June 1, 2011
For the past 3 years, April 5th was primarily associated with one major event: It was the day we got numbers from my client. Nevermind that it also happens to be the day of my birth – I worked in public accounting and April 5th was still part of busy season. Sure, on the day of, we’d eat a slice of cake and someone would sing me a song, but at the end of the day you’d still find me crunching numbers til 3AM.
This year was different though. You know why? ‘Cause I ain’t in public accounting anymore. No deadlines, no numbers – I took the entire day off and treated myself to lunch at Del Posto.
It had been a while since I’ve had a really nice meal out so I really wanted to go somewhere spectacular for my birthday. Out of all the places that came to mind, I couldn’t think of any place I wanted to try more than Del Posto. Recently awarded 1 star by the Michelin Guide and 4 stars by the NY Times (the first Italian restaurant in 36 years to receive such an honor), this was a restaurant worthy of the occasion.
Considering its reputation, it’s surprising how relatively affordable the place is. Del Posto offers a three-course lunch prix fixe for $29 with the option of an additional pasta course for only $10 more. Add on a free glass of prosecco thanks to foursquare (be sure to check in!) and you’ve got a four-course, 4-star meal for $40, before tax and tip.
Bread with butter and smoked whipped lardo
Some people believe that you can tell how good a restaurant is based on its bread basket alone. If I followed that rule, this meal was going to be extraordinary. C’mon – I had a whole basket of baguettes, olive rolls and focaccia and a dish of whipped lardo, JUST FOR ME.
Like most great meals, this one started with an amuse bouche…or three to be exact. Crispy Roman-style saffron risotto balls, choux pastry filled with pureed mortadella and a small shotglass of Roman-style chicken eggdrop soup were presented on a platter before my first course. (Of course, I polished off the soup before realizing I hadn’t taken a picture of the platter as a whole. My bad.)
Course 1: Zampone with Lentil Vinaigrette & Salsa Verde
A zampone is a stuffed pig’s trotter – think of a ground sausage type interior surrounded by the original pig’s own fatty skin. Exactly as you’d expect, it was a very meaty dish; the lentils and salsa verde barely held their own against the porkiness of the zampone. In retrospect, this may have been too heavy a dish to start; however, I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Course 2: Whole Wheat Tonnarelli with Spicy Cicerchie, Fried Rosemary & Shaved Bonito
I ordered the whole wheat tonnarelli for two reasons, one of which being the whole wheat pasta and the other being the use of bonito. After tasting the dish, I realized why both were a necessary component to this course. The whole wheat gave the tender pasta texture and toothiness, and the vegetable broth in which the pasta was served was thoroughly enhanced by the umami of the bonito.
Course 3: Arctic Char with Watercress, Black Truffles and Chestnuts
If it wasn’t for Danny of Kung Food Panda and his recommendation of the arctic char, I may have not have gotten an extra course. Therefore I have to thank him for this one; his choice was spot on. That fish was fatty and flaky and absolutely delectable. The nutty chestnuts and earthy truffles were a wonderful complement to the hearty fish.
Finally came the course I had been waiting for: Dessert. Going into the meal, the one thing I knew I was going to order was the dessert with the celery sorbetto. It’s actually quite funny that this, of all things, caught my eye because I’m not a fan of celery at all. I’m the kind of person who smothers a celery stick in peanut butter and then only eats the peanut butter.
However, dislike of celery aside, I absolutely adored this dessert. Yes, the sorbetto still tasted of celery but it was tempered with the flavor of sugar and limes – the typically bland, watery flavor was now citric and robust! And when I paired that refreshing celery with the creaminess of the bread crumb encrusted goat cheese and the syrupy sweetness of the figs, I tasted my favorite course of the entire meal (and quite possibly my favorite course of 2011 thus far!).
Considering all of its outstanding reviews and the weight I was placing on them due to the occasion, it’s amazing that Del Posto was not only able to meet but even exceeded my expectations. The food was amazing (as you now know) and the service was delightful. (They even played “Happy Birthday” on the piano for me!) And during the entire meal, one particular thought kept reappearing in my mind: “I might be the happiest girl in the world right now. Happy birthday to me!”
