Blue Hill is my favorite restaurant in the city and I love to share it with friends and family. In particular, I’ve always wanted, hoped to bring my mother there, knowing she would appreciate the abundance of fresh produce, and the locavore message that while quite politicized these days is an admirable one.

This time, I got to sit in the back garden, a lovely, enclosed space that benefits from both the natural light that comes through the glass ceiling and climate control from central air-conditioning. No worries about eating in the elements here. The close quarters also made for a even more convivial atmosphere than in the dining room, as strangers started trading restaurant recommendations and even sharing spoils of their shopping, this time being the massive chocolate chip cookies still warm from Levain a gentleman had procured just before dinner time. One minor drawback about garden dining though, was the dependence on candle light, which causes the room to become too dim for menu reading after nightfall. When that happens, ask your server and he will thoughtfully provide you with reading lights.

After consulting with our server to add my favorite egg dish to our menu and to eliminate meat from my mum’s dinner, we started in this progression:

Crack bread – Bread pretending to be bread sticks, these thick sticks of bread, with crunchy and salty exterior and nice elastic crumb inside were so addictive we made the server take it away mid-meal to stop ourselves from constant munching.

veggies on stake

veggies on stake

Veg on sticks – This is how Blue Hill highlights the freshness of its produce and tonight, we had mini lettuce hearts, pink radishes that were peppery and sweet and sugar snap peas that were possibly a few days too old.

Pea burger – Wow. I could eat ten of these. The brilliant green pea puree was well flavored, both sweet, savory and surprisingly spicy. I thought the brioche bun paired well with the “pea patty”.

Pea soup shooter – We are still at amuse bouches and by now it becomes obvious beyond any doubt that it is pea season. The bright green soup served in a little espresso cup was salty and grassy. Not bad, but I probably will be bored by an entire serving of it.

Spring on a plate

Spring on a plate

Spring fruit and vegetables – By this time I was already getting a little full, and dinner has not started! This was probably the prettiest dish of the night, reminiscent of a lettuce dish I had at BH Stone Barns last summer. The mixture of raw, blanched, grilled vegetables and the addition of sweet ruby-like strawberries looked impressionist art and tasted refreshing, naturally sweet but not bland. How delightful!

This mornings’ egg in salty pea broth – This dish is a must order if nothing but to taste how a real egg, freshly laid tastes like. You will find the yolk smaller, more brightly colored, almost to the point of orange. It tastes richer, creamier and as it spills out of the lightly poached sac of egg-white into the pea broth, it thickens the soup and adds earthiness and depth. They should definitely serve this with a good bread, perhaps sourdough to sop up the sauce.

Entrees were slightly weaker. Mother is pescatarian and so had wreckfish, a fish in the bass family that has very compact flesh. She thought it smelled a little fishy and didn’t appreciate the dense texture of the fish, much preferring silken flaky fish. My chicken dish was well done, the sous-vide breast tender and flavorful and the thigh juicy underneath an ultra-crispy, greaseless skin, reminiscent of good Cantonese roast chicken. It is good, just that I’m a tough critic, having grown up with roasted chicken like that. After being thoroughly impressed with our appetizers, the entrees brought us down to earth a little.

Cherries and Sorbet

Cherries and Sorbet

Thankfully, desserts made up for the mild disappointment with entrees. Blue Hill makes a really wicked chocolate bread pudding among other things, but it is fruit dessert heaven for those who like their desserts on the fresh and tart side. Yogurt sorbet on top of the most amazing sour cherry soup whetted our appetites for a strawberry cannoli served with macerated strawberries and a strawberry/citrus sorbet. The dessert is inspired by the traditional Italian dessert, with a strawberry roll-up type of shell taking the place of hard, crunchy cookie shell. The ricotta piped into the strawberry shell provided some cool, creamy contrast to the tart fruit. Yummy.

As always, dinner was enjoyable and the service top-notch. A walk through Washington Square Park with mum, admiring the water fountain and indulging in some people-watching just made it even better.

Blue Hill

75 Washington Place

www.bluehillfarm.com

 

I still remember that cod dish” said Cresci 10 days after our very long and large meal at Le Bernardin, where we had made plans to visit together more than a year ago but finally had the occasion to do so, him to celebrate his new job and me with my upcoming move. We chose Le Bernardin because we both share a love for the TV show “Top Chef” and an admiration for one of its frequent guest judge, the restaurant’s chef-owner Eric Ripert. While some of the chefs sometimes seem overly cocky or self-promoting, Chef Ripert always seemed down to earth, thoughtful and serious about his craft. Plus the food at his restaurant just looked so picture-perfect that we had, had to try it at least once.

