Archive for New York

Updates

Posted in Food on TV, New Jersey Restaurants, New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 17, 2009 by restaurantouring

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[One of my photos has been published at a blog owned by NBC and written by chef Ariane Duarte. Check out the entry here!]

Hello, people of the interwebs! Sorry for the lack of updates in a while. I’ve been pretty busy lately, mostly with work, eating, and taking pictures.

I still need to blog about my trip to Taiwan (amazing), Hong Kong, and Macau.

I’ve eaten at Le Bernardin since I last blogged, as well:

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And this past Monday, I had a life-changing meal at Thomas Keller’s Per Se.

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Lately, I’ve been cruising the Montclair restaurant scene, collaborating with local restaurants to get some food photography done. I’m not making any money doing it — I’m just doing it out of a bit of boredom and a desire to collaborate and help grow some of these businesses. Thanks go out to David Hobby at the Strobist blog for getting me off of my lazy keister. I’ll let you know when some of these pictures make it up onto their websites. In the meantime, if you’re from around my area, definitely check out CulinARIANE restaurant and Mesob Ethiopian restaurant.

The photo of the Jonah crab at the top of this post was shot for Oceania Seafood company, in New York (check my Flickr photostream for more pictures). They’re building a website, and I’ve been working very closely with an awesome IT support company called “Blue Lion Solutions” to help Oceania Seafood company grow its online seafood shipping business.

So, if you need the freshest seafood around, contact Oceania Seafood at 917-662-8028 (website coming very soon!)

And if you need web hosting services, IT support, and boatloads more help from tech-savvy types, contact Blue Lion Solutions (or just click here).

Tollhouse Cookie Dough Recall: E. Coli

Posted in Food experiments at home, Food in the news with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2009 by restaurantouring

The FDA found some E. Coli in batches of Tollhouse Cookie dough. Try not to eat the dough raw! For more deets, check the news.

EDIT: So, apparently it’s a voluntary recall. This means that there may or may not be an E. Coli contamination in these batches of cookie dough, so here’s an idea: BAKE THE DAMN THINGS INSTEAD OF EATING IT RAW. Dumbasses. . . .

And if you still want cookies, but you’re afraid of the store-bought stuff, you can make your own in just a few minutes if you have a few basic ingredients on hand. Check out Michael Ruhlman’s blog post about a chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream bowl for the recipe.

On a completely unrelated note, unless she really, really, really likes Tollhouse cookies (How’s THAT for a smooth connection? Segues can kiss my ass), check out The Art and Times of Diana Ho for info on shows and art galleries and such in the New York area (you can find her online portfolio here). I’ve been meaning to add her to my blogroll for a little while now, but I am a lazy sod — was reminded when I checked my blog stats and saw some traffic being directed my way from her blog. Quid pro quo. I love the smell of social networking in the. . . . damn, it’s already 3:30 in the afternoon!

Stuff in the pipes

Posted in Books and gear, Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts, New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 11, 2009 by restaurantouring

Got reservations at Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin. Will report back (hopefully with pictures!) once I dine. Gotta get my laptop fixed first, cuz borrowing computers to access the web is teh suck. At any rate, I’m on a mission to eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, starting at the top.

Discovered a mouse in my apartment. Not sure if it’s the same mouse my roommate and I found in the winter — we named it Teacup. Oh well. Time to hide the dried fruits that I suspect he’s munching on and break out the peanut butter. I’d like to build a better mousetrap, a la Jim Clark, but we’ll see how much motivation I have to do something so cool/geeky.

Finally, a word of advice: avoid cheap tongs. Trust me. I speak from personal experience. Despite owning numerous knives (including the super-sharp Shun Kaji 10″ chef’s knife) and sharpening them all myself with Japanese water stones, I haven’t cut myself in the past year or 3 — that is, until tonight: on a pair of tongs I bought from the dollar store.

Don’t ask. I don’t know how I did it, either.

Riingo, Restaurant Week, NYC

Posted in New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2009 by restaurantouring

Riingo is the Japanese word for apple.  This is fitting because I don’t like apples very much.  I think they’re pretty bland.  I think they’re pretty boring.  Kind of like red delicious apples.  It’s misleading, actually.  They may be red, but they are not that delicious.  And I often find that my red delicious apples have gone mealy on me.

