Posts Tagged ‘Mussels’

Chalkboard – Healdsburg, CA

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 by virginia


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.

29 North St.
Healdsburg, CA

Skull Creek Boathouse – Hilton Head, SC

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013 by virginia


Skull Creek Boathouse was a new Hilton Head restaurant for me and Josh, although we’ve eaten at other restaurants run by the same group (One Hot Mama’s, Giuseppi’s Pizza & Pasta). We had to wait a while to be seated due to the large size of our party, and we still ended up splitting up into two tables, though they were side by side.

The menu is pretty huge, but given that the restaurant is right on the water, we decided to stick with mainly seafood. For our table, we shared an order of the Boathouse Sampler, which came with coconut shrimp, deviled crab balls, calamari, and hush puppies. There was a good amount of food in the sampler, which made it easy for us to taste most things. My favorites were the crab balls, which weren’t spicy but had a decent amount of crab flavor to it, and the hush puppies, which we liberally dipped into the accompanying honey butter. Everything on the platter is fried though, which is kind of hard to mess up. To their credit, everything was hot, crispy, and not overly greasy.


Boathouse Sampler – coconut shrimp, deviled crab balls, calamari, and hush puppies

Josh also wanted an order of fried pickle chips, which were served with a spicy ranch dressing for dipping. These were pretty good – briny, crunchy, and the breading on the outside didn’t overwhelm the pickle chip on the inside.

Fried pickle chips

Fried pickle chips

For whatever reason, I really wanted soup that night even though it was 90+ degrees outside. I’ll blame pregnancy cravings. Nevertheless, the SCB seafood chowder was worth tasting, so I was glad that I ordered it. It was like New England clam chowder, but with crab, shrimp, fish, scallops, and potatoes. The seafood was chopped up into small pieces so it was a bit hard to discern what was what, but it still had a pleasant seafood flavor. The soup wasn’t as thick or heavy as regular clam chowder, but it was still creamy and rich, with a buttery finish.

SCB Chowder

SCB seafood chowder

The chowder and tastes from the sampler platter were more than enough food for me, so I was pretty full by the time our main courses arrived. I ordered the Royal Seafood Sampler, which let me try three different dishes – coco seared sea scallops, a “salt and vinegar” crab cake, and stuffed jumbo shrimp. It was a lot of food, and I barely made a dent in the plate, but I liked being able to taste so many different things. The scallops had a tropical flavor to them, as they were topped with coconut butter and pineapple salsa. They had a nice brown sear on each side but I think they sat for a little while and wound up being a little chewy on the outside rather than crispy. The crab cake didn’t have too much salt and vinegar flavor, but there was a good amount of crab and little filler. The stuffed shrimp were my least favorite, as the deviled crab stuffing was too heavy and the shrimp were overcooked. I wound up packing up most of my plate in a doggie bag and eating it for lunch the next day.

Royal seafood platter

Royal seafood sampler – coco seared sea scallops, a “salt and vinegar” crab cake, and stuffed jumbo shrimp

Josh ordered the Seafood Extravaganza, which is basically a seafood boil with shrimp, mussels, clams, oysters, snow crab legs, sausage, potatoes, and corn. There was a decent amount of seafood, but it must’ve been sitting in the pot for a while because it was all slightly overcooked and a bit soggy. The shellfish was chewy, and there wasn’t enough spices in the broth to liven up the dish. It’s too bad, because the seafood itself seemed relatively fresh, it just wasn’t well prepared.

