Archive for December, 2009
We’re heading out to San Francisco tomorrow to meet up with Claire and Sean for a little skiing in Lake Tahoe. We’ll be away for the rest of the week so I’m not sure if we’ll be able to do any posting, but if anyone has any restaurant recommendations for the Reno/Tahoe area, please leave them in the comments! Otherwise, we’ll let you know how pickled watermelon rind wrapped in bacon tastes. That’s one of the dishes Claire is making for our New Years Eve shindig at the house we rented in Tahoe. Hope all of our readers (thanks Jessica!) have a happy New Year!
We decided to have family dinner on the Upper East Side one Sunday night, and since all of us were craving Italian food we ended up at Firenze Restaurant, a cozy little place near Jess and Rodney’s apartment. The restaurant is ultra romantic, with dim lighting and lots of candles. The décor is a bit frilly but I guess it sets the mood. The place is kind of on the small side and is definitely more suited to hold tables for two instead of a table for eight.
Nevertheless, they pieced together some smaller tables for us in the back and we all managed to squeeze in without feeling too claustrophobic. It did get really hot though so we asked them to open the door to the outside to let some air in, which they did intermittently to make sure that the people in the front wouldn’t get too cold.
They started us off with some focaccia topped with tomatoes and onions, and a big pile of delicious olives. The focaccia was soft and oily, and I really liked the flavor of the soft tomatoes and onions.
We also received a plate of parmesan crumbles, which were good if you like parmesan. It was nice to nibble on the nutty, salty chunks of cheese and the olives while we went through the menu.
There was a bread basket as well, with simple loaves of Italian bread. Standard and perfectly fine, but I would have liked more focaccia!
I started off with the special salad of the night, which had frisee, buffalo mozzarella, roasted peppers, roasted portbellos, cucumbers, avocado, and hearts of palm. Sounds like a lot of stuff going on but the ingredients worked really well together. The salad was lightly dressed and a good mix of textures.
Josh had Caesar salad, which was covered in a thick creamy dressing. There was a tad too much of the dressing but otherwise it was a perfectly fine standard version of the salad.
The restaurant isn’t a red sauce joint so I couldn’t get my usual chicken parmesan tester. I still wanted a red sauce of sorts, so I went with the penne alla vodka, which was ok but not creamy enough. I don’t like the super thick and creamy vodka sauces, but this didn’t have quite enough cream in it so the tomato sauce was still a tad too acidic, and the dish didn’t have the richness that I was looking for.
Josh had the pappardelle boscaiola, which was homemade pasta in a beef ragu with porcini mushrooms, olive oil, and a bit of cream. There was no tomato sauce in this dish, which might be surprising to some people. Instead, it was a very earthy dish with deep flavor coming from the beef and porcinis.
For dessert, we all split a slice of cannoli cake and tiramisu. The tiramisu was pretty good, not too mushy and the lady fingers still had some texture to them.
The cannoli cake was also a good texture, with not too sweet but rich cannoli filling layered between pieces of cake.
They also brought us a plate of miniature biscotti, which I thought was a nice touch.
And finally, to finish off our evening, our waiter gave us all an after dinner drink on the house. I went with limoncello, which was definitely powerful, though the harshness was tempered a bit by the sweet lemon background. Josh chose grappa, since we’ve never had it before, and all comparisons to jet fuel definitely made sense. It was super harsh and none of us could take a second sip. Other people in our group had sambuca and amaretto, which were both easier to drink.
In general, I was a bit disappointed by the food at Firenze, although I think I was really in the mood for red sauce that night so it didn’t satisfy my craving. However, both of our entrees needed a lot more seasoning to boost up the flavor. The service was good, if a bit overbearing at times. Our waiter kept emphasizing that even though it was our first visit, we were already considered regulars, which I thought was kind of them but a weird thing to say over and over. The freebies at the beginning and end of the meal were a nice touch though, and definitely helped boost my impression of the restaurant. I do get a bit claustrophobic, however, and the tight quarters didn’t help. I also thought it was a bit musty inside, which may have been due to the heat. Overall I had mixed feelings about the place. The food wasn’t dreadful but it wasn’t wonderful either. But it’s definitely a good spot if you’re looking for somewhere super romantic and want to get cozy with your date.