In a way, you could kinda say the same thing about Riingo, which is located in the Alex Hotel, at 205 E. 45th St.  Riingo is pretty bland and boring and all of the above.  To boot, I had pretty terrible service there, although I’m somewhat willing to let that slide for them this time (One of my guests was over an hour late for dinner but the restaurant was kind enough to honor our reservation — by seating us in the worst booth in the house, where there was a ton of foot traffic, and the servers kept slamming drawers into the back of one of our seats whenever they needed more silverware.  Fantastic).

First Course

The food was pretty awful, too.  We started off with a roasted beet salad that was very visually impressive and very bland in taste.  Again, I apologize for the lack of pictures.  All the pictures I took have been lost in a broken camera phone.

We also had some beer-braised short ribs with hearts of palm and an apple puree.  I didn’t think the apple puree tasted anything like apple, and figured they would have done a better job just smearing a spoonful of some store-bought applesauce onto the plate.  The short ribs were okay, but could have been much more flavorful.

There was also a salmon avocado roll, which was the savior of the night, because it was just like any other salmon avocado roll that you could have gotten at any sushi buffet anywhere.

Second Course

The three entrees we had were as follows:

Soy-glazed salmon, bulgur wheat, scallions. This has been updated on Riingo’s menu to be fried rice instead of bulgur wheat — probably because the bulgur wheat was terrible.  I bet they don’t do the fried rice very well either, sadly.  Also, the salmon was very one-note, and not very tasty at all.  It barely tasted of soy, for starters.

Chili roasted chicken, shiitake mushrooms, water spinach. The single dryest piece of meat I have ever eaten in my life, evocative of jerky.  Inedible.

Grilled hangar steak, Japanese sweet potatoes, plum sauce. I freaking hate when I see plum sauce on a menu, or when I hear people talk about plum sauce.  Why?  Because it never actually turns out to be plum sauce.  It’s hoisin sauce.  There are no plums in hoisin!  Real plum sauce is divine.  Hoisin sauce is cloying.  To boot, why the hell should I pay $25 for overcooked, tough steak that’s been drizzled with about a penny’s worth of “plum sauce,” which I can get by the pint at an Asian grocery for two bucks and change?  I’m sorry.  This makes no sense to me.

Dessert

Donuts, green tea ice cream. Not bad.  “Donuts”, I think, is copyrighted, especially since America [apparently] runs on it.  Nice job, whoever-wrote-the-menu.  Also, they were not very soft and tender, like how I think doughnuts are supposed to be.  At least the ice cream was good, but then, it’s probably purchased in bulk from someone who actually knows their way around in a kitchen.

Warm Chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream. Why does this dessert seem so familiar?  Ah, yes.  That’s right.  Because I had this same exact dessert, yesterday, at Centrico, only Centrico’s was magnitudes better.  That’s why.

Summary:

Do yourselves a favor and don’t eat here unless someone pays you to do so.  Even then, I’d be reluctant.  Sorry, Riingo.  Try harder.

Modern Mexican Food at Centrico

Posted in New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 10, 2009 by restaurantouring

I’m starting to dislike restaurant week.  I know, I know . . . I blogged during the summer about how much I liked it, and already I’m changing my story like a bad liar in front of his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend.  Maybe I used to like it cuz I was a poor student who barely made 7 bucks an hour working a bullshit work-study job?  Maybe I don’t like it anymore cuz I’m a big boy now, with a a big boy job, making a big boy salary, wearing big boy pants, and eating big boy food? (Besides All-Clad and Shun, maybe Huggies should throw me some cash, too? Okay, okay . . . I’ll stop. On with the food. . . .)

While I used to think it was great to go out and eat at a discount, the more restaurants I eat at for Restaurant Week, the more I realize that most places simply put simple-to-prepare, bland, uninspired dishes on the menu, knowing that plenty of people who normally do not eat out very often will flock to their restaurants looking for a good deal.  In most cases, they will not find one.

Centrico, owned by chef Aarón Sanchez, is different.  You may know Aarón from the Food Network – he was the host of this show called Melting Pot.   I’ve never seen it. I’m not even sure if they still show it. Food Network sucks now anyway. Except for Good Eats, which I mostly watch on YouTube (but that’s another blog). Or, more recently, he was on The Next Iron Chef America competition during the summer of 2007.  He was my underdog favorite, despite making some silly mistakes early on in the competition.  And if that still doesn’t ring any bells, you may (and I hate to do this to ya, Aarón) know him because of his mom — the fantastic Zarela Martinez.

