Friday, February 26, 2010

another fancy dinner

The Saturday night of our stay in New York, we opted to go to another restaurant for a fancy dinner.  We had just seen a matinee of Bye Bye Birdie, so dinner was a good way to spend the evening.  Steve didn't want to pack in so many shows this time, and I can't say I blame him.  After all, he prefers going to good restaurants, and I enjoy it too.

This time, we had reservations for Café Boulud.  It's one of Daniel Boulud's restaurants, although it's not his signature/flagship one.  Daniel is his most upscale restaurant and the one with three Michelin stars.  (I generally categorize Daniel Boulud with Eric Ripert and Jean Georges Vongerichten... They're all French chefs in NYC with three-star restaurants.)  Café Boulud has one star, which is still not too shabby.  It may be a step down from Daniel, but it's a pretty small step.  It's still fancier than most restaurants we've tried.

The executive chef at Café Boulud is also a familiar name: Gavin Kaysen.  We've seen him as a competitor on the first season of Next Iron Chef and as a guest judge on Top Chef last season for the Bocuse d'Or challenge.

After some fancy (ok, pretty basic) subway transfer work, we arrived on the Upper East Side in time for our 8:30pm reservation.  We checked our coats and were seated at a little corner booth.  Despite being next to a wait station and the path to the kitchen/restrooms, it was a comfortable spot.  I was already more at ease than I had been at Le Bernardin the night before.  

We looked at our menus, but we asked about the tasting menu, which I had seen mentioned on the website.  Unlike Le Bernardin, there was no preset tasting menu; instead, the chef determined what to serve for 5 courses.  They were able to work around my allergies, so we decided to order the tasting menu and eat what they wanted to serve us.

Fontina, Risotto, Black Truffle

Every table received arancini as an amuse bouche.  Little fried balls of risotto, arancini are hard not to love.  (We had some at our wedding during the cocktail hour, not that I actually ate any of the hors d'oeurves that day. )  As our waiter told us, they were filled with fontina, risotto, and black truffle. They were creamy and slightly earthy from the truffle, and the outsides were perfectly crispy.
Roasted Beet Terrine
Maytag Blue Cheese Mousse, Toasted Walnuts, Endive, Citrus Gelée

New Brunswick Oyster

Arancini (same as before)

A trio of amuses were next to come out, and one of them looked familiar.  We each got another of the arancini, which we were happy to eat.  Next to that was a New Brunswick oyster.  It was small and sweet, just how I like them.  The last bite was the beet terrine with blue cheese.  It was a little like a layered jello, but savory, and with cheese on top rather than whatever opaque stuff they use in those jello desserts.  I really enjoyed it, since I've been liking beets with cheese lately.  I was just a little sad that mine didn't have the extra garnishes that Steve had.  They left the green sprig and the endive off of mine, even though the walnut was the only part that should have been a problem.

Ahi Tuna Carpaccio Niçoise
Haricots Vert, Yellow Wax Beans, Olives, Fried Quail Egg, Tonnato Sauce


And then came the first of the real courses.  We soon found out that they were giving us each different dishes.  It was cool to try more things and take more pictures, although I wasn't always sure if there were elements of Steve's dishes that contained nuts.  I only tried a few bites of his whole meal, but I had plenty of food on my own plates to eat anyway.

Sashimi of Fluke
Pineapple, Cilantro, Jalapeño, Ponzu Vinaigrette

I got the fluke as my first course.  It was one of my favorites of the night, with the sashimi, the pineapple for fruity/sweet, the jalapeño for heat, and the ponzu vinaigrette for salt/acid.  I really like light dishes like this that pair unexpected things well.  It was also quite pretty.

Since Steve and I were being served dishes that weren't necessarily on a printed menu, I spent a minute copying down what I remembered about each course's description after they were announced for us.  Steve went back later, cross-checked those descriptions against the online menus, and pasted the official descriptions for the dishes that he found into a document to keep.  This dish was actually on the menu for Restaurant Week (a few weeks after we were in town), rather than the normal dinner menu.

