Friday, December 23, 2011

Meal of the Year

Hands down, my favorite meal of 2011 was at Marea. In this prime location on Central Park South, Michael White creates a menu giving a nod to Italian seafood. White has developed a mouth-watering menu of crudo, oysters, fresh pastas, and whole fish. You know you have a good meal when you think about the dishes you ate and you plan on returning for the same exact experience.

I arrived before Dan and Suzanne so after checking in with the maitre d' I walked two steps to the left to grab a drink. I was thinking of starting with a cocktail but nothing seemed to grab me, so I started with a glass of fiano. Unfortunately, the bar seats were all accounted for so I stood in the background a bit uncomfortable. If you're not sitting at the bar, you really have nowhere to go. To make matters more uncomfortable, my party was almost a half hour late--I felt the maitre d's anger. Fortunately, they didn't pressure me. As soon as Dan arrived, we sat at our table in some very comfortable chairs. The decor of Marea needed some help; but the food more than made up for it. The service was good, although I might expect better in comparison to the product. Our server didn't seem like much of a people person. He was decently knowledgeable, but seemed to be more suited as an "order taker" than a server. We had one of the captains or managers come over to the table to try and ready our decision for food. Being a half hour late, they needed to turn that table!

We started with a bottle of Prosecco in celebration: to achievements and to life. We continued to look over the menu and were rushed into a decision. Shortly after placing our order, we were greeted with an amuse bouche of sunchoke panna cotta-- an interesting, but tasty palate energizer. A man walking around with a box full of bread offered a choice of 3 different kinds. The hardest part was over, now all we had to do was sit back and enjoy our meal--and that we did.

For starters, Suzanne and I got the ASTICE: Nova Scotia lobster with cooked down eggplant and burrata topped with basil. I was going to get something different, but Suzanne told me she might cut off my hand if I come close to her dish. I'm glad I listened because having only a bite of this antipasti would have been so sad. All components of the dish were delicious alone, but the combination of all ingredients in one fork-full was just magical. Dan's scallop antipasti also proved to be an excellent starter. I was a bit worried that the pancetta would overpower the scallop, but it only added depth of flavor to the dish.

Our next course was Primi also known as the pasta course. While Suzy's Ferratini (manila clams/calamari/hot chilies) and Dan's Spaghetti (crab/santa barbara sea urchin/basil) were awesome, my fusilli shined. The fusilli is a pasta they are known for and now I know why. Red wine braised octopus and bone marrow made this a dish to remember...and crave! Few times do I have a dish and say, I need to go back to eat that. This pasta dish has had me thinking of when my next visit to Marea will be. The other pastas were banging as well and proved that Marea can turn out some extraordinary pastas.

Our final savory course was the entree course or the secondi. Sue and Dan split the salted baked branzino while I got the BRODETTO DI PESCE: a seafood soup of clams langoustine, scallops, prawns, and bass. I was a bit iffy on getting the Brodetto because I don't always love seafood soups. The server told me it was a popular item and that all the seafood is cooked separately. This all made sense when the food runner poured in a delicious broth table-side. Dan and Suzanne's branzino could have been a bit larger, but it did come with two side items. The fish itself was delicate, fresh, and delicious.

For dessert, I think Suzanne had the best choice with her affogato; zabaglione gelato, espresso, and a float of myers dark rum. Dan went with the nocciola pralinato which was a ground up hazelnut and dark chocolate with lemon and mint. Dan loved it, but me and Sue weren't the biggest fans. I got the fried donuts, which were a little too dense to be my favorite dessert; but were still pretty good! We finished our wine and moved on to a variety of amaro. Try an amaro on the rocks with a twist (lemon or orange) after a big meal.

The food is what Marea; but the staff and ambiance could use some work. That captain or manager that kept coming to the table was the biggest turn off. Not only did he rush us, but he didn't seem to knowledgeable. He gave short answers and didn't disclose much detail on his answers. How do these Verdicchios differ. Well of course he pointed to the most expensive one and said "this one has more complexity". He also told Suzanne that Kale is out of season when she asked about a side dish that her friend recommended. Last time I checked, kale was a winter green. But the food saved the experience. I would go back there and order the same exact menu, although my adventurous side might not agree. The food was incredible. Marea is a bit pricey, so I'd suggest saving it for a special night unless you got some good friends who treat ya! Thanks Dan and Sue!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


The Great Truffle Debate

Often referred to as "white diamonds", white truffles rank high among luxury food items right up next to caviar, champagne, and foie gras. More rare and expensive than black truffles, white truffles only grow in Italy and keep people waiting all year till mid-October to the end of December. Their seasonality is is only part of the reason these fungi are so expensive. Others reasons could be their heavenly aroma and use to elevate a dish whether a bowl of pasta or a plate of eggs. Truffles are hard to find and cannot be cultivated, which adds to their exclusiveness. Weather also effects truffles, so one might think of truffles like they think of wine--there's some good years and some bad years. So what's the debate you ask? Are truffles worth the extra $55-$75? Its all a matter of preference. I've had many people say that truffles are the biggest waste of money while others swear by them. I had to taste for myself!

