Posts Tagged ‘Crab’

Chalkboard – Healdsburg, CA

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 by virginia

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We arrived in San Francisco on a misty and foggy (per usual) Wednesday morning. After picking up our rental and enjoying an awesome dim sum breakfast with my godparents, we headed into downtown SF to meet up with our friends Claire and Sean, and their adorable son, L. From their apartment we headed off to Healdsburg in our respective cars, stopping once at the Vista Point by the Golden Gate Bridge (which was completely whited out by the fog) to swap passengers (Claire and I needed some girl talk time).

The trip to Healdsburg took about 1.5 hours with minimal traffic. After checking into our hotel (make sure you never accidentally request a smoking room when filling out a reservation online!), Josh and I took a drive around downtown before meeting up with Claire, Sean, and L again for an early dinner at Chalkboard. During my usual pre-trip research, Chalkboard was one of the more heralded restaurants I read about, and the menu looked fabulous, so I had Josh book reservations for us well in advance.

We opted to sit outside on the back patio and enjoy the gorgeous weather. The menu features small plates, and our party of 4 (plus L, who picked off a little from every dish and has an incredible palate for a 1 year old) was the perfect size for sharing everything. We pretty much ordered to our hearts’ content, hitting almost every dish on the menu.

First up was the beef tartare, which had a wonderful texture to it and tons of beef flavor, as the meat was cut in larger chunks rather than the over-chopped mush we’ve seen in many other places. It was topped with a quail egg yolk that gave the beef a creamy richness, and was served with parsley, celery hearts, calabrian chile (which wasn’t too spicy), and smoked salt. We scooped up the tartare with the accompanying crunchy crostini, and it was a well balanced, well seasoned bite to start off our meal.

Beef tartare

Beef tartare

The trio of bruschetta featured duck rillete with peach mostarda, pickled beet with crescenza cheese and pistachio, and smoked salmon with smashed avocado, creme fraiche, and pickled onions. The rillete with peach was a nice combination of savory and sweet, while the tanginess of the pickled beet was mellowed out by the creamy and milky crescenza. Smoked salmon with avocado and creme fraiche is a pretty standard combination, but the pickled onions added a nice touch of acid and a bit of crunch to the mix. All three were pretty delicious.

Bruschetta trio

Bruschetta trio

The only vegetable dish we ordered was the caramelized baby carrots, which came with kohlrabi sauerkraut, caraway-dill yogurt, and rye crunch. I’m usually not a fan of carrots in general, but these were bursting with flavor. The sweet carrots were soft but not mushy and paired nicely with slightly sour sauerkraut. The yogurt was bright and fresh-tasting from the dill, and the rye crunch added a nice textural contrast. It was a great combination that I never would have thought of in a million years, nor did I think I would enjoy it, but it was a sleeper hit on the table.

Caramelized baby carrots

Caramelized baby carrots

The crudo of the day was ishidai (a Japanese fish) with pickled nectarines and fried olives. The fish was mild in flavor but definitely fresh, and the nectarines and olives added a burst of brininess without overwhelming the fish. Definitely an interesting combination, and the fried olives were a nice twist.

Crudo of the day

Crudo of the day

From the pasta section, we chose the squid ink gigli with dungeness crab, calabrian chile, black truffle butter, and lemon verbena. We couldn’t detect any truffle flavor in the dish, but we also didn’t miss it. The pasta itself had lots of depth and savoriness to it from the squid ink, and there was tons of crab meat mixed throughout. We could taste the fruitiness of the chile but it wasn’t overly spicy. My only complaint would be that the pasta was slightly mushy.

Squid ink gigli

Squid ink gigli

The lamb meatballs were another huge hit at our table. The meatballs were gamey but not overly so, and juicy and tender. They were served with charred grapes, mint, harissa, feta, and saba (a grape syrup). The sweetness of the grapes and syrup was unexpected but paired well with the meatiness of the lamb, and the fresh mint finished the dish on a bright note.

Lamb meatballs

Lamb meatballs

The dungeness crab tater tots were well executed, with perfectly crispy tots and a big heap of dungeness crab meat on top of each cube. The crab meat was sweet and fresh, while the tots had great potato flavor and were not the least bit greasy. Compared to the other dishes on the table, however, these were tasty but not as exciting.

Dungeness crab tater tots

Dungeness crab tater tots (some of the crab bundles fell off en route to the table)

The PEI mussels steamed with white wine was another more classic dish that was well executed. The mussels were plump and juicy though, and the broth had a lot of flavor from big pieces of bacon and fennel mixed throughout.

Steamed PEI mussels

Steamed PEI mussels

The hamachi crudo featured summer squash, kimchi, and crispy quinoa. It was a surprisingly large portion, which was not a bad thing, and I liked that the hamachi was cut into large chunks rather than the thin slices we were expecting. The kimchi flavor on the summer squash was present but mild, and I liked the textural crunch of the quinoa. It was definitely a more rustic dish than the crudo of the day, but both were tasty in different ways.

Hamachi crudo

Hamachi crudo

Last, but definitely not least, we had the pork belly biscuits. The pork belly was glazed with maple and perfectly cooked so that it was crispy on the outside and meltingly tender on the inside. The biscuit itself was fluffy and delicate, and pickled onions and chipotle mayo rounded out the little sandwiches. The salty sweet flavors were spot on, and I could have eaten all four of them by myself.

Pork belly biscuits

Pork belly biscuits

Overall, Josh and I both thought our meal at Chalkboard was one of the best that we’ve had in recent memory. The company was definitely part of it (it’s always a pleasure dining with Claire and Sean), but the food itself was well executed, and most of the combinations of flavors were innovative and exciting. The restaurant tries to use local produce and ingredients, and the care taken with each individual component was evident on the plate. At about $9-$16 per dish, the prices were very reasonable for the quality of the food and the portion sizes. We all walked away satisfied but not overwhelmingly full. Service was attentive, and the back patio area was just lovely. I highly recommend checking out the restaurant if you’re ever in the Healdsburg area.

Chalkboard
29 North St.
Healdsburg, CA

The NoMad

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 by virginia

Josh and I recently celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and to honor the occasion, we had a rare night out in the city by ourselves. With Josh’s parents watching J for us, we were finally able to have a nice meal without worrying about diaper bags, teethers, toys, baby food, or imminent meltdowns. We didn’t have much debate on where to eat for our anniversary dinner. Josh and I are both big fans of Eleven Madison Park, where we celebrated our second anniversary, and so making a reservation at The NoMad, Chef Daniel Humm and Restaurateur Will Guidara’s newish restaurant (they’re the team behind EMP), was a no-brainer.

When Josh called the restaurant earlier in the week to confirm our reservation, he let them know that we were celebrating our anniversary, and requested a “romantic” table. While they said there’s really no table more romantic than others, they did seat us at a nice table in the center of the Parlour room, next to a pillar so that we had a little privacy, with not many other tables so close by. We were also wished a happy anniversary by several people before we were even seated, which I thought was very nice, and they poured us complimentary glasses of sparkling wine to toast with.

Bread was served first, and it was pretty fantastic. It was a whole loaf of flatbread, similar to foccacia but slightly crustier, that was topped with rosemary and garlic and filled with chickpeas. The bread was served warm, and the aroma coming off of it was heavenly. It was light, not dense, and had just the perfect amount of salt on the outside. I’ve read that the toppings change depending on the season, but I really enjoyed the combination we received. I think we showed a lot of restraint by pacing ourselves and not polishing the bread off immediately, and we refrained from asking for a second loaf when it was finished (although I was really tempted to!).

