west village


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

 

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Funghi Pizza

Funghi Pizza

I’m generally not a big pizza person, but once in a while, the craving hits. When it happens, I know just who to call. Pizza is something Juewei and Germaine are especially passionate about, so when my last minute email went out, I got immediate responses to the affirmative. Yay to great eating buddies. The pizza at Keste is not the typical New York thin crust JW favors. Rather it is made in the Neapolitan fashion, plate-sized and to be eaten with cutlery. I’ve never been to Naples, but judging from early reviews, the pizza here is authentic, with slightly puffy dough, very nice char marks creating a mottled crust. I liken it to good naan, and forgive the sudden California Pizza Kitchen wild irreverent though, I think tandoori chicken and sweet grilled onion would make awesome toppings to this pizza crust. 

pizza del re

pizza del re

 

Keste’s toppings are of course more authentic then my whimsies, are used sparingly but are all of top quality. I especially like the tomato sauce, naturally sweet without being overtly acidic, a fine base to our mushroom and sausage pizzas. But our favorite pie of the night happens to be the Pizza del Re, a white pizza laden with bufala mozzarella imported from Italy, truffle oil, mushrooms, olive oil and curls of pink prosciutto di parma. Oh, that scent as it arrived on our table was just heavenly. The middle of the pie got a little soggy from the truffle spread, but it was fine since we gobbled this pie up so quickly the juices had no time to penetrate through the crust.

Despite a packed house on Friday, our pies arrived a scant 10 minutes after ordering, thanks to the ultra-short cook time of the soft crusts and the frenetic tempo of the kitchen staff, constantly molding dough, layering ingredients, pulling cooked pies out of the oven, never stopping. If I had wanted a more leisurely meal, I might order an appetizer or a dessert (nutella pizza is on the menu, as well as tiramisus and other Italian standards), and a bottle or two. For now, the restaurant has yet to receive its liquor license, so BYOB is in effect. But when it happens, I expect the restaurant to make good on the Vino part of its name and offer some good choices to go with the well-made pizzas.

Keste Pizzeria & Vino

271 Bleecker St (Between Cornelia and Jones St)

http://www.kestepizzeria.com/home.html

 
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
Nicoise Salad
Nicoise Salad

As its name suggest, the New French is a French restaurant. Well… sort of. Its short menu consists of some traditional bistro items such as the steak frites and mussels; a sprinkling of regional dishes like the Provencal salad Nicoise; select specialities from the colonies such as a Vietnamese pho and some North African couscous; and then brisket and chili and beer braised pulled pork? and Italian pizza bianca? That is clearly veering off the already loosely interpreted French context. Luckily, the kitchen manages to pull most of the dishes off, the traditional dishes adequately traditional, the fusiony stuff successfully executed save for some heavy-handed treatment with ginger in Joanna’s lamb dish and an unsatisfying onion and goat cheese topping on the excellent pizza bianca. My Nicoise salad was packed full of confitted tuna, olives, haricot verts, chopped eggs and a briny anchovy sauce that tied the flavors together while Julie raved about her tender roast chicken that sat in a Thai influenced coconut broth.  Dessert was a disaster however, with the lemon curd too thin and runny and the ginger creme brulee overtly spicy. Only the caramelized banana and chocolate cake dessert was acceptable, so until they tweak their dessert selection, I am going to have to skip and opt for the french press coffee, just for the sake of playing with the mini hourglass they bring out to ensure proper steeping.

I would characterize the New French as a reliable neighborhood joint that serves tasty food at reasonable prices, but definitely not a destination. It does have its charm though, with walls filled with random doodlings (truly, how can one call it a mural?) and a server who when noticing Sarah’s regretful grimace over her foul tasting wine immediately whisked it away with a replacement, no questions asked. If I lived in the West Village, it would be a strong contender for my neighborhood standby.

The New French

522 Hudson St (at 10th St)

The boyfriend was in town for a whirlwind 36 hours and I sent him off to the airport at 5 am this morning with promises to meet again soon. The next rendezvous, we decided, was going to take place in Paris, city of light. Thus french pastries were in my mind as I journeyed home and in spite of only 4 hours of sleep under my belt, I decided to postpone rest and find consolance in a good croissant.

I landed up at Patisserie Claude after a good walk from Union Square, where I was so early that the vendors were only setting up for the greenmarket. Luckily for me,  Claude has already begun churning out his pastries and was serving a discerning cabbie when I reached his shop at 740 am. The notoriously ill-tempered Frenchman was sweet and all smiles this morning as he plucked out a hefty pain au chocolate and a brioche from the trays into my paper bag. Sitting on a stoop overlooking Washington Square Park, I bit into the chocolate croissant, still warm from the oven, with a rich, glossy, semi-sweet chocolate paste oozing into my mouth. Objectively, the buttery dough is flavorful but too heavy in texture, and the interiors were a little too wet, but that did not take the pleasure of eating away. I meant to save the brioche for mid-morning, but could not resist pinching the topknot off for a bite. The broiche is excellent, with a tender crumb, slightly salty and with a deep eggy flavor. I applaud my self-restraint to keep the rest until I got home. Claude’s coffee is mediocre but did its job of washing the pastries down, and I walk home a little more awake and with slightly better spirits.

