Thursday, January 27, 2011


To kick off restaurant week, Chelsea and I met for lunch at DBGB, one of Daniel Boulud's collection of restaurants. It's touted as a "lowdown French brasserie meets American tavern," with a casual atmosphere and a beautifully done industrial interior space. I loved perusing the menu as I waited for Chelsea to arrive, and was impressed that they employ their own Chef de Charcuterie. Of course, when a restaurant boasts a list of 14 house-made sausages as well as pate and a head cheese terrine, a Chef de Charcuterie is essential.

(Photo courtesy of New York Times)

I may be naive, but when I see bangers, links, and sausages on a menu, I can't help but associate them with German and Polish food. Along with an offering of Matzoh Ball Soup, I felt the menu was slightly more French-Polish than French-American. Their list of sausages is extensive and diverse, including a Thai sausage with green papaya and chili sauce, an Italian sausage with fennel, tomato, and garlic, the traditional beef wiener served with mustard, ketchup, and relish, as well as Vermont pork and cheddar link served alongside hash browns.

Where I saw the American influences most were in the burger and ice cream sundae selections. I had "The Yankee," your standard burger with the option to add Vermont cheddar and/or bacon, but I had a hard time turning down "The Piggie," a beef patty topped with pulled pork, jalepeno mayonnaise, and mustard-vinegar slaw on a cheddar bun. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Had I been dining at DBGB for dinner, that's probably what I would have ordered, but since it was only lunch and I wanted to save room for a sundae, I held back.

Although we were there to take advantage of the restaurant week deal, and although the Yankee Burger was on the pre fixe menu, the ice cream sundae I wanted, wasn't. So I just ordered my burger and dessert. Chelsea did take advantage of restaurant week and started with a frisee salad with roasted beets, chipolini onions, and mozzarella cheese. It was a little heavy on the citrus, but with roasted and pickled beets, Chelsea was a happy girl.

For her second course, Chelsea ordered green risotto with mussels and clams. Since I'm not a fan of shellfish, I only tried the risotto, but it was flavorful and perfectly cooked and creamy.

Chelsea gives her risotto two thumbs up.

I always order my burgers well-done, which I know is considered a huge faux pas, but eating pink ground beef just grosses me out in both taste and texture. But since that's my chosen "level of doneness," I accept the fact that the burgers I order will probably be a little dry, and my Yankee Burger was no different, although it was still pretty delicious. I added ketchup and a grainy mustard, which gave the burger a really nice kick of spice. I could have used a little more cheese (for paying my extra $2), which I also think would have added a creaminess to combat the lack of moisture, but the sesame bun was nice and soft, and the 6 oz patty was the perfect portion size. And of course, what goes better with a cheeseburger than fries?

They were salty and crispy, but also soft and chewy, the perfect accompaniment, and plenty to share. 

For dessert, Chelsea chose a Chocolate Gateau while I ordered the chocolate-caramel ice cream sundae. Chelsea's gateau was a layered cake with a light milk chocolate mousse, a dark chocolate cake, and a denser dark chocolate mousse layer, garnished with crispy chocolate accents. It was yummy, satisfying, and not too heavy.

Let me just say, my burger was good, but ordering my sundae was the best decision of the day. It was comprised of chocolate ice cream, caramel ice cream, caramel sauce, brownie chunks, homemade marshmallow, candied pecans, whipped cream, and caramel tuiles. Ok, let's start with the ice cream. I actually thought it was a little too cold, so unfortunately the flavors were a little muted. The brownie squares were rich and dense, and the homemade marshmallows were delicious. If you've never had a homemade marshmallow, please go make some! They're not that hard to make, I promise! The caramel sauce and caramel tuiles tasted exactly as they should, as did the light whipped cream. Surprisingly, one of my favorite parts of the sundae were the candied pecans, and pecans are not usually a nut I'll even try. They were small enough that the nut flavor wasn't overpowering, so instead they were just like little sweet crunchy bits.

I couldn't wait. I had to take a bite ASAP

Now, I really like my desserts, and usually, I am not shy about ordering my own portion and finishing off every last bit. But this sundae was just a little too much for me. I managed (somehow) to eat all the brownie bites and marshmallows, but I sadly had to leave quite a bit of ice cream in the dish. Based on the portion, this would be a perfect dessert to share, but be prepared to spoon-fight for those marshmallows. Just warning you.