1594 2nd Ave. between 82nd and 83rd St.
New York, NY
We were back at the Gossip Bar & Restaurant for a Sunday afternoon brunch/lunch, settling in at the bar to catch some football on the big flat screen tvs. We didn’t get a muffin basket this time though, perhaps because we were at the bar. I’m sure if we had asked though they would have brought us some. Instead, we ordered our food directly from the bartender and started off with a round of bloody marys, still a pretty good deal at $4 each. The bloody mary mix is spicy and tangy, just the way I like it, and it packs a decent punch.
I opted to order from the lunch menu, choosing the Gossip burger with swiss cheese. The burger patty was pretty large and covered with tons of swiss cheese.
However, it was cooked way past the medium rare I requested and didn’t have much char or crust on the outside, but at least it was well seasoned. The brioche-like bun got a bit soggy towards the end but otherwise it held up pretty well, considering the size of the burger patty. The skin on fries, which I coveted the last time we were here, were really delicious. Hot, crispy out the outside and bursting with potato on the inside. We ended up sharing another basket of just the fries.
Josh went with the classic eggs benedict. They originally delivered him the Gossip eggs benedict, which has smoked salmon and spinach instead of ham, but they quickly rectified the mistake and were very gracious about it. The eggs were perfectly poached and still runny, and they brought the hollandaise on the side as requested.
The food at the Gossip Bar & Restaurant is still simple and straightforward, and very well prepared. We’ve only gone there on the weekends and it’s pretty low key. There are always tables available and the mood is calm and relaxed. You can just hang out and have a few drinks while watching whatever sports are playing on the TVs. It’s a great option if you want to have brunch without dealing with the whole “weekend brunch scene” that gets out of hand at the really popular brunch spots in the city. We’ll definitely be back again.
Gossip Bar & Restaurant
733 9th Ave. between 49th and 50th St.
New York, NY
In NJ for the holiday. Hope you are all enjoying yours. We’ll update you on our indulgences on Monday. Happy holidays to all our reader(s?).
We’ve heard a lot of good things about Arturo’s in the Village so we decided to check it out one Saturday night for a late dinner with Josh’s parents. Even though it was around 10 pm, the restaurant was completely packed. There was a jazz combo playing, which bumped the noise level up a bit but they were quite talented and pleasant to listen to. There wasn’t much room though by the bar to wait, but luckily we only had to wait a few minutes for a table and were soon seated.
All of us wanted to try the pizza we’ve heard so much about so we ordered a pie to share, and also decided to split a few other dishes. First we had the arugula salad with shaved parmesan. It was lightly dressed and simple, just as we expected.
The famed pizza, which we asked for well done, came nicely blistered and not too charred, but the crust was very disappointing. It was much thicker than we thought it would be, and very dense as well. As a result, it was crunchy rather than crispy, without the nice chew on the inside.
The pizza also didn’t have enough cheese on it and way too much sauce, rendering it a bit too sweet.
We had to sprinkle on tons of parmesan cheese and garlic powder just to get any saltiness and extra flavor. While I like garlic powder on my standard delivery pizzeria style pizza, I would never sprinkle it on a pizza like Lombardi’s or John’s, which I considered Arturo’s pizza style to be similar to. Doing so just made me feel a bit blasphemous, but the pizza really had no flavor to it.
Even worse was the chicken parmesan, which Josh and I found to be inedible. The pieces that we sliced off were strangely bouncy in texture, like chewing on rubber. At first we thought the chicken was raw, but an impromptu surgical maneuver on our plates revealed the chicken to be fully cooked. So why was the texture so off? We don’t know, and quite frankly, we didn’t want to know. Josh’s dad tried a piece and while his bite wasn’t strangely textured, he didn’t care for the flavor. We left the chicken untouched after that, and the waitress never made a comment or questioned us about it when she cleared away the plate.
The spaghetti Bolognese was better, though the pasta and sauce were a bit watery. There was a definite pool of liquid on the plate, which is just sloppy preparation. Nevertheless, the Bolognese sauce was decently tasty, and it was my favorite thing on the table.