Located at 211 West Broadway (near where West Broad intersects Franklin St.), Centrico gave me the most food out of any restaurant so far for restaurant week.  To boot, none of it was the usual tex-mex-type fare that some people I know automatically think of when they hear “Mexican food.”  You want more?  Here:  it was all very tasty.

Of course, this is no longer an updated, relevant blog post.  I’m recalling my meal from this past summer’s restaurant week, so if that turns you off to this post, feel free to stop reading now.

For the rest of you, I’ll continue, since I didn’t get a chance to blog about this place during the summer — a shame, because the food was good and plentiful.  My bet is that the menu for January 2009’s restaurant week should be pretty promising as well.  Additionally, I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures.  I took a bunch with my camera phone, but that phone has since decided to stop working on me, so all was lost.  Sadness.

First Course

The four courses offered at Centrico started off with a platter of guac and chips for my two guests and me.  Although it wasn’t terribly impressive (the guac could have used much more lime and the chips were really thick.  Plus I would have liked way more salt on the chips, but I really like salt . . .), it was nice to have something to munch on while we perused the drink menu.  We all agreed that it was a nice gesture to offer another “course,” considering all the other places we’d been to seemed to try to skimp as much as possible.

Hoo boy, I can tell I’m not inspiring confidence in any of you, but hold on.  I’m serious.  This was a good restaurant.

Second Course

For the appetizer, we ordered all three items on the menu: the platanos rellenos, ensalada de mercado, and the camarones y pozole.

The plantains were probably the favorite of the 3 apps.  It was a twist on the chillis rellenos — a hollowed out section of mildly sweet plantain, filled with smoky black beans, and finished with crema fresca.  The smokiness of the beans were evocative of bacon, almost, and I had my doubts as to whether or not there might be some porcine play going on there.  Vegetarians be warned: ask ahead.

The salad was actually quite boring, despite sounding delicious when described: Mesclun, shaved chayote and jicama, hibiscus vinaigrette.  I have no idea what hibiscus tastes like, but the vinaigrette did not impress me or any of my fellow diners that evening.

The shrimp appetizer was very tasty, as well (We decided we liked the plantains just a little better because it was delicious and we’d never had a plantain that had been stuffed with smoky beans before).  The shrimp were sauteed and paired with a creamy gaujillo chilli sauce before being poured over the top of crispy triangles of pozole/grits/polenta.  It was creamy, rich, and delicious.  In fact, I briefly contemplated asking for a bowl of the sauce, topped with a few more of the beautiful shrimp, so that I could have it as a soup.

Third Course

I had the birria al estilo Jalisco, the braised short ribs, Jalisco-style, which was paired with an earthy, flavorful ancho chile broth.  It wasn’t not too spicy, since anchos aren’t very spicy at all.  Rather, it was deep and complex.  The ribs came with tortillas and some fixings, so that you could make your own mini burritos or tacos or whatever.  This was my favorite of the night.

One of my friends had the pollo a las brasas, which was probably the best damn chicken I have ever had in a restaurant so far.  Pieces of chicken are marinated with chipotle, lime, and garlic.  They are then pressed as they cook, so that the meat comes out dense and flavorful and super moist and tender.  When the dish arrives, you can really smell the garlic and lime, though I could have used a little bit more of the chipotle.  This was very close to being my favorite (and it probably should have been, except I have a thing for short ribs, and a thing against chicken in restaurants).

Finally, there was the pescado veracruzana, the pan-roasted market fish.  We had the option of having either salmon or mahi mahi, and chose the latter.  Tomatoes, olives, serrano chillis.  Not bad.  Not great either, but fresh and clean tasting, so no complaints.

Fourth Course

I had the molten mexican chocolate cake, and we also got the flan de coco and corn ice cream.  I have to say, I do believe corn ice cream must have been the invention of some genius.  It was probably a grandmother.  A mad, genius, darling, wonderful grandmother.  Bless her.  I’ve found my favorite flavor of ice cream, and it tastes like cold, sweet corn.

The flan was nothing special, though it was very good.  The molten chocolate cake was delicious, except that it was not Mexican, plus I had the same exact dessert the very next day at another restaurant for restaurant week.  The SAME cake — down to the details of sides and top of the cake (assembly-line-manufactured, it seems).  Oh well.  In Centrico’s defense, theirs was far superior.

