Thursday, February 28, 2008

Family-Style Dinner: Barbuto

Wednesday night had a 'Bon Voyage' dinner (the second in a series in which I suspect there will be at least three- this one just happened to be the last one in NYC) for M at Barbuto in the Meatpacking District. The reco came from a co-worker. I love when someone can provide a dining recommendation on the spot--- whenever I am asked, I either can't remember where I've eaten EVER or need to consider several other inputs--- e.g. What neighborhood? What type of cuisine? What atmosphere?. Barbuto was true to its claim of 'casual sophistication'--- it wasn't too hip or trendy to have to battle for a reservation (even if we had not made one, I'm sure it would have been fine for 6PM).

We started with a bottle of Prosecco (to toast M's departure- $30 for the bottle- very reasonable) and the waitress brought out a plate of green and purple olives to start (which the waitress removed too soon- probably my most serious complaint of the evening). The salumi misti was just enough for three, however, we were a little light on the housemade foccacia (we are a family of carb-lovers). Between us we had the pasta w/spicy sausage and lobster (M ordered and wouldn't let me have the same--- we aim to diversify whenever dining out so we can have a bit of everything--- but I really wanted the pasta!), pork tenderloin w/butternut squash (the squash was also served with soft apple chunks which were REALLY delicious--- I think I liked the side more than the pork), tender hangar steak, and a side of roasted fingerling potatoes. For dessert, we shared the cinnamon cake stuffed with walnuts and topped with vanilla gelato (the cake was a little dry, almost like a biscotti).

We never had to wait long for food, the timing of the courses was perfect, and service was consistent but never intrusive. The brick walls, wooden countertops, and wood-brick burning oven made for a comfy/cozy dining experience. I would definitely return if I'm in the neighborhood! Barbuto is a solid choice.

Barbuto (Italian)
775 Washington St.
New York, NY 10014

Monday, February 25, 2008

Banh Mi, Oh My!

For two years now, after the NYC Chinese New Year Parade, I get banh mi. I'm rarely in Chinatown so I take advantage of the fact that I am downtown. I never really knew what banh mi was, it's just something I'm nostalgic for (and it's so cheap!). When I was younger and my family would shop at the Asian grocery stores in Boston's Chinatown, my mother would always buy my siblings and I banh mi for lunch from the bakery counter (along with egg tarts, coconut breads, almond cookies, and sponge cake rolls for later). I wasn't really sure about the pate, mainly its texture, so just dug in without asking questions--- ignorance was bliss. I just loved the crusty bread and pickled vegetables. In NYC I like Paris Sandwich on Mott Street (add a hot black tea with milk and I am one happy camper!).

I came across a recipe for a take on Banh Mi (using rotisserie chicken instead of pork) in Gourmet Magazine that I thought would be fun to try... my results were pretty good, although the slaw didn't have the same degree of tangy-ness that pickled veggies do. Overall, I thought my sandwich turned out well, a little dry, perhaps because the liverwurst I used tasted more crumbly than creamy and I used a pretty crispy French baguette. Next time I make this I may add more oil, sugar, and mayo to soften and sweeten it up. However, I'm glad I no longer have to wait until next year's parade to enjoy a bit of my kind of comfort food :)

Paris Sandwich
113 Mott Street
New York, NY 10013

Weekend Damage: S'Mac, Cozy Soup + Burger

2.22.08 - 2.24.08. Snow day! The snow closed the office, so lucky me got to work from home. Tried to grab a bite at Soba Totto but they were closed (due to the snow?) so ended up at the place next door... I forget the name but basically another soba spot where I got salmon sashimi and roe over sushi rice with a bowl of soba in warm broth on the side. Delish. After an excellent massage at my favorite budget massage salon (which will remain unnamed, but I will mention that I love how it's a block away from where I live in Midtown East!)---they really work the kinks out--- grabbed S'Mac for the first time ever before catching Be Kind Rewind at Village East. I had the La Mancha --- Mac & Cheese with Manchego, roasted fennel and caramelized onions, for being meatless (Good Friday yet again!), it was pretty damn good. Be Kind was funny, not as funny as I had hoped, but still worth a few good chuckles.

No big meals on Saturday, bag lunches up at the Mountain during a day of snowboarding and when I got home leftover S'Mac, which I was really excited about (the crusty breadcrumb topping still delicious even reheated!).

Sunday was spent watching 6 hours of TV (mainly Project Runway and No Reservations on the Travel Channel- a rerun of Tony Bourdain in Peru) while recovering from the aftermath of friend's bday party Saturday night. I couldn't motivate myself to conjure up a proper meal, instead, survived on whatever I had in the house- a PB&J sandwich, an orange, and a stick of string cheese. When I finally emerged from my cave, grabbed half a bacon cheddar burger from Cozy (shared with the beau), finished it, then decided that maybe I was hungrier than I thought (either that or Cozy burgers just seemed more intimidating when I was an undergrad). I ordered a chicken quesadilla for 'dessert' and scarfed down a majority, upon which the beau deemed me a 'machine'. I'm not ashamed!

