Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011


Pizza is staple in American cuisine especially in New York City. In the last few years, chef's took pizza as a traditional comfort food and reinvented it in a more upscale approach. Chef's not only added unconventional ingredients, but started cooking the pizza differently. Chef Mathieu Palombino of Motorino was one of the chefs that took this approach.

Motorino is located in both the East Village and Williamsburg (Brooklyn). After hearing and reading great things about the pizzaria turned restaurant, I had to check it out. The Brooklyn location offers reservations; however, we went to the East Village Motorino. They wouldn't seat our party untill all guest were there, so my friend Caitlin and I made a quick stop at Momofuku Ssam Bar for some pork buns and wine. I could get into how delicious the pork buns were, but thats another post for another time. (If interested-check out past post of Momofuku)

We finished up at Momofuku and headed back to Motorino to meet our friend Christa to complete our party of 3. Fortunately, there was no wait so we sat down at a four-top near the window. I chatted up our server while the ladies were in the bathroom. She seemed pretty knowledgeable on both the food and wine while also being pretty friendly. But we didn't go there for good service, we went for good pizza.

I was a bit turned off with Motorino's wine service. Not that the wine wasn't good, but it was served in little water glasses--the kind you find in diners. I like the idea behind it, if they're going for the rustic Italian feel; but when I pay $47 for a bottle--I'd like a normal wine glass. I know this is a common complaint of mine, but I think its important to have a glass that allows you to enjoy the wine to its full capacity. I understand that wine glasses break easy, but thats the price you have to. The wine itself was OK. It was a 2009 Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) from Alto Adige, Italy.

We each got a different type of pie, which allowed me to sample each. Christa got the margherita (14) while caitlin went with the spicy Soppressata Piccante ($16). I took a slightly different route by going with the Stracciatella ($17). I don't normally go for white pizza, but I decided to switch it up. I was going to try the Brussel Sprout and Pancetta pizza, but I wasn't too sure if I wanted brussel sprouts on my pizza!

The Margherita is basic pie of tomato, mozzarella, and basil. Although very simple, very good. The Soppressata Piccante pizza was a nice twist on the normal pepperoni version found in every pizzeria. The soppressata gave the pizza a nice spiciness which was well balanced with the mozzarella, garlic, and oregano. The Stracciatella is a white pizza with the cheese baked into the crust. The Stracciatella is topped with basil, olive oil, and sea salt. The three pizza were all very different, but I liked all of them. The pizzas were cooked perfect allowing the crust to be nicely charred without behing burnt. Motorino's wood-burning brick oven matched with great ingredients is definitely something to check out atleast one. I don't know if I'd go back to Motorino, but I definitely enjoyed my experience. Its a nice place, but I will stick to my $2.75 slices. Next stop Keith McNally's Pulinos!

Margherita (Left)

Soppressata Piccante (Below)

Stracciatella (Below)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

High Point gets high points

High Point Bistro and Bar is a rather new addition to Chelsea as it opened last summer. High Point , located on 7th Ave (btwn 22-23rd) combines a warm, comfortable ambiance while serving Modern American cuisine.

My friend, Colette and I stumbled upon High Point Bistro and Bar on our way to grab some lunch on a gross day. Cold and rainy, we were looking for a place to get warm and enjoy an inexpensive lunch. High Point was the perfect answer as our food was awesome, the atmosphere was warm, and the service was great.

Our server was great. He provided us with excellent hospitality as he answered all our questions and payed us close attention without being overbearing. Service is something that people take advantage of, but I can definitely appreciate a good waitstaff. You expect a great waitstaff when you're dining out at an expensive restaurant, but High Point doesn't fall into that category as our meal was very reasonably priced.

Colette got the Chicken Caesar Wrap ($10) while I got the High Point Burger ($12). We split a side of Mac-n-Cheese which was one of High Points $6 sides. Not only was the food delicious, but the presentations were fun and playful. I'm guessing Executive Chef Phil Deffina got his sense of playfulness from working under the unconventional David Burke. Chef Phil uses his experience and creativity to develop a menu which is both delicious and price conscious.