Seafood extravaganza -

Seafood extravaganza – shrimp, mussels, clams, oysters, snow crab legs, sausage, potatoes, and corn

Overall I had a mixed impression of the Skull Creek Boathouse. The food was decent, but nothing earth shattering. I don’t think that’s what they’re aiming for though. It has a bit of a chain restaurant vibe to it, but I liked the casualness of the place. The restaurant was pretty bustling, with lots of families and other big groups dining. The vast menu makes it easy to dine out with lots of people with different tastes – there’s something for everyone. Even though the main focus seems to be seafood, they do have steaks and other meats available. Prices go from low to high, depending on what you order. Appetizers are generally just  below the $10 mark (minus the sampler platter), and entrees can range from about $15-$35. They also have some good beers on tap and pretty reasonably priced wines and cocktails. Is it a must-go dining destination? No, I don’t think so. But it’s good for groups and the food is passable. It’s a place I can see coming back to for a few drinks and sharing some snacks.

Skull Creek Boathouse
397 Squire Pope Road
Hilton Head, SC

Cafe de la Paix – Quebec City

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 by virginia


Cafe de la Paix was not one of the restaurants I had researched prior to our trip – we sort of stumbled upon it when we were looking for a place to eat a late lunch and get out of the rain. We had finished up most of the Old City and had wound our way down the hill to the port area, near Rue Saint-Paul, when the sky just opened up and started pouring heavy rain and wet snow. We had already been looking for a lunch spot at that point, but there wasn’t much in that particular part of the city. We even tried to duck into a sandwich shop only to discover they had literally just one sandwich remaining, and it was pre-packaged in the refrigerator.

J was obviously not a happy camper, especially because in addition to the rain and snow, the wind was blowing like crazy (she hates wind). I even had to close my umbrella for fear that it would be ripped out of my hands and fly away due to the force of the wind. Fortunately, we had a plastic rain cover for her car seat, bought specifically for this trip with the weather in mind. It wasn’t the greatest cover but definitely served its purpose in keeping her dry. So with the rain pouring down on us, we booked it back up the hill to the main part of the Old City, hoping to find a French-style cafe or pub. Josh really wanted a croque monsieur, and I didn’t want to settle for just any old restaurant.

The rain slowed down a bit so we bypassed a hamburger joint (called the Chic Shack – haha!), a Chinese restaurant, and a “European” bar that served pub food (but no croque monsieurs). Unfortunately, J was getting hungry herself and was starting to get even more upset so we ended up entering the next restaurant we saw. It was a French restaurant, which is what I preferred given where we were, and I was really hoping to get a good meal out of the ordeal. It was late but they were still serving lunch so we settled in at a large round table near the door.

The restaurant looked fancier than somewhere I would normally pick, with white table cloths and ornate decor, but it also seemed a little dated to me. There was only one other couple eating in the restaurant, and they finished up well before we did, which was fortunate because J ended up causing a ruckus for basically our entire meal. As soon as we sat down, we asked the waiter for some hot water to heat up J’s bottle, and he obliged with a teapot full of water. She grabbed at the bottle once it was warmed up, but then refused to drink any milk for some unknown reason. She also refused to eat any cereal. And after that, it was pretty much over for her.

Our waiter was also nice enough to give us the wifi password so Josh could play some Elmo on youtube for J. That appeased her for a bit, but she was still bursting into random crying fits. Somehow in between all the mayhem we managed to place our order, though only one of us could eat at a time while the other held J and walked her around or pushed her back and forth in her stroller. So how was the food? (This is supposed to be a food blog after all!)

The basket of bread we received held some decent slices of baguette that had good flavor and an ok crust. It also included pieces of toasted baguette that were super crunchy, bordering crouton territory, but still good, especially slathered with butter.

Bread basket

Bread basket

The lunch menu was sort of a “menu of the day” option. You picked the entree and it came with the soup of the day and dessert. The price was based on the entree you selected. Josh picked mussels and I chose coq au vin. The soup of the day that we both received was cream of broccoli, which was perfectly fine. It was pureed to a nice thick texture, and was more broccoli than cream. It warmed us up after our bout with the weather.

Cream of broccoli soup

Cream of broccoli soup

The mussels were served mariniere style, in a white wine and garlic sauce. The mussels were plump and tender, not fishy tasting, but the sauce lacked pizazz. It could have used more garlic, more wine, and more salt. It wasn’t a bad dish, it just needed more punch. The fries on the side were a disappointment. They were the thin shoestring variety I prefer, but they seemed to be made from frozen fries and were soggy and oily.

