May 2009


Chicken and Waffles

Chicken and Waffles

I don’t know the origins of this dish, nor the proper way of eating the 2 disparate components of the plate, but one can’t really go wrong ordering the “Al Sharpton” at Amy Ruth’s. The chicken is piping hot, succulent and coated with a thin, flavorful batter while the waffle was sweet, soft and doughy. My friends and I devised different eating tactics. One could eat first the chicken before attacking the waffle base, or vice versa. Or, try waffle sandwich making with chicken in the middle and syrup on top. Either way, its best eaten with hands.

Amy Ruth’s

113 W 116th St

www.amyruthsharlem.com

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I almost didn’t make it to dinner. Friday morning, I received an email from Germaine . “Would you like to join us for dinner tomorrow?” Gleefully, I said yes, completing ignoring the fact she had in fact sent the email on Thursday night, not Friday morning.  Thankfully, the ever conscientious G had the foresight to call me to reconfirm in the evening, and so I dashed out of the house just in time to meet her, DZ and JW for an impromptu splurge.
I have been to EMP for lunch, when the interiors felt sterile and bank lobby like. While EMP at night is still not a romantic spot for a tete-a-tete, under dimmed lights, the expansive space felt more intimate, and the towering arrangements of flowers almost shimmered. The room is not without charm. 
amuse bouche

amuse bouche

To start, a barrage of amuse bouches while we prowl through the menu. The puffy delicate gougeres while we peruse the menu, a quartet of little bites as we continue to deliberate on dinner choices, the mini leek tart possibly the most humble but tastiest of all, the salty cornet of sweetbreads a second.

Gold-leafed Sabayon

Gold-leafed Sabayon

The final of our amuse bouches was a foamy savory sabayon served in emptied egg shells. We had opted for the 5 course tasting menu, culinary middle ground between the prudent prix fixe and the gluttonous 11 course gourmand tasting. EMP is offering, on top of the seasonal spring  menu, a menu of pork to celebrate everything about the city’s favorite animal. To highlight the different menus we had ordered (the spring tasting for the women, the pork meal for the men), the ladies’ gold-leafed topped egg was filled with smoked sturgeon while the guys had ham in theirs.

asparagus, many ways

asparagus, many ways

The first savory dishes were cold, for the ladies a composed plate of asparagus, lightly cooked green variants, braised white stems and a refreshing asparagus ice cream, faintly vegetal yet sweet. The parmesan cheese shavings and jamon iberico provides a salty foil. A nice, light start with a balanced sweet/savory profile. The guys had pate with pickled vegetables which they left on the plate. The rich pate though they shouldered through. It was meat afterall.

Fish course

Fish course

Next 2 courses – Seafood with some Asian influences. The fish course had an elusive Thai flavor, as the perfectly cooked piece of fish (tubot according to the menu) was bathed in a lemongrass (thyme) flavored broth, but it could also be Mediterrenaen with the sprinkling of olive oil and red peppers amidst the lightly cooked fresh peas.

lobster

lobster

 The poached lobster was accompanied by precious little spring carrots and dressed with a foamy citrus concoction. The crunchy bits of vadouvan granola brings that Indian spice profile to the plate and adds to textural contrast. Truth to be told, I wasn’t too fond of the dish which was just a little too sweet for my taste.

veal, morels, sweetbreads, fava beans

veal, morels, sweetbreads, fava beans

Meat has typically been the most boring course in tasting menus, but at EMP, chef Daniel Humm sure has his way with meat. The boys’ progression of pork were perfectly executed and JW absolutely could not stop grinning after polishing of his rack of pork dish, the morsel that I sampled juicy, tender and packed with pork flavor. My veal dish wasn’t too far off in terms of enjoyability either, the veal medallion perfectly cooked with a light sear to seal in all the juices, and the cream stuffed morels and lightly battered sweetbreads just ridiculously delicious.

macarons

macarons

 Also ridiculously yummy were the macarons served at the end of the meal with coffee, completely stealing the limelight from the pre-dessert (liquid cheesecake) and even the dessert (mint icecream sandwich). On Friday, we sampled a total of 7 flavors, all with a nice chewy crust and smooth, flavorful ganache. Best polished off with fragrant, dark espresso.