Soba Totto
211 E 43rd St
New York, NY 10017
No website.

345 E 12th St
New York, NY 10003

Cozy Soup & Burger
739 Broadway
New York, NY 10003
Cozy Soup & Burger on

Friday, February 22, 2008

Al Fresco Dining on Steroids

Last night my bro sent me a post from coolhunting that showcased Outstanding In The Field, a company which arranges meals where diners can celebrate 'food at the source'. The meals take place in various locations in North America (US & Canada- many in NY and California) in unique settings both indoors and outdoors. The cuisine highlights mostly local ingredients and the talent of local chefs. They have just posted their 2008 schedule and, according to the website, will be accepting reservations soon (Get on the mailing list to be notified!). The price of the dinners range from $150-$200 pp, which includes 5 courses with wine pairings, gratuity, producer discussions, and a tour of the farm. I remember reading about this company in a foodie magazine just a couple of months ago and thinking that this was an opportunity not to be missed--- I definitely plan to sign up!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cake Craving

I love carrot cake and had a huge craving for it. I’ve been toting around a recipe from Family Circle for weeks, which I believe was excerpted from the Ski House Cookbook (co-authored by one of the photo editors of Family Circle).

The beau's mother turned me onto Penzey’s Spices, a spice catalog which has an outpost in Grand Central Market. Spices can be relatively expensive, and I hate buying large containers when all a recipe may call for is a ‘pinch.’ Penzey’s has a wide selection of fresh spices at very reasonable prices (I believe they are often cheaper than the grocery store). I bought some nutmeg and the best cinnamon ever! I was just going for the regular (a.k.a. cheap) stuff, but the ladies at the counter turned me onto a Vietnamese Cassia variety that was stronger than regular cinnamon. I could not resist its aroma and thought it would be just the thing for an awesome carrot cake.

The cake turned out great, they were a bit tough to remove from the pans (I think I overfilled them and I had to bake them longer--- the cakes were quite heavy in the center--- I don’t think my cake pans bake that evenly--- can anyone recommend some good ones?) but after it was iced, it looked perfectly homemade. My friend D and I used some food coloring to dye the leftover icing and drew a carrot on top just for fun :)

Penzey's Spices
Grand Central Market (Grand Central Terminal)
Lexington Avenue & 43rd St.

Stranded on an Urban Island

2.18.08. I’ve been seeing the Roosevelt Island Tram on its way back to Manhattan on my way home from work. I’ve always wanted to ride the tram, to say I did it. My friend D’s plans for his Presidents’ Day off consisted of going to the gym, and, in a random coincidence, riding the tram (as part of his “Leaving New York” To-Do List, as he is planning to attend B-School in Chi-Town this fall).

We planned to meet at 5:30PM on 2nd Ave & 59th, where the tram departs. It was a rainy fifteen block walk from my apartment and I quasi-regretted making the pilgrimage. However, I hadn’t seen D in a while, so I was glad to have the chance to catch up.

The tram ride costs $2 each way (you can use your Metrocard) and lasts 4 minutes. It rises 250 feet above the East River. While on the tram I was taking pictures (of course) to document our journey and felt self-conscious with all the commuters (I wanted to tell them all that I was actually from New York, and therefore not one of those tourists.). Unfortunately, the wet weather made what would have otherwise been great views of the NY shoreline kind of blurry.

We landed in RI, hopped on the bus (25 cents to ride) for Trellis, the ONLY sit-down restaurant on Roosevelt Island. It’s modest, more like a diner, but most importantly, no wait at all for us. Dan and I were both craving the California Monte Cristo (served with avocado), but the waiter crushed our dreams when he told us there was no avocado to be had. Instead we settled on pastas (a little skeptically because we were at a diner), and an $18 bottle of Tempranillo (why the heck not)? My capellini in garlic & olive oil with artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, shrimp, and parmesan was a generous portion. The challah bread served with the meal was also unexpected and raised the bar on our RI dining excursion. We were too full to have dessert, I took half my dinner home, all in all it was a decent night of food, friends, and spontaneous (as M would call it) fun, and as we walked back toward the tram the rain had cleared out and the city shone on the other shore.

CORRECTION 2.25.08: There is another place to sit and grab a bite on RI as noted in Roosevelt Islander's Blog here. Nonno's Focacceria opened in Jan 2008 and there is a Japanese eatery in the works. Shout out to the Islander for excerpting my review of Trellis! :)

549 Main St
New York, NY (Roosevelt Island) 10044
No website.

Nonno's Focacceria
455 Main St
New York, NY 10044
No website.



