Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Week in Review

The Short Version

For lunch at a cozy, West Village hotspot--check out Joseph Leonard. Joseph Leonard's is homey and rustic yet hip and urban. Service could go either way, but the food was good. For a four-star lunch, check out Eleven Madison Park which was just awarded its third Michelin star. You'll spend a pretty penny, but its worth the dough. Macao Trading Co is a cool Tribeca spot for Portuguese-Asian fare and delicious cocktails. Ellabess is a new-comer to the Nolita area; but it hasn't caught on despite its tastey food.

The Long Version

Joseph Leonard
Gabe Stulman is the mastermind behind such restaurants as Little Owl, Market Table, Fedora, Jeffrey’s Grocery, and Joseph Leonard. Stulman’s West Village eateries are always packed and getting press. Recently, I went to Joseph Leonard on Waverly Place which Stulman named around his grandfathers (Joseph and Leonard). The place is small with only seven tables and a few bar stools surround a L-shaped bar. I pulled up a seat at the end of the bar, which gave me views of the kitchen as well as the corner of Waverly and Grove. I had read some articles on Joseph Leonard, but was surprised on how small the place was—or should I say cozy.

I grabbed a seat at the bar while I waited for some friends. The bartender was drinking a beer, so I figured I could enjoy a mid-day libation as well. The guy behind the bar was dick with his New York attitude. He chatted with a couple locals and didn’t really pay me much attention. After a few minutes of looking around and taking in the space, I was handed a crinkled menu by the server who was working the floor. She asked me if I wanted something stronger than water. I thought a Sixpoint would be a nice way to start the meal. The male poured my beer almost as I was bothering him, taking away from drinking time.

As my friends arrived, we moved to the elevated level above the bar, next to the kitchen. I was worried the place was going to become claustrophobic, but our corner table provided our own little nook. The female server was exactly opposite the bartender in that she was giving off good vibes—she was cool. She told us a few of her favorites and was really knowledgeable on the menu and the individual components of each dish. Jared and Soha seemed impressed with the place. The do-it-yourself d├ęcor made the restaurant feel like an extension of a friend’s home (or apartment since we’re in NYC). Old photographs added to Joseph Leonard’s character and gave a warm, homey feel. Joseph Leonard’s felt hip in that vintage kind of feel.

The food paired well with the atmosphere—casual, comfort food. The fried chicken sandwich and the pork sandwich were instant hits. The crispy buttermilk fried chicken sandwich was topped with roasted poblanos, cheddar, and a spicy mayo. This sandwich left a nice spicy sensation, which went well with my beer. The roasted pork sandwich came with a pickled jalapeno aioli, manchego cheese, avocado, and butter lettuce. Both sandwiches were pretty awesome. I also really enjoyed the corn soup, the sirracha brussel sprouts, and the hashbrown. The lady server also brought out a goat cheese and beet salad for the “sake of trying things”. All the food was well executed and I could definitely see myself going back.

I definitely recommend checking out Joseph Leonard. Bypass the d-bag in the flannel shirt and driver cap and grab a table. This is a good spot to kick it with friends, have a solo meal, or even take a date. Supposedly it gets packed out at night, but my daytime visit had a nice low-key crowd.

Eleven Madison Park
With the news of Eleven Madison Park being sold from Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group, I told myself I need to go here as much as possible before my 20% discount goes away. So after a breakfast shift at Maialino, I walked over to EMP--one of few restaurants in the city with a four-star rating from the New York Times. The space is grand although you get a bit of a banker feel being in the Credit Suisse building. A revolving door leads you into the lofty space where you are met with a handful of guest waiting to tend to your every need. Huge windows bring great light into the space and overlook Madison Square Park to Meyer's money-maker, Shake Shack.

