Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A few spots

Dinner at Il Buco Alimentari
Not completely sold on the hype of Il Buco Alimentari. Sure the food is good, but its also pricey. We felt pretty lucky to grab a table on a Saturday night; but it was more like a dining counter than a table. Our experience didn't start off great as three different people asked us if we'd like to start with sparkling water. Its such a minor thing, but really does rub me the wrong way. Finally tap water was poured as we looked over the drink menu. We started with cocktails and then headed into a wine that I'm still not too sure what the hell it was. We were on a budget so a brunello or barolo was certainly out of the question.

Still annoyed by the sparkling water upsell, my disappointment continued when I read that bread and olive oil was $1 per person. This was a rough start; but we laughed it off as we sipped our well crafted cocktails.

 A couple allergy restrictions of my friends kept me from getting a few menu items that caught my eye; but I was glad to venture of the box. We sk ipped the $40 plate of iberico ham and went straight for the carpaccio di baccala (house salted cod, meyer lemon, sea beans, chili, carta di musica) and grilled Vermont quail served with persimmon, puffed farro, and yoghurt. The appetizers were OK-- pretty good at best. We moved onto the carbonara which was way to eggy. I understand that carbonara could be so many things to different people; but this dish fell short big time. Slow roasted short rib and roasted carrots saved my experience as our main course was delicious. The short rib was not only super tender but it had layers and layers of flavor. The carrots were also one of my favorite parts of the meal as they were brushed with a salsa verde and cooked perfectly.

Although our main course was really good, I'm definitely not rushing back to Il Buco Alimentari. After a couple experiences there, I don't know if its worth the value. Sure the food is good; but it doesn't match the price point. The service was OK although lacking hospitality. I still can't believe it was rewarded with 3 stars from the New York Times (then again it was Pete Wells) We skipped dessert and headed over to The Wren for cocktails.

Don't usually dine out in Chelsea, but headed here to meet up with an old friend, Amanda. The food was good, nothing too memorable; but the company made the experience. Spaghetti squash paired with hazelnut crema, dried cherries, and fried kale while steamed mussels soaked in a romesco sauce with a salsa verde crostini. Roasted brussel sprouts for the table seemed inevitable as to satisfy Amanda's brussel sprout craving. The restaurant itself is casual and comfortable; so if you live in Chelsea than it might be worth checking out. Probably not a destination restaurant.


After work, Liz and I were hungry so we headed over to Rubirosa for a small bite. That small bite turned into a feast and they graciously styled us out. Roasted octopus, mozzarella sticks, and grandma's braciole were sent out first. Although the mozz sticks and octo were delicious--they didn't compare to grandma's braciole which was dynamite. We also got the Rubirosa salad for some greens to accompany our pizza. We got half classic and half sausage broccoli rabe. So full and so happy is the best way I could describe the rest. Check out Rubirosa fo sho!

Weekend Recap

Met friends at ACE Bar in East Village and dominated in Skee Ball. Good spot with cheap beers, pool tables, and Skee Ball!

Went to Katz late night for pastrami--yeah buddy!

Awesome lunch at Dinosaur BBQ with Kim, Jared, and Soha. Coffee, walk through Colombia University, and then on to a glass or two of Four Roses.

North End Grill for cocktails and light snacks. Kachumber Cooler is much more enjoyable when your not muddling it yourself. N.E.G. usually has a nice selection of beers of tap and a ridiculous selection of scotch. The fries had chef Cardoz's touch with a heavy sprinkling of spices. A wild mushroom fricassee might have won him top chef, but we weren't terrible impressed. Sure it was good, but i've had much better food from him--the dude can cook! The kitchen sent us out a clam pizza which was real good, although nowhere near as good as Frannys in BK. Another delightful experience at Tim's favorite --North End Grill.

Dinner in Maialino's wine room proved to be one of the best meals of my life.

Love to Lunch

This past month, I've had some awesome lunches. Two standouts were Pearl Oyster Bar and Union Square Cafe.

Pearl Oyster Bar could be pricey, but the food is always worth it. Raw and fried oysters are always a good way to start. The lobster roll here is one of the better ones in town. They give you a nice portion of lobster where others skimp. Their market fish whether on a sandwich or in a composed dish is always good. Definitely a great West Village spot. Souch and I approve!

This was my first time sitting at a table at Union Square Cafe. I normally belly up to the bar for a quick lunch or glass of wine. I was with my buddy Tim, a manager at Maialino, so they went out of there way to seat us. The table was kind of awkward and looked directly onto another table; but it was the later part of lunch so tables around us started to clear out. It was definitely an older crowd--the loyal crowd that has been coming for 30 years. The ambiance and decor isn't the best; but the food makes up for it. We started with the pumpkin squash agnolotti which was tossed in a brown butter sauce. Sweet, but delicious all at once. Tim thought their seasonal agnolotti was better than our tortelli which had similar ingredients. Tonnarelli with pancetta and brussel sprouts were sent out with compliments and proved to be a delicious application of house-made pasta.