Summary:

If you plan on going out for restaurant week, please consider going to eat at Centrico restaurant, located at 211 West Broadway.  A vast majority of the options are everyday a la carte items, so the staff are experienced in preparing these dishes.  The end result is a consistent dining experience and a true bargain (as far as eating in Manhattan goes, anyway).  You’re also full after your meal, unlike the time I went to eat at Megu, where I was seriously contemplating buying a dirty water hot dog after dinner.  Order one of the specialty cocktails (I had the one with jalapenos in it.  Interesting and tasty.  Zesty, I might say).  If offered again, I’d go with either the shrimp or the plantains for the app, either the chicken or the short ribs for the main, and most definitely the corn ice cream for dessert.  Anything you choose will most likely be pretty good.  You can thank me later for suggesting the corn ice cream.

Top Chef, Episode 7, Season 5

Posted in Food on TV with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2009 by restaurantouring

Welcome back to Top Chef, everyone!  It’s been quite a while, since no new episodes aired over the holidays.  This is the first new episode in about 3 weeks!

As always, do not continue reading this post if you don’t want the episode spoiled for you.

This week, I’ll do a really quick update on the show.  Major props to Catie, “the editor,” for filling me in on the details live, since I won’t be able to download this episode until iTunes decides to stop sucking and make the episode available for me to download.

Quickfire

The guest judge is pastry chef Jean-Christophe Novelli, and the challenge is to make “the ultimate sweet treat” without using sugar.  Jeff thinks he’s got this challenge in the bag.  Jamie decides not to make a dessert.  Hosea is doing something with peaches and figs.  Arianne is using diet Dr. Pepper.  Carla gets angry at everyone constantly opening and closing the fridge, cuz her bananas aren’t freezing properly, so she finally has to saute them with walnut oil.  Stefan is being Stefan.

Top Chefs: Radhika, Leah, and Jeff

Bottom 3: Ariane, Jamie, and Carla

Winner: Radhika and her whole wheat challah bread pudding with sauteed white peach, honey roasted cashews, and ground ginger.

Double Elimination Challenge

This one is a free-for-all.  The judges wanted to see exactly what these chefs could do, since they desperately need to prove that they know how to cook if they want to succeed on the show.  So far, the food has been pretty disappointing, despite the first episode’s dishes being very strong.

The cheftestants are split into two teams.  The twist is that they will be judging each others’ food.  Radhika chooses to be on the team that Stefan is not because she thinks that Stefan causes too much unnecessary tension.

Fabio rolls pasta.  Jamie cooks scallops.  Again. Fabio comments: “This is Top Chef, not Top Scallops!”

There’s a new judge:  Toby Young.  He is filling in for Gail.

Judgement

They love Jamie’s scallops.  They don’t like Eugene’s whole red snapper at all — it’s bland.  Melissa’s dish tastes like cat food.  Leah screwed up because she attempted something she had never done before.  Carla’s scallops are far too garlicky because of the gremolata she made to go with them (I never liked the taste of raw garlic much either, and I would only use it sparingly with strongly flavored items, like beef or something).  Also, Carla’s risotto was called uninspired.  Stefan is ecstatic that Colicchio liked his dish.  Jeff’s collection of hors d’oeuvres seemed to be disliked by all but Toby.  Ariane sauteed a skate wing.  Melissa is worried about her fish tacos and who will be going home tonight.

Top Chefs:  Ariane, Jamie, Stefan

Bottom 3: Melissa, Eugene, Carla

Winner: Jamie (Thank God.  Finally!)

Losers:  Eugene and Melissa.  Pack your knives and go.

Mmmm. . . . Live Octopus . . .

Posted in New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2009 by restaurantouring

The sign outside

About two weeks ago, I went to this new Korean BBQ place in Flushing with my sister, my dad, and my dad’s girlfriend.  The place is freakin tasty, so don’t let the atmosphere fool you — it’s worth it.

Immediately upon entering through the sliding wooden doors, all the waitrons in the place greet you in Korean and make you feel at ease.  I’d say that they try to make you feel at home, but personally, I don’t own tables with large gas burners in the middle.  I’m guessing most of you don’t have those either, so until then, you’ll have to be made to feel at ease.

The immediate impression is that the seating is almost cafeteria-style seating.  The tables are pushed together into long rows to save space, and all the rows are just a little too close together to be totally comfortable.  For example, I think I was elbowing the poor guy behind me all night.  It was unintentional, I swear!  Even if he was being loud and obnoxious.