I sit at the bar and take in the space. The bar is beautiful from the wood to the bottles that line the back wall. Daniel, the bartender, seemed a bit ridged; but lightened up as the meal progressed. He started me off with an English Heat, a delicious cocktail of London Dry Gin, Tuaca, Dry Vermouth, jalapeno infused agave, and lemon juice. It was a nice cocktail to start the afternoon being that it was light and refreshing--and very well balanced. Subtle heat from the jalapeno infused agave played as a nice backdrop to this delightful adult beverage.

Daniel asked if I had any food allergies that the chef should be aware of, this seemed to be common practice in the restaurant. An amuse bouches arrived shortly; but I'm not exactly sure what it was. Two cracker-like chips paired with a lemon-grass tea of some sorts. I enjoyed the airy crackers and the tea; but was ready for the lobster I had ordered. Before my entree came out, they sent out goat cheese done in two different ways. A goat cheese and beat lollipop was one way while little goat cheese balls were the other. Definitely delicious, but my hunger pains were still at full force. Bread service was next as the self-proclaimed "bread guy" placed a house-made roll onto my place next to two choices of butter--cow's milk and goat's milk. The rolls seemed like a hybrid of a roll and croissant-- I was happy. Daniel must have seen my enjoyment of the bread, so he brought out another roll. My entree came out soon after. Lobster with mushrooms at its simplest; but more complex that I can even describe. The presentation was beautiful and the flavors were dynamite. The buttery, delicate pieces of lobster on the same fork with beautiful prepared mushrooms reminded me that life is good. Everything on the plate was finished and I even used the last piece of my bread to mop up all the sauce. Being that I was still hungry, I was ready for dessert; but the options looked awesome. Although I left hungry, I left satisfied having one of the best lobster dishes I've ever had.

I am going back for dinner soon to get the whole experience. Tasting menu and wine pairings please!

Macao Trading Co
For quite some time, I've heard buzz surrounding Macao Trading Co in Tribeca. Most of the buzz was good, giving props to the guys who brought you Employees Only while other buzz found the restaurant "silly" and confusing. You've arrived at 311 Church Street and a red lantern lets you know you're there. The bar area appears first, so grabbing a drink from one of the "bar chefs" only seems right; but you might have to wait as the "mixologists" talk booze with their guests. Funny enough, no jiggers (measurements for making cocktails) were being used-- I guess they really pride themselves on free-pouring. The drinks are good and seemed to achieve balance; I sampled a few--Once Daily, Drunken Dragon's Milk, and the Bashful Maiden.

The dining room was pretty empty when we first arrived, but it definitely picked up throughout our meal. This joint gives the vibe as a late night destination where opium den meets port-side warehouse. The vibe is cool at this Portuguese meets China spot. Service is ok, but I wasn't expecting much. The only thing that really bothered me was the runners carrying multiple plates to your table, but only dropping off one. It kind of gave me hopes of getting more food and its disappointing especially when something looks good. Do they do that on purpose? Maybe I'll order a dish that I didn't order in the first place? Or maybe its mere convenience for the running team.

Anyway, lets talk about the food; which was all pretty good. The Jellyfish and Chinese Long Beans was an interesting option though not my favorite. The Pork Ribs might have been my favorite or was it the Mushroom and Truffle Croquettes--the jury is still out. Ants Climbing the Tree was a nice spicy dish of glass noodles, minced pork, and chilies but it didn't compare to the ribs or the croquettes. Towards the end of the meal, the waitress seemed like she wanted to turn the table so I felt like I was being pushed out. I didn't want any dessert, but I could have went for another drink--but she dropped the check; so obviously it was time to go. Overall, Macao Trading Co was a good time. Good vibes were complemented with good food and drinks; so I can definitely see myself going back; but maybe as more of a late night spot.