Flatbread with garlic, rosemary, and chickpeas

Flatbread with garlic, rosemary, and chickpeas

The menu is split into three sections – snacks, appetizers, and entrees. As The NoMad is known for its cocktails, I can see ordering a few of the snacks if you are just stopping by for a few drinks and a little nosh. While some of the snack items did seem tempting, like the sweetbreads croustillant and the beef tartare, too many things on the appetizer/entree menu were calling out to us instead. We decided to put together a mini tasting menu of our own, selecting four appetizers and two entrees to share. We asked the waiter to bring the dishes two at a time, in whatever order the kitchen deemed appropriate. Josh also asked the sommelier to put together a wine pairing for each of the dishes.

For our first course, they brought us the spring garlic veloute and the fluke. The fluke was sliced thin and served raw, though it was marinated with acid so it had a ceviche-like quality. The fish was still fresh, it just had a nice pop of brightness to it that permeated the flesh. It was served with a sorrel puree, amaranth, and royal trumpet mushrooms. The sorrel and the baby lettuce on the plate added a refreshing aspect to the dish, and the mushrooms a bit of earthiness. The amaranth provided a nice textural crunch.

Fluke with ...

Fluke marinated with sorrel, amaranth, and royal trumpet mushrooms

The spring garlic veloute was not what I expected. First, it was cold. That was fine, it was just surprising at first taste when you’re expecting something to be hot. Second, it was sour, in a vinegary sort of way. Not unpleasantly so, but it also didn’t taste much like garlic to me. We had some experience with spring garlic when we were part of a CSA, and I found it to be intensely garlicky in flavor, but not pungent. This veloute was sort of the opposite, in that it was pungent, but not garlicky. I didn’t love the veloute by itself, but when eaten with the accompanying fresh fava beans, ricotta, ham (which I think was prosciutto), and toasted crouton, it was more balanced; the other ingredients helped to mellow out the tanginess. It was also good when sopped up with the above mentioned flatbread. I just wonder if the acidity of veloute was intentional.

Spring garlic veloute with fava beans, ricotta, and ham

Spring garlic veloute with fava beans, ricotta,
and ham

For our second course, we had the tagliatelle and the egg. I think it’s probably hard to convince people to pay $17 (not including tax and tip) for an egg, but I cannot emphasize enough that if you go to The NoMad, you must order this dish. It’s a perfectly poached egg with asparagus, brown butter, and quinoa. Breaking the egg released the runny yolk that was rich and creamy, and mixed with the brown butter and quinoa, it was like the best breakfast cereal combination I could ever imagine. The toasted quinoa was nutty and crunchy, and the brown butter added a wonderful savoriness to the dish. I could eat bowl after bowl of this. The asparagus added a taste of spring to the dish and lightened it up a little, cutting through the richness of the yolk and butter just a bit. It was definitely one of our favorite dishes of the night.

egg

Egg poached with asparagus, brown butter, and quinoa

The tagliatelle was served with king crab, meyer lemon, and black pepper. There was lots of crab meat on top that was sweet and fresh. The lemon flavor was kind of subtle – there was a brightness to the dish but I kind of wish there was a bit more punch. The pasta also needed more of a sauce to bind it together, as it was a bit dry texturally. I liked the black pepper though, which added a pop to the dish.

Tagliatelle with king crab, meyer lemon, and black pepper

Tagliatelle with king crab, meyer lemon, and
black pepper

For our main course, we shared the suckling pig and the duck. We discussed the famous roast chicken for two before our meal, ultimately deciding against ordering it for fear that it wouldn’t live up to the hype. The reviews have been very mixed, although the consensus has been that it’s not as good as EMP’s famed lavender duck, which we’ve tried and didn’t blow us away. I didn’t want to mar our dinner by regretting spending $79 on roast chicken, even if it did come with foie gras and black truffle, two ingredients I constantly crave.

We enjoyed The NoMad’s duck, which was roasted and served with beets, pistachio, and coriander. The duck was pink, tender, and well seasoned. The beets were pickled and extremely tangy; I might have preferred them to be in their natural state, as I love the earthy sweetness of beets, but I appreciated the acidity they brought to the dish. The pistachios added a nice crunch.

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Duck roasted with beets, pistachio, and coriander

The suckling pig confit was a wonderful mix of textures and tastes. The meat itself was incredibly tender, practically falling apart with a gentle twist of the fork, while the skin was crackly and crispy. The pork flavor was intense, and it was covered with mustard seeds that add little bursts of tanginess. The sweet dried plums, onions, and fresh wild greens complemented the meat very well.

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Suckling pig confit with dried plums, onions, and wild greens

We were pretty full by this point so we decided to share dessert. We had to try the famous milk and honey dessert, which is milk ice cream drizzled with honey and served on top of shortbread, brittle, and dehydrated milk flakes. The ice cream was smooth and light, not overly creamy or rich, and not too sweet. The honey had a caramelized flavor to it, as did the honey the brittle. The shortbread reminded me of graham cracker crumbles, and the milk flakes had the texture of astronaut ice cream, sticking to our tongues and melting in our mouths in an interesting manner. It was refreshing and delicious, a composed yet whimsical dessert, and a great way to finish our meal.

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Milk and honey – shortbread, brittle, and ice cream

Overall, we were incredibly happy with our anniversary meal at The NoMad. We thought the food was pretty fantastic, although there were some individual components of dishes that we didn’t necessarily love. Our favorite dishes of the night were the fluke, the egg, and the suckling pig. Service was mostly wonderful, although there were some minor missteps, like forgetting to bring us a spoon with the veloute and serving our ice cream dessert immediately after I left the table to use the restroom. Fortunately the ice cream held up well. In general, we were pretty pleased with the attentiveness of the staff, and the sommelier was great. Josh gave him a budget to work with for our pairings, and he came in under, which we appreciated. Dinner ended up costing $360 after tax and tip. A splurge for sure, but definitely worth it for the quality and creativeness of the food. It’s also possible to spend far less in the restaurant, as we had three courses each plus a dessert, with wine pairings for three courses. Appetizers are about $15-$20 each, and entrees about $25-$35. If we had gone with two courses, dessert, and a reasonably priced bottle of wine, our bill would have been much less. The NoMad is definitely one of the best restaurants we’ve been to in a while, and I would happily go back again.

The NoMad
1170 Broadway at 28th St.
New York, NY

The Saddle River Inn

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 by virginia

Although I missed the blog’s third anniversary, Josh and I did celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary in May (yes, May) with a special meal at The Saddle River Inn. It was a celebration on multiple fronts, as we had also just closed on our new house the week beforehand. While I was in the middle of the second trimester and still feeling indifferent about food at the time, I was happy to go to The Saddle River Inn because it was the first “nice” restaurant that Josh and I ate in together, back in 1998 for his 17th birthday.

That was also the last time that we were there, and walking up to the restaurant, it looked exactly as how I remembered. The inside looked the same as well, although the room seemed a bit smaller and less imposing to me, 14 years later. Even though it was relatively late on a weekday, the dining room was surprisingly busy, though not packed. At the time, the restaurant offered a weekday prix fixe special on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays – 3 courses for $42, which isn’t too shabby considering entrees normally top $30.

The restaurant is a BYO, which is another bonus. Since we were celebrating, I wanted more than just a soda or water. We brought along a bottle of carmenere for Josh, and a bottle of sparkling grape juice for me. I wasn’t sure how the restaurant would handle the grape juice, since BYO doesn’t usually include non-alcoholic beverages, but our waiter initially mistook it for champagne and poured us both a fluteful to toast. Once he realized what it was, he just laughed and kept topping off my flute during dinner while Josh stuck with the wine. He didn’t make an issue about the grape juice or make me feel embarrassed about having it, which I appreciated.

