Archive for July, 2008

Next Food Network Star

Posted in Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts with tags , on July 28, 2008 by restaurantouring

Shut up.  I haven’t seen the finale yet.  But if Lisa or Adam win, I will never watch Food Network again.

edit:  2:03 AM — YESSSSSSS!!!!

Megu – Tribeca

Posted in New York restaurants with tags , , , , on July 25, 2008 by restaurantouring

I’ve been wanting to eat at Megu for a long, long time now.  After first reading about it in an article by John Mariani in, I believe, Esquire magazine (years ago), Megu immediately made it onto my short list of must-go-to restaurants.  It just sounded cool — the kimono-clad hostesses, the unconventional path to the main dining area, the replica of that Buddhist bell, and — who could forget? — the life-sized ice carving of Buddha, surrounded by water and flower petals.

Or perhaps that’s just my imagination (or my memory) running wild?  Although dinner at Megu was fantastic tonight, the whole experience didn’t quite meet my expectations — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I’ll explain:

From the outside, you could very easily miss the 62 Thomas St. entrance to Megu.  For the most part, it’s unmarked — or at least it’s not conspicuously marked.  There is, however, a small Megu logo painted onto the door, and the menu (clearly printed “Megu”) is also on display at the window.  Also, there is a bright red awning over the door.

When you walk into the restaurant, you must walk to the left, past the columns that represent rice bowls, sake vases, and sake dishes/cups, up a few stairs, and down a narrow vase-lined corridor to the reception desk.  The hostess does not wear a kimono — and who can blame her?  It’s the middle of summer and kimonos are freaking HOT.  Instead, she wore a cute little black number and led us around the corner, down the stairs to the dining area, past the transparent statue of Buddha (which is now sadly made out of either glass or plastic.  I’m not quite sure.), and showed us to our seats while shouting something out in poorly pronounced Japanese along the way (the rest of the staff echoed her back in equally bad Japanese).

Not that I know how to speak Japanese. . . . I guess I just watch enough anime to know the difference.  My life is sad.  Stop making fun of my misfortunes.

We were seated at one of the back, left, corner tables — perfect for people watching, with plenty of privacy.  Cool.  I was finally here.

Again, I was able to drag two people along with me — a co-worker and his girlfriend.  I, unfortunately, was unable to convince anyone else to come with me.  They all cancelled on me pretty much at the last minute in some of the most lametastic ways possible.  But I didn’t care.  I was here to eat.

The three of us each ordered a different item from the Restaurant Week menu.  Again, we would pass our plates clockwise so that we could have a little bit of everything.

First Course

The salmon carpaccio I had was absolutely delicious.  Fresh, clean-tasting, with just enough acid from the dressing and the tomato, it was a perfect balance of rich, fatty fish and taste.  An excellent bite.  The only problem was that it was just that — one bite.  All right, all right. . . there were three slices of salmon on the plate, but they were paper thin and not very large otherwise.  I would have liked to see more on the plate, especially because it almost didn’t seem like a complete dish — there was just too little food on the plate.

The shrimp cocktail and Kobe beef croquettes were also delicious.  This was the most substantial of the three plates.  The Kobe beef croquettes was ridiculously tender and juicy — very, very tasty.  The two shrimp were large and delicious, although they were a bit overcooked.  The cocktail sauce that was squeezed out of a bottle across the shrimp looked conspicuously like ketchup but tasted thankfully almost entirely unlike ketchup.  What a relief.  This was probably my favorite appetizer out of the three.

Finally, there was the softshell crab salad with lime dressing — crab fried in deep fat, set on top of a sushi-style roll of bean curd and bitter greens.  In my book, softshell crab is always a winner.  This appetizer was pretty good.  My only criticism would be that I wish they used sweet salad greens to highlight the inherent sweetness of the crab, but I suppose some things must be sacrificed in the pursuit of umami and a balance of flavors.  *shrug*

Second Course

Premium Kobe sirloin beef steak served with platinum rice

Delicious.  A small portion, but what do you expect?  It tasted conspicuously like my mom’s steak — simply marinated in good soy sauce and cooked quickly over a hot flame.  Sure it may sound simple, but some times the simpler, the better — especially, I think, when it comes to good beef (sometimes).