February 15, 2011
(Since I feel like talking about NYC lobster rolls some more…)
Pearl Oyster Bar is supposed to be another heavy-weight in the NYC lobster roll arena but honestly, compared to Red Hook Lobster Pound and Luke’s Lobster, I don’t think it can handle the competition.
(Yes, I know this picture is horrific and poorly taken.)
First off, its lobster rolls are priced at “market price”, which ends up being a good $5-10 more than Red Hook’s and Luke’s. However, the size of its rolls (in comparison) does not increase in proportion with the increase in price. (I’m sorry, I’m cheap and I like to get the best bang for my buck.) Secondly, it smothers the lobster with mayo which is a big no-no for my personal palate. If I’m having lobster, I’d like to be able to taste it in its all-natural glory. Therefore, when we’re talking about lobster rolls, Pearl Oyster Bar is out of the competition.
My qualms with its lobster rolls aside though, Pearl Oyster Bar has some good food.
The clam chowder, for example, is hearty, with a hint of bacon. It is slightly thinner than your typical chowder but it’s still tasty.
Even better than the clam chowder? A bucket of steamers. Peel the the thick skin off the neck of the clam, give it a couple swishes in clam water to wash off the sand and grit and then dunk the whole thing in melted butter.
There is nothing better than fresh seafood prepared simply – just stick with the raw and steamed and you should be fine.
Pearl Oyster Bar
18 Cornelia St
New York, NY 10014
February 15, 2011
Let’s talk lobster rolls.
Before visiting the East Coast, I had no idea what a lobster roll was. I had never even heard about lobster rolls. It’s originally a New England-y food (due to the abundance of lobster out there?) and is, very simply, lobster meat stuffed inside a roll.
Get it? Lobster meat + roll = Lobster roll.
I think I’ve eaten more lobster in the past four months than I had in the year prior, solely because of the number of lobster rolls I’ve inhaled since moving to NYC. There are quite a number of places in Manhattan and Brooklyn that specialize in these babies, but here are two of my favorites if you’re around the area:
Red Hook Lobster Pound
Out of all the lobster roll places in and around NYC, Red Hook currently reigns supreme for me. It’s a trek to Red Hook from my little apartment in Hell’s Kitchen but it’s worth it. As soon as you walk in, you’re smacked in the face with the aroma of melted butter…If that isn’t a good sign, I don’t know what is.
Red Hook Lobster Pound serves two different types of lobster rolls: the Maine and the Connecticut. The Maine is a cold lobster roll with mayo; the Connecticut is a hot roll with butter.
(…mayo is nice…)
The Maine roll is great because the mayo flavor isn’t overpowering; there’s just enough to make it a savory bundle of goodness but not so much that you feel like you’re eating a heavy lobster salad. However, I’m personally not a huge fan of the temperature of the roll – it’s a personal preference and I just don’t like cold lobster.
(…but butter is always better…)
On the flipside of the Maine is the Connecticut, which I think is the hands down winner between the two. A warm, toasty roll soaks all the dripping melted butter and the lobster meat just tastes sweeter than its mayo-covered counterpart.
Note: Although the lobster rolls at Red Hook are not to be missed, feel free to pass on the lobster bisque. Not creamy enough for a satisfyingly thick bisque, not flavorful enough for a rich broth, the soup falls a bit flat. It does come with huge chunks of lobster meat floating in it but if you’re looking for meat, you might as well order another roll.
Luke’s Lobster holds a place in my heart as my first lobster roll ever. It also happens to be the best place in the city to go when you want a lobster roll.
Luke’s only serves one type of lobster roll – a chilled one with butter and a swipe of mayo on the roll itself rather than mixed with the lobster – but also has crab and shrimp rolls (similar concept, different shellfish). If you want to try all three, their taste of Maine platter solves that problem. (As you can see in the picture below, the sandwiches are small though and only good for a bite or two.)