Thai Coconut and Lemongrass Soup
Shiitake Mushrooms, Shrimp & Pork Wonton, Cilantro

lemongrass soup
Steve got the lemongrass soup as his soup course.  Since it had mushrooms in it, I didn't try any.  Steve was a big fan, however; he likes Thai flavors more than I do.
Cauliflower Velouté
Tempura Oyster, Roasted Cauliflower, Salmon Roe, Arugula

My soup course was a lovely cauliflower velouté.  It was smooth and cauliflowery, and the roe and oyster provided some punches of salt here and there.  There were also small florets of cauliflower, which added some texture.
Both of the soups were brought out with just the garnishes in the bowls, and the servers poured in the liquid at the table.  Steve's garnishes stayed centered, but mine didn't do as well.  So the picture of my soup isn't quite as perfect, but that's okay. 

Incidentally, I saw that someone at the table next to ours ordered the lemongrass soup as a normal portion.  It looked enormous.  I was glad to have a smaller size of mine.  I also really liked the soup bowls and the writing on them.

Rabbit Agnolotti
Beets(?), Red Wine Sauce, Pecorino Foam

Here is the point in the meal when we realized that many of these dishes were probably on the menu in some form.  Instead of being so detailed in my descriptions of the dishes in my moleskine, I started just writing the names of the dishes.  As luck would have it, the rabbit agnolotti was not on any of the online menus.  I had to cobble together a description for it based on the picture and Steve's memory of the dish.  Oops.  Steve liked it, but I don't think it was his favorite.  The pecorino foam was interesting, though.
Fall Squash Risotto
Ricotta Salata, Brown Butter, Sage

I was so happy when they brought out the risotto for my pasta course.  In looking at the online menu and the printed menu in the restaurant, this was the one dish that stood out.  If we had ordered individual plates instead of the tasting menu, I would have made sure we included this.  So it couldn't have been more perfect that I got during the tasting menu.
It was a different take on a squash risotto than what we do at home.  There was no pancetta in this, and the cheese was a hard, salty ricotta rather than a soft triple-cream cheese.  They also used brown butter, which is likely what that foam was on top.  It was a sweeter dish than ours—also good, but different.
I ate most of what I was served, and I'm willing to bet that this was the beginning of the end of my appetite.  Risotto is pretty filling, and I was only able to eat a few bites of the last two savory courses.
Poached Maine Halibut
Puy Lentils, Brussels Sprouts, Gala Apples, Crispy Bacon, Sauce Diablo
Fish was next, and Steve got the halibut.  I think I may have had a bite of the fish, but I was trying to concentrate on getting through my own dishes.  The accompaniments on this dish sounded great, though: lentils, brussels sprouts, bacon, and apple.  Can you tell that I'm beginning to really like fruit in savory dishes?
Seared Diver Scallop
Kohlrabi, Artichoke Barigoule, Herb Crust, Whole Grain Mustard Jus

For my fish course, I got a seared diver scallop.  I haven't had many diver scallops that I've loved, so I wasn't surprised that this didn't rock my world.  The texture of the herb crust was pleasant, but the mustard flavors in the dish didn't help matters much.  (I've never really liked mustard either.)  I think my favorite part of the dish was actually the little potato pieces that were up on end.  They looked a little like the artichoke, but they tasted like french fries.

Roasted Venison Loin
Crispy Polenta, Sage Crust, Treviso, Sauce au Poivre

Meat came next.  Steve got the venison, and I got the veal.  I might have preferred to get the venison, but I was full enough by this point that I couldn't eat more than about one bite of each element anyway.

Tasting of Pennsylvania Veal
Braised Cheek, Seared Loin, Roasted Salsify, Sweet Potato, Brussels Sprouts, Mustard Fruit Jus

There was a lot going on on the veal plate.  It was like three dishes in one: seared loin with sweet potato puree and brussels sprouts, sweetbreads on roasted salsify (maybe?), and then the braised cheek on top of some polenta.  Of the preparations of veal, the sweetbreads were my least favorite.  I don't have a big problem with offal, but the texture was just a little too fatty for me.  The cheek was tender and flavorful; and I think the loin was good, but I don't really remember it.  I was actually more interested in the sweet potato puree, the tiny brussels sprouts, and the polenta.  They were all wonderful and took up less room in my already full stomach.
Molten Chocolate Cake
Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream
molten chocolate cake
Finally, all the savory courses were finished, and our waiter asked if we would like a cheese course.  We were curious what they would serve us, but the only room we had left was reserved for dessert.
Steve got this relatively simple molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream (and gold leaf on top!).  I had a taste of the chocolate cake, which was very rich, but I was more interested in my own dessert.

