the crab in a mixture of a little flour and some old bay seafood seasoning, heated up about a tablespoon of light oil and sauteed them for a couple of minutes per side until they turned crispy and golden brown. Next, I toasted some raw almond slivers and topped the crab with them. While it cooled off a little, I made a salad of 5 different types of lettuces, red peppers, radishes, cucumbers, pepperoncinis, carrots and tomatoes. I happen to have some lovely herbs growing in my window box right now, so I made a light dressing out of lemon juice, mustard, cilantro, mint, parsley and a little olive oil. Yum yum yum. For a SUPER fast and easy lunch that's pretty healthy to boot, this one was a total winner. I'm hoping the crabs are still on sale next week because this one definitely warrants a repeat!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cafe Mogador: 101 St. Marks Place. NY NY.

 I met a date here for dinner last night and despite a packed house, a line of people outside waiting, and being told we'd have a 25 minute wait, we were pleasantly surprised to be seated at an outdoor table in the 'perfect' corner spot within about 5 minutes.
I'd never had Moroccan food before, but as soon as I started perusing the menu I realized it's really quite similar to Mediterranean or Middle Eastern, which I am very familiar with.
We started with the hummus appetizer, which was fantastic. The olive oil on top was silky and very high quality, and the texture of the hummus was just right, not too gravely, not too smooth, and extremely rich and creamy. The fresh, hot pita bread was the perfect scooper for it and we polished it off quickly.
I was feeling pretty full already and was glad that I ordered a relatively light dish compared to the heavy meats and grains that the menu consisted mostly of. I was very impressed with my delicious salmon (although it was supposed to be medium rare and was definitely closer to well-done). It had a crispy crust and sat on a bed of beets and crunchy turnips (or maybe parsnips) that added a nice textural element to the fish. The cous cous, which is normally not my favorite grain, was actually really enjoyable, especially with the flavors of the salmon's sauce mixed in. A taste of my date's lamb was awesome and extremely tender, and I could see why it's one of his favorite dishes at a favorite place.
Next time I am asked if I've ever had Moroccan food I won't have to say no!

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Mussel Pot: 174 Bleecker St. New York, NY

Hooray for monthly-Friday-restaurant-adventures-with-Betsy! She picked this deal up on Bloomspot- so we had $60 to spend for $30. Awesome! Glancing over the very reasonable prices, Betsy was a little concerned that we might not be able to even spend all $60, but I assured her that I could easily eat that much worth in oysters alone if need be.
My photo just does not do this lovely garden justice. Even with beautiful Betsy sitting there in vacation-mode, it just can't capture what an unexpected city oasis this is. There is a coi pond, rock garden, and a small waterfall quietly tink-tink-tink-ing. It happened to be a gorgeous,  70 degree day that was exactly perfect for eating lunch outside.
 Our waiter, Shane, was excellent right from the start. Funny, charismatic, well-informed, polite AND cute. He made some great recommendations for us and gave us plenty of time to decide while Betsy and I caught up. (she also let me have a taste of her delicious strawberry/basil mojito which I loved- but alas refrained from ordering since I had to go work in a little bit)
 I was SO excited for oysters- one of my favorite foods, but Betsy was skeptical. She'd only tried them once before and was not a fan. As my theory goes, it sometimes takes a second try to like things and I was ecstatic that such was the case here. We ordered 6 west coasts and 6 blue points and they arrived promptly with a trio of sauces; horseradish, cocktail and a champagne vinaigrette (that was gulp-able on it's own). They were outstanding oysters. Not too brine-y, super-fresh and the perfect size. The only thing I didn't love was that they weren't loosened from the shell already as some restaurants do, and they required a little manhandling.
Next we had 2 different kinds of mussels, because after all- anyone who comes to the Mussel Pot and DOESN'T get mussels, well frankly, why would you do that? I was laughing the other day as I read a review on Yelp that complained about how bad the fried chicken was. Ummm. Ya. Don't go to a mussel restaurant for chicken, genius! Oiy. Anyway, I felt a bit like I was cheating on Flex Mussels since that's one of my fav go-to spots, but WOW, this was worth cheating for. We had the Asian Thai mussels (red curry, lemongrass, cilantro, coconut milk, couscous) which were creamier than I would have expected, with a little spicy kick that was perfect. We also had the 'Chef's Best' mussels (lobster cheese fondue, pancetta, black truffles  ) which were totally rich, indulgent, and luxurious. The two types actually went well together, which was VERY surprising. When the waiter brought us some bread for dipping, we were pretty much in heaven. (especially with the cheesy one)
I wasn't stuffed enough to refuse dessert and since Betsy doesn't have a sweet tooth like I do, she let me pick. I asked Shane about the Nutella Flan and he raved so much about it that I knew I'd made a good choice. I am not a big flan person, but this sounded interesting with chocolate ganache, caramel, roasted almonds and berries and I was SO SO SO glad I ordered it. A deep, rich chocolate/hazelnut flavor that somehow tasted dense and light at the same time. I had no problem cleaning the plate- even with Betsy's singular teaspoonful.
I would strongly recommend a visit to the Mussel Pot if you love mussels and/or oysters and/or dessert. Try to get a spot in the garden and you will feel like you've escaped from the hustle and bustle for an hour. Oh, and don't have to go to work afterwards so that you too can enjoy a beautiful cocktail!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Frankie's 17: 17 Clinton St. New York, NY