For me, Luke’s rolls come second to Red Hook because, somehow, the lobster in their rolls are not sweet as Red Hook’s Connecticut or as savory as the Maine. To tell you the truth, the first time I went, I actually preferred the shrimp roll to the lobster one. (I know – blasphemy, right?) However, with three locations in the city, it’s the most convenient way of satisfying your lobster roll fix.
Note: If you go to Luke’s during the holiday season, order a pumpkin pie soda if it’s available. If you love pumpkin pie, this deliciously bubbly beverage has those same hints of all-spice that you’ll love. (Sadly, it’s a seasonal drink – I haven’t been able to find since last year!)
November 10, 2010
“Spe-loo-kos…I mean, Spew-koo-loos…Wait, how is it pronounced? Spe-keu-los?”
I may not be able to pronounce it, but I can type it: Spekuloos. Like, Wafels and Dinges’ spekuloos spread. As in, Wafels and Dinges’ spekuloos spread is AMAZING.
If you can’t tell, I’m already sort of (well, more than sort of) obsessed with this spekuloos spread. Imagine a spread with a consistency similar to peanut butter and nutella but with the flavor of – wait for it, wait for it – GINGERBREAD COOKIES. And, unlike nutella or peanut butter, the flavor isn’t overwhelmingly sweet or overpoweringly heavy. It is relatively light and I can consume as much spekuloos spread as I can gingerbread cookies (and I can eat quite a number of gingerbread cookies!).
Although the spread itself is fantastic, its awesomeness is only enhanced by the vessel it is served on. In this case, this vessel happens to be a waffle. Actually, to be perfectly accurate, it is a freshly made liege waffle with crystals of pearl sugar in it. So when I’m talking about spekuloos spread, I’m really talking about a hot liege waffle smeared with spekuloos spread, given a generous dash of powdered sugar and maybe a burst or two of whipped cream.
…If hot waffles and spekuloos spread still hasn’t made you somewhat interested then, well, I got nothing else. However, if it has, then go find the Wafels and Dinges truck! And say hi to the guys in there too!
(Yes, it’s a Belgian themed truck and guess what? They’re actually Belgian!)
July 14, 2010
Momofuku Ssam Bar
When I first planned NYC Trip #2, I originally penciled in “Momofuku Ko” on my schedule. Arguably the hardest reservation to get in all of New York (I heard David Chang won’t even let his parents bypass his infamous Momofuku reservation system), the only way to get a reservation is to stalk the website and count down the seconds until reservations for the following week’s seating opened. I felt confident I would be able to score one of the twelve available seats for that night…that is, until I totally forgot about making reservations. I remembered 12 hours too late. (Oops!)
…Okay then, onto Plan B.
Getting into Momofuku Ssam Bar is much easier than Momofuku Ko. Unless you reserve an order of their famous bo ssam pork shoulder ahead of time, Ssam Bar is a first-come, first-serve eatery. My suggestion is to get there early, before the lunch/dinner crowds hit – otherwise, you’ll be escorted to the Momofuku Milk Bar next door, where you’ll wait for your table in a somewhat uncomfortable position. (Milk Bar has no chairs and waits are typically about half an hour or longer.)
Plates at Ssam are decently sized but…well…my dining companions and I are eaters. Therefore, for the three of us, we ordered all of the following:
Santa Barbara Uni, Whipped Tofu, Tapioca, Shrimp Crackers
Call me dense but I didn’t get this dish. Maybe the contrast in texture was meant to be the focus, but I didn’t really understand how the flavors of the whipped tofu, the chewy tapioca/boba balls and the shrimp crackers were supposed to work with the rich, buttery uni. (The uni was fresh and delicious by itself though.)
Fuji Apple Kimchi, Jowl Bacon, Maple Labne, Arugula
The kimchi apples, on the other hand, I understood – it was easily one of the top 5 dishes I tasted during my second NYC trip. Crisp Fuji apples are coated in the peppery kimchi seasoning (minus the vinegar) and topped with meaty bacon and spicy arugula. The labne (a strained yogurt) mellows everything out. A complete bite of all four components? Amazing.
We ordered two types of country ham: the smokier Edward’s Wigwam ham and the non-smoked Finchville’s ham. All I have to say is, if you’re going to go for ham, get it smoked.
