Archive for restaurant

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).

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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.

CulinAriane, part III

Posted in Food on TV, New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 25, 2009 by restaurantouring

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I love eating at CulinAriane. The food keeps getting markedly better and better every time I go back to eat there. And that’s exciting for me, especially since I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to keep somewhat up-to-speed with the food that Ariane produces since after the show ended. In a recession, it’d be easy for a restaurant to start cutting back on food quantity and quality, yet somehow, CulinAriane has only been on the rise. She may be a self-proclaimed “old lady,” but don’t let that fool you — the woman can COOK. And with an expansion to the restaurant happening as early as this summer, things are looking really bright for the CulinAriane crew.

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My meal kicked off with a small bite of something Ariane loves to start off with — a small slice of seared tuna loin. This amuse bouche was paired with a creamy guacamole.

The cool, refreshing, al dente white asparagus that you see at the top of this post were topped with a fantastic warm goat cheese bearnaise sauce and morel mushrooms — one of my favorite mushrooms. I ordered the dish mainly because I thought it would look great in a photograph (and because it was in season and I figured I needed more fresh veggies in my meatatarian diet), and I’d like to think that I was right. The dish was plated exactly as I hoped it would be plated, which made lugging some extra photo gear to dinner and enduring the funny looks from the [probably] annoyed patrons worth it [for me]. (I deeply apologize to the people I may have annoyed during dinner. I tried to make the reservation as late as possible to avoid this).

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Next came the pirogi I ordered. Here, you’re looking at a couple delectable bites’ worth of caramelized onion, potato, white cheddar cheese, braised rabbit, carrot ribbons, and carrot juice reduction. The pirogies I had at Sava Polish Diner (an earlier post) do not compare (Sorry, Sava!).

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Croissant in lieu of bread. Even this has gotten better than I remember. Softer, fluffier, richer, better.

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Hawaiian striped marlin. Dusted with fennel pollen. Fingerling potatoes, spring garlic, artichoke hearts, and a grilled ramps vinaigrette. If Ariane keeps cooking marlin this way, I swear I’m going to eat every damn marlin in the sea. I had to hold myself back from licking the plate clean.

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The chocolate truffle cake with chocolate twizzle was perfection. It was light, moist, not too sweet, and perfectly matched with that mascarpone cream on top and the raspberry coulis around it. I’m usually not a fan of sweets, but I could eat ten of these desserts if my meager budget would allow it. Sigh.

CulinAriane restaurant is located at 33 Walnut Street, Montclair, NJ 07042
Phone: 973-744-0533
Fax: 973-744-0733
Hours: Wed – Sat, 5:30 – 10:00
Reservations are highly suggested.

Dinner at CulinAriane part 2 – Montclair, NJ

Posted in Food on TV, New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2009 by restaurantouring
Outside CulinAriane, looking in

Outside CulinAriane, looking in

[For a more recent account of the food at CulinAriane, in Montclair, NJ please click here.]

I first ate at CulinAriane back in mid-November (read about it here). I went after seeing chef Ariane Duarte talk about her small Montclair restaurant on Bravo TV’s Top Chef. A quick search on Google told me that I lived a mere 15 minutes away, so I figured I had to go. It was for science!

And what a science it was! Dinner that night was nothing short of terrific — one of the best meals I’ve ever had in a New Jersey restaurant. I still salivate at the thought of the mushroom and goat cheese polenta and shed tears of grief when I realize that it is no longer on the menu. That’s serious grief, folks — onions hardly make me cry anymore (but that’s probably because I use a really sharp knife to cut onions).

Dinner was even better because I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Duarte. A CIA graduate himself, he is Ariane’s husband, co-owner of the restaurant, and pastry chef for CulinAriane. But enough recap and reminiscing. On with the blog!

I went back there for dinner with my room mate, one of my best friends, for his birthday back in mid-January. Meant to blog about it way sooner, but never got around to it. Here’s what we had:

Amuse bouche

Amuse bouche

Dinner started with an amuse bouche of sun-dried tomato with parmesan breadcrumbs — one large, tender, flavorful bite.

Wine

Wine

Next, my roommate decided we should have a bottle of wine. CulinAriane is a BYO type of place and we unfortunately did not B our O. Luckily, they work with a local wine merchant, who delivers for free. We chose a 2006 Boisson-Vadot Meursault Chevaliers from France.

Crab cakes

Crab cakes

Oysters

Oysters

Next, came our appetizers: My roommate got the jumbo lump crab cake with citrus caper remoulade, which was very tender, sweet, flavorful, and full of large chunks of crab meat. The tangy citrus caper remoulade worked beautifully with the sweetness of the crab. I only wished there was a bit more greenery on the plate, but that’s only because I like having a nice salad with my crab cakes. My friend, however, would never agree with that because he is morally opposed to eating vegetables.