Bread was served first, a thick piece of rustic sourdough bread with a heavy, crispy crust. The crust was a tad bit on the well done side, but I still enjoyed it slathered with a thick layer of butter.

Crusty sourdough bread

As usual, Josh and I went halfsies on our meal, although we had to be careful about picking items that I could eat. We started off with seared scallops and crab salad for our appetizer course. The seared scallops were served with golden raisins, almonds, and maple-lemon butter. While the scallops were cooked perfectly, I found the dish to be entirely too sweet. To me, the sauce was a bit sticky and cloying, and I didn’t love the combination with the raisins. Josh, on the other hand, loved the dish, and found it to be well balanced and flavorful. It just goes to show that we don’t always have the same tastes!

Seared scallops with golden raisins, almonds, and maple-lemon butter

On the other hand, I was a bigger fan of the crab salad than Josh was. The salad, which was a special that evening, featured lump crab meat served with cucumber, baby greens, grapefruit, and mango puree. The crab was plump and fresh tasting, and paired perfectly with the tangy fruits and crunchy vegetables. It was a light and bright dish, simple, but flavorful enough to wake up my taste buds.

Crab salad with cucumber, baby greens, grapefruit, and mango puree

For our main course, we shared the pork tenderloin and Pekin duck breast. The pork was served with a blueberry-apple compote, portwine sauce, and spaetzle. The dish sounded like it might be on the sweet side with the fruit compote, but the portwine sauce actually made the pork taste very savory, with a meaty, steak-like flavor. The pork was nice and tender, and I liked the chewiness of the spaetzle.

Pork tenderloin with blueberry-apple compote, portwine sauce, and spaetzle

On the other hand, the duck was served with a black peppercorn sauce, which I thought would be really savory, but it was mixed with raisins, which added a sweet element. Even though we asked for it to be cooked medium, the duck was pretty rare, which I would normally like, but given my pregnancy restrictions, I only nibbled on the more cooked end pieces and let Josh eat most of the dish.

Pekin duck breast with sweet potato crepe, raisins, and black peppercorn sauce

For dessert, Josh picked the frozen cappuccino, which was pretty much what it sounded like – espresso at the bottom, coffee ice cream, whipped cream foam on top. Tasty, though not very exciting.

Frozen cappuccino dessert

I chose the passion fruit tart, which really hit the spot. The passion fruit filling was slightly tart, not too sweet. The crust was subtly almond flavored, and the coconut gelato on the side really gave the dessert a tropical feel.

Passion fruit tart with almond crust and coconut gelato

Overall, we found the food at The Saddle River Inn to be pretty solid, though nothing was spectacular. We weren’t wowed by any of the dishes, but nothing really turned us off either, although the scallop appetizer was borderline for me. I thought the prix fixe was a good deal, but if we had been paying a la carte prices, I might have felt more disappointed. I think everything fell just slightly short in execution, and while it was mostly tasty, there wasn’t anything really exciting about the food. It’s a nice restaurant though, with good service, and I might give it another shot for another special occasion, but it isn’t really somewhere that we would go regularly.

The Saddle River Inn
2 Barnstable Court
Saddle River, NJ

ABC Kitchen

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011 by virginia

Back in October, we had a wonderful meal at ABC Kitchen in honor of Lisa’s birthday. I was having a hard time finding a place that would seat 7 of us during prime dinner hours on a Sunday, and ABC Kitchen was the only available restaurant that interested me on the Open Table search results. It’s a restaurant that has gotten a lot of buzz since it opened, and it was named the best new restaurant at the most recent James Beard awards. I usually shy away from buzzy places, preferring to wait until the hype has died down, but I had read plenty of good reviews from reliable sources so we decided to give it a shot.

We were seated at a round table in the front corner of the main room, giving us a great view of the room and its modern decor. It’s pretty minimalist and kind of industrial, but also elegant and classy. Our table was made from knotty wood and sort of rustic, reminiscent of a tree trunk. I loved the chandelier above us, which was silver with white ceramic flowers all over.

Gorgeous chandelier

The menu is fairly extensive, with several different categories to choose from. In addition to appetizers and entrees, there was market table category with various items to be shared, as well as pastas and pizzas. The menu prides itself on focusing on organic and local foods, so dishes change with the season. I had a tough time deciding on what to order but we ended up having a nice variety on the table so we got to taste a lot of different dishes.

The meal started out with some slices of slightly sour rustic bread, olive oil, and french radishes. The bread was fine, if a bit standard, but I loved the radishes. They were fresh, crunchy, and not too sharp. We ate them whole with just a bit of salt sprinkled on top.

Bread, olive oil, salt, and french radishes

We got a few market table items to share for the table. First up was a bowl of olives that were zesty and briney. They were marinated in olive oil and citrus peel, which gave them a nice brightness.

Marinated olives

Next was an order of roasted beets topped with housemade yogurt. The beets were sweet and creamy, and the yogurt added a subtle tanginess.

Roasted beets with housemade yogurt

Lastly, we all shared a pizza with jersey tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and fresh basil. The pizza had a whole wheat crust, which I was a bit nervous about since I generally don’t like whole wheat breads, but the wheat flavor was very subtle. The crust had a crispy bottom and a nice chew on the edges. The buffalo mozzarella was creamy, and the tomato sauce was fresh and tangy. It was a very good pie.

Whole wheat pizza with jersey tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and basil

Moving on to the main portion of our meals, Josh and I split the raw diver scallops and the crab toast for our appetizer course. The scallops were thinly sliced and topped with market grapes and lemon verbena. The dish was beautifully presented in a scallop shell sitting on top of a bed of ice. The raw scallops had a lovely firm and meaty texture to them, and they were lightly dressed with olive oil and citrus. The combination with the grapes was a refreshing blend of tangy and sweet.

Raw diver scallops with market grapes and lemon verbena

The crab toast was technically under the market table section, and it was definitely big enough to share. It was a huge piece of toasted bread topped with tons of crab meat mixed with some dill and lemon aioli. The crab was fresh and sweet, and I liked the earthiness brought by the dill. It was a big serving for an appetizer but we didn’t have any trouble finishing it.

Crab toast with lemon aioli

For our entrees, Josh and I split the black sea bass and the roast suckling pig. The black sea bass was topped with chopped chilies and herbs and served over a bed of spinach and baby potatoes. The chilies added a nice kick to the otherwise simple dish. Lisa asked for her order to be less spicy, and the kitchen willingly obliged. The sea bass was cooked perfectly, with a nice sear on the skin and delicate flaky flesh. The broth in the bowl tasted a bit of ginger, and the whole dish was clean and well balanced.

Black sea bass with chilies and herbs, baby market potatoes, and spinach

The roast suckling pig was my favorite dish of the evening. It was outrageously decadent, with crispy crackling skin and a plum and smoked bacon marmalade on top. The meat was melt in your mouth tender, and I loved the sweet/smokey combination of flavors. I also enjoyed the braised turnips on the side, with the slightly bitter greens that helped cut through the richness of the dish. I almost didn’t want to trade plates with Josh, though I did enjoy the sea bass as well.

Roast suckling pig with plum and smoked bacon marmalade and braised turnips

I don’t normally take pictures of other people’s food or comment too much about dishes that Josh and I didn’t order, but the minute I saw Alice’s fried chicken, I knew it would be something special. The piece of chicken was absolutely massive, with both dark and white meat, and fried to a perfect crisp. The batter was delicate and not remotely greasy, while the chicken inside was juicy and succulent. It was served with collard greens (yum!) and a hot butter sauce.