Apple Tart Tatin
Diplomat Cream, Confiture de Lait, Vanilla Ice Cream
apple tart tatin

Both of our desserts were from the traditional French portion of the menu, but mine was just a little more interesting.  On the left, there was a stack of caramelized apples, topped with a light pastry roll that was filled with vanilla cream, and a strip of caramelized sugar.  In the middle, the confiture de lait was like caramel and cream encased in gelatin.  And on the right was the ice cream, on top of some streusel to prevent sliding on the plate.  It was originally supposed to be pecan-bourbon ice cream, but they substituted vanilla to make it edible for me.
This was one of those times when I wished I wasn't so full already.  I managed to find room for quite a bit of it, especially considering how full I was before dessert, but I was sorry to have to leave some behind.
The final send-off mignardises were small madeleines in a folded napkin.  I ate two or three of these, and they were wonderful.  They were slightly lemony and topped with powdered sugar.  Yet again, I wished I could have eaten more.

I mentioned in my post about Le Bernardin that I preferred this dinner to the one we had the night before.  It's not that the food was so much better at Café Boulud; I think it was just more my style.  The mascarpone dessert at Le Bernardin was my favorite dish out of both meals; however, the first few dishes we had at Café Boulud were all fabulous.  And they served me risotto—and fried balls of risotto—of which I am a fan.  The desserts may not have been quite as impressive, but that apple tart tatin was pretty darn good.
I think the deciding factors, besides the hefty price tag at Le Bernardin, were the overall experience and the service.  I simply enjoyed myself more at Café Boulud.  We had French waiters at both restaurants, but the one at Café Boulud was more charming while still being professional.  The secondary server—a younger woman—was also great.  They weren't as stiff as the ones at Le Bernardin.  I'm sure the formality is part of what sets Le Bernardin apart as a three-star restaurant, but I like to feel at least a little connection with the wait staff.
And as an added bonus at Café Boulud, we saw Chef Kaysen.  He stopped by one of the other tables in the dining room, and I pointed him out to Steve.  (I'm better with faces than he is.)

By the time we left the restaurant, they were finishing up the last of the tables for the night.  We had been there for about 2 1/2 hours.  We got back to the hotel and decided to go ahead and make reservations for the next day on OpenTable.  For our last dinner in NY?  DB Bistro Moderne, another Daniel Boulud restaurant.  Because hey, why not?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

birdie afternoon

Saturday, January 9th began much like the day before at the Park Central Hotel in New York City.  Steve got up before me, showered, and got us coffee from the Starbucks next door.  I drank it while I got ready, and we left the hotel around 10am.  The difference on this day, however, was that we had a matinee to get to after lunch.

Because we hadn't made it to the Time Warner Center on Thursday evening, Steve and I decided that we would go look around and find lunch there on Saturday.  My initial plans for lunch that day had included Lombardi's for pizza and perhaps Rice to Riches for rice pudding in Little Italy.  But since we had just eaten pizza at Grimaldi's the day before, it made more sense to check the Time Warner Center off my list.  It also kept us closer to the hotel and Midtown, which was better for our schedule.

The Time Warner Center is essentially a mall with several upscale stores and restaurants, situated at Columbus Circle.  We were less interested in most of the stores there, but we did stop at the Mxyplyzyk kiosk there to look at the whimsical housewares that they had.  Since we didn't make it to Greenwich Village—where the main store is located—on this trip, the little one at the Time Warner Center had to suffice.

The main draw at the Time Warner was sadly not open while we were in town.  Per Se, Thomas Keller's New York restaurant, was closed from January 1-11, the entire duration of our vacation.  If it had been open, we probably would have tried for reservations or taken advantage of their new (as of last March) salon/lounge a la carte menu for walk-ins. We were a little disappointed that we couldn't eat at Per Se while we were in NY, but the food is similar to The French Laundry, where we have eaten before.  We settled for finding Per Se and looking longingly at its signature blue doors.

We were also out of luck when it came to the Bouchon Bakery.  Their sitting area was completely deserted, and the store front with the main counter was also closed.  It looked like they were repainting and otherwise improving.  Sad, but Yountville isn't too far from home when we want to visit a Bouchon Bakery.

bouchon bakery

For lunch, Steve and I decided to go somewhere that was actually open.  We perused the menus at a few of the restaurants at the Time Warner Center and chose Porter House New York.  It had steaks for Steve and things with cheese for me.  Steve opted for the bistro-style hanger steak with 4-peppercorn sauce (and fries).