Since we were ordering pasta separately, we opted to get a side dish of broccoli rabe with our chicken parm (you get a choice of pasta, vegetable, or salad). The broccoli rabe was really limp and overcooked. It was hard to tell if they boiled it or sautéed it, and it didn’t have any seasoning at all.
Overall the whole meal was one disappointment after another. Which was surprising because Arturo’s gets such great reviews, and the fact that it was still packed and hopping when we left. Maybe people go for the ambience, as the décor gives it that old time NYC pizzeria feel, with old movie posters and pictures hanging on the walls. The jazz ensemble was also a nice touch, but we were there for the food, not the atmosphere. With so many other better pizza places around the city, I don’t think we’ll be coming back here anytime soon.
106 West Houston St. at Thompson St.
New York, NY
Josh and I went to NJ on a Saturday and grabbed an early lunch with Josh’s mom at The Kosher Nosh, a kosher (duh) restaurant/deli in Glen Rock. The restaurant part of the shop was empty when we first arrived but soon filled up quickly, so we got there at the perfect time. After we placed our order with the waitress, we went to the pickle bar in the corner to get some pickles and salads while we waited for our food.
The pickle bar featured both sour and half sour pickles, pickled green tomatoes, cole slaw, health salad, and potato salad. We picked up a little bit of everything so that we could taste each one. The sour pickles weren’t terribly sour but we all preferred the half sours, which still had a refreshing cucumber taste to them.
The pickled tomato was super sour, making my mouth pucker. We quickly abandoned that and moved on to the salads. The cole slaw and potato salad were standard and perfectly fine, but the health salad was deliciously vinegary and tangy, reminding me of the pickled vegetables that you get at Chinese restaurants.
We also ordered a bowl of chicken soup with a matzo ball to share. The chicken soup was exactly how you want chicken soup to be – rich, hot, and comforting. The soup was simple and clean, and not too greasy. The matzo ball was perfectly light and fluffy. It was one of the best versions that I’ve ever had.
For lunch, I ordered the tongue sandwich on rye bread. I’ve tried tongue a few times before, but never by itself in a full sandwich. This sandwich was piled high with super thin slices of tongue, and I absolutely loved it. The tongue wasn’t too salty and had a nice soft texture to it, making it easy to bite through the whole sandwich. I just put a slather of mustard on the bread, and it was perfect.
Josh and Alice both ordered corned beef on a club roll. The corned beef was very lean, making the meat slightly dry, but they sliced it really thin so that helped make it easier to eat. A healthy shmear of mustard on the roll also added extra moisture, and the meat itself was really tasty. It wasn’t overly salty and the meat had good flavor.
We also shared a plate of French fries, which were hot and crispy right out of the fryer. These were golden brown and perfect.
Overall Josh and I both really enjoyed our lunch at The Kosher Nosh. Alice wanted us to try something different, since we usually have our standard Saturday lunch spots that we go to. The sandwiches here were really fabulous. They’re a bit pricey, but not so much for kosher deli, and they really pile on the meat. We were stuffed after all of the food but we enjoyed every bite of it. I also got to try Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray for the first time, and I have to say I wasn’t a fan. It just tasted weird to me, not really like celery, but I’m glad to have tried it. I’ll stick with cream soda from now on. The atmosphere at the restaurant is laid back and casual. There were older couples having lunch as well as big families with lots of little kids. I will definitely come back, and it made me eager to try some of the deli institutions in the city, like Katz’s and the 2nd Avenue Deli.
The Kosher Nosh
894 Prospect St.
Glen Rock, NJ
Sacco pizza was our last pizza quest front-runner when we ordered a large cheese pizza and gaucho pie from them a little while back. Consistency has been a problem with all of our front-runners so we had to get another pizza from them to test it out. This time we also wanted to try the meatball parmesan hero, since we weren’t thrilled with the gaucho pie.
The pizza came quickly and was still hot, though it was slightly disheveled (but not as badly as the pizza from Fat Sal’s). However, I noticed right away that the crust was much thinner than last time. Josh likes the thinner crust but I thought it was too thin, almost cracker-like on the outer rim. Even worse, it was so thin in the interior that the cheese and sauce totally overwhelmed the crust, rendering it floppy and super soggy.