Fried organic chicken with collard greens and hot butter sauce

Even though we gorged ourselves during the meal, we still managed to save room for dessert. I ordered the seasonal glazed doughnuts while Josh selected the sundae. The seasonal glaze was currant, though it didn’t really have a distinctive flavor. The other flavors included chocolate glazed and a raspberry jelly doughnut. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. The doughnuts were just meh, not freshly fried or very flavorful. I never got into the whole doughnut craze that hit NYC, so maybe I just don’t appreciate them as much. I thought these were just marginally better than Dunkin’s though.

Currant glazed, chocolate glazed, and jelly filled doughnuts

Josh’s sundae, however, was pretty fabulous. It featured salted caramel ice cream, candied peanuts and popcorn, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce. It was like a carnival in your mouth. While the ice cream was more caramel than salted caramel (it reminded me of dulce de leche ice cream), the peanuts made up for the lack of salt and the popcorn added a nice crunch. It wasn’t overly sweet, and the ice cream was a refreshing finish to our decadent meal.

Sundae with salted caramel ice cream, candied peanuts and popcorn, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce

Overall we were all pretty impressed with the meal we had at ABC Kitchen. The food was fresh and well executed, and for the most part, the flavors of all the dishes were spot on. We enjoyed every single one of our shared market plates and appetizers. In addition to the crab toast and raw diver scallops that Josh and I ordered, the other diners at our table enjoyed the lentil soup, pretzel dusted calamari, and tuna sashimi. All of our entrees were hits as well. Only my doughnuts and the buttermilk panna cotta with huckleberry dessert fell flat (the panna cotta was deemed too firm and sour). In terms of service, we had several people waiting on us and they were all efficient and attentive. In honor of Lisa’s birthday, they brought her a small chocolate cupcake with a candle in it. The only drawdown to the restaurant, I think, is the price. Appetizers average around $15, and entrees around $30. Not super expensive by any stretch, but definitely not cheap. While I would love to eat here often, it will be more of a special occasion kind of place for us. Nevertheless, I think ABC Kitchen deserves all the buzz and hype it receives, and I will gladly return for another meal.

ABC Kitchen
35 East 18th St. between Broadway and Park Ave. South
New York, NY

Hilton Head 2011 Day 4 – Old Fort Pub

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 by virginia

On our last day in Hilton Head, Josh and I were supposed to fly out at 7 pm from Savannah, which would have gotten us back to NYC at around 9 pm. Around 1 pm, however, a few hours before we were headed to the airport (which is about 45 minutes from the island), Josh got notification that our flight had been cancelled due to weather. We weren’t sure where exactly the “weather” was, given that we were sitting at the pool at the time and the sky was clear and blue. We figured the bad weather was in NYC, where it was raining, but nothing out of the ordinary. After trying to figure out alternative routes home, including flying through Charlotte, we ultimately booked a flight for first thing in the morning. I was worried that we would get stuck in Charlotte and have to spend the night at the airport, whereas if we stayed in Hilton Head, at least we had a guaranteed place to sleep.

The cancellation of our flight was kind of bittersweet. I was looking forward to getting home and having a night to readjust before heading back to work the next day. Flying out at 6:30 am meant that we would have to get up around 3:30 am and take a 45 minute taxi ride from Hilton Head to Savannah. Our flight would get in at 8:30 am and I would have to go straight to work feeling tired and looking disheveled. On the upside, we got to finish out our day at the pool, and we were able to join everyone for dinner at the Old Fort Pub.

During our trip to Hilton Head last year, the Old Fort Pub was my favorite restaurant of all the places we went that year. Even though I was dreading our early departure the next day, I was excited to have the opportunity to go back to the Old Fort Pub. Luckily they were able to add us to the reservation on short notice without any issues. As we left for the restaurant, the sky grew ominously black, and it started to pour. In retrospect, perhaps our flight was cancelled because they were anticipating this rain for around the time our flight was scheduled to take off. In addition to the downpour, there was plenty of thunder and lightning.

The torrential rain slowed us up quite a bit, as it was hard to see out the windshield because it was raining so heavily. We wound up being late for our reservation, and the restaurant called to make sure we were still coming. We assured them that we were on our way and quite close, but that we hadn’t brought any umbrellas. They said it was no problem, and that someone would be out front to meet us. Sure enough, as we pulled up, there was a person (who later turned out to be our waiter) standing in the rain holding several umbrellas for us. Now that’s what I call service!

We all finally made it into the restaurant, safe and mostly dry. It did get a bit hairy when a lightning bolt must have struck very close to where we were standing; the thundering crack that it made was absolutely deafening (I almost jumped out of my skin), and we were all pretty spooked by it. Nevertheless, we were happy to finally be inside, and we settled in to enjoy our meal.

In a departure from our usual tactic of ordering two different things per course and then going halfsies, Josh and I both decided to order the she crab soup. She crab soup is probably our favorite lowcountry dish and it’s something we always want to eat when we’re in Hilton Head. The version at Old Fort Pub is a bit different from most other versions we’ve tried. It’s very thick and creamy, which I like, but it has a very strong sherry taste to it. While the sherry flavor cuts through the richness of the soup, it masks some of the crab flavor and is slightly bitter. I thought when we tried it last year that we had just gotten a particularly boozy batch, but it was exactly the same this year. It’s not a bad version, but I definitely prefer less sherry flavor.

She crab soup

For our main course, we shared the lamb chops and the bouillabaisse. The lamb chops were cooked rare, as requested, and served with a pea and bean cassoulet, braised collard greens, and roasted tomato jus. I’m not sure if the sauce on the plate was the tomato jus because it was dark red in color and syrupy, both in texture and in taste. It was slightly too sweet to match well with the lamb and clashed with the cassoulet and collards as well. The flavors really didn’t meld, and I was pretty disappointed with the dish.

Lamb chops with pea and bean cassoulet, braised collard greens, and roasted tomato jus

We enjoyed the bouillabaisse much more, which featured shrimp, scallops, crawfish, mussels, tasso ham, roasted tomatoes, and collards. The seafood was all nicely cooked, especially the scallops, and the broth was rich and flavorful thanks to the ham. I think there was some cream in there but it wasn’t overwhelming, and the¬†bouillabaisse was hearty and comforting.

Sea Island bouillabaisse

Overall I have to admit that most of us were pretty disappointed with our meal at the Old Fort Pub. Perhaps we had high hopes and expectations coming in, especially since we all had great prior meals there, but this particular visit didn’t measure up. The lamb chops didn’t work and there were also issues with the dishes that some other people in our group had. The upside to the experience was definitely the service. In addition to being nice enough to stand outside in the rain with umbrellas for us, our waiter was friendly, attentive, and efficient. I’m glad that we were able to spend an extra night in Hilton Head, though this meal was kind of a downer to end our vacation with. I don’t know if it was just an off night but for the price, I definitely expected more. It may have been our favorite restaurant last year, but now I have mixed feelings about the place. I think next year we’ll probably seek out some new restaurants to try.

Old Fort Pub
65 Skull Creek Dr.
Hilton Head, SC

Hilton Head 2011 Day 3 – A Lowcountry Backyard

Sunday, September 18th, 2011 by virginia

I did do a little bit of research on Hilton Head restaurants before we went down, and one restaurant that I found was called A Lowcountry Backyard, which featured local lowcountry cuisine. My brother, sister-in-law, and nephew left that afternoon so we had a slightly smaller group for dinner, though there were still 12 of us. This restaurant also does not take reservations, though they said that if we called ahead they would put our names on the list and try to accommodate us. We arrived at the restaurant, they told us the wait wouldn’t be too bad, but we ended up waiting for over 45 minutes. The restaurant is on the smaller side so we had to stay outside. There’s a pretty garden with tables and chairs but the wait was uncomfortable because the mosquitoes were relentless.

