Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Restaurant Week Standard

I always get excited for restaurant week, but when it actually comes to sitting down at the table of the chosen restaurant, I’m usually not intrigued by the limited menu. So when Dr. Doogs, Ginger, A-Duh, and I ventured to the other side of the world (ie. Perry Street and West Street—If we went any further west we’d probably be swimming or hooking in the Holland Tunnel) and made a visit to Jean George’s Perry Street it came as no shock to anyone that the two choices for entrée were skate or chicken—neither of which enticed me.

On another note, in order to get a reservation here, we also said we would take a table in the lounge. I wouldn’t exactly go as far as calling it a lounge though—it was more like a waiting area where patrons can enjoy a pre/post dinner cocktail on benches or small couches facing round cocktail tables. While the table wasn’t exactly ideal, I do have to say the hostesses made a valiant effort to make sure the door facing the outdoors was fully closed before the door opened to the restaurant—ergo no draft. Our waiter was also clearly new but in that cute way where you wanted to react with an “Aww it’s okay..” when he messed up. If a snotty waiter poured wine in a glass of water, forgot to ask meat temperature, or didn’t visually know which dish was which, it might’ve not been so cute. He was clearly new, hadn’t had many of the dishes on the menu and, therefore, they probably let him take a table in the ‘lounge.’

In any case, when the four of us looked at the menu, we all wanted to see the other options from the ala carte listings. A-Duh said she could do either menu as she liked chicken and would probably get that or the red snapper off the a la carte menu anyway—plus her allergies hinder her (a la sesame seed Riki experience). Ginger, Doogs and I were a lil ehh on the skate or chicken and came up with our top entrée choices from the regular menu. We decided in the spirit of restaurant week(and being cheap) we would still get a discounted bottle (or two) of wine and split an app to counter the cost of the expensive main course. We decided to split the risotto; I got the Filet with butternut squash dumplings, Doogs got the sweet and sour short ribs, and ging got the rack of lamb. Our risotto app was actually bigger than we anticipated and it split very well. A-Duh questioned why chefs have to always add nuts to everything..does it really make it better? In the case of the risotto, however, the pecans actually offset the grains very well and the Cherries provided a punch of sweet-tart. A-Duh liked her chicken soup with avocado but didn’t really dive into detail aside from, ‘it’s a little spicey.” Our entrees came and everything looked delic. All of our mains were good but nothing over-exceeded expectations (aside from my Filet). My Filet was ridiculously tender and could be cut with a butter knife (maybe even the edge of a fork if I tried), but the dumplings couldn’t rival buddahkan’s or Stanton Social. The mushrooms that were paired with the dish were something I kept talking about because they basically tasted like magical 'shrooms to me. I kept trying to eat them, but it just wasn't working. So rooty. Doogs liked her short ribs but as she said, “There was nothing innovative or new about them” and Ginger agreed while the meal was very good there was nothing that blew us away. We all agreed that A-duh put it best, however, when she said, “My chicken was standard… but the warm molten chocolate cake—now that I would come back for an eat it for all 3 courses.” And that brings me to the dessert which was very good as a-duh described. Doogs, Ging and I tried the poached pears (which I thought were better at Freeman’s) but the Vanilla sherbert was pretty good.

In any case, while restaurant week is good to encourage you to try restaurants you might not ordinarily go to—it also has it hindrances. And even after our disappointment from the menu faded, it seems like we were still left unmoved by the ala carte menu even if it is one of Jean George’s creations. So I guess standard is the fitting word of the evening.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Alley Way Dining

I've heard a lot of great things about the lower east side-down-an-alley-way eatery Freeman's, but I try to let myself make a final decision. I really didn't know what to expect because while I've passed Freeman Alley a few times before, there would be no reason to walk down a dark shady alley then if I were actually intending on going inside the restaurant. I've also heard that it’s always impossible to get a table because while it maybe in an inconspicuous location, it is also extremely popular with a no reservation policy. So I was excited when my friend Laura and I decided to make an early dinner trip to Freeman's.

The place was nothing that I expected. When you walk inside you feel like you are warped out of the city and into an early American bed and breakfast with antlers on the walls and pictures of old British looking people staring at you while you eat. The tables are simple and wooden and the floors seem like they would creak if you could hear them. This is a stark juxtaposition from the hipster crowd that dines there and the wait staff that serves at this very busy place. Laura and I came at 6, right when Freeman's opens. We watched the dining room turn from empty to extremely crowded without a table to spare by 730 on a random Wednesday.