Oyster flight

Oyster flight

Since it was a special occasion, we splurged on the chef’s tasting. An amuse of poached oyster with mushroom/truffle emulsion teased the palate with an initial metallic taste of oyster ending with a rich earthiness courtesy of the fungi. After that a generous tasting of 6 kumamotos, not particularly big but fresh and sweet, each topped with a different gelee in a progression from mild to robust flavors.

Egg - Caviar

Egg - Caviar

Next a simple but decadent dish, a poached egg topped by pearly grains of osetra caviar, much sweeter than the more commercial and less expensive variety. Love the contrasts of texture between the liquid silk of the creamy yolk and the pop of caviar roe in the mouth.

Scallop

ScallopThe scallop dish with goat cheese was probably the dish that made me think, but also probably my least favorite. Even though the scallop was seared ultra-rare, I tend to prefer my scallops raw. The emulsion was also kind of weird and eh...Halibut

A simple dish of poached halibut then served with a light gingery broth showed off the pristine piece of fish. A mix of cooked turnips and raw radish halves, the ginger base and black sesame seeds took the dish on an Asian route, very pleasant although not too exciting for my palate.

Cod

Cod

The next course though, and those afterwards where all winners. The cod finally arrived, perfectly pan fried with just a light crust. The servers poured the squid ink sauce table side with a flourish, but even before the sauce even hit the plate, I could smell that briny, minerally iodine scent characteristic of the sea. Bright orange pepper puree artistically dotted around the plate provided not just color contrast, but sweetness and tied in beautifully with the lightly pickled rounds of pepper arranged on the fish. Like the best piece of fish and chips declared Cresci. I couldn’t agree more. The side of roasted pepper stuffed with rice and squid was ignored as we eagerly dove into the fish, wanted to dredge bread across that addictive sauce.

Surf and Turf

Surf and Turf

 

 The sauces at Le Bernardin are impressive, and the anchovy based sauce that came with the next dish, the famous surf and turf was truly beautiful, rich and complex with just a faint whiff of anchovy. The sauce paired well with both meat and fish, cutting the richness of the marbled sliver of seared kobe and the rich and fatty escolar. But the star was the sauce, definitely a sauce I would gladly eat on its own. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when they serve a dish with my favorite vegetable, the eggplant, here presented fried and dusted with a light sprinkling of sugar and cinnamon.  

Fromage Blanc

Fromage Blanc

 Which brings us to dessert. Here’s a good place to also talk about the physical restaurant and service, which have been oft-maligned as charmless and cold respectively. True, the restaurant rather resembles a corporate dining room especially with the suited diners looking as though they are cutting deals whilst dining, and would not be my top 10 picks of romantic spots to eat in the city. The service while correct, is not as negative reviews have portrayed. Both the sommelier and servers were very happy to answer queries and engage in conversation. In fact, just before our pre-dessert amuse of fromage blanc arrived, our server and I launched into a short but spirited discussion of the light, tart cheese, and she made arrangements that Cresci and I got to taste different preparations of it. True to spirit, Cresci enjoyed the honey and walnut version while I practically devoured the girlier, strawberry version.

Egg

Egg

Later, as we were munching our petit fours and sipping coffee, I made a passing remark about pastry chef Michael Laisokonis’ egg dessert. Moments lately, it appeared magically, in its full chocolate, caramel, fleur del sel glory on our table. Yummy! Of course, not to give the actual dessert short shrift, we enjoyed a decadently chocolately mousse paired with a chicory flavored ice-cream that tempered the sweetness of the chocolate and gave the dish an added herbal licorice dimension. I love simple desserts and appreciated how the chef didn’t mar the composition with too many components.

Chocolate Chicory

Chocolate Chicory

We walked out happy, heavy and with the memory (aided by a menu) to last for a while.

Le Bernardin

155 W 51st St (Between 5th & 6th Ave)

www.le-bernardin.com

 

 

I wish I could tell you how I spent my last 12 hours in the city revisiting favorite haunts, or dining at my most beloved neighborhood hole in the walls. Unfortunately, I’ve just been buzzing around since waking up prematurely early today, anxious about the packing yet to be done and finally realizing that I am leaving. Not just going on a vacation, but packing like I will never be back in my cozy little studio, which turns out to be the case, since I have no idea how long this move back home will be. Still, in between all the shuttling between the local UPS, Jeremiah’s house and constant trips up and down my building carrying emptied boxes and heavy white rubbish bags, I managed to do a little eating with mum. I introduced her to Fage yogurt, which I was obsessed about one point in my life about 2 years ago, creamy and tart when paired with dried fruit. Then, when tempers started flaring about the lack of progress with packing, we calmed down with cups of decent coffee and buttery croissants at Taralluci e Vino. And finally after all the errands were completed, a slice of New York pizza pie at Vinny Vincenz, where the crust is crisp and tomato sauce bright and sweet.

