Saturday, November 17, 2012

Starry Nights

Dining at two Steven Starr steakhouses on consecutive weekends, first Butcher & Singer then Barclay Prime, sounds and is both decadent and delightful.  However, the close proximity of the events forces one to compare the style, standards and experience of both.  While both have Starr DNA, an attention to providing fabulous design and attention to detail, extremely high quality ingredients and excellent customer service, the two restaurants had completely distinct personalities.

Butcher & Singer plays homage to the traditional steakhouse.  Walking into the opulent and fantastically re-designed former bank building, one is transported back in time and you can imagine yourself surrounded by high rolling business executives or mobsters strutting around with cigar in one hand and a bejeweled starlet on the  other.  Despite the sky high ceilings and spaciousness of the restaurant, the warm tones of the decor, comfy u-shaped booths and friendly service are overwhelmingly inviting.  The food does not disappoint- the porterhouse is prepared exactly as requested, a true medium rare with a wonderful salty char, the meat practically melting in your mouth.  Surprisingly, for a steakhouse, the sides did not feel like a complete afterthought.  The brussel sprouts and asparagus are delicious and had me wanting more.  I blame the 2 or 3 blue cheese stuffed, dirty gin martinis for the sole photo (sorry!). . . and yes, the cocktails alone are worth a bar visit.

While Butcher & Singer recalls the decadence and glory of old Hollywood, Barclay and Prime is effortlessly cool, refined in its minimalism.  White marble tables and walls are offset by walnut bookcases and plush green sofas.  Our waitress is exceptional- witty under duress (loss power for a few minutes),  knowledgeable and ready with recommendations and in tune with her clientele.  A wonderful moment during the dinner was when the waitress offered a tray of top grade knives- wusthof, henckels, shun- choose your weapon!

Now, for the food! The wedge salad was a notch above the norm with lumps of crab meat and the beet salad with microgreens surprised with a playful, pistachio crunch.  The miso glazed black cod was superbly prepared and a perfect dish for my mom.  The porterhouse which I shared with the sis-in-law was solid, but dare I say it, not as good as Butcher & Singer's.  Even now I cannot put my finger on the disparity, perhaps not quite as flavorful or not as well seasoned. . . but the New York strip and the Short Ribs were divine and had me dreaming about steak the rest of the week.  The cooked mushrooms and truffle oil mashed potatoes sides were standout good- rich and earthy.  

So the verdict- which is the better steakhouse?  I suppose it comes down to what you think a steakhouse should be and I am a sucker for a traditional style steakhouse so my vote goes to Butcher & Singer.  That being said, I would eagerly go back to either restaurant!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Discovering Philly's gems: part 1

Was in Philly for an unexpectedly short weekend trip (THANKS Hurricane Sandy) for belated birthday festivities with the husband, brother and sis-in-law. Our get togethers are inevitably gluttonous, boozy and chock full of lowbrow humor and merriment (read lots of butt and poop jokes).

Nonetheless there is never a shortage of delicious food and this weekend proved no different. We started the weekend with brunch at Honey's Sit n Eat nestled in Northern Liberties. Although it was relatively early, there was already an impressive wait so we took the first table available which meant sitting outside on a slightly cold morning. However spot on and hot Le Colombe coffee helped warm me up.

The menu was straightforward with an emphasis on All-American comfort food comprised of high-quality and fresh ingredients. We shared fried pickles which for once did not disappoint me with generous diagonally cut pieces encrusted with cornmeal fried batter and served with a well balanced aioli. For the main dish I opted for the sausage, bacon and white bean stew dusted with breadcrumbs and served in a small crock bowl and a side of roasted brussel sprouts. The stew was hearty and reminded me of an amazing bread stew I had many years ago in Florence. The sprouts were a little too oily for my taste but still hit the spot. The boy ordered the country fried steak with gravy served with a side of mac n cheese, onion rings, and a biscuit. I quite enjoyed the biscuit but felt the steak and gravy, while better than average, were not particularly memorable or standout.

All in all a great find, earnest and easy food, exceptionally friendly waitress and BYOB to boot!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Casa Mono does a small plate right

maybe it's because my eyes are often bigger than my stomach, or that i don't want to miss out on a better dish or that i want to try everything, but i have always had a love for small plates, whether it's dim sum, banchan or tapas.  the spanish variety was just beginning to experience it's heyday when i first moved to NYC in 2005, and even with a tapas laden trip to barcelona, i still couldn't get enough of it.  Pinxtos (which is sadly no mas), Tia Pol, Oliva (also closed), 1492, Mercat, Boqueria. . .

and yet, despite having a fondness for it's sister tapas establishment Bar Jamon, i had somehow missed Casa Mono! it is a gem of a restaurant, tucked away on 17th and irving.  the atmosphere is warm, inviting- matching the friendliness of the waitstaff.  a great place for small groups or a cozy date.