I, as always, went straight for the goat cheese on the menu.  My ideal lunch these days, especially when traveling, is something light.  A sandwich or salad is ideal, and if it has goat cheese, I usually can't resist.  Here, it was a salad of roasted beets, goat cheese, butter lettuce, and a shallot vinaigrette.  It was lovely and fresh.

I also had to get a side order of their Four Cheese & Mac.  Steve started making the mac & cheese from the Bouchon Cookbook recently, and I was in the mood for something similar.  Porter House's version was indeed similar to Bouchon's, but the flavor was a little different because they used more varieties of cheese.
After lunch, we hightailed it down to Henry Miller's Theatre, just off Times Square, for the main event of the afternoon.  It was also the reason for our visit to NY: see my former student, Riley, in the ensemble of Bye Bye Birdie.

When we got to the theatre, we joined the others from our group.  There were several kids from YTC and their parents (not the people in the picture above), all there to see Riley.  We actually managed not to run into any of them before or after this, even though most were staying at the same hotel as we were. 
Once Erica and Danielle arrived, they handed out the tickets, and we went in.
The theatre itself is new and pretty spacious.  I was there in 2003 when I saw Urinetown, and it was completely different then.
The show began with the typical overture.  There were some projections and graphics to set up the Conrad Birdie storyline, and then we were in the Almaelou office with John Stamos as Albert and Gina Gershon as Rose.  John Stamos was charming as ever, but I wasn't a fan of Gina Gershon.  Her acting was fine, but her singing was not so good—too much scooping.  She also had trouble with the low chromatic part in "English Teacher," not actually hitting the right notes.
Bill Irwin played the father, Harry MacAfee.  His performance was entertaining, but it was so over the top that it felt like he was in a different show than the others.
I agreed with one review that I read: the teenagers were really the best part of the show.  Since I knew the show well already, I found myself mostly watching Riley when he was on stage.  He was great—always in character.  My favorite moment was at the beginning of "Honestly Sincere," while everyone was trying to keep themselves from dancing.  It looked like he was eating part of his "sister's" skirt for a moment.
In this production, they made several little changes to the show.  One of the more noticeable ones right away was how the song "How Lovely to Be a Woman" was staged.  Instead of Kim changing her clothes during the song, which is the usual staging, it was Kim packing away her Conrad Birdie paraphernalia, occasionally singing to it before putting it in the box.  It didn't have the same humor as the typical ending of Kim in baggy clothes and a baseball hat, singing about being a woman, but I thought it worked well.
There were also a lot of pop culture references that were changed in the script.  They were still period, but some of the more obscure 1960s references were changed to ones that modern audiences were more likely to get.  For instance, the important reporter that Albert unknowingly told off on the phone became Walter Cronkite of CBS News, rather than Henry Luce of Time magazine.
One of the bigger changes in the show was the omission of the Shriner's Ballet.  It's a big dance number in the second half, in which Rosie terrorizes a meeting of the Shriners in Sweet Apple.  It doesn't really further the story at all, but it's a lot fun.  (A lot of musicals from that era have a nice long dance number in the second act.)  I was a little disappointed that they cut it, because I wanted to see what they'd do with it, but I understood why they did.  They cut it pretty seamlessly by having Rose encounter Hugo in the bar after "Talk to Me," instead of outside after "Shriner's."
Also helping the momentum of the second act, "A Lot of Livin'" was cut up a little.  They did most of it where it would normally occur, then they wove in some of the parent stuff, and cut back for some more fragments of the song.  It worked pretty well, especially since they didn't have "Shriner's" to help build the excitement.
I also have to mention how much I loved the set for the MacAfee house.  I liked the sets in general, but this was my favorite.  It used bright colors, in the '60s Mod style—super cute.  I found this article with pictures of some of the other sets, but sadly not the one for the house.  On the plus side, if you look at the last picture on the page, from "Telephone Hour," you can see Riley.  He's the one on the far right in lavender.
Overall, it was a good show, but it probably could have been better.  I was mostly just happy that Riley was fabulous in it.
Afterward, we stayed in the theatre for a talk-back with some of the teenage cast members.  They answered some questions about their experiences and the auditioning process.  (At one point, Riley asked his "mommy" if he was remembering right.)  Post-discussion, we greeted Riley and ended up traipsing backstage, through the train car set piece, to take a group picture onstage.  I set up my camera and had Steve snap a few shots with it.