Overall, this was a delicious meal. It's sadly a bit of a trek for me to get all the way down to NoHo to visit, but for a burger topped with pulled pork barbecue, or for a house-made beef hot dog with all the fixings, or for another sinfully good sundae, I'd say it's more than worth it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Eleven Madison Park

As our graduation from The FCI loomed, I went with a few other girls from class to Eleven Madison Park for a celebratory dinner. We had an early reservation, 5:45, on a weekday, so when we were seated, we were alone in the dining room. This was perfectly fine with us, making it feel all the more special, as if they had reserved the beautiful dining room just for us.

The menu changes seasonally, but has a very unique format. For each course, only the primary ingredient is listed. When ordering, you inform your server of any allergies or distastes, and they will cater your chosen dishes to your specification. For example, I really don't like mushrooms (among other things) but when put on the spot, that's the one request I made. There were five of us and we all tried to order different things so we could try almost everything on the menu.

Although you order four courses, they also offer multiple small bites before the first course is served, which was a complete surprise for us. On the night we went, we were served a delicious chicken soup with a buttered crouton, two different bites of monkfish (liver and tail), and one more I unfortunately can't remember, but I think there was goat cheese involved and I think it was my least favorite of the three. I was so scared to try the monkfish liver since I typically don't eat much fish, and really can't stand fishy flavors, so I let everyone else try it first and assure me there was no fishiness to it at all. It was served with apple flavors, so on a dried apple chip with fresh apple and dill, and it was actually really delicious. I preferred it to the tail which had a tougher texture. Each dish was only one or two bites, but by the first course, I was already feeling a little full.

Another interesting thing about the service here is that multiple people bring dishes to your table. For all of our small bites, some of the chefs from the kitchen actually delivered them to the table. He or she then explained what they were serving and answered any questions we had. Everything was really delicious and even the homemade bread they served was accompanied by two different kinds of butter, one made from cow's milk and one made from goat's.

Finally, our first courses arrived and each was described in detail to the table. This is of course necessary and was continued for all our courses, since all we knew about what we ordered was what the main ingredient would be. I ordered "Radicchio" which was accompanied by buffalo mozzarella, mango, and a green sauce which I think had a basil in it. Now, had I seen this described on the menu, I probably wouldn't have ordered it. Although I love mango, and I love mozzarella cheese, I couldn't picture them together. But the combination of the crunchy radicchio with the chewy cheese and bright, sweet mango was amazing. It was refreshing and satisfying, and was the second salad I've had in New York that was utterly delicious (the first, and best, being at Picholine).

Although this is a picture of the same dish, it's not one of my pictures. I didn't take any pictures of the food, since I typically really hate when people photograph their food in restaurants. It just seems sort of disruptive or in bad taste. But if I'm going to continue writing about what and where I'm eating, I may have to start. (Photo courtesy of

For my second course, the warm appetizer, I had "Carrot" which I was a little hesitant about. I really love raw carrots, but I've never liked cooked carrots. They're overly sweet and I usually don't appreciate sweet notes in savory dishes. But these carrots were sublime. They were sliced about 1/4'' thick, and had been roasted and confited. They were served with dates and wheat berries, the latter of which was probably my favorite part of the dish. It was perfectly balanced in terms of sweetness and texture.

The third course, or entree course, I had "Chicken." A perfect rectangle of roasted breast meat was served with parsnip puree, roasted grapes, toasted oats, and a rich jus which was spooned on tableside. The chicken was expertly cooked, still tender and moist and flavorful. I loved the parsnip puree which was a great compliment to the chicken, and the oats which I was a little skeptical about provided surprisingly a warm, nutty, crunch to the plate. The grapes I found delicious on their own, but they weren't something I wanted to eat with the savory chicken. I did taste notes of grape in the jus, probably from a red wine, but for me, the flavor of the roasted grape paired with the chicken was just a little too intense.

Photo courtesy of Resto Manifesto. Not quite as appetizing as it actually was.