I think High Point Bistro and Bar is a great value. I wouldn't be surprised if High Point becomes a popular Chelsea hangout as quality food meets great service and an inviting atmosphere. I would definitely recommend checking out High Point Bistro and Bar. Take advantage of their Burger and Beer special ($10) offered everyday from 11:30-7pm and after 10pm. I would also recommend the mac-n-cheese!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Nobu. Worth the money?

Walk-Ins at Nobu (Hudson Street) seemed to be no problem Monday Night. The hostess and maitre d' were friendly, but didn't take our coats. I don't mind hanging my jacket on the back of my chair, but that should be my decision right? I'd expect a place like Nobu to check my jacket or at least ask.

We were taken to a table in the front of the restaurant, a two-top swished in a row of five or so. The tables were uncomfortably close making it inevitable to hear neighboring conversations. I know its NYC and space is limited, but I was hoping for some more privacy; especially because Nobu is expensive. Not that I was on a romantic date or anything, but I felt like the lady adjacent to me kept staring. People always check out other peoples food, which I'm ok with; but it seemed like she was paying more attention to us than her older male companion.

Our waiter greeted us after making us wait alittle. He dropped off the cocktail menu and made his rounds to the surrounding tables. I decided to get a bottle of Rodenbeck (2008) Pinot Noir after a small sample from the waiter. Normally, I'd get a white wine to pair with all the fish we'd be eating; but it was a cold night so I was wanting some red. The Rodenbeck ($64) turned out to be a good compromise as it wasn't too overpowering for the fish, yet elegant and warming. This Pinot was medium bodied and had some nice cherry and spice notes. I was originally going to get the Dobbes from Oregon (as the Williamette Valley is known to produce some awesome Pinot Noirs), but decided to go with the cheaper bottle--after all it was a Monday night!.

Nobu had some interesting specialty cocktails, most of them being martinis. Some of them looked good, but $16? My sister recommended the Mango Martini (Mango infused vodka, Campari, Mango Puree, Fresh Red shiso), but we went with the wine instead.

Our waiter went over the menu with us and recommended some of Nobu's signature dishes. We were going to get the Omakase, which is a chef's choice tasting menu; but decided to just order some dishes on our own. We started off with Yellowtail Sashimi with jalapenos ($19) which was a great starter dish. It was a light dish that woke up our palates with a nice balance of freshness, acidity and spice.

Nobu's signature Black Cod with miso ($26) was the next dish to come out. People immediately think sushi when thinking of Nobu, but the black cod with miso is one of the dishes that made Chef Matsuhisa famous. After doing some research, the dish doesn't seem too complicated; however it is a lengthy process as the black cod needs to marinate in a sake-miso marinade for 3 days. Its worth the wait as chefs all around the world have copied this signature dish.

We then got the 2 Washu Beef Sliders ($24), which are essentially Kobe Beef Sliders. These were incredible. I love fish, but when you do beef like that--its hard to beat. It might have been the most tender, juiciest beef I've ever ate. Even the hot, toasted bun carrying the beef was awesome. The sliders came with a side of onions straws and some dipping sauce. The dipping sauce was a play off of ketchup and mustard. Stef immediately went for the ketchup as it was a spicy ciracha ketchup while I dipped into the other side of the ramekin which held a delicious version of honey mustard.

Our sushi was the last item to hit the table. We got 2 pieces of each: Salmon ($10), Japanese Red Snapper ($14), and Japanese Eel ($15). We also got the house roll ($13) which was a combination of tuna, salmon, crab, avocado, cucumber, and yellowtail. The roll was huge and packed of great flavors. All the fish was super fresh and delicious.

I was telling Stef that I love eating sushi because you feel good after eating it. Sometimes we can overeat and leave ourselves uncomfortably full and/or guilty. Sushi allows me to eat healthy while also not stuffing myself. Sure you could stuff yourself with sushi, especially at an 'All you could eat' place; but I feel like I've hit a good balance.

