February 2009


 
New York's most famous sliders
New York’s most famous sliders

A random day off work is a rare and treasured indulgent indeed. And with my sister in town, I finally have a perfect reason to legitimately take Friday off. Where then do we go? To the Village, to a warm, little shop tucked in a corner of Bedford and Grove called Little Owl. For one shop so unassumingly placed, the little owl enjoys immense popularity, and on a very cold day last Friday, we walked into a tightly packed, sunlit room filled with people.

People are first and foremost here at Little Owl to eat. It could be the Friday effect, and in an un-New York fashion, no one was in a hurry, instead partaking in full three course meals, maybe a drink or two. First, they start with the signature meatball sliders, juicy and with a bright taste of fennel, slicked with thick sauce that had been flavored with sharp pecorino. The mini garlic buns is the perfect foil for the meatballs. 

Cod, cabbage, risotto
Cod, cabbage, risotto
Then, they feast on entrees beautifully plated like Ruoying’s plate of cod, perfectly cooked and flaky, sandwiched between an earthy slaw of cooked purple cabbage and a golden squash risotto. Later, as they people-watch through the floor length windows, sipping a cup of tea and coffee whilst the neighborhood keeps coming in, customers can prolong lunch further with a dessert or two. We didn’t have room for dessert, but the next table ordered some golden brown donut rounds that looked absolutely delicious.
There was a slight regret, that was perhaps I shouldn’t have bothered with the dandelion salad. Please don’t get me wrong, it was good, well-dressed and as healthful as can be, but I should have just spent all my attention on the superb fries and sliders. I am playing hooky after all.
Little Owl
90 Bedford St
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From wikipedia: The word ciao (pronounced “chaow” /tʃao/) is an informal Italian verbal salutation or greeting, meaning either “goodbye” or “hello”.
How apt in this case to be greeted a good day by the lovely glass displays of stacked home baked goodies and a whirring espresso machine dispensing the scent of roasted coffee beans and fresh cups of daily joe. The adjoining dining room, where the walls are bare and interior design rustic, like the cookies and cakes they make, is the best place to enjoy a sit down breakfast. There is the added entertainment factor of watching children from the nearby kindergarten interact with their parents and of course, the fish in a television set.
While I cannot opine on the savory options (save for a not so satisfactory huevos verde a few weeks before), I have been savoring every pastry I’ve bought so far, be it a sticky cinnamon bun, any of the scones or my favorite square muffins, in traditional and some flavors that are more out there, like polenta with lemon lavender and golden pineapple. Their cupcakes are tiny and topped with just enough buttercream, quite unlike the frothy, frosted confections out in the market. Plain is good, when the flavors are there.
Ciao for now does not feel like New York, and instead of rushing from point A to B on the weekdays, I linger there for a while on my precious Sundays, reading the weekend news and taking in the neighborhood sights. Ciao. Goodbye when every crumb has been polished off the plate, and hello to the promise of another languid Sunday next week.

Ciao For Now
523 E12th St (Between Aves A and B)
http://ciaofornow.net/

Television can be such insidious poison, particularly reality tv shows like “America’s next top model” and tv challenges. “Man v. Food” belongs to the latter category. In the show, the host pits his stomach against some pretty extreme challenges, and on the New York stop, he takes on phaal, ostensibly described as the hottest curry in the country, at Bricklane Curry. Despite its rather senseless premise, “Man v Food” has a sizeable following, and amongst its viewers is my friend Sarah. Now Sarah is usually a very sensible girl, and I am still not sure why she was so eager to take on the challenge. But we are good friends, so if she had to succumb to the siren call of crass tv promotions and hot indian curries, I would be there to provide moral support.

After much mental preparation (what’s the most effective way to eat the curry? rice or no rice? should we bring milk to neutralize the acid?) we met at Bricklane on Saturday, where a line had spilled out of the door whereas its neighbors on Curry Lane were half empty, a testimony to its reputation as one of the better Indian restaurants on the block. No doubt business must have picked up since the show too, with many others like Sarah eager to try the phaal. According to our very chatty server Chad, about 20-30 bowls of phaal is sold every given day after the episode of “Man v Food” had aired. We were soon seated and after a plate of aloo chaat (very middling, needs acid) to line the stomach, and armed with raita and a mango lassi, S dug into her phaal. As for me? I am happy to be a pure spectator and ordered a dish of Goan fish curry (tasty, but not quite aromatic enough).

