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

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kees_logo1The economy is in miserable straits, and the companies most impacted are financial institutions. To combat plummeting revenues, financial institutions are finding all sorts of ways to boost the bottom line, from the obvious like massive lay-offs, to the more indirect methods, such as letting external vendors squat at their lobbies. I am not 100% sure, but speculate that this is how Kee’s chocolate counter in the HSBC building at Bryant Park came to pass.

I’m not complaining of course, because this move only brings one of the best artisanal chocolatier a scant 5 city blocks away from my office and removes the need to travel to soho for a quick cacoa fix on one or multiple of Kee’s delicious confections. My mouth water for the dark chocolate with balsamic ganache, the glossy dark chocolate shattering to uncover a rich ganache flavored subtly with a sourish yet mellow flavor. And I cannot decide if I prefer La Maison du Chocolat’s rustic champagne truffles dusted with cacoa powder or Kee’s sophisticated looking pyramid filled with heady alcoholic chocolate truffle. I did not purchase any of Kee’s jewel colored macarons, fearing they would compare poorly to the perfect specimens from Laduree and Pierre Herme that I have been gorging on for the past week in Paris, but they definitely looked beautiful on an aesthetic point of view, albeit somewhat lacking in height and glossiness.

To be sure, Kee’s chocolates are expensive at over $2 per tiny piece, and I have to tighten my belt both figuratively as well as literally after my excessive gorging in France. But the chocolates are super-indulgent and you can be sure it is made fresh locally by an independent artisan, therefore totally worth losing that daily cup of joe for. I guess I’ll just drink pantry coffee from now on.

Kee’s Chocolates

80 Thompson Street  

452 5th Ave (within the HSBC Bryant Park building lobby)

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

So my birthday came and went rather uneventfully. That is not to say I did not celebrate. Au contraire! In a market as crazy as it is right now, I would say a day of calm is not a bad thing at all. AND I did celebrate with many friends and a lot of food over the course of the week.
On the day itself, my boss decided to get me something good. When one’s boss is in the mood to buy one cake, one happily complies and so we traipsed to Grand Central Terminal towards the direction of Little Pie Company’s corner in the food court, and I got to pick out something I liked.
Little Pie Company's Apple Walnut Sour Cream Pie

Little Pie Company's Pie

Which would be pie! And not just any pie, but an apple pie befitting of the seasons. Little Pie Company’s sour cream apple walnut pie is exorbitantly expensive yet so worth it. The tart and sweet apple and the silken sour cream is a marriage made in heaven, the pleasure of eating the pie filling only enhanced when combined to the perfectly buttery crust topped with a walnut streusel. As Alan pointed out, only vanilla icecream would have made it better.

Yasuda's Peace Passage Oyster Sushi
Yasuda’s Oyster Sushi

For dinner, I opted to eat alone. My friends are still not quite convinced it was intentional, but I must say my date with the sushi chef at the sushi bar was quite a success. Since there was no dining companion, I did not have to waste time on chit chat, and the 90 minutes at Sushi Yasuda was spend singularly focused on the fish. My favorite piece was the peace passage oyster sushi. I’ve had many an oyster, baked, raw, on the half shell, in a chowder. But on rice? Definitely my first time. The combination of plump oyster and the compact mound of sushi rice was simply alchemy, the minerally and iodiny taste of oyster melding into the soft sweetness of the rice as the sushi hits the mouth and disintegrates. It is the taste of the sea and the paddy fields compounded multiple times. So magical, I had to have another piece before I was satisfied. Highly recommended, along with the rest of the super fresh seafood at sushi palace Yasuda.

Besides these, I feted throughout the week with Katherine’s homemade cake and a kickass birthday banquet at Danny Ng’s with 8 dishes for good luck. Not bad indeed, for an uneventful birthday.
Little Pie Company
243 Grand Central Terminal (In the basement food court)
Sushi Yasuda 
204 E 43rd St (Bet 2nd & 3rd Aves)

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)

 

 

aquavit arctic circle

I’ve never considered the cheese course as an adequate substitute for dessert, but Aquavit’s signature dessert, the Arctic Circle does double duty. The main body of the dessert is a white puck of goat cheese parfait, frozen such that it masks any funky cheese scents, making it palatable even to non-cheese eaters. Only when it has softened in your mouth do you experience the tanginess of goat cheese. Within the cheesy puck is a molten core of passion fruit curd, its creaminess contrasting with the parfait’s icy texture. A thin tuile cookie is sandwiched between the parfait and a scoop of garnet sorbet. The online menu states it as blueberry although it tastes more like cassis. Tart and cold, with just enough sweetness to be satisfying but not cloying, this is a dessert worthy of its namesake.

Aquavit Cafe

65 E55th St (Betwee Park and Lexington Aves)

www.aquavit.org

mado kesme icecream

The Turkish like their desserts, and while not traditionally ice-cream season, it was not difficult to find in Istanbul. What differentiates Turkish ice-cream from its gelato and regular ice-cream brethren is its chewiness and thickness, courtesy of salep and mastic gum that gives it is texture. The kesme dondurma at Mado, a popular ice-cream chain in Istanbul (we counted 4 in one afternoon, 2 in the very quaint seaside village of Ortakoy) is so hard that metal cutlery were needed to chip away at the ice cream blocks. The uber-elastic ice-cream had a consistency akin to thick caramel and we chewed away for the first few seconds as the seemingly heat-resistant treat yielded and melted in our mouths. Besides the velvet texture, the flavors were also intense, particularly the earthy, almost savory nut flavors such as walnut, pistachio and hazelnut.  For some reason though, vanilla does not taste like vanilla both times we tried, so the white colored ice-cream flavor might just be lost in translation somewhere between the ice-cream counter and our mouths. Besides ice-cream, the small intensely sweet turkish pastries were also out in full force at Mado, and judging from our one pistachio pastry, just as good.

Mado Dondurma (multiple locations in Istanbul and other Turkish cities)

http://www.mado.com.tr/