We were bitten up and slightly annoyed by the time we sat down. Again, we had to split up into two tables because they didn’t have anything large enough for a group of our size. Josh and I sat with Jessica and Eric while the “adults” were squeezed into the other table. We started off with a round of local beers as we perused the menu. The menu wasn’t very long but there were lots of things that I wanted to try. We ended up getting a few appetizers to share. First up was the fried green tomato stack, which was pretty self explanatory. A few pieces of lightly breaded and fried green tomatoes were stacked together and served with pickles and ranch dressing on the side. The breading was well seasoned though slightly soggy. We could taste the sweet/sourness of the green tomatoes though, and overall we enjoyed the flavors of this dish.

Fried green tomato stack

We also shared the blue crab dip, which was lump crab meat blended with cheese to make a warm and creamy dip. I always thought that seafood and cheese shouldn’t go together, but the combination worked well in the dip. We could taste the sweet brininess of the crab meat while the cheese added a rich tang. The texture was smooth and creamy, with little lumps of crab. There was flat bread and tortilla chips on the side for dipping.

May River blue crab dip

Lastly, we got an order of pimento cheese with grilled flat bread and tortilla chips. I was curious about pimento cheese since it’s pretty popular in the south, but I hadn’t really ever tasted it by itself. Basically it’s a combination of cheddar cheese, mayo, and pimentos all blended together. To be honest, I wasn’t a fan. I found the spread to be too chunky and the texture was slightly off-putting for me. There would be little lumps of cheese and little clumps of mayo, and the flavors didn’t meld for me. We ended up passing the dish over to the “adult table”, where it was quickly gobbled up. The adults raved about the pimento cheese, preferring it over the blue crab dip that we liked. I guess it’s just a matter of personal taste!

Homemade lowcountry pimento cheese

For our entrees, Josh and I shared the shrimp and grits and the Bischick. The Bischick was a lightly breaded and pan fried piece of chicken breast served over a homemade biscuit and topped with lowcountry gravy. The chicken breast was thick, juicy, and tender, and the breading was well seasoned. The homemade biscuit wasn’t as salty or as buttery as the fast food biscuits that I’m used to, but it had a nice fluffy texture to it and stood up well with the chicken. The gravy was thick and creamy, adding seasoning and richness to the sandwich, though the amount was slightly overwhelming and I ended up scraping some of it off. I did enjoy the dish as a whole, as it was fun and flavorful.

The Bischick

The Bischick came with a choice of one side dish so I opted for macaroni and cheese. It was a very good version with lots of tangy, sharp cheese. The noodles were al dente, the sauce was creamy, and there was shredded cheese on top that added an extra punch of flavor.

 

Macaroni and cheese

The shrimp and grits were a combination of sauteed shrimp and sausage slices mixed with a creamy bacon sauce and served over grits. This dish definitely packed in a lot of flavor, though it was on the border of being just slightly too salty for my taste. But the shrimp was cooked perfectly so that they still had a light, bouncy texture. The bacon cream sauce was truly decadent, and the creamy grits had soaked up all the flavor of the other ingredients. It was a pretty heavy and rich dish so I was glad that we went halfsies, since I think it would be hard to polish off a full portion of this by yourself.

Shrimp & grits with sausage and bacon cream sauce

We also got an extra side dish of collard greens, which definitely helped to counteract the richness of our two entrees. The greens were just a little bitter with a slight tang to cut through the rich gravy on the Bischick and the creamy bacon sauce on the grits.

Collard greens

Jessica ordered the potato chip meatloaf for her entree, which was something I really wanted to try. She generously gave us tastes of her dish, and although I couldn’t taste the potato chips (which they use instead of breadcrumbs), the meatloaf itself was well seasoned and flavorful. They use a combination of ground pork and beef, and they grill slices in a skillet before serving so that there’s a nice outer crust while the inside has a softer texture. The meatloaf was glazed with a peach barbecue sauce that was sweet and tangy.

Potato chip meatloaf

Overall I really did enjoy the food at A Lowcountry Backyard but the wait for a table was kind of ridiculous, especially since we had called before we went and they said we should be ok. It seems unavoidable to wait because the restaurant doesn’t take actual reservations and the place is pretty small. The food was flavorful and well seasoned, though the preparation is simple. It’s definitely home-cooked food, hearty and comforting, but not refined or mind-blowing. Portions are big and prices are extremely reasonable. Perhaps that’s why the restaurant is so popular; I just wish they would take reservations. If you have the time and the patience – go. If not, you might not think it’s worth the wait.

A Lowcountry Backyard
32 Palmetto Bay Rd.
Hilton Head, SC

Le Bernardin

Monday, August 22nd, 2011 by virginia


In the interest of full disclosure, this meal took place back in April. Yes, I’m really far behind with my posts.

As Josh wrote back in November 2009, Le Bernardin ranked as the #2 best meal we’ve ever had. We were there for his birthday that year and still remembered how incredible our experience was. During the last year and a half, however, we’ve had some pretty good meals (ie., Daniel, Eleven Madison Park), and we were curious to see if Le Bernardin would still live up to our memories. Our friend Melissa was in town and she really wanted to try Le Bernardin as well, so we managed to get a weeknight reservation at a decent time.

We met up with Melissa at the restaurant bar and were seated immediately. They’re currently renovating the interior of Le Bernardin right now, but I liked the old decor. The restaurant has very tall ceilings, and the colors are pretty muted, with lots of beiges and light browns. I find the atmosphere to be calm with an understated elegance, but not stuffy.

I was surprised when they served us the amuse bouche immediately, before we even received any menus. The amuse was a small portion of tuna tartare, and I wish that I could have had an entire serving because it was absolutely delicious. Tuna tartare is pretty mainstream these days and it’s hard to mess up, but it’s also hard to find one that will knock your socks off, like this did. This version featured classic ingredients like cucumber and chives, and the sauce had an Asian flavor to it. The tuna was fresh and perfectly seasoned, and it was a great bite to start off our meal.

Gorgeous tuna tartare amuse bouche

We were debating between the shorter tasting menu or the regular four course prix fixe menu and decided that if we all ordered different things and shared, we would be able to taste more dishes overall with the regular four course prix fixe. It was a bit tricky to split each dish three ways but we managed to do it without any major issues. We all picked our favorite dishes for each course, and the sommelier helped us pick out a white burgundy wine that was buttery and matched well with our dishes.

After we made our selections, we settled in to enjoy our meal. First up was the bread, which featured an olive rosemary stick, a crusty white roll, and I think a whole wheat roll (sorry, my memory is fuzzy). The star of the lineup was definitely the olive rosemary stick, which was studded with salty and briny green olives.

Selection of breads - our favorite was the olive and rosemary bread stick

In order to make the sharing process easier, when we received our dishes, we immediately split them into thirds, ate our portions, and then passed our plates to the left.¬† The first course of the prix fixe comes from a category called “Simply Raw.” As the name indicates, the seafood featured during this course are not cooked, allowing their freshness to shine through. For our dishes, we ended up choosing the progressive tasting of Kumamoto oysters, the striped bass tartare, and the thinly pounded yellowfin tuna. The oysters, which were topped with different gelees and ranged from light and refreshing to complex and spicy, was a difficult dish to share because each oyster was different. Fortunately there were six oysters in total, so we each selected two, one from each end of the plate. I don’t know what each of the gelee toppings were, but the oysters were fresh and juicy, with lots of briny liquid to slurp up. The gelees were more of an accompaniment rather than a condiment, and they didn’t hide or detract from the flavor of the oysters.