Also, for the most part, you’re pretty much rubbing elbows — or even sharing tables — with other patrons.  There are posters of K-pop artists and icons all over the place.  The decor is kind of tacky.  Chopsticks, spoons, and napkins are located in cylindrical canisters between tables, and you pretty much just serve yourself.  While this may serve to keep overhead costs down for the restaurant (and hopefully translate into lower prices for you, the customer), it can still be a little . . . discouraging; but, this is only disappointing if you’re used to fancier fare and service, and it is quickly quelled (thankfully) as soon as the food arrives and the savory aromas hit your nose.

While traditional, run-of-the-mill Korean BBQ choices are available (various seafoods, meats, veggies, etc. that you can grill on the central burner), it was suggested that we try something different.  So, we ordered the “San-Nak-Ji-Chul-Pan,” and thank goodness we did.

The complimentary appetizer was eggs.  A nonstick skillet was placed on our burner, and it almost fell into the fire because it was so cheap and poorly balanced — even after 3 eggs were cracked into it.  A premixed seasoning is sprinkled on top of the eggs — it looks simply like salt with a tiny bit of finely ground black pepper, and it didn’t taste like there was anything else in it.  After the egg cooked and cooked and cooked and no one came by to do anything about them, we decided to just eat them, since they were already totally cooked through.

Our server arrived shortly after we finished to whisk away our egg pan, crank our burner up to high, and slap down a huge, boiling, two-handled pan, which was almost overflowing with three different sizes of clams, mussels, crab, lobster, calamari (rings of sliced squid, I should say), baby octopus, shrimp, bean sprouts, and enoki mushrooms.  Underneath all the seafood was udon and Korean rice cakes swimming in a flavorful kimchi-based broth.  Tasty.

As if that weren’t enough, our waitress comes back to our table after we had been eating for a few minutes to offer some . . . additions . . . to our already-very-full pot.  The additions?  Octopus.  Two of them.  At first, I was puzzled why a restaurant would choose to freeze octopus into these flimsy aluminum pots for service, and I was even more puzzled as to why no one had the forethought to thaw them so that the waitress wouldn’t have to try to pry frozen blocks of seafood out of a pan that barely fit them.

Then, I realized (as I watched the faces of everyone around me grimace) that the octopus wasn’t frozen at all.  They were still alive.  And the effort our waitress was exuding in removing these critters from the pot wasn’t because they were frozen to the container, but because the suction cups on each of the tentacles had grabbed onto the sides of the vessel, and were struggling to keep the octopi firmly inside, where it was apparently safe.

This was a futile effort, whether or not the poor octopods knew it or not (probably not, since octopi be some duuuumb aminals), since our waitress (who was of diminutive size, I assure you) fairly easily tore them away and tossed them into our pan of boiling hot seafood-kimchi-noodle love.

creepy

crawly

and trying to get away

If the thought of watching a creature slowly die before your eyes just minutes before you will be eating it disturbs you, I strongly suggest you leave the table for a few minutes before returning and devouring everything in sight.  Go to the bathroom or something.  Go wash your hands.  Again.  Take a walk around the block.  If you smoke, chew a piece of gum (smoking kills).

Do I have a problem with eating an octopus that I watched die just several minutes earlier?  The apparent answer is “no,” since I ate half of one of the octopi almost immediately.  In reality, and in restrospect, I do wish that the octopus had died more quickly.  Being boiled alive doesn’t seem like a pleasant way to die at all.  The only difference between watching this cephalopod boil to death and boiling a lobster or crab is that the latter two are usually done inside a covered pot.  Here, the writhing and squirming is quite visible for all to see (including the neighbors to my right, who were visibly disturbed by our strange delicacy).

On the other hand, this place forces you to look your food in the eye (literally), which I appreciate, since the food we get at the grocery store comes so nicely and conveniently packaged and pre-butchered.  Beef does not look like a cow.  Pork does not look like a pig.  Even chickens don’t really look like chickens, since there are no feathers.  I think we’ve gotten too comfortable with our convenient, carnivorous diets.  To me, if I can’t eat something that I watched die, but have no problems with eating meat from a much larger, much more intelligent animal which died to feed me, I’d be a hypocrite.  I could elaborate, but maybe I’ll save this for another post?