our selections are pictured below: pumpkin and goatcheese croquettes, charceuterie and cheese plate, blackened beets,  lobster wrapped in a banana leaf, yellowfin tuna, skirt steak, and calamares (sorry no picture) and grilled duck breast. every dish was well executed and beautifully presented. 

however, there were two standouts for me.  (1) the duck which was a true medium rare, therein maximizing flavor and succulence and complimented nicely with sour plums and parsnips. (2) the grilled squid served with harissa and squid ink, which managed to be both clean and decadent all at once.  oh Casa Mono, am i so glad i finally found you!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bistro Petit

Bistro Petit has been on my list of "must try" neighborhood restaurants for quite some time and this past saturday night i finally had the opportunity to go.  when a restaurant has especially high reviews- i'm always a bit nervous- will the experience live up to the hype? are the positive remarks a result of exuberance from going to the new restaurant? does the reviewer have similar tastes?  

all reservations melted away at first bite of a sumptuous, grilled artichoke served with a medley of greens, fava beans and olives lightly dressed in oil.  such a simple dish but nonetheless remarkably delicious.   

truffled mac and cheese- obviously got too carried away with sampling before i remembered to snap a photo! yummy but really how can you go wrong with mac and cheese and truffles?

steak frites are reinterpreted as sliced, organic strip loin steak in a peppercorn sauce topped with ribbon fries.  really a great piece of meat.  served (thank you!) as requested, a true medium rare.  the high quality of the meat was immediately noticeable, both tender, flavorful and perfectly seared.  and yes, those ribbon fries are addictive- something between a chip and a french fry. Bistro Petit's steak is a serious contender (watch out St.Anselm)!

genius is having the foresight to develop an idea that makes so much sense after the fact, that you wonder why you had never thought of it before.  kimchi bouillabaisse is pure genius.  Chef Park masterfully tempers, without losing the spirit and flavor, of kimchi chige in his refined rendition of this hearty seafood stew.  come fall/wintry night, you may find me holed up here with a bottle of soju or sake and devouring an order of bouillabaisse.

worrying that there might not be enough food (which turned out not to be the case), we requested an order of the duck confit.  oh my.  this may have been the surprise table favorite ("they should just make a vat of that stuff" exclaimed The Nose after a taste of the foie gras toast accompanying the duck), crispy skin encasing perfectly seasoned and succulent meat which was nicely offset by the crisp arugula and pomegranate salad. 

i LOVE Bistro Petit.  they serve really really good food with the finest ingredients (locally sourced, organic blah blah blah), without being pretentious. it feels honest. humble. given the increasingly sceney environs, this is a remarkable feat.  please don't change.  and i hope i didn't embarrass the chef too much with my enthusiastic compliments. . . .i tend to get carried away when it comes to food.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

end of summer

I approached Labor Day weekend with mixed feelings- excited to meet up with my husband in Maryland, but sad to say goodbye to summer Fridays and lots of sunshine. . . nonetheless, it was a spectacular weekend of catching up with loved ones, delectable dining- and oh yes, sleeping on the NY-DC bus both ways!

The husband and I decided to make our first restaurant stop MOA, a nondescript- have to go out of your way to find, Korean restaurant in Rockville Maryland.   Why Korean? Because it's one of my favorite foods and my poor husband has been sorely lacking in food variety in Ohio!  The banchan came out pretty immediately- pretty decent kim chi and the waitress kindly told us to let her know if we need refills.  A nice change from the sometimes stinginess I encounter in NY restaurants.  We ordered seafood pajun (pancake), yook gae jang (spicy beef stew), and ojingeo boekkum (spicy stir fried squid) .  I pride myself in being an expert in pajun and I have to say, that Moa's was literally one of the BEST I've ever had.  The other two dishes were good but not remarkable, and I was disappointed by the toned down spice level (but giving them the benefit of the doubt and that they are catering to the general clientele?).  Nonetheless, all in all worthwhile and a repeatable eating experience!

The next notable meal was an early Sunday dinner at Founding Farmers with the sister and brother-in-law and our two adorable nieces.  It was our second time returning and now is officially tied as "favorite" Maryland restaurant (the other is Brewer's Art in Baltimore who's herbed fries I dream about!).  

We started with cocktails and shared appetizers for the table: Dogs & Rolls (you pick 3 types of essentially mini hot dogs of which we chose the Chow-Chow Relish Dog, Bacon Cheddar Dog and Chili Cheese Dog); Smears, Dips and Table Spreads, and Mussels with Sausage and Pesto.  The best dog was the chili cheese variety which was more of a sausage that had a smart bite and the chili actually held its own against the sausage.  The variety of dips includes an addictive romesco sauce and which I blame for always being too full before I even start my entree.  The mussels, a last minute request from the husband, should not be missed. The broth is wonderfully savory and begs to be sopped up with the crusty bread and devoured.  Entree for me was the Spicy Ahi Tuna Poke Salad and for the boy the Prime Rib Dip.  My dish was the perfect summer meal- fresh, light and flavorful (note: combination of cilantro lime dressing and kung pao sauce is genius).  The boy's is comfort food was comfort food at it's best- succulent pieces of already flavorful meat paired with gruyere and onions on  ciabatta. 

