american


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

 

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

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/

 

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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

brisket and sausage, aka as meaty dinner

brisket and sausage, aka as meaty dinner

What is a birthday without a surprise party? So for Joanna’s birthday, the surprise involved an ambush at Best Buy while the party came replete with food and drink at Hill Country, the barbeque joint that hails from Joanna’s homestate Texas. 

Even though we met on a Monday, there is a definite festive, if casual cafeteria vibe in Hill Country.  I guess the scent of wood-smoked meats and sight of ravenous diners chowing down do induce a celebratory atmosphere.

Heavy eaters are likely to do well with the $30 all-you-can-eat deal on Monday nights, but the really good stuff like fatty brisket, sausage and beef ribs are not on that menu. Also, how many sides can you legitimately eat before feeling sick? Thus, my advice would be to steer away from the buffet and head towards ala carte, since someone with a regular appetite would be hardpressed to eat up to $30. The massive pitmaster combo meals which a few friends ordered are also a good way to go, and offers a bite of almost everything for a few dollars less than AYCE.  

As for myself, I shot for a half pound mix of lean and fatty brisket and the kreuz jalapeno cheese sausage, with a side of cornbread and baked beans. Between the two types of brisket, it was clear that the fatty version won out in terms of texture and flavor. Some fat is good, and if you’re already at a bbq place, you might as well go for gold. The sausage was nice too if not a little dry, with a good snap and a distinct spicy flavor from the jalepeno. Perhaps a little more oily bits would improve it. The beans were great, enhanced by smoky burnt ends. Surprise surprise, fat just makes everything taste better. I tasted the pork and chicken off Sarah’s brown paper package too and both were juicy and flavorful. While I did not taste the beef ribs, Jeremiah was happily gnawing away at his rib, which was a good sign. The sides that I sampled were pretty decent with the pickled cucumber being a standout, although the warm sides could probably benefit from a hotter steam table.

After dinner, we cut up a birthday cake for our birthday girl, and then left with a haze of eau de bbq surrounding us. Well that lovely wood-smoked meat scent does linger long after dinner and Joanna, as she went home on the subway, met a girl behind her at the turnstile that said to her friend “ugh what is that? smells like a sausage!” Oh well, pity for those who do not appreciate the lingering scent of good food!

Hill Country

30 W 26th St (Bet. Broadway & 6th Aves)

www.hillcountryny.com

Random things that I like about Simon Sips:

Great space – East village match-box sized but very bright and neat, with floor length windows allowing for the sun to stream in, unfettered. It’s decor has a rough hewn, home made feel that I appreciate, that’s not over-designed. And unlike Abraco, another coffee place I love, it has seats, so no more stoop squatting!

Well-made drinks – Coffee beans are provided by Counter-culture, and each cup is expertly made with thick crema. While the cappuccino was too milky the one time I ordered it, everything else was perfectly done.

The sweet display – I’m still on a cake free diet, but the minute I’m off it the glass display beckons. The slices and bars are all baked in house (with a simple home-made look to them) and feature some interesting flavor combinations that looks very very promising. 

They serve real food! – at very reasonable prices,with everything on the menu kept under $8. Of course, the plates are sized to the pricing and not big, but good enough for a light meal. The sandwich I ordered  was a foretaste of future meals. It was made with excellent bread from Sullivan Bread Company and the  frittata sandwiched between was moist and eggy, sweetened by caramelized onion and sharpened with the taste of gruyere. A novel brunch for someone that doesn’t enjoy eggs.

The name! – What can I say? I like alliteration. Also, like the game Simon Says, I hope this cafe has staying power.

I’ve befriended Simon Sips (even virtually on facebook to get a 25% discount) and found a new spot in the neighborhood that satisfies my caffeine urges. Will you too?

Simon Sips

72 E 1st St (Between 1st & 2nd Aves)

 
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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