That being said, the octopus was delicious.  It got tough after a few minutes, which was as expected, but we allowed it to simmer for a while longer, and the flesh became tender again.

Charlie

Charlie Park, the owner of the establishment, came around to greet us and to schmooze with the other patrons, and asked us what we thought of the food so far.  The octopus, apparently, was a delicacy that he had specially ordered from the waters around Korea.  “You eat this, and you’ll know what ‘smooth’ tastes like!” he exclaimed, as he cut up the tentacles into bite sized pieces for us.  We were eating something special.

cutting up the octopus

Rice

After we finished all the shellfish and tossed the shells into the trash buckets that were provided for us, our waitress brought out rice to cook with the remaining broth and leftover bits of seafood and vegetation.  This way, nothing was wasted, and all the fantastic, flavorful broth was used up and eaten — just the way I like it.

Cucumber juice

In lieu of a more familiar dessert, we were given cups of cucumber juice — pureed and strained cucumber, very mildly sweetened.  In Asian cuisine, you must have balance.  So, after having had a lot of spicy seafood, something light and cooling was required to balance out the meal.  What better way to end a meal?

Summary: This place serves really good, fresh seafood.  The complimentary appetizer (eggs, sunny side up) is apparently DIY, so serve it before it overcooks.  The “San-Nak-Ji-Chul-Pan” is for at least 4 people and costs $79.99, though 6 people could probably make a very good meal out of it and still be full.  If you have a problem with watching living sea creatures (octopus, obviously) writhe in agony as they boil to death before your eyes, order something else.  There is also a smaller version for 2 people for about half the price.

Restaurant Sik Gaek, 161-29 Crocheron Avenue, Flushing, NY 11358.

Phone: (718.321.7770)

Owner: Charlie Park

Chef: Son

Restaurant Week NYC

Posted in Food on TV, New York restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 5, 2009 by restaurantouring

Restaurant week is coming back to NYC for the last two weeks of January. A list of participating restaurants can be found here. I’ve already made reservations at Centro Vinoteca, the restaurant where Leah, from Top Chef, works. At least I hope she still works there. I want to eat there out of sheer culinary curiosity, I swear. I don’t mean to be stalking her, even if it looks that way.

Yeah, there’s no way out of this one. I’ll just shut up now.

Thomas Keller and Michael Ruhlman: Under Pressure

Posted in Books and gear, Culinary ruminations and other random thoughts, Food in the news, General food knowledge with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2008 by restaurantouring

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I have to admit that I’ve been pretty irresponsible with my money.  What can I say?  Last week, I came to the realization that I had been alive for a whole year since my car crash, and I became overwhelmed with joy.  I was so happy, in fact, that when my date cancelled on me an hour and a half before dinner, I went out and bought a knife.

Oh God, that sounds horrible (I’m mentally stable and a very nice guy, I swear)!  What I mean is that I went out and got something for the kitchen that I’ve been eying for a very long time — a GOOD, quality, 10-inch chef’s knife — as a sort of present to myself for still, somehow, being more-or-less alive.  Cost me around 315 bucks.  Irresponsible, I tell you.  But enough of this preachy, sentimental, boring self reflection.  On with the content (more or less)!

After spending some time in the kitchen with my new knife, attempting to perfectly brunoise some onions, I went over to Michael Ruhlman’s blog and found a post on preparing and eating bone marrow (One of my many, many, many favorite foods) and a slightly older blog post about Thomas Keller’s new book, Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide.  Reading on, I found that both Ruhlman and Keller would be speaking in Manhattan, at the Astor Center, on Saturday night, November 22, 2008.  To purchase a ticket meant forking over $125, and I was pretty low on funds (especially after buying that new knife), so I (of course) bought a ticket for myself.  It was worth it!  Or at least it would be.  Like I said — irresponsible.  Worth it!

Saturday came quickly, and I spent the day with my friend, Catie (the Editor), and one of her co-workers.  We ate at Shake Shack (but that’s another blog) and sat in a Starbucks (that’s definitely not another blog) to eat and chat. Time flew by and we parted ways so that I could go to this event (Many thanks to both Catie and Cristina for figuring out subway directions for me when I wasn’t paying attention!  To think that I was just going to wander somewhat aimlessly until I found the place — HA!).