I tried the Raviolo at Maialino which is a large format raviolo filled with fresh ricotta, chopped spinach, and an egg yolk. The raviolo is tossed in a sage-brown-butter sauce and topped with shaved white truffles. The truffles melted into the raviolo and gave off that intoxicating aroma. The raviolo was delightful and paired well with a Carema--an earthy nebbiolo from Piemonte. The dish was pretty amazing, but worth $70? I don't know, I think I might have to give it a second go-around!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Minetta Tavern: Black Label Burger

Minetta Tavern has been on my list of places to go for quite
some time. The hype around the Black Label Burger being NYC's "best burger" was my only reason for wanting to go. Its kind of crazy how long it took to get there as I consider myself a burger aficionado. Maybe it took me so long because its nearly impossible to get a reservation. Or maybe because they only recently started serving lunch. Maybe I was waiting for a fellow burger lover to enjoy it with? Either way, I finally made it and thats all that matters.
It was a bit of a business meeting; but the only business we talked was regarding this week's festivities and how pumped we were to eat this burger. Our waitress was a total nutcase. She brought so much energy, it was a bit overwhelming. She bounced back and forth from the cramped tables reciting the same spiel for every table. I think she must have been an actress because she definitely put herself on a stage. I admire her liveliness, but I'm not quite sure if it was genuine. Another waitress came over at one point to try to upsell us on another appetizer, but we saw right
through the act. Besides the service, the vibe was bustling. The place packed out and it got to be pretty loud and chaotic--reminded me of a steakhouse. The decor struck me as an old time saloon dressed up for the holidays.

We started off with roasted bone marrow which was incredible. Not only did I use up all the crispy baguettes that accompanied the marrow, but I also used the hard bread that they gave us to start our meal. Not only was the bone marrow delicious, but it was a unique dish that you can't find at too many places. For our entree we got the Black Label Burger, a mix of dry-aged Creekstone beef cuts, topped with caramelized onions. The burger also came with fries, which were among the best I've ever had. Our crazy waitress told us the secret behind the fries was double-frying them in peanut oil. I was surprised there was no exclaimer about peanut oil considering there are so many peanut allergies out there. Anyway, the fries were awesome! The burger was pretty damn good too. Worth $26?...I think so. It was probably the juiciest, most tender burger I ever ate. The flavor was great too-- you tasted the quality of the beef and not all the crazy special sauces that burgers get lost in. Its like when you go out for sushi and your friend dunks a perfectly fresh piece of tuna in soy sauce and adds a huge chunk of wasabi--you've lost the flavor of the fish.

After leaving Minetta it occurred to me that its kind of a steakhouse. The menu reflects more options than a steakhouse; but the menu also revolves around their awesome meat program. Although the Black Label Burger gets a lot of attention, the steaks are suppose to rival any steakhouse in NYC. The Cote De Beouf for 2 ($124) is debated to be the best steak in NYC. They also have the NY Strip which garners much attention in the world of carnivores. Too full for dessert, they nudged us along and had our table reset before I put on my jacket.

Overall, Minetta Tavern was pretty delicious and now I see why its so hard to come across a prime-time reservation. The service was a bit pushy with their upselling and turn-the-tables mentality, but I guess thats expected. You go for the food. Keith McNally shows why he's one of NYC prominent restauranteurs.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I started the week with lunch at Parm , the spinoff of Torrissi Italian Specialities. The chicken and meatball parm proved nameworthy. The calamari we started with was also really good. They fried it with some peppers to give the dish a nice kick. The space is a bit small although it seems big compared to Torrissi. The service was good and the vibe was fun although it kind of reminded me of an old ice cream parlor. I stopped by Flatiron Lounge for my Monday night cocktail then headed over to another bar; but forget the name (Jack's? Maybe...?) Made friends with popular (but somewhat under the radar) sushi spot: Jewel Bako and got reacquainted with an old friend, Gramercy Tavern. Also stopped by Failte, an irish bar on 29th and 2nd for trivia night with the crew. Dollar beers and trivia with karaoke afterwards always proves to be a group favorite. Went to Sapphire Lounge (LES) on Saturday for my friend Kristen's birthday. Good music blasted out of the speakers while we danced the night away. Bit of a weird crowd; but the birthday girl and all her friends took over for a night tequila and dancing. We wanted to go to Artichoke for pizza, but ended up settling for Led Zeppole. Nothing like funnel cake and deep fried oreos at 4am. The next morning I had a bomb brunch at Maialino.

New Friend and Old Friend

New Friend: Jewel Bako

Jewel Bako, an East Village sushi favorite, was the first restaurant of Jack Lamb's empire. Now Jack has Degustation next door and Jack's Luxury Oyster around the corner on Second Ave. One proclaimed the "Danny Meyer of the East Village", Jack's reputation for quality food is unquestioned. Comparing himself to Danny Meyer might be stretching it, but we'll let him get away with it and get right down to our experience--and by our experience I mean myself and my friend Andrew.