Still, there are blog posts still to be written, like my long overdue report on Le Bernardin, a tasting at Blue Hill and my foray into vegetarian dining with mummy. But that will have to wait until I am safely, comfortably ensconced in my room in Singapore.

Until then, a list of my favorite things:

1. Pizza Bianca at Sullivan Street Bakery

2. Shiotama at Ramen Setagaya

3. My daily oatmeal with everything at ‘wichcraft

4. Peace passage oyster sushi at Sushi Yasuda

5. Artic Circle at Aquavit

6. Hiyashi Chuka at Menchanko Tei

7. Chocolate Edamame and other random titbits at Trader Joes

8. Long walks home to pay penance after particularly rich meals

9. My studio and the courtyard just right for summer dinner parties

10. Friends who shared many many many meals

Noodle Salad

Noodle Salad

The mention of terms like vegan and macrobiotic usually gives me hives, but my mum is vegetarian, so I’ve been accomodating her tastes while she visits this week. Mum was seriously craving noodles the day she got into New York after a grueling 20 hour flight, so I brought her for some vegetarian ramen at Souen, a relatively new noodle joint in East Village. It has 2 sister shops in Union Square and West Village, but the EV one specializes in noodles, offering not just vegetarian, but also chicken and seafood broths. No milk white pork broth reminiscent of Ippudo in sight, but my mother’s ramen was springy, chockful of fresh vegetables and the miso broth actually had depth and flavor. Not as flavorful as less healthy versions of ramen, but nonetheless pretty tasty for a meatless stock.

My ramen salad was even better. Souen’s version of the hiyashi chuka was packed with fresh and pickled vegetables, the lotus roots and seaweed providing crunch and chew, the sprouts and carrots natural sweetness. The cold broth enhanced by a lemon’s tang and the addictive ume paste made for a most refreshing light lunch. Just perfect for the long, hot summer.

 

Souen Organic Ramen

326 E 6th St (Between 1st and 2nd Ave)

http://www.souen.net/menu.html

bread & gougeres

bread & gougeres

First impression of steak tartare came courtesy of Mr Bean, on his “travels” to neighboring France on the eponymous show. Judging from the wild antics that ensued, there was no doubt he was more than a little perturbed by the mound of chopped raw beef. Thank goodness I share none of his squeamishness, because a good version of steak tartare, with quality hand chopped meat mixed in with sharp, tangy accoutrements including onions and my favorite capers is a light, refreshing meal. The most traditional accompaniment is golden pomme frites, making the dish even more so appealing. Benoit, a member of the Alain Ducasse empire serves steak tartare, which was exactly what I ordered, a little too dressed for my taste but still a tasty treat on a wet Saturday afternoon.

My friends whom I was lunching with picked the lunch special, an absolute deal at a mere $19 for 2 courses and $24 for 3. The menu, while severely truncated provided enough choice with only one clunker that afternoon, a very pedestrian slab of pate. Otherwise, everything else were delicious, the salmon en croute delectably moist yet with a flaky, buttery shell while yc’s slow baked pork butt had a super tender consistency reminiscent of bbqed pull pork. The red and yellow room, dressed in the classic Gallic brasserie style was bright and cheery, but serene enough on a relatively slow afternoon for us to relax, chat and eat. Remarkably, service is attentive and warm, quite unlike what I’ve read in other media and expecting. So I’ve never made it to the original in Paris, but its American facsimile ain’t bad either!
Post lunch, Cezi and I adjourned to Saks where I introduced her to one of Britain’s oldest chocolate maker, Charbonnel et Walker’s cafe for some respite from the relentless rain. The lovely cafe, hidden away in a corner of the 8th floor of Saks is an oasis of calm compared to the frantic energy of the designer shoe salon right next to it. Loubutins at 400 are cheaper than loubies at 900, but it still means I can’t afford them. Thank God for affordable luxuries like chocolate! Besides truffles and bon bons, one can also order sinfully rich chocolate based drinks and enjoy fresh pastries such as a rich brownie and butter croissants. The ganaches are pretty decently, but the shell was much too thick. Its a good stop when you’re in the neighborhood, but not something that’s going to make me give up going to Kee’s or La Maison. Still, a good place to rest and conduct post-mortem on one’s purchases, and definitely a place to impress!  

Benoit

60 W 55th St (Between 5th and 6th Aves)

http://www.benoitny.com/index.html

Charbonnel et Walker

611 5th Ave (8th Flr)

http://www.charbonnel.co.uk/erol.html#758X0

I love to eat. I also happen to enjoy eating what I cook. However, 4 years of city living has rendered any techniques I used to possess lost. Shamefully I admit I now cook only about once a week, and that meal typically consists of  Shin ramen or fried eggs. So a cooking class is long overdue, and I can only say that the intensive week of training at ICE, for its most popular Techniques of Fine Cooking 1 class under the watchful eye of my instructors was comprehensive and illuminating, the $600 upfront fee well spent.

