Saturday, June 23, 2007

Mom Hearts Jigmed

Usually when I go out to dinner with my family, my sister and I make a valiant effort to try and go somewhere delicious yet untrendy. My parents aren't exactly trendsetting (not that they're duds either), but, moreover, my dad expects a level of service that is often not found in an extremely busy and hip (yes, Ginger, I'm using the word again) establishment. Often in these type of restaurants, it's way less about food or service than it is about atmosphere and the scene. I guess this excalates on certain days of the week and especially on the weekends but we usually play it safe. My sister and dad's birthdays are pretty close together so we decided to do a joint celebration and my sister picked the restaurant. We opted for something asiany as that's my sister's fave, but once again a little troublesome with my mom who doesn't really eat japanese. After Tao was booked up, she looked into other options...and went with the downtown location of Megu. While the uptown version was close to our apt and probably an older crowd, we thought it best to go to the tribeca Megu even if it may be a bit more trendy. We all arrived at the restaurant and were seated promptly--however 10 minutes later, my dad was complaining about the sommelier and we began to get nervous.

Megu is beautiful though. We were seated in the downstairs dining room which sits below two stairwells that lead the path to a platform. In the center of the room is a buddah ice sculpture, and to the back the sushi bar and kitchen. We were seated directly next to the sculpture which my parents were enamored with and they wondered how it maintained its shape. But when my dad was disgruntled with the wine steward, my sister and I wondered if there was any way we would be able to turn his disappointment around. Luckily, Jigmed, our waiter arrived.

Jigmed was more than friendly, he was accomodating, helpful, and the apple of my Mom's eyes. When he first came over he explained to us how the menu worked: dishes are to share; choose a variety based on the pallete of each person at the table, and order a lot as the dishes are small. And the menu was definitely as soon as he walked away we began to sort through the sections and my mom mentioned she thought he was cute. When he came back to the table, my dad asked Jigmed for Omikase for the table; he then asked us for the dishes that stood out to us, any allergies we might have and then he went to work preparing a customized dinner for us.

Jigmed started us with the crispy asparagus with 'okaki batter fry'- already he was on the way to my Mom's heart...she finds asparagus exciting and this asparagus had a nice little punch at the end. While the asapargus was still at the table, the yellowtail hamachi carpaccio with spicy kanzuri miso sauce was brought over, which was extremely fresh and delcious with a jalepeno on each slice. Following this came the red snapper salad with nuts and vegetables; which from the menu doesn't sound fantastic, but turned out to be one of the best dishes we had. This salad is prepared table side and basically looks like finely cut carrots and vegetables and some nuts. The server uses chopsticks to make little balls of the vegetables with dressing, and puts the snapper and nuts on top. Then he pours hot sesame oil over the snapper to sear it slightly and serves it. It was delicious to say the least, as was the bluefin tuna slices that came during the salad- super red and fresh. The dishes continued to come out ..and there were so many. Next was the sweet shrimp in kanzuir spicy cream which rivaled Nobu's spicy rock shrimp tempura, and then came some soft shell crab of some sort, which I can't fully eat because I actually might be allergic to it. When ordering Jigmed had asked if there was anything any of us really wanted on the menu, I answered the unagi, but the rest of my family was slightly creeped out by the thought of eel. Jigmed patiently tried to explain the taste and texture of 'uni' and somehow convinced everyone to try it including my mom, which would have been an unheard of thought before. I waited for the rest of my family to try the baked unagi with avocado and mentaikio sauce before i put mine in my mouth. I watched my mom's face, "This tastes like chilean sea bass," she said, which in mom-terms means "very good." I tried mine and while I liked it, I wan't blown away. After all these dishes, we didn't even know if we could handle any more and then the Kobe beef sliced grilled table side on a river stone came out; needless to stay it was awesome. The hot rock continued cooking the meat while on your table and was covered with pieces of garlic. The steak was tender, tasty and delicious-- a definite must have if you go to Megu. By the end of that, we were done. We had finished the white wine and the red wine (a 2005 Markeson Pinot Noir which was ridiculously fantastic and my dad shared with Jigmed who was extremely grateful), and then my dad ordered a dessert wine. The dessert wine was opened, my sister and mom had left for the bathroom, and to our surprise another entree came out--the grilled silver cod sikyo miso with green parsley sauce. We didn't know if we could even do another dish, but, of course, I pulled from deep within and gave it a try. Also really good: sweet and light. Jigmed apparently had sashimi ready to come out for us as well but we called that off and said we'd go with dessert instead.

While we discussed dessert with Jigmed, my father and him had a lengthy conversation about wine. I was watching my mom too, she was enthralled with what Jigmed was saying..."He's adorable," my mom procalimed. Jigmed even recommeded Landmarc down the block for well priced wines by the bottle and he gave his card. He then gave his dessert recommendations--we had a hard time choosing and opted for the fruit and chocolate fondue; the green tea crepes came as an extra and were by far the best.