I asked our server for recommendations straight off the bat. She was spunky and shared with us the most popular dishes and her personal faves. She also told us about some of the new items on the menu as new dishes were being added during this transitional period. We decided on the artichoke dip to start, which came in a matter of minutes piping hot with a tower of French bread to dip. The artichoke dip was delic- crusty on top and creamy in the middle. The app was big; could probably feed 3-4 people, but Laura and I managed to do an exceptional job making a dent despite the size and the rich factor. For our main courses, I decided on the Cod (a new item on the menu) and Laura decided on the Filet with horseradish cream. I was tinkering with the idea of the venison stew but wasn't willing to take the chance yet (def next time). We also got a side of sweet potatoes topped with crème fraise and chives. Our entrees came, which we both enjoyed. Mine was a tad bit salty but I'll give it some leeway since its a new dish and will probably get better as they make it more often. I think this was also due to the bacon in the sauce. Still though, it was enjoyable. Laura enjoyed her steak but the horseradish flavor was a little much for her. For horseradish lovers though, a def must. Our side of sweet potatoes was ridic and made up for where our mains let us down. The potatoes were sweet yet lightly salted to give the sweet and salty counter effect and the crème fraise and chives worked perfectly. By the time we finished our entrees, the place was also packed. We took a gander at the dessert menu and the waitress mentioned a pear and apple crumble that enticed us. Unfortunately, it was not yet on the menu (something to look forward to possibly?) Laura is obsessed with pears so we got the poached pears in a red wine reduction served with a fragrant ice cream and sugar cookie. The dessert was delicious and each element complimented the next. The cookie was buttery and smooth and was lightly powdered in confectionary sugar. The ice cream offset the rich flavors of the red wine in the pears with a light and aromatic taste. It was the perfect ending to dinner.

I really enjoyed dinner at Freeman's but I always wonder what my thoughts would be like without any pre-notion. I would definitely go back despite my salty entree because everything else was exceptional. To me, it seems like a return-to staple for new American cuisine and the only place I can say I walked down an alleyway to get to.... plus I hear their brunch is great.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A Trip Back To College-Town; Boston

I just came back from a trip to Boston; a place where I called 'home' for almost 4 years while I was going to school at BU. Returning there always gives me nostalgia, but at the same time reminds me of how I could never live there at this point. Going back when you are not in school, you tend to do some things differently and some things kind of seem the same. Maybe it was also the fact that school was not back in session yet from winter break for my little trip. Even though I went to some of the same college haunts, the bars and clubs didn't seem to have that college-feel but rather a masshole influx.

When I was in college, we barely knew restaurant life beyond comm ave. Birthdays were always done at Jaes, Carlos, or Fugakyu (our fav Japanese joint) or wherever they sold scorpion bowls. Otherwise we'd tend to order-in from places like Angora (our favorite fro yo place) or Mykonos (the best place for salads freshman year before they switched management). If we ventured somewhere, it might be to the town of Brookline for Zaftag's or Coolidge Corner Clubhouse (fondly called triple C) and if on Newbury Street to Sonsie. Otherwise, my eating-out experiences were kind of isolated to the place I waited tables, Laurel. There was the occasional dinner somewhere really good like Union or Radius (which I found over rated) or when your parents came to town and took you for a great piece of steak at Abe & Louie's, but if someone asked me for recommendations in the North End, I'd come up pretty blank. I might say Mama Maria because I've heard about it but never been. If someone asked me for a recommend by Fanuel Hall, I'd once again stare into space. We pretty much stuck to what we knew and the areas we knew best. Oh and that other little thing, cash flow.

So on my trip to Boston, I really wanted to try a restaurant I had never been to; somewhere I had never even possibly heard about in college. My friend K-fag sent me a list of restaurants to sort through. We came up with two top choices at the end: Neptune Oyster and Grotto. On the day of, Lauren, K-fag and I made our final decision and we ventured to the North End for Neptune Oyster, one of the only seafood restaurants amidst a sea of Italian eateries.