Before dessert arrived, we were given a "pre-dessert" or sort of a small bite before dessert. It was a play off of a Kir Royale and included a frozen meringue, a sour cherry, and an effervescent foam. I really dislike the texture of foams, and this was no different. I thought this was interesting, but not particularly delicious. The brightness did act as a bit of a palette cleanser, but the sour cherry was just a little too sweet and the frozen meringue had a texture a little too similar to Styrofoam.

For dessert, I ordered "Chocolate," of course, which consisted of ribbons of ganache with butternut squash puree, a maple glaze, and yuzu ice cream. I loved the combination of the chocolate, squash, and maple, which seems like such an obvious pairing, and yet I never would have thought of it. I could have done without the yuzu which added an intense citrus flavor to the dish which I really disliked with the rich chocolate. I prefer my chocolate unadulterated, but I felt like the yuzu was out of place with all the other elements as well.

Not really what the dish looked like, but isn't this beautiful? (Photo courtesy of Flickr)

Earlier in the evening, Valentina explained to one of the chefs serving our first amuse bouche that we were out to celebrate graduating from culinary school. She was so congratulatory, especially when we found out that she too had graduated from The FCI. A little while later, the manager approached our table having obviously been informed that we were culinary students, and congratulated us as well, even inviting us to come back into the kitchen once we had finished our meals. So once we finished dessert, he asked us to follow him as he showed us around. 

First, he showed us the staging room, which was just off the kitchen. It was actually a beautiful room filled with wood cabinets and mirrored walls where all the flatware, computers, and linens are kept. It's also where servers pick up food for service, so that none of it is ever delivered on a tray to your table. Next, we entered the kitchen which was immaculate. It was big and very bright, with white table cloths laid out on numerous surfaces for plating. I was amazed that each table cloth was spotless, and an expediter checked each plate before it left the kitchen. I was also impressed by the unity in the kitchen and the intense vibe in the air. It was clear people were working hard and focused on their given tasks. While we were there, an order came in and as the expediter called it out, all the chefs in the kitchen responded as one with, "Yes, Chef!" 

(Photo courtesy of tumblr) 

(Photo courtesy of flickr)

Although we were all so excited to just be in the kitchen, even more treats were in store for us. First, the Executive Chef Daniel Humm came and greeted us, shaking all our hands. In a small alcove at the front of the kitchen, a bar-height table had been set up with five glasses. We were joined by the pastry chef as he and the manager made us a specialty cocktail right there in the kitchen. Inspired by Ernest Hemingway, it included grapefruit pieces, a flavored syrup, rum sorbet- frozen on the spot with liquid nitrogen, grapefruit meringues- also frozen with liquid nitrogen, and pop rocks! It was bright and refreshing of course, and the pop rocks were a fantastic garnish.
The manager showed us the pastry section of the kitchen, where fresh bread was coming out of the oven, and I continued to marvel at the overall precision throughout the kitchen. I don't exactly desire to work in a restaurant kitchen, but should I, I would want to work in that type of kitchen; everyone is relatively quiet, focused, and composed, which is just the way I like to work.

We were led out a different exit of the kitchen which opened into the front of the restaurant, and we walked around to a small lounge area I hadn't seen before. I was frankly blown away when I saw that all of our purses had been moved for us from our dinner table to the comfy couches and chairs of the lounge. On the table was also a bottle of cognac with glasses for each of us. We were encouraged to stay and enjoy as long as we liked. We were all impressed and felt so special. 
 Me and Diana

After a few minutes, petit fours were also delivered to our table, which we dug right into. 

Frozen Banana Pops, (Photo courtesy of flickr)

Nut Tuiles, (Photo courtesy of flickr)

Raspberry Macarons,

along with ganache circles sprinkled with salt (delicious!) and I think a chewy fruit gelee. Our primary server continued to check on us, and as we were nearing the end of the night, Laura reminded him that she had requested to keep her menu, which she had left at the table before we toured the kitchen. Our server said he would be right back, and returned with large, square envelopes. He said he had personalized each of our menus and began handing them out. We sort of laughed, assuming he was kidding, but when we opened our envelopes, we were each holding a menu that had been embellished with the descriptions of what that person had ordered. Here's mine

Ordinarily, just the single words are printed without the smaller print underneath.

