Friday, January 20, 2012

Sel de Mer, Williamsburg Brooklyn

Like most working NYCers, I eat out a lot – and I have plenty of excuses; whether it’s my time to meet up with friends over a nice meal, I’m craving sushi or Indian or Korean food, or simply because I’m too tired to cook after working all day or haven’t had time to buy groceries.  In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing but I’m finding myself ordering take out from the same usual suspects a bit too often of late.

That brings me to my two food related New Year’s Resolutions: (1) cook more and better (better meaning locally sourced when possible and new recipes) and (2) try new restaurants (especially in the outer boroughs).
So last night, since I was in the mood for seafood and I got home too late and unmotivated to cook chicken chili, we decided to take the opportunity to try Sel de Mer.  This unassuming seafood bistro located on Graham Avenue between Skillman Ave and Conselyea St is a quintessential Brooklyn restaurant.  In the vein of Diner, Marlow & Sons, Dressler and Dumont, Sel de Mer is a foodie’s dream come true.   Providing expertly prepared dishes with the freshest and highest quality ingredients in an unassuming and relaxed setting, these restaurants all manage to be cool without trying, or maybe by not caring.

We started with an appetizer of two crab cakes – since in my opinion, nothing beats a good crab cake- that was dressed with arugula and remoulade.  With only trace amounts of filler and just enough seasoning to maximize the crab flavor, Sel de Mer’s crispy, pan fried version is perhaps the best I’ve had in New York.  The boy ordered “fish and chips” and I had the fried scallops with salad.  Although the “friedness” of the cod was a bit heavy handed, the scallops were perfection.    That being said, the quality and freshness of the seafood were unmistakable.

Rounding out the meal was an intriguing and delicious bottle of Saint Pierre de Serjac - Esprit De Vin “Cotes de Thongue” which had strong chocolate undertones.

I left the restaurant satiated and excited to discover an amazing restaurant right in my backyard.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Salt & Fat- Sunnyside, Queens

In my humble opinion, salt and fat are two sufficient but not necessary components for a delightful dish . . . so you can imagine how intrigued I was by a restaurant with that name.  Salt and Fat, an unassuming restaurant tucked away on Broadway between 41st and 42nd Street in Sunnyside Queens, delivered a playful take on standard comfort food at affordable prices and substantially sized shareable plates

Smelly, being her usual thoughtful self, had not only secured a table but had the foresight to have an order of bacon popcorn ready for Mills and me.  And yes, bacon popcorn is as sinfully decadent as it sounds!    

After some serious deliberation we ordered and promptly devoured:

A clever take on the BLT- the iceburg salad was unapologetically unrestrained with surprisingly, generous hunks of lobster meat, a heaping of bacon, sweet tomatoes and jumbo croutons. 

Hampshire Pulled Pork Sliders, a heavenly mound of shredded pork in a (so subtle I didn’t know it was there) sriracha BBQ sauce and pickles encased in mini brioche buns that literally smile at you.  Your belly will smile too. 

Korean BBQ wraps-a bed of juicy, perfectly cooked slices of hanger steak, accompanied by pickled daikon and seasoned miso all bundled up in crisp bib lettuce.

Shrimp and Grits topped with a slow-cooked, runny egg, (yes, more) bacon and scallions were the flavor equivalent of snuggling under the fluffiest and softest fleece blanket on a cold, wintry night.

Fried Brussel sprouts with parmesan reggiano cheese were quite tasty though I have been eating them so regularly at home that I was simply not in the mood.  FYI, I prefer them more simply prepared, roasted with olive oil, extra salt and pepper.

Each flavorful and thoughtfully executed dish came together seamlessly as an utterly memorable meal definitely worth repeating.  Often and soon.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

Highlands Bar and Grill, Birmingham AL

Warm southern hospitality served with thick as molasses southern drawls- check.

Mouth-watering ribs and roasted chicken at Saw’s BBQ joint- check.

Utterly deserted streets on Alabama vs LSU game night- check.

A gem of a restaurant offering a modern take on Southern cuisine with a focus on careful execution and high quality ingredients in Birmingham, Alabama!?! . . . check.

Highlands Bar and Grill was an unexpectedly delightful culinary find during my recent and first ever trip to Alabama to visit my sister in her new hometown.  Although we arrived before 7pm on a Saturday night and beating the dinner rush, the restaurant was already in full swing.  While the host took our name, I took in the understatedly elegant décor which somehow, like the food, managed to be sophisticated but not stuffy.  We were escorted to our table in the “Bar” which is the less formal dining room.

Within minutes our drink orders were taken by Michael, who proved to be an exceptionally good waiter who enjoyed his craft.  The boys ordered cocktails- a sazerac and Highland martini.  My sister and I split a bottle of Adami Veneto prosecco- because bubbly equals a party in my book.  While waiting for our drinks and mulling over the menu (which I had already been previewing since the morning), we nibbled on warm crusty bread and mini corn muffins.

We ordered 2 dozen oysters, a smorgasboard of malpeque, beau soleil and wellfeet, to share.  The prosecco perfectly complemented the briny sweet flesh and had me craving six more. 

I ordered the grilled venison with onion pudding, roasted rutabaga and turnips in a fig-port sauce as my main entrée.  Prepared medium rare, the venison was quite tender considering the leanness of the meat and notably lacking a strong gamey flavor.  The vegetable sides tasted like pure winter comfort food, all earthy, hearty goodness. 

While there were no flaws in the flavors or technical execution of my meal, I preferred the other entrees at the table.  Namely, the simply grilled grouper served on a bed of greens which was surprisingly robust and the succulent pork shoulder with an ingenious sweet potato and turnip gratin.

Since we were celebrating two birthdays, my sister and her husband share the same birthdate, it was fitting that we ordered Frank’s Favorite cake- previously named “Birthday cake” as well as the Chocolate hazelnut mousse cake.  The two desserts were as different as night and day.  Frank’s Favorite (and now one of mine) cake was ethereal with playful layers of genoise and meringue.  The latter was completely decadent with an intense cocoa flavor and sensual, velvety texture.  

Kudos to Frank and Pardis for giving me another reason to visit Birmingham!