The dinner that begun as "this could go horribly awry" actually beacame a "fantastic meal." This may be due partially to the delicious food, but I owe a lot of this to Jigmed; for giving my father the attention he insists upon and the wine talk to make him feel cool, and for providing my mom with eye candy and a 'nice personality'. And if you go to Megu and don't get him as a server, it's okay--the food stands for itself in excellence.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Uptown vs. Downtown

The age old fight: Uptown vs. Downtown. The argument has lived forever as to which is better. And like all arguments, it could always be left to a matter of opinion. I, however, always equate downtown with younger and hipper and uptown with older and uptight, so as a midtown dweller, I often shamefully mutter my address when asked where I live and throw in a quick joke about living on retired frat boy row.

When it comes to restaurants, the equation is often not so easy. Many great restaurants reside above the 14th street border and are considered trendy with modern decor and new and unique fare, and there are restuarants downtown that are of the old school nature (hold on, I'll think of an example soon I swear). What becomes really interesting is when a restaurant originally from the east 60's opens a sister establishment in meat packing, and this is exactly what happened with Fig and Olive.

I first went to Fig and Olive some two weeks ago at the original location. The set up was weird, small, and not hugely inviting. But what it was lacking in decor, it made up in taste. The olive oil, a specialty (thus the name), was great and I could hardly contain myself from dipping one too many slices of bread into one of the three varietys set on the table. We started with the Medeteranean vegetable tasting plate which was a combination of pesto hummus, olive tapanade, zuccini terrine, tabouli and eggplant and tomato confit. Everything was great from the tapanade to the tabouli, which I don't usually enjoy. We also got a hot appetizer--the seared sea scallops with shaved artichoke which was also delightfully tasty, although small to share amongst three. For my main, I opted for the Fig and Olive salad, which was a nice mixture between the salty and sweet : say the cheese (manchego, shaved parmesan) and the sweetness of the fig, walnuts and apple. My sister chose the Carmelized Cod which was awesome and made me second guess my decision for the salad--the cod was set on top of leeks (which is my fav!). We paired the meal with a summery pinot bianco which really set the entire meal at a high bar with a chocolate fondue finish that was superb.

With such a great meal under the belt (literally), I was extremely curious as to what the trendy meatpacking location would offer. I decided to check it out with a friend. Location was a little hard to find; I guess maybe because I hadn't gone to Aer in over a year (surprise, surprise) and thought the entire 13th street block west of 9th avenue was random warehousy looking buildings. When I finally got to Fig and Olive, however, I thought, how could I miss it? It was huge; probably 6 times the size of it's upper east side counterpart. Walking from the entrance directly into the host booth juxtaposed a weird barish area in the uptown version. The ceilings are set high with dim candlelit lighting, stone countertops and wicker chairs. The place was packed and I was surprised to see they could sit us without a reservation, but only at one of their cocktail tables. As soon as we sat at the table, a friendly waiter came over to get water/drink orders and instructed that soon he was to come out with the olive oil bread and some olive oil explanations. After he brought over the bread and oil to start and took the wine order (the pinot bianco again!), he disappeared from about 30 minutes...literally. As I looked at my watch, I realized we had been there for a full 45 minutes and hadn't even put in an appetizer order. Our wine was set apart from our table in a chiller as well and I knew there would probably be no one to serve it to us for another 30 minutes. When our waiter came over and thanked us for being so patient, I asked for the wine on the table 'just so we can pour ourselves if no one's around.' It was hard for me to be snarky, however, because he was actually extremely nice and apologetic...but seriously, 45 minutes without an order- pretty ridic even for a busy night. He finally took our order: olives to start and both of us got the cod. I expected the mixed olives to be outrageous, but to be honest, I picked at the small bowl out of conveniance and hunger. There was one olive I really liked but the others I could take or leave and for a place called Fig and Olive--maybe that's not so good? Our cod came and I was excited to see the piece of fish laying on a mound of leeks. The fish was fresh and tasty but somehow in my memory the uptown version was way better. Could it be? Maybe it was made with less care, more of an assembly line finish? All I know was, it tasted better in my mind. That being said, I was extremely disappointed from the service to the dishes and then some.

In the end, if I had to pick between decor and taste, I will always pick taste hands down. And often, somehow taste gets washed away in the meatpacking district; maybe it happens as it's strained through the expectation to be hip and trendy...because c'mon, don't you equate downtown with the same?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Coming Soon

Okay, so I know its been awhile...alright, a really long time. But in my defense, I have been working really hard at my 'day job' and haven't had the time or energy to write up all the fantastic restaurants I've eaten at in the meantime. In the last month, there really have been some great ones; specifically because May was my birthday month and usually birthdays mean at least 1 wonderful meal. In my case, I'm lucky enough to say I had at least 4. Dinner with the fam at Gordon Ramsay's at the London; dinner with my girls at Extra Virgin and 2 other special b-day dinners with 2 special friends; one at Blue Ribbon sushi and the other at Frank's in the East Village. If I went into great detail about any of these all at one time, this would probably be the longest post ever. So I'm going to leave it as 'coming soon'. I'm just dropping a line to say I'm back and it's not that I've stopped eating (obviously), I've just stopped writing about it momentarily (oops).