Even though the crust looked nice and brown on the bottom, it basically became a pile of mush as the sauce and grease from the cheese soaked through it completely.
The meatball parmesan hero was just ok. I think they used the same ground beef mixture as in the gaucho pie, and just rolled it into a meatball shape. As a result, there were too many ingredients in the mixture and it tasted more like meatloaf than a meatball, plus it was a bit too greasy. But the bread was pretty decent and nicely toasted so that it was crispy. I also liked the cheesy covering on top.
I really don’t understand why it’s so hard to find a place that delivers consistently good pizza! NYC should be teeming with great places, no? Maybe we’ve set our standards a wee bit too high, but at least we have a lot of options to choose from. So again, our pizza quest continues. If anyone has any suggestions, we’d be glad to try them out!
819 9th Ave. at 54th St.
New York, NY
Nizza is an upbeat restaurant on a busy stretch of 9th Ave. that features simple yet hearty Italian food. The restaurant is usually packed during prime hours and seating is tight, but the atmosphere is both romantic and festive, with dim candlelight and a packed, hopping bar area. There are plenty of loud boisterous groups dining there as well as couples on dates. But more importantly, the food is well prepared and tasty.
We liked the food so much that we were there twice in one week. The first time was with a group of Josh’s coworkers, and the second time was a big Sunday night dinner with the extended family. There were some dishes that we had both times, and some that were different, but I figured it was easier to combine the meals into one big post.
Both meals started off with fluffy pieces of focaccia bread, served with a soft ricotta cheese and olive oil spread. Simple, but very tasty.
On both nights, we shared a bunch of different appetizers with everyone at the table so that we could all try a wider variety of dishes. We enjoyed the prosciutto crostini so much the first night that we had to order it the second night as well. The soft prosciutto was served on top of a piece of crunchy crostini that was covered in creamy sheeps milk ricotta and a sweet balsamic syrup. The different flavors and textures were just a great combination.
We also had the socca on both nights. The socca is a crispy chickpea pancake topped with sage and pecorino cheese. It’s both sweet and salty at the same time and has a nice crispy/crumbly texture. Think of a huge flattened falafel ball, with an Italian twist.
On the first night, we shared a selection of three salumi. We got some more of the delicious prosciutto, as well as some fatty slices of speck (smoked prosciutto), and bresaola (air dried beef). The meats were all of pretty high quality and the portions were pretty generous. They were served together on a big platter with some pickled vegetables and olives.
On the second night, we all shared a margherita pizza with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil. It was simple and classic, though the crust was bit too puffy and not browned enough so that it was still soft and pale. I think it would have worked better with a thinner, crispier crust.
Josh and I also shared a caesar salad on the second night, which had a tasty dressing heavy on pecorino cheese. But the salad itself was really hard to eat because they kept the leaves long and whole, so that we had to cut it ourselves with a knife and fork. That was tough to do because the plate was so small and the leaves were piled high, and it ended up being quite messy.
For his entree on both nights, Josh went with the chicken milanese, which is quite possibly the best version that either of us have ever had. The chicken is pounded down but not too thin, coated with seasoned breadcrumbs, and fried to a golden brown perfection. The chicken is topped with baby arugula, a variety of red, orange, and yellow tomatoes, and cubes of fresh mozzarella. The toppings are lightly dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and all it needs is a squeeze of lemon over the top. The dish is light, fresh, and really tasty.
On the first night, I had the lamb rack, which was three chops coated in mustard and herbed breadcrumbs. The lamb was cooked rare, as requested, and very well seasoned. It was served with creamy polenta, roasted asparagus, and a small onion cooked in balsamic vinegar. All of the different components on the plate worked really well together, and I thoroughly enjoyed this dish.
On the second night, I went with the bistecca grigliata, which was a huge grilled NY strip steak covered in roasted red and green peppers. The steak was more medium rare than my requested rare, but it was still tender and well seasoned. It came with a side of roasted potatoes, which were crispy on the outside and potato-y on the inside. The dish was well prepared and tasty, but it’s pretty standard. Unless you’re really craving steak and potatoes, the flavor combinations of some of the other dishes people had were much more interesting.