I got the USC burger as a main course and couldn't even finish it after sharing those two pastas as antipasti. The burger was delicious and came with a ridiculous amount of fries to add to the massive portion size. We skipped dessert and walked off a hearty lunch.

The Fish Whisperer

I don't usually recommend restaurants near Times Square; but Esca has been on my list for quite some time. Should I wait till I'm in the theatre district seeing a play to visit Esca? No, I couldn't put it off any longer. Esca, located at 43rd and 9th is a Mario Batali restaurant that specializes in southern Italian cuisine with an emphasis on seafood. I  didn't realize it was part of the Mario Batali/Joe Bastianich empire untill about a year ago when Batali made that Hitler banker joke and business started boycotting his restaurants. But Esca's figurehead and executive chef is Dave Pasternack who has been coined the "fish whisperer" by critics such as Frank Bruni. Sure its a Batali restaurant; but I'm there to see chef Pasternack at work. You might have heard of Dave Pasternack through celebrated reviews or even on TV--I know he's good friends with Anthony Bourdain and often appears on No Reservations. But enough about his celebrity status and onto what got him there: his food. 

Cannelini beans on a crostini was a nice start as we settled into our banquette. It was a bit awkward that our table was by the front door; but the restaurant itself is not very big. Ambiance and decor lacked this white table cloth fish heaven; but I think the food and company made up for it. Baby Octopus and a selection of six crudo made a good introduction to lunch. The octopus was braised till tender and then charred for that wonderful texture so important for good octopus. House cured salmon roe, sea urchin from Maine, and bay scallops all made appearances in the crudo selection. Pasternack showed his expertise in balancing beautiful flavors while still maintaining the essence of the sea. A beautiful Grillo from Sicily wasn't my first choice for wine; but turned out to be a good recommendation. 

The service wasn't perfect and certain things caught my attention; but it was nothing that altered our experience. I could understand our server not knowing the wines by the bottle and sending over a college; but that server disappearing after our last course was a bit strange. I usually like a server to stick with his/her table untill they have left. It wasn't a big deal at all, just something that caught me as strange for a highly regarded (NYT 3 star) restaurant. 

Entrees followed and proved to be more evidence that Pasternack might actually be a "fish whisperer". Scallops were cooked beautifully with a nice sear and a whole branzino made Ed a happy camper. An affogato with chunks of brownie and toffee was an easy choice for me while Ed got the bread pudding with rice pudding flavored gelato. 

All in all, lunch at Esca was a great success. We had some good wine, awesome food, and the company just put it over the top. "Would you come back here," asked Ed. Yes, I think so--there's so much more I want to try. Maybe next time I'm in the area. 

Ramen Season

As soon as the cold weather hit, ramen was on my mind. Three great spots for ramen are Totto Ramen in Hell's Kitchen, Ippudo  in the East Village, and also Momofuku Noodle Bar also in the East Village. All very different; but all very good.  

Totto Ramen
If you find yourself in Hell's Kitchen and your craving ramen, stop by Bobby Munekata's Totto Ramen. Mr. Munekata also owns Yakitori Totto which is also worth stopping by. When you arrive at Totto Ramen, place your name on the clipboard posted outside the door and wait. There are rules posted all around the outside so just follow the rules and you'll be ok. And don't forget to bring cash! 

Steps below street level you enter a dark, alley-like space. You could feel the steam from the kitchen and the beats from the speakers as some kind of Japanese techno plays. It feels secret, although this gem is well known. In my opinion, seats at the far end of the bar are the best. Not only do you get to see the chefs working but you avoid the cold breeze from the door being constantly opened. Cold breeze or not, you will find plenty of warmth in the steaming broth in front of you. Its always a good idea to add spice which will keep you extra warm in the colder months. 

Friendly service although fast and super casual. The best $20 (including tip) you might spend in midtown. 

Ippudo might be my favorite ramen spot located a few blocks from Union Square. The space is airy and there's always excitement all around you. It doesn't have the secret, underground appeal of Totto Ramen; but it serves some of the bestramen I've ever had. I also love that Ippudo serves a much broader menu other than ramen. Pork buns, baby octopus, and chicken wings are just some of the small plates which are usually just as good as the ramen. I usually get the Karaka Men which is a pork noodle soup with a blend of hot spices, pork chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, cabbage, onion, minced pork, and scallions. Adding pork belly or an egg doesn't hurt! 

The open kitchen is jamming and it rolls into the dinning room. Good vibes with bangin' food! Definitely a place to check out. 

Momofuku Noodle Bar was David Chang's first restaurant I believe. This is where he got his reputation for awesome ramenand those glorious pork buns. Noodle Bar reflects a more Americanized version of a neighborhood ramen shop while still keeping tradition and providing a great bowl of ramen. Sit at the chef's counter and watch the chefs work--though they don't seem like they are working as hard as the chefs in the previous stated restaurants. Mr. Chang brings a complex product with levels of flavor and he makes it look easy. Momofuku Noodle Bar has become a neighborhood staple and is the foundation on which Mr. Chang has built his empire.