Otherwise, the dish was garnished with a small ceramic soup spoon with some green-tinted mashed potatoes with a fried wonton skin set in it, resembling the sail of a boat.  The three of us were unsure what the color was from in the potatoes, although my co-worker declared that it was wasabi.  I got no wasabi from my potatoes — just the starchy potato flavor.  It was thoroughly uninspiring.  The plain, white rice was good, though.

Silver cod Yuan Miso served with platinum rice

This was also very nicely done.  Savory and tasty and still rare in the middle (the way a fresh piece of fish ought to be cooked), the cod was simply delicious.  Another example of how a simply prepared piece of fish or meat can yield surprisingly tasty results.  I had a couple bones in the bite that I took, which wasn’t cool, but I guess you can’t catch them (bones) all.  Luckily, I did.

The only criticism I had about this dish was that I wish the skin on the fish would have been made crispy.  Crispy skin is delicious.  Otherwise, it’s distracting, detracting, and unappetizing.  The chef should have removed it entirely.  This dish was also garnished with that flavorless green mashed potato soup spoon / boat with fried wonton skin “sail.”

Miso marinated lamb chop served with platinum rice

Everything that I said about the fish above applies here, except for the bit about the skin, of which there was none, and the bones, which were conspicuously and intentionally on display in this dish, to good effect.  Another fantastic dish.  Unfortunately, this dish was also decorated with that stupid potato wonton sailboat/spoon.  I tasted the potato from all three spoons and I swear I couldn’t taste anything besides potato.  I was frustrated.

Dessert

We didn’t have a choice in the dessert, but that was okay.  We were all presented with our own bowl of lychee sorbet and asian rice cake — like mochi, only ridiculously soft and tender.  The cubes of cake were rolled in a flavored powder — one tasted of coffee and the other tasted of green tea.  The lychee sorbet was fantastic — not too sweet, very delicious, and it even had chunks of lychee in it.  Delicious.  The dish was simply garnished with some sweetened whipped cream and some sweetened red beans.  And a sprig of mint.  Classic.

Overall, I have very few negative things to say about Restaurant Week dinner at Megu – Tribeca.  Besides the skin on the fish thing (and the bones), and the slightly overcooked shrimp cocktail, dinner was excellent.  It’s a shame that we had no choice in choosing a dessert, because I have friends that don’t like to eat sweetened red beans and absolutely hate eating rice flour cakes, like mochi.  Sweet, sweet, sticky, chewy mochi.  Obviously, I’m not one of them — I eat damn near everything.

I’d like to eat at there midtown location next time.  We’ll see.  I’m quickly running out of funds and will soon be unable to support this food habit of mine.  Luckily, there’s MasterCard.

Opia

Posted in New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2008 by restaurantouring

Hello, peoples of the interwebs!  It’s been quite a while since my last (and my first and only) post.  How have all zero of my loyal readers been?  Anyway, I’m pretty wordy at times, so I’ll include a summary at the bottom of this post, kind of like an abstract for a journal article.  Maybe I should stop making references to work-related activities?  Abstracts?  Wtf am I thinking?

So, this past Monday marked the first day of Restaurant Week NYC, summer 2008.  I love restaurant week.  I love seeing what different restaurants offer on their menus for budget-diners, how one place’s selections differ from another, similar restaurant’s selections, and how it compares to their normal menus.  More than that, people are usually more willing to go out to eat if they think they’re getting a good deal, even if that isn’t always the case.