Mussels mariniere with french fries

Mussels mariniere with french fries

I didn’t get to eat the coq au vin right away since it was my turn to walk J around, so it was a bit cold by the time I got to it. The chicken was still tender and came off the bone easily, but I thought it tasted more like roast chicken, not a chicken braised in wine. There was no wine flavor to speak of, just plain chicken taste. It was fine, just not what I think of when I hear coq au vin. It came with roasted potatoes and vegetables on the side.

Coq au vin with assorted vegetables

Coq au vin with assorted vegetables

Per the menu, our lunch came with dessert, but with J making such a fuss, we really didn’t feel like sticking around for another course. Our waiter, while accommodating to our requests, seemed a tad annoyed with all the crying (not that we blame him), and we just wanted to get her on the road again so that she could calm down on the walk back to our hotel. By that point, the storm had passed and it was sunny and blue skies all around. We quickly settled our bill (~$45 after tax and tip) and went on our way. It was pretty reasonable for a 3-course lunch (even though we passed on dessert), but the food was just ok. The dishes were mostly classic French, but nothing exciting or super flavorful.  I saw the regular menu and it seemed pretty expensive, so I don’t think it’s somewhere I would have gone voluntarily if I had a choice. We were sort of stuck with it due to the weather, and while it served its purpose, I wouldn’t recommend it or go back. Fortunately for us, that was the only time on our trip where J had a major meltdown in a restaurant, and we got through it somehow. It definitely wasn’t fun, but I hope with every restaurant experience, she’ll get better and better.

Cafe de la Paix
44 Rue des Jardins
Quebec City, Canada

Summer Restaurant Week 2011 – David Burke Townhouse

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 by virginia

I know this post is pretty late considering Restaurant Week ended on Labor Day but David Burke Townhouse regularly participates in RW, so hopefully people will still find my comments somewhat useful.

I had an early summer Friday from work so Josh and I met up for a RW lunch at David Burke Townhouse on the Upper East Side. Even though it was pretty late for lunch, the restaurant was surprisingly full. Fortunately we had a reservation and were seated immediately. The hallway leading to the dining room in the back was lined with colorful class balloons, and the whole restaurant had a whimsical decorating theme. I liked the tall ceilings and the bright colors, though there was still an understated elegance to the room.

Immediately after we were seated, Josh headed to the bathroom to wash up, and while he was gone, a waiter came by with the menus. As he placed the menu in front of me, he simply stated, “Here is our Restaurant Week menu.” I took a look and it seemed slightly different from the RW menu posted online, which isn’t unusual for RW, and I did see several overlapping items. When Josh came back, we decided on the dishes that we wanted to try and placed our orders. The waiter took our order without comment and walked away.

We settled in and munched on the bread we were given, a large, puffy roll that reminded me of a popover. It was light and crispy on the outside and airy and chewy on the inside. It was also piping hot, burning our fingers as we tore into it, but we absolutely loved it. The bread was accompanied by a cone of butter sitting on a pink salt slab. There was also pink salt sprinkled on the butter, providing just the right amount of saltiness. Even though Josh normally doesn’t use butter, even he couldn’t resist slathering some onto the warm bread.

A warm popover-like roll

Butter and pink salt

For our appetizer course, Josh and I selected the watermelon salad and the pretzel crusted crab cake. The watermelon salad featured cubes of watermelon, whipped ricotta, lomo, and baby arugula. The watermelon was sweet, the ricotta was creamy, the lomo (a kind of cured ham) was salty, and the arugula was slightly bitter and peppery. All the different flavors worked perfectly together, and given that it was one of the hottest days of the summer, we appreciated the light and refreshing qualities of the salad.