Progressive tasting of Kumamoto oysters "en gelee"

The striped bass tartare was served with watermelon radish carpaccio, mustard oil, and red dulce seaweed vinaigrette. They also gave us some toasts on the side to accompany the tartare. At first taste, the tartare was a bit bland and really nothing special. However, when eaten in conjunction with the toast, the dish itself changed drastically. The flavor of the bass was more apparent, and the nuances of the vinaigrette and seasonings came through better. I went from thinking it was a lackluster tartare to really enjoying the flavors. It was like magic!

Striped bass tartare with watermelon radish carpaccio, mustard oil, and red dulce seaweed vinaigrette

My favorite appetizer of the bunch was the thinly pounded yellowfin tuna layered on a toasted baguette that is spread with foie gras. There was olive oil drizzled over the top and a sprinkling of chopped chives. The tuna was fresh and flavorful on its own, and light enough that it was the perfect match for the foie gras. The foie gras was just a thin layer so the dish wasn’t overly rich, and the toasted baguette provided a wonderful crunchy textural contrast. It was just a winning combination overall.

Thinly pounded yellowfin tuna over foie gras and toasted baguette

The second course of the prix fixe comes from a category called “Barely Touched.” Again, we all picked the dish that we wanted for the course, split it into thirds, then passed it along so that everyone could have a taste. We selected the peekytoe “crab cake,” the smoked yellowfin tuna “prosciutto,” and the seared langoustine. The peekytoe crab was a pile of loosely packed crab meat served with mango ribbons and a chili crab broth. There was no filler in this “crab cake,” just crab meat. The broth was pretty complex, with lots of different spices. It definitely had an Asian flavor to it, and we actually requested spoons so that we could spoon up the broth to eat together with the crab meat. Josh really enjoyed this dish a lot.

Peekytoe "crab cake" with mango ribbons and chili crab broth

The smoked yellowfin tuna “prosciutto” was an interesting dish, with thick pieces of tuna that were a deep red color and had a salty, smoky flavor to it. The tuna was topped with pieces of pickled vegetables and a crispy sheet of kombu seaweed. I didn’t love the flavor of the tuna but I appreciated the whimsical aspect behind the dish.

Smoked yellowfin tuna "prosciutto" with pickled vegetables and crispy kombu

Our favorite second course, and quite possibly our favorite dish of the evening, was the seared langoustine with mache and wild mushroom salad and shaved foie gras. The langoustine was cooked perfectly so that the texture was still light and delicate, not chewy or rubbery. There was just a small pat of foie gras on each piece, which added some richness but was in no way overwhelming. The mushrooms and mache were a great match for the langoustine, and a white balsamic vinaigrette bound everything together with just the right amount of acid.

Seared langoustine with wild mushroom and mache salad, shaved foie gras, and white balsamic vinaigrette

The third course, our last savory course, came from the “Lightly Cooked” category. We wound up selecting the poached halibut, the sauteed codfish, and the baked skate and langoustine “paupiette.” The halibut was described as being served with braised artichokes stuffed with water chestnuts and bacon in a Persian lime scented truffle broth. I have to admit, we picked the dish because of the lime scented truffle broth and were disappointed with what we actually received. The broth had no trace of truffle flavor, nor was it tangy from the Persian lime as we had anticipated. The broth was still flavorful, just not what we expected based on the description. I did like the stuffed artichokes, and the halibut itself was tender and flaky.

Poached halibut with braised artichokes stuffed with water chestnuts and bacon

The sauteed codfish had a beautiful golden sear on the outside, and the fish was well seasoned. It was served with a leek and grape parfait, caramelized endives, and a green peppercorn mariniere. This was probably the most classically French dish we had all evening, with simple, clean flavors and perfect execution.

Sauteed codfish with leek and grape parfait, caramelized endives, and green peppercorn mariniere

Our favorite dish of the course was the baked skate and langoustine “paupiette” with charred shiitake mushroom and brown butter flavored dashi broth. Even though there was langoustine was tucked inside the skate, the skate itself was the star of the dish. It had a wonderful delicately chewy texture to it, and wasn’t the least bit stringy. The shiitake mushrooms and the dashi broth definitely gave the dish a Japanese tilt, and the flavors were surprisingly bold. I also liked the little french radishes on top, which gave each bite a little bitterness to counteract the richness of the broth. It was an elegant and well put-together dish.

Baked skate and langoustine "paupiette" with charred shiitake mushroom and brown butter flavored dashi broth

The last course of our four course prix fixe was dessert. Before dinner, I told Josh that I had read about a famous off the menu dessert created by Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis, which was simply called “The Egg.” It was usually served as a pre-dessert with the tasting menu, and I was hoping they would let us order it even though we weren’t doing a tasting menu. After checking to make sure they had enough prepared for actual tasting menu diners, our waiter graciously let us swap out one of our desserts for The Egg.

What is The Egg exactly? It’s a milk chocolate pot de creme, or custard, served in an actual eggshell and topped with maple, caramel, caramel foam, and flakes of Maldon salt. The presentation is fun and unusual, but the taste is even better. Who doesn’t like a combination of chocolate and caramel? The salt adds a nice contrast to the sweetness, and the maple is just a hint to make you wonder exactly what’s in The Egg. The custard is smooth and rich, and each bite varies just slightly depending on what you get on your spoon.

"The Egg"

I have to say, The Egg is simply heavenly, but it was almost impossible to share with two other people. Considering that the serving is inside an actual eggshell, it’s quite small to begin with. That’s why it’s meant to be a pre-dessert, just a taste to leave you wanting more, and not an actual dessert. It was hard to pass The Egg on, but we managed to score a few tiny spoonfuls each. I know we all wished that we could have had our own Eggs!

We did order two other desserts for our prix fixe, the pistachio and the citrus. The pistachio featured pistachio mousse, vanilla cream, lemon raspberry pearls, and pistachio ice cream. I’m a huge fan of pistachio so I loved this dessert as well. I felt bad though when I found out later that Melissa doesn’t really like pistachio. Still, the mousse was light and airy while the ice cream was dense and rich. Pistachio was definitely the dominating flavor on the plate. The lemon raspberry pearls added a bit of color and some whimsy to the dish.

Pistachio mousse, vanilla cream, lemon raspberry pearls, pistachio ice cream

The citrus dessert featured lime parfait, meringue, avocado puree, and mint-grapefruit tequila sorbet. It was definitely citrusy, both tangy and very refreshing. The lime parfait was smooth and creamy, and the mint-grapefruit tequila sorbet was an interesting combination. Both Josh and Melissa liked this dessert a lot, and it was a great way to revive our palates after all the food we ate.

Lime parfait, meringue, avocado puree, and mint-grapefruit tequila sorbet

Lastly, they presented us each with a plate of petit fours. We were stuffed but couldn’t resist tasting each little bite. There was salted caramel covered in chocolate, a chewy caramel canele, a pistachio financier with a cherry inside, and a vanilla cream puff. They were sweet endings to a wonderful meal.

Salted caramel in chocolate, caramel canele, pistachio cherry financier , vanilla cream puff

After our meal we asked to see the kitchen, and while I was disappointed that Chef Eric Ripert was not in the house that evening, the chefs in the kitchen were extremely nice when we walked in. We also saw the separate pastry area where the team was hard at work trying to get all the desserts plated before the ice creams melted, as the kitchen was very hot – much hotter than any other restaurant kitchen we’ve visited.