 It's true. I rarely venture downtown much anymore unless I'm meeting someone or I have a gig. Well, luckily for me today the friend I was meeting suggested this great lower east side brunch spot. I read up online a bit, and it was clear that I may as well get my long run in early to offset the amount of carbs I was about to consume. The french toast was reviewed glowingly by so many people that I was sure it's what I'd be ordering.
We were seated immediately and ordered lattes that turned out to be really excellent and beautiful. We shared the beets and avocado appetizer which was quite tasty, but not terribly exciting.  The French toast, on the other hand, was definitely noteworthy. Wow. Dare I say the BEST French toast I've ever had? Why yes, I do dare. Freshly made with bread from Grandaisy bakery did not leave anything else to be desired. Perfectly crisp on the outside and decadently eggy and sweet on the inside. A light maple syrup and a dusting of confectioner's sugar finished it beautifully, as did the few pieces of fruit who's purpose was clearly to ease the indulgent guilt of eating sugary bread for a meal. I was completely stuffed to the brim after only one piece and am rather excited to have the other half for a midnight snack tonight or for breakfast tomorrow.
I surprised even myself by being too full to order my own dessert, but of course I DID manage to find enough room to taste my friend's red-wine prunes and marscapone, a dessert that really wouldn't have appealed to me at all (what with the absence of chocolate), but was surprisingly good. The creamy marscapone was so buttery and rich that the wine-soaked prunes actually cut it with their rich, juicy, sweet flavor. Overall, Frankie's 17 was definitely worth the bus ride down and I would strongly recommend it if you are in the area.


Friday, May 6, 2011

E.A.T. 1064 Madison Ave. New York NY

 My mom and I were walking in the area so we went in to have lunch. She had an omelet that came with a small fields greens salad. I had a shrimp salad with field greens. We both had a lemonade. My mom had a cup of coffee. Not a latte, not a cappuccino, a simple cup of coffee that was FIVE BUCKS. Ridic. With tip, our grand total was $70. Ummm what you ask? Did I read that right? Yes you did. I said SEVENTY DOLLARS! I find that completely and totally appalling. We could have gone for a prix fix lunch at a fancy restaurant for the same cost. Seriously E.A.T? You are basically a casual diner-type place in a semi-fancy area so you think you are justified for this kind of pricing? REALLY? Wow. I guess a lot of the folks who live in the area don't even bother looking at the check before they pay it, which is the only
                          explanation I have for the fact that this place is always busy. As far as I'm concerned, I will never go in again.
Don't get me wrong, the food was tasty. The service was attentive and fast. But the price? Ohhhhh the price. Unforgivable. It's places like this that give Upper East Siders like me a bad name and I do not appreciate it. Boooo E.A.T. Boooooo. You get one star. I kind of wish the food wasn't good so I could give you zero.