Forgive my pun, but the phaal was truly foul. Made with a paste of 13 different peppers and other assorted spices such as ginger.  In honesty, the spice level might have been tolerable if the dish tasted a little better, but the grey sludge was largely bitter and devoid of other more appealing flavors. Instead of an instantaneous burning sensation, one encounters a slow burn in the mouth that intensifies and travels down the esophagus. I had merely 3 small bites and was quite put off. Poor Sarah on the other hand had to struggle through the bowl, cooling off once in a while with the aforementioned yogurt mix and drink, and then plunging right back into the fiery depths of curry hell. By the time she had eaten all the chicken chunks in the dish and all was left was a third of the dish filled with black gunk (sauce), Sarah decided, in a haze of pain, that the virtual P’hall of fame and the free beer for completing the dare wasn’t worth it. Indeed, it isn’t, but for those foolhardy enough, game on!

Brick Lane Curry House

306 E 6th St (Between 1st and 2nd Aves)

bricklanecurryhouse.com

The stars were aligned that star-struck night in Las Vegas. First a very good meal at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, the famed celebrity chef’s (he of 25 Michelin stars) LV outpost in the MGM Grand, and then Wang Lee Hom’s stupendously awesome concert in the same casino.

Ever the deal seeker, I found that L’Atelier was having a $75 5-course prix-fixe. Considering a small plate costs anywhere between $20-40, this was a great deal. I did find it a little disingenuous that the server only presented us the regular menu, and only gave us the special menu after we had asked. Restauranters, please be more honest with your customers. Thank you. However, it is noted that we were not discriminated service-wise, and the meal flowed smoothly and pleasantly as my sisters and I sat at the characteristic bar overlooking the open kitchen, ogling at the beautiful plates of food that came out.

 
foie gras panna cotta

foie gras panna cotta

We chewed our basket of mini-loafs with restrain and started with an amuse bouche of foie gras panna cotta, the richness of the liver cut by sweet balsamic vinagrette reduction and savoryness enhanced by parmesan foam. Tasty, though a little heavy though for an amuse.
Les legumes

Les legumes

Our first course was a beautifully composed plate of sweet grilled vegetables layered with fresh buffalo mozzarella, so soft it still oozes milk. Very provencal, down to the basil pesto, and tasty enough that it would make Ruoying, who usually abhors eggplant, clear the plate.
langoustine

La langoustine

Next was a famous L’Atelier dish, a single fritter of langoustine wrapped in brik pastry. The meat was so soft, so sweet, like eating a very delectable lobster dish, with the single basil leaf wrapped within the fritter providing a light herbal fragrance.
L'Onglet

L'Onglet

 A choice of mains were made and Ruoying and I decided on a substantial cut of hangar steak, cooked nicely rare and while not tender, very flavorful, particularly with the simple grilled shallot topping. Ruoyi went for the cod fish, a well cooked piece of fish swimming in a Basque inspired pepper stew.

robuchon's famous mashed potatoes

robuchon's famous mashed potatoes

Our mains came with a side of Robuchon’s most famous pommes puree, aka mashed potato. Or should I say, mashed butter with some potato, it was so creamy, so rich, a few spoons were all we could muster.
A stunning array of tarts

A stunning array of tarts

followed by ices

followed by ices

We then ate a trio of cheese, the semi-soft funky Livarot most memorable, before dessert time. Not surprisingly, the dessert selection within the prix fixe is limited and less complex than others found in the ala carte menu, but the tart and ice cream  plates are definitely top notch in terms of variety and flavor. I loved all 6 of my tart slivers excepting the overtly cinnamony one, while Ruoyi’s icecream flavors were all intense and true, especially the pinkish litchee sorbet. Too often had I tasted artificial litchee, and I am glad a restaurant of L’Atelier’s caliber managed to find some real, sweet fruit to turn into tasty treats.
While the special prix-fixe is not a good benchmark of a typical meal, which would likely run at least 2 times more expensive, we got to try some signature dishes that gave me a glimpse of the potential of a truely decadent meal. With so many restaurants in so many cities, I am sure I will be dining at another Robuchon establishment sometime in the future.
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Las Vegas
MGM Grand