We moved outside after that, taking another group picture in front of the theatre.  I also got a shot of Riley alone.  Not the best lighting, but it was getting dark by then.

Steve and I didn't stick around much longer after that.  We said goodbye and headed back towards Times Square.  I took a few more pictures on our way through, and then we returned to the hotel to get ready for another fancy dinner.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

le bernardin

I've probably said it before, but I'll say it again: I'm not a food writer.  A look at my Yelp profile will tell you that.  I've posted 93 photos and 0 reviews.  With some practice, I'm getting a little better at articulating my thoughts, but I still like to let my pictures speak for themselves in the more public forum.  I think my issue is a lack of adjectives that sound genuine to me.  I'm comfortable with "good," "great," "tasty," and "interesting."  The problem is that those are very general descriptors; they really don't say very much, and they're used entirely too often.  Words like "decadent," "exquisite," and "indulgent" are less common but seem pretentious.  Can't win...

Despite my writing hang-ups, the time has come to relate our evening at Le Bernardin on January 8th.  I'll do the best I can with the food writing, but I think it's more about communicating the general experience anyway.


Le Bernardin was the first of the reservations that we made for our trip to NY.  We've seen Chef Eric Ripert on Top Chef as a judge, on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations as an occasional partner in crime, and on Avec Eric as host of his own show on PBS.  He's French and known for being a master of seafood.  Le Bernardin is one of only four restaurants in NYC that currently have three Michelin stars, which means that the food is outstanding and so is the service.  When Steve and I decided to go to NY, this was the restaurant that was first on the list, especially since Thomas Keller's Per Se would be closed while we were in town.

The restaurant was a few blocks south of our hotel in Midtown, so it was very easy to find.  We arrived for our 6:00 reservation, checked out coats, and were shown to our table.  I had my lens bag with me, which I often carry in lieu of a purse, and I set it on the floor right next to my chair.  To my surprise, one of the service staff slipped what looked like a little footstool under it, probably so it wouldn't be on the floor or out of my reach.

We looked at the menu first, where our choices were a four-course prix fixe, the chef's tasting menu (8 courses) or Le Bernardin tasting menu (7 courses).  The chef's tasting menu was clearly the most over-the-top choice, featuring more of the higher-priced proteins and generally the best that they have to offer.  We opted for the middle ground of the Le Bernardin tasting menu.  It still had the advantage of an expertly assembled menu, complete with optional wine pairings, but it also looked like fewer of its dishes would need to be altered to accommodate my nut and mushroom allergies.  (The chef's tasting menu had quite a few containing allergens.  Winter is not my season.)  Steve wanted to try the wine pairings with our menu, so he ordered that as well.  I didn't really need my own tastings of all the wine, so I just sipped off of his.  It was plenty.

After ordering, we were served an amuse bouche of lobster bisque.  

As usual, with dishes that are simply announced rather than written on a menu, the full description went in one ear and out the other.  (Visual learner...)  Nevertheless, it was a good introduction to the meal.  I must admit, I don't remember much about the dish, but the lobster and broth were both flavorful.

Layers of Thinly Pounded Yellowfin Tuna; Foie Gras and Toasted Baguette; Shaved Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Gelber Muskateller, "Steirische Klassik", Neumeister, Styria, Austria 2007


With only five ingredients, it was pretty easy to see what was done here.  They started with a thin strip of baguette, toasted it, topped it with foie gras, then covered the whole thing with thinly pounded tuna.  To garnish, a drizzle of olive oil and some chives.  Pretty simple, but after watching Avec Eric, it's probably safe to say that that drizzle of olive oil required a tasting of several to find just the right one.  Even if you were to get the foie gras to make this at home, it probably wouldn't be such a polished, harmonious dish.

The tuna was one of my favorite courses, and it was paired with one of my favorite wines.  Using our mad cognate translation skillz, Steve and I deduced that a "muskateller" was an Austrian equivalent to a muscato.  It's made from the same type of grape that we tasted off the vine at Kuleto Estate, which is slightly sweeter.  I've had both dessert wines and regular wines that have had variations on the "muscat" name, depending on the country/style, but I haven't tried one I didn't like (so far).