I ordered the cornmeal-crusted oysters, with micro greens and horseradish cream. My only complaint is that I wanted three more platters of them, which isn’t really a complaint, I suppose. These oysters were simple, had a great, clean flavor, and had just enough horseradish in the sauce to elevate the dish from boring to wham bam thank you ma’am.

Rabbit Ragout with Gnocchi

Rabbit Ragout with Gnocchi

Ariane was then nice enough to give us this additional complimentary appetizer: a braised rabbit ragout, served with toasted gnocchi and shaved parmesan. The gnocchi were large, but nice and tender, flavorful, and offered a nice counterpoint to the gelatinous, unctuous, delicious braised rabbit.

Pekin duck breast

Pekin duck breast

Skate

Skate

We moved onto our entrees next: my friend got the Pekin duck breast with sweet potatoes, hash of duck confit and black garlic, duck jus, and fig balsamic drizzle. I ordered one of the specials of the night — a pan-seared skate wing with fried capers, new potatoes, and red chillis. This dish was very similar to the skate dish that Ariane made on Top Chef, and this was very well balanced in terms of buttery goodness, the sweetness of the fish, the heat from the chillis, and the acidity from the citrus.

Artisanal cheese plate

Artisanal cheese plate

Lemon Meringue Martini

Lemon Meringue Martini

Finally, we got our desserts: My roommate ordered a cup of Earl Grey and the artisanal cheese platter, while I had already decided that I would try the lemon meringue martini that caused Ariane so much grief on the show, early in the season.

The cheese plate came with toast and water crackers, with a candle stuck in what appeared to be cranberry sauce (because it was his birthday). The first cheese was a Sparkenhoe Red Leicester — a hard cow’s milk cheese. Next was the Prima Caciotta, a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese. Finally, there was the Humboldt Fog — a soft goat’s milk cheese.

I eagerly dug into the lemon meringue martini, with the cherry surprise and vanilla wafer on the bottom. Ironically (though, if you know me, not surprisingly), it was too sweet for me, but I’m not sure if that’s because of the fact that I dislike sweets or because it was actually too sweet. The birthday boy thought it was fine, so I defer to his judgment.

There you have it. Another meal at CulinAriane. I was supposed to eat there again (for my birthday this time) this past Saturday, but I had to cancel at the last minute. I rescheduled the reservation for this Thursday night, so I will let you know how things turn out!

Until next time, eat well and be happy!

– Conway

CulinAriane restaurant is located at 33 Walnut Street, Montclair, NJ 07042
Phone: 973-744-0533
Fax: 973-744-0733
Hours: Wed – Sat, 5:30 – 10:00
Reservations are highly suggested.

Crown Palace Chinese Restaurant, Marlboro, NJ

Posted in New Jersey Restaurants with tags , , , , , , , on January 14, 2009 by restaurantouring

I must be in a vengeful mood lately.  I don’t know why.  Well, that’s a lie — I know why, but it has nothing to do with food, so let’s move on.

I’ve got a real problem with this one particular New Jersey Chinese restaurant.  Actually, it’s just with this one particular waiter, who seems to have been promoted recently.  I’ll never understand why, though.  He’s rude, abrupt, inattentive, and he thinks he’s funny (he’s not).  I won’t mention names.  Suffice to say that he’s the one with the floppy haircut, almost cherubic smile, bad jokes, and he’s been working there for a few years now.

My family used to go eat there fairly often.  The quality of the food, as well as the quality of the service have all noticeably deteriorated in the past few years.  Often, salt is omitted from some of the dishes, which results in food that tastes almost like nothing.  How could you forget the salt?  Salting foods is one of the most fundamental skills in the kitchen!

They now have a wine list, which is new, but none of them seem to be particularly good.  That, and the asshat waiter might card you, ask you for a second form of identification to verify that you are, indeed, of age, persist in his quest to prove that you are not old enough to drink, and proceed to show you “how to drink wine,” by violently swirling a glass of Riesling, spilling it on your jeans, not noticing this, not apologizing, and then, finally, having the audacity to stick his nose up in your glass to take a long, disturbing sniff.

The thought still irritates me, even after these past couple of months.  We’ve not been back there since, but I have a feeling we will inevitably find ourselves at the mercy of this ignorant swine again, sooner or later.  There are only so many good Chinese restaurants in our area.

Next time, I’m going to West Lake (Google it, New Jerseyans.  West Lake is decent eatin’).

Crown Palace Chinese Restaurant is located at 8 N. Main St. in Marlboro, NJ.

West Lake Chinese Restaurant is located at 1016 State Route 34, Matawan, NJ‎.  Call ahead to reserve a table for larger parties:  (732) 290-2988

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.