Today (or technically yesterday, since it’s past midnight), I met up with a couple of my friends to go to Opia restaurant, on 57th and Lexington.  One of my friends, Jon, wanted to go to a French restaurant (edit:  I should note that Opia is not strictly French — they serve pizza — but there’s plenty of French influence on the menu to justify it), and my other friend, Catie, had no preference.  Since we waited too long to book reservations at, say, david burke & donatella, we settled for Opia.  In particular, I was intrigued by the charcuterie entree, and considering that I just finished reading Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie, as well as the fact that I did not encounter any other entree at any of the 50 other restaurant week menus I perused, I was sold.

Immediately, upon walking into the restaurant, I liked what I saw — tastefully dimmed lights, lounge-style seating, an eye-catching bar, and big windows.  Unfortunately, it was fairly busy that night, so the three of us were led to the back area, where they presumably seat their larger parties (it was someone’s birthday that night, too, so there was a table of, like, 50 billion 14).  They were loud.

Since there were three of us, and there were three options each, for appetizer, entree, and dessert, we all ordered different things.  We would pass our plates clockwise, so that we could taste everything.  Catie had the vichyssoise, Jon had the crispy frog legs with parsley and garlic puree, and I had the chicken liver mousse bruschetta with red currant relish.

First Course

I’m not a big fan of liver, usually.  I’ve not grown quite accustomed to the taste yet.  I suppose my palate is still young and inexperienced.  Or maybe it’s because, when I think of liver, I still think of the grey, boiled-to-death, mealy-textured mess my mom used to force me to eat as a kid.  Now, however, I do enjoy the occassional pâté, although I still have to get over the thoroughly liver-y liver taste.  As far as my bruschetta went, it was good.  I liked it.  My only criticism would be that I wish they had soaked their livers in milk for a while, if they hadn’t done so already — and if they had done so, I wish they used younger chickens’ livers or soaked the livers they already had in even more milk for even longer, to remove some of the harshness of the liver that too often occurs in older chickens’ livers.  I had a very similar appetizer at La Provence, in Lacombe, Louisiana (another one of Chef John Besh’s restaurants), and that particular appetizer was done perfectly.

I have some chicken livers in my freezer.  Maybe I’ll try to make my own chicken liver mousse bruschetta this weekend?

Catie’s vichyssoise was all right.  It wasn’t great, and I wasn’t crazy about it, but hey . . . cold soup on a hot, humid, rainy day.  What more could you ask for?

The real star appetizer, in my opinion, was the frogs’ legs that Jon ordered.  Although it wasn’t quite as “crispy” as the name implied, it was a good value and there was plenty of food on the plate — three pairs of meaty frogs’ legs, tasty croutons, and very fresh-tasting, clean, garlic and parsley purees.  Excellent.  The only criticism I had was that the garlic had too much of that raw garlic harshness that I don’t like and that I could have personally used a touch more salt on my frog legs — but, I eat a lot of salt and so I have a higher tolerance for it than some.

Second Course

I’ll start off by saying that I was very, very disappointed in my entree.  Again, since I just read Charcuterie, my head was filled with romantic notions and ideas about pork, fat, and sausages.  While I was expecting something a little more adventurous or perhaps foreign to the average American palatte, what I got instead was basically boiled fingerling potatoes, sauerkraut, and kielbasa.  Catie commented/complained that it smelled like her family.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love me a good kielbasa and kraut, but I expect more when I’m paying good money for a plate.  If I wanted kielbasa with sauerkraut (and maybe a pierogi or four), I’d have gone to Sava Polish Deli in downtown Jersey City (I’ll blog about this one, too.  Eventually).  I’d also save about 30 bucks and a trip into Manhattan.  What a fucking waste.  It was good kielbasa, though Sava can do it better.  Ditto on the kraut.