Watermelon salad, whipped ricotta, lomo

The pretzel crusted crab cake was literally crusted in whole pretzel sticks. I was expecting pretzel crumbs being used in place of the normal breadcrumb filler, but this was not the case. The presentation was quite striking, though it was a bit hard to cut through the thick pretzel shell to get to the crab. Once we got to the center, there wasn’t as much crab as we hoped, and the flavor got a bit lost under all the pretzels. On its own, the crab cake was actually quite dry, though there was tomato orange chutney and poppy seed honey on the plate that helped a bit when we dragged our forks through the sauces.

Pretzel crusted crab cake, tomato orange chutney and poppy seed honey

For our main course, we chose the steamed mussels and the cavatelli with braised short ribs. The steamed mussels were served with coconut couscous and spicy lamb sausage. The couscous was the larger Israeli style pearls rather than the small fluffy grains we expected, but I actually prefer the chewy texture of Israeli couscous. The pearls were loose and swimming in a rich coconut broth that was flavorful and delicious – I was tempted to drink it like a soup (which I sort of did, using a mussel shell as a spoon). The lamb sausage seemed a bit out of place but it was spicy and also flavorful, though I ate it separately from the mussels. However, the mussels themselves were kind of a disappointment. They were sandy and slightly overcooked, rendering them chewy. There were also only 10 mussels in the entire serving, and one of them was closed, meaning we couldn’t eat it. It was a pretty paltry portion I thought, and if you’re only going to put 10 mussels on a plate, shouldn’t you make sure they’re all open? It’s not like they were piled on top of other; the amount didn’t even fill the bowl in a single layer.

Steamed mussels, coconut couscous and spicy lamb sausage

Even with the bad mussels, Josh and I both preferred that dish to the cavatelli and short rib dish. The cavatelli was tossed with wild mushrooms in a creamy white sauce that featured truffle mousse. A huge piece of braised short rib sat on top, and there were crispy mushroom chips on the side. On paper, the dish sounded like a heavenly combination. In front of us, the dish looked delicious. In our mouths, I was thunderstruck by how a dish could possibly be both overly salty and bland at the same time. The truffle mousse barely registered, and the creamy sauce was just that, creamy, but devoid of any discernible flavor. While the cavatelli had a pleasing, chewy texture to it, even the pieces of wild mushrooms were flavorless. I think the short rib might have been the salt culprit, and I had broken it up into shreds to mix with the pasta and sauce, but the combination just didn’t meld. In theory it was a great dish – the execution, however, was horrendous. We were pretty shocked and disappointed with the dish.

Handmade cavatelli and braised short ribs, wild mushrooms, mushroom chips and truffle mousse

For dessert, we opted for the hot strawberry shortcake sundae and the cheesecake lollipop tree. The cheesecake lollipop tree had a $10 supplement, though they will waive the supplement in lieu of two desserts (meaning two people share the tree and don’t order a second dessert). Since we really wanted to try the hot strawberry shortcake sundae, we decided to suck it up and pay the supplement. The strawberry shortcake really was hot (in temperature), and it featured spiced pound cake, slices of strawberry, honey roasted almonds, and torrone (nougat) flavored ice cream. They poured some sort of hot liquid over the pound cake that really brought out the aroma and flavor of the spices. I’m usually not a fan of spiced cake but I think it really worked well in this context. It might have been a dessert better suited for a cold winter night, not the hottest day of the summer, but the ice cream on top provided a refreshingly cool finish. Josh and I were pretty full at this point but still wanted to finish the entire bowl.