2.15.08. The beau and I went to Belleayre Mountain in Highmount, NY for Skier’s Appreciation Day ($15 lift tickets, regular price $38). We left a little later than anticipated, but made it up to the mountain by 10:30AM. The early birds got the plum parking spots, so we spent some time driving around. However, once parked were able to get tickets at the lift and were on our way up within minutes. It was a cold day; the storm from the previous week made it icy in spots underfoot, but light snow in the afternoon made conditions pretty board-able. I was excited to show the beau how much I’d improved since the beginning of the season. A crash to my tailbone slowed me down a little bit in the afternoon, but I kept at it.

Lunch in the Discovery Lodge at Belleayre was average at best. I did myself a double-whammy as far as limiting my dining options by giving up fried foods for Lent. I’d say 75% of the menu options were fried; it was like a high school cafeteria (when I was in HS, and childhood obesity wasn’t as much of a national pandemic). Because it was (Good) Friday, I couldn’t have meat either. I had to choose between a pre-made Starkist tuna wrap or a slice of pizza. If branding it ‘Starkist’ was the selling point, it failed to sell. I went for the pizza (rationale: it was hot) and was still wanting after the last bite. (The beau went for the chicken fingers basket with fries, from which I could not nibble!) Needless to say, I longed for a satisfying après-ski meal, and being the planner-aheader that I am, already had the place picked out.

Peekamoose Restaurant & Tap Room is owned by a CIA (Culinary Institute of America) grad, Devin Mills, and his wife, Marybeth, and is just a few minutes south of Belleayre via Route 28. (I’ve made it a mission of mine to eat at CIA-affiliated restaurants whenever possible, having had a great lunch at Apple Pie Bakery Café at the CIA over the Christmas holidays.) According to the Peekamoose website, both Devin and Marybeth have also worked in prestigious NYC kitchens such as Gramercy Tavern, Le Bernadin, and Picholine.

The Tap Room at Peekamoose was quintessentially lodge-y, with a screened image of the forest behind the bar, a hanging tapestry of a coyote, strategically-placed taxidermy and animal skins adorning its long wooden bench. (Peekamoose has a more formal dining room and menu and a more casual Tap Room with a ‘Tavern Menu’ featuring less expensive nibbles.) When we arrived it was still early (between 4:00 and 5:00 PM), and basically empty. We popped a squat by the window overlooking the outdoor patio (where you can roast marshmallows over a fire pit!).

Overall, the food was great, but service slow. Did they not expect anyone to be here after $15 Lift Ticket Day? It was as if there had been no prep, and the kitchen was just getting warming up for our orders. We didn’t get bread until after we’d had our appetizer. After we finished our appetizer, the waitress told us our main course would be out in 5 minutes, which was more like 10-15 minutes. I didn’t quite understand this because neither the bar, nor the restaurant, seemed very busy. Dinner was a 2-hour affair at least, which seemed rather long for a casual bite in the tavern. As for the food/drink:

The Aperitif: A ‘Casca Zilla’ microbrew from Ithaca, NY. The bottle’s label bore a fire-and-hop breathing dragon. The brew itself was maple-syrupy in color, thicker and sweeter than the beers the beau and I generally drink. Tasty, but one was enough to warm the palate (and ease the pain around my tailbone!).

The Bread: The waitress told us it was a garlic foccacia, but it was more like pizza dough brushed with garlic & butter. The bread itself was soft and fluffy, not satisfyingly-seep-into-your-napkin-oily like real foccacia, but delicious despite its misnomer.

The App: A pizza with fontina cheese, crushed tomato, caramelized onions and kalamata olives, topped with local greens. The cheese was cheesy, the crust was crispy; although a couple slices had gobs of flour still clinging underneath.

The Main: Both looked great. The beau’s short rib sandwich (which I would have ordered myself had it not been Good Friday!) looked luscious, the sweet rib sauce oozing between 2 thick slices of brioche. I ordered the orechiette with shrimp and tomato concasse in a tarragon shellfish broth (same tomatoes which dressed our pizza) off the dining room menu. The pasta was perfectly tender and satisfying (for something other than red meat, at least in my opinion!).

The Sweet: His dessert--- the chocolate cake (of course) and mine--- the warm banana bread pudding with macadamia nut-caramel and whipped cream. The salty, crushed macadamia nut topping seemed too salty in combination with the sweet, sticky caramel sauce (I could have done without), but the bread pudding (served as a chunk/slice) was thick and delish. We each had a cup of the house blend on the side to warm up before heading back out into the cold for the ride home.

I would definitely revisit Peekamoose after a day on the slopes for the food, hoping that the service would be a little speedier.

Peekamoose Restaurant & Tap Room
8373 State Route 28
Big Indian, NY 12410