Charred Octopus; Fermented Black Bean - Pear Sauce Vierge; Ink - Miso Vinaigrette; Purple Basil
Riesling Estate feinherb, Karthauserhof, Mosel, Germany 2008

Another course that I really liked, I think this was my first time eating octopus.  It had a wonderful charred flavor that went well with the fermented black beans.  The texture was one of the more memorable parts of the dish, though.  In some ways it reminded me of chicken, but in others it was nothing like chicken.  It was dense and light colored like chicken breast, but it didn't have the grain texture that meat always has.  I would describe it as rubbery, but that makes it sound like it was overcooked.  I could tell it was perfectly cooked, and any rubbery texture was, as with calamari, completely normal.

I wasn't sure if the miso would be a problem with my allergy to soy protein.  I'm vaguely allergic to tofu and the stuff they put in smoothies sometimes; it makes my throat scratchy after a bite or two, so I avoid it.  If there was any allergic reaction to the miso in this dish, it was very slight.  (I have a theory that fermented soy may be okay, which would explain why good Japanese soy sauce is no problem.)  I had some Benadryl in my bag, just in case, but I was happy not to need it.

Again, the wine pairing was a good one for me.  It was a riesling, which is one of my go-to wines, so I certainly wasn't complaining.

Nori Crusted Skate; Poached Oysters and Braised Winter Lettuce; Ponzu Vinaigrette
Jurançon, Domaine Cauhape "Chant des Vignes", Southwest France 2007

The skate was least favorite dish of the night.  For me, the dish was overly salty, and I didn't like the texture of the oysters.  I'm not one of those people who refuses to eat oysters because of the slimey factor.  I love eating oysters on the half shell with a few drops of lemon juice.  The difference here?  I prefer smaller, sweeter oysters, and these were relatively large.  It was a little too much slime for me.  They were also warm—part of a hot dish.  Maybe the chill helps me out when I'm eating oysters normally.  In any case, I was not a fan this time.

The wine paired with the skate was unique.  It had similarities to sherry, but it was a French wine.  Really different from any wines I've tried, I wasn't sure how much I liked it.  With the food, it changed a little, as if it suddenly had the right context.

Baked Wild Striped Bass; Corn "Cannelloni"; Light Perigord Sauce
White Rioja, Crianza, Vina Gravonia, Lopez de Heredia, Spain 1999

A more typical fish course came next, and I liked this one much better.  Again, there was a possible allergen in the form of the black truffle on top, but it turned out to be just fine.  My favorite part of the dish was actually the corn element.  The corn "cannelloni" (little blurry thing in the background) had a filling that was really creamy and corny.  Combined with the black truffle, the flavor reminded me of huitlacoche—the mold that grows on corn and is a delicacy in Mexican cuisine (also called "corn smut").  It has an earthy flavor, with a hint of corn.

A white rioja was the pairing.  We've had some red riojas in the past, but white rioja was new to us.  I enjoyed it, but I don't remember much else about it.

Escolar and Seared Kobe Beef; Sea Bean Salad and Eggplant Fries; Mr. Kaufman's Pesto and Anchovy Sauce
Malbec - Mendel - Mendoza/Argentina 2007

As we reached the last savory course, I was getting pretty full.  I was sure to have a bite or two of each component here, but I let Steve finish it for me.  Don't misunderstand—it was a good dish, prepared well.  The fish, escolar, was new for me, although I had seen it used on Iron Chef before.  It's not a good thing to eat in large qualities (hello, laxative properties), but this was a small portion anyway.  Its counterpoint was a small piece of Kobe beef, which was perfectly cooked.  There were sea beans—like salty little green beans—on top and eggplant fries—like tater tots almost—on the side.  The pesto was left off of mine, but I didn't really miss it.  Finally, Steve was a fan of the wine pairing, which was a Malbec.  It was good with the meat but more Steve's style than mine. 

Mascarpone Cream in a Crisp Coffee Shell, Almond - Cocoa Pain de Genes
Château La Rame, Reserve, Sainte-Croix-du-Mont, France 1998

And now for best part.  My favorite dish of the night was this little dessert: the creamy mascarpone in its coffee-flavored sugar encasement, the delightful almond-y/chocolaty cookie-like cake underneath, and the three drops of different sauces.  There was a dot of caramel, one of chocolate, and one of something bright and citrus-y.  The sauces provided a little variety to keep things interesting, although I wasn't in very much danger of getting bored with the main components anyway.

When the waiter brought it out, he almost took it back to get me a plate without the almond-cocoa pain de genes.  I had to stop him and tell him that almonds were fine, and I was glad that I did.  The almond flavor was one of the things that made the dessert so amazing.