If you read the description under chicken, you'll see that it's served with Hen of the Wood mushrooms, but those were of course left off my plate. Yet again, we were all pleasantly surprised at the lengths the staff had gone to for us, and also that our server knew exactly which closed envelope to give to each of us so we all got our own specified menu. 
Diana and Francine

 Valentina and Laura

Francine made a funny comment once we were sitting in the lounge. She said that she felt like we were on a first date... with the restaurant. Like we were being constantly romanced and surprised, just like you would want a first date to do. And it was true. From the moment the women at the door took our coats without needing to give us a coat check, to the manager bidding us goodnight, handing us jars of homemade granola, and inviting us to consider working there, both the service and the food were just exquisite. It was the perfect celebratory end to a grueling six months.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Vegan Diva Donuts

Since I'm (finally!) done with school, I have some free time before starting my next full-time venture. I've been thinking about how to spend my free days, although I've really enjoyed just lazing about for this past week, and looked into taking a pilates class, thought about visiting museums, and then decided that I'd really like to devote one day a week to food (tough choice, pilates? or food!).

I started a list a while ago of the restaurants or other food establishments that I want to visit while I'm here in New York, since I don't know exactly how long I'll be here. Some of them are super fancy (Per Se), while others just sound downright delicious (Dinosaur Barbecue). I've had this list for a while, along with reviews of other places I've ripped out of magazines and taped to my wall, and I'm going to try to be more diligent about actually visiting these places and trying the things that sound so great in print. Since I'll have days free, I'll probably be taking myself out to lunch a lot!

The next two weeks are Restaurant Week here in New York, so I have two lunches and a dinner lined up, all of which I'm really excited about. But this morning, I braved the freezing cold wind to pick up some donuts I had read about in this week's Time Out New York.

They're different from your average donut for a few reasons:
1. They're baked not fried.
2. They're vegan which means there's no butter or eggs in the dough. They're also kosher.
3. They're only 180 calories each (To compare, a comparable Cinnamon Cake Donut at Dunkin Donuts is 340 calories).
4. There's no hole in the middle! See:

They were created by Vegan Divas which specializes in high-quality, all natural, vegan and kosher baked goods, which are sold throughout Manhattan at different markets. Luckily, Butterfield Market carries their products and is only 2 short subway stops away from me! So this afternoon, I bundled up for a visit. I was hoping to have a selection of flavors to choose from since they carry various kinds such as Cinnamon-Sugar, Toasted Coconut, and Chocolate-fleur de sel, but today the market only had one kind, the Cinnamon-Sugar. I couldn't help but buy four of them (2 for me, 2 for Shaun) and waited until I got home to taste test.

Since sugar is hydroscopic (the most over-used buzz word in pastry classes), it attracts moisture. Because of this quality, it's really best to roll something in sugar just before serving it, but because these donuts are mass produced, this step obviously has to be done ahead of time. Sadly, what this means is the donuts end up a little wet since the moisture has begun to seep out of them, and you don't get that yummy crunchy crust on the outside that a roll in sugar would normally provide.

These donuts fall in the "cake" donut category, so they have a denser, crumblier texture than the other lighter, airier version. It took me a few bites before I figured out exactly what this donut reminded me of, and it came to me slowly. It felt and tasted like biting into a muffin, and then slowly I realized that it sort of reminded me of a bran muffin. That may sound unappealing to you, but picture a really good, sweet bran muffin that has a yummy, sugary, sticky-sweet topping, and that's sort of what this was. It was definitely good (I ate both of mine within 4 hours), and I was impressed with the taste, texture, and quality given that it's a vegan and kosher product. But I have to say, when I'm craving a donut (which is a craving I almost never give into), this isn't really what I'm looking for, and I wouldn't go out of my way to get one again. But if I found myself in front of a Vegan Divas sign, I would probably pick up some cookies to keep me company on the way home.

*Please note, none of these posts in which I review places at which, or products, I've eaten are in any way sponsored or paid for by anyone but myself. The establishments have no idea who I am, that I'm writing about them, and probably don't care one way or another what I have to say.
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