Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Luxurious Lunch

Currently there's only six restaurants in New York City that carry the most coveted four-star rating by the New York Times: Eleven Madison Park, Per Se, Daniel, Jean Georges, Le Bernadin, and Del Posto. Among these fine dining establishments, Del Posto is the only Italian restaurant to hold the ranking. But Del Posto wasn't always a four-star restaurant --it took time like any great restaurant. Del Posto is in the Batali and Bastianich empire among some of New York's favorites like Babbo, Otto, Lupa, and Casa Mono to name a few.

Del Posto is located below the high line in Chelsea right outside the meatpacking district. The space is gorgeous although it reminds me of a hotel lobby. But hotel lobbies remind me of vacation and chef Mark Ladner took me on a short vacation through Italy with his delicious food. I arrived early and sat at the bar while the staff finished detailing their sections. I read through the cocktail list while admiring the comfortable bar-chair I sunk into. I'm always so happy when bar stools are comfortable and even more impressed when they have backs. Kristen arrived and we were seated shortly after. We did decide to dine on the earlier side of lunch (11:30) but the place was empty and didn't really fill up. Business men were scattered throughout the dining room; but not as crowded as I expected giving the $39 pre-fixe lunch deal. Then again, its a weird part of town and its the middle of the work-week. Either way, we enjoyed the solitude and we took in the space. 

We sat at a corner banquette in the middle of the room which gave us a great vantage point of the restaurant. Look to your left to see the pianist glide his hands over the keys or to the right to see runners parade out of the kitchen like soldiers. We decided our entire meal before someone asked us about wine. Being that I had work in a couple hours, I wasn't looking to drink and was happy they didn't push it as soon as I sat. That being said, we did have the sommelier(?) come over to talk to us about wine after we had ordered. He seemed pretty knowledgeable, but we didn't really test him. I got a beautiful glass of Pettite Arvine, a local variety from the Valle d' Aosta region of Italy. The runner who brought the wine mixed up our wines, but that was the only hiccup in almost perfect service. 

The meal then started with an amuse that reminded me of a strattiatella soup. Delicate flavors made me wish the thimble sized shot glass was a whole bowl. Two other bite size treats woke up my palate with flavors of both bitter and sweet. This trio of treats hit on all senses allowing us to dive into our antipasti. Kristen's started with the beef carpaccio which she thought was a bit bland. I thought that on my first bite as well, but when you ate it with the sage grissini and sunchoke puree it all came together really well. The beef itself was surprisingly a bit stringy; but the flavors were great when all combined. I liked the dish! I got the lobster fra diavolo ($10 supp) which the waiter told us was Lidia's recipe. The delicious sauce might have been Lidia's but I have a feeling the garlic bread panna cotta was Ladner's. Although I wasn't a fan of the panna cotta for textural reasons, it had great flavor and mimicked garlic bread so well. As far as the lobster goes, I've always been a fan simple dressings on seafood. Although the fra diavolo sauce was delicious, I normally prefer a lighter dressing like lemon juice. 

We then opted to get a primi or pasta as a mid-course to our lunch pre-fixe. We got the scungilli that was made with two different pastas. Kristen got the preparation of scungili with gluten free pasta while I got it as is. I didn't taste hers, but my half order or pasta was a great midcourse. The combination of black garlic, black pepper, parsley, and lemon sang beautifully with the sea creature and pasta. 

We then progressed into our main course or secondi. Kristen got the garganelli and I got the lamb. My lamb dish was probably one of the best lamb dishes I've ever had. The Sardinian lamb sat on a bed of Roman artichokes and braised mint/saffron potatoes. The runner who brought the dish out poured a thin sauce table-side and then gave me a hot napkin while encouraging me to pick the baby lamb chop. There was no way I was going to let any of the meat off this chop, so I did as the chef recommended! The lamb was served two ways as a piece of braised lamb sat adjacent to the chop. Not sure what cut it was from but it was quite delicious. Maybe it was the neck or deckle? Kristen's was good, but I was way to into mine to even think about the garganelli. 