Steamed Buns, Pork Belly, Hoisin, Cucumbers, Scallions
When I used to hear about Momofuku pork buns I used to think, “What’s so good about Momofuku pork buns…? Pffft. Big deal.” Now I think, “OMG, I WANT A PORK BUN.” Just imagine a peking duck bun – the familiar hoisin and scallion flavors and the texture of the fluffy bun – but now swap the duck for soft and tender pork belly that just melts in your mouth. Doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is – these pork buns are DELICIOUS.
Corned Beef Terrine, Fried Egg Sauce, Tea Brined Egg Salad
I was uninspired by this dish, possibly because I ate it immediately after those mind-blowing Momofuku pork buns. Although it was tasty, at the end of the day, it just felt like chunks of corned beef compressed in a terrine mold.
Fried Baby Artichokes, Pistachio, Sunchokes, Bottarga
I’m not a fried artichokes kind of girl as I find they lose their tender artichoke qualities when they’re immersed in a vat of oil and end up with a texture reminiscent of dry leaves. Therefore, instead of commenting on the fried artichokes, I just want to bring your attention to the delicious sunchoke puree smeared on the side of the bowl in the picture above. (I would have much rather had a bowl of just that!)
Chili Soft Shell Crab, Green Plum, Asparagus, Lemon Confit
The tart lemon was a nice accompaniment against the asparagus and a nice contrast against the crispy soft shell crab. However, I don’t recall tasting any of the chili that is referred to in the dish description.
Spicy Pork Sausage, Rice Cakes, Chinese Broccoli, Crispy Shallots
The meaty, spicy dduk bok-ki was a great way to end the meal. The rice cakes were crispy on the outside but soft and chewy in the middle (just the way I like them!). The pork sausage had a real kick to it too. (I wouldn’t recommend ordering anything after this one.)
And now, for a side tangent:
For those who may not have seen The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, Ssam sits right around the middle of that list at #26. It’s the 5th US restaurant on the list, only topped by Alinea (in Chicago) and Daniel, Per Se and Le Bernardin (all in NYC). It’s six spots above The French Laundry (in Yountville, CA).
When first scanning the 2010 list, I was surprised to see Ssam ranked so highly. At the time, I hadn’t read much about the place so I attributed my reaction to ignorance and gave it the benefit of the doubt. However, after dining at both Ssam and at the last restaurant to make the cut (Eleven Madison Park at #50) in the same week, I left NYC still very confused. Momofuku Ssam Bar…#26…?
According to the Momofuku website, the name “Momofuku” means “lucky peach”. I believe it’s a fitting name – Without a doubt, like a ripe peach, Momofuku Ssam Bar is delicious and worth trying. However, I find the inclusion of the word “lucky” even more fitting – As tasty as it may be, with a #26 position on the World’s Best list, Momofuku Ssam Bar must be much, much luckier.
Momofuku Ssam Bar
207 2nd Ave
New York, NY 10003
Momofuku Milk Bar
We started off the night in Milk Bar (while waiting for our table); we ended our night there as well. I wanted something sweet but since I was slightly stuffed at this point, I only split a slice of David Chang’s infamous “Crack Pie”.
Crack Pie – Toasted Oat Crust, Gooey Butter Filling
I think it’s logical to assume that Crack Pie was probably named for its supposedly addictive qualities. I have no doubt that there are people out there who are addicted after bite one; I, however, am not one of them. Honestly, it just tasted like butter and sugar to me (which is basically all that’s in it anyway). I’m not sure what I expected from it but…well…if this is crack, I think I’ll pass next time.
What I won’t pass on, however, is Milk Bar’s cereal milk soft serve. As a girl who likes her cereal SUPER soggy before chowing down, I really enjoyed this – its taste was spot on, exactly like the sweet, sugary milk you typically find at the bottom of your bowl. I’m not sure I would purchase an actual bottle of their cereal milk (especially since I feel like I could easily re-create it by pouring myself a bowl of cereal at home) but the cereal milk soft serve is definitely worth the trip.
Momofuku Milk Bar– MOVED
(new location information)
251 E 13th St
New York, NY 10003