Because it was a Monday, it wasn't hard to get a table. Lauren explained that they don't take reservations and in the summer, there is a line out the door for the few tables they have at this small raw bar. First thing was first, since they were known for their oysters, we had to get some. I might've had oyster once before, but I couldn't remember (obviously they had made a good impression on me). Lauren order a half dozen oysters ranging from small and sweet (what I liked best) to big and saltier. Surprisingly, I liked them especially with the sweet onion vinaigrette on top. Then we ordered crudo to share. This app was unbelievable. It was a tower of flash seared yellow fin tuna, crispy eel, and mushrooms, tops with a seaweed salad. The fish was extremely fresh and the sauce complimented every asset of the tower. We couldn't get enough of this one. For dinner, K-fag ordered their famous lobster roll, hot with butter and fresh cut fries. Lauren ordered their special, the Lobster spaghettni and I order their Jumbo Sea scallops with a hazelnut and fontina pudding. All of our dishes were exceptional. The sauce with my scallops was ridic and the pudding was like a sweet treat. K-fag's lobster roll was a fresh and simple classic, with the butter soaked into the bread to add the flavor to the already sweet lobster. Lauren's spaghetti was perfectly garliced and sweet with lobster. Even our server was perfect. He gave suggestions as we asked and was there when we needed him but not over-zealous. We were all extremely satisfied. I for one was also very happy that if someone queried where to go for a meal in the North End, I now had a place to say with an experience to back it. I guess you can't do everything while you're in college and that’s a quarter of the reason for the trips back. Obviously the major reason is to see your friends still there! A dinner is never great in bad company. But if you ever find yourself in Boston, go!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

No Wonder Why I Love Gordon Ramsay

Not only was my dinner at Gordon Ramsay's Hospital Road Restaurant in London one of the most fabulous meals of my life, but the article I just read on the New York Mag site prob explains another reason I love him (since I have been deemed a gay man on the inside by some).
"Gordon Ramsay may not be knocking the critics dead in New York (as the Daily Mail attests), even as he turns his neighbors into critics (as we’ve noted), but some people still have him on their A-list: English gays. According to the U.K.’s Pink News, Ramsay ranks with such larger-than-life figures as Wham!, Marilyn Monroe, and Simon Cowell. Ramsay, who is not gay, shouldn’t be getting too puffed up over the results, however: The irascible chef came in dead last, at No. 50. " (http://nymag.com/daily/food/)

Restaurant Week

So it's that time of year again--Restaurant Week! Such a great time to try out those restaurants you've wanted to go to but your wallet wouldn't let you. It's really such a great thing and I've already been looking at which places to go to and starting to make plans. It's running from Jan 22-Feb 2. Check it out:http://www.nycvisit.com/RestaurantWeekSearch/index.cfm?pagePkey=1713

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Sol in January

The unheard of beautiful weather in January brings out the beast in everyone. It brings us back to the summer when you frolic outside, party the hardest, act careless, and put responsibilities aside...or wait, is that just me? Well I know for one that's def my friend wild ginger. While her behavior doesn't differ that much the rest of the year--the summer is her time to shine. So when the temperature hit 70 this weekend, it was 'go time.' I must add that Ginger's incessant pleading to basking in the glorious weather comes after a very long night out. Both she and I stumbled into our respective apartments at close to 6 am Saturday morning still in shock about the events of the night...but that's just a totally different story. In any case, when she woke at 3 o clock that afternoon and took a look out her window she called me and said lets go eat outside. So obviously I was down.

Cut to 8pm: After a long cab ride to the west village, Amanda and I approached Ginger who was in a splendid mood (I say that very sarcastically) and starving (maybe that’s why!). We were supposed to go to Extra Virgin, but I guess the nice weather brought everyone out and the wait was an hour and a half. So we settled on the place across the street, Osteria Del Sol(appropriatly named considering the weather). West 4th Street houses some of the cutest restaurants. A few months earlier we had a great experience at Foccacia on West 4th and Bank and we were hoping for the same experience at Osteria del Sol. The Sardinian menu looked promising and the wait staff was very friendly.