As expected, the quality of service at EMP was very high, with attentive servers willing to answer questions, spar with us regarding wine and even charge my cellphone. To date, I’ve found Danny Meyer’s restaurants enjoyable more for the service and atmosphere than the food, but now I can finally say that at EMP, the cuisine is definitely on par, even the star of the show.

Eleven Madison Park

11 Madison Ave (On 24th st)

http://elevenmadisonpark.com/

 

blah

I met Angela on her birthday 2 sundays ago at Gramery Tavern’s casual front room, an effortless, breezy affair that almost mimicked the gorgeous weather out that day. Unlike other evenings, where a table here is notoriously hard to score, the crowds on Sunday, while still sizeable are much tamer, so I was able to be seated immediately, admire the gorgeous floral arrangements (replete with rhubarb and asparagus bouquets), sip my drink and pour over the expansive wine directory while waiting for my companion.  The most difficult task of the evening was merely the choice of appetizers, entrees and dessert, which we took seriously of course.
grilled octopus, fennel, mizuna

grilled octopus, fennel, mizuna

 To start, a duo of seafood appetizers. The grilled octopus came in two sizable tentacles atop a bed of mixed herbs and greens. The smoky, chewy meat paired perfectly with the side of grilled fennel, sweet yet with a tang.

egg crepe, grilled ramps, crab

egg crepe, grilled ramps, crab

 The egg crepe stuffed with crab and ramps was the more elegant of the two dishes, the succulent fresh crab meat encased in a loose sheet, a deconstructed ravioli of sort, bathed in a very complex, slightly acidic sauce. Addictively delicious, although I must say ramps must be the most overrated green this season found in almost every menu I’ve encountered in the last month.

merguez sausage
merguez sausage

Our servers next halved our next two dishes so that we didn’t have to suffer the indignity of changing plates mid-meal. How sweet. Unfortunately, the two dishes was pretty lackluster after the utterly enjoyable starters and could not be saved from the servers’ efforts at individual plating.

The sausage was a clunker in particular, lacking spice and heat I expected from a merguez sausage, the harissa base sauce a salt lick in a bowl, the chickpeas and almond mix doing nothing to enhance the dish.

Signature Meatball

Signature Meatball

 While not the worse dish, I was probably more underwhelmed by the famous signature meatball. Although juicy and meaty, it too suffered from over-salting that the sweet grilled onions and parsnip puree were not enough to temper the salinity. As we ate, our neighboring table was in the midst of ordering the meatballs, with one man declaring to his guests “those meatballs is AMAZING”. We tried not to roll our eyes.

Golden raisin brioche pudding

Golden raisin brioche pudding

Soon it was dessert time, and by now we were too full to order one each. But it was a birthday after all, so we gamely picked the raisin brioche pudding, which again the kitchen thoughtfully served with an extra plate and scoop of bourbon icecream. Now this is totally on point, the pudding warm and heavy, the mouthful creamy and lush. Spiced pecans provided crunch and the bourbon icecream a very nice touch, providing a slight bitterness and  fire in the stomach long after the plates have been licked clean.

It could have been a quick meal, but a long and languid dinner was what we needed and got with the spacing out of the 2 entrees into a 4 course self-constructed tasting menu. Prices are exceedingly fair, the service was excellent as expected and it was just really nice to spend the night there as a more welcoming room would be hard to find. I just wish I had better luck next time with the salt.

Gramercy Tavern (Tavern Room)

42 E 20th St (Between Broadway and Park Ave South)

www.gramercytavern.com

Shopfront

Shopfront

Last post on Guatemala to provide some closure. Fernando’s Kaffee was really difficult to find, thanks to limited language skills and nonexistent map read abilities. Oh, and the fact that cafe hopping seem to be a gringo thing doesn’t help when I ask the locals for directions because they don’t know where it is. Thankfully I persevered, and after wandering around haplessly for a good half hour finally arrived at the cafe. The small shop is cozy, with a dark front room set up with the espresso machine and pastry displays opening up into a very cozy courtyard with tables set around a lush garden. I could have spent all day just sitting in that garden reading a book or surfing the web, wifi enabled.