A palate cleanser of gelato/sorbet was sent out before dessert. This was a nice added treat that I enjoyed much after the delicious savory part of the meal. As we finished our wine, our server brought us over sparkling dessert wine that he poured into champagne flutes. A lovely sweet but bubbly wine made from brachetto and moscato filled our glasses. I'm still not sure why he did this, but we were extremely greatful. For dessert, I got the chocolate ricotta tortino and Kristen got the tartufo. My chocolate tortino wore toasted Sicilian pistachios and was accompanied by an olive oil gelato. Dedicate and rich yet restrained. After our desserts were cleared we were then presented with a cheese grater that came with more treats. Dehydrated rhubarb and edible candy wrapper treat sat on top while more treats rested in the box. 

Overall, our experience at Del Posto was pretty spectacular. Sometimes high-end restaurants could pressure you into spending a lot of money. but that was not the case here. The service was top notch and the food was great. But again, this wasn't always the case. Del Posto took a couple years to find its groove in a world dominated by French-inspired.high-end restaurants; but the restaurant has reached its mark. Ladner takes a simple cuisine and elevates it pairing it with impeccable service allowing guests an unforgettable experience. 

An expensive, but worth-wild experience. Lunch is a great way to experience one of the best restaurants in the city for under a $100; but staying under a hundo isn't easy especially if you like to have a glassy or two of wine with your meal. Definitely check it out. 

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Where Chefs Eat: Frannys and Barbuto

Summer is a good time to hit popular restaurants throughout the city because people are leaving for the hamptons, jersey shore, and other beachy destinations. Although this is true for most restaurants, this theory backfired on me when I went to Franny's on memorial day. After a long weekend, I thought people would be calling it an early night or just arriving home from leaving the city. Not the case at Franny's as the wait at 9:30pm (on Monday) was 2 hours strong. The hostess was super nice and told me that some of these people probably put their name down and leave; but to check back. She said I could call and check if I was staying local. I tried that method, but the phone lines were busy. 

Jackie and I walked to Carlton Park, a new farm-to-table restaurant down the street from Franny's. We sat outside and enjoyed beers and appetizers while we kept Franny's in the back of our minds. Carlton Park was empty; but they had only opened three weeks before. We started with some beers and progressed into some apps. 

The menu is market focused, but thats not new in this neighborhood. We started with a soft shell crab salad and a fluke ceviche. Both were good, but the ceviche definitely stood out with its bold flavors. Our server seemed eager to invite us back; but we kind of rushed out when I found out our table at Franny's was ready.

So why was I so determined on getting to Franny's? Well, I don't get to Brooklyn much and I've heard great things about Franny's by people in the service industry. Its a place where chefs eat. Its a homey, restaurant that totally embraces the concept of local ingredients and seasonality. The chef and owners of Franny's agree that less ingredients is better--three great components are enough. They aren't into making complicated food; but they are into simple farm-to-table food. 

Colin, our server, was very knowledgeable on the menu and helped us create a great meal. He sent us out the spring onion zeppoles which I had asked him about. He sent this out complimentary because of a mutual connection with the restaurant industry. Our crostini arrived next: first the asparagus and lardo followed by the pancetta with ramp butter. We then received the pork cheek and beef tongue terrine--a delicious appetizer easily passed over by the non-adventurous eater. We were then cleared and set up for our pizzas. We got the ricotta, fresh mozzarella, basil, and hot pepper pizza and the clam pizza. Clams, chilies, and parsley combined into one of the best pizzas I've ever had. Our other pizza was delicious; but the clam pizza was ridiculous. 


At this point, I could only have an amaro. I sipped the Italian digestivo and talked about how good our meal was. Franny's gets a lot of hype, but it lived up to all of it. The wait could be a bit much, but once you get in you will find it was well worth it. Food like this makes me want to venture into BK more often. No wonder this is a popular industry place!

Back in Manhattan...
Life is simple or atleast it seems that way on an afternoon stroll through the West Village. You walk a little slower and take in your surroundings--far from your daily routine of darting towards the subway. At Barbuto, Jonathan Waxman's cooking reflects this simplicity, a sort of California style of cooking. Waxman's menu is short and aggressively seasonal. He is known for simple, seasonal cooking and has got much recognition for it. Barbuto has been on my list of places to go for awhile and today I finally made it. 

Barbuto looks like an old car garage transformed into a restaurant. The restaurants doors roll up when the weather is warm, which gives it that open feel. Even if you're not outside, you can't escape the natural light that pours on in. Christa and I grabbed a table right outside the roll up doors--perfect for people watching. Here on Washington Street you could definitely enjoy outside seating as its quiet and serene. The only noise that might disturb you in the occasional lambo that cruises down the street. 