The wine was a white dessert wine—a sauternes, I believe.   It was sweet, but not cloying.  Steve took one sip and then handed it to me saying, "You're going to like this one."  And I did.

Cinnamon Caramel Parfait, Liquid Pear, Smoked Sea Salt, Fromage Blanc Sorbet
Maury, La Coume du Roy, Roussillon 1998

I wasn't sure how much I'd like the last dessert; I haven't historically liked pears much.  I'd rather have apples in most instances.  But this one actually surprised me.  Although I didn't like it as much as the mascarpone dessert, it was delicious nonetheless.  Of course, the accompaniments were probably what won me over.  The cinnamon caramel parfait tasted like snickerdoodles, and the fromage blanc sorbet had a slight tang that made it more refreshing and interesting than plain vanilla ice cream.  The actual pear component was the "liquid pear"—spheres filled with pear, which Steve compared to apple sauce, but smoother.

The final wine to go with the pear was a port.  I've had bad ports that remind me of cough syrup, but this was not one of them.  Again, it's more of a Steve wine, but that was only fair after the sauternes that I liked so much.

The last offering from the kitchen was a small plate of mignardises:

Steve got the full array: pistachio financier, hazelnut chocolate thing, beignet, and fruit jellies on white chocolate.  Since two of them were unsafe for me, I got alternating beignets and jellies.  The white chocolate with the jellies was the most memorable thing, in a good way.  By this time, it was difficult to shovel in any more bites, but we managed.

Overall, the food was superb.  Aside from the skate course, which kind of rubbed me the wrong way, I would love to eat any of those dishes again.  The service was also solid, but I couldn't help comparing the experience with our dinner at The French Laundry in 2007.  The feel of the service here was noticeably different.  It was a just little stuffier, while The French Laundry expertly walks the line between formal and comfortable.  Maybe it's just the difference between New York City and Napa, CA, but I felt more at ease at The French Laundry.  Our waiter at Le Bernardin was perfectly nice, but he seemed a little impersonal.  The sommelier who poured our wine with each course was a little warmer.

It was a memorable meal, but it actually wasn't my favorite meal of the trip.  My favorite meal came the next night at Cafe Boulud...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

off to dumbo

Returning to blog posts about the NYC trip in January, here is what we did on our first full day, Friday the 8th.

Having been in MI and IL for the week prior, we were somewhat adjusted to the time zone and the cold.  While this certainly made getting up before noon much easier, temperatures in the 20s were still not optimal for walking around outside.  (Still much better than the teens and single digits in MI and IL.)  Nevertheless, we got up by 9am and spent some time outside.

But first, a little story about Steve's trip out to get some morning coffee from the Starbuck's next to our hotel.  When he got on the pretty small elevator at the third floor—where our room was—to go down, there was already a French family inside.  Then, someone else squeezed in as well.  Steve ended up pretty much face to face with Thomas Keller, the chef of The French Laundry, Bouchon, Ad Hoc, and Per Se.  He was pretty sure it was Keller, and he caught the French family saying something about a "grand cuisinier américain," which I'm sure Keller easily understood as well.  In any case, Steve didn't get up the nerve to say anything, but Keller gave him a small smile, as if he knew he had been recognized.  Most likely, he was heading over to Per Se and/or Bouchon Bakery in the nearby Time Warner Center, both of which were closed for an annual winter break while we were in town (making improvements and such). 

Once we were caffeinated and ready, Steve and I headed out to the subway at Columbus Circle.  We secured a couple of Metro cards and got on a downtown train bound for Brooklyn.  We got off at High St. and walked over to DUMBO—Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.

DUMBO is a somewhat industrial-looking neighborhood that seems to be in the midst of a renaissance of sorts.  There are several galleries, some boutiques, a few restaurants, and the Jacques Torres chocolate factory.  In addition to the commercial side, there's a waterfront park—Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park—with views of the Manhattan Bridge on one side and the Brooklyn Bridge on the other.  I found plans online for the further development of Brooklyn Bridge Park, which will stretch further along the water.  There's even an old carousel, temporarily housed in the building next to Jacques Torres, which will hopefully have its own pavilion in Brooklyn Bridge Park one day.

Steve and I arrived in the neighborhood around 11am and walked around a little before finding Grimaldi's Pizzeria for lunch.  They opened at 11:30am, and there were already people waiting outside when we arrived.  We got a table right away when they opened, but it filled up quickly, especially for a Friday lunch.