Overall we were all extremely pleased with our meal at Le Bernardin. While it’s hard to compare if this meal lived up to the #2 best meal of our lives, it definitely ranks up there. The food was outstanding and the service was top notch. Our waiter was very friendly, offering his advice on which dishes to order when asked. The sommelier was also great in helping us pick out a solid yet reasonably priced wine. It’s easy to see why this restaurant has three Michelin stars. With regard to all the courses we had, I personally preferred dishes from the first two courses, as the fish was either raw or barely cooked. That’s not to say that the lightly cooked dishes were bad, I just found more exciting pairings and more variety in the first two courses. Coincidentally, Josh had a business dinner at Le Bernardin just a few days after our meal, and he found that dinner to be spectacular as well. I think it’s safe to say that Le Bernardin is our favorite high end restaurant in New York, and I wish that we could eat there more often. I’m looking forward to seeing what the new renovations will bring, as it will give us an excuse to visit again soon.

Le Bernardin
155 West 50th St. between 6th and 7th Ave.
New York, NY

JoJo

Saturday, February 26th, 2011 by virginia

Whenever I have a rare weekday off from work and we happen to be in the city, Josh and I like to go for lunch somewhere a bit special, since it’s a luxury to have more than an hour for lunch. There are lots of great prix fixe deals to be found, and some of the best ones are at Jean George restaurants. We’ve always been big fans of Nougatine but have gone there often enough that we’ve sampled most of the menu offerings. Some of the dishes do vary based on the season, but we were in the mood to try something different so we decided to head across town to another Jean George place, Jojo.

The restaurant itself is a huge departure from the massive and almost sterile atmosphere of Jean Georges and Nougatine. It’s got a old school townhouse feel to it, with green and white striped walls, gold crown molding along the ceiling, big mirrors hanging all around, and little lamp light fixtures everywhere. It was cozy, though I think they need to rethink their chairs. I was seated on a soft bench that stretched the length of the wall and was perfectly fine but Josh was in a chair that was just way too low for the table. He looked pretty silly, like a little kid sitting at the adult table, and it was probably a bit uncomfortable for him to maneuver his utensils and eat from that low angle.

Nevertheless, the food is always what’s most important to us. The menu is set up in a similar structure to Nougatine, with a choice of appetizer, entree, and dessert for $26. The menu did say choice of two plates again, with no real distinction between appetizers and entrees, but there were several appetizers that we wanted to try so it didn’t bother us too much this time. I do wish they would be more clear though on the menu because it can be confusing. After we placed our order, they brought us a tall cup containing long pieces of a thin baguette. The bread was absolutely fantastic – some of the best bread that I’ve eaten at any restaurant. It was warm right out of the oven with a nice crispy crust and a soft, chewy interior. I slathered it with butter and sprinkled on some coarse salt from the little bowl that was on our table.

Fantastic baguettes with creamy butter and salt

Per usual, Josh and I went halfsies on everything. We would each start on one dish and then switch plates halfway through. For the first course, we selected the tuna tartare and the peekytoe crabmeat. The tartare arrived looking like a small plate of potato chips:

Where's the tuna?

The tuna was obviously hidden underneath the chips. There wasn’t a huge amount of fish, just two small rounds, though it made it easy to share the portion, but I didn’t like that it was chopped super finely. It had the consistency of ground tuna, which threw me off slightly, but at least the fish tasted fresh and it was properly seasoned. The chive oil surrounding the dish added a lot of flavor, and I liked the crunchiness of the gaufrette potatoes with the soft tuna.

Ground tuna tartare

The peekytoe crabmeat appetizer was also pretty tasty, and a bit more sophisticated, I thought, than the tartare. There were lots of peppery pieces of crabmeat that we were told to spread on the accompanying cumin crackers with a smear of whole grain mustard, and then top with the cubes of mango. It was a great combination of crunchy, sweet, and peppery. The crabmeat was really fresh and flavorful, and we could really taste the cumin flavor in the crackers.

Peekytoe crabmeat with mango and cumin crackers

For our entrees, we split the salmon and the hanger steak. Usually I shy away from ordering salmon, having eaten one too many fishy portions, but I must say that Jean Georges usually does salmon right. This particular version was slowly baked and served with truffled mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, and truffle vinaigrette. I know that we’re both truffle nuts but even this dish shocked me with its complexity of flavors. While the truffled potatoes were exactly what you would expect (delicious, of course), the truffle vinaigrette was tangy and bright, not the smooth earthiness that we expected. The truffle flavor was there but the acidity cut through the richness nicely, and paired well with the soft, fatty salmon. The brussels sprouts on top added a little bitterness, and the dish was really well composed and perfectly seasoned.

Baked salmon

Our second entree, the hanger steak, was completely covered in gingered mushrooms and served on a bed of broccoli rabe. The hanger steak was soft and tender, and the gingered mushrooms added an interesting Asian twist to the dish. There was also a soy caramel sauce that was more salty than sweet but helped tie everything together.

Hanger steak with gingered mushrooms, broccoli rabe, and soy caramel sauce

The hanger steak came with a side of french fries that were warm and nicely seasoned, though they weren’t as crisp as I had hoped. They were pretty limped and tasted like they had soaked in a lot of the frying oil. Too bad, because they looked so good.

French fries

For dessert, we had a choice between JG’s signature molten chocolate cake and an apple tart, so we got one of each. The molten chocolate is the same one that is served at Nougatine, just with a different shape. It’s chocolately and rich, with a lovely runny center. Served with vanilla ice cream, it’s a classic combination.

Warm molten chocolate cake

Liquid center

The apple tart was also served with ice cream, cinnamon I think. The tart itself had a flaky puff pastry crust and a layer of what tasted like crumbly almond cake. There wasn’t a ton of apples inside, but it was nicely balanced in flavor and not too sweet. I actually preferred this dessert to the chocolate cake.

Apple tart and ice cream

Overall we were both pretty impressed with the prix fixe lunch at JoJo. There were lots of different options to choose from, which made it kind of hard for us to decide, but everything we had was delicious. You can order lunch items a la carte, but the three course prix fixe for $26 is definitely a bargain, given the quality of the food. The hanger steak did have a $3 supplement charge, though even that is totally reasonable. Service was fine up until the end of our meal, when we had to wait a long time for our check, so it was good that we weren’t under a time crunch. I preferred the townhouse atmosphere to the modern one at Nougatine, though I’d be happy to return to either restaurant.

JoJo
160 East 64th St. at Lexington Ave.
New York, NY

Hilton Head Day 5 – Flying Fish Seafood

Saturday, August 28th, 2010 by virginia

We only had half a day of free time on our last day in Hilton Head. I spent the morning by the pool with the girls while Josh and his dad got in a round of golf. We met up at the pool for a quick dip and then headed inside to shower, change, and do last minute packing. We had a little time to kill before we needed to get to the airport so we decided to grab lunch. Our first choice destination was the Sea Shack, which is pretty well known on the island for its cheap seafood joint that was also featured on $40 a Day with Rachael Ray. Josh’s parents, Lisa, and Jess have gone there before but Josh and I never made it. Unfortunately, we got there at 3:10 in the afternoon only to find out that they close for lunch at 3 pm. Rats. We debated other options before deciding to check out Flying Fish Seafood, which replaced one of our favorite restaurants, Stripes.