Our server was alright. Service itself was good-- they kept our waters filled and were there if we needed (although we didn't need them). Our server actually talked us out of getting a dish, saying it might be too much. So I can definitely appreciate not over-selling me just for the sake of running up my check; but he didn't seem to enthusiastic about being there. Then again it was a Saturday afternoon and i'm sure he would have rather been at the beach. He was fine though, I guess i'm just use to drinking the Danny Meyer kolaid. 

So onto the food, the main reason that brought me to Barbuto. Waxman's chicken dish is something i've heard about for quite some time. Whether Top Chef was talking about it or the New York Times was giving it a shout out, its been something that I've needed to try. I went in there nervous, because I was scared it wasn't going to live up to all the hype. After all, how good could chicken be? I love chicken--but its a protein that I often cook and often cook good at that. So why pay for chicken when you got chicken marinating at home ready for that sweet grill pan you just bought. Well my friends, chef Waxman has the answer. The chicken is perfectly cooked and lightly seasoned with its beautiful brown skin seasoned in a light salsa verde. While enjoying this bone-in chicken, you really wish you could just pick it up and get every bit of meat. Barbuto doesn't stop there as the other dishes we got were also delicious. Linguettine carbonara was the perfect starter for those stuck between breakfast and lunch. I prefer an al dente spaghetti; but the flavors were on point. Soft shell crab was another product of Waxman's knowledge and skill. The lightly battered and fried crab sat atop of romanesco sauce that kept me and Christa scrapping the plate. 

For dessert, I got salted caramel gelato and amaretto crunch which I enjoyed with my cappuccino. A scoop of the amaretto crunch worked well with a quick dunk in my coffee! The salted caramel was good enough to stand on its own. We could have sat there for hours, but we decided to walk to the pier where we walked along the water and sat in the sun. 

Barbuto is definitely a good spot to check out. Simple, delicious food in an awesome setting. And for West Village prices, NOT BAD at all! I don't know if I can crown it the best chicken in the city; but its definitely up there. 

Rhode Island

A few weekends ago I headed to Newport, Rhode Island for my friends' wedding. Not only was I pumped to share in such an amazing celebration, but I was pumped to explore Newport --a town that I vaguely remember from a drunk visit to the University of Rhode Island. We left NYC early so we could make most out of our four-day weekend.

Our first stop after getting to the hotel was Tickets Bar & Grill; which was located right across the street from our hotels. We grabbed some beers and a light lunch while enjoying the beautiful weather. We continued enjoying the weather and some more adult beverages over at the Atlantic Beach Club. Also across the street from our hotels, the Atlantic Beach Club was a classier Jenkison's for anyone familiar with the Jersey Shore. The sun was hot so we started with frozen drinks and moved to beers. We soaked in the sun for awhile then headed out to the rehearsal dinner. 

After the church we headed to the Newport Inn where Dan & Suzanne had a lovely dinner for everyone. There was a few stations to pick at; but it was imperative not to get too full before you hit the pasta station. All the food was great! Did I mention it was open bar??? O lordy! The night ended with a beautiful glass of Macallan 18 (thanks Evan & Phil!)

The next day we woke up and headed over to Tickets for breakfast. I was surprised they served breakfast being a "sports bar"; but it was good news for us. We combined a few tables on their patio area and had a nice little breakfast. Surprisingly enough, our server wouldn't serve one of our friends because he didn't have on any shoes or sandals. It wasn't a big deal as the hotel was right across the street--just a weird rule for sitting outside at a beach town bar. 

We followed the same routine as the day before as hit up the beach/ABC. Then it was time to shower and get dressed--this was the BIG DAY! 

Dan's brother was nice enough to grab us food while we were getting ready in the suite. We ate and drank while getting ready. After some pictures, we got on the trolly and headed to the church. The ceremony was absolutely beautiful. The lovebirds kissed becoming husband and wife. 

Back on the trolly we tossed with Champagne and Coor's Lights--all so happy to be a part of something so beautiful. The trolly then took a scenic drive through the breathtaking landscapes of Newport stopping to take some pictures along the way. We then arrived at Castle Hill Inn-- a premiere wedding destination. Exiting the trolly you were reveling in the beauty of the location only to be met with champagne and wine. The cocktail hour was filled with pictures, passed hors d'oeurves, and more champagne. There were a few stations set up also offering food. I kept telling myself not to fill up!