So this takes me back to my question: Is Nobu worth the money? We spent $200 plus tip--not a bad Monday night huh? Even without the bottle of wine, the bill would have been around $70 a person. I think yes. Nobu is undoubtedly expensive, but the quality is there. The service was pretty good as our waiter was knowledgeable on the menu and payed us pretty close attention throughout the night. Our plates were also swapped out for new ones as we finished each course. The food was awesome. I think its important to try a variety of menu items, not just the sushi. The sushi was fresh and delicious, but how is that different than my local neighborhood sushi joint? I would definitely recommend going to Nobu and trying dishes such as the Black Cod with miso or the Washu Beef Sliders. Even the yellowtail with jalapenos was something deliciously unique. I think if you JUST get sushi, you'll be disappointed. The menu is loaded with lots of options from smaller hot/cold plates to entree-size portions. Order a bunch of things--treat deserve it!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

California (Day 9)

We started off our first by walking the Santa Monica Pier. This is a very happening spot, although extremely tourist. We continued to venture around and ended up walking along the promenade into Venice Beach. Venice has a very diverse culture its downtown hippie culture to Muscle Beach.

We stopped at Shutters on the Beach for brunch. The food here wasn't anything too good, but it was more of the atmosphere. It was a bright, sunny day so starting it off with a Bloody Mary and 007 only seemed right.

Shutters was a beautiful restaurant situated right on the boardwalk. Many of the employees seemed like actors, but that's normal even to us NYC folks. The service was good and the food was decent, but the atmosphere was the reason we were there. We toasted to a great vacation and continued on our way.

We spent the day exploring Venice from the beach to the downtown shopping. Wanting to watch the Yankee game, we searched for a bar. We ended up at The Brig, a popular watering hole on Abbot Kinney Blvd. The bar was pretty empty when we first got there, but it packed out soon after as the TVs disappeared and the music pumped. The Brig looked like a dive bar from the outside, but actually turned out to be a great space with a cool vibe.

The bartender hooked us up with a few drinks and gave us the low down on Venice. He told us to go put in reservations at GJelina and come back and enjoy a few more cocktails. Usually restaurants make you wait there, but they called us when our table became available. This allowed us to mingle with an eclectic group of locals trying to have a good time. I was intrigued by The Brig's selection of canned beer--have you ever seen blue moon cans? I would definitely stop by The Brig again if in Venice.

GJelina, right down the street from The Brig, was possibly the best meal we got while in California. The interior of the restaurant is much like the food--rustic and simple, yet hip and modern. The ambiance is sexy and effortlessly cool. Oddly shaped electrical fixtures hang from the wood ceiling accenting the huge bar in the middle of the space.

We were originally seated outside on the terrace, but changed to the communal table off the bar. Supposedly the terrace is hard to get seats because they have a non-reservation policy, but we liked the idea of the communal table. Communal tables are fun because you could talk to the people next to you about what they're eating. I always like suggestions and recommendations as everything on the menu looked awesome.

We decided to go with a bunch of small plates (Pork Belly, Lamb Chops, Truffle Bread, Rabbit, and Skirt Steak). GJelina didn't offer a full bar, but they had a pretty extensive list of wines and a decent selection of beers. I got a glass of Chianti as its an easy drinking wine while also pairing pretty well with the dishes ordered.

The kitchen brought the dishes out as they were ready. The staff was knowledgeable and efficient. We started off with the Pork Belly, Lamb Chops , and Truffle Toast. WOW! What an amazing start. Granted, I had a few drinks earlier; but the flavors were unreal. The truffle toast was incredible--a must have dish if at GJelina. The rabbit and steak came out next and they had big expectations to fill as the first three dishes were fantastic.

The rabbit was good, but my least favorite dish out of the bunch. I'm not even sure why I ordered it--probably because I was feeling adventurous and I never had rabbit. The skirt steak was one of the best skirts steaks I've ever eaten. It was a pinch salty, but was bursting with ridiculous flavor.