Upon sitting down, we immediately ordered a bottle of Montepuciano and Amanda got a glass of pinot grigio. The wine was good and the breadbasket came with an interesting tomato, garlic, and olive oil based dipping sauce. Off to a good start. Ging ordered the veal meatballs for app, which were good- there was very nice flavors that could be tasted in each bite. I ordered a napoleon of grilled vegetables and buffalo mozzarella in a tomato sauce, which was excellent. Amanda got a standard salad, which she said was very enjoyable. We were all excited to see what was next but were sadly disappointed. Ging and I both ordered the red snapper which came with mussels, clams, and shrimp in a white wine sauce and Amanda ordered a linguini in white clam sauce. When I first tasted the fish I thought it was a bit dry and the sauce was missing flavors. I initially thought I was being critical but when I saw Ging reach for the salt she reaffirmed my thoughts. I could only describe the dish as okay. It was nothing to write home about and merely served its purpose. Amanda liked her linguini but didn't love it either. Her sauce was more flavorful than the snapper sauce, but that could only be said because you could taste the butter in it.

At the end of the dinner, a waiter accidentally almost knocked our table over as he was closing the sliding door. Within a matter of minutes, he brought over lemoncello, which was completely the redeeming thing to do. While our main entrees all lacked in one way or another, it was still a very enjoyable dinner--maybe it was the company, the staff, or the weather...but something in the air walked us right to the liquor store to pick up another bottle of wine and start pre gaming for the night. Why must it get cold in January? Lets prey the winds of winter never come..

Friday, January 5, 2007

The Japanese Izakaya Experience

For the past couple of weeks, on my walk home from the subway, I’ve passed this place that looks sort of like a restaurant with a big orange “Riki” sign outside. The weird thing though is that there are no windows or visible door except down a small corridor. This door houses a little hanging “Open” sign. I’ve questioned what this was as it only seemed in operation after 6 and I only saw Japanese people go inside. Then one day, my sister tells me she really wants to try that new Japanese restaurant Riki. I told her I wasn’t sure it was actually a place to eat (I told her I thought it was a geisha house…apparently I really took the book Memoirs of a Geisha to heart) so we obviously consulted menu pages. On the site, they had another Riki listed at 45th between lex and 3rd so this has to be the original and the new one by my apt must had just opened up. The comments on menu pages all praised the establishment for being “Just like a Japanese Izakaya” and for those of us who don’t speak Japanese that apparently means some sort of traditional Japanese bar with drinks and snacks. This sounded extremely interesting and naturally made me want to try it.

Last night, my nut-allergic-friend and I decided to try the Izakaya as we were in the mood for sushi. Another piece of advice from the comments on menu pages was to try their hot food from the extensive menu. However, when we got to Riki, I felt completely overwhelmed and over stimulated. We walked in and a young woman greeted us and asked us if we would like to sit at the bar as the place had no tables left. Riki constantly had people walking in and almost every seat was taken mostly by Japanese people. There were also private rooms in the back for larger parties and another bar upstairs (which we didn’t get to see). At the sushi bar there were two TVs, each playing Japanese shows of random pop singers and children dancing. We were extremely entertained by this and the fact that one of the sushi chefs was wearing a black t-shirt that said, “Chef,” in case we didn’t know.

We sat at the bar and tried to look over the extremely large menu. The back of the menu had the standard sushi items which was a little more welcoming. I’m always down to try new things but I was still a littler nervous. Items that stuck out to me were cubes of beef in garlic broth and triangle rice balls of shrimp tempura. There were also a lot of cooked seafood, meats, and noodle dishes. Instead of doing these, however, I caved and ordered a dragon roll, a spicy tuna roll, and a miso ramen soup. This miso ramen soup was described as miso soup with Japanese noodles, but when it came out was really this extremely large bowl of soup with some sort of meat and noodles.

My nut-allergic-friend asked the waitress if there were sesame seeds on her rolls (a simple California and shrimp tempura roll). The server had no idea what she was talking about as she didn’t speak very good English. We had a trouble communicating for awhile until the sushi chef set a new roll on top of the counter and we could point out what sesame seeds were and reiterate that she was allergic. Unfortunately, we were unaware that the miso ramen soup must have had sesame oil or a type of nut in it because even regardless she had the throat-tightening feeling and was forced to take benadryl that she has so intelligently brought with her. She said she figured with them not speaking great English it would be inevitable.

The sushi was really good and the soup tasted sort of ‘traditional’ if that makes sense. I eyed other tables to see what they got. There was one table that had some sort of hot plate on it that was cooking a noodle dish while they ate it. It looked really good and I wondered what it was. The people next to us got some sort of spinach in sesame oil that also looked delic. I promised myself that I would come back and be more adventurous with the hot food. It’s places like this that you need a guide, a friend that knows the traditional cuisine to help you with your choices, any takers?