I look forward to Paris, to daily visits to local boulangeries and patisseries, to discovering favorite tarte tatins with Pak. But for now, I have Claude, and I am satisfied

Patisserie Claude

187 W4th St (bet Barrow & Jones Sts)

My college roommate was visiting last week and I found it extremely fitting to bring her to P*ONG for dinner. She was looking for something different, she enjoys dessert as much as I do, and most importantly, Peiyun also shares the same last name as the chef and in abbreviation can be called p-ong as well.

foie gras with chocolateI waited for P outside the somewhat empty restaurant, a little disconcerting at 8 on a Thursday night, and briefly considering making alternate plans at Bar Blanc. But once we got seated in the modern and slick room with an open kitchen and enjoyed some tasty girly cocktails (P’s had prosecco, dehydrated rose petals and gold dust), we settled in and got to the main business of ordering.

The chef made his name as a master patissier in the Jean Georges empire, so it was not surprising that the sweet/ semi-sweet dishes fared better. Thin chocolate and hazelnut tuile sandwiched 2 discs of foie gras terrine, the sweetness of the chocolate playing up the unctuousness of the foie. A grandiose smear of more chocolate and a dollop of pink pepper jam dressed up the rather large and spare plate. Very yummy but I wished there were some toast points to spread that foie on. And in general some bread to feed patrons while they peruse the menu would be nice.

rhubarb panna cottaThe other dish that worked very nicely was dessert, a light, almost milky rhubarb panna cotta that celebrated the tartness of the seasonal vegetable. Bay leaf is crushed into powder and sprinkled on the custard, providing a refreshing mouthfeel. A wafer of dehydrated milk candy tasted like the white rabbit candy of yore and was sticky fun. The accompaniment of a mini strawberry cupcake though was redundant.

The savory courses were adequately prepared, but at a high enough price point to encourage me to try out other places first before returning. The shrimp ceviche was the greatest disappointment. It had tongue-tingly explosive flavors with thai chili, icy mango sorbet and bright cilantro, but was unfortunately marred by the shrimp, which were overcooked and rubbery. I could not taste the chocolate within the duck pot pie for the life of me, but must concede that the dish was well prepared, and the other flavors advertised, that of plummy pinot noir and tart-sweet cherries were amply presented. The beef short rib was good, very tender with a deep, pungent sauce and roasted root vegetables. Not too appropriate for the weather now, but worth a try.

Peiyun loves food, and she also picked up a recent hobby of picture taking, so throughout the meal, we were two stereotypical Asian women furiously taking photos of the plates. It was quite an amusing sight. I’m so happy I got to reconnect with her after almost 2 years, to fill each other in on our lives and bask in the commonality we still shared. While there were some hits and misses in terms of food, our dinner was definitely an enjoyable one.

P*ONG

150 W 10th St (at Waverly Place)

http://p-ong.com

 

 

With the temperature pushing a hundred these past few days, it’s hard to be excited about stepping out of the house, much less eat. Thank goodness frozen yogurt places are springing up all through the city like mushrooms after the rain, such that while its a trial to be outdoors, one can easily seek respite from icy, tart yogurt.

Yogurtland arrives from the West Coast after the uber-popular Pinkberry, the Korean Red Mango and countless others. What makes this froyo purveyor unique is its DIY business model. Enter the narrow but long space on Bleecker Street and you’d encounter a long row of frozen yogurt machines, each dispensing a different flavor ranging from plain to cookies-and-creme. Chloe visited 2 weeks ago and said that it was the actualization of her childhood dream to have a row of soft-serve machines lining her bedroom walls. Grab an empty cup and you can start concocting your own yogurt blend with as many flavors as you’d like. Fancy taro and strawberry, you’ve got it! Dress it up with an assortment of fruit, cereal and chocolate bits and then weigh it and pay up. The texture is similar to that of Pinkberry, although a tad creamier and less icy. And the flavors aren’t bad. While some like strawberry tastes artificial, the tarter fruit flavors such as mango and peach are refreshing and not too sweet. At $0.39/ounce, you can eat a lot more yogurt compared to a small cup at the other places. Curiously, it was empty when P, his JC friend and I visited this afternoon. Hopefully DIY yogurt will catch on as the days become hotter!

Yogurtland

267 Bleecker St (Between Jones and Cornelia Sts)

 

 

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