Fernando's espresso

Fernando's espresso

 Of course, I would also order a drink, an espresso in fact. The owner, Fernando, is a coffee fanatic and roasts his own coffee on-site for extreme freshness. The double espresso I sampled was testament of his fervor, impossibly smooth with a beautiful golden crema and fragrant aroma. As a souvenir, I also brought home a few packs of hand peeled, home made chocolate covered cacao beans, each enrobed in a dark, bitter sweet chocolate and packed with crunchy, nutty cacao bean segments. The spicy version, where the chocolate has been spiked with pepper is especially addictive and gone in minutes once I brought it back to the office to my ravenous coworkers, so I am excited to hear that Fernando is planning to start an e-commerce site with global shipping too!

Fernando’s Kaffee

7 Avenida Norte No. 43D

www.fernandos-kaffee.com/index.html

 

Seedlings

Seedlings

I had no lack of coffee in Guatemala, where I spent mornings waking up to the fragrant aroma of coffee at our little B&B, Casa Madeleine, and refueled in the afternoons at the numerous coffee shops in Antigua. Coffee is Guatemala’s most prominent export, and since I was at the source of my favorite libation, I decided to spend some time visiting a coffee plantation.  Finca Filadelfia, located just outside the city limits of Antigua is not your typical small scale cooperative farm. Instead it is a sizeable commercial operation set in a very lush and plush estate, complete with its own hotel. Besides the coffee tour, the plantation also offer horse rides and zip-line excursions for the more adventurous. Me? I was content sitting in the tour trucks that resembled open-air military vehicles going through the grounds.

It was an intimate tour perhaps due to the intermittent rain, with just me, 2 Israeli men who also happened to live in New York during a point in their lives and our very chatty, very enthusiastic guide J. We watched grafted coffee plantlings grow undisturbed inside enclosed tents, learnt the differences between robusta and arabica plants and picked out coffee beans (and discovered worms in the overripe ones). Inside the processing facility, we were quizzed about the hows and whys of coffee selection, grading and roasting. Of course, we also spent time sipping espressos afterwards as we shared our own experiences drinking, cooking, burning those precious beans. I left thoroughly impressed by the sheer number of steps it takes for the coffee to end up in our cups and the entire tour operation, to the point that I then steered about 10 more friends to take the tour in the following days.

http://www.rdaltoncoffee.com/

Walking down the aisle

Sara and Dad walking down the aisle

I was fortunate enough to attend Angel and Sarah’s wedding in Guatemala last weekend and was it a lovely affair! The sanctuary serene, the bride blushing and the groom could not stop grinning throughout the whole event.

Table setting

Table setting

 The reception was set in a room draped with white curtains and twinkly lights, the tables set with giant bouquets of flowers in shades of cream and amber.

wedding cake

wedding cake

The cake too, was white and accented with curlicues of gold, and inside a creamy, moist marble cake. According to the bride, the cake tasting da to be done long distance, with Angel’s aunt transporting slices of cake from Guatemala to NYC, but the extra effort was definitely worth it!

hors d'oeurves

hors d'oeurves

The table numbers were replaced with 16 cities that had special meaning to the wedded couple. Needless to say, I was on the New York table, with my coworkers and some other friends, noshing on savory and sweet appetizers to amuse ourselves whilst we waited our turn at the buffet table.

A very full plate

A very full plate

Truth to be told, I was a littled disappointed that Angel opted for a posh do at the Casa Santo Domingo instead of a bbq at a ranch, complete with a roasted whole cow. Oh well… Still, the buffet was varied and very tasty. Of the three meat entrees, I remember the pork with fruit salsa to be really moist and tender. While the savory choices were more continental, desserts had a local flair. I enjoyed the killer flan, but the giant green figs steeped in honey and anise water was a little too much even for me, the avowed saccharine fiend.

the garter tradition

the garter tradition

This has nothing to do with food, but I love the picture! Anyway, here’s wishing the Solis a very long and loving marriage!