Overall Josh and I really like the food at Nizza. It’s not the standard red sauce Italian joint, although they do have a few pastas and red sauce dishes available. The food is a bit more upscale, clean, and always well seasoned and well prepared. It’s a great place to get a drink and nibble on some salumi or appetizers, and it’s great for full meals as well. It does tend to get crowded, especially during pre-theater hours, so reservations are recommended if you have a large group. We’ll definitely be back here.
630 9th Ave. between 44th and 55th St.
New York, NY
The last time that we were at Takahachi in Tribeca, we weren’t so thrilled with some of the dishes that we had. However, we decided to give it another shot and returned there once again for a Sunday night dinner.
Once again we decided to share lots of dishes to try as many items as possible. We started off with steamed edamame, per usual. It was standard, with an ample sprinkling of coarse salt on top.
Up next was the nori green salad, which had lettuce, red onion, cucumber, and pieces of nori on top and scattered throughout. The dressing was flavored with yuzu, which gave it an interesting tangy and citrusy flavor. It was a refreshing salad, and miles better than the soba salad we had last time, but I thought it was a bit boring and one note.
The age gyoza, which we loved the last time, were disappointing this time around. The filling, which is made from chilean sea bass and shrimp, was really fishy-tasting, and the dumplings were a bit over fried, making the skin extremely brittle and a bit burnt.
The tatsuta age, which I wasn’t a fan of last time, failed to impress me again. I thought the pieces of fried chicken were still too dry and pretty tasteless.
The agedashi tofu was still good though, with big pieces of of fried tofu that had nice silky interiors. The broth is flavorful and they put good amount of bonito flakes on top for extra punch.
The shrimp shumai were also a crowd-pleaser yet again. They’re soft and meaty and the shredded skin on the outside provides an interesting texture in your mouth.
Last, but definitely not least, I had to order the hamachi carpaccio with jalapeno sauce again. I loved this dish the last time we were here, and it was even better than I remembered. The beautifully pink slices of fresh, raw yellowtail are drizzled with a light dressing that has the flavor of jalapeno but none of the spiciness. It’s very delicate and really lets the flavor of the yellowtail shine through.
We finished up our meal with some maki rolls and pieces of sushi. Even though I complained about the size of special big maki rolls last time, we couldn’t resist some of the combinations offered. The Taxi Driver featured tuna, salmon, yellowtail, cucumber, and avocado, all rolled up inside a soybean wrapper. It was a delicious roll, with lots of fresh fish and refreshing ingredients, but it was still really hard to eat. Same thing with the Apollo 13, which was shrimp tempura, cucumber, avocado, and a spicy mayo sauce. Tasty flavor combination but a pain to pick up, and there’s no dainty way to shove the whole thing in your mouth. I preferred the classic rainbow roll instead, which had tuna, yellowtail, salmon, and shrimp on top of a maki roll that had cucumber and avocado wrapped in the middle.
And finally, we had some pieces of tuna and yellowtail sushi. Fresh, beautifully cut, and delicious. Alice (Josh’s mom) also had some tamago sushi (sweet egg omelet), and Lisa (Josh’s sister) had a piece of ikura sushi (salmon roe).
No dessert this time, as they had run out of the green tea mille crepes. Hugely disappointing!
Overall, I again thought Takahachi hit some pretty high highs, as well as some pretty low lows. However, whenever we go, we just stick with the appetizers and the maki/sushi, so I can’t really speak to their entree offerings. What I like about the restaurant is the fresh fish. All of the pieces of sushi that we’ve had have been fresh, beautifully cut, and delicious. I would come back to the restaurant just for the amazing hamachi carpaccio. I think if you stick with the fish, you’re golden. Just beware that the special big maki rolls are pretty unwieldy, so don’t order those if you’re on a date and trying to impress someone. While I think there are some better and more well-rounded Japanese restaurants in the city, the sushi at Takahachi is some of the best that I’ve had.
Takahachi (multiple locations)
145 Duane St. between West Broadway and Church St.
New York, NY