The Astor Center is up the short flight of stairs next to Astor Wines & Spirits, near the corner of Lafayette and 4th St.  Upon entering the Astor Center, I gave my name to the girl at the front entrance to confirm my ticket reservation, hung up my jacket (I really need to get a coat, man.  It was freeeeeezing outside), and was offered some wine.

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I started with the 2003 Sierra Cantabria Rioja, a Spanish red wine.  I figured that would help to warm me up a bit, after walking around all day in the bitter New York winter cold (Technically still autumn, but when it’s 28 degrees outside and windy, I don’t care what season it is — it’s cold as balls).  Then, I made my way over to the trays of hors d’oeuvres.

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I started with the miniature sandwiches, reading the sign and snapping a picture before sampling the sandwich itself:

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This was followed by  3 bites of food, each on a little crostini.  All of them were fantastic, the pate campagne and the foie gras (naturally) being my favorites:

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At that point, the two speakers walked into the room.  I introduced myself to Mr. Ruhlman and told him that I couldn’t stop reading his books, which is true.  I read The Soul of a Chef in about 3 days and I read The Reach of a Chef in less than 2 days.  I’m on the T’s or maybe the U’s in The Elements of Cooking right now, and I will curiously start to read The Making of a Chef last, after I’m done with Elements.

I also said hello to Chef Keller, but all I could really bring myself to say was just that — “Hello!”  I guess I was starstruck.  And I thought I was better than that (HA!).

The two made their way to the front, where the chairs were set up on the small stage, and the discussion was soon under way.

projection_resize1The two were projected onto a screen behind the stage so that the people sitting in the back could see the action up front.  I would have preferred if they just worked on their sound system, since it was noisy and staticky and you could not make out what they were saying at times.

Still, the discussion between the two was interesting.  Ruhlman asked a lot of questions for the chef to answer, and I took notes about a few interesting things I learned that night.  For example, Chef Keller said that the cell walls of vegetables (root vegetables such as carrots, in particular) break down at 83 degrees Centigrade.  If you tried to cook a carrot sous vide at 82.9 degrees Celsius, it would remain forever crunchy because plant cell walls would never break down at those temperatures (Plant cells, of course, are made up mostly of cellulose, which is strong, crystalline, not soluble in water, and not digestible; pectins, which ARE water soluble; and hemicellulose, which are fairly easily broken down by acids, bases, and heat).

Additionally, I learned that despite being able to hold food at a certain temperature indefinitely (short ribs at 134 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 days, for example), you could still overcook food.  The wonder of sous vide cooking is that meat can still look rare or raw, have the texture of cooked meat, and be overcooked like a well done steak.

Attention was also given to the vacuum sealer machines that they use in the French Laundry and per se kitchens.  The kitchen staff discovered that you could compress foods such as spinach and watermelon inside one of these machines.  These discoveries have led to inspired new dishes, such as the vegetarian version of beef carpaccio:  compressed watermelon topped with a gelled mango puree “yolk” (When I saw a picture of this dish, I was disheartened to see the mango yolk idea being used here, since I originally wanted to use a mango puree “yolk” for my bacon and eggs dessert idea.  I should probably just make it, take pictures, and blog about it instead of talking so much about it.  I know gelling fruit purees with compounds like sodium alginate and calcium chloride isn’t original — Ferran Adrià’s been doing it for at least 7 years — but I was still disheartened).

Keller answered a few more questions by Ruhlman, and then the floor was opened up for questions and discussion.  There were only a handful of professional chefs in the audience, and almost everybody in the audience knew what sous vide cooking was.  I was quite impressed with that response, although I guess it’s not a surprise, since we’ve been seeing a lot of sous vide cooking on, for example, the Food Network.

Then, as quickly as it started, the discussion was over, and it was time to line up to get free, personalized copies of the book.  I hung around for a bit first, enjoying a glass of the sparkling white wine that was also offered at the event:

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The two [Ruhlman and Keller] were very nice, and Thomas deviated from his usual message when signing books (“It’s all about finesse!”) to a more appropriate, “It’s all about time and temperature!”  I also managed to get my copy of The Elements of Cooking signed by Michael Ruhlman, although I felt embarrassed to have that book signed at this particular event, since I did not want to insult Chef Keller in anyway (it’s Thomas freaking Keller, after all).

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All guests received a parting gift as well.  I believe it is a brownie or similar chocolate cake type treat.  I have not opened mine yet.  I will do so as soon as I take a picture of it in good lighting, and I will post up pictures of that as well.

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).