Hot strawberry shortcake sundae with spiced poundcake, honey roasted almonds and torrone ice cream

We ordered the cheesecake lollipop tree more out of curiosity than actual desire. Neither of us really love cheesecake but this is David Burke’s signature dessert so we figured we had to try it. The  lollipops are beautifully presented on a custom-designed “tree.” Each lollipop is covered in a chocolate shell and dipped in chopped nuts or other little crunchies. I remember there being a white chocolate and cherry combination and a chocolate praline combination, though I think there was one more kind on the tree as well. The cheesecake inside is rich and dense, sort of like the inside of a chocolate truffle. Each lollipop was a two bite affair, and there was a bowl of whipped cream on the side for dipping. The whipped cream was actually a pleasant shock for us, as it was bubble gum flavored. A nice whimsical touch, though the bubblegum flavor didn’t necessarily go with the cheesecake pops. The dessert is definitely a novelty, but not something that I really enjoyed or would order again. I wish that a half portion was an option, since I didn’t think it was worth a $10 supplement, plus we ended up not eating most of the pops so it was kind of a waste.

Cheesecake lollipop tree

Lollipop up close

So as I mentioned earlier in the post, when we received the menu, the waiter merely called it the “Restaurant Week menu” and left without any additional explanation. On the top left hand corner of the menu, there was a small box stating: “Three Course Prix Fixe $24.07 & $37.00”  The two prices were on separate lines, and the $24.07 had a symbol next to it that looked like an egg with legs and a beak. When Josh and I saw the box, we assumed the prices were for lunch and dinner, even though RW dinner is $35, not $37. We just thought they used their regular menu rather than printing separate RW menus, since it didn’t say Restaurant Week anywhere on the menu. We didn’t realize until halfway through our meal that only items on the menu with the egg symbol were included as part of the $24.07 prix fixe; all the other items without the egg would be charged ath the $37 prix fixe rate.

We only realized this because the waiter explained the difference to the table next to us, and only because they specifically asked what the symbol meant. I didn’t pay attention to the symbol when we were ordering, and I was furious that no one explained to us how the menu was set up. It was a blatant omission in my opinion, and we had chosen items from the more expensive prix fixe without knowing we had done so. At least we figured out before we got the bill, because the sticker shock might have made for an awkward conversation with the waiter. In the end, since we had chosen one “egg symbol” item and one non “egg symbol” item from each course, we were charged $24.07 for one meal and $37.00 for the other meal. Quite a markup, in my opinion, and over 50% more than we intended to spend on one of the meals.

The items that didn’t have the egg symbol were obviously the pricier/fancier dishes – the pretzel crusted crab cake and the cavatelli and short rib dish. The only reason that I didn’t argue with the waiter about his lack of explanation regarding the menu was that I might still have ordered the crab cake and the cavatelli and short rib had I known about the price supplement. Those were the most attractive dishes on the menu, not knowing that they would also be the worst dishes of our meal. But, of course, hindsight is 20/20.

However, when we were deciding on the appetizer course, Josh and I debated over ordering either watermelon salad or the pastrami salmon, another David Burke signature. The watermelon salad won out in the end, but what if we had ordered the pastrami salmon, which didn’t have the egg symbol next to it? Combine that with our steamed mussel entree, which did have the egg symbol, what would they have charged us? My guess is the more expensive $37, though perhaps if we had a conflicting order, then our waiter might finally have spoken up about the different prix fixe prices. I really don’t know, but I definitely felt kind of cheated and misled.

Overall, even without the sting of knowing that we had spent a lot more on what we expected to be a reasonable Restaurant Week lunch, we were pretty disappointed with the food at David Burke Townhouse. The bill just added insult to injury. There were definitely some bright moments – the bread was fantastic, the watermelon salad was simple and well composed, and the coconut broth and couscous in the steamed mussel dish was just delightful. However, the other dishes were good in concept but poorly executed. The hot strawberry shortcake sundae was another highlight, but the cheesecake lollipops were not our thing and not worth the extra supplement, in our opinion. Considering that an order is priced at $18 a la carte, and one tree has eight lollipops on it, that’s $2.25 per two-bite lollipop. Pretty steep I think. In the end, the meal was just mediocre, and I probably wouldn’t go back. And yes, we did tip the waiter 20% of the bill even though we were pretty upset about the situation. Like I said, I tried to justify it in my head that I probably still would have ordered the same things, and I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn’t intentionally being misleading. But lesson learned: when in doubt about the menu or about weird symbols, ask first before ordering!