I consider myself a proficient, or at least confident cook, but I do not possess any culinary skills to speak of, and my knowledge of the western larder rather lacking. So over the course of the week, I learnt to identify herbs, dice mire poix into perfectly uniform cubes, strussed chickens, whipped fluffy souffles, braised, roasted, baked and grilled. I made made sure my mayonnaise was emulsified by painstakingly stirring oil, drip by drip, into the egg and mustard base, and rolled chocolate truffles that were laced with rum and kahlua. My instructors, Chef Richard the avowed food snob and locavore and Chef Dan, the bubbly and enthusiastic man honest enough to confess a weakness for Hamburger Helper were patient, helpful and knowledgeable, teaching not just the dishes of the day but the underlying techniques and science behind cooking. Hopefully those theories would stick and translate into my future culinary trials.

The best part of class was perhaps dinner as the class sat down to eat what we made every day, me gaining about 5 pounds over the course of the week as a result of the rich diet. Another unintended consequence of cooking with fellow enthusiasts was making new friends out of classmates as we shared culinary ideas, fooding experiences and shopping tips in the city. As we celebrated the end of the intensive week by knocking back a few pints at the local pub across the school, we made plans to form a class again for Techniques of Fine Cooking 2 and 3. Learning can be addictive, especially amongst great friends.

Techniques (Menu):

Day 1 – Knife skills, sautes, vinaigrettes. (Gazpacho, Lamb chops, Sauteed vegetables, Frisee aux lardon, Orange Supreme in Grand Marnier)

Day 2 – Roasts and Bakes (Roast chicken, chicken broth, Italian chicken rice soup, rice pilaf, clafouti)

Day 3 – Braise, Boils and Chocolate (Braised lamb shanks, braised vegetables, endive salad, mussels in wine sauce, chocolate mousse, chocolate truffles)

Day 4 – Eggs, eggs, eggs (Scrambled with caviar, French rolled omelettes, Eggs Benedict, Salad Nicoise, Souffles)

Day 5 – Grills and composed salads (Slaws, Salads, Guacamole, Grilled Flank Steak)

www.iceculinary.com

Fish head with minced peppers

Fish head with minced peppers

Rosie postulates that spicy food alleviate allergy symptoms, so with my nose congested through memorial day weekend, we decided to lunch at Hunan house and test out her theory.
While Cantonese and Sichuan food are familiar to the western palate, Chinese cuisine varies greatly based on regional differences. Hunan cuisine, like the two above-mentioned, reigns among the eight most famous Chinese culinary styles. Hunanese cuisine, like Sichuan food is spicy, but it relies not on tongue numbing characteristics of tiny but deadly Sichuan peppercorns. Instead, a ton of fresh chilis, both green and red are used in abundance. We recruited JW, another spice lover to test out 4 dishes.

The cold spicy tongue and tripe appetizer is authentically Sichuanese, slick with fiery red oil and those potent peppercorns that render your tongue momentarily dysfunctional. Next was a platter of tofu soaking up some light red sauce that had been enhanced by broth and peppers. Although humble looking, the tofu was smooth and nutty, and possessed a clean, bracing flavor from the light sauce. Large chunks of bell peppers and very tender ginger finished that dish. Next was a humble looking dish called chicken casserole on the menu. We would not have ordered it had it not come highly recommended by the helpful proprietor, with its really generic name and the fact it was not even on the specials page. However, the lean and flavorful chicken (unlike the garden roaster variety) stewed in a deep flavorful sauce that thickened as the casserole bubbled over an open flame was my favorite dish, the sauce, both spicy, sweet, salty with a little funk from fermented soy bean paste addictive particularly with rice. I ate a second bowl of rice just sopping up the sauce.

The unassumingly delicious chicken dish

The unassumingly delicious chicken dish

Just wonderful as the chicken may be, the piece de resistance was definitely the fish head cooked with fresh minced peppers. The braised fish head is not presented whole but thoughtfully chopped into 2 inch chunks to facilitate marination, rendering the freshwater fish tender with minimal mud taste and saturated with the delightly taste of soy and chili. Another dish that requires plenty of rice, which we happily ate, seconds and thirds included. Only quibble about this dish was that the chopped up head made it really difficult to locate the fish eyes that rosie and I both coveted. Hehe.

With Hunanese food  conveniently found in Flushing, the regional cuisine is definitely going to break my usual rotation of Canton/Shanghai and Sichuan food!

Hunan House

13740 Northern Boulevard, Flushing

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