The server then brought us a complimentary dessert to share. She brought us the butterscotch pot de creme with salted caramel and creme-fraiche. She told us that this was one of their signature dessert dishes. It was definitely a great dessert to share as you can't eat that by yourself. The richness of the butterscotch and caramel was alittle overpowering, but definitely worth trying.

GJelina is one of the best dining experiences I've ever had. Not only was the food incredible, but the ambiance and service were awesome as well. I would definitely recommend GJelina even if not in the area--this is a place worth traveling to.

California (Day 8)

After surviving a night at Nadine's friend's place, we took a second tour of Laguna, exploring both the hills and the beach. Nadine's friend was a photographer, so he knew some of the best views in town. We even went over to Dana Point--just south of Laguna Beach. The Dana Point Harbor was beautiful and made me want to relocate from NYC.

We then returned to Laguna for lunch at La Sirena Grill for some Mexican fare. Southern California is known for awesome Mexican food plus our host said La Sirena was one of his favorite spots to eat. La Sirena is a serves Contemporary-Mexican cuisine in a casual, rustic atmosphere. The concept behind La Sirena is rather simple--high quality food of a fine dining restaurant with the speed of a fast-food eatery. Although the concept is simple, its not always easy to execute; but La Sirena Grill does a fantastic job of bringing fresh, high quality food in a fast fashion. Not only does La Sirena fulfill their concept statement, but they go beyond by going "green".

La Sirena Grill uses all organic and sustainable products from local, independent family farms. Its kind of remarkable for a QSR to use free range chickens, wild salmon, organic greens, organic milk, etc. La Sirena also uses biodegradable and recyclable paper products. Going "green" is a risky proposition as the cost can double or triple, if not more; but the payoff for La Sirena has paid off as they are currently expanding.

Like any good mexican establishment, La Sirena Grill offers a wide variety of burritos, quesadillas, tacos, tortas, enchiladas, salads, and soup. I went with the carnitas burrito and I'm craving one just thinking about good it was. I remember eating it and not feeling bad about it afterwards. Sometimes Mexican joints could use suspect product to cut costs, but La Sirena used fresh, high quality ingredients just as they say in their concept statement.

We took our burritos to the beach and enjoyed a nice little picnic while the waves crashed and sun shined. It was a great ending to our time in Laguna Beach. Our dining adventures in Laguna were awesome and reason enough to visit again although the beautiful beach doesn't hurt! I would definitely recommend checking out La Sirena Grill--even Chipotle would be jealous.

We then headed up to LA for our final two days. We spent the first night in Santa Monica and had dinner at Manchego, a sexy BYOB spot on Main St. Manchego served Spanish cuisine with a wide variety of hot and cold tapas. Its a great date spot, especially because its BYOB and will save you some dough. Just make sure you get there early because its a small eatery hosting around 13 tables.

The only thing I didn't like about Manchego was their lack of wine glasses. They poured your wine in little water glasses you would find at diners. I'm not pretentious, but I do believe drinking out of a wine glass enhances the flavor of the wine. Maybe they had wine glasses, but our server forgot? Who knows?

We got a variety of tapas and they were all pretty good. Nothing really stood out, but everything was good and reasonably priced. I would probably recommend Manchego although it was one of my least favorite dining experiences of California.

California (Day 7)

After waking up on the beach in Santa Barbara, we almost decided to stay another day; but we had more of California to cover! We skipped the free continental breakfast and headed back to State Street to grab a coffee. Always trying to support local businesses, we walked right by Starbucks to Jitters Coffee.

The art work throughout the cafe and eclectic music added to the hip vibe. Jitters Coffee offered a rather unique selection of coffees and teas, which one could definite appreciate. Still full from my burrito the night before, I wasn't really hungry; but was intrigued by Jitters "crack bar". I knew I had to try it as the barista went into detail on its making.