David Burke Townhouse
133 East 61st St. between Park and Lexington Ave.
New York, NY

Brasserie Les Halles (Downtown)

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011 by virginia

Back when Josh and I lived downtown, Les Halles was one of our favorite restaurants in the neighborhood. The food was consistently good and it was pretty reasonably priced, so we could go whenever we wanted a little treat beyond our usual takeout. Though the area around Les Halles is always a huge mess with all the construction going on, the restaurant itself is warm and inviting, with tall ceilings, dark wood, and the feel of a brasserie, only larger.

We actually hadn’t been a few years, sadly, but our friends recently moved downtown and we suggested meeting them at Les Halles for dinner. The menu was the same as I remembered, just a few dollars higher in price, but still reasonable. We decided to share an order of steak tartare to start, plus an appetizer portion of mussels. I was a bit disappointed that the tartare was not prepared tableside, as stated in the menu, but it was really delicious. The meat is pretty finely ground, which I don’t normally like, but it was nicely flavored with chopped raw onion, capers, mustard, worcestershire sauce, and parsley, though you could still taste the freshness of the beef. Since the tartare is actually an entree, it also came with a side of crisp french fries and a small salad.

Steak tartare

The mussels come prepared in your choice of broth. The choices include the classic mariniere, which is white wine/shallot/garlic, but we decided to try something a little bit different. We opted for mouclade, which is curry, white wine, and cream. The mussels were plump and fresh tasting, not the least bit gritty. The sauce was not as curry flavored as we hoped it would be, but it was tangy and creamy at the same time, and pretty freakin’ tasty. We liberally dipped bread into the broth, soaking up as much as possible. We probably would have drank it like soup had it been appropriate…

Mussels in a curry, white wine, and cream sauce

Chewy and airy french bread

For my entree, I ordered my usual, the classic steak frites. I don’t know what kind of steak it is exactly, but it’s flavorful and tender. My steak was cooked to a perfect rare, and all it needed was a little shake of salt to put it over the top. The accompanying fries are always wonderful – freshly fried, crisp on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. I’m also a big fan of the salad, which is tossed in a delicious vinaigrette that I really need to find the recipe for. I would totally eat salad more often if I had that dressing all the time.

Steak, frites, salad

Gorgeous red on the inside

Josh usually gets the steak frites as well, but he ended up ordering the steak au poivre, thinking that it would be the regular steak frites plus sauce. The steak turned out to be a different cut, much thicker and, unfortunately, also much tougher. Josh ordered his steak rare and while the center was pink, it was unevenly cooked so the outside was well done and chewy. The au poivre sauce was also thinner than most other au poivre sauces we’ve tried. He was pretty disappointed with the steak. The fries and salad, however, were still top notch.

Steak au poivre

Unevenly cooked on the inside

I polished off my entire plate so I was way too full for dessert. Overall I was happy to see that the food at Les Halles is still solid. The steak frites was just as good as I remembered, and the mussels and steak tartare were absolutely delicious. Josh’s steak left much to  be desired, but the lesson learned is that he should have stuck with the steak frites. With regard to service, we were seated at a pretty bad table location-wise, right at the front of the room in the middle so that everyone who walked past brushed up against us. We were eventually asked to move our table closer to the bar, away from the main aisle, which was fine by us, but they made it seem like we chose to sit in that position and that we were inconveniencing everyone else. We probably should have requested a different table to start but it was late, the restaurant was packed, and we were hungry. Luckily the food is good enough that I’m willing to overlook that, and we never had service issues during our previous visits. I definitely plan on going back, though maybe next time we’ll try the Park Avenue location, which is closer to home. I’m already craving more steak frites!

Brasserie Les Halles (multiple locations)
15 John St. between Broadway and Nassau St.

New York, NY