The space definitely looked very different from when it was Stripes, but the menu was pretty well rounded so we decided to stay and have lunch. Josh, Lloyd, and I chose to have beer with our meal, and they have a pretty decent selection of bottles in their fridge. I had Palmetto Ale, a local beer, while Josh and Lloyd tried out some craft beers. We all shared an order of fried clam strips to start. The clams were clearly freshly fried as they were burning hot, but they didn’t have much flavor. They were pretty tender though, and came with a nice marinara sauce for dipping. I just wish there was a bit more brininess, and the portion was kind of small as well.

Fried clam strips

Josh and I decided to split the seafood platter so that we could try as many different items as possible. The platter came with a house garden salad first. I chose the wasabi cucumber dressing, which tasted like horseradish sauce. The dressing was actually pretty interesting, even though the salad was standard.

House garden salad

The seafood platter itself included steamed snow crab legs, scallops, shrimp, fish, and french fries.¬† We had the option of fried or broiled, and obviously we chose fried (because broiled fish tends to be drier). We liked that the seafood was only lightly breaded, but unfortunately it was pretty soggy. The steamed snow crab legs were pretty good though, but there was only one small cluster. The shrimp and scallops were decent, but the fish was probably the worst of the bunch. In general it wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrendous.

Fried fish, steamed snow crab legs, fried shrimp, fried scallops, and french fries

The seafood platter came with one side, and we opted for the mac ‘n cheese. Sadly, it was pretty bland and not very cheesy or creamy. I dumped a bunch of salt into the bowl but even that didn’t help. It was definitely not something I would choose again.

Bland mac 'n cheese

Josh wanted to try fried pickles, so we got an additional order of those as well. I was expecting the pickles to be coin shaped, but they were actually spears. They were also very lightly breaded, and while I liked the contrast of the hot, slightly crisp exterior with the cooler, juicy interior, the pickles were super salty and made my mouth pucker. They came with marinara and ranch dressing on the side for dipping. The marinara was an odd choice, but the ranch was kind of refreshing and helped offset the saltiness a bit. I can see the potential in fried pickles, but these just weren’t a good example.

Fried pickles

I was pretty disappointed that we weren’t able to go to the Sea Shack for lunch, but I was interested to try out Flying Fish Seafood since we’ve all been curious about the restaurant that replaced Stripes. While I liked how many different options the menu had, I wasn’t really that impressed with the food. All of our fried seafood entrees were pretty soggy and limp. It wasn’t that the seafood itself was bad, it was just poorly prepared. In addition, the restaurant was empty when we were there, yet service was really spotty. It took a while to get our food, and while they kept our soda cups filled, we repeatedly asked for, and never received, extra tartar sauce for our fish. The experience was kind of a letdown, and I don’t think this is a place we’ll be returning to. It was a bummer to end our trip on a low note, but exploring new restaurants is one of my favorite aspects of visiting Hilton Head each year. I look forward to trying out new places the next time we’re down there!

Flying Fish Seafood
32 Office Park Rd.
Hilton Head, SC

Hilton Head Day 2 – Old Fort Pub

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 by virginia

I have to admit, the first time I heard about the Old Fort Pub was on Rachael Ray’s show, “$40 a Day.” Man, that show used to tick me off half the time. One single sushi roll does not equal dinner, no matter how dainty of an eater you are. Which she clearly was not. And having your husband buy you frozen hot chocolate? Also not fair in context of the show. But I digress! So on the Hilton Head episode, she had a sunset martini at the Old Fort Pub. Given the name, and the fact that she just had a drink there, not a meal, made me think that it was a casual bar on the water. So to my surprise, when Josh’s parents said they had a really nice meal there last year, I knew I wanted to check it out.

We had a reservation just in time for sunset, and it was a gorgeous evening. The dining room was a bit rustic but the main feature was the wall of windows that looked out onto the water, perfect for watching the sun go down. We stepped out onto the deck (you can also eat out there if you want) for a few quick photos:

We went back into the dining room and settled in to look over the menu. There were lots of different dishes that I wanted to try so it was hard for us to decide. Ultimately I ended up dictating to Josh what I wanted, and he being the amenable guy that he is, agreed to all of my choices. After we made our selections, we were given an amuse bouche of smoked salmon cream in a pastry shell. The cream was a bit runny but it had good salmon flavor. I love smoked salmon in all forms so I liked it, but Josh wasn’t too impressed.

Smoked salmon cream tart amuse bouche

We also got a basket of warm bread that had come right out of the oven. They were big rolls that you could pull apart into four dinner roll-sized pieces, and the top crust was nice and crispy. The inside had a nice chewy texture, and we ended up eating tons of these rolls with the accompanying herb butter.

Warm, chewy bread

For our appetizers, Josh and I shared the she crab soup (of course!) and the seared lamb tenderloin. Alice raved about the she crab soup last year so I was eager to try it. The soup was rich and creamy and chock full of crab flavor. Unfortunately, they were a bit heavy handed with the sherry so each spoonful had sort of an alcoholic bite to it. I’m not sure if they make it like that all the time, or if this was an anomaly, but I found it to be kind of unpleasant. Too bad, because it would have been an amazing soup otherwise.

She crab soup

The seared lamb tenderloin appetizer turned out not to be what I had imagined, but it was still quite tasty. I thought that it would be thin slices of barely cooked lamb but it was actually sort of like pieces of lamb kebab. It was served with a little goat cheese tart, baby mache, and beet chips. The lamb was tender and flavorful. I just wish there was more of it, as there were only four small cubes. All the components of the dish really worked well together, and I liked the gaminess of the lamb with the gaminess of the goat cheese.

Seared lamb tenderloin with goat cheese tart, baby mache, and beet chips

For our entrees, Josh and I split the crispy Carolina trout and the crawfish cakes. The trout was perfectly seared so that the skin was super crispy, and it was nicely seasoned. The fish was served with baby artichokes, cremini mushrooms, grape tomatoes, and a sherry cream sauce. The portion of trout was huge, and I didn’t even get through half the plate. I liked how the cream sauce bound all of the components together. My only complaint was that there was some mashed potatoes under the fish that was overseasoned with white pepper. I just ate around it, and everything else was spot on.

Crispy Carolina trout with artichoke baby artichokes, cremini mushrooms, grape tomatoes, and a sherry cream sauce

The crawfish cakes were prepared low country style and were served with green tomato, avocado, sweet pepper relish, and creamy stone ground grits. There were two huge cakes jam packed with crawfish meat and very little filling. The outside was nice and crispy while the inside was creamy and flavorful. The grits were chunkier than I expected but still very tasty. The green tomato and sweet pepper relish provided some nice acidity for the dish, while the avocado added some creamy richness. There was also one whole crawfish on the plate, which I dispatched by pulling off the head, sucking out the juices, and then removing the tail meat and eating it. Yum!

Low country style crawfish cakes with green tomato, avocado, sweet pepper relish, and creamy stone ground grits

For dessert, Josh couldn’t resist ordering the special of the night, a root beer float. It was pretty simple, just some scoops of vanilla ice cream topped with an organic root beer and served with a chewy tuille cookie. The root beer had a clean taste to it, not overly medicinal, and having a root beer float is just whimsical enough to bring a smile to anyone’s face.

Pouring root beer into a glass with scoops of vanilla ice cream

Fun and tasty

Overall our dinner at the Old Fort Pub was our favorite out of all the meals we had in Hilton Head this year. From start to finish everything was really well prepared and the flavors were delicious. Service was good, and the restaurant had a really lovely atmosphere. Portions are huge here, making it a good value as we had tons of leftovers that fed all of us for lunch a few days later. We were all pretty impressed with our experience, and I hope it’s a place that we’ll come back to again.

Old Fort Pub
65 Skull Creek Dr.
Hilton Head, SC