Oh Maryland, so many treasures to revisit and discover. . . until next time.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

taste of purgatorio

Trying a trendy restaurant in New York is always a bit of a gamble.  Will the food live up to the hype or will it be a disappointing waste of money and stomach space? And if you know me, you know that there are few things more upsetting to me than wasted calories on non tasty food!

This past Saturday afternoon, I found myself at Dell'anima with J, S, Blondie and his wife. As I bit into a slice of deliciously crusty bread slathered with fresh ricotta, drizzled with honey and pine nuts, any thoughts of ordering a sensible salad flew out the window.

Instead, I ordered the uova in purgatorio and was rewarded by a divine dish.  My eggs were perfectly runny and served in a succulent tomato sauce with pancetta, rosemary and shallots.  All to be sopped up with the most buttery garlicy bread.  Just plain sinful.  Can't wait to do it again.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Memorable Eats in Istanbul

The husband and I were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit Istanbul for one of my best friend’s weddings.  . .and what an amazing and beautiful city it is!  Of course – there is the incredible history and tradition, extremely friendly locals and blend of culture/ethnicity which we got to experience by way of the cuisine.

Three most memorable meals:

Day 1. Dinner at Haci Abdullah just off the main shopping district in Taksim after drinks with the bride & groom and bride’s family at a nearby bar.  Honestly, this meal was one delicious blur as there were so many different dishes, and yes, I may have been a bit tipsy.  The cuisine was traditional Ottoman style and luckily we had a native ordering for us.  There were two rounds of courses- an assortment of cold dishes including an artichoke salad, various stuffed peppers and stuffed grape leaves followed by several hot dishes such as a slow cooked lamb shank, meatballs and rice pilaf.     

Day 2 (and 3).  A brunchy lunch at Taksim Lades, a standard Turkish restaurant catering to both locals and visitors where we devoured a smorgasboard of food- fried eggs with sausage, fried eggs with lamb, clotted cream & honey (and the very reason why I insisted on going back for another breakfast), and fresh vegetables and olives drizzled with extra virgin olive oil- for USD$20!!  The freshness of the ingredients- namely the eggs and tomatoes- was remarkable.

Day 4 (and 6). Lamb and Liver kebap wraps at Durumzade, a hole in the wall kebap joint a few blocks from the boisterous bars in Beyoglu.  You order single or double order of your choice of meat which is then grilled over coals, seasoned with parsley, sumac, onions and tomatoes before being wrapped and placed over the grill one last time before serving.  The result is a simple, perfect meal for $3-5.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Play.Rewind.Fast Forward.

I have been horribly absent (read: negligent slacker).  Life has been a bit crazed this spring but fortunately summer brings exciting and happy changes with life settling down sufficiently so that I can recommit to blogging!

There are SOOO many amazing meals that I've had in the past few months- so I'll just share some highlights/snapshots of my favorite and most memorable meals (that I actually had a camera handy for)!!

Joseph's in Bridgeport, CT is a serious contender for one of my all time favorite steakhouses- although that may not be surprising given it's owner, Joseph Kustra is a Luger alum.  We ordered the Joseph Special Appetizer (don't waste your stomach space), steak for three (served on a hot plate with copious amounts of butter, and cooked to perfection), creamed spinach and mushrooms (double yum).  Definitely worth repeating!

On a road trip to visit friends in Charlottesville, MangoPrincess, the boy, and I decided to take a side trip to visit Polyface Farm, a place I hold in very high regard.  We were able to mosey around, see the chickens and pigs and toured the grounds with the help of the shy farm dog.  We also bought bacon and eggs which traveled with us to Edgewater, MD where we enjoyed a breakfast of crusty bread sourced from the Cheese Shop in Williamsburg (a college favorite), scrambled eggs and oven baked bacon.  The most egg-y eggs and bacon-y bacon.  Unbelievable.  You have to try it and if you are lucky enough to live in delivering distance of Polyface Farm, you SHOULD partake!!

Back in NYC, it was time to dine with friends before starting the new job.  Lunch with VK at the Crooked Tree where I actually veered off from my usual chicken and goat cheese crepe and enjoyed a hearty and fresh Crooked Cobb Salad which tasted too good to be actually healthy.

And boy, do I count my lucky starts for MF for introducing me to the wonderful world of kosher restaurants in NYC and proving that they can offer so much more than matzo ball soup and deli sandwiches!  We enjoyed a meat feast at Abigael's on Broadway starting with Korean BBQ sliders, smoked brisket eggrolls, and a massive 32oz rib steak.