Andrew picked Jewel Bako as its right down the street from him apartment. Not only has he heard good things, but he often peaks through the little glass window on the door whenever he walks by. I was pretty excited about this place--not only because the rave reviews but because I was in the mood for sushi.

We sat at the sushi bar, which in my opinion is the best place to enjoy sushi. Not only do you get to see the chef make you're food with his intricate knife-skills but you get to have a dialogue with him (if you could understand him that is). The bar is small and supposedly its pretty hard to get a spot, but we walked right in. The place wasn't as packed as I was expecting, but maybe because it was a Tuesday night. We ordered the Omakase ($50) which is the chef's tasting menu. The definition of "Omakase"** comes from the verb "makasu" which means to trust, to let someone else take the initiative. In general, "Omakase" expresses the idea of having the courage to place your life in the hands of someone else. Or, in the case of your dining experience in the hands of the chef. We started off with some Miso soup and then got down to business with some sushi. We enjoyed a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc while prepared our food. The quality of the sushi was among the best I've ever had. Delicate flavors of raw fish were enhanced with yuzu and tiny bits of wasabi to create amazing little bites. I was also pretty pumped because the chef prepared fish that you don't always get like sable fish and sea urchin. Sure, we had some old time favorites like yellowtail and tuna; but its always fun to taste new things. We also ordered the scallop roll that was a combination of scallop, yuzu zest, scallions, and chive oil. The best part of the Omakase is that it was a progression of awesome. Each bite that chef placed in front of us was better than the

Not only was the food top notch, but the whole experience was pretty awesome. The service was good and the staff was friendly. Now i could see why this place is a neighborhood favorite. This is a great spot for a sushi date!

Gramercy Tavern: Old Friend

Gramercy Tavern

People often ask me, "what's your favorite restaurant" and although I can never give a straightforward answer --Gramercy Tavern always comes to mind. But then I think to myself, why Gramercy Tavern? Although the food is really good, I've never rushed back for that mind-blowing dish. I think Frank Bruni's New York Times review on Gramercy Tavern describes it best--Gramercy Tavern embodies the comfort of an old friend with its unstrained graciousness and unlabored sophistication. The food is complex, but simple at the same time and that gives it broad appeal. GT also has one of the best cocktail programs I've ever seen. Deliciously balanced cocktails change seasonally while the wine/beer list will put you in awe with its extensive selections. The service is impeccable, not only because of the attentiveness and knowledge; but because of the warmth. Whether you're at the bar or at a table, you get the idea of this being a serious restaurant; but its comfortable.

On my last visit to Gramercy Tavern, I sat at one of the bar tables in the Tavern. I sipped on GT's Fall Classic (Bulliet Bourbon, Green Market cider, Calvados, thyme, and lemon) while I waited on Colette. While I waited, I took in the space and looked over the menu. After much conversation, we started out meal. We started with a bottle of Tocai Sec from Hungary that our server had recommended. I asked him to recommend something off the beaten path that was dry and had nice minerality and acidity. He went on to give a brief description on why he liked this wine and why it was different, so I decided to try it. Colette proclaimed "I only like Pino Grigio" as she was hesitant on agreeing with my decision. She liked it! We both liked it and I think it complemented our meal very well. We started off with grilled ruby red shrimp with buckwheat cavatelli, apples, chestnuts, and brussel sprouts. The kitchen sent us out a complimentary appetizer- Sweatbreads with hen of the wood mushrooms, boy choy, and almonds. Both appetizers were awesome although I might have to give a nod to the shrimp dish. For an entree, Colette ordered the flounder with spaghetti squash, walnuts, and sherry sauce. I got the smoked pork shoulder that came in a bacon broth with salsify and cornbread. The cornbread was amazing! The pork itself was well cooked, but I would have liked a little more flavor. I think the flavors were very subtle and complex; but I would have loved just a little more love. The flounder on the hand was packed with flavor. The sherry sauce that covered the flounder was delicious. Our server joked around saying he could spread this sauce on a phonebook and eat it. The flounder itself was cooked beautifully and it only got better with the walnuts and spaghetti squash that graced the plate.

Pretty full, Colette didn't want to get dessert; but I ordered anyway. The dessert menu was full of mouth-watering options, but I decided on the chocolate pudding after our server described it as chocolate covered pretzels. The chocolate pudding was made with salted caramel and brioche croutons. They also sent out the pear crisp with spiced pistachios and pistachio ice cream. I'm not the biggest fan of pears, but this dessert was pretty damn good especially the top.

Overall, it was another great experience at Gramercy Tavern. I especially love GT in the fall and winter; because the restaurant gives off a warmth. Stop by and check it out. Its not cheap; but Its of great value!