In a word or two, Catie’s saffron risotto, with asparagus, pearl onions, artichokes, and tomatoes was fucking terrible.  Sure, it’s nice to see a vegetarian option on the menu, but if you’re gonna offer something to the vegetarians — sorry, to the paying vegetarians, at least make it taste good!  Vegetables aren’t that expensive, and for God’s sake, you people were trained to cook food.  Make it taste good!  Or else we’ll [gladly] go to some place like Gobo.  I felt really bad for Catie — she barely touched her plate and she still had to pay for her meal at the end of the night.  Instead, I had to eat a large portion of her entree, in all its acid, large-hunks-of-not-quite-cooked-garlic misery.  In short, I did not taste any saffron, the asparagus was pretty much raw, and the acid from the [canned?] artichokes and tomatoes just overpowered the dish.  And did I mention the huge chunks of nearly raw garlic?  The flavors were just muddled and it just didn’t taste very good.  Saffron risotto?  Hell, my sister could have made a better risotto.  And my sister burns soup.

Dear God, I hope my sister doesn’t read this blog.

Luckily, Jon (once again) pulls through with the undisputed star entree of the night.  He got the herb-crusted monkfish steak with orzo pasta, mushrooms, lemon confit (hooray, charcuterie!), and broccoli puree.  The orzo was delicious — al dente, buttery, flavorful.  Tasty.  The horseradish-tinted monkfish was also excellent, although it was a little overcooked and firm.  I could have done without the broccoli puree, which is a shame, because I adore broccoli.  At least it brought some creaminess and color to the plate.

Dessert

Despite his previous successes in ordering the better dishes for the previous two courses, Jon didn’t enjoy his white chocolate & lime soup with bittersweet chocolate mousse.  I, on the other hand, preferred his dessert, and not being totally happy with my cointreau parfait, we happily traded, both of us believing that we got the better deal in the transaction.

The lime was easily overpowered by the sweetness of the white chocolate.  I didn’t care because I wasn’t exactly aware that there was supposed to be lime in it.  The bittersweet chocolate mousse, on the other hand, was fantastic.  Light, airy, ethereal to eat, it was a perfect balance of sweetness, bitterness, and chocolatastic-ness.  Then, there was this crispy cracker-cookie on top.  I could have done without that.  I appreciated the thought, and I appreciated the texture it brought to the table, but it kept sticking to my teeth.  Made me wish I brought my toothbrush.

The cointreau parfait w/ honey sauce, served with “candy gingered & citrus madeleine” was decent, although I got neither cointreau, ginger, candy, candied ginger, nor “candy gingered.”  Come to think of it, I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean.  Ah well.  Jon liked it.  It was sweet.  Oh, yeah.  “Honey sauce”?  It was just drizzled honey.  Don’t let the menu fool you.

Catie’s peach tatin with vanilla ice cream, a slightly fancier version of peach cobbler a la mode, was unfortunately the superior dessert of the night.  The roasted peach was excellent (hey, it’s the summer.  One expects excellent peaches in the summer), although the juices from it soaked through the flaky tatin pastry, making it soggy and stale-tasting, even though it was probably freshly made.  Also, vanilla ice cream is always good.  Aromatic, tasty, sweet, complex vanilla.

Yes, vanilla is complex.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Overall, I still think it was worth the $45 dollars I ultimately paid, after tax and tip.  Nine dishes for $45 dollars works out to $5 dollars a tasting.  Sweet deal.  I’ll probably never eat there again, not because the food was bad (not all of it, anyway), but because there are too many other places to eat.  The restaurant-tour must go on (har har, I’m so freaking lame).

Actually, I take that back.  The hostess was freaking cute.

Summary

Opia Restaurant. 130 East 57th St at Lexington.

From the restaurant week, summer 2008 menu, the frog legs appetizer, monkfish steak entree, and peach tatin dessert were particularly good.  Alternatively, order the chicken liver mousse appetizer or either of the two other desserts.  As for entrees, you can either get the charcuterie offering (severely overpriced kielbasa and sauerkraut) or this acid rice concotion they call a saffron risotto (don’t order the risotto).