I never been to only guest in a restaurant untill last Sunday when I went to Ellabess in the Nolitan Hotel. Ellabess opened in July under the control of the folks who brought you dell'anima, L' Artusi, and Anfora. I was a bit confused at first, were they closed? They couldn't have been closed, they restaurant called to confirm my reservation. A few steps down is the restaurant, sunken below street level; but where is everyone? One of the waitors looked at me with surprise asking if he could help me while I looked backed equally confused. I walked up to the bar because I figured I'd get a drink at the very least. I wasn't sure I even wanted to eat after seeing such a dead restaurant. I started thinking why the restaurant didn't have a crowd. Granted the Nolitan Hotel isn't on the best part of Kenmare; but its by no means a bad location.. Still a bit taken-back, I chatted up the bartender trying to figure out why the restaurant wasn't crowded like its counterparts. He blamed it on the summer opening, but I don't know if I buy that either. The restaurant gave off a cold, unwelcoming vibe that looked out of a catalog; but maybe thats because it was completely empty except for the three staff members that roamed the floor.

My chat with the bartender changed directions as I asked him what kind of sweet vermouth he uses in making a negroni. He fumbled around and eventually picked up Carpano Antica, my choice sweet vermouth. Unsure, if I should just take the safe route and get a beer; I scanned the beer selection for a few seconds. I decided to put the bartender's skills to the test and asked for a negroni. A negroni was listed on the menu along with some other classics like the Hemingway daiquiri, old fashioned, and rusty nail. I thought it was cool to see some classics on the menu, but I was confused with choices such as the Harvey Wallbanger and White Russian. The bartender began to make my drink as he fumbled around the bar looking for his bar tools and the proper ingredients. I was happy to see him use a jigger, so atleast the proportions were right. Ellabess had good ice, which always impresses me and played a role in the drinks success.

My friend Jocelyn entered and she looked just as surprised as I did. We sat at the bar for a bit then grabbed a table. Since we had every table as an option, we picked a corner table that gave views of Kenmare and Elizabeth. It was kind of funny to see people look at the Ellabess menu outside; but none of the passer-bys stopped in. We remained the only diners there for a good half hour or so till another party of two entered--then a party of four a few minutes later. I was thinking maybe this was a late-night spot; but noone else came while we were there.

I don't know why this restaurant hasn't caught on because the food is delicious. My old sous chef at Tabla, Ty Kotz works with Executive Chef Troy Unruh so there is no lack of talent in the kitchen. Chef Troy worked at Del Posta before taking second in command at Dell'anima. At first glance, the seasonal American menu seemed a bit boring; but the dishes made me rethink. Black truffle gnocci was sent out first with the kitchens compliments after Jocelyn told our server she never had gnocci. The gnocci was delicious; but the delicata squash stole the show. The squash came with maitake mushrooms, bacon, red onion, basil, and a duck egg. I also enjoyed the striped bass tartare which was prepared with celery root, black truffle, speck and chives. The addition of speck really amped up the dish with a nice smokey flavor.

For our main course; got the roasted monkfish with pork belly, black trumpet mushrooms, and parsley root. This dish hit the spot as I often crave a duo of meat and fish. The monkfish was beautifully prepared and packed great flavor while the pork belly was topped with some sort of chocolate sauce. The sauce was quite good especially when combined with the parsley root puree that surrounded the plate. Jocelyn got three side orders instead of an entree. She got the spinach, brussel sprouts, and squash--all solid side dishes. Ty came out to say hello and brought us one of his favorite dishes--the quail. I'm not too sure how it was prepared; but it was my favorite thing of the night. The bird was cooked with a some love and a little bit of genius. The sunchoke puree was also a nice touch.

We finished with the waffle soufle that was accompanied by maple ice cream. Our server brought us some chocolates with our check.

Overall, I had a great experience at Ellabess. The staff was friendly and optimistic although the restaurant was dead. Our server seemed pretty knowledgeable on the menu and had a good attitude. The food was real good, so I can say with certainty that Ellabess food isn't the reason why they are dead. I guess we could just make assumptions to why Ellabess isn't packed; but I do hope they turn it around. I'm sure its a totally different experience on a Saturday night; but the people behind Ellabess have a track record of success so we'll just have to stay tuned to see if it endures the curse of the hotel restaurant.

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