We decided to order what we usually get on pizzas at these types of places: sausage and roasted red peppers.  It was essentially a regular coal-oven pizza margherita underneath, with that lovely extra white mozzarella that you don't really see very often.  Best pizza ever?  Not sure about that, but it was pretty good.  It served as our requisite NY pizza for the trip.

After lunch, we walked back to Jacques Torres for the next phase of my plan: hot chocolate.

At Jacques Torres, we ordered a classic hot chocolate for me and a Wicked hot chocolate for Steve.  Steve's had ancho chilis and chipotle, in addition to cinnamon and allspice.  I tried his, but I was happy with my more traditional cup.


With our nice warm chocolate in our mittened/gloved hands, we headed down to Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park.  We probably should have stopped in Almondine, the bakery co-owned by Jacques Torres across the street from the chocolate store, but we were too full from the pizza and content with our hot chocolate.

At the park, we walked a little along the water, and I took some pictures.  We didn't stay too long, because it was frigid out there.  The future Brooklyn Bridge Park section was closed off by a gate too, so there wasn't as far that we could go.  Steve was probably happy about that, since he was waiting not quite so patiently to stop freezing.

Once we had gotten our fill of the park (and the cold), we walked back to some of the shops we had passed on our way into the area.  The first one was powerHouse Arena.  When we passed it the first time, I stopped to take a picture of a window full of children's stuff.  My favorite was the I Live in Brooklyn book.

Upon entering the store, we realized that the books were all somewhat obscure, artsy ones.  They had stacks of photography books, some classic kids books, quirky newer ones, and even some mock-vintage and toy cameras on display.

We also spotted the skateboarding photography book by one of Dan's high school friends from Lansing, Mike Blabac.  I thought it was cool that they had it, and then I noticed that the "pH" logo on the spine matched the ones on a lot of the books in the store.  I realized that Mike's book was actually published by this company—powerHouse Books.  Considering that the raised section in the back of the store was taken up by offices, these were probably also the offices of his publisher.

Next, we found a West Elm store—like Pottery Barn but more eclectic and certainly more "Brooklyn."  (The medicine cabinet in our bathroom came from there.)  Since we had only seen catalogs from them, we went in to look around a little.  I think the closest stores to us are in East Bay (Emeryville) and North Bay (Corte Madera).


Our last stop in Brooklyn was a children's boutique called Pomme.  They had clothing, some toys, and other adorable things, many of them French.  I didn't take any pictures, but it was very cute.  Their website has a nice list of things you can do in DUMBO, many of which we did.

Sadly, it was too cold to try to walk the Brooklyn Bridge at all.  I've been on it before, but it was in 2003, before I was really very into taking pictures.  If we get back to NY during warmer weather some day, we'll have to do that.  I'd definitely like to revisit DUMBO when it's nice out.  It's the kind of neighborhood that I really love.  It may be "trendy," but it's trendy in that less uppity way that my neighborhood of San Francisco is trendy—more quirky/eclectic/artsy.  Anywhere that has great views, good restaurants, an awesome bakery, and cute boutiques is good for me.  It is a little on the sparse side right now, but I have a feeling that it will be really wonderful in a few years once it's developed more.

After riding back to Manhattan, we decided to thaw out and relax for a while in our hotel room before getting ready for dinner.  We had reservations at Le Bernardin that night, which deserves its own post, partly because I have so many pictures.  So we'll leave off here for now.  More soon :)

The comments button is working now, because Steve is awesome.

Friday, February 12, 2010

best thing?

Just a quick post... The second installment of the NY trip should be ready tomorrow.

I'm currently watching The Best Thing I Ever Ate on Food Network—chocolate episode—and this little beauty showed up.  It turns out, one of Tyler Florence's favorite chocolatey things was part of our rehearsal dinner at Buckeye Roadhouse back in 2008.  (He's a Marin guy, so a lot of his favorite stuff is in SF or just North in Marin Country.) 

The funny part?  I didn't eat any of this at the rehearsal dinner, because it had nuts in it.  I didn't want to get sick the night before my wedding... BUT... They showed the chef at Buckeye making it, and the nuts were toasted almonds.  I totally could have eaten it! 

If you didn't get the memo via Flickr, I'm not actually allergic to almonds.  I plan to write an actual blog post about that soon, along with my macaron obsession. 

I guess I'll have to try the pie if we go to Buckeye Roadhouse again sometime.