It was an interesting morning treat that got me ready for my our 2 hour drive South to the LA area. I actually only ate half the "crack bar" as it was way to sugary for me. I would definitely check out Jitters Coffee if you're in the Santa Barbara area. You will love the vibe and the coffee!

Our flight home was early Sunday, so LA was suppose to be our last stop; but we passed right by the exit as Laguna Beach sounded pretty sweet. Located about an hour south of Los Angeles, Laguna Beach is a little slice of paradise as its home to some of California's most beautiful beaches. Laguna has much more to offer than beaches and watersports as the restaurant and shopping scene is on point.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see LC or any of the Laguna Beach cast; but I did get to experience a great little town. The hills of Laguna Beach are unreal, offering some of the most picturesque views of Southern California.

We stopped for lunch at Nick's right across from the beach. Nick's served classic American comfort food and unique cocktails in an intimate, yet artful setting. The 80 seat restaurant featured an exhibition kitchen allowing guest to witness the talent of the kitchen staff. The chic bar was the center of the restaurant offering great cocktails, an extensive wine list, and a nice selection of bar snacks.

Nadine and I couldn't pass up being in the sun, so we sat on the small patio in the front of the restaurant. The seating seemed a little too close as hearing your neighbors conversation seemed inevitable. We started off with Fish tacos--made with Alaskan halibut, crunchy cabbage slaw, mango salsa, and chile crema. The tacos were a great start to lunch as they were very light, yet packed some great flavor.

Nadine got the Citrus and Pecan salad, which she seemed to enjoy. The salad came with chopped greens, avocado, mixed berries, mandarin slices, green onions, blue cheese, raisins candied pecans, and citrus vinaigrette. I got the Ribeye Melt as our server raved about it. Initially, I was going to get the Short Rib sliders, but changed my mind on her recommendation. The sandwich was delicious as it was built on Parmesan grilled sourdough and filled with sliced ribeye, imported Swiss, grilled onions, and a mustard bacon sauce. Although its hard to pass up on Short Rib Sliders, I'm glad I got to try the Ribeye Melt as it was definitely one of the better steak sandwiches I've ever had. The Swiss cheese added upon the layers of flavoring without overpowering the well-marinated steak. The juicy and tender ribeye and onions soaked into the crispy, cheesey sourdough bread. The addition of the mustard bacon sauce made this sandwich unbelievable. I would definitely recommend Nick's for a great meal and some fun, unique cocktails.

After a memorable lunch at Nick's, we met up with Nadine's couch-surfing friend (don't ask). He gave us a quick tour of Laguna, then brought us to a rooftop bar overlooking Laguna's 7 miles of picturesque coastline. The rooftop was located in La Casa Del Camino hotel and offered arguably the best view of sunset.

We started off with margaritas as tequila was definitely needed for the strange situation. I wasn't going to get into it, but I guess I have to. So...Nadine joined this website which puts you in contact with people all around the world and allows you to "meet new friends" you wouldn't have met otherwise. The benefit of such a website is that you don't have to pay for a hotel, you could stay with people if you feel comfortable.

I wasn't sold on the idea of staying with a random dude he met online, but I agreed to meet him and have some drinks. Although I was sketched out, he seemed like a good dude so we rolled with it. We continued to BS as the margaritas continued to flow. We ordered a few appetizers, which were alright--nothing to brag about. We made friends with this guy from Idaho who was there with two ladies. I wasn't sure if he was with both of the ladies, but it wouldn't surprise me as he seemed like a baller. Everyone was so friendly, which added to the beautiful ambiance.

We then witched to a glass of Cab as we watched the sunset. It was definitely an incredible experience as time just seemed to stand still. Drinking the Cabernet was a nice touch (recommended by couch surfer dude) as it added a sense of warmth and tranquility.
We finished up our wine and headed straight to the beach. Swimming in the water right after the sunset was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The sky was turning dark, but was perfectly illuminated--straight out of a photograph. I wasn't sure if this couch surfer dude was going to kill us later on that night, but I was just living in the moment--enjoying every second of it.