We spent the majority of cocktail hour outside not only enjoying the food and drink; but the company we were in. We really lucked out, i remember it as perfect weather for the occasion. 

The night progressed with a great speech by Sue's dad and a killer performance by Dan's brother and cousin. The hook on the song was about them thinking Dan was gay--how classic! 

The next you know our salads were up-- fresh mozzarella and tomatoes artfully plated. It was simple; but the ingredients were top notch so it was a great success. Next, I had the beef which can always seem to disappoint at weddings. This piece of beef was far from disappointing. It was so flavorful and it was cooked flawlessly. Carrots and potatoes played as nice complements; but the steak stole the show. 

By this time, I had sampled just about every food and drink combination in the place. Manhattans started flowing after the champagne and wine only to be followed with celebratory shots. Rule #1: Don't stand next to Ed Gurka at an open bar. 

Dessert had a hard act to follow after some great food; but it shined. The red velvet wedding cake was delicious! After some dancing, servers then began to pass around pizza and donuts JUST INCASE we didn't eat enough! 

I was not only impressed with the food; but really impressed with the service. I felt like they were all ready to jump at any guest command. Example: One of the servers ran to the restaurant to get me a double espresso. He said my tip was not necessary; but i was so blown away with his eagerness that i made him take it. I was also really impressed with how the servers served the food and cleared the plates. In fine dining establishments, you are taught "open-hand" service and the servers here were taught well. 

The next thing you know we had to leave! We all boarded the busses to the after party at Tickets. 

The next day we woke up and headed to The Mooring in downtown Newport. Reluctant to drink, I eased my way into it with a Guinness. We had an awesome lunch here. We chilled here for a bit then began our bar crawl.

We wandered into this bar One Pelham East (i think this was the name??) and it was totally our kind of place. We rocked out to the live band while playing shuffle board. They were a cash only bar which hurt me towards the end of the night; but the room was filled with people willing to buy you a beer. We stayed here for a few hours than went to Smokehouse--a bbq restaurant a stone's throw away from the bar.

They couldn't accommodate us at a table, so we gathered around the bar scattered at different tables. I ordered this ridiculous BBQ platter that came with ribs, shrimp, chicken, brisket, pulled pork, and maybe some other stuff I didn't get to. It was literally the size of a garbage can lid piled with a plethora of smoked meats. The portion size made me nervous about the quality; but the smokehouse put out some good BBQ. 


The next day we went to the breakfast buffet at the Atlantic Beach Club. We moved over to the beach for awhile; but then started partying on the deck not wanting to go home. The band Sweet Tooth and the Sugar Babies killed it! The Atlantic Beach Club had such a variety of people there from younger college kids to grandparents. Everyone was having a good time agreeing that it was the perfect kickoff to summer. 

Newport, Rhode Island a sure spot to check out! 


View from room

ABC on Sunday

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Quick Bites

Always nice to grab a seat outside at PJ Clarke's (World Financial Center) and grab a beer & burger. Throw some straw onions on your Cadillac burger for a wonderful afternoon delight.

Grabbed a glass of Etna Bianco at Bin No. 220 with an old friend. Sicilian white was quite tastey, but I hate stemless wine glasses! Does this make me a wine snob? I hope not! Its always great to sit outside and enjoy the weather--small porch; but it worked!

Had pretty good arepas at Caracas (7th St). Restaurant was jamming so we grabbed our arepas and pacificos at the "to go" annex right next door. Although it was super crowded, we landed a table right by the door.

Going away party for co-worker proved to be a good time at Penny Farthing. We had the lower level reserved with a DJ so you know the dance floor was going. Still trying to figure why my tab was so high?

Duet 35 was another spot for a going away earlier in the month. This K-town karaoke joint is cool because you could rent your own room. Beers are relatively cheap and there's a good Korean restaurant next door for when you need your drunk munchies. Ate some interesting things like calf knee? Don't remember the name; but those 24/7 k-town restaurants could be some of the best late night eats in NYC.

Almond Croissant at French Gourmand (9 Maiden Lane) good; but not quite as good as one at Financier